Category Archives: pain

Remembering Oliver

Remembering Oliver2

Nine years ago today a litter of Siberian Husky puppies was born. Two were destined to come to Spearfish, and one special boy to grace my household with his joy, beauty, and mischievousness. When I went to see the pups for the first time, I had intended to get a girl and name her Jasmine. And while the girl puppy was so sweet, there was something about the masked boy that drew me to him and he was the one I chose. It took me several days to name him, and after the suggestion of Oliver by a friend, it stuck. I gave him the middle name Podoruk (gift in Russian) because this puppy was a gift from God after months of praying for a Husky. The following week his sister, Whisper, came to live with the Halls and Spearfish now had two beautiful Siberian Huskies to create mischief and give so much love.

I’ve had pets my whole life. I was born into pets already in the house, and we were never without one (usually several). Pet hair and pet care were a way of life. Despite losing many pets over the years, Oliver’s passing has stuck me the deepest. I think it was because he was mine, rather than just a family pet. As an adult woman, I chose him, raised him, trained him, and as huskies are notoriously known for being one owner dogs, he was mine. When Micah came into the picture, he feared Micah as alpha-male, but was still only obedient to me (with limitations, there was no getting him back through the recall command if he got out off leash). And was he ever an escape artist.

Every time he got out my greatest fear is he would get hurt and/or not come home. But he came home unscathed every time, until this last time. Through some miscommunication with our babysitter, Oliver escaped at the end of November (the 26th). He came home several hours later, quite in pain. Over the weekend and following week, I checked on him several times throughout the night, fearing he wouldn’t make it through alive, but he did, and seemed to slowly improve. But really, it was the beginning of the end.

And while his death was a surprise, it wasn’t in some ways. God had already been preparing my heart for a few months. When I was deciding what to dress Aurora up for Halloween, we had several costume options, and at some point in her life, I wanted to dress her up at Red Riding with Oliver as her Wolf. I had this feeling from God, that if I wanted to do it, I needed to do it this year. I never shared that with anyone at the time, because I didn’t want to think through what that meant. But that feeling was the main reason Aurora was Red Riding. And we had a delightful time walking the neighborhood with Oliver.

After his last escape, I did a Christmas photo shoot with Oliver and Aurora (as I enjoy doing with them for nearly every holiday). I had a feeling then too, that this was their last photo shoot. I didn’t want to admit it, but the feeling was there.

I had nearly forgotten about those feelings when we had Christmas and Oliver got to open one of his presents. We were saving the rest of the presents that my parents sent for when they arrived after Christmas. He wasn’t as aggressive in opening his gift this year, he wouldn’t really stand or move, but he got it open and Aurora delighted in watching. And we enjoyed our Christmas together. The next day, my parents flew in. Oliver greeted them, but not like he usually greets people. That night, we were watching a movie downstairs (Sofia the First, the Christmas episode) and Micah was upstairs. I heard Oliver making some noise and thought it was odd he was running around. Micah calmly asked me to come upstairs, and to my shock, Oliver was having a grand mal seizure. I had never seen one before and didn’t know what to do. I know my parents had experience with this with their dogs, so I tearfully (and near panic) asked for their help. He made it through the seizure and I called the Vet. She said I could bring him in at 8am and she’d be in as soon as she finished her morning appointments. His first seizure was at 8:30pm on the 26th. Oliver recovered, but 4 hours later, he had another one, then every hour til 4am, then every half hour til 6:20am, then every 10 min, then 5, until his last one around 7am that he never really came out of.

I was able to talk him through his seizure at 1:30am and was hopeful if I kept doing that they would stop. But they increased in intensity. And he was in pain. I laid on the floor next to him for those 12 hours, calming him, trying to ease his pain, talking him the seizures, and by 5am, started to say my goodbyes and counted down the minutes til the Vet’s office opened.

Since my parents were in town, they stayed home with Aurora (who was still sleeping) and Micah helped me carry Oliver to the Vet. They know us pretty well there (I send them photos), and the Vet’s assistant was so surprised that the dog we brought in was Oliver. We laid him on the table, awaiting the Vet’s arrival. I was fully prepared to euthanize him. I sat next to Micah while we waited, but after some time, I felt the need to go stand next to Oliver. I did, and soon I could hear him breathing his last two breaths. His eyes dilated, and he was gone. Less than 30 seconds later the Vet walked in. It was 8:40am. December 27. Nearly 12 hours since his first seizure. I have never been around anyone who breathed their last breaths before, never been present for the actual death of any person or animal. It was peaceful. But heartwrenching even still.

The Vet noticed that Oliver was quite a bit thinner since the last time he had come in, his spine was noticeable. I had noticed that as well in the past few weeks and had wondered if it was the diet we had needed to put him on. But it was too drastic of a weight loss, he had lost 11 lbs and was down to 69lbs when we weighed him. The seizure he experienced 12 hours previous probably wasn’t his first, just the first we saw. Something else was going on – cancer, kidneys, liver, something. I wonder if when he escaped on the babysitter, perhaps he had his first seizure then and got hurt in the process. If that’s the case, then I am thankful she didn’t experience it, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Coming home from Life Impact was hard. Harder than I expected. I had a near meltdown walking into the empty house, not being greeted by his excited cries to have us home. I miss Oliver in the little things mostly. I miss when I get done with my shower at night and open the door to let the steam out, that he’s not right there, waiting for me to give him his bedtime treat. I still somewhat expect him to be there. I miss him when I hear a noise outside or see movement, thinking it’s him. I miss him when it’s a warm winter day and when I go outside, I want to invite him to join me. Or when it’s super cold outside, and I think he’s still out in the extreme cold because I haven’t seen him in a while and I should make him come in. I miss him when I walk to my side of the bed where his kennel is and he’s not there. I haven’t decided if moving his kennel would be helpful or painful at this moment. I decided to put a white cloth over it (I also use it as a nightstand) because I kept looking for him in it. I felt bad for Oliver when Aurora arrived, because I paid significantly less attention to him. But now that he’s gone, I realized I still gave him a lot of attention, because I look for him several times in a day. I miss touching his fur, patting his head, giving him belly rubs, taking care of him. I miss his company, his friendship, his presence. He was a large dog with a gentle presence. I enjoyed his constant companionship. I miss when I spill some shredded cheese on the ground and I can’t call him to come clean it up. I miss him when I empty a peanut butter jar and I can’t give it to him. I miss him when I ask Aurora if she’d like to go “bye-bye” and he doesn’t come careening around the corner, barking excitedly to come along. Even though I know he’s gone, the other morning I walked into the living room right after I woke up. I stopped, and asked myself “what am I doing?” I realized I was looking for Oliver.

I am thankful God had been preparing me for the past few months. I am thankful that we got Christmas with him. I am thankful my parents were here – dog lovers to the core and able to offer a lot of emotional support to me (and watch Aurora). I am thankful he passed on his own. I am thankful it was before we left for our weeklong conference at Life Impact. As amazing as Sylvia, our go-to dog sitter is, I wouldn’t have wanted her to have gone through all that with Oliver. I’m so thankful I was able to be there with him for his last 12 hours. I am thankful he came home that day in November and we got one more month with him.

Aurora asked for Oliver for a few days in a row in the mornings when she woke up. We had a routine that when she got up, we would call Oliver in to say hello, sometimes getting him to howl (we loved his howls). The first morning she called for him and I told her Oliver was “bye-bye.” She collapsed on her pillow with her back to me. The next day she was content with my answer and moved on. She’s young enough to not really be affected by his loss. But I think that’s one of the things that breaks my heart, that she won’t know him. Oliver was a huge part of my life. And Aurora is a huge part of my life. And I wanted her to know him. I’m asking God to preserve a memory of him in her little 2 year old brain.

They were the best of buds. He was her protector from day 1 of her coming home. Oliver used to be super friendly to all people and dogs at the parks. But if we had Aurora with, he became a fierce, protecting dog. I didn’t know he could sound so mean! Ha! He knew that she was his to guard.

And he was so gentle with her. He let her crawl on him and snuggle up against him. He wouldn’t let anyone else do that unless we pinned him down to snuggle! Aurora delighted in watching him play, run, howl, open presents. I delighted in her delight of him.

Oliver brought so much joy in his nearly 9 years with me. He was the cutest puppy, with the sweetest howl, protesting being locked in his kennel at night. My cat (who was 9 years old when I brought him home) detested him. It took her many, many months until she forgave me and would purr for me again. He loved chasing her, but she could put him in his place.

Oliver was an excellent hunter of prey! He got countless birds, some of them out of the air if they flew too close to the ground. He also killed the neighbor’s cat when it bit me, snuck into another neighbor’s yard and killed 5 of their 6 chickens. He ate my parents’ coy fish from their pond (well, half of it. He buried the other half, which is how we figured out it was Oliver.). He brought home a baby deer (and I mean baby – size of a kitten). I didn’t realize it was Oliver until much later when I was commentating to our friend Bruce about seeing a baby deer left in our driveway. He suggested some dog probably left it there. And I thought “some dog…” Some dog that probably had escaped from the yard; some dog who ran in the hills where there were deer; some dog who found it and brought it home; some dog named Oliver perhaps?! I didn’t know what one was supposed to do with a dead deer, so I called the police station to ask and they said they’d send someone out. When the officer arrived and got out of his car, he asked where the deer was. I told him it was at his feet (he almost ran it over!) He looked down, contained a laugh, then spoke into his radio that backup was not needed (once again masking a laugh in his speech). He put on a glove and disposed the deer in our dumpster. If I had known that was all I needed to do, I would have done that! But I’m glad he could get a good laugh out of it. He was obviously expecting a full grown deer, not a tiny, baby deer! I guess I could have specified!

Bruce was Oliver’s frenemy. They were friends until Oliver was 8 or 9 months old. They were playing chase around the kitchen, when Bruce went the other direction, snuck up on Oliver and scared him. Oliver never forgave him! Bruce tried for months to refriend him, to no avail. They had a food based relationship (he’d go to Bruce if he had a treat) but no more. Oliver would rarely walk near Bruce, and during parties, would go so far as to walk behind the backs of students along the couch to get to the other side of the room, even though going past Bruce was a straight shot.

When Bruce came to meet Aurora for the first time, Oliver let out a low growl, not wanting Bruce to come near his new baby! I remember another protective moment was taking Oliver and Aurora to the City Park in Powell, WY. I put her in a swing and he would not leave her side. Eventually we had to move him to the shade as he began to overheat in the sand. But he had to be forced to leave her and still kept a watchful eye on her.

Another time, a neighbor’s dog came to visit our driveway when we were all outside. Oliver was so fierce, and the dog (and owner) ran off scared. Oliver came back to us, trotting, so proud of himself of clearing out the intruders.

I was very thankful when U-Dirty-Dog opened in Spearfish. Oliver frequently needed baths after returning home from his escaping escapades, as whatever he found on his adventures made him stinky! Giving him a bath inside was mess with water ending everywhere in the bathroom. Giving him a bath outside probably made the neighbors think I was pouring acid on his body with his loud cries of protest at the water hose. He got many a bath at the dog wash, where they didn’t mind his cries. After a few of his baths, he was quite put out with me; even a peanut butter jar barely made him forgive me. And if that wasn’t enough, a bath usually meant an hour long brush to get his fur out. Which usually amounted to the size of a small dog.

Oliver was my buddy on so many adventures, as well as my constant companion at home. He was my dancing partner until Micah came along (and even then would butt in to take Micah’s spot), my company on several days away with God out in the Hills. Countless hikes – winter, spring, summer and fall. Long road trips from to Alabama or to Washington State. In Washington, we visited Mt. Rainier. As I waited outside with Oliver while my mom and brother browsed the gift shop, several people would ask for me to take their picture in front of the mountain. And several of them asked if Oliver could be in their picture with them too! Ha! My dog was popular that day!

One of my favorite things about Oliver was the amount of compliments I received when taking him on walks. He was a gorgeous dog. And since one of my top love languages is words of affirmation, I relished in the compliments. I also enjoyed driving with him in our Jeep as he looked good in it, plus the Jeep had clear windows that made him quite visible. I also enjoyed “decorating” him for the holidays in various bandanas to reflect the season.

I remember taking Oliver on his first hike with Alicia. He wasn’t thrilled as we hiked up Devil’s Bathtub in the canyon. He hated the water (as huskies tend to do) and was under my legs as we crossed the creek. By the end he got used to it, but was pretty insistent we head back home. Thankfully he outgrew that and loved going on hikes. He was especially spoiled by the number of college students that would take him on hikes and outings.

He loved to sunbathe, even in the hottest of summers. One time I used the radar temp gun on him and his fur was 159 F! Of course he loved snow most of all. As the snow would melt away in the spring, he would lay on whatever snowy patch he could find. Oh, but he did not love the rain. The slightest bit of rain and he’d be barking to come in!

He was also a dog of preferences. Most notably his preference for buttered popcorn and his disdain for unbuttered or even microwave popcorn! One of his party tricks was throwing him the two types of popcorn. He would spit out the unbuttered but catch and eat the buttered. Microwave popcorn he would just turn his head away to not even catch it! One time we set a bowl of microwave popcorn in front of him. He walked around it, pushing his body as far against the wall as he could to give it a wide berth.

Other party tricks included: roll over, high 5, high 10, shake left hand, shake right hand, and crawl. And when you had a treat he really, really wanted, he would go through his entire repertoire instead of waiting to hear a command.

Besides his escape artist antics, Oliver was a notorious thief. Granola bars (I never did learn how he opened them), cookies, muffins, but most notably an entire elk roast, followed by a package of Oreos the next day. He also downed 5 Perkins Mammoth muffins (left the chocolate one alone), ate an entire tin of Christmas cookies someone dropped off for us before we could even see them, finished off a bag of decorated snowflake cutout cookies before I could give them away, ate my gingerbread house along with the rest of my mocha, and more. The scariest was when he also ate the plastic wrap with something (he was usually so good at opening wrappers). He got so bloated and I had to check his poop every day to see if he’d pass it; otherwise I would have had to take him into the vet. He thankfully passed it. I had never been so happy to see poop. Except for one other occasion.

Oliver would NEVER poop on walk. It took him about a year and a half until he would even pee on a walk. And while that made it super convenient for me on short walks, it made it super inconvenient on long road trips and backpacking trips. Coming home from one trip, I knew he needed to poop. He hadn’t in three days. We stopped to visit Alicia in Sheridan, WY and went for a walk to stretch our legs. And he went poop on that long walk! We all cheered! Ha! Eventually he would poop on a few of the backpacking trips. But he never did on a walk.

Oh, besides thieving food, he stole shoes. I replaced several pairs of guests’ shoes, said good bye to plenty of my own, as well as water bottles, volleyballs, journals and other items as a pup. He would also punish himself when he did something wrong. He would go to his kennel and stay there. If I came home and he had a guilty look and wouldn’t come out, I knew he did something he shouldn’t have. And then the hunt began to figure out what, as sometimes he would hide his antics. We eventually figured out a greater punishment was locking him out of the bedroom and making him stay by Micah’s side for a few hours.

Being raised by college students, Oliver assumed he was one. He would sit with his bum on the couch and his front paws on the floor. He would follow them up the stairs, and as they would grab a handful of candy and he would also grab a small mouthful of candy. My favorite moment of acting like a student is when he walked the “red carpet” (with no prompting from anyone) at our Duct Tape fashion show, sporting his duct table collar in the “Accessories” category.

He was my buddy on so many hikes up the local mountains and back packing expeditions. He even had his own pack, which he got super excited anytime we pulled it out. He would be depressed when I would pack my bags, knowing I would leave him. But when I got out his pack, he knew he got to come with and would be beyond excited!

I love throwing birthday parties for people, and Oliver was no exception. He and Whisper got a full on first birthday party, with treat bags for the humans and doggie friends, decorations, cake (for the humans), and frosty paws (for them and their friends). Each year we celebrated his birthday in some form. This year I’m celebrating by remembering all the good times we had over the past 9 years. Boy, do I miss him!

I remember how he didn’t enjoy sharing the backseat of the car. He could easily spawl out and fill the whole back seat. One summer as we hiked up Harney Peak, I picked up several friends along the way. He was eventually relegated to the floor for the last bit and he would let out big sighs to show his displeasure. Another time, coming home from camping in the Big Horns, the college students all rode in the back seat and let Oliver have the front seat (but freshmen crushes probably played more into that decision of letting my dog have shot gun).

Well, the day is about done. If you have any memories of Oliver to share, would you post them in the comments or email them to me? I’m in the process of gathering photos of Oliver to make a photo book of him. I’m currently up to 490 photos and still have yet to finish going through 2017 pics! Ha! But I’d love to include some stories along with the photos.

Thanks for reading my musings (and making it all the way through).

Oliver was a great dog. I am so very thankful for the nearly 9 years I got to have him. I hope to get another dog in the future. But for now, potty training Aurora is on the horizon, and I’d rather not be training a puppy and a toddler. I like the idea of waiting until Aurora is a bit older and can have the experience of helping raise a Husky. My parents got our first Huskies when I was 5 years old and Trouble (she lived up to that name) lived for 14 years, passing away my sophomore year of college.

I also want to say thank you for all the comments on Facebook. They were so helpful to my heart those first few days after losing Oliver. Also, I treasure the cards several of you sent as well. It means a lot to have fellow dog lover friends who understand the heartache of losing a beloved pet.

This summer I plan to make a memorial garden for Oliver in our backyard. Since he spent quite a bit of his time in that little yard, I thought it would be nice to turn it into something beautiful, as beauty always helps ease the pain.


Pain – Part of the Christmas Spirit?

ChristmasI love Christmastime, probably more than anyone I personally know. I thoroughly enjoy decorating (transforming my home for Christmas in nearly every room), listening to Christmas music 24/7 (Pandora’s instrumental holiday radio is one of my fav’s right now), giving presents (receiving presents), and all the festivities. Everything to make one get into the Christmas Spirit.

Each year I like to focus on a different aspect of the Christmas story, to learn something a bit deeper. Some years I have something in mind; some years God will surprise me with a theme. The latter is one of those years. Starting with the sermon at church on Sunday and then the next few devotionals I read, I saw a theme that I’ve never really noticed before. Pain is part of the Christmas story. Significantly. And it’s rather surprising because Christmas is so festive and we focus on the Joy & Peace, but the other is there too.

As I look at the first few characters from the Christmas story, I see their joy as well as their pain:

Zechariah and Elizabeth. The Christmas story in Luke opens with this prestigious and godly couple who had no children and were old. Then we read of the fantastic moment when an angel appeared to Zechariah telling him “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” Yay! Answered prayer! But how long had they been praying? When was the last time Zechariah had prayed, asking for a child? Did he eventually give up? They longed for child; their best years went by without an answer to this prayer. When they were young and newly married, they probably had dreams of the family they would raise. They stayed faithful to God, but no child came. I think about the times I have longed and waited for something, and the ache is unbearable sometimes. The years waiting for a husband, or praying for a family member to come to faith in Jesus, etc… Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced a heartache and longing that spanned their lifetime, clueless about what God was doing and was about to do.

Mary. The next scene in Luke 1 is the incredible story of the angel visiting Mary, telling this young virgin “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and her humble reply, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” As I sit and think about Mary and the months that followed, her heartache must have been great. Who would believe her story? How frustrating it is when no one believes you, and yet she holds the greatest truth within her belly! Who could understand her? No one could relate to her even if they did believe her. The social pressure must have been intense. Girls can be brutally mean in our culture, and I bet it was no different back then. “Pious Mary, pregnant before she was married.” How did people look at her, speak to her, treat her? How much did it hurt her heart? Mary would be questioned, ridiculed, and rejected because she was misunderstood by so many who refused to believe her story. She faced the difficulties of her integrity and morality being held in question.

Skip forward in the Story, to Matthew 2 and the escape the Egypt. King Herod heard about the baby and wanted him dead, so the angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee. Now they are fugitives in a foreign land (I can barely understand that heartache). And then, what was Mary’s heartache when she heard what happened? Genocide. Soldiers came and murdered all the male babies two years old and under in the entire vicinity. . . because of her child.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

And Joseph. The girl he loved is now pregnant, and it’s not his child. Betrayal. What was going through his mind and heart? God let him wrestle through the emotions and options, then Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. (This reflects what a humble and good man Joseph was; he could have chosen any number of options of public disgrace, revenge, even stoning Mary. But he chose not to, and it shows me why God chose him to father His Son). It wasn’t until after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

Thankfully the stories don’t end at the pain. Our stories of pain never end there either. God is always at work behind the scenes, even in our pain. And that’s where the hope, joy and peace of Christmas shine the brightest!

Zechariah and Elizabeth painfully longed for a son, but eventually God blessed them with one! And not just any son, they got to be a direct part of God’s redemptive plan and raise a son who Jesus called the greatest man ever born (Luke 7:28). The forerunner to the Messiah! God chose them, but they had to wait for His perfect timing to unfold.

Mary received the greatest honor God could pay, He chose her to mother His Son! Mary knew how blessed she was and praised Him (Luke 1:46-56). God was visiting our planet, Immanuel was coming! I’m encouraged by the confirmations and encouragement she received: Elizabeth’s greeting to her, God confirming to Joseph in a dream that she was telling the truth, the shepherds and the wise men coming because God told them as well! She treasured all these things in her heart. I would too!

Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, God wasn’t done with them, and He’s not done with us! As long as God has us alive, He has a plan for us. Will you respond as they did, as Mary did? Trusting in your loving Father, who is always faithful? And even in the waiting, can you find the joy of waking up each morning knowing God has a plan and is working on your behalf?

“Christmas reminds us that we can put our hope in a sure thing – the love of God—demonstrated so beautifully on that wonderful day when He came forth into our world as a babe. Because of our despair, hopelessness and helplessness He left His throne in heaven. This is the ‘good news that will bring great joy to all people’ (Luke 2:10). This is the Christmas we can all celebrate, with or without family, friends, or familiarity. This spirit of Christmas goes beyond trees, decorations, songs, and gifts to speak to our true condition. And to this we can honestly say, ‘Merry Christmas.’” (Dan Schaeffer – The Real Spirit of Christmas)