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Millie - The First of the Third Ones

Michael Hillman

2000 - 2015

Somewhere in her files, Audrey, my wife, still has the clipping, with Millie’s photo on it, from the pets’ adoption page of the paper.

It had been a lazy Sunday Morning, and while we were brimming over with animals, we never failed to look at those lucky enough to get their photo in the ‘pets for adoption’ pages, just in case a lucky one might just fit in with us.

That day, Millie struck gold.

Her Jack Russell-like appearance was what grabbed me and her advanced age tugged at Audrey’s heartstrings. We debated the pros and cons of expanding our dog population from three to four, but in reality, it was for show only, we had both already made up our minds to go take a look at her.

As it turned out, Millie’s Jack Russell appearance ended with her face. Her body looked like a cross between a Basset Hound and God knows what. Her mixed breed background had left her with a small, but stout build, very long back, all supported by short, stubby legs. To make matters worse, her front legs were turned in, making every step not only painful for her, but also painful to watch.

Millie was so feeble, that the shelter had placed her in the puppy section, as opposed to the dog section, so she had a cushion to lie on. When we approached her, she only momentarily looked up at us. The depression from finding herself back in the shelter for the third time had obviously begun to take its toll on her. It was like she was in a hospice, just waiting for death to release her.

As I watched Millie painfully move around in the short grass in the enclosure outside for perspective owners to become acquainted with dogs, I found myself wishing I had not come down to see her. It was clear Millie was not going to be a playmate for my other Jack Russell. To be honest, I was not sure what Millie would be. Maybe it was better, I thought, that we leave her.

Audrey, however, had other plans. So Millie came with us.

Like most shelter animals, Millie’s history is shrouded in mystery. She had at one time belonged to a family, who upon moving away surrendered Millie to the shelter. She was then adopted by an older woman, and for years they both kept each other company. Unable to do much more then open the door to let Millie in and out of a small fenced yard, Millie’s life soon shrank to little more than eating, barking at the door to be let in or out, and sleeping on the couch with the elderly woman. True, it was much better than life in the shelter, but the sedimentary life did nothing to help stop the progression of the arthritis that was beginning rack her body. But it was companionship none-the-less, and both were happy.

Then one day, as unfortunately it happens all too often, Millie’s life was turned upside down through no fault of her own. Unable to care for herself anymore, the woman’s children moved her into assisted living, and treating Millie with no more respect then excess furniture to be quickly cleared out of a house so it could be sold and the spoils divided between them, Millie was dumped again at the shelter to await her fate, separate from the one person she had grown to love and trust, to wait alone.

I placed Millie on the ground on the outside of the invisible fence, safe from the prying noses of the other three dogs, so she could safely take in the smells and sights of her new home.

She seemed un-perplexed.

She was introduced to each of the dogs one at a time. Being old and frail they quickly summed her up as a non-threat and went about their business. Having been formally approved by the others, Millie began to stroll about the backyard, taking in all the new smells. It was a slow stroll, but it was still probably the most she had moved at one time in years.

Kirk, our huge ex-tom cat, came up to see what the ruckus was all about. The expression on his face said it all "Geez … another dog to break in … alright let’s get on with it."

Like the dogs before him, Millie paid no heed of Kirk, and keeping her nose firmly buried in the grass, walked right by him as if he didn’t exist.

Kirk wasn’t sure if he should be insulted or what, but obviously the new waddling dog was not going to challenge his supremacy and he wandered off to go find a sunny spot to sleep.

Millie slowly made her way to the back door, and once there, did what she had done for years – bark. She ignored the fact that we were both standing next to her, instead, with a laser-like focus on the back door, she sat on her haunches and simply barked – fully assured in her belief that sooner or later the door would open and she would be admitted.

She was right.

Millie waddled up and over the doorstep and panting from exhaustion, scouted the layout of the backdoor entrance hall. Her eyes locked in on the plush cat bed under a bench on the far wall. She waddled over, climbed on, and proceeded to fall asleep.

Millie & Leah

She was home. And unlike her past two homes, this one she would never say goodbye to.

As time would tell, Mille had chosen well her spot under the bench. From there she could bark at anyone entering the house from the back door – which for all intents and purposes was the only way anyone ever came into the house. Monitor all the dog and cat traffic too and from my study, which was pretty much non-stop, and keep an eye on the kitchen for any sign of upcoming food.

Our first priority was to get Millie checked out. While her prior owners had done what they could for her vet wise, there was a lot of catching up to do. For a while, Millie was almost a weekly feature at the vet office.

In her drives, Audrey noted that Millie was eager to look out the window, but because of her size and lack of strength, was unable to hold herself up to look out – so she bought a booster seat for her, which allowed Millie to sit like a queen on a thrown and watch the world pass by.

Soon Audrey, with Millie strapped in the passenger seat by her side, was a normal scene. In losing her old companion, Millie had found another, and from the look on Audrey’s face, she was enjoying Millie’s company as much as Millie was enjoying Audrey.

Unlike her prior companion, Audrey had no intention on letting Millie sleep her day away. Like the other dogs Mille was expected to move around – movement not only helped her arthritis, but helped shed years of fat – and with each pound dropped, Millie moved even more freely, which dropped even more weight.

Much to Millie’s chagrin, barking at the back door soon had no effect. "I just let her out." My wife would reply when I asked why she was not letting her back in. "She needs to move those joints around."

Eventually Millie would give up and find a sunny spot to sleep away the afternoon. Sure, it would have been better to have been moving around like the other dogs, but the sun’s warmth must have felt good on her aching joints – and Millie was normally not alone for long – more often than not she was joined by one of the other dogs during her siestas.

Life was good for Millie. When we adopted her I had mentally calculated she would last less than a year. Her stay with us would be over four years. Her life was extended by an aggressive treatment of her arthritis, which for many years allowed her to ramble about her territory as close to pain free as she probably had been since she was a puppy.

But like all old dogs, nature and time slowly took its toll, tolls even the best vet is unable to reverse.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind when Millie’s time finally came. As she slipped in an out of consciousness on her bed, all her friends, be they four-footed or two, came to pay their respects. Then without even so much as a whimper, as she slept peacefully on her bed under the bench, our vet helped her join all those who had called our home their home. There, like them, she will greet all those that will surely follow and relive a life will lived.

"Farewell, Master, Yet not farewell
Where I go, ye too shall dwell
I am gone, before your face,
A moment's time, a little space.
When ye come where I have stepped
Ye will wonder why ye wept."

Pastor Wade Martin: Do Pets Go to Heaven

Read other stories by Michael Hillman