This piece is called “Finnian Begin Again”. In light of Finnian’s recent passing, I found it difficult to read without feeling pangs of intense sadness. Dawn’s honesty and candor gives us a window into her world and that of her sweet Finnian.

I highly recommend reading this piece, but must warn that it may cause the tears to flow again.

    Finnian Begin Again

    When I first adopted Finnian, we weren’t sure he would make it. His rescuer, Northwest Poodle Rescue, told us his sad, and nearly unbelievable story.Only three pounds when he was rescued, he was kept as a stud in a puppy mill for eight long years. He had never played outside, never been socialized, and never left the cramped cage he lived in, which was so small that his spine had a permanent arch and he was unable to walk. He had only learned how to stand properly and walk after he was rescued.


    His legs were so atrophied that it took him a long time to build the muscles necessary to move. As he tried to walk, all he could manage at first was a kind of stumbling sideways crab-walk, punctuated with lost footing and falling down, then struggling to get up again. Later, we were to discover that over-breeding had also caused his kneecaps to be permanently dislocated, adding to the difficulty of his movement.

    At some point, Finnian had been bitten by another dog, probably one he was forced to mate with, and his leg was torn open, an insult to the already injured skin of his body. He was bald and bare from urine burns that were made when the urine that soaked his cage and his body, built up and turned to ammonia. He had spent most of his time raw and burning and soaked.

    After he was rescued, the vet conducted emergency dental surgery on him, removing twelve teeth that were rotten from an inadequate diet and that looked like “an Australian blooming onion” in his mouth, another genetic defect caused by over-breeding. Either during the difficult surgery in his tiny mouth or sometime before, Finnian suffered some unknown neurological damage to his tongue. Whether through stroke or trauma, he was not able to control his tongue and it still hangs out one side of his mouth. I had to use a water dropper to hydrate him several times a day, an ordeal that caused him to choke and sneeze. Since it was also difficult for him to chew and swallow, he would cough and sneeze food into his sinuses, leading to numerous infections that made it difficult for him to breathe.

    Worried about his continued coughing and difficulty breathing, I took him to the emergency animal hospital in the middle of one bad night. This visit revealed that Finnian indeed had scorched lungs from inhaling ammonia from his urine. They also found that he had an enlarged heart and hardening kidneys.

    Finnian in the front pack

    During those weeks, I kept Finnian in a baby front pack at all times. I even slept with him each night on the recliner, giving him his pain medicine and waiting until he was sleeping comfortably before settling in for the night myself. I stayed still so that I wouldn’t  disturb him, and I woke several times to make sure he was still with me. Sometimes he would open his eyes, sigh heavily after seeing I was still there, and fall back into a deep sleep, chittering his familiar chitter of fear and desperation.

    There are no words to describe how we bonded during that time. To the outside world, it would look like it was I who was helping him. Over time though, I started to realize that he was helping me as much or more. Having dealt with anxiety for years as a result of Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, I had always forced myself to go out, to get out in the world and not fall prey to the agoraphobia that always seemed so tempting. I would have panic attacks in public, brought on from social stress and sensory over-stimulation. Just going about life could be so hard.

    First from necessity and then in order to socialize Finnian, I began to take him with me everywhere in his front pack. We went to the store, to the mall, to my Thai boxing class (a very structured kind of social outlet for me), and to walk around the neighborhood.  People would stop me and want to hear his story. I would explain all he had been through and people would pet him, going out of their way to show him love. These encounters were nice for me, because it gave me a way to connect with people and a way also to feel comfortable with their physical nearness. Finnian became a focal point not only for the people I met out in public, but for me as well.

    I started putting my anxiety medication in his front pack, knowing that if I started to have trouble I would focus on him during the confusion that accompanies a panic attack, and  still be able to find my medication. Soon, though, I realized I was having fewer panic attacks because he was with me. And shortly after that, I was surprised to see after much  trial and error, underpinned by our strong bond, that Finnian was in fact signaling to me when I was heading into social or sensory trouble.

    When I was feeling good and outgoing, he would be forward and outward-focused. As my stress level changed, he would turn inward, focusing more and more on my chest and pawing me when things were about to fall apart. He would know this was happening before I did.  Sometimes just putting my nervous energy into petting him would help.  Other times I would have to leave the situation anyway. Finnian would let me know which course of action was going to work.

    Over many months, Finnian became a reliable gauge of my mental state and began to guide me constantly and infallibly in my negotiations with the outside world. Now that he was healing and more physically able, I started to train him in basic obedience and our bond grew even more. In addition to alerting me to panic attacks, he started to paw me insistently and wake me at the onset of my night terrors and sleep disturbances. He also started to insist at times that I get up in the night to take anxiety or sleep medication.

    When I got up I would reward him for this service, although he didn’t expect it.  If I overslept because of the medication, he would let me sleep as long as possible, then paw me until I woke up. On mornings I hadn’t taken medication, he would wake me up even earlier so I could start my day on schedule. He was somehow able to tell the difference.  Somehow he trained himself.

    On days that I suffered from sleep deprivation to the point of not being able to trust my perceptions, he seemed to “patrol” the house for me. If I heard a voice and my partner and son were out of the house, I would ask him, “Who’s there?” and he would run around the house, coming back and then asking to get up in my lap if no one was there. At times there actually would be someone outside or at the door, and he would alert me by barking.

    As our wonderful and sensitive Finnian, also known to the family as “Finnian Begin Again,” became stronger and healthier, he became the delight of our home, and a delight for our other dogs, our extended family, friends, and strangers. Still, he is most special to me, and I to him…

    Finnian in his little red sweater

    Finnian in his little red sweater

    Now happy and secure, Finnian not only touches all whom he meets, but he remains a special friend to me, a kind of extension of my soul, allowing me greet my own unfolding happiness in ways I never thought possible.

    Now licensed as a service dog, Finnian repays me daily for all the care I gave him when he could barely stand. I know that it is I who got the bigger gift. Thank you, Finnian.

    Edited by Ming 2/7/09

    ADDENDUM – A post from Margy about adopting dogs that aren’t perfect

    “Hi Ming. Just wanted to tell you what a magnificent job you have done with your blog. It is very sensitive and touches my heart. I sure wish that Dawn would consider writing a book about her experiences. This is a story that the world needs. It would encourage the adoption of dogs who are not physically perfect and they could assist those of us who are not perfect as well. It would offer hope, and give us courage. Hugs, Margy Hope” 

    2/7/09 Dog Liver Disease (DLD) group.