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.
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…
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.
I was going to present the events in reverse chronological order, but I couldn’t bring myself to prepare Finnian’s Last Day until after I posted Fenris’ First Day.
I hope this doesn’t bother anyone. Besides, as beautifully as Dawn describes his last day, this is still the rendition of events that incapacitated me for two days after reading it.
So here is your warning. If you are already in mourning for a pet, if you feel weak of heart or spirit, you may want to wait or prepare yourself to read about Finnian’s last day. Dawn is candid, sensitive and vulnerable in sharing his last day with us, but it is still very sad. Dawn’s words have been very minimally edited as a matter of basic proofing.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
- As I told you all earlier, I prayed for Finnian to have a perfect day today. Our sun made a rare appearance and shined brightly … all day.
Finnian woke up wagging his tail and tottering excitedly if unsteadily on our bed, as if to say, “Get up! The day is wasting!” I fed him his regular supplements and little breakfast, and then fed him a little Pop-Tart crust with a tiny bit of the “good stuff” on it. He was passionate about Pop-Tarts, something I ate very, very rarely, and even then, I would buy the whole grain kind, but for him, anything.
I took him outside and let him hobble down the street off-leash in his small red sweater, going slowly here and there, wherever his nose would take him. This was his day. He only went half a block and wanted to come home, but he was smiling and blinking his happy little eyes against the bright sun as he made his way home.
I sat in the sun with him on my lap. While he took a long nap, I called my friends across the country who are the
only other people I know with an autism service dog. Their own dog had a health crisis recently and had to go in for a surgery that she wasn’t expected to survive. Before the operation, they took her back to the [service dog] training facility. Like Finnian, she would never let another dog near her autistic partner, but she also picked out a young dog and insisted it get onto Chris’ lap. She was choosing his next service dog. I explained that Finnian had done exactly the same thing with the new Pomeranian rescue we now have. Her story moved me, once again, by the love and foresight animals have on our behalf.
By that time my family was home and taking turns petting Finnian and telling him how much he meant to them. He reached a point where he was uncomfortable and not feeling well. He moved away from us, not wanting to be petted anymore. We just sat near him and respected his wishes.
We decided to go to the vet’s early because they have a beautiful trail behind the clinic. He got another walk. Again, He didn’t want to go far, so I picked him up and put him in his service front-pack and we just took in the natural beauty around us.
I was so grateful to my family, who fell behind and let me have a long, intimate talk with Finney about how much I loved him, what he had meant to me, and how I would be ok. I told him he need not not worry. I told him to find peace.
As I reached for the door at the clinic, I had a momentary breakdown. I just couldn’t open the door. I stood there and sobbed at the threshold. My family opened the door and helped us in. They took Finnian away to put a line in his arm and brought him back to us waiting in the room. Then the vet came and talked with us about Finney’s symptoms, went over the treatment we had been giving him and how he had a very bad night a couple nights ago. She said I could give him drugs that would allow him to hang on for a day, maybe two, but that it would be for me and not for Fin. I thanked her for being honest with me.
He was able to stay in his service pack as she gave injected the shot into the line in his arm. I kept saying into his tiny ear, over and over, “There’s my Fin, there’s the boy I love. He’s good boy,” in the voice I always saved for him.
I have been a vet tech and volunteered at shelters. I’ve even worked for a mobile vet whose specialty was home euthanasia. But I have never seen a dog die so fast. Before the injection was done, he was gone; no second breath, no heartbeats.
My family left so I could have a moment alone with him. I hugged him and cried until I felt that he wasn’t there anymore, that I was holding an empty body. Then I walked out into the hall and tenderly lifted him out of his service pack for the last time, and gave him to the nurse.
We had brought the other dogs with us so we could take them all to the park afterward, just to see romping dogs full of life. I put Fenris, my new service dog, into the service pack Finney had died in. She smelled it, looked alarmed and then deeply sad. Then she settled down into the pack as if to make it her own.
I didn’t expect to write anything this soon, but I was so moved by the love and support I have gotten, and by all the beautiful words from hearts who have the scars, that I knew I must thank you from Finney and myself and share his last moments with you all.
I may not write for a while, but I consider myself a permanent member of the group and have no plans to leave.
With love to all of you,
Dawn, and Finnian, from across the rainbow bridge
I have edited this piece very minimally, and mostly as a result of basic proofing. It took me a while to recuperate from from the events of the last several days. After receiving this story of Fenris’ First Day, I finally felt I could present Finnian’s Last Day, which I felt was too difficult to read on its own.
My esoteric Catholic psychic friend used to assure me that death and re-birth were two sides of the same coin.
Fenris is the new service dog, to whom Finnian handed his baton. This transaction happened so graciously that it brought tears to my eyes.
Here’s a picture of the two of them together on Dawn’s lap:
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Here are Dawn’s words:
- Fenris woke up knowing that this was a different kind of day. Maybe she even knew before [she awoke that the sun would rise] to a world without Finnian.
She had curled up into a ball and pressed into my tummy all night [the night before], like a puppy waiting to be born. If I moved, she moved with me. If I lifted my head, looking for a familiar companion in the night, she lifted her head also. “I am here,” she seemed to say simply, “I am the familiar companion you are looking for.”
When I woke up, Fenris greeted me with her liquid brown eyes, laughing almonds, all things good in their sparkle. Before I got her from the breeder who didn’t want her anymore, she had somehow learned to “pray” by standing on her back legs and putting her front paws together as she hopped up and down. I always laughed when she did this. Even though her legs were deformed she managed to enjoy this little prayer dance, and it made me laugh this morning, too.
I gave Fenris her organic breakfast. Then I reached for Finnian’s medicine to give it to him. My vet had put it in a molasses syrup, which Finnian loved to have in the morning. But as I turned to find him, I realized that he was still gone. Fenris smiled up at me instead. I fished around in the refrigerator to find the treat she loves best: little chunks off the big, meaty training roll we use for all the dogs. I gave her one for Finnian and one for her. I made the piece for her bigger.
I got down on my knees to talk to her snout to snout. “Finnian picked you, you understand that, right?”
She wagged her puffy tail and smiled.
“Are you ready to start today?”
Wag. Wag. Wag.
“It’s a tough job. Are you sure? You will have to be my dancing partner. A constant dancing partner to my soul.”
“Ok. I trust you.”
I took out my needle and thread and got Finnian’s service dog vest from the cupboard. I ripped out the seams, and brushed out Finnian’s small gray hairs where they had gotten caught in between. I took the little vest apart and measured Fenris. Slowly and carefully I re-sewed the vest to fit her. I put the vest on her and stood back.
Wag. Wag. Wag. Smile.
Today was a big day. We were taking my son down to Seattle, a couple hours away, to see a Children’s Theater play about an Egyptian king who tried to find a stone that would give him immortality. Rather than finding the stone, he found his inner strength.
Fenris stayed still in her front pack. She was friendly to the people who reached for her without reading the “Service Dog: Do Not Pet” sign on the front of the pack. When I took her out, she laid down on my lap and didn’t move a muscle during the whole play. I leaned around to see her face.It was clear she was watching the play intently; watching everything that was happening on the stage.
Her brown eyes were dancing as she listened and took in all the colors and movements. I had to laugh out loud for this was the little girl who had lived in a kennel all her short life, and only saw nothing but wire, bars, and concrete.
After the play, we went to meet friends at the food court in the Seattle Center. We ate lunch there with Fenris in her new front pack, never begging, never even sniffing the food so close to her.
Afterwards, we went to see the Lucy exhibit at the Center. Even though I took a long time in the reading each exhibit slowly in the crowded halls, Fenris stayed quiet and relaxed in the front pack. Sometimes she looked up at me and smiled, as if yo say, “This is fun. I love being with you.”
One of the guards at the exhibit who had watched us a long time came up to us.
“She’s beautiful. Did you train her yourself?” She asked.
It went through my mind that the answer was more complex than “yes” or “no”. As my friend with an autism support dog says, “they either have it or they don’t”. You can train a dog to within an inch of its life, but if it doesn’t do that dance with your soul, there is no service dog. Fenris licked the woman’s fingers daintily after the woman asked if it was ok.
“I think she trained herself,” I said.
“Well, I’ve never seen a dog more in tune with its handler. She has been so quiet and good.”
I told thanked the guard and scratched Fenris’ head. No one would ever believe this was her “First Day.”
Finally, we emerged into the cool evening air. I gave Fenris treats and water and let her walk on the grass. She stayed at my heel. On the way home she slept on my lap, looking up sometimes to gauge the stars. “Are we home?” Then, she would look at me. “Oh, yes. We are.”
Life goes on.
It’s a little after 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. Finnian is scheduled to be at the vet’s at 4:00 Pacific Time, four hours from now.
Dawn struggled with her decision to put him to sleep because he was feeling better today, his eyes shiny with life. The decision to let him go was enormously difficult. Now she prepares to say the last goodbye to her trusty little guide and partner.
It was only after joining the DLD (Dog Liver Disease) group that I met someone who had a service dog. I remember how profoundly it affected me to read about Margy’s service dog Noodles, who has since passed, and what that relationship was like. It changed something inside me forever. The epiphany about relationships with animals was further heightened when I met Dawn and Finnian on the site less than a week ago.
There was another deluge of posts today on the DLD site to support Dawn during this difficult time. Every post was meaningful, kind, thoughtful and considerate. I reprint verbatim here the two posts that reference service dogs:
On February 2, 2009
- “Dear Dawn. My heart is breaking for you, I remember, too well, how I felt when my Hearing Ear dog, Noodles had to be put to sleep because he had a rare cancer. Take your time, breathe, and be kind to yourself. I can only say that in time, the good memories of Finnian will make you smile once more. I am keeping you and Finnian in my prayers.
It may ease his discomfort if you give him some vanilla Pediasure with Fiber, if he cannot eat. Big hugs from Margy Hope
On Feb 3, 2009
- “As we all say a prayer for Finnian and Dawn today during this difficult time, remember that she is on the West Coast, so her 4:00pm will be the East Coast 7:00pm. I want to send my prayers and positive energy and thoughts and love to them at the time they need it the most. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers today and help Dawn deal with this loss. We have all experienced losses like this in our lives, but Finnian being her service dog makes this so much more difficult. Margy knows more than anyone about this having lost her precious Noodles a fewyears ago. Dawn, our love and prayers will be with you both.
Love and Light
Just five days ago, on January 29, 2009, I read Dawn Prince-Hughes’ post on the Dog Liver Disease (DLD) group asking whether she could safely give her liver-compromised dog a de-wormer medication to treat him for tapeworms.
Since dogs with liver disease cannot efficiently process chemicals, toxins, proteins, etc., vigilance and care must be taken on what goes into the dogs’ systems, including food, medication, treats, topical solutions, or anything that would be ingested, inhaled or absorbed. The group’s founder and head moderator was able to let Dawn know which de-wormers would be better tolerated by dogs with liver disease.
That was the easy part of Finnian’s story to read. The rest of Dawn’s posts I present here, very minimally edited, for you to read:
- Finnian, my dog who is in liver failure, was a puppy mill rescue. He had been in a cage so small for eight years that his back was permanently arched and he couldn’t walk. He was bald and his lungs were burnt from urine and feces.
Although he’s a “teacup” poodle, at three pounds he was only half his ideal weight. His kidneys were hardening and his heart was enlarged. And his mouth was so infected that a hole had been eaten into his nose. After four oral surgeries we still haven’t been able to close the hole.
He can’t have another surgery as he became so weakened, he almost died on the table the last time. Both the infection and the operations have lead to his current liver failure.
It’s so hard, because despite his health, he has bright eyes and loves life for the most part. Even in his current state at eleven years old, he tried to play with the puppy last night.
An outpouring of posts flooded the DLD site, expressing gratitude and admiration for Dawn’s adoption and care of such a sick dog. Even I posted: “You are truly a knight in shining armor for this dog.”
Dawn’s response revealed yet another layer of meaning and poignancy:
- I feel like I have been so blessed by Finnian. I spent many years as a homeless autistic person and he reminds me every day to forgive and let go. What I’ve been through is nothing compared to Fin’s life.
Finnian has been MY knight in shining armor! You know, he was so sick when I got him I carried him around in a front pack. When he felt better I took him out in public that way. He started alerting me to impending sensory episodes that would incapacitate me.
I finished his basic training and then had him registered as my service dog. He has traveled with me by plane, train, and bus, over mountain and plain. He goes on errands with me everywhere, and sits on my lap when we are home, going nowhere else except for exercise walks. That’s what makes this even more difficult. We have become one entity.
Here are the two photos she sent me last night.
Only four days later, we read the crushing post from Dawn entitiled “Finnian will be crossing the bridge tomorrow…”:
- Mon Feb 2, 2009 11:41 am
Finnian is crashing. He feels awful and is having trouble standing and walking. He is very confused and his breathing is shallow and difficult.
I am taking him shopping today in his front pack, his favorite thing. I will be spoiling him tomorrow and then at 4:00 pm the vet will be putting him to sleep.
I won’t be on the list for a while, as I recover from the loss of my service dog and best friend. I just wanted to thank everyone who helped us and has shown so much love and care to us.
Dawn and Finnian