In animal rescue work, you hear a lot of stories. Stories
that restore your faith in mankind. Stories that make you think the world is
going to hell in a handbasket. Stories that fall somewhere in between. The tales
of how people find their pets bring you tears of joy. The tales of how people
spent the final hours and days with their pets bring tears of sadness and
While inviting us to join Dog Days of Oxford in September, Marlies Sullivan shared the story of Henshew and Alexandra. It's a story of how one human saw hope where others didn't, of how one animal found a second chance as a result of an impulsive -- nay, an intuitive -- act of compassion, and of how a young girl found her first love.
As I was led to the back room to pick up some donated dog food for our local shelter, I heard something move amongst the many bags of food and supplies. To my horror, in a very small cage, was a very large hairless guinea pig. He had NO HAIR on his entire bottom except for a bit on his head. He also had an open sore all over his body. Apparently he had been dropped off and, according to the young kid helping me, he was to be picked up to be euthanized. I guess he was thought to be beyond help for the store.
Knowing nothing about guinea pigs, but seeing that this little fellow was SCARED TO DEATH and in desperate need of help, I grabbed him and bought the largest cage they sold as well as the most organic bedding they sold. Next was a trip to my vet who determined that the little guy was sooo stressed, had probably been beaten up by another pig, and was suffering from a skin condition.
Medicine, a good quality guinea pig food, and lots of fresh organic veggies and 3 weeks later he had HAIR. He became my 11-year-old daughter's best friend. He spent so much time outside of his cage on her bed. He even got along quite well with our cats (we have photos of him sleeping with our cat).
Sadly, 6 months ago, we had to put him down. It broke our hearts. He had developed a tumor and was suffering. Our vet had a lot of experience with small animals and said there was nothing we could do. My daughter, now 16, held him as he was put down. We had him cremated in a personal cremation and his ashes are on my daughter's desk.
Henshew was such a special guy. We used to joke that he was spoiled because he only wanted organic veggies, but ohhhh, we loved him so.
Marlies' words tell us a beautiful story. But if I'd never heard the story, the photo she sent me of Henshew and Alexandra would have told me everything that needed to be said about their bond, in a way that words could never make tangible.
Henshew's proud stance makes clear he is right where he wanted to be. He seems to be saying, "I am hers, she is mine. All is right in my world." The joy that radiates from Alexandra's smile makes clear that she's right where she wanted to be.
Those of us who have loved and lost pets know all too well the pain she feels now, the pain we all wish we could avoid but know is part of the deal when you love anyone and then lose them. But we also rejoice in her good fortune to have had such a strong loving bond with him, for we know how much she was transformed by it. That she'll carry it with her always. We know this because we, too, have been transformed by our relationships with our own pets.
I've been told that Alexandra is still struggling with Henshew's loss. I wish I could tell her the pain and grief go away, but they don't. They lessen, or seem to, because our coping skills get better, because we learn to compartmentalize our emotions. The tears are there, ever ready to catch you off guard when you find a photo or meet another human who just lost their own furry friend.
Believe what you will, but I believe that our furry friends never leave us. They just trade the frustrating limitations of aging or sick bodies for angel wings, and walk with us as loyal protectors until we meet again.