Written by Jenny Pavlovic
We lost our beloved dog Bandit to multiple myeloma in March. I had a beautiful pendant made with some of his ashes inside, and I wear it on a chain around my neck, or on a bracelet. I mentioned before that I had a hard time deciding where to release Bandit's ashes, so I’ve been releasing smidgens of them in many of the places we had good times together. I had released some of his ashes up on our hill where we walk and play every day, and earlier in July I released some under the orange 'Moose that Wouldn't Move' (http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?p=2778) and in my parents' yard in Wisconsin where we used to play ball when we visited.
One Saturday morning in July I took some ashes along on errands. I released some at the Washington County Fairgrounds where Bandit and I spent many hours doing tracking training. Last summer Bandit and I often went there on Saturday mornings while Chase was resting at home (in Cay's company) from a week of radiation therapy. I'm very grateful that Bandit and I had this time alone together, even while Chase required special care for his cancer treatments. As I released Bandit's ashes there, a red-tailed hawk circled and called out. When I looked up I saw a rainbow sun dog, a colorful ring around the sun. I thought about the time Bandit and I had spent there together, not just tracking, but sitting on the tailgate under a large tree waiting for the tracks to age, enjoying the morning. And I realized that I still have many tears left, some that I let go of that morning.
It's funny how life often turns out differently than you plan and expect. I thought all that time Bandit and I spent tracking would lead us to tracking and versatility titles, but really that time together was the gift in itself. The dedication and determination to spend that time together, driven by goals that we ran out of time to complete, gave us the gift of that time. The real purpose of it all was a surprise because I never thought I’d lose Bandit so soon. I’m left with these memories of precious time alone with Bandit, time we might not have had if I’d only been able to focus on taking care of Chase.
Later that Saturday morning in July, Chase and Cay and I went for a walk by the St. Croix River in our home town of Afton, Minnesota. I released more of Bandit’s ashes to the wind in this one more place where Bandit and I had shared good times. We had taken one of our last walks away from home there, when the river was iced over, long after Bandit had revealed that he could no longer track.
Then on the way home Chase and Cay and I stopped at Afton State Park in the St. Croix River Valley, up on the hill behind our house, where Bandit and I did much of our tracking training. There I released more ashes to the wind. While I was turning the truck around to head home, a spotted fawn cantered out from behind a tree. I was emotionally drained and hungry and wanted to go home, but I paused to watch and enjoy the moment. The fawn's twin leapt out from behind the other side of the tree. They cavorted together for a moment right in front of the truck, then galloped off into the woods. What an amazing gift, something I might have missed before.
Bandit never fit into a box any better than I do. He led me to all of these places, taught me so many things on our remarkable journey together. Yes, I feel very sad missing Bandit. But I also feel thankful for the time we had together, because I know the deep well of sadness is directly related to how remarkable our bond and our love for each other were.
On a Sunday in July, we visited Bandit's mama Sparkee at his birthplace near Lake City, Minnesota. Bandit's formal name was 'Hillhaven Bolt out of the Blue', and Sparkee is the blue! Spark, still beautiful at age 15, has lost much of the function in her back end and may not be with us much longer. I gave her my love and thanked her for giving us such a special boy. I scattered some of Bandit's ashes in a wildflower prairie on this farm where he was born, while Chase and Cay enjoyed running in the field.
How do I even know all the ways Bandit changed my life? How do I let go of a dog who so profoundly taught me things I needed to know? One thing I hope I never forget is that we only have this present moment and we'd best enjoy it. Yes, the lawn mower won't start, the light switch isn't working right, and things seem to go wrong all of the time. But we can still play ball and enjoy this beautiful day and not wait for everything to be perfect in order to be happy. Things are seldom going to be perfect, but if we enjoy this present moment, they might just feel perfect right now. Bandit would whack me on the leg with the rubber chicken, or poke me with the jolly ball, to remind me of this. He was always much wiser than I.
While in hindsight Bandit showed signs of being ill as early as February or March of 2013, his tests came back normal and he held it together until September. Sometimes I wonder how he ran tracks at all last summer, and I hope I didn't work him too hard. I don't think it's a coincidence that he didn’t quit tracking until the September morning after Chase successfully completed his daily radiation therapy treatments. I think that Bandit held it together until he knew that Chase would survive colon cancer. Bandit knew that I couldn’t bear to lose both of them at the same time. He was that wise and intrepid, and I'm sure he took care of us in many ways that I'm not even aware of.
I'm still saying goodbye, while yet noticing the many ways Bandit stays with us as we make our way without his physical presence. I haven't been able to track with the other dogs yet this year, even though I know they would enjoy it and benefit from it. Visiting the fields to release Bandit's ashes is a step toward being able to function that way again. Maybe now I can think of it as going to the tracking fields to visit him and create new memories with Chase and Cay. We'll see, as somehow we carry on.
The garden I built in Bandit’s memory is growing and blooming like crazy, a reminder that life goes on. Somehow we do too.
At the end of June a friend emailed me about a senior red Australian Cattle Dog in jeopardy in Illinois. An unclaimed stray, he was running out of time and urgently needed rescue. Oh, what a tug at my heartstrings. This old guy, called ‘Pops’, reminded me so much of Bandit. His spirit seemed to bust right out of the photo. He was described as being very friendly. He gets along with other dogs and sounds like a very sweet old guy.
The folks at Homeward Bound Waggin’, Inc. in Quincy, Illinois (http://www.homewardboundwaggin.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/HomewardBoundWagginInc) were looking out for Pops and could pull him, get vet care, and transport him to Minnesota. I checked around for a rescue group to take him in. The Top Dog Foundation in Minnesota (http://www.topdogfoundation.org/), known to be a friend to older dogs, agreed to take him into one of their foster homes.
Once Pops arrived in Minnesota, he was found to have a broken or dislocated jaw. On July 23rd, he had surgery to repair his jaw and remove three painful teeth. Pops is reportedly doing well. You can follow his progress on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TopDogFDN. If you’re interested in meeting and possibly adopting Pops, please contact the Top Dog Foundation. If you would like to donate toward his veterinary care, please go to http://www.razoo.com/story/Help-Pops-The-Cattle-Dog. Homeward Bound Waggin’ would appreciate your support too. If not for them, Pops probably wouldn’t still be here! Thank you!