A glorious thunderstorm is dancing outside my window, and it is the first time in more than a dozen years that Tinker Bell isn’t feeling terrorized-- desperately afraid of the violent thunder and lightning as it flashes across the sky.
This is because Tinker Bell no longer walks this earth.
On Friday afternoon, he was lovingly released from his body. Since then, it feels as if the simple sweetness that was him has filled the air around me. The grass is even more beautiful as it sways in the wind, the trees provide even more luscious shade. The sun is more golden, the sunsets more dramatic-- the beings that people my world even more beloved than ever before. Blessings abound and I know with certainty that all our prayers are answered.
Tinker Bell’s sweetness is everywhere, and yet his nearly pathological and lifelong fear of loud noises, raised voices, or fast-moving hands or feet has disappeared completely. My darling dog is finally free.
Tinker Bell’s life before joining mine was bleak, to say the least. He was bought from a breeder and raised by a man whose temper was his defining character, a man who imprinted in this innocent puppy a fear so great that, for the rest of his life a loud noise could make this big dog vomit and cower in distress.
When the man had a fatal heart attack, his family asked me if I would take him in. Delightedly, I said yes, and took him immediately to have his medical needs met and to be neutered.
This was the early days of Indraloka, I did not know to get “ownership” of the animal in writing right away. Alas, the family changed their mind, and I had no recourse, I had to give him back. Oddly, they tied him up outside and left him there, with seemingly no interest in him. I approached them several times and offered to give him a good home, but they refused. So I took to visiting him on his chain, offering him what comfort I could.
It was no coincidence that when Tinker Bell finally came into my life to stay it was perhaps my darkest day.
Everything around me seemed to have fallen apart. My marriage had failed, my business had collapsed, my savings had been spent, I had distanced myself from nearly all my friends, my parents had moved to India, and even my home seemed to be falling apart around me. The animals were all that kept me going.
And then my pony got sick.
Cody had a rare form of autoimmune disease. The slightest exposure to the very things that horses live for-- such as grass-- made him dangerously ill. I developed a system whereby his stall and paddock were disinfected twice a day, and he was kept alive on a carefully prepared diet that ensured no exposure to his many allergens.
Oh how I loved that little pony! His eyes would light up when he saw me, and we spent hours together, comforting one another.
But finally, a day came when his body just couldn’t go on, even with all of my precautions. He couldn’t stand and he couldn’t breathe. I knew that my great love and even greater need was not enough reason to hold him here any longer. So, I called the vet and sat next to my dying pony, feeding him all the things he had longed for but was too allergic to eat-- what difference did it make, right?
I had no one to call to be with me and Cody, and when the vet came I said goodbye to my little pony all alone, and alone I watched his body being dragged onto the trailer that would take him away. I did not have any money to have him cremated, and had to allow them to take his body to a place where he would be made into fertilizer.
That choice still haunts me today.
Heartbroken and forlorn, too worn out and hopeless to even cry, I made my way back to the house.
And suddenly, as if by magic, Tinker Bell appeared in a car in the driveway! He was very sick, and very frightened. The woman behind the wheel-- the same woman who had taken him back several years ago-- said to me, “I’m on my way to the SPCA unless you still want him.”
I didn’t even have the strength to respond. I just took him out of the car, walked him into the middle of the lawn, and collapsed into tears, crying in his fur.
His name was not Tinker Bell then, of course. They had called him Stroker. But to me, he was an angel-- a fairy-- a magical creature of love who had come to save me.
He laid his huge, drooly head on my shoulder and sat patiently while I cried and cried, just as Cody had always done. A pony for a pony.
But Tinker Bell wasn’t well. In fact, his body was slowly shutting down. It began with breathing problems and weight loss and progressed to liver failure, then kidney failure, and before I knew it, Tinker Bell was in congestive heart failure. I took him to every vet I could find, and none of their tests revealed anything wrong with him.
Finally, I realized that he was suffering the same symptoms as Cody had. And sure enough, we treated him as if he had auto immune disease and he started getting better! He regained his weight and his strength, and began acting like a young puppy, frolicking with the other dogs, shaking his big head with drool flying everywhere and a sparkle in his eyes.
And yet, despite his recovered physical health, Tinker Bell still suffered emotionally. If I said, “Tinker Bell, come,” he would tuck his tail between his legs and run and hide. I realized he expected to either be tied up or hurt when he was called, so I stopped asking him to come.
Instead, I made up a silly game that he loved. I would wander around the yard saying, “Excuse me, have you seen my dog? Where’s my dog?” in a silly voice, deliberately looking away from him. Delightedly, he’d run up to me, circling around and barking for my attention. I’d continue to look away and ask where my dog was, until finally I’d pretend to trip over him. We would tumble into the grass for a good cuddle. And that is how Tinker Bell learned it was okay to answer when he was called.
And oh how Tinker loved kids!! The way that I discovered this was that one day we had a Brownie Troop visiting the sanctuary. The girls were congregated on the hill, getting ready for a picnic lunch. I decided to bring Tinker Bell out to see them. He bolted through the open door, ran up the hill, burst into the midst of the children, and flopped down on the ground for belly rubs.
Since then, every time children have come to the sanctuary, Tinker Bell has gloried in having them crawl all over him, hang on him and even fall asleep on him. I know with certainty that Tinker Bell’s heaven is filled with doting children and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The weekend of July 4th Tinker Bell was devastated, as usual, by the sounds of firecrackers all around us. We also experienced an oppressive heat wave starting that weekend and lasting most of July-- terrible conditions for big, shaggy dogs that prefer laying in mounds of snow in 20 degrees fahrenheit.
That was the weekend he stopped being able to climb stairs. I started sleeping on the sofa in the living room, and we got an air conditioner to bring the room’s temperatures down to a level where he could breathe, although the rest of us were shivering.
We took him to vet after vet, and gave him more and more arthritis medications, but he kept getting worse. Finally, he fell down and never got up again. I began carrying him from place to place. Then his heart started failing, and I knew at his age I wouldn’t be able to save him again. We kept him comfortable for a few more days, while a stream of visitors flowed through the doors. Time and again, Tinker Bell comforted each visitor as they cried into his great mane, his eyes dancing with love and sweetness.
He was ready.
I lay down next to him and cried into his fur a final time, holding him as he let out his last breath. The sweetness that was Tinker Bell was released in a cloud of love that has enveloped me since.
Photo credit: Indraloka