When Tim McHenry first set eyes on Dixie, he sensed that his life would never be quite the same. Dixie had been hit by a car which resulted in the loss of her left front leg. She was given a second chance thanks to the compassion of a shelter director and the skill of a generous veterinarian.
Tim adopted Dixie. Her rehabilitation became Tim's responsibility. Little did he know that he would be the one who would soon need rescuing. Together, Tim and Dixie discovered that their extraordinary love would ultimately lead them on a path to redemption and give them both a leg to stand on.
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A LEG TO STAND ONA Shared Journey of Healing
By TIMOTHY MCHENRY
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Timothy McHenry
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I will be the answer At the end of the line I will be there for you While you take the time ..."
Sarah McLachlan, "Answer"
THE OTHER SIDE
It was my fault for letting Princess wander off leash but she hardly posed a threat. The senseless act of brutality that ensued served as a reminder that our species is not nearly as evolved as we believe. Her ear-piercing scream could be heard from a block away. There were no emergency vet clinics available. I made her as comfortable as I could and slept with her on the floor that night. X-rays the next morning revealed a compound fracture and she was immediately taken into surgery where a steel rod was implanted to reconnect the severed bone. My vet said that Princess had likely been kicked, possibly by someone wielding a heavy leather boot.
As the years passed, Princess began to favor the leg after long hikes or jogs. It was especially painful in the winter. We lived in Topeka, Kansas and midwestern winters can be harsh. One day in the spring of 2001, we took a walk around a small lake when she suddenly collapsed and would not budge. I was initially irked, thinking she was tired and just being stubborn so nudged her from behind to get her moving. It was clear that she was in some distress. I wound up carrying her 60 pounds for nearly a mile then drove her to Dr. Larry Fischer at Western Hills Veterinary Clinic straightaway.
Dr. Fischer was an experienced veterinarian with strong Christian beliefs. He had seen thousands of dogs in his career but always managed to make me feel like Princess was his only patient. I liked that about him. X-rays were taken, blood was drawn. A day later Dr. Fischer called and asked that I come to the clinic to discuss the results. His reluctance to share details over the phone had me concerned and I spent a restless night fearing the worst.
The worst was what I got. Cancer had been hibernating in Princess like a famished grizzly bear for years. It was bone cancer, likely perpetuated by the leg injury. She had less than six months. Medication could keep the pain at bay but nothing could cure or slow the spread. Over the next three months, I stood by helplessly as this once vibrant dog labored to her bowl for dinner. By August, Princess was dragging her hindquarters across the yard and could not maintain a stand long enough to have a bowel movement. I sat with her in the shade and looked deep into disconsolate eyes. We both knew it was time.
I called Dr. Fischer's office and the appointment was scheduled for the following day. You go to the dentist and tell the receptionist that you're there to have a cavity filled. What was I going to say to Dr. Fischer's receptionist tomorrow? This is Princess and she is here to die? How surreal it was to schedule the end of a life. I wonder how that looks in the appointment book. How does the staff at the clinic approach each day knowing that a beloved pet is going to sleep a 3 p.m. and never waking up? These rhetorical thoughts swam through my head in the hours that preceded our appointment with destiny.
My son Josh was only seven then. I had been a single custodial parent for five years. Josh and I were a pack of two. We lost my father just four years back and now Josh was dealing with death again. I spoke to him in hushed tones as we ate breakfast. He knew of the cancer and had sounded the alarm every time Princess collapsed under her own weight. I tried to avoid the euphemisms that only served to make me feel better. "We have to do what's right. "She'll be going to a better place." "God has a plan for her." "The dogs in heaven need a new friend."
Rather, I explained exactly what was to happen later that day.
"Princess and I are going to see Dr. Fischer. He will give her some medicine to make her sleepy, then inject her with a drug that will stop her heart. Princess will feel no pain from the needle and cancer can never hurt her again. After you say goodbye, you will not see Princess again in this life. But her memory will be in your heart forever—just like with Grandpa."
Then there were tears. Josh was a sweet, sensitive boy who spontaneously wept for months over the loss of his Grandpa though he was only three at the time. I held him as we shared memories of our sweet girl under the shade of a silver maple tree. Her face was sunken and the skin around her hips had grown taut. She had barely eaten in days. I told my son of our hikes in the Arizona mountains before he was but a twinkle in my eye. There was the time at the lake where Princess caught a frog and nearly gagged when the little green guy secreted some hideous tasting goo from his pores in an attempt to flee his clueless captor. There were the horror film reactions to her classic "grin." I reminded Josh that Princess had been like a shepherd when he was a baby, sleeping under his crib and coming out to the living room only to reprimand me for not being more attentive when he cried or awakened from a nap.
I had arranged for a friend to watch Josh for the afternoon. Though the appointment was only booked for 20 minutes, I was not sure what time I would feel like coming home.
It was time to go.
Josh cried as only children can and hugged Princess for the last time. I loaded her carefully in a kennel that was secured in the bed of my compact pickup. Our appointment was at 2 p.m. but I left at one. Princess and I were going to visit her favorite places one last time. There was the Shunga Trail that bordered the creek by the same name. We stopped and admired the majestic maples and oaks at Gage Park. From there, we cruised up to the Governor's mansion where public trails encircled a pond. She loved to swim out to the center and wreak havoc with the resident ducks. It was on that trail the Princess laid down, forcing me to carry her back to the car. It was to be the last hike we would take together.
We pulled into the cemetery where Dad is buried. That was always such a peaceful walk. I found it morbidly ironic that a cemetery would be our last stop before our appointment with death. Each time the truck came to a halt at a familiar place, Princess struggled to her feet as if to inhale one last moment.
I arrived at Western Hills Veterinary Clinic. She knew and was afraid. I opened the tailgate kennel to find that she had soiled her kennel. Princess never did that. I gently lifted her from the back of the truck and carried her into the waiting room. We were a mess. The nurse took one look and immediately escorted us back to the bathing area. I hoisted Princess into the tub and the nurse gently rinsed her off and shampooed her coat while I cleaned up. She was thoroughly dried and brushed. Thanks to Dr. Fischer's compassionate staff, Princess was going to leave this world with her dignity intact.
Dr. Fischer entered the exam room and asked how I was doing. Curious question, as I wasn't the one facing the needle. I nearly lost it at that point and could only nod my head. I had to be strong for Princess and for Josh so kept the tear ducts on hold. Dr. Fischer placed his hand on my shoulder to steady me while he administered the first injection. Princess was already lying down and I could feel her body start to relax as the sedative took hold.
I remember Dr. Fischer asking if I had any questions. I shook my head, as he had already explained the procedure. I stroked Princess' beautiful yellow coat and whispered "I love you, sweet girl."
"I'll see you on the other side," Dr. Fischer said as he administered the final injection.
I stroked the side of my girl's face and laid my head on her rib cage as she peacefully took her last breath. One minute she was alive. The next she was gone. And in that precise moment throughout the world, there were births, wedding proposals, arguments, couples in the throes of passion, cell calls, text messages, the honking of horns at busy intersections, clocks being punched, dreams dreamt. And death.
But in this moment none of that mattered. My Princess was gone and I released a tsunami of anguish bottled up since my dad died. I had been told the exam room was mine for the afternoon and it was well over an hour before I could bring myself to abandon Princess' lifeless body on the exam table and drive home. It would be four years before I was ready to be in relationship with a dog again. And that dog was Dixie, a yellow lab. Just like Princess. Only not.
INSIGHTS: DIXIE THE "TIE-DOWN" DOG
Sometimes I wish I wasn't a dog. People don't chase rabbits. They don't get tingly all over when those demonic creatures raise their fuzzy white tails and take flight. I was once a "tie-down" dog. A tie-down dog spends his life wearing a chain around his neck. The other end is connected to a big stick that humans twist into the ground. My chain was cruel. It allowed me chase the rodents that danced across our lawn until I got close enough to smell their breath. Without warning, it snapped me back, sometimes flipping me over in the process as the critter scampered away. Rabbits, squirrels, and other varmints were placed on this earth to torment dogs. Of this I am certain. Their cackling is all I had for company. I was so lonely.
Like most tie-down dogs, I was once allowed inside. Sometimes I peed in the house when no one was near to take me outside. I tried to hold it. Really I did. But they never came around so I became a tie-down dog. The man brought me food and water once a day. His mate yelled at me through the window when I barked a hello at the neighbor kids.
She had to be the dumbest bunny that ever hopped. There she was, sitting there just a few feet away. My ears perked, my mouth closed. This moron was begging to be caught. I lunged. She froze for a moment and then turned towards the bushes but I was too fast and cut her off. Suddenly she darted towards the street and I forgot about the chain. I felt it tighten around my neck but his time I was not jerked backwards. There was a loud snap as my collar fell to the ground. Suddenly there was blast of noise and a screeching sound. A searing jolt of pain ran up my left front leg and I screamed.
Everything was a blur after that. I vaguely remember the man wrapping a cloth around my leg and looping the chain around my neck. Rabbits, birds, and squirrels went about their business but I was in no mood to chase. My leg was on fire and there was no water to put it out so I laid on the yellow grass and tried not to think about it.
Two days had passed and I could not take my mind off the pain. The woman wrapped more cloth around my leg but it turned red just as quickly as the first one did. Usually I try to eat before the flies land on my breakfast but today I didn't care. I was thirsty but did not drink. Moving to the water bowl meant standing and that caused my leg to throb even more. I secretly wished I didn't have that stupid leg anymore. Dogs are really three legged animals with a spare. Maybe it would just come off if I chewed carefully around the cloth.
The flies had left my food and were now buzzing around my leg. Flies like blood and I was a lunch buffet. It hurt to chew on my leg but I kept at it. Finally the man came out to check on me. He seemed shocked at what he saw and unfastened my chain. Could I be going back inside? As it turned out, we took a car ride. Cars and I were not on speaking terms so I was not happy about this. After several minutes, I was carried into a large building with what sounded like a million barking dogs. The man walked away but I was too tired and sore to follow him.
A woman that smelled like soap carried me to a kennel and gently lowered me onto a warm blanket. Best of all, there was no chain. She gave me water and I lapped it up. Some food was left in a bowl but there was too much pain to feel hunger. I curled up against the wall and tried to relax. A man approached me cautiously while an older woman stood behind him with a look of concern on her face. I could sense the fear he was trying to suppress though I did not understand it. I was a good dog and had never hurt a human. He ran his fingers down my damaged leg. It hurt when he moved my leg so I tried to blink the pain away. He stroked my fur with his soft hands then smiled as he backed away. The man returned and placed a needle into my skin. It stung a bit but it was nothing compared to what I was already feeling. My leg began to numb and the hurt faded. My eyes grew heavy.
Although there were dogs and kind people everywhere, I never felt so alone. What was to become of me? Would the pain ever stop? A dark wave of sadness rushed over me as I drifted off to sleep.
Chapter Two"The long and winding road that leads to your door Will never disappear I've seen that road before it always leads me here Leads me to your door ..."
John Lennon/Paul McCartney, "The Long and Winding Road"
One of the moments that defined my life took place in late October of 2005. I was the director of Christ the King Early Education Center in Topeka, Kansas. The local Archdiocese had called a meeting in Kansas City to roll out its new benefit package and I was required to attend. For the record, I despise meetings. That wasn't what I signed on for when I chose a career in youth services. I wanted to work with young people. This meeting would have all the charm of a crocodile with an abscessed tooth. At least I could take solace in the splendor of a Kansas fall as the miles slipped away.
It had been some time since I lived with a dog and the longing had returned. Princess was truly a gem. The cancer that took her life in 2001 also removed any desire to live the nightmare of losing a best friend. But for reasons I cannot explain to this day, I felt it was time and I was consumed by a yearning I did not understand. Highway 24 would make for a scenic drive back to the center and assistant director Angie had things well under control as was always the case in my absence. The two-lane would take me right by Helping Hands Humane Society where I had volunteered for several years socializing dogs in the play yard. No messages from Meadows Elementary. Josh was 11 now and safely tucked away at school. I had all the bases covered.
I was looking for Princess both in form and in temperament. No puppies. I had never been particularly good at the potty training thing with Princess. I had managed to get my son out of pull ups by his first day of kindergarten so figured I had reached the toileting summit. No point in climbing that mountain again.
As usual, the shelter was full—and loud. That much had not changed since I walked these corridors. Driven to a state of frenzy by their incarceration, the poor souls leaped, barked, and twirled mindlessly as I ambled by.
Surely someone will love this dog, I thought.
The harsh reality was a walk down the proverbial Green Mile for more than half of these animals. A quick sedative followed by a needle prick. Another nameless life lost to make room for another whose fate would be decided in a matter of days.
Deep down you bleed for them all but you have to check those emotions at the front door if you ever intend to find not "a" dog but "the" dog. Until this day Princess had been that dog. She was my jogging partner, the nanny for my son, and my counsel during the barren years following my divorce and the death of my father. Could there be another dog such as she? Would finding that dog cause me to abandon my memories of our hikes down the Shunga trail?
Don't think so much. Just walk. If that dog is out there, he or she will find you and shoot an arrow straight into your heart. Be patient. It may not be today but perhaps one day soon.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
There she was.
A petite yellow Lab mix, a much darker shade of yellow than Princess, sat pressed against the back wall of the kennel. I stopped. Our eyes met. Hers were soulful, intelligent, yet sad in a way I would come to understand in my own life. The arrow she pulled from her quiver had found its mark.
Then she moved. Not like a dog but more like a kangaroo. Hopping. She lurched with obvious discomfort but never took those shiny copper eyes off me for a second. I was mesmerized at her approach but managed to glance downward long enough to notice that there was no left front leg. No stump—nothing. It was gone. A fresh scar, pink and pronounced, zipped the skin together across her shoulder. Given the bruising along her rib cage, I concluded that this was no birth defect. The leg had been recently amputated.
I reached through the kennel door to touch her muzzle while she explored my fingers with her snout. She rested her head against the chain link and though my curiosity burned I found myself unable to sever the eye contact between us. Linear time had ceased and I was not ready for this moment to end. Questions. There were so many questions. I sighed, collected myself, and walked briskly past the now invisible faces of the other dogs to see an adoption counselor. I had to know the story.
Shelter manager Stacey was sitting at her steel desk at Helping Hands Humane Society when I walked into the lobby.
Excerpted from A LEG TO STAND ON by TIMOTHY MCHENRY Copyright © 2012 by Timothy McHenry. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Dixie: A Moment in Time....................xiii
Chapter 1: The Other Side....................1
Insights: Dixie the "Tie-Down" Dog....................5
Chapter 2: Highway 24....................8
Chapter 3: Dixie's Angels....................12
Chapter 4: Smitten....................16
Chapter 5: Betty Jo....................18
Insights: Am I Going Home Today?....................21
Chapter 6: The Lucky Ones....................22
Chapter 7: Finding the Inner Dog....................25
Chapter 8: Poster Girl....................28
Chapter 9: Lightning Strikes....................33
Chapter 10: Teamwork....................36
Chapter 11: An Empty Space....................41
Chapter 12: The Accusation....................46
Insights: Where Are You?....................53
Chapter 13: Missing In Action....................55
Insights: "I Am For You"....................65
Chapter 14: Tim the Trainer....................68
Chapter 15: From Bad to Worse....................73
Chapter 16: Lost in the Desert....................76
Insights: Lonely But Not Alone....................81
Chapter 17: Soul For Sale....................84
Chapter 18: Afraid....................104
Chapter 19: Ground Zero....................109
Chapter 20: We, the Jury....................114
Chapter 21: Vindication....................121
Chapter 22: Prodigal Sons....................125
Chapter 23: A Chink in the Armor....................128
Chapter 24: Clean Running....................134
Insights: My Favorite Things....................142
Chapter 25: For Josh....................146
Chapter 26: Who Says You Can't Come Home?....................156
Chapter 27: Lights, CameraReally?....................160
Chapter 28: The Gift....................163
Insights: Look What Followed You Home!....................169
Chapter 29: Dropping In and Out....................171
Chapter 30: Not Again....................174
Chapter 31: Symbiosis....................181
Chapter 32: Pet Trainer Chronicles....................189
Insights: I Am Not Your Fur Baby!....................192
Chapter 33: Hero Worship....................195
Chapter 34: The Soul of a Dog....................200
Chapter 35: Forever in a Moment....................205
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It was so moving but the best part is that i know the author and the dog so i can get more info about dixie. But dixie may be 3 leged but she is a beutiful animal and she is so talented. So once again amazing story. LOVE U DIXIE
This is a great story about how a mans best friend can help us heal and get through difficult times. Have some tissues ready for this one!