It wasn’t long after finishing our first children’s book together [Doodle], that Michele Quinn and I started pondering ideas for a second story. What we didn’t know at the time was that our next book about the adventures of a little girl and her dog would be one of both love and loss.
The story of ‘Doodle Meets the Pound Pup’ is a very personal one for Michele as Cocoa, the guest star of this installment of Doodle books, was the Quinn family’s very own dog.
While the timeline and some details have been arranged to fit the “Doodle” theme, the heart of the story is quite true. Cocoa was adopted by the Quinns two days before Michele’s birthday, so they were especially close, as Cocoa was her special birthday gift.
Cocoa had spent her first years of life chained outdoors with another dog and by the time the animal rescue had her in their care, she was already afraid of men, had hip dysplasia, as well as separation anxiety.
Through no fault of her own, Cocoa was shifted to six different foster homes over the next six months, the last of which having her back outside on a large run.
The Quinns traveled for hours to bring Cocoa from Amish country back to their home in Eastern Ohio, never once regretting the decision to take her home (even after a $400 vet bill on her second full day with the family!)
Cocoa spent the next eight and a half years with her new family, who loved her deeply. Sadly, she began to suffer kidney failure at the end of March and the Quinns had to make the heartbreaking decision to end her suffering. She is now running free, finally catching up with the squirrels and bunnies that she loved to chase.
In keeping with our theme of giving back, from now until December 31st Michele and I will be donating 100% of the profits we receive from sales of “Doodle Meets The Pound Pup” to The Center For Animal Health & Welfare, a no-kill shelter located in our hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania.
For more information on “Doodle Meets The Pound Pup” and to keep up with future book signings and events, be sure to check out our website by Clicking here
It was just your typical blistering hot Sunday afternoon in July. I had just completed mowing half of my lawn and cultivating the care packages my dogs had deposited on it. Now I needed to take a break lest I die of heat exhaustion
As I sought refuge from the heat of the summer sun and with nothing else to do, I found myself in my office looking at old books and magazines I had accumulated.
After going through quite a bit of the outdated stuff I never look at and pledging to eventually get around to throwing a bunch of it out, I noticed an odd volume I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Much to my surprise, amidst the guitar song books and fitness magazines was an old photo album.
As far as I’m concerned, family photo albums are useless most of the time. They just sort of lie around and take up space. Oh sure, there’s plenty of memories in every Kodak moment. But the unfortunate thing is, the only time most people look at photo albums is right after a loved one goes off to college, gets married or passes away.
Even then, the manual of memories is only useful for short-term therapy. Once the grief of the separation has been accepted the book, much like the family bible, goes back to collecting dust. But on this afternoon for no apparent reason, marriage or death included, I decided to have a look-see.
I began by taking a trip down memory lane through my old baby pictures. Ones I’ve looked at hundreds of times. Nothing really “new” to see there. I quickly passed through photos of long ago Christmases and summer days at the pool but all that did was remind me I still needed to finish mowing the other half of my lawn. I was beginning to understand just why this book is only useful for therapy.
As I turned the page again I came to section of pictures from my youth that made me forget about the lawn. For there in front of me were photographs of the pets I had growing up. And one photo in particular caught my eye immediately: Me and Susie.
Susie was the name of my first cat. A white cat with one green eye and one blue eye. A color combination that’s not at all uncommon in white cats but back then it was the coolest thing to tell your friends that your cat had two different colored eyes.
I recalled how, thirty some odd years ago, if I would hold my hand out above her with my palm facing down, she would jump up and rub her head across it. I bet not many cats could do what Susie could do. To a seven-year old boy, she was something special.
As I remembered all the good times with Susie, I soon came across another picture. This one taken a few years later of me and another cat, Fuzzy. Ironically enough, Fuzzy was the offspring of Susie and pretty much adopted me as his own. Where ever I went, Fuzzy went. He was my home boy and we were tight for years.
Of course, seeing those two cats now opened the floodgates of the pets I’ve owned over the years. I began seeking out pictures in the album of all of the critters that have gone through life with me.
There was Sheba: the Siberian Husky, Scruffy: the mutt, Mitzi: the black kitten I found under a car and wound up keeping. And the list goes on.
More recently, there’s been Timmy: the Shih-Tzu, Baci: the Pekingese and Stanley:the fat, orange tabby cat. I even had another white cat a few years ago named, wait for it, Snowy. She didn’t have Susie’s eye combination though. Her’s were both green. All of these pets have long since gone off to the Rainbow Bridge but hold a special place in my heart.
The funny thing is, looking at all these pictures didn’t make me sad to realize that they were all gone. It was different kind of therapy. Looking at their faces and remembering all the good times we shared together was encouraging. It only helped reinforce what I already knew: I’m a huge pet lover.
Today, my pets include two Boston Terriers (Sparky and Bruno) and two cats (Samantha and Marigold) in addition to Pokey my 25-year-old cockatiel, which I discussed in a previous blog.
I enjoyed getting to spend some time with the pets I’ve had over the years. It’s hard to imagine what life would have been like for me without them growing up. Sometimes you need that little reminder that you’re human and have compassion. I suddenly couldn’t wait to get outside later and play fetch with my dogs.
As I closed the photo album and started to head back outside to the lawn it occurred to me that maybe what they say about animal companions is true:
Pets aren’t our whole life, they just make our lives whole.
Feel free to share your pet stories in the comments section.
I have a routine I follow every night with my pets. It’s habitual and one that never changes.
I always make sure everyone is fed, the cat litter box is clean, the fish tank is free of algae and that fresh water is always available. The routine itself is mundane as I’ve done it thousands of times over the years with a variety of different pets that have come and gone.
I had just finished placing the contents of the litter box cleaning into the garage and proceeded over to the next task at hand which is feeding the bird. This daily ritual involves giving fresh food and water and hanging a new millet spray.
Usually, unless I’m in a hurry to do some other “life” event, I’ll whistle to him to get his attention while I serve him dinner. He’ll reciprocate by whistling back affirming his satisfaction of my efforts. It’s a form of communication we’ve established over the years and a job I’ve done so many times I think I can even do it now with my eyes closed.
Today was one of those days where I was in no hurry so I whistled to him. He greeted me back with his own wolf whistle which always gives me a chuckle. You know the one, the whistle you watch men do when they see a pretty girl. This bird has that type of whistle down pat.
By now you should know from reading my blogs that sometimes, without warning, doing the most mundane of tasks seems to trigger memories in me from times long past. And today was no exception.
It was 1986 and I was getting ready to begin my final year of high school when Dad brought him home. He was a grey cockatiel that after much deliberation I decided to name Pokey.
I already had big plans for him. Pokey was going to talk, shake his head and dance. He was going to be my buddy and get me through my senior year. Yes, I had it all planned out.
The first few months were a bit of an adjustment. Pokey and I would feel each other out. Sometimes he wanted to come out and fly to the highest point in the house. Other times he wanted to just stay in his cage and no amount of coaxing would get him to jump onto my finger and come out.
As time wore on we became accustomed to each others habits. He would go on a tear with wolf whistles for no reason until I would scream at the top of my lungs telling him to “SHUT UP!”. Silence would follow for about five seconds at which point the process would begin anew. As angry as it would make me sometimes, especially if I was trying to concentrate on a TV show or be reading while he was doing it, I always knew he was pushing my buttons and just messing with me.
The revelation of old memories really hit me as I was changing his water today, in 2011, for this bird has been with me now for over half of my life. Sadly, he never did learn how to shake his head or dance but does know how to say “Pretty Boy” (thanks to my grandmother’s patient teaching) in addition to his wolf whistling ability.
Has anyone ever had a pet for a quarter of a century? Usually, our animal companions don’t stay with us long at all. A few years at best for a turtle or fish and if we’re lucky 16-18 years tops for a dog or cat. Most of the pets we had as a youth are forgotten memories unless we see pictures of them in old photo albums. Then the joy we had while they were alive is rekindled for but a moment.
And yet, here I was cleaning a cage for a bird that is twenty-five years old and thinking about all the things in my life that he’s actually experienced along with me:
Graduating high school
Getting my first job
Moving into 7 different apartments and houses
Being around for all the bands I’ve been involved with
The birth of my daughter ten years ago
The life and death of the three dogs and three cats that I’ve owned since my father bought him home.
The deaths of my father and my grandmother
The beginning of the 21st century
Pokey has been there for every one of these events and more. Been there even before my wife and daughter. He was there when I was doing homework and going to Canada with the choir in high school. And he’s still here now when I come home from working a full time job that I’ve held for over 21 years. To say that I’m blessed is an understatement.
I sometimes wonder to myself how much longer he has left. Most books and websites tell me he is well past the age for his life span so any day could theoretically be our last one together.
I do have mixed feelings though about how I’ll feel when he does go. I mean, it’s not like he’s a dog that is around you constantly. And it will be less of a burden to not have to clean up seeds on the floor every day.
But still, I think I’ll shed more tears for him that day then for a dog because it will feel like a bigger part of me will die too.