Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stanley Smallwood (1999 - 2007)

You touch
the right one and a whole half of the universe
wakes up, a new half

--William Stafford “Choosing a Dog”

While the saga of Ellen Degeneres and her dog broke into headlines, with people alternately condemning dog rescues and the people who break their contracts with them, my sister’s dog Stanley was getting sicker than anyone knew. He died Monday in my brother-in-law’s arms.

Stanley woke up the new half of my sister’s universe.

Stanley was born to a notorious puppy mill in Ingham County, Michigan. Because he barked too much as a puppy, the breeder put a large rubber band around his muzzle and left it there for many days. It was there when the place was finally raided. The authorities asked recues to help step up and find homes for the broken and sad survivors.

The rubber band caused a permanent scar on Stanley’s elegant, long face, making him look even more sinister than a Doberman usually looks. His tail, improperly docked by the breeder, was non-exstent. Wagging his tail, which was frankly his waking state, his whole hind half wagged.

My sister Emily and her husband Eric had been through the horror of terminal illness and suffering with their first dog, Jordan, who was a dog I had rescued, twice. I had given him to my sister, and insisted she take him and keep him. He opened up the first half of the universe for her, as she moved with him to a more independent life, started college, and fell in love with Eric. Jordan was the best dog in their wedding, and sat beside them in his bow tie while I read them their vows in my back yard. After Jordan died, Emily and Eric would pull the car into the garage after work and weep because they couldn’t bear to face the house without Jordan.

It wasn’t long before Emily started scanning Petfinder, and found Stanley. When she chose him, the new half of the universe opened. Stanley was there when they brought my precious nephew, Cameron, home from the NICU. He was with them as they moved to Port Huron. After I moved, he was always glad to see me, bounding up to me wiggling all the way: a giant break dancer in brown and black, and usually with a colorful bandanna my sister liked him to wear. The bandanas always coordinated with the season—this week he would have been wearing something halloweeny.

Adoption is the way we make families. I know there are some people who believe that we shouldn’t use the word “adopt” when we take non-human animals into our family. As the adoptive mother of my human son, I am sensitive to language. But it never struck me as demeaning the adoption of humans to use the word with non-human animals. We should be just as careful about the adoptions of four-leggeds as we are about the adoption of humans. Non-human animals have always been a part of my family. Fur-covered four-leggeds are just as much a part of my universe as my son Benjamin.

And so it was always for my sister and her family. Stanley the Effervescent was a member of her family. I truly believe that touching Stanley made other choices possible for her: parenting, finishing school, growing whole. It helped her heal the terrible wound left when Jordan died. In an odd way, it helped her be able to survive the loss of Stanley.

So you can carp all you want about rescues and their rigid belief that non-human animals are important. It is only when we allow ourselves to be touched and adopted by our four-legged family members that we understand how much of ourselves can be possible. It’s part of being fully human. Stanley has a soul just as surely as my son Benjamin does, just as surely as my dog Sam does, just as surely as you and I do.

Stanley’s bounding, leaping, wagging soul will always be a part of my family.

Rest in peace, you good dog, you.

1 comment:

Em said...

Thank you for this.

It didn't matter that he'd suffered so at the hands of people. He loved people and believed that every person loved him. Stan taught me about forgiveness and optimism. How crazy that a dog has taught me life lessons.

Now he's cremated and sits in a crappy looking white plastic box on the mantel. Too small a space for such a large soul...I have to believe he's someplace else.

love, em