I'LL REMEMBER HER SWIMMING

Hepburn came to us in January of 2004. She was a twelve week old pup who had been chased down and hit by a snowmobile in Moose Factory. She was found in a snow bank, unable to move.

She was the first seriously injured dog we had received and when a more experienced rescue worker told us she would most likely need to have her leg amputated I nearly passed out. It was explained that amputation was a cheaper fix than surgery and we had to be economical. I couldn’t respond even though I sensed she was right.

I named the white and tan pup Hepburn because I knew she would need all the grit and character of Katharine Hepburn the famed actress. I thought the name would inspire her.

Hepburn sat on my lap as we drove to the vets. I thought it a good sign that she could sit the way she was and decided we had all over reacted. After all, she had managed to walk a bit as well and what animal in need of an amputation could do that. The answer was a northern dog.

We hadn’t established ourselves with the vet yet so he didn’t know us well and we certainly weren’t receiving a discount that early on. We didn’t ask for adoption fees at that time but accepted whatever donations were offered so we didn’t have much.

I whispered hopeful thoughts in Hepburn’s ear as we waited for the results of the x-rays the vet had taken. Paul had left for some reason so it was just the pup and I. When Peter, the vet, returned he explained that the knee cap had been broken, displaced and parts surrounding it were torn. He said there was only one vet in our area that could perform the surgery needed and that it would be very expensive. Peter said I might want to consider amputation as it would only cost $500 in comparison. My heart sank. I knew that in rescue we had to make decisions based on the greater good and paying so much money from one dog meant it could be taken from another in need. We didn’t have a vet fund or reserve fund at the time so the money would be coming out of our savings. We were retired and on a fixed income so it was a risk for us. Still, all I could see was this fine young husky pup who deserved to grow into her full potential. I knew what I wanted to do but didn’t expect Paul to agree. He was the practical one and I was not.

I couldn’t give Peter an answer right away so he gave me the x-rays, the name and number of the vet who could perform the complicated surgery and I went out to wait for Paul. When he arrived we sat in the car and I repeated everything I had been told. I held Hepburn on my lap and tried not to cry while I waited for Paul to come to his own decision. It didn’t take long for him to say she had to keep her leg. I don’t think I have ever loved him more. The difference between us is that if we were down to our last $2 I would buy ice cream and he would invest it.  

We didn’t have cell phones then so we drove right to the clinic of the vet who could do the surgery. I walked in holding Hepburn and asked to see Dr. George. Fortunately he was available and when he stood in front of me I told him the surgery that was needed for this rescued pup and explained we could pay $800 for it. I boldly asked what he would charge. I don’t know what he saw in me or knew of himself but he immediately answered $800.

Hepburn had her surgery which required pins to be put on the inside and outside of her knee. They were sharp and as she grew the outside pins would slide under her skin. We had to keep pulling them back and I bled on the white and tan dog many times. She needed a month or so to recover from the surgery and we had to carry her everywhere. She would sleep on a dog bed in my office and was content just to be loved and taken care of. Hepburn had spirit but she accepted what needed to be done for her at the time.

I received a call from a woman who wanted to adopt Hepburn. I explained she hadn’t recovered yet and that she had to return to the vet many times before the outside pins could be removed from her knee. This kind and determined woman explained that she was a nurse and very much wanted to care for Hepburn during the final stages of her recovery. I was grateful, relieved but unsure. After many conversations and a visit to the vets office it was agreed that Candi and her family would indeed be a great home for Hepburn.

We did the home visit and I met Candi’s sixteen year old son. She had told me that he still wore their last dog’s collar on his belt loop during the day and kept it under his pillow at night. This boy had known heart break at a young age and it was clear he had not come through it completely yet. I realized then that he needed Hepburn as much as she needed him. As the time came to say goodbye I looked at Hepburn on her new dog bed, in her new home and I cried. Not a soft and gentle cry but sobs. I didn’t know how I could leave her. I loved her deeply and she had needed me for so long. She had taught me so much and I felt we weren’t finished. I desperately sought for reasons to change my mind about giving her up but when I looked into Hepburn’s eyes I saw she had already moved on. She knew she had a job to do here. I then looked at the young boy and saw I was scaring him so I simply turned and walked out the door.

Some time later I received an email from Candi saying they had rescued another dog named Storm. Hepburn, now Maya had a brother. She sent me a picture of them swimming and I cried yet again. We had made that possible.  

Hepburn remains one of the hardest dogs I ever had to leave behind and now she has left us. She will live on in our hearts and our memories I know but I did like the think of her swimming. Candi’s now twenty-five son once again took the dog collar home with him and really there is no better way to honour Maya than that. I am grateful to them for loving her as they did and I wish my sweet girl sweetness and joy.  

Sharron