Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Loving Big and Losing Big: Bailey's Story

Because I always have to have a plan: my task today is to cry…and to journal about loss. Yesterday, I lost my Bailey…my heart dog, my soul mate, one of my greatest teachers and just my big, black donkey.
Just who was that big, black dog?
Bailey was my first "pick" from an entire litter. I didn’t know all of the text-book stuff back in 2000, only a natural intuition guided me through a beyond-successful puppy selection. 

Bailey was the first puppy that I had ever witnessed pulling an entire shrub out of the ground (4 times bigger than herself) and then running around, roots and all, dragging it. Tail carriage up, so very proud….like it was the prize of the century.
Bailey was the first dog to show me the incredible joy of dedicated training and shaping behavior….a joy that created a new career, entirely, for her owner. She made it a breeze.
Bailey was the appropriately corrective adult role model that greeted and tolerated all of my foster dogs over the years. Always ready to open her home to the next dog need of shelter and love. 
Bailey was the first dog that I took through a structured training class. As part of my intial internship (my journey into a career of a professional dog trainer), we earned her AKC Canine Good Citizen Award at the Lee Mannix Center for Canine Behavior.

Bailey was the dog that the late Lee Mannix called “cat food”. He took great pride in giving his newest interns a hard time, especially those with great potential! Upon meeting Bailey, his response was “She’s the ugliest Labrador I’ve ever seen (insert Mannix chuckle here). She doesn’t even know her name, Burgan”. Knowing this goofy Labrador would respond to ANYTHING: “Watch”, he said as he turned his body towards my young Bailey “Hey, cat food” and of course, she came running at full speed….and it sealed the deal. Oh goodness...I can hear his voice now...
Bailey, is the dog who's tight commands and cemented understanding of her handler's intentions couldn't even be stumped by world renowned canine expert, Mr. John Rogerson...even when he tried to find weakness in our teamanship (he loved trying to find that in professional handlers), there was none to be found. She was always impressive (um, except that one time that she got me kicked out of the show ring because she associated a papertowl on the ground with a lure from the good old fashion sport of lure coursing). Yeah, we took a break from lure coursing!
Bailey was the dog who sat quietly with me when I didn’t have the words to share with anyone that my body was failing me. A miscarriage…and then another.
Bailey was the only soul I wanted to be with when I left for a weekend away to find myself after experiencing the confusion of multiple miscarriages. She was my best friend…she always gave the best advice. None. She just listened and loved and let me beg her for answers; I never got answers, but always her intense, all-knowing gaze to show me she was RIGHT THERE WITH ME, where I needed her most.
Bailey was the dog who performed “circus dog” on cue (my first parlor trick) and would grab her tail and whirl around in circles until she fell down…eyes always on the nearby human to ensure her attention-seeking behavior was working!
Later, Bailey was the dog who would share my happy tears because there was a baby growing inside my body…a baby that would make it to term. She was the dog that would not walk on a loose-leash on the left-hand side as taught…but, instead, would frequently circle the body of her pregnant handler when they walked alone. 
Bailey was a sprinkler whore!
Bailey was the dog who danced with me. Literally! SHE taught me a two-sided communication with the canine. Her focus and love of new things helped me to fall in love with the sport of Canine Free Style. She always had greater rhythm than I did…especially since I was waddling with pregnancy at the time we enjoyed most of our training under Carolyn Scott.
Bailey was the rock star that taught me Rally Obedience…and proudly took me to the show ring, finally earning her Novice Title and multiple ribbons despite her large and awkward handler at 8 months pregnant.
Bailey was the “nanny” that welcomed home my beautiful baby girl, Bella Grace, after 5 years of trying. On her own, she gracefully accepted the arrival of baby (unlike the other nutty canines in the household) and made it so easy for a new mommy to juggle everything. Always operating slowly, carefully and with gentle precision around this prized infant.
Bailey was intense about play, toys, lizards, sticks in motion, lure coursing, squirrels...anything that moved. And swimming...a whole new ballgame. This girl new how to have fun!

Photos by Lara Gale

Bailey was the friend that never, ever let me down…the friend that has seen me at my worst and has seen me at my best. She has never judged; he has never condemned and she has always forgiven, even thru the horrible storm of divorce and devastation, when there was nothing left of me to give, she was there. Dedicated with unfaltering loyalty, she was there, ready and waiting for me when I could breathe again and enjoy her.
Bailey was the only reason that I was not afraid to live by myself, for the first time in my life, alone but with a baby and scared of the road ahead of me. She relentlessly provided me with a feeling of “safe” a feeling that felt so foreign to me at that time in my life. A Labrador...but a true watchman...a shepherd at heart.
Bailey was a light for me anytime and every time I lost my way, on my new journey. My very own lantern…to light a new way.
Bailey, years later, was the family pet that allowed my Bella Grace to learn her first lessons about responsible pet ownership, respect for animals, and to love and practice compassion for other beings, regardless of species.
 Photos by Lara Gale

Bailey was the dog who laid quietly at my side with every migraine for the last 11 years…never more than a foot or two away and never, ever demanding a single thing.
Bailey was the partner, working at my side, for years at The Lee Mannix Center for Canine Behavior and later at Kimberly Burgan Dog Training…the role model and teacher for dogs needing to learn a far more appropriate response around other dogs, the aid in repairing fear and dog-dog aggression, and the master of socializing puppies in need of rules and boundaries.

Bailey Burgan was the dog with a reputation at elementary schools in the Round Rock area. She proudly walked the hallways, year after year, while children chattered her name and bragged about petting her in previous years. Teaching children about the importance of respect and safety around dogs, at her handlers side, was something she took very seriously. Over the years, over 2400 children grades K-5 have learned from her teachings.

Bailey was the nut who had to go “through” the legs of humans upon greetings in order to make it convenient for human to scratch her at the base of her tail so she could then stomp her back feet…later put on cue as “stomp it”.
Bailey. She was the friend who would listen to my fear of never, ever getting over the death of my mentor and dear friend, Lee Mannix.  Initially, she was the dog that knew I was only avoiding eye contact with her because I was in pain…and every dog screamed “he’s gone” to me. Then later, she was the body that slept next to me when I needed to feel that I wasn’t dying, myself, from the unbelievable pain brought on by loss.
When I could feel joy again, it was Bailey who shared it with me. She always let me try new things with her…always forgiving the training mistakes I made (with my own dog) so that other dogs could learn without any setbacks. She taught me about repair.

Bailey always smelled like honey to me...even when she was dirty.

Bailey was always trying her own new things...confident, exploratory, adventurous!

All these things….THAT is who Bailey was (and ugh, so much more). She’ll always be all of those things to me. Never replaced, never forgotten and always unmatched.
And in her final hours….still teaching….
In the end, with her unexpected collapse on Sunday, July 17 at 2pm, Bailey taught me that I didn’t know everything. I truly believed that it was NOT her time. While waiting at the EC for a diagnosis and prognosis, I said ugly words to God and to Lee Mannix in a desperate attempt to beg…even DEMAND that she be given a few more years. I had big plans for her. I needed her to raise a puppy with me…the next working dog to take over HER job in her golden years; I still needed her help, her guidance, and her steadfast confidence.
That night at approximately 11pm, with a phone call from the EC and change of both diagnosis (hemangiosarcoma) and prognosis (dim), Bailey taught me about strength.  Even with massive internal bleeding, dropping blood-pressure and a heart so stressed…we needed her to make it until the morning for a specialist to see her, assess her and operate with knowledgeable hands if it was at all possible to save her. She held on, Through the night, just as she was instructed. She never deviated from the commands given.
At 7:30am on Monday morning, July 18, the call came in from the specialist…it was time to say goodbye and get there fast, her heart would not hold on much longer.  Bailey needed her mama to let her go. Sobbing and driving in shock and disbelief, I cursed the God that I felt was just too cruel…but knew I needed to have my emotions in check before I saw Bailey. She was always so strong for me. I owed the same to her.
As I sat with her, on the floor trying to figure out how to say goodbye, I tried to understand what I was supposed to learn from her right now. Bailey was about to teach me my very last lesson:  How to cope with the loss of my “heart” dog…I know that it’s because after a decade in the professional dog world, puppies that I trained at the beginning of my career are coming full circle. While I’ve naturally been able to sympathize with my clients and share pain with my entire soul, only now can I empathize…through Donkey.
Cris Burton arrives to hold a grief-stricken friend as she euthanizes her very best friend, yet politely excuses himself when the time comes and waits in the hall while I do what I have to do. As a psycologist, he knows my ways, my needs, and certainly knows how I cope with grief. As a friend, he knows my need to learn to do things on my own. On the floor with a Bailey Burgan that is clearly ready to go, the kind vet asks me if I am ready…and I wrap my body around my faithful companion and say yes. In a shaky voice, I hear “I am flushing the catheter. Now I am administering a sedative”. I feel Bailey’s body relax in acceptance and appreciation. In a shakier and teary voice I hear “And now, the anesthetic”. Bailey's last breaths feel peaceful, it’s almost immediate and I feel just as much in love for her as the day I selected the little spitfire from a bright-green grassy area full of a dozen chocolate, yellow and black puppies. She was the one. She was the one that would change my world. I closed her eyes, lighlty stroked her body from head to toe…a body I thought I knew so well. I quietly thanked her for 11 years of service and then excused myself out of the building so I would vomit outside and not inside.
Cris was kind enough to go in and say his goodbyes, alone, and to cut some of Bailey's fur for me to take home. He followed me home safely...where it was time to face my reality. 
Quiet time, later, to enjoy videos and pictures of Bailey growing up. I am thankful, so thankful, of the amazing photos and moments recently captured on film by Lara Gale. Oh Donkey, I miss you terribly.
Paul Mann arrives with food…to make me eat. An abundance of my favorites with flowers from him and his beautiful wife. After several discussions on grief, God, Bailey, Mannix and moving forward, Paul left so I could sleep (my very best escape).
I have one more challenge of the day…one more thing I am dreading…I lie in bed struggling to find the right words for my precious, sensitive and very intelligent Bella Grace. More tears...trying to find the right words in my head. Just then, the most perfect words arrive via text from Cris: “Breathe and find comfort in the life you gave and the lessons you learned. Bailey is still teaching you, Kimberly. A little girl is learning from you about loss, great love, and how to cope with the loss of a great love. Honor Bailey by passing on her last and maybe greatest lesson.”

Upon picking up Bella from school, we sit on the couch and I tell Bella that Mommy needs to talk to her about something very important. “Remember that Donkey was really sick? She’s not here with us anymore because God took her to heaven.” With exuberance, she replies “Today?” Yes, today, Bella, I said. She then asked if we will see Donkey again. Mommy explained that someday, we’ll see her again, in a long, long time, but she will wait for us on the other side of the rainbow bridge. Again, with exuberance and excitement she replies “Is Lee Mannix with her?”….and with a smile and a few more tears, Mommy says “Yes, Bella, Lee Mannix is in heaven with Donkey. Mommy is very sad. We miss her already and you are allowed to be sad too.” Bella then hugged us and declared that she had something to cheer me up…her Wonder Friends movie.  Well, that was our first pass. She doesn’t get it. She deserves a more direct truth, one that is still age-appropriate, but more direct. My decision was to allow her to process and bring it up again…that girl never lets anything slip through the cracks.
At bedtime, we pray for Donkey, just as we did the night before. Bella prays for Jesus to send Donkey back from to earth from heaven because she wants to have her back at home. Oh goodness...Bella thinks she's really coming back. Because Mommy knows that Bella does not fully get what is happening, I explain with clear terminology the concept of "death". Bella repeated my words with a questioning look ("Donkey is never coming back") and then, the understanding occurred. That beautiful face fell apart while flinging her body into Mommy’s arms. Sobbing from my 4-year old…a much different cry than I am used to makes my body feel again, like I could vomit. We turned out the lights and held each other while looking at pictures of Donkey on my phone. Bella professed her love with every photo while I prayed for sleep and images in my mind that reminded me of brighter days.

 Photo by Lara Gale

But it is sleep, my very best escape that brings about the worst feelings. Every time I wake up and realize that none of this is a dream, it’s all over again that I feel like I can’t cope with ANY MORE loss. Bailey’s water bowl, her bed…her Kong…her cute little toys are reminders that feel like a sharp knife in my gut. Going to sleep means waking up…trouble, now, going to sleep.
It is Tuesday. I am still breathing, but still crying. A precious Heidi Armstrong continues to check on me almost on the hour. I have amazingly supportive friends. So many have shared their own stories, I've struggled to reply; I don't have my words yet. 

A friend said to me today: "you are brave" and of course, I feel so broken that I don't know why he would say such a thing; he further states "in the last year, you lost the person who shaped your dog training career, your mentor, and now you've lost the dog who taught you everything you know about training...and yet, I know you'll keep moving forward". I know he says this because he knows I am scared and I feel like running. I am blessed for the reminder. I can do this.
Shari Elkins, a dear colleague and friend, who lost her beloved Schrodi a few years ago, tells me this... “I’m sorry to say, but this will take about a year. Keep crying, it’s okay to feel the pain, take breaks when you can, but keep moving.” I know I can learn from her own tragedy.

Ya know, I didn’t have that terminology “my heart dog” until I received a beautiful message, later, from Catherine O’Donnell explaining the term "heart dog" and it just fit perfectly. I felt so blessed to have her share that with me. Bailey has been my everything, like Bella Grace, but a soul-mate of another kind. My light house. She was the dog that has been with me throughout my entire career in the dog industry. With sheer panic, as I type, I can't help but think…I’ve never been a dog trainer without her. There is fear. I am scared. I am at a loss.
Such intense pain…such a large gaping hole, I couldn’t tell anyone face-to-face…so I used facebook. But now, I can’t bring myself to log back in and publicly face this reality, as I can hardly face it in the confines of my own home.
Overwhelmed in fear and hurt and loss. Overwhelmed with the outpour of emotion and support from my beautiful, amazing, selfless, compassionate friends. Without a way to respond (I don’t have it in me…I’m still lost), I write…because I’m afraid to just lie in bed and cry. But later, I will let myself do just that. For now, I write. Tomorrow, I will make myself go back to work.
I want Lee Mannix here with me...he used to have the right words...or just the right "silence". I don’t want to know he’s “there” somewhere…I want him here, beside me, in human form…just like Bella Grace wants her Donkey back. And, I want my Bailey back...chewing on her Kong behindme while I write. I don’t know how to do any of this…but what I do know is this:
Bailey was Grace. Bailey was Freedom. Bailey was Love and IS Love.

Until I see you again...