We’d like to thank Suzannah J Vanson for sending along this reader piece. And for her generous and loving heart. Our condolences.
Lillie, My Kind of Hero
Suzannah J. Vanson
It seems like we spend much time talking about heroes. Sports heroes, action heroes, movie and music idols. To me, none of them really quite passed the test. My heroes have always been a much simpler kind. The mother who struggles through illness to raise her children. The grandparent that steps forward to care for grandchildren. The people who volunteer in the hospital, the people who serve food in our homeless shelters. In particular, the people who fight illness with dignity and especially those that lose the fight with even more dignity.
But there is another hero in my mind. One we seldom think of as heroes. I had one of these living with me. Her name was Lillie.
Lillie was a tiny little old, deaf, sick, frightened puppy mill dog that ended up in a shelter. She was to be taken in by a rescue, but they were unable to take her and absorb the medical bills. She was taken in by Rosie’s, in order to be put down humanely. One thing led to another, one fundraiser after another. I ended up “volunteering” to foster her. How could I not? I felt so sorry for her when I saw her pleading eyes look at me for a fleeting moment, almost begging for her life to end.
I took her home and it became so clear, she had never been in a home. She never made a sound when she came. She sat in a corner of her crate. She was obviously deaf. For her medical treatments and procedures, she never even flinched. No matter how painful. She was so stoic. When she slept, every fifteen minutes she awoke with a start. She was so scared. She always crouched with fear, never walked about on her own, I would always have to reach in and get her.
I took her to the adoption clinics, but there was no interest in her at all. People looked out of the corner of their eye. They felt sorry for her, but no one wanted her.
I got a call one day from Anne at the rescue and she said to me wistfully that no one had even applied for her. I knew she was feeling me out as to how long I would keep her. It was a challenge as she was not at all clean, and needed a lot of care. She knew that I foster all dogs, but I don’t keep anything but shelties and for sure not little white dogs. I am after all the “sheltie lady”.
I was assured by many, her life would be short – maybe just months. So I said I would keep her……
Time slowly marched on. I still remember the first time I held her and she actually started to let her little body go in my arms and fall asleep. I worked with her endlessly. She slowly got the idea, that if she did something outside – she’d get a treat when she came in. She actually never did learn NOT to go inside, but she rarely went inside (we had a policy of “keep her on empty”). And she always went outside for her treat! She would come in and stand at the side board waiting for her reward…..and she would not leave her place till she got it.
With each year, yes year, she gained more and more confidence. She started demanding her breakfast, making eye contact, coming for nuzzles. She was a smartie pants to boot, learning hand signals for what I wanted her to do, as she could not hear. She started to learn the stairs, and copied all that my sheltie Benjamin did. It was quite comical really. He always licked, she never did. But if he did it, she did it – though I could see she was thinking this is quite a bizarre thing to do!
By the end, she would come and nuzzle and lick on her own. She loved to be cuddled and she learned to trust humans, whom she had so very feared when first she came. She was so sweet; she never ever did any one or anything any harm. One dinner, many people were over, and she was not well. I held her in my arms so she would not be over whelmed by so many people, something I never do at the table. I gave her a few bits of turkey.
The next year, when I got up to go into the kitchen, she went from my chair to my plate and helped herself….and got away with it! We all said “Oh let her be, she doesn’t have long left to live”. That little chunky monkey got away with things the others could only dream about! My son once sat on the floor eating a burger. She toddled over, and took a bite out of his patty and my son remarked how no one reacted. She got away with it!
As time went on, her little bald rat like tail grew a proud plume of soft white hair. She was so adorable. Suddenly, people started to ask about her…so sweet she was, so adorable. Yes she was, but she was also the dog you all passed up before – because she had not healed yet from the abuse perpetrated onto her by humans. Anyone who would have adopted her, allowing her little body and soul to heal, would have known the love I felt from her.
The years went by and Lilie was always ill to some degree. She would always rally back. But in the last months, things started to fail more than rally. Her eyes clouded over, her growths got larger and larger. Her legs stiffened and even with her pain meds, we carried her up and down the stairs. She started to sleep longer and longer, albeit peacefully. I never did think I would see the day that she would sleep so soundly compared to those first days. We became so attached. Lillie had special status…
She was with me almost six years, and my heart aches each moment wishing I could have six more, but so glad that the end of her life ended with a home, versus a puppy mill backyard breeder. Saying goodbye to her has shattered my heart. It was and is so hard. I don’t know many humans who could start over the way she did – at her age and with all her “issues. That makes her a real hero – she took the chance to be loved, and ran with it.
It is true that I don’t like little white dogs. It is true that I kept her as a “charity case”. But it is also true that I loved Lillie so very much, and that she is , in every sense of the word my little hero.
I hope after you read this, you will consider a dog who has special needs – who needs a little bit extra. The rewards will be limitless, and you yourself will discover a real hero.