The year was 1974. The boy in the plaid pants is me and that is my first dog named Duchess. This picture was probably taken weeks before the storm that took out the doghouse behind us which was built by my father. Unfortunately for Duchess she was in said doghouse when the willow tree fell on it causing her to break her leg. It was a quick moving electrical storm and before I could bring Duchess inside our large willow tree was struck by lightning and fell onto her house which I'm sure she believed would protect her. I managed to get her out and inside and then to the veterinarian, with the help of my dad, but you could tell she was pretty shaken up. I was only six years old at the time and Duchess was almost twice my age at eleven. That's 77 in dog years. The trauma she experienced did not change the relationship between a boy and his dog, but it did change Duchess. We continued playing with tennis balls although she was much slower now after recovery and she was getting significantly older. The size of the willow tree was daunting, and Duchess was very lucky to escape with just a broken rear leg and I was very grateful to still have my childhood friend.
Things only changed when storms would hit in our hometown of Mogadore Ohio. Duchess would be right back in her doghouse during that storm even though she was safe inside the house. She would run around as best she could and would be so caught in that memory that uncontrollable urinating and shaking would overtake her and she would whine nonstop. The subconscious traps animals in their trauma and they relive their PTSD moment as if it just happened. They do not have a thinking mind to rationalize and or realize that they are not reliving that moment and that they are actually quite safe. The anxiety and helplessness are real and ever-present and all I could do for Duchess was to hold her until the storm would pass. Most storms I was able to be there for Duchess although my mother and sister would also help with storm duty. July fourth was also a trying day as well as New Year's Eve because fireworks mimicked lightning and thunder which sent her into her tailspin. I didn't mind cleaning up after Duchess and holding her really did help for the most part, until she caught glimpses of large close lightning strikes. It was almost like she had Alzheimer's forgetting everything but that willow tree crashing down on her, and then when the storm ended the trauma would recede into the recesses of her subconscious.
One of my first memories is with Duchess when she gave birth to a litter of 10 little basset hounds. I don't remember much because I was only four, but the extreme size of the ears on those little puppies has stayed in my memory. I couldn't find the picture, but we had them all piled on top of each other in a red radio flyer wagon for a litter photo before we gave them all away to good homes.
About a year after the lightning incident, we were back at the vet office for eye surgery for Duchess. She had a tumor and needed surgery to remove it and I of course insisted on being by her side. Unbelievably the vet agreed to allow me in the operating room, where he popped Duchess' eye out of the socket laid it on her nose and cleaned it up and removed the growth as I just sat and watched. It was the same doctor who helped patch up her leg, so he knew we were always a team and regular rules didn't apply to this kid and his dog. We were inseparable. I didn't conceive of fear or the possibility of something going wrong; I was just a kid spending time with his dog. And oddly enough I don't recall being shocked by the surgery in any way. Thinking and using my cognitive mind wasn't really a strong point at such a youthful age so my love overrode all worry and fear for my dog. I often wish that was an accessible state in adulthood. (Insert emoji here!) Most memories I have of that time of my life are of smiling and laughing with family. I was too young to define how I felt about a situation, so I never saw it as good or bad I just filed it away as a loving memory or a not loving memory. Limiting beliefs and trauma and PTSD would have to wait till after 8 years old to start accumulating in my subconscious, and I am very grateful for that childhood respite. I truly know how lucky I was to have a simple care-free childhood. I believe in a lot of things. One fun thing I believe is all dogs, and kids under 7 have a secret power to love unconditionally with no memory: just love, no fear: just love, no judgement: just love.
I was just 8 years old when Duchess died, and I didn't get to say goodbye because my parents didn't think it would be a great last memory for an eight-year-old. I believe they were right. That was the first time in my young life I felt true loss. One of the few times parents know best. I haven't thought about Duchess in quite some time. I am 54 years young now and both my parents are gone as well as all four of my grandparents. Time and life keep going but when I'm in my best state of mind I revert to my seven-year-old self, and I think of all my family. What do I think of? Two words and nothing else. Just Love. In the end it's all that matters. Thank you, Duchess.