Abbey was the best dog ever. She was a Queensland Blue Healer and I had wanted one for a very long time. Our friend had a Healer named Blue, and up until Abbey, I thought he was possibly the coolest dog ever.
Blue could do tricks. Amazing tricks. He loved the world, he loved life and he loved his person, Mike. He also loved anyone who loved Mike. We loved Mike, so in turn, Blue loved us.
But this is the story of Abbey.
The first time I had ever noticed the Healer breed was in the movie 'Mad Max.' That movie was notable because, at the time, I thought Mel Gibson was quite possibly the most handsome man on the planet. (What a disappointment he turned out to be!) It was also notable because of the awesome dog wearing the red bandana; a Queensland.
Suki was the wiry, hyper dog of my son's first babysitter. She was a dancing doggie. Thin and lithe, she would leap and twirl in the air when I dropped off my young son and when I picked him up. She exulted in being alive and she wanted you to share in her joy. She was a delightful, happy creature.
Angus was also a Blue owned by the same babysitter. Where Suki was small and liquid-like, Angus was stocky, low to the ground and angry. Angus was dark to Suki's light; a vicious black and white terror on four stubby, angry legs. Angus was never happy to see me, but he also loathed in letting me go, because he wanted to eat me. I would need to peel out of the driveway to try to get away, but that did not deter him from grabbing onto the back fiberglass bumper of my company car with his sharp, brightly shining canines.
When I was asked about the damage to my bumper by my boss, I would shake my head with a look of confusion, and say, "Huh?" Coupled with my blond hair, I have found this to be a very effective way of immediately getting people to stop asking questions I would rather not answer. In disgust and/or pity, they deem me a lost cause and let it go.
But this is the story of Abbey.
Suki and Angus were Abbey's parents and I paid twenty five dollars I didn't have for a dog I probably couldn't afford. But one look at those wriggling, squirming puppies, I had visions of my very own desert dog with her very own red bandana.
Abbey was stocky like her daddy but had the sweet disposition of her mama. She had huge black, bat ears on her head and a black raccoon mask rested upon her speckled and freckled nose. Her ears were so disproportionate that we called her Bat Dog. Some people have the tails of their Queensland's docked to a small, stubby nub. Abbey's was left long and in its natural state, it whirled like a helicopter blade. In her exuberance, she threatened to take flight.
Abbey survived the raising of my three boys and a temporary foster daughter. She accepted, with quiet grace and dignity, a myriad collection of stray people, cats, dogs, birds, rodents, and snakes. When people would approach and ask if she would bite, I would assure them she would not. She had been officially toddlerized. Abbey simply did not have a mean bone in her body.
The Queensland is a herding dog, and in lieu of sheep, Abbey herded people. She also loved to run! We would run the hills of the desert in the heat, cold, snow and rain. The weather was never bad enough for Abbey to quit her running. Abbey was the kind of spirit who loved life and her joy was contagious. While my other dogs would roam, Abbey would affix herself to my ankle and pace me with her encouraging lope and smile. I am not a runner and my gait is often labored and painful to watch. However, Abbey believed I had a plan and a destination. I was never too slow. To Abbey, I was perfect.
Back then, we lived on ten acres of chaparral, and our dogs would fan out over the hills and loll about on the desert floor, chasing rabbits, basking in the sun, and waiting for supper. For a dog, life was good. Abbey was three years old.
One Sunday, as we prepared to go to a birthday party, I remember looking out the upstairs bathroom window and seeing Abbey resting on the earthen driveway. She was sitting like she always does; on her butt like a human with her legs splayed out in front and her tail getting in the way of true comfort. But that morning I saw something different and alarming. Something that made me gasp and scream and run to Abbey.
Abbey's head was not her normal black, it was red. And in the place of ears, there was...nothing.
When I reached her she stood up and vigorously wagged her tail; doing a little half jump because she knew we didn't like it when she jumped up on you. Suppressing a moan, I knelt down in grief and horror because my darling Abbey had been scalped. Her skull was completely exposed, and her wondrous, bat ears were dangling precariously off of her chin.
Robotically, I called the first phone book listing for local emergency veterinarians. I got an answering service who informed me that I would be charged a minimum of fifty dollars. When I agreed to the fee, I was patched through to the vet, who also reiterated the fee and sternly advised, "This better be an emergency" or I should bring her in on Monday. I assured him this was an emergency. This was an awful and devastating emergency and my heart was breaking.
My husband took the kids to the birthday party and I took Abbey to the vet. I placed her on a blanket in the back seat of my 1987 Ford Festiva and manually rolled down the window because the car didn't have air conditioning and it was hot.
While I was driving, I pleaded with Abbey. "Please don't die. Oh my God, Abbey, please don't die."
I drove up the bumpy dirt driveway and over the hill to the vet’s office, trying to keep one eye on the road and the other on my dog in the backseat. Then something happened that will forever be burned into my memory.
Abbey stood up and put her head out of the window!
Her tongue was hanging about six inches out of her mouth and the flesh that used to be her ears hung from her neck and slapped back and forth with each gust of wind. The white of her skull gleamed in the sun while the puncture wounds that riddled her body seeped onto the blanket and upholstery in the back seat.
I remember seeing the disbelieving faces of the motorists as we passed them on the 14 Freeway.
If I were to describe the expression on Abbey's face as she hung her head out the window, I would say it was nothing short of glorious. In spite of any pain she was feeling, she looked enormously happy at this unexpected car ride with the person she loved most. Looking at that dog at that moment, I knew she wanted to live and I was going to do whatever I could do to make sure that happened.
The veterinarian was waiting for us when we arrived. He and his family were dressed in their Sunday best. I had obviously disturbed them at church. The children gasped in terror when they saw Abbey. Holding her in my arms she bleakly wagged her tail when she saw them. In turn, the children clung to their mother and started to cry.
The doctor conceded that this truly was an emergency.
After the doctor assessed his patient, he explained that Abbey had sustained some serious injuries, probably from coyotes. He told me he believed she could survive, but the process was going to be expensive, time consuming, and would probably take over a year. He told me I had a decision to make. When he said it would be time consuming, he didn't mean his time, he meant mine. He told me I would need to be completely committed to caring for this dog or she was not going to make it. I could either commit to her care or I needed to have her put her down.
The decision wasn't that hard, even though it could potentially bankrupt my family. All I could think of was Abbey's face as she hung her head out of the window. I thought of her joy in living, in spite of, well, everything.
I took Abbey home four days later. She had over three hundred stitches and thirteen shunts (or noodles) on her head, neck and body. The vet had attempted to reattach her ears, but obviously not versed in the subtleties of plastic surgery, the skin on her forehead was pulled back so tightly that a small ring of white showed around each of her eyeballs. Her lips were pulled back in a permanent grin. For the rest of her life, Abbey's face was frozen in a look of perpetual surprise, glee and amazement. This was actually quite apropos and matched her personality famously.
Three times a day I took a bottled solution of iodine and squirted it through the shunts. It would travel under her skin and exit through the stitched areas and the other shunts. It was gruesome and fascinating and eventually humorous. My kids and I would watch morbidly and try to guess which hole the liquid would come out next, Abbey thrilled in our laughter and attention. Her new nickname was Frankenabbey.
I would take Abbey to the vet weekly, and as she healed, monthly. Any hide that died and did not reattach would be cut away and resewed. Eventually, one of her entire ears was lost in this process.
The vet was correct. It took a whole year before Abbey was completely healed. The total cost was in excess of thirty five hundred dollars. This was the same amount as my first car.
Abbey lived another ten years. Her pleasure in life never dimmed. Her new look brought attention and awe and amusement. This made her extremely happy.
As she aged she developed fatty tumors on her hips and cataracts in her eyes. She still ran with me every day. I kept pace with her and we both thought the other was perfect.
One day, I found Abbey dead by her water bowl when I came home from work. With the help of my neighbor, we buried her in the front yard under a favorite pomegranate tree. We had been running the night before and I grieved that I hadn't been able to say goodbye.
Abbey taught me a lot about life. She taught me about having courage. She taught me about being happy and being grateful. Mostly she taught me about unconditional love. She taught me how to accept it and how to give it.
And that is the story of Abbey.