A SHAGGY CAT AND DOG STORY

Honey Striking a Pose

Before I write anything else, and to give credit where it’s due, I wouldn’t be the almost well-adjusted person I am today without sweet, smart Honey, a mini-poodle I found in a pet store. I know it’s better to buy from a breeder, and I don’t know how Honey landed in East Rockaway’s Puppy Park, but it felt like she was waiting for me there.

A frisky, adorable little creature tumbling in a cage with two other puppies, her apricot color was unusual and she caught my eye right away. She was toy-size, they said, but she grew bigger to hold her big heart. We’ve been together 10 years now. And she’s helped me more than any doctor or pill ever could.

I’ve struggled with depression through my life, since I was only 11, when my father was dying of cancer. One afternoon when I came home from school he’d been taken to the hospital. I never saw him again — no children allowed to visit in those days. My mom went alone and came home crying every night for the next month until he died.

My Grandma Beatty had moved in with us a year before, and was frail now, but we couldn’t have managed without her. I was frightened — confused, foggy, shaky — this was what it was like to be crazy, I thought. When we drove by Creedmore, a now empty mental institution, I was sure I’d be there someday. I never told anyone how I felt and nobody seemed to notice.

There was a brief down time in high school, then again in college when my boyfriend suddenly started dating other girls, including a sorority sister. I was sad and disappointed, avoiding friends on campus, barely able to concentrate in classes. Then someone persuaded me to come to a fraternity party where the boy who became my second love asked me to dance. I saw the fickle one being held back by two friends from interrupting. Ah, Youth!

Over the years there were a few bumpy patches, but nothing serious until I was hospitalized for depression in 1990. I’d returned to Queens College in 1984 for a Master’s in Library Science at 52 years of age — after my mother’s heart attack and death opened a Pandora’s box of issues with my sister and brother. Not unusual in families, I’ve learned, but I was heartbroken, and school kept me occupied.

After two part-time librarian trainee jobs as I worked for my MLS, when I earned the degree in 1987 and was licensed as a NYS Civil Service Librarian and a School Media Specialist, I was appointed under the first license to a high school library — just as my son started high school. Perfect timing.

The senior librarian praised my work, and recommended hiring me as a School Media Specialist in my second year — with shorter hours and a higher salary. However, she ran a very tight ship, and seemed to enjoy torturing students and faculty, including me. My grip slipped in my third year. I spent a restful week in Mercy Hospital for depression, and returned to my job for further punishment. Will get around to details in a later post: “Double, double toil and trouble.”

In 2000 I was admitted to the hospital for depression again. Having retired from the East Meadow Public Library at 65, I’d kept working part-time, and had just resigned from the Baldwin Public Library after the director refused my request for a set schedule rather than one varying from several hours to about 20 a week — usually not notified till Sunday evening — too difficult to plan or budget bills.

Soon after I flew to Colorado for a family wedding,  then to nearby New Mexico where I had a brief flirtation with an artist in Santa Fe and visited “Mothering” magazine’s office there to bring revisions for my article: “Missing Link: Vital Connection” — the editor had told me it would  be published in the November issue.  A month later they decided not to print it.

I’d worked so hard writing the piece, researched with the help of a La Leche League librarian, having learned about breastfeeding’s protection against breast cancer, something rarely mentioned, particularly during October’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”  Which happens to be sponsored by Astra Zeneca, the makers of Tamoxifan.  But I believe my final tipping point was the November 2000 presidential election — the nightmare of Florida’s hanging chads and the Supreme Court’s handing George W. Bush the job!

This time in the hospital I was more depressed after a week than when I entered. Extremely disturbed patients were housed with milder cases, unlike my previous stay — government cut-backs on mental health care had made this necessary, I was told. One patient banged on a piano whenever she was in the mood. I shared a room with a schizophrenic patient who told me she heard voices commanding her to hurt herself.

We were awakened in the dark to stand in line for meds, though I was groggy after sleeping fitfully on an lumpy bed with holes in the sheets. Nurses conducted group sessions, but I never spoke with a doctor. Only visits from my wonderful Dr. Magun kept me fairly sane. Some of us played cards or walked in the hall to pass the time. Meal carts were the highlight of our day. We watched an old movie about alcoholism narrated by a young Patty Duke. We played bingo in the evenings.

My son had come home to be with me through the ordeal, but drove back to Pittsburgh where he studied filmmaking and worked as a waiter. He’d won second prize in a 1996 film contest for college students sponsored by The Christophers, a Judeo-Christian organization whose motto is the Asian saying: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

My son’s entry was a stop-motion clay animation on the homeless, an idea he’d gotten after he and a girlfriend spent evenings giving sandwiches to homeless people near Sloan Kettering while he was treated there. The Christophers showed the winning films on their television station. Ironically, the first prize went to a film about a boy who died from Hodgkin’s Disease.

Home from the hospital, I was very low, and my son drove back again with the perfect medicine — his beloved cat Yeti, a blue-eyed, pure white female — absence of color her only resemblance to the Abominable Snowman. She sat purring on my lap, gently vibrating, licking my hand. We took afternoon naps together, Yeti curled up next to me. A few weeks later my son visited again, this time with his second cat, Zorra, a female calico with a black mask, named for the dashing Zorro. Yeti and Zorra bonded immediately, grooming each other, sleeping entwined together.

My son hadn’t mentioned Zorra was in heat — which I soon discovered when Zorra sat sunning herself in a open window — and a stray male cat came from nowhere, jumped up, and hung by his claws from the screen. “Get the hose,” I yelled, thwarting any chance for romance. I offered to have Zorra spayed — my son was short of funds. And it seemed heartless to part Zorra and Yeti. So I got to keep them both. A happy sending to a kind of a shaggy cat story.

We were a contented threesome until the night I struggled to breathe, called 911, was carried on a stretcher to an ambulance, given oxygen, and taken to Mercy’s emergency room. My husband had died in 1994 and I’d often been lonely — but I never felt as alone as I did then. Diagnosed with my only asthma attack, injected with epinephrine, and admitting to two cats at home, I was told to give them back.

Rather than an allergy to cats, my illness may have been caused by the poor air quality even on Long Island not long after September 11, 2001 — the disastrous day the World Trade Center crumbled. I lived only about 30 miles from New York City. My son suffered with asthma as a child and seemed to recover when he grew older. But he had to use his inhaler as he left with the cats.

The house felt so empty without them. I wanted another pet — this time a small dog. But only big dogs were available at two shelters I visited — it hurt to pass them by. Then I heard of a pet store in nearby East Rockaway — and there at last saw Honey, an adorable ball of fluff — love at first sight. I held her, took her to a play area, rolled balls, squeaked toys, and hugged her. She felt just right. I paid a deposit.

My son and friends cautioned a dog would be too much trouble at 70 years of age, that I couldn’t travel much anymore. I visited the tiny dog several times, played with her, and knew we were meant for each other. She’d be freshly bathed with a pink bow in her hair when I came to pick her up on the appointed day, April 20, 2002.

That morning I started worrying the naysayers may be right and almost called to cancel — but my friend Eleanor, who still misses her golden retriever Lizzie, wanted to come with me. Ashamed to tell her I’d changed my mind, and picturing the puppy waiting, wearing a perky pink bow, we went together. So Honey and her Aunt Eleanor got acquainted while I signed papers and paid the balance. The best money I ever spent.

I travel more with Honey than I ever would by myself. We often stay at pet-friendly hotels and B&B’s I probably wouldn’t visit alone. We often fly to visit my son and his wife in Maryland. Last year, Honey was a big success with my niece Christine’s family in California — especially with my great nephews, Marley and Markos, who begged for turns walking her.

I’m hardly ever lonely when Honey’s around, at home or away. We sleep and eat together, too. In fact, she won’t start her dinner until she sees me taste mine — I’m the leader of her pack, I read somewhere. We enjoy the same foods: meat, fish, vegetables, rice, now and then some pasta — with a sprinkling of kibble on hers for crunch. I tasted kibble when she was a puppy and knew she deserved better. She’s good company at home, sitting on my lap while I read or watch TV, or nearby chewing a bone or playing with toys — her favorite is a stuffed, yellow duck that’s seen better days. Honey especially loves a belly rub — we call it tummy tickle — and lets me know she wants one by lying on her back, legs up, unladylike and irresistible.

Unlike many dogs, she enjoys going to the groomer. When I ask “Do you want a bath?” she jumps up and down, squeaking with happiness. She loves riding in the car, too. Even on long drives Honey rests her chin on her safety seat, her gaze fixed on me rather than the passing scenery, now and then napping. She chases squirrels in parks and sniffs interesting grass, bushes and trees. She’s friendly with other canines and doesn’t understand why cats don’t return her affection. She’s a people magnet, especially for children.

Honey and I had previously flown on Southwest and Jet Blue Airlines with a letter from a mental health professional about my need for a “comfort companion.”  And I somehow persuaded Aer Lingus and the Irish Department of Agriculture to let her be with me in the cabin after she had the required shots and ID chip — the first animal ever permitted that privilege.  She sat on a rear seat next to me, and the Irish flight attendants doted on her through the trip.  So we’re now international travelers.

My anxiety and depression have been relieved by medication and therapy, but Honey’s unconditional love and companionship have helped me better than any pill or counseling. God willing, we’ll have more adventures  before we have to part.

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5 Comments »

  1. Lovely picture of Honey Eileen. I enjoyed reading the post. B

    • Thanks, B, for kind words and encouragement. I’m enjoying your blog, too — vicarious traveling experience till I save up enough for another trip.

  2. Christina said

    As a fellow poodle owner, I have to say that they are a wonderful breed. They have unique personalities, are very intelligent and comical, and love to be involved in all activities. They are fantastic companions, especially for seniors. Fulci, my poodle, spends a lot of time with my parents and he has done wonders for them. He keeps them very active and amused. My father loves to take long walks with Fulci, not only is it great exercise but he gets to socialize with people he normally wouldn’t encounter. Keep up the blogging, Fulci and I can’t wait to see more pictures of Honey!

  3. Patty said

    Hi Mrs. Gallagher!!! Did you move yet??? Diane and I miss you at Hollywoof….give us a call when you have a second. (Hi Honey) xoxo

  4. Patty said

    Hey there loved talking to you and soooo happy for you and your new life!!! I am off Mon and Tues and am able to talk without interuption! call the shop to reach me on my cell and I will give you my cell number…..wishing you all the best of love and happiness xoxo Patty Hollywoof

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