The Ghost of Billy (Pet Grief)

We Carried His Body (this is taken in part from my autobiography THE INITIATION.

Our ancestors were involved with animals in many ways – some of this was hunting, and other was sacrificing. I’m not going to get into my rant about animal cruelty because I don’t feel like upsetting myself right now. However, I will share my love of animals off and on starting with this story…

Two years after we moved to Austin, Cody and I took Billy for his morning walk on Thanksgiving Day. He acted fine and then suddenly fell to the ground. We awkwardly carried him back up the hill into our apartment. As we carried his body, we could feel the life going out of him and begged him to hang on.

We called every vet in town. Of course, nobody was open except for the one on-call emergency vet who told us to bring him in. Cody and I loaded Billy into the car and left. After two hours at the vet, we found out that Billy had heartworm. I was confident that I had never missed giving Billy his monthly prevention pill.

Still, the vet said, “If you test dogs for heartworm, and there are no adults present, the test results can be negative.” 

The vet continued toexplain, “When you rescued Billy from the abusive environment, he probably already had heartworm. By giving him the heartworm medication, you prolonged his life for a couple of years.” Cody and Iwere so sad as tears streamed down our faces.

The vet said, “Because you two gave him love, you also made the pain of his health a lot less noticeable. He was happy”. 

Itwas decided that it was most humane to put him to sleep. As he took his last breath, I looked at the clock and noticed it was 2:27 PM. The vet later mailed a clay footprint of Billy’s paw with a blue ribbon for us to remember him by.

When Cody and I arrived home with our swollen eyes and red faces from all of the crying, we dropped ourselves onto the couch.

On the way in, I had turned on the radio to invite a distraction. As Cody and I talked about how much we will miss Billy, Cody shouted, “Mom – listen!”

On the radio was a lady whose expertise was pet grief. She said, “When you lose an animal, immediately pray for its soul to reach Heaven. Then ask for your pet to come back to you, and he will”.

Cody said, “Mom, I’m going to go pray for Billy to come back,” and ran to his room. I chuckled to myself in disbelief but loved how awesome Cody was to find even unrealistic hope in the deepest depths of grief.

Two months later, Cody and I were talking about rescuing another boxer dog. Starting in childhood, I wanted a white boxer. Since childhood, I had been warned about the risks of white boxers, that the kennel club does not recognize them and that most breeders drown them as puppies. That was so sad and unnecessary. I never cared about breeding, and I wasn’t too concerned about health problems because those could be controlled. I just wanted one to love.

Cody and I spent the day calling and visiting shelters and rescues in the area. With no luck, I reached out to Dallas shelters. One lady called me back and stated that an enlisted member of the Army was preparing to go overseas and would be there for a year. He was single, and his parents refused to keep his dog. He was willing to let us adopt him because he knew it would be better than placing him in a shelter. His boxer was white and only 18 months old. We were so excited that the three-day wait during the approval process seemed to last forever. We kept thinking about what a great way to start a new year.

Just two hours before we were to leave for Dallas to pick the dog up, the owner’s parents agreed to keep his dog for him, and therefore the adoption was called off.

Cody was more upset than I was, but only due to maturity. I explained to him, “Everything happens for a reason. It just means that we will find a different white boxer to rescue”.

Cody said, “I asked Billy to come back, but he hasn’t come back to us yet.”  

To keep Cody’s hope alive, I said, “He will when he’s ready.” 

Cody walked away, disappointed.

During this time, Jayme had moved to Harlingen for work. I decided to take Cody to visit her for a few days and visit our friends.

We returned early because of a distressing situation.

Instead of retelling the story, I will share the exact Letter to the Editor that I emailed to the Brownsville, Texas newspaper immediately upon returning home.

Two weeks later, I received a newspaper proving they published it!

***** BEGIN LETTER TO EDITOR *****

Dear Editor:

My son and I scheduled our first vacation in years and decided to go to Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco, and McAllen. Instead of an enjoyable time, the trip was so bad that we returned home three days early!

One day, during our drive to Brownsville, I stopped for gas and saw a box of puppies, approximately 1 week old. The box was duct-taped to a pole by the dumpster. The puppies were full of feces and urine yet seemed healthy overall. We took them to my daughter’s home (whom we were visiting), then to a veterinarian for a check-up. We brought them back to my daughter’s house. She continued to bottle-feed them and find them homes. Thankfully, they are fine. However, the lack of compassion for those who initially placed them there is nauseating.

Two days later, we drove on the interstate between Harlingen and Mercedes, and everyone was driving about 70 mph. Both lanes were back-to-back with traffic, and someone threw what appeared to be a German Shepherd mix puppy out of the car in between the two lanes of traffic. The puppy tried running to the side of the road, but a car hit its hind leg. There was a very slight break in traffic, and she was lying in the middle of the right lane, looking up as I approached her.

I immediately stopped the vehicle on the side of the road, and yes – without hesitation – I jumped in front of traffic. Had I not done so, the puppy would have been hit repeatedly. The cars coming toward the dog were not about to stop or move over…. at least not until they saw me in front of them. Someone going by yelled, “You’re crazy, lady.” That may be, but I wasn’t going to let her die like that!

I wrapped the dog in an old sheet that we had in the back seat. I could see a head wound, tire tracks on her tan body, cuts on her tail, hind leg, and ears, and she appeared to be bleeding from her vaginal area. She was conscious and looking at me, breathing normally under the circumstances, but I could tell she was in shock. My son and I lifted her into the truck.

All the while, I wondered, “What happened to the human race? Even with all of my traumatic experiences, I wasn’t this cold-hearted.”

As I pulled my SUV back into the lane of traffic, I called the non-emergency police number in Weslaco and explained the situation. I asked if there was a vet, emergency pet clinic, Humane Society, anything; the officer said, “Ma’am, nobody here cares about that stuff,” and hung up. I was furious!

Ever since I was a child, I have rescued and fought for animal rights. I have even turned people in when they have dumped or mistreated animals, and now a police officer hung up on me! I didn’t tie up the 9-1-1 lines, so I think the officer could have been more helpful. After all, he is in a caring profession.

Then I called the McAllen Police Department, who gave me a number for an emergency vet clinic. I called this emergency vet, and the person stated, “We don’t want her.” I told her that she’s obviously in the wrong line of work. I then asked her if she feels it was more humane to let her keep getting hit. With no reply, I hung up on her. I was feeling even angry and disgusted. But I was anxious to move on to the next call.

I pleaded with a directory assistance operator. She went overboard to find a Humane Society number, only to have a cleaning lady answer and say that nobody works there on weekends. She said, “I don’t know how to get ahold of anyone so just wait until Monday.”  I called another police department, which was just as rude and uncaring, so I asked, “If a child is attacked by a dog, who picks up that dog?” She stated, “Ma’am unless you have that situation, we cannot help you,” and hung up on me!

Fast forward to about two hours later. I am still calling everyone I can think of to help this poor little puppy. The puppy is still conscious and still appears to be breathing calmly. My son keeps whispering to her. My best friend Susan called and said, “Mozelle, since we just moved to this farm north of Weslaco, we are going to need a watchdog anyway, so bring the dog over here and let’s get her fixed up.”

I drove to Susan’s house… she had the bandages, Neosporin, food, and water ready. We bandaged her on all visible external wounds, and she drank some water. She laid with her head across me and my son’s lap, and we stayed awake, giving her love all night.

When morning came, she took a tiny sip of water, raised her head, looked up at us as if to thank us for loving her… and took her last breath. She died in our arms, and we were so upset.

We were also furious at these people of the Rio Grande Valley – that they were so cruel and uncaring! Our hearts ached for this furr angel.

Sick with the lack of human compassion in this area of Texas, I felt ashamed that my son had to witness such cold cruelty. We left your area immediately with our hearts full of pain and sadness.

I only hope that the love that this puppy felt from my son, myself, and Susan was enough to warm her soul as she passed. Passing with respect was sure a lot better than being hit repeatedly on the expressway.

I hope just one person will start to care after reading this. We are all part of God’s kingdom. Adults make some of their own drama, but animals are innocent and depend on humans for care and love. Instead of throwing a dog out in the middle of the expressway, why not give it to someone who would love her or, if need be, put her in the Humane Society’s night drop?

If you get a pet so that you can leave them thirsty, starving, in the sun on a short chain, abused, neglected, ignored, or to fight them against one another, do not get one at all.

Animals are as innocent and loving as a child, and hopefully, you wouldn’t put a child through all of that. The laws on animal abuse are not even close to being tough enough. But I did learn one thing: next time I think of vacationing in your area, I will remind myself that it’s much more loving in my home.

***** END LETTER TO EDITOR *****

While speaking to my mother and telling her what happened, she mentioned that we hadn’t visited in a couple of years.  She still lived in the Midwest, and her health was becoming even more fragile. Despite the doctor telling her to stop smoking, she continued. It seemed that with each phone call, her laborious breathing had worsened. 

Because of her age and our recent distressing experience with our trip to South Texas, I decided to rent a car to preserve mine so that Cody and I could drive up and visit.

We went to bed early to prepare for the 20-hour drive the next day.

We were driving well into the darkness. We had now wandered a bit off the freeway and were somewhere in the middle of Iowa. The last road sign I had read said ‘Storm Lake’ and was by a lighthouse.

It was dark, very little traffic, and farmhouses seemed to have disappeared. Cody said, “Mom, I have to potty.”

I said, “Well, I can pull over, and you can potty here. Nobody will see you”.

Cody replied, “No, I’m scared; what if there are animals out there that we can’t see?”

Cody agreed to wait as long ashe could.

Fifteen miles later, I saw a dim light starting to appear on the horizon. As we got closer, I realized that it was a convenience store. It was now 10:55 PM. As I approached, a man appeared to be locking up for the evening, so I quickly pulled up and asked, “Sir, sir, can my son please use your restroom?”

He replied, “Yes, but so that you know, a bunch of us men are playing poker in the back by the restroom. As long as you don’t care about all the smoke in the area, it will be okay.”

He opened the door and let us in. I was a bit uncomfortable being the only female in an unknown location at night in the middle of nowhere. As I watched Cody safely make it to the restroom, I picked up a random newspaper from one of the racks closest to me. I opened the paper to a random page to hide my discomfort and held it in front of my face. I had no plans to read it but, low and behold when I did look at it, the first thing I saw was an ad for a “free white boxer puppy.”

I was ecstatic.

I immediately tried to call the number but had no cellular service. I then interrupted the poker game and asked if I could use the man’s phone.

He was accommodating and handed me his cordless handset.

I dialed the number. The lady on the other end of the phone asked where we were coming from and stated, “You are on the other side of the state, but I will hold him for you.” I got thedirections, and we headed out.

Midway we stopped for a nap at a roadside rest. Four hours later, we gassed up, threw our trash away, cleaned the windows, grabbed some breakfast, and started driving again.

About three hours later, I realized we had accidentally thrown out the paper with the boxer ad and directions written on it. Once more, Cody was distraught. I said, “I’m sorry, honey, but remember, everything happens for a reason. I guess he wasn’t supposed to be ours.”

Cody’s face was consumed by a disappointing frown, unlike one I had seen. Just then, Cody said, “Billy is never coming back, is he, mom?” 

As I tried to keep his fading hope alive, I said, “Billy will come back to us soon.”

I decided to turn around and, while we didn’t know where we were, we did see a sign that said we were entering Amish territory. I hadn’t taken a map with me because the same highway went from Texas to my mother’s house, so I didn’t have a reason to use a map. However, at this very moment, I sure wished I had one.

We decided to continue onward until we reached a town. We could get some fresh drinks, use the restroom, and, most importantly, purchase a map. Instead, it didn’t entirely turn out that way.

We saw deer by the dozens on the side of the road. It was a beautiful sight and one I had missed while living in Austin. Although deer were not rare to me, to Cody, they were, so he grabbed my camera. As I drove, he took pictures.

When we decided to drive down a remote road to turn around and then head back to the main highway, Cody said, “Lookmom!” and pointed to a tree. I looked, and it was a white Boxer puppy.

I immediately looked at the property and noticed a very long row of dog kennels on the left. On the right, the puppy was tied to a short chain with no shelter or food bowls to be seen.

I pulled into the driveway and got out; I told Cody to stay inside the vehicle. An Amish man met me outside. His wife and three children were standing behind him. His children appeared to be between the ages of 7 and 13.

I asked the man about the white puppy, and he replied, “I’m sorry, he is not for sale; he has to be killed.”

I asked, “Why?”

He replied, “Because he is white.”

The Amish man was very emotionless, with no facial expression of any kind. As his wife and kids were heading toward us, I said, “My son and I have been driving across Iowa looking for a white boxer puppy. I understand your concern about breeding. We don’t want to breed him; we just want to love him.”

I took $150 cash out of my pocket and held out my hand as I said, “Are you sure he isn’t for sale? It’s winter, it’s cold, he has no shelter, no food, and no water… he’s just a baby, and like your children, he deserves love too”.

His wife looked up at him with pleading yet kind eyes and gave him a half-smile before looking back at me.

He started to take the money, and I gripped it tighter. “I’m sorry, but not until the puppy is safely in our vehicle.” I motioned for Cody to get thepuppy in the car. Cody was so excited; little did he know just how close this puppy came to death.

As promised, when the puppy was in the car, I let go of the money. It was frigid outside, standing in the winter wind. All I could think of was how great that puppy must feel with Cody’s love wrapped around him.

Because I wanted to report them, I stated, “I’m heading north to go visit my mother and will be coming back through this area on the way back home. Can I have your number in case I want to buy one of your other puppies?” The wife wrote it downfor me on a napkin that I had in my jacket pocket. I thanked them, and we left.

We made it into the next town, got food and water for us and the puppy, gas, a map, and used the restroom. I asked the sales clerk how far I was from the state line. She explained that I was only a few hours away. Based on her information, I knew we were about six hours away from my mother’s house.

When we finally arrived, Cody told my mother all about our puppy adventure. I later filled in the details that Cody didn’t have to know about. I also shared how Cody had been praying for Billy’s return. Then Cody asked, “Ummom, did you ask when his birthday is?”

I replied, “No, I didn’t, Codeman, I didn’t even think about it.”

He said, “Please call them and ask mom; we have to know so we can give him a birthday party and puppy cake.” I knew I was planning on reporting them, so I didn’t really want to call and chat with them.

After 20 minutes of Cody bugging me about it, my mother said, “Well, it would be kind of fun to know when his birthday is.” So, Ipicked up the phone and dialed. After all, we always celebrated our pets’ birthdays.

The man’s wife answered. After I asked, she placed me on a brief hold to get the index card that contained the litter’s information. She came back on the phone and said, “He was born on Thanksgiving Day at 2:27 in the afternoon”. I was stunned; Cody asked what was wrong.

I said, “I’m in shock because this puppy was born on the exact same day and time that Billy died.”  (Even as I write this, I am getting chills).

Cody hugged him and said, “Billy, you came back to us; I knew you would,” as he covered the puppy’s face in kisses.

I finally said, “Well, Cody, I think he deserves a name but calling him Billy is bad luck.” That was something my parents told meas a kid, even though my mother had named every one of her Siamese cats the same… Dusty.

Cody said, “Well, he’s white, and he’s the ghost of Billy, so let’s call him Ghost.” I agreed that it was the perfect name for him.

The following morning, I reported them. I doubted they would investigate it because I didn’t really see anything wrong on the kennel side. It was just a gut instinct, and that’s all I could tell the investigators.