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Our Furry Guide

We had a tough March.

Our whole family got the flu. Luke had a 911-worthy asthma attack (and follow-up steroids that kept us up bolusing through the next couple days and nights). I missed going to Washington, D.C. with other JDRF advocates to thank Congress for this year’s Special Diabetes Program renewal. And I had to have our 14-year-old dog, Huckleberry, put to sleep.

Huckleberry Finn found me when he was a puppy. I was teaching American literature at Tunghai University in Taiwan, and the lush university grounds and surrounding streets were filled with stray dogs. I held fast and resisted countless big-eyed pups and dingo-like dogs that trailed me to and from work – until a tail-wagging yellow puppy followed me right into the English department, head cocked and bright eyes locked on me. I scooped him up and started asking people, “Uh, this dog belong to anyone?”

Incredulous looks. I knew better. I was now owner of a tou gou, a street dog, an animal one step up from a rat. I named him Huckleberry Finn, which I was then teaching. My students warned me to keep an eye on him in the winter, because yellow dogs like Huck were grade B eating (for soup). Black dogs were grade A, and white and spotted dogs grade C. I tried joking back in the States that he was a Taiwanese Soup Dog (or Soup Doggy Dog, as my sister-in-law called him), but blank and angry stares suggested the joke was lost on most. (Really – unless you’re a vegetarian, why draw the line at horses or dogs?)

For a dog with no visa, no English, and no useful skills, he did very well for himself. When it came time to move back to the States, I took a crowded, stifling city bus to the airport. Due to odd circumstances, Huck got his own chartered, air-conditioned bus for him and his crate. “Dogs can fly?!” the incredulous driver asked. “I’ll fit in that crate – send me instead!”

Kids in Taiwan learn at an early age to throw rocks at stray dogs out of self-defense, because packs do sometimes attack them. Huck never trusted children, and when Luke arrived, he was not disarmed by the hairless puppy. I wish I could say that Huck sniffed out low blood sugars, curled up next to Luke when he was limp on the sofa from miserably high blood sugars, or kept me company when I was up in the wee hours doing an unexpected set/pod change. He never did. He remained cautious and cat-like; at best he tolerated Luke, shying away from attempted pets.

And after I came back from the vet’s, empty collar in hand, Luke didn’t seem especially sad, either. “Can I go back to TV now?” he asked.

Still, like any overachieving parent I started to read up on how children grieve – and I realized I was reading about how we’ve been grieving Luke’s lost pancreas (OK, lost Islets of Langerhans). Don’t hide your emotions, books counseled. Let your children know it’s OK to cry, OK to be sad, OK to be mad. Don’t tell them to be strong, don’t distract them with a cookie or promise of a new dog (or pancreas). Just listen, and let them know you feel it too, and you’ll move through it together. Someday the sadness won’t be quite so raw, though the loss itself doesn’t go away.

Huck, you’ve become a furry little angel despite yourself.

And I’m sure you’ve already found a very good situation for yourself, wherever you are.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love dogs. I love this story & the nickname Soup Doggy Dog. I’m sorry Huckleberry is gone.

    April 4, 2013
    • My sister-in-law has a wicked sense of humor! And thanks. 🙂 Odd that there are books about how to help kids grieve a pet but not about how to grieve a lost pancreas – or are there?…

      April 5, 2013
  2. Dawn #

    I’m sorry for the loss of your furry friend!

    April 4, 2013
  3. Kelly #

    What a fitting name for such a fantastic friend! Godspeed Huckleberry Finn. Thinking of you all during this difficult time. xoxo

    April 4, 2013
    • Cheers. 🙂 My students kept asking me when I was going to adopt a Tom – came close several times, there were so many appealing strays!

      April 5, 2013
  4. thomasnevesbraadland #

    So sorry for your loss, RIP Huck in doggie heaven.
    Luke, I’d love to come play with you again soon, let’s go make the town unsafe 🙂

    April 4, 2013
    • Luke: YES!!! 🙂

      April 5, 2013
      • thomasnevesbraadland #

        Will give you call, it’s been way too long since we last saw each other…

        April 5, 2013
  5. susan #

    So sorry to hear Kristen! About your tuff March and esp Huck. Like u, I’m sure he’s playing with a furry angel pack now–including our dear departed Honda. And as always, your family manages all with incredible grace, love, and courage. Here’s to better times… Love, Sue, Phileo and Pepper ❤

    April 5, 2013
    • You’ve had your share of goodbyes and tough times! Thanks for the thoughts. ❤

      April 5, 2013
  6. I’m sorry you had such a rough March and I missed you at Government Day. 😦 And I’m so sorry to hear of Huckleberry’s passing. He sounds like a special little guy.

    April 8, 2013
    • Thanks for writing about Gov day – felt a bit like I was there! 🙂

      April 12, 2013

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