Remembering Molly – Lynn’s lessons from losing a pet and finding love again

Dec 11, 2012

Lynn Rasmussen has become a dear friend during my first two years here in Raleigh.  We met at WRAL where each week she brings in adorable adoptable animals from the SPCA and showcases them as the “Pet of the Day” on the noon news.  I’d always look for her on Fridays and it was the highlight of the day if I was still in the newsroom around that time. We both love animals, rescues and can talk, talk, talk! We became fast friends.

Lynn opened up to me about one of the great loves of her life, Molly, and her struggle of dealing with losing her nearly two years ago.  I never got to meet Molly, but I recently met Lex, Lynn’s current four-legged love.  Lex is so stoic, strong and beautiful, just like his mom!  He may be a “German” Shepherd, but he’s actually Greek!  Lynn saw a post from a southern rescue group on facebook about Lex being up for adoption in Athens.  Naturally, she assumed, Athens, Georgia. NOPE! Athens, Greece.  So before she and her hubby Eric knew it, they were at the airport waiting for Lex, the only dog I know with a passport!  I had an amazing time the other week taking Lex’s photos with Lynn and Eric.  Lynn talked about how she wished she had taken the time to do this with Molly.  She graciously offered to put down her thoughts and I am so grateful to share this powerful story.  I still remember losing my first pet Tiger, a fat tabby cat, when I was 17.  I cherish the blurry photos I have of him and all the memories that go along with them.  Memories are amazing, but there is a power in photos. Especially when being able to share them.


“We can fix her!” The Vet said, confidently.

Excellent, I thought, then we can get back to our lives and I don’t have to face the aging of my beloved German Shepherd Dog, Molly. Molly and I had spent the last 12 years together, side-by-side.  It had never occurred to me to leave her at home; after all, people took their children with them wherever they went, so that’s what I did.  I took her with me.  When I realized that Molly was the perfect personality for a working Therapy Dog, we worked towards, and earned our Delta Society Therapy Dog license and after that, we were practically inseparable. Inseparable that is, until October, 2009, when I noticed that Molly was struggling to get up from her usual spot against the antique dry-sink.

A week later, I found myself slouched on the floor of the Veterinarian’s office, sitting against a cold door-stop mounted on the wall and feeling its pain in my hip.  I only vaguely noticed the pain it was causing, though; since my heart was racing…the vet had bad news.   Molly was sitting in the opposite corner, looking hard at me.

“So, what’s wrong with her?” I asked the Vet in a breathless voice.  It seemed hard to get the words out.

“Well, her hip bone is degenerating and it’ll have to be fixed surgically.  We have a procedure for that; it’s got a very good success rate. Until we can get her into the surgery, we can give her steroids to keep her going.”  He said, matter-of-factly.

Very efficient.  Very clean.  Very painless. The clinical notes were indicative of a successful procedure.  The problem had been identified; a plan of action laid out and a solution was on the horizon.  Why then, did I have the sense I was walking on thin ice?  I felt distracted by the nagging feeling that I was on borrowed time.  I suddenly realized that Molly was 13 years old.  Could she recover from such a serious surgery?  Should I put her through such an aggressive and invasive surgery?  From somewhere inside me, a thin voice chirped up…”We can do it! We can fix her! Come on! We can go to physical therapy and go back to work! She’s only 13 years old! Do it, do it, do it!”  The voice sounded like a politician, high-pitched and full of the adrenaline that made it quiver.  But it had succeeded in pushing the serious and sensible voice aside.  We would proceed with the surgery!

As I sat in the Vet’s office, trying to absorb what I was being told, my early days with Molly suddenly flickered on, like some biological theatre projector in my mind’s eye…long forgotten, they now focused in front of me like clearing fog.  We adopted Molly in the spring of 1998, when she was 10 months old.  She had been in 4 homes in those 10 months, and had lived all over the state of North Carolina.  She had been sold originally because she was an AKC registered puppy.  But she had a ‘fault’ (which disqualified her from being bred or shown for money) and was rejected by every person who bought her and had been summarily dumped at a shelter and was rescued by the GSDRA.  I saw her at a GSDRA Adoption Event; she was at the end of a long line of beautiful German Shepherd Dogs, with her head hanging low, her right ear flopping to the side, making her head look like a broken, sad, goofy numeral “4”.

“I’ll take HER!” I said excitedly, pointing to Molly.  I didn’t know it then, but I had just found my best friend and for 12 and a half years, she was the one I spent more time with than even my own husband.

Molly looked to me for everything.  I was meant to care for her, solve her problems and meet her every need; from the quality of her food to the comfort of her sleep.  She was my baby. She looked to me to give her the confidence to approach the dangerous bush next to the driveway, and face down the sparrow inside it.  She looked to me to tell her that everything was going to be ok.  The frightening things in the world wouldn’t get her as long as I was there to protect her.  Later on, when we were working as a Therapy Dog team, she looked to me to show her how to mount the escalators at the Charlotte Hilton, when we were there to support efforts of medical staff to encourage the use of Therapy Dogs as supplemental treatment for patients.  She amazed me when she didn’t need to look to me when we were working with patients in hospital; she knew who needed her attention.  She would pad silently up to the most withdrawn patient in the room and stand there in front of them…staring, as if to say, “It’s ok.  I’m here now.” The patients would unfold their bodies and unfold their broken spirits and reach out to her, and they would be calmed by her.  I knew I had to fix Molly so she could carry on her work…but it wouldn’t turn out that way.

In the days before Molly’s scheduled surgery, I felt as if the Universe was screaming at me to STOP.  LISTEN.  DON’T DO THIS! The Universe was telling me to let Molly live her life and then ascend out of her broken body, naturally and without assault from medicine.  But, I ignored it.  The night before her surgery, snow began to fall unexpectedly.  I laid down with Molly in the family room and we gazed at the falling snow together.  The snow was mixed with heavy ice pellets and it was making a muffled pinging noise as it hit the windows.  I had my fingers buried in her mane around her neck and shoulders, it was warm and peaceful.  I wanted that night to last forever.  I wanted to hang onto every day with her and in those days, I didn’t understand how to cherish each day, how to capture the memories of a wagging tail; a tail that would be too heavy for Molly to lift in the days before her death.  It never occurred to me to make memories in those days.  Perhaps I wanted to avoid the pain that came with recognizing that I couldn’t fix Molly and that capturing the small and special moments in the last days of her life meant facing her oncoming death.  Death came for Molly at 6:30 PM on March 9th, 2010.  My vet and I helped Molly pass in the safety of my arms and in the peace of her own backyard, as she passed, she heard birds chirping and my voice telling her that she would be safe and I would follow her later.  As Molly’s chest fell for the last time, expelling the last of her sweet breath, I felt nothing but shock and loneliness.  Suddenly, there was nothing…

That feeling of nothingness lasted almost two years.  Today, it’s two and a half years later and Molly’s canine brother, Lex is aging rapidly.  His hips are mangled with arthritis and while his balance is better than a 21 year old at his first keg party, it’s certainly not what it was even a few months ago.  He struggles to get up and to lay down.  My experience with Molly had taught me that grief is only made greater by not facing it.  I know now that life with our canine children is short.  We can’t fix them when they break and they are meant to go back to God.  We can only live our lives and laugh with them, play with them, protect them, and remember them.  A few weeks ago, it was in that moment of being back on the floor of the vet’s office with Lex that I knew I had to capture and remember my moments with Lex…I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember them all, so I asked my friend Tara, a professional photographer to help me remember.  The afternoon we spent making memories and taking pictures of us all together is not only recorded forever on film; but we now have those memories of an afternoon spent with a friend, laughing as we tried to balance ourselves on the fallen logs and tried to snap that picture before Lex ripped up the Santa Claus hat will also be a cherished memory.

There are things in our lives that we will always regret.  On March 9th, 2010, I began regretting that I had not taken steps to make more memories of Molly.  Memories of Molly beside me – always beside me. Molly with her hospital patients.  Molly with hospital workers who would kneel down to stroke her, and stand back up with smiles and peace in their faces.  Molly with my husband, Eric, Molly with my nephews…their tiny hands resting on her then strong shoulders, her big nose in their faces.  I don’t want to forget Molly’s love of the snow; her love of resting her head against my hip as I stood cooking at the stove.   I don’t want to regret losing the opportunities to make memories with my loved ones.

The dark days of grieving for my Molly appear to be over.  It feels to me that the joy of a day spent making memories with an amazing photographer, laughing, and posing and laughing some more have helped to wash away the regret and pain.  The knowledge that future days of making memories are possible simply complete the picture…which is now a color picture – one that I can pick up and look at, smile and put away…until I want to reach for it again, and it will be there.