By Taneele Smith
Sheabel Pet Care Center
As an avid animal lover, it was no surprise that I made a career in pet care. Working at Sheabel Pet Care Center for the past 17 years, I have surrounded my personal and professional life with these special four-legged friends; caring for them, working with them and of course, living with them. For all of us who have had pets, we cannot imagine our lives without them. And while we love them as unconditionally as humans can, we also have those certain ones with whom, for whatever reason, we really bond. Those pets who are very much an extension of our own personalities without whom we feel a little empty.
For me, that pet was Harley Bella, a black lab mix who came to me a mere five weeks old as an abandoned puppy. At first I was going to foster her until she had had her boosters and was on hard food, etc, etc, etc. … you know the drill. I was 22 at the time, and Harley was with me through so many stages of my life; moves, relationships, hardships; she was my one “constant,” loving me unconditionally, confident that I was the absolute best thing in the whole world. However, she was not my only pet.
Harley Bella and Faith, taking over my couch. (Photo from Taneele Smith)
In October 2000, when Harley was 2 years old, we rescued a 1-year-old shepherd mix we found while walking across a bridge over I-65 in Indiana. She had been hit by a car and with both a broken pelvis and back leg her future was a bit uncertain. She proved to be quite a miracle dog as she mended quickly, only to have another near-death experience a couple months later when a large diaphragmatic hernia caused her liver, gall bladder and some of her intestines to push up into her chest cavity, causing major fluid build-up on her lungs. While the surgery to repair the hole was a success, complications post-op had her bleeding out of her incision and requiring two plasma transfusions the very next day, causing me to wonder how many lives this girl had. I named her Faith.
Faith was one of the smartest dogs I have ever had, and had an independent streak that I could not help but respect. While she was very sweet and laid-back, Harley was the one who wanted to snuggle and be in the middle of everything. Faith would socialize on her own time and then go to her own space. As they grew up together, Faith learned all her “tricks” by watching Harley and did not have to be trained any other way.
The only thing she did not learn from Harley was the disappearing act when a gate or door was accidentally left open. Faith had been on that side of the fence before and had no desire to be there again, so she would wait patiently while we went out to find Harley and bring her back hom.! If I were to be honest with myself, I probably tended to favor Harley a bit just because of her adoration of me, as well as the fact that she just overshadowed Faith a bit with her antics and demand for attention.
I lost Harley to liver/kidney failure December of 2009. I had to make the difficult decision to end her suffering and she passed in my arms in her favorite spot in my office. To say I was heartbroken does not say enough, as anyone who has lost a pet knows, yet I was also concerned about Faith and how this would affect her, as she is very much a pack-oriented dog who was now alone. It did not take long for my husband and I to realize we needed a two-dog home again, so in April 2010 we adopted a 10-year-old beagle mix in order to match the now 11-plus-year-old Faith.
Interestingly something happened during this time that renewed my relationship with Faith. She became much more affectionate and personal, wanting to be with me that much more. It’s like my eyes finally opened up and saw how much like me she was and how well she knew me. I realized that one of the reasons she seemed so smart in my eyes was that she often knew what I was going to do before I did. She still had her independent streak but would be very forceful and persistent when she was ready to spend time with me, like following me every step I took prior to bedtime because she decided that was the night she wanted to sleep in the bed with me. Or pushing her way in front of me to get out the door because she wanted to come to work with me and hang out in my office. And my personal favorite was when she would come lay in front of me staring intently at the empty spot beside me on the couch until I gave her the okay to come up and fill that spot:)
Maybe she was getting more needy as she aged, maybe she needed to fill that companionship void that Harley had left in her, or maybe she sensed that I had that void also and felt obligated to help fill it. Whatever it was she became even that much more special to me and I would quite often brag and talk about her, and most of my co-workers of course know the story of her death-defying beginnings. So when she came up with some cancerous tumors my worries were minimal, and after having 3 removed with no further complications that seemed accurate. She was after all the miracle dog!
However, the day I had to bring her in to the vet because of some breathing issues I was concerned. After the X-ray showed some questionable spots on her lungs the worries grew. Unable to discern between cancer and a fungal infection had us treating both while waiting on results of a more extensive blood panel test. The likelihood of cancer became more apparent though when within a week her breathing was markedly worse and X-rays showed her lungs much worse as well.
Her breathing worsened throughout the day, and late that afternoon Dr. Miyakawa came into my office and said she was very concerned about her making it through the night. I asked that she be brought over to my office and planned on leaving with her soon after. She came in tail swirling as usual and took her place on her bed as she always had. Soon after, Faith began her final battle. I again held her head in my lap and cried as she passed, thinking how typical this was of her. She knew what was happening before I did, but she waited until she could be with me. Faith knew I needed to have that closure, to hold her as she left this world, yet she was still able to do so on her own terms.
Just as this story began about Harley Bella, such was the reality that it became about Faith, and in more ways than one. Opening up your heart to unconditional love and seeing the unique gifts in people and animals alike is what it took both of them to teach me, each of them taking their place and their role when the time came.
I cannot imagine my life without pets and know I will have many more to come, but it is also difficult to imagine them being more special than Harley and Faith. But just as Faith waited patiently for the time to come when she could be what I needed, maybe the answer is our pets find us and come into our lives in whatever capacity we need them at that time. In my view, they are truly sent from God to show us unconditional love, just as he has for us.
To Faith and Harley Bella: Thank you for giving me the gift of your presence, your unconditional love, and an appreciation for life. For this I am truly blessed and will cherish your memories always.
Taneele Smith is senior operations manager at Sheabel Pet Care Center in Lexington. She attended the University of Kentucky before joining the Sheabel team in 1995 as a part-time receptionist. While taking leadership and management classes and workshops to further her knowledge of running a pet care facility, she quickly worked her way into management. When not doing what she loves in working with pets, Taneele enjoys taking motorcyle trips on her Harley, reading and spending time with family.