Gone but not forgotten

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Sometimes, home is where you are instead of some place you are trying to get to. A shelter dog can teach us a lot about that.  A shelter dog named Heather taught us that.

Working at an animal shelter is filled with many joys. There is no greater joy than finding a new home for a pet.  There is no greater satisfaction. You come to work every day with that goal: find homes for these pets.

Heather taught us that sometimes wherever you are is home.  A bit of background on her:  Heather came to the Hilton Head Humane Association as a stray.  She was brought in by Beaufort County Animal Services and was a textbook “couch potato” Labrador.  A bit lazy, very loving, a passionate face licker and a toy hoarder.  She was about 5 years old when she was adopted by a mother and daughter. We all agreed it was a perfect home for Heather. All would be well now, we had done our job. 

Sadly, a couple of years later the mother and daughter came back in. Heather was having trouble standing up.  The humane association offered to check her out to see what could be done, but the mother and the daughter were ready to let her go.  They just did not have the resources to care for her. With sadness we welcomed her back.  She returned to her kennel and we set out, once again, to find her a home. Heather was quite overweight (not uncommon for a couch potato!). Our medical team determined that she had cancer in one of her kidneys.  The team was hopeful that removing the kidney could keep the cancer from spreading. The problem was Heather really needed to lose weight in order to provide the best chance for a good outcome. 

This time, our mission was different. Heather became an office dog.  She enjoyed her long walks in the morning. Her routine was to greet everyone who visited the adoption center.  This kept her busy and motivated. It was an important job and she handled it brilliantly.  When the community stepped up to drop off donations, when someone came in for a remembrance brick, when volunteers arrived for training classes, Heather was there to greet them and say thank you.  If you brought a stray to the shelter in the past several months, she probably greeted you.  She greeted the UPS driver, people filling out applications, people visiting from out of state. She always had the same happy wag and goofy smile. When Hilton Head Humane helped out with an awful “bad breeder” situation, we discovered that Heather could help these scared, trembling dogs to feel more confident.

Heather worked hard.  She never complained. Maybe she knew her time was limited.

The day of the surgery arrived. Heather had some other symptoms that led us to believe there could be more going on that we originally thought.  As often happens, surgery revealed far more involvement.  There was not to be a miracle “happy ending” for Heather. 

The lesson in all this is that she had a home when she died. Perhaps it wasn’t the conventional idea of a home, but it was a home nonetheless.  She had 18 employees who loved her, she had toys, she had treats. She had a warm bed at night, a walk in the morning and a walk in the afternoon.  A shelter is not supposed to be a home, but sometimes it is. Heather left this earth with a message for all of us: Sometimes a home is where you are, not where you long to be.

Rest in peace, Heather: June 22, 2016.

Laura Tipton is an adoption facilitator for the Hilton Head Humane Association. Find more information on the adoption process at www.hhhumane.org