Wednesday, April 1, 2009

KydeKY: January 1, 1992 - March 30, 2009

She was, as the saying goes when describing the ancestry of a mongrel, a true Heinz 57.  So, her name, KydeKY, like her ancestry, came from multiple sources.

Ky, at my family's cottage on Commerce Lake near Walled Lake.  Circa summer, 2007.

Back in the mid-1970s, I briefly lived in England and had the opportunity to make several visits, thanks to my friend, Mrs. Shirley Higginbottom, now deceased, to Cornwall where she and her husband, Charles, had a small cottage in the town of Wadebridge.  On a wall in their cottage hung a linen tea towel showing pictures of common things with the Cornish language word of that image printed beneath.  I don't know if tea towels are still abundant for tourist purchases, but back then they were available in every corner of England and reflected each region's unique features.  Their best use was for wrapping warm fresh rolls, pies or other baked goods fresh from the oven.  They were not very absorbent, so of little use for drying dishes.  Their other use, as in my friend's cottage, was for display.

Anyway, this tea towel contained approximately twenty images and one of the images was of a dog with the word ky printed beneath.  I have no recollection of any of the other images on the tea towel, but I tucked this Cornish language word for dog away in my memory.

Flash forward approximately eighteen years to 1993.  I was living in rural Kentucky and working in my first job as a nurse practitioner in Columbia, Kentucky, population 3,500.  I lived in a small house set in a pastoral landscape on Highway 80.  In addition to my old Cairn Terrier, Duffy, I had two cats; Kite (from Philadelphia) and Scout (a scrawny stray picked up as a tiny kitten in a restaurant parking lot where, on occasion, I went for lunch.)  My veterinarian during my Kentucky days was Joe Wellnitz, DVM.  He and his wife, Beth, ran a beautiful veterinary clinic just off Highway 80 in between my home and work.  Joe had both a large and small animal practice.  Most of his time was spent on the county farms caring for the horses, cows and pigs of local farmers.  I would occasionally see Joe and his assistant driving around the rural roads or see their well-stocked pick-up truck parked in some farm driveway where they were making a call.

On February 26th, 1993 tragedy struck the town of Columbia when Joe Wellnitz, his wife, Beth, and Beth's son, Dennis, from a prior marriage, were all found shot to death in their home just next to the clinic building where Joe and Beth ran the small animal practice.  Their bodies were found by Joe's assistant - unfortunately, I can no longer recall his name, though the name Dan comes to mind - when he reported to work in the morning and immediately realized something was amiss.  For years and years their murders remained unsolved; in my mind one of the most egregious failures of Kentucky law enforcement.  In a small town like Columbia, rumors abounded.  While writing this, I googled "Joe Wellnitz, Columbia Kentucky" and learned that in 2004 the murders were finally solved.  Doubling up on the tragedy, Beth's daughter from her previous marriage, Dennis's sister and Joe's step-daughter, Margaret, was involved as an accomplice and in 2005 she received a life sentence.  In the ten years that the murders remained unsolved, she collected an inheritance of $550,000 following the deaths of her family members.  The man who did the actual killing was, at the time of the murders, Margaret's boyfriend.  In 2006, he was convicted and received a death sentence.

Joe had a brother named Bill, also a veterinarian, living and practicing in Louisville and he tied to keep Joe's practice going.  He hired a young vet to run the practice and unfortunately I can no longer recall his name either.  Joe's formerly thriving veterinary practice fell off dramatically.  In May of 1993, I had to put my dog, Duffy, to sleep secondary to a non-healing surgical wound, diabetes and her advanced age of 15-1/2 years.  She was my first dog, ignorantly purchased from a puppy mill in Indiana, and we were inseparable companions during all those years and through many of my own ups and downs.  As my first dog, she had to put up with my many novice mistakes as her caretaker.  After putting her to sleep, I waited anxiously for her ashes to be delivered to my mailbox.  I thought I would never get over her death.

Duffy was a beautiful brindle cairn, but it was difficult to capture that in a photo.  Her dark eyes, nose and face conspired against her in photographs.  Also, she would always turn her head just as I snapped the shutter.  Circa spring, 1993.

Joe's replacement was, undoubtedly, a skillful vet, but in a small, rural community unaccommodating to change, he was never accepted.  I knew how he felt.  A couple of years earlier I had entered this community from outside, albeit not surrounded by tragedy.  I was accepted but there were continuous and countless small reminders of being out-of-place.

Back in the day on my patio in Kentucky, circa summer, 1993.  How young I look!  That's Scout and Kite stretching to oogle someone, possibly Ky, who is out of the photo. 

I would occasionally stop by the Wellnitz Vet Clinic on a Saturday morning or afternoon after running errands in town.  I had little else to do on my weekends away from work.  One day in either June or July of 1993, I stopped by and heard the racket of barking dogs in the kennels.  Cindy Yates, Joe's small animal practice assistant, had stayed on to work with the new vet.  Cindy told the story of a woman who had rescued a dog and her three puppies from the animal warden who had found all four wandering in a field and was going to shoot them.  The woman came out of her home and said she would take the dogs.  She brought them to the Wellnitz Vet Clinic because then there were no animal shelters or humane societies in rural Kentucky.  This might be different now.  Cindy and the new vet had the job of finding homes for the dog and her pups.  Cindy knew how to hook me in.  She took me back to show me the dogs.  The fat and bouncy puppies were in one kennel and the skinny mom was in another.  Cindy said they needed to wean the pups if they were going to find them homes.  The mother dog looked miserable separated from her puppies.  But, she was also interested in the sight of a new human, and I saw, for the first time, a submissive dog smile.  She was clearly a Kentucky mongrel but she was cute.  And that smile - irresistible.

Ky at Crosswinds Marsh in Wayne County, Michigan.

You can see where this story is going.  I tried to resist, but in July, just two months after putting Duffy to sleep, I adopted the mother dog, submissive smile and all.  Shortly thereafter, Cindy was successful in adopting out her puppies.  The two female puppies went to a family in town and the male puppy went to a farm.

I named my new dog KydeKY.  Ky for the Cornish word for dog recalled from Shirley's Wadebridge cottage tea towel, de for the Spanish word from and KY for the state abbreviation for Kentucky.  Since I was told that Ky was approximately eighteen months old I also gave her a birthday - January 1, 1992.  Having nothing to do with me or my training skills, she was a beautifully behaved dog from the moment I brought her home.

The Wellnitz Veterinary Clinic was failing and Bill Wellnitz decided to close the practice after his brave attempt to keep it going following the death of his brother.  I, too, had made my decision to depart from Kentucky when I took a job in Baltimore, Maryland.  Thinking back on this, the deaths of Joe Wellnitz and his wife and son factored significantly in my decision to leave.  Their deaths changed that community for me forever.

Along with Kite and Scout, KydeKY and I started our new life in Baltimore.  This new life also took many twists and turns and through each of these, Ky, Kite and Scout accompanied me.  Ky and I were nearly inseparable companions.  Everywhere I was able to take her, she went.  She proved to be an easy home and traveling companion, attracting praise from dog lovers, and even non-dog lovers, who met her.  Being a perfect mongrel size - 26 lbs. all of her life - her aging was inconspicuous.  As the years went by, she maintained her youthful vigor and puppy-like appearance and I always had to remind myself that she was growing older.

Ky on the beach near the waterfowl counters hut at Whitefish Point, Chippewa County, Michigan, circa October, 2007.

Of the three, Scout, my scrawny orange tabby, was the first to die, at age five, when she accidentally made it out into the street from my apartment in Portland, Maine.  Scout was the tiny, feral kitten found behind the Columbia restaurant and she got her name from the little tomboy in To Kill a Mockingbird. She was found all the way across town several days later by a man whose dog carried her to him, dehydrated and starving, but still alive and with a fractured spine and lower extremity immobility secondary to the dog's bite.  Thankfully, the dog owner took Scout to the emergency veterinary clinic and the staff there called me at 1:00 am in the morning.  I dressed and drove there immediately.  The thing about Scout was that she was always an extraordinary purrer. She would get to purring so loudly that she would occasionally choke (so to speak - not literally) herself.  She purred in my arms as the vet gave her the injection to put her to sleep.  I am grateful that I found her to spend our last moments together and say goodbye.

Tiny Scout, never weighed more than eight pounds.  Even now, it's difficult to think of her lost all those days on the streets of Portland.  She had a distinguishing feature - the tip of her right ear was missing, obviously nibbled by who knows what.  This photo was taken in my Kentucky home living room.  

I found Kite, my first cat, a male black and white with a mustache, wandering on the street in West Philadelphia.  In my high-ceiling West Philly apartment, he got his name because of his ability to jump from the top of the refrigerator up to the top of the kitchen cabinets and then fly down from these to the kitchen table - like a kite coming to ground.  He was always skinny and soft, and he lived until the age of fourteen.  In the mornings as I dressed for work, he would jump up to the bathroom sink for me to pick him up and rock him in my arms for a few minutes before putting him back down.  In December of 2004, five months after I moved back to Michigan, I picked him up one morning and noticed that he had lost weight.  I then noticed he was not eating.  I took him to the vet.  The labs drawn that day revealed that he was in liver failure - since he never touched a drop, cancer was the likely cause.  I took him home and for a couple of weeks tried to coax him back to health, but finally I had to put him to sleep.  That was a difficult time for me.

Charming, handsome Kite; my lover boy.  This photo was taken in my Kentucky backyard, circa summer, 1993.

Clearly, I cannot summarize all of my sixteen years with Ky.  Let me just say that sixteen years is a long time for many things to happen.  From my memory of the thousands of walks we took together, a few of the walks stand out.  As every dog lover understands, walking is the essence of a dog's joy.  Once while taking a walk on a Puget Sound beach when Ky was just two, she was suddenly overcome by the gleeful freedom of it all.  She dropped her hind end and began to run in larger and larger circles finally running into the flat, smooth salt water of the Sound.  I know that, coming from Kentucky, she had no idea that the big body of water was not solid land.  She was several yards out in the cold water when suddenly she stopped and looked at me with complete surprise.  While she would run on beaches many times after this, she never again mistook water for land.  In Maine, at Crescent Beach State Park, we had long walks with my friend, Anne Strout and her dogs Syd and Emma.  I also had my friend Colleen's dog, Spike, for these walks.  Ky would frequently find some dead and stinky beach debris and run off with it as if she had the prize of the century.  She was so fast it was impossible to catch her to separate her from her dead fish.  In Baltimore the dog walking park was Herring Run Park just off Harford Road.  It was here that I marveled at her extraordinary running speed as I watched the gathered dogs play vigorous games of chase.  From watching this play, I learned that at least one of her 57 varieties was probably that of a herding breed.  She was a great little heel nipper. There was also the miracle on 29th Street, where I lived in an apartment.  One spring night, on our final walk for the day, Ky spotted a rat scuttling across the road and in a spit second she dashed from the porch into the road.  I heard a passing car hit her, heard her yelping and saw her running away. I chased after her, but did not find her that night or the next.  On the third morning I was beginning to give up hope of finding her when I went downstairs to go out calling for her again. I opened the door and there she was sitting on the porch waiting for me - dirty, hungry, but overall none the worse for the experience.  She had been lost for over 48 hours. That was a glorious reunion.

Ky in my Dearborn driveway, winter 2007-2008.

Now, it's Ky's turn.  The vet is coming to my house.  Though I'll feel it hardest, I'm not the only one who will be saddened by her death.  Many of my friends only know me with Ky.  At over 17 years of age, she's had a good life.  I can say this without reservation or hesitation.  She's been well fed and exercised, has traveled widely and has loved and been loved unconditionally.  She has been the center of my life all of these years - her life that almost ended over 16 years earlier at the hand and gun of a Kentucky animal control warden.  She's now skin and bones.  She lives in a silent, sightless world, prone to restless pacing in circles and occasionally falling.  She does not make a sound - not even when, by accident, I step on her paw.  A walk around the block, once a brisk ten minute affair, now takes thirty minutes.  Life is hard for her but she keeps trying. Where we have no control to end the suffering of the human companions we love, we are able to end the suffering of our animal companions.  I have made this choice for Ky, amongst the hardest I have had to make.  Still, I feel like I have betrayed her and am left with the consequences of my decision.  Have I waited too long?  Am I doing this too soon?  I have struggled back and forth with my decision and the questions it raises.  I don't know the answers.  All I know is that while Ky is no longer with me in life, she will always be with me. And her story will always be a good story.

Ky, on my Dearborn patio, circa summer, 2007.

Postscript:  Writing this has taken me back to my pre-computer and pre-digital camera days. I found print photos of Duffy, Kite, Scout from their Kentucky days that I re-imaged using my digital Lumix camera.  I was unable to re-image the photos of my Kentucky house and yard perhaps because they lacked a central spot to focus on.   Ky's photos are all from approximately the past three years.  I also found a few print photos of her as a young dog, but for some reason, these did not turn out in my re-imaging attempts.  Readers of this blog know that I am very lenient with photo quality. 

Ky, in my dining room, March 2009.  That's paint on her right ear where she rubbed against fresh wet paint when I was painting my new back door.


Stylurus said...


I'm sorry to hear of your loss. This post is a great tribute to KydeKY. It truly won't be the same to see you walking the neighborhood with her.


Dana said...

Cathy - What a beautiful story you've told about the little dog that could, KydeKY! I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm sure she's now at peace and hopefully you can find some too knowing she's no longer struggling. Thanks for sharing. If you need help scanning old photos into the computer, bring them over and I'll help. Hugs, Dana

ellen abbott said...

I admit, I didn't read the whole entry. Some at the first and then the end, but I know how hard it is to try to do the right thing and I have asked myself those same questions...too soon?, too late? and I feel like I failed a good dog. Even after all these years.

Lana said...

Cathy, I can relate to your experiences. Not only have I lost several dear companions, but I also knew the Wellnitz family. I lived in the log cabin behind their vet clinic in 1987 and 1988. I was just a child then, and I was fascinated with the animals I met at their clinic. I remember that they once took in an owl that was missing an eye due to being hit by a truck. I also met my first ferret with them. I was a couple of years younger than their children, but I still occasionally hung out with their daughter, and I had a crush on their son who is now deceased also. I just wanted to leave a comment because I felt touched by your similar experiences and thoughts.