R.I.P. Stryder Lee 2011-2017
An exceptional Golden Retriever whose spirit settled a family in a way most humans never could, the loss of this particular soul reminded me of the critical role the pets we love play in our lives. If you’re a cat person this isn’t for you, sorry; this is for us dog people. The tragic yet hopeful loss of Stryder Lee reminded me of the role that pets have played in developing my own empathy towards all living creatures.
>In my early adulthood, animals did not play a large role in my life. Before I was ten and living in the borough of Queens, the downstairs neighbor in our private family home owned a beautiful Collie named Brownie. That was my first encounter with a pet that I could even remotely relate to or call my own and it was a Collie like “Lassie” if you’re old enough to remember the TV show.
I never understood how people could treat animals better than they treat other human beings. Especially as an African American during the Civil Rights Movement, I saw animals used as instruments to keep order and to keep protesters in line, in some cases by allowing the animal to bite the Freedom Riders or others that sought significant social change. My first foray into the capacity of dogs and their meaning to humans was not irreparably harmed because of how these animals were used for a terrible purpose.
The next dog that meaningfully entered into my life was a rescue who was ultimately named Puffy, a white Maltese Poodle mix. My son gave the dog that name as a homage to P-Diddy, who was at the time Puff Daddy or Puffy. Our Poodle Puffy was discovered in a New York City cooperative apartment after the removal of five Dobermans. My sister, who worked as the manager for this large complex in the Bronx, had believed that all of the animals that were left abandoned in the apartment were all removed. But neighbors kept reporting that they heard a dog whining in the apartment. Upon deeper investigation, my sister found a terribly matted and scared little dog who would only come out to eat when the bigger dogs had finished and, of course, there was very little food left. My sister, being who she was, saw the beauty in this being and called me and said, “Come get this dog!” She didn’t ask, she told me.
Puffy was a gift to my late wife who, in her sober moments, loved Puffy as much as she was capable of loving anything. In reality, Puffy was my dog, not at all the typical man dog: big, burly, muscular that showed off my manhood. No, Puffy was tiny, opinionated and she knew she was cute. I nursed her back to health and spent a ridiculous amount of money on Valentine’s Day buying her a coach color in Valentine’s Day red with a big heart on it. This dog was incredibly loyal and loving to me specifically. During my wife’s losing battle with depression and drinking one evening, in a fit of rage, she literally picked up Puffy and threw her at me. I was fortunate enough to catch her so that she did not get hurt. That is when I learned at that time that my wife was ill. I never knew that she would pick up a harmless creature she nurtured to throw her at me. I eventually left my wife because she didn’t seek treatment. I was remiss in not taking Puffy with me because she died in the care of my wife, who died shortly thereafter. I am so sorry Puffy Madison, I should have taken you with me. You deserved better. I was broken and I left you in danger.
Ginger and Nutmeg are toy poodles in my life who have incredible personalities. From my understanding of the dog pecking order of intelligence, these two are extremely smart, capable, and protective. Ginger is the alpha dog and is constantly herding Nutmeg. Nutmeg and Ginger are both fearless and they will take on any dog of any size if the dog poses a threat to their owner or to the child of their owners, whom they have loved and protected since her birth.>
If only people could be more like dogs.
Currently, there is a Pit Bull in my life named Harlem. Unlike the Pit Bulls I grew up with in New York and in other rough-and-tumble neighborhoods, this is the gentlest Pit Bull I have ever met in my life. Imagine 75 pounds that just wants to lick you and lay in your lap. That’s Harlem Ulmer, just a big puppy in the body of a WWF wrestler. I never thought I could care for a Pit Bull but the lesson here is it’s how you raise them—sort of like people.
As humans, we are entrusted with the care of our planet and with the care of animals that are unable to care for themselves, especially since we have made the choice of domesticating these creatures. My mother was never fond of animals in her life. However, after I got my dog, my sister decided to get one of her own and this dog, who is still with us today, was instrumental in being a constant companion of my mother when she was actively dying at home. When my Mother could no longer get out of bed, my Sister’s dog stayed with her day and night until my Mother’s spirit left her room for eternity. My mom, from the time she had her stroke some 6 years before her passing, learned to love her dogs without question. During her illness, my sister’s first dog died from diabetes (who knew). My sister brought home another dog and gave it the same as the previous because Mom could not remember a new name for a new dog. Thank you to Peaches Madison, Poochie Madison 1, and Poochie Madison 2. Loyalty, without question.
So, what can I say about Stryder Lee? Stryder was a beautiful, big, docile, loving, cuddly Golden Retriever. What this spirit did in his six years of life most people cannot accomplish in a lifetime: Stryder was a means of liberation and solace for a woman and her children who needed that unconditional love at a critical time in their lives.
Stryder “picked” the family, they didn’t pick him. As a pup, being chosen among many other pups of the same breed, Stryder walked over to the one child in the family that had previously been brutally attacked by a dog as a baby and had a great fear of dogs. But this dog quieted the soul of this child and this child who once feared dogs immediately knew that this dog was hers and Stryder became a permanent fixture in the family.
Stryder was instrumental in soothing the anxiety and the depression in one of the children by
just allowing that child to lay on the floor with him and hug him from the back of his neck—something that dogs don’t particularly like—essentially calming this child with his presence. Stryder was entered into contests and fairs, but it was never about winning, it was about composure, gravitas, and stature. This dog was the “elder statesman” in this house. A Home that contained two rescue cats and another dog who is a 7-month-old pug named Jack, aka Crazy Jack. If you like your Pugs looking like bats strung out on caffeine, then Jack is your guy.
In time, Jack would attempt to have carnal relations with one of the house cats. The Kids and adults would subsequently yell for Jack to stop humping the cat. From time to time both of the cats would gang up on Jack and corner him in order to rough him up because they got tired of his constantly chasing them. Stryder would calmly walk in between the altercation between the cats and Jack and calmly end the siege. At times, the cats would walk over to Strider and lick him as an example of their love for him, and on those same occasions, he would lick them on top of their heads.
As big as Stryder was he was very playful and very tolerant of Jack. Keep in mind that if there was Ritalin for dogs, Jack would certainly be a candidate. But as his big older brother Stryder would protect Jack and if other animals in the street would even look as if they’re about to threaten Jack, Stryder would go into beast mode and protect his little brother. Such incredible loyalty that some humans could learn. Jack is the kind of psychotic little dog that after he goes into the backyard and pees in the morning he would immediately start tugging and biting on the bigger dog’s ear and when Stryder was feeling well he would accommodate that until Jack pissed him off and then he would do something adorable like sit on him.
From time to time Stryder would see me and we had a bond. Stryder could sense my need and also my desire to be a recipient of his unconditional love. Everyone knew that Stryder was sick when he stopped playing with Jack. The elegant Elder Statesman was barely able to make it up the stairs or into the backyard. There were times when Stryder would just clean me if you ever been licked by a golden retriever it is extraordinary wet and sticky but it was always a habit from Stryder that I was glad to oblige without condition. There were times when I would just rub him or rub behind his ears and he would place his large head between my thighs as if to say keep going you’re doing well I like this.
Most importantly, Stryder managed the heart and soul of his owner, Mom. She talked to him when she had questions, and in his wisdom, his looks, his licks, his love where sometimes the only answer she required in response to life’s challenges and the questions that she would have in regards to human behavior. As a person who works in customer service at a very high level, sometimes humans can be manipulative selfish egotistical and downright rude. In her chosen profession, she has to always maintain her composure. Sometimes at the end of the day, she has nothing left even for herself because whatever is left still has to go to her children. Stryder was the balance, the constant in her life that would never leave her by choice.
I had the honor to serve this family in ushering this beautiful loving purposeful pet—really a
member of their family—into his next plane of existence. Just like when we have to disconnect a human we love from life support, it sometimes seems even more cruel to do so to a being or presence that does nothing but love you no matter what you do and that counts on you for care and love in return. Stryder’s last meal was an amazing steak, in fact, his last week was full of several really good steaks, high-end doggie treats, and all the love that this family could muster. His last few nights were spent with the family camped in the family room. Everyone sleeping in the same room with Stryder counting the beats of his ever-weakening heart. At times, his owner would even prepare a palette for herself on the bathroom floor to be beside her beloved animal, who always succeeded in supplying the unconditional emotional support that many humans lack the ability to perceive or project for that matter.
I was not Stryder’s owner but the brief time I spent caring for him, walking him, giving him his meds and playing with him made me connect with him. I saw his impact on this family that really needed him. Ushering Stryder to sleep affected me. It made me think about these incredible rational gifts that walk beside us, that stand by us when we are injured, that only require food, your company, and your love. Our pets imprint on us what we wish the rest of humanity were only capable of. Watching someone you love, projecting a regal presence, lie down, close their eyes and take a final breath and you can’t communicate a simple thank you, it’s heartbreaking. All I could muster while others were crying openly while he was still standing after his sedative was a few tears as I buried my head in his head while rubbing him behind his ears with what little weak telepathy that I could muster…Thank you, Thank you, I am sorry, I have received all that you have taught me. Lesson learned. Stryder Lee: Family Pet, Canine Athlete, Elder Statesman, Assistance, and Therapy dog. 2011-2017.
Sometimes we have to let go of the people, the souls we cherish the most. But, at the same time, the gift is having that presence in your life and learning the lessons that their life teaches you so that your time on earth reciprocates and brings love, compassion, and peace to others.
Golden Retrievers in the U.S. have a high rate of cancer compared to many other breeds, a relatively recent development. In the late 1980s, the breed wasn’t considered as having a high rate of cancer. But by the late 1990s, cancer was taking the lives of about 60 percent of U.S. Goldens. In addition, Goldens are highly adaptable to a variety of lifestyles. They are family pets, show dogs, hunting dogs, canine athletes, competitors in a wide range of canine events, assistance and therapy dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs. As a result, the breed is exposed to an extensive range of environments. The Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is estimated to eventually cost $25 million; at this point, MAF is $7 million short of the goal. Major donors include the Morris Family Foundation, Petco, Zoetis, VCA Antech, Mars Veterinary and the Hadley and Marion Stuart Foundation.
To learn more, visit caninelifetimehealth.org. https://thebark.com/content/large-scale-cancer-study-golden-retrievers-holds-hope-all-dogs
Source : https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/man-his-dog-madison-lbkr/