My Incomprehensible Loss

My Incomprehensible Loss

On November 6, 2015 I lost my beloved dog, Callie Ann. The events leading up to her unnecessary death are still too painful so I’ll address them at a later time. After an extremely brief illness she suddenly went into kidney failure. When her local vet was unable to treat her effectively I took her to an emergency vet clinic in Portland ME which is associated with a specialty veterinarian practice that I use. At first they believed they’d managed to turn her around but by early morning her prognosis was dire. She was technically transferred to the care of the specialty vet practice and I was blessed to have the same internist who treats one of my GSD’s. I couldn’t ask for a more kind or compassionate person to ease Callie’s transition from this life. They walked Callie into an exam room so that I could spend as much time as possible with her. The tech’s words were “This is YOUR room for the day”. Callie lay on a soft matted blanket on the floor and I stayed next to her, stroking and talking to her. She had a pink stuffed bear “Pinky” next to her that had been her favorite toy since she was a young puppy.

Callie loved "Pinky" her entire life
      Callie loved “Pinky” her entire life

After several hours she began to appear uncomfortable so I summoned the vet. She sat on the floor with us and I sang our “special song”(substituting ‘Callie’ for ‘Johnnie’) to my angel as she administered the drugs. Before the drugs actually flowed Callie wagged her tail several times. When she was gone I stayed for a bit then somehow found the strength to leave the room. It was only then that I noticed the number of the room we’d been in all morning ~ #3. The irony of it made my tears flow even more because 3 has always been my favorite number.

We have several dogs, all of which we love dearly. Callie however was my “heart” dog. Once I became a mother it seemed as if my children were always finding stray pups and bringing them home. Being an animal lover I kept each and every one. Once the children grew and left the nest for college, the “girls” became my best friends. We decided for a variety of reasons to leave our native NJ and relocate to the Western Mountain region of Maine. I was fortunate to find a home off the primary road with 20 acres in a wooded mountain. I had a 6′ high chain link fence installed on an extremely large portion of the rear property which gave the girls ample room to exercise and helped keep the forest critters out. At this point they were all aging so I lovingly referred to them as my “Golden Girls”. It was devastating when all four of them passed away within 18 months, each one mourned terribly. For the first time in years I didn’t have a dog and it was strange. The first Christmas after the last girl passed, I was putting out decorations when I realized how much I missed having a dog. And so the search began. I discovered PetFinder and would sit for hours reviewing page after page. One day I saw a photo of an adorable black fluff of fur at the PAWS shelter in Calais ME.

Baby Doll
‘Baby Doll’ was part of a litter of nine, all jet black ~ 2005

I remember having to Google Calais because I’d never heard of it. It’s far up at the northern section of Maine bordering Canada. I filled out their application and was approved. I had to wait however until she was 8 weeks old before getting her. My daughter and I made the trip which seemed to take an eternity. Once I’d picked her up I realized I hadn’t picked out a name and on the long drive home I decided on Callie Ann because she hailed from “Calais”.

What a delightful handful she was! We live in a log home and she systematically pulled out the chinking (insulation material between the logs). I used to tell her that if we got cold it was her fault but somehow it never phased her.

                Callie Ann Quick ~ 2005

 

 

 

Her nickname? Callie Angel
         Her nickname? Callie Angel ~ 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ALWAYS wear orange during hunting seasons~ Oct 2006
We ALWAYS wear orange during hunting seasons ~ Oct. 2006
Loved her special kisses
      Loved her special kisses ~ June 2007

 

 

Once had just

 

 

 

spring arrived I enrolled her in Puppy Class. I had a new VW Jetta and as she jumped in after class one night I realized she was getting too tall for the car. Off we went the next week shopping for a mid sized SVU. Once I found one, the dealership sales person was kind enough to install the dog barrier gate I’d purchased elsewhere (one that I’ve rarely used however because she doesn’t like it). As spring progressed into summer I began socializing her in earnest. My daughter worked in law enforcement so I took Callie to the jail and let her walk up and down the exterior catwalk type steps.

 

Callie struts the "catwalk"
         Callie struts the “catwalk” ~ 2007

 

 

Callie LOVED car rides!
            Callie LOVED car rides!~ 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her first two years I tried taking her with me whenever possible so that she could experience elevators, airports, etc.  She accompanied me on my road trips back to NJ to visit family. The uncanny thing about Callie Ann is how fine tuned she was to my emotions. Whenever I raised my voice she would hurry over to check things out. It was usually just my loud mouth personality she heard but the few times I cried she was the first one at my side. For someone like me who suffers from PTSD, having that close bond is invaluable. While not an aggressive dog at all, just her attention to my mood was like manna from heaven.

As a nurse I worked 12hr shifts and the drive was a 3hr round trip. But on the positive side it gave me more days off than a traditional 40hr week. We added more dogs to our family whom I love dearly but Callie and I continued to have that special and unique bond. I had a teeter totter built along with an A-frame that only Callie liked to climb up earning her the name “Queen of the Hill”. We live across the street from a private river where we frequently go during the summer and I must admit, this summer was Callie’s happiest one yet. For a labrador X she wasn’t a typical water lover but this summer she swam and frolicked more in the river than ever before. Lots of happy entries into my memory book for sure!

Hanging by Clearwater Lake
       Hanging by Porter Lake~ 2009

 

 

 

 

Summer 2015 was the best!
     Summer of 2015 was the best!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2012 I made the decision to leave my job of nearly 10 years because the long commute had taken its toll. I started working for a more conveniently located company. Unfortunately, since 2012 I’ve been involved in a lawsuit which remains ongoing. Needless to say it’s been one battle after another and still not resolved. Callie had been my muse, my salvation. After the lawsuit began, my previously controlled PTSD flooded me. Some days I barely had the strength to go on. Through our unique bond she let me know I was important and that gave me courage to get up and manage ~ one step, one day at a time.

 

A late November walk 2012
         A November walk ~ 2012

 

 

 

Winter Fun 2012
              Winter Fun ~ 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Callie LOVED her sticks 2013
       Callie LOVED her sticks! ~ 2013

 

 

 

She had me up and outside like only she could! 2015
Callie got me outside like only she could! 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m still wracked with grief; some days I cry only once and others multiple times. It’s funny how a seemingly insignificant event will trigger waves of gut wrenching anguish. Saturday night I opened the dishwasher to put a dirty dish inside. I paused and wondered why the bottom rack had so much empty space when it was well after dinner and it should have been full. Then it hit me like a tidal wave; Callie’s dinner bowl wasn’t there. A torrent of tears flowed which I couldn’t stop. I ached for her on a visceral level. Yes, I’d cried terribly when each and every one of my previous beloved 4 legged companions left for I loved them all. I believe however that for those of us who are animal lovers, a special one enters our life and becomes our “heart” companion. Callie Ann was my heart dog. In time my daily tears will subside and I’ll even laugh at a recalled memory. But she’ll be indelibly etched within my soul until I leave this world.   Run free my angel…

IMG_8970
     Callie’s Place Created in 2007

Very Emotional Day

For hiking enthusiasts as well as many others, October brought an end to a two year  mystery that has haunted the Appalachian Trail in Maine ~ the disappearance of experienced hiker Geraldine Largay on July 22, 2013. The Boston Globe featured an excellent article in December 2014 which explored in depth one of the biggest mysteries and largest manhunts in Maine’s history. Despite massive searches no trace was ever found and eventually life continued. Tributes to Geraldine aka “Inchworm” were left at trailheads and laminated signs were prominently placed by the MSP both on the actual AT and in surrounding areas.

This past summer when I was searching for the missing dog, Jumper, it was sobering to see  memorials and signs like these in Stratton:

MSP Signs
MSP Signs
Stratton AT Trailhead
Stratton AT Trailhead

Then on October 14, 2015, a set of human remains along with personal items  believed to be Geraldine’s, were discovered by an independent contractor conducting a survey on Naval property.

Yesterday it was confirmed by the medical examiner that the remains were indeed hers; cause of death was “accidental, caused by lack of food and water and environmental exposure”. A cellphone found with the remains indicated that she had reached Orbeton Stream on the day of her disappearance. I actually had to sit down and reread the article a second time in order to fully comprehend. Then I burst into tears for I knew the area where she was found very well; I too became lost there earlier this year. Since I live in the Western Mountains of Maine within close proximity to the trail, I was doing sections of it as day hikes. My grandson was graduating from high school and I didn’t want to leave for my thru hike until after this special milestone. June was a particularly rainy month so I encountered trail conditions that were probably quite similar to those Geraldine met. If memory serves me correctly, there was a heavy rain storm the day before she disappeared. I entered the woods via an access road accompanied by my little dog Bailey B. The forest floor was quite wet and streams bursting but it was a warm and sunny day. We took our time, enjoying the day and taking frequent sniff stops for Bailey. The further we travelled, I marveled at how brutally rugged the terrain was. At times the  trail was an obstacle course of steep slabs, trip wire roots that resembled thick tentacles, steep rocky ascents and tooth rattling descents. It began to seem that I was now taking five steps forward only to encounter shoulder high rocks to climb over followed by vertical slabs. I remember being thankful that I had opted for long Columbia  pants that day as opposed to shorts because I did a lot of seat sliding. I could faintly hear Orbeton Stream and figured BB and I would take a break there. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment but I suddenly  realized I was off trail. “No big deal” I thought as I slowly turned around looking for the white blazes. Instead I saw more rocks, roots and trees ~ but none bearing the familiar white markings. It didn’t take long for panic to set in because in just that short time NOTHING looked like the trail. I didn’t expect to see a lot of evidence of foot traffic as SOBO hikers were really just beginning at Baxter and the bulk of those headed NOBO hadn’t reached Maine yet. In all honesty, in my many day hikes up until that point I’d encountered very few people which I attributed to the copious rainfall in June. I tried sending a text to my backup people from my inReach satellite handheld but it couldn’t pick up a signal. Even though I knew it was futile I still tried my cell phone to no avail. As I forged ahead towards what I thought was the stream, I began to second guess my decision for what I worried about the most was Bailey. Im sure she sensed my anxiety because where she once hopped confidently by my side she now darted back and forth in front of me but always looking back. She didn’t ask to accompany her human into the woods that day, I made the decision to bring her and I was obligated to get her out safely. So I sat down on a log and assessed the situation. Like so many tech junkies I had relied strictly on my hand held and didn’t have a compass. I also hadn’t clearly marked all the access roads between Point A & B because it was supposed to be a relatively short hike. **Hint** Take notes and learn from these two mistakes! I decided that if my family came looking for me that they would begin at the access road where I’d entered. I also knew that the closer I got to that point there was a better chance of obtaining a satellite signal. I decided that I was going to rely on my senses and reverse course. The first thing my senses told me was that the animals of the woods were definitely more vocal as the day passed. BB’s previous confident swagger was now fully replaced by fear and furtive movement; I knew if necessary I could carry her. I realized I had to stifle my anxiety as she was also feeding off it so I began to sing. Barney theme song, Elton John, Queen ~ anything I could belt out.And then mistake #2. I tripped over a particularly tuberous root and then over a rock, losing my glasses in the process. **Hint** Wear a strap to secure glasses to head. Even though I wear progressive lenses, I always remove my glasses to read, knit , etc. I needed them more for distance and that darned “middle” area. I stayed on my knees and tried to find them but the frames were black and apparently blended in well with years of leaves and tree debris carpeting the forest floor. I wanted to scream and run away but that wasn’t an option. Neither was clicking my heels together three times. I got up, resumed singing and kept moving. Had a lot of run ins with inanimate objects because I basically walked looking down at my feet. As I walked and sang I started to second guess myself, thinking perhaps I should just break and set up camp but one look at BB and I knew I had to keep going. Plus I knew if I didn’t return or get a signal to my family they would invariably come looking for me in the dark. Several hours later I  stopped for a “break” and when I headed back out I saw a white blaze. I can’t even describe my elation. As we continued I began to recognize a few areas where we had earlier stopped for one of Bailey’s sniff fests. Then I heard a familiar beep from the inReach and knew my text was on its way. By now it was dark and I was wearing my Black Diamond headlamp. I was innately calmer and think that Bailey sensed it because her small body appeared more relaxed. As I got closer to the access road I switched from singing to calling out my husbands name. Suddenly I heard him respond along with the trusty bark of Sasha, one of my beloved German Shepherds. He met me in the middle of a bog bridge where I began crying and didn’t stop until BB and I were safely out of the woods and into his truck. I’m not typically a dishonest person but I was mortified to admit that I had become lost in an area that by Maine standards was in my backyard. I felt stupid and ill equipped, especially for someone who had spent hours researching, planning, hiking and most of all, was leaving on a thru hike soon. So I fudged the details of my mishap to both my family and friends. I downplayed the “terrified & lost” component to the “we lost track of time” one. I’m not sure if my husband actually believed me because I’m also not prone to fits of hysterical crying while hiking but he’s too kind of a person to say anything.

Then they found Inchworm’s remains and now we know her location and cause of death.  As I wrote at the start of this entry this  information upset me greatly. Not because I thought I could have helped her; I became lost a year after her disappearance. No, I was upset because after being lost in the same general area for several hours, I can’t even imagine what she went through and it truly breaks my heart. She was found approximately 3,000′ off trail (one half mile). When we think of that distance we envision a quick jaunt but in the rugged terrain of the area it might as well have been ten miles. I also feel foolish and ashamed that I ever felt the need to downplay that day to the very people that care about me the most. There is no shame in admitting your mistakes;the shame is when you don’t learn from them. I’ve since learned to be proficient with an old fashioned compass, to mark all access routes whether I think I’ll use them or not and I bought two head-straps for my glasses.

I’m terribly sorry for the tragic turn of events that cut short Geraldine Largay’s productive life and I’m thankful that  she was found so that her family has some type of closure. This tragedy has also made me rethink that old adage “Well they died doing what they enjoyed”. After being lost for the better part of a ten hour day, I’m pretty damn sure Geraldine didn’t enjoy anything.

In closing, beginning with the disappearance and continuing with her remains found on property which is part of a Naval SERE Training Camp, the discovery has given rise to conspiracy theories and speculation, none of which I subscribe too. However I’m inserting a few links if anyone cares to explore. The last article is by Paul Dorion, Registered Maine Guide and accomplished author.

Map showing location of SERE Training Camp
Map showing location of SERE Training Camp
 AT
               AT Sign
Bailey B
          Bailey B