Dog Stories: Honoring Bittycakes Lee And Happy Places
When Catherine got in touch about doing an End of Life photo session for her dog and explained he was going downhill quickly, we made plans right away. Then she told me the story about how he "wasn’t really her dog.”
His photo had been circulating on a shelter’s page last October and he was at risk of being put down. A woman in Dallas said she wanted to adopt him, so Catherine offered to pull him from the shelter and foster him until she could come to Houston to pick him up. But that never happened. For whatever reason, the Dallas woman decided she couldn’t manage a new dog in her life at that time.
So, here was Catherine with this dog, a middle-aged pit bull mix, who she never intended on having for more than a couple of days..he’s sick with pneumonia, reactive towards her 2 small dogs, and ZERO plan for what to do next.
She prayed about it, reached out for help, nursed him back to health, got a dog trainer, and enlisted the help of her large extended family with this dog now known as Bittycakes.
A few weeks ago Catherine noticed that his belly appeared a bit distended and took him to the vet. Bitty was diagnosed with an enlarged liver and spleen and an autoimmune blood disorder. His health declined quickly, his kidneys were failing, and cancer was suspected.
We pulled up at the same time. There was Bittycakes..in the front seat of the minivan..smiling at me through the window. I went to say Hi and the first thing I noticed was his very pale gums and tongue. It had apparently been a rough night. Catherine told me that she scheduled his euthanasia for 11:30. Shit.
I asked her to give me a tour of their place so I could determine the best spots for photos. The family members filed in one by one and it all of a sudden became a crowded, busy work space. The portrait photographer part of me got stressed. How was I going to get cute photos for her?? And what was this conservative Asian family doing working out of a house in the heart of Montrose across from gay bars and restaurants?? And how did Bittycakes get so sick so fast?? My head was spinning and the questions were overwhelming me and I sat down at a table so I could try to get unanxious. Cuz, afterall, this ain't about me.
I took a breath and asked for guidance. Ah! It wasn’t time to take pictures was the message I received. It was time to talk to Catherine. So, we sat and spoke for almost an hour while Bitty roamed around with his G’morning Hello’s to all the family. There were already lots of treats and toys involved. Although, I had the distinct impression that this was just a normal day and they weren’t treating him any differently than they would any other time.
She told me about how important religion was to her family. That they had been praying so hard for Bitty. They are house church shepherds and hold prayer gatherings at their home for several families. This is something new..they started around the time Bitty came into their lives and they love it.
Her kids have picked up quick. She told me about a conversation she had with her 5 year old son that morning:
Mom: “Bittycakes is going to Heaven today.”
Son: “How is he going to meet God?”
Mom: “God sends angels to get him.”
Son: “I’m going to live until 200. Is Bitty going to still remember me?”
Mom: “Yes, Sweetheart. They wear name tags in Heaven.”
This would be her first dog she would need to say goodbye to in this way. The others died of natural causes. But she didn’t want Bitty to suffer one more day.
When I asked her what Bitty came here to teach her, the answer didn’t come that easily. I told her I believe that our pets come with a certain mission. They sign up for it and when the mission is complete, it’s time for them to go. They know how they’ll go and they are ok with it.
What she said was, “I didn’t have a lot of faith that he could change his reactive ways towards other dogs. But he did. The progress was slow, but steady. At 35 years old, I’m pretty set in my ways. But he has inspired me to accept that I can change too.”
About this time we started taking photos, took a nice long walk to look for the kitties on his normal route, and of course, had more treats. The only thing that mattered at that moment was just being and feeling the love.
LOVE is the most important thing. At the end, it’s the only thing that matters. I hope you can see that here. Enjoy the photos and the sweet notes from Catherine..
“Bitty is in heaven now. Thank you. He just gave me a sign that he's ok. You're not going to believe this."
"I went through the McDonald's drive-through for lunch and ordered a ranch wrap. Well I drove off didn't check my bag and they didn't give me a ranch wrap, they gave me chicken nuggets, a cheeseburger, and fries. Bitty’s last meal today during the photo shoot, as you know, was chicken nuggets, a cheeseburger, and fries."
"He wanted me to know he's in a happy place. I took that as a true sign that God and his angels have him and that he is A-Ok now.”
"I was listening to a medical missionary at my church speak today about all the various patients that they see at the hospital in Kenya. Many are seeking cures for life threatening and terminal diseases.
One thing she said that really spoke to me was that she couldn't fix many of the people or cure their illnesses. She simply loved them and ran the race alongside them. And that sometimes God calls us to heal. Sometimes God calls us to finish the race alongside a dying friend. But most of all, God calls us to love."
"And then I realized that I had spent a lot of effort trying to fix Bitty. Fixing his dog aggression. Fixing his incessant chewing on his calluses with eucalyptus oil. Fixing his illnesses (which I ultimately failed at and couldn't).
But what he ultimately wanted and needed from me each day was simply to love him and make him a part of the family. And looking back, what he enjoyed the most (though Natalie is amazing) wasn't training, it was sitting on that disgusting green couch where many fosters have sat, and simply existing with us, his family."
“So you asked me what I learned from Bitty... as I lead my house church with my husband (the shepherd) and I listen to many of other people's marital problems, financial problems, all kinds of problems, I'm really not there to offer any advice to fix and provide a solution for someone.
I’m simply there to love and to run the race alongside them. In fact, the burden of fixing a problem, illness, is too great a burden to bear on my shoulders because I don't know God's plan. I only know his command to love one another. So that's what I'll do. Funny to learn that from a dog.. But I think I got it now..”
"Yes, Mama. I see you received my messages. Thank you for giving me a family and for everything you did for me. My work is done here. I'm so proud of you. Love, Bittycakes"