All Dogs Go to Heaven
Burnie, Baby, Burnie: A personal remembrance of Houston's top dog
In their short lifetimes, dogs and cats are offered the opportunity to be one of two things in their roles as pets. Sometimes, a pet is simply a tamed animal that occupies the spaces that don't impede the passageways of the human occupants. Other times, these domestic creatures are just as integral to the clan as any pure-blooded kinfolk.
And when they pass on to wherever we go after we die, the sting is equally as sharp.
When referring to my own cuddly companions, I've always held true to the sentiment that I prefer my pet to most people. And unfortunately for the mortals in my life, that isn't an exaggeration.
So 16 years ago, a particular German Shepherd-Chow mix hit this pivotal crossroad. She was rushed to the Houston Humane Society's clinic with third-degree burns, as a result of being tied to a tree, doused in gasoline, and set ablaze by two teenagers. Her life was spared when a police officer realized what was happening, and desperately called for help (and if you think it didn't take me almost three hours to write that without crying, think again).
The charming canine, despite the tragic hand that she'd been dealt, endeared herself to the Humane Society staff in the weeks following her fiery brush with death. She remained friendly and loving to everyone through her process of rehabilitation, eventually capturing the hearts of her caretakers.
Her luck turned for good when she was given the name Burnadette — Burnie, for short — and declared the official Houston Humane Society mascot. "After we had worked with her so long, there was no way we could have ever let her go to another home," Sherry Ferguson, Executive Director of the Houston Humane Society, told the Houston Chronicle.
I had the chance to meet Burnie last year, as I toured the Humane Society's new facilities. Burnie wasn't their only mascot, but as I rounded the corner of the administrative offices, I could see why she was No. 1.
She quietly slinked around the room, eyes up, eyes down, a bit wary of me and fighting not to let her curiosity get the best of her. She sashayed ever so slightly in my direction, as if to shift the blackened ribbon of skin wrapping around her belly away from my eyes and my camera's lens so she would make a proper first impression upon me.
Her presence was triumphant. Her mere existence was a miracle. She nuzzled my hand in acknowledgement that I meant no harm.
I wanted to photograph her, but in truth, Burnie was unconcerned with appearances. I suppose she'd learned the hard way that it was what was inside that counted.
Last week, when Burnie lost control of her bodily functions, the Humane Society made the difficult decision of euthanizing their top dog, and lost a family member in the process. Burnie was nearing her 18th birthday, and led a full life as a competitive athlete, a goodwill ambassador, an Honorary K-9 Cop, and a consultant to the R.A.I.D.E.R. cruelty investigation program, among many, many other duties.
If it's true that all dogs go to heaven, Burnie, well, then I hope that heaven becomes the biggest backyard you've ever known. Show 'em how a survivor gets things done. Romp in peace, ol' girl.