Kennedy AND his dogs … Grieving all the way around

I got to meet two of Senator Kennedy’s dogs three years ago during a second tour at the White House with my Senate pal, Patty Kennedy.
I had originally visited the US Senate in 2000, helping Patty with the publicity of her incredible book, Bailey Bymyside: Golden Lessons for Life (to see some of the lessons from the book, click here).

Senator Kennedy’s dogs were being walked by staff members as he was, of course, busy doing the people’s work. I was told that the Senator brought his dog to work about once a week. And, he brought a tennis racket as well so that he could hit balls for his dog to retrieve and bring back to him.

In the May 2006 Boston Globe Interview, Making a Splash, reporter Susan Milligan speaks to folks not really knowing Ted Kennedy, despite 40 years in the Senate and speeches galore. For, it was when you could catch him playing fetch with his dogs that one could really see him come alive. How disappointing it was that I was not able to see him do just that with his dogs.

Follow the senior senator from Massachusetts, known for beating up tobacco lobbyists and conservative Supreme Court nominees, into his Capitol Hill office – the inner office, the one decorated with a framed, handwritten note from John F. Kennedy as a child, with pictures of Edward M. Kennedy standing alongside Martin Luther King and past presidents – and he quickly morphs into 8-year-old Teddy Kennedy. “Do you know how much I missed you? Do you KNOW how much I missed you?” Kennedy coos at Splash, his Portuguese water dog who has been awaiting his owner’s return from a Senate committee hearing. Kennedy bounces a tennis ball, sending the large, curly-haired canine running around the bustling office before settling comfortably next to the senator.

It was endearing to hear him interrupt the interview to ask Susan if she wanted to see a trick. But, as we all know, our dogs do not always perform on command.

Splash, Susan would like to see the ball, if you would show it to her. Can you show me the ball? Will you show me the ball? Splash. Please. SPLASH. Will you show me the ball? Come on, come on, show me the ball. Thank you. You know I want that ball, and you know I want that ball now. SPLASH. Please. Now you know I want that ball, and you’re not going to give the ball to me? Come on, come on. Look. Show it to ME. Where are you going with that ball? Why are you teasing me? You know I want that ball more than anything in the world. Well, I guess you won’t let me see it.

I was happy to know that the good Senator was enjoying his last months by immersing himself in what he loved best — being by or on the water . . . with his beloved dogs by his side.

I only worry about how Splash, Sunny, and new puppy Cappy will handle his absence, as dog lovers do understand that dogs go through a grieving process as well, as expressed here by behaviorist Jean Donaldson.

It seems implausible that dogs, who bond so strongly, would not feel really bad when someone they’re close to disappears. Now, whether they have the accompanying cognitions that so complicate human grief is something I’m less convinced of. I know people whose dogs have struggled with the loss of a family member (people and dogs), becoming depressed, anxious, lost and rudderless. And I can see how this could be compounded by changes in routine brought on by the grieving process of remaining family members.

And, I am sure that Kennedy’s dogs will be missed on the hill, as he was never hesitant to utilize his furry companions in every aspect of his working life.

Now, lobbyists, staffers and other Hill dwellers say they mourn not only the passing of Kennedy but also he end of a unique chapter in Capitol Hill’s canine history. With their black curly hair, floppy ears and bouncy gait, Kennedy’s dogs became a part of the lawmaker’s nearly 47-year Hill tenure.

Kennedy’s Senate office always had water bowls and tennis balls on hand. Major legislation was hammered out as White House officials patted fuzzy heads and threw balls during meetings. The dogs were known to snooze under committee room tables.

“It’s like the end of an era,” said Kennedy’s former judiciary committee general council David Sutphen. “I find it hard to believe you’ll have another senator with a dog who comes to meetings all over the Capitol. It’s kind of the closing of a chapter.”

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