The Ghost of Billy

This is taken (some words rearranged for this blog post) from my powerful autobiographical memoir

** If you ever lost a pet, this may help you significantly please keep reading **

… Billy, our rescued Boxer, acted totally fine all morning and during our daily walk. Suddenly, without warning, he fell to the ground. Cody, age 10, and I awkwardly carried him back up the hill into our apartment. As we carried his body, we could feel the life all-too-quickly slipping out of him. We begged him to hang on.

We called every vet in town.  Because it was Thanksgiving, nobody was open except for the one on-call emergency vet who told us to bring him in. We loaded him into the car and left immediately. After two hours at the vet, we found out that he had heartworm and, while we never missed giving him his pill, the vet said, “If you test dogs for heartworm and there are no adults present, then the test results can be negative”. He continued to explain, “When you rescued him from the abusive vet, he likely already had heartworm and, by giving him heartworm medication, you prolonged his life for the past couple years.” We were so sad and tears started to pour from our eyes.

The vet said, “Because you two gave him love, you also made the pain of his health a lot less noticeable. He was happy”. It was decided that it was most humane to put him to sleep. The vet later mailed a clay footprint of Billy’s paw with a blue ribbon for us to remember him by.

** If you recently lost a pet, this next part may help significantly **

(still from my book)

When Cody and I arrived home with our swollen eyes and red faces from all of the crying, we flopped ourselves onto the couch. On the way in, I had turned on the radio to invite a distraction and noticed it was now 2:30 PM. When Cody and I were talking about how much we will miss Billy, he said, “Mom – listen!”

On the radio was a lady whose expertise was pet grief. She said, “When you lose an animal, immediately pray for its soul to reach Heaven. Then ask for the pet to come back to you and he will”.

Cody said, “Mom, I’m going to go pray for Billy to come back” and ran to his room. I chuckled to myself in disbelief but loved how awesome my son was to have such hope.

It was then that I knew I would remember this day forever.


Two months later, Cody and I were talking about rescuing another Boxer. Since I was young, I had always wanted a white Boxer but had heard they had so many health problems, were not recognized by the kennel clubs and that most breeders actually drowned them as puppies. That was so sad – I don’t care about breeding or health problems – those can be controlled. I just wanted one to love.

Cody and I spent the day calling and visiting shelters and rescues in the area. With no luck, I reached out to Dallas shelters. One lady called me back and stated that an enlisted member of the Army was getting ready to go to overseas and would be there for a year. He was single and his parents refused to keep his dog so he was willing to let us adopt him – that it would be better than placing him in a shelter until he returned. His Boxer was white and only 18 months old. We were so excited that the three day wait while we were being approved seemed to last forever. We kept thinking what a great way to start a new year.

At the last minute, two hours before we were to leave for Dallas to pick him up, the owner’s parents agreed to keep his dog and therefore the adoption was called off. Cody was more upset than I was but only due to maturity. I explained to him, “Everything happens for a reason, it just means that we will find a different white Boxer to save”.

He said, “I asked Billy to come back but he hasn’t come back to us yet mom”. To keep his hope alive, while not really believing in it, I said, “He will, when he’s ready”. Cody walked away disappointed.

While speaking to my mother, I came to the realization that we had not seen her for a couple years and decided it was time to visit. She still lived in the Midwest and her health was becoming more fragile due to her age and diminishing weight.

Because of that, and our recent shitty “puppy luck”, I decided to rent a car to preserve mine and Cody and I would drive up and visit. We went to bed early to prepare for the long drive.

As we were driving well into the darkness we had now wandered a bit off the freeway and were somewhere in the middle of Iowa. In fact, the last road sign I had read said “Storm Lake” and was by a lighthouse.

It was dark, very little traffic, and farmhouses seemed to have disappeared. Cody said, “Mom, I have to potty”.

I said, “Well, I can pull over and you can potty here, nobody will see you”.

He said, “No, I’m scared, what if there are animals out there that we don’t see?” He refused to go and agreed to hold it as long as he could.

About fifteen miles later I saw a dim light starting to appear on the horizon. As we got closer, I realized that it was a convenience store. It was now 10:55 PM and, as I approached, a man appeared to be locking up. I quickly pulled up and said, “Sir, sir, can my son please use your restroom?”

He replied, “Yes, but just so you know, a bunch of us men are having a poker game in the back by the restroom but it will be okay – there is just a lot of smoke in that area”.

He opened the door and let us in. I was a bit uncomfortable being the only female in a strange location at night in the middle of nowhere so, as I watched Cody safely make it to the restroom, I picked up a random newspaper from one of the racks closest to me. In an effort to hide my discomfort, I opened the paper to a random page and held it in front of my face. I had no plans to read it but lo and behold, when I actually did look at it, the first thing I saw was an ad for a “free white Boxer puppy” and I was ecstatic.

I immediately looked at my phone to call the number and realized I had no cellular service. I then interrupted the poker game and asked if I could use the man’s phone. He was very nice and handed me his cordless handset. I dialed the number and the lady asked where we were and stated, “Well, you are on the other side of the state but I will hold him for you”. I got the directions and we headed out.

Midway we stopped for a nap at a roadside rest and, four hours later, gassed up, threw our trash away, cleaned the windows, grabbed some breakfast and were on the road again. About three hours later, I realized we had accidentally thrown out the paper with the boxer ad and directions on it. Again – Cody was very upset. Again – I said, “Remember, everything happens for a reason – he was not supposed to be ours”.

Cody said, “Billy is never coming back to us is he mom?”

Again – trying to continue the hope – I said, “Yes he is, and Billy will come back to us soon”.

I decided to turn around and, while we did not know where we were, we did see a sign that said we were entering Amish territory. I had not taken a map with me because the same highway went from Texas to my mother’s house, so I didn’t have a reason to use a map. However, at this very moment, I sure wished I had one.

We decided to continue onward until we reached a town. We could get some fresh drinks, use the restroom, and most importantly, purchase a map. Instead, it did not quite turn out that way.

We saw dozens of deer on the side of the road. It was a beautiful site and one I had missed while living in Austin. Although deer were not rare to me, to Cody they were so he grabbed my camera and, as I kept driving, he kept taking pictures.

When we decided to drive down a remote road to turn around and then head back to the main highway, Cody said, “Look mom!” and pointed to a tree. I looked and it was a white Boxer puppy.

I immediately looked at the property and noticed a very long row of dog kennels on the left and, on the right, the puppy tied to a short chain with no shelter or food bowls in sight.

I pulled into the driveway and got out; I told Cody to stay inside of the vehicle. An Amish man met me outside and, behind in a bit of a distance, was who appeared to be his wife, and his children: two sons and a daughter between the ages of 7 and 13.

I asked the man about the white puppy and he replied, “I’m sorry, he is not for sale, he has to be killed”.

I asked, “Why?”

He replied, “Because he is white”.

He was very emotionless – no facial expression of any kind and just as his wife and kids were heading toward us, I stated, “My son and I have been driving across Iowa looking for a white Boxer puppy. I understand your concern with breeding. We don’t want to breed him; we just want to love him”.

I took $150 cash out of my pocket and handed it toward the man. I said, “Are you sure he isn’t for sale? It is winter, it is cold, he has no shelter, no food, no water… he is a baby, and just like children, he deserves love too”.

His wife looked up at him with pleading yet kind eyes, and gave him a half-smile before looking back at me.

He started to take the money and I gripped it tighter saying, “I am sorry but not until the puppy is safely in our vehicle”. I motioned for Cody to get the puppy in the car. He was so excited – little did he know just how close this puppy came to being killed.

As promised, when the puppy was in the car, I let go of the money. It was so cold outside and the wind was blowing. All I could think of was how great that puppy must feel by now… the warmth of the vehicle and Cody’s love wrapped all around him.

Because I wanted to report them, I stated, “I am heading north to go visit my mother and will be coming back through this area on the way back home. Can I have your number in case I want to buy one of your other puppies?” The wife wrote it down for me on a napkin that I had in my jacket pocket; I thanked them and we left.

We made it into the next town, got food and water for us and the puppy, gas, a map, and used the restroom. I asked the sales clerk how far I was from the state line. She explained that I was a few hours away and, based on her information, I was about 6 hours away from our destination.

When we finally arrived at my mother’s house, I explained the puppy situation and Cody told her about praying that Billy would come back. Then he said, “Um mom, did you ask the puppy’s birthday?”

I replied, “No I didn’t Codeman, I didn’t think about it”.

He said, “Please call them and ask mom, we have to know so we can give him a party and a puppy cake”. I knew I was planning on reporting them so did not really want to call and chat with them.

After 20 minutes of Cody bugging me about it, my mother said, “Well, it would be kind of fun to know when his birthday is”. So, I picked up the phone and dialed. After all, we always celebrated our pets’ birthdays.

The man’s wife answered and I asked. She placed me on hold to get the index card with the litter’s information on it. She came back on the phone and said, “He was born on Thanksgiving at 2:30 in the afternoon”. I was absolutely shocked – so much so that my mother and Cody asked what was wrong.

I said, “I am in shock because he was born on the exact same day and time that Billy died”(Even as I write this, I am getting chills).

Cody hugged him and said, “Billy, you came back to us, I knew you would” and kissed the puppy all over his face.

I finally said, “Well Cody, I think he deserves a name and calling him Billy is bad luck” – that was something my parents told me as a kid even though my mother had named every one of her Siamese cats the same… Dusty.

Cody said, “Well, he is white and the ghost of Billy so let’s call him Ghost”… and so it was.

The following morning, I called the 800# for the Humane Society and asked for a number to report a kennel in Iowa. They provided the number for the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) who took my report. I stated I wanted to remain anonymous to the kennel owners but would like to be notified if anything became of the report or investigation.

Honestly, I doubted they would investigate it because I didn’t see anything wrong per se… it was a gut instinct and that’s all I could tell them. Then, in 2004, many years later, I was told that over 30 animals – mostly Boxers – were rescued and their kennel shut down.

I do not believe in luck or coincidence so I know that Cody was meant to hear the pet grief expert’s advice, and to pray… and hope… and have faith that Billy was coming back to us… and that Ghost was meant to be loved by us.


RIP Billy and Ghost – we will always remember you.


animal love