Gloria Heineman: Pansy

Pansy sharing Gloria with baby

Pansy sharing Gloria with baby

Gloria’s favourite childhood dog was a small Wire-Haired Fox Terrier.
“Fox Terriers are wonderful little dogs. I just loved this dog. He was a good dog but he also knew how to get himself into trouble like the time he got loose and got our neighbour’s prize winning purebred Cocker Spaniel pregnant.

They were so mad at us! It was also this dog’s unfortunate habit to chase cars and one day he got run over. I remember being so upset I called my father and just yelled into the phone: ‘He died!” My poor father thought I meant my brother and came racing home. Upon discovering it was the dog, my father graciously conducted a funeral; my brother wore his cassock from church and we had a procession and a casket. 


Later, my parents had a Miniature Poodle named Sheba. She adored my father. When he lay dying of cancer, Sheba sat at the bottom of his bed day and night. She was devoted. I’d come to be with my mother and after my father died, Sheba decided to stick by me. I was her second favourite. When Mother called her, she would refuse to go to her; it was very embarrassing. I would say to her, Sheba, you’re going to make Mother feel jealous, but she’d stick to me like glue and when I packed to leave she crawled into my suitcase.”

After Sheba had also passed away we talked Mother into getting another dog since otherwise she was going to be all alone. Mother had really liked that little terrier, so we got her another Wire Haired Fox Terrier. But he was the meanest little dog. He had a very nasty disposition and actually bit her several times. We had to put him down.

I was in religious service for 37 years. I lived in residence. There was quite a bit of silence and structured prayers. I enjoyed my work which consisted of visiting people, teaching them how to pray, and generally listening to peoples’ stories. Over the years I concurrently became drawn into the work of psychodrama which for me opened up an even deeper connection to the human condition. I became involved with a ‘therapeutic’ community of people and gradually discovered that I could no longer balance the structure of convent life with the life I was finding in this community. My father had left me a large trust fund that went to me should I ever leave the convent. This money made it possible for me to leave the convent but little did I know then that I’d had stepped right into the arms of danger. It took me ten years to discover it, but what I actually got myself involved in was a cult. Several people whom I was close to, including my sister, were very concerned for a long time that I was losing myself to this community. But for ten years there was little they could do about it because I was blinded to their observations.

Then one night Pansy came into my life. The leader of the group had two Standard Poodles. They were outside on this particular night and wouldn’t stop barking until I went out to see what was happening. I discovered a shivering little dog, frightened to death. She had no collar. She was obviously quite young, but she was well trained and well tended. Later I found out she was a purebred Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It seemed very unusual to find a dog like that in the middle of farmland. None of us could figure out how she got there. I took her in to spend the night in my room where she seemed immediately at home as though she’d been meant for me. The following morning I set about trying to find out if anyone had lost her but no one at the police or fire department or local stores recognized her.

Our leader made it clear to me that I couldn’t keep her. I was used to obeying rules and orders at the time, so I brought her to the Humane Society. Even though we’d only been together for one day, Pansy already seemed totally attached to me and it was just terrible for me to leave her there. As I drove away I kept thinking, what did I do that for? I knew in my heart that it was wrong of me. I stopped by a pay phone to call the pound to tell them I was on my way back to take her home, but was told I couldn’t, that once she’d been placed in the pound I had to leave her there for a week and if nobody claimed her by the end of the week I could offer my name for her adoption. Reluctantly I agreed and over the next days kept searching for her owner. At the end of six days they called me from the pound and told me I’d better come and get her because they were getting really worried about her; she hadn’t eaten anything at all and was getting weak. When that call came we’d been in the midst of a celebration. I announced to everyone that I was going to get the little dog back, that there were no two ways about it. This was out of character for me at the time and my behaviour was duly noted.

At the Humane Society, the dogs were in a frenzy, barking and rattling their cages. It was like Hell. Pansy recognized me instantly and leapt into my arms. The vet that immediately I took her to inquired how long I’d had this dog, and I said one day and one night. He looked at her snuggling into my arms and said he’d never seen a dog bond so quickly. I had her checked out for kennel cough and we went home and that was it. From that point on she was my dog. It was a total love experience. She was very easy to have around and was very affectionate with people; she went everywhere with me.

Paradoxically, our leader kept commenting on what an unloving dog Pansy was and comparing her to her own two Poodles who were not friendly dogs at all. Her comments began to sound ludicrous to me and I began to realize that I couldn’t stay in this therapeutic community. While it was one thing to suggest that I might not be a loving person, it was quite another to make that declaration about Pansy whose outgoing personality was so obviously popular with people. The cold, even poisonous nature of my environment became finally apparent to me and I could see what others had been trying to point out to me, the abuse I’d been putting up with over the years. It was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. I felt that God had sent Pansy to me to help me leave that place. I may never have left without her coming into my life. I moved out into my own place we began a whole new life together.

When Pansy was about eight years old I found out about the St. John’s Ambulance Society. We had to go through strict testing before being approved. During her test there were other dogs there too; the goal was to find out whether anything would provoke fear or aggressive behaviour, so the test was set up a room where there were people in wheelchairs and with canes and walkers and people walking around in flapping white coats. Someone would drop a bed pan to see if the dog would startle and she had to be able to let people reach out and pet her. Often hospitals won’t take the smaller dogs. Life inside a care facility can be unpredictable and little dogs tend to be jumpier than the larger ones. But Pansy made the grade with top marks. She had a serene personality. On graduating, we were assigned to the Alzheimers ward at St. Joseph Hospital on Toronto’s west end. Patients in their wheelchairs were placed in a circle and Pansy would go up to each one of them and visit while the patient reminisced and often told me about the dogs they’d had in the past. We’d stay while the patients did crafts and things and Pansy would just stand by them or sit watching from my lap. Pansy was a dog who really connected with people and enjoyed this work, giving the patients a lot of herself. After her shifts were over she would be happy but quite tired. She put a lot of herself into her work.

Pansy lived to be almost thirteen. She was considerate right until the moment of her death. She’d become quite ill but she waited until an evening when my sister was visiting and picked that time to collapse in my arms, knowing that I wouldn’t be alone after she was gone.”

Gloria is tired after talking about Pansy. She rests back in her chair and takes a deep breath.   Ciba, the dog Gloria adopted after Pansy’s death,  lies at her feet.  Ciba is also a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.   Gloria relates that because Ciba’s personality is quite unlike Pansy’s their bond took a long time to develop.  It took almost four years for her and Ciba to become close.  They are very much a team now, and Ciba accompanies Gloria on her pastoral visits to the residents of the seniors’ building where they live.  But Gloria’s cautions anyone who looses a beloved dog to not necessarily get the same breed when they “replace” the one that’s gone.

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