A story of love, loss, trust, renewal. Graciously offered to our readers by Anthony and Amanda Bennie, Co-Founders, Clear Conscience Pet
The story of Taylor Bay started on the island of Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. She and her five Potcake littermates were tiny two-week old pups with little chance of survival when they were pulled from the scrubby grass off the beach, but they were among the lucky ones rescued by the Potcake Foundation and the Turks and Caicos SPCA (TCSPCA). They received excellent care from volunteer veterinarians, and they were housed and fed so they would have a chance to be adopted into a forever home.
“Potcake” is the name for the indigenous mixed breed dogs of the British West Indies, Turks and Caicos, and The Bahamas Islands. Dogs in these countries were traditionally fed the hard chunks of residual rice, vegetables, and meat scraped from the bottom of a stew pot that’s been cooked over open flame. These hard chunks are called potcakes, and over time the dogs also became known as Potcakes by association.
For hundreds of years, dogs from many breeds have been brought to the islands by voyagers and settlers from all over the world. This blend of dog breeds have evolved into today’s Potcakes. Though they can vary quite a bit in size and color, there’s a “Potcake look” that one comes to recognize after spending time in the Islands. They are recognized as a distinct breed by the Royal Bahamian Kennel Club, but still are considered mixed breed dogs here in the U.S.A. Despite a lengthy career in pet care and nutrition, I had never heard of a Potcake dog before this trip.
This story, however, is not just about adopting a strange dog in a strange land; it’s about the spiritual cycle of love, loss, and renewal that is inherent in the bond between humans and dogs. The unlikely twists and cosmic convergences leading to our becoming Potcake parents may suggest to some that there are spirit hands, or spirit paws, acting cosmically to drive the life cycle between us and our dogs forward.
Taylor Bay’s trip from the tropical sun of Turks and Caicos to a Connecticut snowstorm really started as a conversation I had with Isis, our seven-year-old Golden Retriever. By “conversation,” I don’t mean the usual chatter that we humans inflict on our dogs as an antidote to our own loneliness and boredom; I mean a genuine conversation, in which Isis transmitted thoughts and images to me with a clarity and intensity that was startling, and disturbing.
After finishing work late one night in January of 2011, I tiptoed into the bedroom, hoping to wake neither my wife nor Isis and our other Golden, Ozzy. But I felt an urgent mental tug from Isis that compelled me to go and lie down next to Isis. A rush of thoughts and images came to me from her. Of course, it sounds insane, but the things coming into my head didn’t sound like my own thoughts. But the message was clear: Isis was afraid of dying. I saw images of our departed dogs, Carly and Charlie. Isis had lived with both as they grew old, and she grieved with us when they passed on at 4 and 15 years old. I felt that she was telling me that she never wanted to grow old and suffer the embarrassing loss of mobility and control that she saw in Charlie and Carly. But she was also worried about all of us, especially her mate Ozzy. She didn’t want to let us all down by dying.
This was craziness. Isis was a healthy seven-year-old with many great years ahead of her, right? In response, I tried to send out waves of thoughts and images, pictures of happy activities like swimming, chasing balls, and romping with Ozzy and the kids. I felt sure that she was just worrying needlessly and had so much more of life to experience!
But shortly after this late-night “psychic conversation,” Isis started making a scratchy sound in her throat. After a few days of this, we took her to the vet. We were devastated to learn that Isis had advanced cancer which had spread to her lungs. The vet told us that there was little we could do for her except to monitor her closely and manage her pain. We took her to a veterinary oncologist, and she received two chemo treatments. On one of her last nights, she rallied and played with Ozzy like old times, and we were praying for a miracle. But two days later, Isis died in our arms while we laid with her on blankets covering the floor of the vet office.
Watching Isis die so quickly was like a sharp sword piercing our hearts. I couldn’t grasp the shocking truth: she knew she was dying and had mentally told me so on that night when we communicated. This was far more difficult than losing our older dogs, and that was already incredibly painful. She was way too young. We were angry about breeders of Goldens who continued to reproduce generations of dogs with genetic dispositions to early cancer. Amanda and I sank deeply into grief over the loss of our beautiful Isis.
Months earlier, we had planned a first ever family vacation to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, in part to celebrate my parents upcoming 60th Anniversary. That trip was only two weeks away, and we thought seriously about canceling it. We couldn’t imagine celebrating and merriment at such a somber time in our lives. But cancelling the trip would have been selfish and disappoint our children and parents. Isis embraced the joy of life, and she would want us to go, we told each other.
The British West Indies (BWI) and Turks and Caicos Islands
As our family flew towards the Caribbean, I thumbed through the official Turks and Caicos tourist welcome magazine in the seat pocket. I flipped through and found an article about Potcake Dogs, and the Turks and Caicos Potcake Rescue Foundation. It was weighing on us that our Ozzy was also grieving. He needed company and would not thrive as a solo dog. But common sense told us that we couldn’t rush this, and that we would start searching for a new companion for Ozzy when we got home. I tore out the Potcake article and shoved it in my briefcase. Potcake dogs were the last thing on our minds as we touched down in Providenciales, the most populous island of the Turks and Caicos. We dove in and explored this beautiful island.
But the universe works in strange ways. After a resort stay, we switched over to a private rental. We drove our rental minivan across the island to a remote beach road to find our rental villa, located on the water between Sapodilla Bay and Taylor Bay. As we made our final turn, just three houses away from our destination, we passed a villa with a beautiful wrought iron gate. We looked more closely and saw that the gate was shaped to depict the profile of a dog. Then I saw that the house had a name, “Maison de Chiens.” Even with my rudimentary high school French, I knew that this meant “house of the dogs.”
What were the odds? We had randomly rented a house online, in a place we’d never been, yet we wound up three doors down from fellow dog fanatics. But we got on with our vacation, and out of respect for the privacy of our unknown neighbors, we decided against banging on the gates of Maison de Chiens. That was that, or so we thought.
The next day, on a visit to the one restaurant near our rental, we happened to meet a wonderful man named Lovey Forbes. He was a well-known and highly regarded musician throughout the islands. As a musician myself, I was excited to meet him. After we talked music, Lovey asked me the fateful question: “what do you do?”
“We own a company called Clear Conscience Pet; we make SuperGravy and healthy treats for dogs,” I answered. This reply prompted a huge smile from Lovey. “You’re kidding, Mon! My wife Heather runs the Potcake Foundation.” Our jaws dropped! This was all too much to believe. When we asked where they lived, we hardly needed to listen to the answer. Of course, it was Maison de Chiens. Lovey’s wife, British artist Heather Simpson-Forbes, was indeed the Founder and Chairwoman of the Potcake Foundation, the only charitable organization dedicated exclusively to bettering the life and health of Potcake dogs in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Rescue Angel Heather Simpson-Forbes with her Potcakes at home on Sapodilla Bay in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
If one were inclined to believe in signs of spiritual forces at work, this was certainly a persuasive example. What were the odds that, of all the places in the world, we would wind up here, at this moment, on an island thousands of miles from home, staying 100 yards away from a place all about the love of dogs? How could this all be chalked up to “coincidence?”
We were graciously invited to Heather’s bayfront villa that evening. After enjoying wine and listening to some of Lovey’s cool music, the main event happened and we met our first four Potcake dogs, the current pack in the Forbes home. They were friendly, high spirited, and beautiful. It turned out that Potcakes were amazing canines!
By the end of the night, we were set up to meet Susan Blehr, the Director of the Turks and Caicos SPCA (TCSPCA). Our goal was still only to visit the facility, donate money and treats to support the rescue efforts, and learn more. We most certainly were not going to look at puppies to adopt. That would be impulsive, impractical, and downright crazy.
We took the family to the TCSPCA office and met Susan, another rescue angel and sweet person. After some general discussion, she looked us in the eye and said, “tell the truth, aren’t you really here to look at puppies? We have some ready for adoption right now.”
My hands got clammy, and Amanda and I looked at each other. “Uh, well, we really couldn’t possibly bring home a new puppy,” I said. We explained about our recent loss of Isis, our concerns about introducing a semi-wild dog to our family, and of course worries that Ozzy would reject a strange new dog so soon after losing his lifetime mate. And what about the practical considerations of flying for hours, with a layover, and going through customs with a non-housebroken puppy? This would be impossible!
Susan reassured us on all fronts. The TCSPCA has placed thousands of puppies in homes in the U.S.A. and Canada, and has the process down to a science, she told us. Health certificates are supplied for travel, all puppies ready for adoption have had complete veterinary care including all required shots, and the puppy would be given to us in a pet carrier at the airport on our departure day with all papers. We would only need to take the puppy’s paperwork to the airline counter and pay a $100 fee to take the puppy on the plane for the trip home.
We reluctantly followed Susan from the TCSPCA office to the Pampered Paws kennel where the Potcake puppies were housed. I was anxious, knowing that leaving the office and going to the kennel was a huge step. Any dog lover reading this understands how difficult it is to look at dogs who need a home and walk away. We were happy to see that the kennel was clean and well-managed, and the dogs were in large runs with plenty of running room rather than confined to kennel cages.
It was here that we first saw three puppies, two females and a male that had been rescued 3 months prior in late November. They were only two weeks old, and part of a litter of six rescued by volunteers from an area near the beach. At such an early age, their survival was doubtful; but the pups received excellent veterinary care, and they pulled through.
By then, three had been adopted and the remaining three were about twelve weeks old. They needed homes very soon or they would get too big to fit in a handheld carrier for the flight back to the USA. Without off-island adoption, their future was uncertain. This was the “moment of truth.” Would we cast aside our fears and form a bond with one of the Potcake puppies? Or, more sensibly, make a generous donation and walk away?
One of the females was very shy and tentative, but she crawled over to our son Nicholas and nuzzled him. Then she came to me and sat right on my feet and put her head against my legs. The others were more playful, but when this little girl looked at me with her soulful brown eyes, I knew we were in trouble. I fell in love with her instantly.
We were told that this puppy might not be our best choice, as she was very fearful and might have a harder time adapting. But I saw something in those eyes that anyone who has ever rescued a dog will understand; it was a plea for life and an offer of unconditional lifetime love. My heart melted along with my resistance, and we made a family decision to take a leap of faith and rescue this little girl and make her a part of our family.
Anthony and Taylor Bay Meet at Pampered Paws Kennel
The next day, Susan brought the puppy to the airport to meet us. We decided to call our new baby “Taylor Bay,” after the location where we rented our island beach house. Susan had placed her snugly in a soft carrier.
Nicholas Carries Taylor Bay on Board for the Flight Home
She behaved beautifully during the flight, with barely a peep. All our fears and anxiety faded away as we embraced this beautiful new presence in our lives.
Taylor Bay Looks at us trustingly as she prepares to fly away to her new life in the U.S.A.
Sleepy Taylor behaves beautifully on the flight home
We had an unexpected overnight stay in Charlotte due to a canceled flight, another scary experience. Would we find a hotel that would allow us to stay with her? But it all worked out and again, she was an angel. After we finally arrived home, her first experience in Connecticut was stepping out of the car only to see two feet of snow. This was certainly nothing like the Caribbean weather to which she was accustomed, but she surprised us by being more curious than concerned.
Ozzy, our Golden boy, was a little shocked at first that we had brought this strange looking little creature home with us. Of course, he was still in mourning for his lost mate, Isis. But after a few days, Ozzy warmed up to her.
Ozzy accepts Taylor Bay and allows her to share his bed, what a relief!
They quickly became inseparable. Her shyness melted away with the snow, and by spring, she was fully integrated into our family and brought joy and laughter to us every day. She grew into a vibrant and loving 50-pound adult. Her personality was cautious with new people, and she was an alert watchdog. But she loved people and warmed up to new friends quickly. No dog lover could resist her island dog vibe, her quirky personality, and her beautiful face.
I hope that this story can give some comfort and hope to those wounded by the grief of losing a beloved dog. No dog “replaces” another, of course. You’ll grieve as hard as you must, and you’ll cry as many tears as you think you can produce and still find more. But keep your heart open. Somewhere, out there, whether on a faraway island or in a shelter a mile from home, is the dog that will come next in your own cycle of life with dogs. And who knows? Just maybe, if we choose to believe, the dog you think you lost forever is watching over you from the other side, helping guide you to the next doggy love in your life.
Epilogue, February 2022
It is with profound sadness, but with the deepest gratitude for our time together, that we must announce that Taylor Bay passed away on February 4, 2022. She was only eleven, and we are devastated by this enormous loss. After the above story was originally written, it appeared in a book called In Dogs We Trust; we received numerous kind notes of appreciation for her story. She was a star to us, and her story touched many other dog-loving hearts as well. Taylor is also a star as the “cover dog” on SuperGravy Paw Jus, the original brown gravy recipe that started it all. Her beautiful face, tongue out and all, is being seen by thousands of families right now as a symbol of the healthy joy that our humble invention brings to so many dogs. We know that her energy and spirit on that package have contributed tremendously to its success.
Taylor Bay went on to enjoy many more years with Ozzy, and we adopted her sister, Tiva Marie, 5 years ago. Taylor Bay had a great life full of love and excitement. She enjoyed 5 years at our home in Connecticut, loved spending time at our lake cabin in Pennsylvania, and she was thrilled about returning to her tropical roots when we moved to Florida 6 years ago.
Taylor Bay had an endearing but sometimes frustrating habit of taking one shoe from us or our unsuspecting visitors, who inevitably laughed while hopping around our house searching for their lost footwear. Tiva Marie learned this from her, and we’ll always think of Taylor when Tiva runs off with a shoe or other article of clothing!
She loved car rides, playing with Ozzy and Tiva, boating, belly rubs, and ear scratches. And food! But Taylor was always happiest during any activity that involved having her entire family around her. She was a gorgeous girl and we told her so, all the time; she always enjoyed hearing that.
Our family is grieving, and our hearts are especially broken for Tiva, knowing how hard it is for her because she can’t understand why her best friend in the entire world is gone. But we know that Taylor Bay will always be with us on the other side, in Heaven along with Charlie, Carly, Isis, Maui, Ozzy, and Tux. As much as it hurts right now, our tears will eventually dry up.
The happy memories of eleven joyful and loving years with our beautiful “TayBay” will overcome the profound sadness that we feel right now. And most of all, we pray for the strength to listen to our own advice and open our hearts to another special dog who needs us, who will help us and Tiva to heal. We must and will keep the cycle turning, and embark on the journey of love, life, and loss again.
Taylor Bay Bennie
Forever in Our Hearts
November 2010 - February 4, 2022
©2022 by Anthony and Amanda Bennie
All Rights Reserved