Looking Back with Laughter

27 Mar IMG_0284

I got the call yesterday that my almost 17-year-old dachshund Justin’s ashes are ready to be picked up. I am also ready to be picked up, so I decided to look through my old humor columns for those in which I talk about Justin. This one made me laugh, so I’ll share it. It’s from 2001, so Justin was all of 2 years-old.

 

Things That Go Bump in the Day

The other day I was sitting at my computer writing a column about pornography when I heard a horrible noise in the kitchen that sounded like a raccoon had somehow managed to get in my dryer. And from the sound of the commotion, the raccoon was none too happy about being there, so he was kicking and thrashing, trying to get out. After fifteen seconds or so, the noise stopped completely, which I took to mean that the raccoon had (a) found a way out of the dryer, (b) died of a concussion from bashing his head against the lint trap, or (c) decided to play possum until I let down my guard and tried to toss in some wet laundry, at which point he would leap out at me, grab me around the neck, and demand that I let him sleep on the sofa with the rest of my menagerie.

Upon hearing the commotion, my dogs ran bravely into the kitchen and stood by the cookie jar waiting for a treat. Scary noises make them hungry. I know the feeling. After his cookie, my younger dog Justin actually mustered up enough courage to sniff around the door to the laundry room, only instead of sniffing down near the floor, he sniffed up in the air (if you can call nine inches off the floor “up in the air.”)  This just reinforced my fears. Probably the raccoon had given up waiting for me, managed to get out of the dryer, and was now hanging on the back side of the door, waiting to drop onto my head as soon as I dared opened it.

So I did what any rational-thinking adult would do – I grabbed the Yellow Pages and the phone and headed for the part of the house furthest away from the possible intruder. There were no listings under “Raccoons” or “Medium-sized Nocturnal Mammals in Major Appliances,” so I called a pest control service.

“I think there’s a raccoon in my dryer,” I whispered, not wanting the raccoon to know I was calling the authorities.

“Don’t you know that raccoons are dry clean only?” the insensitive lout on the other end of the phone joshed. When he finally stopped laughing at his own joke, he assured me it was almost impossible for a full-size raccoon to have climbed through my exhaust vent and into my dryer. I hung up, humiliated but not relieved – who was I going to believe, my own two ears (or six, if you count the dogs’) or a total stranger who had probably been exposed to so many toxic chemicals he glows in the dark?

So I sat on the bed trying to talk myself into checking out the situation. “You’re bigger than it is,” I said bravely. “Yeah, but it has the element of surprise,” I countered. “But you’re smarter.”  “But I’m dehydrated, so I’ll be weak when the fighting breaks out.”

Finally, I grabbed the aluminum baseball bat from next to my bed and snuck stealthily towards the laundry room. Now why I had the bat, I don’t know. Because the truth is, I could never hit an animal – I can barely bring myself to kill mosquitoes. The raccoon could puncture a major artery and I’d be reduced to cooing at it “I’ll give you a cookie if you’ll let go.”

With eyes half-open and in my best Ninja-stance (I think it was a Ninja stance from what I’ve seen on cartoons), I threw open the door to the laundry room. There was stuff all over the floor!  It was worse than I thought!  Obviously the raccoon was in the cabinet, tossing stuff out. There was dog food and other doggy paraphernalia everywhere. And flea shampoo spilled on top of everything.

Finally I got brave enough to look up in the cabinet so that I might face the intruder eye-to-eye, only to find there was nothing there. No raccoon. No large rat. Not even an army of ants that had gone AWOL.  What I did find was that the cabinet itself had somehow managed to leap off the wall, apparently of its own free will, and had landed on the dryer. The noise I had heard was the initial crash and the sound of everything in the cabinet, falling to the floor.

I guess that just goes to show you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Things are usually not as bad as they seem. But just to be safe, I’m not doing any laundry for a few weeks.

Getting Through It

16 Mar

My almost 17-old-dachshund Justin died two days ago. It was heart-wrenchingly sad having to be the one to make the decision that it was his time to move onto the next chapter.

But today I feel more relief than sadness. In reality, Justin hadn’t been with me for a long time. He had dementia, blindness, deafness and seizures and as his body and mind failed him, the Justin I had once known was already becoming a memory even as he lay beside me in bed at night. Now that he is physically no longer with me, the heartache is tempered with joy that he is no longer struggling with these awful things. And, to be honest, joy that I am not struggling with them either.

And that decision I made two days ago — I have been on the precipice of making it for at least a year. I have been sad and heartbroken and tired and unsure for so long. Not being in that spot is an odd feeling, but a good one.

I still think I have four dogs and get out four cookies for treats. I wake up at 2:30 a.m. thinking I will have to carry Justin out to pee in the yard, usually holding an umbrella over us both as the Oregon winter has been very wet. I get out four harnesses for a walk. I feel confused that there are so few supplements and pills to add to the meals of Watson, Penny, and Murray, my three other dog-children who have done their best to keep my spirits up.

When I came home from the vet, with the still-wet paw print in a Ziploc bag and my sweatshirt wet with tears, the first thing I did was remove the boxes. I had shoved boxes into every nook and cranny in every room Justin had free reign in. Something in his brain convinced him that if his snout was wedged between the sofa and the table or the bookshelf and the fireplace, he was stuck. So he would stay there. For hours if I had to be away. Rather than living with the fear that he was stuck and afraid, I wedged boxes everywhere. And then replaced them when Murray, who is still a puppy, chewed them up.

I took them all out to the recycling pile and stacked them up neatly. I wasn’t trying to rid the house of the memory of my sweet boy, but of his horrible disease that had stood between him and happiness for perhaps too long.

Old dogs and I are no strangers. My very first dog child, Copper, was in a wheelchair for the last three years of his life and I had to pee for him through a tube implanted in his bladder. His brother Slate lived to be almost 16 and their sister Maddy Lou left too early at 12. So I’m used to the extra work. What I wasn’t expecting was how angry and frustrated I could be, not at my boy, but at dementia that stole him from me. I called it many horrible names in the middle of the night. Fortunately, Justin was deaf and couldn’t hear this while cradled him in my arms or he fell asleep with my arm over him because he couldn’t sleep without knowing I was there.

I will try to forgive myself for my frustration. I will try to forgive myself for not making the decision for Justin earlier. I was hoping he could experience a few warm, sunny spring days, lolling in the grass with the other dogs as I worked in the garden.

That is not to be. I know that on the first warm, sunny day, Justin the joyful, playful dog who loved to run around the yard barking like that butterfly he spotted was a deadly enemy he needed to protect us from, but never actually harming any animal (unless it was a stuffed toy with a squeaker inside) will be reborn. Maybe we’ll sit and chat in the patio swing. He’ll love that.

 

Not a Walk in the Park

28 Dec

You see it all the time on television commercials or HGTV programs featuring people house hunting with a dog. A single person decides to take her dog for a walk, so she snaps on a leash and heads out the door of her recently renovated dream house.

Ah, the fantasy! That is not AT ALL how it works around my house — and not just because my front door tends to stick. Here, in a nutshell, is what it takes for me to just get out the door with my four dachshunds in tow:

  • Check the temperature on the computer.
  • If more than 40 degrees and less than 70 degrees (Fahrenheit — the doxies get confused by Celsius), step outside to rate the level of rainfall from moderate to “Get the floaties!”

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  • If it is not currently pouring, and it is under 50 degrees, grab four sweaters from the laundry area. Check to make sure none are still muddy from yesterday’s outing. Notice that laundry hasn’t been done for weeks. Nor has trash been taken out. Attempt to put these chores out of my mind.
  • Grab four harnesses because walking dogs, especially long dogs, by hooking a leash to their collar will result in multiple veterinary chiropractic visits.
  • Put microwavable hot pack in microwave.
  • Attempt to put sweaters and harnesses on four dogs, two of whom are so excited, they express their emotion by playing a 15-minute-long game of “catch me if you can” despite my argument that if they really wanted to go for a walk, they’d let me put their gear on them.
  • Make a note that I may need (more) therapy.

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  • Clean up the piddle from one of the excited dogs.
  • Go to the bathroom because cleaning up piddle does that to me and I’m not allowed to do it on the floor. Well, I’m allowed, but I’d have to clean that up too.
  • Wake the old guy up from his nap and tell him he can nap in the stroller.
  • Put on my own jacket. Fill pockets with training treats for the puppy, poo bags, garage remote control, keys, cell phone, note for whoever might find me unconscious in the street with one or more leashes wrapped around my ankles…

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  • Attach leashes to three of the dogs’ harnesses.
  • Toss hot pack around my neck and enjoy a few seconds of relaxing warmth.images
  • Grab the old guy and carry him outside while managing three leashed crazy animals who are trying to run back inside because this is Oregon and of course it has started raining in earnest now. And on Ernest. And also Watson, Penny, Murry, Justin and me.
  • Open the garage door and drag/carry all dogs inside.
  • Place old guy in stroller. Unleash tiny girl who no longer goes for walks because she once watched Downtown Abbey and knows it is beneath her station. Put her in stroller next to her brother. IMG_0025
  • Toss blanket on top of dogs in stroller, then put heating pad on top of that. Then, wrap beach towel around their necks like a makeshift scarf because no one sells dog mufflers for those with long necks and a unique sense of doggy fashion.
  • Clip biggest dog to carabiner attached to stroller.
  • Set puppy’s flexi-lead to stun. I mean, short.
  • Leave the garage and head outside where the sun is now shining. Close garage door.
  • Begin walk.
  • Wish I’d brought a snack for myself because now I’m starving.
  • Open garage door because we’re at the end of the driveway and it is raining heavily again and the dogs are in sweaters, not raincoats and will demand I walk directly above them with the umbrella opened even if one of them is chasing squirrels while the other tends to business of another type.f72f2f055932ec1715405562dbb0ef65

Don’t even get me started on the walk itself. We DO NOT have time.

It’s My Circus

3 Jul

Sometimes I think that before deciding to adopt a dog, everyone should be required to join Cirque du Soleil for a year to learn the appropriate skill set. Just this morning, I could have used some contortionist skills in order to untangle from three dog leashes. And there’s never a time when I’m putting my dogs into the backseat of my car and hooking up their seat belts that I don’t feel like I’m working with clowns and a clown car.

But most of all, I wish I had tightrope skills. And not just because my dachshunds only allow me 2 inches of space in which to walk.

Ozzy - Fastest Crossing Of A Tightrope By A Dog Guinness World Records 2013 Photo Credit: Paul Michael Hughes/Guinness World Records Location: Norfolk, UK

Ozzy – Fastest Crossing Of A Tightrope By A Dog
Guinness World Records 2013
Photo Credit: Paul Michael Hughes/Guinness World Records
Location: Norfolk, UK

Life is about balance, and when you have three senior dogs, that becomes increasingly clear. Case in point: trying to balance traditional veterinary medicine and alternative approaches that don’t involve the phrase, “Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics.”

Two of my three dogs see a homeopath. Justin, my 16-year-old, shakes like a fracking-caused earthquake in Oklahoma any time we drive near the regular vet, despite the fact that he can no longer hear or see (he must smell the antibiotics). On our last visit to the homeopath on the other hand, he fell asleep on the memory foam doggy mattress she has on her floor. With the peaceful new age music playing on the speakers, I myself was tempted to nap.

The path to alternative veterinary approaches to doggy health care started with my first dachshund, Copper, who due to his insistence that he was a stunt pilot and not a short-legged dog, became paralyzed at age 12. With a combination of acupuncture, a doggy wheelchair, and physical therapy that involved me tickling his feet so that he would reflexively kick and keep his leg muscles strong, he had 3 great more years of semi-mobility.

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I search for a lot of non-traditional remedies for dog-related ailments on the Internet these days and I’ve had some amazing success. Justin was plagued with chronic UTIs for years until I discovered a product online called Pet UTI Prevention from http://www.askariel.com/. He has now gone three years without a problem! He’s also taking Epi Plus from https://www.purelypets.com and with it, his seizures have been reduced from every few days to about once a month. Both of these supplements are herbal remedies, not drugs.

All three of my dogs get Ceylon cinnamon with dinner, which helps reduce inflammation and infection in their teeth and gums. In addition to a 16-year-old, I have two 13-year-olds (I just found out that Penny had been lying about her age for years and when she came to me as a rescue, she was probably 5, not 2). Needless to say, I relish the idea of dental cleanings like I do my own mammograms. Especially for Penny because her teeth form plaque on the way home from her cleaning. She has so few teeth left, she could star on Duck Dynasty. The cinnamon even helped get rid of Justin’s abscess. (Be sure to use Ceylon cinnamon as dogs can’t digest the other kinds).

Watson has a slew of lipomas and one sebaceous cyst that occasionally bursts. It is not pretty, but I’ve finally gotten over the ick factor and no longer rush him to the vet for antibiotics. I use calendula oil and regularly apply warm compresses with castor oil. It seems to help. I do the same with Penny’s lumps and bumps.

I still love and appreciate my regular vet and struggle sometimes deciding which approaches to take in keeping my pups healthy. But just having options makes me feel less like a clown and more like a ringmaster.

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Top 10 Best Ways to Live with an Older Dog

5 Jan IMG_0468

Those of us who are lucky are blessed with dogs who live long and healthy lives. But even those dogs will slow down and show signs of aging that can be more difficult for us humans to adjust to than for our pooches.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned from having now lived with three dogs over 15 years-old:

1.  Stick to the routine. Whether it’s visual impairment, dementia, or some other age-related issue, older dogs like predictability. This is not the time to rearrange the furniture, move to a new place, or start living with a fire-juggler.

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2.  Organize it. Your dog may take a number of supplements or drugs. It is easier if everything is labeled and set up in a way that makes it quick and easy to make sure you don’t skip anything important.

3.  Find ways to include them. Older dogs may not be able to go on long walks with your and the rest of the pack, but you can find ways to include them. A doggy stroller or a wagon are great ways to get your older pooch out of the house without putting to much demand on him. If you’re going out when it’s chilly, make sure to wrap him up so he’s toasty. And make sure to give your hound the opportunity to get off the wagon and sniff around a little too.

4.  Just follow them. When I let Justin (15-1/2) outside, it can take him what seems like forever to come back in. And I don’t know whether he’s having fun, lost, or worse stuck somewhere (he tends to stick his snout in places his body can’t get out of it). It’s easier on both of us if I just go with him. And I live in the rainy northwest. That’s what waterproof jackets are for–yes, we both have one.

5.  Hey, he can hear that! Even if your dog can no longer hear most things, chances are there are a few sounds that will get her attention. Two of my older dogs couldn’t hear my voice, but both could hear the sound of a spoon clinking on a bowl and the sound of clapping. When I want to help Justin find his way back in the house, I clap and he follows me (most of the time). I imagine we’re our own parade.

6.  Accidents WILL happen, so rather than get impatient and frustrated, plan for them. Have a whole drawer or doggy clean-up supplies at the ready. And if you regularly encourage your dog to go outside, that will minimize the problem. You should also go regularly, just in case THAT is also a problem.

7.  Know that there are solutions out there. Copper, my first older dog became paralyzed, but through the use of a doggy wheelchair, physical therapy (which I did by tickling his legs and stimulating his kick response), and acupuncture, he was able to walk again and had three more years of healthy activity. And with the internet, solutions are often just a click away. DO make sure that when it comes to supplements and drugs that you only rely on reputable providers.

8.  Slow down. Most older dogs still want plenty of belly rubs and ear scratches, but if they can see only shadow and light, a fast hand coming towards them may be met with a snap of the jaws. Don’t sneak up on your older hound, let him sniff you first to know it’s you, and perhaps start your love from the other end.

9.  Cuddle up. When you’re in bed with your senior dog, years can slowly melt away and the great chemical bond you create will help you cope with the stresses the day may have thrown your way.

10. If you try to re-home your dog because she is getting up in years, karma will bit you in the butt. You signed up for this, so person up and do the right thing.

Where Am I Going?

1 Nov

My last ex-husband’s mother had dementia. As the person who handled most of her issues, I know that the disease can be both heart-breaking and hysterical, sometimes at the same time. Sometimes she’d recognize me and call me by the lovely nickname she’d assigned me when we first met, “You little tramp.” Perhaps she thought I was Charlie Chaplin? Other times, she thought I was a friend from long ago and hound me for cigarettes. She had a gerontologist with the poorly chosen last name of Dr. Butt and while sitting in his waiting room, she launched into a song I believe must have been titled “Dr. Butt is a Butt.” I laughed, I cried, I claimed not to know her while helping her into the exam room.

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My 15-1/2 dachshund Justin has dementia now and the roller coaster of emotions has returned. Every day I am so grateful that we have been blessed with all this time together… even if I do spend most of my time rescuing him from behind doors and under the clothes rack. (If there’s a spot a 26-lb. dog can possibly fit in, I will eventually find him there.) I lovingly turn him around and ask him where it is he’d like to go. The answer is usually, “To the kitchen next to the counter with the cookie jar.”

I feel like the mother of a toddler–obsessed with making the house safe for my wandering child. I have a small metal and glass bookshelf that he loves to walk through. It’s now wrapped with Saran Wrap. There are boxes between the furniture and walls to keep him from getting stuck behind the sofa or end tables. Yesterday, I bought two body pillows to put next to the bed (which is on the floor, but still taller than a wiener dog’s legs) so that if he wanders off the bottom at night, he’ll fall into something soft. Apparently they don’t make bungee cords short enough to help with our specific problem.

Justin does a lot of roaming. If he were a person, I definitely want to keep him on a leash–fortunately he’s a dog and no one thinks it weird when I do. As a result of all the walking, he’s remarkably fit. I thought about strapping a pedometer on him to see just how far he goes every day, but I know him well enough not to even try to put something on his collar.

Fortunately he’s still having a good enough life that I know it’s not his time to go. He loves to eat, knows where the cookies are kept, licks his sister good morning, runs home from walks, and snuggles next to me at night in bed. Sadly, I know his time is coming someday soon. In the meantime, it’s my job to rescue him from behind the elliptical machine and point him in a happier direction.

Adjustments

1 Aug

Life is always changing and there’s no better reminder than watching our dogs getting older. It can be sad and frightening, but we can learn to be better people as we walk the path together.

Right now, I have three senior dogs: Penny is 8-1/2, Watson will be 12 this month, and Justin is 15. They’re all dachshunds, which is good in that they’re small enough to pick up and put in a stroller or a wagon when they’re tired, but it also means I have to haul around a stroller and/or wagon everywhere we go. We visited the coast of Oregon last month with the stroller and I pushed 67 pounds of wiener dogs plus whatever the stroller weighed against a 20-m.p.h. wind in sand. Talk about a glut workout!

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Watson had toe cancer last summer and it was all about him. We walked at his speed, he got pampered the most, and he even got to take a spin on an underwater treadmill. He’s fine now and in fact, is tossing squeak toys and running around my desk as I write this.

Penny is a tweenie while the other two are standard doxies, so her legs are really short. Her brothers look like they’re on stilts compared to her. These days she either gets tired more easily or she knows that if she gives me that “Mom, I’m such a tiny dog and I’m exhausted” look, I will pick her up and tuck her in my shirt. And she’s not as diminutive as she’d like me to believe — she weighs 15 lbs! I’ve taken to wearing fabric with good tensile strength so it can hold her.

Justin has the most rules for us to follow. He won’t walk if it’s over 70 degrees, raining or snowing. He’s lost most of his eyesight, so the transition from shade to sun disturbs him (and he refuses to wear the sunglasses I bought him). This means that whenever I can, I walk so that he is always in my shadow. Try it — it’s not an easy task. Between the near-blindness and his dementia, he will walk right into or through anything if I’m not on the ball. Pile of debris? Yank. Drainage grate? Yank? Over-sized statue of a pot-bellied pig on the sidewalk? You guessed it. And, despite walking slower than the House of Representatives passes a bill as we leave the house, as soon as we round a corner for home, he races full speed, dragging me, the stroller and his siblings behind him.

I see more on our walks these days because I’m the eyes, ears, legs, and shade for my dogs. Not to mention, how much attention we get when everyone is tired and piled in the stroller or wagon. Life is an adjustment and we’re making it.

 

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