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Goodbye Penny: On Losing A Dog with Dementia

21 Mar

I helped my sweet girl Penny leave this life on Saturday. She had dementia and rapidly growing mammary tumors and things were getting worse quickly. I wanted to make sure her passage was peaceful, not panicked. A veterinarian came to the house and Penny lay on her sofa with her brothers and me at her side. Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart played as she left us.

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But the truth is, like her brother Justin before her, Penny had been leaving for a long time. Dementia does that. The loss you feel for your beloved pet happens every day for months or years as you watch them lose their joy. The last time I saw Penny roll in the grass was last summer. Rolling in the grass had been one of her favorite past times. And instead of enjoying sitting in the sun as she always had, the brightness confused her and she would react as if startled and frightened. Just last week, we had a warm sunny day and I took her outside to sit in the grass, careful to point her away from the sun’s rays, but still she was not comfortable there. I carried her back into the house.

I’d been carrying Penny around for six months because she forgot how to go outside, where her water dish was (and how to drink – she would often drink the air above the bowl, which I kept raising up in hopes she would find it), and how to back out of places she got stuck in. With Justin, whose dementia lasted longer, I had to put boxes in every corner and crevice where he might get stuck and he still managed find his way into spots he couldn’t escape from.

There is no easy way to experience grief. It is awful to lose a pet unexpectedly. I’ve done that several times and it feels like someone has physically ripped the heart out of your chest. It is equally awful, but completely different, when the loss is spread out over a long period of time. Death feels like a relief, but you feel angry at yourself that you are not as torn apart as you believe you should be. You forget that tiny pieces of your heart have been ripped out for a long time. The sadness creeps up on you, but it seems familiar instead of surprising. You still glance around the room, looking for your sweet furry friend, but when you remember, pain is balanced with the calm of knowing they are not lost, afraid, or confused. Only you are.

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Will You be My Dog Friend?

2 Mar

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When it comes to small talk with strange dogs, does the cat have your tongue?

Let’s face it, not every human knows how to make a good impression on canines and their humans in social situations such as neighborhood walks, treks to the dog park, and Sweet 16 birthday parties with squirrel-shaped piñatas. It’s hard to get past first base (tail wagging) to second (invitation to scratch between the ears) if you’re drooling like a Mastiff who has just had a root canal. And forget about third base (sloppy kisses all over your face and ears), if you’re hemming and hawing more than an astronomy professor at a Flat Earth Society meeting.

Fortunately, we, the Jasheway dogs, are here to offer our best advice gleaned in our combined 31 human-years of experience with people who were clearly not socialized well at a young age. We bark and bark at those people and still they don’t learn. In order to make our tips easier for you humans to understand, we’ve granted our mother permission to type them out on her computer. This activity will also keep her off Facebook, where she spends way too much time lately signing petitions and yelling at the screen.

Before we get started, make sure you are sitting. Sit. Now stay. Good human.

Phrases to avoid because they make you look sad and desperate – We’ve been around the block a few thousand times and there are certain cliched dog pick-up lines that never work with us. You should exclude all of these from your playbook:

  • Who’s walking who? This one makes us bite our tongues to not correct your grammar.
  • Don’t look know but there’s a pack of dogs following you. This one is used on our human and it impresses her even less than muddy pawprints on the bedspread.
  • Oh, look! A parade! Yes, there are four of us and a stroller, but what kind of pitiful parades do you attend? When we hear this, we feel that you’re judging us for not having put on costumes and hired a marching band before heading outside.
  • I’d better guard my ankles! This line may only be used with those of us who are low-riders, but whenever we hear it, we start imagining what your ankles taste like. We’re guessing sesame-garlic tofu.

Avoiding gender confusion – Sure, you can walk up to a Golden Retriever, a Pibble or  Pookimo (American Eskimo + Poodle) and stumble over your words as you try to guess whether you’re talking to a good girl or a good boy, all the while trying to take a sneak peak down under. Or you can call every dog you meet “it” in an attempt to not offend us.

            Here’s the thing: We’re not hung up on gender or gender labels. We’re fluid, like the water coming from a sprinkler on a hot summer’s day, especially those of us who have been fixed. So, just call us “good dog” and be done with it. However, we will not abide by being called “it.” How would you like it if we called your human child “it”? Are we a table, a ball, or jar of peanut butter that was left too close to the edge of the table that we accidentally knocked it to the floor and not only cleaned all the yummy spread out but then proceeded to chew through the plastic? We are not! Either call us by our name or use the singular “they” pronoun, which is great because it works for dogs AND humans!

Speaking of which, ask us our name – Sure, it’s right there on our collar, but if you’re socially inept, chances are we’ll run circles around you, tying you in knots and bringing you to your knees on the dog path before we’ll let you take a gander at our ID tag. The polite thing to do is ask the human. After all, they are probably profoundly proud of the moniker they’ve created for us, despite the fact that some of us are definitely not a “Penny” or a “Watson” – we’re clearly a “Princess” and a “Sherlock,” but we go along to get along. That’s what makes us good dogs. Even though one of us is a princess and the other solves crimes.

By the way, you may also want to ask the human their name. This is not entirely necessary, but the extra work is appreciated and can improve your chances of creating a lasting connection.

Last, prepare some lines in advance – We’ve already established that you’re not that quick on your paws, so it would help to be prepared, like those Boy Scouts we always bark at when they show up at the front door asking for our cans and bottles. For the last time, our garbage is ours!

Here are some lines you might try (although we encourage you to come up with your own too):

  • What’s a good dog like you doing in a park like this?
  • Do you come to this fire hydrant often?
  • I don’t have to ask what your sign is. It’s Beware of falling in love with dog.
  • Want to know a secret? Cats freak me out too.
  • Your eyes are the color of a really fine kibble, the kind that comes in a box, not a bag.

Keep in mind that we dogs are all unique individuals and not every line will work on all of us, but it certainly will help you to have something up your sleeve (which at least you have. We can’t keep anything up our sleeves). That way, the next time your mouth gets dry and you shift from foot-to-foot trying to think of just the right thing to say, you won’t be at a total loss.

Well, that’s our best advice to you. Good luck and may dogs be with you.

 

Things That Go Boom

3 Jul

I haven’t gone out to a fireworks show in 91 dog-years. I wouldn’t have gone that last time a decade ago, but my ex whined and pleaded, like men do. But I rushed home as soon as I could to comfort my dogs and promise them never to do that again. They forgave me after I covered my face in peanut butter and let them lick it off.

The fact is, I don’t like fireworks either. Sure, they’re pretty to look at, but all that noise freaks me out. Possibly because I grew up in a house with drive-by shootings from the inside. Or maybe because when I was even younger, I lived on an Air Force base that had “war games” and we lived in buildings painted to match the forest in case someone wanted to bomb the place. That’s a lot of comfort when you’re a 10-year-old. You try explaining to Barbie that she can only go outside if she wears a camo bikini.

Or maybe both my dogs and I don’t like things that go boom in the night because those things are inherently scary. And not only to us. It hurts me to thin about the poor wildlife having to deal with the testosterone rush that requires everyone blow something up to celebrate freedom. How free are you if you’re holed up in a tree stump quaking?

I’ve had dogs for 34 years, so I’ve survived a lot of fireworks ordeals. Three of my dogs barked or bark every time a rockets-red-glare takes to the sky. Two quivered under blankets as I turned the white noise machine to “loud ocean waves crashing on the California coast, with occasional seagull cries” in a futile attempt to drown out the noise. Two didn’t seem to care as long as there were plenty of treats on hand.

I foolishly believed that eventually we’d find a better way to celebrate Independence Day. Like with flash-mob dancing or mimes acting out things we love about our country. “Oh, I get it – it’s gender equity!” But noooooooooo.

In the past ten years, I have lost part of a fence because kids launched a bottle rocket into it and set it on fire; I have seen young kids make their own IED by putting a cherry bomb into a mayonnaise jar; and who could forget the time a stray firework set a neighbor’s shed on fire – a shed in which he stored gasoline for his mower and extra ammo? Yeah, that was a night the dogs and I will never forget.

For the past several years, I’ve attempted to find a quieter spot than my neighborhood to take the dogs for the night, but everything in a 50-mile radius goes boom all through the night. We once took a walk around our local hospital, which a) is kind of out in the boonies and b) is a hospital for dog’s sake and if you have to be quiet inside, the same should be true for the outside. But noooooooo. Everyone in the neighborhood did their best to keep Chinese fireworks companies profitable.

So now we stay home and try our best to keep calm. We have a Thundershirt and Rescue Remedy on hand. We have noise-cancelling headphones, which by the way, tend to freak my dogs out as much as the fireworks themselves. I’m thinking about befriending a harpist so she can come over and play soothing music between June 30 and July 7, which is what we call, “Louddependence Day.”

Oh, and I’d better stock up on treats. Cookies for the dogs and vegan ice cream for me.

 

 

Sometimes Too Much is Just Enough

19 Sep

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Murray the Dog joined the family a year ago last week. The last thing in the world I needed was a fourth dog. But there he was in that picture online, staring straight at the camera, his eyes boring into my heart. I heard him say, “I’m waiting.” Of course, I often hear chocolate say that too, so I may be partially delusional.

I should start by saying that as with many online matchmaking adventures, Murray was not exactly as pictured. In his photos, he appeared to be a dachshund, when in fact he turned out to be half dachshund, half kangaroo, and half Tazmanian devil. Sure, the math doesn’t add up, but he’s not that good at math.

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If I had to describe him with just three adjectives, I’d choose wild, crazy, and “Hey, those are my panties, put them down!” Okay, that last one isn’t so much an adjective, but it has become a one-word phrase around here.

Despite being 2-1/2 according to the records from the rescue organization, Murray is truly still a puppy. There isn’t a book he doesn’t want to rip apart, a field he doesn’t want to bound across at full speed, or an ear he doesn’t want to munch on. Unfortunately, he’s so damned cute and I’m so damned smitten that he usually gets his way. I have not, however, taken him up on his offer to drive. That just wouldn’t be safe, what with his head out the window.

He did go through puppy obedience class, where he graduated second in his class. There was only one other dog  there. Additionally, I spent the big bucks hiring a behavior specialist to try to get him to not be so fearful and barky on walks. It’s hard enough with Penny in a stroller and Watson smelling every blade of grass in the neighborhood for a solid five minutes. Having a young pup who lunged and barked at everything wasn’t safe or neighborly. Fortunately, he’s much better now. He actually listens before he disobeys me. If you’ve ever had dachshunds, you know that comes with the territory. He can also jump 3-feet into the air to demand payment for complying with any command. That would be the kangaroo in him.

Watson, who is 14 now, usually just gives Murray the side eye as he steals yet another toy. I can buy two of everything (Penny is not into toys; she’s into jewelry) and Murray will end up with both of them. And they will both be ripped apart in minutes. I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I spend scouring secondhand stores and garage sales for stuffed animals that don’t have plastic eyes, beans or wires in their anatomy, or technology of any kind embedded inside. The last thing I need is a stuffed animal that says, “Let’s go to sleep” every time Murray shakes it.

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Penny’s only objection to Murray’s crazy antics is at night in bed. You see, I made the crazy decision to downsize from a king size bed to a queen after sweet Justin moved on to the next spiritual journey.Penny wants to lie next to me at all times (I could Velcro her to my stomach and she’d be as happy as a clam that no one bothered and was able to live out a life free from worry). Murray frequently decides that any spot Penny wants should be his, so I frequently have to listen to them debate who gets mom’s fattest parts tonight. It’s good to know that my postmenopausal belly flab serves a good purpose.

So yes, I absolutely did not need a fourth dog. And even though there are only three canine family members now, I can’t even begin to tell you how much laughter, silliness, and fun we have every day. Sure, my toilet paper roll is frequently slobbery, my books are in poor condition, and some days I just go commando, but having crazy energy in the house once again makes it all worthwhile.

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Looking Back with Laughter

27 Mar

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.

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