For Mrs. Shirley Wiley
Last Saturday I suddenly found myself flat on my back on our gravel driveway. The events leading up to this are all too familiar to my fellow deerhound owners—sometimes even walking with bent knees doesn’t work if you don’t see it coming—“it” in this instance being an 85 pound seven month old deerhound puppy who has absolutely no sense of personal space. At least not MY personal space. He came around the corner of the garage at a hard gallop, his six month old borzoi “brother” in hot pursuit. And quite literally knocked me off my feet. As I gazed up at the sky, I thought to myself, “What the HELL was I thinking?” When I went to shower Saturday night, I caught a glimpse of a bruise the size of Texas on my derriere.
When good old Magic died a year ago in January, I was down to only three dogs. Practically “dogless”—at least for me. The girls, Queen and Quicksilver, were aging themselves and little Yoda has never really caused any trouble. There was a time when my household contained (well, contained is hardly the right word, but you know what I mean) three kids, eight horses, five Scottish deerhounds, a toy dog, two cats and a couple of guinea pigs. I drew the line at birds. They required far too much attention. My friends say I thrive on chaos. But that has been true only at home. Work has always been a quiet haven, a place of order and even relaxation. It’s all relative.
People have been wondering where I’ve been, and why I haven’t been writing. The reason is two-fold and can be summed up by two names: Pibb and Cole. Pibb is the six month old borzoi–his “fancy” show name is Russian and unpronounceable. Cole is the seven month old Scottish deerhound, registered as Jaraluv Unforgettable. They are very busy boys, and even under constant supervision the casualty count is rising—a favorite antique trunk…the inlaid veneered Italian cabinet, the coffee table books, the lawn, the television remote control, and various and sundry shredded dog beds. And judging from past experience, they’ve only just begun.
When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher, Mrs. Wiley, who changed my life by teaching me how to paint a picture with words. When I started this blog, I decided after much deliberation–because I love photographs and photography–that it would be words only and no pictures—that I would force myself to be descriptive enough so that my readers wouldn’t need the photographs to accompany the stories. So picture this: two nights ago I left the kitchen/family room area to go to the study to find a calculator so I could run some numbers. I was gone maybe 20 seconds when I heard a loud THUMP! I ran back into the kitchen to discover the source of the noise—Pibb, standing on his hind legs, had shredded a 4 pound FROZEN and wrapped package of hamburger meat meant for a lasagna. Whole Foods free range grass fed expensive hamburger meat. The sound came when he inadvertently pushed the now gnawed and bloody meat into the sink from the countertop. The lasagna never happened.
Years of experience tell me that this too shall pass. I am working with an excellent trainer. Someday people will admire my elegant and well behaved hounds as we walk across the Plaza. Children will stop to pet them and I daresay they will both have a few titles to add to their names. In the meantime, I’m going back to work where it’s quiet and the patients are well behaved and none of them knock me down or steal my dinner. You’ll be hearing from me more often now!
I have always been one of Angelina Jolie’s biggest fans. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to reward her 1999 performance in “Girl Interrupted” with an Oscar, but I wasn’t well and truly smitten until the second Lara Croft Tombraider movie was released in 2003. In that film, Jolie, who performs her own stunts, is seen galloping on a dark horse while spinning a heavy shotgun from side to side to shoot alternating targets. And she is riding SIDESADDLE. If you don’t believe this, have a look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz1lCcs9tac In the Lara Croft movies, she is the epitome of a strong, athletic, intelligent and self assured woman. It may not seem like much, but I granted Miss Jolie a high honor indeed—in 2004 I named a dark, agile and fast deerhound puppy after her, the soon to be champion Caerwicce’s Lady Croft, aka “Angelina”.
In the years that followed the Lara Croft movies, Angelina Jolie went on to surprise her public in more ways than one. The girl who initially achieved notoriety for wearing a vial of her second husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood gained a different type of fame when she adopted a Cambodian child, and subsequently became a respected ambassador for the United Nations. She has become well known for her humanitarian efforts, devoting as much time to improving the lives of refugee children as she does to her own career. Recently, she has added the titles of author, director, and Mrs. Brad Pitt to an already impressive resume.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of all came two years ago, when she went public in the New York Times with the revelation that she is positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1. In a moving statement, she wrote of her difficult decision, at age 37, to undergo bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries in the hope of staving off the cancers that took her mother, her grandmother and her aunt. She was clear and concise, reasonable and dispassionate in her account. Not only did she raise awareness of the heritable form of breast cancer, she gave courage to all women facing the challenge of a mastectomy. If one of the worlds most beautiful and sexy women could undergo such surgery in the glare of the celebrity spotlight and come out looking stronger and even more beautiful, so could some of the rest of us.
Today she has done it again. In a New York Times article entitled “Diary of a Surgery” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/opinion/angelina-jolie-pitt-diary-of-a-surgery.html?ref=opinion&_r=0 ), she reveals that she has recently undergone removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent ovarian cancer, the disease that killed her mother. She describes precisely the terror she felt when informed that some recent blood tests were equivocal, the dreadful anticipation of the results of a PET/CT scan and the realization that now, at age 39, she has entered menopause. But she also describes the relief she felt once she had made a decision to go ahead with the preventive surgery: “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer’.”
There’s bravery and then there’s true courage and grit. It’s one thing to perform gymnastics while swinging from the rafters of the Croft estate, or to shoot a rifle off the back of a galloping horse. It’s quite another to write clearly and objectively the story of being diagnosed with a genetic mutation, and of the careful informed decisions she made to minimize her risks, while at the same time admitting that her decisions were not necessarily the right ones for everyone. As Angelina says, “Knowledge is power.” We owe her thanks for sharing hers with us.
Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ‘em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure
Prospero, The Tempest, Wm. Shakespeare
Two weeks ago today, we lost our big male deerhound Magic. It should not have been any surprise—he had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in August and from the looks of his echocardiogram August 8th, his days were numbered. He was with us for over ten years, a long life for a giant hound. But the finality of death is always a surprise, isn’t it?
Can dogs perceive tragedy in their lives? Do they grieve as we do? If so, Magic had grief aplenty. Acquired as a four month old puppy with his half-sister Angelina, he was fine until at six months, he fractured a metatarsal bone taking a corner too fast, and after surgery to pin the shattered bone he spent six weeks in a cast. He recovered just fine, well enough to finish his championship at 18 months without a trace of a limp to suggest his prior injury. From the time he was a puppy, we called him The Dog Who Never Did Anything Wrong. He never got sick, never barked, never growled, and never EVER had an accident in the house. Following the example of our older male Izzy, he was a friend to all—humans, dogs and cats. Well maybe once he chased a horse, but after the embarrassment of being chastised, he never did it again. He was a homebody, afraid of fireworks and thunder and lightning, but as long as he had his family about him, he bore no complaint. When his sister and constant companion Angelina passed, he clearly had a period of sadness, but bounced back quickly. But when we lost Izzy and in rapid succession the little dog Jack to old age, Magic lay down on the carpet in the family room between the coffee table and the chairs, head between forelegs, and there he stayed. He ate his meals, and went out twice a day to do his business (“whether he needed to or not!” we joked). But the exuberance and sense of humor that characterizes the deerhound personality was gone.
When we sold our home in San Diego in October, and decided to move to New Mexico, Magic was the dog we worried about the most. Given his heart condition, we weren’t sure that he could make the transition to altitude and cold weather. We worried and fretted and even considered putting him to sleep, but in the end, since he wasn’t in any pain, we loaded him, the two girl deerhounds and the little rescue Yoda into the van and off we went. Our biggest fear was that we would have to find a veterinarian somewhere along Interstate 40 to do what we hadn’t been able to bring ourselves to do before we left. But the big dog surprised us. Here in Santa Fe, he seemed to take a new lease on life. Suddenly he was interested in his surroundings—he ran, he played, and he discovered where the bunnies were hiding in the culvert. He patrolled the fence line at sunset, watching for coyotes. He assumed the role of pack leader for the first time in his life. His two female consorts adored him, and he was The Man. And, like a family member of any patient diagnosed with a terminal illness, I began to have magical thinking: first, let’s see if he makes his tenth birthday! He did. Then, let’s see if he makes Thanksgiving, when the kids come home! He did. And then, jeepers, maybe he’ll see Christmas, and even another New Years! He did. So then I began thinking about his eleventh birthday, next October. As I said, death is always a surprise.
As we get older, each loss hits harder. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this these last two weeks. When we are children, the family dog seems to live forever. He’s there when we start kindergarten, then junior high, then high school. He comforts us when we’re sad. Our lives, and his life, while not equivalent, are at least proportionate. But as we age, the lifespans of our pets seem to shrink. Now that I am 61, Magic’s life seems to mine a mere blink of the eye. He was there, beside my bed, every night for ten years. And now he is gone, and I’ll never again curse under my breath as I trip over him in the dark, and my life is much the worse for that.
Rest in peace, Ch. Caerwicce’s This Rough Magic, October 15, 2004—January 25, 2015.
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart and you shall see that, in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Kahlil Gibran
Back in late September, my friends asked me if I was worried about the upcoming move to New Mexico. I replied, no, it would be a piece of cake compared to my earlier cross country move from Boston to California. After all, in 1993, I said goodbye to our babysitter of nine years and packed up three kids, a dog and a cat to move to a city where I did not know a single soul. I will never forget walking into the principal’s office at our new elementary school, filling out the registration forms, and realizing that for the first time ever in my life, I had not a single name to fill in the blank space which said “Who to contact in case of an emergency.” I was starting from scratch.
As it happens, I had seriously underestimated the effort required to detach from a home I lived in for seventeen years, from my accumulated belongings and from my youngest son and my elderly father, neither of whom desired to join me on my journey. As sentimental as I am, it was impossible to merely throw things away—old photographs had to be examined and scanned, stuffed animals and dolls needed to be hugged one last time, old movie ticket stubs and playbills needed to reawaken memories before being tossed. Each time I carried a large green trash bag out of the house, the closets, nooks and crannies seemed to refill themselves. In the end, I ran out of time, and the movers packed what was left, which amounted to an entire moving van filled with our furniture, and over 300 boxes. My culling was not very successful.
My biggest concern about the move itself was how my four dogs, especially elderly Magic in congestive heart failure, would handle the displacement, the two day 1,000 mile road trip and climb to 7000 feet in altitude, and the uncertainties of new territory. As it turned out, the one that I worried about most surprised me with what appeared to be a new lease on life—clearly the cooler crisper mountain air seemed to rejuvenate him. It was the little guy, Yoda, my tiny rescued Chihuahua-terrier mix that had some unexpected issues.
Yoda was picked up as a stray in Oakland, CA two years ago at Christmas time. Starving and loaded with tapeworm, he jumped into the arms of a good Samaritan who stopped traffic on Fremont Avenue to pick him up. My veterinarian friend there made a search for an owner, but when none came forth she neutered him, wormed him and sent him down to me. He quickly adjusted to life with the three jolly grey giants. Playful and loving, he never met a soul he didn’t like and never caused us a moment of trouble–until the move.
For the first time ever, on arriving in New Mexico, Yoda suffered from severe separation anxiety. When either my husband or I would leave the house, he would cry piteously and endlessly, despite the fact that the other of us was still there, along with his Scottish deerhound buddies. He was inconsolable. Amidst the doggy distress, fear and consternation, one thing became clear to me—at some point in his short life, he had been left behind. And he did not want it to happen again.
Yoda has settled down now and he knows that if we leave the house we are coming back. But his little trauma has left me with a New Year’s wish for us all: Be brave! Make a change. Take a short trip, or a long journey, with your best friends and your family. Yoda wants what we all want in our own way–to live, love and laugh—and never, ever to be left behind. Happy New Year everyone!
Labor Day, 2006, is a day I will never forget. It was a gorgeous day here in San Diego—bright, sunny and nearly 90 degrees. I decided it was a perfect day to give the dogs an outdoor bath. At the time, we had Valentine, the matriarch at nearly twelve years old, Izzy who was four, and the two young ones Magic and Angelina who were two years old. We started with Valentine—at her age she’d had a little problem with urinary incontinence, and she needed her bath the most. We knew that the coiled up hose sitting in the sun on that hot afternoon had enough warm water to bathe her in, so my daughter and I mixed shampoo in a bucket of hot water from the kitchen sink, and just outside the garage, we soaped her up. She seemed to be enjoying herself, a nice soapy massage on a beautiful day, and then a quick rinse. As I turned to get the towel to dry her, I heard my daughter say loudly and in a panic, “VAL, DON’T FALL DOWN!” I turned back around and she was gone, down on the wet pavement, eyes blank. She never felt a thing. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the driveway with my dead dog, brushing her hair until it dried and the crematorium people came to take her away. Needless to say, no one else got a bath that day.
I once read an essay by an oncologist who said that she hoped that she would die of cancer. I was baffled by this, because my personal preference would be to go suddenly, of a heart attack or a massive stroke, preferably while doing something I enjoy. But her reasoning was quite clear: she said that with cancer, when you know that your days on earth are numbered, you still have time—time to do the things you always wanted to do, time to say good bye, time to make amends. This has actually been true for most of my patients—when they know that they are diagnosed with a life threatening illness, their priorities change. If they have the means, they live the lives they always wanted to live, for as long as they are able. They remember, they forgive and they forget. The trivialities of daily life become unimportant, except insofar as they struggle to get through them. Many become the person they always wanted to be, and I hope that if this is my fate, I have the grace to do the same.
Today we took old Magic to the veterinary cardiologist. Magic is my eldest deerhound—a big male at 120 pounds, and nearly ten years old. The last two weeks have been hard for him—we’ve had thunderstorms and he has always been afraid of thunder. In desperation over his anxiety last week I called his vet for a prescription for a tranquilizer. It worked temporarily, but on Tuesday we had strangers in the house and he was panting, salivating, and his heart was beating far too rapidly. I laid a hand on his chest and I knew instantly that his big old heart was failing. Today the diagnostic echocardiogram confirmed what I already knew—that my big guy has dilated cardiomyopathy, and that he is in congestive heart failure. We started medication immediately, and I am hoping for a few more weeks, or a few more months with this grand old man who is, as my husband says, “the dog who never did anything wrong.”
Do dogs, like humans, know when they are dying? I don’t think so. And in fact, for their sake, I hope not. Unlike us, they have nothing to apologize for, and perhaps their next meal, or a walk in the park, or in a dream a wild chase after a highland stag, followed by a soft bed and the touch of a human hand is all that they hope for and dream about. As Magic slowly made his way out of the van today onto solid ground, he was greeted warmly by Queen, Quicksilver and little Yoda. I can no longer promise him a life beyond his years, but I promised him today that every day from now on will be the best day I can give him—lots of treats, a comfortable place to rest, and with all certainty, no more baths.
When I was a kid, we lived in the Braeswood apartment complex in Houston, TX, right next to the A & P grocery store. There were no leash laws back then, and everyone in the complex let their dogs run loose. I have one distinct memory of dog breeding from “back in the day”—I went outside to play in the central courtyard and saw a beautifully groomed white standard poodle who appeared to be stuck to a large black and tan shepherd mix breed male. They were back to back, and neither seemed to be able to get away. All I could think of was the “pushmi—pullyu” in the Doctor Dolittle books. I asked my mother, “Why are those dogs stuck together like that?” I was eight and she did not care to elaborate. The strange conjoined creature finally broke apart, and approximately two months later we heard the poodle owner crying pitifully as her beautiful girl gave birth to eight brown nondescript puppies down in the laundry room. And that was all I knew for the next forty or so years.
Although I’ve had dogs since I was ten, in 1994 I got my first “show dog,” a Scottish deerhound bitch (yes folks, get used to it—that’s what dog people call them!) I took handling classes, learned to “stack” and “gait” her, and with the help of some very patient friends, she attained her AKC championship by the time she was two years old, and I decided to become a “breeder”. I followed advice, bred “the best to the best” by sending her all the way back to New York to breed to a proven sire of champions, and managed to get only four puppies, two of which had short tails which did not conform to the “standard.” At that point I came to my senses and realized that it is much easier to BUY a well-bred, healthy, beautiful dog than it is to breed one. I returned to my regular dual careers of raising three children and working as a full time radiation oncologist and was never again tempted to breed another litter until….recently.
Many of you have read stories on this blog of my two Q’s, Scottish deerhound sisters, now AKC Grand Champions Jaraluv Queen and Jaraluv Quicksilver. They are both characters—Queen for her trick of “going through”—when she is extremely happy she celebrates by dashing between my legs, first from the front, then from the back, laughing at me all the while. Quicksilver has different tricks—she adores her food, and when she hears her dinner being prepared, she dashes into her crate where she is fed, then pops her head in and out until the meal appears. Queen is probably best remembered for her interview with local news after the famous deerhound Hickory Wind won Best in Show at Westminster—as the newscaster interviewed me, Queen sat like a human being on my couch, calmly picking her toenails while her sister hid behind the stereo speakers. As I said, they are characters.
Since there were no genetically or phenotypically compatible gentlemen callers within a thousand mile radius, we decided to go with frozen semen/artificial insemination. And I will give a shout out to Carol Bardwick at www.caninecryobank.com for trying her very best. A visit to her place deserves a separate blog all on its own—later, for sure. We tested progesterone levels, we made sure the “stuff” was shipped in from out of state on time, we made sure to dim the lights and we did our best to create a romantic mood for the “installation.” Our timing was perfect and once released from their cryogenically sealed containers, those little swimmers were SWIMMING! I saw them under the microscope with my own eyes.
So convinced I was that the girls were pregnant, that I failed to recognize their typical signs of post season depression. It was morning sickness—I knew it. I fed them Wheat Thins with cream cheese to stimulate their appetites. I made omelets with Havarti cheese and heavy cream. I cooked filet mignon and wild salmon. I gained seven pounds in four weeks. Finally, the suspense was too much. Favoring expense over stress, I arranged for a board certified veterinary radiologist to come to my home with her ultrasound machine (after nearly buying a used veterinary ultrasound unit myself, thinking that whether they were pregnant or not, I could always check myself for gallstones!) I watched with dismay as we went from cervix, to body of uterus, to uterine horns, to ovaries—both sides, both girls. And saw nothing. Nada. Not a single puppy.
If I ever try this again, I’ll go with what a fellow deerhounder called YPF, which stands for “young, proven and fertile.” In other words, a dog that can do what that old shepherd mix did to that poodle back in 1963—climb on and get the job done. In the meantime, I’ll open my home to another rescue, preferably an old dog that no one else wants, to keep my ten year old Magic and 2 year old tiny Chihuahua mix rescue Yoda company. After all, a little good karma goes a long way, and who cares about that new white carpet anyway?
Since I just spent the last several months sorting through my own lifetime accumulation of “stuff” in order to get my house ready for sale, it was only fitting that I volunteered to chair the auction and raffle at the Scottish Deerhound Club of America’s annual National Specialty show, held in Richland, Washington last week. After my fall, winter, spring and summer cleaning, I had plenty that I myself could donate, so why not go on vacation just to have the opportunity to sort through someone else’s stuff? After all, I’ve gotten good at it. My intrepid road trip companion and auction co-chair Rachel and I rented an SUV a week ago Monday in order to haul the deerhound related treasures 1300 miles, set them beautifully arranged on a table, label and describe them enticingly just so they could, in short order, become part of another deerhounder’s collection of stuff. George Carlin famously said, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” This time I vowed that I was NOT getting more stuff.
But while we were there…well, the stuff just kept on coming. Prior to the event, I had fretted because my email entreaties to bring donations for the auction and raffle went largely unanswered, but apparently not unheeded. The knocks on our hotel room door started as we were unpacking our own suitcases, and the donors came indeed, bearing gifts of cardboard boxes filled to the brim. By Wednesday evening we could have built a cardboard city, although a bonfire might have been more appropriate. There were treasures there which were hard to resist—an 1883 edition of William Scrope’s Deerstalking in the Scottish Highlands—clearly a necessary reference book for my life in Southern California, and a handmade deerhound topped casserole dish, oven safe and dishwasher proof, for my imaginary culinary creations. Some of the items were brand new—a brocade collar fit for the Royal Dog of Scotland, and some were a little more than gently used, with a fluffy patina of dog hair and dust. We slowly worked our way to the bottom of each box, sorting as we went, until we got to the last one, where I found two old picture frames, face down, and picked them up.
The dog in the picture looks at me, head slightly cocked, ears askew. His eyes are brown, and questioning. His coat is clean, and not matted, and his head is covered in the soft hair called for by our standard. He is in a cheap frame, as is his companion, in a matching frame. Why are they here, buried in the bottom of a cardboard box? I imagine they are dead, and that the photographs are now too painful to look at because they remind the owner of times past, happier times, and I burst into tears. I hope that I am wrong, that the person who brought these to my room in a cardboard box was just tidying up—that he or she had scanned the photos into his computer as “wallpaper” and had no need for the actual photographs anymore. But that is not what those pictures said to me. I put them back in the box.
Bring me your old leashes, your dirty collars, your worn T shirts and sweatshirts. We will recycle them for the next generation to carry on the “long grey line.” Bring me your antique bronzes lovingly crafted by the Animaliers of France and England in the 19th century, and your tales of stalking the red stag over the heather and the drink of Scotch from the quaich at the end of the hunt. Bring me your handcrafted jewelry adorned with Celtic knots of silver and gold, and your art work and your crafts. But please, don’t bring me pictures of your own dogs, buried and perhaps painfully remembered, perhaps forgotten. Keep them, and the memories you have of them running through the fields, healthy and young again.
We turned in the SUV at the Portland airport, and flew home. The auction was a huge success, and we came home to our families and dogs—the only things that really truly matter.
“Such sadness and endearing and abiding love…” Fran
I am by nature a “right brain” person—despite my training in science and medicine, I prefer paintings and photographs to words and mathematical constructs. Over the past two years of writing this blog, I have resisted on many occasions the urge to add pictures to this website, despite the fact that I possess wonderful photographs of the things that I write about—my family, my dogs, my horses and my patients. I am constantly taking pictures—I have chronicled my entire life in photographs from my first Kodak Brownie and I will continue to do so. But I started writing again, thirty eight years after graduating from college with an English degree, to see if I could “describe” rather than “illustrate” the events in my life which have had an impact. I want to write stories that leave a little bit to the imagination, to my readers’ right brains—stories that can be read out loud.
For the past few months I have been following the saga of Roo on Facebook. Roo is an Ibizan hound owned by the artist Nan Kilgore Little. Affectionately known by their owners as “beezers”, this breed’s history dates back 5,000 years to the times of the Egyptian pharaohs. The erect ears and tall lean bodies of these hounds are depicted in hieroglyphs in the tombs of Ptolemy, Nefermat, Mereku and Tutankhamen. Think of the god Anubis, Protector of the Dead, and you will have a good visual image of the head of this hound. Brought to the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain by the Phoenicians in 800 B.C., these dogs have hunted to put food on the table of their masters for centuries.
Roo turned sixteen years old a few weeks ago, an extraordinary old age for a large sighthound. You can see it in the pictures—the eyes, once keen are now cloudy and the strongly muscled hindquarters have wasted. The bone structure appears more prominent, and yet more delicate at the same time. The ears are nearly transparent, and beautifully veined. Nan started to post pictures of him on his daily walks, interacting with the other dogs in the household, and resting on his favorite pillow—pictures which have inspired a legion of Facebook followers who clearly feel privileged to watch the “old man” in his waning days and to take that last journey with him and his loving family.
The last forty-eight hours have been tough. Old Roo, with his brightly colored bandanna and his watchful countenance has stopped eating and has taken to his bed, his head resting on his favorite pillow. He is not in pain, but he is very tired. No more walking in the Wild Yard and no more jumping over the Big Tree. His best friend, an Australian cattle dog named Barkool, has taken up watch and rarely leaves his side. Barkool is neither elegant, nor particularly beautiful and his squat body is a contrast to the lean and classical Ibizan. He is Sancho Panza to Roo’s Don Quixote. He is the friend we wish we all had.
My Facebook friends love dogs as do Nan’s and as a result, we frequently feel compelled to put up photographs of abused, starving and abandoned canines in need of rescue, or dogs beaten and bloodied in the service of man’s cruelest whims. But rarely, in these hastily posted pictures, we see a glimpse of life as it can and should be. Yesterday Nan posted a photograph of Roo and Barkool. Roo is wearing his blue bandana and is wrapped the cocoon of his softest blanket, one covered by multicolored hearts. Barkool’s head is tucked under Roo’s chin as a pillow and his stocky body is still as can be. His eyes show apprehension, and resignation at the same time. He is, above all, present for his buddy.
Sometimes friends and families of my patients are uncomfortable visiting their loved ones after a diagnosis of cancer, or even more so at the end of life. They ask me, “What should I say?” or “What can I do?” The answer is revealed in Nan’s picture of Roo and Barkool: without fanfare, without words, without tears, just be there.
Please have the home prepared before the photographer arrives.
1. Turn on every conceivable light.
2. Open window coverings.
3. Remove pool hose, pool supplies and backyard toys.
4. Open patio umbrellas.
5. Remove BBQ cover.
6. Remove cars and trash cans from driveway.
7. Remove laundry, toys and cleaning supplies, brochure stands, etc.
8. Hide the dogs (and yucky evidence of dogs), if any.
My house is for sale and yesterday was the day for taking photographs. I read the instructions carefully—I like to be prepared. Numbers one through seven were easy, although removing two very conspicuous red cars, a Suburban and a Corvette, took a bit of doing. And fortunately I have no brochure stands in my family room, or magazine stands in the bathroom (who has time?) But number eight—“Hide the dogs (and yucky evidence of dogs), if any”— say WHAT? That was going to take some serious planning. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that not everyone loves large gray hairy dogs as much as I do. It is interesting that horses add ambience because you can’t smell manure in the photographs, and even more interesting that there were no comments about hiding the yucky children. The horses are pretty and the kids are grown and gone anyway. But dogs, well, dogs are just yucky.
I tried my best. I had the carpet, nearly new but already showing the telltale signs, cleaned professionally on Tuesday. By 8:30 am, the dog beds were all dragged outside and piled on the patio outside the master bedroom, hidden from every conceivable camera angle. The dog bowls were emptied and neatly stacked in the pantry. The crates in the garage had new clean pads installed, and smoothed wrinkle free. The grooming table was stashed behind the crates, out of sight. The morning “deposits” were scooped and emptied into a heavy duty, heavily scented drawstring bag which was in turn, placed in the small shed where the garbage cans are duly hidden. The footprints from the previous evening’s wandering through the freshly watered grass were wiped from the kitchen floor. The three deerhounds themselves were fed early, and were napping in their kennel runs. The only trace of dog impossible to erase was my vocal little rescued terrier/Chihuahua mix Yoda. I resigned myself to the fact that the only way to keep HIM quiet was to carry him around with me. Four hours and one aching left arm later, mission accomplished. I sent the photos to my kids with the note: “Look ye upon these photographs and know ye, that ne’er before has this house looked so perfect, and ne’er again will it.” I didn’t want them to miss that one brief moment where we could pretend that we had no muss, no fuss, no chaos, no life, and no love.
Last night I dragged the dog beds back in, and then for good measure–because one girl just finished her heat season, and as sisters often do, the other just started hers—I took throws accumulated from 20 per cent off discount coupons from Bed Bath and Beyond and completely covered the master bedroom floor in a patchwork of riotous color. I refilled all the water bowls and made sure that the pillows on the couch were fluffed and arranged just the way Queen and Yoda like them. I made sure that the house, so ordered and neat and perfect for the photographer, was once again, perfect for the dogs. After all, they are the ones who live here now with me and my husband. I took new photographs of life as it really is—messy, chaotic, sometimes downright dirty. I wouldn’t have it any other way.