Make Yourself At Home

I try not to sweat the small stuff.  Really I do.  But when I leave home, and leave my menagerie in the care of a house sitter, I am nothing if not explicit.  The directions for the care and feeding of my four dogs and two horses (the cat got a reprieve from his Boston eviction until May 9th) come to a total of four printed pages, small font, single spaced with nice paragraph indentations and bold headers like EMERGENCY!!   A walk through prior to the departure date is mandatory, to demonstrate the intricacies of the garage door and the cable TV.  The house sitter is equipped for every possible natural disaster. The keys to the van, already loaded with dog crates, are left on the kitchen counter and the van itself has enough water, canned goods, leashes and dog food to last a good month. Thermal blankets are located behind the driver’s seat, just in case hell freezes over here in sunny Southern California.  Flashlights are industrial quality, and batteries are included.  You could say that I am a “Be Prepared” kind of person.

Last week the rare occasion occurred where my husband and I had different trips planned at the same time.  He was going to Japan on business, and I had plans to meet a friend in Albuquerque for a three day getaway.  I tried to round up the usual suspects for housesitting, but all were previously booked. So rather than cancel my trip, I took the plunge and hired someone new.  She came over a week before the trip, loved the animals, memorized their names quickly, and took notes on top of my printed instructions.  She said she would leave her own dogs at home with her daughter and that she had no prior commitments during the time that I was to be gone.  I left home with a sense of relief that finally, I had found the right person for the job, and my parting words were, “Use the latches on the doors leading to the living room and please do NOT let those dogs pee on my brand new living room carpet!”

As I pulled through the gate onto my own driveway on Saturday night, the first thing I noticed was the horse trailer sitting inside.  A horse trailer?  My horses haven’t traveled in years.  I briefly considered peeking inside the trailer, but I could see my own horses down at the barn, and decided to go inside.  My dogs were lying down, relaxed, fed and happy–no worse for the wear.  So far so good.  My house sitter was seated at the kitchen table.  She beamed at me and said, “I enjoyed staying at your house SO much!  It was like having a vacation.  I should be paying YOU to stay here!”  She then elaborated, “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my horse over.  He didn’t get along with the white one so much, but he was fine with the chestnut!”  Seeing my look of surprise, she said, “I only wanted to take a little ride up the street to see the neighborhood.  I hope that was okay.”  I nodded numbly, wondering how far behind my horses were on their vaccinations.  She then went on cheerfully, “The dogs all got along great—my Great Pyrenees managed to go swimming in the muddy stream, so my daughter and I had to hose him down with the garden hose but we got him clean, and washed all the towels.”  I resisted the urge to run look at the certain hairballs in the washer and dryer.  She stood up and said, “I’ll come back ANYTIME!”  As she walked out she grabbed a large blue accordion that I had somehow missed on the way in.  She smiled and declared, “The dogs loved my music!”

As the horse trailer crunched out the driveway, I decided to have a look in the living room.  The stampede of pawprints were unmistakable, as were the large yellow spots on the white carpet that kept me occupied until around nine pm, when the sound of geysers through my open kitchen window led me outside. A trail of broken sprinkler heads crushed by the wheels of the swaying horse trailer created a fountain effect not entirely dissimilar to the fountains at Bellagio.  Unfortunately the water was not falling on the grass.

Multiple applications of pet odor and stain remover plus one brand new Bissell vacuum later, along with a hefty repair bill for the sprinkler system, parts and labor, all is well with the world.  My traveling companion said, “Did you call her?  Did you yell at her? What did you say??”  I shook my head.  As I said, I try not to sweat the small stuff.  After all, the “kids” are all right.  Anybody know a good house sitter?

My First Day Off

I’ve rarely been a real risk taker when it comes to physical activity.   I’ve never jumped out of an airplane, rappelled down a mountainside, or skied in fresh powder after being dropped from a helicopter.  When I swim, I like my pool water warm, and when I ride, I like my horses elderly and as they say, “bombproof.”  I like my skin and bones, well-padded as they are, intact.   Do I dare to eat a peach?  Yes, but you won’t find me scuttling across the “the floor of silent seas.”  I keep to the surface.  And the older I get, the more my apprehensions and hesitations apply to those around me as well, including but not limited to my dogs.

Today was my first day of retirement, and incidentally, the first day in four that it hasn’t rained here in Southern California.  Ellen DeGeneres joked at the Oscars last night that we’ve had a tough few days–“it’s been raining, but we’re okay.” Although the Scottish deerhound’s ancestral home is in the highlands where it never stops raining, or snowing, the SoCal brand of deerhound does not like to get its feet wet, and so the dogs have had very little exercise these last few days.  Today the sun broke through and all hell broke loose.  In my younger days, when my deerhounds would run full tilt and chase each other through the tall grasses of Sherborn Massachusetts, the ground would rattle and I would experience a thrill quite unlike any other—the thrill of the chase, the hunt.  I could almost see that red stag bounding up a hill, ever elusive, the dogs nipping at his heels.  Now, I see dollar signs.  Anterior cruciate tear?  Five thousand dollars.  Fractured radius?  Five thousand dollars.  Collision with a tree?  We won’t go there.

I had been outside with them for maybe ten minutes when the wild rumpus began.  Queen, the smallest of the three, and the fastest, is always the instigator.  She took off through hedges and around corners with her sister, Quicksilver in hot pursuit.  Magic, the old man at 9 and a half, has slowed down quite a bit.  He was never the brightest, yet over the years he has learned to use his bulk to “head them off at the pass.”  As I was hauling slightly mildewed dog beds out onto the patio, he intercepted one of Queen’s speedy zoom arounds and the next thing I knew, she was yelping in pain.  Rushing to her side, I saw the damage, a four inch tear in her skin, just at the groin fold.  Suddenly, my “to do” list for the day was narrowed to only one task.  I took her to the vet.

As always, I should have known better than to let close to three hundred pounds of aggregate dog loose simultaneously after being in the house for three consecutive days.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that the accident wouldn’t have happened if I’d been, say, at work, the way I normally am on Monday mornings, with Queen and Quicksilver ensconced in their separate yard, and Magic and the little dog Yoda in the house.  After a brief anesthetic and fifteen or sixteen sutures, Queen is home and will be fine.  My “to do” list will wait until tomorrow to be done—I guess that’s the nice thing about being retired.  No bones were shattered, no ligaments torn– we’re all still standing.  And my veterinarian’s children will be able to attend college.

As I’ve said before, when you run with the big dogs, it’s always something!

Superstition, Karma and Faith

I have always been a mildly superstitious person.  With a casual air, I will walk around rather than under an open ladder and I never wear opals since they are not my birthstone.  I will happily pet a purring black cat then shiver when it runs across my path, and when I break a mirror my heart sinks.  I remember watching the Rachel Ray show one day and saw her toss a pinch of salt over her left shoulder after spilling some of it—and I thought, “I am not alone.” I tend to look at everyday occurrences as omens, good or bad.  And in my effort to impose some sense of justice in this crazy world, I believe in karma.  I try to stock up on the good stuff.

Today my 88 year old father had a left total hip replacement.  I had tried to talk him out of it for months, since he had only just had his aortic valve replaced in March.  He has been living independently again, and has actually been seeing a wonderful woman at the senior community where he lives.  With my mother’s dementia, he had not realized how much he had missed having someone to talk to, to confide in.  My sister and I were against him going in for elective surgery.  But as the months rolled on, he became more limited, and for the last month it has been obvious that he was in constant pain, and that surgery was inevitable.  My husband drove him to the hospital this morning, and stayed there while I worked today.  He called me at 3:30 to say that the surgery had gone very well, and had been done via an anterior approach under epidural anesthesia. Ninety minutes, start to finish, and Dad was awake, oriented and moving all four extremities.

I left work at 5:30 to go over to the hospital.  I stopped for gas before getting on the freeway, and as I stood at the pump, ready to disengage, I saw a tiny black dog dart across the busy street, collar and tags on with a six foot leash trailing behind him.  He ran quickly across the parking lot and I reflexively locked my car, glanced over my shoulder to see if there was an owner in pursuit, and seeing none, I took off after the dog, walking slowly, non-threatening, calling “Puppy, puppy, puppy” in my sweetest voice, the one I rarely use.  I was quickly joined by a man who had pulled into the station in an extended cab pick-up truck, his entire family in the car.  He jumped out of his car, said, “I saw the dog, I will help” and came with me.

The little dog, clearly terrified, ran to the far end of the lot where two teenaged girls saw what was going on and unfortunately, immediately gave chase down an alleyway between a garage and a guitar shop. A man covered in mechanic’s grease joined the rescue efforts, adding to the chaos of concern.  And then the tiny dog ran right into a side street, directly into the path of an oncoming car.  By the time we reached the lifeless body, the woman who had been driving the car was sitting in the middle of the road, sobbing uncontrollably, and putting herself in imminent danger. The man with me picked up the dog, a well-cared for black and tan Chihuahua, still sporting his collar and lead, and we checked him.  His eyes were open but he was gone. The small entourage carried him across the street to an open veterinary clinic, so that the owner could be notified, and would not have to search the empty streets tonight.  If you are a dog loving reader, and have never found yourself in that sad situation, you have been very fortunate.

I got to the hospital with a sense of impending doom, and was quite surprised to see Dad sitting up in bed, entertaining his nurse who was improbably named Evangeline.  She was catering to his every need; he was in fine spirits and his pain was well controlled.  I know he isn’t out of the woods yet, but I was relieved and grateful.  Instead of superstition, I should have had faith—faith in the doctors and nurses taking care of Dad, faith in the human beings who rushed to try to help that little black dog, and faith that there is a purpose and meaning in the events of the day. But somewhere a family is grieving tonight, and I am wondering why.

The Case of The Missing Chicken

It happened two or three weeks ago, and it’s still bothering me so I might as well write about it.  Harvest Ranch Market, in Encinitas where I work, makes a pretty good rotisserie chicken.  I don’t have much time to cook during the week, so many Sundays I’ll head over there and pick up two whole cooked chickens.  On Sunday night, I separate the breasts from the legs and thighs, and tear up the dark meat and skin for the dogs—that is, what I don’t eat while I’m doing it because secretly I like the dark meat better, even though it’s not as good for you.  I put the dark meat into a Tupperware container and the chicken breasts, plump and juicy on a plate, cover them with saran wrap and use them in salads and sandwiches during the week.  That is my routine.

Sunday nights are also TV nights around here.  Dexter’s off the air now, and Game of Thrones’ new season hasn’t started, but Homeland and The Good Wife keep me occupied so that I can delay laundry and bill paying until the wee hours, the better to put off Monday.  So two weeks ago on Sunday night, I did my chicken thing, and then settled down to watch my shows.  I must have been a little distracted because I have no recollection of putting the saran wrap on the chicken, or opening the refrigerator. By the time I was done with TV for the evening, I folded laundry, cleaned up the kitchen and went to bed.

Monday morning I went to feed the dogs, and the little dog Yoda, who never liked kibble, waited patiently for his ounce of chicken breast.  I opened the refrigerator door, and looked for the chicken breasts.  I did not see them, which is not at all unusual in my refrigerator, which is even less well organized than my desk.  So I shrugged, gave the little dog some dark meat and went off to work.  But the fact that I couldn’t find the two pounds of cooked chicken breast in my own refrigerator was bothering me, so I called my husband who works from home.  I said, “Please go look in the refrigerator and tell me that the chicken breasts are there that I cut up last night.”  He dutifully went to the refrigerator and reported back, “No, I don’t see any chicken breasts.”  I said, “I KNOW that I put 4 half chicken breasts on a plate.  But I don’t remember what happened to them after that.  Could I have been so distracted I threw them away?  Please go look in the garbage can in the garage.”  I heard a sigh on the other end.  Moments later he said, “The chicken breasts are not in the garbage can.”  I said, “Did you REALLY look for them?”  He said, “Yes, I really looked for them.”

My youngest son had stopped in Sunday evening to pick up his mail.  He was there while the chicken was being dismembered.  I said to my husband, “Please call E. and see if he was hungry and took the chicken breasts.”  He said, “I don’t think he would have taken an entire plate of chicken breasts.”  I said, “Call him!” Twenty minutes later he called me back and said, “E. didn’t take the chicken breasts.”  I had a long day at work, but when I got home at seven I did not go into the house to change my clothes.  I went directly to the garbage can, in my nice brown wool suit and my silk blouse, and I rooted around.  I knew that those chicken breasts must have been accidentally thrown away, probably by my husband, who likes to clean up after me.  Twenty greasy minutes later, I confirmed that indeed, there were no chicken breasts in the garbage. Or in the refrigerator.

I love my deerhounds, even though at times they’ve been known to steal and hoard.  Izzy was famous for taking ALL of the toys and stuffing them behind the seat cushions of the couch.  He also stole everyone else’s bones, and buried them in secret places where they still wash to the surface during a rainstorm, white and glistening, two years after his death.  My old boy Magic has never done a thing wrong.  He is a huge dog, 34 inches at the shoulder, but he is unfailingly polite, waits his turn for meals, never once chewed on the furniture and never peed in the house.  He uses the kitchen counter as a chin rest without even a slight stretch.  But two pounds of chicken breast, right after dinner?  And as I said, he’s never done a thing wrong.

Looking back, I was a little distracted by that Homeland adrenaline rush.  Those chicken breasts are around here somewhere.  I just hope I don’t run into them tucked behind my leather armchair’s cushion, or under a far corner of the rug.  Queen and Quicksilver aren’t telling, and Magic just grins when I ask him.

Happiness is a Warm Puppy

I had promised my friend Rachel two months ago that when it came time to let her current litter of Scottish deerhound puppies go to their new homes, I would come to Arizona for the big send off. I bought my ticket to Tucson cheap but life has been hectic lately, between the pressures of work and the constant buzzing of the chainsaws at home—we’re five weeks into major tree trimming and repairs of a seriously neglected irrigation system.  By the end of last week, I had serious qualms about leaving for the weekend, and I expressed them to my good friend and traveling companion Robin who had also had some second thoughts.  In the end, we both concluded that it might be good to get away, and so with promises to one another that NEITHER of us was taking a puppy home, we embarked.  Some promises are harder to keep than others.

Rachel lives in the far southeastern corner of Arizona, where a triangle of towns including Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Tombstone serve up a little piece of the old West.  Fort Huachuca, anchoring the western end of the triangle, is a living history museum.  There, General Nelson Miles fought off Geronimo in 1886.  In 1913, the fort became the base for the famous “Buffalo Soldiers” of the tenth Cavalry Unit, comprised entirely of African Americans.  Later, and to this day, the base has become a center of strategic command and military intelligence.  Needless to say, the area is not easy to get to, which makes it remarkable that prospective puppy owners made the long trek by car from Colorado, New Mexico, and California to claim their prizes.  Some of us, including Robin and me, were there just to visit,  to help educate new owners on the ins and outs of this rather quirky breed, and let’s face it—to smell the puppy breath.

What is it about a puppy that can melt the heart of a full grown man?  Is it the remembrance of boyhood hours spent in the company of a scruffy dog, walking back roads while kicking a can, and trailing a stick behind?  Is it the potential fulfillment of a primordial urge to hunt—to “bring home the bacon” by partnering with a sentient being who is fleeter of foot and keener of eye and nose and ear? Is it that need to nurture which is largely suppressed in our culture where it is not “manly” to be kind, and sensitive?  I forgot to take my camera last weekend, but my cell phone is now full of pictures of happy new owners, their faces shining wet with kisses, and arms filled with awkward deerhound pups whose feet were nearly as big as their heads—puppies who will indeed make their owners feel like “The Laird of the Manor.”  After they are through destroying the living room couch and shredding the oriental carpets.

Despite my insistence that I am not in the market for another dog, I found myself under the spell of the runt of the litter, a little girl with a blue collar and a kinked tail.  She was feisty, that one—seeking attention from and bestowing kisses upon the gathered humans, yet fierce in mock battle with her brothers—a future Queen for sure.  I was happy to be flying home, because if I had driven the temptation to put her in the car might have overwhelmed my good judgment.  Still, I could not help feel a twinge of regret when Rachel called me today to say that the couple from New Mexico were so pleased with their male puppy that they were coming back for Little Blue Girl.  Good choice on their part—I am quite certain that despite the tail she will knock ‘em dead in the ring and on the field.  For me, there will be another puppy, another day.  Count on it.

“Buy a pup and your money will buy love, unflinching.”  Rudyard Kipling

The Thundershirt

“Thunder and lightning, very very frightening–me”  Queen

When I woke up this morning, they were already at it, and I walked into the kitchen and immediately slipped in a large pool of saliva that had apparently been dripping from the mouth of big Magic, my 125 pound scaredy cat Scottish deerhound.  When I say “they”, I mean the tree workers who are up in the giant eucalyptus trees which blanket our property—I would call them arborists but I know better—they’re just very brave guys willing to climb up 100 feet with a chainsaw in hand to hack off the large branches hanging over the house, the horse pastures and our driveway.  Tree work is expensive, and the eucalyptus grow like weeds.  They need to be trimmed every three to five years minimum, and since there have been many other things I needed to spend money on in the last ten, namely, putting children through college, those gargantuan trees had had a bit of “deferred maintenance.”  Sometimes I need to be smacked in the face to pay attention to what is right in front of me, and this is exactly what happened the weekend before I left for Jamaica.  We had what is known around here as “Santa Ana conditions”, where a hot wind blows off the desert from the east, instead of our usual cool ocean breeze from the west.  As leaves and debris flurried like snow, I went out to check on the horses, and heard a crack.  I put my hand up to shield my face from the falling branch, and received the force of the limb with my hand and arm, which were nicely black and blue by the time I arrived in Kingston.  Three weeks later, the chain saws are still singing.

Magic has been afraid of fireworks and thunder since he was a puppy.  The first Fourth of July celebration came when he was eight months old.  As I heard the sound of fireworks, I went outside to call the dogs.  Magic was nowhere in sight, and a thorough search of the property found him shivering and wet, hiding under the bridge over a small creek that flows through the back of the property.  We brought him inside, dried him off and tried to comfort him as best we could.  As he aged, his fears escalated and translated into terror of every large repetitive or continuous noise, to the point where we just stayed home any time we knew there would be fireworks. Fortunately thunderstorms are rare in our neck of the woods, but holidays were problematic, and the usual solutions—closing the windows, playing music loudly to drown the sound, Bach’s Rescue Remedy—were only partially effective. Two years ago when we had a new roof put on the house, the constant hammering and banging overhead put old Magic over the edge.  His fears became uncontrollable to the point where we thought he would hurt himself so in desperation I called my veterinarian for tranquilizers.  She said, “Have you tried the Thundershirt?”

If you are familiar with Temple Grandin’s work, you will know that she is autistic, but with a unique gift which allows her to empathize with the way frightened animals feel and think.  Her designs for humane slaughter of cattle have revolutionized the traditional way that our food animals are led to certain death.  When she was young, she used to comfort herself by enclosing herself in a homemade device which literally held and squeezed her between two walls.  The sense of enclosure, and pressure calmed her panic, and allowed her to function in college and subsequently in society.  The inventors capitalized on the same concept—that perhaps being wrapped tightly in a stretch jersey fabric fastened with Velcro would calm a panicked dog.  We bought one for Magic, just before a scheduled visit to the East Coast and left my adult son in charge of our household with instructions to put it on the dog if he became anxious with the roofers.  A couple of days later, I called to ask how things were going at home.  Brandon replied, “Mom, he comes to me and begs for his ‘special shirt.’”

I arrived in Jamaica to find the rainy season in full swing.  Unlike San Diego, when it rains there the lightning flashes brilliantly across the darkened horizon and the rolling thunder cracks are bone shaking. My host Dr. Spence has four adult Catahoula Leopard dogs, and the dominant male Ludie was like Magic on a very bad thunder day, whining, trembling and salivating.  I told her about the special shirt, and she wrapped him tightly in a blanket, which seemed to help a little bit.  Today as I cleaned off the slimy floor, and pulled out the gray jersey Thundershirt and wrapped up my dog, it occurred to me that maybe this is not such a novel concept after all.  Maybe when we are faced with scary things beyond our control, all that any of us need most is a tight hug from someone who cares.

It’s Always Something

When you are owned by a Scottish deerhound, or two or three, you get the pleasure of their company on your couch, the soulful gaze of their soft brown eyes as they gently interfere with your reading and typing, and occasionally the crunching sound of the prime rib that was marinating on the countertop before your dinner guests were to arrive.  Sometimes you also get hurt.  These dogs may lounge around your home looking like gray shaggy throw rugs, but trust me, they do move, rapidly and with great force.  Children in a deerhound home learn to walk with their knees bent, because a speeding hound colliding with a locked knee pays college tuition for many an orthopedic surgeon’s kid.  The Deerhound discussion list abounds with hilarious takes on how many ways an unsuspecting owner can suddenly find herself in harm’s way—sprained wrists from leashes getting tangled, broken noses from an exuberant hound kiss, road rash from that time your canines spotted a feral cat at a truck stop on the way to the National Specialty and the occasional broken ankle because your dog decided spontaneously to cross in front of you to exit the show ring.  We tell each other stories and have a little laugh—most of the time.

 

On Monday night after a grueling day traveling home from Colorado, I pulled into the driveway at 10 pm.  Immediately the dogs were out of the house and all over me, and as I picked up my purse from the driveway where it had fallen, I managed to look up just in time to see a giant paw on a collision course with my right eye.  A searing pain and blurred vision followed, and in a moment of hysteria to rival Gene Wilder’s in “The Producers” I screamed at my husband, “I am BLINDED and it’s YOUR FAULT! I have to go to WORK in the morning, and I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS!!”  I cupped my hand over my right eye for dramatic effect, moaning softly. Eventually, I calmed down and went inside to inspect the damage, which consisted of a scratch across my lower eyelid.  The blurred vision was due to the fact that a large deerhound toenail had dislodged my contact lens, and the searing pain was the result of said contact being firmly lodged in the inner corner of my eye.  I was quite relieved that I could still see out of the eye as well as I ever could, which isn’t saying much.

 

Last night I had to attend a faculty dinner meeting.  Midway through the meal, I spotted what appeared to be a gnat or a small fly whizzing around my food.  I batted at it, and then remarked to the physicist sitting beside me that there was a bug bothering me and my dinner.  He looked at me quizzically.  He didn’t see any bugs.  I continued to smack away at thin air until I came to the embarrassed realization that what I was seeing, was in my EYE, not on my plate.  My right eye, which had been home to a dirty deerhound claw two nights prior.  When the bug was still there this morning, I made an appointment with the eye doctor who was kind enough to see me during his lunch hour.  Thirty minutes later, I emerged with a right pupil the size of a stealth flying saucer and a diagnosis of a vitreous “floater”, dislodged by trauma, annoying but not anywhere near annoying as a retinal detachment would have been.  My afternoon patients were kind enough not to notice that their doctor appeared to be hallucinating bugs.

 

When you run with the big dogs, trust me, it’s always something!

Old Dog Lying In The Sun

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

- Robert Frost

If you live in a multi-pet household, as I do, you will know the one I am talking about.  The dog that never caused anyone any trouble, never barked, never bit, never peed in the house, never strained at the leash or dragged you across the street on your elbows or knees, but also never caught your attention by his rare antics and sense of humor.  Or the cat that never came when you called, or greeted you at the door, or liked to be picked up, but who came into your bed at night while you slept and cuddled until morning before disappearing behind your laundry hamper long before dawn.  The silent ones of the household, the invisible ones, the ones sadly, that you paid the least attention to.  It is the fallacy of the multi-pet household—we like to believe we love them all equally, but we never do. Our time is limited, and sometimes the quiet ones are overlooked.

I run errands on Saturdays and sometimes Saturdays can be even more hectic than my weekdays.  There is the grocery shopping, the laundry, the dry cleaners—things to be dropped off, picked up, and in weekend warrior fashion, there is exercise that needs to be done. As I headed out to the hardware store this afternoon, I realized that two of my dogs—Magic, the largest and Yoda, the tiniest had not been outside for a while.  It’s a beautiful day here in sunny Southern California, 70 degrees with no clouds in the sky and a light breeze.  When we stepped out the screen door, Yoda immediately ran to “do his business”, which besides the obvious includes chasing lizards, grabbing twigs, snatching low hanging rosebuds off the bushes and barking at the old horse, Dash, in the pasture.  As I walked towards the little dog, I realized Magic was nowhere in sight.  Turning around, I saw that he was lying peacefully on his side on the little hill that leads down from the house, basking quietly in the sunshine.

When did my oldest and largest deerhound get so old?  Magic, aka Champion Caerwicce’s This Rough Magic, was a magnificent animal in his prime. At thirty four inches at the shoulder, and 125 pounds of pure muscle, he fractured a metatarsal bone in his foot running through the pasture as a six month old and had it surgically pinned and repaired.  He quietly bore his six week confinement with nary a complaint, and when the cast came off, his toes were lax, his foot terribly deformed. Within weeks he was off and running again, and when we brought him out to show as an eighteen month old, not a single judge ever commented that his left front foot was flatter than his right, because he floated with the movement described in the Scottish Deerhound standard—“easy, active and true.”  Being a homebody, when he finished his championship easily we brought him home, where he has remained, happy, quiet, healthy, and no trouble at all.  Today, for the first time, I looked at him lying in the sun, on his side, his eyes clouded with cataracts, his once dark mane silver with age, and I saw a very old dog.

Treasure them all while you have them, the big ones, the little ones, the funny ones, the ones that do tricks and always make you laugh.  But also cherish the quiet ones, the shy ones, the ones that never grab your attention—because they too, age and will be gone and you, like me, will wonder why you did not appreciate that they, of all, loved you best.

A Brief News Update From the Animal House

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have quite a little menagerie here.  In my animal loving prime, when I had a lot more energy than I do now, we had 5 Scottish deerhounds, one Brussels Griffon, two cats, two guinea pigs and eight horses, at least one of which I kept a secret from my husband who I feared would think that perhaps things were getting a little bit out of hand.  One day at the barn, he spotted a horse that he just KNEW I would love, and he inquired of the trainer whether the horse was for sale.  She didn’t quite know how to tell him that I already owned that particular animal.

The zoo has been winding down a bit here, mainly because the kids are gone and I am less prone to temptation without their little voices clamoring for that kitten for sale in the parking lot at the grocery store.  The cat with nine lives, eighteen year old Timmy Tom, was put to sleep in August when we could not control his thyroid disease, weight loss and vomiting.  Many of the horses have moved on to greener pastures elsewhere, where new children could learn to ride from the safety of their well-trained backs, and some of the best have passed on to that great green pasture in the sky.  Stormin’ Norman, the little Lipizzaner who carried my daughter through many a dressage test, left in late June to be leased by a beginning dressage rider.  In August she called to say she wanted to extend the lease to six months.

So I was surprised yesterday to get a call from the trainer to say that they would like to send twenty four year old Norman home.  She said that no matter how much she fed him, she couldn’t keep weight on him, and besides, an old stifle problem was recurring.  Fearing the worst, I went over to the boarding/training facility last night to have a look at him.  Now, mind you, this is a horse who has lived in my back yard for the better part of twelve or thirteen years.  Always a personable animal, with a beautiful expressive face and eyes, he knew me as well as any horse can know a person.  So I was surprised last night when I approached him with a bag of carrots and I heard no welcoming whinny.  His head shot up, and if horses can glare, this one positively glared at me.  His expression, plain as day, said, “Where the heck have YOU been, and when are you getting me OUT OF HERE?!”  And then he munched on his carrots.  He looked a little thin, but otherwise fine.

Norman’s coming home to join twenty eight old Dash on Wednesday, and I must say I’m glad.  The two old souls deserve a nice retirement, despite the fact that they really don’t like each other. And Labor Day weekend I visited a friend in Albuquerque who had a litter of eight week old deerhound puppies– it was hard to leave without one but they were all spoken for.  One day soon, I might be hearing the pitter patter of new little feet around these parts. After all, what’s a new carpet for?

An Exercise in Futility

I am working at home today.  And no, that’s not the exercise in futility, although it could be.  I have paperwork to complete, treatment summaries to write– odds and ends that don’t involve patient care. I am working at home because today, the carpet layers are putting in my brand new wall to wall carpet.  A month ago, when the painters were putting in my brand new wall to wall paint, I found myself relieved of a camera, an iPad, a Nook reader, my grandmother’s diamond necklace and $200 cash hidden, obviously, in an underwear drawer.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice—you can’t get fooled again” as George Bush famously said.  My new plastic bathroom is being installed today too.

The exercise in futility, as my fellow pet lovers will readily attest to, is the new carpet.  When we moved into this house fifteen years ago, the carpet was already worn and stained by the treasured and precious (aren’t they all?) beasts of the former owners.  No amount of cleaning or convincing could persuade the current inhabitants that my living room was not to be used as a toilet.  Especially the little dog, Jack.  There is most definitely an inverse correlation between dog size and ego, with ego proportionate to the compulsion to mark territory.  I was in luck, however.  The prior owners had considered the possibility that accidents do happen, and their choice of color was the sadly dated, but tremendously camouflaging “Harvest Gold”.  Circa 1970.  Yes, you read that right.

When I went to choose new carpet, I had only two absolute criteria:  That the color have not a HINT of yellow or gold, and that it be treated with Stainmaster to the max.  Actually I chose a wonderful distressed walnut hardwood, just the right amount of roughing up to disguise the toenail marks of the deerhounds as they chase each other around the house.  But my pocketbook chose otherwise.  So today I watch, as the carpet guys install a beautiful pale taupe ultra Stainmaster synthetic, with a subtle criss cross pattern, ever so tasteful and elegant.  And as I watch, I wonder, who will be the first to despoil my unbesmirched and freshly non-fragrant footing.

I leave for Colorado on Friday morning to transport my father’s art work to San Diego.  My husband is in charge of the animals. If I come home to a urine stain on my new carpet, or the contents of the unfortunate cat’s stomach, I swear, there will be a bloodbath.  And I’m not sure who—the guardian or the ward—will go first.  I’ll let you know what happens.