Do Dogs Know They are Dying?

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.

The Mating Game

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?

The Things We Save, The Things We Give Away

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.

Love and Loyalty From the Souls of Dogs

“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.

Deconstructing the House

Photographer’s notes:

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.

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