The Vigil

People always say, “You’ll know when it is time.”  Sometimes that is true.  But sometimes it’s hard to tell.  This has been one of those times.  Having lived through the horrendous experience of our old deerhound Magic fracturing his leg due to a previously undiagnosed osteosarcoma, I want very badly to spare Queen that awful demise.  But when is it time, actually?

With a horse, I think it’s easier.  Those that are spared the usual disasters which befall horses—the broken leg due to a fall, the perforated intestine due to colic—they simply get old.  When their arthritis can no longer be managed, when the tendons finally give way and the hooves can no longer bear the weight of their bodies, they lie down and cannot rise.  Or they stop eating and stand quietly in a corner of a green pasture.  And then you know its time.

Dogs are different.  They want to be with you.  They are willing to put up with pain and suffering beyond what a human thinks is possible, as long as you will lie down with them, pat their heads, give them a special treat while looking into their eyes on a sunny day.   Leaving must seem to them, after a life of protecting you, a betrayal.  They want to stay for as long as they can.

The vigil started this morning.  The dogs are smarter than I am.  I let the puppies in the house while the lawn was being mowed—the mower frightens them.  When Pibb was ten weeks old, he made the mistake of stepping on Queen who was asleep at the time.  She made sure that never again will he forget the maxim to “let sleeping dogs lie”.  When the kerfuffle ended, I was shocked to see that not a hair on his head had been harmed.

When Pibb came in today, he immediately lay down with Queen, head to head.  An hour later, I noticed her position had shifted.  Her front leg was touching his, paw to paw.  I think she was reassuring him.  This afternoon, she felt well enough to go out and bask in the sunshine.  Yoda, my little mixed breed rescue, has always been an empathetic little dog.  He cries when the girls have their nails trimmed.  Today he plopped down right beside her face.  And there he stayed, his little body shielding her eyes from the sun.

Saying goodbye has never been easy for me.  But I know that it’s time.  And if there is a heaven for dogs, Magic and Izzy and little Jack will be waiting for her.  We will be okay down here, knowing she is no longer in pain.

Rest in peace, GCh. Jaraluv Queen.  Forever our Queen of Hearts.

Another Dog, Same Breed, As Soon as Possible

“Hark to Beaumont. Softly, Beaumont, mon amy. Oyez à Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont, swef, swef.” Beaumont licked his hand but could not wag his tail.”  T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”.
               For the past couple of years, my life has been pretty easy.  I spent last summer putting in a vegetable garden, and making improvements in the landscaping around my home.  In September I went back to work after a somewhat abbreviated bout of retirement, but just part time covering other radiation oncologists’ practices.  My two Scottish Deerhound sisters, Queen and Quicksilver were then approaching 7 years old, and were long past the destructive behavior so characteristic of the giant breeds in their youth. My little mixed breed rescue Yoda had never been a problem.
             On December 19, 2015 I upended my quiet comfortable life by getting a new puppy, a ten week old borzoi named Pibb.  Two weeks later, I compounded the chaos by acquiring a “brother” for him to play with, an eighteen week old Scottish deerhound puppy named Cole.  Despite a few misgivings and knowing full well what I was getting myself into, I went ahead with what I knew deep in my heart was a preemptive strike. Queen had been limping off and on, and despite my denial I knew that the proverbial “other shoe” had dropped.  Her chronic lameness worsened suddenly a few weeks ago and like her dam before her, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer common in her breed.
                  As a radiation oncologist for adults with cancer, my day to day ethical challenges are few. I do my very best to be sure that my patients understand their diseases, and the side effects, risks and benefits of treatment. As a devastated dog owner, the decision making process is not so simple. The tell tale X-rays resulted in a consultation with a board certified veterinary oncologist, where my husband and I sat and listened to our options. Amputation and chemotherapy, the standard of care, would give Queen a median survival of 9 months.  Untreated the disease progresses rapidly, often times resulting in a pathologic fracture. Pain control is also a problem, and pain can often be ameliorated by radiation therapy–my own specialty. Except in the rarest of cases, the disease is incurable because metastases are present, whether they can be detected or not.  All treatment is palliative.
               As we sat with the veterinary oncologist two weeks ago, contemplating our options, I remembered my friend and vet oncologist Dr. Greg Ogilvie saying, “The dog doesn’t look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, I only have three legs.’ The dog only knows that the pain is gone.”  And we were told that dogs tolerate chemotherapy exceptionally well, much better than human beings.  So we sat and nodded and thought that perhaps our initial instinct, which was to provide comfort care only, might be wrong.  Who knows better than a cancer doctor how important it is to provide and maintain hope?  And so we wavered.
                 In her incomparable essay “Oyez a Beaumont”, Vicki Hearne describes what it was like to lose her Airedale Gunner when he fractured his pelvis from prostate cancer.  As a dog trainer, her advice to clients has never wavered:  ”Another dog, same breed, as soon as possible.”  And then she admits to us, that it was ten years between the death of Gunner and the purchase of a new Airedale pup.  She says, with feigned indifference as our hearts break, “That was as soon as I could get to it,what with one thing or another.”  I got to it a little sooner.
               Deerhounds are homebodies, and our Queen particularly so.  Carsick since puppyhood, trips are stressful for her, and the risk of fracture even getting such a large dog in and out of the car is significant. Outside the veterinary specialty hospital, in the cold light of day, we lifted her into the car and she fell immediately into a sound sleep because she knew she was going home-home to her sister, her humans, and even those pesky puppies. We knew then that home is where she will be for what remains of her life.  We love her and this, more than anything, is what we owe her.

The View From Here

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!

Past Lives

It’s been a tough year for me and my animals–we lost Magic, the elderly deerhound in January, and just last week, our thirty year old Quarter Horse Dash, the last of the red horses at our old place in California, Rancho del Caballo Rojo.  I am no poet, but tonight I came upon something I wrote out longhand over ten years ago after losing another red horse, and another gray dog.   I called it “Past Lives.”

The great hound sits on his small patch of lawn

Staring at the vertical lines of the white picket fence—his eyes go suddenly vacant

The small confines of his yard are gone

Instead he sees the rolling hills of a vast estate

The heather and the mountains lie beyond

 

The young ones sleep by the dying fire

Bodies and legs intertwined

An ember flashes—the spark illuminates a twitching foot, a wrinkled nose

The white stag beckons at the dark edge of the forest

In the morning the ashes smell of roasting meat

 

The old red horse looks up suddenly

His crooked white blaze a lightning bolt

His notched right ear flicks to and fro

He screams: the buffalo horses are leaving

His ghost white companion shies away in terror

 

There may be no heaven for these

The hart, the hound, the horse, the hunt

Yet they live on in the drums, in the horn, in the fire

And yet they live on in the chase.

 

A few closing notes here:

On the Deerhound:  Affectionately known as the “Royal Dog of Scotland,” it is not difficult to imagine how this breed, with its athletic, well-muscled build, came by the title. The Scottish Deerhound has a romantic past, a noble bearing, and a loving nature, so much so that Sir Walter Scott — himself the owner of deerhound named Maida — described the breed as “the most perfect creature of Heaven.

On the White Stag:  from Wikipedia–White deer hold a place in the mythology of many cultures. The Celtic people considered them to be messengers from the otherworld; they also played an important role in otherpre-Indo-European cultures, especially in the north.[1][2] The Celts believed that the white stag would appear when one was transgressing a taboo, such as when Pwyll trespassed into Arawn‘s hunting grounds.[2] Arthurian legend states that the creature has a perennial ability to evade capture, and that the pursuit of the animal represents mankind’s spiritual quest.[3] It also signalled that the time was nigh for the knights of the kingdom to pursue a quest

On the Buffalo Horse–from Mystic Warriors of The Plain, by Thomas Mail:  ” Each warrior had to have at least one horse which was trained to a fine point for buffalo hunts and warfare. It became his best and favorite, and was usually too valuable to sell or trade. He guarded it like a treasure and picketed it just outside his tipi at night. After all, his existence and future depended upon it to an amazing degree. A buffalo and war horse was trained to stop instantly at a nudge of the knees or a tug from the rawhide thong, called a “war bridle,” which was tied to the animal’s lower jaw. But more than that thong was necessary, since racing through thundering herds over rough ground that was riddled with bushes, rocks, and hidden burrows portended frequent collisions and spills for the rider, so during battles and hunts a fifteen- to twenty-foot rope was often tied around the horse’s neck so that its free end would drag behind the horse. When a falling rider seized the rope, his horse came to a sharp stop, and in a moment the man was on his feet and mounted again. Often one who had an especially valuable buffalo horse cut V-shaped notches in his ears.” My old Quarter horse Lucky came to me with a notched ear, so I always called him “my buffalo horse”.

This Rough Magic

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

Medicine at the Crossroads

 

        “When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”    Pollyanna

 

I try not to spend too much time on Facebook, but it’s always been a good way to keep up with “friends” in the Scottish Deerhound world.  The deerhound, being a rare breed, tends to link people across the country, and indeed the world, who have similar interests.  Lately though, the deerhound people haven’t been discussing dogs much.  Instead, they’ve been discussing their terrible experiences with the world of medicine.  One owner described being admitted through the emergency room of her local hospital for stroke-like symptoms.  By the evening of her second day of admission, she complained that she had not yet been seen by a physician.  Another complained that a family member had just been diagnosed with Type I diabetes, but was initially given an appointment with an endocrinologist in six weeks—completely unacceptable in this situation by any standard of care.  I am of course compelled by pride to speak up and defend my profession, but not without an increasing sense of embarrassment for what used to be considered a noble calling.

After I published my piece on the fatal shooting of Dr. Michael Davidson, I was contacted by Carey Goldberg, reporter and co/host of CommonHealth (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/) and asked what struck me the most about the nearly 200 comments left on the essay when it was picked up by KevinMD.com.  Here is what I replied, “There were several reasons that Dr. Davidson’s death hit me particularly hard, even though I never met him.  One reason was that I trained at the Harvard teaching hospitals, Beth Israel for Internal Medicine and MGH for Radiation Oncology, so this hit close to “home” especially with my daughter being there.  But more importantly, I come from a medical family–grandfather was a dentist, father (now 89 years old) is a world renowned plastic surgeon–and in my lifetime of 61 years, I have seen the sad decline of public affection and respect for physicians.  When I was a child, people would stop me on the street to tell me how wonderful my father was.  Now, when I sit in on conversations among people who do not know I am an MD, I hear nothing but derision if not outright hatred.  There are many, many more people, as evidenced by the response to my blog piece, who feel slighted not only by “the system” but also by their physicians.”

And why not?  Articles such as this, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/business/medicare-payments-surge-for-stents-to-unblock-blood-vessels-in-limbs.html on the front page of the New York Times continue to erode patients’ faith in their physicians to “do the right thing.”  Patients despair when they cannot get appointments to see their doctors in a timely fashion and when they are seen, that their doctors don’t spend enough time with them or explain things to them.  They despair over the cost of care in increasingly difficult economic times. But doctors are in despair also, at the ever increasing bureaucracy of medicine, the insurance conglomerate which makes documentation, authorization and billing a nightmare, the takeover of large segments of medicine by for profit corporations and the heightened expectations for positive outcomes fueled in part by misleading advertising by those same corporations.  Many have come to feel that the sacrifices, both personal and economic, that they made in order to go to medical school were just not worth it.

I do not pretend to have any answers to the multiple crises that contributed to the death of Dr. Davidson, or the current climate in which doctors and patients must function.  I wish I did. But I do have a request for both my patients and others, and my physician colleagues, as well as my Facebook friends and the media.  Let us try once again to see the good in one another again, and not just the bad.  We’re all human, and at some point we are all going to get sick.  For better or for worse, we depend on one another.

It’s Been Awhile

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!

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.

To Find, To Have and To Give Away

These days I have begun to separate my life into two separate eras which I call BE and AE, “before eBay” and “after eBay.”  How could there have been so many things in the world which I never knew that I wanted?  I think back to the early days of my marriage, when my husband and I lived in a 1400 sq ft Victorian “doll house” with wide board pine floors and a pitched roof and wonder how I managed to live without so many “accessories?”   It wasn’t until we moved to California, and bought a Spanish style home with very large rooms (“Honey, I shrunk the furniture!”) that the woman who owned the store where I bought my new furniture declared, “Now all you need to do is accessorize!”   And so I did.  Ebay became the source of my many so called “accessories,” previously known to the world of interior design by the Yiddish word “tchotchkes.”  Who knew that thistle themed items could be so attractive, and yet so ubiquitous?

The upside of eBay is that after a while you get to know who the best sellers are.  Everyone makes mistakes at first—I remember the alligator skin antique doctor’s bag which looked SO good in the pictures, but smelled SO bad when it arrived that it went straight into the outdoor dumpster by the barn, usually reserved for horse manure.  Sometimes antiques are charming and full of character.  But sometimes they are just plain old and smelly.  When I got my first deerhound many years ago, I became interested in all things Scottish, and discovered that Queen Victoria of England, was similarly enchanted with Scotland, where the royal family still maintains Balmoral Castle. In the mid to late 19th century, Scottish “pebble” jewelry became immensely popular, formed from polished agate typically surrounding a faceted cairngorm, a type of quartz mined in the Cairngorm mountains.  Brooches of this design, especially the larger ones, were commonly used on kilts, particularly to fasten the shawl or upper portion of the kilt known as the “plaid.”  In addition to beautiful rocks, Victoria also loved dogs and children, in that order– the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” is attributed to her reign. Portraits and etchings of the dog breeds she loved, including the deerhound, abound from that era.  And judging from the walls of my home, I seem to have located most of them!

For the past several years, I have put on an auction to help raise money for our West coast Scottish deerhound club.  The money raised helps us put on our annual regional show and allows us to subsidize our traditional after show dinner.  This year I did it for the National show as well.  I have discovered that my enthusiasm for Scottish and Victorian artifacts is transferable.  I mean, who DOESN’T want to picture themselves as a wild red haired Scottish lassie dancing around the May pole in the rain, or a strong handsome barrel chested kilted lad leaning against the standing stones of remote mountains?  And if you haven’t ever thought of it, tune in to the upcoming new Starz series “Outlander” and you too will be longing for a kilted man, pebble brooches, thistle emblazoned artifacts and an antique etching or two. I have begun to give away some of my collection so that others can share the romance of the Highlands.  Join us and share the fantasy—the best is yet to come.  And by the way, a deerhound puppy is a prerequisite, ye lairds and ladies!

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?