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?

Curmudgeonly Me

I didn’t like my flu shot very much this year.  Some years they hurt worse than others, and I haven’t yet figured out whether that depends on which nurse gives me the shot, or which strain I am being vaccinated against.  This year was a bad one—within 24 hours my arm was so sore that I couldn’t raise it above my head.  I received it on a Friday and with it, my little sticky badge to be placed on my hospital ID that proudly proclaims me duly vaccinated and safe to see patients. The next day I left on a Southwest flight to Albuquerque.  It is rare that I ever check luggage these days, after an unfortunate mishap in 2006 when my family ended up in New Haven, CT for my daughter’s college graduation, but our luggage went to Florida. As I hoisted my own suitcase into the overhead rack, I felt an acute twinge in my shoulder anteriorly in the region of the biceps tendon, same side as the flu shot.  By that evening, I couldn’t sleep because of the pain, and two months later, it still hurts. My husband says it was a coincidence.  I am not so sure, but I have no choice in the matter.  If I want to keep working, and seeing patients, an annual flu shot is mandatory.

This past Friday through Sunday I was in Palm Springs, CA for the Palm Springs Kennel Club dog show.  For those of us who show dogs, this is one of the biggest shows of the year, the “kick off” to the dog show season, and the prelude to the Westminster Kennel Club show in February.  If you win at Palm Springs, there is a very high likelihood that you will be winning at Madison Square Garden.  Or so they say, because I don’t travel in those rarified circles.  Still, many of my friends were slated to show their deerhounds, and even though I didn’t have any puppies to show, or adults who haven’t finished their championships, I had nothing else to do so I hopped in the car for the two hour drive on Thursday night, leaving my own dogs at home.  Dog shows are ever so much more fun when you don’t have to walk, feed, bathe or groom your own dogs.  I was there to have fun, and maybe do a little shopping at the big outlet mall at Cabazon.

My friend and oft traveling companion Rachel had delivered the last puppy from her recent litter to a woman in Texas who had just lost her own deerhound to osteosarcoma a few days before the Palm Springs show.  By Monday of the show week, Rachel complained of a sore throat and upper respiratory congestion.  She really should have skipped Palm Springs, but she’s a tough one, Rachel, so on Thursday early she loaded two dogs in her car and headed from Arizona to California.  By the time she arrived in Palm Springs, she had a severe cough, fevers, shaking chills, a headache and muscle aches so bad that she couldn’t stand for very long.  I arrived after she did and brought her four bottles of water, which she managed to keep down, but she couldn’t eat anything—the masseter muscles in her jaw hurt too bad.  I said, “Rachel, did you get a flu shot this year?”  I had just seen the television reports Thursday that H1N1 flu was at epidemic proportions in Texas.  She said “No, I never get flu shots.  They make me sick.” By Friday she was feeling faint, and barely managed to get around the ring with two dogs.  One of her puppy owners lives near the show site, and she insisted that I drive her to visit the nice man and his puppy.  Midway through the visit, she turned pale, broke into a sweat and I rushed her back to the motel to see if I could get her rehydrated and some food into her.  As she wiped her brow with her forearm, before making an emergency bathroom stop, she said, “I’ve never been this sick in my entire life.”

Bingo.  That’s the flu.  All these folks who go around with the sniffles saying, “I’ve got the flu” or when your co-worker says, “I spent the weekend goin’ and throwin’—I had the flu”—that’s not the flu.  That’s a cold, or a GI bug, or “I want to take a sick day.”  But when your friend who has served time in the Army and who has driven an 18 wheeler cross country professionally says to you, “I’ve never been this sick in my life”—now, THAT’s the flu, as in influenza.  Get your flu shots folks.  There’s still time if you’re not sick yet.  Don’t delay, because I won’t be around to nurse you through it.  I wear my “flu shot” badge proudly, and hope that my shoulder isn’t still hurting in the spring.

Ring Out The Old

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

 

 

As an aficionado off all things Scottish, it is ever so tempting to quote Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” tonight, especially when I remember that poignant scene from “Out of Africa” where Baroness Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, realizes on a fateful New Year’s Eve that she is no longer in love with her husband, but with the handsome and unattainable Denys Finch Hatton.  But as always, I tend to wander from the main theme of tonight, which is a theme of thankfulness.

To all of my friends and family who kept me somewhat sane during this difficult past year, much of which I have shared with you on this blog, I say “Thank you.”  To all of the readers whom I’ve never met but who put up with my quirky musings on cancer, family, dogs, cats, horses and life in general, I am ever so grateful for your encouragement.  Next year I hope to continue to inform you, to make you laugh and cry and above all, to make you wish that you, like Baroness Blixen, had a Scottish Deerhound, or two, or perhaps even three.

As a radiation oncologist, it’s been a very long time since I took call on New Year’s Eve. I am at home tonight, with a nice glass of wine in hand, getting ready to cook dinner and watch the last few episodes of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix—a little sadly because I don’t think everything is going to turn out all right in the end, and I for one thrive on happy endings.  But before I sign off on 2013, I want to thank the good people who are out there “in the field” tonight, taking care of the rest of us across the country and abroad—the ER doctors and trauma surgeons, the nurses in the emergency rooms and in the ICUs, the firefighters and paramedics and police officers who are all vigilant and on high alert tonight, and of course, our armed forces at home and far away.  I wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year.  Live long and prosper, and stay safe out there!  With gratitude, Miranda.

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.

Love, Loss and All That Remains

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything—if you do you start missing everybody.”  Holden Caulfield

From The Catcher In The Rye, by J.D. Salinger

I don’t know whether it’s fitting, or selfish that on this anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks I was remembering my friend Catherine Doyle, who died last December 18.  I had gone into the local branch of Wells Fargo, to finally close out a couple of accounts we held jointly—as Catherine said, “In case you have to pay for my funeral.”  I don’t know why it took me so long—after the cremation, and the payment of the legal fees of the estate, there were only a few dollars left and it seemed like a lot of bother until the service fees started coming in.  As it turned out, I owed the bank $6.95.  Perhaps I expected that with time, I would not mind the finality of it.  Instead I found myself telling the bank teller the story of Catherine’s life, and much to her dismay, crying while I did it.  Some things just don’t get easier, and presenting a death certificate is one of them.

The annual Western Regional Scottish Deerhound Specialty was dedicated to Catherine this past July.  She had been a longstanding member of both the National and Regional deerhound clubs and it was important that we honor her service to the breed.  I gave a eulogy, and others spoke as well, and our comments are too lengthy and at this point, too foggy to reproduce here. But there is one thing that lingers in my head, and so, with apologies to those of you who were there, I will repeat myself here.

After Catherine died, her jeweler Barbara called me and said, “I have something of Catherine’s that you will want.”  She mailed me a plain gold wedding band, worn thin from use, that she thought had belonged to Catherine’s mother.  As it turned out, that was not the case.  Inside the old band was inscribed “F. J. Malone to Clara, 1917.” As I turned over the ring and read the inscription, it seemed as if I was suddenly flooded with images and snippets of conversation from the past, across two continents and two World Wars:  Franklin J. Malone, a young Irish soldier presenting this ring to his betrothed, Clara, in a hurried ceremony just before departing for the Continent to fight and perish in the trenches of World War I.  Clara Malone, pregnant with her only child Alice, poor, bereft and with no means of support, booking steerage to come to America to find work as a seamstress and a better life.  Alice Malone, growing up fatherless, marrying a military man, Pierce Doyle, whose blue eyes and strong jawline reminded her of the only photograph she had of her father.  Alice, alone and in labor at a military hospital stateside, giving birth to Catherine while her husband served his country until the bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought him home to his wife and only child.  Alice, Pierce and Catherine moving to New Mexico so that Pierce, now a high ranking Army officer, could oversee the nuclear test sites in the southern part of the state.  Catherine, smart, multilingual and witty going off to Barnard before a taxi cab hit her on the streets of New York, shattering her legs, and her dreams.  Catherine, coming home to New Mexico to live out her life in a place they had all grown to love.  And finally, Catherine in a photograph, imposing in her cape and tartans, holding a leash of deerhounds against a mountainous landscape of endless sky.

Sometimes, an act of war or terror changes the entire history of an individual, or a family, as it did for my friend Catherine’s grandmother Clara, and for the survivors of 9/11, and Iraq, and Afghanistan. I have nothing but the deepest respect for those who fought, those who rescued, and those who were left behind.  Someday, I hope that I hold that gold ring, and the fleeting images and fragmented conversations take the shape and form of a real story played out over the last hundred years.  And then, I will write that novel.

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?