Last Thursday

Last Thursday was the 451st anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birthday.

Last Thursday I saw my first violet in the yard.

Last Thursday my favorite beech tree in the woods dropped its old leaves.

Last Thursday it snowed in the middle of the day.

Last Thursday I lost one of my dearest friends.

B and T

After the joy of an extra two years with Tilly after her original cancer diagnosis, we faced the sad news that it had returned. We’d hoped for a few more weeks, just long enough for her to savor more warm days, just long enough for me to finish classes and spend entire days in the yard or on the porch with her.

Last Thursday when I returned home from work, it was clear that it was time to ease her out of this IMG_2335life. I held her while Neal rushed home, and together we stroked her and murmured our gratitude and love to her while we waited for our incredible vet to come to the house.

We’re sad, of course. Tilly lived here before I did. Her love brought me back from the saddest periods of my adult life. Her empathy and sweetness, her humor and grace, her joy and devotion created hundreds of sweet memories. Tilly is the dog who made me a dog person.

Last Thursday a tear ripped in our world. We’ll look for her button eyes gazing at us, for her to tuck her head on a heart, in a lap. We’ll miss her.

Everyone thinks they have the best dog in the world. They do. I know I did.

 

Oskar

Oskar

 

We’ve had Oskar for a little over two months, and I am smitten. When Maddie died so suddenly, I thought “I will never give my heart to a dog again.” How foolish I was! It did not take long after meeting him to know Oskar is a special little (truly, he’s little!) husky. He’s almost always a gentleman. He’s a little aloof, which is common for this breed, but in the last few weeks, he’s been expressing a lot more connection to me and Neal.

The rescue group from which we adopted him brought him to CT from GA, where he had been found chained outside to a cinder block, terribly undernourished. At six months old, he weighed only 19 pounds. When his darling foster mom brought him to our home to see if he would fit in with Tilly and Coco, the poor guy didn’t even know how to climb the stairs onto the porch. When he saw the bowl of fresh water we keep out for the dogs, he drank like he might never have another chance.

We brought him to our vet’s the first week, and he showed me the striation on Oskar’s nails, evidence of poor nutrition followed by good nutrition. He also has a bump on his gum that indicates some intense chewing (the chain, maybe?). There were some worm issues (I’ll spare you wormy poop photos…but we have them!), easily amended.

Oskar gained weight, reaching skijoring weight (35 lbs) two weeks ago. I would love to train him for skijor, but I’m not sure I’m a good enough skier. Maybe Neal will take it on. He’s confident with the other two dogs, and he’s starting to be protective over Coco. Neal built an amazing fence around our back yard, and Oskar can really stretch his legs now. Siberian huskies are notorious for running and heading off on their own to hunt. The fence will give him loads of freedom and give us some peace of mind.

I’ve taken him hiking almost every day. Most days we go for about an hour. When I have to get to work early, we hike only about 30-45 minutes, and when the conditions are excellent, we hike for two hours. He and I have both built strength. Hikes that used tire me are now a breeze. It is a joy to watch Oskar develop from a malnourished, weak pup into a strong young dog.

Most exciting to me is how “teachable” (Sara’s word [and her picture above]) Oskar is. He came to us knowing how to sit on command, and I taught him to shake hands and give a high five easily. Since I have a big dream for him, I started dog training in December. I want to bring Oskar into nursing homes to give joy to elders who need some unconditional love from a handsome, soft pup. We have had a ball at school. In fact, the highlight of my week is Saturday morning when we have class. We are a studious pair; we do our homework every day. While he can have some puppy ya-yas, Oskar is also eager to please and likes to focus on working with me.

I guess I could make this post very short by simply writing. Oskar: a gentleman and a scholar who has won my heart.

Remission!

IMG_2335

After a long, draining battle with cancer, Tilly had her final chemo treatment today. This epic journey started on Good Friday when she lost her appetite. A mis-diagnosis resulted in a month of her barely eating while we treated incorrectly. When we finally had the good sense to get a second opinion, we were devastated by the news that she had stage 4 lymphoma.

But how privileged are we to live less than a mile from a veterinary practice with an oncology specialization? How fortunate that we are avid savers and able to afford five months of treatment for our beloved, sweet girl? This is not lost on us, and we are grateful. So very grateful.

Just as I did the first time, when I picked Tilly up after her treatment today, I cried a little. Throughout treatment, techs and our wonderful vet have raved about Tilly’s sweet nature, her patience during treatment, her empathy. The tech who discharged her told me they all said good bye to Tilly today, that it was a bittersweet day for them. That tender, warm care is one of the many reasons we are fans of this practice.

And having had all this time with Tilly when we thought we would lose her is priceless. For the first time since April, I feel at peace. Sure, she will leave us some day. But for now, thanks to science and wonderful care, our Tilly is in remission. She’s looking good, feeling strong, enjoying life.

In the end, that’s all we want for our loved ones, for everyone: a chance to be healthy, feel strong, and enjoy life. I wish it for you, dear reader, and I hope you’ll raise a glass in celebration with us. Here’s to life.

9 Tricks My Dog Taught Me

If you love a dog, you’ve probably learned everything on this list, too.

Maddie

1. Don’t bother to fuss. Just get down to business. Maddie could do her business anywhere in the yard or woods. No persnickety miss there.

2. Good food is worth singing about. Every meal = a song. A loud, soulful song. You never had to wonder about her feelings towards food.

3. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you. Who knows what’s under that pile of leaves or behind the firewood? Why not take a look? Just be careful of porcupines and skunks!

4. A deep, deep sigh of contentment makes you feel even more content.

5. Vie for the best sleeping accommodations. A good rest solves a lot of problems.

6. Keep an eye on the rest of the pack. Even if you don’t like them.

7. Never be too cool to show your love.

8. Make up your own rules for the game. May as well play the game you want to play, not the one someone else is forcing on you.

9. When your favorite people walk in the door, make a big, huge deal about it. Every. Single. Time.

That list is my way of avoiding writing this: on Sunday, we unexpectedly lost our beloved Maddie.

Maddie collarWithin an hour of noticing she was having problems breathing, we learned she had a tumor on her heart that had ruptured. The treatment options offered by our vet left  no expectation of giving her quality of life, and so we made the decision to let her move on before she suffered.

I like to imagine she’s entered a world where there are always balls to be chased, always a pond in which to swim, always branches to drag around, always squirrels to yell at, always a loving lap on which to drape. From the moment I adopted her in Albuquerque, she was my pal. I feel fortunate to have known her and been the recipient of her exuberant love.

Play hard in your afterlife, my sweet mutt.

Mutts Part 3, in which I Mean a Dog 5/28

Beverly090909 225  Last fall, when the grass was green, my pixie cut was just starting to grow out, and a girl could sit outside without the danger of a red nose, Spring came over to shoot pictures for me.  She had me pose on the grass, my trusty typewriter next to me.  As she readjusted her camera, the mutts meandered over.  

I love this picture of the two older dogs; it reflects their personalities so well.  Tilly (the dog in the background–blue heeler/German shepherd mix) is a lady.  You can't see it, but her paws were crossed.  She's funny, sweet, gentle; a real people pleaser.

My Maddie, on the other hand, is a goof ball.  She has strong beliefs about what is right and what is wrong (walks at 4:00 sharp=right…one of the other dogs playing with her special blue ball=wrong), and she likes to serve up JUSTICE as she sees fit. 

I love all three dogs, clearly (otherwise, why would I ramble on about them so?), but Maddie and I have a special tie, one that comes from hours of walking, just the two of us, and from night after night of sharing a bed, just the two of us, before we moved in with Neal and Tilly.  She has protected me and entertained me over and over.

Guess what?  Today is her sixth birthday.  If I remember the dog years to people years ratio correctly, she is now older than I am.

Does that mean I have to listen to her now?

Happy Birthday, Maddie Mulligan!  Mwah!

Get a Load of This, Mr. Jeffries, or Pup Pr*n

She may be older than the adorable Olive, but Coco feels that Mr. Jeffries (her no-longer-secret crush) should not squander all of his affections on a mere pup.  To entice him, she asked me to post  her recent bathing beauty photo.  If this doesn't catch his eye, she may resort to sending him half-dead beetles with which to amuse himself, or perhaps even a few slugs in which to roll and achieve that je ne sais quois she adores.

She even plans to donate to the Red Scarf Fund to prove her affection.

Iphone 024

Maddie is Five

IMG_0779

During a photo shoot for my yarn earlier in the year, Spring took this shot of Maddie, the birthday girl.  Even though the dogs have been on my nerves all week (mainly Coco, who has taken a step back in her house breaking), I'm grateful to have them in my life.

Less than a month after I moved to New Mexico, I adopted Maddie from a no-kill shelter.  My oldest sister was visiting me, and we were headed for a day in Santa Fe.  We stopped at Starbucks for a chai to take on the ride, and as MB ordered, I perused the dogs that lined the sidewalk.  Maddie (then named Tickle) stopped me in my tracks.  I hemmed and hawed, MB sat patiently on a folded chair and made her "I'm not going to tell you what to do" face, and before long, Maddie was in my arms in the back seat of the car as MB drove us back to the apartment.

For the first two weeks, I cried almost every day. Despite Neal's warning that dogs are a lot of work, I had no idea what he meant.  I wanted to give Maddie back; the only thing that stopped me was knowing that I would lose Neal's respect if I did.  Then one day on a walk around the complex, Maddie barked at a stranger who approached me.  He was a new neighbor, but one she didn't know, and she was ticked off that he dared come near.  I told Neal about it that night, a little embarrassed by her behavior.  He said, "She's bonded to you.  She wants to protect you." From that moment on, I knew that we were a pair, me and Maddie.  I learned to adjust my schedule, going to bed early so I could be cheerful at her 5:00 wake up nudge, staying home from parties so she wouldn't be alone.  During the big hailstorm that fall, she snuggled up to me, just as scared, I think, as I was.  When my first husband called to tell me our divorce was final, she licked the tears from my face. 

I love my other dogs, no doubt, but Maddie is my first dog, the dog I had as a single woman.  She'll always have a special place in my heart, even when she's misbehaving.  Happy birthday, chica!