This is a story about grief. Grief and sadness are not strictly human emotions. The anticipation of loss is universal and I am witness each time a family pet nears death. Death is a dance, balanced between the living and the dying. I will not retell the details of the physical changes. I want to share the subtleties of great compassion of those, in the family grouping, who are left behind.
Sam (short for Samantha) just left us in May at the age of seventeen. It's now October. She was a mixed breed, white on black or vice versa, tall as my knee cap and hair of mostly fly away texture, always looking as if she had just backed away from a fan set at high speed. She came from "that place" where doggies go when they are homeless, abandoned and thrown away.
Dogs experience loss; maybe it is instinctual, perhaps it is wisdom. If I pause to remember, I now see how the others began a ritual of reverence. Fewer invitations to play, the learning to be patient and allow her time to steady herself. Mealtime was almost peaceful as her needs were met while the others waited to eat. What used to be a game of "fly by" en route somewhere, became an occasional pause to check on her, to lick and sniff as if to say "I know, I already miss you".
When spirit and memories are all that are left, the remaining pack still honor her memory and remember her favorite places- especially the shady incline in the back yard which became such a struggle to reach in those last days. In the house, as the sun streams and fills our home throughout the day, they remember how she followed it's warmth from room to room. If I call out her name, because I am still grieving, they rush to me wanting to reunite with the one who raised them. They wait-believing that she will come.
We feel incomplete, the house is too big. The number of dog dishes outnumbers the residents. There are too many everything now, blankets, towels and favorite toys. Her soul is tangible and it promises that the pain we experience, even these months later, will evolve and sustain us.
My pack has dwindled to two senior dogs. Couldn't tell you their ages. My record keeping is amiss, but I'm guessing one is at least twelve, which makes the other approaching 15 and that's in dog years. It doesn't feel like home anymore. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Abbey and Chelsea share my grief. My big girl, Abbey, is a Weimeraner, with a coat of short, soft, gray hair and docked tail. She was a rescue from an abusive woman who kept her outside. I had to get her to the dog wash and then we both waited at the car wash before she came home, I love her personality, most notably the responsive tilt of her head which indicates she understands my every command. The breed is notably untrainable, but who am I to judge? Her sister is a white miniature Schnauzer (easily recognizable when just groomed with prominent eyebrows and beard) who came into my life unexpectedly during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her family escaped the devastation of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans and lived in the family car during their relocation from Louisiana to Florida. She had been given to another family, but their one and only dog would not welcome her. That family lived on my street.
A dog is insightful, instinctual and empathetic. I understand them. Cats not so much - which accounts for the four in my house living upstairs. Yes, I am responsible for their current address. I suppose they are thankful in their own way, but I'm just better with dogs. I relate to them, I have the pack mentality. I AM the alpha dog.
The continuation of this story is from my dog's perspective (I must give credit to the co authors of my life). I learn something every day from my dogs; respect, compassion, joy, pain, forgiveness and boundless love…
"Life at our house is different now. Sam's not here. I don't know what happened to her. My people carried her out of the front door and when they came back, they were not happy to see us. They
just walked around and cried. They fed us and let us out but they did not take us on walks anymore.
My family has gotten smaller and smaller. I remember everyone, they're all gone. What happens on the other side of that door? I've been through it lots of times. Chelsea goes through it, in the arms of Mom and comes back smelling so good and her hair is bright and shiny. Usually when I go out that way, I have to go to the other place where the rooms smell like dogs and cats and people come in and touch me and take me into the back where they stick me and make me scared. I've been to that place so many times that I know the way to get there. Mom always drives slower, especially on the turns so that I don't slide from one side of the car to the other. I like to stick my nose through the window because on the way the world smells wonderful, especially close to the equestrian center. When I had to wear a stiff thing around my neck, I couldn't put my nose through the crack, but I tried my best to inhale as deeply as I could.
It's just Chelsea and me. We don't play together; she barks too much. She doesn't like strangers.
She gets mad at Mom if we've been alone in the house too long and bites her ankles. Mom ignores her. I sleep a lot these days. I didn't used to. In the back yard, I still patrol and keep the squirrels away. There are only two dishes at meal time and we go to the same spots on the kitchen floor. I take many pills now, disguised in bits of cheese. Dad thinks I don't notice and if I spit out the pill, he gives me more cheese. It's a win-win. My sister sits and waits for her cheese but she doesn't get any pills. I liked it when the others were here because when they finished, I ate all the leftovers. It's just not the same and I wonder when the joy will return.
Something is up. Mom just walked in and Dad jumped up, went to change his outside self and they got our collars and leashes and put us both in the car. We've never both been in the car at the same time. I am in the back seat, Chelsea is being held because she is more trouble than I am. She has selective listening.
Where are we going? I don't recognize the smells on either side of my car. She's driving faster than usual and I'm having trouble staying balanced. It's like she is forgetting I am in the back, so I put my head between the two front seats and lick her arm. "Hi, Abbey" she says and turns another corner causing me to dig my nails in the soft smooth seat. I am trembling and my hair is sticking to everything. The windows aren't all the way down and I am leaving my breath on them.
Chelsea is trying to escape Dad's arms and cross over to Mom's side of the car. Even though she is much smaller than me, she is very strong. Mom keeps pushing her away and telling her "no".
The car stops. What is this place? I hear barking. It's a really large pack of dogs. All their voices are trying to tell me different things. "Run", "Help", "I'm scared", "Where are we". I'm really scared.
Chelsea is shaking. Dad is just sitting there. Mom gets out and goes in.
Mom comes back and opens the door to let me out. Dad carries Chelsea out and everybody goes through a door. We go into a small room. What happens in this room? It smells bad, not like my house. The floor is sticky in spots. I smell treats. Where are they? Some toys are in a basket but they smell like other dogs. Mom and Dad are excited. A person comes in, they talk. The person goes back out in the hallway. I hear the barking again. Same messages and I sense that they are on the other side of the wall and maybe they are walking on the other side of the door. It's not a good place. I don't want to be here. Chelsea is hiding in plain sight under the chair Mom is sitting in.
The person comes in again holding a strange little dog. Another person comes in. The strange little dog is now on the floor quite close to me. I get up to investigate and it backs away from me. She is really little; almost the same size as the grey cat which lives upstairs. She's really long and her legs are really short. Her hair is long and it sticks out from between her nails. I can't see color, so I don't know why Mom keeps saying "such a PRETTY little girl". Mom stands up and comes over to me and just watches. I don't understand. The little dog goes to Chelsea. Chelsea growls, sniffs and goes back into hiding. Dad picks up the strange little dog and looks at Mom. One of the people who came in, goes back out momentarily returning with ANOTHER strange little dog. This one is larger and excited; wiggly and bouncy and busy and climbing all over me. He looks like her, but his ears stick straight out and his coat is like mine. He runs to the other strange little dog and chases her and nips at her. She bites back and then both of them chase around like they haven't had any freedom for a very long time. His tail is so long that it whips everything he passes including me. He comes to me and tries to mount. I growl, I show my teeth. Mom stands right next to my head and doesn't look happy. The person says something I don't understand. The new dog sniffs at Chelsea causing her to sit down. Another person comes in and takes the busy dog away.
It's just the four of us again with the new plus one. I want to go home. Chelsea wants to go home. We stay and the person who came in before interrupts us and Mom gets up and goes with her. I lay down. Chelsea is shaking and wanting to sit with Dad but he has the tiny one in his arms and she is falling asleep.
Mom comes back, we leave the little one behind in that awful place. What happened to the wiggly and bouncy one? Mom has me on my leash, Dad with Chelsea and we get back in the car and head home. It's lunch time, we eat and take a nap and relive the whole experience as we dream. I can't quiet my soul. I don't understand.
Days continue uninterrupted until…Mom walks in with "her" in her arms. Chelsea doesn't bite her ankles. She looks different and smells of that place. Why is she here? What do I do? "Everyone outside", says Mom. Chelsea and I watch this little one explore with that big stiff thing on her neck. She's scared. Mom and Dad are in the yard with us. THAT'S something new.
We return inside and the little one trots from room to room. She gets in MY BED, curls up and falls asleep. Oh dear, that's not good. She doesn't know it's MY BED. I am anxious. Chelsea wants her to leave. She doesn't and the whole day is fraught with keeping one eye open. She is fed behind closed doors. No chance of leftovers. I'm too old for this.
She stays and just when I resign to accept her as a new family member, in walks Mom with the other one. He's wearing the same thing around his neck which causes him to trip out the door and again at the edge of the patio. Clumsy! We go through the introductions again and this time he is on my turf. He's got to understand that he is expected to pay homage. Every time he pushes, we push back. We are defending what is ours. We are defending the legacies of those who have gone before. I don't stop and consider that I too have been the outsider, for I've lived here seemingly all my life.
He stayed and now we are four. I guess it's a good fit, Mom is happy, Dad is happy and the new family members have both learned that it's MY BED. We have all been on walks, although it takes a couple of shifts. The toys are scattered about the entire downstairs and we all watch through the storm door for anything that moves.
I remember Sam and all those who joined the pack before and after me; Shadow, Pug, Heidi, Lucky, Laddy, Daisy, Kelly and McTavish. I will honor her memory and try to be the best alpha dog I can be. There's no guarantee that this new family group will remain the same for very long. Sam opened her heart and let me in.
That's the thing about boundless love. Even at my age, if you open your heart there's always room for more.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
I'm not a professional animal trainer. I have been somewhat successful instilling some basic responses to common sense commands so that my dog is not a complete menace to society. I thought she was happy living day to day eager to obey and keep peace in the house. Little did I realize that her education was continuing in my absence. She's apparently been watching football when I've been away from the television. Didn't know that she could record games on her own, but the maneuvers she's displayed recently have me hoping that the Heisman will include a canine category this year.
Let's just list her accomplishments: (spoiler alert…she's equally skilled in the penalty category)
Pass interference: This is a predictable pattern when I start to dress. She sees it as a threat and will wedge herself between the intended item of clothing and me, hoping that I cannot manage to pull on, button or pull up what I need to.
Pass completion: She's 10 for 10, but I didn't pass her the shoe to begin with.
Pass interference: Negating my attempt to hold onto my car keys as I slip between storm door and outer door.
Offsides: Simple math; She weighs 78 pounds, I weigh more.
Fumble: I fumble the cookie...
Interception: Clue: food.
Face masking: Well, got to give her some leeway on this one and if you're not a dog person,
you'd better just skip to the next one. If you do not mind an up close and personal inspection of your facial features, then you get the picture.
Field goal: This is a practice skill for her mental stimulation. She sees the squirrel, chases the squirrel and imagines the squirrel high between the uprights.
Clipping: Happens every time I'm not watching where I am going or she's intent on my not getting there.
Blocking: This is a no brainer: She stands waist high...
Touchdown: Her best maneuver. There she goes! "Wait, stop, come Back here"!
She never sits on the sidelines, doesn't matter if it's offense or defense. Game on.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Sometimes a few light chores accompany my visits. They’re usually at my discretion and a residual symptom of my self- diagnosed OCD. In addition to giving a client’s home that “lived in” appearance (lights on, window treatments opened during the day and my car in and out their driveway daily), I will wash pet bedding, scoop litter boxes, load and run dishwashers, water house plants/flower beds and take out trash/recycle bins. The last item is the reason for this story.
The only exception to this standard procedure was the two times I was hired just to water houseplants…they took the dog with them.
I am a morning person as long as I have a reason to be a morning person. “Tigger” was my reason for two three week periods last summer. The single pet of a family of four, he must have felt his home to be enormous and much too peaceful during his family’s vacation. “Normal” in this home was defined as organized chaos with two boys, 17 months apart both under the age of 4.
Morning visits were predictable. Food, clean litter & social time shared seated on a very comfortable couch. I relocated a clock radio from a bedroom and kept the station tuned to a classical station during the hours between visits. Tigger had outdoor playtime, if I wished to put him on a tethered harness which stretched the length and breadth of the unfenced back yard.
The floor plan of the home was typical for this area; a great room which opened to a patio, flanked by bedrooms, study and bathrooms. The dining room was a straight shot into the kitchen which was the center of activity in this home, I’m sure. The garage was connected to the living spaces by a laundry room.
Trash day is announced by the placement of green rolling trash cans curbside by 5:30 A.M. If you wish to entice the local wildlife, you could chance its delivery the night before.
Dumpster duty coincided with the retrieval of newspaper and a quick look see in the mailbox. It had rained, the lid to the dumpster was opened and I was cursing the waste management truck driver. The rainwater made maneuvering the can up the steep driveway a little tenuous. I focused on the job at hand and arrived at the end of the concrete drive and looked for a level spot to empty it.
Okay, lawn straight ahead, the can was “facing” me, what I mean is the lid was open, folded back and snug between dumpster and myself.
Now if the lid is “facing” me, I should not be able to roll it, right? I began to tip it away from me, resulting in the lid sliding toward my feet and all of a sudden it rolled from my grip. I lost my footing and ended up head to torso, right down to my posterior in the can. Water, a few leftover used newspapers and I snug in a predicament!
My second wave of cursing had nothing to do with the waste management company. I was hoping for a good Samaritan. Remaining stunned, embarrassed and soaking wet, the only visible clue to my involuntary incarceration was my legs and butt leading into spaces previously reserved for refuse. I laid a moment hoping the crime scene investigators would be arriving or a jogger or a curious neighbor-somebody!
Nobody, I mean no one heard or saw anything. Just my luck. I wriggled and backed out, kicked the can and with “hulk” like grace, I tossed it in its place.
I was miserable, mad and did I mention soaking wet. Gathered my composure, found the house key, in the pocket of my scrub top, and stormed inside right past Tigger to the laundry room.
Starting the washer, I removed my outer most layers and wrung them out over the utility sink and into the machine. Tigger delighted in this one ring circus and sat quietly in his kitchen while I prepared his breakfast in my less than appropriate attire.
The wash and dry cycles kept me prisoner for ninety minutes. Tigger and I lounged about, taking great care to avoid the front door which I left open so that he could view his street through the storm door. I had calmed down sufficiently to call my husband and share my morning. My right knee developed a rainbow bruise and a noticeable limp kept me from balancing upright. “Oh, great”, I thought, this is just the beginning of my day.
Attitude is everything. A smile, a giggle, a short bout of hysteria and of course, freshly laundered clothes helped me through that memorable morning
That experience helped prepare me for the several years I have enjoyed this profession. It was the reason I now carry an overnight bag even if my stay is just beginning…
I’ve found that flexibility and an appreciation of the unexpected go hand and hand in my pet sitting venture. This easy going philosophy is a constant reminder that I live life far too rigidly. I’m trying to embrace this new way of thinking, but sometimes it’s a challenge.
My interviews have become an informal exchange of questions and answers with owners, always in the presence of their animal companions. On this appointment, the “interview” was more or less a quick tour and introduction as the owner was a friend and former colleague. She knew that I knew all about multiple pets and the details would work themselves out.
Her three Dachshunds and one long hair Chihuahua were the best security system on the block and perhaps the whole subdivision! My quick intro moved from living room to kitchen, kitchen to yard and back to living room where I was invited to sit on the couch. A moment’s hesitation extended the invitation to include all four dogs. “Blah, Blah, Yap, Blah, blah” was pretty much the extent of our conversation. She admonished with an occasional “hush” and was quickly over ruled by Heidi who was the matriarch of the pack. Before I left, I asked about their meal time “They have open feeding and are very good eaters” I was told.
Now, I’m not a fan of “open feeding”. My experience is food in, food out (in rather short order). Animals left alone for extended periods without outside access are problematic when not in the company of their pet parents. It is much less strain on them if they eat when I am there and I tailor their feeding schedule regardless if it’s a single meal or multiple throughout the twelve to eighteen hours I am on duty.
An inventory of the cabinet and pantry included “Milkbones, Dingos, Jerky and beef flavored rawhide knots which will bring a smile to my readers who have invited dog companions into their hearts.
I soon learned that snack time was not restricted but rather encouraged. Most of their day was spent in the kitchen; they roomed together in a large comfortable kennel with gated access to food and water. If you need a visual, just consider a coral in miniature, alright?
Trial and error is unwelcome at 6:00 A. M! I arrived with written instructions to include a schedule of daily routine. Fool proof, or so I thought. We got through the going outside part. As long as I blocked the reentry they were stranded on the lawn until duty was done. Scanning the notes for other than the obvious, I read “4 bowls, kibble, change water, ice cubes okay”. Got it. Four bowls arranged at equidistant intervals and an automatic water fountain would keep them busy. They wouldn’t even notice I was there.
I stepped outside the gated area and sat at the kitchen table to supervise. Heidi and Roxie went back to sleep in their blanketed tunnel. Zack and Willow followed me and busied themselves with sniffing my shoes and growling, taking care to back under the table out of my reach. I had instructions, I had an agenda. They were not following the rules.
The fridge had eggs and margarine. I found the frying pan and spatula and could operate the electric stove without rummaging through the drawer to locate the appliance warranty booklet.
Heidi and Roxie woke up and joined the other two who had now moved as close to me and the stove as possible. Eight eyes watching me, four tails in rhythmic pattern against the lower cabinets and four noses raised to investigate that yummy smell.
Hot breakfast in a sunny kitchen. Happy pups, relieved sitter. Success! Success.. which became a daily ritual and over the years, a tradition.
My friend has a new tradition of her own…
She leaves my favorite snacks and a new carton of eggs on the top shelf of her refrigerator. She tells them to be good because the “egg lady” is coming. And every visit, through the years, they continued to be very, VERY good.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Good first impressions are a survival tool in my profession. Most of my customers are referred by either a local vet or current clientele.
Charlie, Sammie and Jesse lived as siblings in a large brick home in the country. The subdivision was sprinkled with beautifully detailed custom builds, all centered on manicured lawns. Neighbors busied themselves with weed whackers and bags of red cedar mulch at all times of the year.
I was introduced to these three during summer, 2008. “Oh, what a lovely home and the white carpet is beautiful” I said as I prepared to remove my shoes. Hum, I wondered, does it clean well? So as part of the interview process, I asked her (just in case of an accident). Were there preferred cleaning supplies? Everything I needed was in the laundry room off the main hallway to the master. Good, I thought…just in case.
Months passed and she called to reserve a few days.
Now you realize that pets have their routines and pet sitters must have great patience and flexibility. Sammie(the Westie and Charley (the golden lab), loved their back yard. Jesse never gave me her feline perspective, but she was allowed out and always found her way home…eventually. Lawn extended from patio north to about ¼ acre lot of forested area. Garden gnomes kept watch while entertaining the varied frog population. Charley, the old man of the family, was a sun worshiper. I never worried about extended outside time as he would claim the sun rays either on grass or patio.
Sammie was happy to explore and I often located her simply by watching the tip of her tail dart between ferns, yucca and other native foliage in the no people zone behind the storage shed.
Afternoon visits were relaxed and trust soon entered the new relationship as I became their substitute family. Their mistress was considerate of my time and always had notes for me, towels and other supplies on the ready, treats available and their leashes neatly folded in their designated spot at the front door.
This afternoon, I had a few other clients on my route and playtime/nap time was shortened to accommodate equal time at the other residences. Opening the sliding glass door, I called them in. Sammie scooted in first and dutifully stopped to have her feet wiped off, but either I was too slow or she was impatient with me and scooted between my legs to an unknown destination. Charley, not so good with formality, walked right in, over the scatter rug and four paws proceeded across the white carpet in the direction of his preferred viewing spot at the dining room window. This was geographically the furthest point he could have traveled without also decorating the kitchen tile and custom travertine in the foyer.
“Stop Charley…good boy…no, DON’T come over here…STOP, CHARLEY”. Too late!
Red mulch, sand and a few flower petals tracked in. No quick vacuum, breathe… I have to be somewhere!!
Okay, Sammie into the deep sink next to the washer. Oh good, she fits and the “whitening” shampoo was already on the edge of the tub. In and out, no problem, just toss towel in washer.
Charley, O.M.G…well, he would not fit in the deep sink. The front half of Charley would not fit. Plan B: master bath, it was closest. I commanded him to follow…nope, he started to sit down as we got to the bathroom door. Not even a gentle tug on his collar. Not even a firmer tub on his collar. Couldn’t lift him in, could not push him in, so we got in together. We had a bath; me in my under clothes and Charley in his newly acquired layered look courtesy of Mother Nature.
It went as well as expected…all bath towels now deposited in the washer and time to concentrate on the not quite dry very red mud and debris on the carpet.
If you haven’t seen a pet sitter in warp speed, this might be your first indication that we have multiple speeds. The adrenaline kept my head clear while I spot cleaned, wiped and vacuumed the temporary trail. I wrote a letter of apology and left for my afternoon’s scheduled visits. As I drove away, I had that sinking feeling of failed duty in my stomach, but I chose to concentrate on the fact that she would be returning to two very clean dogs.
She has hired me back numerous times over the years, we’ve become quite close and I am now considered family. I attend her son’s soccer games and we meet now and then for supper.
I’m not taking blame or credit for her recent change of décor… but, the newly installed wood grain floors are a constant reminder of that eventful afternoon.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
This title may allude to a myriad of subjects depending on the reader’s point of reference. I shall clue you in that I had a beloved dog and this is his tribute.
All legs and prancing on the other side of the pet store window, he wasn’t our first choice for another family member. I had chosen a petite greyhound, the breed which doesn’t run the track chasing after the bunny. As we had multiple pets already, this addition seemed perfect in size and temperament until…the pet counselor stated that any rough housing by well -meaning established family pets could result in a broken leg. Well, next!
Erik, our then 2nd grader (I think), fawned over this puppy. So we asked to meet him. We left the store with him being mostly all legs, docked tail and grey colored short coat in my arms. He stayed in Erik’s lap all the way home.
Having researched the breed and being captivated by the “grey ghost” description, “Shadow” was the perfect name. A hunting breed and loyal to family, the Weimeraner joined our family.
Never had one, didn’t worry about his fitting in. We’ve always had multiple animals and never really researched the breed standard.
Yes, he was definitely one of us. We never discriminate, dogs are people, too.
He lived 12 years, did his best to raise our son and daughter and remained the only male of our “pack” for the last 8 to 10 years. He passed away a year ago last month. At least his physical presence did.
To explain and share the remaining story, you must be open to the realm of possible. This open ended frame of mind is rather new to me. I chose it over the comfortable religious indoctrination of previous generations.
I am spiritual and now understand the connection to all living things and the interplay which creates a constant unfolding of my destiny.
There are sacred spaces in my home. They are in yours, too. Some are hidden and do not speak, some are deliberate and beckon the rituals of daily living.
My kitchen sink is one. I can hand wash all the dishes and cookware, utensils and glasses while I meditate. The double sink (wash on the right, rinse on the left) and dish rack, the designated dish sponge, refillable round scrub gadget, the constant streaming of really hot water all coerce me into a semi -comatose state of “well it’s been a successful day” kind of thinking. I can stand there and stretch my calves and roll my head from side to side. When finished, I can wipe my dimpled hands on the towel, hung just below the counter lip, and go about my evening. The dried items will be waiting when I return…later…or maybe in the morning.
The conservatory is another of my sacred spaces. It houses my concert grand piano. Shadow’s spirit is there…under the massive ebony instrument. He laid there whenever I played, back legs just near enough to the foot pedals to cause me to miss the sustain pedal. Oh well, my practices were not for public viewing, I could pretend that the phrasing was as intended by any of my favorite classical composers.
The other dogs gather under and around my feet now, but there is a cavernous space, almost as if it were outlined, where the dogs do not cross.
Several weeks before he died, a corner in my office/parlor garnered his attention. Curios because there had always been a two cushion love seat neatly and snugly fitted on the wall, leaving maybe 5 inches space to the wall seam. He would just stand facing the corner, intent on…well…I don’t know. The other side of the wall behind the back of the love seat was the staircase with crawlspace underneath. There’s nothing in the crawl space; hasn’t been for the last 15 years. He would
just stand and when his curiosity passed, would lie down and study whatever I was doing.
He never tried to squeeze his 96 pounds into the corner and he never sniffed about the love seat as I would predict a hunting dog would do. He never chased one of the cats behind the furniture, there was no hidden bone under the skirt of the sofa for him to guard.
This was his sacred space. I cannot explain his choosing that exact location.
My remaining quartet of aging dogs have their territories. We have exactly two small rugs and I often find them piled together a top one. When the sun streams through one of our south facing windows, each will claim the warmth for themselves and only share if necessary. The Schnauzer will find an unoccupied chair and call dibs. Our female Weimeraner will pounce with as much stealth as possible on the king size bed and the elderly pug will seek out her even older terrier pal to snuggle up.
Recently, during a grueling 7 months of surgeries and therapies, our other Weimy has discovered Shadow’s corner. She visits; doesn’t stay but rather returns to her previous activity in other rooms in the house. It doesn’t matter if I am in the room, she comes as if she is honoring his memory.
Today the Pug came and toured the sacred space, being purposeful and slow to not bump into the wicker chair and table which have replaced the love seat. She’s visually challenged and her advanced years make any journey problematic if she pauses too long.
This beloved room, in the front of my house, is filled with mementos of my life and shares square footage with the necessary technology which keeps my life organized. His presence is comforting and I am reminded of what unconditional love should be.
As we go about our daily lives, are we being guided and nurtured from beyond our understanding? If we open our hearts and share this lifetime with animal companions, are their journeys similarly directed? These questions are for your benefit. I already know.
My Shadow is keeping vigil.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
One of the benefits of my profession is the endless adventures I have when accompanied by someone else’s pet. It’s a kind of follow the leader mentality and I’m not always in the position of the leader…
Charlie, a middle aged Golden Retriever and Max, his sister, who was pure bred Westie, were house mates. Charlie was the original resident and Max, had been left behind by a longtime boyfriend; quite a pairing, but perfect for this family. The Colonel and her son resided in this sprawling “countryish” bedroom community 10 miles west of my house.
This was a work in progress and the original plans for the community must be close to 100 acres. Every time I had a job out there, I would pass new construction. The dump trucks and mobile cantinas dotted streets in a haphazard pattern. New brick homes would sprout up between the chicken coops and falling down trailers. Little well groomed flower and vegetable gardens bordered even smaller 1 bedroom cottages. And well, the wild life just carried on amidst the school busses and cars, skateboarders, bicyclists and mail trucks.
Dogs without their people chased the cats in the same category. Driving directions were more visual than written down, because the numbers on the mailboxes occasionally fell off if the box had been hand made. The newer houses, of course, were well lighted and the paved streets to which they belonged never left me guessing.
My family lived on a short street; maybe a dozen homes, all brick with fences. This grouping was popular with most of the builders out there. You’d cross several dirt roads and then come across a short paved section with a new floor plan for sale.
The end houses shared property lines with forest like a quilt without proper binding. Their house was at the beginning with a 45 degree driveway up to the physical building.
Charlie and Max were to be walked after meals. It was without exception. Their owner, a career Air Force nurse was all about fresh air. Tony, her son, was quite the soccer player and both of them loved the out of doors. Leashes were always in a tall cylindrical basket at the front door. Charlie always had his leash in his mouth and sat rather impatiently while I lassoed Max for our twice or more daily outings.
Being that Max was a breed so close to the ground, the pace of our walks fell short of brisk and suited my abilities. My reasons for enjoying walks had nothing to do with health benefits, I always had reason to admire the plantings, seasonal décor and if the windows had been left un-curtained, I would gaze at life on the inside. Got quite a few decorating tips this way!
Each time we left the house, Charlie would lead to a favorite patch of curb and then it was at my discretion which direction to go. Max just stayed within the shadow of her brother and was content at whatever he wanted to investigate. Didn’t matter the weather and on those very wet days, we knew that towels were readied in the laundry room for paws and ears when we got home.
Months passed, seems a whole summer in fact, and the two to three mile circumference of our journey remained unchanged. Nothing new, no potholes, no unexpected construction nails in the road. We knew the barks behind all the neighboring fences and took for granted that we would forever continue our favorite times of day.
Evenings in this “countryish” scene lent magical moments to the routine. Nature’s calling was a welcomed respite to busy days. As I was not a sleep over guest with this client, our final walk was taken as late as possible sometimes after the ten o’clock hour. Perfectly safe and I was nothing if not prepared with cell phone and flashlight in pockets and bright neon striped safety vest.
That night’s pre bedtime airing was going to be especially wonderful because the heaven’s natural lights were seasonally bright. Mars was out and the Big Dipper was in the eastern hemisphere. Street lights were in competition so we headed west and north to the nearest dirt road for our gazing pleasure.
Do dogs stargaze? I think so, because I sat down between my two friends and gave them a basic astronomy lesson. I said “Look, Charlie, can you see that one? Max, come here, let me hold you and point out that grouping which looks just like you!” Pretty soon, we all got fidgety and I got up and announced that it was time to go, but Charlie wouldn’t budge. Max was already at the end of her leash and looked behind her to look at him and I was looking behind him and there she was…
About 400 pounds of black bear, just watching us watch her. Now what? Stay calm, look for cover or people or get the heck out of there. “Charlie, HEEL”! With flashlight and very audible commands from me, we moved and started to gain distance from her and my line of vision changed from behind me to the welcomed view of people with flashlights coming to our rescue.
The next door neighbor, who was self -appointed neighborhood watchman, had seen us head out (just all the nights before) but our usual return time was apparently delayed and he had placed calls for a search party. Wonderful!!
He was telling me, to keep leashes taught and quicken my pace, but not run…repeat…do not run. Go straight home, he would see me in a few.
OMG, I was thinking how to carry Max and keep Charlie calm. Surely the irresistible scent of the bear would keep him not wanting to leave. Well, we managed, I don’t remember the last several yards to the house, but we walked right in, locked the door and watched as neighbors gathered in the street to discuss strategies. Within 15 minutes or so, and after I had called the owner to recount the encounter, neighbor came over ready to give me verbal “CPR”. I was fine. He told me what my client should have told me, but perhaps considering the color of my hair, didn’t find it had been necessary to give a lecture on bear safety. I was thankful for the tips and had a list of anti-bear equipment to buy before returning the next day.
In that list was bear repellant (for me), and small rattles (or a wind chime would do).
Sometimes, lessons are learned the hard way. Gray hair is no great indicator that I have retained all the life lessons I once knew. This one is gonna stay with me though. When in nature, expect wonder and be grateful that she teaches the bear to share her star filled canopy with the pet sitter and friends.