Running to the Rainbow Bridge

Good Morning, friends. As some of you know I’ve eased off the pints the last couple of months, in an apparently fruitless attempt to feel better and/or lose some lbs. The only thing that seems to have changed from trying to eliminate gluten and sugar is that everything tastes awful now. Too sweet, too this, too that. Maybe I did have Covid and never knew? In any event, not sure how long this shindig will last, since I’d give my eyeteeth for a crunchy piece of toast right now, and I don’t want to change my blog name because of some diet whim.

I guess I seem to only do posts here when I’m irritable or sad, but writing is my outlet and more effective than jumping in front of a car at a Trump road rally and waving a middle finger. (Which really did happen not far from me, but I won’t get into politics today). No, today is devoted to the story of my fourteen-year-old-dog Guinness, a mixed breed rescue whose bloodline was unknown. Judging from his fur and herding behavior it was safe to assume he was border collie, with possibly lab and setter or spaniel thrown in.

A couple of years after our golden-retriever-lab Allie passed, I decided it was time for another family dog (as it turned out, he wasn’t a family dog. He was unequivocally mine, though this wasn’t by my design). An internet search pointed us to a shelter an hour and a half away in North Judson, Indiana, a rural area with a population of not quite two thousand. The place was called Starke County Animal Control, and to say it was stark is putting it mildly. The facility was about as ramshackle as it gets; understaffed, peeling paint, smelly, with adoptable dogs tethered outside on concrete. The guy in charge literally looked like what you’d envision a meth addict would. Rail thin, bad teeth, crooked glasses, straw for hair. Every shaky step he took looked like it might be his last. I’m not exaggerating, either. The kids are my witness, and so would my mother in law be if she were alive. It was the definition of grim. No doubt everyone we dealt with that day were good people trying to do their best with a bareboned budget, and this is what I told everyone in the car later as they twittered about the walking dead manager.

The kids had their eye on a couple of dogs, but the one I kept coming back to was this sleek, handsome black and white guy yelping nonstop at me. They all were, of course, which if you’ve been to a shelter you know it’s deafening and sad. The reality of these animals watching you go away without them is horrible. So we took “Skunk” home (yes, that was his very redneck sounding name, and being Irish, well, Guinness seemed a good fit for a re-christening), and guess what? Within twenty-four hours he was ill. Not just garden variety sick, but the hospitalizing, IV-giving, house-payment-equivalent kind of sick, in which he had to be monitored for days.

He was diagnosed with parvo. I was utterly flummoxed, but I knew, amongst arguments and debate as to whether to take him back to Starke County, I knew I could not do it. I knew they’d put him down the minute I came through the door, because they didn’t have the resources to care for him. And I did.

He recovered quickly, once home and showered with TLC, and his true nature burst forth. Boy, was I ever schooled. The vet guessed he was between six and nine months old, and he had every undesirable puppy trait you can imagine. Peeing on rugs? Check. High pitched yiping? Check. Annoying jumping? Check. Destructive? Well, let’s see. Gloves, shoes, rare caps from Ireland that couldn’t be replaced, a tent, pencils, pens, a DS player, Star Wars figures, and AT LEAST fifteen different types of dog beds. All shredded over a two to three year span and maybe even longer with the beds. I’m sure there are more valuables I’m forgetting.

We were informed that a tired pup is a good pup, that he did these things out of boredom, and he had working dog traits and we needed to provide substitutes for that and we should enroll him in classes. So I dutifully walked him and walked him and walked him, and our oldest son helped me the most with this. I even tried running with him (and trust me, I am NOT a runner), but all he wanted to do was sprint and then jerk to a stop to sniff every blade of grass in between. I was told all of this could be trained out of him. It was all training, training and more training. Eager to do whatever I could, son Danny and I took him to obedience classes, and that, too, was a complete fail. He leaped around constantly, anxious at the other dogs and the incessant barking/whining around us. The instructor told us we were too soft, our voices weren’t firm enough, that we needed to be the ones in charge, and on and on. We became official doggy school dropouts.

I had dreams of whatever pup I adopted becoming a therapy dog. Needless to say, this vision was put to rest in record time. Not only did he not have the temperament, but HE should’ve had one for himself. And one for me, too, now that I think of it.

Aside from the chewing and typical young dog stuff though, he was sweet, whip-smart, and he kept me active, which, as much as I might have groaned at all the rain, wind and snow storms I walked through with him, was good for me. I was at a point in my life where my kids sadly didn’t need me much anymore, and he filled that gap and then some. He depended on me, worshipped me, loved me in the way we humans can’t, and that goes a long. long, way when you’re feeling invisible.

It went a long way to help make up for the other behaviors that soon were unearthed, that’s for sure. When he reached dog “adolescence”, his protectiveness kicked in. He began acting unpredictably around strangers coming to the house and also strange dogs. If he didn’t like what he smelled or saw, he’d nip or snap with a lip curled and the hackles raised. I became an expert at interpreting his signals, but it was exhausting and embarrassing. And, I was worried it would spiral and lead to something really bad.

My mom was in the hospital, dying, when hubs and I took him to another trainer for a consultation. It did not go well. He was his usual anxious, non-listening, whining-at-being-restrained self, and she wasn’t impressed. She snapped her fingers at him, yelled “SIT DOWN”, and he did, to his credit, but not for long. She looked at me and said, “this dog is incredibly rude. He needs appropriate manners.” Of course, that meant enrolling in her classes. I said I would think about it, fled to the car and promptly burst into tears. I had tried so, so, hard, and with one dismissive wave of her hand and my mom slipping further and further away, I felt complete defeat.

Perhaps we just were not the right fit for him, I thought. Even with our endless hikes, every single day he eyeballed the front door for an elusive crack in which he could pry open, the tiniest opportunity to slip through and bound out like a reindeer into the freedom of the waiting forest. He’d be gone for hours, even in the bitterest cold, trailing after the thousands of animal scents and chasing God knows what. I’d wake up every couple of hours, calling him, getting in the car sometimes to drive our circle and try to entice him to the car. Frustratingly he would run up to me or one of the family, head to toe in creek filth and slime, and leap off the second we got close to catching him. If you have dogs, I don’t need to tell you the rage that bubbles up at this “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” cat and mouse crap. And yet, what do the “experts” recommend when your animal decides to saunter home? “Greet them joyfully, do not scold them, or they will be afraid to return.” I actually managed to achieve this, MOST of the time, because damn it, he knew. He’d slink in apologetically and sleep off his jaunt for hours. Until the next time, again and again.

All these things combusted to make me wonder if I shouldn’t try to find a loving farm home for him. He probably would chase off all the undesirables and whatever else is needed in an outside dog, and he’d get to do his favorite thing. Run. Constantly. In the end I decided I would make the best of it. The idea of another adjustment, of him sleeping lonely in a cold barn at night, and his strong attachment to me, won out. And I’m so glad it did.

Like many of us, Guinness mellowed as he grew older. He became gentler, more accepting of other animals and people, and more enjoyable to walk. He always, always, attracted comments for his beautiful coat and form. “Such a handsome fellow,” folks would say. Kids naturally gravitated to him, wanting to pet him, and for all his tendencies, he never showed aggression toward children. That would’ve been and is a deal breaker for me. He loved camping and laying in the sun and breeze, and he truly was easier as time went by. Someone I knew once said, “That’s the thing about dogs. You put up with their bullshit for years, they become the perfect dog, and then they die.”

Yes. They do. They lose their hearing, their teeth get bad, their hips and hearts fail, or they might get crankier or more anxious. Sounds like a day in my life. And just like the human dying I’ve witnessed, what felt especially cruel to me is the way in which Guinness met his end. The fastest, most agile and light-footed dog I had ever seen, falling victim to a weird and evil syndrome, attacking his balance and ability to even stand. Of course, death in any form is never pretty, but this. This was on a level that knocked us both to our knees, with the worst part being I couldn’t explain to him, “Look, dude, this is what’s going on.” All I could do was lay next to him, stroke him, tell him I was sorry, and make the dreaded call. I hope he knew.

We wonder what is wrong with us that we keep signing up for this heart-wrenching gig over and over, knowing the end is likely the same. Sort of like when you give birth to a baby and you think, “that’s it. Never again.” Some people don’t, so scarred by the loss, or life circumstances, but most cave in at some point for one reason or another. As for me, we shall see. I’m in love with my granddog Grace, the BEST, BEST, BEST, dog ever, and that’s enough for now.

First, I gotta get used to the vacant rug, beds, dog dish, leash, and the heartbreakingly empty space next to me as I walk our beautiful Michigan trails. But even with all that, there’s the hardest absence, that thing we humans haven’t conquered, which is absolute, total adoration and unconditional acceptance of the ones we love. That was his gift to me, effortless on his part, and I thank him for that lesson and the many others he taught me.

Cheers, friends. We’ve got work to do.


It’s not dark yet

“There’s not even room enough to be anywhere

Not dark yet,

But it’s gettin’ there…

Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain,

Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain…”  —-Bob Dylan

God, I love that song.  Don’t look up Bob’s version, either.  Look up “Not Dark Yet,” on Youtube, with Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynn.  They are INCREDIBLE.

So, warning: this post is probably not a feel-good one, but if you follow along with me you may recognize many of my blog entries are not always mood-lifters.  I process through my writing, and this is what’s in my hot-flash-addled brain these days.  By the way, menopause and masks are not a good combo, in case you were wondering.

Good morning, friends. Today’s post is brought to you not by beer but by coffee.  It’s happened before, believe it or not.  Although I am now reminded of a bottle of coffee porter our friends dropped off the other day that I won’t hesitate to break open.  I never in my wildest dreams would have thought beer and coffee flavors would go together…but trust me, they do.  Porters are roasty and so is good coffee.  Enough said.  There’s also a dark chocolate bar those same friends gave me that would compliment this menu.  A breakfast of champions, right?  Let me just roll my over-caloried  and alcohol soaked self right out of April, where it’s been Groundhog day every day.  Here’s what I’ve become: Get up.  Coffee and toast.  Maybe shower, maybe not.  Maybe change clothes, maybe not.  Check email, Facebook, and current rants about corona. Deal with animals and check for evidence of poop, puke, and pee throughout the house.  Decide what will be for dinner.  Maybe write.   Think about doing zoom yoga and decide not to.  Walk.  Clean, then bake and eat hordes of butter-laden items.  Walk dog.  Check for pee again.  Make dinner and take pictures of dinner.  Dishes.  Drink.  Watch latest shelter-in-place- show, in between checking social media rants again.  Go to bed.

Sound familiar? Many of you are homeschooling and working, in addition to all of this. It’s hard, and so is the relentless monotony.  Also, I’m not joking about the animal excretions part.  Having two geriatric pets guarantees this clean-up is part of my routine now; as is nature’s miracle, Skout’s honor laundry additive, smelly kidney-helpful cat food, homeopathic drops, an extra litter box, pee pads, and arthritis meds.  Scarily,  this is possibly my future, too.  The other day I looked at the dog’s gray hair and bowlegged gait, and I announced to my husband, “Everyone’s old in this house!”  He didn’t disagree.

Most of you have seen those posts, “Take advantage of this new time!  Be at one with your spouse and your cadre of ever-growing children! Play board games and cook eight course meals! Re-evaluate your life, your inner glow, your neglected goals! Be grateful for family!”  I try, I really do.  I’ll bet you’re trying, too.  And I’m already over it, sorry to say.

Having an “empath” personality, which I do, sounds like hippy guru type stuff.  Very in touch with the universe and all that. Which I guess might be true, but it also means it’s extremely difficult to turn the thoughts off:  “I hate what this virus is doing to divide our country even more”, “I hate not seeing my family and friends, and my live music,” “I hate what’s happening to our small businesses,” “I hate that people are in nursing homes all alone,” “I hate that everyone is paralyzed with fear at the idea of touching another person,””I hate that kids are glued to computers more than ever, can’t see their friends, and might be cooped up with maniacal family members…” It goes on and on in a loop.

Sorry.  I did warn you.

It occurred to me that part of the virus-fueled fear I mentioned above, is closely related to our relationship with death. Maybe that sounds too obvious, but what isn’t obvious to many is how unskilled we are at grasping the reality of death happening.  Everything in our culture is geared toward how to stall and prevent it.  I believe the majority of us get a big fat zero at “being comfortable” at the inevitability.  Of course, with good reason.  We’re wired to fight for survival.  The older you get, though, (theoretically), the more at peace with the afterlife one becomes.

I learned so much about death when I took a hospice volunteer training years ago.  This was before I began losing family members in what felt like a three year plague.  When that plague hit I remembered what Hospice taught about dying.  I remembered that it’s natural, that we should take control of the process as much as we can, to see that it happens peacefully and with minimal suffering.  For ourselves, and our loved ones.  I think that’s what’s so terrifying for the world at this point.  A disease like Covid-19 attacks our choices, our say in how to carry on, and how we might die.  My preferred method sure as hell isn’t laying with a ventilator behind a partition, petrified that I might be infecting the nurses taking care of me.  My personal mini-pandemic a few years back resulted in me clarifying what I DIDN’T want for myself when that time came, and to make sure others were aware too.  So when I think about my end I’m not really afraid, unless it’s that above hospital scenario.  If I knew tomorrow would be my last day on earth, there are two things I would regret: missing out on grandparent-hood, and not finishing my #@$damned book.  No pressure on the kiddos, but I hereby put my writer friend Kris in charge of finishing the manuscript if I don’t.  She’d make a fine author.  I might have to will her a lifetime of coffee porters to see it to the finish.

Here’s the eternal, painful, predicament: the deeper the connection, the harder the loss.  But what else would we do?  Not have the experience?  It’s certainly tempting to take a pass after a pet dies.  Who can stand the thought of going through that over and over?  My son and daughter-in-law are in this anguish as I speak.  Yesterday, their kitty of seven years named Beatrice passed away quite traumatically.  Black and white, docile, chubby, and agreeable Bea, with her rotund belly and disproportionately tiny head.  She enjoyed sitting in boxes too small and lounging on the windowsill, but most of all she liked laps with blankets.  Unlike most cats, she was decidedly ungraceful, making us all laugh with her failed attempts to land jumps.  But also unlike a lot of finicky felines, she was cuddly and loving as could be.  As fate would cruelly have it, one minute she was there, the next she was not, and we are all heartbroken.  I can’t stop crying as I think of her, and my daughter-in-law trying to help her.  Although it’s on another level, this kind of jarring loss is comparable to that of a violent crash.  The unexpected shock, vs. the long, downward decline everyone dreads.  And always, always, the question that haunts: was there something else that could’ve been done?  The answer for people who wonder this is almost always no, but asking it means you loved, and you cared.

It hurts.  Living hurts, I guess, if you do it right.

It all stings deeply, whether its the old, young, animal, human, and if the demise is fast or slow.  I feel the effect is magnified during a time when we’re forbidden from having contact except through a screen.  I’m sad in a myriad of ways due to the last couple of months, and although I may want to drink through it, I won’t make the mistake of clamping down or denying it, and you shouldn’t either.  Why are the tears we shed from an onion chemically different than ones shed from grief?  There’s a reason why God made us in this fashion.  Not to be overly dramatic, but this limbo we are in is like a mourning, and we should treat it as such.  It’s when we wallow endlessly and obsess in our despair that we need a change to take place.

Ready for my one paragraph of positive prose?  I think I detect a pattern in my blog writing.

There is light coming, like shards of sun peeking through the blinds.  Logically, we know this.  Spring is here, and so are the blooms that give us joy.  Babies will be born, kittens and puppies will frolic and be adopted and help heal aching holes, and there are bluebirds nesting in my twenty-something year old box.  Orioles will come to feast on the fruit and grape jelly, dazzling in their orange and black glory.  I have to tell you how much I cherish those birds.  In elementary school, my son Danny brought home a mother’s day card with the word mother in an acronym. The other words for the letters were typical adjectives describing me, clearly suggested by a teacher.  With one exception.  For the E in mother, he wrote, “E is for eager to see oreal birds.”  I was so glad his teacher never corrected his spelling, making it that much dearer.  And never have I been more eager to hear their lovely warbling than I am right now.

Along with nature, in the coming months some shops and pubs will emerge unscathed, while delicious beer will be made, and concerts will be held again.  We will get to kiss and hug without personal protection equipment, and even if so and so says we shouldn’t yet, I will do it anyway.

I’ll be okay.  I’m even going camping this weekend, where 6 feet away friends and a campfire await.  It’s not dark yet.  And that was more than one paragraph of good news.

Cheers, friends. Until we can meet in person, send a little love or good vibes toward the famed rainbow bridge that just welcomed another furbaby, and the two humans who loved her the most.  Rest in peace, sweet Bea.