December 31, 2012 § 3 Comments
A friend sent me an email yesterday saying that he had to put his dog down. He added that the dog was gentle to the last and ended with “No more dogs for me.” I could tell that his heart was broken.
Our pets touch us like no one else does; perhaps it is because their love is so unconditional – which is a rare experience for most of us. A dog’s loyalty and devotion are hard to find in our everyday world. Our pets do not judge us or try to ‘improve’ us. They accept us the way we are, warts and all.
When a pet dies and that source of love is gone, we can feel bereft and like my friend, say we will not let our hearts be open to that kind of loss again. That is the big drawback to pets – we almost always outlive them. But it is also their greatest gift to us for they can teach us how to face death with acceptance if we are strong enough to stay till the end.
Over the years I had many dogs and cats but it has only been in the last ten years or so that I was strong enough (brave enough?) to sit beside them as they died. Before that I was too afraid. It is a privilege to be there at the end for what can be more intimate than the moments of birth and death – and these our pets are willing to share with us.
It seems as if death can be a long time coming but when it does arrive it is very swift and sure. Towards the end, the eyes are already traveling homeward while the body waits in stillness. Then as suddenly as a stolen kiss the light blinks out and the soul flies. Ah! … and we are left to continue without them.
And yet they ask: does a dog have a Buddha nature.
My little dog, a heartbeat at my feet. Edith Wharton
April 19, 2012 § 5 Comments
After several weeks of fairly constant rain, the sun arrived a few days ago and in response the trees are in leaf – a million shades of green from chartreuse to apple to emerald. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to push the comforter from the bed and today the temperature is expected to hit 80 (where are my shorts!). We are getting a taste of the summer to come.
The little Russian Mister who lives upstairs came down yesterday with a smile on his face. The kidney stone he was suffering from has either passed or is in abeyance. He patted his stomach and said, “Good, good.” I congratulated him and waved as he started off on a walk around the block.
Speaking of walking, another phenomenon has recently arisen along with the clement weather and longer days. About four o’clock every afternoon a parade of dog walkers emerge from their various apartments. Armed with plastic poop bags, water bottles and sun hats these intrepid exercisers make numerous circuits around the complex while loudly chatting to each other about the other residents.
The old observation about dogs resembling their masters is mostly true, the exception being those who are the exact opposite of the owners in which case it is perhaps an anima/animus thing (no pun intended); to whit, the very large, mean-looking lady using a walker who has a small black submissive Silky Terrier. (I don’t think I got all the commas and semi-colons right in that sentence).
Then there is the short, sprightly, gray haired lady who owns a small, sprightly, gray haired Airedale terrier; the large, sort of sloppy guy who wear Bermuda shorts and black nylon socks with oxfords who drives an extra large, floppy King Charles Spaniel; the skinny fluttery lady who is in charge of two excitable Chihuahuas; and the slim, Asian lady who furtively scoots up and down the sidewalk with her black and white Lhasa Apso.
Sweetie Pie enjoys viewing this daily parade from the comfort of her patio seat and I often join her to share observations. Yesterday I had to gently remonstrate when she loudly sniggered as the King Charles Spaniel sat down and yawned mid-walk and her owner wagged a chubby finger trying to overrule her intractable behavior.
Then there was the time the two Chihuahuas circled and criss-crossed so many times the fluttery lady was completely tied up with leashes. That provoked a guffaw on both our parts as we happily traded anecdotes about other tie-me-up, tie-me-down scenarios we had experienced in our younger days.
The parade also has its runway aspect which is not to be confused with any kind of air travel unless you’re flying to Paris. The submissive Silky Terrier and the gray-haired Airedale Terrier are both Fashionistas, which is like being a Fascist but without wearing black shirts and tall boots although there is an obvious European connection particularly when you consider the pedigree of the dogs in question.
Both Terriers sport an array of costumes, from cute emerald green jackets with four leaf clover designs for St. Patrick’s Day, to bright plaid overcoats suitable for a day at links, and not to mention the yellow slicker a la Paddington Bear for rainy afternoons.
In fact, Sweetie and I noticed, with some astonishment and raised eyebrows I might add, the rainy day the Silky Terrier rode in the big lady’s walker and cast a jaundiced eye, which is similar to being supercilious but more yellow, on the slightly soaked King Charles Spaniel that was now dutifully trotting beside his owner.
Now that summer is just around the corner Sweetie Pie and I are both looking forward to long lazy afternoons spent drinking mint juleps on the patio and making snide (which is related to supercilious but sneakier) comments to each other as we watch the every changing parade pass by.
March 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I discovered on this morning’s walk that I have lost my whistle. It happened just as we were rounding the corner and coming down the home stretch. Cassie had stopped to investigate the wonderful smells emanating from a fireplug while I had continued down the block. When I looked back and saw her still lingering, I puckered my puss and got ready to let rip a few trebling notes.
Now this was an old signal between the Cass and me. It consisted of five short blasts upon the tooter and more or less meant, “Heads up, old girl, we’re moving on.” Imagine my surprise when I puckered and instead of those clarion calls of old, a few feeble puffs issued forth.
I picked up my aplomb from the sidewalk, blew out my cheeks a few times to loosen said labials and let loose with another go round. Poof, poof, poof. Nothing! I was thrown into consternation, which if like being concerned only more confusing.
For the next few minutes, I huffed and puffed, I puckered and pursed, all to no avail. My tweeter was definitely on the fritz. When had this happened, I pondered? Was this a result of all those torturous years of playing the clarinet? Had Benny Goodman put a curse on me from on high? Why hadn’t I noticed the five warning signs of whistle loss? As my eyes glazed over, I threw back my shoulders and contemplated a whistle-less future.
I would no longer be able to converse with the birds in the morning. Iranian taxi drivers, with whom I had already had a tempestuous relationship, would regard me with even deeper disdain. I would not be able to hail old friends, should I happen to see any, from across the street. I would no longer be able to show my connoisseur’s appreciation of some young man’s prowess. I would no longer be able to join in the chorus when the dwarfs set off to work. I would never be able to watch Bridge on the River Kwai again and feel the same camaraderie.
With the picture of that bleak future before me, I suddenly understood the origin of dirty old men. They, too, had whistle dysfunction. When a pretty girl went by, their aging lips failed them, leaving them silent and emasculated. What used to be communicated through the old wolf whistle in the end degenerates into the leer and pinch. Was this the future that awaited me, I shuddered. Was I destined to hang around neighborhood parks and malt shops? In fact, when was the last time I had seen a malt shop?
As I pondered these and other weighty matters, Cassie had joined me and, in fact, had moved into the lead and crossed the street. After waiting there patiently for a moment or two, she let loose with one of her famous howls. That snagged my wandering attention and I trotted to her side. Soon we were walking up the path where Roxanne the Cat was waiting, heavy disapproval at our absence visible in the set of her shoulders and the tilt of her tail. She gave a few imperative meows to hurry us up, then flipped her tail and led the way to the back door.
Then it hit me! This lip lassitude can be directly traced to a marked deficiency in my kissing quotient. When was the last time, I asked myself, that I took these lips out on the freeway and really blew out the carbon, so to speak. Too long, I answered. Aha! I responded, no wonder I can’t whistle.
So, this morning I am setting off on a regimen of low-impact, labial aerobics to get back into fighting trim. For my background accompaniment, I shall perhaps play some Jean Luc Ponty or Bela Fleck, the themes from The High and Mighty or Waltzing Matilda, or perhaps some Andean flute music. When I’ve gotten back my wind, I’m signing up for an off-site, intensive, hands-on, weekend seminar in whistle rehab.
That way, whenever anybody asks me if I know how to whistle, I’ll just put my lips together and blow.
“Rich men never whistle, poor men always do.” Stephen Elkins
February 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
Just the other day I read a post on Face Book by a pretty young woman who said, “I miss having a Valentine. I don’t like being alone.” And then there is the example of Charlie Brown and the little red-headed girl – always just out of reach.
Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in its potential for depression. Everybody is looking for the Other, that missing half of themselves that will complete them and usher in a Golden Age of happiness and contentment. Or, so they say.
I must admit my forays into valentinehood have not been all that successful. I was married once for about six years and followed that with a few select relationships afterwards. But these relationships never lasted. I was a clumsy student in the art of love.
In contrast the time I spent with each of my individual dogs was measured in lifetimes – from puppyhood to death. In the process I learned a lot about how to love and be loved. In fact, if I had had my dogs earlier in my life I would have been a better wife and mother. Here are a few of the lessons Champ, Beauregard, Cassie, Emmie and Kelly taught me.
Be loyal: this is the ‘for better or worse’ part. My dogs stuck by me when I was sick, broke, depressed or having a bad hair day. As long as we were together they were satisfied.
Be patient: no matter how badly they wanted to go for a walk, or chase the ball or get a treat, they knew how to wait until I was ready. They trusted me to take care of them.
Be yourself: dogs never pretend to be anything but what they are. No pretense, no games, no surprises.
Be grateful: just adopt a dog from the shelter and you have a friend for life. They appreciate what they have and show it.
Be open: dogs are ready for any adventure. Just open the car door or get out the leash and they’re with you no questions asked.
Be quiet: a dog knows how to listen when you’re feeling bad or need a hug. No words are necessary. They can absorb that sadness and give you back peace.
Be happy: dogs are naturally optimistic and happy. The depressed and neurotic ones have become that way because of their owners.
My canine companions taught me responsibility, compassion and loyalty. I’m still trying to live up to the examples they gave me. So this year my valentine is for them.
December 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A few blocks from my apartment is a wonderful city park that not only has the prerequisite swings and jungle gym but lots of trees, walking paths, tennis courts, a dog park, meandering stream and Japanese-like bridge perfect for pondering sad thoughts.
To me a park had always been the place where I walked briskly in the morning light, dog at my side, thoughts about the coming day bouncing in my head. But I no longer had a dog, nor because of arthritis could I walk very long without pain. Since I didn’t want to be reminded of how things had been but were no longer, in the last few years I have stayed away from parks.
But today was different. When I drove past the area park I felt and obeyed a magnetic tug. I pulled into the small parking lot, got my cane and sat down at the nearest picnic table. A wonderful combination of crisp leaves and pine was in the air. The sky was brilliant blue and the sun warm.
This time of the day – after breakfast but before lunch – was a quiet time. The children’s area was empty. There were no joggers on the paths but there were two older women walking and talking, and a big woman with a large slow dog marching in procession.
I looked at the bare limbs of a great oak stretched across the blue sky and remember Grandfather Tree, a large sprawling oak who had befriended me at another park in another time. This ancient patriarch stood alone, tall, magnificent and immovable along a lively stream. His trunk was so wide my arms could not encircle even one-third of his girth.
On my daily walk I would stop by for a moment, lean against Grandfather Tree and ask him to share some of his strength with me. When I could no longer walk the distance to reach him, I would stand at the edge of the path and send a thought of greeting. The old tree had something deep and wise and patient within and I felt a kinship with him.
Today I looked at lesser oaks that did not have Grandfather’s dignity or wisdom but shared nonetheless his deep grounding. I watched as a squirrel ran up and down a trunk while another dug eagerly beneath the leaves for some overlooked nuts. In their eager searching was a nervous, alert playfulness and although I made squirrely smacks and kisses they wisely viewed me from afar.
Then, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. A graceful crane circled once, twice, then settled in the small stream. The crane stood there silent as a sentinel on long pole legs, finally disappearing into the tall, yellowed willow stalks.
The sound of tires on gravel announced the arrival of another car into the parking lot. First a woman got out, walked over to a picnic table and pulled out a book to read. Next, a man emerged wearing bright, white sneakers. Without a word, he started down one of the walking paths.
Lastly, a second man got out and stood by the car. He was older and a short grayish beard ringed his cheeks and chin. At first I thought he was walking around to loosen up for some jogging but arms upraised, head erect, shoulders back, tummy tucked, he began moving seemingly in tempo to unheard music. Step right, then back, two, three. Step left, two, three, turn, pause.
Perhaps it was the fox trot, I speculated, as he continued his silent dance. I wondered if the woman he had traveled with might cut in but she remained immersed in her book. A man walking a handsome German Shepherd made a furtive detour around the dancing man and proceeded to a corner of the park where an operator of a small bull dozer was reshaping a knoll. Two older men joined them and soon arms were gesticulating, suggestions were flying and opinions were being proposed on slopes, gradients and perspectives.
A park gardener with a leaf blower arrived and broke up the confabulation and serenity of the scene. Soon small whirlwinds of dust and leaves filled the air. The woman reading a book beat a hasty retreat to the car, started the motor, then drove away. Where was the first man who had come with her and went walking?
And where was the dancing man? I looked to the right and then the left but he had disappeared. Had his fox trot conjured up some shape shifting transformation and he had flitted away? Had he succumbed to the eroticism of a tempestuous tango with the older lady with the large slow dog? Or, had he waltzed down a winding path and was he even now entertaining sad thoughts on the Japanese bridge while observing the white crane?
These and other speculations crowded my mind and gave rise to a delightful anticipation of future visits to the park. Would this mystery be solved or would the disappearance of the dancing man be forever an enigma? And what would be the final configuration of the bull dozer and knoll? And, the reading woman – would she return to finish her chapter, or perhaps pick up the jogging man she had so careless left behind?
September 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
I want a cat. I want a dog. Cat, dog, cat, dog! The debate has been raging now for nearly three weeks. The dog’s devotion and optimism, and yet, the cat … so sensitive, so sweet, so self-contained. You can take dogs places, plus they are great conversation starters at the park. But cats are so wise and have the makings of such great stories. What to do, what to do?
I have been petless for nearly a year and a half since my beautiful Siamese, Mimi the Cat, died at age 20 after a long and happy life. What you say! Have I forgotten Mikey! Did I not put a tick in the box beside “fish” in the pet census? Does Mikey not count? Well … in a word, no.
Fish occupy that nebulous category between knickknack and screen saver. They are more than a plant but less than an animal. That is not to say hat Mikey is not at the top of food chain as far as great fish go. We definitely communicate, especially when I tap the bowl and show him the bright yellow fish food container. And Mikey is no slouch in the looking good department. He swishes those long blue fins with the finesse of a fan dancer.
But it’s hard to hug Mikey, and there’s only so many cute things he says. But a cat or a dog now, you’ve gotten story material for life, and when you’re blue there’s nothing like a throaty purr or wagging tail to get your priorities back on line. So like I was saying the only debate I had was should I get a dog or a cat.
I visited shelters, spent hours online at Petfinder and lurked around Petsmart on the weekends. And then I saw that the Placer County shelter had so many cats they were giving them away – no adoption charge. Here was a pet I could afford!
As I read over the available felines I found several that caught my attention – not only were they older but some had been at the shelter since last spring. There’s nothing like gratitude for tight bonding. So yesterday I loaded the kitty carrier in the back of the car and set off for Placer County.
The first candidate, Pebbles, was a real talker and very restless. The second, Lucy, was extremely timid and fearful. But the third kitty, misnamed Nutmeg, was a real sweetheart. She had long black and white fur and big yellow eyes. She had been living on the streets since summer and at seven years old, she was definitely mature. I felt we already had a lot in common.
Before you could say “Here, kitty, kitty,” I was on the freeway with a passenger in the back. After I set up the litter box and the food and water bowls I opened the carrier and out she stepped. While I sat down and watched, she blinked a few times, sniffed the corners and then sat down for a late afternoon toilette.
When she was done, she came to where I was sitting, hopped on my lap and invited me to pet her which I did. We did experience some difficulty as she is not a long and lean type of kitty but more of the plump and round variety – another thing we shared in common.
When she sat across my lap her head and front paws hung over the edge; when she tried to sit beside me our mutual widths could not be accommodated in the extremely narrow easy chair. Later on I noticed that her plumpness could not be attributed to overeating (she had a light appetite like myself) but was probably plump as a result of a genetic curse (the similarities continued to astound me).
That night she joined me in bed. Except for an occasional hairball hack, the evening was quiet. She was quite adept at dodging my flailing arms and legs and on the two occasions when I made a quick trip to the bathroom she graciously accompanied me.
Now the only thing left to do is give her the right name. She is certainly not a “Nutmeg” but maybe a Fifi or Lena, a Madeline or Sofi. Or, how about Rachel, Louise, Dixie ….