Month: October 2014

Dogs and Death

One of the things that has always struck me as ironic is that we give our animals more dignity in death (usually) than we do our fellow human beings.  Whenever one of my animals has neared the end or contracted a deadly disease, I’ve had him/her “put down.”  I distinctly remember when my German Shepherd, Jessie, could no longer hold on at the old age of 19, and we made the decision to take her to the vet.

She couldn’t lift her head when I went out to the yard that morning to feed her.  For at least three years, her eyesight and hearing had been failing, but she still swung her tail, and she still knew that she was the one responsible for herding our other dog, a massive British Mastiff, whenever he was doing something wrong.  Though she couldn’t see me, nor hear me, when I touched her head, her tail wagged weakly, yet she couldn’t eat or drink.  I called my husband and told him to come home. Together, we went to the vet and held hands while he inserted the needle with the tranquilizers that would put her out of her misery.  Together, we cried like babies over the dog who’d been with us most of our adult lives.  Together, we buried her in the back yard where we would bury our Mastiff a scant three months later.  Leaving that house and their graves was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

During this season when all the leaves fall off the trees, the ground goes brown, and everything appears dead, Izzy is only excited.  He can see further, there are new smells, and somehow he seems to know that nothing is ever truly dead.  It’s just gone temporarily.  When we were walking this morning, it dawned on me that every day is new to him.  Ooh, what’s that over there?  Did I smell that yesterday?  I did?  Well, let me smell it again.  And that mean dog . . . there he is today.  Maybe he’ll be nice to me now.  Nope, he won’t.  Okay, let’s go the other way.  Even if he has done the same thing a hundred times, every time he does it again, it’s exciting.  He has no memory for the sadness of a dead rose bush or the crispiness of dead leaves on the ground.  A dormant rose bush is something new to investigate.  Those dead leaves?  Let’s scuff through them and throw them up in the air.

This season reminds me of all the people and things that no longer exist in my life:  those dogs I mentioned, my parents and grandparents, some friends.  I just lost my former mother-in-law last week, and the sadness that I have felt is one that deepens when I think about the fact that she is the last adult in my life.  There are no other generations before me.  I — and my siblings, my cousins, my friends — am the “older generation” now.  It dawns on me that every day brings me closer to the day that I, too, will no longer be part of this earth.

As with so many other life lessons, I learned this morning from Izzy that age simply doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t recognize dogs because they are puppies or because they are senior.  He recognizes simply that they are friends (or, in some cases, animals he needs to avoid).  He has no idea where he ranks on the scale of age, nor does he care.  He simply does.  He simply lives.  He simply explores every day as if it’s the first one.

By the time we arrived back at the house from our morning walk today, my eyes were no longer wet with the grief I felt for my mother-in-law.  Instead, I thought about the last photo she took:  nestled in a wheelchair, she weighed about 50 pounds, her cheeks sunken and unable to hold her teeth.  She wore a knitted hat over her kinky gray hair and her church friends and pastor clustered around her chair, all grinning as if enjoying a party.  In her lap, a tiny chihuahua.  I can hear her voice as if I were there myself:  “How cute!  Look at him wigglin’ all ’round.”

This week, I watched a brief video with Oprah interviewing Eckhert Tolle about what happens to us after death.  He explained that our body is a shell, animated by atoms that are pure energy.  When that energy dissipates, it leaves the shell that is our body inert.  The energy simply rejoins the other energy that powers our earth and every living being on it.  We are everything.  Everything is us.

I think animals know that.

A Dog’s Vacation is Never Done

The past two weeks have been inhumanly difficult.  Not a dog’s life. Impossible, really.  And Izzy has known it.  Every night, he crawls up on my lap and lays his head on my hand.  If I try to work at night, he insists of being beside me, paw pulling my hand away from my laptop.  He stares at me with his dark, round eyes as if begging me to pay attention to him.  He knows that I don’t normally stay in anxiety mode when I get home.  I know yoga.  I know how to breathe.  I know how to relax.  But this past two weeks have required working non-stop and anxiety is my middle name.

It’s the perfect time for a stay-cation.

And Izzy knows that, too.

This morning, he crawled up on my lap while I was still in bed (doing my checkbook — yup, I know.  Enough with the nonstop work.) and insisted I pay attention to him.  You’ve been in another place for weeks, his gaze seemed to say.  You owe me.

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Last night, his eyes drooped as I stayed up until 1 AM reading.  This morning, he pulled me determinedly as we walked up Main Street, and he understood when we had to make a u-turn because I heard the old guy’s cane tapping as he walked his pittie mix a block ahead of us.  I didn’t want to deal with the dog’s growling and barking and pulling at the leash to get at Izzy.  I think Izzy understands when we have to make detours.  He knows who his friends are and who aren’t.  The black pug and the girlie boxer and the raggedy Shihtzu and the little Maltese are his friends.  He understands their names when I speak them, and he loves being able to say hello to them when we’re on walks, but he doesn’t mind at all when we don’t say hello to the pittie mix that hates us. Izzy’s smart that way.  He realizes that not everyone has to be your friend.  I need to learn that lesson.

This morning, Izzy kept close until I finished eating a late breakfast and took out the laptop again.  Then he looked at me, gave a little nod and moved into the other room to wait for the mail delivery.  This is our weekend routine, even though it’s not the weekend.  He knows our weekend pattern:  breakfast in bed, catching up on TV, some reading, then I go out for a while:  visit my grandson, see friends, come back every four hours or so to check up on Izzy, more relaxed, not stressed like during the week.

By the end of this little stay-cation we’re about to start, I will have let loose of the anxiety. I will write and read.  I will see friends and family.  Izzy and I will have walked long walks at least twice a day.  He will have visited the groomer and will have shed at least five pounds of fur.  He will have cuddled with me on the couch for hours.  He will have greeted some of my friends who will visit.  He will have taught me the meaning of vacationing.  He will have simply enjoyed being with me.  Living.

Izzy’s Issues with Acorns

It’s 6:15 AM and my little street in Roxboro, North  Carolina sounds like Saigon during the height of the Vietnamese War.  Pop-pop-bang.  Bangbangbangbang.  Pow!

Izzy jumps.  I look to see where the sound is coming from.  Is it a car backfiring?  Someone firing a rifle at a squirrel or a raccoon?

I’m awake now, and the sound keeps going.  Ba-bang-bang.  Pop-pop-pop.  Still looking upwards, I trip and in catching myself, I look down.  The street is littered with acorns.  Hundreds of them on the sidewalk.  Little piles of them in the gutters.  Way too many scattered everywhere.  So that’s what the sound is.  There must be angry squirrels up in the trees loading up their little arms and filling their cheeks, then dropping the stash of acorns before they get to their nests.

Poppoppoppop!  The acorn machine-gun starts again, and Izzy whimpers as one hits him atop his head.  He does a little dance, glancing up at the tree we’re passing under, looking for those damn gray monsters he regularly chases when we’re walking down Main Street before the sun rises.  He stops and plants his feet, gives an angry growl, as if shaking a virtual fist at the squirrels he’s sure are sending small brown bombs from above.

spanglish squirrel

This is what is called a “mast year,” a year when ridiculously large amounts of acorns end up in piles beneath the trees.  Some scientists think it’s because the fruit of the nut is not eaten by birds and other animals (such as those pesky squirrels), while others believe it’s the weather (too much/too little rain) that results in either no acorns or the opposite — way too many.   Last year, there were complaints that there were few acorns (and in some places, none), but this year is just the opposite.  Some people in North Carolina state that there were a number of bear sightings in unusual places last year because they were searching for non-existent acorns.  Izzy and I are hoping that this year’s bumper crop means the bears will stay where they should.  I’m sure that the deer, who also eat the little brown nuts, will find themselves full and happy and that they are less likely to roam out in the open during hunting season.

Whatever the case, Izzy and I will be happy when the nasty, hard nuts disappear from the streets and sidewalks and from the angry squirrels who are probably laughing their fool heads off when they bop one of us with their tiny torpedoes.