Fall

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.

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Falling leaves and temperatures . . . must mean cold dogs and NaNoWriMo!

Over the weekend, I spent most of my time writing (this is National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write 50K words), but when Izzy and I went out walking, it struck me that autumn is at its peak.  This morning, I realized winter is on its way.  We’ve had our first frost.

Saturday night, Izzy and I scuffed through piles of leaves that industrious neighbors blew off their fading lawns and onto the sidewalk.  At first, he didn’t want to plow through them, and I had to cajole him to hop right on in.  He’s short, so there were times the leaves were over his head, and he’d pop up, leaves stuck to his nose and to his coat (which needs to be cut before the end of the week — he’s having more “bad hair days” than good lately).  After the first couple of leaf dives, he discovered it’s much more fun than he thought, and now he’s searching out those piles of crunchy playthings.  Now I’m the one reticent to dive in since I’m not sure whether the snakes who’ve just shed their skins might be finding a hiding place under the warmth of the fallen leaves.

While we were walking down Main Street, I glanced up at the sky.  The black storm clouds were backlit with fiery reds, lemon yellows and pumpkin oranges, mirroring the colors of the leaves hanging on the trees along the street.  The whole world seemed warmed by the autumnal colors.  In the air, the smell of woodsmoke reminded me that the season for lighting the fireplace was upon us.  The air, brisk and clean, prickled at my cheeks.  Even Izzy seemed to recognize the change in season and he popped along beside me as if invigorated by the chillier air.

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On Saturday night, I relished the extra hour of sleep, and Izzy didn’t seem to mind it either, but this morning I had to get up for work, and Izzy’s internal clock hadn’t registered Daylight Savings Time.  He started poking me with his paw around 4:35 AM.  Twice, I said, “ten more minutes, Izzy,” but he wasn’t listening.  He hopped over me and sat on the floor near my head.  I could feel him standing beside me, paws on the bed, sniffing my hair and quietly “woofing” — as if to say, “Here’s a gentle reminder that it’s time to get up, woman.  Let’s go!”

He lasted until 5:30.  No matter how many times I rolled over, it wasn’t working to ignore him anymore.  So I got up, put on three layers and my gloves and headed out into the 37 degree morning.

Yup, it ain’t warm in North Carolina anymore.

Herding the pack and Why Friends Are Necessary

Over the weekend, the weather improved from its bone-chilling factor to a rather reasonable and mild 50-60 degree range.  Though I couldn’t do the hike I had wanted to do with Izzy, I did get in some nice walks, and we were lucky to find Peggy and Ellie at home — with visitors!  Nothing like a Fall romp in the leaves with dogs, but when they’re all the same size, are great friends, and absolutely adorable, it makes it even better.

Whenever I’m with dogs, I am struck by how much they teach us.  The attention to detail that Izzy spends when we’re walking always reminds me that I need to pay the same amount of attention to my writing.  He notes every new sound, whether it’s in the neighborhood, up in the sky or in the trees.  This weekend, he heard a new bird, and even though I have no clue what type of bird it is, I can guarantee that Izzy separated that birdsong from the others we hear regularly.  And the sound of fire engines and ambulances on the boulevard several blocks away made Izzy (and the other dogs in the neighborhood) howl in response to the high-pitched noise.  He’s also aware that the seasons are changing, and his gait reflects his pleasure in the piles of leaves he can sniff, as well as the cooler temps.

But this weekend’s most important lesson was about friendship.  I have always valued my friends and have kept in touch with everyone who has been special to me through the years, from my first friend (we met before kindergarten and have been friends ever since) to those I’ve worked with recently at various colleges.  I drop a card or an email or just a comment on Facebook to let people know I’m thinking of them, and I truly treasure the moments we’ve spent together.  The only way to have friends is to be one, that’s my mantra.

Izzy’s excitement when he sees his little buddies knows no bounds, and when I see him (and them) greet each other with that quiver that only dogs can have when greeting someone they care about, I am reminded that we need to show that same kind of pleasure when we see people whose presence in our lives is special.

Next time you see someone you like, wag that tail of yours a little.  Friends are necessary.  They lower our blood pressure and make little problems laughable.

Here’s the pack of Izzy’s friends this weekend.  A smile for a Monday morning.  From left to right:  Cocoa, 6 month old chocolate Poodle; Ellie, 5 year old Maltese; Izzy, 2 year old Shichon; and Maggie, black Poodle (I think she’s 3).

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