Izzy

Izzy’s Happy the Book is Done — and so am I!

You may have wondered what happened to Izzy and me.  You may not.  Well, whether you have or haven’t, I’m going to tell you.  I was finishing my novel.  Now it’s done, and I am edging back toward normal.  Or  at least what can be called normal for writer types like me.  Once I hit the last key and sent the novel on to my hopefully-new-agent, the crud hit me, reminding me that I AM a human being even though I often forget that part.  After a visit to urgent care and doctor’s orders to stay home for a week (bronchitis, verging on pneumonia), I’m back to tinkering on the keyboard.  Izzy has been a fine nurse for the past week, but I’m getting cabin fever, and as much as he likes me being home, I think he’s ready to have his naps whenever and wherever he wants them rather than following me around the house.

It’s funny, but this forced relaxation has made me ponder my writing.  I think of the novel-writing process as having physical stages.  There’s the Walking Stage.  In the very beginning of cooking up a novel, I take Izzy for long walks to let my brain work out the basic premise of the story where I don’t have to be bothered by techno-interruptions.  He loves that part.

Then there’s the Hopping Stage.  This is the part where I’m getting the outline down on the page.  There’s a lot of hopping up to get tea, then settling back in for a while, growling a lot, then hopping back up to get more tea . . . or if it’s past noon somewhere, wine.  Lots of wine.  Izzy gets patted a lot during this stage.

The next stage is the Scrunching Stage.  I’m at the table or on the couch or in the bed scrunched over the laptop or a pad of paper.  Unfortunately, my butt gets wider during this stage, Izzy is walked less, and I tend to eat a lot of brownies or chocolate chip cookies or pizza.  Definitely not a healthy stage.  But Izzy loves pizza crust!

The third stage is the longest, but the fourth stage–the Yoga Stage–is the best one.  Because my back and shoulders are so sore from the Scrunching Stage, I have to do lots of yoga to work out the kinks when I’m in the process of editing and proofreading.  Izzy’s really good at Down Dog, but he sucks at headstands.

Finally, the last stage.  The Staring into Space and Thinking Stage.  Not much physical movement other than with the eyes.  Often I’m rolling them at some stupid paragraph or closing them to imagine where I was going with a scene or rubbing them because I’m just so damn tired.  During this stage, my laptop is somewhere near at all times.  Izzy’s sick of the novel by this stage and pushes his way into my lap, no matter what kind of tasty treats I throw to the floor to keep him busy.  He protests that it’s time for him again, and he’s right.

Unfortunately, it seems that after the novel is done, I have a final-final stage when my body and mind are exhausted and need some rejuvenation.  It’s during this stage that Izzy earns his keep, because then he becomes Nurse Izzy, and though he often sleeps on the job, he’s the best Nurse in the world.

Now if I could just talk him into buying a publishing company . . . .

Sleepy Nurse

Sleepy Nurse

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The Sounds of the Dog Walk

ImageI’ve been thinking about the various sounds I hear, especially early in the morning, when I take Izzy for walks.  Some of them are the usual:  the world waking up around us, birds stirring, leaves rustling, the breathing of every living thing.  Others make no sense at all, unless you live in the small rural town in North Carolina where Izzy and I explore something new each day.

In the morning, a rooster who lives across the railroad tracks makes certain that everyone knows he’s around.  The ra-a-ra-a-roooo echoes down my quiet street and Izzy’s ears perk up.  Unfortunately, that rooster really has no clue what time it is, because he cock-a-roos at all hours of the day and night.  It’s just easier to hear him when everything else is silent.

The other dogs in the neighborhood are let out into their respective yards, so those sounds are part of the fabric.  The shepherd mix across the street is still yawning as the sun comes up, so he does little more than give us a ‘huff’ as we go by.  The two rescues behind the fence on the corner are invisible to us (I’ve literally never seen them), but Izzy sniffs through the fence at them to say ‘good morning’ and they do their usual crazy, frantic barking as they trace us from the inside of their compound.  The chihuahua that lives around the corner doesn’t go out into his fenced in section of the yard until later in the day, so we’re spared his craziness.  (That’s one dog both Izzy and I can live without.)  And there are several others that are either just waking up in their houses and want to be let outside or who have already spent the evening tied up in the yard and want to eat.

But those aren’t the only sounds.  The turkey vultures that nest in a huge magnolia behind Mr. Mendoza’s house lift in unison–25-30 big birds–and the whoosh-whup-whoosh of their wings sends shivers down my spine, whether it’s first thing in the morning or late at night when I can’t see them.  Izzy stops whatever he’s doing and lifts his head to the sky to watch them.

Robins always tempt Izzy to chase them because they poke around the edge of the newly-mown yards in the hopes of getting a worm.  Though Izzy is fast, he hasn’t caught one yet (thankfully), but that doesn’t mean he’s quit trying.  Cardinals swoop past us, a flash of scarlet and a quick double whistle-clack-clack-clack, to signify they’re on the move.  The dainty call of a pretty Eastern Bluebird as it sings to its mate, the low coo of the soft gray doves that live in the rafters of the stately brick house on the corner of Main Street, the insistent call of a blue jay guarding its nest.  Normal bird sounds.

Then there’s the gas station on the Boulevard where a verse from the “Car Wash” song blurts every couple of minutes (and, personally, drives me nuts–Izzy doesn’t even notice anymore).  And the bang of trucks filling with lumber at the lumber store further down Main Street.  During the day, those sounds disappear into the fabric of other, louder sounds:  bleeping car horns, the occasional whine of a police siren, the rumbles of trucks.  Not to mention the phone that rings at all hours of the day and night — I think it’s on a stereo speaker so that the mechanic to whom it belongs can answer whenever he’s outside, but why do people call at 6 AM and let it ring and ring and ring?

My favorite sounds of all, though, are the ones Izzy makes.  He huffs and sniffs at dandelions, whines softly when we pass the dogs unlucky enough to be on ropes in their backyards, burps loudly when we stand waiting at the corner.  He’s my funny companion, quieter than most, but his language is just as recognizable as the language of the morning, the sounds of our dog walk.

“Lassie, Come Home!”

We all have those dreams that come back to haunt us–the dream about running, the one about the haunted house, that nightmare about missing the first day of work/school–and we have daytime fears that make us crazy.  One of mine is losing Izzy.  

Izzy has never learned how to come when called.  Even in the house, if I ask him to come so he can get a treat or his supper or a ball, he’ll come just-so-close, then stand out of reach, ignoring me by turning his head from side to side, as if when he doesn’t look at me, it negates my need to have him come right up to me.  Outside, it’s worse.  Occasionally, I will let him off the leash to play with his friend Ellie, but that stopped when he took off after a groundhog one day and it took me almost fifteen minutes to catch up with him and get him to come to me so I could click his leash back on.  When he was younger, he would see one of his dog friends across the street and immediately lunge, trying to run across the street.  If I didn’t have a good hold on his leash, he would get away from me.  And there have been a few times he’s dashed out of the house, across the street without looking, disappearing into a neighbor’s yard.  

Yup, losing Izzy is one of my fears.

Years ago, I actually did lose a dog.  My German Shepherd, Jessie, was 18 at the time and well trained.  She would come and sit/stay at my heels until I told her to leave.  We had gone to obedience school with police dogs, so she knew all of the tricks and was smart enough to pay attention.  I can honestly say she was the best trained dog I’ve ever had — and the best trained dog I’ve met.  Izzy, on the other hand, is not and never will be.  The day Jessie disappeared, we had just moved from Vermont to Florida.  We had spent three days unpacking and were ready for a break, so my husband and I took the afternoon off and went to the beach.  As it does every day during the summer, a thunderstorm rolled in around 3, and we headed home.  When we arrived, the garage door was open and our Mastiff, Joshua, was lying in the garage, staying cool, but Jessie was nowhere in sight.

For weeks, we went everywhere looking for her, posted signs on telephone poles, visited every animal shelter within a twenty-mile radius.  Finally, we figured that Jessie was on her way back to Vermont since she really didn’t know her way around Florida.  She had lost most of her hearing, making it difficult for us to walk the neighborhoods calling her.  How could she hear us?  

One night, we took Josh out and walked a different route around the neighborhood, letting him do his “boy thing,” urinating on every pole and bush we passed.  Josh wasn’t much of a walker.  If we took him out with Jessie, she led the way and he plodded along behind.  Lazy was a good way to describe him.  He’d much rather mope around the backyard than go out on the leash.  But we thought that Jessie’s olfactory sense was still in good shape.  Might as well see if it would bring her home.

The next morning my husband went to the front door because he heard a noise.  He cried out Jessie’s name, which I thought was a cruel way of teasing me, but he wasn’t teasing.  There she was:  bloody paws, ribs showing, but her tail wagging as if proud of herself that she had found us.

She was never the same after that and we lost her about six months later, but she had found her way home.

I told that story to the woman who trained Izzy when she lost one of her Huskies over the weekend.  Postings on Facebook were almost frantic.  She formed a search party to comb Duke Forest in Durham where the dog had last been seen.  I told her to take her other Huskies out in the neighborhood, walk each of them in a different direction, then go home to wait.

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The good news is that Winter, the Husky, came home Sunday morning, greeting his pack early in the morning, bringing them all to full howls that woke up the neighborhood.  He had found his own way home.

I only hope that if Izzy ever gets away from me, he won’t make my nightmare a reality.  I hope that he can find his way home, too.

The Nurse Dog

The holidays mean a two week vacation and usually Izzy loves that I’m home.  This time, he liked it even more because he got to cuddle with me constantly, because I’ve been sick.  That’s also the reason for the lag in blog posts.  That said, he did have a good time on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day with my daughter’s two dogs. They were in the kitchen (my grandson loves to grab at them, so no need to tempt them).   Here’s a pic to make up for my silence.  Izzy’s lying on the floor next to Gordon, a Cockapoo, and Wilson (a Rat Terrier mix) is sitting in the background.

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Birthdays and Visits and More Car Rides with a Terrified Dog

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Izzy didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, probably because he thought I was going to force him into taking another car ride.

Yesterday, I put him in his ThunderShirt and took him for a long walk before getting into the car to head for my daughter’s house.  Izzy shivered so much, I finally pulled him onto my lap for the ride.  That’s something I never do, but driving for almost an hour and a quarter with him shivering and drooling and sliding on the glove box didn’t seem like a good idea.  He was a bit more comfortable on my lap, but I can’t say that I was.  I don’t like driving that way, even though he was completely still and didn’t impede me at all.

The up side of the ride was that Izzy got to spend the day with Gordon and Wilson, my daughter’s two dogs.  Gordon is a Cockapoo who thinks he’s human, and Wilson is a rescued Rat Terrier mix who was even more of a mess during his first year than my Izzy.  The three dogs played in the fenced in yard while I helped my daughter, who has thrown her back out.

It was my grandson’s birthday, his first birthday, so we played with his new toys, I read him the books I had bought him, and we had some cherished ‘grand’ time.

When we left, Izzy just about turned himself inside out to get his leash on, but when the ThunderShirt was introduced, he knew what it meant:  the horrible red car.  The ride home.  Facing his fear.  As soon as he saw my red sedan in the driveway, he sunk his butt down and refused to move.  Normally, I’d take him for a walk and get rid of some of that anxiety, but it was early evening, starting to rain, and I was tired.  We drove home with him on my lap again and shivering — though not as much as earlier.  By the time we were halfway home, he had his head on my arm, a bit more relaxed.

This morning, we put on the ThunderShirt to go for our early morning walk because it was raining . . . and because I don’t want Izzy to see it as a negative or as a clue that we’re going for a ride.  He won’t have to worry this afternoon, because I’m going back to my daughter’s alone and he can stay home and enjoy napping on this gray, rainy day.

Street Orphans

Street Orphans

In the South, there are house dogs and yard dogs. I’m not a big fan of yard dogs. I hate seeing dogs on a chain in a back yard, and I truly feel that those dogs begin to harbor aggression after a while. Yes, it makes no sense to let dogs run free, but if you have a dog, aren’t you responsible for giving it love and care and making sure it’s healthy and safe from the elements? Yes, Izzy goes out in the yard occasionally, and when he does, he’s tied up (because he does the fa-la-la-I’m-free! thing when he’s off leash and he’s too little for cars to see when he zips across the street — giving me heart attacks). But when you leave a dog outside day and night, simply giving it water and food, that doesn’t work for me.

Yesterday, when Izzy and I walked, a clownish black Lab raced up to greet us, large pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. He was wet and obviously wanted some water, so I knew he’d been outside for most of the day since it had been raining. And he was young and wanted to play. Suddenly I realized he was Spike, the black Lab that lives around the corner from me — in the back yard on a chain. He’s been there since he “moved in” when he was quite little and quite scared. Occasionally, Izzy goes back there to play for a few moments (when I’m brave enough to let him off the leash), but other than that, Spike sees no one, doesn’t play, doesn’t get to walk the neighborhood, and doesn’t have any shelter other than the trees overhead.

His newly-found freedom was obviously an aphrodisiac for him last night. He hopped over Izzy, did the puppy-bow, raced alongside us, rolled down the grass, and generally looked — plain and simple — happy!

We worked with one of the guys on the street to try to get Spike back to his yard, but he was not interested. I think he rather likes being one of the Street Orphans, those dogs who race freely up and down the streets of our little town.

Can’t say that I blame him!

Dog Brains

When I was younger, I took a women’s literature course and one of the writers the young professor introduced us to was a revolutionary woman named Rigoberta Menchu.  Physically, she presented nothing of a threat:  plump, ordinary-looking, no scowl on her round face.  But mentally and dynamically, she’s a powerhouse for the indigenous population of Guatemala.  I remember reading her work and appreciating the guts it took for her to speak truth to power and righteously defend her people.  She not only defended people; she defended animals and nature  . . . basically, she defends the rights of all living beings.

She said, “There is not one world for man and one for animals; they are part of the same one and lead parallel lives.”  That statement is so simple but incredibly powerful.  And true.  One thing you can count on with Menchu is that she tells the truth.

This morning, I was thinking of that statement when I walked Izzy before the sun rose.  We saw several of his dog friends while walking.  One’s a female boxer whose submissive and sweet personality reminds me of Menchu herself.  Boxers are strong, muscular dogs, yet Peaches defies the stereotype.  Instead, she is friendly and wiggly, like you would expect Izzy to be.  Both of them are the exact opposite of what you would expect, as is Menchu.

We inhabit a neighborhood where possums live next door to foxes, bluebirds share the sky with buzzards, tiny yappy dogs (like the Chihuahua down the street) walk the same streets as burly pitbulls.  Black Methodists sing in a church a block away from White Baptists.  Single women who have grown up in North Carolina and spent their lives surrounded by family are friends with others who grew up in New England and have no family nearby.  Doctors shake the hands of field workers.  Though there are times when our paths do not cross — and other times when they collide — we all are part of the same world, and as Menchu states, we lead parallel lives.

As I pondered that thought, Izzy did his morning routine:  sniffing under the old white Cadillac for the tortoiseshell cat that hides there, peering into the sky when the rook of buzzards lifted off the roof of Mr. Mendoza’s house, lapping the pool of rain water that has collected in the dip in the sidewalk.  Occasionally, he’ll glance up at me, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, and I laugh at him.  He may not speak human words, but the language he has says one important thing:  I’m here for you.  I’m part of your world.

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I love ya, Izzy, but today . . . you’re a bad boy!

I go home every day for lunch, and most of the time, I’m met by a little black nose against the back door glass that turns into a dancing, wagging, happy puppy.  Today was a bit different.

Izzy had his puppy period of chewing everything in sight and as all puppies, he pretty much grew out of it about six months ago.  He used to pile up all the rugs in the house right in front of the back door, as if he meant for me to see them as soon as I walked in.  Of course, they weren’t all in one piece when I walked in . . . they had corners chewed off, long ends raveling, and sometimes even had holes in the middle of the rug (don’t know how he did that, but he managed to).  I tried everything to get him to stop.  Sprayed the rugs with bad-tasting stuff like chili.  Used bitter apple on the corners.  Switched the rugs around so different ones were in his “favorite” places.  Laid down sticky mats so the rugs couldn’t move.  No matter what, he still found a way to chew the corners.  Then one day, he stopped.  Pure and simple.  Just quit.

But he’s still a dog and only two years old.  In the past year, he has found any shoes that were inadvertently left out.  Usually, he chews one, rips out the insole and leaves both near the door where I walk in every day.  Sometimes I don’t care about the shoes he has chewed.  What the heck, every woman needs new shoes.  Why not give myself an excuse to go and buy some new ones?  But there have been a couple of pairs that I really liked; one pair was a new pair of walking shoes that I had spent $100 on and only worn once.  I turned the air blue that day.

Again, he went through a spurt of chewing, then stopped.

Until today.

I opened the door and instead of a wagging tail, I saw a little black and white dog frozen in his tracks, right in the middle of a pair of shoes — not just one shoe, as is his usual habit, but a pair — that I didn’t even remember leaving out.  I had worn them to work the day before and really loved them because they had gel innersoles, were flat but dressy, and their nude color went with everything.  There they were, innersoles ripped out, toes chewed through, and there was no way on God’s green earth that they would ever be wearable again.  And Izzy knew it.

His head cocked, he watched me pick up the pieces, but he didn’t come very close to me.  And when I was done and pulled out his leash, he walked toward me very slowly as if unsure whether I was even going to take him for a walk.

We went for our walk, but we had a serious talk while we walked, and I could swear he knew what I was saying when I told him that “if you ever chew my shoes again, I’m going to find that crate down the cellar and that’s where you’ll be while I’m at work.”

And when we got home, he gave me his sad face.  And I melted.  Sheesh.

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Pitbull

Izzy spends the weekend days and nights at my screen door, looking out on the street and letting me know if anyone comes too close to the house 🙂  He’s a guard dog as long as he’s behind the door, but if he’s out on the street, he just wants to meet all the new dogs in the neighborhood and greet those he already knows.

I spent Saturday writing, so I was in my office and looking out on the same street Izzy sees from his door.  It’s early Fall and the day glowed with that special light autumn days embody.  We made excuses for more walks than our usual, mostly because I needed to stretch after sitting in my office chair for so long — and Izzy had to see the people and “other beings” who had walked by the house during the day.  The last week at 10 PM presented the gift of a star-filled sky, high-flying planes that competed with the brightest stars, and a glimpse of what I think was Venus near the half moon.  I breathed deeply, sure that all was right within my world and comforted by the thought that there is so much more than what exists within the perimeters of Roxboro.

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Izzy took his seat again on Sunday afternoon as I did my laundry and ironing.  The weather, as gorgeous as Saturday’s, enticed more people to take a walk, and I really didn’t pay much attention to what was going on unless Izzy growled or did his squirrel dance (on his back two legs) in front of the door . . . until I heard a tinkle-clink-clank-tinkle-clink like a broken ice cream truck going by.  Izzy came to where I stood at the ironing board, dancing and whining, then went back to the door as if trying to tell me something.  Curious, I followed him and heard the sound but didn’t see anything.  Still, he wouldn’t calm down.

A couple of minutes later, he still hadn’t calmed down and kept going to the back door, then coming to the dining room like he does when he wants to tell me to take him out.  Though we had gone for a walk only half an hour before, I gave in and put him on the leash.  He scrambled through my gravel driveway, choking on his collar and trying to get me to walk faster.  I could tell he had picked up the scent of something and thought it was the groundhog we have in the backyard (that has pretty much destroyed my garden).

On the way down the street, Izzy was at “high alert” but I still didn’t see anything.  Then a van coming toward us slowed down and stopped in front of us.  The window rolled down and a heavyset, older woman in a flowered dress leaned out.  “You might not want to walk up that way,” she said, motioning toward Izzy.  “There’s a brown pitbull wandering around up there.  He’s dragging a 6-8′ chain, so I think he got loose from someone’s yard.  He’s kinda big.  Your pup wouldn’t stand a chance.”

I thanked her and wondered whether it was the same one that my friend, the old man, was having trouble containing when Izzy and I walked earlier this week.  Then I realized he never had a chain on that dog.  And I realized instantly where the loose pitbull had come from.  The night before when Izzy and I were out, I heard howling, barking and growling from beyond the railroad tracks.  I’ve heard it before, and it’s obviously a group of dogs that are either caged or within close proximity of each other.  I’ve seen several pitbulls with some rather large guys who walk them up my street and can barely hold onto the dogs when they see Izzy.

I think there’s a dogfighting ring close by . . . and I’m feeling two emotions:  fear that my Izzy wouldn’t have a chance if any large dog became violent and compassion for those dogs who are chained up in a yard or made to fight when they should be in a loving home.  Now my journalistic curiosity is aroused.  I need to find out what’s going on.