What’s Really Behind This Blogging Thing?

There are probably no more than three reasons for this writing project, but there is only one fundamental motivating force bringing it into practice. That would be Jessie. Jessie is, to all outward appearances, just an ordinary dog. A mutt, really. Easily identified as a mix of Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd Dog. Thin and rangy, she has a wolf-like look and lope. Skittish, vulnerable, and slow to warm to those she doesn’t know, and know well. Always, always a challenge to me. And she is the best dog in the whole world, because I have decided that she is. In this way Jessie has taught me about the finer points of unconditional love.

She came to us when she was just shy of her first birthday. That was almost 12 years ago, as of this writing in early 2018. Jessie was a challenge out of the box. Having spent much of her first year a stray, she knew nothing about sharing space with humans, other dogs, with anyone, really. She didn’t know the rules, or the ropes. I’d like to be able to tell you that through deft perception, keen insight, and a steady hand I was able to bring Jessie along into being a dog acclimated to the world of humans, solid in her confidence of self and me, and an example of loyal obedience. The true story is that neither one of us had a clue from the start. We built a relationship from the ground up, in spite of libraries of books, classes, and behavioral consults. It was somewhere in all of that struggle that I decided to love this dog, no matter what. That for me, though I have known many, many wonderful dogs, Jessie is The Best Dog In The World. *

The idea and inception for this writing project coincides with the beginning of 2018, and the middle of Jessie’s 12th year (she will be 13 in late May, 2018). The signs of her aging are now achingly evident. The youthful pitch-black muzzle is now completely white. Her bark has softened, and become hoarse. Once endlessly curious about walks and unshuttered windows on the world, she now spends most of her day napping. Most distressing, her legs are beginning to fail her. Possibly arthritis, perhaps a neuromuscular ailment common to her German Shepherd side, or maybe just the effects of age, whenever I see it my heart breaks. I know the time remaining with her is less than I want it to be.

So it is that I wish to honor Jessie by giving her careful thought and attention, and to chronicle the closing days, months, dare I hope for years of our journey together. I want to give this more than passing thoughts, but delve into the experience of serving this dog. I hope to explore ways of coping, ways of accepting, how to make this more about her, and less about me. And, if I can avoid feeling overly self-conscious about the writing, I will try sharing this with others who may be curious and interested.

Those three reasons I mentioned at the beginning? 1. I wish to fulfill a promise to myself to write, 2. I wish to be more conscious of this life I have been given, 3. I wish to stop endlessly scrolling through social media, yet still be expressive to anyone wanting to listen.

But, more than anything else, this is about Jessie.

* Closely followed by her younger “brother”, Max.

She Can Still Run

I originally posted this elsewhere, a “test blog” if you will, on January 19, 2018.

We were out the other day in an interlude between snows. Jessie, uncharacteristically, wanted to go in the direction opposite her usually preferred walking route. She nosed around the town hall for a bit before deciding to head home, or maybe resume her normal path. You can’t be too sure with Jessie. As is usual, I was closely monitoring her walking. Leg movement, paw placement, confidence in stride all contributing to my overall assessment of where she stood on this outing’s mobility rating. With her near 13 years of age, and me approaching 64, ease of movement is a daily issue. I thought she was probably right at “average”. A little stiff-legged, with normal rear paw scuffing and the occasional scrape. She had her rear boots on, so the scraping was not audibly noticeable. I have to see it, and I did see it every so often.

It was as we were veering toward a homeward path that first I saw, and then Jessie, the big UPS truck cross our path, turning and heading away from us. Jessie’s head snapped up in recognition, one of her chief enemies clearly in sight, and running away. This was followed by a low, quiet growl, and then she launched herself in pursuit. Her initial steps were unsteady, but quick. It was all I could do to keep up. I kept thinking that maybe I should make an effort to calm her down, slow her pace. Could this level of activity lead to injury, or a setback? All the while I was increasing my own pace, allowing her to gain momentum. And then she and I were running. The run of two old beings, to be sure, but there was something reminiscent of our more youthful walks and runs in days gone by. She can still run. We can still run! And why shouldn’t we?

The Strauss Strategy

The warnings were in place the night before. By morning the threat was clear. Trouble was on the way. Mid-afternoon the target.

Surviving the onslaught was not the worry. We had been through this enough to know how to minimize damage to hearth and home. It was keeping those in our care calm in the midst of the rampage that weighed heavily on our thoughts as morning ebbed away, and the blitzkrieg advanced. The nearer drew the maelstrom, the more I considered a distraction that had shown promise once before. The Strauss Strategy, named for the man instrumental in creating the tools that might keep panic at bay.

Timing would be critical. Too late, and the Strauss Strategy would only add to a sense of chaos. Too early, it would become the baseline of consciousness, and lose its power of distraction. So it was that I carefully monitored the advance reports, ready to unleash the plan at the precise moment of maximum effect.

There was no mistaking the launch. The air was electric. The impending attack pressed against us in a manner that was extra-sensory. This was it! The tools were in place. All that was needed was the touch of a button. I looked into the trusting faces of our charges, smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way, placed my finger on the screen, and tapped.

Immediately the air was filled with the opening orchestral salvo of “Voices Of Spring” by Johann Strauss II, followed by the lilting, sweeping melody and bass-punctuated beat (“ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three…). Outside, seemingly in synch with the commencement of the 1882 waltz, the forecast early spring storm broke with a fury. A quick adjustment of sound system volume, and the composition soared just above the tempest beyond the shuttered windows. Inside, Jessie and Max, both highly sound-sensitive dogs easily panicked by thunderstorms, rested comfortably, if ever-so-slightly on edge. Rumbles of thunder melded with tympanic musical crescendos. The thunderphobes appeared to know something ominous was afoot, but what was it, exactly? One piece flowed into the next. “Morning Papers” became “On The Beautiful Blue Danube”. “Tales From The Vienna Woods” turned into the perfect “Thunder And Lightning Polka”. The dogs were kept just enough off balance and confused that fear could not take hold.

After 5 or 6 pieces we began to notice a lightening around the window blinds. Lowering the stereo volume we could tell that the maelstrom had lumbered out of the dogs’ alarm zone.

“Wow! That worked pretty well, but I have to tell you; I was getting mighty tired of Strauss Waltzes toward the end!”, my wife said.

“Count yourself lucky”, I offered with a grin, “The John Phillip Souza Scheme was on the drawing board, too!”

After a moments reflection she nodded in agreement. Next time, though, maybe I can offer a sonic distraction that would be more universally appreciated. There are plenty of choices; the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, “1812 Overture (with cannons!)”, Wagner’s “Ride Of The Valkyries”. But I think maybe next time I’ll see how John Bonham’s bombastic drumming stands up against nature, and put together a Led Zeppelin playlist. “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled…”