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…”

How To Break My Heart In One Easy Step

Someone left me with a lingering heartache today thanks to a careless comment. I would have liked to turn that hurt into anger, to have used this platform to rail against a thoughtless person. The first draft did exactly that, until I reviewed it and then saw that I’ve made the same sort of mistake.

My girl dog, Jessie, and I, while out on our usual late morning walk, ran into a woman walking with her dog. The dogs exchanged “hellos”, and the woman turned to me.

Woman: “How old is she?

Me: “She’s 12…will turn 13 in a couple of months.”

Woman: <gives me a sympathetic look> “German Shepherds don’t live much longer than that, do they?

In an instant all of my carefully placed fictions, designed to distract me from Jessie’s aging, crumbled. I spent the next hours of the day clouded by sadness.

In my defense, whenever I have done something similar I have studiously avoided any mention of end of life issues. Usually I will inquire about an older dog’s age, and then comment about how spry and active they appear. I’ve thought I was putting a positive spin on things. Now I think that all I accomplished was what that woman’s comment did today, which was to draw attention to inevitabilities, and temporarily destroy the present moment joy of the caretaker with their dog. After today, I have a much greater appreciation for my fellow dog walkers in my community who don’t know how old Jessie is because they’ve never asked, a strategy I will now emulate.

Back to enjoying every moment spent with Jessie (and Maxx, of course)!

Rumble At Land’s End

I live at the eastern edge of the North American continent, about one-eighth of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. I take no pride, and very little pleasure from that fact, but that’s another story for another time. What is notable in the present moment is that my area is recovering from a N’or Easter that has riled up the Big Water. When that happens it sounds as if the busiest airport on the planet is right next door. I can feel it through the sand beneath my feet. While out with the dogs in the pre-dawn darkness, that roar made me feel very small and vulnerable; such a powerful and inhospitable expanse so close by. And then from there my thoughts evolved to take in the unimaginable vastness of the Universe just beyond the thin veneer of atmosphere above me, and I welcomed the inrushing sense of insignificance.

A phone video of Maxx in the darkness this morning with the ocean roar (pitifully rendered by this medium) drowning all other sound.

For The Love Of Dog

I’ve barely begun to blog, and already I’m about to divulge very personal information about myself. Please know that I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t pertinent to the subject at hand.

I have cancer and kidney disease. While serious, I don’t yet have an expiration date estimate. The course of my treatment follows what one medical provider refers to as a “Cinderella” principle; do those things that will move the minute hand backwards, delaying midnight (when all the magic comes to an end). My philosophy, as it pertains to my medical condition, is that quality (of life) far outweighs quantity (of time), with one specific qualification. That qualification is the topic of this post.

Next to my lovely and wonderful wife, my life these days is mostly defined by the care of two elderly dogs. Jessie, the elder, is a few months shy of 13 years of age. Maxx will soon be 11 years old. Both are mixtures of big dogs, German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever in Jessie’s case, German Shepherd and (probably) Doberman Pincher for Maxx. Both are within sight of their average life expectancy. Jessie is showing her age.

Not only is Jessie showing her age, but she is also showing evidence of neuromuscular ailments common among German Shepherds. Her Doc says that either disease would typically cause rapid degeneration, but Jessie has been hanging in there for a little more than a year since the condition became evident. Maybe her Lab side is holding things together. Complicating matters further for Jessie is her history of beginning life as a stray, completely missing the socialization window. She is skittish, easily frightened, and completely attached to me. Maxx, though a bit gimpy from ACL surgery about a year ago, is still a big bruiser, and an independent soul. He’s entirely devoted to my wife, but he’d follow anyone with a cookie in their hand. I don’t worry about him quite so much. Yet, anyway.

The juncture of my medical condition and the care of my dogs occurs at the point where one of my doctors is persistently urging me to undertake an ongoing, invasive, preventative treatment plan that will significantly complicate my ability to provide continuous care for Jessie and Maxx.

I have found that there is a spectrum of thought regarding pet care. At one end are those who think of companion animals as entertainment and decorative devices, ranked a little above houseplants. At my end are people who don’t differentiate much between their pets and offspring. I’ll state it plainly: my dogs are my kids. I have also found that when medical care is in conflict with pet care, few doctors respect such a distinction.

This is not the first time I’ve been in this situation. A little more than a year ago the specialist team treating my cancer (which is 1,200 miles distant) strongly recommended major surgery to rid me of some dangerous tumors. I told the lead Doc that I would prefer to postpone such an invasive procedure for at least several years. I explained that I was committed to caring for my elderly dogs, and would feel more free to undertake such treatment after I had seen Jessie and Maxx through to the happiest extent of their lives. It was not well received. Clearly angered, he opined that it was more likely that I would die before my dogs would, and that, if he were in a similar circumstance, as much as he loved his dog, he would put his own health first. A lower-on-the-spectrum point of view. My wonderful wife solved the issue by finding a long-term “Home Away” lodging, and we brought Jessie and Maxx with us to that far-distant city so that they could be with me while I recuperated (and while she picked up the considerable slack). I’ll take this opportunity to publicly thank her, once again, for that loving sacrifice.

This current situation is quite different, though. It would require invasive treatments every few months. Jessie is probably no longer able to tolerate such frequent, distant travel, and the expense would drain reserves we will likely need to see to the dogs’ increasing care needs. More important to me, I am insistent on being a comfort to both dogs, especially Jessie, in this stage of their lives. And if the time comes when either of them needs ultimate help to relieve suffering, as hard as it will be, I must be there to hold and comfort them.

So, later this morning I have an appointed meeting with the doctor, where I will tell him that I will not undertake the recommended treatment plan. I’m betting he won’t understand. I won’t be surprised if I’ll need to find another Doc once I walk out of there. But one thing of which I’m certain; no matter what course of medical treatment I follow, the time will come when I will die, and I’ll likely have some time to contemplate choices I’ve made. Even if foregoing this particular treatment leaves me with fewer years, I will not regret choosing in favor of Jessie and Maxx today.

EDIT (2/27/18 11:40 AM ET): Recent testing indicated that I have moved, at least temporarily, into a lower-risk level, and so I was able to avoid the confrontation I predicted. This time.

Bookstore Charity

Once again I find myself somewhere towards the middle of my life’s seesaw, trying to achieve a balance between my heart and practicality. At issue this time is the purchase of a book, specifically, Lynda Barry’s encouragement to timid creative souls to take up pen and/or brush titled “What It Is.” It came to my attention in an article in some high-minded, well-regarded national publication listing the 25 best books on writing by writers. Its wackiness, as described, appeals to my unconventional sensibilities, and, once I have digested it, will very likely add spark to my granddaughter, who thrills me with her yearning to pursue a writing life.

The troubling matter is that the few bookstores nearby do not have the book in stock, which isn’t terribly hard to understand as it is 10 years beyond publication and not especially popular. The problem for me, though, is that it leaves me with a choice between having the book the day after tomorrow from Amazon, or (maybe) sometime late next week for $6.00 more from a local, independent bookstore. My nostalgic heart wants me to lend support to the dark wood stain shelves and new book smell of the brick-and-mortars. My practical brain says that time is money, and money is short, so click a few keys on the computer and sit back for a couple of days until the package arrives at my front door.

I suppose, like most things, this is a situational dilemma, and here’s mine: I live in a seaside tourist area. The bookstores here cater to the summer best seller beach read crowd, and offer little consideration to the year-round locals.* In fact, very few businesses here give consideration to the year-round local population, but that’s another blog post for a later time. When high season is over, the bookstores keep their prices at summer highs (on a recent price check, factoring in local taxes and shipping, one local book sold at about three times the Amazon price). I believe I will take the tact that it should be up to the local bookstores to figure out if it is worthwhile to them to compete with on-line book sellers, and how they might best go about accomplishing that (hint: it doesn’t necessarily have to be competitive pricing). Right now that doesn’t seem to be a priority for them, so my buying decision is made a little easier.

Other situations? If you live in an area where local bookstores make an effort to engage with the reading public, offering added incentive to walk through their doors and buy their books, maybe that is something to strive to preserve, even if at a higher out-of-pocket cost. If I were in your shoes I might think of it as a Life Enhancement Tax.

* Edit, 2/24/18: I meant to mention that the apparent model of the local businesses seems to be to maintain a reasonable stock of current best-sellers, as well as a section of books under the banner of “Local Interest“. This being a seaside tourist town, that would include a smattering of books about local geography and wildlife, historical fiction and non-fiction of the region (lots of pirate lore), and a handful of tomes by resident writers. If one is prone to being captured by interest in random esoterica (not coastal related), it will likely follow that on-line booksellers will be the only recourse, unless a couple hours of travel to the “Big City” is acceptable. I should add that, as hard as the local library system tries, I’m hitting less than 50% on book searches there. So, back to my original conclusion, which is, for areas of small (or only seasonally high) population, your best bet for books that are not on anyone’s “Best Seller” list is someplace like Amazon. If you have a vibrant local bookstore that caters to wide interest, you would do well to support it.

Stealth Poop

It is a Federal Holiday weekend in America, and that means there is an influx of tourists at the beaches of North Carolina. With many of those tourists are their Poop Delivery Systems (PDS). Let me pause right here to declare that I have nothing against PDSs. I have two of them, myself. What I am vehemently against are tourists (as well as residents) who do not disarm poop left by their PDS, and it is a widespread failure during high tourist volume. The community where I live has budgeted for Poop Disarmament Stations (okay, we’re going to have to abandon the acronyms at this point) about every 100 feet. While some Poop Delivery System managers may feel they have legitimate reasons for leaving armed poop laying about, most of which have to do with ickiness (hey, when you signed up for a Poop Delivery System you signed up for icky), in the end it all boils down to profound inconsideration. This leaves me having to maintain a Poop Detection Spotlight every time I deploy my Poop Delivery Systems in low-light conditions in order to defend against Poop Damaged Shoes. Leaving aside the obvious costs to me, personally (because, who cares, right?), armed poop is a significant detriment to the community. It is fundamentally unhygienic, attracts vermin, and, contrary to common uniformed opinion, it has zero nutritional value to lawn and landscape. So, please, when you deploy your Poop Delivery System, we can all avoid investments in Poop Detection Spotlights and clean-up of Poop Damaged Shoes if everyone would make use of the Poop Disarmament Stations and Pick-up Dog Shit! Many thanks in advance!

I dedicate this, my first blog post, to the blog site “Chocolate Or Poop, authored by Amy Taylor, for so ably demonstrating to me that it is entirely okay to write about poop in a public forum.