Happy Holidays

1V5A5417From the very minute that I was adopted from the animal shelter, I had  a feeling I was going to really, really like living with my new family.  And I was right.  I’ve got my own bed, my own crate, a basket full of dog toys and a big yard to run around in.  I have two doggie cousins, Frankie and Roxy, who sometimes come over to play with me.   Plus, I’ve got my parents trained to be very generous with the dog biscuits…they even use them to “bribe” me to go outside for a potty break when it’s raining.  All in all, I’ve been pretty darned happy with my new family and thought that things couldn’t possibly get any better.  But they did!

I didn’t know much about holidays before I came to live here, so I had no idea what I was missing.  Turns out, there’s a holiday called Thanksgiving, and we celebrated it yesterday.  I knew something good was going to happen when Mom put a big turkey in the oven to bake, and then spent the next few hours in the kitchen, making even more food.  The house smelled so good that I could hardly stand it!

But things got even better when the rest of the family showed up.  Because get this:  every single one of them showed up with some sort of food!  From what I can tell, Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about food and sharing it with friends and family.  How cool is that?  We started in the afternoon with lots of appetizers (I made sure I got my share), and then everyone sat down at the big table that was loaded with all the rest of the food, including that fabulous turkey.  I sat right beside the little guy in the high chair, because I knew I could count on him to drop some tasty tidbits my way.   Finally, when everyone crowded in the kitchen to clean up, I helped dispose of anything that was left on their plates.  I know it’s my job to help whenever I can, but it’s especially nice to be able to combine business with pleasure.

Frankly, I’d be a little sad right now that it’s all over if I hadn’t discovered that there’s another holiday coming up in a few weeks.  It’s called Christmas, and I’ve heard it also involves a lot of extra food, especially cookies.  Of course I’m all in favor of that!

In addition to the food, Christmas seems to require putting up lots of lights and decorations, which is fine with me.  But I really got excited when I saw the big tree that Dad put up in the living room.  I know exactly what that’s for, and I can hardly believe my good luck.  They’ve given me my very own indoor bathroom!  No more going out in the cold and rain when I need to pee….how thoughtful is that?  And that’s not all.  They’re going to put all these shiny balls all over it, and I love balls! I can hardly wait to take them off and play with them.

It’s too early to compare, but it just might be that I’m going to love Christmas even more than I loved Thanksgiving!

Love,  Finn

 

The Time Between

IMG_3559 2For the past few weeks, our house has been far too quiet.  No one is barking at the back door, letting me know that she has waited exactly five seconds for someone to let her in and she’s deeply unhappy about the delay.  When I’m working at my computer, no one is laying by my feet, snoring loudly.  I don’t hear the repetitive squeak of dog toys, or the click of canine toenails on the hardwood floors.  Our house has been peaceful, quiet, and almost entirely free of dog hair…..and I don’t like it one bit.

Lots of people have asked me if we’re going to get another dog.  That question always surprises me a little, because I would think that anyone who knew me at all would realize that of course I’m going to get another dog.   If I should spend my final years bed-ridden in a nursing home, I’ll most likely have a chihuahua hidden under the blankets and be bribing the staff to bring it food and take it for bathroom breaks.  I’m not the sort of person who wants to live a dog-free life.

But I also know that it’s too soon to bring another dog home.  My husband and I are still grieving for Lucy.  It’s still hard to remember to walk in the house and not call out, “Lucy, I’m home!” (One of the best things about having a dog named Lucy was being able to say that.)  When I’m away from the house for several hours, I still think I need to go home and let her out.  And just last night, we realized that we still had her dog food stashed in our pantry, right below the box of dog treats.  The simple truth is that we aren’t quite ready to open our hearts and our home to another dog just yet.

IMG_3983So these days, I get my “dog fix” when I walk the shelter dogs, who are always very happy to get the attention.  My son and daughter-in-law’s dogs also come visit, making themselves instantly at home at “Grandma’s” house, as they explore every nook and cranny and scope out the furniture for the best napping spots.  And they don’t seem to mind too much when we make it clear that their sleeping choices are limited to the floors and the dog beds.

One way or another, we are getting used to our life without Lucy, and coming to terms with not having a dog of our own anymore.  I know that this particular phase of our life is temporary, and that the time is coming when we’ll begin to look for another dog to join our family.  Until then, I’m really grateful for the shelter dogs and my “grand-dogs” for making this time of transition just a little bit easier.  And for reminding me of just why I love dogs so much in the first place.

There Comes A Time

The only thing wrong with dogs is that they don’t live long enough.  Lucy would have been seventeen next month, but she still didn’t live long enough.  Because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the wonderful dog who had shared my life and my home for over sixteen years, even though the time finally came when I no longer had a choice.

IMG_3829 2I have written many times about Lucy, so my regular readers know something about her history.  They know that when we adopted her from the humane society, we thought we were getting a calm, easy-going dog.  Which she was, until the sedative they had given her when she’d been spayed wore off.  And then we realized that we had actually adopted a very energetic and almost scary-smart dog who liked her own way best.  Lucy was very loving and had huge brown eyes that could melt just about any heart, and those traits served her well.  Especially since she was a firm believer that most household rules were nothing more than suggestions, and tended to live life very much on her own terms.

She loved being outside and took her self-appointed job of keeping our yard free of vermin very seriously.  The squirrels quickly learned the only safe way they could cross our yard was via the power lines strung above our back fence, and even then, Lucy would be directly underneath them, hopping sideways along the fence on her back legs as she barked madly at the squirrel above her.  Rabbits, voles, and chipmunks didn’t dare set paw in our yard when Lucy was around.

Inside, Lucy spent most of her time playing with her toys, and the squeaky ones were her favorite.  She also kept a constant watch out for unattended food, which she clearly believed she was entitled to, even if she had to climb up on the dining room table to get it.  To her credit, she left the table alone while we were eating, but once we finished and walked away, anything we were foolish enough to leave behind us was fair game.  Once she even helped herself to the gingerbread house we were using as a Christmas table centerpiece.

Still, age catches up with all of us sooner or later, and Lucy was no exception.   The dog who had always been so independent began to follow me around the house so that she could always be in the same room.  There were times when she didn’t seem to notice that rabbits had taken up residence in our back yard, and even if she did happen to spot one, she just trotted briskly after it while the rabbit hopped casually away.  The toys in her toy box were usually left untouched and she spent most of her time sleeping.

Inevitably, the time came when her body could no longer keep up with her spirit.  Her hearing and eyesight faded, her sense of balance began to desert her, and medicines could no longer ease the pain of her arthritis or help her keep control of her back legs.  And so we made the heart-breaking decision to say goodbye to our beloved, sweet and sassy little Lucy.

img_0034Rest in peace, baby girl.  May you spend your days in a heaven filled with all your doggie friends, slow-moving squirrels and low tables loaded with all your favorite foods.  And never forget just how very much you were loved.

Twilight Years

This morning I noticed a rather strong and disgusting smell in our basement.  It’s not unusual for us to spot the occasional mouse down there once Fall arrives, which my husband promptly dispatches.  (One of perks of being married is having someone else deal with unwanted house guests.)  Judging from the smell, we assumed that one of our mouse visitors must have died down there, so we called in our dog Lucy to help us find it.

Lucy has always been known for her keen sense of smell and her willingness to chase any small furry animal that dares to cross her path.  She came downstairs and obeyed our command to “find it” by sniffing eagerly around the basement walls.  Then she froze in front of the recliner on the family room side of the basement, staring intently underneath it.  “Good dog,” I told her, getting down to peer underneath the chair.  Only to find out that what had caught her attention wasn’t a mouse at all, but her favorite red ball.   I pulled it out and handed it to her, and she trotted off with the satisfied air of a dog who had done her job well.  And just so you know, after she left my husband and I found not one but two dead mice down there, and one of them was very, very, ripe.

img_0034I supposed I should be annoyed with Lucy, or at least disappointed that the dog who used to be able to sniff out a rawhide toy stored on the upper shelf of my closet in two seconds flat seemed to be unable to locate a very pungent rodent carcass.  But Lucy turned fifteen this month and this is just another reminder that she is aging, far more quickly than I would like.

When she first came to live with us, Lucy was eleven-months old and had been turned into the animal shelter as a stray.  Although she seemed quite calm when we picked her out, we quickly discovered that was only because she was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia from her recent spaying.  Lucy was actually a bundle of energy, almost scary-smart, and had very little inclination to follow the household rules.  I suspect most families would have promptly returned her to the shelter from whence she came, but instead we fell in love with her and learned to live with her eccentricities.  For her part, she did learn what “sit,” “stay,” “leave it” and “come” meant, and sometimes she even obeyed those commands.  Later, I added such useful phrases as  “Get off the dining room table!” and “Get your furry butt back in bed!” (spoken at five a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Lucy decided she needed breakfast) to her vocabulary as well.

But for some reason, I didn’t believe that a dog as energetic and smart as Lucy would ever age.  I couldn’t picture her no longer being able to hear anything but the loudest noises, and not even waking up when someone knocks at our door.  I couldn’t fathom a time when she would be willing to substitute a short walk around the block for her usual forty-five minute treks through the neighborhood.  I didn’t envision a time when she would hesitate before climbing a flight of stairs, as if debating whether the effort was worth it.  But all those things, and more, have come true in the past of year or so.

img_0992I know we are now living in Lucy’s twilight years, and that her time with us is drawing to an end.  To my mind, the only thing truly wrong with dogs is that their life spans are far too short.  We may have another year with Lucy, or we may only have another few weeks; we have reached the stage where either is possible.  All that we can do is enjoy the time we have left with our loving, neurotic, and smart little Lucy.  And if that means we have to sniff out our own dead mice, then so be it.

A Dog’s Life

IMG_1219One way or another, I spend a big chunk of my life these days in the company of dogs.  To begin with, I share my home with Lucy, a fourteen-year old dog who has always operated with a total disregard for household rules.  And while old age means she can no longer move as quickly or hear as well as she used to, I still walked into our dining room shortly after we had finished this year’s Easter brunch to find her standing calmly on our dining room table, polishing off the rest of the dessert tray.  Just for the record, she seemed to favor the little egg-shaped cakes over the lemon squares, although it was obvious that she had sampled both.  She may be old, but she still knows an opportunity when she sees it.

IMG_1060Besides living with Lucy, I often help take care of my children’s dogs, which I’m more than happy to do.  My daughter and her husband have Harley, a chihuahua mix who adores her immediate circle of friends and family and has absolutely no use for anyone else. In her own home, she’s happy to simply ignore people she doesn’t like, but walking her is a challenge.  She may love her walks, but she also loves barking at anyone and anything she sees, and flies into an absolute rage when she spots an approaching car.  It doesn’t seem to occur to her that five pounds of furious dog is no match for a thousand pounds of moving steel, and I’m not about to let her learn that lesson the hard way.

IMG_0210My son and his fiancé have Frank, a pug mix, and Roxy, an English Bulldog.  I know Frank well since he lived with us for a while right after my son graduated from college, and have come to love Roxy, too.  Roxy and Frank have become good friends in the past couple of years, although there have been a few necessary adjustments.  Unlike most dogs, Frank loves to wear sweaters (probably because he doesn’t tolerate the cold very well), but Roxy has a problem with that.  One cold December morning, my son sent the dogs outside with Frank proudly sporting a brand-new Christmas sweater.  Ten minutes later, the dogs came back in.  Frank was wearing only his fur, while Roxy had Frank’s Christmas sweater dangling from her teeth.  Clearly, Roxy is a dog who knows how to take matters into her own paws, and Frank has learned to live without sweaters.

IMG_4353My mother has Penny, a sweet and elderly chihuahua who was rescued from a hoarding situation about nine years ago, which means that altogether, my immediate family has five dogs.  I spend time with all of them, trimming nails and filling in as needed for potty breaks, walks and meals.  For the past fourteen years, I have also been volunteering regularly at the Humane Society where I have logged in hundreds of miles walking shelter dogs.  I’ve spent hours patiently coaxing a shy dog out of its run, or working to teach a rowdy dog basic manners, or trying to calm a dog who is clearly stressed out.

Although I’ve always loved dogs, I honestly don’t think I ever planned to have quite so much of my life revolve around them.  There was a time when I toyed with the idea of being a  veterinarian or a vet tech, but my habit of fainting at the sight of blood sort of ruled that out.  Still, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the way things have turned out.  It’s true that in some ways, my life has certainly “gone to the dogs,” but as far as I’m concerned, they’re worth it.

Unbroken Dreams

When I was a young girl, I was what was referred to as “horse-crazy,” meaning I was obsessed with horses.  As a young child, my favorite outing was a trip to the local pony track, where a dime would buy me five laps around a small corral on the back of a Shetland pony.  When I was older, I would nag my parents into taking me to riding stables where I could go for hour-long trail rides through the woods, and also saved my allowance until I had enough money for a few riding lessons.  Growing up in the city in a barely middle-class family, I understood that I couldn’t have my own horse, but reading horse books, collecting china horses and getting to see a real horse only once in a while just wasn’t enough.

And then, wonder of wonders, my family moved to a small town in rural Kansas when I was eleven-years old, and having a horse of my own suddenly became possible.  A few months after the move, a family friend appeared in our driveway, towing a horse trailer behind his pick-up truck.  He told us that he had found me a horse, which he would keep at his farm until we found a place closer to town to board her, and that we could come out that night to meet her.  And just like that, Gypsy was mine.  My dreams had come true: I finally had a horse!

Sadly, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.  My first meeting with Gypsy went well, and so did my first ride.  The second time I rode her, she bucked me off and I landed so hard that I was knocked out for a few minutes.  I think we all hoped that was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t.  She threw a fit whenever I didn’t let her have her way when I was riding her, and she had a nasty habit of biting and kicking when I was in her stall.  It wasn’t long before I was both scared of her and ashamed that I couldn’t handle her.  This was not what I had dreamed it would be like to have my very own horse.

Me on TonyThat could easily have been the end of my obsession with horses, but it wasn’t.  The stable owner kindly stepped in, offering to find a more experienced owner for Gypsy and helping me find Tony, a good-natured Welsh pony, to help me regain my confidence.  Later, I got Prince, who was as close to the horse of my dreams as any horse would ever be (you can read his story in A Prince of a Horse), and I was lucky enough to share my life with Prince until he died, almost eighteen years later.

There’s no doubt that I would have been spared a lot of physical and emotional pain if I had never gotten Gypsy, and if either Tony or Prince had been my first horse instead.  But in some ways, I’m glad she was my first horse, because I learned a lot from Gypsy.  I learned that the things we dream of don’t always match reality, and I learned that there are always going to be some situations where my best just isn’t good enough, no matter how hard I try.  I learned that sometimes reaching our goals means being willing to make some necessary adjustments, and that there’s nothing wrong with accepting help when it’s needed.   Most of all, I learned not to give up, even in the face of failure and humiliation, when we’re chasing our dreams.

Life, just like Gypsy, is going to knock me down hard some times.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t get back up and try again.

 

 

A Prince Of A Horse

Prince in St. JamesPrince is not a name I would ever have chosen for my horse.  Having grown up watching “Fury” and reading books like “Midnight” and “Black Beauty,” I had always dreamed of having a horse that was spirited and beautiful, and I wanted it to be named accordingly.  But Prince was eight years old when I got him and already knew his name, so I had no choice but to let him keep it.

He was handsome, with a copper-colored coat, a black mane and tail, and a white stripe down the middle of his face.  He was a calm, easy-going horse rather than a spirited one, and since I was fourteen and inexperienced when I got him, that was a good thing.  My first horse, Gypsy, had been very spirited, and after she had bitten, kicked, and bucked me off, I was more than ready to appreciate a horse who actually seemed to like people.

Honestly, Prince liked people more than any horse I have ever known.  I got him a couple years after my family had moved to a small town in Kansas, and kept him at a small stable where he had access to a large pasture.  Everyone else at the stable had to spend some time catching their horses when they wanted to ride them.  I simply called Prince and he came trotting right over, eager to see if I had some food for him, which I always did.  He was easy to ride as long as I made it clear that he wasn’t allowed to stop and graze along the way.  Even when I wasn’t feeding or riding him, Prince always stayed near me when I was at at stable, occasionally  resting his head on my shoulder or nudging me hopefully to see if I would give him a treat.

His only real vice was that he was a pig about food, and the only way he would ever hurt anyone is if they made the mistake of standing between him and something he wanted to eat.  Prince believed that the shortest distance between him and his next meal was a straight line, and if someone was standing in his way, he would not hesitate to plow right into them.  But other than that, he was so calm and friendly that just about anybody could ride him, and I had more than one friend get over their fear of horses just by being around him.

Prince in MarionI admit I spoiled him a little, at least by the standards of some people.  He loved apples, but would only eat one if I “started” it for him.  That meant I had to bite a chunk of it off first, give him the chunk, then hold the apple while he took a bite himself, and then finally he would take what was left of the apple and eat that.  He also expected me to swat away the giant horse flies that sometimes landed on him and bit him when we were riding, even if that meant dismounting to swat one off of his leg.  I would be lying if I said the more experienced horsemen I sometimes rode with were impressed with the way I handled my horse.

Prince came into my life when I was fourteen and he was eight, and he stayed a part of it for seventeen years.  When my family moved to southern Illinois, we took him with us, even though I was heading off to college in  Iowa.  When I married and moved to St. Louis, I moved Prince to a nearby farm in Missouri.  By that time it was sometimes hard to pay all the expenses that come with owning a horse, but I never once considered selling him.

We had been through so much together.  When my teenage years got a bit painful or confusing, I could always find peace by going to the stable and spending time with Prince.  Riding him on my breaks home from college was always something to look forward to, and later, when I moved back to the large city of St. Louis, I treasured my weekend rides on Prince out in the country.  He was a constant in my life during a time when almost everything else was changing so quickly.

I had to say goodbye to Prince when he as twenty five years old and his arthritis made it impossible for him to move around freely anymore.  I knew it was time to let him go when just walking across his stall caused him real pain.  It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and I still miss him, all these years later.  And even though I didn’t realize it when I first got him, his name fit him perfectly.  He really was a prince of a horse.