To Prance, Perchance to Soar (#345)

Our rescue dog Woofie was a tough cookie. He ran headfirst into everything from a shovel to a Volvo station wagon without a single yelp. He took endless hits across the muzzle when playing with Boss Cat.

Maybe Woofie was extra tough because he had a back hock that was slowly disintegrating, due to an injury as a puppy. We’d explored putting in a plate and screws to fix the joint in place and provide stability, but that would still be painful—even after surgery healed. Woofie loved to stretch out his legs behind him, too, which he’d never be able to do again.

We tried to give Woofie enough exercise and play to keep him happy without further injuring the joint. He was on pain meds daily, but the vet warned us to be careful about how many we gave him, since longterm use can cause organ damage. Sometimes Woofie would play too hard and the next day we’d be icing his ankle until he was willing to put weight on it. He loved walking Baby D and the neighborhood kids to school. Unfortunately, the walk was over a mile and uphill, so I only took him once a week. When I took our other dog Fey instead, I had to hide pillows and stuffed animals, lest Woofie eviscerate them in fits of pique.

Fortunately, Woofie loved to spend hours basking in the sun as well as playing. When it was cloudy outside, he’d whine at me, as if insisting I personally push back the clouds.

Despite his injury, Woofie was a super happy dog who loved every dog and person he ever met. He was ninety pounds of prancing love, and universally adored.

So of course he got cancer. When he was nine, a bump appeared on his muzzle, . A trip to the regular vet led to a trip to the cancer vet which led to X-rays and a biopsy.

“It’s a fibrosarcoma,” I told Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, who was an oncologist.

She let out a sigh and said, “Fibrosarcomas are the badasses of the cancer world. Even if you remove it, it’s gonna come back.”

“Yeah, that’s what the vet oncologist told us. Woofie would lose part of his nose if they remove it, and we could try and keep the tumor in check with radiation, buy us some more time with him, but… What do you think we should do?”

“There’s no wrong answer.”

“I bet there is.”

“Really, there isn’t,” insisted the most judgmental person in the whole world.

“I know you think there is one, so just tell me.”

“You are not giving me enough credit, Autumn. You have to pick the option that seems best to you,” is all that Dr. Sis would say.

Which either showed personal growth or was good oncologist-speak, but also total bullshit. I knew there was a wrong answer. I knew she knew it. I just had to have the courage to face it.

While humans generally depend on our eyes, dogs take in the most information through their nose. Even canine hearing, while superior to human hearing, is not as vital to a dog as a sense of smell. Blind and deaf dogs have easily compensate with their amazing olfactory receptors, which can smell everything from a grain of cocaine to plummeting blood sugar.

Woofie was all about his muzzle. He poked dogs, humans, and cats with it to demand attention. He stole cookies, bread, and potstickers from the counter. He sniffed down every errant cheerio Baby D ever dropped in the house or the car. And he chewed everything from cow femurs to wooden Thomas the Tank Engine  train tracks. It was essential to his quality of life.

Radiation might give us more time with Woofie, but was it worth the pain he’d have to endure? Just because Woofie could take the pain didn’t mean it was fair to inflict it.

With a dog, you can’t explain the future or death (though maybe we can someday—some animals can communicate amazingly well with soundboards). You can’t ask dogs if they are willing to trade pain for more life. Dogs are creatures who live purely in the moment. How could I make any of Woofie’s moments more painful in order to postpone my own pain when he was gone?

I could not.

Andy, thankfully, agreed.

We opted for the quality of Woofie’s life over the length of it. Since we no longer had to worry about longterm damage, we loaded him up on pain meds and removed all activity restrictions.

Woofie pranced the kids to school every day. On the weekends, I let him chase the tennis ball on the school field as long as he wanted. We went to the dog park, mud and kennel cough be damned. We took him to the park to chase squirrels. At home, without any twinges in his hock to stop him, Woofie countersurfed relentlessly, stealing tortilla chips, a corncob, and a pizza. Of course we let him have everything (except the corncob, which he had tried before and thrown up).

The bump on his nose kept growing, but Woofie didn’t seem to notice.

He was flying high.
Literally.

Cat on the Run (#343)

Some cats see an open back door, yawn, and go back to sleep.

Some cats bolt at the speed of light.

Our Boss Cat would bolt—and then stop in the center of the patio. She’d look back at the human in the doorway, tail twitching. If no chicken bribe appeared within 30 seconds, Boss Cat would climb a tree and disappear over the fence.

Her hapless humans would then circle the block with chicken, calling, “Here, kitty-kitty! C’mon, Boss!”

The speed with which we found Boss Cat was inversely proportional to the time since her last meal. If she’d just eaten or already gorged on a chicken bribe, she couldn’t be lured home. Instead, I’d walk around, checking in with dog walkers.

Boss Cat liked dogs. She liked to play with them. She especially liked to hit them in the face. While out hunting for Boss with our dogs, I once ran into one outraged neighbor and his prized Basset hound show dogs.

The Champion Basset Hounds

 “Look out,” he warned me. “There’s a cat back there that’s followed us half a block and keeps trying to attack my dogs! I think it might be rabid!”

I sighed. “She’s not rabid. She’s mine. She likes to beat up dogs.”

The neighbor stared at ninety-pound Woofie and seventy-pound Fey. “Even those big dogs?”

“These dogs are her personal punching bags. She’s clearly bored and hoping for new targets.”

A neighbor across the street, one who didn’t have a fence but who trained her Labrador retrievers to stay on her property (mostly), flagged me down during another hunt for Boss.

“Your cat was sitting in your front yard a little while ago. My six-month-old puppy saw her and went on alert. I told puppy to leave it, but she charged across the street and straight up to your cat.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Your cat didn’t even MOVE until puppy got close. Then she smacked puppy right across the muzzle. It was so hard I heard it, clear across the street. Puppy ran back to me as fast as she could. I don’t think she’ll be leaving the yard to chase cats again,” the neighbor laughed.

Boss could clearly take care of herself, but I still worried. All it would take was a car or a coyote, and we’d have no more Boss Cat. Baby D would be devastated. I would be devastated. Even Andy would be devastated (maybe).

One evening, when my ExStepmother was visiting, I circled the block repeatedly, unable to find the cat—until a neighbor over the back fence finally pointed up.

Boss Cat was lying across the telephone wire above our backyard, a foot or two from the telephone pole. Maybe she got there while in hot pursuit of a squirrel (telephone wires are the squirrel highways of the neighborhood). Her perch was precarious, at best, with her belly straddling the wire and one front claw snagged on the wire.

I could see the problem. If Boss yanked hard enough to pull her claw out, she’d lose her balance and fall. She might even wind up hanging by that one claw.

Baby D turned to me, face full of alarm. “Mommy! You have to save her!”

“That’s twenty feet up!” exclaimed my ExStepmother. “Mommy needs to call the fire department!”

I shook my head and went to get the ladder, telling her, “I read recently that fire departments don’t do that anymore. At least not in big cities.” (ExStepmother is from a small town in New Hampshire.)

Now, no one knows better than I do that even if Boss Cat fell, she would probably be fine. Cats are built to land from great heights. Humans…not so much.

I climbed the ladder anyway.  I couldn’t stand to see Boss Cat stuck like that, especially not as nightfall approached. And I couldn’t let my cat or my kid down.

At the top of the ladder, I was still about 10 feet shy of the cat. I moved to the telephone pole, continuing upwards using the metal rods driven into the pole that utility workers use to access electrical and phone lines.

Which was when I discovered why utility workers always wear heavy clothing and gloves, even in summer. Those telephone poles are not smooth. They are splinter fucking central.

Close up of a never-been-sanded telephone pole.

It was like climbing a porcupine–and I was wearing light cotton clothing. I collected slinters on my stomach, chest, and hands. I gritted my teeth, continuing until I was high enough to reach the cat.

This was the part that worried me. Cats are not the most rational or trusting creatures. Boss might fight me, or try and flee. And how was I going to carry her back down? I had not thought this rescue through.

I was an idiot.

Luckily, my cat was not an idiot. Boss Cat didn’t fight as I unhooked her claw. She immediately crept across the wire and my arm, settling herself smoothly across my shoulders. Like she’d totally thought this through while I was climbing. Or like she rode human elevators daily. The cat stayed put until we were about 8 feet off the ground. Then Boss Cat jumped down and went straight to Baby D, who carried her inside and fed her chicken.

I put away the ladder and spent the following week removing splinters.

The next time Baby D’s Cub Scout troop visited the local fire department, I did ask one of the firemen, “You guys don’t get cats out of trees anymore, do you?”

The nice young fireman said, “Actually, we will if we aren’t too busy.”

SONUVABITCH.

Author’s Note: If your cat ever does get stuck in a tree, who you gonna call? An arborist. 

A Doggie Story (#339)

Our rescue dogs were very different in temperament. Woofie, the Labrador mix, saw every creature as a potential playmate. If he could have, that dog would have opened the door to any stranger with a ball…or a knife, or a gun.

Fey, our German shepherd and shar-pei mix, saw every stranger as a potential threat, unless they were a white male over six feet tall who smelled like In-n-Out burgers. (You can probably guess who rescued her from the streets of Los Angeles and what food they used to gain a starving dog’s trust.) Fey refused to let the gas meter man near the house, which was a pain in the ass, but she also refused to let burglars break into the house, which everyone except Woofie found heroic.

Woofie shook off criticism like water. “Bad dog!” meant nothing to him. So did “no!” and even, “Jesus fucking Christ, Woofie, how did you dig up an entire bougainvillea in two minutes?!” Continue reading A Doggie Story (#339)

Sweetsgiving (#330)

I love sweets. But as a kid with a ton of siblings and not enough money, sweets only appeared in abundance for special events.

My parents’ weddings had cake. Birthdays began with doughnuts. Halloween had candy. Christmas had cookies.

Thanksgiving? A total letdown. My mom and stepfatherspent hours trying to get their homemade cranberry sauce to come out of a ridiculous antique rose mold. It molded properly exactly once and ALWAYS tasted bitter. And pumpkin pie? Could there BE a blander pie?

My dad made the only decent Thanksgiving dessert—apple pie. So of course our Labrador retriever Toffee got on the counter and ate it. Continue reading Sweetsgiving (#330)

Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

Content Warning: We’ve lost so many millions of mothers to COVID this year that even relentless jewelry-hawkers like Pandora are exercising a modicum of compassion in their Mother’s Day advertising. If you aren’t up for reading about the holiday, skip this post and consider yourself hugged.

My mom died when I was a teenager. I dreaded Mother’s Day every year after that.

I’d’ve liked to ignore the entire day. Or better still, the entire week.

Instead, there were celebrations for the other moms in my life. By the time I left home, I had to remember cards and gifts for my ex-stepmother, my current stepmother, my former stepfather’s current wife, etc. (My family is so complicated that my Big Brother finally made a PowerPoint presentation for those foolish enough to marry into it. My husband is still bitter Big Brother didn’t make it until after we got married.)

After I got married, though, Mother’s Day wasn’t so bad. Continue reading Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes. Continue reading Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

Consider the Dachshund (#315)

Comedian Sarah Cooper started a funny dog thread on Twitter with this tweet:

https://twitter.com/sarahcpr/status/1350622446848770049

Thousands of replies told Sarah all about dachshunds. About how they were bred to be small enough to fit into badger holes, but aggressive enough to drag badgers out of them. About how neighborhood and household dachshunds terrorized all other dogs.

Twitter, which never agrees on anything, agreed that dachshunds are assholes.

Even dog breeding groups, which put the best possible spin on all purebreds, concede that dachshunds are “more likely to be aggressive towards both people and dogs,” although the they do not specify more likely than what.

More likely than ANYTHING would be my guess. Continue reading Consider the Dachshund (#315)

The Ultimate Thief (#298)

Both our dogs were rescues. Our second dog, Fey, was rescued from the streets of South Central Los Angeles and never forgot it. She was loyal, well-behaved, and obedient.

And then there was Woofie. Our first dog ran away repeatedly. He went to science class at the local school. He created bizarre insurance claims. He dug up the yard. He snuck up on the furniture, curling up in Andy’s preferred recliner.

But worst of all? He was an unrepentant thief. Continue reading The Ultimate Thief (#298)

Wide Awake (#295)

I was a night owl as a child and an insomniac as an adult. I stayed awake replaying the events of the day—especially everything I did wrong. Therapy and getting an insane amount of exercise cured me in my twenties. After a miserable pregnancy (with equally miserable sleep), I woke up for breastfeeding several times a night. Once Baby D dropped nighttime nursing, I woke up because I’d gotten used to waking up. The slightest noises woke me up because Something Might Be Wrong with Baby D.

Then I woke up because something WAS wrong with Baby D, either an illness or a scream of “Want dinner!” at midnight.

My husband Andy never woke up unless I punched him in the arm, which, as I slept less and he snored more, made me want to punch him even harder. Continue reading Wide Awake (#295)

One Smug Squirrel (#286)

There weren’t many squirrels around when Andy and I moved into our little house in Southern California. The native Western gray squirrel lives off oak trees and hangs out mostly in forests. SoCal isn’t big on forests.

The few squirrels we did begin to see weren’t natives. They looked exactly like the squirrels I grew up with in D.C. and Virginia. That’s because they were Eastern fox squirrels, brought to Santa Monica by veterans a century ago as pets. These squirrels are savvy little scavengers. They used telephone and electrical wires to colonize Los Angeles County.

They’ve bamboozled numerous elderly neighbors into feeding them peanuts daily. Continue reading One Smug Squirrel (#286)

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