Dogless (#365)

We had never lived in our house without a dog. The night the owners of our current house accepted our offer, we got our first dog. Woofie came with us to the housing inspection. In less than six months, we’d gotten Woofie a buddy named Fey. Dogs were incorporated into our lifestyle from the start.

They prewashed our dishes, which was especially handy with egg yolk.

They made sure we got exercise: 2-6 miles daily.

They helped us meet our neighbors. (To this day, I generally know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood. Their owners’ names? No idea.)

They guarded our house and saved us money on alarms and utility bills. If the dogs were home, we could leave the windows open when we were out.

They gave us a handy excuse to leave awkward dinners or parties: “Gotta get home and let out the dogs before Bad Things Happen.”

The dogs helped entertain and raise Baby D, as well as ensuring he had a very robust immune system.

Even in Los Angeles, I could walk those dogs at any hour without an ounce of fear. Only the most desperate, hopeful dog-lovers would approach me and my 160 pounds of canines. (When they did approach, it always made Woofie’s day.)

No TV show was ever as funny as watching their battles over water bottles or tug toys (which generally ended in Woofie dragging Fey around the yard as she hung onto said toy). We spent many summer evenings on our swing in the backyard laughing over their antics.

They were family, whether snuggling with us on the couch at night or counter surfing relentlessly during the day.

And we lost them both to different cancers within a year-and-a-half of each other.

I took losing Woofie hard. So did our Boss Cat. While Fey had guarded her yard all day, Woofie spent much of the day inside, playing with Boss Cat or getting attention from me. I kept expecting to hear his claws on the hardwood floor, or feel his muzzle lift my arm when I paid too much attention to the computer screen.

Boss Cat tried to play with Fey, but Fey was a sensitive German Shepherd mix. When Boss Cat batted her in the face, Fey barked and snapped. A normal cat would have fled. Boss Cat glared and hit Fey with her right paw so hard that the WHAP reverberated through the house. Fey—who had vanquished multiple loose pit bulls, a Tibetan Shepherd mix, and a Rhodesian ridgeback—winced and slunk away. Without a canine playmate, Boss Cat consoled herself with food, gaining a pound after Woofie’s demise.

Andy took Fey’s death hardest. She was his obedient girl who loved to jump on the couch and have him pet her face after he got home from work. Andy consoled himself with Boss Cat, who allowed cuddles and head bunting nightly.

*****

Our dogless house was a quieter place. Less mess. Less money spent at the vet. No need to hurry home from Baby D’s soccer tournaments. It was much easier (and cheaper!) to hire the girls down the block to feed Boss Cat than to find a reliable dog sitter to stay in our house when we traveled.

We closed and locked all our windows up when we left, returning to a house that was a veritable SoCal sauna.

We had to throw out leftover food and waste water rinsing away egg yolks.

I still went for early morning walks, but my only companion was Pokemon Go. Sometimes I would see a big dog and run over, cooing, “Oh my GOD! She’s so cute! Can I say hi?! I have a venison treat in my pocket in case she had allergies is that okay?!”

I had become the desperate dog stalker.

We took care of a friend of a friend’s dog for a few days. Boss Cat hated that dog on sight. She nearly tore out a window screen trying to escape the house and refused to come into the living room until the dog went home.

I told Andy, “I guess if we want another dog, it would have to have Boss Cat’s approval.”

“You want another dog? You’re the one that always goes on about how you have to train it and do all the work.”

“Yeah, but…our house doesn’t feel right. Every morning, going up the hill, I think, ‘This is such a waste of a walk. Some rescue dog out there would be loving this.'”

“We’d have to find a dog that is good with cats and kids.”

“But it has to be a rescue dog that needs a home. A big dog.”

“Not over eighty pounds,” Andy declared. “I need be able to carry the dog ten years from now when it’s old and sick.”

“It’ll have to be trained. And not a puppy. I am not up for spending hours on dog training again.”

“So we’re looking for a dog that’s good with cats, good with kids, is big but under 80 pounds, is young, but not a puppy and fully trained?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “We’re probably not getting another dog for a while, are we?”

And we didn’t.

Until I found the Tank.

The Red Demon: A Short Story (#362)

The orange dog refused to fade.

She still trotted her guard route across the yard and patio, though her black claws no longer clicked against the brick.

Her humans couldn’t see her.

The little boy ran right through her once, waving his giant stick.

Worst of all, her once ferocious bark made no noise.

And it was nearly time for the red demon.

The orange dog had protected her yard, her people, and even the dog-smacking cat for years. Once a week, just after the sun rose, the red demon approached the house, growling. She could smell its oily scent long before she heard it—a combination of metal blades, minerals, and death.

Every week, the orange dog raced along the fence, warning the demon off with her deep, fierce bark. The red demon would draw close, but turn away at the last minute—unwilling to challenge her.

If there hadn’t been a six-foot fence between the orange dog and the demon, she’d have killed it long ago. Instead, she could only drive it away weekly.

Now, without her fierce bark, how could she scare it away? Without her fighting claws and strong jaws, how could she protect her people? Her packmate had died years before, but that dog had been useless even in his prime. If she hadn’t been around, he’d have invited the demon in to play ball and been slashed to bits by its blades.

Labradors were stupid like that.

The orange dog was both German Shepherd and Chinese Shar-pei. Nothing came in her yard without her permission. Burglars, basset hounds, utility men—they all fled from her.

Even the red demon never tried to breach the fence.

But would the red demon turn away this week? Or would it realize, without her barking, that the yard was unprotected?

Would it try and get her humans?

*****

The red demon’s day dawned cloudy. The mother and the little boy were eating when the orange dog scented the demon. She raced along the fence, chest heaving, her jaws opening and closing.

But the only sound was the red demon’s growl.

Growing louder.

The orange dog raced into the house, around the table, frantically trying to warn the humans.

They didn’t see her.

The red demon drew closer.

The humans kept eating.

How did they not hear its growling? Or smell its sharp metal blades?

The red demon was nearly at the house when the woman cocked her head and said to the little boy, “It’s the mower for the school field.” She sniffled and said, “I keep expecting to hear Fey barking at it. Remember? She really hated that thing.”

Then the woman barked. Just a small, “Roof-roof-roof!” Nothing at all like the orange dog’s powerful, “ROOF-ROOF-ROOF! MOVE ON OR DIE, RED DEMON!

The little boy began barking, too: “Roof! Roof-roof-roof!!”

Crying and laughing, the humans barked. Joyously, Fey barked with them, though they could not hear her.

The red demon turned away. Just as it had for the orange dog for eleven years.

The humans understood. The yard was protected.

Content, she slipped back out to her patio. A stray shaft of sunlight had warmed the brick. Fey curled up in the light.

And faded away.

 

One Mom, Every Mom (#349)

My husband did (and still does) a lot of wrestling with Baby D. But our son’s main playmate, when there was no school, sports, or playing with the kids on the block, has always been me.

Baby D loves the water. Swimming is a good way to wear out any kid, even those of the inexhaustible variety. We’d always get to the pool at least a half-hour before lessons and play games. And by games I mean:

Baby D: “Mommy, let’s pretend you are Mommy Whale and I am Baby Whale!”

Me: “Can’t I be Mommy Shark?”

Baby D: “No! Because I am Baby Whale!” (Swims out to middle of pool, proceeds to spin and thrash.) “MOMMY WHALE! MOMMY WHALE! Baby Whale is caught in a whirlpool!”

I would sigh, ignore the sniggering lifeguard and go to “rescue” Baby Whale.

Golden Pond, Town Beach

When Baby D was older, but stuck with only me as a playmate at a New Hampshire lake, the games became more involved. They were inevitably based on whatever he’d read most recently:

Baby D: “Okay, this rock is Momdor and you have to defend it and not let me touch it!” (Baby D charges, freestyling like mad. I scoop him up and throw him a few feet back. Repeatedly. I tire out way before my kid.)

Me (mining blowing a horn): “Momdor calls for aid! Momdor calls for aid! Where are the Riders of Rohan?!”

Baby D (outraged): “Momdor isn’t GONDOR! It’s MORDOR!!”

Me: “Not a chance, Baby Sauron. I’m Gondor AND the Houses of Healing.”

I certainly felt like a besieged nurse on a regular basis. Andy had one of his lemon episodes soon after our beloved rescue dog Woofie was diagnosed with a terminal fibrosarcoma. Then our other rescue, Fey, injured herself shoving Woofie out of the way in order to claim attention from friends and neighbors who came visit Woofie one last time (Woofie had always believed everyone was his friend. Turns out, he wasn’t wrong.)

That month had a lot of trips to human and canine physicians. While sitting in yet another waiting room—don’t ask me which kind—I wrote the following (apologies to Tolkien):

Three X-rays for the denizens
In the house of sturdy brick
A canine with a cancer
And a skull that’s awfully thick
His wussy shar-pei sister
Yelps with compressed discs of three
And the man that ought to walk them
Had surgery on his knee.
One Mom to nurse them all
One Mom to chide them
One Mom to find those pills
Wherever doggies hide them.

I was not, however, the only poet in the family. The following Mother’s Day, Baby D’s class wrote poems about their moms. Baby D’s started off and ended as quite the ode:

My mom is hardworking
She always supports me
She lets me do soccer and
Supports me with glee…

…I love my mother truly
She is the greatest for me
Amazing she can see
What is the best for me!

But the middle? It contained this gem:

When my mother is resentful
I know to hide in my room
Else will come my doom!

Maybe Momdor is Mordor after all.

Or maybe every Gondor has a bit of Mordor in it.

Actual poem & picture. Baby D says it’s tree. Andy says it looks like our dog Fey up on her hind legs. I say words always trump illustration.

If you were hoping for a Christmas Post, here’s my husband’s first New England Christmas. If you want Christmas AND you got every single Tolkien reference in this post, here’s the perfect read for you: The North Polar Bear.

 

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.