A Fare-Thee-Well

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Yesterday evening I had to say good-bye to my 11 1/2 year-old Pyr, Faith.

faithfulShe helped more than a few dogs in her day, whether in transport or foster. Though she was the least likely to play of any of my dogs, it was to her that one special Berner boy made his first play bow, when we didn’t know at first whether we would ever be able to draw him out of his shell of fear.

Faith came to me from the local shelter, intended as a companion for my BARC Beauty Sophia. They quickly became fast friends, and they made sure that all other dogs coming to their house knew the rules. She was true to her breed, keeping me and our property safe from all manner of trucks, buses, birds and planes. We NEVER had a plane land in our driveway!

Age and years of property management caught up with her, she spent the past few years on monthly Adaquon shots and Salmon oil seemed to ease some of her cognitive issues, but a recent infection recurred and may have had an impact on her liver and gall bladder. X-rays indicated that her hips and knees were failing, making the option for gall bladder surgery more problematic.

She refused to tell me that it was time for her to go. To the end, she was trying to protect me at her own expense. But I told her that I would do what was right for her, and I know that was what I did.

Three of my dogs are fine, but my ASD/Pyr mix, who was her closest companion after we lost Sophia, is taking it hard. But I know he will help me keep my promise to Faith tonight that I would be fine. He’s sneakiy that way, making sure that I don’t have time to wallow. He will keep me grounded, Berner Hagar will keep me laughing and Duffy and Domino will make sure that I PAY ATTENTION!!!

Run and spin with abandon, dear Faith. You were greatly loved all eleven years I got to share with you, and I will carry you in my heart until we meet again.

States of Being

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Sometimes it seems that my dogs are not five separate organisms, but parts of one whole. When something is off balance with one part, the whole organism shifts.

I have been surprised the past couple of days, while my sweet Pyr is being treated at the vet’s office, by the behavior of my other dogs. Usually, if I get home later than normal, I am greeted with great enthusiasm and vocalization. I can feel the whole house bouncing and vibrating. But not this week.

This week, the dogs have made perfucntory barks and little else. They have made their way to the door and outside with fair haste, but not with the same drive. They know Faith is ill, they know their world is out of balance.

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I don’t know whether this time balance can be restored.

I know that with or without Faith, we will go on. We will find a new balance.

I wonder how long it will take for us to find enthusiasm and joy in that new balance.

If she comes through this illness, she will be a far more elderly, frail dog than she would ever have expected to be. Her dignity will be important to all of us. She will have to supervise someone else keeping the yard safe from buses, birds and planes.

Life changes. Organisms have an ebb and flow.

I feel so lucky to live within the aura of this organism.

Kids and dogs

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Sometimes I think my sons have the notion that I love my dogs more than I love them.

I assure you, there is nothing in this world more important to me than my children.

Part of the confusion may come from the fact that if I did my job well as a parent, my sons are not dependent. If I do my job well as a pet owner, my dogs are dependent.

I hope that what I taught my sons will allow them to continue making informed and independent decisions, choosing to do what is right – for them, for their communities, for the greater good.

I hope that what I have taught my dogs will bring them running back to me whether it’s mealtime or not! I hope they will look to me for guidance, for permission, for praise.

I love my dogs dearly. Their illnesses, their deaths, tear me into tiny pieces that scatter in the wind. I am conscious, from the moment they arrive in my home, that I will have them but a little while, to teach and be taught, to share joy and pain.

My sons are an act of faith, that this world can be a better place, that one child, one man (or woman) can make a difference. They are an act of love, of patience, of devotion and perseverance. They are hope, they are connectedness, they are an extension of me to which I have cut the cord.

I am incredibly fortunate that I have a family that loves being together, exploring, experimenting, supporting each other and laughing together. The loss of any piece of that wonderful collage diminishes the whole. But does not put out the light. We have each taught each other to be strong, in love and in loss. So have I taught my children, I hope, to be strong enough to lean on each other when need be.

My dogs are smart dogs. They have yet to learn to open the containers that hold the bags that hold their food. They need someone around to help them get food and shelter and veterinary care and a little recreation now and then.  And some comfy furniture to flop on. That someone is me. In return for providing all of the above, I get to laugh and play and hold them. They challenge me and we work it out. They are dependent on my presence, my involvement with them, for their survival. And because I have brought them into my home, I owe them that and so much more.

My kids are smart, too. They know that I love them and support them in the decisions they make, because I know they are kind and just men. I suspect they prefer that I not hover at the edges of their lives, offering opinions and judgments that are not mine to offer. I hope they know that if they need me, I’m there for them, whenever, where ever. I cannot take their pain away, nor should I. No matter how much I want them to be free from pain, I know that isn’t realistic and I hope I have given them enough strength to deal with whatever life brings.

Perhaps the most important difference can be summed up this way – I have promised my dogs that I will do everything I can to ensure that I outlive them (or make arrangements, just in case).

My sons had damned well better outlive me.

Winning?

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What an odd concept winning is. It suggests triumph, glory, vanquishment. And losing. Usually not the same entity that won, but that happens occasionally, too.

Why don’t we focus on improving all, instead of the tiny bits and pieces we clutch so tightly to our breasts? Why does someone have to suffer for me to have some small gain of whatever kind? Why do some people work so hard to make others look small so that they can feel big?

I know, there have been times that I have badly wanted to squash someone else’s argument like it (or they) were a bug. But even when I have won arguments like that, it doesn’t make me a better person. Far from it.

I love those people who can make sure that everyone wins – I’m not talking about “everyone gets a certificate, now aren’t we all just so special” winning, I’m talking about everyone having ownership in a success, in progress, in a gain. Even those who threw up roadblock to that success – their arguments may have made the foundation stronger, the path more focused, the final product better tested and true.

Yet some only can feel good if those around them feel bad. I don’t understand it. I would think that would be a tense, anxious way of living, always having to make sure no one is digging too far out of their hole.

Life can be hard sometimes, and work can be competitive. So what? Aren’t we here to achieve a common goal? Let’s get on with it,  and enjoy together everyone’s contribution toward making that goal a reality.

Share the joy!

Please.

With gratitude

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Watching a dog age gives us a sped-up version of watching people age – although dogs seem to accomplish it with far more grace.

My Pyr is now 11 years old. Her arthritis slows her down, she seems to have less sense of where her back feet are, her hair is thinning even as we carom toward winter. I have, at times, worried about her hearing and vision, yet she can spot a sparrow at 300 yards and hear a bus a half-mile away.  I should probably take it personally when she ignores me, but I won’t.

She has been with me ten and a half of her 11 years.  Found as a stray in a neighboring town, transferred when that town ran out of space. The local shelter know I was looking for another big dog and called me. I shouldn’t even have been home, but I was. The other families interested in her should have jumped at the opportunity, but they didn’t.

So she joined me and Sophia and watched over us both, disciplining new dogs as they arrived, teaching the fosters to be strong, the home dogs to be patient and true. She has long kept my property safe from all manner of trucks, busses, birds and planes. She warns away coyotes in the middle of the night, but she also knows that she is off duty the moment she enters her crate. She can relax and let someone else worry about keeping us all safe.

I hope she will be with me years more, but I don’t know whether that’s realistic. At very least, I want her to enjoy at least one more snow, bouncing like a puppy in the magical froth on the land. Snowfall has always filled her with joy and wonder. The other dogs may play in the snow, she becomes one with the snow. Almost literally. There have been times I have discovered a half-inch of ice and sleet buried in her undercoat, beneath the guard hair. She thought it was great until it started melting.

Whatever time I have left with her is a gift. I cherish our time together, worrying that she has come to need me more this past year after a decade of being fiercely independent, but grateful that she is with me each day. I know I can’t keep her forever, so I will make the most of the time that we have.

And I refuse to grieve too soon. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Today there are trucks that she must tell to keep moving on by, nothing for them here, just move along.

Each day is a treasure. My dogs know that, they have done a pretty good job of teaching me, too.

Quiet days, lessons to learn

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Yes, I have been quiet for quite a while. Work keeps me very busy and the dogs keep me sane. Unless they’re driving me crazy.

As I watch them age, I marvel at how they live their lives. They are so much in the moment that it is hard for most people to fathom.

They remember the past but don’t obsess about it, they anticipate what’s next but don’t worry about it. They simply “are,” right here, right now.

They take joy in the little things, a scratch behind an ear, tracking the flight of a butterfly across the year (and always out of reach), fence running with the neighbor’s dogs – there is no malice in their barking and running, just making their opinions known.

Each day is a wonderful, treasured gift, a new adventure, an opportunity for joy.

Some days I worry that my days with them are numbered, I cannot imagine my life without them. Then I realize that they aren’t worried about any of that, they only know that we are here now, together, with a chance to play and rest and enjoy these moments. Worrying and grieving too soon get in the way of that.

I may be a slow study, but I am learning. They are good teachers.

Superstars

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I remember, when my kids were born, imagining what they might be when they grew up. The frivolous side of me imagined them as superstar athletes, captains of industry, politicians who saved the world, superheroes of one kind or another. The parental side of me just wanted them to be happy, well-adjusted human beings.

They have exceeded my expectations!

They aren’t frivolous or famous stars, known the world over. They don’t need to be and I suspect they don’t want to be.

They are fine young men, each finding ways to make this a better world for others, while not expecting perfection out of their own lives. They are realists with healthy doses of compassion and hope. They know how to give of themselves to give others a hand up.

And I couldn’t be more proud of them.

I hate politics

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Partisan politics may well be the death of our nation. The bickering and posturing and unwillingness to do what is right for the NATION rather than for some ill-defined special-interest constituency leaves us with few grown-ups in the room.

If the primary interest of both parties is to make each other look bad, instead of working on the budget and protecting the most vulnerable among us (instead of the wealthy and the aircraft manufacturers), then we need to cut off THEIR salaries and expense accounts.

What does it cost to maintain a Congress Critter for a day? What is the cost of their office space, their salaries, their benefits (and why do they get health care coverage that is out of the reach of most Americans?) What is the cost of their staffs? Their travel? Their security details? Their hangers-on? I’d rather pay the military wages and Social Security benefits than keep Congress’s lights on when there’s nobody home (no matter how many of the so-called legislators may be in the chamber).

Just once, I would like to see Congress act in the best interest of our nation and its future. Not the Speaker’s future, not with the election in mind, but just for once do what’s right.

I won’t hold my breath.

Time and again

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Time is the commodity that is most stretched to the limit, the most easily thrown away yet the most precious we have.
One of the things I love about my dogs is their ability to live in the moment. They’re not worried about tomorrow and they are not nostalgic for yesterday. They’re right here, right now, and they want to make the most of it.
Too often it takes tragedy to make us remember the value in each moment. Who among us hasn’t thought “If only I had…?” when it is certainly too late.
And I hate having regrets!
So I shall continue to strive to be the person my dogs believe me to be. I won’t be perfect, but then who expects that? I will try to be more conscious of seizing the moment, relishing the scents in the air, the sunlight on the budding leaves, the feel of soft fur against my cheek, the enticement of wubbas and tennis balls and sticks thrown about the yard.
Every day is a good day as long as we remember to smile with our hearts.

Choosing joy

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It has been just a little more than a year since we lost my Dad. There are still the occasional waves of sadness and loss, but mostly there are smiles and gratitude.
Smiles because of the love and care he lavished on his family. He was not particularly demonstrative, but we always knew he was there for us and that he would help us learn and grow. And we always knew that he loved us.
And he loved dogs, especially our dogs – first the dogs we got when I was three, and then the dogs his daughters acquired over the years. Even on those days he was confused or in pain, his face would light up when one of us was there with a dog or two.
I miss him terribly, and I always will, but he also taught me the importance of joy, in the big things, certainly, but especially in the little things.
The sound or a tennis ball hitting square in the middle of the strings,
The sight of a moose calmly walking through the woods (as long as we were out of range),
The lovely patterns of the petals of a rose opening to the morning sun,
The grace of a dog running with abandon just for the sake of running. With joy.
My father rarely spoke of any hardships or troubles or sadness. He chose to focus on the good things in this world and making as much as he could possible for as many people as he could – especially for his family.
He chose joy.
There is still sometimes a tear or two as I indulge in these memories, but more important is that I remember the love and the joy, not the sadness.
He taught us well.
I choose joy.