Saturday, January 27, 2024

Little Dog, Big Feelings

Since I've last written on this blog, I've had 7 dogs come to stay with me, Red, and Andrew. Most were fosters and did not come with the intent to stay. A couple I adored, a couple gave me panic attacks. Over and over, though, the sadness that came with seeing them move on was never enough to make me wish that they hadn't left.

Enter Lil' Mama. She came here as a temporary foster who needed a place to crash for about two weeks, but I extended our foster timeframe when she readily made herself at home in our humble abode. This is the only dog who did not leave when they were supposed to. The only dog that I voluntarily kept longer than what I had initially committed to. I just couldn't bear to bounce her to another foster home if I could make her next stop her forever home.

Yes - I know what you are thinking. No, it isn't likely. She's got someone who applied for her, who'll be meeting her after her dental is done next week. And while (amazingly) she's probably the best fit out of all 7 dogs who have come, I think it's possible that there may be someone out there better for an elderly, hard-of-hearing Dachshund mix who sleeps most of the day than we are.

So, I got to thinking.. this short-legged mutt came here, will likely stay a month-plus before we part with her, and truly touched our souls forever.  Moreso than any of the others.  She also taught me something that I'm not quite sure I could have learned without her.

She taught me what I AM really looking for.

I started my search thinking I wanted another young cattle dog mix to do sports with.  Red is perfect, so why not get two of him?

My search has now evolved into thinking very differently. That perhaps I won't get another dog at all. Or, if I do, that that dog may need to be more like Marge than they are like Red.

There are two reasons why another high-octane sports dog is not the right choice right now. One, I barely have enough time to show my current dog, who is in his prime and is happy to play almost ANY sport with me. Two, it will absolutely crush Red for me to bring home a dog who is as emotionally needy as he is.

Some friends have, in the past, definitely insinuated that a "Red" type dog was the wrong way to go. I disagreed with them. I couldn't see it. I needed to experience it. 

But, the truth is.. I liked having two dogs when I had Marge and Red.. not Red and Red.

Red doesn't want to play with other dogs indoors. He doesn't want to be bothered. After all, he lived with an old dog. That's what she taught him. And she was VERY good at teaching him that.

So if someone should come to stay here for good while Red is around (which I hope is a very long time), it won't be another Red. It'll be a Marge.

A plain, dare I say "boring," even-keeled dog who is content hanging with you -- from the foot of your bed.

A dog that doesn't react to other environmental stimuli like dogs and wildlife. 

A dog that can just as easily lay on the couch and wait for you to come home as they can play some casual dog sports.

Red and Lil' Mama coexist almost in the same way Marge and Red did. Out of all the fosters who have come here, she's had the most free range out of any of them. I have no concerns about having both dogs on the couch with me or feeding them in the same room. They walk well(ish) on a leash together.

It's such a familiar dynamic. It almost feels like I'm in a time machine.

So, maybe I'll get another dog. Maybe I won't. I'm stressing less about it these days for sure. I'm trying to enjoy my sweet dog Red to the fullest and also make sure that whoever he shares his house with gets us as close to that perfect dynamic duo that I got to enjoy for six years.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Grief Paradox

Honestly? Grief's weird.

You can have a semi-normal few hours, maybe a workday that isn't half bad, partake in a hobby you enjoy or just get a tiny bit excited about something fun coming up in the days or weeks ahead. 

And then WHAM! There it is. Again. 

And you are leveled. Again.

I am fortunate to be relatively inexperienced in this realm. I've lost animals and people that I've cared for deeply, but my prior benchmark for a big loss was as a teenager when "my" childhood horse passed after a 3-day illness. 

I had truly terrible coping mechanisms at the time, mostly from not talking about it; I didn't have many people in my life that would understand how a nearly 40-year old horse dying would affect a 17-year old me. At the time, I thought that nothing in my life would ever compare. 

It's true - this doesn't compare. This is in some ways actually better (read: yes, laying in bed moping but NOT laying in bed moping for literally an entire month), and in other ways much worse. Aside from the obvious point of Marge being *the* individual that literally sculpted who I am, the whole process.. is just different.

Life goes on. Sometimes I want it to speed up. Sometimes I want it to freeze.
Responsibilities continue. Sometimes they're a welcome distraction, other times it's difficult to get through them.
People surround me. Good people. Understanding people. Sometimes I want to repeat the same stories over and over again to any one who will listen and sometimes I want to keep it all in to myself.

I think this all just goes along with being a much more complex human now in my thirties than I was in my teens, but I had no way of knowing that it'd be different until I was in the trenches again. 

I wrote a lot about that loss when I was younger. One line stands out, reflecting on the many lessons learned from that old horse. Keep in mind that this happened just a year before I got Marge. 

"When you come along someone who needs your help, you just might be able to change both their life and your own with a little bit of time and effort."

We sure did set that lesson into motion, didn't we?

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

You Can't Go

 It's funny. 

People love to say things like "she'd want you to be happy!," alluding to the idea that I should go and do all of the things Marge loved to do with Red.

I'm not so sure if that's completely true. 

If you knew Marge, you knew there wasn't really an ounce of selfless "go-on-without-me" in her. She wasn't like Shadow from Homeward Bound laying in the ditch telling Chance and Sasyy to leave him so that they could escape and have a good life with Peter. Except for very few occasions, Marge wanted to come and Marge wanted to be involved. (Whether she still wanted to participate as fully as she used to is a different story, but generally, she had a good time on our adventures and we moderated them as she aged).

Minnewaska State Park is on fire. The park is closed. The fire started Saturday, I believe, or at least that's when it hit the news. The day Marge died.

Minnewaska holds a special place in my heart. We've had a handful of really memorable hikes there, including a long hike last year at the end of the 2021 Trail-A-Thon.

I remarked to a couple of people, those who REALLY knew Marge, that it was her way of telling us, from where ever the hell she is right now, that we aren't allowed to go back there for the time being.

I smiled at the thought.

I like that narrative better.  It fits her more.

An earthquake hit northern New Jersey, not terribly far from where we finished our 2020 Trail-A-Thon.

Stay out of there, too.

If something wild goes down in Acadia National Park..

..then I know she means business.

Monday, August 29, 2022

5173 Plus 2


To be perfectly honest, I have been mourning Marge a long time. I don't think there was any way I was going to get through this unless I had done so, honestly.

The first time was when she was nine years old and I was about six minutes away from Red's foster home, on my way to meet him. I pulled over near a baseball field and bawled like she had died, even though she was right there in my backseat. Part of that was anticipating the potential big change of adding another dog into my life, but there was definitely a part of it that acknowledged that she was getting older.

The next time was when she earned her obedience Companion Dog Excellent (CDX). I knew that she'd never, ever set foot in an obedience ring again, since we hadn't trained Utility and had no plans to start (she was already around 12 years old when we got the CDX). My boyfriend ran into Qdoba to get us lunch and I sat in the car and cried. I was by no means a big obedience person but it felt like the beginning of the end, in a way. That it was one volume of our story wrapping up. 

After that, I distinctly remember one time when we had come back from Hacklebarney State Park, probably in 2020. She was laying in her grey Sealy bed. I went over and although she wasn't outwardly in pain, I felt her hip flexors spasming. I cried because I knew that what I needed to do was take her on easier, less rocky hikes.

Of course, her Rally Championship last year. The saddest title I have ever earned, because it meant that a show career that spanned more than a decade had come to a close. 

Every time I left Acadia National Park, I thought for sure, "this is our last time here." She proved me wrong a couple times, but this past visit, in May of 2022, I knew it. I felt like I had barely gotten her though the trip in one piece, since she had been lame a week before and was starting to get a little pickier about her food.

And then this summer.. slowly, a wave of nostalgia began to come over me. I started taking more solo walks with her (even though she had always gotten some). I started looking through old photos, piecing together old pictures with recent ones taken in the very same places. Even re-created an old photo from 2008 of her sitting out in the field. A then and now, of sorts.

It's pretty wild to think about her being gone. I'm still not quite sure I believe it. Maybe I never will.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Day 5173

 I made the call around 10AM Saturday morning.

After speaking to the oncologist, I finally felt certain that there was no reasonable path forward. I had tried for a week to bring her appetite back with prednisone but all I got was a really thirsty dog who was wasting away. 

She was weak and getting weaker. A part of me wanted to wait, selfishly. After all, she gobbled up her cod dinner just the night before. Another part of me couldn't bear to see her become any more of a shell of her former self.

We stopped at McDonald's on the way over. Andrew ran inside, and I sat in the back seat with the dogs.  

I thanked her. Told her I loved her.

On the ride over, Red curled up next to her and Marge put her head across his back. One of my favorite things that they did on road trips. 

My mom and sister pulled up at the vet's office beside us. I brought Red over to their car, and they entertained him with a frozen Toppl in thr back seat while we went in.

Marge got out of the car after her first round of chicken nuggets and promptly squatted down to poop. It was solid.. not always a given with her, especially not lately.

She then sniffed the tree nearby. She looked happy to be doing it. She hadn't been interested in much of anything the past couple of weeks, so I stood and let her do her thing.  I couldn't deny her. 

We entered the office. It was quiet. They ushered us straight in to the room on the left. They had a nice thick towel down on the floor, but I brought my blue plaid blanket for her, one that had accompanied us on so many of our trips. I wound up leaving it with her. 

She laid down readily. She was tired.

Our vet marveled at her and all she did in her life, and how she was healthy throughout all of it, aside from her GI issues and a little back pain. She did such a good job in that moment, as weird as it might be to say.

We fed her some more chicken nuggets before she was sedated, and then off she went, peacefully, with her head on my left leg.

We brought Red in. He seemed more concerned with comforting us. He's such a good, sensitive boy. He tried so hard these past two weeks to help, I know it's been hard on him. 

And then off I went, with several glances back, to move forward without her. 

I am broken and tired right now. And I'll have more to say. But for now, I wanted this all in one place. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Day 5163

 Day 5163.

That's how many days have elapsed since Marge first set foot into my home and into my life.

She's resting quietly in her bed now, at 7:11pm. I just picked her up from the veterinary hospital, where she spent most of the day.

An enlarged spleen was found on ultrasound. We're awaiting biopsy results. The options are not good. Most likely, lymphoma or mast cell cancer. Less likely, an infection. Even though an infection sounds like it would be good news, a tick-borne illness would likely require such long and high doses of antibiotics that we've agreed may not be the best choice for a dog with an already-sensitive GI tract, especially one in the state she's in now.

Friday, she was a mostly normal 15-year old dog.

Today, she is tired. Sedated, still, from the meds and stress of the day. But tired.

The days ahead do not look as though they're going to be easy for me.

But I am trying to be as strong as I can to make them easy for her.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Still Around

Howdy. It's been like three years since I've written on here. I can't even access the Photobucket account associated with it, despite multiple attempts.

Lately, a wave of nostalgia has hit me, I read through all my posts, and there's a little itty bitty piece of me thinking of reviving this blog. I found it strangely comforting to read through all of our old adventures and see pictures from so many years ago.

Marge is 15 years old. She retired from Rally Obedience last year, after earning her AKC Rally Championship.  We stopped doing agility a year or two before that. She had earned her MACH2 a few years back. In Obedience, she earned her CDX title. We tried to keep going in Nosework, but she doesn't seem to really want to do it any more.

Marge's golden years have truly been golden, filled with lots of hikes (including 4 trips to Acadia National Park, one about two months ago) and cheerleading Red as his dog-sport career has gotten into full swing.  She's slowing down a bit, now, though these ridiculous and excessive temperatures aren't helping.

I know that I am entering a new phase of Marge's life where she is becoming an old dog.  I don't think she's going anywhere just yet, but I do know she physically and mentally can't do what she used to do any more. Often, this means making the choice between changing my plans, leaving her behind, or taking the dogs on separate adventures on the same day. It's tough. 

Yesterday I didn't have to make that decision, the weather made it for me. The whole fam went out for a stroll along the river, wading around and not really hiking very far due to the heat. 

For some reason, I love this blooper I took on my camera.

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am that it took until age 15 to reach this stage where we have to go a little slower.  That's one and a half, even two lifetimes' worth of living for some dogs. But I am still having trouble with it.

I don't know what my point in writing this is, but I guess in and of itself is the point of writing, isn't it? 

Maybe you'll hear from me again soon, maybe you won't. Today, I felt like writing. 

I hope, even if she's now old, that her relative good health and mobility continue and she can continue making memories with me.

Even if they're a little different than before.

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