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.

Monday, December 9, 2019

On My Soapbox.. Again

Red, still in MS.

(Giving the same preface I always give... I am a supporter of responsible breeders as well as responsible rescue/rehome efforts.)

There is a blog post going around called "Dog Trafficking: A Multi-Million Dollar Business." Google if it you want, I'm not posting the link here. It was written in 2016, but seems to have gained some ground on social media over the past couple of days.  It brings up some concerns about the exchange of dogs from the southern USA to the northeast USA. It also holds special contempt for Greg Mahle, owner of "Rescue Road Trips" who transports dogs in this pipeline and makes money doing it.

If you know me at all, you know that I support ethical rescue. My own preferred version of ethical rescue includes the following.
  • I do not support "adopt don't shop." 
  • I do not support the idea that every dog is rehabilitatable and should be placed in a home. 
  • I absolutely acknowledge that there is a lot of bad and a lot of greed in rescues. Most importantly to me,
    • Some rescues don't hold dogs long enough to get an idea of temperament, leading to some of the situations you see on the news about dogs just attacking "out of nowhere"
    • Some rescues adopt dogs right off of transport to unsuspecting owners, leading to the dogs getting returned when the adopters realize they've bitten off more than they could chew
    • Some rescues fly dogs in from faraway lands, sometimes carrying serious diseases, sometimes claiming they're "meat dogs" when realistically.. no one stops to ask why so many people in Eastern Europe or Asia are eating purebred Golden Retrievers
    • Some rescues go to auction and spend thousands of donation dollars to save one dog and subsequently line the pockets of puppy millers, therefore keeping the cycle going
Et cetera. All of these things may help an individual dog, but do much more harm than good for dogs over all, in my opinion.

Most of the people sharing this blog post would probably nod along in agreement with my points above. So.. if I feel this way, what could I possibly have to say in opposition to this blog post?

Welp. Frankly, I've read the post a couple of times and have arrived at the same conclusion over and over.  There is an important message in this post, but that message is buried deep under a ton of vitriol that vilifies adopters and makes outrageous claims with little supporting evidence. This all, therefore, negates any positive message the post might have about the problems with the system.

I repeat. This blog post calls people who adopt southern dogs and people who feel good about moving them up here gullible and brain dead.  At the surface, you can see why I might be offended by that statement, as an owner of southern dogs myself.  My second southern dog was not at all any kind of do-gooding impulse purchase. He was acquired by me with a ton of careful consideration, after scoping out both purebreds and mixed breeds, adults and puppies.  He was in foster prior to my acquisition of him, and the rescue group and foster were both happy to answer my extensive questions and let me dictate how the meet and greet went. I'd likely work with them again.

However, realistically, I do not need or care about some blogger's opinion on where my dogs come from. I've been at this stuff a little while now. So what's my real issue with this?

Well.. people have similar things to say about those who acquire backyard bred dogs. Or dogs from the meat trade. Or puppy store dogs. Or doodles. Or whatever's the latest pet buying craze that people disagree with. And while some or all of the things they say might be valid points of concern, they are presenting their concern in the completely wrong way.

Okay, so maybe you do acknowledge there are some problems with acquiring a southern dog, or a $5K designer dog, or a BYB dog, or whatever.  Do you think that calling people names is going to help them say "oh, okay, that's a good point, let me work with you and find a better breeder or better rescue group next time?" All that shaming does is piss people off and turn them away from you.  It doesn't make them your friend, it doesn't make them respect you, and it therefore neglects to solve the perceived problem at hand because it doesn't change their mind. 

And then there is the other stuff spewed in this venomous post.. the claim that the southern overpopulation of dogs is a mythical fairytale, and some vast majority of the dogs pouring north are doing so under false pretenses.

I am sure dogs are stolen and imported by unscrupulous rescue groups, but I have a hard time believing it is a significant percentage of the dogs coming up from the south. I have seen some of the claimed-mythical overpopulation for myself.  Spoken to many people, including Red's former owner, who live there. Visited the shelter Marge came from.  I have seen intact male dogs wandering with my own eyes on nearly every trip I've made to the region. I have read the Facebook posts where people in places like Mississippi say "my girl had a litter and I can't keep the puppies, someone come get them." The south has dogs that people in the Northeast want.  Houndy, labby, herding mixes. You may question how well local organizations and their north affiliates are helping to curb these unwanted litters, and I'd say that's a valid thing to look in to. But, if you're going to make a claim that most of these dogs are actually offshore fly-by-night imports bred specifically for resale, who are run through shelters to get transported north, I WANT HARD PROOF because that's a pretty big, different claim.

(As an aside - I am going to get flack for this, but I personally feel that this guy, Greg Mahle, is filling a niche.  People in the north want dogs.  The south has dogs.  Greg Mahle makes money moving dogs south to north.  He is not a rescue hero, he is some guy filling a transport void that would be filled by someone else if not him. If the media wants to make him a celebrity, I couldn't care less as long as it's not in an adopt-don't-shop, anti-breeder manner. I think neither positively nor negatively of him.)

It very likely would make for a better dog-owning America if the only dogs available were purposely bred animals that people had to wait in line for.  It would certainly be better for the dogs as there would be no unwanted animals then, no impulse purchases, no animals to save and no animals to "save."  I do think that would require a drastic change on how the pet "industry" in America as a whole operates, which would have consequences more far reaching than just "the Smith family has to wait for Rover to be born". Until that utopia occurs, though, the question remains, despite the posts clamoring to END THIS and END THAT.  Americans want dogs, want them now, and everyone is talking about where not to get one, and not talking about where to get one.  

In the current climate, hobby breeders are an excellent choice but cannot meet America's demand for dogs in full and even if they could, some prospective pet homes are unwilling to wait on waiting lists.  Commercial breeders are the antichrist and now.. moving unwanted mixed breed dogs from south to north is no good, either, and wrought with conspiracy and disease and greed and and and.  

So what do we do?  Do we just sit around and complain about all of the things we disagree with, or even if we don't have all of the answers, do we attempt to educate-by-example without name calling and truly, earnestly help people make decisions that better align with our own morals?

I know what category I fall in to.

I personally feel that the people who "do their homework" with regard to dog acquisition didn't arrive to that point by accident.  They met a "dog person" (be it someone involved in good breeding, good rescue, or both), got to know them, wound up admiring them and their mindset, valued their opinion, etc and did more research.  

They did not arrive there because a blogger on the internet got snotty over where their dog came from.

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