Our Roster of Love

Well, Hagar was put to sleep yesterday. It was a hard decision and no one wanted to do it, but it was clearly time. The photo above was in his last hour.

 

Hagar in Better Days

First, I need to thank the entire crew at Tumwater Veterinary Hospital for their incredible support. We joked that Hagar was a rockstar, since he liked to wander late at night and sleep until noon, but he was clearly popular at our vet’s office too. We would walk in, and the folks behind the desk would announce, “Hagar’s here!” before the door even swung shut. I thank those techs who came in to say goodbye to him, and I thank Dr. Lina, who went above and beyond in her pursuit to keep him healthy. Old Dog Haven dogs are a tough problem. They almost always come with a mysterious multitude of health issues. I suspect that she was beating herself up with a bunch of woulda-coulda-shouldas, but the fact is that dogs can’t tell you what hurts. It’s a tough job. I’d trust her with any dog.

Minky Feeling Good

The consolation in every ODH foster is that every one of them is a dog who could have died alone and afraid. Instead, they pass on surrounded by people who love them, and they know it. When it’s time to say goodbye, they go with a palpable sense of relief and joy. My guess is that Hagar had some kind of event a couple of Friday nights past, a neurological thing that changed his behavior and made his recovery impossible. We will never know for sure, of course, but there is a certain spirituality in the passing of a dog that tells the tale. Hagar was lost and miserable. His body and mind had failed him. Dr. Lina administered a sedative, and I could feel him relax and let go of the pain. She delivered the coup de grace and he was gone. Usually I can feel it, but this time, it took a while. I imagine it as shaking off the effects of having a damaged brain, but after a while, I could tell that he was feeling the joy of re-connection to whatever dogs reconnect to after they leave this life. It was time indeed.

The ODH foster role can be tough, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Every relationship with a dog is rewarding, but these ODH dogs are the tip of the sword. The payoff is usually short lived, and the effort is high. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Will we do it again? Without a doubt.

The Aussie Club

Meanwhile, we have our own pack. I consider Hope to be the matriarch, even though she doesn’t really care for leadership. She cares for love and play. As a large Chocolate Lab, she lives for lap time with Sharon, although it’s a recliner destroying freak show of love. Behind her is Elke, who came into our current life with me. She is a Border Collie Jack Russell mix, which means that she has every form of dog OCD you can name, and she considers herself in charge of everything. The fly in her personal ointment is that fact that she has gone blind. I’d say she is almost fully blind now. It’s a long drop from her youth as a killer frisbee dog, but she has full-on bat hearing to compensate. She still has the ability to find balls and frisbees that our fully-sighted dogs cannot. Let’s just call it focus. Behind Elke is Jay.

Elke in a Tent on a Bike Tour

We pulled him from a shelter adoption day in the tri-cities. He’s some kind of greyhound mix, and he is probably our sweetest dog. He falls a bit on the timid side, but as he gets older, he puts up with less from the other dogs. It’s not hard to hurt Jay’s feelings, and we can tell when he faces the corner with only furtive glances to make sure we can see that he is offended. Then, there’s the Aussie club. Make no mistake, it is an exclusive membership club. They have certain rituals that look violent, but are not, until someone outside the club tries to participate. Luna is 7, and was born deaf. It’s a common problem among Australian Shepherds. In practical terms, it has no effect. She misses nothing. Her younger half brother Roscoe is our youngest at five. He’s not a rescue in the classical sense as he came from a quality breeder and he is as healthy and stout as a fresh NFL linebacker. He is simply a mismark, which means he doesn’t meet the breed standards for markings. This takes nothing away from his beauty and magnificence of course. Breed standards mean nothing to me. He’s a sweet boy, and a little Aussie crazy. I could explain the commands he responds to, but I promise it would make no sense at all.

So, five dogs, five rescues, and enough shedding fur to sculpt a new one every week. Yep, it’s worth it.

Roscoe’s Usual Attitude

I know that some of you wish I could do nothing but write fiction. There is a major appeal in that for me as well. However, if I had not spent my life doing a whole bunch of things, I’m pretty sure the writing would have less authority and less meat on the bone. Some people look forward to retirement. I can’t even imagine retirement. I’d be happy to keel over with my hands on a keyboard. I have a great many things I want to do, and the only sad part is that I can’t possibly live long enough to do them all. Thanks to a certain reshuffling of life, I am fully engaged in writing again. I’m knocking down at least 20,000 words a week now, but that will never be all I do.

In Western Washington, we have a perfect summer that lasts from July 4th to roughly mid October. I want to spend a great deal of that time producing a documentary about Old Dog Haven. This is an organization that deserves every recognition they can get. It is the creation of a woman named Judith, who is frankly remarkable. She burns the candle at both ends. She’s on her mission 24/7 and has managed to build a rescue organization with virtually no overhead that spends $90,000 per month on old dog medical expenses. My hope is threefold. One is to bring in more support with a film quality documentary about dog rescue in general and ODH in particular. Two is to use the footage to create some pointed fundraising videos for  ODH, and three is to make the entire footage library available to the organization for their communication efforts. There are some follow on goals as well, but first things first.

To that end, I have set up a gofundme campaign. If you want to get involved in something very personal and central to me, you can donate here. On behalf of myself, ODH, and a lot of dogs that need help, I would greatly appreciate your support.

 

Blind Dogs

Minky_adorable
The Mink

Nobody wants a blind dog, right? Well, not absolutely no one, but it’s a rare individual who would choose to give a home to blind dog. To be honest, there was a time when I would have felt the same way. It’s not hard to rationalize. A blind dog would need more help than one with eyesight, at least in theory. In practice, the distinction is not nearly that sharp.

There are two blind dogs in our house. One is Elke who was my dog before Sharon and I Brady Bunched a whole pack of rescues together. The other is our foster from Old Dog Haven, Minky. Both of them lost their eyesight due to age and congenital defects in Elke’s case, and just plain old age in Minky’s, along with the Shih Tzu tendency to use their big old eyes like the bumper of a car. Neither is totally blind. They can see a little bit of motion, perhaps some light and dark, but they are effectively blind, certainly handicapped enough to call them blind with a straight face.

I adopted Elke from a couple in Ballard back in 2007. She had been through several shelters before that. Elke is alpha to the core, and had spent her time dominating their older and larger dogs until she had disrupted the entire household. I was only planning for one dog back then, and decided to give her a home. She’s half Border Collie and half Jack Russell. There are two drawbacks to this mix. One is her tiny Jack Russell head on a 45-pound Border Collie body. She gains a little weight and starts to look like a tick. The other, as you may have guessed, is that she has every kind of OCD dogs can get. If she’s not trying to herd you, she’s trying to fetch something. If those options fail, she falls back to staring obsessively at cats, or yapping for attention in a voice that sounds like it was stolen from a prehistoric bird. Lately, she has picked up our deaf dog’s worse habit, which is to sing freestyle jazz way too early in the morning.

My original plan was to take Elke on my long walks, and she turned into an excellent companion for those ambulations. (Side note: Are we the only ones who keep having to think up new words for things like “breakfast” and “walk” just to keep the dogs from freaking out?) She also turned out to be a top notch Frisbee dog. The more elaborate the commands became, the better she liked it. She could catch a Frisbee while flying backwards and upside down 7 feet off the ground. Really. I have photos.

ElkeFrisJump
Elke

Fast forward almost a decade and she can no longer see the Frisbee against the sky. However, she does have bat-hearing which will take her right to it when it hits the ground. We have adapted by playing fetch with ground balls. She can hear it bouncing along so effortlessly that she may as well have perfect eyesight. The only real evidence of her blindness is revealed when someone leaves a vacuum cleaner in her path and she smacks right into it, or when she gets distracted with her need to rule the universe and misses the open door by six inches. Yes, it’s a little sad to remember that she once ruled the skies, and I cringe when she runs into something solid at a running pace, but she doesn’t care. The queen does not have time for embarrassment.

Minky showed up at our door already blind, and mostly deaf as well. His eyes were in bad shape in general. After a lot of care and eye medicine, his eyes look much better, and I suspect he sees a bit better too, but no one would mistake what he does for adequate eyesight. It’s tough break for him; he’s clearly a very visually oriented dog. On the upside, he’s old. What? See, he doesn’t move fast enough to run into anything. He just takes his time, pokes around with his nose, and goes wherever he wants, including under the dresser in case the cats spilled any food. Speaking of his nose, it’s working just fine. He can smell food at 20 paces (even that healthy stuff he hates) – no problem. His hearing is not entirely gone either. He still hears high pitched noises like metal dog dishes clanking, microwave doors latching, the rattle of dog food bags, and the incredible high pitched “MINK!” my wife uses to get his attention.

The point is simply this: It does not matter if a dog is blind, deaf, or missing a leg. They still act like themselves. They simply use what they have and do what dogs do. Unlike us, they don’t waste time worrying about what they have lost. They compensate for it, find a new balance that ends up being far more graceful than we would expect, and they keep right on going.

So, it’s easy to believe that a blind dog is harder than one with good eyesight. It’s easy to believe that a young and healthy dog is more fulfilling than an old one, but it’s not true. The truth is that if you open yourself to a relationship with a dog, you will revel in every victory, no matter where the bar is set. You will find that in a good relationship with us, dogs have that measureless capacity to find joy in every moment. If we pause to notice, we find ourselves right there in that moment with the most dedicated friends we can have.

Or. as it says on a dog paw print bumper sticker I saw yesterday. “Who’s saving who?”