Going to the Dogs

IMG_0793Just so there’s no misunderstanding, this entry is about the four legged variety, not the two legged version. 

It’s also about fantasy colliding with reality.  And, for those of us with any years of experience tucked under our belts, we know exactly what that means. 

This all started back when BlackJack moved onto Kitty Heaven and I was pet-less.  I signed up at the local humane society center to be a dog-socializer which was a lot cooler than walking the pooches in 100 plus degree weather. I also signed up to cuddle the cats, but, given truth in advertising, they really needed volunteers to clean the kitty litter boxes and I am past that stage of life.

So, by default, the dogs got me.

Sammie’s Friends, a rural county facility staffed by employees and volunteers, is really remarkable. There are two buildings, one for dogs and one for cats.

The dogs are walked twice a day by volunteers along a mile plus long trail; there are outdoor pens for small, medium and large sized dogs where a behaviorist works with the dogs individually and in small groups, and then there are the socializers, who are also assigned a day or more a week to sit one on one with the animals.

That’s me.  We socializers go into each kennel, all of which are rather large and remarkably spotless. Each pooch has toys as well as a comfy bed, water and food.  The socializer’s job is to spoil the dogs, so we arrive, grab the provided stool, and go into each kennel laden with dog treats and ready to pet, play and cuddle each animal.

It’s a tough job, but given my background as a grandma, I already had the prerequisite training.

Some of the socializers prefer the little dogs, but I like the larger ones.  So, when I was being trained, which was really how to open and close the kennel doors without being run over by an escape artist, I said I’d take the larger dogs.

Then I discovered that most of them were pit bulls.

It’s not that I have anything against a particular dog breed, but let’s just say, some of the breeds leave me a bit leery.  Fortunately, the majority of the pits are actually quite sweet and love the treats.  We get along just fine.

Then, there is Bailey.  It was love at first sight.

I’m beginning to recognize that I’m a romantic at heart. 

Bailey is an eight month old purebred German Shepherd.  She is stunning.  She was also abused by her owner, who should be hung up by his toenails.  Evidently Baily finally did something to protect herself and law enforcement and the courts stepped in. Good for Bailey.  An intelligent Shepherd to boot.

When Bailey arrived at Sammie’s Friends, the staff housed her in a two room kennel, separate from the rest of the animals, their barking and the general confusion.  She was terrified and cowered in the corner. Her entire body would tremble when anyone entered the room. She was under court ordered supervision to watch her temperament so that a decision could be made about her future.

As I’ve had German Shepherds throughout my life, including one retired K-9, the staff told me to go on in.  I took my little perching stool and entered her turf.  She watched me from her corner and, about thirty seconds later, had her front paws planted on my lap and was licking my face. 

Sometimes dogs just know. It was love at first sight.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Bailey.  We not only play in her kennel, but also go out to the pens where she can really run and work off some of her puppy energy.  A staff member watched the other day and asked if I wanted to take her out to a park, to my home, or anywhere in the area.  She also mentioned that the courts were going to be releasing Bailey for adoption and would I be interested?

And that’s where fantasy and reality collided.

The heart yelled YES!!! 

The mind yelled even louder, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? YOU HAVE NO FENCED YARD. YOU RENT. YOU ARE JUST ABLE TO PLAN A BIT OF TRAVEL. AND YOU HAVE TORN LIGAMENT IN YOUR KNEE, CAN BARELY HOBBLE AND BAILEY DOESN’T HEEL.

OK. But at some point, the knee will be better. Unless, of course, I destroy it again playing at golf.  Who knew golf could be so dangerous, but that’s a topic for another day.

By the time I got home, the mind had won.  Bailey will find the perfect home, just not mine. Hopefully she will be with a loving family, children to grow up with, and acreage.  She deserves nothing less.

 

 

Le Chat Noir

Chat NoirThere is no easy way to say this, but once a much loved pet has gone onto Pet Heaven, you are left with all the belongings to deal with.

I called the local cat shelter and asked if they’d take donations.  Gladly. 

So I gathered up the bed BlackJack refused to use, and litter and food and dishes and carrier and catnip and brushes and toys and loaded them into the car, certain that I would never again have a pet.

uh huh.

My rationale goes along the lines of a new cat would probably outlive me, or, if I got a senior one, I’d be going through another death and I don’t think I could manage losing another animal.

So, off to Sammie’s Place, the local cat and dog shelter.  I walked in and was immediately greeted by the lead volunteer, who wanted to first show me around and explain their program.  Then, we could unload the car.

I probably should have bolted right then and there. But I didn’t.

They are short on Volunteer Cat Cuddlers and, in the neighboring building, Dog Walkers. The cats were now vying for my attention and cuddling. I needed at least two or three more arms.

I have to admit, the cats were very well behaved and no doubt wanted to be adopted.

Three or four rooms later of cute kitties, of all ages and colors, and I was getting sucked in.  Then the volunteer dropped the other shoe.

It seems they also have a Foster Program…take a kitten to socialize, no thanks, past that stage of life, or a senior cat and provide loving home. They would cover all costs — food, vet, litter — and all the foster parent has to do is provide the home.  They would even take fostered cat back for visits if the foster parent wanted to travel, had guests, needed a break or was done fostering.

Such a deal, as my dad used to say.

It was about that time that we walked into the last Kitty Room, the one with the more skittish and/or feral cats.  And, there, in the middle of the room, sat Le Chat Noir.  He was very skinny with unruly black fur and wild gold eyes.

He stared at me.  I smiled at him. The volunteer said Be careful, no one can get near him. He’s really skittish and he fights. 

The cat was now rubbing up against my legs and loudly purring. He wanted to be petted.

I reached down, petted him for a bit, purr, purr, purr. 

Be careful, warned the volunteer.

Put, purr, pure, answered the cat.

I finally told Le Chat Noir Look it, I’m old. Bad back.  If you want to be petted, I have to stand up and hold you.

Damn cat jumped into my arms. I stood up and cuddled him.  Purr, purr, purr.

The volunteer just watched.

After a while, I said This cat needs brushing. The volunteer said something about no one being able to get near him, was I certain I wanted to try?

Hand me the brush.  The cat loved getting groomed.  He even tolerated me working through some of the matted fur.  Purr, purr, purr.

Volunteer was sure she had closed the deal and Le Chat Noir had a new foster mom.

ah, not so fast.  I said he is so skittish that I’d worry about him bolting outside with the friends and family who wander in and out of my home. And he was too old to survive outdoors.

So we settled on me returning to cuddle cat(s), maybe walk a dog or two, and not making any donations quite yet.

I drove back home and unpacked the car.  Sigh.

BlackJack

IMG_0218

 

Today I said goodbye to my longtime feline companion, BlackJack, who slipped quietly into his next adventure. Needless to say, I will miss his energy, loving nature and friendly personality. As everyone who met him knew, BlackJack was a character who, at a muscular eighteen pounds, looked and moved as gracefully as a panther, acted and cuddled like a dog, but at the end of the day, he was a cat and he owned me. Especially my heart.

The Cat with Nine Lives

IMG_0050 (2)I’ve always had dogs until I inherited my daughter’s cat and that cat got cancer so it was an obvious call when to end things.

Then there is BlackJack.  By my count, even at nineteen years old, he still has five or six lives left in him and  apparently he is determined to use as many as possible before going on to Kitty Heaven.

When he was a youngster, BlackJack was either abandoned or an abused runaway in Berkeley California.  A young couple figured out he was hungry and took him in.

They said the cat was so well behaved.  He never jumped on furniture, was polite to their two other cats and ate whatever they gave him.  But, they soon realized that three cats was one too many.

He came to me and it didn’t take long for the two of us to bond. BlackJack quickly abandoned all pretense of enjoying life on the floor and took up residence on beds, couches or laps.

From tangling with a large bobcat and surviving to getting locked in his nemesis Buster’s basement for a few days, BlackJack has had his share of adventures and used up a few of his nine lives.

A couple weeks ago, we began the new Adventure of Are We Dying or Are We Not?  It has been an emotional roller-coaster, not only for me but for my friends who have cried along with me over the losses of their cats and dogs.

This morning, at my wit’s end and not sure of which way to turn, I took him to a vet who had been recommended by a friend.

Both the vet and I had a list of questions, most of which were unanswerable.

Q:  I don’t know cats, other than BlackJack.  How old do cats live?

A:  oh, hard to tell….most live to 13.  The oldest I’ve seen in here, until today, was 18 and she was in really bad shape. Hello BlackJack, what a beautiful silky coat…

And, so it went, back and forth, with lots of guesswork and I don’t knows.  The only obvious concern was to get him re-hydrated and that was an easy fix. The vet and I finally opted to go over a list of tests, select the ones for which there were easy remedies, and then decide on a course of action once we had some information.  BlackJack was far more interested in checking out the nooks and crannies in the room.

The vet called a bit later.  The cat is perfectly healthy. He’s healthier than I am. 

So, for the time being, things are going to return to more or less normal.  The only Rx is to keep him hydrated and take him for a couple of car rides every week.

 

 

The American Way of Dying, Part II

Back in ancient times, the early 1960’s, a woman named Jessica Mitford wrote a stinging exposé of the funeral industry, The American Way of Dying.  The book outed the high cost of unnecessary funeral expenses and created quite an uproar,  to say the least.

Mitford found that directors preyed on grieving family members, using unscrupulous business practices to charge far more than necessary for services and caskets.  In other words, beyond dying, death had become overly commercialized and extremely expensive.

That was long before the advent of Pet Funeral Homes.  Mitford must be turning over in her grave.

In anticipation of BlackJack’s hopefully not too imminent demise, I made a few phone calls to local, ahem, Pet Funeral Homes.

Good grief.

I still remember my first funeral.  I was a young child, in the backyard kneeling with my younger brother by a small hole in the ground that our dad had dug.  Mom had prepared the casket and Dad carefully placed the small matchbox holding our dead goldfish into the hole. We all said our goodbyes and then my brother and I ran off to play.  I suspect Dad later retreived Goldie and flushed her down the toilet before we kids had any thoughts of resurrecting her. 

The last time I had to have a pet put down, admittedly a few years back, the vet handled everything while I wiped my tears and wrote a check.  The amount, as I recall, was around $40 and took care of the cremation and ash scattering at a rural pet cemetery.  It was well worth the cost.

Fast forward, and now the price hovers around $200 for cremation of a pet under 20 lbs., including a rosewood box, urn or scattering.  Funeral service, flowers, casket, interment and headstone are all additional costs.  

Really???  I don’t even want this for myself.

I have to admit that upon hearing the solemn recitation of the options and prices, I blurted out, Good Lord, when my mother died a few years ago, it was half that price for her cremation. 

I’m not always the most politically correct person in the room.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that I do not love BlackJack.  Or my mother.  I do.  I say BlackJack’s been my longest relationship, which is not true, but he’s probably among my most successful ones. That says a lot about the two of us. I am already heartbroken.

But when I think of the options, given the high cost of American Pet Death, I’d rather bury BlackJack under his favorite napping place out back, in an area that is protected by large spreading oaks. He could have fun haunting any golfers we don’t know who venture off the course and into the yard in search of their errant golf balls. 

But, it’s summer with temps around 100 and the ground is rock solid. Chances are that son, son-in-law, and/or grandsons will not be here when the time comes to handle the grave digging duties. 

And I know my limitations, so his ashes will be scattered…all of which means I better have my checkbook ready. 

But, please, please someone intervene if I start talking about where to send flowers, the date and time of a funeral service or if you find a small copper urn on my nightstand.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye…Hello

IMG_0732A dear friend asked me a while back if I had started saying Goodbye.  I am at the age where goodbyes are becoming more frequent, including a Goodbye last year for this blog.

For a while, all I wanted to do was write and vent about the new Era Orange and he who must not be named. But the truth is I couldn’t live in that constant state of frustration, except of course when making the daily call or email to my neanderthal congressman who treats women like…well, just watch The Handmaid’s Tale.

The rest of the time I couldn’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.  It was far easier to hide behind quilting. Or bridge. Or bocci ball. Or golf…all of which means there are so many other fun things to write about.

Hello readers. 

I hope some of you will stick around and pick up the thread of this column.

I thought yesterday was going to be a major Goodbye day. My longtime companion and sidekick, BlackJack, is nineteen in cat years — that’s 90 in human years — so I have been preparing to lose him.  I know it’s coming.

In the past couple of weeks, including one week of a major heatwave, BlackJack quit eating.  And drinking.  And peeing and pooping. It was becoming all too apparent that his once muscular eighteen pound body had become shriveled and bony.  Very bony.

Sensing the end was near, and not wanting him to suffer, I made The Appointment with his vet and spent the day crying and petting and cuddling the cat who wanted nothing more than to peacefully sleep.

It was a long, tearful day of Goodbye.

I decided that his Last Ride would not be in the dreaded cat carrier, so I scooped up his frail body and put him on a towel next to me in the front seat of the car.

We were barely out of the driveway before the cat was sitting up, looking out the window and then looking back at me with a grin as if to say, Pretty darn cool. And why haven’t we gone on rides before?

By the time we reached the country hi-way to the vet, BlackJack was sitting up straight, looking up and over the dashboard, meowing loudly at passing motor cycles, and scolding me for taking curves a bit too sharply. He was now not only riding Shotgun, but had become a very vocal Backseat Driver.

I grew pretty confident this was not going to be The Day. 

When we arrived at the vet’s, I put him in the carrier and was immediately escorted into the exam room, where the scheduled “consultation” was to take place.  Everyone in the room was appropriately solemn as they greeted us.

Well, everyone but BlackJack. I opened the carrier door and he bounded out, meowing I’m here, where’s the party?

The vet laughed.  Before leaving, the cat did get an eighth of an appetite stimulant pill and a B-12/steroid shot in the hopes of kick-starting his appetite and getting his systems functioning again.

The pill and shot evidently worked. By the time we got home, BlackJack bolted out of the car, into the house and his food dish.  He inhaled every bit of available food, belched and meowed for more.

Today, as I write, all of his systems are functioning and a plumped up Blackjack is out back, lounging in his favorite chair while watching and kibitzing with the golfers passing by.

I know full well this isn’t the end of his life journey, or mine, or any of ours for that matter, but at this moment in time, given all that is happening here and not happening in Congress, all is right in the world.

Hello.

 

 

 

 

 

AWOL

It’s been more than a few months since I last visited my blog. Somewhere between looking for a new home, cringing at a presidential nominee whose emotional and intellectual capabilities seem to hover at the lowest bar we’ve ever witnessed (quick, where’s my all’s-right-with-the-world quilt so I can hide beneath it?) and packing, things had to get prioritized.

Just me, coloring outside the lines lost out.

However, now that I have moved in to the new casa, unpacked and hung the paintings, I am home once again. Even BlackJack, the cat, is happy.  And you know what they say, a happy cat is a happy home.  Or something like that.

I have to say, this was a bit of a traumatic move for the cat.  He loved our former home.  As the mountain of packed boxes grew taller, BlackJack grew increasingly morose.  It was not like him.  I realized just how upset he was when,  just prior to The Move, I had returned from carting some boxes to the new house and turned down our very steep Driveway from Hell (think the first twisting drop of your favorite roller coaster and that approximates the driveway).

BlackJack never ventured up the drive; it was simply too steep and there was so much to see on the other side of the house. But there he was, trudging up the driveway, head hung low.  I stopped the car at the bottom of the hill and called out to him.

He paused, mid-step, thought for a moment before responding and then slowly looked back over his shoulder, dramatically milking the moment for all he could and shooting me a look of pure disgust as if to say,  You go. Do what you want.  I’m staying here.  

At that moment I realized BlackJack may well be more thoughtful than the current GOP presidential candidate.  I also realized that immediate action was needed, or the cat was indeed staying put.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I turned the car around, drove back up the Driveway from Hell, stopped, got out and called for the cat. Fortunately, he’s been more or less trained as a dog so he begrudgingly came when I called for him. I picked him up and plopped him in the front seat of the car.

This was a new experience for BlackJack, being in a car and not in the despised cat carrier.  At first, he just looked at me like I had forgotten something, but then he realized there was a whole new world just beyond the window.  He sat up straight, looked out the side window, then the front window, turned and grinned at me.  He was quickly buying into our new adventure.

img_0852-1Two miles beyond the soon-to-be-old home and Driveway from Hell, was our soon-to-be-new home with a straight, flat driveway on the opposite side of the lake.  We turned into the drive and drove right into the garage, where I scooped up BlackJack and carried him into our new home.

He scampered from room to room, checking out the new digs, before finding a box in front of the large living room window and an expansive view of the lake. He jumped up and stood, transfixed at the view.  I forgot that the cat had never before seen a lake.  I wondered if he knew about the plethora of fish that were just waiting to be caught.

Three days later, The Move was completed and BlackJack is one happy cat.  He immediately became best friends with two neighborhood cats, and together, they seem to have formed a Cat Pack, racing among the deer, geese and wild turkeys along the fringes of the golf course in the back, visiting each other’s homes or lounging on the front deck and gazing at the lake shimmering across the street.

Happy cat, happy home.