Friday, August 22, 2008

Good and Bad

We started a family dinner game a few years ago. Simple rules. Everyone takes a turn stating something "good" about their day and something "bad." No interruptions during another person's turn, and unless requested, no one may suggest the good or bad of another person's day. Today we added a new rule: one person's good cannot be at the expense of another. No insults, wisecracks or rude remarks.

The game has lasted while others have faded away. We don't play every night but frequently someone will call out in sing-song voice, "Good and Bad, Good and Bad" and Gracie or Dan will throw their hands in the air, eager to be the first to recite.

Let's see. The kids are asleep and no one really reads this blog anyway; I'll just come up with Hedgie's Good-and-Bad Part II. Today my Bad is that my husband and I realized how deep a hole we are in financially. My Good is that we talked to each other about it calmly and made a few plans. A good financial planner is at the top of the list, as is some help with our aging cat rescues; we simply cannot care for them any longer. And I do need a job. One more surgery next month, maybe get the energy and stamina back, stop the arthritis-like symptoms in my hands and I'm good to go.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lost in the Future

Selfish. Totally, absolutely selfish. That's the only way to describe my feelings about losing another loved one to cancer. She says the disease is progressing and I'm looking beyond the immediate future to the time when she is safe from harm and I am without her. The loss of her laughter, her irreverent outlook, her understanding of this bond we share. I won't mourn her loss of life; she tells me she is tired of the devastation to her body. I am pre-mourning the loss of her life intertwining with mine, a plant we were only just beginning to grow.

Selfish. And I can't be selfish with her. Some day months from now I will go to a quiet place and allow myself to wallow in self-pity and desolation, shedding tears of the one left behind. No tears for Marian; she would be so angry. Tears for myself, new on the journey and grieving a companion of the heart.

Selfish. Maybe I should tell her. She should know how selfish I am.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dogs on the Couch

Dogs have always recognized my inner beauty. Since childhood, with the exception of a boxer in Alexandria, Virginia that chased me into the family car and held me there until my mother rescued me, dogs and I have had an invisible connection.

At nine I gave my heart to our Miniature Schnauzer, Gypsy. A bowl of popcorn was all it took for her to learn Sit, Shake, Down, Dance and Kiss. She reserved a healthy portion of love for my mother, who allowed her to ride in the front seat and sleep in her bed and my father, who walked her every evening. Gypsy, who I nicknamed "Oofie" after her usual vocalization, had a special affection for 9-year-old girls and our Siamese cat. Heaven was getting them roused into a good game of chase, with each taking turns at chaser and chasee. The day I packed for college I had my suitcase open on the living room floor. Oofie Dog, a veteran of two previous college moves, knew the signs. She climbed into the suitcase, settled in amongst the sweaters and jeans and would not budge. I think the only time the dog ever growled at me was when I tried to get her out of that suitcase. I grabbed a Polaroid camera and snapped a picture. That picture stayed on my college bulletin board for four years, then my work desk for years. I still have it in a box of photos. I need to find it.

When my father was dying of cancer I searched my heart for a way not to let myself collapse in grief. I realized one thing that connected me with my dad was our love of dogs. Dogs do not let people give up on life. Dogs are life on four legs! So, while living in a San Francisco apartment, I set out to find the perfect dog. The dog I found was living in a woman's home-based rescue in Menlo Park. He wasn't a Keeshond, the breed I originally considered. No, after viewing a dozen Kees at the rescue I hadn't found the right dog and the woman, whose name was Wayne, pulled out her ace in the hole. A dog she normally didn't show because he had been through so many shelters and homes she was just going to keep him herself to prevent more stress on him. But, there was something about me... Well, the red dog, who looked like a tall fox, came into the room and made a beeline for me. It really was an instant connection that amazed Wayne, who said the dog, Erik the Red, rarely responded that way to anyone. Trust issues. Erik was 3, a Finnish Spitz, and he became my first dog.

There were many dogs who passed through my heart over the next decade. I helped Wayne with the rescue, fostering other Finnish Spitz, American Eskimo and Keeshonden and placing them in new homes. One dog, a Chow/Akita mix named Jenna, came in because she was mistaken for a Finnish Spitz. After persuading Wayne not to send her back to the shelter in Modesto I worked hard to find her a home, walking her, grooming her and even taking her for an overnight and pet strut. Finally a friend commented that Jenna seemed to have already found a home. Dog Two, in a very small San Francisco apartment. Did I mention there were several resident cats as well?

Erik and Jenna co-existed peacefully but were not great friends. Each dog was dearly loved by me and returned the love. That was enough for them. Both lived to meet my husband, my children.

Being without a dog is foreign to me. As much as I grieve the individual animal I grieve even more the absence of a dog in my life. Charlie Brown occupied space in a very different way than any other dog. For two years he took a great deal of energy from me and while he gave me much, he did not give me what I needed from a dog. At first I thought I would wait a long time before attempting another dog relationship after Charlie. And then, the quiet got to me. The yearning for the companionship. Enter Roscoe.

Roscoe is a cross between a German Short-Hair Pointer and a French Bulldog. He's 9 months old. Roscoe came through a rescue, having been fostered by several different women in his short life. We knew going in that he was great with kids, dogs, people and cats. And he is. He's been with us for 2 weeks now and is feeling quite at home. His major fault is that he is a puppy, wants to put everything (including us) in his mouth, and absolutely hates it when one of us leaves the room. Obedience class starts Wednesday.

Oh, and does he recognize my inner beauty? Not as much as he does my son and daughter's! I can either be miffed that the dog adores kids or take the high road and rejoice that my children have the dog love gene.

Besides, once school starts I'm going to win his lonely heart.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A friend has a blood cancer. It's not a "popular" cancer and doesn't get a lot of press. In fact, I'd have to scramble through my notebook (yes, I keep notebooks these days) to tell you the exact name. Wayne has taken risks in his treatment that show what a SuperMan lurks inside his Clark Kent facade. He's funny and gentle and pushes on when the way becomes rocky and tiresome. We're all dealing with challenges. Wayne tackles his with more grace and tenacity than most.

Check out the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and their mission to eliminate blood cancers. There is a totally cool blog event going on this week, the first ever for blood cancers. Be there or be square.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When Fear Looks Like Something Else

Charlie Brown broke a rule between humans and dogs. One day a few weeks ago he pushed out of the laundry room, ran over to the woman who helps clean our house, and attacked her. I witnessed the event. As someone who loved and trained the dog for two years I think I know something of what was going on in his mind. He was afraid, he was trying to protect me, and he lost control. Alessandra had one deep puncture wound on her forearm and spent several hours waiting to be seen at a local ER. A prescription for antibiotics and perhaps an increase in her fear of dogs were added to her take-home that day. She has recovered. 

Charlie spent his first year in an East Bay backyard, neglected and poorly socialized. He learned that the world was a dangerous place and people were not to be trusted. Dumped at a shelter, he languished in a cage, demoralized into a tight ball of fur that did not stir when I knelt by the wire. When I brought him into my family's world I was sure that our love would save Charlie, that training would channel his anxiety into a dog sport like agility where he would thrive. We didn't know then about fear aggression, how it cannot be "undone" with love or training. 

For two years Charlie lived with us. He was dearly loved, and he loved each one of us as only a rescued dog can. Clever and funny, he was a good buddy. To watch his lean form race through our backyard, chasing his favorite ball or simply running to run, was to witness beauty in motion. Sailing over the 44" dog gates in our house (barriers to allow the cats some Charlie-free territory) the dog was both annoying and awesome. 

By the time we realized that Charlie could not be trusted with other dogs, our cats, or anyone outside our immediate family it was too late. Our world had become a small island where few were allowed passport. We did not host playdates for our children, were reluctant to have friends over or even to hire babysitters so we could go out. Daily activities were orchestrated around Charlie. We began to realize that we weren't the perfect home for Charlie and worried that unless we found a trainer-type to adopt Charlie he might become even more unmanageable.

But the day Charlie crossed the line and bit Alessandra we knew there was no going back. Our efforts to find that mythical "perfect rehome" for him ceased. He was no longer a dog who might bite. He was a dog who bit. He was dangerous. 

There is no need to go into the details of those last few days with our funny, beautiful Australian Cattledog. Difficult discussions were had with our young children to prepare and help them understand why those two years were a gift to us, and a gift to Charlie, but he could no longer be trusted to control himself. Tears, laughter, much heartbreaking grief surrounded us the week that Charlie lost his struggle with fear. 

The right thing is rarely the easy thing. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Goodbye, Arimidex

Poof! That's it. I'm taking my body off Arimidex as of today. I will not run down my health for a slight decrease in the risk of recurrence. That's not even extending life, friends, it is just a big maybe in the reduction of recurrence for some people. No one has conducted any studies on the long-term effects of this drug because it hasn't been around long enough. The short-term effects are rather devastating and debilitating. I'm 47-going-on-87, with trigger finger in multiple fingers, rheumatoid arthritis-like pain in my thumbs and hands, loss of bone density in just one year that moves me into osteopenia, and an overall sense of unwellness. 

I'm joining the women who say no to being guinea pigs and yes to living life fully now, not a maybe life that might never materialize.