One-year-olds, canine vs. human


Chico and Annie are a year old today. They’re dogs. This is one case where things are definitely different between pets and children. I have a photo of my niece Susan covered in white frosting, her arms and legs chubby and tanned in her striped sunsuit. The whole family gathered at her maternal grandmother’s house to celebrate the occasion. Another picture shows my brother cuddling her in his lap. You can see the resemblance, the same dark eyes and black hair, the lips so like my mother’s. She’s learning to walk and talk, and everyone adores her.

Folks adore my puppies, too. My church choir friends even gave me a puppy shower when I adopted them last April. But asking them to attend a birthday party would probably be pushing things, especially after all the support they have given me in other aspects of my life lately. So it’s just the pups and me. I can’t bake them a cake. Any gift I gave them would be shredded all over the back yard before the sun sank into the sea. All I can do is hug them and say, “Wow, you’re a year old. We made it.” They’re housetrained, and all the odd things they have eaten and excreted have not killed them yet. They’re a long way from becoming calm, mature dogs, But even when they grow up, they will never be like my niece, who is a young adult now, beautiful, smart and old enough to build a life away from her parents. Chico and Annie will be my cherished friends but never my children.

Nor are they Fred’s children. My dear husband, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, is living in a care home now after a series of falls that led to two days in the hospital and 14 days in a nursing home where he wasn’t allowed to leave his wheelchair even though he could walk. He is in a good place now, a beautiful place in the hills above Newport where he is well cared for and loved for his sweet, easygoing nature. However, the dogs are not allowed inside, so I haven’t taken them there. To be honest, he is already forgetting them. He doesn’t even remember that he fell the first time trying to corral them after they escaped from the back yard. Why he fell two more times two days later, we don’t know. Back spasms? A small stroke? Now he has Lucy, who roams the yard at Graceland and nuzzles against his pants and shoes when he ventures out for short walks on his unsteady legs.

Fred’s son Michael has been here off and on during our transition. Everyone gets to know him quickly because he is six foot four, with a unique hairstyle, and he’s usually the only person under 50 not wearing a nursing smock. Michael is good with his father, helpful and caring, thinking of just the right thing to do or say. His presence is a blessing to both of us. This crisis has brought us closer than we have ever been, with very honest talks, not so much as mother and son but as two adults hurting over someone we both love.

Everyone says you can’t count on your children to help you in your old age, that that’s not a good reason to have kids. True. In fact, on “family day” at Newport Rehab, I was often the only visitor. Grace, an immigrant from China who runs Graceland, shakes her head at this. “In my country, we honor our elders. I don’t understand.”

I don’t either.

Anyway, happy birthday, Chico and Annie. Michael isn’t too happy with them because they just woke him up. But when he’s gone back to Portland, I’ll have them to snuggle with, and that’s something.

My thanks to everyone who has sent good wishes and prayers during this difficult time. Our troubles are not over, of course. Fred still has Alzheimer’s, and now we’re living in separate homes. I’m visiting every day and overseeing prescriptions, insurance, and countless other details, but God has taken Fred out of my hands and put him into the care of many capable hands, and that’s a blessing.

Dog Parents at the Vet’s Office

Parents meet at the pediatrician’s office, but pet owners congregate at the vet’s.
The best part is the waiting room. You never know whom you’re going to meet. Even if you didn’t know these people before, your mutual love of dogs gets the conversation going.
Yesterday, Sadie and I were doing our weekly recheck with Dr. H. She had suddenly decided she didn’t want to go for a ride, so I hefted her into the back seat, and off we went. She sighed and settled onto the green towel spread over the upholstery.
In the waiting room, we hit the jackpot. An older man stood at the counter with a baby golden retriever straining at the leash to meet my big yellow shepherd-lab mix. Meanwhile, a young man sat with a lab pup who had lost a battle at the food bowl with the family’s older dogs. The cream-colored dog looked like it had a black eye. Next to me, a middle-aged woman sat with a black dachshund wrapped in a pale blue baby blanket. “He needs his blankie,” she said, patting his blanket-covered back.
Ah.
My Sadie, sprawled on the speckled linoleum, was the biggest dog in the room and the best behaved, but that’s only because she’s old and sick. She used to be crazy like that golden pup.
“She’s beautiful,” said the dachsie owner.
“Thank you.” I felt my ego fluff up a little. All Sadie’s life, people have been stopping me to admire my dog. “Can I pet her?” they ask. “Sure,” I say. Even sick and skinny, she’s still a looker, and I’m proud of her.
Soon we were comparing illnesses. Dear Sadie has cancer. The dachshund has itchy ears and a sore on his rump where he kept biting himself.
“Oh, Sadie did that a couple years ago. It was such a mess.”
Everyone gets into everybody else’s dog business at the vet’s. We might not share our own health problems, but we all want to talk about our “babies.”
After the golden went home, the dachshund was called into the smaller examining room. They do it like that. They don’t call the owner. The doctor peeks out and calls the dog. We humans just follow along as interpreters.
Sadie and I were called into the next room, the big room with the ugly red painting of an Irish setter and the big animal anatomy charts. An aide weighed her and took a blood sample. Then we waited.
As my dog pouted on the floor—hey, you tricked me again, she was probably thinking—I eavesdropped on the consultation with the dachshund. Hot spot, yes, could have told you that. Wax built up in the ears. “You never had that,” I whispered to Sadie. “You have great ears.”
Dirty teeth. Need to schedule a cleaning. “You had that,” I say, rubbing my dog’s soft fur. Could they sneak in a nail trim while the pup was anesthetized? “Sure,” the vet said. “He’ll never know the difference.”
Oh, yes, he will, I thought. Sadie did. He’ll wake up and think, what the heck happened to my feet?
The doctor went to another room to gather the dachsie’s medications. I listened as the owner talked baby talk in a high voice. “You’ve got a hot spot, a hot spot, wow, my widdle baby has a hot spot.”
“Shoot me if I start to talk like that,” I told my dog. She looked up at me. “Yeah,” I said, purposely keeping my voice low and adult, “We don’t do baby talk.” Okay, I do call her Booboo sometimes and I tell her a hundred times a day that she’s the best dog in the world, but no, no, we don’t do baby talk. Or blankies. Well, actually she does take her big pink quilt to the kennel with her, and she has an L.L. Bean bed in the den, but she has to sleep on something.
The doctor returned to the dachsund, arrangements were made for a return visit, and then it was our turn.
Dr. H. was pleased with Sadie’s progress. Her cancer seems to be in remission, he said, suggesting another dose of chemo, the oral kind I have to stuff down her throat every 36 hours. It’s a good news-bad news thing. She’s feeling better, but I get to spend the next week praying she doesn’t vomit up her pills. Even if she doesn’t, I feel queasy until the treatment is over.
I met with the dachshund-owner at the counter as we gathered our meds and paid our bills. “He’s a sweetie,” I said, noting how she held the little black dog against her bosom just like a baby.
“Oh, thank you. I hope yours gets better.”
“Me too.”
As we went out the heavy orange door, the bullied pup was called in with his young owner, and the waiting room was temporarily empty.
I’m going to miss those people. None of us know anything about each other except that we love our dogs. Work, marriage, where we’re from, whether we have children, none of that matters. We’re dog mo—lovers. Maybe we’ll meet again next week at the vet’s office.