Kismet

Call it coincidence. Kismet. Divine intervention. Whatever.

I walked into our town library and there it was.

Going Home, Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz was sitting there on a table.

I grabbed it and sat down and began reading. And it’s as if Jon Katz wrote this book for me. For us. For our dog-loving family.

Yesterday I left my house after my 14-year-old Dalmatian, Checkers, had already gone through countless incontinence under pads and it wasn’t even noon. It was soon after telling him that, since he could no longer walk and really function as he should, that it was okay for him to go meet God. And then taking it back because I felt so guilty looking into his beautiful face and soulful brown eyes.

I stroked his silky black and white ears realizing that I had become more than frustrated that it had come to this. Life isn’t fair and dogs don’t stay on this earth nearly long enough. More than a little angry that our beautiful Dalmatian — once rife with infinite energy enough to leap tall buildings in a single bound, jump rivers, run vertical trails through the woods and up hills with little effort — can no longer walk because disease has ravaged his body.

I can no longer lift him, can’t help him to go to the bathroom. I spent yesterday morning changing the pads underneath, trying not to let the frustration of having to change one every, what seems like five minutes after he pees, come to the surface. But it does. It escapes through the string of profanities I find myself scream through the house. Kids aren’t home and Checkers is deaf and can’t hear me. But He can.

I needed to get some air, a change of scenery and return the kids’ library books and get one that I had put on hold.

And that’s when I walked into Jon Katz’s book.

I sat in the library and read chapter after chapter. I bawled my eyes out from page one. Jon wrote the book mostly about his beloved border collie, Orson, and how he dealt with the before and after of putting him down. There are stories of his other pets, some who died and some who were euthanized and how he dealt with them all.

Through my tears (and looking around wondering if I’d get kicked out of the library for making too much noise sucking in my sobs) I cherished this book I was reading — a book about our life with our Checkers and inevitably the decision that we will likely be making in the near future.

The dog we know and love is still here in mind and spirit and I believe if he could walk he would, and probably run. But the decision — that 100 ton elephant as Jon put it —  hovers above.

More than likely Checkers won’t go to Heaven on his own. Yes, it would save us the sadness of having to make the decision for him. For us. But that would be easy and this part of life with pets is never easy.

Jon’s book — and I use his first name because I feel now this man is a kindred spirit– was exactly what I needed. I took it out of the library and will share it with my husband.

I especially found solace in the part Jon described about a pre-death grieving process. A man had created “The Perfect Day” for his dying dog — a day filled with rubber balls and toys and real meat and special together time for the man and his faithful friend. I immediately thought that would be something great to share with Checkers. Though he can’t walk, we can still take him to his favorite place, maybe in a little red Radio Flyer wagon, give him steak and ice cream and share some special moments with our whole family.

Maybe then Checkers will be able to let go and head on up to the big dog house in the sky. I am sure God will be as pleased to know him as we, and all who know Checkers, have been.

If not, we will have been able to share that special memory with him. And then find some strength to do what we need to.

Going Home, the book I stumbled upon today lifted me at a time when I was feeling low and sad. It gave me hope, it gave me strength to not feel guilty about Checkers and his long and wonderful life. It made me reach for the answer to one of life’s very hard questions.

If I ever meet Jon Katz, I will thank him profusely.

Life’s coincidences.

Getting Old and A Mean Mommy Morning

If parenting were viewed the same way as a paying job, I am pretty sure that today I would have been fired. Actually I am pretty sure my kids will fire me when they get home from school.

At a paying job, there is no way in hell that I would ever lose it to the point of giving Linda Blair a run for her money (minus the green vomit) on my superiors or my subordinates. I wouldn’t dare do that for fear of a) I might get fired or b) people would run screaming from the woman possessed by a demon in cubicle 3.

But this morning, Linda’s character made a cameo appearance and my poor kids took the brunt of it.

As I am yelling at my poor daughter to brush her teeth, with tears streaming down her face, she says “At least you have no one yelling at you, Mommy! I don’t like mean Mommy!”

Neither do I.

I am not proud.

After they got on the bus, I came in and cried into my coffee. My dog lay at my feet and my cat meowed in my ear.

Knowing this week would be a challenge, yesterday I prayed for patience.

I will have to pray harder today. A lot harder.

Here’s the back story, which is by no means an excuse for Mean Mommy. It’s just the facts. And since I have a blog, here it is.

It’s long, so bear with me.

Checkers is our lovely 14-year-old Dalmatian who is mostly deaf and is suffering from degenerative myelopathy and arthritis. The DM is causing his back end to slowly, well, for lack of a better word, degenerate.

His front feet are riddled with arthritis, thus making every step probably feel like he is walking on rocks. Since he doesn’t want to walk because his front feet hurt, he is beginning to atrophy in his hind legs from lack of use.

He is on meds for pain and lots of natural supplements. We are doing all we can to comfort him and to avoid the horrific duty that sometimes befalls pet owners. We don’t want to have to put him down.

Checkers also has a leaky bladder. Okay, I am sugar-coating here. He is full fledged incontinent.

Thank God for our Bissell Steam Cleaner.

I am pretty strong and I can lift him down the couple of steps outside and put him in the yard to pee. I can usually assist him up the 12 stairs that lead to the second floor, to our room and his dog bed. It’s getting him down that is the challenge. My husband usually just picks him up and carries all 58 pounds of him down and outside.

But this week, my husband is out of town. We knew this was on the calendar and I have tried not to let my worry about how I am going to handle Checkers alone invade every thought. Only 99% of them.

Yesterday and last night were the beginning of the five days.

And it’s not going well.

I am going to overshare and hope my husband isn’t pissed when he reads this.

The bladder is more leaky than it was before my husband left. (Or maybe it’s the same and I am just projecting.) The pads on Checkers feet no longer have traction and he slips whenever he is not on a carpet. Mealtime becomes a slow slide until he is chowing down on Iams while laying down. Then he can’t get up.

And then comes the whine, the moaning telling me that he needs to get up. He has to go. So I bend and try to pick him up and he keeps slipping until I get it right. I have to plant both his feet sturdy on the ground otherwise down he goes again. And when he hits the floor, it just might cause him to pee. And then the next thing I know, we are both covered in it and slipping all over the kitchen floor.

Last night, I was able to get him out the door to pee before bed, but the pee never hit the ground. It hit me and my pants and shoes. But at least he peed.

To be on the safe side, we have decided to jerryrig baby diapers with some elastic head bands around Checkers’ middle to keep things, at least the carpet and his bed, drier. So at 9 p.m. last night, I attempted to diaper the dog. He wouldn’t get up, so I had to improvise and hope that the diaper was covering his guy dog part.

All the while, poor Checkers is being such a good sport, trying not to let the humiliation take over. But at one point, he closed his eyes so super tight and lay his head down. I am no Cesar Milan, but I know what he was feeling.

Getting old sucks.

Whether you are human or canine, the very idea you need someone to help you go to the bathroom is just the worst. The WORST.

Along with the DM and not moving comes the fact that other things are not moving either. So they end up as little piles on his bed. I hear him shift in his bed — a soft flannel sheet covering a waterproof mattress pad have replaced the nice plush cover that came with his Costco bed. I have a flashlight next to the bed and when I shine it down on him — a pile. Thankfully my head and nose are stuffed beyond belief and I can’t smell it.

I take care of that and crawl back into bed. That was the easy part. I begin to worry about how I will get him down the stairs come morning.

I fall back to sleep only to be awakened first by my warm daughter who climbs in bed with me and then another shift on the dog bed. And another  pile. Crap. Literally.

At 7 a.m., Checkers begins to whine. The diaper I put on him is filled so I take it off. And then he pees all over his bed.

I wander around the room thinking what I could do to get him downstairs.

The laundry basket! Brilliant. I pull it over and try to get him in there. The younger Checkers would have put up a fight. But now, he is old and just lets me get him in there on a towel.

My daughter is up and she giggles to see Checkers in the laundry basket. I tell her it’s not nice to laugh at old people. She was confused. “He’s a dog, Mommy.”

Yes he is.

I slide him over to the stairs and cross my fingers that this brilliant idea is going to work and I won’t end up at the bottom of the stairs with a 58-pound Dalmatian in a laundry basket pinning me to the floor.

Slowly we start down. It’s working. Halleluia!

We get to the bottom. To get him out, I use an old canvas bag with handles as a harness to lift him out. But it doesn’t quite work. I finally tip the basket on its side and dump the dog out while using the harness to lift him. More pee as the harness was likely cutting into the poor guy’s bladder.

Finally we are up and he is on his feet. When I let go of the harness, Checkers falls again. In the morning he is at his worst after being off his feet all night and has a hard time standing. I forgot. I am tired and this cold is making my face hurt. And my back is starting to hurt, too. My old pup weighs more than half of what I do.

I finally get himup and out the door onto the front portico. As I try to guide him down three stone steps, I lose my balance and we both fall onto the frozen grass. But not before he peed all over me, my pajamas and my slippers. I get up, standing in my front yard in my pink bathrobe and wet pants hoping no one is running or driving by to see the spectacle.

Checkers gets up and looks at me. If he could talk, I think he would say, “Wow, that was hard. I don’t have to pee anymore. Can we go in?”

I get Checkers to walk the 15 yards to the porch,slowly. I get him inside and collapse into a chair.

My coffee is cold.

And here starts my downward spiral into Mean Mommy.

“Mom, can I have breakfast?” asks my son.

I try to catch my breath.

“You know where the waffles are,” I snippily reply.

He is silent.

I am a jerk.

I get up and throw the waffles in the toaster and then send him upstairs to get dressed.

The kids begin to fight. The waffles pop up and, as I am spreading the Nutella on them, my daughter wants to know why I like Checkers more than her.

“Checkers doesn’t yell at me,” I say. Then I add, “I don’t like Checkers more than I like you. It’s just that he needs more help than you do.”

Then she wants to know why her brother gets two waffles and she only gets one. I cut them in half, wishing like hell I could blow my nose and breathe and actually taste a hot cup of coffee because God knows I need it NOW. I push breakfast at them and  head upstairs to get myself dressed. It’s now 8 a.m. and the bus comes at 8:15.

My daughter decides she too is going to need more help so doesn’t go up to get dressed but waits for me to assist her. With everything. She hides under the covers on her bed while I try to dress her. I am so frustrated tired and sick I just want to go back to bed myself.

So begins the yelling and the Linda Blair-head-spinning-around thingy. Get. Dressed.Now.

And then the crying. Both of us.

Finally at 8:14 I have her dressed and she is brushing her teeth as I am holding a tissue on her nose to blow out the snot from all the crying.

My son has probably NOT brushed his teeth because I was too busy and mean to oversee that chore. He runs out to the bus stop and turns to say he’ll tell the driver to wait. No kiss goodbye. He probably didn’t even want one from the creature he left in the house with his sister anyway.

As my daughter comes to get her coat and back pack and I am screaming that the bus is here NOW, she stops to pick up the cat.

I grab her, my daughter not the cat, and throw on her coat, and her shoes and out we go, me scolding at her about why we have to stop being late all the time and for crying out loud you are six and should be able to get ready in the morning! and we head to the bus.

As she walks around the big yellow arm and boards the bus that her brother is already on, I can faintly hear the little sobs of my poor sweet daughter who is crying because her mommy is a big mean jerk this morning.

I see she got into a seat with her big brother. A little wave goodbye from both.

I hope I didn’t ruin their day. I really hope I didn’t.

Thus the crying into the coffee begins. And this blog post as a cathartic attempt to chronicle my lack of ability to deal with the lemons life has thrown at me today.

Tomorrow, I hope, will be better.

Itch

That’s what it was. Just a little itch that woke me up Sunday morning. I lay in bed listening to the stillness of an early Sunday morning, the sound of the birds chirping, the breath of a little girl sleeping soundly next to me, and I went to scratch that itch.

God Dammit! I swore out loud when I craned my neck and contorted my body to look at the bottom of my butt cheek cause I just knew that little black thing sticking out of my saddle bag was a tick. A damn tick bit me in the butt.

Why it was just last week that I said to my husband as I pulled off another tick walking up his calf, “Boy ticks sure like you, don’t they?”

Had I not said that to him, I may have been able to go another year without finding one of those little tiny blood suckers attached to my body. But no. Karma came and bit me in the butt. Literally.

So I padded downstairs to where my husband was spending a quiet early morning and I bared my butt cheek and asked him to Get this %$#$! thing off me. In the nicest possible way, as it WAS Father’s Day.

The little sucker had his head so far up my butt cheek that, when my husband tried to remove him, only his body came out. His head remained in tact. Stuck in my now red, itchy and aching but cheek.

We had to break out the big guns — skinny tweezers and some magnifying eye glasses. But alas, my heroic husband freed me from the bastard arachnid thing, put some neosporin on it and poured me a cup of coffee.

Now I have this constant itchiness accompanied by an ache in my butt cheek. The area where the tick was is red and swollen and hot. It gets worse before it gets better my husband tells me. And he knows. He has had his share of tick bites, being a woodsman and all that.

Ticks are just gross. In looking around Google trying to find a picture to go with this blog, YUCK. I won’t even put one up. Gross little suckers. Gag.

I am pretty sure it was not a deer tick. They are smaller than a pencil point. This one was likely a dog tick, one that got a free ride indoors on Checkers and sneakily hopped off and found a nice place to bite.

It’s a wake up call. I have not been good about checking myself for ticks. I am just left with an itchy bite that will go away soon. But it could have been a deer tick. I will be more diligent next time. I usually do a once over on the kids, and with my husband, more often than not, I grab one that is still in the walking up his leg stage. Checkers has the tick collar so they don’t usually bite him. They go elsewhere. This year I have actually found them walking up my baseboards.

It’s awful. May have to call Tick Ranger after all.

Between trying to dodge rabid mosquitos and now with the ticks being so brazen as to actually bite me, I just might stay inside all summer.

Or at least on my screened in porch, with a nice glass of wine and a magazine to keep me company.

Changes

Nine years ago, like any new parents, we scrambled around our house trying to child proof everything in sight. Knives were removed from the counter, cabinets secured with baby proofing gadgets, knick knacks removed. Gates on the stairs. Cleaning chemicals put away.

This was all before our son could even hold his head up because one day he would hold his head up, then crawl, then walk and then probably grab a shiny sharp knife off the counter or try to play in the Soft Scrub, so, well, we were just being safe.

More safety measures included securing the door to the basement with a hook-eye fastener so that it couldn’t be opened by a short person. I’d have to stand on my tip toes, usually with laundry basket in hand, to make my way down to the damp unfinished basement. And I usually reserved that chore early on for when a child was napping to doubly ensure no falls down those rickety stairs to that hard, cold, concrete floor.

And nine years and two kids later, there were a few items of our child proofing stuff that remained in tact. So, just a few weeks ago, I took the last few cabinet and drawer safety gadgets off and tossed them in the trash. Now, the only evidence that we ever did baby proof our house was a few remaining outlet covers and the hook-eye on the basement.

In those nine years, luckily there had been no falls down the basement steps.

But last night, I threw a load in the washer, climbed the stairs and left the door open a jar as I headed to my daughter’s bedroom to gather more laundry for the load.

And that is when I heard the most awful sound. It was the sound of a body hitting several rickety old wooden basement steps. And then silence.

I ran down stairs as fast as I could and found,surprisingly and thankfully, both of my children sitting in front of the TV, physically intact, but looking concerned about the noise. I screamed “What was that?” as my heart continued to race. “Did you hear that?”

Heading down the hall, that’s when I saw the basement door was opened. I looked down and there I found our 13-year-old Dalmatian standing at the bottom. Thankfully he was standing.

I ran down the stairs and hugged him profusely, checking him for hurt. He seemed okay, I thought and figured at least he was standing.

Checkers suffers from Degenerative Myelopathy, a condition that affects his spinal cord and makes his back legs looks like they are sinking. He doesn’t know he is doing it, as his nerves are not telling his brain what is going on.

Climbing the stairs has become a chore for him these days. And combined with the fact that he is almost deaf, he must have not realized I was upstairs and gone down to look for me. I think he must have tried to get back upstairs but he just couldn’t make it all the way. The problem likely happened when he stopped.

Looking back, that was the noise I heard. His nails scraping the wood and him falling backwards. Ugh. The poor old guy.

I cleaned up some basement dirt off his white body and tried to coax him back up. He wanted no part of that. So I had to grab him by his hind quarters, all 68 pounds of him, and lead him up. Thankfully we made it without incident, save a few back pains on my part. Since my husband is away, I was unsure what I would have done if I couldn’t get him up. But I did and he seems okay.

It’s ironic how I thought we were in the clear. I had always been careful with that basement door. In fact, I think I traumatized the kids about it by putting the fear of God in them if they even came near that open door.

It didn’t occur to me that Checkers would be the one to fall. Thankfully he is okay.

So it’s out of the childproofing years and into the keeping-the-old-dog-safe years.

I’ll have to rethink my daily doings. Knowing my old pal will follow me around, especially when his best friend, my husband, is off on business, I will have to keep that door closed. As it is, we are up many times during the night for Checkers to do his business. And he paces a lot, an old man trying to rest his old bones but not finding that comfortable spot.

I had a hard time sleeping last night. I kept thinking about how time passes so quickly. With pets, well, it goes very quickly.

He has been with us for 12 years. We got him as a mere pup from a rescue and it was love at first sight for he and my husband.

70 pounds of love

It has been only recently that he has begun to show his age. He can’t go on the long trail runs with my husband any more, but every now and again, he shows his puppy side. He’ll grab something and run, shred a package, be his mischeivous self. Even more so since we have added black strap molasses and coconut oil to his diet. (Highly recommended for ahem, “mature” humans, too.)

Checkers is getting on in years, and it makes us all sad to think about. He sleeps a lot more and I find myself looking at him a lot. To make sure everything is still working properly.

This is a new phase we are entering here — one we knew was inevitable — but still a hard one nonetheless.

How can you not love a dog who lets you do this?