Posts filed under ‘Dog Stories’
November 28, 2009
I didn’t mean to stop writing about this remodel, and yes, it has been continuing in full force. What has happened? The rigors of work, of the project, of meetings, of keeping up with friends and on and on has usurped time.
And Cholla died.
I thought she was depressed. I, of all people, made my own diagnosis, reasoning the effects of the move on her, until I noticed that her gums were going white. Blood tests, ultrasound, an IV in her little paw, and I was given a picture of her liver riddled with black spots. I was told that she would die in a day or two, that it would be best to leave her with the doctor right there. She curled against me, and I took her home. We stayed together for every moment for the next month…everywhere; bike rides, the grocery store, friend’s houses, Home Depot…she didn’t leave my sight, and the remodel plugged on.
One day she growled at me, lumbered over by my desk, then vomited a big pile of blood, looking straight at me, with that look of knowing between us that we had little time. I rushed home, got her into her trailer, and we rode and rode to a favorite place, sitting on a bench overlooking the harbor where we could see Russ’ boat, and with her spasoming my arms, we sat on that bench for hours; some people walking by, the sun going down, her body going limp, me stroking her, and with little yelps, her heart stopped.
My gal that guaranteed me laughter every day of her life is gone, and I don’t like it. I miss her.
I’m sitting here, Kleenex piled in two stacks on either side of me (allergies from the dust around here keeps me sneezing); a picture of Cholla on my laptop, another picture of her stuck to my little oak chest of her in the classic rump up, ears up, tail up, and front paws down…
Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and give my plug right here and now: the doggy doors made by Pet Doors USA, DogDoors.com are really great. The doors are made of hard plastic with fuzzy brush edges. No slappy plastic sheets that get brittle and let the flies in, not to mention raccoons and other unwanted critters.
I already have an in door model that’s now 6 years old. It locks, too, which is great for vacations or when I just don’t want Cholla outside.
Today I ordered a second one; this one will go into the wall of the room I’m going to move into while the remodel is being done. Cholla and I are going to try to condense our living space while the rest of the house becomes transformed around us.
In The Middle
I’m middle aged. It’s got to be true; if I do the math, which means basically doubling the number of my age, and assuming I don’t get hit by a truck or something, I think I have to accept that label. It’s a label I remember hearing about as a teenager with the same kind of mystification and fear as middle aged people regard the teenage years: sudden reckless behavior, compulsive and impulsive actions, sexual promiscuity, experimentation, abandonment of the loved ones. As a teenager, I thought I should die before I reached such craziness, or just sleep it off until the cuter granny stage set in. But here it is, and I don’t need to be put into confinement because of it.
What’s happened is that I find I can relate to anyone, and I threaten no one. When initially I was so angry that I needed reading glasses (!), I’ve found that just by those alone, I’ve become a sort of member of some kind of lovable little club where people smile warmly at me and hand me their glasses, along with a comment about stretching arms out real far or how many pairs of glasses they have. Children love to go running around looking for my glasses, and can predict before I can as to when I’ll need them. I can use this as a pick-up line: “Hey, baby, got any reading glasses I can borrow?” But, being in the middle, I can also use that pick-up line the other direction: “Hey, baby, can you read this to me?”
I’m old enough that I can notice a gorgeous young lady with one of those perfect little figures that have blue jeans painted on and natural colored hair spilling all over her back and a face smooth so smooth not a line in sight…and I can smile at her, say hello, and not shiver with envy or turn to a mirror to wonder why I can’t look like her. I am now old enough I can even go up to someone like that and actually say, “Wow, you’re pretty.” And I am young enough that someone like that would want to spend a little time with me, chat, go for a walk, tell me her boyfriend problems. I can be a friend to youth and a friend to the elderly. I now have the patience and wisdom to be with the elderly. I appreciate all that lives. I know the differences between young and old. I am in the middle.
My peers In The Middle have no competition going on. We like to help each other out. We whisper about those damned teenagers, and some of us already have sons or daughter in laws, or are already enjoying being grandparents. We have little spare time. We try new things. We climb mountains, we dance, we become members of everything and follow agendas and drink wine and complain mildly about the beginnings of aches and pains and the onset of responsibilities associated with our aging parents. We mutually sigh over the lines in our faces, the grey hair, but then the lament only lasts for minutes, because then we charge ahead with all the busyness of our lives. We are indispensable to everyone. We are in the middle. Everyone needs us. We need each other to explore our deepest thoughts, our grapplings with spirituality, and our desires. In the Middle, we have a depth as profound as the middle of the bay where you cannot see the bottom at all and only the largest animals swim by. We are not on the safety of the shorelines; we are in the part that is immensely vast. It took a lot to get here, and we look beautiful. Young men and women swoon over us.
In the Middle, we get to be emotional in public. By now, enough has happened to us that it may not take much to set off a memory of something, and there those tears go rolling down cheeks, the sleeve takes a swipe at the snot, and we go on.
Middles. The middle is a sort of safe spot. It’s the cocoon between two extremes, the place that is a kind of holding tank, where the journey is in place; it’s the richest part: it’s the creamy part of any fabulous or even processed dessert (think Twinkies); it’s the middle of a hike where you find a rock and sit on it, looking up at the power of the peaks, and looking down at the vulnerability of the new wildflowers in the valleys. In the middle, we are both craggy and vulnerable, beautiful and strong, and always full of color.
We break things and we keep them or make them work somehow. We use duct tape a lot and we figure that’s good enough. We also love the best equipment possible. We have the best bikes, instruments, cars, pots and pans, and we are the first to buy the newest in technology, all inspite of the fact that those who are younger are better than us in each sport. We can laugh loud with snorts and not cover our mouths in shyness, and we freely hug people when we barely know them because we like making our families bigger and bigger. We laugh at ourselves when we do silly things, and in case someone didn’t actually see us do something like get our skirt stuck in our underwear in the bathroom then walk out in public, we then go around telling all our friends about it so they get the opportunity to laugh at us, too. We understand that the best stories of our lives are the mishaps, the survivals, the hard won accomplishments. We are practicing our stories for our elderly years, when we can hopefully luxuriate in the memories of all the sweetnesses, all the colors, all the loves, all the adventures, and all the joys.
The Middle is not a phase; it’s the longest part, a part to savor and explore, to observe, participate and relish, and some of that comes with needed tools, like reading glasses!
Cholla and the Rats
Well, okay…this is how it went. I had a rat infestation. A really bad one. I bought a Rat Zapper, which I would highly recommend, because it is humane; the rats walk in, they get electrocuted, and bam; instant death. It’s tidy. You pick up the blue box with a cute picture of a yellow rat with big whiskers on it, and slide that fat guy outta there in a plastic bag, and that’s it. But, with a rat infestation, it’s a way different scenario. The first morning I got up to the flashing red light on the Zapper box, I thought, “cool,” and slid out the refrigerator where the box was to check out the kill. Well, a king sized rat came tearing out from under the refrigerator, ran over my foot (ouch!); I naturally screamed and darted for the highest elevation I could find. Once composed, I charged over to the computer to write my email to the company titled: “A Rat Ran Over My Foot,” and demanded explanation. Apparently, one big Mama sized rat can eat a smaller one in the Zapper. Ick. So I gave it another go, and successfully killed, I can’t tell you how many rats; it’s too mortifying, but, at which point, someone in the colony must have “ratted” on me. End of Zapper. Rats are smart. One evening alone I killed 7 rats while I was on the phone to a friend. He’ll back up my story if you ask.
All right, all right—what brought the rats on? I don’t know; I do have a problematic neighbor who is registered with the city as an issue and everyone downtown starts conversations with me in regards to her as “I’m sorry,” and we all know her as “Cat Lady.” Why doesn’t her covey of cats kill these guys? I don’t know! She feeds anything alive and furry in our little urban area, and once accused me of killing “her” possum. She periodically has problems with open sewage, and other really awful things that few people believe unless they get into her domain. She stands on her roof, chattering in Russian, watering the plants that grow out of the tar and gravel. If you catch her eye, she looks wild: the kind of person kids will warn generations of other kids about, which is in fact her legacy here. Folktales are based on her. I’ve met the now adults who used to live around here, who tell stories about her only I could believe. So, I think that’s where the rats originated.
These guys can squish their little bodies down into pencil thick diameters to get into your living area. They chewed through the phone line, chewed on wood, boxes, even cans. Nothing was safe. I would open the cabinet in the morning to see it full of rats. I shiver even now as I write about it. My neighbor on the other side spent thousands of dollars on various exterminators and contractors to solve the problem, as he put it, “before he got divorced.” He didn’t have Cholla, fresh from Mexico.
Lita was great at identifying where the rats were. She would stand at the wall, look right where the rats would be on the other side, then look firmly at me, giving me a clear, informed bark, that basically said: “There it is, mom! Take care of it!” Lita was a dog born in the USA. She has had kibble presented to her in her ceramic bowl for her entire life. Treats come ripped off of the corners of sandwiches or in cellophane bags from Costco. Not Cholla.
I discovered this one morning as I was getting ready for work, and one of those Mama sized rats bolted across the room. Cholla was lounging around under Russ’ caress, belly up, eyes closed, then all of a sudden she wasn’t. She was tearing around so fast; all I could see was a small brown running thing and a bigger brown running thing, and I could hear her crying, this high pitched squeal. I kept telling Russ: “She’s been bitten!” But Russ was laughing; he thought she was mega excited about the passion of her kill, and was crying in excitement. He was right; she got that rat by the refrigerator, whacked it side to side, making an instant rat death and a happy dog. How did she know how to do that? She was so little! We congratulated her profusely, until she dropped it bloody on the white carpet, clearly with the intention of eating it, then there was this conflict: no no no no!, and yes yes yes! Both of us told everyone about her hunting abilities that day. We were proud adoptive parents. Picture us; big smiles, telling over and over again in great detail how big the rat was, how it looked in her mouth, tail hanging off to the side, her brown eyes so wide.
After that, she would park herself in various favorite spots around the house. She had a hunting style to her. She would creep so quietly up to the spot, give a peeved sidelong glance at Lita, who wanted to bark in alarm. She would then simply wait. Like a cat. Then came the wolf like pounce, the side side hit, and it was done. She’s a pro. One morning, Cholla killed off a whole family. She lined them all up in a tidy row, one after the other. But even for her, it was a bit much. Russ and I went on a vacation, loaded up the place with poison, and went cross eyed with the smell when we got back. Dead rats under the house are not pleasant!
So we got a rat break for a while, until some time after Russ had his diagnosis for cancer, and he was so sick from everything. The rats came back. It was unbelievable to me. Russ sick, throwing up from chemo, he was sound sensitive, Lita was sick and throwing up, relatives were coming around, everyone was crying, and then came the rats. Then, as even these things can go, it got a little funny. I opened up the dishwasher, and there was a big one with the famously long tail. I called, “Cholla—Rat!” who by then knew her role and duty around here. Low to the ground, she was immediately there, leapt into dishwasher, snagged that baby by the neck, then looked fully at me, triumphant in pleasing me. What a pup!
I think it was with that particular rat that Cholla and I figured out it was the two of us in for the long haul together. She wasn’t an easy win to the home life of the USA. Most domesticated dogs have that sense of the almost godly status of master, but Cholla had perceived “master” as one of convenience. With the dishwasher rat, we both became clear about our survival roles. Not only did we have health and vitality, we had to utilize it. We had to survive, especially through the unlikely and crazy surprises of living. So, no more Russ, no more Lita, even the rats are scarce, but Cholla and I are plugging along, and pretty darned well at that…
The Story of Finding Cholla
This is Cholla. Everyone loves her, and she loves everyone. Except rats and possums. She kills them; but, that’s her nature; she grew up on the streets of Loreto in Baja, California, and she had to survive. That’s where Russ and I found her.
Each year, Russ and I went into Baja with his truck, the kayaks on top, a system of milk crate organizational boxes stored under a plywood platform that he built for sleeping, and our two coolers with food carefully selected to last for three weeks without ever venturing into a store. We loved it. Always, there was adventure of every kind.
As some of you know, Russ was cheap. Really cheap. Sometimes we made money on our trips. Maybe it was a mistake to cook him nice meals early on, because we never ate out…and really, it always touched my heart that he pronounced my meals much better than anyplace we could go. Therefore, our “camping” meals were really wonderful indulgences with the best views possible; sunrises and sunsets sent straight from God, and us there, alone, warm lattes in our favorite mugs in the morning, or a bowl of good cioppino at night. It was really perfect. Still, sometimes I would insist on a little interaction in a town, and I could usually tempt Russ if there was ice cream involved (can’t pack that), so that’s how we managed to get into “downtown” Loreto to get a couple of paletas, and wander the streets.
We saw a couple of tourists walking along with a really cute little brown dog, and I told them how precious she was, and they said she wasn’t theirs; she was just following them—at which point, she then proceeded to follow us. She stuck close to us, but was also very savvy at keeping an eye out for snacks; she pawed at a metal grating, and Russ worked at pulling away the metal, and buried underneath was a scrap of an old tortilla. She was filthy; a big stripe of grease down her back, bones exposed, but the sweetest little brown eyes. Russ was smitten, and had no restraint in stroking her fur, and even hunkering to her level to coo at her, holding her muzzle close to him. We began to joke about just taking her. I said my mom needed a dog, and we loosely joked about just packing her off with us in the truck, naming her “Bambi” (said with inflection), and surprising Mom with her. You’re right; the joking grew into something a bit more serious, with self-questioning, wondering if it was possible, then we began to bargain: if she was still there when we headed back north, then we would take her. So, we lingered with her…and we left for Puerta Agua Verde, an hour or so away.
We decided to take some dirt roads out across Isla Danzante, and set up our camp (ha ha, no small task…we pretty much always set up like we would homestead at the site…more stories for later). Russ was unusually silent, and asked me a lot of questions: “What are we going to eat?” “Then what?” “What are we going to do tonight?” “Then what?” “What are we going to do tomorrow?” “Then what?” I watched him, and laughed. A guy in his 50’s with a little boyish pout, looking to me to do something; fix it! I said, “Do you want to go all the way back to Loreto and get that little dog?” He said, “Yes.” (Again, said with a precious little boy voice). In the course of a minute of frantic silent Virgo pragmatic thinking, I tried to envision the implications of picking up a street dog from Mexico in the middle of our trip, and crossing the border, and all that would follow from there. God knows what my face looked like as I tried to consider it all. So I said, “Okay, let’s go get her!” We packed up camp and drove back.
It wasn’t easy to find her. I asked around: “Ha visto un perrito chiquito el color café?” Thing is, all the dogs were small and brown. They had to all be related. Then, there she was, tucked off under a truck. She came to us willingly, and we took her, put her in our truck and drove off to a field to wash her with the last of our water. She escaped during the bath and ran into a ditch where there was a dead dog. The juxtaposition of those two dogs together made my heart flutter. Once clean, I was more enthusiastic about touching and fondling her, in contrast to Russ, who caressed her from the start, grease and all.
Russ never had a dog. He had cats, which apparently are pretty good about figuring out how to coexist with humans without much in the way of formal introductions and instructions. Lita was Russ’ first experience with a dog, and he wasn’t around for the chewing, peeing, escaping, ripping and tearing of all items phase. He somewhat imagined that all dogs arrived onto this planet as Lita was presented to him. I tried to tell him that she and I would snuggle on the couch reading When A Good Dog Does Bad Things every day, so I could educate myself on how to curb behaviors. Her crate was the salvation for both of us.
So, new unknown clean street dog in the truck, and Russ says “let’s get a taco.” I immediately envisioned the entire inside of the truck chewed and strewn about by the new teeth of this 15 pound or so cute dog. I suggested we sit by the truck quietly to watch her before we went off and left her alone in there. She was fine, so we got our tacos, and she was fine when we got back. We bought a bag of dog food, and went back to that same campsite with our new family member.
She quickly became familiar with the yellow bag of dog food, and ate and ate and ate an incredible amount for her size. Her very mellow and subdued nature changed over that next week as she got stronger and fatter. We took her with us kayaking around islands (more stories), fought for turns to get to hold her for our “settling in” time after sunsets, and walked with her amongst the cactus. During one escapade when she fearlessly chased a herd of cattle, I said, “Let’s name her Cholla.” That’s the nasty cactus that grows all over in Baja. You barely come near it, and a chunk comes off and gets stuck to your pants, and it’s hard to get off. We both liked the name, much better than Bambi. We were also deciding that maybe we wouldn’t give her to my mom…
She was a pro at finding dead animals. She found dead turtles behind rocks, once finding a whole pile of carcasses hidden behind a rock, obviously a spot some poacher type fishermen used to conceal their catch. She bounded into the cactus for dead birds, and skillfully ripped apart the spiny puffer fish she found on the beaches.
A “coincidence” was that we had dropped off Lita at my mom’s house as we headed south, and somehow neglected to leave our dog supplies of the leash, toys and bones. As we went through the checkpoints on our return trip, it really looked like we had a dog since we had used dog supplies. The guards would ask me at the checkpoints “Como se llama el perrito?” And I told them, “Cholla”, at which point, whoever asked would laugh and laugh, then call his buddies to come see the little dog named Cholla. Somewhere near San Quintin, we finally found a veterinarian who gave her some shots, and her “pasaporte.” At midnight, we crossed the border, her cuddled under my feet. We laughed about calling her a “mojado,” but huge searchlights, spirals of barbed wire, triple layers of cement walls, helicopters, cameras and sentries with big guns registered very deeply with us and the plight of the many who struggle so hard to eke out a better life northward.
Somewhere on the way up, I had insisted on a motel stay. I wanted a real shower! We left Cholla in the truck. A highlight of that motel was when the sink fell on the floor, narrowly missing my feet (another story). In the morning, there was Cholla, my sandal all chewed up in her mouth. She had already worked on the cover to the gear shift, munched on the Baja map…with her health improved, she was beginning to focus on other distractions, and that will be another story…
When Lita Went Blind
Everyone remembers Lita as that vital pup; flying sky high for Frisbees, relentlessly chasing sticks that literally weighed more than her; faithfully going absolutely Any Place with me, with Russ, and having that heavy dog responsibility to make sure that everyone was safe and that the pack was together. She and Russ had a special connection that I think went to The Other Place. I’d have to say that pretty much exactly the time that Russ got sick, Lita did, too. I remember early on, Russ would tell me about these “conversations” he had with Lita, and that she would “talk” to him and give him peace—not cure, nor answers; just peace, everything was alright. Her illness mirrored Russ’. I was convinced that she had cancer, too, though the veterinarian couldn’t find out what was wrong. Russ would throw up, I’d turn my head, and there she did, too. He’d have diarrhea, then there she was. He’d pee on the floor, and her, too. We both believed that she would die right with him, but she plugged on, doing what she could, for as long as she could. That was distinctly a part of her personality. Somehow, she had to take care of the pack.
One of the symptoms she had (and actually, Russ was supposed to have, according to the doctors) was blindness. It came on so fast. And these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about how she handled it, and being the sort of person I am, I look at her behavior, then think of my own. What we just didn’t understand was that she just didn’t get that she was blind. We’d be sitting on the couch, and there she would go running into the wall, and we would say, “Ouch! Poor baby!” But what was unbelievable was that then she would do it again: same wall, same place, hitting it over and over, and she would pant in frustration. I’d go over, pull her away, try to redirect her, and there she would go, pounding into whatever spot she was in, just not accepting her blindness. It took so so long for her to get past this stage, and it was awful to watch her grapple with the change in her body. So much about what she loved in life was about seeing.
In time, and for a short while, we could bounce the ball off the wall, and she would hear it, catch it, and that was so sweet. Then her other senses diminished also: she couldn’t hear, couldn’t smell. I think half of a nostril worked. She could smell around a treat in front of her nose, make a full circle, then zero in on swallowing it down. This was the gal who could smell tennis balls through thick walls. One of the principals at one of my schools liked to entertain visitors by planting a tennis ball in one classroom and then watch Lita smell it out through the other room. Lita grew up in classrooms, and was a part of the experience of school for many, many children. Lita was a crowd pleaser, without even intending to do so. She simply had a passion for living. As time went on in the illness, she and Russ would walk slowly around the block, and some of the wonderful people who came to help would tenderly walk her slowly as well, her panting, and me trying so hard to explain about what she was. Last year at this time, I’d take Lita and Cholla down to Carmel beach, carrying her by then big body all the way down the stairs so she could feel the sand under her paws, blunder around and not get hurt.
So my girl is gone. I don’t know; maybe she is “talking” to me now—getting me to keep that scene of her bashing her head over and over in painful futility, and us, in the objective place, saying “Just accept it. It’s obvious. You have a change. Adapt.” I think she wants me to hold that scene now, as I make my transitions.