dogs, lessons learned

All better… getting back to business, doing my business…

I think I can now declare myself fully recovered from the stomach bug. In fact, this morning, I was back in business, doing my business. And that is a good thing, because this morning, there are two plumbers in the bathroom, fixing the shower and the fixtures on the bathtub.

Mood music. This is a great rendition, but the crowd isn’t into the singalong.

When we moved into this house in late 2018, the main bathroom still had the original fixtures on the shower and tub. At first, we couldn’t even use the shower, because we couldn’t turn on the cold water spigot. It was completely immobilized by lime, caused by the hard water in Germany– land of no water softeners. The taps hadn’t been descaled in a very long time before we moved in, so we literally couldn’t turn on the faucet. The plumber fixed that by completely replacing the fixtures, but not before a couple of weeks had passed. We had to use the bathtub, which also had a problem. Water leaked copiously from under the faucet whenever we ran the water.

I kept bugging Bill to speak to the landlord about it, but he was still a bit traumatized by our last renting experience. Even though our current landlord is a very kind and reasonable person, Bill dreaded having to talk to him about something not right in the house. I can totally understand that, but it was a real pain for me when it came time to clean. Because the tub’s fixtures were so leaky, we didn’t use the tub at all, once the shower was fixed. And, although I don’t mind taking showers, it didn’t sit well with me that there’s so much rent being paid and we couldn’t really use the tub without water leaking all over the place.

Before anyone points this out, allow me to pre-emptively state that I know I could have spoken up… but because I didn’t sign the lease, and because I got blamed for everything in our last house, we decided it would be better if Bill deals with the landlord. I was the one who spoke up about the awning, and I got a ration of shit for it. This time, we’re doing things differently. I’m staying as uninvolved with the business side as possible. Maybe it’s not the best way to handle things, but that’s how it’s worked out. Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of issues in this house.

Bill mentioned the tub a couple of times, and finally had a serious conversation with the landlord about it. The landlord brought the plumber over in late July to check out what needed to be done. Now, after a couple of months of waiting for appointment availability and new parts, the plumbers are here fixing the tub and shower. They don’t know it yet, but our next project is probably going to be the bathroom sink downstairs. I think the fixture on the sink is original to the house– they have an early 90s/late 80s look to them. It’s due to be replaced for the same reason the tub’s fixtures needed replacing. But the faucet on the sink doesn’t leak nearly as badly as the tub’s fixtures did.

I just took a look at the shower and I’m very pleased. We got a nice upgraded double shower head that is in the corner of the stall, rather than the middle. Maybe that will mean less water on the floor after our showers, too. And now I can offer an addendum about the sink. I just mentioned it to the landlord, since he came over to find the tiles for the bathtub. I was not expecting anything to happen today with that, but to my delight and relief, he was totally cool with it. The plumber just checked out the sink and it looks like that is going to be fixed, too. I thanked all of them profusely and told the landlord how happy I am! He really is a nice man.

The other business that needs attending today involves Arran. He has a few itchy bumps that are going to be removed. His surgery isn’t until noon, so he’s a bit grumpy, since he’s not allowed to eat. I fear the bumps are probably new mast cell tumors. Maybe I’m wrong, though I doubt it. Hopefully, they won’t be too high grade, and Arran will heal quickly and uneventfully. It’s hard watching him get older. He’s a very special dog.

We also thought Arran’s predecessor, MacGregor was a special dog, and he really was. MacGregor and Bill had a very unique bond. But Arran has turned out to have an even more devoted bond than MacGregor did. I’ve often thought that MacGregor sent Arran to us, to help heal Bill’s broken heart when we lost him to a spinal tumor in December 2012. When we brought Arran home in January 2013, Arran immediately took to Bill, and he’s been by his side ever since. They absolutely adore each other.

MacGregor in North Carolina, not long before we lost him to cancer. He did this all the time. MacGregor also had a special weekend ritual. He would wait for Bill to open his eyes after sleeping, then crawl on his chest and kiss him on the nose. MacGregor didn’t like most men and was afraid of all strangers, but he LOVED Bill.
This photo was taken on the day we brought Arran home, back in North Carolina. He loved Bill from the moment he became part of the family. As you can see, he and MacGregor have something in common. Arran is sweet and friendly, and isn’t afraid of people, but Bill is definitely his favorite human.

Meanwhile, Noyzi is firmly established as my dog. He doesn’t listen to Bill, although he has become less afraid of him. At night, when it’s time for the last pee break of the day, I have to be the one to get him to go outside. Luckily, he listens to my voice and basically does what I tell him to do. I think Noyzi is the type of dog who needs an assertive leader. It probably makes him feel secure and reassured. I told Bill it was time for him to use that Army trained command voice he used to tell me about when we were dating. I know he can do it, but he’s such a gentle person that he’d rather not.

In some ways, Noyzi reminds me of Zane. He has a very sunny personality. Every time he sees me, he smiles and wags his stumpy little tail. He likes to play, and he’s very friendly. But Zane was a much more confident, well-adjusted dog, and he was all about having a good time and being friends with everybody. Noyzi probably would have been more like that had he not been traumatized. However, every day, we see him getting to be a more confident dog. He’s even starting to misbehave a bit.

I actually bought that rug for Zane, so he’d have traction when jumping on the bed. Noyzi doesn’t get on the furniture, but he’s becoming a lot more attached to me. He hangs out behind my chair or next to the bed most days.

I’ll end today’s post with an anecdote about yesterday… I shared this status on Facebook yesterday.

Who wants to know why I am completely repulsed right now?

A couple of people liked the post, so this is my tale of woe…

Alright… so I have had a stomach virus for the past few days. I’m mostly better now, but still haven’t really managed to brave a real meal yet. I noticed a jar of applesauce in the fridge, which is recommended for gut health. I had slim hopes for it, since I didn’t remember when it was purchased. Bill doesn’t like applesauce. I opened it up, and there was about a half inch of gray sludge on the surface. So I threw it out.

Then I went outside, still kind of grossed out by the applesauce, took a look at the yard, and decided to turn on the robotic mower. To turn it on, I have to lift a panel. I had trouble getting it to go up the whole way. Then I noticed a HUGE slug stuck in the hinge. Lifting the panel only wedged the slug in tighter. There I was, with quaking guts, using a stick to try to pull the slug out, and it just kept getting fatter and more repulsive looking. Half its body was stuck. Finally, I managed to get it out, but then I had to get it off the mower, so I got my pruning shears and used them as tongs to pull the fat little bastard off my mower. It fell in the grass, where I hope it will be mowed. 

I am hoping to be less grossed out by the time Bill gets home so we can eat a real meal.

I’m happy to report that last night, I finally did have a real meal. It was glorious… as was this morning’s real dump, which was somewhat normal. Hallelujah!

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dogs, lessons learned, psychology

What are the odds?

Last night, I read an article about elderly people who suddenly find themselves homeless since the advent of COVID-19. The piece, which appeared in The New York Times, featured the story of a man named Miles Oliver who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally from Chicago, Oliver came to Arizona by way of the Army over thirty years ago, when he was a new recruit assigned to Fort Huachuca. He liked Arizona and decided to stay there once his stint with the Army was finished.

According to The New York Times article, Mr. Oliver had been able to make a life for himself in Arizona by working day labor jobs and delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. But then COVID-19 struck and Oliver was soon out of work. To make matters worse, work had already been slow in February, before things really started to get bleak in terms of the virus. Oliver was soon face with the difficult decision of either paying his rent or paying his car note, $230 for a 2007 Ford Fusion. He decided to pay the car note, since it was a source of shelter and transportation. By the end of April, he was kicked out of his home, forced to grab just a few necessary items– reading glasses, socks and underwear, and Metformin for his blood sugar, before he hit the streets in his car. By late June, his car quit working.

Oliver has an ex wife and two children. His older son is estranged and hasn’t spoken to him in years. His younger son is a student and in no position to help him. He doesn’t speak to his ex wife. He has diabetes and sleep apnea, and although he is a veteran and qualifies for some benefits, his future looks dim.

As I read about Mr. Oliver’s plight, it occurred to me that he’s about Bill’s age. Once again, I was reminded of how quickly and drastically things can change. I’ve been doing what I can to mitigate the risks that someday, I’ll find myself homeless. I looked at Bill and said, “You know what? I think if I were in that situation, I’d be tempted to just check out.” I said this mainly because although I am not necessarily estranged from my family, neither am I particularly close to them. I don’t have children, and although I am well-educated and privileged, I was never able to parlay that into a job that paid me enough to live on. If I couldn’t do it 20 years ago, how can I do it now? And why would I want to? Without Bill, I’m not sure why I’d stick around this hellhole we call Earth, which is swirling with plagues, natural disasters, and selfish, shitty politicians like Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Bill, who is eternally optimistic and has survived some pretty dim odds himself, gave me a pained look. Although he knows I suffer from depression and that makes me look on the dark side of things, I don’t think he’s ever gotten used to that unfailingly pragmatic aspect of my personality. It’s also kind of anti-American to “give up” on life. Bill has never felt the urge to off himself, despite his brush with death when he was a teenager. I, on the other hand, used to feel suicidal somewhat often. I’ve often felt ambivalent and apathetic about life. I was told more than once that I wasn’t wanted by the people who were responsible for creating me. They later came to appreciate me, but those comments left a deep scar that has affected my self-worth. And I just feel like if I were in a situation as an old woman without a home, family, or friends, I wouldn’t want to bother going on. But then I started thinking about it some more and realized that maybe I was wrong to think that way.

I thought about all of the challenges facing Mr. Oliver. He’s an older Black man, with no family able to help him and, it appears, few friends. He’s got health problems, but no money or resources to take care of them. There’s a pandemic raging, and we have a president who doesn’t care about people. And yet he is clearly a survivor. He has reached out for assistance. His story was told in The New York Times. Maybe I got the wrong message.

After I told Bill about why I felt it would be more expedient to “check out” than try to rebuild life as a homeless person, I looked behind me at Noizy. He’s still stuck in the corner of our living room, slowly getting braver by the day. I started to think about how he’d once been a homeless puppy, weaned too early from his mother, and left to die in a country where dogs aren’t appreciated. It’s kind of a miracle that he’s here with us in Germany. What are the odds?

Noizy was brought to his American rescuer, Meg, by a young man in Kosovo who had seen him in the street, screaming for help. He brought the puppy to Meg because he didn’t know where else to take him. Kosovo has a big problem with street dogs, but the culture doesn’t support animal rescue too well. Many people in Kosovo are Muslim and many Muslims consider dogs impure and unclean. Meg didn’t need another puppy to take care of, but she decided to keep Noizy anyway. She watched him grow from tiny puppy to gigantic adult. I’m sure she wondered what his future would hold.

And then, Bill and I came along, looking for a new canine friend. We had just tragically lost a dog we’d tried to adopt, one who was much closer to the type of dog we usually take into our home. It took some time for us to decide we really wanted another dog, and it was definitely not our plan to adopt a big dog– especially one as large as Noizy is. But once I saw Noizy’s face, I was hooked. There was something about his eyes that touched my heart. I have never been sorry when I’ve taken in a dog, and every single one we’ve adopted touched me through a photograph.

I started thinking about all of the people who came together to see that Noizy found a home. He spent 18 months living on a farm in Kosovo, one of many dogs living there, cared for by a farmer who has a soft spot for dogs and was willing to help Meg, who had moved from Kosovo to Germany and couldn’t take her rescues with her. She had paid for the dogs to be taken care of on the farm while she looked afar for potential rescuers. Most of these dogs haven’t lived as pets in a home.

I just happened to have a friend who knew Meg and introduced us. I met this friend in Stuttgart a few years ago, again by chance. We’ve only seen each other in person once, but our mutual friend is very involved in dog rescue herself and has a couple of exotic dogs from far flung countries like Thailand and Afghanistan. She told Meg that one of her dogs would be very lucky to be placed with us. It was like the stars aligned.

I just met Meg in person the other day. She is very impressive. Somehow, she has managed to develop a powerful network of people in Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia who have helped her on her mission to save some street dogs. What are the odds that a tiny puppy like Noizy would end up in Meg’s care? What are the odds that she would be found by a local young man who cared about the puppy’s life enough to seek her out? It was much more likely that the noisy puppy would have languished and died.

Even once we’d decided when to pick up Noizy, there were challenges. First, there was the whole COVID-19 situation, which is causing countries to shut their borders again. Fortunately, that didn’t affect us during our trip, although it as definitely a concern. And then, when Meg was bringing Noizy and two other dogs up to Slovenia to hand off to Bill and me, her car broke down. Another American couple (younger and able to take another day to travel) drove an extra 400 kilometers to help Meg get the dogs to Slovenia. They drove all night, very slowly, to make it happen.

Soon Noizy was in the back of our Volvo, with our other dog, Arran, looking pissy in the back seat. On his first night in our home, Noizy was obsessed with going outside. It’s what he knew. He hugged the door to our yard, taking every opportunity to go out. He bumped his head on the glass, apparently because he’d never seen a glass door before. Within 24 hours, he clearly preferred being indoors rather than outdoors. He’s staked out a part of our living room and won’t venture beyond that area. But every time he sees me, he looks delighted and wags his tail excitedly. He rolls on his back for a belly rub. He’s learned how to drink from a water bowl and eat from a dish. He’s even been pretty good (but not perfect) with peeing and pooping outside. Noizy is clearly game for the challenge of learning how to be a pet.

A few days ago, Bill had an epiphany about Noizy. In 2012, when we were vacationing in Scotland in honor of our tenth wedding anniversary, we got the devastating news that our beagle/basset hound mix, MacGregor, had a spinal tumor. At the time, we lived in North Carolina. Vets had told us before we left for our trip that they thought MacGregor had disk disease. If we had known it was a tumor (which they only discovered after he had a MRI), we probably would have made other choices about our vacation.

The night we found out about the cancer and the vet’s suggestion that we euthanize MacGregor, Bill had a nightmare. He dreamt he was being chased by many dogs. He thought they wanted to hurt him, so he initially threw rocks at them. But then he realized they weren’t trying to attack him at all. They all needed help. One dog in particular was kind of eerie looking. He had gleaming eyes, but he wasn’t menacing.

The next morning, we got off the Hebridean Princess and took a taxi to Edinburgh. As we were passing the lovely town of Stirling, Bill considered his dream and what it meant. He knew it meant we were going to be helping dogs… perhaps even a lot of them. As he thought more about his dream while we rode toward Edinburgh, Bill came to assume that the gleaming eyed dog represented death, which will always be there whenever there’s a living creature involved in a situation. The dream has stuck with him almost eight years later. This past Sunday, as we were driving to Germany with Noizy and Arran, Bill said “You know what? That dog in my dream looked a lot like Noizy.”

Later, Bill told Meg about his dream. Meg, who studies Jungian psychology, offered her take on it. Then she told us about what Noizy meant to her and how he came to be in her care. I hope Meg doesn’t mind that I share this one bit from her explanation… because I have been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. She wrote that to her, Noizy represents hope for the future. He should have died on the street, but he screamed for help (hence his name). A young man, native to a country that doesn’t necessarily appreciate dogs, came to his rescue and gave him to Meg, a woman who rescues dogs.

Why did the young man give Noizy to Meg? Because he had hope that Meg could save the puppy and give him a future. The alternative was to let him die. Meg told us that a lot of the young people of Kosovo don’t have a lot of hope. They are in a country that isn’t recognized everywhere yet. Their country is troubled, and the young people wonder if anyone cares about them.

Why did Meg give Noizy to us? She said it was hard for her. I could tell she was very emotional when we took him. He’s a big, powerful dog, though, and Meg has many dogs who need homes. Meg is also retired and has physical and financial limitations that may preclude taking care of Noizy the way we can. Even though we’re doing fine so far, I wonder what the future holds for us. I’m no spring chicken myself. 😉 But I do have plenty of time, and Bill and I– at least for now– have a secure home and money for food, vet care, and anything else Noizy needs. So we’re going to do our best to make sure that young man’s hope for Noizy will not be unfulfilled.

And maybe I can learn a lesson from Noizy, too. Against all odds, he’s up here in Germany, about to live his best life… to the best of our ability to give it to him. We’re an unlikely match. Bill and I have always had beagle mixes, after all… and we’re renters with a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. But I think I can teach Noizy a thing or two, and he can teach me even more than that. At the very least, he can teach me that maybe “checking out” isn’t the best thing to do when one is suddenly homeless or facing another major adversity.

I hope Miles Oliver finds what he needs to start over and live his best life with whatever time he has left. And I thank him for his story, which affected me more than I realized when I read it last night.

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dogs

Spirit animals… could it be time for a new dog?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I lose a pet, they always seem to “visit” from the great beyond occasionally. Eventually, after time has passed, they visit less often.

I understand the rational explanation for this phenomenon. I’m not an idiot– although some people seem to think I am. I know it’s probably all in my mind. I still find it interesting when I get a visit from one of my long lost animals. My pony, Rusty, died in 1993, but I still get visits from him sometimes, mostly in my dreams. In fact, most of my pets visit in dreams, although sometime their spirits seem to jump into my other pets.

Lately, I’ve been getting visits from Zane, who died on August 31st of this year. Zane’s death was different from those of the three dogs who predeceased him. For one thing, his last week wasn’t absolutely horrible. Zane had lymphoma, which seemed to just make him very tired before a tumor in his spleen apparently burst and caused internal bleeding. He had a pretty decent last week, though, lounging in the sun and eating to his heart’s content. Even his last day wasn’t absolutely awful, although the vet told us it was good that we’d brought him in because he probably wouldn’t have survived the night.

All three of our previous rescues– CuCullain (CC), Flea, and MacGregor, all had devastating diseases that were very painful for them. CC had a rare mycobacterial infection that caused abscesses. What made his passing worse was that most vets never encounter Mycobacterium Avian in dogs, and they don’t really know how to treat it. Most dogs are innately immune to that organism, and the ones who do get it almost universally die quickly of the disease. It’s related to tuberculosis and causes painful abscesses, as well as a host of other horrible symptoms. Consequently, CC’s death was particularly bad. We’d even had him on a Fentanyl patch for his last hours, which were spent in a specialty hospital with a vet who acted like he’d wanted to keep him around for research purposes.

Our beagle, Flea, had prostate cancer that slowly destroyed him over four months. He’d been determined to live, so his disease had progressed a lot before he finally made it clear that it was time to let him go. Even then, he hadn’t wanted to die and seemed to fight being euthanized. He was emaciated and, the night before he passed, had lost the ability to walk.

MacGregor had a spinal tumor that was misdiagnosed. The tumor caused incredible pain, but two vets were convinced he’d actually had disc disease. We had him get a MRI at N.C. State University to find out what was wrong with him. The tumor was invading his spinal column. When the vet told me that, I told her we would be letting him go that evening, even though she said we could wait. MacGregor was in a lot of pain and definitely ready, unlike his predecessor.

After their deaths, all three of these dogs seemed to send us signs that they were okay… or, maybe it was just us kidding ourselves. When Flea died, Bill saw a rare shooting star in the early morning the next day. When CC died, he heard an ethereal version of “Fields of Gold” while on hold with the state vet’s office, waiting for the results of CC’s PCR test (to find out what organism had killed him). Immediately after MacGregor died, we heard a lovely, comforting song by Rhonda Vincent called “I Will See You Again”. I was so freaked out by MacGregor’s death that I even read a book about spiritual signs from dogs after they die. Yes… it’s a lot of woo, but reading about the signs and knowing that others have experienced when they’ve lost animals they loved was very comforting.

Besides the immediate signs we got from stars or special songs, the dogs “visited” a lot in our thoughts and dreams, and even seemed to send us new dogs to help ease the pain of losing them. When we got Arran in January 2013, he did some things that were very “MacGregorish”, prompting tears in Bill. MacGregor had been more Bill’s dog than mine. For months after MacGregor died, Arran would do things that were uncannily like MacGregor. It was like he instinctively knew what we were missing. But then he became more of his own dog and we saw less MacGregor in him.

When Zane died, I didn’t get so many signs at first. It took a couple of weeks before he visited my dreams, although he did seem to “show up” when we got a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s only been lately that he’s been lurking a lot. He showed up in a vivid dream the other day. I was sure it was him, but then when I got closer to the dog, I realized that it wasn’t Zane. I woke up just as I was about to pet the “imposter”.

A couple of days ago, Bill came out of the bathroom with a strange look on his face. I’m sure it was unrelated to the massive dump he’d just unloaded. He said, “I’m a little bit freaked out right now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You know how Zane used to like to come into the bathroom and nap? I just had the sense he was in there with me.” Bill explained.

There have also been a few times when I could have sworn that I heard Zane’s whine… a familiar sound when he wanted or needed something. Over almost ten years with us, he had become adept at telling us his needs. All of our dogs have done this, although they’ve each had different ways. MacGregor, for instance, was really good at words and would get excited if you mentioned the one he was looking for. If he wanted to go outside and we said “outside”, he’d jump up enthusiastically, his eyes bright. If we mentioned “cookie” or “chewy”, and that was what he wanted (which was almost always), he would reward us with happy barks and a victory dance.

Zane was less like that. He would whine, like a needy old man. It was especially like that in his last year. I’d often find him at the bottom of the steps, waiting for an escort to bed. In earlier years, he’d come up behind me and whine when he wanted to jump into my lap for snuggle time.

Flea, on the other hand, would simply squeak plaintively or bark demands. I still remember when we lived in our first German house, he’d wake up in the mornings and announce himself before coming downstairs. We always got up before he did. He was like a little despot, and he demanded to be waited on like the regal beagle he was. Every day at ten in the morning, rain or shine, he would demand a walk by whining and squeaking plaintively– much more insistently than Zane ever did. Incidentally, I was initially attracted to Zane because he sort of resembled Flea. But then when I saw him in person, he didn’t look so much like Flea. There were times when he behaved like him, though… especially when he demanded food by barking at us.

Well… it’s happening again. Arran is starting to take on some of Zane’s traits. Zane was the king of “dog spreading”. He would get up on our king sized bed and stretch out until Bill and I were pushed to the edges of the mattress. Zane also loved to burrow under the covers, snuggling up to me until he got too hot. He was also very good about going potty outside, and would tell us when it was necessary. He liked lying on the fuzzy blue blanket at the foot of the bed… that was also one of MacGregor’s habits.

Arran was trying his hardest to give us both lots of attention last night. He was especially insistent on getting time with Bill. Bill is Arran’s favorite human.

Arran, by contrast, has always liked snuggling between Bill and me at the head of the bed. He has always curled up into a tight doughnut, above the covers. Last night, he burrowed. Not all the way, like Zane always did, but about halfway. He’s also discovered dog spreading. One positive thing that’s happened is that Arran, who has never been as reliable about house training, has almost completely stopped having accidents. He tells us when he wants to go out and rarely makes mistakes anymore. I noticed when he would make a mistake, it was usually when Zane was sleeping with us. During the last year of Zane’s life, he and Arran mostly took turns sleeping with Bill and me.

Zane and Arran had been friends when we first got Arran, but neither was alpha enough to maintain leadership, so Arran would challenge Zane a lot. Zane wasn’t a fighter, but he would defend himself against Arran and, as long as he was feeling okay, would often win the battles. I think that because of the scraps they’d get into during the latter part of Zane’s life, they weren’t close friends at the end. Arran was always trying to take advantage of peace loving Zane, and Zane just wanted to be left alone. Zane got along better with MacGregor, who was a lot older and didn’t care about who was in charge. In fact, that was what had made MacGregor such a perfect buddy for Flea, who was extremely alpha and would challenge any dog, regardless of its size. Flea needed to be the leader by all means. I think Flea was our biggest challenge, too, while so far, Zane has been the easiest dog.

Usually, by now, we would have found another dog… not to replace the one departed, but to give another dog a home and enjoy another family member. We’ve held off this time, but it’s been difficult. I often feel drawn to certain animals, and there’s been at least one that has “spoken” to me. She’s very young, not a beagle, and bigger than what I’m used to. I worry about how Arran will behave with another dog in the house. He’s loving the attention he’s getting as the only dog, but he’s also getting older himself. I also think that the frequent visits from Zane are reminders that there are other dogs out there who need a home.

Practically speaking, it would probably be better if we waited until we leave Germany before we get another dog. But I don’t know how long we’re going to be here. We could be gone next year, in two years, or in five years or more. I keep thinking that after Christmas, we’ll start thinking seriously about getting another dog for me… not so much for Arran, who would probably just as soon stay the only dog. It still seems like Zane is trying to tell us something, though. He’s still with us in spirit and in our hearts. I know he’d want us to share what we have with another dog. I also think that when the right one comes along, we’ll know. He’ll probably tell us.

By the way… I don’t remember ever getting signs from human loved ones who have passed on. I know people do get “visits” from parents, grandparents, or children they’ve lost. Not me… I only hear from the pets. I guess that says something about the bond I have with my animals.

This was the book I read after we lost MacGregor. I don’t remember what I thought about it, since I posted a review on Epinions and Epinions is long gone. If you choose to buy it through this site, I’d get a small commission. Frankly, though, I’m just posting this for those who are curious. I was so freaked out by MacGregor’s “signs” that I felt compelled to read about them… Maybe it’s time to reread this book, since Zane keeps visiting.

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dogs, musings

After the thrill is gone, he’s gone to a better place…

I always pay attention to the music that plays when Bill and I are on our way to or from a euthanasia appointment. It may seem weird that I do this, but music makes up part of my psyche. It’s important to me. So I listen carefully just before and after I lose a pet.

In 2012, when we lost our dog, MacGregor, we were on our way to North Carolina State University Veterinary School to attend his death. On the way there, the song “Far Side Banks of Jordan” by Alison Krauss and the Cox Family came on my iPod. That song goes like this…

I believe my steps are growin’ wearier each day
Still I’ve got another journey on my mind
Lures of this old world have ceased to make me wanna stay
And my one regret is leavin’ you behind

But if it proves to be his will that I am first to go
And somehow I’ve a feelin’ it will be
When it comes your time to travel likewise, don’t feel lost
For I will be the first one that you’ll see

And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand

Through this life we’ve labored hard to earn our meager fare
It’s brought us trembling hands and failing eyes
So I’ll just rest here on this shore and turn my eyes away
Until you come, then we’ll see paradise

And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand

I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand, hmm

It seemed like MacGregor was telepathically comforting us, even though logic tells me it was a coincidence.

You’d have to know MacGregor to know how significant this song seemed as we drove to his euthanasia appointment. He was very much a country dog– mostly beagle and basset hound. He was afraid of strangers, but if he knew you, he was the most awesome, hilarious, funny dog. And he was a very devoted friend.

After MacGregor died, we listened to music on the way home to Zane. About twenty minutes after we set his spirit free, this song by Rhonda Vincent came on the iPod.

It was a gathering of some 300 people
In the little church the crowd began to swell
Quite a send off for a simple country farmer
For many loved and knew the old man well

And as his bride of 60 years came forward
She bravely walked to where his body lay
A hush fell over all that stood around her
She smiled through tears as she began to say

I will see you again
For this isn’t the end
You’re my forever friend
And I will see you again

Ever since a simple carpenter from Nazareth
Walked the mountains and the shores of Galilee
Ever since he died and rose again on Easter
Death doesn’t have the same old victory

Tonight I’ll lay my head upon his pillow
And cry until the breaking of the day
But even in the pain of separation
There’s a hope inside my heart that lets me say

I will see you again
For this isn’t the end
You’re my forever friend
And I will see you again

Jesus, He made a way
There is coming a day
So I will hold on ’til then
And I will see you again

I will hold on ’til then
And I will see you…again

I’m not a very religious person, but this was playing on the way back from seeing MacGregor’s entry into the next world… I found it very comforting.

Yesterday, when we lost Zane, I played the iPod again. On the way to appointment, there was a song by Folk Uke. It was definitely not a religious song. However, on the surface, it seemed kind of appropriate. It was called “Try to Say Goodbye”. Folk Uke is a very irreverent band, and this was not a comforting song.

If you knew Zane, this might seem appropriate… He was kind of a wise ass, even as he always tried so hard to be good.

On the way back from the appointment, I noticed the Eagles were playing… and it was this song, of all things…

All day, I got condolences from people paying respects in the wake of Zane’s death. Some were very heartfelt, loving, and kind. Some were pretty tone deaf and borderline offensive. I mostly tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. A lot of folks just plain aren’t good at comforting others. They don’t know what to say, but feel like they should say something. Most of the time, they offer thoughts and prayers, condolences, or just plain write “sorry”. These thoughts are probably better received offline, because about 80% of communication is non-verbal. But in today’s Internet connected world, we’ve lost the ability to communicate non-verbally. If you’re typing on a computer, you miss out on seeing the other person’s facial expressions and body language, which offers so much more of a clue as to what they really mean and whether or not they really mean it. So those words are not particularly comforting. They show that someone has tried to make an effort to be kind and sympathetic, which I do recognize. But are they meaningful, wise, or soothing? Not really, if I’m honest.

Well… I mostly cut people some slack. I appreciate that people were trying to be kind. We are taught that when someone experiences the painful loss of a loved one, we should be sympathetic. If one manages empathy, that’s even better. But a lot of people just don’t get the concept of empathy. Many people don’t have the sensitivity or the time for that, or they don’t know the person well enough to know how to respond. I get that. I really do. It means something when a person makes a sincere effort, even if the effort is a bit bumbling.

However, I think the comment that kind of cut me to the quick was one that came from a family member who typed, “He’s gone to a better place.” I do think I know what she was trying to convey, although more than once, she’s claimed to be an atheist. If she’s an atheist, then no, she probably doesn’t believe he’s “gone to a better place.” Either way, “a better place” is separated from me. She’s basically said my dog is “better off dead”, which is a really shitty thing to say… although I don’t think that’s what she meant.

It’s kind of akin to Donald Trump’s massive gaffe a couple of years ago, when he tried and failed to comfort a young soldier’s wife whose husband was killed in Nigeria. Trump said something along the lines of, “He died doing exactly what he wanted to do.” Basically, it sounds like that means he’d rather be sweating in Nigeria dodging bullets than being at home with his loving wife and their children. What Trump probably meant to convey was that the soldier had willingly signed up for the military because he wanted to defend the country and be of service. However, people join the military for all kinds of reasons. Maybe he believed in the mission in which he gave his life. Maybe he didn’t. He died with honor, though, doing what he agreed to do. And he was many thousands of miles away from his wife and babies when he did it. I’d like to hope he would not have preferred being in Nigeria over being with his family. But we don’t know. Trump didn’t know, either. His words were not comforting or particularly kind. They were thoughtless and insensitive.

As to my relative and her choice of words… well, I am not surprised. She isn’t known for being particularly empathetic. This particular relative, on the day we buried our grandmother, mused aloud if maybe I wasn’t my father’s biological daughter. She cited the fact that I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and a lack of freckles, while Dad was dark haired, dark eyed, and freckled. Also, my dad and I didn’t get along very well, although we did love each other. Fortunately, 23 and Me has put that particular question to rest.

It stung when I read my relative’s words, though, although I do understand that she was trying to be comforting. It would have been better if she’d said, “his suffering is over now” or “you were kind to help ease his way” or something like that. Telling me that my dog has “gone to a better place” sounds like it means that he’s better off dead, away from me and Bill, than at home with his loving family. And when those words come from someone who claims she doesn’t believe in God or the hereafter, they are especially hollow and meaningless.

Zane loved us. It was very clear that he did. Although he didn’t fight death, I doubt he really would have preferred dying over being with us. Is he at the Rainbow Bridge? I’d like to think there is such a place, although logic tells me there probably isn’t. But I do know that he’s no longer sick, exhausted, in pain, or suffering. He doesn’t have trouble breathing. He’s not bleeding internally. He doesn’t feel the frustration of not being able to do what he’s always been able to do. He was a dog who loved to run and play. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and he loved to snuggle in bed with us. In the last weeks, he stopped being able to do those things. He no longer has to live with the frustration of not being able to enjoy soft beds (because they made breathing too difficult), long walks (because he didn’t have the energy), good food (because cancer killed his appetite), or sitting in my lap (because he no longer had the strength, stamina, or coordination to jump up into it). Even if he’s not at the Rainbow Bridge, he’s no longer conscious of the things he could no longer enjoy. That’s a blessing.

This experience has reminded me to be more careful about what I say or write to people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. It’s better to be helpful than harmful. If I can’t be helpful and kind, it’s better not to say anything at all. Even though I love to write, I don’t always have the right words… And I don’t always have to say anything. A lot of people didn’t notice/didn’t comment on Zane’s death yesterday. Although it would have been nice if more of my family members had cared enough to comment, I think it’s better that people keep silent if they don’t have the right words. I’m no longer very close to my family, mainly due to my vehement rejection of Trump and my love for swearing and raucous humor. So they don’t follow me and they don’t know… As for my friends, the ones who really know and truly care about me had the right words. They were enough to make me feel loved. While I do appreciate the condolences left by people who don’t know me so well, I was reminded that when it comes to words of comfort, sometimes less is more.

Incidentally, I think Arran is grieving a bit. This morning, he was lying in Zane’s usual spot, looking forlorn. This is going to be an adjustment for all of us.

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