Doing life on her own terms
“She doesn’t have much time,” my mother said over the phone one April morning, “you should come down this weekend.” My dog, an almost 17-year-old white, coal-eyed Bichon Frise, who had been part of the family since she was four months old, was dying. Whether it was a recently-found tumor or a long-hidden hormonal imbalance, the problem was neurological, and Dr. Cohen told us there was little he could do for her. “If she were my dog,” he said, “I would take her home to be with the family.” And so my mother did.
Machi started life at my parents’ home, where I still lived as I began my career as a lawyer, saving money to buy my own home. When I moved into a Los Angeles apartment 60 miles away, I took her with me. I was rarely home; the long hours I worked meant she spent most of her time alone. She became flea-bitten and confused by apartment living.
When, two years later, I bought a home a few minutes from my parents’, she hid behind couches and ate an entire bowl of foil-wrapped chocolates, prompting an emergency call to the vet. I was in a troubled relationship and navigating my way through the politics of law firm life. Machi absorbed the stress. Once I yelled at her as I lay crying on my bed and, contrary to my house rules, she tried to climb up to see me. She never forgot that yell, no matter how tightly I held her or how much I apologized afterward. Whoever said dogs live in the moment never knew Machi, whose memory and intelligence were deep.
Once, on a visit to my parents’ house, as the time to leave came, I looked over at Machi. She was sitting up, looking out the window from beside the chair in which I was sitting. I called her to go home. As I did, she suddenly thrust her head down and pretended to be asleep. I took her home that night but, within the week, I returned her to my parents. It was clear she preferred her childhood home to mine.
Machi was always her own woman. She loved all of us (my father in particular), but she did what she wanted, when she wanted, on her own terms. She did not, as my mother liked to say, “pander” to anyone. That quality was in fact why I chose her. She was the only one of the litter to squirm off my lap when I tried to hold her. That quality was also how she got her name. Machi was short for Machisma, the female version of machismo.
Machi, sick, lay flat like a rug on my parents’ hardwood floor or the cool limestone of the bathroom. Her remaining joy was to sit outside, with a light breeze ruffling her hair, her body slowly and softly being stroked. It seemed to remind her of her middle years, when she would sit outside alone after dinner, sniffing the breeze. My father used to call it her after-dinner “smoke.”
Machi was a fighter. For years she lived with crippling arthritis and never complained; she just took shorter and slower walks. She accepted what was and kept going. She would never give up, no matter how wracked her body became.
And so, after a particularly painful night, the decision was unanimous. My father, who typically avoided illness or death, drove us to Dr. Cohen’s. Machi cried out when the needle entered her paw. She looked surprised and perhaps a bit betrayed that we had taken the last thing she had—the fight itself—away from her. All three of us held her.
The next day, I ran the treadmill, pushing through intense bursts of interval training. On the third interval, I wanted to give up. Then I thought of what Machi would do, and I pressed on.
Rhea with her favorite
Rhea, happiest with her favorite person! Rhea passed one a week after this picture from cancer. She was almost 13.
--Ernie and Jerry Eppinga, Providence Forge, Va.
My heart is broken, where did you go?
A Poem for Cammy Jane, 9/5/2000-2/9/2007
I’m sleeping with a pheasant, Puppy.
Wild and giddy playmate!
Hunter of toys,
Should the time ever come
The story behind the poem:
There were no symptoms, no warnings, no intuitive curiosity to cause a consult with our vet. Only necropsy confirmed what we couldn’t have known. Taken from us in a matter of hours, Cammy (Calamity’s Best Shot), died of hemangiosarcoma at the age of six. It’s unfathomable that a tumor was growing in our dog’s heart. To say Cammy died peacefully in her sleep is incongruous with the ugly, graphic reality of that violent rupture in her glorious chest. Late in the afternoon, when the pathologist’s report was sinking in, we were able to smile at one small detail: “Dietary indiscretions,” including lettuce and mushrooms, were found in Cammy’s tummy. Common fare for a creature who ran to the vegetable drawer every time I opened the refrigerator!
I am guilty with the blessings that she didn’t suffer any indignities and that her beauty was never diminished. I thank God for her and know in my heart we never wasted a minute of the time we had together.
It has been almost three years since Cammy’s passing and this is the first time I have been able to “go public” with this (her) poem and picture. The pheasant and I hung out for many, many months. Now our daily doses of joy and laughter come from a Golden pup named Zena, short for Zenith. The pheasant loves her, too!
Lots of love in a too-short lifetime
Lick. Lick. Lick.
Those little kisses on my nose sealed the deal. We had to take that adorable Beagle puppy home with us.
Our Beagle, Bailey, was a smart, people-loving, stubborn, sweet, independent-minded little soul. Though lacking English skills, Bailey was an excellent communicator. She could make her wishes known using a combination of her nose, barking and whining, and her big brown eyes, which could cover a range of emotions from happy to guilty to thoroughly annoyed.
When you talked to her, she would turn her head, cock her ears and furrow her brow. She looked like she comprehended everything, although I’m sure she was just listening for her favorite words: treat, dinner, dessert, bunnies, Daddy. Bailey knew many words, but her favorite was “light.” We couldn’t even say it—we had to spell it, due to our pup’s severe addiction to chasing the laser light.
She was first introduced to the euphoria that a laser pointer could give as a puppy. A man brought one to the dog park to entertain his Labrador, who couldn’t have cared less. But Bailey was hooked from the instant she saw that bright bead, glowing red on the ground.
The next day, when the man didn’t bring the laser pointer, Bailey went nuts—jumping all over him. She needed her fix. We were forced to buy one just so she would leave the poor guy alone.
After that, she chased the light three times per day, every day for twelve years. The vet used to remark about what amazing muscle tone Bailey had in her legs—it was from bouncing off our walls chasing the laser. She had a special bark (loud and crazed) and a special tail wag (full circle) just for the light.
With all games—the light, ball, squeaky squirrel—Bailey insisted you actively participate. You weren’t allowed to sit back and toss the toy du jour. No, she refused to play (would lie down and glare at you in her “We are not amused” way) if you didn’t get up too. She even invented a game where we were the ones who ran around. She’d stand on the couch and we’d bounce a ball at her. If she bounced it back, she got a point. If we caught it, we got a point. But if we missed and had to run after it, she’d get another point. She loved that game. She’d stand on the couch and purposely bounce it away from us, and then smile while we ran around like idiots.
She was a very funny girl. One escapade always makes us laugh whenever we think of it. When we first had her, we lived in an apartment. One day we opened the door to greet a friend, just as our neighbor walked out of his door. Bailey, who’d never bolted before, flew out our door and into the neighbor’s apartment, where the roommate sat on the sofa eating pizza. She snatched the last piece off his plate and raced out! She must have smelled it through the thin walls and plotted her perfect crime. I would have loved to see that roommate’s face: sitting there, enjoying his pizza, looking forward to relishing the last piece; when suddenly a blur of Beagle dashes in and steals it.
It was a great joy to have her in our lives. She made us laugh every day. We loved her very much. She loved us too—although her obvious favorite was Daddy. She would sit in his lap every morning, put her arms around his neck and kiss him before work. We wondered if she thought she had to re-mark him everyday (“Back off other dogs; he’s mine!”), before he went out into the world. After all, he shaved off all her kisses from the previous day. One day, I tried to count her kisses. Lick. Lick. Lick. I gave up after one thousand. We conservatively estimate that she gave him several million kisses over the course of her too-short lifetime.
Someday we’ll have another dog, but there will never, ever be another dog like her.
How a Chow named Chelsea made life worth living
My heart remains very heavy after the profound loss of my beloved Chow, Chelsea, on August 22, 2009. My best friend for the last nine years, I still struggle through each day trying to cope with the fact that she is no longer with me. She remains in my heart and in my thoughts, as she always will, yet I miss looking into her beautiful eyes and the feel of her soft, black fur.
I have been blessed that dogs have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember: Each one unique and special, leaving me with everlasting memories. In fact, it was Venus, also a black Chow, rescued from the streets and loved dearly for four years, who ignited my passion for this amazing breed. Though I have loved each and every one of my dogs, my almost-spiritual bond with Chelsea stands apart.
At a time in my life when I was facing divorce and the painful decision to allow my husband to retain custody of our two dogs, a divine force led me to Chelsea. I just happened to walk by a local pet supply store, where she was tied outside following an adoption event that left her, still, without a home. While I was in no position to adopt a dog, as soon as I saw her, I knew. I loved her instantly. I pleaded with her chaperone to allow me to take her that day, but abiding by the rules, I was required to fill out an adoption request and schedule a time later in the week to meet Chelsea in order to determine if we would be a suitable match.
The kind woman who was caring for Chelsea had a house full of homeless animals she had committed to fostering, and with no room left at the inn, Chelsea was sent to a supply yard (aka “junk yard”), owned by her husband. It was in September of 2000, although it seems like only yesterday. The lot was filled with old cars and equipment, and I did not see any signs of Chelsea as I called out her name, “Chelsea, here Chelsea.” Then, out from under a tractor-trailer, appeared the beautiful black Chow, eyes filled with hope, despite her desperate surroundings. She was chained to the truck bed and I approached cautiously. Chelsea did not bark or growl at me, only slightly wagged her tail as I knelt before her and offered my hand. From this point forward, Chelsea and I were unbreakable.
I was so fortunate to have Chelsea’s presence in my life. I honestly believe I would have succumbed to the depression that resulted from the trials of my life, had it not been for her enduring love and companionship. How many nights I cried, face buried in her thick fur, as she offered her love without judgment. On the days when I could not bring myself to leave my bed, she faithfully stayed by my side. It was my love for Chelsea, and her love for me, that kept me afloat. Yes, there were the usual diversions—work, family, friends—but my relationship with Chelsea was the joy, happiness and inspiration that made my life worth living.
I’m sure there are many stories similar to mine, of people who have shared an unusually strong bond with their dogs. I know I am not alone in my grief, as others must feel the same emptiness that I feel, over the loss of their beloved companions. I do have a light in my darkness; his name is Leo. He is a golden Chow that I adopted four years ago, who knew and loved Chelsea, and watched over her in her golden years. He waited patiently while I devoted myself to caring for her as we neared the end, and he has lent his fur for me to cry in as I mourn the loss of my Chelsea girl. Someday, I know, the thought of Chelsea will bring a smile instead of a stream of tears. I know she is watching over me still, and I know that someday, we will meet again, never to be apart. Until then, thank you, Chelsea, for sharing your life with me, I love you more than you will ever know.
Memories of Christmas and his last family vacation
This is a picture of my best friend and soul mate, Cameron. I lost him unexpectedly on Aug. 6, 2009 at the age of 14-and-a-half years. He was a black and tan mini-Dachshund.
I miss seeing his beautiful face, the jingle of his tags and his paws tapping the floor.
I got him when he was just six-weeks-old, and he was the perfect companion. He helped my mother during her illness, and helped me get through her death. He made my dad’s days less lonely and he loved my sisters and brother-in-law very much. He loved my best friend/coworker Deborah, too.
He loved to go for “rides” around town and going on family vacations. We would meet the neatest people during our trips and it was because they had to talk to Cameron. They were either missing their own dog back home or Cameron reminded them of their pet in the past.
He loved to walk and dig in the sand at the beach. In his younger days, he would chase the birds with me holding tight to the leash and running behind him … what a sight!
He would let me dress in him up in bandannas, bow ties, sweaters and Halloween costumes. He loved to bark at the trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, while I gave out candy but Christmas was his favorite holiday. The day after Thanksgiving, we would go to the mall and in his new Christmas sweater Cameron would get his picture taken with a “real” Santa. Back home, he would jump in his bed, while I got the tree and decorations out, and then watch me decorate the tree. On Christmas Day, he would pull his stuff out of his stocking and look inside the gift bags for new toys and treats. Sometimes, I would catch him gazing at the tree at night, and when New Year’s rolled around, he would get a look on his face like “don’t take it down.”
He always had a birthday party with a different theme each year, and he would get his treat of vanilla ice cream along with plenty of presents.
I love this picture because he is just “chilling” on the front porch of our rental cottage in Nags Head. He was so happy on that trip, and it was his last family trip.
I miss Cameron so much! I know I will meet him on that Rainbow Bridge one day.
The story of a Beagle and his belly.
To call Herbie, my family’s rotund former Beagle, a “foodie” isn’t entirely accurate, as that term implies some selectivity in consumption, which Herbie did not have. His time with us was certainly borne of a love of good food, though, more specifically, a love of good drink, having been purchased by my parents from a pet store after their better judgment was drowned in too many margaritas at the nearby Mexican restaurant.
With the droopy eyes and ears of a hound, the barrel chest of a linebacker and a stomach of iron, Herbie’s relish of rations served him well. The kennel cough he’d been harboring became evident a few days after his homecoming, and his forlorn puppy form spent the better part of two weeks at the vet’s office before making a robust recovery. The vet solemnly informed us that most puppies don’t survive kennel cough—the only thing that saved Herbie was that he never lost his appetite.
It wasn’t hard for Herbie to feed his insatiable hunger at our house—Pop-Tarts and cookies frequently dangled from my unsuspecting little brother’s five-year-old hands. Herbie would nonchalantly follow him around the house, looking anywhere other than at his prey, but all the while inching closer until SNAP the tasty tidbit was his.
Herbie didn’t always limit himself to such low-hanging fruit, however. Although he couldn’t see the top of the kitchen table, with a little effort he could plop one paw on top like a periscope and feel around for stray food items. Having watched him locate an Oreo this way, his paw dragging it incrementally towards the table edge and into his waiting gullet, we didn’t have the heart to deny him his prize when he’d shown such initiative. Plus, if the chocolate bunny he’d stolen the previous Easter and the entire pepperoni pizza he’d managed to swipe from the delivery boy hadn’t killed him, then one Oreo wasn’t going to either.
Herbie’s love of all things gastronomic did occasionally lead to his downfall. Smart enough to figure out that when we took three towels out of the closet it meant bath time (we had three dogs), Herbie would stealthily disappear under the guest bed, where he would wait in stony silence while the other two dogs endured the indignity of the garden hose (fools!).
Eventually, someone would be sent to tempt Herbie from his hiding place with a piece of cheese. His eyes would shine coolly out of the darkness beyond the bed skirt, thoughtfully considering the cheddar placed just beyond his reach, weighing his options (one sweet but fleeting moment of satisfaction versus a good ten minutes of backyard rubdown?). As he belly-crawled towards the mouthwatering morsel, we would move it further away. Herbie may have been patient in the pursuit of cheesy goodness, but we all knew who was going to win that game.Concerned about his weight, we would on occasion attempt to deny him the cheese when he finally emerged, but his reproachful glare—as if to say, “I thought we had an arrangement”—always made us relent. Despite his ongoing battle with the bulge, Herbie lived an active and happy life—playing ball in the backyard, occasionally digging out under the fence to hunt varmints along the stream, cuddling on the couch with his humans. When he passed away recently after many—ahem, solid –years, we knew he’d come full circle. He started life as a puppy eating to live, and died fifteen years later, living to eat.
Rest In Peace, October 9, 2009
Age has sprayed his muzzle gray;
Once a proud protector,
We no longer require or expect
His wanderings have dwindled to a slow, shaky circuit
Nose faintly quivering,
--Poem by Richard Johnston
We adopted Cooper, who was more than ten-years-old, from Hope’s Haven, a wonderful sanctuary in Salem, Ore. Despite enduring years of abuse, Cooper was the most loving and trusting dog. We were privileged to share the last four years of his life with him. He brought us so much joy. He was loved by everyone he met.
Jennydog left us a year ago after a shockingly short illness. She was an intense Border Collie—strong, elegant, fast and bossily dominant. She was noise-phobic, terrified of falling baby gates, unbelievably kind to my elderly mother, intolerant of rudeness in other dogs and people. She ruled the boys with relentlessness in some things and not in others. Jenny was our strength in times of tragedy; the one we knew would protect us if anyone meant us harm. With her gone, the house never feels the same and I still apologize to her when the gate hits the kitchen floor. One year later, my mother begins her slow journey towards death, and I dream of her beloved Jenny zooming around the house, hitting the couch so hard it rocked backwards.
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