Improvising

If everything had gone according to plan, I would be in southern Utah tonight with all my boys, celebrating Wensley’ fifteenth birthday. But Wensley’s kidneys gave out in February. I kept the trip on the books because I’ve been so sad without him and I thought it would be good to get away. Then last week I experienced both my first pandemic and my first earthquake. It was like a biathlon of terror.

After Wensley died, I had been saying that maybe we would get another dog for Christmas, after a good long grieving break. Then school was canceled and Matt, Ethan, and I have been stuck at home getting on each other’s nerves all day. Then I said that if school was canceled for more than the two weeks they originally announced, we would get a dog for Easter. Something to distract us. Then I woke up to a 5.7 earthquake and stumbled through hours of aftershocks as I tried unsuccessfully to focus on work. I went for a walk to calm my nerves and found myself tempted to steal every dog I saw.

So, yeah. We got a puppy on Friday. Nothing is going according to plan right now so I said “fuck it.”

Meet Murphy, the 10 week old Goldendoodle that I found through a friend. He’s a sweetheart and a good monster and sometimes he makes me cry because I still miss my dog terribly and I feel like an unfaithful A hole for getting a new dog less than six weeks after I lost my Wensleydale.

I told my therapist about it yesterday. He was kind and said he was surprised I lasted this long. Then we talked about Murphy as a new chapter, and not a replacement. That reminded me of something I read in a David Sedalia essay once, about the way the lifespan of our pets put a tidy parentheses around eras in our lives. It’s so true. I like thinking of it that way.

This morning I was sad because I realized that today is Wensley’s birthday. Murphy was being adorable and I was resisting his charm, feeling a longing that is unfair to him but articulated itself as a rebuke that said “you aren’t my dog.”

Then he did something that Wensley used to do that I had completely forgotten about. He ran over to his food bowl which I had just filled, took one bit of kibble in his mouth, then ran back to the carpeted area of the room and ate it there. Then he did it again, and again. I don’t know how common that is with puppies, but I always thought it was hilarious when Wensley did it. “Does it taste better when your paws are cushioned?” I used to ask him.

Wensley was my dog. But Murphy is our dog. This new era is off to a weird and wonky start, but it has begun. And Murphy is not a replacement. He’s a new member of the family that belongs in this era. But if he helps remember some joy from the last era, that’s fine too. It wasn’t the plan, but as I’m learning… nothing goes according to plan.

Animal Encounters

Wensleydale has had a rough time this winter. His arthritis is acting up. He had some teeth pulled. And once the snow came he started peeing in a corner of the kitchen rather than asking to go out in the cold.

He’ll be 16 years old in March, which for Yorkshire terriers (the internet tells me), is the equivalent of 80 human years. The site only went up to 17 which made my heart stutter. I had to google “oldest Yorkie” to get some sense of what I could hope for. I found this article about a 26 year old Yorkie who died in a dog attack, which was helpful but distressing at the same time. 26 years is a lot, even for a natural death. I decided to focus on that fact and not the grizzly details of his demise.

We spent the holidays in California with Matt’s family. It worked out that a friend needed a house and pet sitter for our exact days, and they agreed to give us the keys in exchange for keeping their three-legged chihuahua with broken ribs and nerve damage alive. They also have a parakeet-like bird (technically, he is a green cheeked conure) and a half-dozen chickens.

We drove from Utah to California (a 12 hour drive) with Wensley in tow. He’s usually a pretty good traveler, but this time he struggled. Here he is resting comfortably early on in the trip.

Later in the day, he seemed like he couldn’t stay still for mor that a minute or two. He was on my lap as we traversed Donner’s Pass (location of the infamous Donner Party disaster) when Wensley emptied the contents of his bladder directly into my crotch. He peed on me several more times before we reached our destination outside Sacramento. Once I got him inside and he peed on the light tiled floor (and not on my dark jeans) I saw that he was peeing blood. I got him back in the car and rushed him to a 24 hour pet hospital, making an already long day insanely longer.

Wensley had a mild urinary tract infection and the veterinarian gave us antibiotics, but it was well after midnight when we finally went to bed. I changed clothes and went to sleep, leaving the pee soaked laundry in a pile for later.

I stayed behind the next morning when Matt and Ethan joined up with the fam for holiday bonding. I started the washer, gave Wensley a bath, and tried to get the chihuahua to eat something without success. I put the clothes in the drier and turned my attention to the bird, who was shrieking for attention.

I was told I could let him out of his cage and, while he couldn’t fly, he could climb to the top of the cage and see what the people were up to. I decided to try that and it did quiet him. Then I thought I might befriend him with food, even if it didn’t work on the chihuahua who seemed to hate me with an unnatural fire. I cut up a pear and offered a small bite to the little green bird, but instead of taking it, he hopped on my hand, ran up my arm and disappeared in my freshly washed hair. I reached up to move him back to his perch, but every time my fingers got close to him he bit me. Hard.

I took a selfie and sent it to Matt, explaining what happened. “I can’t get him off so I guess he lives here now.”

Not sure what else to do, I sat on the couch and waited for the drier to buzz. I pulled up a podcast and tried to forget that I had allowed my body to become a bird house and tree combo. Once I settled on the couch, however, the bird decided to explore my branches.

He ran back and forth across my clavicle a few times. Then he stepped down onto my right breast and, after a cautious few steps, began to bounce on it, like it was a double mattress at a Motel 6. I reached up to make him stop and he bit me and ran back into my hair.

“Asshole,” I said. “I just got #metooed by a goddamn parrot. Worst. Christmas. Ever!”

The clothes finished and Matt came back to rescue me. Together we got the mean little bird back in his cage and I was free. The rest of the pet sitting part of the trip was uneventful. I gave the animals their space and they gave me mine. Wensley didn’t befriend anyone, either. But he has completely recovered from his UTI.

That’s really the end of the story, but just for fun here are some photos I took from a separate animal encounter, back in Utah, shortly after New Year’s. It was Owl Day at the Bear River Bird Refuge and I got to meet these two cuties.

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Then we took a drive around the refuge and I took pictures of hawks. These two turned out the best.

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I have always loved raptors and have a fantasy of getting into falconry some day, maybe when I’m retired. I’m sure having a bird of prey would be completely different than having a flightless conure or parakeet, but this one experience has left me less excited about my fantasy. After all, if a red tail hawk decided to trampoline my tits, I might bleed to death!

Might be best to invest in a longer lens and stick with photography. That way I can stay in my car, where it is safe.

He is Pretty Orange

Wensleydale got a shot at the vet this morning. When I brought him home I tried to make him a special treat by combining his two favorite things: peanut butter and carrots. Only something weird happened.

Maybe I’m just watching too much political coverage these days, but do you see what I see?

I swear, I cannot get away from that man!

Wensleydale did not notice. He is now napping with his lobster, Pinchy.

Meanwhile, the carrot is currently being impeached in Wensley’s stomach. He will convict sometime tomorrow.

Shabby Chic

Wensley had to get a haircut last week.  I try to avoid cutting his hair in January and February because it is so dang cold, and he doesn’t deal well with the snow.  It couldn’t wait, however.  He was getting a bit of a Rastafarian situation on his back end, and it was time.

I brought him home from the groomer and dug through the winter accessories to dig out his sweater.  I knitted this for him a few years ago.  (There is no pattern to share; I just knitted a rectangle and fashioned it around his body and then sewed it up.)  Unfortunately, when I pulled it over his little body, I realized the moths had been at it.

Obviously, Wensley doesn’t care.  He doesn’t love wearing sweaters and would be happy to feed the whole thing to the moths of the world.  But he stopped shivering once he had it on, and that was the important thing.

I was reminded of a story that David Sedaris wrote in When you Are Engulfed in Flames, where he buys a $400 cashmere sweater but finds it is too nice to wear.  He pays a professional designer to “distress” it.  Extremely distressed.  He writes, “Ordinarily I avoid things that have been distressed, but this sweater had been taken a step further and ruined.  Having been destroyed, it is now indestructible, meaning I can wear it without worry.”

This is not a cashmere sweater, but it was handmade.  That took a little time.  I never felt it was too nice for the dog, clearly.  But I used to take it off before I sent him outside to pee.  Not anymore!  Now Wensley can keep it on and stave off the shivers even while making yellow snow, sweater be damned!

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Deck the Howls

This is how I decorate for Halloween:

This is how my neighbors decorate:

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To be honest, they are in a different neighborhood but I couldn’t think of a word for someone else that lives in your city but not on your block.  Citymate? Neighboring-neighbor? I dunno.  But I think of them as the owners of the Halloween House and I have to go by to see what they have come up with every year.  (I’ve blogged about them a time or two before.)  I think this is my favorite so far; they have really outdone themselves.  One of these days I need to stop when someone is in the yard.  I have so many questions!  Mostly to do with budget and storage.

To be a little more honest, I have one more Halloween decoration.  It is five feet tall (just shorter than I am) and it looks like this:

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The dogs’ names are (from left to right) Zero, Maxwell Silver-hammer, and Queequeg.  (I name everything, by the way.  I originally named the parrot and cat skeletons Polly and Pyewacket, but only to myself.  Then, on a whim, I asked Ethan what he thought their names should be and he said, without hesitation, “Pierical,” pointing at the parrot, and “Port Jackson,” pointing at the cat.  So, obviously, those are their names now. He said he didn’t know where he got the ideas for his names but clearly we were both feeling the letter “P.”)  I bought the inflatable dogs last year after the fellas moved in because I wanted to make sure we had a fun yard for Ethan and the neighborhood kids.  And also because, dogs.

Months later, long after Halloween, one of my neighbors stopped me to say hi and she mentioned the big dogs.  She said that her daughter loved them.  “And I mean, she loved them.  One day, we came home and they were deflated and she started to cry.  ‘They’re dead! ‘They’re dead!’ I couldn’t console her!”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I was unplugging it during the day to save power.  But you know, they are ghost dogs.  So, technically, they were dead the whole time.”

My neighbor responded with that blank look that translates as a reminder to socially awkward people to avoid face to face contact in the future.

At any rate, they are back up for the holiday.  And I haven’t unplugged them this year.  Not even once.

The Introvert at the Party; an exploration in Haiku

Introverted girl
at a social gathering
trying not to cling

Releasing Matt’s arm
I take a deep breath and wander
deeper in the house

Determined to learn
from the mistakes of my past:
don’t drink all the wine!

What is the most time
I can hide in the toilet
before eyebrows raise?

Do I look social
crossing the room with purpose
looking for “someone”?

Hovering over
the table of finger foods
not sure what to do

It’s called ‘finger food’
but do I use a napkin?
What’s the proper way?

And then what happens?
If I put it in my mouth
I will get a question

From someone or other.
I’ll stand there, mouth full of cheese…
happens every time.

Better to slip it
quickly into my pocket
for later, alone.

Time to venture off;
initiate a friendship…
thank God, there’s a dog!

Check the time, dear Christ!
How can that be possible?
It’s six forty five.

Cross the room again:
bathroom appetizer time.
It’ll be a long night.

The Perils of Being a Knitter’s Dog


    Especially the kind who reaches for their camera before saving you…


    Nervous Tick

    In the summer of 1999, Jules and Demetria and I were on a long road trip through the Louisiana and Texas.  I had never been to the South before and I found it quite mysterious.  I had never experienced humidity before, for one thing.  And the bugs down there are mind-blowing.  I remember being astonished by the number and size of the bugs I saw, but mostly I was amazed by the sound.  We have crickets in Utah and they sing quietly on warm nights.  The crickets they have in the South are something else, entirely.  I honestly don’t know how anyone in Texas gets a good night’s sleep in the summer.

    We arrived at Juliane’s Dad’s place in Beaumont, Texas, and decided to go out and soak our feet and legs in the pool.  My legs were covered in large and swollen mosquito bites and I was really suffering, so it sounded like a great idea.  That is, until Juliane handed me a net on a long pole and told me it was to scoop the frogs out of the pool.

    “I’m from the desert.”  I told her, looking down at the net in my hands.  “We don’t scoop frogs in the desert.  I’m going to need more instructions.”

    A few flung frogs later, we were sitting on the edge of the swimming pool cooling our feet and sipping beer.  After a little while, Jules hopped up to let the dogs out.  That was another thing about that trip.  Everyone we stayed with had dogs.  Big dogs.  I grew up in a house with cats and staying with dogs was completely new to me.  The Beaumont dogs were especially frenetic.  They whipped me with their tails and they licked me in the face.  I thought they were going to push me into the pool a couple of times.

    After a while, I had to ask Jules to pull them off of me.  She tugged them toward her by their collars and let them lick her face.

    “Good dog,” she said.  “That’s my good boy.”

    They settled down and we got back to our conversation.  It was some point after that when I felt a hard little raised speck on my arm.  It was dark and I couldn’t really see it, but I knew what it was.

    “Oh shit!  I have a tick!”

    “Are you sure?” Jules asked.

    “Look, it’s here on my arm.  Can you see it?”

    “Oh yeah… what is that?”

    “Fuck fuck fuck.  I’m going to get Lyme disease.  This is what I get for running around barefoot in Texas!”

    “What does that have to do with anything?  It’s on your arm.  Let’s go inside and get a better look…”

    Juliane’s father and step mother are both doctors, but they had gone out for the evening.  I was sitting on a stool in their kitchen and we were trying to figure out what to do.  Then I remembered something that my dad told me.

    “My dad said that when he was working at Outward Bound, they used to find ticks.  And he they would light a match, blow it out, and burn the tick with the tip, but they found that it worked better to pour cheap wine on them.”

    “Really?” Demetria sounded skeptical.

    “Yeah.  Because if you burn them, you might kill them.  And then, because they have burrowed in, you still have to dig their heads out.  But if you can get them to back out, that’s the best way.  And Dad said that he would put cheap booze on them and then they would ‘back out happy.’”

    “We can try it,” Jules said.  “Of course, my dad doesn’t buy cheap wine.  So we might want to keep this hush hush…”

    Jules found a shot glass and set it on the counter.  Then she left the kitchen to go to the wine cellar and returned with a bottle of white wine in a plain and expensive looking European label.  We opened the bottle and poured a shot of wine.  Then Deme flipped it over quickly and held it against my arm.  We all watched intently to see what would happen next.

    The tick didn’t move.

    “Shit.  Do you think it’s dead already?”

    “I don’t know.  Give it a minute.”

    We sat in silence for another minute or two. And then something strange did happen.  The little thing seemed to change shape a slightly and drift away from my skin.

    “What the hell?”

    Demetria lowered the shot glass and I inspected the tick, which was no longer as hard as an exoskeleton should be.  I was now able to pull it from the arm hair it was sticking to.

    “Um, guys?  I’m sorry.  That was a false alarm.  It isn’t a tick.”

    “What is it, then?”

    “I think it’s a dog booger.”

    “Shut up.  You just made me pour sixty dollars of wine on a dog booger?!”

    “I said I was sorry!”

    Of course, at that point, there was nothing to do but drink the rest of the wine.  I don’t actually remember drinking it, but we must have.  I do remember swearing them to secrecy because I was so embarrassed and just a little bit terrified of Juliane’s dad.  He was even more intense than the dogs – though in a different way, obviously.  But if he noticed that the bottle was missing, he didn’t say anything.

    I didn’t get comfortable around dogs until after I got Wensley, and that was many years after that trip.  It’s funny to me to remember this, because now I’m the girl who always stops to pet the dogs.  Matt was teasing me a little while ago about my dog love.  “Uh oh, all conversation must stop – Rachel saw a dog!”  It’s true, I’m a complete dog dork, and I’ve interrupted many perfectly good stories with my outbursts.  But in my defense, there was a dog.

    I Might Not Be the Alpha

    Me: Dude, you CANNOT be on the couch. You are too big!

    The Dog: Yes I can; I can prove it…

    Me: No… Get… Gerrofff… Down! Gosh darn you are heavy! 

    The Dog: I propose a compromise. 

    Me: Fine. Whatever lets me focus this episode of Game of Thrones.