Brought Tears to My Eyes

https://nypost.com/2018/04/03/stephen-hawkings-final-gift-was-an-easter-feast-for-the-homeless/

This has erased the last doubt in my mind over the question,

“Was Stephen Hawking really a mensch?”

Read it and tell me.

Tired Puppy

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We had a big day today and both of us are beat.  However, if you look at the above photo you will see two squiggly lines.  The red one on the right points to Atina’s “squirrel.”  She has to have it in order to sleep.

The blue line on the left points to my foot.  She is using it for a pillow.  This means that I cannot move, or else I will wake up Sleeping Beauty and then what would happen?

What I want to know is why I get all excited about some new Bipolar management strategy that’s working, and immediately get rid of one of my drugs.  I do that frequently, and frequently pay the price.

For instance, I just started Clonidine for my blood pressure, and it has the side effect of relaxation.  I was getting over-sedated from the benzos I take plus the Clonidine, so I decided to start weaning on the benzos because I hate them anyway.

So after a couple of nights of half doses, last night I skipped the lorazepam entirely.

All well and good, I fell asleep just fine.  But it turns out the Clonidine has a very short duration of action, so I found myself irritability awake and looking for someone to kill at 4:30 in the morning.  Well, the only person I found at that time of the a.m. was me, so I lay in bed till it got light, and then I remembered that someone did me the favor of stealing all my camp furniture yesterday.  Kill!  Kill!!  But I had to wait till the office opened, so I guzzled coffee and planned my angle of attack.

It didn’t work any better than the last time I got robbed in that particular campground, which unfortunately has many advantages, which is why I stay there a lot. 

Last time, someone stole my one good pair of chinos and six pairs of blue Smartwool socks, only a couple of years old.  Fuck, fuck, fuck.  That was the find of a lifetime, Smartwool socks in the most lovely shade of blue.  I guess somebody else thought that too.

I told the incredibly rude cunt bitch fuckhead office person about it, and she just sneered at me, so I asked to see the manager, who was very nice and promised to look into it for me but I doubt she will.

I don’t know why, but the office staff all treat me like I have leprosy even though I’ve been paying to stay there intermittently since February.  I stay there when it’s really cold so I can plug in my little electric heater instead of using the propane furnace, which makes these unholy clicking noises all night.  I don’t think I do anything weirder than any of the other weird campers.  I don’t even allow myself to go around having a running conversation with myself like I normally do.  I think they’re all afraid of my dog, who wouldn’t even bite them unless they threatened me, which is one of the reasons I have her.  The other reason is that she’s sweet, sweet, sweet.  Maybe I’m creepy without knowing it.  Oh well, I’m paying them, and all they have to do is take my money, so I get to be myself.  But I miss my camp furniture and socks.

Tonight I’m in a way over my head expensive and chic campground that is far too near Sedona, which is why.  That’s OK though, because tomorrow I’m off to the Mogollon Rim.  I’ll explain more about that later.  I can’t look down to write anymore tonight.  My neck is killing me. 

Happy Birthday, Dad

You would have been 91 years old today.

As it turned out, you left last year, three weeks short of your ninetieth birthday.  You couldn’t hang around for the chocolate cake; you had places to go.  You stuck it out as long as you could.  But anyone with a brain in their head could see that you were finished.

You were my hero.  I adored you, and I still adore you, and I always will adore you.  My tiny house on wheels is adorned with photos of you and your art.  It’s a rolling monument; you have no other, since you chose to be incinerated rather than buried…I always thought you’d make an ash of yourself….

I chuckle when I think of the horrible puns you managed to dig up on every possible occasion.  You and I would roar with laughter while Mom twisted up her face in disgust.  I wanted to punch her, but you either ignored her or said, “Aw, come on, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”

The week before you died, you complained of boredom, so I brought a book of short stories that I had given you many years ago.  I began to read my favorite, then realized with horror that it was a very black story about death!

I said, “Uh, Dad, do you mind some black humor?”

Through blue lips you croaked, “The blacker the better!”  And we had our last good chuckle.

You never laid a hand on me in anger, except for the one time you gave me a real over-the-knee spanking, at my mother’s insistence, for the crime of running away from her (again).  But your anger was not at me, but at her, and after the deed was done, you left me crying on my bed and closed the door.  I heard you tell her to do her own dirty-work.  Then my door opened and you came in to make sure I was all right.  You never touched me again, except for your bear-hugs and rides on your shoulders.  I loved it when we came to a doorway and you would shout “Low bridge!” so that I would know to fold myself around your bald head, and you would crouch down so I wouldn’t get bashed.

Your body betrayed you, but you squeezed the last drop of your strength to make your beautiful art.  It was only when your mind finally failed that you made your last body of beautiful work, walked out your studio door, and never returned.

You mourned your work, as I mourn mine.  Our conversations about that laid to rest your bitterness about my leaving practice, and my bitterness that you thought it was out of laziness rather than disability.  Once you had tasted the bile of being unable to do the work you loved, you apologized to me, and the sweetness of that apology erased my pain, although I grieved the fact that you had to live my experience in order to learn it.

After I left home, and my mother disowned me, you would sneak and visit me, wherever I happened to be, on pretense of work.  We reveled in our stolen fruit. 

Once when you came to dinner, I slipped on the kitchen floor and spilled the whole pot of home-made spaghetti sauce, full of sausages and mushrooms and wine, which you must have known had cost me a month’s worth of wages to buy.  You made your “tsk” sound and grabbed pot and spoon, and scraped that sauce right off my kitchen floor.

“You mean we’re going to eat that?”

“Damn right,” you grinned.  And we sure did, and chalked up another of our secret treasures.

And that time in Chicago, when you had dropped a machine on your hand and crushed it, and had it in a cast; and I had had a soccer injury, and was on crutches; and Chicago had had one of her epic snowstorms–we tottered around town, holding each other up, a couple of cripples, hilarious at every near-miss slip.

Oh, you taught me how to scare minnows from under their rocks and catch them in my hands, how to tuck a frying pan and some bacon and cornmeal in my creel in case one of us actually hooked a fish, and how to make a smokeless fire on which to cook it, if it came to that.

You taught me to chew tobacco (yuck), how to smoke a pipe of tobacco (blech), and how to get roaring drunk and laugh and talk philosophy till the wee hours (yum).

I could go on and on writing about the gifts you gave me, and someday I just might.  However, since I know you want me to save some for later, I’ll just sneak these in:

Honesty, integrity, genuineness, ingenuity, and never, ever to do anything just to “go with the crowd.”

And to live and love fiercely.

Your loving daughter,

Laura

PS I miss you

The Power of Unconditional Love

Listen, I don’t pretend to be a perfect practitioner of unconditional love. I wish I was. My loved ones would have had such better lives, had I had any notion of what unconditional love could do.

For example, on July 20 I bought a skinny, sick, fearful dog, for a ridiculous sum of money. I was in a terrifically needy state, having lost my beloved dog Aress to a freak accident. I looked into this pitiful sick doggie’s soft brown eyes, paid the sum, and took her home.

It was clear that she had never been in a real house before. OK, I don’t really live in a “real house,” since I make my home in a fancy van. But it is undeniably a home, and it was clear that she had never been in one. She lived in a kennel outdoors, was taken out to train, and put back in her kennel. From her lamentable condition, it was also clear that nobody had ever paid much attention to her.

In the six or so weeks that I’ve had her, she’s become a sleek, happy pup who loves almost everybody except people she deems untrustworthy. This is her job, and she does it well. She’s affectionate to the point of occasional annoyance, since there are things that must be done (according to me), like writing, doing chores, paying bills…but to Atina, these are annoyances to her, for damn the torpedoes, the play must go on!

An old buddy of mine stopped by to camp for a few days (hi, pal, in case you’re reading this!). I showed him the picture of Atina when I first got her. You could count her ribs and all her vertebrae, and the bones of her pelvis stood out like a sick cow’s. Her coat was dull and ratty: so much so that I had her tested for mange.

My friend asked me how I had managed to rehabilitate her into the sleek, happy girl she is today. I shrugged.

“Love,” he said quietly. I nodded, tears stinging.

Although he gets furious when I bring up the topic and vigorously denies it, my son is a very high functioning autistic. He learned to speak before the age of one, and before that, he developed his own version of sign language. By 19 months he could count to 19, and by three he could tell you the names of every dinosaur known to man, where they had been discovered, and what they did, their diets, their habitats, and what era they lived in. By four he had taught himself to read and do basic arithmetic via “Reader Rabbit” and “Math Blaster” on our desktop Mac.

On the other hand, he hated anything to do with other children, refused to participate in preschool, and whenever possible isolated himself in corners, absorbed in a book or playing with his plastic dinosaurs or action figures. At three, he was already seeing a child psychologist. We managed to get through private kindergarten in five-minute segments. If he cooperated and sat in the circle with the rest of the children for five minutes, he got to go to his corner and be alone for fifteen minutes. Later in the year he discovered the school office and became enamored with the laminating machine, so he became more motivated to sit for five minutes so that he could run to the office and laminate for fifteen.

First grade was a bust, as far as the teacher was concerned. We enrolled him in a progressive Quaker school: small class size, emphasis on art and music, compassionate teachers–what could be better? Nothing, I guess. Literally nothing. My son staidly refused to cooperate with anything whatsoever. His teacher, a caring and earnest young man, could not get him to do anything. He retreated to a corner and refused to come out. Somehow he managed to ace all the tests, though. But he would not come out of his corner, nor would he speak a word. The teacher called me on a weekly basis.

“He refuses to participate. What shall I do?”

I was busy, harried, frustrated and sleep deprived, so my stock answer was, “You’re his teacher. YOU find a way.”

This did not work.

Finally I had a brainstorm: “Make him the class scribe. Give him a tape recorder, and have him sit just outside the class circle and record everything. This way he’ll feel like he’s got an important job and is not simply one of the (muggles, but that word had not yet been coined by Rowling).”

It worked. We managed to make it through first grade without any further conflict.

In later years, I experienced what happened when I tried to force my son into anxiety-producing behaviors using negative consequences. He either withdrew, or else he simply sat down on the floor and crossed his arms, earning him the nickname “Sitting Bull”. When he got older, he became threatening and intimidating. I was not about to knuckle under, so I upped the ante, and so did he. Soon a full-blown war was in progress.

Now, I don’t believe in accepting bad behavior, not even from a “special” child. But there are ways, and then there are ways.

My moment of epiphany dawned upon reading Karen Pryor’s amazing book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. Pryor was the head porpoise and Killer Whale trainer at Sea World for many years. Now, you can’t make a large sea mammal do anything it doesn’t want to do. You have to make doing the desired behavior so attractive, that said mammal would rather do it than just swim around and play, like porpoises like to do. You have to make it fun to do what you want them to do.

Pryor’s book, as its title implies, carries this philosophy over to dog training. At the time her book was published, most dog training was based on negative reinforcement: You don’t do what I want, you get your neck jerked, you get yelled at, you might even get hit with a rolled-up newspaper for doing your business where you’re not supposed to.

Pryor applied what she had learned as a sea-mammal trainer to dog training. Thus, lucky dogs found out that doing the desired behavior resulted in treats and praise, while negative behaviors got them…nothing. Ignored. Exactly what a social mammal desperately does not want.

Of course, psychology students already knew this from getting rats to do things that humans had a hard time with, by simply having a tasty treat at the end of the maze. But applying methods that worked with “lower life forms” to humans? How insulting. Humans ought to just know that what they were doing was good or bad. Adam and Eve, right? Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, and stuff like that.

The Behaviorist School of Psychology, pioneered by B.F. Skinner, showed that positive behaviors rewarded with positive reinforcement produced more positive behaviors, while negative reinforcement inhibited negative behaviors. A third strategy was called “extinguishment.” You do what I want, you get left alone to do what you want. You don’t do what I want…nothing. The behavior “extinguishes,” for want of reaction. In many cases this worked better than negative consequences such as electric shocks. (N.B.: a rumor somehow began that Skinner experimented on his own child by placing her in a “sensory deprivation” cage. This is not true.)

Pryor capitalized on Skinner’s Behaviorist School of psychology and its “behavior shaping” model in her sea mammal training program. She then morphed it over to dog training…and concluded her book with a chapter on shaping the behavior of humans.

I can’t say that I ever mastered behavior shaping, either in dogs or in humans, but I have tried to incorporate it, when I remember.

What I’ve learned through the years, though, is to assimilate and practice the art of “Love the person, even if you hate the behavior.”

I have always loved my son, completely and passionately, even when I was dodging head-butts when bear-hugging him through an autistic melt-down, or once again leaving a cart full of groceries in the checkout line when all those people were just too much for him, or agonizing through the time he was in and out of countless outpatient and inpatient addiction programs as a teenager, or sitting up nights worrying when his stepmother threw him out and he lived in a drug house, on the street, in a homeless shelter, in a psychiatric ward zombied out on legal drugs.

Finally he got arrested, and this was my chance to save his life. I called the judge, whom I knew from my work with the court system (yes, this was taking advantage of my position), and begged him to remand my son to long-term inpatient care. The judge reprimanded me for calling him, but honored my request.

After a long period of searching, we found the perfect place. The students were held to a strict policy of personal accountability. Positive behaviors were rewarded with increased privileges; breaches of the rules resulted in suspension of free time, which was instead spent writing a paper examining the undesirable behavior, why the kid did it, what the internal meaning of the behavior was, and why this was counterproductive to the kid’s development as a productive, independent, successful individual. The student then presented the paper to a mentor, who helped process the ideas and helped the kid internalize them. There was still a consequence in terms of loss of privileges for a finite period, and a defined way to regain the lost privileges.

In this way the teens learned that self-determined productive behaviors resulted in more freedoms. In addition to these interventions, the kids had daily group therapy, thrice-weekly individual therapy, a staff mentor who was always available for processing issues, family therapy monthly, and many other interventions. It turned many lives around. It gave my son tools that he is still using, ten years later.

For me, it reinforced that the power of unconditional love moves mountains and saves lives.

Amen.

Too Sick For Surgery

Sigh.  More and more and more, for this huge brave soul that enlivens the body of my sweet Atina.

As if everything else wasn’t enough, she’s begun having signs of pancreatic failure: ravenous appetite, horrendous huge nauseating stinking greasy poops that look like, if you measured them, about the same volume as what she took in.

I know these signs well, having dealt with something similar myself over the course of several years.  Rapid weight loss and malnourishment are the predictable results.

So I took her to the hospital, with the plan of explaining all this to her surgeon, and my extreme hesitation to perform surgery based on my concerns of her inability to absorb nutrients merely for her maintenance needs, let alone the 200% of basic needs that the body requires for healing after major surgery.

But as fortune would have it, her internal medicine resident showed up to check in with us prior to surgery; and after a good deal of putting our heads together about it, decided to call off the surgery (whew!) and do an impromptu clinic visit instead.

A good thing on many levels.

Atina’s blood pressure was higher than it was two weeks ago, which is bad news about her kidney function.  A bunch of blood was drawn again, basic kidney function tests plus a battery of pancreatic function tests that get sent out to somewhere.

I have been kicking and screaming about just going ahead and starting pancreatic enzymes after drawing the test.  I don’t see why she should be left to lose even more of her body by pooping it out, for the sake of academic “correctness.”  I’m thinking about this.

She did get a prescription for a medicine that will control bacterial overgrowth in the intestine, and I know from my own experience that that alone will help reduce stool volume.  But it doesn’t do a damn thing to assist nutrient absorption.

Believe me, I will not let this thing rest for long.  A couple days, maybe.  We have a recheck appointment on Friday, and might make it that long, but if I see things deteriorating even a hair’s breadth between now and then I am going to make a LOT of noise.

All of this is adding up to autoimmune disease, in my own medical mind.  A lousy prognosis.  One lousy prognosis on top of another.

I’m looking for silver linings here.

One is that my sweet Atina has become very cuddly and snuggly–leaving my arms and legs covered with gaudy blotches, since I bleed at the slightest contact with tooth or claw; and my sweet Atina is all teeth and claws, like any healthy adolescent.

Unfortunately, the very fact that she is being so clingy is a sign that she is not feeling well.  Most healthy adolescents are busy testing limits, and snuggling with Mom is the last thing on their minds.

But I treasure these moments of puppy love, and only say “OUCH!” when badly bitten, or if flailing paws with claws come way too close to my eye.

And then there is Colorado.

There is no endpoint in sight yet, so Colorado it is, and will be, until then next thing happens.  Fact is, I like Colorado a lot.  You can find pretty much any kind of terrain you can imagine here.  There are a lot of natural and man-made geologic features that are unique and breathtaking.  The flowers, the wildlife, canyons, mountains, rivers, glaciers, everything.

I guess I’ll go ahead and put in to become a resident, since I seem to live here.  I did want to winter in Arizona, mostly because mixing winter with an RV can get complicated.  But I’ve learned a lot of other stuff, so I can learn that too, if the rest of me holds up.

I like the idea that if I need some botanical medicine to treat my nerve pain, I can just waltz into the dispensary of my choice and buy some.  I don’t use that much, but in the surrounding states if you don’t have a medical card from that state, possessing ANY amount of the Herb will get you busted.  I don’t think I could deal with getting busted, so I’ll stay legal.

And wait. 

I’ve been entrusted with the love and care of this beautiful soul, so I will let her be my guide, and my guardian.  Ours is a bond of perfect faith.  How many of us ever find that in life?

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An afternoon snooze...

There’s something I need to tell you.

I’ve been procrastinating, but I must gather courage and do it.

I haven’t wanted to blog about it because it makes me feel defeated, bad, and like a lousy person. I am afraid that my readers will hate me.

I thought about making up some kind of fairytale story to cover it up, and I almost got to believing it myself. I have a lot of grief about it, and I have a lot of grief about a lot of other things, and there’s only so much grief a person can have before you start wanting to make some things disappear from the grief radar.

But it’s no good. I have to face the fact: Noga is dead.

She died just before Memorial Day.

She didn’t get sick, or get run over by a car.

I had her euthanized, and here is why:

I adopted Noga at age 8 months. She was the “ugly duckling” from a show litter, and had been cast aside and ignored, kept crated most of the time. She was not potty trained or socialized at all. She was a happy little girl, but also had a deep anger and resentment toward anything she didn’t like, and she expressed it in a particularly unpleasant way.

If, for instance, I left her in the car on a perfectly cool day in order to run into the grocery or the drug store, when I came back there would be a pile of poop and a puddle of pee on my seat.

I thought this was fear, so even though I gave her a stern lecture about it, I forgave it and went about desensitizing her by going places in the car that ended up in walks in the park, or other pleasant things. Little did I know that I was conditioning her to expect something special for her every time we got in the car!

Eventually she got so that she didn’t make a bathroom out of my car every time I left her, but as soon as I got back to the car I had to kiss and cuddle her and make a big deal of how good she was, which I was happy to do, but if for some reason I was in a hurry and had to make it a quick one, she would sulk in the back seat and ignore me for the rest of the day.

I posted about this on the Lhasa Apso group board, and the answer I got from one of the world-class show breeders was:

“Apsos are a self-serving lot.”

I nodded, shrugged, and went on.

Over five years she became my little buddy, and accompanied me through my dad’s dying, and during his last weeks she was the only one who could make him laugh. When he died, I had to physically remove her from his body. When she loved, she loved fiercely, and that was the root of the problem.

The tears are pouring down my face now, and it’s hard to type.

As most of you know, after my father’s death I bought a small RV, just a conversion van, really, and Noga and I hit the road.

She didn’t like it. She really, really didn’t like it.

Before The Road, when we were living in my father’s studio, she had me all to herself. In fact, she was my only diversion from the constant blackness of my father’s terminal illness and my mother’s terminal abuse of my poor helpless Dad, which I was powerless to stop because not one single person in Adult Services would believe that my “angel” mother, who was a Geriatric Social Worker and had actually trained most of them, could be capable of such a thing, and they all knew about my mental illness, so poor Dad suffered until he went into the nursing home and was finally protected.

And Noga came everywhere with me, and was a big hit with everyone in the nursing home. She especially loved the people with Alzheimer’s, and became the unofficial Therapy Dog of the dementia unit.

But on the other hand, she bit people.

Specifically, she bit anyone who tried to approach me, or my dad—the Hospice nurses, for instance. We thought she was being protective, and since she was only 12 pounds everyone thought it was cute. I made sure to grab her up when anyone came, and most of the time was successful. Occasionally she did get somebody, but we were in Appalachia and people there are used to dogs that bite. Dogs bite, right?

For some reason, she liked to attack children. I had a heck of a time walking her in places where children might run by, or run up and try to pet her; so I made a point of taking her places where it was only she and I. That was how she liked it. But if a child happened to come by, she would lunge at them and I had to be vigilant with the leash, to jerk her back before those sharp little teeth made contact.

Back to The Road.

At first it was OK because she got to sit next to me while I drove, and of course she was my Service Dog so we went everywhere together.

But then something terrible happened. I used my newly found mobility to go and visit dear friends whom I had not seen in many years.

Of course, Noga came too—why wouldn’t she?

But I’ve left out one piece. Rewind five years.

After I brought her home for the first time, she jumped up on my bed and peed and pooped right on it.

Of course I was horrified, especially since it was a furnished house that I was renting from one of my parents’ friends. The quilt was a fine antique. I was in a total state of panic. I assumed that the reason she had done it was simply that she was not potty trained, and disoriented to boot; so I quickly cleaned up the mess, had the quilt professionally cleaned, and put my own linens on the bed.

Then I thought, well, I’ve trained a few dogs, so what should I do? Naturally, the way we potty train puppies is with a crate. We put them in the crate, take them outside every few hours, and praise them to the skies when they do their business where we want them to. Then it’s playtime, and tired puppies go back in the crate for a nap.

But since Noga was used to using her crate for a bathroom, she obliged me by going pee in the yard, but she saved her poop for her crate.

So every day I had not only old towels to clean up and wash, but also a filthy dog.

Then I had a brainstorm: put “potty pads” in the crate and leave the door open. Sure enough, she used her crate for a bathroom. Then I moved the potty pads to a spot near the front door, and took the crate away. Yup, she continued to use the potty pads. Life was good.

Then my son came to visit. I made up his bed, he threw his duffle in the corner, and we sat up talking till late at night as usual. Of course he made much of Noga, and she adored him immediately. He is a dog magnet.

Finally we dragged ourselves off to our respective beds, but—

“Um, Mom?”

I opened my door to find him standing in the doorway of his room. On his pillow was a neat little present: A pile of dog shit. And to make it extra nice, she’d peed on his quilt, too!

I was furious. I grabbed her by the scruff and held her over what she’d done, screaming “No! No! No!” My son fled the room, convulsed with laughter. It was too bizarre.

OK, in this case, jealousy. But using excrement as a tool for expressing displeasure? No, impossible. She’s a dog, for heaven’s sake. A cat might do that, but a dog? It did not make any sense.

If I described every similar instance, every defilement of the bed of a friend who came to visit, or in whose home I was a guest, it would fill so many feet of blog space that you’d get bored and click away, if you haven’t already.

I spent $400 on a phone consultation with an animal behaviorist at University of Tennessee. She chalked it up to a behavioral issue due to a traumatic puppyhood, and gave me some suggestions that didn’t work. The only thing that did work was my undivided attention, which she got most of the time anyway because of my reclusive nature and the state of total isolation that I lived in.

I knew it wasn’t doggy IBS or anything like that, because she flew to Israel and back with me three times, 14 hours each way, sitting on my lap, and never had an accident. And of course there were the innumerable vet visits, racking up thousands on lab tests that showed nothing.

And so it was, that one morning, after I had made the drive to Rochester, NY, to visit a couple who have literally been parents to me when my mother sent me out of her life, I woke up in my van and smelled something. My covers were wet. There was a pile of shit at the foot of my bed, and my dear little dog had rolled in it.

She watched as I opened my eyes. She wagged her tail. I screamed “Nooooooo!!!!!” and she wagged it some more.

I jumped out of bed, dressed, wadded up my bedding and stuffed it into a garbage bag, with the dog shut up in the tiny bathroom so she couldn’t smear her shit-covered fur all over the place.

Before I washed her off under the hose, I took a sample to take to the vet. Maybe she had eaten something bad, maybe her monthly worm medicine didn’t work, maybe I had forgotten to give it to her.

Nope, perfectly normal poop. The vet looked grim and silent.

“What do you think it is?” I didn’t tell him about her long history of pooping on people’s beds.

“Dunno, maybe she’s stressed or something. Come back if it happens again.”

It happened again, that very night. I am sorry to say I lost my temper and hit her, then felt horrible. She didn’t seem to mind. She looked at me and wagged her tail. I guess any attention is good attention to some people.

That night I tied her up in the aisle of the van. In the morning I had to bag up the carpet runner and throw it in the trash, because she had shat all up and down it and rolled in it too. All I could do was cry and wash the dog again.

The next night I put her in the bathroom, which has a molded plastic floor, and lined it with potty pads (did I mention I had lined the entire van with potty pads, but she scratched them aside so she could get to the floor?) thinking perhaps that would at least make cleanup easier, but this time, instead of shitting, she went to work attempting to chew her way out, so that now I have something to remember her by—a totally trashed, formerly brand-new bathroom door. Got me again.

In the meantime, my friend’s husband caught her twice sneaking up the stairs, trying to get to their bed. Oh. My. God. My friend has a poop phobia, and vomits if she even smells it! And Noga snarled at him when he intercepted her. Who would have imagined???

Then I got a call that my aunt, who is 93, had been moved to New Jersey from Florida to live by her daughter (my cousin, I guess you could say), and her daughter needed to go to Florida to close up her mother’s house. That meant Auntie would be alone. I volunteered to Auntie-sit, so off I went to New Jersey, with one or two stops at Laundromats along the way.

Hell had descended upon me. My beloved little angel had turned on me, and it seemed there was nothing I could do about it.

My cousin made arrangements for me to stay at a campground very near the nursing home, so I could visit my aunt two or three times a day. It was a normal campground, full of kids running around and riding bikes. Noga bit two of them, not badly, but she bit them. Fortunately nothing came of it, except that I had to walk her in the nasty woods behind the campground.  I got two ticks.

I continued making daily trips to the campground Laundromat. This was getting very expensive, as well as being just, I can’t say it any other way, hell on earth.

I took another poop sample to a local vet. No parasites, pathogens, nothing. He was very sympathetic, and sent me to another vet who specialized in behavioral problems. He listened to me carefully and here is what he said:

“You know, there are two main classifications of behavioral problems in dogs. There are neuroses, like separation anxiety, that we can treat with medications and behavior modification. Then there are personality disorders, which in the case of dogs, are inborn disorders of the brain. We can try medications (listed them off) if you want…”

I mentioned that I had been giving her Ativan, in case of anxiety, but even though it did make her groggy it did not stop the shitting behavior.

“I thought not. What she is doing is expressing her displeasure. She is punishing you.” I nodded. I knew that. I just had not allowed myself to believe it, because she was my little angel and that just could not be true!

“You have choices. You can try medicating her. Or you can live with it.”

At this point I’m shaking, tears and snot are streaming down my face. Noga is strangely quiet. It’s as if she can understand what we’re talking about.

“I can’t live like this anymore!” I blubbered. “What about finding her a new home?”

He shook his head. No, she would just do the same thing, and then maybe she would end up in some shelter, and she’s adorable so someone would immediately adopt her, and eventually she would end up being abused, maybe sooner than later…I was shaking by this time. I knew where he was going.

“So the only good choice for her is to put her to sleep?”

“Well, it depends how long you can tolerate this. As I said, we can try medication, but frankly I do not believe that it will work.”

I searched inside my heart. I could not live this way. I had already been literally swimming in dog excrement for a month, with no end in sight. I handed her over to the vet tech and stumbled to the front desk, paid the bill, and blinded with tears climbed into my van and fell onto the bare bed, stripped for the thirtieth time, and laid there crying until it was time to go visit my aunt.

“Where’s Noga?! I thought you were going to bring her today!”

My aunt and I have always been close. She’s been much more of a mother to me than my own mother ever was. I blubbered out the whole story.

“Oh Baby, I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Well, you did the right thing. She would have had a miserable life, and she certainly made your life miserable. You’ll both be better off this way.”

I got the same feedback from other friends who knew what was going on. My son was really devastated, though he tried to hide it, but he knew how long I’d been trying to help Noga get over whatever this was, because I loved her so dearly.

And now she’s gone, and I have another dog, because I must have a dog to let me know what’s real and what’s not.

But there will never be another little sweet thing like Noga, even though things got so bad that it had to end.

Brighten Up Your Day

This amazing Freestyle dance will make you smile….it made me cry, because the love relationship between the trainer and her dog is so strong and so sweet (plus I’m a little depressed, so anything makes me cry)….enjoy!

http://www.coolestone.com/media/11700/Dogdance-Freestyle—Sandra-and-Lizzy/

So That I Not Forget

A dear friend of mine who holds down a spot for me in Jerusalem gave me this advice today: write down your memories of your last years, months, days and hours with your dad, because these memories fade quickly, and you don’t want to lose them.

I moved from Jerusalem to my parents’ property in 2011, in order to ride herd on the situation with my dad.  He had had several bad falls already by then, and flying back and forth from Israel every time he got a concussion was eating up my savings and causing me way too much stress.  So I packed up and moved here.

Dad was still pretty lucid then, but showing signs of dementia, and his physical body was falling apart piece by piece because of the same degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease that he passed on to me (thanks, Dad).  It was getting so that he couldn’t do much for himself anymore, between the cognitive decline and the physical disability.

We have always had what I can only call a platonic love relationship; certainly a father-and-daughter love relationship, but something more–a collegiality, a mutual admiration, and a non-sexual transcendent enduring love free of any vestige of pettiness or jealousy.

In the years since I have been here, our relationship was forged even stronger thanks to my mother’s need to have time on her own, a healthy thing that provided my dad and I with ten or so uninterrupted hours every week to review the events of our lives and our life together, to share our meaningful and downright fun times, and our regrets at not having spent more time together.

We also had the blessed chance to talk about how we felt about each other, the feelings and the hurts and the wishes.

As he moved toward his death, we moved deeper into the dark side of his relationship with my mother, who has always had a short temper, no patience, and no particular respect for much of anything.  He had always kept her under control by means of fear–whenever she (or, rarely, I) got out of control he would seem to triple in size, and bear-like, roar his displeasure.  My mother was terrified of these “Hulk” episodes, and the fear of provoking one kept her screaming fits in check, most of the time.

But as he became incapable of terrorizing her, she pulled out all the stops and reveled in her newfound power over him.  I won’t go into detail, since this is an essay about him and not her, but I mention it only to say that he often poured out his anger and feelings of helplessness during our ten hours a week.

During his various stints in the nursing home in his last months, I sat with him many hours a day.  Often, we just held hands, since his brain was further damaged by head injuries sustained in various falls.  And until he lost the faculty of speech, in the last weeks, we processed things that we cherished, things we wished we had done while we had the chance, and things we had done or experienced that we wished hadn’t happened.

We held hands and kissed our dry pecks said “I love you” a million times.  I am so glad we did that.  It’s bitter-sweet now, and perhaps will always be, but at least I have the comfort of knowing that we did not hold back out of artificial formality.

Two nights before he died I was restless, could not sleep until four in the morning, when I fell into a dark slumber from which I awoke with a feeling of urgency.  I dressed quickly and drove to the nursing home.  He was lying in the “quiet room” where they put people who are about to die.

The previous day, he hadn’t known me.  Even though I knew this would likely happen at some point, it hit me like a cannon ball in the gut.  I lost it.  Hot tears choked me, I fell off my feet into a wardrobe which came close to falling on me, and I didn’t care.  I slid to the floor sobbing.  My mother wanted me to get control of myself.  I ignored her.  After some time I sobbed myself out, and asked her to go get me a latte, which gave me some time to just look at my father, who was now asleep, and remind myself that it wouldn’t be long.

It wasn’t.

The following evening I packed up my “24 hour kit” with my jammies, toothbrush, meds, and what-all, drove to the nursing home, and took over the other bed in his room.  He had his eyes open, and they seemed to be clear and not hazed over like they had been the last few days.

“Hi Dad,” I said tenuously.  I didn’t know what I would do if he didn’t recognize me this time.

“Hi Laur,” he said weakly.  I breathed out.

“I love you, Dad,” I wept.

“I love you, too, Laur.  I really, really, really love you.”  He had hold of both my hands, and I stood there, physically hurting from the odd position but with heart full of love.  I stood there till his hands relaxed and his eyelids drooped, exhausted.  I extricated my hands and, taking only minimal meds so that I could wake at any sound, lay down on the spare hospital bed to rest.

His breathing became more difficult, and he began to cough.  The coughing was followed by the gurgle of fluid.  I called the hospice nurse, and she ordered a cocktail of morphine, atropine (to dry up secretions), and Ativan.  This helped a lot.  It was ordered for every two hours as needed, and we needed it.

I must have fallen asleep, because at 4 am I was awakened by a high-pitched, primal, animal scream.  I rushed to his bed and found him unconscious, breathing deeply for four or five breaths, followed by 25 seconds of no breathing at all.  Cheyne-Stokes respiration: the breathing pattern that precedes death.  I called the hospice nurse again.

She arrived fifteen minutes later.  Yes, she said: death was imminent.  It could be minutes, hours, even days–but it would be here soon.  I cried, but she did not offer a hug.

Half an hour later, his breathing pattern changed to a regular rhythm, but very rapid.  The nurse took his pulse oximetry: 78.  Normal is in the high 90’s.  We knew it wouldn’t be long.  I called my mother, and she appeared in record time.  She must have flown over the mountain roads.

The moment before he left, his face contorted as if making a huge effort.  It seemed to me as if he had to consciously make that leap into the unknown.  And two shuddering breaths later, he breathed his last.

“His spirit is already gone,” mused my mother, doubtless trying to placate me–knowing how strongly I feel about keeping the Jewish burial practices, and not desecrating the body by burning it–“no more suffering, my love, no more suffering,” addressed to the lifeless shell on the nursing home bed.

Yes, he did suffer, mightily.  And as always, he was my teacher, my guru, in teaching me how to suffer.  He taught me how to live, how to suffer, how to die.

Tzeitcha be’shalom, Dad.  Have a safe journey.

To My Readers

Dearest Readers, how can I ever hope to express my gratitude for the love and support you have given me during these hard times?  Truly, I don’t know what I would do without you.  Your words of comfort and encouragement have soothed my soul.  The stories of your own experiences with your aged parents have encouraged and strengthened me.

May you all be blessed with healing according to your needs, peace of mind, and good friends–whether “in the flesh” or here, in our wonderful Mental Health Blogger community (and everybody else too)!

Much love,

Laura

 

The Most Unconventional Love: DP Challenge

How convenient.  I was looking for an excuse to tell this story, and WP must have felt the vibe and fed me the question at just the right moment.

I have been hard at work writing the life story of Mighty Mouth, the Most Unconventional Kitten.  He was a real kitten, born on my horse farm, and he was born to a life of adventure.  He announced his entry into the world the moment his black-and-white head emerged, toothless pink mouth open and yowling, even before the rest of his body was born.  His ear-splitting howls brought the farm hands running to the empty box stall his mother had wisely chosen as her labor-and-delivery room.

Mouthie had what to say about everything and anything, and kept up a continuous editorial regarding his opinions of barn life.  Wherever you were in the barn, you could hear his conversational meow-ings and yowings.  I don’t know why his mother did not eat him out of desperation.  I do believe he got the best of her teats, though, because he became quite portly, certainly a maternal effort to shut him up.

May lengthened into August and hay season was ending, and the kittens had grown out of their box stall nursery and were up to every kind of mischief in the barn.  One got run over by the manure spreader, and its eye popped out and the driver of the manure spreader had to throw up.   Another got squashed between two fifty-pound bales of hay, and just barely survived after we heard a muffled frantic mewing issuing from the hay mow.

And then there was Mouthie.  One early morning my son rushed in from doing his barn chores:  “Mom, mom!  Mouthie’s been stepped on!”  And he threw up in the bin.  He was an easy thrower-upper, in those days.

After I got him cleaned up, I sat him down at the kitchen table.

“What do you mean, Mouthie’s been stepped on?”

“I went into Airhead the Thoroughbred’s stall, and there he was lying on the floor, with a hoof-print on his hind leg, and it’s broken!”

“Oh dear!  What did you do about it?”

“Well, I know you shouldn’t move an injured person, and an animal might bite you (here my heart swells with pride at my son who remembers what his emergency physician mother has taught him), so I caught Airhead’s halter and tied her up so she can’t step on him again.”

“What great thinking!  I am so proud of you.”  Big hug, even if he does still smell like throw-up.

We tromp back out to the barn to assess the damages.  Airhead, tied to the ring at her grain bin, shows us the whites of her eyes as she tries to shy but can’t because she’s tied up.  I smirk privately.  I only tolerate that horse because she is a paying guest, one of our 32 equine boarders.

At the opposite side of the 12-foot box stall, Mouthie makes a pitiful sight lying squashed in the sawdust bedding, alternately muttering a stream of sad commentary and giving forth heartbreaking yowls of pain.  We approach carefully, talking to him reassuringly, thus:

“Hi, Mouthie, it’s just us, it’s OK, we’re here now, you’ll be all right,” and so on.  Mouthie looked tragic and kept up his end of the conversation while I gingerly examined him.

His leg was badly broken, but I could find no evidence of lethal injury, so with the help of my son I slid him onto a board, secured him with a light wrapping of sack cloth, loaded him gently onto the back seat of the Suburban with my son next to him, so he would have someone to talk to, and drove 50 miles to the nearest vet.

The X-ray showed a bad spiral fracture of the femur, very unstable.  It would never heal on its own.  Needed surgery:  steel plates, pins, that sort of thing.  Estimated cost $1200.  I have to think about this.  Twelve hundred dollars to fix a barn kitten that might get run over by the manure spreader as soon as it was up and about again…this was sticker shock.

But it wasn’t just any old barn kitten; it was our Mighty Mouth, the Mouth that Roared, and did we want to make an executive decision to extinguish his bright little life just because it cost a gazillion dollars?  No, we didn’t.  But there would be compromise.

“OK, fix it,” I told the vet firmly. “And while he’s under, just declaw him, and neuter him too.  He’s going to be our indoor house cat, and he’s never going outside again.”  The vet heartily agreed, and we left, to return for our Mouthie in two days, all fixed and new.

Mouthie never forgave me for that.  His paws were sore for weeks, and he licked his missing testicles until I had to take him back to the vet to do something about the resulting infection.  He gave me so many reproachful looks and yowling lectures that I wondered if I had made the right decision.  At last I pulled myself out from under the black cloud of guilt and said, “Listen, guy, if it hadn’t been for me you would have died a slow and painful death on the barn floor.  Now what do you think of that?”   Mouthie subsided.

Not long after these adventures, it came time to move to the American Southwest.  Decisions had to be made regarding which of our menagerie would come with us, and which would stay on the farm with its new owners, and which would go to new homes.   Of course Mouthie came with us.  There was never any question about that.  He rode in the Suburban, talking on the CB radio the whole way.

Our new house had a pleasant patio out back, and a fenced yard, and behind that, a two-acre paddock with a nice small barn for the four horses we had brought with us.  Mouthie stationed himself at the glass slider that looked out on this idyllic scene, and muttered and yowled about how I had ruined his life by forcing him into a role he was not meant for, i.e., house cat, and he would rather have died on the barn floor, etc., etc.; eventually I lost my resolve and opened the sliding door.  He waltzed out victorious and hopped up into the patio chair he had been eyeing, and curled up on the seat for a nap.

I shrugged and went back to making lunch.  The next thing, the kids came running in yelling “Mouthie’s outside!  He’s up in the apricot tree!”  Outside, yes.  Tree??  I ran out into the back yard and followed their pointing fingers.  Good grief, there he was, curled up in the crotch of the tree!  How did he get there without claws?  Over the next months he was to show us that, apart from the joys of destroying furniture, cats can do very well without their claws.

And then one day Mouthie disappeared.  I let him out in the morning and watched him rolling around on the warm patio stones, having a nice back scratch, and I went to work.  When I got home that night he was not there, nor did he appear on any of the subsequent days.  Oh well, I thought; coyotes one, cats zero.  I was sad; the kids were sadder; but we were all philosophical about the hazards of life on this planet, and soon stopped thinking about Mouthie.

Months later I was riding Joe Crow, my Peruvian Paso, up in the old abandoned orchard that was an easy ride from our back yard.  We rode there several times a week, and knew every inch of the place.  There was a fox’s den on the southern border of the orchard.  I never saw any sign of activity around it, and assumed it was abandoned like the orchard.

On this day, as Joe and I approached the fox den, I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and blinked again.  There were two animal figures sitting in the opening of the fox den.  One of them was a red fox.  The other was Mouthie.  I thought perhaps some of the mind-bending drugs I had soaked my brain with in the ’60’s were coming back around for another whack at the old squash.

I “whoah’d” Joe to a stop and watched his face for clues.  If I was tripping, then the horse would not react to my hallucination.  But Joe pricked his ears, extended his neck and whinnied to his old buddy.  Mouthie responded with a friendly yowl.  His foxy friend turned, and giving us a wink over his shoulder, strolled side by side with Mouthie into the den.

If that had been the sole sighting of this odd couple, I would have chalked it up to Southwestern magic, or a waking dream, or somehow explained it away.   But I saw them twice more, sitting together in the arch of the fox den, surrounded by an air of a serene love: the love of two ancient souls reunited, having somehow found each other against unimaginable odds.  Time, distance, and form itself had not succeeded in keeping these soul mates from finding each other.

I cried.  How many hardships do souls have to pass through, how many agonies and ministering angels, before they finally find their resting place?  The aura of content surrounding these two unlikely lovers filled the orchard like the heart-breakingly sweet fragrance of apple blossoms.

I never saw them again.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/daily-prompt-unconventional-love/#like-24689