Stompin’ Grounds

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For years I’ve looked at my beautiful best friend and said out loud, “I just love you more and more every day.”  This day was no exception.

I’d already decided that the day was going to be for Jake.  Actually, it was going to be a dog day for both my dogs, Jake and Jessie.

Being incredibly busy, I’d barely had time for life’s bare necessities lately.  Feeling stressed from countless hours at the computer day after day, month after month, I informed my boss I was going to take the day off, away from the computer, and make it a dog day.

Jake had a vet appointment to check some sores I recently discovered under the fur on his tail.  It seemed like a good time for us to go do something fun afterward. 

He was amazingly good at the vet; he had people smiling and complimenting on his good looks.  That’s how it’s been with Jake … not being good at the vet (he was a handful in his early years) but inspiring compliments for being so handsome.  We’ve heard this his whole life and have never tired of it.  In fact, such comments have become more treasured as he’s grown older, here and there showing the battle scars of living.

The vet visit felt a bit like a waste of time and money with a “Possibly allergies or fleas; we see it all the time this time of year” diagnosis.  Twelve years and he’s never had anything like this, but that was that.  Some flea medication and “take away the itch” pills were purchased and off we went in search of some special fun.

For a couple of years when Jake was a youngster we would go to a large place with a flowing creek, big expansive fields, forests, and trails weaving in all directions.  We stopped going as Jake got a little older and the place became more populated with bicyclists and people not liking a pup off-leash, even though there were plenty of acres for all. 

This day was overcast and rainy, and it was still early, so there was absolutely no one there.  Fabulous! 

Jake was also feeling the fabulous-ness as we pulled into the tiny, gravelly road that leads into the area and he realized where we were headed — his old stomping grounds!

Those acres he so enthusiastically ran through as  a rambunctious, energetic young stud.  Full of zip, he would race through the grass after the ball time and time again, jump in the winding creek to cool off, and be back for more ball chasing.  We’d veer off the paved trails into the forest, crossing huge logs, hiking higher and higher.  Always the adventurous one and leading the way, Jake would discover new paths we hadn’t taken before and off we’d go, exploring, discovering, sometimes feeling a little lost but always having the time of our lives.

Now, my sweet guy’s bones can’t quite sprint across the fields of grass or climb up steep trails.  It makes me sad as we walk the once familiar path, his swagger a little stumbly, and I wonder if he feels sad for those days gone by too.

We stroll along blessed with a break in the drizzle, him sniffing, me listening to the precious sounds of nature.  The outcroppings to the creek are overgrown, thankfully, because at the pace the water is rushing due to recent rains, I am thinking my Jake-a-bug could get swept away.

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Still the ever-curious one, he turns off onto a little-ventured trail alongside the creek.  We walk in and out of tall grasses.  The grasses get higher the path gets less visible, and tangles of vegetation obscure the way.  We had pretty much covered all these acres in days past, and my brain tried to recall where this particular direction led.  Not recognizing anything, I’m thinking we should head back.

Several times, I called, “Jake, let’s go back!”  But on a mission, Jake plunged on ahead through the shrubs and grasses, even picking up the pace.  Before long, the tall weeds and brambles were gone and we stood in a charming little meadow under a miraculously blue sky.  It is heavenly.  The burbling of the creek can be heard again.  Panting, Jake heads toward the sound.    

He sees the creek but it’s too steep to reach.  Knowing he’d love a drink of the cool, running water, I search for a safe spot for him to get in.  Impatient with that, Jake meanders down a muddy slope into the swishing pool.  The water swirls around him as he slurps.  Sated, he swims just a bit with the water gently pushing him here and there.  It fills my heart to see him in such bliss.  But then I begin to worry about how he’s going to get out.

He tries to go back up the muddy slope he followed down, but falls backward, struggling for purchase.   Panicked, I slide down, one foot splashing into the creek.  Thankfully, I wore rain boots.  I put both feet in and lift him out where he does a rousing shake and wanders off, sniffing and exploring. 

Sloshing and wet up to my knees but not caring, I guide him back toward the vague path we’d followed and we start trucking the long way back.  Reaching the paved trails, I’m exhausted and know Jake must be as well.  “Well, neither one of us are spring chickens anymore,” I say to his happy smiling face peering up at me. 

At home, Jake settles down for a much-needed rest, I change clothes, ready to continue Dog Day.  I take Jessie, my bouncing-off –the-walls 5-year-old yellow Lab to the river where she burns off pent-up energy by swimming like a crazed fish for about an hour.  Returning home once again, Jake is still napping, his legs running in his sleep, his beautiful face twitching in a dream . . . remembering.  Tired myself, I lay down next to him to grab a nap and reflect.

From the long jaunts of yesterday to today’s shorter trek, we have always been in sync, Jake & I.  And while things are different and slower now with our aging bodies, we still are and will remain in sync, bonded forever by our adventurous spirits.  Together we ride this sweet but difficult journey. 

How...

Jake sporting his endless smile.  

Jake sporting his endless smile.  

I’ve been thinking of writing this for awhile now.  Mainly as a way to get my emotions out there in the open instead of buried inside and eating away at my heart.  The title that kept popping up was “How,” or “How Do I” after a country song originally performed by Trisha Yearwood.

How do I do this? 

How do I watch my beautiful best friend . . . the best-est friend I’ve ever had in my whole life . . . grow old.  How do I navigate these waters?  How do I find my way to accepting the fact that I won’t ever have the dog that he was, even just a year ago?  Worst of all, How am I going to say goodbye someday and go on without him?

I’m talking about Jake, my almost 13-year-old “Glab” (Golden/Lab mix).  He is the love of my life, my reason for being, the constant in my unsure and hectic existence.  He is my solid rock, the one thing in the world that never fails to make me smile even on the worst of days. 

I thought about doing a blog all about him years ago.  He is such an incredible joy, and my whole life revolves with him always at the forefront.  He has changed my life in more ways than I can list, and a blog seemed a way to get it all down.

The idea felt a little self-indulgent, and I didn’t think I’d be able to reach the depth that others have in their writing.  Then life became so busy that I just never got around to it.

Now, as he is showing the signs of age that seem to have appeared overnight, I knew this is something I must do.  For me, for Jake, and for others who have traveled or are traveling these difficult waters to help each other by offering advice, guidance, even just words of encouragement.  I wanted my blog to be so good, something people everywhere might smile and nod their heads as they read, even while tears stream from their eyes.  I wanted to do something along the lines of Marley & Me, in which John Grogan’s writing provided a catharsis for his pain and then turned into something so big.  Even if my blog about Jake didn’t get that big, I still wanted it to be shared through the power of social media, maybe finding it’s own big, if even in a small way. 

I recently attended a seminar at a well-known emergency veterinary hospital.  They offer free monthly seminars on a wide range of topics; this night’s topic was titled “Caring for your Aging Pet.”  Recalling the matters discussed so many thoughts swim through my head.  I cried so hard driving home I nearly had to pull off the road.

The presenters discussed keeping a journal, primarily to note changes in your pet’s habits and behaviors for sharing during vet visits, but also to help with the “anticipated grief,” which is almost if not more painful than the grief of losing a beloved pet.

So, here I am, starting my journal and feeling a little less self-indulgent about it.   While it feels very personal, it’s honest, and I am going to do it — for myself this time.  If others read it, that will be fine, but it’s no longer the goal.  Because I will read it; maybe not every day, and maybe not until years from now, but it will be read. 

How?  Because I love you, Jake. 

Blind Panic

Happy Jake with his ball

Happy Jake with his ball

My sweet Jake,

Since the first of the year, you have been showing the signs of aging almost as if overnight.  Heart-breaking for me to witness and possibly for you too.  But if so, you don’t show it, taking it all in stride, growing older gracefully as I’ve heard dogs do.

Our trips to the lake or river have become fewer and farther between.   What used to be an every single day trek, just you & I playing ball, hiking, swimming, exploring, countless hours together have gotten more difficult. 

First, that dang thing called life has gotten in the way.  My job and money situation not good, forcing me to take on various assorted odd jobs, most of them low-paying and some just downright miserable.  Working through the crazy schedule, you know I'm trying, making your riverside jaunts a number one priority if even for a short time.

Then, the addition of Jessie to our dog pack complicated things all the more.  What had once been my favorite activity of the day turned into a chore.  Getting the two of you packed up in the car and unloaded at the riverbank, then trying to entertain and keep tabs on both of you was a handful.  And it started becoming even more stressful as you started getting creakier in the back end.  We still managed to go, if not every single day, but every other day or so for several years, just you, me, and Jessie. 

Then, last September on a rainy, dreary day getting towards dusk, there was that terrifying incident at the boat dock park where you wandered off sniffing in the bushes as you usually did.  But you didn’t come back right away and it changed everything. 

Jessie, Jake and me enjoying time at Oaks Park waterfront

Jessie, Jake and me enjoying time at Oaks Park waterfront

It was windy and drizzling and nightfall wasn’t far off.  I knew your hearing and sight were not like they used to be as painful as it was to acknowledge.  I believe that you were sniffing the smells you always took great pleasure in, became disoriented and because it was getting dark, you couldn’t see where you had come from.  With the wind, you could not catch my scent on the beach waiting for you or hear me crying out your name. 

I was so frantic!  My hearts pumps faster even now remembering the terror. 

I became more crazed after Jessie & I never left the same spot where you had ventured into the shrubbery waiting for you to come back…you always did after about 5-10 minutes.  You would emerge back out with that big smile, coming out just long enough to check on me, make sure I was still there and go about sniffing in another direction.   

Jessie & I stayed at the water’s edge a little while longer, her still swimming after the ball in the choppy waters, oblivious to my increasing worry. 

I didn’t want to leave the spot where you had last seen me for fear you would return moments later.  But after what seemed like forever, you weren’t coming back and just standing there waiting seemed silly and pointless.   I started running blindly through the bushes you had gone into, crazy with fear, yelling your name over and over.  I was alternating between being so mad at you for wandering off and were perhaps ignoring me to indescribable fright and terror as Jessie followed acting all nuts over wanting me to throw the ball.  I became so irritated with her that she could not sense my alarm and realize you were missing or lost. 

I went to take her back to the car, my heart leaping with hope you might have returned there but you hadn’t.  I continued my search up and down that beach.  Luckily, no one was there to observe me in this frantic, petrified state.  I learned the true meaning of “blind panic” that evening and it was awful. 

It seemed like forever and it was almost totally dark by then.  Jessie & I returned to that same spot where we had last seen you.  I remember sitting on a water-soaked log, my mind racing as I cried out to God.  “I know I am going to lose him some day but please, please, please not like this.”  Over and over, I sobbed, I pleaded, I prayed.  I vowed to sit there all night and wait for you.

A younger Jake enjoying the water and a stick

A younger Jake enjoying the water and a stick

The earlier drizzle had started to turn to rain when in the almost non-existent light, I see the most magnificent sight I have ever seen in my whole life…you!…your beautiful self walking from the boat dock along the beach.  Just swaggering along in that charming strut of yours.  You were drenched and your sway seemed a little slower than earlier.  Perhaps you had also experienced some blind panic.  I ran the fastest I have ever ran in my whole life to your side, falling down in the sand - hugging you, burying my face into your wet fur, tears gushing down my face thanking the heavens above.

I don’t remember much else about getting home or the rest of that dreadful evening.  I do remember thinking that I would not be able to go to the riverbanks anymore towards night fall and that maybe I might have to put you on a leash from there on out if you ventured off in your sniff-and-explore mode.  This thought made me sad as I knew your independent spirit would not take to that well. 

After that point, the trips to the river were even less frequent but I am trying, I am so trying.  My heart breaks with the realization that life has changed, the carefree days of yesterday seem gone.  But you, precious wonderful you just roll right along, taking each day and change to our routines as the new normal.

Just another reason why I love you more and more and more every single second.


Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington.  She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on.  Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.

Unwrapping Presents with Pets

Jake, my “glab” (Golden Retreiver/Lab) has always been a huge present opener.  He would definitely win a “fastest present opening” contest.  It doesn’t matter whose gift it is or what is inside the wrapping.  He just loves the thrill of ripping off that paper and even rips into the contents inside if given the chance.  Every year, he gets to open all the presents for my other pets because he doesn’t really care about what is inside and the others do.  They just watch him.  I get tremendous joy from watching him and one year I even let him open all of mine.  When he is through, he looks for more and if he spies a card board box, it’s fair game.  For his birthdays, I will wrap his gifts and then just some empty boxes because he has such fun.   Afterwards, there is usually wrapping paper hanging from his mouth, stuck on his lip and the floor is always a huge mess but the entertainment and enjoyment he gets is well worth it.

Here is video from this Christmas.  He is opening Jessie’s gift and she is just waiting until she hears the squeak and then you will see her come up.  The video does not really capture the zeal…it is really something to be seen in person! 

Dog Biscuits!

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I am not much of a cook...in fact, i am a bit of a klutz and disastrous in the kitchen and don't spend a lot of time there.  I just don't have the patience for cooking, things are always getting burnt, a mess is always made and let's just say it's havoc....

My dogs were totally freaked tonight...i was in the kitchen for hours and hours...there was flour everywhere, big mounds of dough and wonderful smells.  Cheese flavored, chicken flavored and healthy non-wheat ones....dog biscuits!  Cut into cute shapes....stars, hearts, bones, cats....which my dogs could care less about....they loved the biscuits.

Don't know what got into me but my dogs and I both agree that I'm the bestest dog mom ever and although i can't cook, i can surely bake.....dog biscuits, that is!

Tivi's Sweaters

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When I first heard about Tivi, I couldn’t imagine the pain and fear he must have experienced at the hands of his abuser; hands of the so-called more intelligent species. There’s nothing intelligent about what was done to Tivi.  I cannot comprehend that kind of cruelty and never will.

But Tivi has that fighting, special spirit and won over the hearts of hundreds on his road home. Hopefully, he can forget his horrendous past. With Jonathan by his side, I believe he will.

Shelter work and rescue efforts is an overwhelming, usually thankless job.  It is success stories like Tivi’s and many others that keep rescue workers going. 

I was delighted to be given the chance to do a follow-up on Tivi and get the opportunity to speak with the “angels” in his story (Read Tivi's Angels, July 2010). Like many out there, I look forward to the pictures of his sweet, wrinkly face in his ever-increasing wardrobe and the amusing updates of his happy life posted by Jonathan on his Facebook blog. 

The following story is very touching and could explain why Tivi always looks so handsome in whatever dapper duds he is decked out in.  It was written by Randa Speck, one of the angels in Tivi’s story.   

The Green Sweater

Tivi came to our no kill shelter the summer of 2008. He had been muzzled, set on fire, and left to die. No one could distinguish his breed or his color but all agreed he resembled a Gargoyle. The hairless ,wingless kind. When we tell him that story, and how he must have fallen to earth as a hunka hunka burning love, just missing the water by a tick lick ,his eyes twinkle....
He likes that story so much better than the real one.
Tivis recovery was slow and painful,but every once in a while we would see the glimpse of a smile. Tivi saw hundreds of dogs come and go but never befriended any of them.The only four legged friend he cared about having was a little rubber alligator named Pearl who he gently carried around in his mouth as if she were his own wrinkled baby.
A year and a half had passed and Tivi still refused to venture out beyond the shelter parking lot, sometimes the building, sometimes even his own room and he would absolutely never ever go near a vehicle.
Then just around Christmas time a package came for Tivi and in it was a green sweater. That simple thoughtful gift changed Tivis' life . He no longer felt naked or embarrassed. That very day he hoped into my car and went to Mcdonalds for Tivis' first ever McDouble without onions. That was the day we knew he was ready to go home..
Meanwhile over 150 miles away Jonathan was making a nest.He didn't know why but he felt compelled to buy his first house and fill it with soft blankets.
The why became clear, when he saw Tivis' story on the 10 o'clock news.
The next day Jonathan appeared at the shelter. . Jonathan was wearing a sweater and a big smile. And so was Tivi!
We packed up Pearl, his little socks, his sweaters, the pink and the green,and what we hoped were almost 2 years of good memories for him, and tearfully sent him home. 
Tivi lives with Jonathan now and there is nowhere that he is afraid to go, with or without a sweater.
No more nightmares, Tivi. Jonathan promised!

Tivi, may you be surrounded with comfort and love and may you never know pain and suffering again.

 

Ten Reasons

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In the spirit of February and the impending V Day…….here are 10 reasons why having a dog (or cat, bird, lizard, any other pet) is better: 

  • They don’t or won’t expect flowers, expensive jewelry, lingerie, what have you…..they don’t expect anything (but a treat or new toy would be sweet).
  • They will watch whatever movie you want ........just as long as they are snuggled next to you.
  • They are totally happy to see you no matter how you look, whether you are late or if you went out, had a little much to drink, came home and said or did some stupid things.
  • They will pretty much like whatever you try to cook, lick their plate clean and won’t tell you if it was awful.
  • They won’t hold a grudge (at least not for very long).
  • They will listen to you for hours without interrupting and will act like whatever you are saying is the most interesting and intelligent thing in the whole world.
  • They will limit their time in the bathroom to a quick drink (if that’s their thing) and will never use all the hot water.
  • They don’t really care about previous dogs, cats, birds, animals in your life, or even previous significant other people in your life.
  • Their parents will never come to visit.
  • And number one, you can see in their eyes they adore you and if they could speak, they would say “I love you!”

Wrapping Presents with Pets

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1. Gather presents, boxes, paper, etc. in middle of living room floor.

2. Get tape back from younger dog.

3. Remove wrapping from older dog's mouth.

4. Open box.

5. Lift younger dog out of box.

6. Remove tape from older dog's mouth.

7. Take scissors away from younger dog.

8. Put present in box.

9. Grab ribbons back from parrots.

10. Remove present from younger dog's mouth.

11. Put present back in box.

12. Take scissors from older dog and sit on them.

13. Remove younger dog from box and put on lid.

14. Take tape away from older dog.

15. Unroll paper.

16. Take both dogs OFF box.

17. Cut paper being careful not to cut younger dog's nose that is getting in the way as she "helps."

18. Let older dog tear remaining paper.

19. Take younger dog off box again.

20. Wrap paper around box.

21. Remove younger dog from box & remove wrapping paper from mouth.

22. Tell older dog to fetch the tape so he will stop stealing it.

23. Take tape older dog is holding.

24. Quickly tape one spot before taking scissors from older dog & sitting on them again.

25. Fend off younger dog trying to steal tape & tape another spot.

26. Take ribbons and bows from parrots again.

27. Go get roll of wrapping paper both dogs ran off with.

28. Take scissors from older dog who took them when you got up.

29. Give pen to older dog to hold so he stops licking your face.

30. Remove younger dog from present & hurriedly slap tape on to hold the paper on.

31. Take now shredded ribbons and bow from parrots & tape on since the sticky stuff no longer sticks.

32. Take pen from older dog, address tag & affix while younger dog tries to eat pen.

33. Grab present before both dogs open it & put it away.

34. Clean up mess both dogs made playing tug-of-war with remnants of wrapping paper.

35. Hang remaining ribbons & bows in parrots cages.

36. Put away rest of wrapping supplies & tell the dogs what good helpers they are.

 **HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL AND TO ALL PETS A GOOD LIFE**

Sweet Girl Smokey

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When I did the story on Chase & Cera (Chase Away K9 Cancer - A Hero's Tale, Spot '09 issue), I knew that all her four-legged babies were girls. Somehow in the editing process, Smokey turned into a “he.”  I heard that Smokey forgives me and is okay with it.  That’s what they do . . . forgive & forget, only one of thousands of tiny qualities that makes dogs so special. Thank you, sweet girl!

I had the pleasure of meeting Smokey a few weeks ago at the Seaside NW Challenge Championships.  She is 13 years young and beautiful.  Her kisses are precious, so if you ever happen to see her at an event or somewhere, be sure to grab not just one of them.  She will gladly dole them out for as long as you like.  Her kisses are priceless….good enough to be worth any price. 

Cera just got back from the 2009 Dock Dog Nationals with her little E (Elsie May-Chase’s grandpup).  Chase Away K9 Cancer was the beneficiary of this year’s 2009 DockDogs Jump-A-Thon, wherein teams collected pledges for their top jump scores at the championship held October 16-18 in Ohio.  Cera & Elsie May alone raised $10k of the $50k raised over the weekend in one of the biggest fundraisers to date for Chase Away K9 Cancer.   All the donations go to the American College of Veterinary Medicine directly supporting studies focused on canine cancer. 

Yay!  You rock, Cera & Elsie May & Smokey!