Pancho had a bathroom/water fetish!
When my cat, Pancho, died of feline leukemia, I took to my bed for three days and cried more than I think I've ever cried in my life. He was only three and this was in the early 70's, before there was a vaccine. I'd never even heard of it. And, except for a couple of months in the New Hampshire woods with my parents' cats, he was an indoor cat. I loved Pancho more than any cat I've lived with before or since. He was fun and spunky and smart.
Maggie, going gray
And now I've lost two dogs and a cat in the past five months. I haven't cried as I did with Pancho, but I feel utterly anchorless. And I've always believed that I don't like anchors. It's almost a hollow feeling, as though I could blow away. I guess I never fully realized how much my life revolved around my animals. I continue to plan my days around the trip to the dog park at noon. When I come home late, I immediately think about how hungry Maggie must be. I just saw the note on the calendar that it's time to buy more flea/tick medicine and was about to make the phone call.
I've lived with cats my entire life, beginning with Myrtie (named after my grandmother, Myrtle), my parents' cat before I was born.
I should never have been allowed near animals!
Dogs followed soon after – always dachshunds in my childhood.
Robin always slept under the covers with me
and rode in the basket of my bicycle
But in the middle of my life, though I always had cats, I was dogless for more than 20 years. I lived in a city, they'd have to be inside, they'd need walks...…
Ellen and Midas
We finally got a dog when we left San Francisco and moved to Santa Rosa. Ellen wanted a dog, so we got a Golden Retriever puppy. She named him King Midas. Several years later, we got a Black Lab puppy named Becca. We lived on an acre at the entrance to Spring Lake Park, a far cry from living in the city. Other than one skunk encounter, it was no big deal and Spring Lake was right out the front door for walks.
Becca and Midas
But living in the “country” resulted in our going a little off the deep end with pets. At one point, we had 2 dogs, 6 cats, 2 horses, 2 cockatiels and a whole bunch of rats! I don't recommend that! I definitely learned that I don't like having pets who are forced to live in cages.
Dinner time when I was growing up
Midas developed bone cancer while Ellen was in graduate school in Chicago. She flew home to say goodbye to him, but it was up to me to have him euthanized. She left me with instructions that I was to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” to him while he died. It was beautiful that day and I got Midas out on the front porch (he could barely move), where he lay in the sun and the vet came and administered the shot, while I sang and cried.
Midas and Becca had lived, for the most part, as though the other didn't exist. They were not buddies, but Becca fell into a major depression when Midas died. She just stared out the window all day. We put her on anti-depressants. Ellen pushed me to get another dog and emailed photos from online searches. She sent the photo of a dog named Scully, who was about to be euthanized at a kill shelter in Grass Valley. Julia and I went up to check her out and we took Becca along.
Maggie loves water
The shelter had an outdoor fenced-in area where you could take a dog to get acquainted. We brought out several dogs, one at a time, to meet Becca. She wasn't interested. Then we brought out Scully – beautiful brown and white with a bushy curved tail - and that was the one for Becca! Then Julia knelt down and Scully put her front legs around Julia's neck. That sealed the deal. Scully had been found running down a road with her black and white brother and was presumed to be part Akita (the tail!) and part Border Collie. Brown and white Border Collies are much less common than black and white ones and the resemblance to Scully – renamed Maggie – is obvious.
Julia and Maggie
It turned out that we had saved a severely traumatized dog. We presume she had been beaten, We did not see her pee for almost a year – she always hid. If we called her to go outside, she ran past us as fast as she could. She was terrified of hoses. But she became close to me and she developed separation anxiety. She ate the furniture when no one was home – three couches, the rattan off some chairs, the legs of tables and the corners of bookcases. Most people would have sent her back to the shelter, I guess.
Chilling in the backyard
People suggested chew toys, but Maggie had plenty of those. One day I came home to find she had eaten a hole in my bedspread, the blanket, the sheets, the mattress cover, and the mattress and had stored her toys inside. I learned later that Akitas are nesters.
At the dog park
She loved going to the dog park and was the fastest dog, loving being chased by the others. Back then there was a pond and she adored water. Eventually, the pond was eliminated because it was so difficult to keep clean. Maggie really missed it.
Andrew and Lilly
After Becca died, Ellen and her family came to live with me while she worked on her dissertation and that included Lilly. They had adopted her at the same time they had been encouraging me to get another dog. In the meantime, Maggie had had a traumatic encounter with another dog and was wary of dogs. I had to stop taking her to the dog park and she never really became friends with Lilly.
Sadly, Lilly died too young and Ellen adopted another dog, Nola. But when Ellen finished her dissertation and moved to North Carolina to teach, that left Maggie alone, again. But she had mellowed and really slowed down – age and arthritis – and we returned to the dog park. Though she wasn't very social and couldn't run as before, she always loved going. We became regulars again.
Maggie and Bruno enjoying the dog park
And then, two years ago, I rescued another dog, Bruno, who was twelve and a boxer-pitbull mix. He was a sweetie and I'll write a bit more about him another time.
Bruno took over the recliner
Other than the expense of vet bills and medications, it's pretty easy having two old and mellow dogs and I highly recommend senior rescues – if you can afford it! The thought of old, abandoned dogs breaks my heart. I'll leave the hard work of puppies for someone else!
Bruno always rode shotgun
Bruno lived with me for a year and a half. He died, at about fourteen, in April. Then my cat, Polly, died in June at seventeen. Then Maggie died in September, just shy of her fourteenth birthday.
Polly as a kitten
I was busy all day on her last day and we didn't make it to the dog park until about 6:00 – we usually went mid-day. As we walked from the parking lot, I thought about how good she looked for her age. I thought about the vet, who had said, "but they can go downhill quickly." And that night, about 10:00, she started having trouble walking and she couldn't lie down. She was pacing, panting and in pain. I took her to the emergency vet and they diagnosed a ruptured disc and said she was gradually becoming paralyzed. They gave me long, slow and unpleasant treatment options, which made no sense for a dog her age.
Bruno and Maggie hanging out at the foot of the bed
I knew that Julia would want to say goodbye, so I left Maggie at the vet, where they gave her strong painkillers, and told them that if she got markedly worse and really uncomfortable during the night, they should call me any time for permission to euthanize her. When Julia and I arrived in the morning, Maggie was paralyzed and in severe distress and they hadn't called to let me know. She was heavily medicated, but still trying to get up (which was impossible) and I hope that she realized we were there and holding, petting and talking to her as she was put out of her pain.
Maggie and the dragonfly garden tile
Now, more than a month later, I haven't moved her food bowl and there's still some food in her food bin and treats (peanut butter flavored) in the treat container. I have moved her arthritis medication off the kitchen counter. I've started reclaiming the backyard, which was seriously abused and neglected after many years of dogs. And I can't decide whether to get another dog or cat.
I'd only adopt an older rescue and that means vet bills, not out in the future, but soon. I think I'm a good candidate for that because providing them with love and a good home when they've been abandoned, outweighs my sadness when they die. I also want to drive across the country, hopefully by sometime next year – a genealogical pilgrimage. It's difficult to travel with a dog – hot cars, “no dogs allowed,” etc. And leaving an elderly dog behind for a long time doesn't seem kind.
This guy is cute, don't you think?
I've visited some dogs and have been tempted and I'm trying to resist. My house is empty in a way I've never experienced before. I like living alone, but, apparently, that means without people. I wasn't sure until now.