SATCHEL!  We got a kitten almost three weeks ago.  I finally caved in, and in spite of my allergies, decided we needed a cat.  We’ve had a continuous problem with mice in the house, and they refuse to eat the poison, or be caught in traps. They’ve been around long enough to share the secrets of these things with one another, and therefore can avoid them. I HATE MICE! More than I dislike cats.

Don’t get me wrong, cats are okay, but they just aren’t a dog. You know, who greet you at the door with wagging tail and slobby kisses, come when you call, and if you’re lucky, learn a few tricks. Cats don’t play fetch in the yard, don’t take their people on walks– or in Lady Bear’s case, drags me through a near-run.

Satchel is very playful, and atfter a few shots with the spray bottle has learned to leave my house plants alone. He has a knack for attacking your ankles and toes.  He also loves Lady Bear, who floats between adoration and toleration of him and his antics.

We took him to the vet today, and got him started on his first shots.  He doesn’t have worms, which is fabulous as Lady was eating his litter-covered poo.  The vet also said it can be normal for kittens to try to nurse, even as adults, said it can be a “comfort thing”. Lady being the mothering sort, is quite content to let him.  She’s even producing a little milk. So it’s really good he doesn’t have worms, or we’d have to de-worm the dog again, on account of the poo eating, Lady could just pass them back to the kitten.

Satchel is now 2.6# and long– so says the vet. He’s got a bit of white on his front paws, and white knee socks on the back, along with a sprinkle –as in 6 strands–of white fur on his forehead, a white crest on his chest, his belly and in his bikini area, if cats were to wear bikini bottoms.  He’s pretty cute if I do say so myself.

I have to admit I am enamored of this little creature, who will give rough tongued kisses on occasion, and will curl up in my lap for a snooze.  He nibbles on my fingers, but the kids aren’t used to kitty teeth, and say it hurts.  They waver between liking him a lot to not at all, depending on everyone’s mood that day.

He’s a keeper.  Now if he can just get rid of the mice.


When Hope Gives Way to Reality, part 2 — The Lesson

When I left you, we were wrapping up the tragic end to my sweet friend, Duchess.

The next day—Tuesday— I cried on and off, but mostly on, for most of the day. My girls had play rehearsal at 9:00 AM and I spent those two hours reclining in the front of the car drifting in and out wakefulness and crying; I really can’t call it “sleep”, but it was more a semi-conscious state. I didn’t want anyone to see me, and truthfully, I didn’t want to see anyone else. My perceived lack of pet-parental responsibility had me tightly by the collar, and wasn’t about to let go. By day’s end Wednesday, I was able to discern and define the difference between guilt and feeling responsible for her death. Tuesday? Every emotion was just raw.

As with a lot of tragedy, we question God’s justice in taking away something we held so close and begin to ask “Why?”

“Why her and not LadyBear? Why did that kid leave the gate open if he was afraid of dogs? Why did he even cut through if he was afraid of dogs?” I don’t think I ever asked, “why me?” but the temptation was there. But a young man, wise beyond his years, fighting terminal cancer said he could never ask God ‘Why me?’ because to do so would be the same as asking ‘Why not someone else?’ Since he would never have wished his situation on anyone else, he reasoned God had indeed given it to the right person. Now, I am fully aware that ‘Losing a Mixed Breed Mutt’ is not even close to ‘Young Man Dying of Pancreatic/Liver Cancer’ on the Grand Scale of Tragic Things, but I think you get my point. I couldn’t ask, wouldn’t dare ask: ‘Why not someone else?’

After I got through the anger stage of my grief and realized that God did indeed take the right dog away, as hard and painful as that was to understand, I knew there was a lesson in this, waiting to be revealed. I was just hoping He wouldn’t hit me with a spiritual 2×4 in order to get me to understand what the lesson was.

The lesson was: favoritism. There were no drum rolls, no grand Tah-dah! just a lonely LadyBear standing, staring out the window waiting for her friend to come home. She knew Duchess had gotten out that night, and she would always cry, whine and whimper until Duchess was safe at home again. She stood looking out the kitchen window for days—hours on end— and my heart broke for her loss. I rattled Duchess’ collar by mistake and LadyBear’s head jerked to attention and she darted over to the window, with such an expectant, hopeful look in her eyes. ‘My friend has come back to me!’ they seemed to say, but soon changed to the look we had seen so often since Duchess died. It was a day or two after this when I realized how much favoritism I had for Duchess over LadyBear and it reminded me of a story of a father who played favorites too.

There was a father, Isaac, who had a son, Jacob, who needed a wife. Rather than choosing a bride from the un-Godly and unfaithful who lived nearby, Isaac sent his son on a trip, some 500+ miles away to choose a bride from his own family. Jacob is smitten with Rachel at first site, and worked a long, hard seven years to earn the privilege of calling her his wife. Turns out his uncle tricked him and sent her older, doomed-to-be-single-forever-unless-some-sap-comes-along sister, Leah, down the aisle instead. He wakes up the next morning, realizes he’s been duped and demands to have the bride he worked for. Uncle says sure, you can have her, but here’s the deal, you have to stay another seven years for Rachel. But the good news is, you can be married next month, after a proper “honeymoon” time with Leah. Jacob agrees.

In time, the family started to grow. Leah (and her servant girl who acted as a sort of ancient days ‘surrogate’) started popping out babies—boys in fact, heirs—in a pretty regular stream. Rachel could not produce even one. She sends one of her servant girls in, as her ‘surrogate’ and she produced a couple of boys as well. Rachel, though, was still barren, until one day God shows some mercy and she has one child, Joseph.

Joseph was his Daddy’s favorite and all of his eleven brothers knew it. Jacob wasn’t too shy about letting people know, either, I’m sure. The brothers hated Joseph because his presence alone was enough to remove their father’s favor from them, not to mention the fact he has dreams that imply he would one day rule over his older brothers. Joseph was never sent to work the fields, the flocks or do most hard labor. He was kept home and sat at his father’s side studying, learning, reading, being favored.

The older eleven conspire to kill the “little brat”, but one of them has pity and says, don’t kill him, just sell him to slave traders instead. That way if he dies, it’s not really our fault, and his blood won’t be on our heads. So Joseph is sold and carted off to Egypt, he was about 15. He never returned to the land of his fathers.

The boys take Joseph’s coat, drag it through the mud, tear it up and pour the blood of some un-expecting little critter all over it and bring it back to Dad. They make up a story about Joseph being attacked and killed by wolves, and this is all that’s left of him: his tattered coat.

Jacob’s heart explodes, or rather implodes – or both if it’s possible— with grief. His only child from the one wife he really wanted, was now gone. His
FAVORITE was nothing more than memories and a pile of bloody rags.

This was the part of the story that revealed to me my own favoritism. The correlation is a bit loose, but the point was incredibly clear. I hope Jacob learned to appreciate the eleven boys he still had, the love they had for their father and their need to be loved by their father. They had been trying to earn it for years, and all they got for their trouble and devotion was to be pushed away. I would like to think he found comfort in the arms of Leah as well as Rachel. But I don’t think so.

I think LadyBear knew I loved Duchess more than her, but she loved me and kept trying to get me to love her back, but the level of reciprocation was never equal. She could never understand why she wasn’t my favorite, and I could try to find excuses to justify it, but truth be told, I had no reason to favor one over the other, other than to say that I did. Duchess was a spoiled brat of a dog, and that’s our fault. I knew that, and I still didn’t care. We didn’t discipline her and then retrain her properly.

Was Joseph a spoiled brat, or was it all in the brothers’ jealous imagination? We may never know. Did Jacob learn to love his other boys? Did the boys ever get past their own guilt over the pain they brought to their father? I’d say with some certainty a loud NO to both of those, based on how the story ends some 15-20 years later.

Joseph endures a lot, but eventually is given rank of something like Prime Minister in Egypt. He is Pharaoh’s right-hand man. His homeland is suffering severe drought, and eleven of his brothers come to buy food from Egypt; there is a younger brother, a 12th, whom Joseph doesn’t know of until their second trip to back to buy food. Joseph then sets-up the youngest, Benjamin, to make it look like he was a thief, and demands he be thrown in prison. At this point the other eleven begin to plead to trade places with their youngest brother. Joseph asks why they are so passionate to take their younger brother’s place, since he was their father’s favorite, after all. They tell the Prime Minister (who is really their long ago sold-into-slavery brother, remember) that their father once had another favorite son, whom they sold into slavery, but lied about being killed by wolves. They continue explaining that they would rather serve life in prison in their brother’s place than return home without him and cause so much heartache to their father again.

They had witnessed the pain in their father’s eyes every day, and known that they were the cause of it. I don’t think one could ever get over the guilt in that. The fact that Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin cemented him in the Most Favored Son position, and the other eleven accepted that, and rather than despise him, they chose to help protect him, if only for their father’s sake.

LadyBear is our “used box of crayons” dog—she’s pretty colorful, but not too sharp. I’ve seen my pet-parenting flaws, but I’m not eager to find another pup to fix my errant ways or fill the Most Favored Dog seat. I think I’d like to see LadyBear move into it instead. Not because she’s earned it by loving me, but because deserves it…because I love her, and it took losing Duchess to learn it.

When hope gives way to reality, part 1

We all have days that we’d rather forget. I had one a couple of weeks ago, and I can write about it now and not worry about my eyes leaking all over the keyboard; but my mind still wanders in mild denial.Monday, 17 September is normally an ordinary day, and to most people casually observing life, one would never notice anything unusual. It’s funny– funny weird, not funny ha-ha– how events can happen and the rest of the world carries on about its business without so much as a second thought to individuals. Compassion and empathy are what we get when we get off the ride of the *world* and start paying attention to individuals.

Now, the events of that Monday may not seem like such a huge deal to most of you, but it changed me profoundly. It all starts with something seemingly innocent and innocuous: an open gate. This gate was left open by a young person who chose to use our front yard as a short cut instead of walking around the block. (Kids do it frequently, and it bugs me, but that’s for another day.) That evening, that young man and that open gate brought profound grief into my home and into my heart.

We had two dogs–“had” being the key here– Duchess and LadyBear, and they have free reign of the front yard. Duchess was a Beagle/Cocker Spaniel mix who loved to chase after smells, and an open gate was just the invitation she needed to go explore the neighborhood that fateful night. I hadn’t noticed the open gate after I saw someone go through it, but I wanted to yell “Make sure the gate is closed!” because Duchess was already out and LadyBear was jumping to go see what was going on. Maybe letting LadyBear out scared the kid, and he just forgot.

Shortly after 9 a friend stopped by with something she needed to return, and that’s when I saw the gate. My youngest wanted to dash off to go looking for Duchess, but I told her not to because Duchess always came home. She never came home under her own power that night. My husband found her up the street and around the corner; she was lying on the sidewalk. He said she lifted her head and started wagging her tail when she saw him, as if to say “Yea, my people have found me!”. He carried her home and set her down in the grass then came to tell me she’d been found. When I saw her, I already knew she’d been hit.

It wasn’t long before we were off to the emergency animal hospital. I told our son he may want to say good-bye, in case if she was paralyzed, she wouldn’t be coming home. The look on his face was a mixture of disbelief, shock and horror at the idea she may not be coming back. I was already in tears, and his face didn’t help much. I dreaded the next morning and the thought of having to tell our two girls that Duchess was gone and they didn’t have a chance to say good-bye; ‘I’ll deal with tomorrow when it’s tomorrow’, I reasoned.

The drive was too long, but Duchess gave my heart a jolt of hope: she lifted her head and stretched her legs. She wasn’t paralyzed! She would come home with us after all!!

Let me tell you a bit about Duchess. She wasn’t just any dog, she was MY dog. She jumped into bed with me and dove under the covers as soon as my husband would open the gate, and if he didn’t do it as fast as she liked, she’d sit next to it and cry with annoying anticipation. She would sit on me as soon as I sat down, and sometimes was jumping before I was halfway down. She was a bit naughty, and very stubborn and loved to eat butter, and sometimes must have thought she was part cat the way she would climb up behind people in chairs. She was also spoiled rotten– I think she knew it, too, and so did LadyBear. But that little puppy mutt came into our house five years ago and ran away with my heart. She was my favorite and everyone here knew it, and I think LadyBear knew that too.

The vet told us they would get her stabilized with oxygen, painkillers and fluids and would take x-rays later. They let us see her briefly before we went home. She looked at me with her eyes filled with love and gave one little thump of her tail to say she wasn’t going to give up. I was so filled with hope at this point, and some pet-parental fear. I didn’t want to leave my baby behind. The clock on a marquee next door to the animal hospital said 11:22 PM. I don’t remember if I said anything on the way home. We got home and our son was still up, waiting to hear what was going to happen. We said basically no news is good news and told him to head to bed, and we’d know more later, closer to morning what the prognosis would be. He looked relieved.

We didn’t have to wait until morning to hear the news; it was barely an hour actually. “We had a chance to give her a better exam”, they said, “and there are a few things going on. First, and the least of her problems, is that she has a dislocated hip” (me, in a flash-thought: that’s not so bad, just pop it into place! yea!) “All the ribs on one side are broken and pressing on her lungs and heart, that’s why she’s having difficulty breathing” (me: broken ribs, not good and how do you fix that on a dog anyhow?) “She also has a herniated abdomen” (me: what on earth does that mean?) “and her abdominal muscle has been ruptured “(me: that doesn’t explain much still) “and the only thing holding her insides in is her skin” (me: O God, NO! NO-NO-NO NOOOO!)’ [me: I want to faint because that’s what a good drama has: a fainting heroine.]

I don’t faint, but really, really wanted to be anywhere else but where I was at that moment. “We could do surgery for her abdomen, and she may need surgery again later for her hip, but that’s to worry about later. Her ribs, now that’s a different story, and it’s hard to know… “(me: surgery! yes, operate! fix her so she can come home tomorrow! wait… ribs… hard to know… focus).

Me, to them: “How much would surgery be?” (I’m writing down what they say on the white board in the kitchen so my husband and son, who’s still up, can see.)

Them: “Surgery for the abdomen would be $3,000… “(I write this down, and my husband gasps and hangs his head as he leaves the room. I know all hope is dashed to bits now.)

Me: “Oh, ummm, okaaayyy” (me: NO! that’s not the answer I want to hear!) My knees feel a little weak.

Them: “We don’t normally recommend euthanasia, but it seems to be in Duchess’ best interest…”

Me: “Can you keep her stable until morning, so we can bring our kids in to say good-bye, they’re sleeping right now?”

Them: “She’s in a lot of pain, and her injuries are severe… (me: NO! NO! NO!) Again, we prefer to use euthanasia as a last resort but… ” I can hear in her voice she’s telling me to wake up my girls, but, still, I don’t want to face that truth, and she doesn’t want to come out and say it directly that time is of the essence and if we don’t come now, she won’t be alive in the morning.

My husband volunteers to wake the girls, and I go into the bathroom and sob. I really just want to scream and wail and grieve loudly, but I don’t so I won’t scare my kids. Adults have to keep it all together, all the time. When I come out our youngest is already in tears, as I knew she would be. Our middle one was trying to put on a brave face, and not doing very well, and tears came soon for her too. Our son had a look a disbelief on his face, mixed with shock. I think he wanted to cry, but wasn’t about to do that in front of his sisters or mother, or father.

We take LadyBear with us and pile into the van to go say a good-bye none of us was prepared to do. It was a very, very quiet ride, except for LadyBear, who just loves to go for car rides.

Our last hour with our best friend and family member was too short. Her ears and paws were already starting to feel cold from her internal bleeding. Her belly was more distended than before, and I knew she wouldn’t survive surgery if they tried. She was fighting to stay with us with every breath she had, she was trying to keep her eyes open to look at us, at me. I was praying that she would just stop breathing on her own so I could hold her in her last moments, but she didn’t, and I wasn’t.

They let us take her home and I held her the whole way. What I wanted to do was cradle her close to my heart and cry till I had no tears left, but I couldn’t. I just put my hand on her head and scratched by her ears where she always loved it and she was so soft, and I tried to burn that memory into my brain, so I’d never forget, all the while knowing full well it was futile and I would eventually forget.

The marquee said it was 2:21 AM.