Thursday, May 17, 2012

A few soapbox ideas from a dog owner.

I wanted to share with you all something that has been on my mind over the past few days.

If you've had the chance to read some of my previous posts, you may realize that we recently lost our dog to lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.  We'd gotten the news, a positive biopsy, back in February, so we consider ourselves very lucky that we had an opportunity to say goodbye.

When we knew Lena's health was beginning to deteriorate, we began our search for another third dog.  Our other two, a six-month-old chihuahua pup and a four-year-old mixed breed, don't get along very well, and Lena had always been the mediator between the two.  We knew we'd never find another Lena, but we needed a third guy or girl (girl) to sort of keep the peace.

I began perusing the online classifieds, really wanting to "give back" to a dog in need as Lena had given us so much during her (too short) life.  We looked away from dogs and puppies in foster care, believing that they already had a home-of-sorts, but couldn't find anything in the shelters that looked right for our family.  So we waited.

There had been one dog, though, ... one puppy, actually.  I couldn't stop thinking about her.

She was a six-month-old lab/pitbull cross that had been born into rescue.  Her mother had been rescued, very pregnant, from a county animal shelter and had given birth to nine pups, all of which had long-since been adopted out.

Except for this one, six-month-old pup.

I still kept telling myself, "She's fine, though.  She's got a place to live.  She's in no danger of being put to sleep.  Find a dog that needs you."

But I kept going back to that ad.

We had found our dog, and she did need us.

After a week's worth of emailing back and forth, we made arrangements to meet the foster mom (who runs the rescue) and the little black pup that no one wanted, and it was love at first sight.  Not just for me.  For the pup, the husband, both boys, ... well, maybe not everyone.  The other two dogs haven't quite come around yet, but that's okay.  We're working on it.

Back to foster care, however ...

I was almost appalled after the woman left:  this dog probably would've been better off in shelter care. I gave her a nice, warm bath in the tub which left me with one clean and shiny pup and a tub bottom that resembled the parking lot of Walmart.  Dirt, gravel, dried blood, burs, you name it.  We named her "Suki," and Suki is covered in some of the worst scars and cuts I've ever seen.  You know those pictures of "bait dogs?"  Suki doesn't look much different.  Her coat is patchy, the result of healing wounds and scratches.  She had a few puncture wounds around her throat and ears.  Her skin is awful.  The fur on her face is incredibly thin.  She was a mess.

And I thought, "This is what foster care looks like?"

I want to make an urgent plea to you:  do not think that because a dog is being fostered, it still doesn't need to be rescued.  Please don't imagine a foster dog having a cushy bed, a loving hand, a warm comfortable place to call its own.  Foster homes are often crowded with dogs trying to find their own loving families, and many of the breeds being fostered are the "harder to place" breeds.  Sure, a little cute fuzzball is going to get adopted right out of the shelter, but fosters take the ones that don't necessarily have people "oohing and ahhhing" at the bars of the run.

Just because a dog is being fostered, it still needs a family, a home, a backyard.  It needs its own toys, access to its own food and water.  It needs its own attention, needs to be more than just a part of a pack.  Suki isn't sure about playing, because no one ever gave her the chance to get the tennis ball.  She was obviously bullied and picked on a lot by all the other dogs.  She is a real sweetheart, but she needed us as much as we needed her.

Check the fosters, too.  You can get much more information on temperament, likes and dislikes, activity level, any fears or shyness.  And you are saving a life, because you're allowing room for one more animal to be pulled and fostered.  Please don't look at the sweet ads of puppies and dogs in their foster home and think that they have everything they need because they don't.  They need someone to love just them.  They need the chance to be an individual.  They need a family to call their own.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life, Ongoing.

Everyone says, "Life goes on," and it's true.  Regardless of what seemingly insurmountable problem you are facing, there is grass, dirt, land, terrafirma on the other side of that obstacle.  Maybe you can't see it from here.  Maybe it's going to be rough and rocky.  Either way, it's there.  Trust me.

We had to have our dog put to sleep Friday morning.  For those of you who haven't been through the past blogs, we found out in February that she had lymphoma.  She was only close to 6 years old.

We opted not to do the chemotherapy.  That was also a tough decision, but here's why.  We have two young children, both boys, ages 7 years old and age 15 months.  It had nothing to do with the expense or the time (chemo requires a daily shot from the vet for the first few weeks, then every other day for a few weeks, then every third day for a few weeks, for a total of roughly 6 months).  It had everything to do with the shitty remission statistics.  Since a dog's life is so short compared to ours, "successful" remission is anything over one year, with 80% of dogs succumbing to the cancer again within 2 years.  I couldn't do that to my boys.  We did one round of steroids, which my oldest son thought were pills that would cure her.  Imagine him getting his hopes up with daily shots only to find out six months later that the cancer is back.

We did not let her suffer, but noticed her quality of life slowly diminishing.  She had a few nights where she'd pant despite the air conditioner being on full-blast inside the house.  She began drinking a lot of water, and she didn't seem to want to do much of anything other than sleep.  Even that was becoming restless.

The procedure itself was very peaceful.  I went alone on Friday morning and the vet gave her first a shot to knock her out as if she was going to have surgery.  She fell asleep in my arms and when she was totally asleep, the vet gave her the final injection.

I brought her home with me to bury her here in the yard; I'd dug a deep, large hole the night before but I'd neglected to ask my vet what to do about the other two dogs.  I did a quick Google search in the driveway and found support for both sides:  should I let the other dogs see her or not?  I opted to let them see her.  If dogs are as instinctual as we believe them to be, I have to believe that they knew she was sick to begin with.  We have a four-year-old mixed breed male dog, and a six-month-old chihuahua puppy, and Lena had been both of their best buddies.

I was very glad I chose to let the dogs see her.  Sunset, the male dog, sniffed at her a little bit and then quietly walked away.  Pippa, the chi pup, was very upset.  She tried licking Lena's eyes and ears and getting her to play, but Lena didn't respond.  After a few times of this, she backed up and started barking a frustrated bark that I'd never heard her do before.  She tried a few more times to get a response from Lena, and then I think it clicked in:  Lena wasn't playing anymore.

I put the dogs inside when I buried Lena in the side yard.  I said my goodbyes and wrapped her in a blanket.  I cannot tell you how many times I went out to check on her that day, glancing around the yard to see if she'd somehow only been asleep when I'd buried her.  I knew that wasn't the case, but I started making deals with myself, that if I went in the yard and she was there, I'd let her live until she died on her own of cancer.  I imagined her digging through the dirt, finding the sunlight, rolling around in the grass with this look on her face like, "Lady?  What did you do that for?"

By nightfall, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be seeing Lena again.

My son decided to plant some beautiful red sunflower seeds on Lena's grave, and I also planted a crimson mandevilla vine at the headstone portion up against the fence.  The seeds and the vine give me a reason to go over there and water now:  a reason more healthy and real than just hoping Lena is going to be waiting for me in the yard when I go to water.  I miss her so much, being that I am a full-time student taking online classes, a stay-at-home mom and student, if you will.  Lena was always here, as was I.

The kids and dogs seem to be doing fine, and I'm doing fine too, I guess.  I never thought I'd miss all the black dog hair all over the house, but I do.  I miss her little dog smile, I miss having a nap buddy I could count on.  I miss seeing her with my kids, or sitting in the man chair with the husband.  I imagine all the shelter dogs or all the dogs that have been rehomed or put to the street by their families, and I want to shout at them that if they just loved their dog, they'd do anything to hold on to them until the very end.

So in honor of Lena, I'm trying my best to quit smoking.  Too many people (and animals, too) are taken far too soon because of cancer.  I know the pain I've felt losing a dog -- I'd never want to be on the receiving end of that, laying in a hospital bed while my husband and children cry for me just because I couldn't give up stupid cigarettes.  Maybe if there's one great thing that could come out of losing my dog, it would be that I quit smoking.

Today is officially Day One of using my electronic cigarette, and so far so good.  I feel like I can do this.  Things in my world are beginning to fall into place:  I'm almost finished painting, I had a totally new idea for my book, school is about to start again in a few days, and now I'm not smoking.  I've also become much more realistic about my writing, because great ideas for edits are coming to me all over the place.  I see now why it can take people months and years to complete a novel.  Yes, days when you bang out 5,000 words are wonderful, but you can't be afraid to change your mind on something just because you've worked so hard on one portion.  Each draft is a stepping stone.  That might mean that each day, you write over (in a sense) what you'd written the day before, but the point is that you're WRITING.  You're getting somewhere.  Your story is getting on paper.

I guess that's true about life, too.

Wishing you a wonderful day,

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On reading.

Point of view is killing me.

I don't even have the first draft of my novel down, yet I've already made more POV changes than I have cups of coffee over the past two weeks.  I am having a terribly hard time choosing my protagonist out of two characters who are relentlessly fighting over the spotlight, and I don't want to end up with a "he said, she said" novel, changing from "his" to "hers" with each chapter. 

I'm finding now that I wish I'd paid more attention to the mechanics of all the books I've read over the years, but I haven't.  I haven't, and I still don't.  I'm a sucker for a story, so I'm realizing now that as a reader, I care only about plot plot plot.  I couldn't tell you from whose POV my favorite novel is written:  I'm going to go back to it today and take a look just to squelch that question once and for all. 

I'm terrible at overthinking, and I'm afraid I've gotten myself out of just enjoying the process and more into the technicalities and trivialites of the whole thing.  My gut tells me to just write write write and worry more about the fine-tuning later on down the road, but once I hit chapter 16 or so, it seems fruitless for me to continue on without knowing exactly whose story I'm telling.  I'm thinking about sitting my two characters down and having them arm wrestle it out.

Maybe it's time to peruse a few of my favorite books to see what jumps out at me. 

On a side note, while I haven't been writing, I did paint the inside of my house.  Perhaps this is part of my problem.

Back to the manuscript.  Thanks for dropping in!   :)