Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

By Elizabeth Statmore

Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.

Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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Should I be worried?

-Related to posts Because She’s A Nut and Ten Things About Sony The Pug.

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First, Rafael.

Oh, there’s the human taking my picture. Lemme give him this profile.

Oh no, my schauze looks big in that one. This side’s more flattering.

Wait, what am I thinking? Straight ahead is always the most dignified.

Next, Otis.

I’m here to save the day! Aha! I knew he’d love my Rin-Tin-Tin.

Finally, Sony.

Sony of the River. Strong, fast, deep. Wait, why don’t I get to stand in the meadow?

Way better. Man, mountain grass is good. Purple asters and daisies…yum-my!

I LOVE the mountains. Please, Mom, please, please can we move here??

Rafael, Otis, and Sony in the Pecos Mountains on July 22-24, all taken by Jim except for last two, photos © 2008 by Jim or ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Ah, it’s a beautiful day. Look at the clouds.
I think I’ll just lie down here and take a picture.

Oh, hi Otis. What are you doing? (plumph)
Otis, hey, do ya mind? You’re sitting on my chest.

Otis, really, you’re too big to lay your dog down on me.
Come on, I need to get up now.

Otie, come on, this isn’t funny, I can’t get up.
Otie, get up, boy…

Hey, you guys, help! Help me!! Someone!! (no answer)
Otis, PLEASE, let me up!


Whew. That’s better. Thank you, Otis.

For more touching stories about people and their special relationships to dogs, check out NPR’s These Books Have Gone to the Dogs.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post. (I do have a sore lower back as a result, however.) Photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Sitting here with my down jacket on. It’s lilac-colored, the wrists dingy and the patch on the sleeve coming off. It will be years, though, before I buy another. My desire for fashion as far as coats are concerned — long gone. Melted with the snow.

That was cliché. Melted with the snow, and here I am dressed in a jacket one wears in the snow. Or the cold.

Jim wants me to go out to the orchard and get Otis. He’s freaked out. A roadrunner that Rafael attacked and almost killed, is taking revenge on Otis. It jumped on Otis’ back the other day. Dropped from a Ponderosa pine, like an ambush. Otis flipped out, ran into a shed, and then the roadrunner jumped up on a woodpile just outside the shed and made “brrrrrr” noises at Otis as he trembled inside.

Since then Otis walks with his head and tail down. He’s a big dog but he reminds me of a buffalo, his body arched, his eyes darting here and there. He’s traumatized, so now mostly we keep him inside.

Rafael, mean time, is impish as ever. He still runs at the roadrunner. I can’t believe the roadrunner is even alive. You can see the flesh exposed on its neck. Reminds me of the time the dogs next door to our old house attacked Azul. Jim said you could see Azul’s guts, yet Azul still lived. Birds are hardy that way.

I made up a song for Rafael. I usually sing something that goes: He’s the Ra-fa-na-ta. He’s the al-li-ga-ta. Now I say, He’s the Ra-fa-na-ta, he’s the bird ha-ta, he’s the roadrunner ter-mi-na-ta.

Truth is, though, I wish Rafie wouldn’t attack birds. He goes after skunks and porcupines, and if he saw a cat, I’m sure he’d attack that, too. The only thing that scares Rafael is turkeys. He doesn’t like them, keeps as far away as possible. I wish Rafie would figure out that all smaller animals are off limits. But he seems to get worse with age.

I’ll make it out to the orchard soon. Jim is outside almost all day, even in the bitter cold. He wears a sherpa hat made of fleece and a Carthartt lined jacket. He wears flannel-lined jeans and a pair of gloves. He stays warm, and when he comes in to eat a breakfast of eggs and turkey sausage, his nose finally runs. That’s the only cue he gets that he’s freezing.

I’m amazed at his ability to withstand cold. Hates heat, though. He’s definitely got different blood than I do. I must have snake energy, he has sled dog.

Jim named the roadrunner Rodney. Rodney the Roadrunner. Jim’s funny that way. The roadrunner actually likes Jim, often follows him to where ever he is in the yard. Which is probably why Otis is so miserable.

Poor Otis. If he were a person, he’d be the good guy who finishes last. And who made up that saying anyhow? I like good guys. And gals. Kindness is underrated. Toughness, like fashion, is overrated.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – NO TOPIC

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My friend and blogging partner, QuoinMonkey, has for the past two days been agonizing over her very sick cat, Mr. Stripeypants. Liz, QM’s partner, is also exhausted after nights of staying up, rushing Pants to the emergency vet, and monitoring his intake of food and water. So far, the veterinarians haven’t been able to figure out what’s causing the fever and vomiting.

I can relate to the helplessness that QM and Liz feel. Jim and I have had four dogs in our almost twenty years together, and we’ve dealt with the deaths of two, Roger and Rudy.

Roger I got from the pound for Jim after we’d been dating two months. I sensed right away that Jim was an animal lover — he talked all the time about his childhood dogs Tara and Shadow. Roger was Australian Shepherd mix with one brown eye and one blue. He ended up going with us on our honeymoon in Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.

I still remember one cool pre-dawn morning driving through a misty meadow, giant mountains looming in the background. Several cars were pulled to the side of the road and a handful of people with cameras creeping toward a herd of grazing elk. We slowed the Camry to a crawl and rolled down the windows to get a better look. Roger must have just then noticed the elk because he let loose a ferocious bark attack from the backseat. All at once the elk startled and the photographers whipped angry heads back to see what idiot just caused the stampede. Jim stepped on the gas and away we zipped, a cloud of exhaust vapor in our wake.

A couple of years after we got Roger, a mountain-biking friend came to our place bearing a Blue Heeler puppy. She found him clinging to the side of the ditch and fished him out. She already named him Rudy and insisted that Roger needed a brother. Roger and Rudy were pals the way Otis and Rafael are today. Funny how our human children are girls and our dog children are boys.

Except, my dogs aren’t really my children. In fact, I tell my friends that in my culture, dogs are dogs and people are people. My grandfather was a rancher, and in the way ranching families often see things, animals serve a purpose. Dogs keep away intruders; cats eat mice; sheep provide wool and mutton; cows make milk and beef; hens give eggs; and roosters die early and often.

But truth is, my animals touch my heart in ways similar to (if not exactly the same as) how people touch my heart. I fall in love with them, and when they are hurting, I hurt. And the older I get, the stronger I sense the girl in me reminding that I never really did subscribe to my grandparents’ take on animal life.

Jim has influenced my changing relationship to our dogs. He’s even more connected to animals than I am. That’s probably a large part of the reason I fell in love with him. I sensed his expansive heart, his philosophy that life is life and that animals’ lives are to be valued as you would any other.

When Roger and Rudy died, Jim was affected most of all. He stayed by their sides for weeks to care for them. It brings tears to my eyes still to recollect how he couldn’t break away some nights from Roger or from Rudy as each was dying. How he cried and cried.

Three years ago I wrote a short story about a woman who leaves her husband for another man. Later, just over a year after the divorce, her ex-husband tells her he is planning to re-marry, which causes the narrator of the story to wonder whether she made a mistake by leaving him. Here is an excerpt from that story, which is titled “In the Moment.” It’s based on a writing practice I did about Jim and our family when Rudy died.

I hope, QM, it is not in poor taste to do a post about writing and the love and death of animals. I don’t mean to portend a similar ending for Pants. Rather, I hope to tell you that I realize how much your Mr. Stripeypants means to you and Liz. And how I know he is your number one priority right now. Take care of him, and take care of the two of you.

It’s Wednesday morning. As Leila predicted, Jack tells me about Luz. We’re sitting on a wooden bench on the front porch. I toy with the fingers of a gardening glove lying next to me. Jack’s hair is long enough now to make a small ponytail. He wears a t-shirt with a picture of a galloping pony. He looks good.

He apologizes for not telling me before Leila and Pip did. He figured it was a moot point if they didn’t go for the notion first. All this time he scans the yard. A pernicious grass we call foxtail even though we know it’s not foxtail invades the area where his garden used to be.

He’s going on now, talking about how the girls seem to like Luz, how Luz seems to like the girls, how they all love Edgar. You hate small dogs, I want to say.

I think about Olive, who died a couple of months before the divorce. She was Australian Shepherd cross, not that old when she died, maybe twelve, but she was blind and seemed ancient. Jack wanted her to go naturally. For weeks, he’d sit by her, pet her, tell her, “It’s OK, Olive.” Once he tried bringing her into the house but she almost went berserk. It was cold that winter. He fixed a nest inside her Igloo doghouse and carried this bed to whatever new spot Olive had found in the yard.

In the wee hours of the morning, Jack’s side of the bed would be empty and I could spot him outside in his parka carrying the Igloo. I would see him and think, If he outlives me he’ll care for me like that, sitting by my side, petting my head, letting me know I’m not alone. He knew I was having an affair and still he would take care of me. But by then I was immune to Jack’s steadfastness. Resentful of the alloy he and I together created.

The girls bluster onto the porch. They’re ready to get into Jack’s car. I ask them to give the chickens and ducks scraps from breakfast. We’re going to move the birds to Jack’s once he builds a pen. The girls run off. Jack is waiting for me to say something.  

“Do you remember the morning Olive died?” I ask.

He looks at me surprised. “Yeah.”

“Remember how she just wouldn’t let go?” I picture a ring of our four bodies and heads bent down toward Olive, all of us crying. Leila saying, “Don’t let her die,” and Jack and me saying, “Yes, honey, Olive is ready to go now.” I tucked my hand under Olive’s front leg, over her heart, and I felt it beat, the valve slowly rising, then dropping. Jack told her, “It’s OK, Olive, you can go now, just let go,” and Leila said, “No Olive, don’t go,” and I cried big tears and snot that dripped from my chin to Olive’s body. I looked up at all three of them and said, as if to warn, “I have to say a prayer.” I waited just long enough for Jack to protest if he needed to, and then I said the Hail Mary. Jack sobbed, which made Leila and Pip sob, and still I could feel the rising and dropping of Olive’s chest and still she heaved out steamy breaths. I asked Mother Mary to take Olive to the other side, and at that moment her heart stopped.

When Jack dug Olive’s grave and laid her body inside, I think he placed his will to save our marriage in with her. I conjured my most perfect memento of us, testimony to the life slipping away. Jack, me, Leila, Pip sleeping outside on the trampoline. A healthy Olive underneath us, grunting in slumbering pursuit of rabbits and squirrels. Me waking up whenever one of the others rustled, and then falling back into dream thinking We’re a forest of aspens, connected by roots under the surface. When Jack shoveled dirt into the hole, I wailed, beside myself with loss. The divorce was final by April.

 “I’m happy for you,” I finally say.

Now he watches me. I don’t have anything else to comment about his plans.

“Are you OK, Eve?” he asks.

Maybe he thinks I’m regretful. I brush my hand through the air as if to say I’m fine.

“You’d better get going or they’ll be late for school.”

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