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I Found This Dog

I found a dog. No surprise really. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a dog magnet of sorts. If ever there is a wandering dog, he or she will surely find me. Sammy, the sweet beagle who often appeared at our home when I was a child was one such dog. Several times a week, he would wander into our yard (and in my childhood memories I am always in my yard), be my afternoon playmate, then mysteriously leave only to return another day. “Can we keep him?” I asked? “Let’s find out if he already has a home,” my mother wisely suggested. I crafted a note and attached it to Sammy’s worn collar, sort of like putting a message in a bottle when on a desert island; the tide carried Sammy away. The next time he returned he brought with him a different note, a reply from another little girl who lived a few blocks away, assuring me that Sammy was well loved but offering to share him should we meet. The waves of Sammy’s travels connected that little girl’s world with mine. My new friend, Sammy the beagle, and me.

It should come as no surprise then, that while off on a recent trip, I came across a sweet, homeless, dog. This dog appeared while I was rummaging around an estate sale of well worn goods. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, artifacts of a life well lived. My treasure hunt seemingly complete, I was just about to leave when… I saw this dog! This sweet dog! Resting in a corner, its soulful eyes peered out. They beckoned me closer and when I extended my hand, I realized that I was connecting with a once most cherished friend. I knew at once that this sweet dog had been best friend.. to someone… someplace… sometime. How could it be that this dog was now here amidst the castaways? I knew I couldn’t leave without this dog. A quick discussion with the vendors and we were on our way. My new dog, this treasure, and me.

My new dog didn’t wear a collar. Instead he wore a frame. What life events could have led to the abandonment of this sweet essence of this loyal friend? Through shades of black and white, I see a vibrant heart and soul. I know the very presence of this photo, large in size and from a professional source, is testament to a human-canine partnernship of the highest order. And so, in honor of that love, and as with all those homeless dogs before him, I gave this dog a home.

garage-sale-dog

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A Tribute To Makai

Monday, December 7, 2015. Makai is the dog to whom all things dog in my life – which is pretty much everything in my life – are dedicated. She was with me from the time I was 22 until I was 36 years old, important years, to be sure. She was my constant companion, my sidekick, my shadow, seeing me through two graduate degrees and several career moves. This tribute to her was written long ago – 19 years ago, as I sat with her during the final days of her life. Where has the time gone? I am only now posting it. Why now? Well, of course, blogging didn’t exist in 1996 but aside from that, I don’t know. It just feels right to share this now.

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This tribute was written as I sat with Makai during the final few days of her life with me. She was helped on her way to a peaceful death on November 13, 1996 after bringing me close to fourteen years of joyful companionship. Sadly, the last few months of her life were difficult as she and I both struggled with her worsening condition. Makai was born on December 26, 1982. She was a great dog.

Sarah Richardson, November 1996

 

A TRIBUTE TO MAKAI

This is the story of Makai. She’s my Labrador Retriever–a big boned girl of the chocolate persuasion. My sidekick for almost fourteen years, my ever present companion, the light of my life. In the twilight of her years, and in an empathetic tone, people often comment how our canine friends are like family. I nod affirmatively but in my own thoughts I respond like this: “no, she IS my family.”

 

I feel like I grew up with this dog. That is to say, I learned various lessons of adult life with her by my side. She’s by my side now–a still beautiful, somewhat crippled, increasingly senile old dog who wears her various scars from the good life with nonchalance. Those scars are memorials to great adventures, sort of like notches on the bed post. I know the memories of these adventures are stored away somewhere. I know that because of the times she danced fervently when we returned to a town in which we’d spent good times with good friends. (How did she know we were back? Did she read the road signs?) I know because of the times she greeted people with the enthusiasm of complete love and adoration–even when she had not seen them for years. I know because of the way she always responded to water when we neared an ocean, river, or lake. I wish I knew what she sensed because she responded to water in the most intuitive, sensual way. I imagine that the smell of water must have brought back a flood of associations: that summer of 1983 (her first) when we lived on a sailboat off the coast of Vancouver Island; those near daily visits to the “Research Park” in Texas, a city park full of muddy ponds for swimming, good sticks for retrieving, and a few resident ducks for taunting; her favorite swimming hole, the final stop at the end of our frequent runs. Though her memory now is clouded, I know (I hope) Makai still remembers water.

 

My dog and I have been around. I haven’t exactly been living the settled life since I first adopted her from the stable litter environment from whence she came. I’ve lived in three different cities in three different states, two of them on multiple occasions (she’s lived in four thanks to an extended summer vacation with her “grandmother” during a very busy summer of travel for me). We’ve moved in and out of ten different homes, had at least fifteen different roommates, and she’s had more “dads” than I care to remember–some of whom I don’t care to remember. One of those, her first, insisted that I name her Makai when I wanted to name her Micah. He won. He’s long gone and she’s still here, along with her name, which I’ve grown to love (it means “toward the sea” in Hawaiian, or so I was told).

 

My car has 120,000 miles on it. Makai has been my navigator on most of those miles. As my veterinarian reminded me, she’s even responsible for many of those miles. He was referring to her many visits to vet schools, near and far, replete with their specialists in this and that. Makai has had a lot of this and that.

 

A defining characteristic of Makai is, unfortunately, her ability to require medical attention. She is a textbook example of just about everything that can go wrong with dogs. On her second day with me she lay down on a nest of angry fire ants. Her eight pound puppy body almost doubled in size from the swelling. That was the first of our many, many vet consultations. She’s had four major surgeries, a serious pancreas problem, complications from arthritis treatments, resulting from the arthritis, resulting from two knee surgeries, one on each knee, and has had numerous lumps, bumps, coughs, cuts, and sneezes. Her old age has ushered in a series of neurological problems and she probably has a brain tumor growing behind those loving eyes. However, she has never needed behavior counseling. In fact, I’d say that she has been the stable one in our relationship, always sure of herself and others. Nope, there has never been any question about Makai’s nature. She’s just steady, ready, stable, and sociable Makai. My friend Bobbie and I like to say she’s from the “old school”, rather than being from the new high strung “Generation X” dogs. Given what I hear about the outcomes of over-breeding, this may indeed be true.

 

Bobbie is one of my dog friends. That is to say, she’s a human friend whom I met through my dog. Linda, Lisa, Merren, Vicki, Gabriela, and their various consorts are also my dog friends. Dog people seem to attract each other. Perhaps it’s because we’re the only ones with whom we can talk about dogs for hours on end (or perhaps it’s because we carry some hidden canine scent ourselves). I remember going to a party once only to spend the entire evening in the kitchen with a woman I had just met, talking about our dogs. People came in and out of the kitchen, muttering “dog nerds”, as they passed us by. It was a great evening! My dog friends understand me. They understand my sorrow. They ask me how I’m doing. They understand my tears.

 

Makai is in the twilight of her life. She is a month away from her 14th birthday. I have taken very good care of her. She has taken very good care of me. She has been the epicenter of my day to day world, my rock, a source of consistency and stability, the one responsibility I couldn’t neglect, discard, or put on hold. She’s kept me honest in that way. I don’t understand how she got to be so old. It just seemed to creep up on us. Four years ago she stopped running with me. Three years ago she went cross-country skiing for the last time. Two years ago she stopped being able to go on extended walks and hikes. A year ago she started having occasional trouble getting up and down. Slowly, insidiously, her failing mobility has taken its toll. Today I help her with most things. When she lies down I pet her and talk to her to help her relax. She’s deaf so I doubt she can hear my words, but she knows I am there. When she drifts off into a deep sleep she sometimes dreams about the good times. I know that because she yips and yaps and moves her paws as if her body were once again free. I don’t understand how she got to be so old. It just seemed to creep up on us. My dog friends say she’s hung on to life because she feels my love. I’ve hung on to her because I feel her love. It’s for those very reasons that I know I must now let go. My dog friends understand my sorrow.

 

I have learned a lot from Makai. I have learned that it’s a good idea to stretch when you first wake up, that a little routine and exercise can go a long way, that you’ll never get that stick unless you just jump in, and that you make a lot of friends if you choose to trust people. Perhaps the most important lesson Makai may teach me is that aging and death are inevitable. I haven’t been a great student of this lesson. In fact, I’ve thrown myself into rejecting it. I’ve researched all the possible treatments–conventional and alternative–for Makai’s myriad of age-related symptoms. I have sometimes joked, as I have set out in search of yet another possible treatment for her arthritis and senility, that I am looking for the canine fountain of youth. But, it is no joke. I have been searching for some way to avoid facing Makai’s final lesson for me. And now, as I look at my beloved Makai and caress her gray muzzle I am confronted with the blatant reality that time marches on. It marches relentlessly on. Fourteen years later and we’re both going gray. Fourteen years later and she’s gone from puppyhood to very old age. Fourteen years later and I’ve gone from young adulthood to early middle age. Fourteen years later and my beloved friend must now move on. My dog friends understand my tears.

 

Some people refer to their dogs as their children. Others refer to dogs as their friends. Makai is certainly a friend to me, and my care for her resembles that of a parent toward a child, but my relationship with Makai is in a class of its own. We’re much too equal for her to be my child. Yet our lives are too enmeshed for her to only be my friend. I definitely don’t think of her as my “pet”. That sounds too hierarchical and trite. The truth is that she’s a little bit of everything to me. She’s my kid, my friend, my companion, my confidant, my rock. She’s my dog.

 

My arms are sore from lifting my old dog. I lift her in and out of the car when we go to the vet. I lift her to a standing position when she is having trouble getting up. Makai waits for me to lift her. She knows I’ll help her and she patiently waits. I don’t let her down. I’m so used to lifting her that I instinctively tried to lift a friend’s four year old lab out of a truck the other day.   This athletic, virile dog quickly jumped out of my arms, then looked back at me like I was nuts!

 

Makai is a fighter. That’s why she’s still around. She could have died, and probably should have died a number of times before. But she always fights back. She fights her arthritis by insisting on getting up, by insisting (until recently) on walks. This last summer she fought what should have been a fatal situation. She always fights back. I’ve called my vet twice before to discuss “putting her to sleep” (the language doesn’t disguise the terminal reality of the act for me, although it does make it somewhat more comforting). On each of those occasions, she fought back. She rallied and rebounded. Makai is still a fighter but her fighting is now hurting not sustaining her. The unfortunate combination of her arthritis and senility has resulted in several frightening accidents, leaving her with injuries. These scars are not tributes to great adventures. They’re not notches on the bed post. They’re signals that I need to listen. They’re signals of the end.

 

Makai, I am listening. Tomorrow I will hold you as you pass on to a better place, or a better state, or at least that’s what I desperately want to believe. Where does all the energy of love and life go? I’m reminded of a colorful postcard I once saw. It read “In dog heaven there are fields and fields and fields”. It’s time, Makai. Run free.

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Note: Since writing this tribute I have learned that the postcard to which I referred was created to announce a beautiful and comforting book, Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant, 1995, The Blue Sky Press, New York.

RIP Ray

Ray of Light
Ray of Hope
Ray of Love
Ray Charles Fleming

We know that there’s a little angel in every dog, but in the case of Ray there was a lot of angel in this little dog. Blind from birth, Ray spent the first year of his life in a sterile, outdoor environment. Not much fun for a little angel. But this dog angel found his own human angel in Denise, who discovered and adopted him then recognized that Ray truly had a gift. An administrator at Chico State’s Health Center, Denise brought Ray to work with her. There, Ray brought such comfort to students that they began to schedule appointments to see him. Staff loved him too. No one who knew Ray escaped being touched by his spirit. Certainly not us at the Canine Connection. He was one of our beloved students, learning how to gaze up toward Denise, without sight, but surely knowing she was gazing back at him with adoration. Yes, we loved Ray too. And so our hearts hurt when we learned that Ray was taken from this earth too soon. But our hearts our bigger for having known and worked with Ray and Denise. They inspired us. Thank you, Denise, for sharing Ray with us and others. Thank you, Ray, for bringing so much to so many. May the light shine warmly on your soft, golden fur at Rainbow Bridge. To learn more about Ray, see this Chico News and Review article . RIP Ray.

Morning Trek with Tanner

This morning, I decided to mix up my routine. I needed to take my van to be doctored and instead of accepting the usual courtesy ride home, I brought along Tanner, my beloved German Shepherd Dog, so he and I could enjoy a summer morning walk. My motives were multiple. The beautiful morning air lured me outside. I figured I could use some exercise and natural Vitamin D. And, most importantly, in a household with multiple dogs, I was craving some Tanner time. Alone, just the two of us, a girl and her dog. I figured that the leash and experiences that connected us during this outing would help us forge an even closer bond.

With the van checked in, Tanner and I set out. The route back home is straight and busy, a concrete jungle of commercial buildings, roadways, and traffic. But with Tanner by my side, I chose the road less traveled and found myself meandering through the neighborhoods of South Chico, an area bordered by the main road I travel daily, but with an interior I had never fully explored. Initially, I had planned to walk at a power pace, but when I left the busy corridor, I entered a world of quiet and calm; my pace slowed. As Tanner and I walked along, we both absorbed the new surroundings.

Our journey took us to the back side of a senior-living complex; the front side faces the busy commercial corridor I’d avoided. I had always felt a bit sorry for those who lived within since their neighborhood seemed so cold. But beyond the main street facade I discovered a complex of lovely little units. Instead of an impersonal, multi-resident dwelling, I found a colorful, happy place where individuality was evident in porches adorned with flowers and decorated doors. Tanner was enthralled by the smells of one small tree outside one unit’s porch, a signal, I believe, that a small, cherished dog was living large inside. Behind each porch, each door, I knew was a story of love, loss, and labor-core life elements arranged in ways uniquely personal for those who dwelled inside.

Further down we were startled by a din of cooing from beyond a sturdy wooden fence. Tanner stopped, mesmerized, perplexed, and I joined him in his wonder. He sniffed the air and cocked his head as he cautiously approached the fence. What strange beings could create such a gentle roar? Mourning doves? A flock, I supposed, cooing out their morning greetings as this summer day unfolded.

We passed two houses similar in architecture and color, but there the sameness stopped. In the driveway of one was a set of vintage, dusty cars, a likely product of a poorly attended hobby; perhaps the hobbyist’s life had changed so that he or she no longer had the time. Along the driveway of the other was an arrangement of beautiful potted plants, clear evidence of a labor of flowery love. How interesting to see these contrasts in handicraft and hearth.

And so we wove our way home, Tanner and I. Past the artifacts of people’s lives, along the public corridors that allowed us to journey by their private spaces. I felt part explorer, part voyeur, part proud citizen of my little town, filled with ordinary people doing simple yet extraordinary things to translate bricks and mortar, flora and fauna, into meaningful expressions of person and place.

But for Tanner, I would not have made that trek. But for that trek, I would not have gotten off the beaten path. A girl, her dog, and a morning voyage with an unexpected vantage point on a Chico summer morning.

A Dog Named Kobe Wan

Jenny and Kobe, therapy dog "Pet Partners", on a Christmas visit to Windchime of Chico.

There has been a dog in my life named Kobe Wan. I first met him several years ago when he came to one of my dog classes with his guardian, Jenny. Jenny and Kobe were an impressive sight – both tall, composed, and dignified in appearance and demeanor. They made for a striking pair. The teamwork between them was remarkable. Jenny taught Kobe an array of behaviors and he responded to her cues as if anything but utmost perfection was beneath him. Jenny and Kobe moved together as if they were seasoned dance partners and together they progressed through advanced training and became a certified therapy team.

But beyond Kobe’s steady demeanor was a serious health problem and anxiety about being alone. Perhaps it was these characteristics that landed Kobe in an animal shelter before Jenny found him and made him hers – and she became  his. She adopted him, provided him with the best of care, and set about to develop his mind, sooth his anxieties, and heal his body. To help with his anxiety, Kobe was enrolled in our day care program and over the months he flourished. Initially he would pace and fret about Jenny’s absence and the antics of other dogs. But over time he came to play with his canine friends, relax on our couch, and snooze at our feet while he waited for Jenny at the end of the day. We at the Canine Connection loved him. He was one of our family and we shared Jenny’s sense of privilege for his presence in our lives.

Today we learned the unthinkable. This weekend, Kobe died. It hurts just to write these words. Kobe Wan was larger than life. His presence filled the room. His connection with Jenny seemed almost tangible. Their life together was woven of a common cloth and surrounded by a cloak of love.

Our hearts hurt because we have lost our dear friend, Kobe. And they hurt even more because we know the grief Jenny feels. In this privilege of sharing our lives with dogs, so too is there pain. But there is comfort in knowing that our lives have been forever blessed by Kobe Wan and that his spirit will linger in our hearts forever more.

Of Dogs and Friends

My friends, Kate and Roger, moved to Mexico, taking their wonderful standard poodle, Tux, with them. As they organized their belongings, they decided what would go and what would stay, what they’d keep and what they’d give away. They presented me with a beautiful gift – four hand blown glass dogs that I know Kate dearly loved and she knew I admired. These small creatures, conceived of glass, talent, and love, convey so much to me – the beauty of dogs, art, and most importantly a longtime friendship born of a common love of dogs.

My friendship with Kate and Roger goes back almost a decade. I remember so vividly the day we met. I was sitting outside at a local coffee house, enjoying sunny fall weather with my foster greyhound, Deveron. Kate and Roger, who were sitting next to me, bounded up and surrounded Deveron, showering him with pets and hugs. “What’s his name?” they asked, “What’s his story?” they inquired, “Can we adopt him?” they mused. And so started a friendship that has grown over the years, a friendship rooted in a deep fascination and respect for dogs and nurtured by a deep caring for one another.

Kate and Roger did not end up adopting Deveron (I did!), but they did adopt me as their friend, and I them. Over the years, as our lives progressed, we have shared much, reflecting on changing relationships, considering jobs and retirement, discussing the balance between reality and dreams, and, most importantly, sharing our endless love of dogs. When Tux came into their lives I felt as if I had a nephew of sorts. My family grew and my life was enriched. When Kate and I lost beloved dogs we knew that the other understood our grief in the ways only a true dog friend can. When Kate and Roger embarked on a new life in Mexico, and asked me to care for their canine glass pack, I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude for my beloved dog friends.

Dog people see the world in ways that only other dog lovers truly understand. To the uninformed, our priorities may seem odd, our clothes hairy, and our conversations absurd. Yet, our friendships are rooted in a feeling of truth – that beyond the fur and flesh there is a common core to all beings – a need to love and be loved, nurture and be nurtured, and connect with other living beings who understand us on our own true terms.