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Good for Madison, not-so-good for me

May 1, 2009 Comments off

Blue Roan coloured English Cocker SpanielImage via Wikipedia

It’s national specialty week for the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America (ECSCA), and I’m here in Milan OH at the national specialty. On Monday, Madison made her agility debut in FAST (did the send successfully and racked up 35 points before we made the critical mistake of retaking the A-frame…oops!) But she stayed in the same ring with me, worked the whole course, and didn’t check out to do her own thing once.

Then on Wednesday, she put together a lovely run in Rally Novice B, tied for first place with a 98 and ended up in second place (Rally ties are decided by course time.) I was really happy I’ve kept her in Novice B, on lead, to get as much experience showing her as possible and let her work the kinks out of the whole thinking-dog thing. Best of all, co-owner Lisa got to see M’s run, and she was happy and impressed. All wonderful.

But on Tuesday, I learned through email, phone calls and txt messages that the R&D division of my group based in Syracuse will be closing no later than end of 2010. I’ll just be 55, so if I can hold onto my job until then, I should be okay. If my job is eliminated before the move, I’ll be a year short of 55–and lose about two-thirds of my pension.

On one hand, I was philosophical about the announcement meeting when I left on Friday–I couldn’t change the meeting, so I might as well enjoy my national, a show I’ve been planning on for months.
Today, though, philosophy lost out to figuring out how I could survive.

It’s hard to think that the company didn’t do this on purpose–evaluate the ages of the people at the site, and then select the closing date and job eliminations so that they could avoid paying full pensions to those who would hit 55 within a couple months of the relocations.

And knowing that the job front is in upheaval at home sure makes it tough to keep my head in the game on a dog show vacation.

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Mi Viejo

August 5, 2008 Comments off

My heart-dog puppy is stretched out sound asleep on the cool-mat bed I keep next to the love seat. Even thought it’s only 65 degrees, I know he’s hot–when he’s cold, he curls up like a sleeping sled dog or cuddles at my feet.

Casey will be 14 this Thanksgiving–plenty active but no longer the English Cocker puppy I brought home during a blizzard, a little red demon who stretched out in a 100 airline crate and chased tennis balls for hours. He’ll still ask everyone he meets to scratch his stomach and toss his tennis ball–but these days, he relaxes and lays down after 15 minutes or so.

He’s slower out the back door and sometimes tries to go his own way during our walks. It’s no longer safe for him to free-range around me on his electronic collar. When we’re separated by more than a 15 feet or so, he can’t hear me or focus his eyes far enough to see me. Losing some sight and hearing means he’s more self-absorbed and nose-focused these days — more in his own world and less in mine, as he relies on the sense(s) that work. But as he slips into his own world, being called back into mine gets him visibly disoriented. If he looks up and realizes he’s lost me, or can’t find me when the slight vibration of his e-collar reminds him to check in, his panic and confusion are obvious. The carefully-taught attention that we both rely on is slowly losing the struggle in his old-dog brain.

Casey’s nose has always been a direct line to his stomach. Given a chance to follow his nose, Casey will get himself into trouble every time–only a strong Come command and the e-collar reminders kept him safe and close regardless of distraction. As his ears and eyes fail him, it’s even more important for me to be able to guide him — but he’s got to look my way first. Outdoors, he’s usually back on a long line. That way I can remind him where I am, and which way is here.

To others, Casey doesn’t look like an old dog. Unlike a lot of red dogs, his version of gray is a color that could pass for blonde. Moments of sparkling mischievous puppy burst out of his old dog body when I’m least expecting them. He’s not too stiff to burst into a run, or surprise me with heel position or a flying leap through my tire or over the coffee table onto the couch — especially if he thinks that new girl, Madison, is getting his share of treats.

But at 3 a.m. today, I realized just how old my old man must feel.

I woke up, riding a new speed wave from the Decodron in Wednesday’s chemo treatment. Madison opened her eyes, nuzzled my face, stretched, and pushed closer for her morning kisses. Technically being awake at that hour is a speed bump and not a true wake-up call — but if I move, my little spotted girl is wide awake. So we cuddled a bit, until I gave in and moved off the love seat, heading toward the bathroom.

M.’s morning routine is her full-blown celebration of the new day, even at 3 a.m. She danced ahead of me, bounced off her crate door, asked out loud to be lifted up. She was clearly expecting breakfast. I tucked her in and told her ‘it’s not time yet, go back to bed, mi hija.’ Barely focused, I made my way back to the love seat to lay down again.

Casey snored on through it all. As I type this, he’s still snoring.

All of the dogs–Taryn, Jazz, Muni, Nola, Bard, Reuben, Madison, and (until today) Casey — always shadowed me around the house. When I worked at home, getting a new bottle of water or cup of coffee was a dog posse production. They’d rouse themselves and dance ahead or follow or both, bumping my legs, wondering if there was anything in it for them. I could see five dog brains sorting through the possibilities (is it time to eat? are we going out? is someone at the door?) If I moved too often, I’d get a why-are-you-moving-again look that could freeze flame. If I needed to do anything that required a lot of moving between rooms or stair-climbing (cleaning, cooking, laundry), I had to put them in crates or on long downs.

Reluctance to interrupt their own beauty rest just because I was on the move became my first clue that one of the gang was truly aging. That sleepy-headed don’t-get-up-on-my-account gaze was always followed, sooner or later, by the day when they slept on, completely oblivious to my movements, until the next stage when I had to shake them awake.

Dogs who grew old in my house before Casey have taught me that now he’ll begin to wake and sleep on his own schedule. On days when I don’t crate him together with M., Casey already protests with that I-can’t-even-hear-myself bark unique to old dogs. He can’t hear me, he’s not even trying to listen, and he’s not done making noise until HE’s done. On his own schedule, Casey settles down and is curled up asleep by the time I come downstairs from my shower.

But this morning, as I resigned myself to being wide awake at 3 a.m., Casey gave me that first clue. He slept through my early morning speed-rush, M.’s trip to her crate and my return to the love seat.

When I came back from the bathroom, I touched his side. Casey climbed up to snuggle without even opening his eyes. Now a solid 20 minutes after M. and I woke up, he’s stretched out at my side, head resting on the love seat arm that is his favorite pillow, once again fast asleep. Unless Madison hears the mourning doves and tells me she’s ready for breakfast and a walk, I’ll be able to write until Casey wakes up and he begins our day.

It’s a chemo day, so I’ll keep the routine simple: first their breakfasts, then a walk, then I’ll dry the dew off their feathers and put them in crates. Only then will I be able to take a shower and approach my own new day. My days used to be scheduled by chemo, then work, then radiation, surgery and the hospital routines. Now it’s more chemo — six bad days, eight good days, then we do it all again. But chemo good days or bad, from now on I know that Casey will rule my routines. We will only start the day as a group when he sees fit.

My heart dog puppy, my red demon, my cuddler–now truly mi viejo, my old man. Sleep tight, Casey. Breakfast and your tennis ball will be waiting whenever you wake up.

Originally published at “Gaelen’s Cafe: Life Out Loud,” August, 2008 (c) Patricia A. Steer
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