Friday, March 27, 2009

Baxter Comes to Visit, or Does Absence Really Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Guess who's been here all week while DSD and DSIL are in visiting from Maine.

Yup, it's the gigunda Baxter boy! My Boos Buddy (well, now Sarah's and Chris's Boos Buddy). :o) My big galoot with the massive head and shark-like overbite.

I've missed his crooked-tooth grin.

In fact, I've missed Baxter so much that he reached near-Saint status in my imagination. He has the gray muzzle now to confirm it (and he's only 6 yo). The wizened old man.

I guess there is some truth to the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder."

And now I know why: during absences we forget all the things that drove us crazy. It's that Rose-Colored-Memory-Syndrome.

One of the things I completely forgot about is the disgusting sounds Baxter makes when he gives himself a bath. Yuk...blech...grosso-barfo. Think wet, snorty, slurpy, inhaling-over-your-tongue gurgling sounds. None of the rest of the gang comes even close. Major yuk.

He is simply the noisiest groomer (slurp, slurp, slurp....)! And there's no ignoring him.

Baxter is also quite jealous. If we pay attention to any of the other dogs in his presence, he squiggles his way right in to be King of the Butt-Rubs.

And if that doesn't work, he barks -- oh how he barks! It's one of those "pay attention to me or I'll keep barking" barks. And he keeps it up.

Again, the rest of the crew doesn't come close. They may nudge or jump or wiggle, but they don't bark with jealousy. And his is a piercing, resonant bark (oh my aching head!).

Then there's the drool. Did you notice the shiny white thread running between Boos' eyes in his toothy-grin-picture above? Yup... that's saliva. With his overbite he's always had a serious drool issue (kinda like Hootch, in the movie Turner and Hootch), but it got worse when he lost his upper front teeth in the tug-o-war match with Kenya two years ago.

Come to think of it, that's when I started wearing a towel over my shoulder all day. And to think I blamed the towel on hot flashes and menopause.

Now, of course, these irritations don't affect my love for Baxter in the least. When he lived with us they endeared him to me even more. Silly boy.

LOL... now they're annoying. I think I just got used to life without them, and, I suppose, without Baxter and all his idiosyncrasies.

Amazing how we forget, isn't it?

Having said that, I still love the Boos to pieces -- the goofy galoot. He's still a couch potato extraordinaire:

He's still a snuggle buddy, and he still loves his people more than anything else in the world (here's Boos with DSIL Chris):

And he still loves to sit on the hill outside watching the world go by (nope, he doesn't bark outside), and then quietly paws at the door when he wants to come in:

Yup... gotta luv my Boos, slurpies and all. We take the good with the bad.

But I have to admit I won't miss being on drool-watch after the kids and Boos return to Maine tomorrow.

Hey... is this anything like grand-parenting?

'Til next time,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Back to the Real World: Benedryl, Please

So, I'm headed over to Mom's house again today to work on getting things ready for her to return home from the rehab facility tomorrow. RR will remember that Mom, who is 85 yo, broke her femur Christmas Eve slipping on ice while delivering cookies to her neighbors. This will be her first time home since she fell nearly three months ago.

So, yes, I'm cleaning her place, and putting away Christmas, and dusting, and getting out her Easter stuff, and getting the necessary support equipment together for her. And I'm emptying her fridge and stocking it with fresh groceries, and, well, you know....


Set Mom's house aside. I'm also trying to have her paperwork, bills, insurance forms, and other mail sorted and taken care of for her, too. I suppose I can finish that here later tonight.


On the other end of the generational perspective, my human kids are currently rotating through coming home here on their respective spring breaks (what fun to see them all!). DLS Jon was home last week; DFS Dan is here now (until Sunday); DSD Sarah and DSIL Chris will come in from Maine tomorrow night for a week.

At the very least I try to have the kids' beds made up and waiting for them complete with fresh linens and freshly washed blankets. And I make sure everyone has clean towels. But that's about all I can manage these days. Cleaning? Baking? Planning wonderful meals? The "I Love You" little extras? Ha! That all went out the window years ago.


And I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to get DFS to his doctor's appointment tomorrow afternoon at the same time as I'm supposed to be picking up Mom at rehab (no, neither can be rescheduled).

Sigh. There's only one of me.


And DFS's laundry still needs to be done, and DSD's room still needs to be cleaned out before they arrive (DH stores all his huntin' stuff in there), and ... the dog hair... oh my... well....

More stuff.

And to boot, Pinot is in prime heat. Yup, Ridge and Tuc are bonkers -- back to barking 24/7. Poor Ridge is hoarse again. Tuc occasionally ends up with a tiny "squeak" for a bark -- almost like an adolescent boy's voice cracking (it's quite endearing).

Exercise helps.

Here's Ridge blowing off steam (yes, that's a bandage on his paw -- he has a sore spot he won't leave alone, so we cover it to keep him from licking it):

And here's Tuc:

Gotta love the ears! :o)

Regularly exercising them enough to ward of testosterone, though, means additional stuff.

Oh, and Baxter (my Boos Bud!) is coming in from ME tomorrow night, too (he stays with us no matter where Chris and Sarah stay). Oh boy... another canine male added to the mix.

Even more stuff.

Well, Baxter is more like a eunich.

Less stuff (hehe).

We do, when desperate enough, give the boys Benedryl to take the edge off and to help them sleep (phermones don't allow them to sleep much). Both boys got the maximum safe dosage yesterday (I was desperate enough).

Benedryl worked wonders for our kids' allergies when they were younger, and it's terrific for calming our studly-wanna-bes.

Helpful stuff.

So do you think if I took some it would let me sleep through the next several days, and then when I awoke a whole bunch of this "stuff" would be behind me?

Escape from stuff.

Nah... I don't need Benedryl.

What I think I'm ready for is a change in seasons. Spring has to come -- it always does. The sun has to start shining again soon (it always rises). Storms cease; seas calm; troubles pass. It's just the way of it. This season of my life will pass.

And entering a new season -- one filled with sunshine and fresh starts and new growth -- is far better than just escaping "stuff" for a few hours. The truly good stuff will come again.

I just have to keep hoping, keep waiting, and patiently wade through this other stuff until it does.

Speaking of... I gotta get over to Mom's.

'Til next time,

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Goodbyes: Hellos in Disguise

We said goodbye to Rudy on Saturday when he left us for his new forever home.

And yesterday I said goodbye to a dear friend who ended her battle with cancer on Friday when she left us for her new Forever Home.

Both are perfect forever homes (one more perfect than the other, of course). But these home-goings have still been difficult for me.

As I've been grieving and processing Rudy's parting and Shirley's death, I'm realizing that inherent in every goodbye is a hello.

Rudy said hello to a new family filled with love and fun and companionship and affection (and no competition with a canine crew!).

Rudy's new family said hello to Rudy and a new life brimming with him and all he brings.

Shirley said hello to a new life in which there is no pain or sorrow or dying or tears. Shirley said hello to Jesus face-to-face. And He, her (can't you just see their embrace!). Shirley, who has been unable to walk for several months because of the pain, said hello to dancing and leaping and running and playing like never before. I can hear her laughing and giggling even now.

What wonderful hellos for them both.

But that leaves us saying hello to a life that no longer includes them.

You know, as I think about it, it's still the hellos that give us hope through these partings. Isn't it? It's the expectation of something better awaiting those who leave us. When we send our loved ones off, our grief is more for us than them; it's for the voids left by their goings.

And you know what? That's okay. It's okay for us to be sad about our losses. It's okay for us to miss them -- but only as long as we remember to rejoice for their gains. We have to remember, and hang on to, the hellos.

As Shirley said, "Don't grieve for me, I'm going Home." And Home she is. That's some grand hello -- the grandest of all.

So Rudy and Shirley are gone now -- both having said hello to wonderful new lives. Rudy, with his new family and Shirley, in heaven.

As a tribute to them both, here's one last shot of Rudy offering a "hello" (taken on our deck the day he left, with Ridge in the background sniffing). It was an exuberant, lively, I-just-gotta-tell-ya-I-luv-ya hello (is there any other kind from a Lab?).

And Shirley? What does her hello look like now?

I can only imagine.

But it's imagining the hellos that helps me through the goodbyes.

'Til next time,

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Boys: Ridge and Tuc

Yesterday I provided windows into the uniqueness of our girls and what I love about them. In the interest of equality, I thought I'd give you the same kind of window into our two remaining boys, Ridge:

and Tuc. (Baxter is no longer "ours" and lives in Maine now; Rudy leaves us tomorrow afternoon):

All of the pictures in today's blog, though they may look similar to others from years past, were taken in the last 24 hours. They capture parts of who Ridge and Tuc are today.

So, first, the Ridgers. What a goof. Sweet, silly old man. Ridge is approaching 8 years old (will turn 8 on March 26) and is our sire (the daddy to the two litters of the last two years). He's our vocal guy... the one who "tells us stories" (something I plan to get on video for you -- so sorry... just haven't had time to work more on the video learning curve). He's our most vocal outside, too. And he's the one everyone who comes to visit is afraid of because he barks at people who approach the fence or gate.

Now tell me, do you see anything even remotely menacing in this guy?

Ridge is a big baby. An overgrown lap dog who loves to touch, to "nudge" (he is by far the nudge of our crew), to retrieve 1:1, and to work (he is incredibly focused). He's higher strung than the others, a bit driven like Pinot, but as he's aged he's mellowed. And he's a dream when it comes to being on lead or following commands. Smart, mindful, affectionate, goofy, obedient. We love our Ridgers.

But I will say it took a while. He came to us as a three year old, and he didn't bond to us for a good 6-9 months, maybe even a year (nor I to him until then). Oh, he was very good with us, and obeyed our commands, but he wasn't affectionate at first, and he was very nervous. Poor guy. He's been with us now nearly five years, and he's more than made up the lap time he wasn't comfortable offering us to start. Now he's a snuggler. Oh, and thunderstorms and fireworks don't frighten him the way they once did. I suppose that means he feels more secure now than he did at first, and understandably so.

Trying to come up with a single word to describe Ridge is tough. First I thought "nudge" (so characteristic of him). Then I thought "needy" but that didn't really fit. Then I wondered about "neurotic" or "nervous" but that doesn't fit him anymore either.

"Driven?" No, not really. Not like Pinot when she retrieves.
"Field focused?" Yes, but that's not all there is to him.
"Protective?" More than the others, but it's not the sum of who he is.
"Insecure?" Five years ago after he first came to us, absolutely yes. But no more. He's quite confident now (and was while with his former owners; he just needed to adjust).
"Misunderstood?" Definitely. But that doesn't describe him.
"Cautious?" Yes, but only with new people, not situations. And again that's not all of him.

I guess if I had to sum him up in one description it would probably (and surprisingly) be "lover." He's just a big goofy lover. He absolutely loves his people. He loves to retrieve. He loves to be close. He loves attention. He loves to swim (and is gorgeous in the water). And he's vocal about wanting our attention. He barks at strangers because of his love for us and desire to protect us. But as soon as he's been introduced, he becomes their attention/affection-seeking nudge.

We love our Ridgers. We've never met a Lab quite like him. And he's wiggled his way into his own niche that only he can fill. :o)

And then there's Tuc. Sweet 85-pound Baby Boy. At nine months old, the Tucmeister is just an overgrown puppy. ;o) Full of energy and impishness and smarts (oh, is he smart!) and eagerness to play and please. He's always, and I mean always, ready for anything, and I mean anything.

I feel badly about Tuc. We invested so much time in him when I first brought him back from AZ last July. And we had two great months of becoming pals (Tuc and I were buds). But then Elsie had her litter, and right away we were caring for pups (remember our tube-feeding adventures when the pups were less than a week old?). Then it got crazy with normal litter care. Then is got really crazy with Parvo... then Mom broke her femur, and... well... poor Tuc. Though he got a little time, it wasn't the time I'd hoped to give him.

Once Rudy leaves us, I suspect Tuc and I will become fast buds again. He's become a lap dog in recent months. When he's not too busy romping with Pinot or Rudy, he wants to be on our laps (or retrieving or walking with us). He's a big galoot, like Baxter was, but not quite as big yet (I hope he stays right where he is).

With Tuc, I'd have say the single word that describes him is "optimistic" -- life is always good as far as Tuc is concerned. The world and all it contains is good. Tuc is a happy guy, and he's so full of himself (he's got the personality for the ring -- but we don't do competitions here). Nothing gets him down. He's just so full of life and vitality and eagerness and the every-body-is-my-best-friend wiggle, I can't help but smile when I see him. He's like Rudy in that way.

Oh yes, Tuc is still an imp. And he still proudly shows off whatever new impish thing he's done. But you just gotta love him. You can't get angry -- he's just too happy-goofy to ever be angry with.

So me thinketh the little Tucmeister is going to be my new bud. He already is (true confessions). He just hasn't had my time or attention the way I'd like him to.

In any case, between Tuc, Ridge, Kenya, Elsie, and Pinot, I have no question that I'll feel loved and treasured in the days ahead, no matter what the days hold. I'll miss Rudy, of course, but my heart is full.

There's just nothing like a Lab. Boy, girl, young, old, big, or small -- doesn't matter. A Lab is a Lab is a Lab.

I wouldn't have it any other way. :o)

'Til next time,

Friday, March 13, 2009

Boys? Girls? Preference? I've been found out: yes, I have a tender spot in my heart for the "boys" of our crew.

It's funny, though. That's not how it was with our original two Labs (now long departed). Though I loved and enjoyed them both, if anything (at first) I felt more connected to our female, Stoney, who died a 15 yo, than I did with Strider, our male who died at 12 yo. Stoney was sweet, gentle, and people-oriented; Strider was active and independent.

Then, when he was four years old, Strider ruptured a disc in his spine while retrieving for me in the backyard (that's another story). The ruptured disc immediately left him completely paralyzed; he could move literally nothing from the middle of his back down. After five days at the vet's on IV steroids he recovered, nearly completely (again, thanks to our wonderful vet in Harleysville). The only evidence of his injury was the sound of an occasional scratch of one rear paw's toenails on the kitchen floor.

From the day of his return home from the vet's, from the moment of his return from a stay I thought would surely result in our having to put him down, he held a place in my heart every bit as dear as Stoney's. Girl? Boy? Didn't matter. In fact, he became our "Tiny Tim," our underdog, our guy who made it despite the odds (sound familiar?). We enjoyed eight more years with him after his injury. I'd almost lost him, so I treasured him even more.

I suspect that the underdog-thing is why I felt so connected to the pups from last fall's litter, boys and girls alike: we did lose one of those pups, and we could've so easily lost the rest. Maybe that's why I feel so connected to Rudy, the pup from that litter who's been with us all this time. RR knows he goes home with his new family this weekend -- and I'm really fine with it. I'm letting go of him for something better (for him and for me).

As I've been processing these letting go's, I'm coming to realize that for as attached as I've been to Rudy, I really do love the rest of my gang every bit as much -- gender isn't a factor . I'm deeply bonded to each of them, just in different ways.

It's like my human kids. I love each passionately (just do something to bring out the mommy bear in me and you'll see -- even with them all in their twenties!). I celebrate each one for his/her individuality. I delight in the persons they're becoming; I enjoy their personalities one and all (they're very different from each other), and I like them, too -- I'd pick any of my kids for friends in a heartbeat. Whether they like it or not, whether they even know it or not, I am forever connected to each one in ways I can't begin to explain (we never really do completely sever that umbilical cord, do we?).

So when it comes to the canine crew, I guess I'm more attached than I realized, and it has nothing to do with gender. I thought at first it might be a boy vs. girl thing. But I know now it's not. I treasure my girls, too. Elsie, Kenya, and Pinot (back to front above) offer a different kind of energy and affection than the boys, and have since day one, but I relish each one.

I guess letting go of Rudy is allowing me to appreciate the rest of the gang, regardless of gender, even more.

Take Elsie, for example. Our mom extraordinaire. She is our Elsie Bear: snoozy, touchy-feely, people-oriented, but with strong retrieving instincts and solid skills when she doesn't have to compete with the gang. If I had to choose one word to summarize Elsie, it would be "affectionate."

Kenya, though not affectionate the way Elsie is, loves us in her own way, and we her. She is our always-has-to-have-something-in-her-mouth, eager-to-be-with-us, faithful-to-stay-nearby friend. If I had to pick one word to describe Kenya, it would be "loyal."

And then there's the little squirt of the females, 19-month-old Pinot. If I had to pick a single description for her it would be "eager to please." Yes, she retrieves for the joy of it and because the instinct in her is so strong it drives her to, but I think she does it even more to please us. She associates retrieving with our praise, affection, and attention. She just so wants us to be happy with her. And delighted with her we are (how could we not be?).

So, despite my affection for our boys: Rudy, Tuc, and Ridge, (and Baxter and Strider before them), my affection and bondedness really is as strong with the girls -- every bit as strong.

It's just a different kind of bond -- one unique to each dog and each relationship.

Despite not wanting to appear too diplomatic here, I honestly have to say I don't really prefer either gender over the other (people have asked). It's really the personality of the individual dog that counts.

We've been blessed with wonderful Labs with wonderful temperaments.

And I love each one.

'Til next time,