Stretch Passes Away

This isn’t going to be a particularly clever post. I don’t feel particularly clever today. All I feel is loss, and I’m largely lost myself today. Mr. Stretch, the Newfoundland Landseer about whom I’ve blogged previously, died quietly yesterday at the vet’s office.

In my previous post I mentioned that he was not eating right. Since then, he just about quit eating altogether, so I took him to the vet last week, and the vet sent off a bunch of blood samples for analysis. The blood work didn’t show much, if anything. We took him in again this week for x-rays.He had a huge tumor that was literally pushing his stomach and liver out of the x-ray picture. When the vet showed me the x-ray, his stomach and liver were barely visible on the edges of the slide. Stretch was so old that the vet said he probably wouldn’t survive any surgery to correct the problem, assuming it could be corrected. This veterinarian, who has demonstrated repeatedly that he loathes euthanasia except when it’s absolutely necessary, recommended that poor Stretch be put down. I didn’t have a real choice. He was starving himself to death. First, he quit eating dry dog food; then he quit eating wet dog food; then he quit eating roasted chicken we bought for him. Oh, for a few days he’d take a bite or two, but he got to where he’d just turn away when he saw anyone offering food. When I brought him in last week, he weighed 84 lbs., 10 or 15 pounds less than his norm. This week, he had dropped another 7 lbs., weighing only 77 lbs. He was so weak from lack of nutrition that he could hardly walk anymore. My baby, a member of the family just as much as I, was dying right in front me already.

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Mr. Stretcher on the first day at his forever home after I found him languishing in a parking lot in 2005.

The selfish part of me wanted to bring him back home and hope for some sort of miracle, I suppose. I had to do what was right for Stretch, though. Starving to death is no way to go. I assented to have him euthanized. I stayed with him and stroked his head while he took his last breaths. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I still love you, Stretch. I always will. Your life mattered.

We’re Running a Doggy Assisted Living Center!

Gayle and I have rescued a bunch–a bunch–of dogs over the years. We live in the country, and people have a nasty habit of dumping their dogs out here like old tires thrown in the ditch beside the road. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see a helpless, confused dog wandering around and trying to figure out what just happened and what it’s going to do, so we’ve ended up taking in just about every one we’ve run across. We had to do it quickly, too, because animal control out here in the country involves a rifle, and my neighbors are all-too-ready to “control” strays. We’ve given away a bunch, but we’ve still got a bunch, as I said. In fact, we’ve got 11 critters ranging from an itsy-bitsy Chihuahua all the way up to a Newfoundland Landseer. Several of them are reaching old age at the same time: Honey, a Yellow-Lab mix, Stretch, the Newfie, Valley Girl, our Alaskan Husky, and BB, the Black Lab featured in this post. They’ve always been a handful, but now they’re an armload!

Each of them requires special attention now, over and above what we’ve always considered normal. Of the four “oldies,” 14-year-old Honey is the least decrepit. We don’t even have to give her any medication right now. We do, however, have to keep a close eye on her because she’s not as nimble as she once was, but she’s every bit as mischievous as she ever was. By “mischievous” I mean she has always enjoyed pestering the other dogs. She’s like the sister who has to torment her siblings. She’ll nip at ’em. She’ll bump into ’em. She’ll stand there and bark at ’em, all just for the fun of pestering someone. For the most part, they all put up with it. In times past when they didn’t, she was nimble enough to get the heck out of Dodge before anything got serious. No more. So, we watch her. When we see her starting to get another dog’s goat (we let our dogs have goats), we go over there and gently lead her away before any anticipated escalation. She’s got the want-to but not the jump-to.

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Honey in her younger days in 2003. Just look at the mischief in her face!

Next in the order of needing special care is 11-year-old Stretch. Stretch is a problem sometimes. He has trouble getting up now and again and should be taking some sort of hip medication or herbs or something. He won’t take anything, though, at least no voluntarily. I suppose I could force the issue, and probably should. He’s getting to the point that he’s hard to feed at all. He’s almost stopped eating dry food and all but wants us to hand him a menu come dinner time. He’s a 90-lb. dog. I can’t feed him canned food at one can per every  10 pounds. I wouldn’t have the money feed myself then. I make sure there’s plenty of Purina Dog Chow out for him. I’m hoping he’ll start eating right again. He’s losing a little weight now, though. I give him other things to eat, too, to try and keep a few calories in him, but he’s going to have to go back to the dry stuff. I’ve tried wetting it, too, but that doesn’t work either. We even put some gravy on some tonight.  No dice. Poor Stretch. I used to like to take him for long walks, but he can only make it a couple of hundred yards, and we have to come back. He looks so pathetic and forlorn when I take another dog out.

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Stretch snoozing way back in 2010.

Then there’s 15-year-old Valley Girl. She has acquired some sort of malady that makes her head perpetually cocked a bit. Dogs often cock their heads at folks when they’re curious about something or examining something or another, but hers stays cocked. The vet told me what it was, but I’ve since forgotten. There’s nothing we could do for it anyway except give it time. She still gets around pretty well, but not with her former grace because of arthritis, for which we give her pain killers. In fact, we’re giving her three different pills right now: one for pain, one for a possible urinary bladder infection, and another to tighten up the ol’ sphincter muscle so her plumbing doesn’t leak so much. We think the plumbing issue is getting better. The old age and arthritis are only going to get worse, I suppose.

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Valley Girl enjoying a dip in the pool in 2012.

Finally, there’s poor 13-year-old BB, who can only get around with assistance most of the time, and even then only when she’s on pain killers. Of course, we see to it that she has her pain medication for her arthritis. The doc says there’s not much we can do about her kidneys, though, which are steadily getting worse. As I pointed out above, I wrote a post about BB with a lot more details.

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BB in better days in 2014.

The upshot of having all these geriatric canines is that coming home from work means a lot of work! There are pills to hand out, messes to clean up, old guys and gals to take outside, special diets to provide, and you name it. In my more selfish moments, I start getting kind of tired and wishing I didn’t have all these chores, but when I sit down and start thinking about things and realize all the happiness these members of the family–and that’s what they are–still give me, I feel a little ashamed of myself and have to go around collecting hugs. It’s all worth the effort to keep them around and as comfortable as possible. They ‘d do it for me if they could.

 

Been a Rough Month for BB

Poor BB, our old, very old Black Lab, is having a rough go of it. She’s about 12 or 13 now (we’re not sure exactly since we rescued her when she was a stray), ancient for a Lab, a little overweight, too, and having trouble walking nowadays. Her rear end has just about given out.

A couple of months ago she just clanked to a stop like an old Model T with a bad rear axle. I tried to raise her rear end up so she could sputter off again in fits and starts, but soon she’d collapse to the floor, only a few feet away from where she started. I looked online and found a doggy sling designed just for her problem, so I got it for about $35 or so. Using the sling, which employed Velcro, I essentially attached a handle to her rear to make it easier to get her up and accompany her outside to do her business or just soak up a little sun and feel the wind on her face, all the while supporting her bottom if she didn’t want to lie down on the grass for a bit. That worked for a few weeks, and then even that didn’t pan out. I thought the worst was upon us.

We made a trip to the vet, and I was absolutely dreading the doctor’s verdict. As big as she had gotten, 98 lbs., we almost needed a forklift to get her up on the table, but the staff and I got her up there, and the vet came in and did his poking and prodding. He remarked on how alert she was, even if immobile and recommended we try Novox to see if that would alleviate her pain and get her moving around again. Relieved, I happily bought the Novox and began acting as BB’s benign drug dealer twice a day. The very next day she was up and moving around again with the assistance of the sling. After several days, she’d occasionally get really motivated and get up all by herself and baby-step off somewhere–generally to get water. (The doc says her kidneys are starting to fail, so she’s unusually thirsty. We’ve got her on a special homemade diet for that now, too.)

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BB up from her pad on one of her rare self-propelled jaunts!

Since that first visit to the vet, we’ve had one scare when she got listless and wasn’t getting up again. That turned out to be an infection and accompanying fever, though, and more medicine cured that. BB has rebounded (at least she’s had what counts as a rebound for her nowadays) and is once again slinging around the house and yard with Dad’s assistance.

I know this can’t go on forever. Between her failing joints and her failing kidneys, I’m afraid she doesn’t have a lot longer with us. We’re taking it one day at a time, BB and I. We love each other and are grateful for the time we have. We have a memory or two to make yet.

 

Miss Pepper Adding a Little Spice to Life

The vet saw Gayle coming. It couldn’t have been hard, in view of the “SUCKER” sign flashing in red neon on her forehead, I suppose. The sign was unnecessary, though. Our veterinarian, a great guy and a great vet, has had Gayle’s and my number, so to speak, for years. We bring all of our dogs there, and we’ve got a bunch of ’em because we can’t stand to see an animal suffer. We’ve given a bunch away, but we keep the ones, as I tell people, that are too old, too sick, or too ugly to give away. (There’s no such thing as an ugly dog, you know, but I like to say that to people!)

As soon as Gayle waddled (do you think Gayle will read this?) through the door, our vet hit her with the situation: Pepper, a deaf, 10-year-old, female Chihuahua in his custody, had just been brought in by a “humanitarian” who wanted him to euthanize the inconvenience she had inherited. Our humanitarian was the daughter of an elderly woman, Pepper’s former owner, who had recently died of Alzheimer’s Disease. The poor woman couldn’t take care of herself, much less poor Pepper, and the unfortunate dog suffered a great deal of neglect, I suspect, even before her owner passed away. The daughter kept her for a couple of weeks, and being the compassionate spirit she was, decided to kill Pepper–or, at least, have someone else do it for her. So here came Miss Pepper, full of fleas and bald patches, all the result of neglect. The poor thing had obviously not eaten well, either, and looked like a little, gray scarecrow. When the elderly woman’s daughter suggested that the vet kill little Pepper, he declined to do so in the absence of any sound medical reason for euthanasia, and, to his everlasting credit, offered to take custody of her and find her a home. The daughter snarled, “Do what you want with her,” and walked right back out the door. Good riddance. (Well, she did one thing right by taking her to a vet instead of just turning her out like a lot of rednecks around here would do. Thank goodness she turned up at our vet’s office. Some vets around here would have put Pepper down. That baby dodged a bullet.)

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Miss Pepper wearing her princess t-shirt. She is royalty here, and she holds court on the couch.

Not long after Pepper arrived at the vet’s, here came Gayle like a rabbit ambling its way unawares into a snare. For all I know, she was dangling upside down from the ceiling after the vet sprang the trap. In view of the herd we already have to take care of, Gayle did try to wiggle out of the snare, at least a little bit, even while ensuring that Pepper would be OK. She told our vet that she would take Pepper, alright, but only if he couldn’t give her to someone else after a couple of weeks. That sounded reasonable, so he agreed to try to find Pepper a different home. He did try, too. A family with a couple of kids took her and brought her back after a couple of days. It seems Pepper was no fun. She was an elderly woman’s dog, for crying out loud. Her idea of fun was lying on a nice, warm lap and watching Wheel of Fortune. After two weeks came and went, Gayle came and went with Miss Pepper.

What a sweet, little dog she is, too! Except for excursions outside to take care of business, Miss Pepper largely stays on the couch and dares anyone else, other than Gayle or me, to park there. She’s turned out to be a picky eater, but that’s OK, too. We enjoy indulging her. In return, she shows her affection for us by lying on our laps and bestowing the occasional doggie kiss. That may not have been enough for the family with the two kids who brought her back to the vet’s, but it’s enough for us. We love her, and she loves us. That’s really about all anyone needs, isn’t it? Oh, well, that and a good couch.

Welcome to your forever home, Miss Pepper.

Going to Prison

Back in 2012, I worked with a guy named Vince at Veterans Affairs in Waco. Vince was a good guy, a veteran himself, but he had his problems, particularly with women of the female persuasion. Everybody knew he had some problems because he’d periodically talk about them, and those problems would periodically bite off a piece of him. On those occasions, Vince was clearly not whole. He had a chunk or two of his soul missing, and it was noticeable. Still, he was a good guy, and we all liked him. Then one night in 2014 it all came to a head. Vince let some impulses get the better of him, got himself arrested and packed off to prison with an eight-year sentence. No, he didn’t hurt anyone but himself, but he hurt that guy really, really badly.  The work team I was on never really forgot Vince, though. We would periodically correspond with him and even beef up his prison commissary account now and then.

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The TDCJ Pack Unit just south of Navasota

 

Fast forward to 2016. Louis, another guy I work with, and I decided we should visit Vince in prison. Both of us have motorcycles, so we thought it would be fun to travel down to Navasota and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Wallace Pack Unit on our bikes. We got rained out on our first choice of dates to go there, but our second attempt at launch was successful, and off we went, leaving Golinda from Dollar General’s parking lot at around 12:30 PM last Saturday. It was a two-hour trip, or should have been. We didn’t walk into the Pack Unit’s visiting room until a little after 4:00 PM. That’s right. We turned a 2-hour trip into a 3 1/2-hour ordeal. We decided to go via the road less traveled, as it were, and we found out why it was less traveled. It was way more distance. Oh yeah. Instead of rocketing down Highway 6 through Reagan, Calvert, Hearn, College Station and thence to Navasota, more or less a straight line to our goal, we went a circuitous route down 77 and 36, popping out well below Navasota and, frankly, not that far from Houston. Man! Knowing that visiting hours ended at 5 PM, we hustled on over to the Pack Unit.

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My motorcycle, Ruby the Red!

Arriving at around 3:40 PM or so at the outskirts of the prison, I jumped off my bike and approached a guard sitting inside an air-conditioned guard shack. There was not a sign anywhere that said “Visitors Stop Here” or “Visitors This Way” or “Visitor Center Straight Ahead” so we decided we’d better ask. Sure enough, it was a good thing we stopped. That guard had to inspect the saddlebags on our bikes to make sure we didn’t have any contraband, and he also had to log us in. You’d think there would be a sign, but no. We’re lucky we didn’t just blast right on by and then have a few bullets blast right on by us! That guard was armed.

So the guard, dressed in his gray, TDCJ uniform, ventures out and asks to see what I have in my saddlebags. Nothing. I had given anything that I couldn’t take inside the visiting area to Louis to lock in his saddlebags since he could, indeed, lock his bags, and I could not. When he finished looking through my bags and writing down the information from my driver’s license, the guard wandered over to Louis’s bike and asked him to open up his saddlebags for an inspection. Now, Louis had just about anything we had worth having in those bags. Visitors can’t take folding money or credit cards inside, so both of our wallets were in there. Our cell phones were in there. Even the nickels, dimes, and pennies from our pockets were in his bags because the only thing we could take inside were quarters. Louis groped in his pocket and made a discovery. He’d left his key on his kitchen table at home. Oh yeah! So now we’re 200 miles from home, and neither one of us was going to return there without getting some gas down the line, and to get gas, we were going to need money. Of course, Louis wasn’t getting into the visitor area, either, unless he could open those bags. Life was getting interesting.

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Coming to our rescue, the gray-clad guard went to his pickup and produced a pair of pliers and a heavy wrench of some sort. Louis grabbed the lock with the pliers and beat on the lock with the heavy wrench. It took him about 10 or 15 minutes, but he finally broke the lock (it was a little ‘un), the guard inspected the bag, and off we went. Whew! Did I mention that Louis brought a pistol to a place that prohibited nickels and pennies, too? He has a concealed carry license, but that was worth a little excitement until we figured out how to put that under two locks.

When we roared off toward the main part of the prison, we could see a collection of buildings all grouped together, but there was still not a single sign pointing the way for visitors. I just went to where those buildings were and asked a corrections officer up in a tower where visitors were supposed to park. He pointed, and that was the only thing there pointing the way for visitors–period. Oh, once we found the visitor parking lot, there was a sign that said “Visitors” and an arrow. Some help!

We parked our bikes and wandered to yet another guard shack that had four corrections officers sitting there. Apparently, they were staffed for some real visitor traffic, but it was just Louis and I. As thoroughly as we got searched, I was waiting on somebody to produce a body cavity flashlight! They had us turn our pockets inside-out and take off our shoes. Then someone patted us down, and someone else ran one of those magnetic metal detectors over us. Those people were serious. Once we got our shoes back on, we went to the gate and held our driver’s licenses up to a camera for the tower guard. Satisfied, he opened the first of two doors that allowed us to enter a small, rectangular area about the size of a big kitchen table. Once we shut that gate, then he opened another gate and let us into the main compound. The rest was a breeze, and we blew right into the visitor area, which was straight ahead through another door.

After all that, getting to see Vince was a little anti-climactic. Like I said earlier, we got in a little after 4 PM–just enough time to get a half-decent visit in. We were the ONLY visitors at the prison, which was sort of surprising to me, particularly since it was so close to Houston. Louis, Vince, and I had the whole visitation area to ourselves. Well, of course, there were a couple of guards. Since it had to be a non-contact visit, Vince was inside what amounted to a cage with wire mesh around it. A wooden counter ran clear around it, inside and out, to allow the inmates and visitors to have a surface on which to place their hands, lean, or put food from the vending machines. The vending machines are a BIG DEAL during visits. Visitors can buy inmates sodas, sandwiches, chips, candy bars, etc. until they drop or run out of quarters, whichever comes first. We fed Vince a couple of philly sandwiches, a couple of bags of chips, and two root beers in the hour we were there. We had to dump the chips onto a paper towel and unwrap the sandwiches and then hand them over to a guard through a slit in the mesh. Vince said that was the best dinner he’d had since he’d been at the prison. Poor guy. At least we got him an hour of air-conditioning. Texas, in its wisdom, has decided NOT to give inmates air-conditioning. I asked Vince how hot it gets inside the prison, and he said it’s about 5 or 10 degrees hotter inside than it is outside. Summers are brutal in Texas, particularly in August, when I’ve seen it get to 108 degrees or better. One summer got to 112. Every year several inmates die of heat exhaustion. Lawmakers are quick to point out that not everyone on the outside has air-conditioning, but people on the outside aren’t locked up in a heat-absorbing, concrete or metal box, either. People on the outside can go outside and sit under a tree or go to a public library or something. Not Vince. That bothers me.

At any rate, we had a good visit with Vince. He’s surprisingly accepting of his circumstances and readily admits that his actions caused him to be where he is. We talked about lots of things like what sort of books he might like us to send him and what people at work were doing. I think he’s going to do his time and come back to become a contributing member of society. His head was in the right place.

We left right at 5 PM, the end of visiting hours, and this time did the smart thing and drove straight up Highway 6 back home. We stopped at the Cotton Patch restaurant for dinner in College Station and had one heckuva time finding the highway again because of detours and road construction, but that was only a minor glitch in an otherwise uneventful return trip. I walked through the door of my home at 8:45 PM–tired, sunburned, and ready to park it for a while. It was an adventure.

 

Scratching my head in surprise

Punkin’, the mischievous, orange cat, has been a member of our family since late November.

 

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Mr. Punkin’ evaluating the situation

When I rescued him from the VA campus where I work, Punkin’ was a kitten who had become separated from a feral group living about 100 yards from the trash can where he had posted himself. In other words, he was just north of wild. It took a few weeks for him to stop acting wild, too, at least in some respects. For instance, to this day he still takes a hearty slap at my beloved, Gayle, anytime–and I do mean anytime–she tries to love on him. (Of course, his physical declaration of his preference for me makes him my favorite cat.) Still, Punkin’ had a little surprise in store for me yesterday that left me scratching my head afterward.

I just LOVE to lord over Gayle how much Punkin’ lets me love on him while he refuses to let her get near him. No, no. You don’t understand. I mean, I just LOVE to rub that in. So yesterday afternoon I was holding Punkin’, squeezing on him and giving him obnoxiously loud and in-your-face kisses, my typical can’t-touch-this routine for Gayle, who was lying on the bed, trying to ignore me, with Lucky Dog, our Chihuahua.

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Lucky Dog in repose at the scene of the assault.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Punkin’ was getting agitated and slapping at Lucky Dog, but I didn’t figure that was my problem, when all of a sudden I saw an orange blur and the right half my forehead got stretched about three feet from the rest of my face. That cat was lifting my scalp! With Gayle surely enjoying the spectacle, I let out a howl the equal of an ambulance siren and raced out of the bedroom to the kitchen, where we keep the water bottle to squirt naughty cats. Luckily for us both, Punkin’ sheathed his scalping knife before I got to the spray bottle. With immense relief, I set him down on the kitchen counter and let my adrenaline level return to normal while my embarrassment level skyrocketed. A minute or two later, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the whole thing. Gayle, on the other hand, couldn’t help but guffaw. Did I mention that woman loves to rub it in? (It’s a day later, and she’s still guffawing and rubbing it in with a vengeance, by the way.)

Punkin’ taught me a couple of lessons yesterday. First, if I’m going to love on Punkin’, I’d best not be dangling him over Lucky Dog. Second, and more importantly, hubris is always a dangerous vice that shouldn’t be indulged lightly. I’m being lashed with guffaws mercilessly now. The cat o’ nine tails would be a pleasure!

I Know I Can Remember My Mother

At the age of 39 my mother died at a West Texas hospital from a stroke in July 1955 when I was 9 months old. I came along 13 years after my nearest sibling, so I got a pretty good look at how having a mother and not having a mother affects kids. Compared to my siblings, I was an insecure kid. I had to stay at the homes of my father’s friends while he went off to work everyday. I can still remember watching his red brake lights flash on and off as they disappeared in the distance and wondering if he would come back for me. I truly wasn’t sure he’d come back. Then my father had a heart attack and had to move away to live with his brother. That time, he didn’t come back for over a year and even then I only saw him on weekends.  I had to stay with a sister and brother-in-law, a man who didn’t want me there. Had my mother lived, I would have stayed home and stayed loved.

People don’t think a fellow can remember his mother when the last time he saw her he was only 9 months old. For me, it’s sort of true and sort of not. When I see a photo of my mother, that pretty woman looks familiar to me. If I sit and look at it for a while, the image gets more and more familiar. I can almost feel memories roiling around in my head trying to get out. I know there’s something in there. They say that we forget nothing; we just aren’t able to recall everything we know. I’m just not able to get the memories of my mother out into the light of day. They stay in hiding whispering to me. The whispers are loud enough for me to hear but just low enough that I can’t quite make them out. It’s like having someone’s name on the tip of your tongue. You KNOW you know that name, but you just can’t spit it out. I know that memories of my mother feeding me or rocking me are in there. And I know I spent hours staring into her face. I’m sure that’s why staring at her face in pictures affects me so deeply. I just can’t push those memories to the surface. They sure get mighty close, though.

I had another, physical sort of memory, too–a compulsive behavior that, in retrospect, I had used to try and conjure my mother back into my life, however briefly I could manage it. My mother rocked me constantly my sisters told me. When she died and I got coordinated enough to do it, I began rocking and rocking and rocking compulsively. I had kiddie rocking chairs in which I would rock for hours. I had a babysitter who had to put me in bed for my afternoon naps with me still firmly attached to my red rocking chair. If someone made me get out of that chair, I would become distraught. That endless rocking, I am convinced, made me feel closer to my mother. It brought back some sort of visceral memory. I continued to rock well beyond when I should have stopped.

I’ve stopped rocking, but I do a little writing now and then, and one of my characters died, yet he managed to tell his mother that he loved her even after he had left this earth. I wasn’t paying much attention to myself while I was writing that scene, but when I finished, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes.

I remember my mother. Even at 61, I’m still her baby.