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Sheba

I spent the first part of National Dog Day at the vet with our 15-year-old lab, Sheba. I went along because we weren’t sure she was going to come home.
The rambunctious nine month old puppy that my husband brought home over 14 years ago, has become an old lady. Watching her moving through her day, from the bed in the living room to the bed on the bedroom floor to the front yard, is difficult, but so is the alternative.
How do you judge a dog’s quality of life? She still seems to enjoy her food, although she doesn’t eat anywhere near as much as our other, much younger dog. In spite of the arthritis that makes her back legs so stiff, she still goes out into the yard and occasionally breaks into a trot when she sees a squirrel. She knows her master and her feelings towards him haven’t changed.
It’s a relationship that never really included me. Back in the day, when the rambunctious puppy got to be a nuisance, I was the one who insisted on obedience school, so naturally I was the one who got to bring her.
Sheba has always been a smart dog, a highly “trainable” dog. She is a Labrador retriever, after all. For weeks, the two of us went off to school at a tennis court in town. We practiced sitting and heeling, lying down and staying. One time, I got her roll over. She was a good student, until he came along. He came to observe obedience class after weeks of the two of us working together and as soon as Sheba saw her master over by the fence, she stopped being obedient. It was all I could do to keep her next to me. She wanted him. The teacher told me later that she had never seen a dog react like that.
I didn’t give up immediately, but after a while, I did. She’s always been a one man dog.
Maybe she never forgave me for the quarantine way back when, although none of that was my fault.
It was long ago, when our son was still practicing with his high school cross-country team, but wasn’t yet old enough to drive. I used Sheba to get my husband to drive our son to those early morning practices. Sheba needed a walk anyway, I reasoned. Bring her along; let the boy run and the dog walk and the mom sleep a little later. It would have been a great idea except for the bite incident.
To this day my husband still insists that Sheba never meant to bite that cross-country runner. He said the runner put his hand in the dog’s mouth and scraped it on her passive teeth. I was the one who went and spoke to the police officer who had received the dog bite report. And I was one the one who went home and collected the dog for ten days of quarantine at our local vet’s office. I’m not sure who took it harder, the dog or the master.
He never considered the possibility that she might bite someone else.
For years, he would take her for walks places where he could get away without a leash. I would have liked to go on some of those walks, but I did consider the possibilities and it scared me. But I couldn’t convince him to keep her on her leash.
They both started slowing down about the same time and the daily walks got shorter and shorter. Now, they like to go sit down by the lake. Sheba sniffs around the near the water while her master checks his phone and our younger dog bounds back and forth between them.
The younger dog, Sam, who I thought would be Sheba’s replacement, is now three and a half. We’ve had him for two and a half years. Looking back I can’t remember why I thought we needed a replacement two and a half years ago.
Last week Sheba was diagnosed with a bladder infection and we brought her home with a bottle of antibiotics and the question, how do judge a dog’s quality of life? How do you know when it’s time?

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Every morning for most of the past 13 years, I’ve left my house and headed to town via the HIghway 12 bridge. Every morning, I look both ways and access the day by how the lake is looking.
Today the lake was an amazing, sparkling blue. The sun was out and there was a little breeze. It’s gotta be a good day, right?
Sometimes the lake looks a little gray. Or even a little green. Sometimes there are white caps.
I check out the boat launch parking lot each morning. In the winter the parking lot might be completely empty. In the spring it looks a little full. Are the fancy trucks with the matching trailers there for the big fishing tournament? Is someone unloading kayaks on the other side?
Once I saw an eagle swooping low over the bridge – headed for the bluffs on the other side. Really, my eyesight isn’t that good and I’m no expert on what an eagle looks like, but it made my day to think I watched an eagle over the bridge that one day.
It still amazes me that you can see a change in the lake level over night, as the water creeps up into the parking lot. Then in late summer, you can start the see the sand bars emerge. Sometimes it looks like you can walk out to the islands, although I’m pretty sure you never can.
It’s been unusually cool on Beaver Lake this spring. It was too cool to swim on Memorial Day and that may be a first. Now the first weekend in June has come and gone and we didn’t even move the boat. It was just too cold. That’s very strange for us.
But luckily, we have our ways to enjoy the lake even when we’re not swimming or boating – we have dogs.

dogs on boat
Since the two younger dogs have a tendency to leave, we take them down to the dock on leashes and leave a body-guard at the top of the gang plank. The body-guard description is apt, although that person is not guarding a body. That person uses their body to guard the gang plank.
It only works for one of the dogs. Both the grand-puppies are swimmers so they can and do get off the dock at will. Rocco will chase a stick for hours, although he never brings it back. When you bring Rocco to the dock, you have to gather up an  arm load of sticks and bring them along. If you run out, he lets his displeasure show. He’s very serious about chasing sticks. But as long as you have a stick to throw, he’ll come back onto the dock so he can go charging up the center and fling himself into the water. Again. And again.
Lucy is a fish hunter. That’s the only term for what she does. She crouches on the dock, or sometimes she gets out on an empty boat lift and she watches. Intently. Then, with no warning whatsoever, she launches her self into the water and goes after the fish. So far, she hasn’t caught one. I’m kind of glad of that. There’s no telling what she would do with a captive fish. After she cruises around the dock a few times, driving Sam into a frenzy of barking,  she will get out of the water and trot back up to her vantage point on the dock so she can continue the hunt.
Sam, the new dog, isn’t swimming yet so he never leaves the dock. I’m sure he will figure the swimming out eventually. I want to wait until the water is a little warmer and then I’ll lure him into the water from the shore line.

sam at lake
Sheba, the old dog, has never been a swimmer, although she knows how. She mostly stays on the dock and barks.
Once Sheba starts barking one or two of the others is bound to join in. Then one or two of the people will start yelling at the dogs to be quiet which, of course, seems to make them bark even louder. I think people for miles around dread our arrival on the dock.
If things get too quiet, we go to opposite ends of the dock and practice coming when called. Lucy and Sam are in obedience school, even if Sam seems to be needing some remedial work. Sheba will come too if she knows there are treats involved.
I sometimes try to catch a glimpse of our dock before I get onto the bridge in the morning. If you look at exactly the right second, you can kinda see it. But if I miss seeing our little sliver of lake, it doesn’t matter, because there’s a great view as you cross the bridge and start your day.

sam and lucy

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Sometimes you just don’t want to write. You can try and try to talk yourself out of it, but sometimes you just can’t. You can’t talk yourself out of not wanting to write. How’s that for double negatives?

The problem with writing is there’s always something else you can be doing. Even back when I was paid to be a staff writer, I could always find something else that needed to be done. After all, a clean desk is vital and so is internet research on cutting edge issues like my latest diet. Since I had to drive to some assignments, there were times when cleaning out my car was way more important than writing.  I’d go through the hundreds of pens in my glove compartment to make sure each one would work when I needed to take those very important notes.

Now, as a freelancer, there’s even more important stuff that I can be doing. Right now for instance, I could go out and pull the grass out of the front walk! It’s sunny outside and if I was outside weeding the walk, not only would I be improving the curb appeal of our property, I’d also be improving my Vitamin D levels. And, let’s face it; I’ve been kind of depressed lately. A little bit of sunshine would improve my mood to the point that the freelance stories would be writing themselves! I’d be doing everyone a favor by going outside instead of trying to figure out a compelling lead for a project due next week.

I’m a writer. How come I just don’t want to write?

It’s really not being stuck in my office. I have my desk strategically placed by a sunny window. It’s pleasant place to be especially when I remind myself that it’s sunny and cold out there.

Oops, excuse me while I run to the kitchen and check the tomato sauce simmering on the stove. On the way, I’ll also check my other “work station” where I have my new VCR hooked up to my laptop via a DVD burner. At this very minute I’m burning a very important DVD featuring the 2005 Ballet Westside dance recital. See, in 2005 I paid for a professional video tape of the dance recital and what a shame it would be if I didn’t get it transferred to DVD. I can just picture my future self craving a few hours of watching dozens of kids I no longer know dancing to songs that are no long popular and then realizing I no longer own a VCR. Maybe that’s even more important than pulling that grass out of the walk.

Hmm, did I ever finish that email to a friend I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years? Another very important task I could be doing right now, but maybe that’s a little bit too much like writing….

I should just go get a Diet Coke.  A little shot of caffeine has got to help, right?

The dog is sound asleep next to me. Every now and then she even snores and I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t walk her? It would probably be good for our elderly dogs to have an extra walk since it’s such a nice sunny day. They need vitamin D too. Maybe that’s what I should be doing?

Surprisingly my housework is mostly caught up. Not that my house is ever really clean, but the college daughter was home this weekend so the laundry got done early. She’s already on her way back for a Sunday afternoon practice. The laundry is even put away, but I wonder: Isn’t it time for me to go through my drawers and swap winter clothes for summer clothes? After all, it is March…

I  talked to the other two kids this morning. Too bad, that would have been a good reason not to write. I can’t even call my sister since I know she’s out of town.

I wonder if I’ve totally misplaced those notes so that I really have to wait until tomorrow to do that project.

Time to stir the sauce again and maybe watch one dance as the DVD burns…. Then I can sit down and pound out that story! Really, in just a few minutes.

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My office has gone to the dogs.  Actually, it’s not a new thing but lately it’s been an annoying thing.  My allergies have taken a unique turn this past month. Instead of sneezing or wheezing, I’ve been rubbing my eyes constantly. Makes it almost impossible to wear my contacts.  I haven’t been to the doctor, not even an eye doctor, because I’m pretty sure I know what’s causing it and I’m pretty sure there’s no cure.

It’s the dogs, of course and they’re kinda here to stay. I do try. Some “dog people” don’t understand why I bother with the house rule of no dogs on the furniture but that’s my attempt to solve the allergy thing.  I like to think that keeping them off the furniture gives me a little buffer that helps screen out the allergens.  Of course, it doesn’t work.

Part of the reason it doesn’t work is my “office.”  When I sit in my home office (formerly the youngest daughter’s bedroom, but she moved to the basement the day her older brother moved out), I sit about a foot from the only furniture the dogs have permission to use.  Her former bed now belongs to the two dogs who share it only when they can pretend the other one isn’t there.  It doesn’t make any sense for me to have the dogs so close and I know it.  They should be in HIS office, the other home office that my husband has always used. He’s not allergic and he has single handedly spoiled two perfectly good dogs.

Back when we had three kids living in their own bedrooms, we had a futon in his office for the dogs.  The futon was the closest thing we had to a guest room back then which is probably why we didn’t have many guests.  When company threatened to arrive, I’d have to push dogs off and bring in a heavy duty vacuum cleaner.  I’m sure any company that slept there dreamed about chasing rabbits.  It was so obvious that it was the dogs’ bed. When the grandmothers used to visit, we put them in the youngest daughter’s room and she slept on the floor. 

But one by one the older kids moved out of the house and youngest took over the basement.  The little dog was happy to move with her to that basement bedroom where they both ignored the “no dogs on the furniture rule.”  Then the youngest daughter went to college and the little dog was ours again.

Our dogs don’t really like each other very much, although over the years they’ve reached a kind of truce.  The problem is that they both want to be the alpha dog, but the little one was forced to give up when she realized she was a third of the size of the her “sister.”  And my husband plays favorites.  He doesn’t even pretend to treat them fairly.  The big dog is his and the little dog – the one we used to call “that stupid puppy” when our then preteen son brought him home – is not.

Did I mention that both our dogs are old?  Really poor planning on our part.  We now have two 12 year old dogs and I’m afraid that means a double tragedy is coming our way before too long.

So the little dog moved back upstairs and I resurrected the little dog bed that we had bought her years ago and put it in our room.  The little dog bed wasn’t the little dog’s first choice.  We had the big dog bed, a big square cushion at the foot of the bed and then the little oval bed up by the book case on my side and everyone was O.K. with that until we had to move the little oval bed.  The other home office was being painted, so we moved his computer into the bedroom for a few days and I put the two dog beds next to each other at the foot of the bed. 

One day I went into the bedroom and found the little oval dog bed, with the little dog in it, right in the middle of the big cushion.  She looked pretty comfortable and maybe a little bit proud of herself.  I didn’t think too much about it, but when we were getting ready for bed I moved it back and I asked my husband why he had moved the little bed onto the big dog bed. He swore he hadn’t.  The next day, there it was again.  I always knew the little dog was smarter than the big dog!

I left the little oval bed where it was and later that day I found the big dog trying to sleep in it.  She managed to get her rear end kind of curled into the little bed, but the rest of her was lying across it on the big cushion.  It actually looked very uncomfortable, but she was happy because she won.  The little dog was stretched out on the real bed in my office, of course.

The dogs don’t respect the furniture rule.  We keep a dining room chair lying across the couch or they’re up there.  When company comes into the living room they often comment on the chair and that’s the only reason we remember to move it.  We’re used to it being there.  If one of us sits on the couch, we just push the chair over a little bit.

They usually stay off our bed because it’s a water bed.  We bought it back in the 80’s and never got around to replacing it.  The dogs don’t seem to like the swishing, but once or twice I’ve surprised a guilty looking dog standing next to a bed with waves almost large enough to surf on. 

The big dog likes to rub her face on her master’s pillows, which I think is a little weird. It’s also annoying since she un-makes the bed to free up a pillow for rubbing.  I never use his pillows.

The dogs spend most of their time in the house.  They are 12 years old after all, and the big dog barks constantly when she’s outside.  I’ll never figure out what she’s barking at, but I suspect she knows exactly how much it annoys me. 

I wish I could report that the dogs have replaced the kids in some small ways, but they haven’t. In spite of two noisy and jealous animals who like to move their beds around, I miss the kids.  It’s no fun to yell at the dogs when they simply yawn and go back to sleep. 

Dogs ignoring each other

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