Tag Archives: dogs

She got the way to move me, Cherry

24 May

Remember how I posted 3 weeks ago that my parents’ dog, Cherry, didn’t like me?

Well, now we have a different problem. She likes me. A lot. And I like her a little too much too.

Before, she used to give a “does SHE have to come?” look on our family walks. Now she hesitates to walk unless I come too. It’s amazing how something finally clicked in her little head and she realized I was someone she could trust. I can understand why she was apprehensive at first — she got attached to her original owner and she dropped her off at a shelter, then she got attached to her foster mom and she dropped her off with my parents. But now my parents have had her for two months and I’ve been with her exactly one month, and she’s finally starting to feel like she has a real home with some stability. Which I’m afraid will only make it harder on her when I go back to London in a week. Will she still recognize me the next time I’m home? Will it take her over a week to acclimate to me being around again?

I say I’m afraid it will be hard on her when I go, but I also mean it’ll be hard on me. I told myself I wasn’t going to fall for her, which was easy when she didn’t care for me. After all, she’s not “my dog” in the same way that Squirt was. But she’s just so adorable, cuddly and friendly, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen pretty hard for the little girl and her cute corgi butt. So for now I’m trying not to think about how much time we have left together and am just enjoying the time we have.

cherry dog.png

Just because it’s your namesake doesn’t mean you can have any!

braxton tap room dog.png

We took her to a local dog-friendly tap room. (Don’t worry, she’s drinking water!)

chihuahua corgi.png

Cherry went on a playdate with her birth mom who’s still recovering from surgery. Here she is imparting some motherly advice!

cherry and elle.png

They were both vying for my attention!

chihuahua corgi mix.png

Cherry loves being with us — even if that means climbing onto the kitchen table while we play Mexican Train Dominoes! I love her little back legs subtly lounging.

corgi chihuahua sploot.png

Fact: It is really hard to get work done when someone is splooting on you! (Splooting refers to the way she’s sitting with her back legs kicked out. It’s a classic corgi move, which makes me think she has some corgi blood in her. Squirt never splooted.)

Baby [doesn’t] love me, Cherry, Cherry

3 May

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 1/2 year since Squirt crossed over the rainbow bridge. My parents were adamant about not getting another dog. The loss was too fresh and too strong to imagine ever going through it again. But there’s that ol’ phrase about time and wounds, and ever since they returned from Europe at the end of last year, they began to throw around the idea of opening their home once more to a furry friend.

Last month they were out shopping and noticed the new dog bakery next door to the Dollar Store was having an adoption event.

“Let’s just go in to look,” my dad suggested, seeming to forget that every time my mother goes out to “look” at furniture, clothes or electronics, she comes home with a new couch, dress or TV.

All the dogs available for adoption were large breeds, so my parents asked the adoption coordinator if they ever got any small dogs in — a chihuahua mix, perhaps. There was no harm in asking, right?

It turned out the rescue had just pulled a chihuahua mix from the shelter. Her name was Cherry.

cherry chihuahua

And — as you probably guessed — she’s now sitting right next to me.

OK, that’s a lie — not that my parents adopted her, but that she’s sitting near me. She’s sitting on the floor a few feet from me, because she refuses to jump on the couch with me. Because even though I’ve been home for over a week now and take her out for walks every afternoon, she’s terrified of me.

After my parents picked me up from the Megabus stop, I was eager to meet Cherry. I knew she wouldn’t greet me like Squirt used to (he’d get so excited he’d nearly wee himself!), but I expected a little curiosity and joy. After all, Cherry was described as the anti-Squirt. He was a barking, biting, little butthead Alpha Dog, while she’s sweet, affectionate, submissive and quiet. She didn’t bark the entire first month my parents had her. But she’s also a rescue, and rescue dogs often come with a little baggage. She was surrendered by an elderly woman to the local animal shelter, spent several weeks there before the rescue pulled her and placed her with a foster home, then finally made her way to my parents. My dad took time off from work the first few days to make her feel welcome, but she ended up imprinting on him like a baby duck. She followed him everywhere and took a month to get comfortable with my mom.

Which brings me to my relationship with Cherry. When I walked in the door that first day, she immediately bolted out of the room. She didn’t bark or snarl like Squirt would have, she simply wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. When I went with my parents on her walk, she constantly turned around, unhappy I was tagging along, and would sidestep or backup if I got too close to her. She wouldn’t accept a treat from my hand or sit on the couch with me. When I was out of sight, she was her normal, cuddly, happy self, but the minute I walked in, she would back up, run or avoid eye contact. She’d give my dad a “dear god, why is she still here?” look. Getting her just to stay in the same room as me was a milestone. Now that it’s been a week, she’ll walk with me alone on the lead well, but still won’t sit with me. This is the face she made when I tried to cuddle with her on the couch a few days ago.

cherry scared

It’s hard not to take it personally when a dog doesn’t like you. Part of me wants to just grab her, squeeze her, and scream “love me!” But maybe softly singing Bonnie Raitt/George Michael’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” would be more appropriate. At first I was chasing her around, making her feel even more uncomfortable, but now I’m just trying to coexist, giving her time to adjust to my presence. It could be worse — she could have a barking attack every time she sees me (like Squirt did with my friends), or be so enamored with me she falls into a deep depression when I suddenly vanish at the end of my visit.

…I am now typing one handed. Because the minute I typed “enamored with me,” a certain someone finally worked up the courage to jump onto the couch and sit next to me, and licks my hand the minute I stop petting her. It’s like she could read what I was writing, or I somehow willed it to come true by typing “she’s now sitting right next to me” above. Or I finally did it right — I gave her some time and she finally warmed up to me. Now hopefully we can have a wonderful month together and she won’t be too gutted when I leave. Or at least she remembers who I am tomorrow and we don’t have to go through this all over again…

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all

26 Sep

I’d like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support my family and I received since my last post. It’s going to be a rough next few months (especially once I’m home again), but it’s good to know the little dude was loved, even by those who only knew him through his annual Christmas letter and my Facebook photos.

If by chance that last heart wrenching post gained me any new followers, welcome. I promise I don’t always post such emotional entries. We’ll get back to fat pugs, complaining about the weather, grocery shopping, baby pandas and zebra wieners in due time. But first, some more mourning talk.

My first real experience with death was with my childhood guinea pigs. Mr. G. crossed over the rainbow bridge at our home, while Hershey required veterinary assistance. At the time my little heart had never felt such sadness, and I dealt with it the only way 11-year-old Renee knew how: by crying and writing dozens of poems and stories about them. If you’ve ever seen or had a guinea pig, you know that they don’t do much — eat, poop, repeat.

guinea pigs eating

But my younger self gave them each personalities and elaborate back-stories and lives. Those two deaths affected me so strongly, yet we had four other guinea pigs after them. As I was speaking to my mom the other day I had to ask her about each of their deaths because I honestly could not remember. I felt so bad, but then I realized that’s probably the best thing that could happen — I remembered them in their best of times and not in their last. It makes me almost feel guilty that I was not there for Squirt in the end because my images of him are not at his worst. I’ve been dreaming about him a lot lately, but in my dreams he’s always youthful, running around the kitchen like Speedy Gonzales as he used to do after a bath, or chasing after his rope in the backyard — two things he hasn’t done in many years. My parents and I have been texting memories and photos back and forth.

“I just don’t want to forget anything about him,” my mom said to me the day after they put him down. It seemed almost silly — with old home videos and both print and digital photos in the thousands, that seemed impossible. But then I realized with grief comes nostalgia. As I said in my last post, in the end he was not the same dog anymore. Even if he lived 10 more years, he would never walk down to the lake lot or fetch a rope again. So while I will miss even his annoying “Feed me!” bark, what I really miss is the old times, just like I miss my old schools, apartments, jobs and friends and the memories I made with them. But life goes on. You remember the good, try to forget the bad, and make new memories. Even though I am alive and well, my mom can still be nostalgic for Baby Renee, since I no longer make animal noises or get food all over my face when I eat … OK, maybe those were bad examples (moooooo).

This year I made a new friend in London whom I really got along with, but she recently moved away. In a fit of sadness a part of me thought “If I had never met her then I wouldn’t be sad right now.” But you could say that about every relationship that ended, pet that passed or friend who moved. We would have less sadness, sure, but we’d also have less joy from the good times we did have together. Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.” And as Elphaba and Glinda sing in Wicked, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” (I saw the musical with my friend who moved and told that to her before she left.)

So now I’m trying to just focus on the good memories. I’ve pulled myself out of my pit of sadness. Just today I was finally able to look at the pugs frolicking in the park and smile instead of thinking “How cute, but one day they’re all going to DIE.” (Yes, I became Emo Elmo for a bit recently). Both my parents and I had the same thought as we were going through the last few weeks — we can’t go through this again. We can’t get another dog. Instead of the happy memories I could make with my hypothetical pug or corgi, I was focusing on the fact that one day it would die. My parents were too. It’s still too soon for them to even entertain the notion — it’s like asking a widow at her husband’s funeral if she thinks she’ll remarry. But I told them not to get rid of his crate — disassemble it and store it away, but hang on to it… just in case.

(And now, for no reason at all, a baby panda!)

baby panda bars

Crossing the rainbow bridge

22 Sep

It seems the inevitable could be prolonged no longer. This afternoon Squirt crossed over the rainbow bridge at the vet’s office. When I worked in the pet industry I thought that was such a silly phrase — “cross over the rainbow bridge,” but now it seems fitting. “Died” is too harsh, “passed away” too proper. So “cross over the rainbow bridge” it is.

Even though we had a month to prepare for this, you’re never really ready. We got Squirt when he was 1 year old and had him for 14 years — more than half my life. I should speak fondly of him, saying he was a good dog, but as any friend or family member (or repairman) who visited my parents’ house over the past 14 years can attest, he was a mean little bugger. But he came from a troubled background, years before my job would entail reading and writing about dog training, so we did the best we could as inexperienced as we were.

Though it’s sad to say goodbye — especially from across the ocean — lately he hasn’t been the same dog we adopted on July 29, 2000. Over the course of his life he had two loves (no, not people and other dogs): walks and food. Neighbors used to joke that he was the most well-walked dog out there. When I was in high school I used to attach him to my Razor scooter and make him pull me around the neighborhood. (Yes, I made a 12-pound Chihuahua pull me like an Iditarod husky.) On our long walks pre-Fitbit I used to have to beg and pull him to turn around. As he got older, he slowly stopped walking so far and eventually was content to just explore the front yard, especially when he discovered he could get a treat for every time he went out. He had a one-track mind at that point: food. We could not enjoy a meal without him barking alongside us, all because 14 years ago someone decided to feed him a table scrap (who that someone is is still up for debate in my family). When I was back home just this April I had to sneak around the house during the day because if he noticed me, he’d start barking for his dinner two hours early. So when a month ago my mom told me he wouldn’t eat his dog food anyone, I knew something was wrong. He was not the same Squirt I knew. Over the past month he indulged in various people foods, from pancakes and eggs to fish and chicken until whatever was ailing him — canine cognitive disorder (doggie Alzheimer’s) and cancer, likely — prevented him from eating even boiled chicken. In a prime example of a head-on collision between comedy and tragedy, yesterday he sat in his food bowl, staring out into space. My parents sent me a photo and I could not stop laughing (and crying).  It was time. He would not eat or drink, could barely walk, and seemed to have no mental capacity left whatsoever. The inevitable could no longer be prolonged.

I want to thank my parents for taking such good care of him in his final days and for making the difficult decision to put him down while he was suffering. Know that however hard it was and while it might not seem like it right away, you did the right thing.

And little dude — I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in the end, but I’m not sure you’d know who I was anyway. I’ll remember you at your best, like when I tried to enter you in a local dog show our first summer together and you almost bit the judge. One day I’ll see you again on the other side, probably by the unlimited cheese buffet. (And as the poem goes, we’ll cross the rainbow bridge together).

squirt christmas portrait(This ridiculous Christmas portrait they took at the kennel in 2005 never fails to make my family laugh.)

Coping with mortality and ancient Greek quizzes

9 Sep

When I was in high school I took Ancient Greek as an elective. While the rest of my class had a free period, three of us were conjugating irregular verbs in seven tenses. We were overachievers who bordered on masochistic. At different times we each thought about quitting, saying screw the aorist active optative, and go back to studying and goofing off with the rest of our classmates, but we never went through with it. I remember one particular morning we had a big biology test coming up. None of us could focus on Greek vocabulary when there was the Krebs cycle to memorize. So we came up with a brilliant plan – we would ask our teacher to push back the Greek quiz a day. If all three of us agreed and asked, she’d have to, right? And she did. And thus began a very dangerous journey down a dangerous path. Greek quiz dates were not set in stone. So whenever a quiz fell on the same day as another class’s test, or even if one of us just didn’t feel like studying the night before, we asked for an extension. And by “we,” I often mean “me,” as I was the only girl and the others claimed the teacher “liked me” (for the moment). Every time I would ask her to move the quiz she would say the same thing – “Alright, but you’re just prolonging the inevitable.” I believe at one point we even started asking for it that way – “can we prolong the inevitable?” We knew eventually we’d have to regurgitate vocab and conjugate verbs, but in that moment the weight was lifted off and the third declension became Tomorrow Renee’s problem.

Why am I writing about this? Because my teacher’s words have been going through my head lately regarding our family dog, Squirt – “you’re only prolonging the inevitable.”

Two and a half weeks ago my mom sent me a text message: “Squirt has been having a rough few days. Not looking good. He can’t get out of bed. He won’t eat today.”

It was completely out of the blue – just four months prior he was going on hikes and begging me for dinner two hours early. He’s 15 years old, I knew his “time” was coming, but I wasn’t ready. And so began a spiral of sorrow in which Stephen questioned how I will ever be able to handle the death of my parents if I act this way over a dog who doesn’t even live with me and isn’t even that nice.

I continued to text my parents every day for updates. He’d seem better, then worse, so eventually they took him to the vet. He had a fever and they gave him fluids and antibiotics and said if he didn’t spring back the next day, it was time to talk the big “E.”

I waited anxiously for my mom’s text that next morning.

“Squirt is better today. He’s up and around and eating.” I was so relieved!

“He’s still old though,” she added.

I could hear my teacher’s words: “You’re only prolonging the inevitable.”

Still, we let out a collective sigh of relief and I resigned that Squirt would beat the record for oldest Chihuahua (20 years).

A part of me almost said, “What a relief, I’m glad I won’t have to go through that again!” as if because he survived this one brush with death he was never going to die.

Just prolonging the inevitable.

Every day my parents text me updates.

“He ate all his food!”

“He’ll only eat people food.”

“He’s not doing well.”

“He crapped everywhere!”

“He dumped outside on his own!”

“He’s up and around!”

“Bad morning, he won’t eat at all.”

We think he has canine cognitive disorder, which is like doggie dementia or Alzheimer’s, so sometimes he forgets where he is or what’s going on. And like those patients, he has good and bad days. The good days make me think he’s going to live forever, the bad days that he’s old and his organs are probably shutting down and the end is near. Yesterday was a good day, today is bad. This yo-yo effect is exhausting and disheartening and I’m not even there – my poor parents have been there to comfort, cook and clean for him. We’ve had Squirt half my life and it’s hard to imagine life without him. (Whenever we talk like this, one of us always chimes in imitating Squirt’s voice saying, “I’m not dead yet!”) My parents are doing all they can, even though there’s not much we can do now – just prolong the inevitable. But if I learned anything from Greek class, that’s what life is – prolonging the inevitable and savoring the time you have.

 

Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople

7 Sep

A week ago we went to Istanbul, Turkey. I believe Istanbul can be summed up in this one photo I took:

essence of istanbulSomething really old and historical (Column of Constantine on the left, from 330 A.D), a mosque and a stray cat. In reality, the city has a crapload of history, a crapload of mosques (is that sacrilegious to say?) and a crapload of stray dogs and cats, so I’m oversimplifying it a bit.

We did a full-day walking tour of Sultanahmet our first day there, which was full of all of the above. We saw Topkapi Palace, the underground basilica cistern, the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, an Ottoman cemetery, the Column of Constantine and the Grand Bazaar. If anyone reading this post found it because they’re actually curious about Istanbul tours and not the usual fat pugs and zebra penises (my top blog search terms), we used Efendi Travel. The tour was reasonably priced considering it included hotel pickup and admission to all the sites and we got to go to the front of the queue most of the time. I would recommend them. They said the group tours usually have 8 to 10 people, but our group only had 3 — including Stephen and me, so it was almost a private tour for the price of a group tour.

Anyway…

The main reason we did the tour was for peace of mind and safety — though friends and random strangers on the Internet assured me Istanbul was perfectly safe, we were a little concerned about the recent protests and the fact that Turkey shares a border with Syria and Iraq (although Istanbul is 800 miles away from that border). I was also a little nervous visiting a predominantly Muslim country for the first time. Did I need to act or dress a certain way to fit in? While I did have to wear a headscarf inside the Blue Mosque (and take off my shoes), I soon realized that while the majority of Istanbul is Muslim, a lot of them seem to be Muslim in the way that people who only go to church on Christmas are Christian — i.e. few were flocking to the mosques five times a day for prayer and most women were not wearing headscarves outside the mosque (and the only ones wearing full burqas were visiting from other countries). The Sultanahmet area is also at least 87% tourists I think. Still, it was interesting to hear the call to prayer resound from the minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia while we were near and to experience a different culture.

Now for the animal pictures! We had another woman in our tour group who often got separated from us because she was photographing some historic building or monument. I often got separated because I was photographing cats or dogs. You can see the main sights of Istanbul on Google, so here are my favorite stray animals of Istanbul pics:

(Click to enlarge)

Stray dogs of Topkapi Palace, assemble!

topkapi palace dogs

dogs of topkapi palaceturkey stray dogs

istanbul stray dogsking of the mountain

istanbul cat

istanbul dog

cat placing order

“Um, I believe I was next to be served.”

istanbul cat hungry

istanbul kitten

Stephen and I played with this kitten instead of learning anything about the Ottoman cemetery we were at.

cute istanbul kitten

Not a stray animal, but look, Panda ice cream!

panda ice cream

A Portrait of the Chihuahua as an Old Man

5 Dec

Sometime circa 1998 my brother and I started pestering my parents for a dog, as all kids tend to do at some point. We watched every dog show and special on Animal Planet and started brainstorming names.

“We are not getting a dog!” my mom said each time we asked. “You know I’m allergic!”

But that didn’t stop us. We laid subtle hints and I even went to the extent of convincing my dad to tell his coworker that I would dog-sit her Chihuahuas. So when a little (OK, big) 1-year-old black Chihuahua named Squirt was dropped off at the local animal hospital in need of a home, the receptionist (the wife of one of my dad’s coworkers) called his other coworker, who said she already had enough Chihuahuas, but she knew just the person — Bob’s daughter loves Chihuahuas!

So in late July 2000 I came home from my gymnastics class to find my mom on the phone with the animal hospital receptionist who was convincing her that a little Allerpet and plenty of baths would subdue her allergies.

“Don’t freak out, but we might be getting a dog!” my brother told me. Of course I freaked out.

Just hours later an SUV pulled into our driveway and out came a giant bag of dog food, a crate smaller than our guinea pig’s cage, and a timid 9.8-pound Chihuahua named Squirt.

“Does he bark? I want to hear him bark!” my brother said.

“Oh, he barks…” said his current owner.

And he hasn’t stopped barking 13 years later.

(Squirt would like me to pause here to clarify that this is not a eulogy, he is not dead yet, nor does he plan on kicking the bucket any time soon.)

He was there for me throughout high school and welcomed me back each time I came home from college, working life in Chicago and now London. Although I’m pretty sure he thinks I live at the airport now since he comes along to pick me up and drop me off. He battled obesity, tipping the scales at 18 pounds in 2007, but eventually swapped caloric dog treats for his new favorite treats — carrots, green beans and radishes. At 14 1/2 years old he’s definitely slowed down, rusted out and is going deaf, but he’s still a tough little squirt.

My Christmas present to myself arrived yesterday, a 35mm prime lens for my DLSR. I could think of no better subject to test it out with than my favorite crotchety old Chihuahua who wanted nothing more than for me to get the big black thing out of his face so he could go sleep in his crate.

old black chihuahua

(It turns out the shallow depth of field blurred background effect I favor is called bokeh, and prime lens capture it well.)

squirt profile

The poor old guy had most of his teeth pulled, so sometimes his tongue won’t stay in his mouth.

chihuahua tongue

chihuahua lick

squirt smile

chihuahua yawn

senior chihuahua

squirt portrait

Eventually he decided he had enough of this portrait session and retreated to his crate.

squirt crate

And since I know you’re curious, here is what 1-year-old Squirt looked like when we got him in 2000. He was so black, shiny and skinny!

baby squirt

(Excuse the photo quality, these are both photos of photos — that’s how old Squirt is, pre-digital age!)

chihuahua puppyI guess even then he had a hard time keeping his tongue in his mouth!

So here’s to you, old gray Chihuahua who used to be black — may you have many more years of radishes in your future and may you get your hearing back, but not so much that you can hear me preparing lunch and continue to bark until I’m done eating.