Confessions of a book fanatic

I acquire too many books. Always have, likely always will.

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It started…well, back in the dim reaches of my childhood. I eagerly spent my entire allowance at Scholastic Book Fairs at school and bought Watermill Classics targeted to readers well above my age range. At thrift store trips, I loaded myself up with more books than I could carry. Regular visits to the school, public, and church libraries fed the mania because OH, THE BOOKS. I needed all of them. I needed them now. Otherwise, I might forget about one, and that might have been the one that would change my life or render me speechless with its eloquent language or salvage an otherwise awful day with the antics of its quirky characters.

I still feel that way.

It is madness and greed and passion. Book people get it. No one else does. I’ve had therapists look at me in utter perplexity and say, “If not buying books for a month would help you save up for X, why don’t you just not buy books for a month?” They don’t understand. It isn’t a matter of self-control; it’s much more primal and urgent. Nor is it a matter of disposable income; I have managed to feed my particular monkey no matter the state of my finances. (Off the top of my head, I can think of seven places in my small town where I can always find books for a dollar or less.)

I do try to get things under control from time to time. Among other reasons, I’m rapidly reaching critical mass in my apartment, which houses 26 bookcases. Even I realize that at some point, rearranging the furniture yet again to accommodate yet another bookcase crosses the line from endearingly quirky to…you know, borderline hoarding. Also, as my counselor pointed out, all these books find their way into my life because I actually want to read them. (Note: She and I might have slightly different views of my agency in that process. Mine is reflected in the way I wrote that sentence.) I’m not just getting shelf candy. And if I don’t slow down on the acquisitions, I’ll never have time to actually read them all.

My counselor encouraged me to think about why I buy books — because I want to read them, of course, but also: What needs is this fulfilling that aren’t being met in other ways?

And I realized that a major one is the need for spontaneity. I dislike routine, but I get into ruts pretty easily. And when surprises occur, they tend to be the unpleasant kind. Things go along in their staid, predictable way, and then something happens — my car needs an expensive repair, Rufus eats my lunch while I’m not looking and subsequently has diarrhea for a week, that sort of thing. Positive surprises are few and far between. But when I go on a book-buying mission, those odds go up because I never know what I’m going to find: what deals I’m going to unearth or which authors I’ll discover that I’d never have heard about otherwise. (After failing to grasp steampunk for my entire adult life, I met James Blaylock’s Langdon St. Ives at the Dollar Tree last month and now I’m in love.)

So…I think that realization settled it. For now, I’ll keep buying books because doing so brings delightful spontaneity that I’m not experiencing in other ways. If pleasant surprises start to show up in my life more frequently at some future date, then I’ll try going a month without acquiring books.

I mean, I can always double-stack my bookcases, right? Or just kick the cat off?

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Two years of Rufus

Yesterday marked two years since the advent of Rufus in my life, so to celebrate, I wanted to reflect on some of the things he’s learned and some of the things he’s taught me.

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He’s learned…

–Cats are pretty awesome. He wasn’t sure at first; we cat-tested him at the adoption event and he seemed indifferent, then he came home and was trying to sleep in this strange new place, and Gorey (pictured below with him) kept rubbing her body all over his face and that didn’t go over so well. But eventually he realized that the cats were going to be his friends regardless of what he thought about it, so he graciously succumbed to membership in what Cleveland Amory calls “the cat-owned.”

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–Food is good. When I first adopted him, he didn’t seem at all motivated by treats. At some point, though, he realized he liked food…and he’s gotten to sample a lot of it, including green beans, because of the next thing he’s learned, which is that..

–Aunties and Memeres are awesome people to have in your life. Not only do they share treats like veggies and Moe’s chips, but they also buy you the best Christmas presents, like the bone-shaped bunny shown with him below.

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–Running is a fun thing you do when you’re happy and it’s a beautiful day and you’re with someone you love.

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He’s taught me even more:

–About courage. There are multiple quotes about how courage isn’t fearlessness, but rather it’s experiencing fear and doing whatever you have to do in spite of it. I’ve never seen this embodied as vividly as in Rufus’ behavior.
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–About trust. Whatever happened in Rufus’ previous life left him physically scarred and terrified, but from the beginning he has seemed willing to trust me. Striving to be worthy of that trust has made me a better person.

–About love. Ditto with the trust: He has taught me about love and forgiveness and opening yourself to new people even if the people you knew before haven’t always been the best.

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–About giving shy dogs a chance: They have their own set of problems, and I’ve been fortunate in that Rufus’ are relatively mild and his personality is mellow and sweet (albeit very stubborn!). But based on my experiences with him, if/when I’m in a position to add another dog to my life, I’m going to look for another shy, fearful critter.

Because I hit the jackpot with this guy.

–About myself as a dog “parent.” Bishop, Rufus’ predecessor, was a wild child who needed firmness and discipline. I sucked at that. I have learned that I’m temperamentally much better suited to a dog whose primary needs are love and reassurance.

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–About my limitations. I’ve been able to give Rufus a good life. But I can’t erase the scars or undo all the damage. Despite two years of treatment, he still has heartworms. Hair still doesn’t grow on the callused spots on his elbows. He still panics when he hears kids bouncing a basketball or riding a bike, and all he can do is make himself as small and low to the ground as possible and belly-crawl-run back home. Neither a firm hand on the leash nor a soft word can reach him when he’s in that place; it’s irrational, primal. I wanted a dog who could walk in the park with me, and Rufus can’t, at least not on days when sports teams are practicing. He travels beautifully in my friend Pam’s car (probably because her car usually means a visit to her mom, his Memere, she of the green beans and awesome toys) but cries when I take him on drives around town.

So I’ve had to learn to be okay with what I can give him and what he can give me, to let it be enough.

Because it’s clearly enough for him. I mean, look at this guy:

Photo on 3-6-18 at 8.04 PM

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Enduring February

I hate February. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t hate February, when it didn’t make me want to blow up my life (no matter what that life looked like, no matter how well I liked it the rest of the time) and start from scratch.

In Colorado, February is a tease. It’s when spring flowers start to peek out, and you think winter is finally over. At the house where I grew up, we’d start seeing crocuses and grape hyacinths, and some years also tulips and daffodils. Trees might start blooming. And then BAM! March and April and sometimes even May would bring feet of snow, flowers would die, and I’d think winter was never going to be over.

In the northern climes where I got my higher education, February was pure winter, another month of snow blanketing everything, of fingers and toes going numb as I walked to class, of perilously icy roads. Here in the south, February is pollen season, and pollen means allergies. I have to use the windshield wipers every time I get into the car to clear the yellow scrim away. My entire face is swollen, and my tear ducts feel ready to burst, and I am sleeping like hibernation is a thing humans do.

So February is doldrums. In February the difference between “rewriting my life story” and “settling” collapses and all the disappointments I usually keep locked in the cellar burst out and have a Mardi Gras party. February is the month I do things like shave my head or get a new tattoo or piercing or move to Seattle, and then I crash because I realize I’m the same old person in the same old life. In February I want to take exotic vacations, meet new people, dress up and go out dancing, have new adventures. Those desires invariably smack headlong into reality, so to circumvent the inevitable disappointment, I end up barricading myself at home and reading as many books as I can and then feeling even worse about everything. I feel like I’m marking my life in books read.

And I don’t want to just mark time. I want to be present and engaged, because life is too short to just endure. I’m telling myself March will be better: March will bring travel and time with some of my favorite people, and the pollen will eventually subside, and maybe I will start to feel like part of the human race again. But in the meantime, there is February to grapple with, and I haven’t yet found a way to make peace with it.

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Revisiting Prydain

I discovered Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” in my elementary school library when I was ten or eleven. I eagerly followed Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper through five books’ worth of adventures, watching him grow from an impulsive, hot-tempered boy to a wise and seasoned leader. I also loved his companions. Gurgi, neither human nor beast, immediately captured my heart, and I was gratified to see how kindness transformed him from a cringing, thieving outcast into a loyal ally and valued friend. Coll the turnip farmer had a surprising history, and if Dallben was the mightiest enchanter in Prydain, he was also the drowsiest. The Princess Eilonwy of the red-gold hair was unlike any other princess I’d encountered in fiction: a feisty chatterbox who insisted on tagging along with the men to war, even when they tried to force her to stay home, and whose acerbically delivered common sense saved the day more than once. And the series villain — Arawn, death-lord of Annuvin, with his legions of Huntsmen and immortal Cauldron-Born — was a foe so chilling even Hannibal Lecter seems benign by comparison.

In the fall of 2014, I went in search of hardcover copies of the Prydain books (to replace well-loved paperbacks that had started to shed pages), and I was thrilled to see that Henry Holt was reissuing the series in beautiful cloth-bound editions to commemorate their 50th anniversary. I had to be patient, as they released only one volume per year until December 2017, when both Taran Wanderer and The High King (the fourth and fifth books, respectively) came out together. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the delight of rereading the full series.

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Unlike a lot of well-loved children’s books, the Prydain series doesn’t seem to have the kind of name recognition I would expect. Almost invariably, when I say, “The Chronicles of Prydain…you know, Lloyd Alexander’s books…you know, Taran and Gurgi and the oracular pig?” I am met with blank looks. (Author Tom Angleberger recounts similar frustrations in his foreword to the 50th anniversary edition of The Castle of Llyr.) Even Disney’s animated version of the second book, The Black Cauldron (1985), seems to have faded into obscurity. But people obviously do read and love the series, enough that in these days of ebooks the publisher decided that reissuing them in beautifully designed new editions was a financially viable proposition. And from the forewords, it’s clear that the goings-on in Prydain have influenced generations of bestselling and award-winning young adult novelists.

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(Above is the map from The Book of Three.)

Alexander himself claimed to be inspired by Welsh legend — the source of various character names and places, such as Arawn and Annwfyn — but said he allowed his stories to develop organically without trying to conform to previous iterations of the myths. I don’t know whether he also recognized Tolkien as an influence, but parallels to the Lord of the Rings are evident, not only in the way various mythologies linger in the shadows, but particularly in the very bittersweet resolutions to both series. Spoiler alerts: The good side triumphs, but things don’t return to the way they were before. Not only have the characters’ identities been forged through loss and struggle and hardship, but the realms themselves are irrevocably changed. Magic might be required to defeat the likes of Arawn and Sauron, but rebuilding society takes the hard work and sacrifice, practicality and common sense of ordinary people.

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These books remind us that good wins, but not without a (sometimes very steep) price. They affirm a moral order, a clear distinction between right and wrong, kindness and cruelty, love and hate, creation and destruction. They show us the importance of compassion, whether the recipient is Gurgi or Gollum. And they remind us that no one, not even an Assistant Pig-Keeper, is too small or insignificant to matter.

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Where moth and rust (and cat and/or dog) destroy

This is a true story, and now that it’s been a few months, I can laugh about it.

Last summer I listed a collectible book from my library on eBay. It’s a book I enjoyed and really wanted to keep. But it’s only available in this one, extremely rare, limited-edition printing, and unlike most of my books, the value has risen significantly since I bought it. So I reluctantly decided it was time to part ways.

I took it out of the glass-fronted bookcase, photographed it, and left it on the coffee table to await its new home. Every time I saw it, I felt a pang: I’d never be able to afford or possibly even find another copy. But did I really need to own this particular book when the sale would fund a chunk of rent or a weekend out of town?

Well, a lot of people looked but no one bid. So when the auction ended, I was both disappointed and relieved. I picked up the book to return it to the glass-fronted bookcase, and…at some point during the week, either Rufus or a cat had nibbled on it.

Now, if you’ve seen my apartment, you know there are books ALL OVER: on the coffee table, the end tables, the chair, the sofa, sometimes even the floor. The animals never eat them. But for some reason, this one appealed to someone who decided to snack on the bottom inch of spine.

Given the rarity of the book, it’s probably still sale-able, but at a fraction of what it was worth. So now it has a permanent home with me. Which is kind of what I wanted all along. And maybe someday the damage will add to the value: “This is Monique Bos’ copy, and we can prove it because that’s the pet damage she blogged about back in ’17.” 

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Don’t look at me! I prefer squeaky toy frogs. Also, you might remember that on the trip when you took this photo, the friend we were visiting said, “If all dogs were like Rufus, I’d have a dog.” I’m GOOD. 

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Um, yes, I’m totally neurotic, but I like to SIT on paper, not eat it. You know Rufus’ toenails are my favorite thing to chew.

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If I’d eaten part of a book, you would have found a pile of cat vomit filled with shredded paper the next morning. You KNOW that. 

 

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Imperfect lives

Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Well, Facebook — I loathe Twitter. But that’s another post. Facebook has allowed me to get to know friends of friends I would otherwise never have met. It’s put me back in touch with old friends and helped heal festering wounds. It’s let me talk to cousins and colleagues in more depth than rushed conversations at family reunions or the office allow. It’s enabled me to easily stay in touch with people in other states and even countries — and I’m not a faithful letter writer or phone-caller, so I likely would have lost touch with these people without Facebook.

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That’s the good side. The bad side: Facebook makes it too easy, sometimes, to compare my life to other people’s, and that can lead to a brooding discontent, especially during this time of year (All Saints’ Day to Mardi Gras, and even more so during Christmas break). I’m hardly the only person to have experienced this. Particularly when you’re going through a difficult time personally and/or professionally, seeing everyone else’s successes on social media can be devastating.

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I’m at a better place in life than I’ve been for awhile, but it isn’t perfect. I have a lovely, spacious apartment with a patio. I have a job I mostly enjoy and find fulfilling. I have strong friendships. I took a couple of fun and memorable trips in 2016, and I like to think I’ve gotten really good at finding quirky, little-known local places to visit, too. And there’s Rufus and my kitties.

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But things could be better. I still live paycheck to paycheck. I haven’t commercially published a book yet, and I struggle to find time to write. I haven’t met the love of my life, and with every year that passes, it seems less likely that I will. Kids? Forget it. I don’t own my home, and I certainly don’t live in an elegant mansion with a sweeping, woods-bordered lawn on which deer graze, like some of my Facebook friends apparently do. I don’t have an adoring spouse who plays songs on the guitar and buys me roses. I don’t get to take trips to Japan and Australia.

And if you’re one of the people who does, I am not trying to make you feel guilty or question whether you should post about these things, because of course you shouldn’t (feel guilty and question, that is; you should keep posting). I want to be happy for you. Most of the time, I am, especially if you’re a person who’s honest about the struggles as well as the triumphs. Sometimes it’s just difficult not to compare, not to look at friends who have what I most want in life, and to wonder why these things have worked out for them and not (yet) for me. (Note: That last sentence is an existential question, not a request for advice and especially not for the rundown of everything you think I’ve done wrong and need to do differently in order to be as successful or happy or fulfilled as you are. Regardless of your intentions, those sorts of comments never help and usually cause harm.)

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But there is another subset of people, a subset who can’t or won’t admit of any imperfection in their lives. You know these people, too. They are brilliant and accomplished and beautiful, as they constantly remind you. They are “so blessed” to have incredible genes and successful careers that let them make good money pursuing their passions. They have adoring spouses and incredible sex (that they feel the need to advertise to everyone) and lovely, impeccably behaved yet intellectually curious children who constantly tell them what amazing parents they are. Their home decor looks like it belongs on Pinterest, and they are gourmet cooks who dress like every day is a photo shoot. Their vacations are extravaganzas of beaming selfies and “bucket list” items. They are relentless self-promoters, both professionally and personally, and it seems that their social media accounts are less about staying in touch with friends than providing them with incessant affirmation.

For my own sanity, I “unfollow” these people.

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And yes, being honest and vulnerable on social media is risky. As I’ve found repeatedly, you lose “friends” and followers. You get unsolicited, sometimes wildly insensitive advice, and people who don’t know details of your situation make things worse by casting blame or making erroneous assumptions. You compromise your “brand.” But you also gain support, sometimes from unexpected places. And perhaps most importantly, you let other people in on your behind-the-scenes. You let them know that things aren’t perfect for you, and so around you they don’t have to pretend their lives are perfect, either.

So, for those of you who don’t limit your social media to highlight reels, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable, to share your hurt and confusion and perplexity. Thank you for trusting your friends with your reality — and for letting us see enough of who you truly are that we can be friends, not just social media acquaintances. Thank you for opening yourself to criticism and cruelty, but also to affirmation and sharing and love. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in this messy, flawed, chaotic, anguished, joyful, crazy, not-always-media-friendly, lowlight-reel-filled life.

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Zuli

My Zuli cat, who survived a bout of pancreatitis last September, is again not doing well. She vomits daily, picks fights with her sister, cries loudly, and sleeps too much and too deeply even for a cat.

On the other hand, she still LOVES to race out the door when I take Rufus on late-night walks. She’ll roll around in the red Georgia dirt, yowl at the moon, chase moths, and follow us down the sidewalk, calling loudly the whole time. Last week Rufus and I sat on the grass for awhile, and Zuli circled, rubbing against our backs but scrambling away if I tried to catch her. She’s fierce and wild, fey, and surprisingly sweet at unexpected times.

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She has always been an indoor cat, but when we lived in Seattle, she began to take a fiendish delight in flying out the door when I walked Bishop at night. She would roam the nearby park, calling so loudly that I feared she’d wake the neighbors, but within an hour she would be back, crying and scratching to be let in. In Colorado she also loved exploring the neighborhood and would roll in the dirt of my parents’ garden until she was filthy. After she almost died last fall, I promised her that (despite my concerns about traffic, killer armadillos, foxes, and feral hogs) I would stop trying to prevent her from going out at night, because that seems to be her greatest joy in life. Lately, it seems like the more irritable she is indoors, the more she antagonizes Gorey for no apparent reason, and/or the longer she sleeps in one spot without even changing position, the more she craves and cherishes those nighttime excursions.

She mourned Bishop differently than her sister did; Gorey was extremely affectionate and needy with me, while Zuli spent all her time sleeping on his blanket in his crate. When I brought Rufus home, Gorey immediately tried to smother him, taking the same liberties she always had with Bishop (rubbing his face while he slept, licking his ears, nibbling on his toenails). Rufus, who didn’t seem to have any history with cats, was not okay with this, and they had to establish a sort of guarded truce. Also, he isn’t sure quite how to play with cats OR dogs but wants to try, and he sometimes makes missteps and maybe scares the cats a little. Still, when I watched Zuli rub against him last week, cooing as she did, I realized that she’s grown to love him.

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She has always been a one-person cat. She loves me fiercely but isn’t fond of other people. Few of my friends have seen her; when I go out of town, I usually get a text or call from whomever is watching my cats, expressing concern because they haven’t set eyes on Zuli. Since the advent of the pancreatitis, this is a major concern. What if she gets sick again while I’m out of town? How would her caretaker know? And even if they knew, could they catch her without risking physical injury? The few times I’ve boarded her, she’s stopped eating, so leaving her with the vet isn’t a good option.

When she’s miserable and foul-tempered, I think it’s cruel to keep her around. But it feels premature to put her to sleep when she still derives such obvious joy from racing around in the moonlight. She still has good days, days when she’s her usual sassy, tortitude-spewing self. And then I read articles like this, and “It’s better to be a week too early than a minute too late” resonates. Isn’t it worse to wait until she has no more joy in life, until she stops wanting to chase moths or trot down the sidewalk behind Rufus, until she no longer gets that wickedly gleeful look when she sees me walk toward the door and gathers her muscles to spring?
100_5091It was very difficult to make the decision to put Bishop to sleep, but I had and still have total peace about the timing. He let me know, during that last week, that he was ready to go (and, regardless of what anyone says, I am also convinced that he graced me afterward with a snapshot of his existence now: joyful, gleeful, free of pain and fear and aggression, racing around fields in pursuit of birds he doesn’t actually want to catch). He was still healthy enough to wolf down his last ice cream cone and Chick-fil-A nuggets, to toss his baseball around in the sunshine, to love on his kitties. I am glad and grateful, not sorry, that he was able to do these things at the end of his life.

(And what I couldn’t know then, of course, was that two days before I said goodbye to Bishop, a terrified, underweight, sweet, mellow dog with a tattered ear and hip dysplasia and heartworms, a dog who looks strikingly like a miniature version of Bishop, received his intake exam for a local rescue. Last night, that dog — who has made such strides in three months that at our most recent training session, I cried at his progress — nestled into my side as we sat on the grass and stargazed.)

So today, after Zuli puked up her entire breakfast, I called the vet’s office. They said that when I think it’s time, they’ll work me into their schedule. I don’t want to let her go too soon, but I don’t want to keep her if she needs to move on. I guess we’ll go day by day; I’m praying for the wisdom and grace to know when it’s time.

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Rufus Update

I figure people on Facebook are getting sick of daily dog updates, so I’ll do a Rufus highlight reel here.

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On Tuesday night, we went to Sonic for ice cream (and Beach Boys, mandatory for me at Sonic!). He loved it.

We’ve also taken a few fairly long late-night rambles. He likes being outside at night as much as I do, and to my surprise, he’s more confident than he is during the day.

Health Issues
I’m still weighing options for treating the heartworms, but I’m leaning toward continuing with the slow kill (monthly Heartguard and bimonthly antibiotics) that the rescue started. From what I understand, there’s no great option; both the slow and fast kill (arsenic injections and 6-10 weeks of full crate rest) methods carry significant risks. The vet advises the fast kill, but a woman from the rescue told me several of their members have lost dogs that way, and they’ve had better success with the slow kill.

Another reason I’m not inclined toward the fast kill right now is that Rufus has developed a strong aversion to the crate. Apparently with that method, it’s imperative for the dog to avoid any stress, excitement, activity, or anything else that raises the heart rate. Just being put into the crate causes Rufus extreme stress, so we definitely need to resolve that first.

Unfortunately, until the heartworms have cleared up a bit more, we can’t start behavior training.

The vet did think he was healthy enough to go ahead with the neuter on Friday, and he came through the surgery well. Afterward, I completed paperwork to make his adoption official. Everyone at the vet’s office loved him and commented about what a sweet dog he is.

Behavior Issues
For the first week, we had no accidents. Last weekend, a couple with a female dog moved in upstairs, and Rufus immediately started spraying. I am *hoping* the neuter helps. The last day has been better, but the neighbors and their dog are gone for the weekend, so that might be why. If not, he’s going to be wearing diapers for a bit.

He’s uncomfortable around men. Several people have commented that he was likely abused, so I’m concerned about making sure he has positive encounters with men. The male trainer we’ll eventually work with should help, and I’m also eager to introduce him to a male friend who’s very gentle and loves dogs. Rufus’ response to him should give me a baseline so I know how to interpret his reactions (eg whether he’s fearful of all men or has an aversion to a specific individual).

I do know that he’s terrified of the maintenance guy at my apartment complex. So far we’ve only seen the guy from a distance, like across the pool, but Rufus always runs in the opposite direction. He gets a little spooked by other men but hasn’t had such an extreme reaction to anyone else. We did have an unpleasant encounter with an elderly neighbor, who refused to respect the boundaries I tried to set for Rufus and then made a deeply creepy comment to me. Rufus clearly disliked and mistrusted the guy, and although I was trying to be neighborly and give him the benefit of the doubt, I subsequently decided to keep my distance — and pay more attention next time the dog shows an aversion to someone. (I was interpreting his behavior as fear of all men when it might have been a negative reaction to that particular person.)

Yesterday two guys came from the thrift store to pick up a few large items. When they walked in, Rufus initially trotted down the hall away from them, but then he returned to the living room. He sat behind a chair, visibly shaking, and kept an eye on things. I was pleased that he wasn’t hostile or aggressive and also that he stayed in the room with them rather than running away. I don’t know whether that means he was being protective of his home or me or both, but it seemed like a good sign.

Anyway, he’s starting to relax and seems to trust me. He sleeps a lot, which isn’t surprising between the heartworms and the stress of a new home and the recent surgery. Although he has a stubborn streak, he responds to “No,” recognizes his name, and usually comes when I call. He’s getting the hang of walking on a leash and being friends with cats. From the paperwork I got Friday, it seems he was rescued only about 10 days before I adopted him, so he’s been through a lot of changes very quickly. I’m impressed at how rapidly he’s learning and adapting.

*Spent part of my spring break trekking around a swamp. Photos to come.

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…and a beginning (continued)

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Chupacabra!

There was never a question that we needed another dog around here sooner rather than later. Zuli spent about 22 hours per day sleeping on Bishop’s blanket in his crate. I missed having a buddy to walk, particularly late at night, when meandering alone in the woods seems like not the best idea ever. Also, not having a dog made my days, especially the days I didn’t have class, amorphous and unfocused. I was used to planning my time in blocks based on Bishop’s needs, and I missed that structure more than I expected.

So yesterday I  brought home a new friend. He looks like a 40-pound version of Bishop, down to the wasp waist and the white between his toes and the white patch of hair with black speckles on his chest, but his personality is completely different. He’s kind of a hard-luck case: three years old, heartworm-positive (but being treated), not yet neutered (but that’s happening next week), and already has some hip dysplasia. He is also extremely timid and fearful, at least so far.

At the shelter (where he probably would have been euthanized eventually, had the rescue not stepped in and placed him in a foster home) they named him Patches, because when he arrived he was missing patches of fur. Although his foster father said he responded to that name, he hasn’t so much as twitched an ear when I’ve used it, so I decided to try something else. I’ve tried about fifty something elses (my friend Kristen helpfully found a list of Gothic men’s names online, which led to much mirth — “Dostoevsky! Usher! Radcliffe! Bishop Jr! Knight! Rook! Pawn!”), and I think he’s going to be Rufus.

The rescue and his foster father both said he had been living outside before he was brought to the shelter. I don’t know whether this means he was on the street or tied up in a yard, but he’s obviously received minimal training and socialization during his life. So far, he doesn’t sit or lay on command, doesn’t come when called, and isn’t great at heeling — although he seems to be learning quickly; the foster parents worked on leash walks with him, and I’m sure that helped. He is housebroken, and I don’t think he’s crate-trained per se, but he has definitely fixated on the crate as his safe place. It was a major coup tonight when, with the help of some popcorn, I coaxed him to walk out on his own, rather than having to lift him out. He seems to love being outside, and he isn’t at all jumpy after dark, so I think we’ll enjoy many nocturnal walks together.

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He didn’t smell very good, so I decided he needed a bath. Since it was gorgeous today, we did it outside. He trembled violently the entire time — he might be the meekest dog ever — but it was the easiest dog bath I’ve ever given, and then he seemed to love drying off in the sun.

He’s in the crate now, but whenever I go into the room, he lifts up his head to acknowledge me and rolls over for a belly rub. Small progress.

P.S. These are the only, very poor photos I have of him so far. Whenever I bring out the iPod to take pictures, he rolls over and faces the wall or pulls a blanket over his head. I am not even kidding.

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An end…(to be continued)

I’ve been wanting to write a bit about Bishop’s last day but haven’t been ready until now.

I think it was a good one. I was going to make him a ham sandwich for lunch, and then I remembered how much he loved butter and how much trouble he would get into at my parents’ house because he was always standing on his hind legs to reach the butter on the counter. So he got an entire stick of butter (which he pushed all over the floor, requiring extensive cleanup later!), along with an apple, a slice of deli ham, and half of my chicken noodle soup because I found myself unable to eat.

The sun was out, although the air was chilly, and we spent a long time in the field playing with his tennis ball and cuddling. I took a lot of photos, and then he got annoyed with me and I realized my time might be better spent loving on him. (The photos were taken with my camera, and unfortunately, because of computer issues, I am currently without software to download or edit them, so I can’t post any yet. But they’re good. Even the ones that are technically awful–blurred shots of a tail or paw–make me smile.) He rolled around in the red clay and grinned that huge doggy grin that I’d missed seeing, and I rubbed his chest, and we held hands, and I rested my cheek against his soft fur and thought about how much I love him.

And this happened: He went to drink out of the little drainage pond, like he often did when we were out in the field (preferring tannin-stained, milky-textured old rainwater to tap water in his bowl). I was watching him fondly when I noticed a shadow just under the grass near the bank. “Since when are there fish in this pond?” I thought. There’s no water source, only a ditch that fills after rainstorms, so although there are abundant frogs, I couldn’t imagine how a fish might have arrived. And then the dark shape undulated out from the bank, and I thought, “That’s a pretty darn big fish.” And then a triangular head darted toward Bishop’s nose and I hauled as hard as I could on the leash and screamed, both in fear for my dog and with delight at an unexpected snake sighting.

I don’t know whether it was a cottonmouth or a banded water snake; I had such a brief, dizzy look that my subsequent Internet research proved inconclusive. Its behavior — swimming toward Bishop rather than immediately fleeing — would be atypical of a banded water snake, though. It was decent-sized, easily as thick as my forearm, and regardless of whether it was packing venom, it could have delivered Bishop a nasty bite on the nose.

And so I think we were fortunate to have a cool day; the air temperature was in the mid-50s, the water colder, and the reptile evidently too sluggish to attack. Seeing it gave me a lift, a dose of adrenaline and something to research when we went back inside so I wasn’t spending the remaining time being sad about my dog.

Then we did some more snuggling, and I called my dad so he could say goodbye to Bishop (and I am told tears were shed in Colorado). Then my friend drove us to the vet. I thought I would have a sense of when he drew his last breath, but I didn’t. His head was in my lap, and his pupils dilated and then stopped moving. At some point the vet took her stethoscope away from his chest and looked up and nodded, and he was just…gone.
***
I had two experiences in the subsequent two days that I’m not going to write about in detail. But I will say that I had a very strong sense of Bishop’s presence both times, the feeling that he was letting me know he still exists, and he’s no longer in pain; he’s joyful and frolicking and chasing birds. And that assurance sent me into a euphoric state, almost a mania, for a few days before the grief hit again.

His footprints stayed etched in the soft red clay until we had another rainstorm.
***

I’ve gone back to the pond multiple times to look for the snake, of course, but I haven’t seen it again. I don’t believe I will. I believe it was part of the magic of Bishop’s last day.

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