Oh yea, while I was wallowing around in my feelings I forgot to mention that Maisy turned NINE this week. I can hardly believe it.
In case we need a reminder of how perfect she is, observe:
That’s my girl.
Oh yea, while I was wallowing around in my feelings I forgot to mention that Maisy turned NINE this week. I can hardly believe it.
In case we need a reminder of how perfect she is, observe:
That’s my girl.
Soon after I started scootering (probably that very first autumn) and before I had learned to bail safely from it, I took a really bad tumble off the scooter and landed on my head. Fortunately I was wearing my helmet (I might have even posted pictures of it at the time) and my noggin was saved, and rather than making me more fearful of falling it did the opposite. As they so often are, uncertainty and unfamiliarity were the scary things rather than the actual experiencing of falling since it turned out to be no big deal in the end (although I did have to buy a new helmet).
So I’m not sure why I’ve persisted in being terrified of bikejoring pretty much forever. At one point I gave it a couple of half hearted attempts but never got serious about it. Maybe it was because that one time I tried biking with Squash with a side attachment, he broke it inside of ten minutes? There was a practical aspect to it; for a long time I didn’t have a vehicle that could transport a bicycle. But mostly I think it’s because I am unfamiliar with an easy way to bail off the bike if things start to go south and that’s pretty uncertain.
But recently I found myself as the only one in a bikejoring group on FB talking about scootering a lot, and realized that since getting the minivan I don’t really have the space/transport excuse anymore, and figured I should probably give it a fair shot, so I decided to just do the thing.
It went quite well actually. To my surprise, so far the dogs (and by that I primarily mean Squash because we all know Maisy is perfect) seem to run much better in front of the bike vs. the scooter. Steadier pace, much better ON BY, just all around more consistent. I think it’s because we are going a little faster and they are not just straight-up pulling as much; I can assist by kicking the scooter, but it’s not the same as pedaling the bicycle.
I didn’t die, or even need to bail off the scooter. For some reason I thought it would be a lot easier to lose my balance and fall over if I had to stop short or than it was and a lot harder to hold my ground if the dogs (again, Squash) did try to pull off course than it was.
We’ve gone a handful of times now, and while I’m not going to hang up my beloved scooter any time soon we’ll continue to bike as well.
In other news… Pip continues to do well. Like, really unexpectedly well. As of this writing we are just about four months out from his surgery, which is longer than we expected to still have him with us, and really just living a normal life (*knock wood*) other than having fewer rules and more treats in his life. His birthday is in a few weeks, and I feel hopeful that he’ll actually see twelve. He’s even growing his tummy feathers back.
I’m so happy and grateful that we have gotten this spring together; we’ve been going springtime birdwatching together a lot lately. And by that I mean I birdwatch while he meanders around eating grass and standing in the river. He’s really the perfect dog for it, because he doesn’t actually care about wildlife anymore and the slow pace suits him at this stage of his life.
And we get to see lots of nifty birds. I mean, look at this little guy.
I have to admit, though, that I’ve been having an odd time of it lately. And I’m only going to talk about this next stuff because I’ve found that it’s an odd road to walk and it sometimes feels lonely and I want anyone going through the same thing to know they’re not alone. The chances of having a close friend or family member navigating these end of life waters with a pet at the same time you are? Fairly slim. Friends, especially dog friends, understand it completely on one level but on another level you can only hoist your feelings on other people so much and many don’t really know what to do or say.
Make no mistake, day to day and when I’m with him I’m sincerely able to enjoy the time we’ve got and I’m so happy and grateful for it and wouldn’t trade a single day for anything. As we navigate these final months I’ve tapped into a deep appreciation for and patience with all my loved ones, I smile and laugh and play with them as much as possible. But at the same time I’m finding the uncertainty (there’s that damn word again) and the proverbial Other Shoe have become more weighty with time instead of less as I expected.
I guess I thought over time that Shoe would fade into the background and we’d live our lives and it would be like we weren’t watching or waiting for anything at all. Instead, it’s more like procrastinating right up to a deadline; at first it feels like, while limited, all the time you do have left lies ahead. But as it’s running out it feels more and more precious and while I honestly don’t think I’m obsessing over it, I’m also always just a little bit aware of it. And sometimes feel overwhelmingly sad, or scared. And I feel sometimes like I’m doing this wrong, feeling wrong things. Like, I should only only have the happy and grateful without the fatigue and irritability that come along with naggy small stresses, and I certainly shouldn’t be feeling sad yet because he’s RIGHT HERE literally at my feet as I write this.
Then while I was having all these feelings, that social network’s algorithms recommended a canine hemangiosarcoma support group to me. Great, I thought. A place to commiserate with people experiencing what I’m experiencing.
Except it was just post after post of… we said goodbye to Dog today, we were X weeks from diagnosis. And don’t get me wrong, support during grief is super important and I wouldn’t take it away from anyone or suggest they shouldn’t seek it out. But I was expecting more of a… support before grief kind of thing. I just wanted to tell someone in my situation who might be feeling my same feelings that I was feeling them, and be reassured that normal human being with feelings indeed feel these things and I am not some kind of ungrateful monster. And reading them all, I was really rattled. Just really shaken. I don’t want him to go. I don’t want to be making a post like that.
So… at the end of the day I’m not writing this to garner sympathy, I’m honestly not. Mostly I’m writing it for the catharsis and because it helps me sort out my own feelings. But also if you’re going through this now or ever, please know… Sometimes you’re going to feel stressed and sad and mad and scared and that doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate or deserve the time you have or that you don’t love your dog or don’t want them to stay. It means you’re a normal human being with normal feelings. Be easy on yourself, hug your dogs and go birdwatching if that’s your thing. Or if it’s not, do some other thing instead.
It’s February. We’ve had a week of 60s F weather, and the trails are *mostly* iced out although still pretty muddy So I swapped the skis out of and the scooter into the van and we’ve gotten out 3x this week. I can’t remember the last time I ran dogs 3 days in one week.
And once again I am reminded how awesome Maisy is. My little enforcer…
1. Drags his smug looking and not-at-all sorry face away from the tree he just blew an “on by” for.
2. Body blocks him when he sees some deer off the trail and wants to veer off.
3. Keeps body blocking while he gets his shit together.
4. Yet again, adding a little shove to the block.
5. Once more for the kids in the back, “I SAID WE’RE GOING ON BY THE DEER SQUASH”
6. She knows how to sneak a peek at the deer without breaking stride.
Also, I just really like this picture:
On the Pip front, he is continuing to do very well. We are about 7 weeks out from his surgery and so far so good. He got to go to the dog park today; with the heat wave we’ve been having the river has mostly iced out as well so he got a little water time, which I’m very grateful for. He doesn’t swim so much anymore but he loves to play in the water and I really wanted him to feel well long enough to get back at least once.
A little bit of his hair is in my eye, but I don’t really mind. This has become our bedtime ritual, he waits for me to get into bed and open my ereader before coming to my side of the bed where he sits, watching; going through the motions of politely waiting to be invited up as if he wouldn’t just wait until I was asleep and get on the bed anyway. I move the same blankets to clear the same little space on the sheet which I pat like I do every night and he hops up and plops down next to me, so close that my temple and shoulder are pressed against his back as I read.
He’s warm, it feels good on a cold February night. He runs hot, always has, and he likes to cuddle up. He’s the best dog to take along on the edges of camping season when it might still or already get chilly at night in a tent. My little fuzzy space heater. I wonder if we’ll ever get to take another camping trip together; spring seems so far away. I’m suddenly very glad I took him last fall.
I was worried it would feel desperate and clingy and all-encompassing, this uncertain space of time between knowing and letting go. At first it did, but we’ve made it a month without catastrophe and he’s still feeling well and now that we’re familiar with this place it feels calmer, more ok. Good, even? No, not exactly good, but… it feels pure. It’s surprisingly freeing, all expectations and worry over consequences (go ahead and have a[nother] bite of my sandwich or ten more treats, what’s the worst that could happen you’re dying for crying out loud) have fallen away at the same time patience and forgiveness (muddy pawprints clean up so easily, and you’re not really snoring THAT loudly and I only need half the pillow anyway) have blossomed and what is left is so true and pure and full of old memories and new memories being born.
It occurs to me that this is how we should be with all those we love, all the time. We’re all dying, really, just some more imminently than others. I wonder if I’m capable of doing so. I decide to try, though patience has never been my strong suit.
With that thought, I close the reader and as I set it on the nightstand we both sigh our last sigh before sleep, another ritual; I think he just enjoys the memory foam mattress topper but for me it means “yup, we had another good day together.” I know it’s real, that he’s still here for now. I’ve got his hair in my eye to prove it.
(Edit: Because this post has been shared with people who don’t know us, I’d like to clarify that Pip has been diagnosed with a malignant form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. We don’t know exactly how long we have left with him, but we are looking at months. Writing this has been an effort to help sort out my feelings about knowing what, but not knowing when. As of today he is feeling well and we are trying to just live in that state of pure enjoyment each day. Thanks for kind words and thoughts, and if you’re going through the same thing, you’re not alone.)
It’s been pretty quiet around here. Like last winter, this winter has been stingy with the snow and a little too generous with the thaws, freezing rain, and ice. We’ve been skijoring a handful of times and hope to get up to the Gunflint soon to get our fix, but mostly we have to find indoor things to do.
(Our most recent snowfall, which sadly has already mostly melted away.)
But I’m really here because I have some sad news, I just didn’t want to start out sad. A few weeks ago Pip was feeling pretty crummy and ultimately was diagnosed with a tumor on his spleen. In dogs, these tumors are either really really good (completely benign, remove spleen and all is well) or really really bad (very malignant, removing spleen does not make much difference). Of course the kicker is that you can’t tell for sure unless you remove it and send the whole thing in to a pathologist. With about a 50/50 chance of each, we decided to go ahead and take it out.
Unfortunately, Pip’s tumor was malignant hemangiosarcoma, basically the worst possible diagnosis. I don’t regret doing the surgery, his recovery was really smooth and he’s back to his normal self and feeling great. I’d take the same chance again in the same circumstances. We just don’t have much time with him from here on out. It could be two months, it might be six months, but it won’t be very long. Certainly not long enough.
So, he’ll feel good until he doesn’t. Right now he does and we’re trying to just enjoy it. It’s a very bittersweet time. I’m very very grateful for the time we’ve bought together. Each time he does something silly or adorable or even just completely and utterly ordinary normal Pip, I realize how precious it all is and how fortunate we are to have a little extra time with him. He feels so good right now that it’s easy to forget any of this is happening. But then sometimes I look at him, mostly when he’s sleeping and looks so sweet and peaceful, I remember and it hits me and my heart just squeezes. So little time left.
Being a dog, he’s blissfully unaware of what the future is bringing, and while I can’t un-know what I know I’m trying to navigate the end of things with as much love and laughter as possible and trying to let the anticipation and sadness slide off. He’s getting some extra privileges and lots of snacks and bones and all of the other good things he loves. And I know when the time comes that he’s feeling unwell again we’ll have to say goodbye, but it’s not today. Not today.
Fall training has been up and down this year. Towards the end of the summer, Squash pulled a muscle in his shoulder during an off leash hike that required rest for several weeks. Subsequently, he re-injured it at agility and had to rest again. We’ve been doing exercises and stretches and slowly building back to normal activities, and he’s good for mushing so we’ve been working on conditioning. He’s still out of agility at the moment but should be good to go back, restarting slowly, in the next week or two.
Today I didn’t grab the GoPro as I was heading out for a run but didn’t think much of it. Some days I bring it, other days I don’t. Of course today of all days it would have been nice to have because we had some challenging tests of our ON BY skills, one of which I’m sure would be hilarious to the viewing audience, and went 1 and 1 with them.
In the first, Squash and I had an epic battle of wills over a squirrel which inexplicably decided to run only 5-6 feet up a tree that was only a foot or two off the trail. In other words, pretty much in front of the dogs’ faces. Maisy was perfect as (almost) always but she’s little in the face of a determined Squash. For that matter, the two of us together are little in the face of a determined Squash. I spent a good amount of time untangling lines and resetting the dogs only to have him spin and stare/whine at the squirrel. Eventually, though, our impasse ended and we got moving again.
While he was still amped up on adrenaline from that encounter, we came to a fork in the road and I must say the dogs executed a committed, stunning right turn despite the turkeys standing in the middle of the trail down the left turn. He knew they were there, he was longing to hear COME ON HAW pass my lips, but he turned GEE when I asked him to.
I do this for fun and to exercise my dogs. Other than a few skijor races, I don’t compete in events. I don’t make a living running dogs. So my standards for my dogs are perhaps slightly lax compared to other mushers. That being said, although I can appreciate the humor in spectacular failures like our 5 minute squirrel standoff this morning, it can be frustrating to put time into training and practicing and have something go so wrong.
I don’t always get the instant gratification of a beautiful success right after an ugly failure like I did today, but it was a nice lesson for me. Just keep mushing, just keep mushing. Nobody is perfect, and one flop doesn’t erase all the successes. For every squirrel standoff there’s a turkey turn. Just keep mushing.
All 3 of the Mush Puppies could easily fall under the “pit bull type” based on their appearances. Thank god my city is too sane to require me to pay $450 in fees, muzzle them whenever they’re out of my yard, and keep them on a THREE foot leash – which would make mushing impossible. Come on, Montreal, get your shit together.
So, yeah. Rehoming a pet you still love deeply is a weird, grieving-not-grieving experience. Watching them thrive and be happy is amazing and wonderful and terrible and confusing. I find myself vacillating between desperately not wanting to be a creepy “your dog used to be my dog” stalker and longing to ask how he’s doing. Add to that the dismal feelings of failure and shame, add a dash of paranoid feelings that people you know and respect now despise you, and it’s all very mentally exhausting. So it’s not surprising, really, that after Toast left us I spiraled down into one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve had in a good long time. (Well I’m pretty good at faking it so maybe it is surprising to some people.)
Thank god for the other dogs, because they forced me to at least go through the motions even if I wasn’t enjoying things. It’s hard to completely skip activities and classes when you have a squirrelly polar bear in your face. They need stuff even when you don’t feel like doing stuff. So we marched on through the summer together. The weather (alternately blazing hot or pouring rain) kept us from mushing regularly, and then later in the summer a minor but nagging injury sidelined Squash from agility.
But the one vaguely positive thing about these episodes for me is that I develop a sort of not feeling, not caring, invincible recklessness that can pass for bravery if you don’t look too hard. In my younger days that led me down some questionable roads but acting out is a little different in my 40s so it looked more like this: After a few years of not trialing we returned to the ring and finished Squash’s RL1 in WCRL rally (and subsequently registered for additional trials), I bought some rollerskis after learning that my regular cross country ski boots would fit the bindings, and signed Squash up for a novice tracking class as an alternative to agility until he could return.
The potentially most dangerous of these was rollerskijoring. In retrospect I kind of wonder what I was thinking. I’ve only done it with Maisy so far, at first because even I wasn’t reckless enough to go with both dogs right out of the gate and later because of Squash’s injury. It was hard to get my rollerski legs under me; it’s like and not like skiing. Once we get some momentum going it feels exactly like skate skiing to me but getting started felt so hard. Still, once Maisy decided the rollerskis weren’t going to eat her and got into it, it was fun. Like, really fun. It felt fun. I think that’s when I might have very first started to feel more like myself again, to feel like anything at all, after our first few runs.
I was really missing agility when I signed up for tracking, and it was mostly a way to keep Squash engaged in an activity while he was taking a break. But I’ve come to not only like it for itself, but love how it has changed up my sleeping habits and typical morning routine as well as re-energized my interest in and enjoyment of a number of everyday tasks. Most days I work an afternoon/evening shift, and traditionally I was a stay up late, sleep late person. Now, on my mornings off I typically get up early to take Squash tracking, stop and do an errand on the way home (grocery shopping, pet supplies, whatever), do some chores when I get home, +/- take Pip and/or Maisy out, and take a short nap before going to work. I feel better. I’m cooking more. Chores are small tasks here and there rather than dedicating a day to them all. I’m writing a blog post for the first time in forever. All because I found something enjoyable and reinforcing enough (tracking) to get up early for.
I barely know what I’m doing here. We’re doing very short, young, heavily-rewarded tracks for the moment. But it’s fun and we’re doing it together and it’s getting me out of bed and back into the world. Into enjoying the world. As Squash’s exercise restrictions get lifted we’ll probably shift back towards mushing again, but for now we’re having fun.
Ain’t dogs and dog stuff grand?
When I started this blog, I promised myself I would always be as transparent about my lows as I was about my highs. On the internet, it’s so easy to get the sanitized version of everyone’s lives and think everyone else is doing everything right while you’re the only one bumbling along. I wanted anyone else beating themselves up for not being perfect to know that they weren’t alone with their bloopers and mistakes.
In that vein, I am very sad to tell you that soon I will be driving Toast back to his breeder. My head knows this is necessary, the best thing for all of us. But my heart isn’t quite convinced, and it’s breaking over and over.
It’s not because I don’t like him, or love him, or he’s not good at the things I want him to be good at. He’s a fantastic dog, an amazing athlete, an incredible mushinois and discinois. He grew into a bit more dog than anticipated, but that’s not really it either (although I’ve felt some low level guilt for some time that he might be happier in an IPO home). I don’t have the energy or the desire to explain the situation in minute detail, but briefly: Toast and Squash aren’t safe together right now. They had one major fight earlier this year but were completely fine with one another the next day. They had another major fight last week and this time, they cannot even see each other without wanting to fight. I don’t have either the physical space or mental fortitude to manage them via crate/rotate and don’t have the training chops to safely and effectively help them fix their relationship.
I find that I simultaneously want to rip off the bandaid and leave yesterday, but also wish the day we leave would never actually come. Squash is staying elsewhere for now. I miss him, but both my and Toast’s stress have decreased significantly which has allowed us to spend as much of the time we have left as we can just having fun… mostly playing a lot of disc, a little mushing, lots of hiking and swimming, some flirt pole, and plenty of snuggles.
To my friends, family, and coworkers who have been supportive and kind about this decision, thank you so much. It helps, probably more than you realize. I don’t know how people make hard decisions or live with those hard decisions without people like you.
To people who think I’m making a crappy decision, I haven’t tried hard enough, or some other variation thereof, I’d like to gently remind you that I haven’t shared everything I’ve tried. And I’d like to invite you to try to separate these two very large, very strong dogs (who, by the way, do not diffuse if physically separated during a fight but continue to try to reach each other [or redirect] until they are completely separated from one another’s presence out of one another’s sight) during a fight. Or worry every single day that your management will break down and you’re going to go through it all again and wonder if next time it will be even worse.
For those of you experiencing some schadenfreude right now, I hope it’s delicious. I get it, I don’t wear a halo myself, and I probably deserve it.
And for anyone who wants to tear me a new one, go nuts I guess…. I’m pretty sure you can’t think anything about or say anything to me that I haven’t already thought about or said to myself, though. I don’t, however, want to see anything negative about his breeders. They were completely transparent about his breed, his parents, and his litter from the beginning, have been nothing but supportive of and kind to me throughout his time with me, and are providing him a fantastic place to land in preparation for the next chapter in his life.
So we’ll have one last road trip together before we have to say goodbye, my sweet, best boy. I’m so, so glad you were my Toasties, even if it was just for a little while. I love you so much and I always will no matter where you are. I’m so sorry I couldn’t give you what you needed to stay here with me, but I’ll always be grateful and happy for the time we spent together. We had such a good time, just such really good time, and you taught me so much about so many things and forced me out of my comfort zone many times in the best possible way. I know you’re going to go on to do amazing things in all your adventures to come, but I will miss you, best brown dog. Very best brown dog.