Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I Can't See Russia From My House Because There Is No Alaska
For those of you who have sauntered over to my blog from Facebook, welcome. This is OBPOPCULTREF, which, way back when I started this lofty project, was either going to get me a book deal or back into broadcasting. It has done neither, and done so in spectacular fashion.
What it has become is a digital diary, of sorts. It's ebbed and flowed as much as the tides in the Bay, but with less pollution and more crabs. I never intended it to become a diary, but, that's what it somewhat is - a place to opine, rant like a less-funny and less-cancerous Bill Hicks, wax nostalgic in rose-coloured glasses and to occasionally whine like a little bitch. Tonight's post is going to be a bit of rant and a bit of whine...and some nostalgia. I've put off this first part long enough.
Bubby, the dog my mother and I have split custody of the past 11 years, passed away on August 4. I had to put her down due to internal bleeding - her spleen had ruptured, and she was bleeding from her lungs and heart. It was the humane thing to do, and I don't regret putting her to sleep. She would have died in a matter of hours, possibly a day or two tops, anyway. I hoped to allow her to pass away with some dignity, with myself and Kramer by her side.
The end, and this is probably true for all of us, comes when we least suspect it. I made no illusions of my dogs' immortality - I knew when I moved to Rockville last year that this would probably be Bubby's, and possibly Kramer's, last house. Bubby was 12 1/2 years old, which, for a larger dog, is a goodly amount of time. But if you had seen Bubby on Saturday, August 1, you'd swear that dog was 5 or 6. She ran around with Bart and I outside, chasing after us as we rode our bikes up and down the street. She was a puppy again, even if for a moment, wagging, barking, and, God damn it, she was smiling.
That next evening, she seemed lethargic even by her lazy standards. Bubby was never an active dog, but she was always responsive and alert. The next morning, I took her outside so she could do her business, and instead of bee-lining it to the backyard, she tried to crawl under the deck. That is never a good sign.
Some dogs will try to hide when they *know* what happens next. It's a weird, inane trait that I've seen in a few dogs. It's as though they don't want to be a burden, so they go out of sight, thinking that their last few moments on Earth should be spent in solitude.
At the time, I figured it was simply her bad hip acting up. I planned to take her to the vet on Tuesday, see what's going on. She was too healthy to be TOO sick, right?
That night, I carried her into the little futon we have in the spare room, and I laid down with her, holding her until she could fall asleep. I had given her a couple of aspirin and a nighttime pain pill, since I could tell she was in discomfort.
The next morning, that Tuesday, I carried her out of bed to the yard, so she could take a bathroom break. She simply panted and tried to crawl under the shrubs. I called the emergency vet around the corner, and Dr. Hambright, another vet here in Rockville. Hopefully one of them could see her, and tell me what was wrong with her hip.
An hour later, I'm at Dr. Hambright's office with Bubby in my arms, and Kramer on a leash, sniffing everything and being the friendly, happy dog he is. Dr. Hambright took one look at Bubby, and whisked her into the examining room. Five minutes later, he gave me the awful diagnosis.
"Massive internal bleeding, mostly due to cancer."
I was stunned. How could this dog, who had been SO lively and just a few days before, have been riddled with cancer? Surely there would have been a sign, a lump, something, right?
Sometimes, it's all internal, and the dog can't tell you if something feels less-than-normal. Dogs don't get mammograms.
Within thirty minutes, I had called Mark, Bart and my mom, and we said our goodbyes. Bart couldn't believe it, seeing her frolic like she did on Saturday. Mom, who had been here in Maryland to visit over the Fourth of July, was a mess. She had commented routinely that she couldn't believe how great the dogs looked. And now, barely a month later, Bubby would pass on.
Gene Weingarten, the immensely talented writer for the Washington Post, had written a feature about his beloved dog, Harry, in 2008. I've linked to it here. Please, go read that, and come back in a few moments to read mine.
You done? Crying, aren't you? If you're not, you either didn't read the whole thing, or you're not a dog-person. With Bubby laying there on the table, I remembered that entire story, and something he said in a follow-up chat on the Post's website. A person asked Gene how he could be there by Harry's side as he was put down, that the questioner himself couldn't do it. Gene said, and I'm paraphrasing, that dogs don't ask much of us, really. Food, shelter, affection. In return, they give us companionship, warmth, security. They're not as needy as children, don't require the constant attention of a baby. The least we can do, in their final moments, is to be by their side as they slip off into the great unknown. They're sick, they're scared, and they need some sort of reassurance.
My Lord did those words stick in my head as I held Bubby's paw. I held her paw through the entire process, telling her the constant truth that she was an absolutely wonderful dog, and, frankly, a great friend. I wanted to be there for Bubby, and Gene and his wife were for Harry. One final kiss. A wag.
Except Bubby had too much grace, or pride, for that grand of a gesture. She was classy, reserved. She stared off straight ahead, looking a thousand yards away. Never made eye contact with me but for a moment, never acknowledging Kramer, or even the vet. She passed away gently, probably pissed off that I had taken her to the vet. Her name was Bubby, and much like my Grandmother for whom she was named in tribute, she didn't like much fuss.
"She's gone" said Dr. Hambright, his stethoscope to her heart. He's been a vet for years, and he's probably said that a thousand times. He still said it with compassion and a crack in his voice. He'd just met me, and my furry brood, and yet, he knew. For that, I thank him.
I came in with a dog, and I'd be leaving with a corpse. That's a hell of a bait-and-switch there.
I took that day off work. I was in no state to go sit in a quiet cubicle with only my thoughts and regrets to keep me company. I took her lifeless body home, not exactly sure what to do with her remains. I took Kramer down to the hardware store with me, where we bought a camellia plant, amazingly enough called a Kramer's Supreme Camellia. Seemed like I had to buy that, huh? I planted that in the backyard with her remains in a simple ceremony, where Bart, Mark, Kramer, and our friends Stefanie, Elaine and her dog Koosh attended.
So, that was the memorial for Bubby that I have neglected to write for the past two and a half months. The "wax nostalgic" part is now complete. Let me now switch gears to rant and whine.
Last month, one of our neighbors stayed home during the week, and heard howling coming from our house. Obviously, it was Kramer. He had handled Bubby's passing so incredibly well - no whining, no chewing, no messing in the house. He handled it, dare I say, better than the humans in the house did. Mark had been looking for Bubby to let her out when he got home from work. Bart wanted to take her for a walk. I wanted to take her for a ride in the car. All of us momentarily forgetting that was no longer an option. Kramer had seemed to be the portrait of strength through all this. In a way, his normalcy made it easier for us to be, well, normal.
Except, he wasn't. While he was alone, in the house, he was a sad, lonely dog. He's never been one for doggie day care - one attempt back in Virginia with Bubby had the day care center remark "all they do is sleep!" He doesn't need 10 walks a day, he doesn't need 500 chew toys. He needed a friend, a furry friend during the day while his humans were out earning a paycheck.
So, I went to the Humane Society in Montgomery County last month. I figured that they would probably have quite a few dogs - given the lousy economy, I'm sure for some families, a canine is no longer an affordable luxury.
Even the best, cleanest, friendliest animal shelter is still a depressing place. Dozens of dogs living in close quarters, some who routinely mess in their pen, and cats with horrible litter pan aim, plus various rabbits, birds and lizards, it makes for a hell of a smell. It's like a Bouillabaisse made by an evil witch who learned her spells at Le Cordon Bleu. The cats are meowing, the dogs are barking and howling, and the smell of wet dog fur and dried urine hits your nose, it's sensory overload, and not in that fun "Vegas Casino" or "Awesome Theme Park Ride" kind of way.
It's like a prison. I've never been to a real prison, but, this seems about right. In fact, Mark noted that when a dog was let out of the pen to go outside, all the other dogs barked and howled like the old-time prisoners clanging their tin cups against the bars. "Here comes the new guy, let's razz him!"
In this four-legged Shawshank, most dogs have a look of desperation to them. They want out, and they will wag their tales, bark, jump enthusiastically, howl, run around in circles, anything to get the attention of a potential adopter. They don't know how desperate things are, how close to euthanasia they may be, or even how they ended up in this place. They just want to get out.
Other dogs are a little more mellow. Either they're older and just naturally calmer, or they're in a state of shock. Their eyes are scared, you can see it. They're not looking to impress; they just can't believe they're not where they were before. Maybe a family abandoned them. Perhaps they got away from their house, and had no idea how to get back. Who knows their backstory, really, for many of these dogs?
One of these dogs was Coltrane. Coltrane is a fairly young Lab/Pit Bull mix. He has, much like his namesake, a lot of soul. You can see the fear, the unease, in his eyes. He is not a barker. He is not a whiner. He is scared, and he is stunned. But the kindness and gentleness was obvious. He locked eyes with me, and it was amazing how those two dark eyes could show so much emotional chaos. I could tell he wanted to be somebody's pet, if he wasn't already a pet beforehand. I wrote down his name, just in case I didn't see any other dogs I liked. He looked like he might take some serious time to socialize.
Which brings me to this point - The Montgomery County Animal Shelter seems to have room for about 100 dogs. They're not completely full, but, they're close. Maybe one or two empty stalls. More than half of the dogs there are either pit bulls, or pit bull mixes. Some have obvious scarring and wounds that are consistent with fights, but most are simply pretty healthy dogs. Why are so many of them in there? I don't know exactly, but I'd reckon that most apartment complexes and community associations here in the County are not exactly pit bull-friendly. For the love of God people, read your *&@&! lease before you adopt a dog.
The pit bulls and the pit mixes are so numerous that the other breeds and non-pit mixes stand out. Flash, the German Shepard/Basset Hound mix was too cool for words, and fortunately, he's got a new home, away from the Canine Riker's Island. The huge Mastiff who is more content to eat his bed than to sleep on it. Then, there was Alaska, a positively lovely Malamute/Husky mix. Her friendly face and soft fur had me immediately, and she wagged her fluffy tail when I said her name. Her eyes were alert, ears perked, but was not as needy as the scores of dogs around her. I spent some time next to her cage, and she was very comfortable with me. I was pretty sure I would put in the adoption paperwork for her, provided she got along with Bart, Mark and Kramer.
This is where things get screwy. I met this dog, felt an instant connection, and had a good feeling about my ability to train her. The kennel staff member told me that I could bring Kramer buy for a fence visit - meaning Alaska would stay in the back outdoor area while Kramer would walk up to her from the parking lot, and sniff each other through the fence. I brought Kramer by the next day to do this, but was told by a different senior staff member, in a very direct, very rude tone, that they don't do that process anymore. I would need to put in the adoption paperwork BEFORE introducing her to Kramer. THEN, before meeting Kramer, I would need to have my human housemates meet her. THEN, before meeting Kramer again, I'd have to be judged worthy of adopting her. Only THEN could Kramer meet the new dog.
Weird, I replied. I was just told the opposite thing yesterday about the fence visit, but, hell, we can save everybody a ton of trouble if we just see if the two dogs get along. Kramer, despite anything Mark, Bart or I say, has the most important word. Or, bark, in this case.
A sympathetic worker arranged for a fence visit after all. Kramer and Alaska met through the fence, sniffed each other and wagged their tails. They seemed like fast friends, even though Alaska was a good 20 pounds heavier than Kramer and was obviously really excited to be outside. They seemed fine with each other, and she was responsive to me again.
I went back inside, and filled out the application for Alaska. She'd be a big dog, a big furry handful indeed, but I was certain she'd be a great pet. I filled out the paperwork, including my job info, my lease info, stuff about my house, my car. Part of the application deals with previous family pets, and pets I had cared for. I stuck with the highlights - JJ the Pomeranian, Bud and Vern the Chows, Glomer my rescue kitty in Des Moines, and my beloved box kitten Squeaky. Of course, Kramer and Bubby. I threw in some info about Uncle Larry's old dog Bandit, a lovely Norwegian Elkhound he had back in the early 1980s, figuring that more furry dog experience would look awesome on the application.
I thought right. The woman looked over the adoption paperwork, and noted "oh, Chow Chow and Elkhound experience, excellent... ." I didn't have the heart to tell her that my Elkhound experience was mainly getting out of the way of that horny furry bastard's unneutered crotch. That dog was pretty, but he was the jackrabbit of dogs. He humped my leg, my mom's leg, Uncle Larry's leg, my grandma's leg, the old tree out in the backyard, various shrubs and plants.
Here's where I should have known this would get fouled up - Alaska had been in the pound for barely two weeks, but already had two adoption applications in. The Humane Society does not tell you this when you put in the effort to meet the dog, get to know the dog, get kind of attached to the dog - they tell you this AFTER you have put in your application. Well, shit. Thanks?! Hell of a thing to meet this gorgeous, amazing dog, and find out "You're number three on our list for her."
Number three? Sheesh. That dog was essentially a high school student looking to go to college. Choice one would be the school she REALLY wants to go to. Choice two may not be as good academically, but she'd have a lot of friends there. Choice three was the local community college that's known for having a kick-ass vending machine. We were choice three.
I sneaked a peak at the applications in front of mine. Application number one, choice number one, was an address in Potomac, Maryland, on a street named after an old famous author. Potomac, for those of you who don't know the socio-economic levels of The Old Line State, is the wealthiest zip code in the wealthiest state, per capita, in the United States. It is home to diplomats, heads of state, actors, writers, lawyers, Arab oil barons, British royalty, Jewish property developers, Japanese tech investors, Italian shipping tycoons, and the dozens of Latina women who clean their houses. How wealthy is Potomac? You know that show "Beverly Hills 90210?" The original script was called "Potomac 20854." The town has big cash money, and I figured that Alaska would look wonderful in a house where the guest house's guest house is bigger than our house.
Alaska's first-choice school was Oxford, and we were TESST Electronic Schools, where you can train to be a printer or copy repairman in just a few short weeks. We ranked about one step above Sally Struther's old infomercial school and one step about Larry the Cable Guy's "Get `Er Done!" School of Toilet Clogging.
I went home pretty convinced we wouldn't get the dog, and it was too late in the evening for me to fill out paperwork on another dog.
Imagine my surprise when, almost two weeks later, I get a phone call from the Humane Society. We were now the number one application, and they needed to meet Mark and Bart. We went up last Saturday and met the dog. The gang loved her. Hopefully she could meet Kramer that day, too, and we could head on home, a two-dog household again. Alaska was friendly and hyper and sweet and excited, just like a young dog should be, but we were told we couldn't introduce her to Kramer yet. She'd been in the shelter for a month, and I hoped that her time there wasn't giving her too many bad habits. However, she responded well to my commands on the leash, lending credence to my theory that she merely needed some discipline and affection to become a great pet. She leaned up against Mark and Bart, and she offered me her paw without prompting. Yup, that sealed the deal. We wanted her. We just had one more small step...
The Adoption Nazi.
Now, she's not really a Nazi. She's got a thick accent, very much like Zorba the Greek. And you can tell she's a nice enough lady, and genuinely cares for dogs. So, she's definitely not really a Nazi. However, she is the interviewer for the Humane Society, and what she says, goes. She's like the matchmaker, a canine Yenta, if you will. If she doesn't get a good vibe with the adoptable dog and the potential owner, no dice. I could easily picture her saying "No dog for you for ONE YEAR!"
(Hey, my dog's named Kramer for a reason. I didn't love "Seinfeld" the TV show as much as I loved the characters on it. )
Kramer and I went to the Humane Society on Wednesday afternoon, hoping to FINALLY get this dog, nearly a month after this saga began. All we'd need is for the two pups to like each other, I pay the adoption fee, and we've got a new dog.
I knew something was wrong when I pulled into the parking lot. Alaska was straining against her leash, and the poor little female kennel staff member could barely hold her. She was extremely excited, but not towards me, or the car, or Kramer in the backseat. A large man took Alaska's lead, and kept her still. I take Kramer out of the car, and walk him towards Alaska. She strained at her leash again, to get a good look at Kramer. At this point in his life, Kramer is all about everybody, meaning that he wants to smell everything, and the big furry dog is about as interesting as the Adoption Nazi, the little female staffer, the large man, or the tree in the front yard. He eventually got over to Alaska, wagging his tail. So was Alaska, but the man had a hell of a grip on her leash. She started barking, and leapt forward, running into Kramer and knocking him off his paws for a second. She barked again, as Kramer smelled other things in the area. She lunged again, and this time the guy yanked back on the leash, making her bark and growl for a second.
The Adoption Nazi had seen enough.
"No, No no you cannot adopt this dog! This dog hate your dog!" she exclaimed through her thick accent. "She will hurt your sweet dog."
The large man hauled Alaska back into the kennel.
I said "she seemed a little riled up before I even pulled into the lot. I could see her straining-"
My Big Fat Greek Adoption Nazi interrupted me. "No, Alaska is not good with dogs! She hurt your dog!"
For the record, Alaska's adoption sheet, the canine equivalent of a Playboy Centerfold Data Sheet, said she's great with other dogs. She also likes long walks, cold weather, and Steely Dan.
That was the last I saw of Alaska.
The Adoption Nazi was not through, though. She asked me about what kind of a dog I was looking for, who Kramer would enjoy. I expressed shock that Alaska was so leash-aggressive around Kramer, because they were fine a few days a-
She cut me off again. "You like young dog? Old dog?" She said it like one of those doormen in front of a strip club in a seedy part of town. "Hey kid, you like redheads? I got redheads in here. You like Asian girls with stab wounds? I got Asians with stab wounds in here."
I resigned myself to the fact that Alaska was not to be. Adoption Nazi will not allow it. If I want to see Alaska, I'd better book a Carnival Cruise.
I asked about the funny Shepard/Basset hound mix, and found out he'd been adopted this weekend. I mentioned that I was looking for a younger dog, if not really a puppy. She said "I have a six year old Border Collie mix."
Unless you're talking about a tree or Roman Polanski's sexual preferences, six is not exactly young, but, Bubby was half Border Collie, and they are generally good dogs. My semi-photographic memory kicked in, as I went through the mental inventory of dogs I had seen on Saturday. I didn't recall too many middle-aged dogs...maybe he just came in...
Or, maybe, it's because the only other dog that matched the breed mix was a lot older than six years old. She trots out Bobo, a sweet little old man, but every bit of ten years old, if not older. He's a Border Collie/Shepard mix, with a completely gray muzzle, gray hair all through his coat, cataracts, a potential thyroid problem, some arthritis in his legs, potential hip dysplasia, a sore on his tail - all this I gathered in about the same time as it took the Adoption Nazi to write off the Kramer and Alaska love story. But, he's exceedingly nice to Kramer. They smell each other, and, you'd swear looking at the two of them, that Kramer was the six year old, and Bobo was the almost-ten year old. But, the Adoption Nazi swore he was six. She made me a copy of his information, and it showed he'd been microchipped, given all his shots, and this was his second tour of duty at the Humane Society. He'd been adopted last year, and brought back when the owners couldn't care for him. Uh-oh.
She went to get some more info on Bobo, when two of the Humane Society workers began talking back-and-forth about Bobo, as I petted him and Kramer.
"He is the sweetest thing!"
"Such a good old man!" (six year old dogs are rarely called 'old.')
"He'll be a great pet!"
"Did they get his cataracts fixed?" (thought he had those)
"I don't know, maybe it's on his sheet."
"Is his tail still bleeding?" (called that one, too)
"Nah, that's good. Shame about his arthritis." (I am on a roll at this point. Take me to Vegas! I can't lose!)
"Yeah, his hips are sagging." (I just hit a five-team parlay and covered the spread)
"Not much tartar on his teeth." (well, at least there's that.)
The Adoption Nazi brings me another form full of Bobo's info. It verified that he was a nice dog, very sweet and gentle, and very friendly. The previous owners couldn't afford to keep him, and, shocker! - he's at least 8 years old. They don't know, exactly. Judging from his looks, he's much older. I've never had a dog look this old, even the cancer-ridden Bubby, who, aside from some gray flecks on her muzzle, looked pretty young her whole life.
Now, this is where I call "Bullshit!" on this whole process. 30 minutes earlier, I'm looking at a healthy, fluffy, furry, energetic ball of joy and excitement named Alaska. She's not even two years old, ready to play, and to be loved, and to be a great pet for the next decade. I'm now looking at an elderly dog, with the thick, cataract-affected eyes of an old dog, with a lot of gray fur, a bad hip that probably can't be fixed, and the bulging eyes common in animals with bad thyroids. He's not in pain or any kind of suffering, but, he's not exactly the picture of health. Alaska, SHE'S the dog I want. A dog who is going to be a blast, energy and love. It's like I just saw an online personal ad, and the pictures on the ad are of a woman twenty years younger and fifty pounds lighter. That doesn't mean the older woman in front of me doesn't have value - just don't LIE to me. Don't pull a bait-and-switch on me.
If the Adoption Nazi had said "we have an older dog, very sweet, he needs a good home for his last year or two..." then you know what? I'd have considered adopting Bobo on the spot. At least fostering him - that's what fosters do. He's a kind old soul. But I just lost Bubby two months ago, and it still hurts. Hell, Squeaky ran away back in 2005, and I STILL keep a picture of that cat on my wall. I'm not a fool - I know Kramer doesn't have too much longer left in him, despite his ridiculously good health. He's a big dog, and he's got, what, one or two left in him? Maybe three, four would be pushing it, who knows? Bobo...hell, I couldn't take losing another pet so soon.
I just re-read my memorial to Squeaky that I linked to above. Damn I miss that cat.
In any event, I drove out to the Wheaton Regional Park with Kramer for a good walk and a chance to play with the dogs in the dog park. He was happy to be outside, and I was seething about the whole ordeal. Almost four weeks of practically courting the Humane Society and this dog, and I came up empty. This was almost 10 hours of my time, gone. That beautiful Alaska, sitting inside that kennel another night because she was overstimulated. That sweet old Bobo, sitting inside as well because he wasn't. And Coltrane, hopefully finding some peace.
All four of us wondering what they have to do to get adopted.