Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Abby & Snow

(This was taken in early 2002.)

The decade that was the 90’s did not see much snow relative to what this area normally saw in the preceding two decades. Raleigh could count on three or four snowfalls a winter season of about 1 to 4 inches per winter storm. As I’ve noted before, it was after a winter storm involving snow and sleet when Father laid down before me, gave up the fight and tried to let me help him. Father was an old guy, so we thought, who had been around and saw a lot. For him to see snow would be a familiar site for him.
However when the first predicted snow storm was announced when Abby was here, we were a little excited to see how she would respond to this strange and odd phenomena. Abby was a dog that loved new things. She bored easily, so keeping her entertained and interested could be a challenge at times. Abby also loved spontaneous unpredictability. Any threat of snow around here is a big deal since an inch of it can shut down the city. The slightest whiff of a storm can send droves of shoppers to grocery stores to stock their supplies of food for a month’s worth of isolation. It’s funny, predictable and of course overkill. People recently relocated from the north will roll their eyes and scoff at the shutdown of a city for such a trivial amount of snow. After a few years, they come to anticipate and like these days off just like the rest of us.

I wished I had remembered Abby’s initial reaction the very first time she saw snow. I do remember how much fun she had romping around on the snow and trying to roughhouse me and Father. Her excitement for snow never abated even into her final years. When Andy joined our family, he loved to frolic in the snow with her and had many chasing games and wrestling matches with her on the snow.

There was one activity in particular that drove Abby nuts. She went haywire anytime I would slide down the hill on something. Not only would she chase me down the hill, but she would bark and growl at me. If she could catch me, which she often did, she would bite the hell out of me. These were not ‘love bites’ either. It hurt a whole bunch. She would target my arms which thankfully were covered with a long sleeve shirt and a jacket which would cushion the sting a little. After a few times down the hill, my arm would have red whelps on them and bruises. She had grown out of her ‘biting stage’ of puppydom, but in this case, she would bite me without hesitation. Even when she was much older, if I were to slide down the hill covered with snow, Abby would bite my arms.

I know she was excited and playful, but in every other instance of when she was riled up, she would not bite me after she passed that ‘biting’ phase in her puppy days. I never could figure out what it was about that activity that would prompt her to bite the shit out of me--repeatedly. She wouldn’t lockdown on my arm and place a death grip on me. She would bite, and bite , and bite. I wished I could have understood why she did it. I’ve always been curious how she viewed my sliding down the hill. Did she think I was running away? Was she jealous and wanted to slide down the hill too? Why did she think the ‘no biting’ rule didn’t apply in that case? This was something about her I could never figure out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Abby's First Christmas

(This wasn't the tree mentioned below, but it pretty much looked the same and was about in the same place that tree was in '96.)

Christmas in ’96 was the first one after my grandmother’s death, and the 3rd one that my dad would not spend with us since this was in the middle of his ‘period of troubles.’ On a brighter note, this was the first Christmas ever for my baby girl. As if we didn’t dote on her enough, we thought we would involve Abby in the festivities by purchasing her a gift as well. I bought her a gift basket from a big-box pet store. It was filled with pigs ears, milk bones, rawhide chew toys and some squeaky toys. The fact that a pet store would have such an item meant I wasn’t the only one out there who paid a little too much time with his pet and overindulging it. It was a relief to know that there were other dog owners out there who were just as eccentric about their babies as I was. I even went so far as to wrap the gift basket and place it under the tree along with the other ‘people gifts’.

Not wanting to leave Father out and hurt his feelings, I bought him a gift basked too, wrapped it and placed it under the tree. My plan was to open their presents on Christmas Eve when we opened our presents. Things didn’t work out the way we wanted. The day we put the gift baskets under the tree, Father zeroed in on one of them, sat in front of it and guarded it in full earnest. When Abby walked by him, he growled a little and drew even closer to the gift basket, with the gift between his front paws. Father grew anxious and irritated even when I or someone else came close to his gift.
I thought it was so cute that Father knew the gift was his. He picked it out of the whole stack of gifts and wasn’t going to let it out of his site. It was almost like a predator-prey scenario. He stalked out his loot and wasn’t going to let it go. Father wasn’t too mean to Abby. Abby was somewhat confused, but she didn’t press the issue since there was so much more going on to divert her attention from a possibly volatile situation.

We couldn’t let this situation go on for days on end. Had we let Father, he was going to stay by his prize as long as he had to until he reaped the rewards. We decided to go ahead and give Father and Abby their baskets which they absolutely loved. Come to think of it, this gift to the babies was about the only thing I remember about that Christmas. I’m not sure if we ever gave them gifts like that again. I wished I had taken pictures of that time, but I didn’t.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Hitchhiker

This blog concentrates on my labs, Abby and Andy, but I will occasionally have stories of other pets that have been in my life. In this case, the story goes back into the mid 70’s. I was six to eight years old at the time this story occurred. We were at an outdoor swim meet in High Point, so the event took place in the summer and the meet was most likely the NC Swimming AAU State Championships. At least until the mid 80’s, this pool in High Point was the location of the outdoor state championships, and the only time we swam a meet there was at the state championships. However, I don’t know where the event is held now. Since I was so young, I was not a participant in the event. It’s not that my age precluded me from swimming in that meet, but I had not started swimming in full earnest at that time and so was not ready for the ‘big time’ of the state championships. My brother was a good swimmer in his day, so he was the reason my mom and I were in High Point at that meet.

For those wondering why I’m inserting this story here off all places in a blog that has mostly proceeded in a linear fashion, a program on the Animal Planet about cats triggered a memory this story is based on. A cat strayed from home, found its way on a tractor trailer whose contents, including the cat, were transferred to a boat and then shipped on the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River, across the Atlantic to France, where the cat was discovered upon unloading. There was a happy ending since the cat was returned to its rightful owner.

Back to High Point. I remember the day was overcast, and I also remember where we were parked which was on the roadside close to the exit of the park where the pool was located. Since there was plenty of light out, the event took place sometime during the morning session for that day. The format for swimming championships has a morning session for swimmers to qualify for the finals which are held that subsequent evening that day. My brother, mom and I were in the car and ready to go home after the morning session. The car cranked, my mom was about to pull out of her parking space when someone in a car behind ran up to her and said that we ‘forgot’ our cat.

Perplexed, my mom asked him what he was talking about. He said that a cat jumped out of our car. Now for those who don’t swim, taking a cat to a swim meet is not within the realm of acceptable behavior. I’ve been to numerous swim meets, and I’ve never seen a family take a cat to the pool, and believe me, I’ve seen quite a number of weird, eccentric people at these places.

I know my mom was the crazy cat lady, but we did not use our cats as traveling companions. What most likely happened was that a cat climbed into the underbelly of the car and hitched a ride to High Point. One of the perils of having so many cats is the potential of killing a cat while cranking up the car or backing a car out of the driveway. Part of the routine when we drove anywhere was to check all around the car and underneath, and if there were any cats underneath shoo them away so they don’t get killed. This wasn’t effective for the cats that found their way into the motor of the car. That could get gruesome. As the engine was cranking, once in a while a cat would be caught in a moving part, making a loud ‘thumping’ sound, and soon after the dead or gravely injured cat would drop from the bottom of the car. Sometimes the cats stuck in the motor would make it a block or two until a moving part grabbed and killed them. We would hear that ominous sound and see the cat tumbling in the rear after it fell out of the car.

My family was amazed that the cat made it that far without being killed. Damned if it didn’t beat the odds. The family in the other car didn’t see it that way. They thought we were abandoning a cat we no longer wanted. I can still see the look in the woman’s face. This person was in the car behind us, and she was giving my mom an ugly look. Even at a young age, I could read her emotions and tell she was mad at us. This woman must have thought my mom was a monster. My mom tried to explain what happened but I doubt these people believed her. If looks could kill, my mom would have been dead that day.

We picked up the cat, put it in our car and went home. Since this was an ‘outdoor’ cat, I have no idea what happened to him after that day. We didn’t give names to the outdoor cats. Eventually he died, but on that day, he beat the odds and cheated death.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Father Goose
The Geese Police

(The above photo was taken years after Father had died.)

One evening after the sun had set, the dogs wanted to go out and use the bathroom. My mom was out of town, but I’m not sure where she was vacationing at the time. What I do know is that it was in the fall sometime before I moved to NJ, so the only dogs there were Abby and Father. When I opened the side door leading to the backyard, instead of Father jauntily walking which could almost be described as hopping, he accelerated into a full sprint and made a beeline straight to the pool. Also at this time, I heard wings flapping from what sounded like a large bird, accompanied by the sounds of water splashing in the pool and squawking. I’m almost certain it was a Canadian goose. In a nearby lake, there is a flock living there, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that one of them could have flown over, saw our pool and decided to hang around. I have seen Canadian Geese in our front yard a few times as well.

The goose escaped unscathed, but what a dramatic moment that was! To see Father take off like a bat out of hell set the tone of that event. Then to see Father run straight towards the pool confused me even further because Father is scared of the water and is an awful swimmer. And yet there he was running straight to the water. Hearing a large bird flapping in your backyard is a little discombobulating too. This was the first time I had seen a Canadian goose in our yard, and he was making quite a commotion.

I’ve always wondered that if that bird were in the pool by the time Father reached it, would Father have leapt in to attack it? I have little doubt Father would have gone after this bird. There were a couple of times when Father accompanied me on a run which took me by the goose’s lake when I had to call off Father from attacking one of them. When you’re by yourself, those cocky little bastards can be mean as hell by hissing at you and extending their wings as you go by. But when Father was around, they were scared shitless. When Father ran to the pool that night, I was certain he was going to try to kill this bird (actually there may have been two), because the way he ran was the same as when I saw him chase after a squirrel and kill it or chase a cat and try to kill it.

I also wonder if Father could have killed the bird without drowning. Like I’ve said before Father knew how to kill and would have sunk his teeth around that goose’s skinny little neck and choked the life out of it. A full grown goose would have been five star dining for Father, a feast of a lifetime.

Looking back, this was another example of Father earning his keep. Had those geese established a nest in our backyard, I’m pretty sure it would have been illegal for us to disturb it. In places where Canadian Geese have become pests by camping out at parks, corporate grounds and golf courses, getting rid of them can be a headache. An effective way to drive away these birds is to use dogs. For the sake of civility and public relations, certain dogs such as border collies are used for the task, but I imagine Rottweilers or chows would work just as well even though they would try to eat those birds instead. Border collies love to run and have an almost instinctual drive to herd animals. Canadian geese don’t like dogs, especially those who are trying to round them into a herd, so eventually they get the message and find somewhere else to live. I guess these geese received the message loud and clear because they never came back or at least in Father’s lifetime.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone

(Abby is right beside the part of the counter where the loaf of bread was. The main counter is to the left.)

My grandmother owned a bread maker which I used a couple of times a month. I would make bread, pizza dough and donuts with that bread maker. Normally I’m skittish about baking with yeast because it’s a pain properly preparing yeast based products since the optimum temperature in which the yeast will work is somewhat narrow, too cold, the yeast’s “activity” is too low and the bread won’t rise, too hot, and the proteins in the yeast will breakdown, and once again the bread won’t rise. The bread maker removed that attention to detail needed for baking with yeast that would otherwise overwhelm my occasional fastidious self. Sometimes in the kitchen, the chemist in me comes out and my overly cautiousness can double the time needed to measure out or weigh things. And yes, I do have a kitchen scale which I absolutely love.

So, on the second weekend of my mom’s Great Britain trip, I baked a loaf of bread. The amount of work needed for fresh bread was cut down quite a bit with this bread maker making this task easy and routine. It was so easy and routine in fact that I can’t even remember making the loaf itself on that day. However where things do become vivid is when I removed the loaf from the bread maker and cut a slice, putting the loaf on the side counter while I put the sliced-off piece on the main counter. Now the loaf, or the rest of it, was at my back. I was putting some butter on my slice of bread when I noticed Abby hustling down the kitchen and into the dining room. “How odd”, I thought. She didn’t seem to be in a playful mood, and no one was in the other room calling her, “Why is she running like that?” As I walked towards her, I noticed an empty space where the remaining loaf had been. Abby took the loaf and darted into the dining room with it (I have mentioned that she was getting bigger, right?). I have no doubt that if I gave her a chance, she would have eaten the whole thing! I couldn’t believe how stealthy and bold she was in taking that bread. I didn’t hear a thing, nothing, and my hearing is pretty damn good.

In my heart, I thought it was cute and funny that Abby would sneak on the counter and take the whole loaf of bread like that, but on the outside, I had to maintain some standards and discipline by admonishing her and giving her a ‘little spank’. I took the loaf from her and threw it away. I said the usual things like “Bad girl”, “Did you do that?” or “Do you want a spank?” I swatted her rump but didn’t hit hard. By this time, the events leading up to the spank, such as saying the word ‘spank’ itself was more upsetting to Abby than the actual spanking itself.

I think the lesson she learned was “Don’t take food from Gary” and not “Don’t take food from the counter” which I intended it to be. A couple of years later when I was no longer living at home, my mom told me a couple of stories of how Abby sneaked food off the kitchen counter and also the coffee table. The coffee table is right at eye level for her so any unattended food there was too tempting for her to pass up. However when she took a sandwich from the counter when she was around 10 or so, she knew better and was trying to get away with something since my mom, the non-disciplinarian, was home alone and wouldn’t spank her.

As a matter of fact, I think her lesson from that day when she took the loaf of bread from was indeed “Don’t take food from Gary” and not “Don’t take food from the counter.” When Abby lived with me at my condo in the downtown Raleigh area, not once did she take food from my counter or coffee table even though she had ample opportunities to do so.

That loaf of bread would be the last I made, ever as of this writing. My aunt wanted that bread maker, so she told my mom to give it to her, which she did. How often did my aunt use it, I don’t know. The last time I saw it was at my aunt’s house sitting in the utility room above the washer and dryer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rain Rain Go Away

Abby learned early in her life that a rainy day meant no play, or at least outside. She had many ways of asking me to go outside such as staring at the front door, standing by my seat and looking away from me or simply barking at me and running to the door. However when it was raining, she knew better than to ask to go out. She would go out briefly during rainy days to go to the bathroom, did her business as quickly as possible, didn’t dillydally around and went right back inside. This is not to say Abby was happy about her predicament. She had her ways of conveying her mood to me. On rainy days when she wanted to go out but couldn’t, she would pout, mope around, lie on the floor pointing towards the window and cut her eyes at me like I had something to do with it raining.

During one four day stint in this two week vacation period, it rained solidly and continuously. I tried to vent Abby’s pent up energy by engaging in play activities inside, but after the fourth day, Abby had enough. When I let her out for a bathroom break, she not only refused to go back inside, she grabbed a Frisbee or a rope and demanded my attention and that I play with her outside. We played fetch and had a few rounds of tug-o-war while we became drenched in the rain. This improved her spirits afterwards, and she wasn’t so antsy and irritable as she had been on the preceding three days.

Go Out There and Break a Leg.

The climax of ‘Inside Playing Games’ came on a Saturday evening a week into the two week stint of my mom’s Great Britain trip. Abby was over six months old then and was growing stronger and faster by the day. When it came to chasing games, the tides were clearly moving in her favor so I had to do something to gain an edge. First, was the direction I chose to go around the indoor loop which was in a clockwise fashion (living room to foyer to den to breakfast room to dining room and back to living room). When Abby ran through the den and gained a good head of steam, she had to slow down quite a bit when she approached the breakfast room since the floors in both rooms are hardwoods. Had I ran the other way, the turns would have been on carpeted areas, and she wouldn’t have to slow down much at all. I had to slow down going from the den to breakfast room transition too, but not as much as Abby had to.

Something else I had to do was to cut the corners as hard as I could, and that is where I would pay the price. On the last indoor chasing game I had with Abby, I was having a wonderful time with her, and she seemed very pleased and excited herself. As I mentioned to earlier, Abby was getting faster. These games were getting shorter and shorter because she caught me so fast. I was going pretty quickly through the den, zipped through the breakfast room and rounded into the dining room with Abby close behind. I cut the corner hard, my body leaning further than it should have. Something had to give. Had I been on my other foot, my left foot, my left ankle would have given and I would have collapsed. I have sprained this ankle a dozen times at least. Like a doctor told me one time, spraining your ankle is like biting your lip. Once you do it, it makes it easier for it to happen again. I’ve had three ‘knockdowns’ with this ankle, where I could hear the ankle snap and my body collapsed right on the spot. The other times, the ankle rolled, sometimes snapping, sometimes not, but I did not fall on the remaining occasions.

But I was on my right ankle, the ‘good one’, the strong one. As I said before, I was leaning too much and something had to give. It wasn’t going to be the laws of physics. It wasn’t going to be my right ankle. It held up just fine. My footing slipped on the carpet, and down I went. My forward momentum carried me into the living room where my knees hit the floor and my shoulder hit a chair. From point of departure to point of contact, I went over six feet forward and down two steps on my way below. I heard something snap, but I didn’t know what. My shoulder? My knee? I didn’t feel much pain. (I may have had a couple of beers that night.) Abby ran down the steps and leapt on my back. She was so happy because she clearly won the game. I rolled on my back and she started licking me and wagging her tail. After her post-game celebration was over, I stood up and hobbled to the recliner and sat down.

The next day, I found out what was injured—my right knee. It was literally black and blue. Also, my knee was quite swollen, so much so that I could feel the fluid jiggle around whenever I took an oh-so-painful step on it. I limped to the kitchen, put some ice in a bag and iced my knee intermittently with heating in between all while keeping it elevated and a took a few doses of Excedrin. My biggest concern was making it to teaching labs the next day (I did). The swelling subsided considerably the next day, but my knee was stiff for a few weeks after that and I had to stop running for a month or so. The only way that I can tell I had injured that knee is the fact that it pops from time to time while the other knee does not.

Fast forward 10 years. I’m in a sports medicine physician’s office because of my compartment syndrome. One of the ways compartment syndrome is caused is a broken bone, which is why the doctor ordered X-rays on both lower legs. The doctor came in and said that even though it appeared that I broke my leg at some time in my life, the old injury didn’t appear to be the cause of my compartment syndrome.

I was so enmeshed in the compartment syndrome that I didn’t bother asking the doctor which leg had been broken and where. Was it the time I was playing with Abby? Was it the time I wrecked my cousin’s minibike the same year I injured my leg playing with Abby? It may have been another injury from my childhood, but I suspect the two injuries mentioned above are the most likely culprits in my old, previously unknown leg-break. I never knew because I never went to the doctor to have these injuries checked out.

That weekend marked an end to a series of games Abby and I played inside. We never played an indoor chasing game after that. She was too fast; I was too slow and it was too dangerous. I’m sure by this point, there are some motherly types reacting to my running around the house and getting injured and thinking “I told you so.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Biting the Hand That Feeds You

This story took place a few years after my mom’s Great Britain trip. Thinking about how much I loved teasing Abby brought back this memory of when I teased Father and how the contrast between those two was so stark when it came to teasing. I was living in NJ at the time and was back down in NC vacationing sometime in the summer. I was in the kitchen alone with Father, only that Father didn’t know I was in the room with him. I was around the corner by the door leading to the patio and Father was almost at the boundary between the kitchen and the breakfast room with his back to the kitchen. I sneaked up behind him and quickly but lightly grabbed his hip area. It scared the hell out of poor Father. He tensed up, reached his head around and put his mouth on my hand. I was damned close to being bitten. Father immediately released his mouth from my hand and in a seemingly simultaneous sequence of events, he dropped to the floor and rolled on his back, prostrate and in fear.

That was the only time Father ever physically confronted me after he moved in with us, and even before, all he did was bark at me and run away. He never made physical contact with me when he was mad at me. This was a dog that believed in a strict hierarchy. It almost comforted him the order it brought to his life. He knew I was the alpha, and he would never ever knowingly challenge me. He was so pitiful the way he was laying there, the way he displayed total submission to me. I knew Father was startled and further realized that he didn’t like teasing or roughhousing. He was scared. Scared in the thought that he was being attacked when I grabbed him, scared of the idea of what I may do to him for his aggression to me.
I don’t know what was going on in my head thinking that it would be OK to tease Father like this. I didn’t expect he would bite the shit out of me which he nearly did. I can still feel those teeth bearing down on my hand right now. I made a mistake and needed to ‘kiss and make-up’ with him. I reached down, rubbed Father’s stomach, told him he was a good boy, and loved him. He started licking me, jumped to his feet and was back to his ebullient-self hopping around.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teasing Abby

Up until my mom went on her trip to Great Britain, I hadn’t spent much time alone with Abby while awake, and what time I did was late at night when I was tired. When I arrived home, someone else was around so Abby’s attention was divided between me and whoever else was in the house. However once this trip was underway, I had Abby all to myself. At first I thought of her as being something to care for and keep alive until my mom returned home. But Abby had a way of demanding attention and usually got it. When my mom was at home, I tried roughhousing Abby but I was normally chastised for this behavior because my mom didn’t like the noise and commotion generated from all of our activity. She tried to achieve harmony and tranquility in her house. It was a miracle that she got the dog in the first place let alone a big floppy dynamo like Abby. My mom also claimed that my roughhousing and teasing made Abby mean. Who knows, maybe it made her more aggressive. Admittedly, I really didn’t know much about dog behavior so I didn’t have much ground to stand on in any response to my mom’s statement.

I soon discovered that it was fun to play with Abby. We played like we had before, but this time there was no one to keep us in check and tell us to cool it. What we had now was like before but amped up on steroids and amphetamines. Our play was high energy, robust and full-contact bouts of running, chasing and wrestling. My mom didn’t mind us playing hard outside but drew the line at such activities inside. Now we could play day and night, inside and out. I felt like a kid with a new puppy. I didn’t realize how fun puppies were until then.

Abby loved to be teased and would eventually relish it. There were many ways I’d get her going. If she had a toy in her mouth, I’d say, “Give me that”, and she would start growling and then crouch down and trot to me and run away real quick. When I repeated that command, she would run even faster and growl even louder. When I did take the toy away, I’d put it just out of her reach and watch her jump and bark in frustration at her attempts to get the toy. I would simply hold the toy up in the air just above her, or I’d put the toy on a shelf in plain view and say to her, “Give me that”. She would go nuts, but it was loads of fun for her.

She also liked it when I’d sneak in the back and hide from her. As mentioned earlier, it was difficult to break away from her, but when I did, I would go in one of the beds, go under the cover completely and yell Abby’s name. She would trot to the back while I would peak out of the blanket and watch her pass by the room I was in, and I would then yell her name again. She was in frenzy by this point, but eventually she found me and would dash to the bed, leap on it and start biting and slapping at me while trying to burrow under the blanket to get at me. We would wrestle and play for a few minutes and then return to the living room where we usually hung out inside the house.

Abby mastered the hide and seek game quickly. She learned to use her sense of smell to track me. I would see her get to the point where I had made a turn, and that was where she would stop, point her nose in the air, twitch it a couple of times and then head directly to me. To counter her new weapon in her arsenal, I would have to find better hiding places. One way was to hide behind the shower curtains in the bathroom. The first time I tried this, Abby would stop in the bathroom and stand there with a perplexed look on her face. Her nose told her that I was there, but her eyes said otherwise. When she left the bathroom, I would climb out of the shower, sneak up on her and grab her. Of course she was happy when she saw me and went nuts, but she caught on to that hiding space very quickly so it was on to something else to keep her entertained.

I also loved to tease her by putting a blanket over me, walking to the front and sneaking up on her. She would bark and growl and then start running around and jump on me. This was almost guaranteed to start a wrestling match. This was something I could not do with Andy or Father. Andy would get scared whenever I tried to tease him, especially when I disguised myself someway. He would growl but in a different way from how Abby did it. Abby’s growl was a playful fun display but Andy was truly scared and he would slink away from me and hide in his ‘sanctuary’, my mom’s bed. When I tried to tease Father, he either became scared like Andy or just plain confused.

Even when she was older and slower, she still liked to be teased. Her all-time favorite was “I’m going to get a little girl.” It was not only what I was saying but how I would say it that drove her nuts. I would say it in a low, slow, singy-songy way. She would become agitated when I first said “I’m” and by the time the words ‘little girl’ came out of my mouth, she was growling at me and then top it off with a loud bark. It was cute every time she did it.

For Abby, teasing gave her an outlet to release some energy, initiate play, socialize with me and a way to challenge me. She had as much fun being teased as I had teasing her. During that Great Britain trip and after, Abby wasn’t just a pet to me, she was a play-thing and a source of limitless amusement.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tippy Tips

In the great amount of time I spent with Abby while my mom was in Great Britain, I discovered how clingy or needy Abby was. It was understandable, after all she was still a puppy and normally she had, up to that point, always had someone around to keep her company. I honestly don’t know if she was this clingy before, but it really came to light in my time alone with her. I guess my time away at school leaving her all by her baby girl self made her miss me more so than she otherwise would have if my mom were home. I know Father was there, but I’m not sure if he was a good companion for her. Father’s emotional development was still stunted at that point, and he often looked to Abby for guidance on how to behave in the house. Instead of Father being a stabilizing force for Abby, it was the other way around.

I still haven’t said what “Tippy Tips” is. Tippy Tips was one of many nicknames I had for Abby. What made this nickname so memorable is the fact that I can remember about the time and circumstance under which I gave her a particular nickname. During the Great Britain trip, I had a lot of time alone with Abby. She stuck to my side wherever I went while I was at home. I mean everywhere. It got the point where Abby would accompany me when I had to use the bathroom or take a shower. I wasn’t thrilled about it at first, but I got used to it. A couple of times, she even poked her head through the shower curtains while I was bathing, but once she realized what I was doing she immediately backed out not wanting anything to do with a shower.

If I was watching TV and popped into the kitchen real quick, Abby would hop up the moment I left my chair. For those thinking she was doing it for the food, I considered that at the time and did a little experiment. As I was heading towards the kitchen, I would take a detour to the den, and sure enough, Abby would be right behind me in tow. I would even walk around in circles from the living room to the dining room then breakfast room, den, foyer and back to the living room. Abby was right behind me hanging around me like a shadow. Sometimes I’d go in this circle 10 times, and Abby stayed with me the whole time.

My mom has nice hardwood floors in several rooms. When the dogs walk on them, it makes a characteristic sound as their nails hit the wood, a tip tip tip sound. I came to associate that sound with Abby’s companionship and attention. Soon I began calling her “Tippy Tips”. It wasn’t my most endearing nickname for her, but it stuck. I rarely called her that when others were around. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or anything.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

London Calling

(An actual photo my mom took on that trip)

In the fall, by mom took a couple of vacations, one of them was two week trip to Great Britain. My mom and her sister along with their aunt, uncle and cousin flew to London and went on a bus tour around England, Wales and Scotland. My immediate worry was how Abby was going to behave with all that “alone time”. She was still in her separation anxiety phase of her life, and other than a few days here and there, Abby had not spent much time by her babygirlself. I was going to have to change my routine quite a bit to accommodate my baby girl. I shortened my work day. I got into and out of the lab as quickly as I could. I also decided to come home for lunch, which I normally did not do. I didn’t have the heart to leave Abby at home for so long. She was still a high-strung puppy needing quite a bit of attention and physical exertion. She still played fetch, but she was also discovering how good she was at tug-o-war. I hoped that limiting my time away from home to 4 or 5 hours max, it would make her separation anxiety more manageable.

I started my days as any other while my mom was gone. However, since no one was around in the house to let Abby outside in the morning, I’d let her out, go to the bathroom, and then let her back in. Abby grew even closer to me while my mom was away. She went with me everywhere in the house. So in the mornings, she would come into the bathroom with me while I showered and shaved. She would just lie there and fall asleep. Where my routine departed was after I dressed, I’d usually say my good-byes to Abby and head off to school. Now, I’d go outside with Abby, accompany her while she sniffed around, or I’d play with her. Then I would go to school.

I’d leave for school around 8:30 unless I had an 8 am lab, and do some lab work. At this point in grad school, I was finished with taking courses and had passed all my cumes. There was no more course work for me (forever, or so I thought). Other than some seminars, the major obstacle between me and graduating was lab work. Sometime between noon and 1, I went back home to see Abby. She was always delighted to see me. I’d feed her, play with her, let her out, play some more with her and let her back in. I know there are some curious people out there who may say “How come you didn’t leave Abby out in the back yard in the fenced in area?” Well, call me paranoid or a worry-wart, but I had heard stories of how those in dog fighting would steal docile pets and use them as ‘sparing partners’ for the fighting dogs. I’ve heard that golden retrievers were favorites for such dog trainers, but I imagine a lab would suffice for their needs. This was well before the Michael Vick story played out, but since then, I feel justified in not letting Abby sit in the backyard like that.

Father wasn’t much trouble for me. He was never a needy dog. He was a “go with the flow type of dog”. When Abby and I played, Father played. When Abby and I went out, Father went out. However when Abby ate, Father usually did not eat. I’ll discuss more of this in a later entry. Father also didn’t sleep in my bedroom with me. He was scared to go that far back in the house. I imagine he felt trapped after so many turns, hallways and rooms. At night, he would sleep in my mom’s room or in the hallway by the foyer.

After 30 minutes of visiting time, I gave my farewells to the babies and went back to school. If I didn’t have a night lab, I would come home around 6 or 6:30. However, the organic lab director liked to have men teaching night labs for safety reasons. It was an unwritten and unspoken policy, but I noticed that the night labs tended to be taught by males. I will say that one night one of my students was robbed at gunpoint while going home after leaving one of my labs. When I did teach night labs, I would return home around 9:30 or so. However when the lab was ‘identification of unknowns’, the lab took the whole 3 hours. It was the most stressful lab for students. Miss an unknown, and 10 points is automatically taken off of the lab report. With 3 unknowns for each student, the thought of losing 30 points rightly put the students on edge. I tried to make my labs as ‘stress free’ as possible, but this was one lab I couldn’t help them out on. They were on their own; they knew it and struggled to deal with it.

When I returned home, again, Abby was happy to see me as was Father. However, Abby would leave me a surprise upon my return. Yes, she had pitched a baby girl fit. She could handle me leaving her the first time in a day, but when I left her again that day, it was too much for her to bear. Instead of mangling my mom’s glasses, Abby sought out one of my belongings either from the table by the recliner chair where I normally sat in the living room, or she would march back to my bedroom and grab an article of clothing, bring it to the living room and drop it off there. I would ask her ‘Did you do that?’ she would sit quietly, look up and away from me, and then I’d scold her and give her a ‘little’ spank. I’d swat at her rear without putting any force behind it and say ‘bad girl’. She would get on her haunches and try to hug me. I couldn’t resist that, and I’d bend over and hug her. She would wag her tail and lick my face. We would then settle in for the night filled with playing and romping around the house. We had the place all to ourselves and were going to make good use of it.

The Bottom's Up Leash

(The above is a photo borrowed from an internet search.)

I want to briefly mention an invaluable product that was a godsend when Andy was partially paralyzed in his back legs last year because of a bad back resulting in his having surgery to address the problem. I don’t know how we found out about this leash. I’m pretty sure my mom called around some pet stores to see if they had any assistance devices for dogs with walking impairments. I bought the leash we have at a ‘big box’ pet store in a shopping center in Knightdale.
While Andy was undergoing ‘conservative treatment’ (i.e. pre-surgery treatment) to treat his partial paralysis, this leash made assisting him in and out of the house much more convenient and easy for me while it made Andy more comfortable in his bathroom breaks. At the time, Andy could stand up but if he tried to take a step, he would stagger or fall.

Once the leash is on, a little tension must be maintained by gently holding the leash up, or else the leash will drop down to the ground and have to be put back on again. This wasn’t too hard to do in the first month Andy had to use it since he could put very little weight on his back legs. The other major advantage to this leash is that Andy was able to use the bathroom without any problems or interference with the leash. The old fashioned way to support a dog that needs walking assistance is to roll up a towel and place it under the dog’s belly. This works OK, we tried it, but Andy had problems urinating with it and would soak the towel. Maybe for a female this wouldn’t be a problem, but not so for a male.
When I bought the leash, I was worried it would irritate his skin and rub it raw, but it never did, even after two months using it. There is a learning curve in properly putting it on the dog. Fortunately for me, Andy is a sweet, tractable and patient dog, so he gave me no problems when I was figuring out how to use it, so whatever problems correctly putting this leash on him were on my end. I do wish I had this leash a few years ago when Abby blew out her ACL. This would have made her recovery after the surgery much smoother and easier on us and the baby girl.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words"

I know it’s a cliché, but it does apply in my situation in reminiscing about stories about my dogs. The other day someone commented to me that I have a good memory because of the way I’ve been able to recall all these stories about Abby, Andy and Father. Regardless if I do, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how valuable all these photos were in bringing back old memories some dating back from nearly 15 years ago. Most of the times, I was fairly accurate in my entries, but there were a few examples where I had glossed over some facts or used a little license, and one of my relatives called me out on it.

My stories are broken up into three ‘eras’. Those from before I moved to NJ, the ones while I was living in NJ and experienced while I was visiting back down here in NC, and lastly the post-NJ stories from when I had moved back to NC. Even though breaking down the stories into these segments helped me to organize my thoughts, it was the pictures that helped recall memories that would otherwise be long forgotten. Also these pictures helped to fill in details that I would not have remembered had these pictures not been around.

The older photos were of the old fashioned kind using a point-and-shoot camera. Developing those things was not cheap. As I became more technologically proficient (I didn’t own a computer until I was in my late 20’s), I bought a scanner and scanned all of my photos. It wasn’t long until I bought a digital camera. That truly accelerated my photo-taking efforts. The only time I needed a point-and-shoot after that was when I took photos of the dogs in the pool with a waterproof camera.

The biggest nuisance about photos, digital or not, was organizing and labeling them. I probably have well over 400 photos of my pets, maybe more. It has been a herculean effort the last few months assembling them into folders and giving them understandable names so those looking at them in a later time will understand who and what is in those photos. Before this year, the photos of the dogs were scattered all over my hard drive. It was during this undertaking of assembling, organizing and labeling all of my photos of the dogs that the idea came to me about blogging about my pets. There were so many stories in those photos that it would have been a shame not to share them with someone.

And with that, the blog came into existence. My guess is that I’m about a third of the way through this blog, maybe halfway. For the most part, I’m still in the ‘pre-NJ’ era and have about a dozen or so stories from then. Soon I’ll be moving on to the ‘era’ from when I moved to NJ, and the stories I experienced with my pets when I was visiting back home.

I’ll resume my normal blogging tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Favorite Photo

The above is my favorite photo of the babies for several reasons. It was almost impossible to assemble those three dogs together for a photo especially when one dog is as high-strung and hyper as Andy was at the time and another dog, Father, hates the hyperactive dog and doesn’t take instruction so well. Of course my sunshine angel beauty queen Abby was perfect! It was in early winter of 1999 the day this photo was taken. Abby was 3 years old; Andy was a year and a half old, while Father was 8 to 10 years old or possibly older. I was down from NJ visiting my family during the Christmas break. We were in the backyard--the three dogs, my mom and I. I was standing on top of the sliding board which is why the dogs are looking up at the same point in that photo. I had a toy in my hand which I would throw and one of them would retrieve. It was every dog for his or herself in chasing the object, which was most likely a ball but it may have been a Frisbee.

I don’t know whose idea it was for me to climb on top of the sliding board. It was freezing outside, so it’s not like I was going for a swim. We had been playing fetch with them that early evening and obviously were taking pictures. I’m fairly certain that I climbed on the sliding board to bring the dogs together as closely as possible to try to get all of them in one shot. I know it wasn’t a perfect photo. Some of Father’s legs were cut off as was some of Andy’s tail. The lighting wasn’t great, and our camera was a point and shoot. I’ve learned that with a point and shoot, the developed photo doesn’t always seem to come out the way that you remember that event when the picture was taken. Despite all that, we captured all of them in one picture. It took a bit of work, but looking back it was well worth it. Even though it’s a still shot, you can see how Andy is ready to explode the moment I tossed that ball. Father, too, is ready on his mark whenever the chase would commence.

I always thought Father was a pretty dog, but many of his pictures didn’t do justice to how handsome he was. The lighting was bad, or the contrast was poor quite often when we took a picture of him. It always seemed like the background was dark, so that Father’s black hair blended him into the scenery and didn’t contrast his distinguished features. However, on this day in early winter, when the Bermuda grass had faded to a dull, light brown, Father’s face and body showed really well in this photo. Everything fell together just right on this day for this group photo of the babies.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Abby Rolling on Dead Animals

(Abby rolling on her back and sliding down the hill. It must have been fun for her and it helped to scratch her back.)

Not everything Abby did was sweet, cute or precious. She and she alone among our dogs, had a habit of rolling around on dead animals. I don’t mean freshly deceased animals either. I mean a rotten mass of putrefied flesh unrecognizable to the naked eye. She would lie on her back and roll back and forth side to side. I usually wasn’t aware she had done this until she had come back inside. The odor was rank and disgusting almost invoking a gag reflex it was so vile. Once I smelled the dead-animal smell, I would immediately take her to the garden house out back or the shower in the master bedroom and give her a thorough washing. Normally, I could see the remnants of the dead animal that had rubbed off on her during her rolling around.

I always wanted to know why dogs did this, and in preparation for this entry, I searched about dogs rolling on dead animals. Apparently this is such a widespread behavior that when I had typed out “dogs rol”, Google had already guessed what I was talking about and a dropdown box appeared showing “dogs rolling in dead animals”. Animal behavior experts who have done extensive observations on wolves say that wolves do it to mask their smell in the wild. Since dogs are descendants of wolves, they speculate that this trait has been passed down to present day dogs, and that dogs , too, are trying to mask their smell.

The obvious remedy to this problem would be to have not allowed Abby to roll around on the ground. Sure I could have done that, but an overwhelming majority of the time, she did not roll around on a dead animal. Since Abby seemed to have so much fun lying on her back and sliding down the hill, I didn’t have the heart to stop her from doing this. I did have to be vigilant about where she was rolling. A few times, I caught her after she spotted a dead animal but before she plopped down and rolled on it. In these case she tipped her hand with her expressive looks which turned to my advantage. I could see that brow wrinkled in curiosity and her ears drooping down in her gaze at the dead animal. In these moments she would pout at me for scolding her and making her go inside. Then I’d have to go back out by myself and scoop up the dead animal with a shovel and put it somewhere across the street well beyond Abby’s reach.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Abby & Showers

(The shower and bathtub mentioned in this entry are shown above.)

“Do you want a shower?” This was probably the most dreaded thing Abby could hear. The only thing worse was “Do you want a spank?” Abby’s hair was a little oilier than Andy’s and much more so than Father’s. The oiliness tended to attract a lot of dirt and grime on Abby making her smell not so good. At times, she would absolutely stink, and it would be insufferable. In the summertime, her hair problem wasn’t so bad since her frequent dips in the pool washed her off. The chlorine would act as a cleanser eliminating the smell.

It was in the other seasons when her hair would be a problem. Normally it was up to me to administer the shower. The first attempts at bathing her didn’t go so well. The first time I put her in the bathtub and filled the tub until there was foot standing water. I tried to make Abby sit despite my pleas and commands, but she was adamant and refused to sit. Fortunately, my mom has a walk-in shower which made the process a little smoother. The drawback of this procedure was that I had to be in the shower with her. I would put on a bathing suit, ask Abby if she wanted a shower and then lead her to the walk-in shower. After a few showers, Abby knew exactly what we were going to do and were we were going to go when I asked that dreaded question. Upon my asking that question, Abby would begrudgingly go to the back and dutifully walk into the shower.

I would use some kind of shampoo that I had bought from the pet store. I’d lather her up, and then rinse her off. Before I let her out of the bathroom, I would dry her off with a towel. After she left the bathroom, she would run around the house, back to the bedroom, jump up on the bed and roll around. I would like to think my authority alone lured her into the shower, but to be honest, I am not above bribing my pets. In Abby’s case, this meant bringing milk bones to the back and placing them on the floor so that she wouldn’t see them on the way in but she would on the way out.

She came to love that part of the shower and expect it. One time she forgot to eat her treat. A few minutes later, she hustled back to the spot where I usually left them and snatched them up and gobbled them down. Of course it always helped to praise her after the shower by telling her how nice she looked and how clean she smelled.

Sometimes in warmer weather, when we couldn’t wait for her to swim in the pool, we would wash her using a garden hose in the back. This was a risky procedure because of her inclination to roll around which could result in her getting just as dirty before if not dirtier.

As I’ve noted before, Abby was a very smart dog. My mom and I had to be careful about discussing the idea of showering Abby. The moment she heard the word ‘shower’ she would do her best to run away. It reached the point where my mom and I had to spell the word ‘shower’ so as to avoid Abby’s suspicion. Eventually, she knew what we meant whenever we spelled the word shower. I’m not saying she knew how to spell the way we do, but she associated the tone and rhythm of our spelling with the actual act of showering.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday, Monday

(My last glimpse of Abby in the mornings before I went to school. Could she make me feel guilty!)

“Monday Monday, can't trust that day,…” Part of the lyrics to a song by The Mamas and the Papas. Normally, I don’t go for that old hippie, peace, love and dope, folksy Top 40 crap (I do however like just plain ol’ Top 40 crap) but there are a few songs from the time period that I like. I actually can’t say I’m in love with this. The reason it came to mind was a certain routine or habit Abby had on Monday mornings.

Normally when I returned home, the first thing I’d do was to change clothes from the jeans I wore at the lab into a pair of shorts. In grad school, there was not a strict dress code and grad students could wear shorts if they wanted. I chose not to for a couple of reasons. First was safety. There was broken glass on the floor, not a lot but enough that a shard could easily find its way into exposed skin and drag some chemicals with it. The second reason I wore jeans to school was that TA’s in chemistry labs were not allowed to wear shorts. The students were not allowed to wear shorts either, so we had to set a good example for the young, impressionable students. Sure, I could have changed clothes after I finished teaching labs, but I didn’t feel like doing that.

In the evenings and on the weekends, I would wear shorts and a T-shirt. Sure, I was living out a stereotype; just look at this link from the site “Stuff White People Like”, but often times, the NC weather is not conducive for long pants. I’m sure Abby associated my wearing shorts with my being around her, playing with her and her overall having a good time. When she saw me in jeans as I was about to leave the house, her expression was a long, sad one.

She wasn’t aware of what I was going to wear because she would wake up before me, go to the front, greet my mom and then she would be let out to go to the bathroom. Meanwhile, I would be getting ready for my day. By the time Abby saw me in my jeans, she knew the jig was up, the party was over, and that I would be leaving her for the day. This was compounded by the fact that we most likely had a fun filled weekend full of playing outside, going in the pool and grilling out which meant the fun times were over for now. She knew her fun-level was going to drop that day and that I wasn’t going to be around with her.

One Monday morning in particular sticks out to me. Abby was at the other end of the house, and I had somehow made it to the other end by the kitchen without her seeing me. The moment Abby saw me, her face dropped, her ears drooped down, and she hustled down the hall to bid me farewell. She was sad and knew how to give me a guilt trip. I petted her, told her that I’d be back and went off to school. It’ didn’t take Abby long to learn the meaning of the phrase “I’ll be back.” To her it meant, “Gary is leaving.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Abby's Night Watch

(Before the remodeling, the door wasn't there, and Abby would be further back in the living room. That is about the way she would be positioned when I came home at night.)

When Abby was around 6 months or so, she developed a new habit or routine, if you will. During the daytime, she spent most if not all of her time around my mom since she was still in her ‘dependent’ stage of her life. She had passed through the ‘separation anxiety’ phase, but she still loved to be around me or my mom all the time, every waking hour and even while sleeping. I’ve noted a few times before that Abby slept with me in the bed. However in the daytime, she belonged to my mom. In the morning, after she had went outside and back in, Abby hung out with my mom. She would sleep by my mom on the floor by the couch while my mom read, or she would accompany her to the kitchen in her attempts to beg. She also was banking on some food dropping on the ground. That is when she would hustle over and grab up her prize. Abby loved people food. Abby also took naps with my mom. Napping was a daily ritual for my mom. She would get into her nightgown, go the bedroom and sleep under the covers. This is in contrast to some nappers who fell asleep in a chair or on a couch. My mom went the whole nine yards in her naps and Abby gladly accompanied her. Father too nightied with them (nighty is any form of sleep for the babies). Abby slept in the bed with my mom while Father stayed on the floor at the foot of the bed on the rug.

My mom let the babies out to play several times a day. When Abby was younger, she would demand my mom’s participation, but as she became older, lazier and more mellowed out she didn’t play with my mom as much, and what playing she did was with other dogs. Abby still wanted to go out, but she would inspect her yard, look and sniff around. In the summer, her activity level increased mostly because my mom’s increased. They spent a great deal of time in the pool. Abby liked to swim but not alone. She rarely swam by herself. However, if there was someone in the pool, she would most likely get in the water. If there were guests who were not in the pool but just standing around it, Abby would get in by herself then. I suspect she was showing off, and maybe trying to entice the guests into swimming with her. When she was ‘inviting’ someone in the pool, she would slip into the pool, push off the walk-in concrete steps and do a ‘small circle’ of a about a 3 or 4 foot circumference. After doing a small circle, she would stand on the steps and look at the guests like ‘Are you going to come in?’ It was cute the way she tried to lure people and even dogs in.

When night set, my mom would go inside and either continue reading or watch TV. It was about this time that Abby and her routine would diverge from my mom’s. Around 7 or 8 in the evening, Abby would no longer sit by my mom’s feet in the living room. Instead, Abby would lie in the dining room while facing the kitchen door leading to the utility room. This was our ‘main entrance’ to the house even though it leads to the side of the house. The reason it was our main entrance was that it was the closest door from where we parked our cars in the garage or driveway.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when this habit of Abby’s started, but she was past her puppy stage and was closing in on her first birthday. One can rightly ask why didn’t Abby lie closer to that kitchen door, after all she would be that much closer to me when I arrived home. Abby had her reason which I suspect was to keep an eye on my mom while at the same time, keeping an eye on the door. Abby always knew how to strategically position herself so she could keep her eye on more than one thing at a time such as people who were in different rooms or the corridor going from the back of the house to the front so she could monitor the movements in the house. It was a perfect fusion of brilliance and laziness, both of which Abby had an abundance of!

Abby was always there to greet me when I opened the door. She would hop up and waddle through the kitchen to greet me with her tail wagging and her face smiling. No matter how bad my day was, and there were quite a few in my third year of grad school, Abby always made me happy to see her. Once I returned home, her world was complete and we were all together, Abby, Father, my mom and I, just the way Abby wanted it to be.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Father & Squeaky Toys

(Father playing by the pool)

Imagine if a middle aged man from a primitive culture were introduced to modern society for the first time in his life. Further imagine him seeing all of the technology while he quietly takes it all in. However, when he spots a three year old on the floor playing with Tonka toys, the man in an excited state bends over and grabs the toy from the kid and starts playing with it keeping the toy as his own.

Well, something similar happened to Father in the first summer he was at our house. By this time, Father had been ‘at’ the house for around 9 months and ‘in’ the house for 6. My mom and I were in the living room. Father was at the ‘round’ end of the couch while Abby was on the floor playing with a toy. Without warning, Father spontaneously leapt off the couch, grabbed Abby’s toy, jumped back on the couch and played with the toy. Up until this time, Father was cool and stand-offish. He had dignified air about him. We thought he was an old guy uninterested in playing. He, or so we thought, wanted to eat, sleep and keep company with us. Frivolousness such as this was unthinkable when it came to Father.

The toy was a cloth-type toy which had a squeaker in it. The dog has to bite the insert just right for the toy to squeek, and when it does, it is a high-pitched noise, which I imagine reminded Father of a small animal. Probably the same kind of small animals that Father likes to eat. Father wouldn’t just play with this toy; he attacked the toy and kept at it until he ‘killed’ the squeak. By killing the squeak, I mean he would bite so hard that the teeth would puncture the insert where the noise came from when pressed.

Abby was as startled as my mom and I were, but after the initial confusion of what seemed like bizarre behavior, we started to laugh. Fortunately, Abby wasn’t possessive of her toys. For the first time, we thought of Father being cute and more of a pet, rather than an old guy down on his luck who was in dire need of assistance. I also realized that Father probably didn’t know what these toys were when he first saw them. It was only when he saw Abby use them did he know they were toys and how to play with them. Sadly, what should have been an experience he should have had when he was a puppy was deprived from him by neglectful and uncaring owners, and he was experiencing them in his later years.

We were able to give Father his youth back, and it was fun to watch him frolic and play. His love of the squeaky toys continued until the end. It wasn’t a problem with Abby. All she wanted to do with those toys was to play tug-o-war with me or a dog. With Andy, it was a different matter since he too loved the squeaky toys, more so than Father. It was with these two that I would have to keep an eye on whenever a new squeaky toy was brought into the home.

But on this day, it was fun to watch Father learn how to play and enjoy himself rather than simply surviving and getting by.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Abby & The Afterhours Clinic

(A photo of the afterhours clinic courtesy of Google's Streetview)

That’s enough of cat stories for now. Let’s jump back to 1996. These vet stories reminded me of Abby’s first trip to the emergency after hours veterinarian clinic. The event took place in June so Abby was about 4 months old and starting to get big to the point where she could no longer sit in our laps. I saw the accident that resulted in her trip to the afterhour’s clinic. It was still daylight out so it was before 9pm, but I was home so it was most likely after 6. I was jumping on the trampoline while Abby was exploring the backyard, making her way to the steps on the patio. She went up the stairs and walked to the edge of the landing. A cart, which had wheels on it, interested her. She was eyeing the item and began sniffing it. I knew she was curious by nature, so I kept doing my thing and didn’t think much of what she was doing. However what Abby did next seemingly took place in slow motion. She placed a front paw on the cart which began to roll out from under her. She had placed enough weight on the cart that she lost her balance and fell. The drop was only a foot and a half, tops, but it was enough to smart her. Abby began to cry, and she kept crying until one of us went over and consoled her.

My mom was the first one over to her and she looked over at me and yelled ‘Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to help this dog? God damn it you’re a cruel son of a bitch!’ (My mom isn’t too good at crisis management.) I petted Abby. We looked in the phone book for an afterhour’s clinic, and we found a place off of Glenwood Avenue. Ironically, the clinic is on a road called ‘Vick Avenue’! For those unaware who Michael Vick is, he is the star NFL player whose career was interrupted because he spent about a year in prison for charges of animal cruelty. We placed Abby in the car, and my mom drove us to the clinic in her white Mazda.
The clinic is a one story building that looks like it was a house converted for business use. There is not a receptionist at the desk, so the front door is kept locked and clients have to ring a bell to gain entrance into the building. When we arrived in the lobby, a couple of people were there ahead of us. I don’t know if they had a dog or cat. The older person was a man in his mid to late 50’s and the female was probably his daughter and in her 20’s. They didn’t say much to us while we all waited for our pets to be treated.

A vet tech led us into an examination room, handed us a clipboard and asked us to fill out some paperwork. For those who don’t know, the prices charged at an afterhour’s clinic aren’t cheap. It costs $100 just to walk in the door. The average price I’ve experienced at this clinic which I’ve had to use 4 or 5 times is ~$400. These guys want their money, and on the day services are provided. If the estimated costs are high, they want an upfront deposit before any treatment will be done.

We told the vet what Abby did and how she was limping after the accident. We were not sure if she broke a bone and wanted to make sure it was simply a sprain and not a break. I believe the vet took Abby back to the X-ray machine. I do know my mom and I were sent back to the lobby to wait while Abby was taken to the back for more tests.
The two people who were in the lobby when we arrived were still there. The lobby had a small 13” TV which had poor reception. I vaguely recall a Bulls game was on. They were in the Championships and went on to win the title that year. It was better than nothing. Meanwhile, more clients were arriving at the clinic. They would ring the bell, but before anyone could respond, the young lady would stand, walk over to the door and let the clients in. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but this thin, gaunt looking girl had some type of neuromuscular degenerative disorder. She needed braces for support when she stood or walked. For some reason, I felt guilty sitting on my fat ass while she popped up and went to the door. I tried to beat her to the punch but it seemed like every time my mind wandered off, someone would show up at the door and the young lady would make her way over to the entrance. As politically incorrect as this will sound, it was painful to watch and I felt sorry for her.

On top of all this was some weird vibe and dynamic the father and daughter had with each other. Whenever she spoke to him in her raspy forced voice, the father would respond curtly to her. The guy never raised his voice or spoke in a threatening way, but he was mean as hell to her nonetheless. I’ve wondered to this day the reasons for the seeming dysfunction in their relationship. It was disconcerting, weird and riveting all at the same time. Obviously, I think about what was going on with those two even to this day.

Abby was finally returned to us. She had a slight sprain, but from the way she was crying after the accident, you would have thought she was dying or something. I loved Abby a whole bunch, but she was a big crybaby when it came to pain. At the time she was crying or whimpering in pain, it upset me but at the same time endeared me to her.

A Follow Up about the Cat Entries

I commented earlier that I had never seen Dodo in a fight, which is true. However, soon after Dodo moved in, my dad saw Dodo fight another cat. The other cat was white, and if this is the cat I’m thinking about, this cat could very well be Dodo’s relative. I’ve seen this cat a couple of times, and he looks a lot like Dodo. He has the same color and build as Dodo as well as having the brown rings on the tail. But the other cat’s hair color on its tail is a little darker than Dodo’s. One night when I let Dodo out, I glanced up and saw what I thought was Dodo sitting on the edge of the pool. At first I wondered how Dodo got over there so quickly. I was a little disoriented, and looked on the side porch and saw that Dodo was still there. When that cat saw Dodo, he dashed off into the night.

After the fight my dad saw, Dodo came back without a scratch on him. At the fight scene, there was hair all over the patio deck; so much so that I thought the cushioning was had come out of the lounge chairs. Once I found out that Dodo’s opponent had white hair, I realized it was the opponent’s hair, and it was that cat that got the short end of the stick. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of the cats who had scratched Dodo’s face just before Dodo arrived here, but now that Dodo found his home he was going to defend it at all costs.

One other comment I forgot to include in a previous blog entry was about the Dodo’s vet trip. We had actually scheduled for Dodo to go to the vet a week earlier. As noted before, Dodo spent quite a bit of time outside, more so than he does now. I was living in my condo at the time, and asked my mom to do me a favor and call Dodo into the house a few hours before the appointment and keep him there so I wouldn’t have to play hide-n-seek with him. My mom didn’t do that. I arrived at my mom’s house and looked for Dodo. He was nowhere to be found. I called him repeatedly. I looked around the house, literally, and went to the wooded area in the back too and called his name. No Dodo. After 15 minutes, I gave up and called the vet. I’m not going to elaborate how embarrassing it was to explain to the receptionist that I had to cancel the visit because I couldn’t find the cat. The receptionist laughed, and the appointment was rescheduled for the next week.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dodo's Turn at the Vet

A couple of weeks after we took the ‘cat with no name’ to the vet, I took Dodo to the vet. It was in October sometime, and we thought we’d do the responsible thing by making sure he had all of his shots and to check his overall health. Admittedly, we were worried that Dodo would have feline leukemia like the kitten did.
Putting Dodo in the travel cage was a two person chore. I tried to put him in but he spread his front paws out as wide as possible making it almost impossible to shove him in the cage. My mom came up with the idea to point the front end up so we could ‘drop’ him into the cage. Since my method wasn’t working, I gave it a try. I grabbed Dodo by his shoulders and lowered him, and just as his back legs reached the cage, he splayed his hind legs out even wider than what he had done with his front legs. I have to admit that when he did this ‘spread eagle’ I thought it was too cute for words to describe. Cute as I thought it was, I had a job to do, so as I lowered Dodo again, my mom grabbed his back legs and kept them close to his body so he could descend into the cage. After successfully placing him in the cage, I took him to the car and headed to Knightdale.

On the trip over, which are a few miles shorter than it was when the vet was further east in Knightdale, Dodo cried continuously. It wasn’t a ‘meow’ either. It was a blood curdling cry well suited for a horror film. Thankfully, the shorter trip means that the time travel is less too. I don’t know how much of that I could take. I guess Dodo was claustrophobic, car sick or scared.

I checked in with the receptionist and soon after, I was in an examination room. The vet was new to the practice. I remember her name, but am still not sure if she is an associate or a partner. Regardless, the vet tech took Dodo out of the cage and performed the examination in the back while I waited in the examination room, just like when the kitten was a couple of weeks earlier. Dodo had put on some weight tipping the scale at 12 pounds. The vet came into the room and gave the status on Dodo’s health. He does not have feline leukemia. I was relieved. I asked if Dodo was a boy or a girl. The vet must have thought I was a dumbass, but she took a look at his undercarriage, and not only was he a boy, but he had been neutered sometime before he came to our house. This indicated to me that he was indeed someone’s pet at some point in his life. The vet told me that she looked for a tattoo or a chip to see if she could identify who Dodo was and who he belonged to since we made her aware of his being a stray, but he had neither form of these identification markers.

I thought this visit would be a ‘routine’ one. Dodo would be poked and prodded, and we would go home knowing we did our duty in maintaining our pet’s health. It was almost like a movie formula in a suspense or a thriller type genre. We were worried that Dodo may have leukemia, find he doesn’t, then we breathe a sigh of relief, but then the bad news hit me: Dodo was FIV positive. Feline immunosuppressant virus is the cat version of HIV. When I was a kid, I had never heard of this disease, which can be as deadly as AIDS is for humans. The reason I was unaware of this disease despite the fact that we had dozens of cats when I was a kid was that FIV was not known until the mid to late 80’s. Our last cat died in ’89.

I had no idea what the progression of this disease was. I asked the vet how long he had to live. It depends, she said. It could be months or years or he could be asymptomatic for the rest of his life and never have feline AIDS. The vet wanted to know if we wanted to euthanize Dodo. She said if we kept him inside, his being FIV wouldn’t be a problem, but if he interacted with other cats, he should be put down. I quietly listened to the vet while thinking of my mom’s last words as I left: No matter what, I want Dodo back. My mom wanted to see Dodo one more time, even if he had a deadly disease such as leukemia. I told the vet that I was going to take Dodo home. We were going to take care of him as long as possible.

We don’t know how this disease will play out. Most of the time, we don’t think about it, but when he gets sick and throws up, or when he has a cyst or a scratch, I’ll think, “Is this it? Is this a symptom of feline AIDS?” Dodo is a sweet cat, and he has become comfortable with me now that I have moved in. I’m sure I’ll have more stories about Dodo later, but for now, Dodo is doing well and seems quite happy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Cat With No Name

One of the interlopers mentioned in the previous post was a tiny dark haired cat that arrived on the scene not long after Dodo did. Dodo tolerated her presence maybe because it was a female or maybe because she was still a kitten. This is not to say that Dodo welcomed the kitten with open arms. I have no idea where this cat came from. The cat, like Dodo, was brought into our house and seemed to do well. She slept in my mom’s room and seemed closer to my mom than Dodo was. I didn’t much care for the cat. Its behavior was erratic and spastic. The kitten didn’t walk or run around the house. Instead it sort of jumped and hopped from one place to another. This may be why Andy, too, didn’t like the kitten. There were a couple of times when we came over for a visit when he tried to chase and corner the cat. One time he did have the cat trapped in a corner. Andy’s brow was furrowed and his body tense in a belligerent posture. I had seen that look on him before in the time he tried to kill a neighbor’s cat at my dad’s house. I called Andy off and the kitten flitted away unaware of the potential harm it had faced.

Abby and the kitten did not interact with each other at all. Dodo put up with the kitten and had surprising patience with it considering his past history with fighting neighborhood cats and his ironfisted rule of his new domain. However, when Dodo was pushed to the limit such as when the kitten became too playful or frisky, Dodo would hiss at her and swat at her too. This cat did push Dodo a little too far at times and would jump on Dodo and engage in play-fighting. Dodo wanted nothing to do with her, but he was never mean or vicious to her. One quirk about Dodo was that he didn’t want to be in the house at the same time as the kitten. If the kitten was in the house, Dodo would patiently wait outside on the back porch until the kitten was let out and then he would go inside.

We didn’t have the cat long, maybe a month or so. One day my mom called me to tell me that the kitten was sick and losing weight. She was throwing up and had diarrhea. My mom suspected she may have had worms so she wanted me to take her to the vet. I suspected that my mom thought it was worse. She let it be known that if the kitten were too sick that it could have to be put down. My mom scheduled an afternoon appointment. I came over to my mom’s, put the kitten in a cat travel cage provided for us by my cousin, who has a couple of very pretty Maine Coon cats, and took the cat to the vet. Dr. Kahdy was the vet during this appointment. The vet tech took the cat out of the cage and brought it to the back while I stayed in the examination room. I was somewhat confused because most of the examinations of the dogs are done in the examination rooms with the owners being present. About 10 minutes later, the vet tech, the vet and the kitten all arrived in the examination room. The kitten was very sick with feline leukemia. The treatment was expensive and unlikely to work for a cat so sick. The vet broached the subject of euthanizing. I knew my mom had a hunch this cat was terminally ill so I gave the vet the nod to put the cat down. I petted the kitten and told her I was sorry. I took the empty cage and went back to my mom’s. This life-or-death decision would be one of many in the next year and a half that I would have to make concerning cats, dogs and even a person.

As I was driving home, I realized a couple of things. The cat never had a name, and we never took any pictures of the cat either. Other than a few fleeting memories we have, it was if this cat never existed. Even though I had not bonded with this kitten, later in the day, I developed a headhache from having to deal with the stress of the situation. Regardless of how I felt about this cat, it was still a life or death judgment. As I age, I don't handle death as well. It physically hurts more and more.

Interlopers & Trespassers

(He thinks he is the king.)

By late summer, Dodo (aka Twit Bird) had settled into the house and was starting to feel comfortable and at ease with my parents and the home. Dodo often slept with my mom and at other times with my dad. We found out early that Dodo could be a pushy and bossy cat. He would turn his nose up at some foods but loved others. He loved Fancy Feast, but not all flavors. He hates the beef flavor, which makes him sick, but loves the seafood varieties. He will not eat the dry food alone nor will he eat the canned food alone. The canned food cannot be plopped down on the plate either. The canned food must be mashed nicely with a fork followed by a topping of dry food. Dodo will eat the Friskies Seafood Sensation brand but loves the Party Mix. Furthermore, Dodo will not eat food that has been sitting on his plate for a while. He will cry and cry until ‘fresh’ food is placed for him or else he won’t eat and will keep meowing. Sometimes I can trick him into thinking he has fresh food by picking up the plate and either stirring around the old food or scattering some new dry food on top and then placing it on the ground. Many times it works but there are days when he won’t fall for that trick.

Did I mention he could be pushy? In the mornings around 6 Dodo wants to eat and to go outside and he doesn’t want to wait. There are a couple of tricks up his sleeve that he will use to get my mom’s attention. At times he will cry and cry. Other times he will jump up on the bed, go to the blanket which my mom often has pulled over her head and he will dig himself under the blanket to my mom’s face and stare at her until she awakes. The least subtle method he uses is biting my mom on the arm.

I guess Dodo needed to be assertive. Although he was safe at our house, that does not mean he was without any threats. There were enemies all around waiting to take away from Dodo what is now his that he suffered through and worked for. In the time my mom lived at this house, very few cats came around, but once Dodo came on the scene, cats started coming out of the woodworks. I must have seen over a half dozen cats sneaking around our house. None of them were friendly and as far as Dodo was concerned, they were unwelcomed. Dodo worked hard to establish himself in this house and he wasn’t going to let any interloper move in on this good thing. I never saw him fight a cat, but I did see him give chase to a trespasser. How did these cats know about Dodo living here? It was as if the neighborhood cats had a networking system to keep up with their neighbors. One other thing I noticed was that once Dodo’s scratches healed up they never came back. I don’t know if he became a better fighter because he was so well fed or if his confidence bolstered him, but his face was in good shape and has stayed that way ever since.

Dodo is a skittish cat. If he hears a door bell ring, he will scat to the back of the house and hide under the bed. Even if he hears a door bell on TV, he jumps to attention and looks towards the doors. Dodo didn’t accept me as readily as he did my parents. It could be that I was not living in this house which had something to do with how he felt about me, and he probably viewed me as a stranger. He does not like strangers. Also, we couldn’t have an animal unless it had some quirks and eccentricities. Dodo has his share of quirks. For example, he is scared of shoes, especially when someone is in them. He will stare at someone’s shod feet in a fixated state. However, when someone is barefooted, he will glance at the person and keep sleeping. Who knows what happened in Dodo’s previous life. I’m sure there is a story there somewhere but I’ll never know it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A New 'Cast Member'

Even though this blog is mostly about my dogs, Abby, Andy and Father, I want to introduce another ‘cast member’, a white stray cat we adopted two years ago in 2008. I remember the day this cat presented himself to us. My dad and I were in the backyard when this white cat approached us on the patio. He cried and stopped about 10 feet from us. I can still hear his scratchy voice which reminded me of a Siamese cat. That breed has a characteristic cry, but I have no idea what breed(s) this cat has in its lineage. My dad walked over to the cat and petted it. He seemed friendly and glad to see us. I say ‘he’ but at the time we had no idea if the cat was male or female. The cat had scratches all over its face. He looked like he had been at the losing end of a few fights. The cat was also noticeably underweight, probably around 8 pounds at the time. (He is a little over 16 pounds now!)

During the first contact involving a stray animal, the animal is filled with apprehension and fear. The animal is scared, lonely, hungry and most likely defeated by life. In a way, the animal is surrendering itself and hopes the new people in its life will be nice to it. The previous owners were most likely neglectful at best and abusive at worst to this animal. Now, here is this animal giving people another chance.

I petted the cat after my dad did. This was not the first time we had seen this cat. For several months before this day in midsummer, we had seen the cat by the woods across the street, in our front yard hunting, sitting in our garage and even in our backyard. In all of our previous attempts to greet him, he ran away from us. We even saw him in the back eating right off the grill any food stuck to it. The poor guy was hungry.

We put some of Abby’s food in a bowl and left it at a comfortable distance from us to see if the cat would eat it. He did. After that, my mom started putting a food bowl under the canopy and in the back porch for him to eat. At first, the cat would not eat while we were anywhere near. Once we were inside, he would cautiously walk to the bowl and eat. We then bought some cat food and feed him that instead of dog food. We kept gaining his trust by giving him attention, feeding him and petting him.
I was still living in my condo but came over time to time to visit my parents and do chores for them because y dad at about that time needed more and more care. My mom was in need of assistance, so since I was not working, I did what I could. In this case, this meant buying cat food for this stray.

The next step in our relationship with the cat was to introduce him to Abby and Andy as well as acquaint him to the inside of the house. I wasn’t worried about how Abby would react to the cat. She had met other cats before and got along well with them. It was Andy who I was worried about. A few years earlier when I was visiting my dad in Greensboro, Andy had a confrontation with a neighbor’s cat. Andy’s docile, sweet and tractable nature made the event surprising and shocking for me. I was standing in the yard while Andy was going to the bathroom when he spotted a cat standing by the house. Immediately, Andy chased the cat into a bush. I heard some rustling; the cat emerged first followed closely by Andy who was quickly gaining ground on the cat. Right at the moment Andy took a big chomp at the cat; the cat made a hard right turn and escaped being bitten. Not only did I hear a snapping sound when Andy’s jaws locked down, but there was dirt flying in the air where he had taken a bite at the cat. The cat ran to the street and to another house. Andy tried to continue the pursuit, but I yelled as loudly and forcefully as I could to make him stand down, which he did. Even my dad, who was sleeping inside at the time, could hear me yelling at Andy. I couldn’t believe the shear aggressiveness of Andy’s behavior.

Fortunately, Andy didn’t hate Dodo. He wasn’t too keen on him being there, but he tolerated him. Abby was nice to him. The cat gave the dogs a wide berth. Dodo took baby steps in his transition into our house. We had to leave the door open during his first few visits in the house. Gradually, he went further and further in the house. By October, not only did he feel at home here, but he was even spending the night in the house. However, once an animal has had a taste of freedom, it will always be beckoned outdoors, and so it was with Dodo. He spends quite a bit of time inside, but he loves to sit on the side porch or back porch and watch the backyard. There are birds and squirrels that grab his attention. Once in a while he will try to snag a bird, but Dodo has not interest at all with squirrels.

The last time we owned a cat was in 1989. Our previous cat was a 20 pound jet black handsome cat called Tweety, and he was all man. Dodo, on the other hand, was a scrawny white haired blue eyed cat, and at the time, we didn’t know if he was a boy or a girl. My best guess, as well as the vet’s, was that Dodo was about 5 years old, or in the words of our vet “He’s no spring chicken”.

We have our first cat now in nearly two decades, and he is a beautiful one! I often look on the web at animal shelters or at pet stores and never see a cat as pretty as Dodo. Even if we did find a cat with that pulchritude, we would have had to pay $200 or $300 for him. We paid nothing for him and didn’t have to go anywhere to find him. He literally walked into our lives and will stay her as long as he lives. How long that is, I don’t know. There are no guarantees.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Getting to Normalcy

(Our house a few days afer Fran)

(The wooded areas didn't fare so well and were noticably thinned out after the storm.)

On Sunday and Monday, I stayed at my aunt’s house and didn’t go to school. On Sunday, I kept busy by taking care of my aunt’s pool which was in not so great shape. She and her daughters didn’t particularly like cleaning the pool. It is a labor of love and quite time consuming. For some reason, it is a chore that I don’t mind doing and at times like doing it. There was quite a bit of debris in the pool and had to scoop a lot of things out and then do quite a bit of sweeping and vacuuming. It must have taken me over 2 hours to bring the pool to a clean, clear and colorless state. Abby hung out in the backyard with me and watched me while exploring her new surroundings. Abby loved new things and figuring things out, so she was quite entertained that day.

On Monday, my aunt made a request; she wanted me to bake her a chocolate cake, and not some crap in a box from Betty Crocker either. She wanted a particular cake from a recipe I found from a Hershey’s cookbook. I didn’t mind doing it. I know my way around the kitchen and can bake fairly decently, so baking a cake from scratch isn’t such a big chore for me as it may be for others. My biggest hang up was finding the ingredients for the cake. I went to the Winn-Dixie down the street off of US-64, shopping list in hand. Eggs, check; flour, check; butter, sugar, shortening, chocolate; check, check, check and check. However there was no milk—whole, 2%, 1% or skim. Nothing, nada zilch. I was about to panic. I had no idea what to substitute for milk in the event none was to be found. However, an idea popped into my head: powdered milk! Low and behold, a few boxes were there; the baking was about to commence. I baked the cake with no problems. While it was cooling, I made the frosting. After I frosted the cake, I announced to my aunt that it was ready to eat. There were around 10 people at the house, maybe more. I went outside to tend to the pool some more. I was called back in an hour later and was told that if I wanted a slice of cake that I had better come in then because it was almost gone. Those people devoured that like a pack of hyenas! I must say, having a homemade cake after the hurricane was a real treat. I thought about how out of place this was our eating cake while thousands in the Triangle area were suffering without power, water or food. (After a hurricane, city water should not be used for a while since it often becomes contaminated with raw sewage.)And just like that, it was gone. The powdered milk didn’t make a difference. The cake tasted just as good, given the circumstances, even better.
On Tuesday, I returned to school and my old routine but with obvious exceptions. I did stop by my mom’s house to let Father out and fed him. I’d play with him for a half hour, let him back in the house and continue to school. In the evenings, I’d stop by, and repeat the procedure. After a few days without power, the house started to smell a little stale. It wasn’t nasty, but definitely not fresh either. Father was always glad to see me, and unlike Abby, he didn’t give me a guilt trip when I left him. I suspect that Father knew that when I left, I was driving off somewhere and he wanted nothing to do with a car given his proclivity for getting car sick. Abby, on the other hand, probably wanted to go bye-bye with me which factored in her giving me a guilty look whenever I left. That and the fact that she was going to miss me.

In the evenings, I ate dinner with the family, but for the most part, I spent my time downstairs in the basement where I’d watch TV. Abby slept with me at night, but during the day, she would spend her time with my mom or Nikki upstairs or in the backyard where a pool was. Nikki lived next door, so she came over quite a bit, especially to swim. In the mornings, Abby woke up before me because she could hear the people stirring around above. She would walk up the stairs, stand at the door and whine and cry until someone opened it for her.
One morning, I awoke before her. My aunt’s boyfriend was yelling and fussing upstairs because someone beat him up earlier that morning. The guy was loitering at his ex-wife’s trailer park which they used to co-own until their divorce settlement after which the ex-wife retained sole ownership of the property. Why he was there, I don’t know, but his presence there was unwelcome and disruptive, and he was being a nosey-ass trying to irritate his ex. It turns out I’m not the only one who didn’t like the guy. The property manager confronted the boyfriend. Things escalated. The boyfriend got mouthy. Finally, the property manager grabbed the boyfriend’s leg sticking out of the window, banged it against the car and punched the boyfriend in the face, bloodying his lip. The property manager yelled “I broke your leg, didn’t I you son-of-a-bitch! I hope I did!”

My aunt was trying to calm her boyfriend down when he returned to her house. Meanwhile, I had my ears honed in on the conversation above. At the risk of sounding sadistic, I was secretly enjoying hearing this asshole get his comeuppance. I really couldn’t stand this guy. My aunt took her boyfriend to a primary care emergency clinic so I took the opportunity to sneak over to my cousin’s home to share the gossip with her since I knew she despised the guy more than I did. She enjoyed hearing the news and couldn’t get enough of it!

When my aunt returned, the doctor said the boyfriend had ‘contusions’ on his mouth and leg but no broken leg. A follow-up exam a couple of weeks later showed that the leg had indeed been broken. I still don’t know to this day if the boyfriend pressed charges against the property manager. I vaguely remember hearing them talk about filing a report with the sheriff.

Ten days after Fran passed through, our power finally came on. I remember the day and the circumstances that I found out the power had returned. I was stopping by the house to let Father out and saw a crew of men cleaning the branches and fallen trees from our yard. One of the guys walked over to inform me that my mom gave them permission to do the job. He was concerned that I thought they were intermeddlers. There were stories circulating of contractors and or people posing as such swindling and bilking homeowners in vulnerable positions. I didn’t care. We needed the work done. I went inside and greeted Father. My mom had returned to my aunt’s house, so Father was alone. I went to the circuit breaker which was switched to “Off”. The power company recommended that power users keep the main breaker off while the power was down because when the power did return and if too many units were still “On”, the sudden surge could put a serious strain on the system and blow some capacitors.

I pulled the latch, and presto, the lights came on! I immediately called my mom. I turned the AC way down and cut on the TV. I couldn’t believe it, but we had cable! I sat in my Lazy-Boy and didn’t get out for the rest of the night! It felt good to be home again. I don’t know what I would have done if my aunt had not offered shelter to me and my mom. Suffering through almost two weeks without power would have been excruciating.
A day or two later, it was our turn to ‘pay it forward’. One of our relatives who live in east Wake County was still without power herself. My mom invited her cousin to stay with us. I don’t remember how long she did stay. By this time, I was fully back to my old routine which kept me away from home from 8 in the morning till almost 11 at night. There were some people in eastern NC without power for almost a month.
The next weekend while I was preparing the pool in anticipation of a visit from one our ‘Yankee’ relatives, my mom received a call from our relative’s son. My grandmother’s cousin (both my grandmother and her cousin were from Connecticut) was almost like an aunt to me and was closer to me than my ‘real’ aunts. Her son told us that she died of a heart attack in her car as she was about to leave work. Her son called us repeatedly the previous week but for obvious reasons, he was unable to reach us. (He didn’t know my mom’s cell phone number.) The misery of Fran ricocheted and hit us again.
My relative didn’t have a funeral, but a memorial service instead. Her body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered at her favorite beach on the Outer Banks. As much as I hate funerals, they do offer closure.
That pretty much closes the chapter on Fran.