Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Greensboro Years:
Friends Witness a Cat Eating a Squirrel

This wasn't the cat in this story.

This is a story about my friends at my house who witnessed a cat dining on fresh squirrel.


I had two sets of friends growing up. One was the friends I grew up with in the south part of Greensboro. The other was my swim team friends who were from the north part of Greensboro. These friends were quite different to say the least. Also, these groups of friends did not mix.

I rarely had my swim team friends over at my house. I lived 5 or more miles from them and it was out of their way. Once in a while, they would come over. I rarely talked about the demographic make-up in my neighborhood. It was over 80% black. On our street, there was only one white family: ours. I’ve been in a car with my swim team friends and caught them staring at neighbors and processing the information of what they were seeing. I knew what they were thinking. They didn’t have to say anything. They were uncomfortable. I’m sure in each and every one of their heads they thought of Chevy Chase’s line in Vacation when the family was in East St. Louis: “Roll ‘em up!”

I also didn’t want people over because of my dad’s habit of walking around the house only in his fruit of the looms. My parents also didn’t like having guests over. So, I don’t have many stories of my friends interacting with my family or my pets.

Back to the Story

It was a late afternoon when a group of my swim team friends came over. There were about 3 or 4 of them. My family still had a handful of cats but not near the peak from 10 years before that when we had around 40 cats. We were about to go inside when we caught sight of a cat dining on a freshly killed squirrel. I knew this was going to make my friends queasy. By this time in my life, I became desensitized to such predator-prey scenes. 

But I knew some friends would be repulsed by this. It reminded me of a scene similar to this but when I was 8. A cat had caught a rabbit and was feasting on it. I expressed my pride in the cat’s hunting prowess. A neighbor gave me an ugly look and said “How would you like it if a great big lion attacked you? You wouldn’t like it then, would you?”

I wish to hell I knew about the word “non sequitur” then because the girl’s comparison was idiotic. At the tender age of 8, I had been exposed to my first experience with a candy-ass animal rights activist. I didn’t answer back and it was probably for the best. Animal rights activists and others on her side of the political spectrum can become unhinged when confronted on matters central to their beliefs. I kept quiet and kept watching the cat eat the rabbit.

So, here we were passing by the cat as he ate fresh squirrel meat. I was not prepared for what happened next. He looked up at us and had so much blood on his chin that it looked like a goatee: a blood goatee! My friends were absolutely repulsed. I can still hear them go “ewwwwww!” Admittedly, it was pretty damn nasty. Unlike them and being the jackass I was, I started laughing! The cat looked like it had emerged from the depths of hell with its satanic expression. I wish I had taken a picture of that one.

I wonder if any of those friends remember that incident.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Greensboro Years:
Dummy, The Cat

Dummy was stuck in tree on the left.

The pine tree is by the bike. It grew many feet in a few years.

In the 70’s, we had a white cat named Dummy. He looked similar to Dodo, having a short white coat and blue eyes. Dummy was a little huskier than Dodo. Dummy looked like a version of Dodo if Dodo’s IQ were 50 points lower. Dummy’s crossed-eyes were much more pronounced than Dodo’s slight crossed-eyes. Dummy’s crossed-eyes affected his vision. He would move his head side to side in a moderately quick fashion to visualize things. Like Dodo, he had a raspy cry. He was a sweet cat but he did earn his name “Dummy” for a good reason. He was dumb as hell.

During a winter storm, Dummy climbed an elm tree (I’m not sure if it was elm.) standing just outside my window at the corner of the house. The tree easily stood over 50ft high. The first branch was at least 20ft from the ground. I never was able to climb this tree. Unfortunately, Dummy was. Even worse, he couldn’t get down. Worse than that were the single digit temperatures due to a winter storm passing through.

About a quarter of an inch of ice caked on the trees. My dad called the fire department. Due to the inclement weather, they were not able to help out. Meanwhile, Dummy sat on the branch a couple of dozen feet above the ground crying. My dad managed to borrow someone’s ladder and get the cat down. Finding a tall ladder under the circumstances was a chore in itself. I didn’t see my dad retrieve the cat but he took a hell of a chance in those treacherous conditions but he did it.

In a different incident during a summer’s day, Dummy got stuck on the roof. He most likely climbed on the roof by climbing up a knotty, short pine tree by our front sidewalk and walking across a branch hanging over the sidewalk extending all the way to the roof. It was an easy journey because I was able to get on the house by that route myself as a kid.

My mom, dad and I were staring at Dummy who was sitting at the edge of the roof looking down on us and crying. He couldn’t get down. Once again, he was stuck. We pleaded with him to get down. We walked over under the branch he walked on in the hopes he would get the idea of walking back on to get down. Each time we begged him to come down (“Come on Dummy. Come on!”), he responded by crying.

My dad or I was close to going up there to bring Dummy down. We called him a few more times for good measure. He stood up, cried and jumped off. I can still hear his little fat body “plopping” on the ground. It was only an 8ft drop but still risky. He shook it off and walked over to us so we could pet him. We all started laughing. We couldn’t believe the cat would do something so damned crazy! Poor Dummy. He wasn’t too bright but he was a sweet cat. He definitely earned his name: Dummy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Limits to My Generosity:
Turning Away a Stray Dog

There were limits to my generosity and capacity to love when it came to animals. I realize that this blog has at times seemed self-congratulatory about how special Abby and Andy were along with my role in their lives. They were wonderful babies and I’d like to think I had a hand in it. I have showed streaks of compassion for some stray animals much to the dismay of people who know me in real life who at times thought of me to be cynical and crass about humanity. I remember a conversation I had with someone in grad school about welfare. He pointed out that my views on the subject were at odds with my humanity showed toward Father.

In the late summer of 2008, a stray dog wandered into my mom’s yard. My mom called me to ask what to do. I was still living in my condo, so I said do nothing until I drive over there. I looked at the dog. He had a tan, short-haired coat and was a medium size. He seemed nice but I worried how he would act around Abby and Andy. Andy was anti-social and Abby was old. Abby didn’t have the strength she did. I worried she wouldn’t be able to keep this dog in line.

I also worried about the money needed to take care of it. I had just been laid-off. Money was going to be tight. I also worried about my dad’s finances. He was hopelessly in debt, and his debt grew as he grew sicker. In a matter of months in the next year, my dad went through thousands of dollars for healthcare after he had a couple of strokes. He needed every dollar he had.

My mom, too, had money problems. Her spendthrift ways over the last decade had caught up with her. She, like I, had to go into miser mode. We didn’t have the money to take care of the dog. My dad wanted to keep it, but he wasn’t physically able and didn’t have the means to take care of it.

I made the decision to call animal control. The move was almost certain death for the dog. Animal control arrived about 2 hours after we called. The officer had a restraining device to control the dog even though it was overkill since the dog seemed behaved. The stray yelped loudly when the collar was put on him. My dad stood at his window looking at the scene with frown on his face . He knew the dog’s days were numbered. Further, he couldn’t do anything about it. He had lost his status as head of the family and the decision making abilities that go with it. He felt helpless.

There was no use trying to explain to him that we didn’t have the money or the time to take care of the stray. We already had an old arthritic female lab, a straggly stray cat and an aging dog with a bad back to take care of. We also had an aging old man with diabetes, end-stage kidney disease, and congestive heart failure to take care of. Our plate was full. We didn’t have room to take this poor stray in.

Things would get worse for me and my mom, worse than we expected. I underestimated the money and time needed to take care of my dad and our pets. My generosity had limits unfortunately for that stray dog. I don’t know if anyone ever adopted it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Andy Dies

I hope it was days like this Andy dreamed about on his last night.

Four days after spring break ended (Thursday), I checked my phone and saw my mom had called me early in the morning. I knew from the time of the call alone that it was bad news. Oddly, she didn’t leave a message. (The message showed up a week later.) I called my mom. She was crying as she told me about Andy falling down late Wednesday night and hitting his head on the table. He was blind, swaying his head side to side and could not get up.

I would have come down right then but I had an appointment with my legal writing professor. She is the type that would have had a hissy fit if I had cancelled. If I had asked her to postpone, she would have turned me down citing some war-story about a mean judge. I convinced my mom to wait until Friday to do something. He should have been put down on Thursday but I had to see him one more time.

Late Friday morning, after the appointment, I went back to Raleigh. I brought some roast beef sandwiches. Andy twitched his nose but would not eat any. He looked bad and I had no doubt his time had come. I should have had a vet put him down on Friday but I couldn’t let go. It’s so damned hard.

These last moments were not quality moments. I’d rather have spent my last moments with Andy on a sunny day at the pool, playing and cooking out. I had to take what I could get. Watching him sleeping gave me some comfort. I held on too long. Andy didn’t eat on his last two days and he didn’t drink on his last day. We made an appointment with a mobile vet for late Monday morning.

Andy’s spirit stood strong even though his body was failing him. In his last night, he was dreaming. During the dream, his legs were going through running motions. I hope he was dreaming about fun times he had in his youth such as the days he ran around the front yard playing with Abby, Father, me, tennis balls, frisbies and toys. Maybe he was dreaming about playing in the pool on a summer day. His world was ending and he still thought he was a baby. Only Andy could do something cute while dying.

I wasn’t able to stay at the very end. I had to go to class on Monday and I had to hand in my blue book exam (or what I had completed). I hugged him and said good bye. He went back to sleep. My mom said he was sleeping when he was put to sleep. When I got the news, I was in eastern NC. How fitting that was, I thought, because Pandy and Abby were both from eastern NC when they were puppies.

I made it to school and took care of things. At the end of the day, I went to my carrel and started crying. I couldn’t help it. I don’t like grieving in public, but at that point I didn’t give a shit who saw me. Fortunately, very few people were there because a “Post Blue Book Exam” reception was in the lobby with a keg of beer. No one was around me, but if they were, then they would have thought I was upset over that goddamned exam.

My Baby Boy was gone. He was the one that Beauty smiled upon. I often jokingly thought that when they were handing out looks, Andy went through that line twice. He was also very sweet and smart. Abby will always be special to me but Andy became closer.

I don’t know when I’ll get another dog. I’m busy and dogs do take time. They are not fashion accessories. They need love and attention. A fully grown dog needs at least an hour’s worth of an owner’s attention a day. A puppy needs so much more.

I miss the excitement and joy a Labrador puppy brings to a house. Labs are wonderful dogs. I just wished they lived a little longer. Twelve years isn’t enough. I miss my babies. Fifteen years ago, I made a decision to keep Abby. The decision could have easily gone the other way. I don’t know what my life would have been like without them. If my next generation of Labs are half as good as Abby and Andy, I’ll be thrilled. They set the bar high.

Spring Break

Pandy in his younger days

I spent as much time as I could with Andy over spring break. I’m glad I did because a week after spring break ended, he died. I knew his time was soon, but not that soon. I’m glad I put off things on my “To Do” list such as doing my taxes, my dad’s taxes and a courtroom assignment (for my law skills class). I put those off and stayed with my Baby Boy instead.

I did study and work on some outlines but after that was done, I stayed in the living room with Andy to be with him. He slept a lot but he looked good and moved around well. He still liked Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. If the weather was warm, I’d sit out back with him to give him a different venue to hang out.

The most memorable moment of spring break was the end. As I put my laptop in its case, Andy hung his head with a long face. He was saddened because he knew I was going bye-bye. Andy was close, so close, to his 13th birthday. I knew these moments would be over soon. He didn’t have much time to live. I just didn’t know how much time. What really disheartened me was his heightened response to my leaving. When I left for school in August or after Christmas, he didn’t act this way, not even close. I had left many other times after weekend visits and he didn’t get upset. But this time, the last time, he pined over my imminent departure.

I went over to him, pet him and kissed him. He stiffened his neck trying to resist my attempts to kiss him. Andy always grew tense when he knew I was leaving without him. My mom, watching the whole thing, started crying. That Good-bye would essentially be our last. The next time I saw Andy, he was disoriented in a fugue state as he was dying.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Andy's Last Swim

This was not Andy's last swim.

On a warm day in February, Andy took a little baby boy swim. My mom called me later in the day to tell me the story. I was sad about not being there to see it. My mom said she was out in the backyard piddling around and had Andy in the backyard with her. She looked around and saw him swimming in the water. My little man sneaked into the pool to cool off. Well into his senior years, he loved to swim. When he was an adolescent, he would swim in the pool with ice floating around.

Compare this to Abby’s last swim. I had to beg and plead for her to get in the water. Even then, she begrudgingly did it out of loyalty to me. However, like Andy, she needed help to get out. I was with Abby on her last swim so I could help her out easily.

Andy, on the other hand, didn’t have me around. He was stuck and stood there for a while. My mom lifted her shorts up and got on the steps to go behind Andy and help him out. It took effort, she said, but she got him out. She said the water was cold as hell. I asked her what she would have done had she not been able to get him out. “Call the fire department” she said. I don’t think she was being flippant. She was serious.

So, within a month of dying, my Baby Boy took his last swim. He went by himself because he still loved swimming. He enjoyed life all the way to the end.

Christmas 2010

Andy's Last Snow

Dodo was scared of snow.

Christmas break came and gave me 3 weeks to spend with my Baby Boy. Our moments tended to be quiet and peaceful. I just liked having him around and looking at him. During the break, a winter storm passed through. We had 2 or 3 inches of snow. I fretted because I could not find Andy’s Bottom’s Up leash. I worried he would fall in the snow and aggravate his back problem. I was also irritated because I thought my mom had thrown it away. I don’t know what the antonym for “hoarding” is but it would aptly describe my mom. I could dedicate a chapter to the things she has thrown away from legal papers, contracts to wallets.

On the first day, he walked unassisted on the snow without any problems. I was anxious the whole time he was out there. On the next morning, my mom told me she found the leash. She hadn’t thrown it away after all. I put the leash on Andy and went out. As fate would have it, I fell. Other than my ego, I wasn’t hurt. Andy stood sturdy and tall. Here I was worried about his back and arthritis and I am the one who ends up falling. Andy skated right through without any problems!

Andy Loved Arby's Roast Beef

As Andy aged, he had a hard time maintaining his weight. I worried because he was losing muscle mass. Accordingly, I took measures to encourage his appetite. If he wanted to ‘sneak’ out to the kitchen and eat the cat food, I’d let him. He knew he shouldn’t do it making it that much cuter.

During the school year, I developed a hankering for Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. I took one into the living room where Andy was and walked right past him. I could see him point his nose in the air and twitch it. He was interested in the roast beef sandwich. Curious to see if he’d eat it, I pinched off a bite and gave it to Andy. He snapped it up. Baby Boy loved it.

Eventually, Andy would not wait for me to give him some but would press the matter by walking right up to my desk and stare at me. He never went to my desk in the living room because it was in a corner and the cramped quarters scared him. The love of tooties won over his fears. Andy would ignore his claustrophobia and get his tooty. He loved Arby’s roast beef sandwiches that much.

I would buy 4 or 5 roast beef sandwiches from the $1 menu, cut them into quarters and feed them to Andy over the weekends when I was there. The Arby’s workers came to recognize me and make small talk saying “You must really like these.” I didn’t have the heart to say it was dog food. For the sake of politeness, I kept that to myself.

Andy’s love affair with Arby’s roast beef sandwiches lasted almost to the end.

Back to School

I left Andy behind when I went to school. Moving would have been hard on him. He needed to go out often and he hated to be alone. I’d be at school for several hours a day. He would be by himself and would be miserable. If I absolutely had to, I could have rented a small one-story house so Andy could get in and out easy but he would still be alone quite often. My mom provided him with around the clock care and attention. Andy loved her companionship. My mom probably loved Andy more than I did.

I lived far enough away so my mom couldn’t make demands like “Go get my mail for me” without looking crazy. I did live close enough so that I wouldn’t have to book a flight to come home for an emergency but could drive home instead. I knew Andy’s days were drawing near. I came home several times during each semseter. I could visit Andy and get in my studying. Andy was happy to see me. Fortunately for me, he did not pine away at my absence. Out of sight, out of mind.

I hated leaving my Baby Boy behind but I knew he was in good hands with my mom.

Andy Returns to Normal Life

Dodo eating Andy's food

Andy eating Dodo's food

From the summer of 2009 until I went to law school the next year, Andy had a quiet, pleasant and uneventful life. We enjoyed each other’s company. There were not that many cute stories. A lack of drama was welcome and appreciated. We just liked having Andy around.

He swam with me and my mom. He would spend time on the patio with my mom when she sunbathed, my mom in one lounge chair and Andy in another. He would sit by the patio table when we cooked out knowing he would get a tooty.

I had to watch what I did around him. In spirit, he still thought he was a baby and would try to act like one. For example, I saw a tomato bitten by a small animal and picked it. I cocked my arm back to throw it when in the corner of my eye, I saw Andy’s eye widen and his body crouch as if he was about the chase it down. I had to immediately stop him or he would have sprinted, causing him so much pain the next day that no amount of pain pill could alleviate. There were days he over did it and had to take it easy the next day.

Andy had some bowel problems. He would use the bathroom in his sleep. Often, I’d clean it up while he was still sleeping and he wouldn’t even know he had an accident.

One thing that was cute was watching Andy and Dodo eat one another’s food. Andy knew he wasn’t supposed to eat Dodo’s food. I didn’t mind him eating the cat food, but I was worried about him walking on the slippery hardwood kitchen floors. Andy would patiently wait until he thought no one was around and make a break for it. He was a sneaky little man. I thought it was cute.

Meanwhile, Dodo would eat Andy’s food. Dodo especially loved dog food from a freshly opened bag. What made Dodo’s thievery cute was his standing on his hind legs to get to the elevated bowls. We purchased the elevated bowls so Abby and Andy could more easily reach their food.

Andy and Dodo didn’t get mad at each other. I didn’t mind Andy eating the food. He was losing weight and muscle mass. Andy’s recovery was also a relief to me and my mom. My dad’s health steadily declined. He eventually went into a nursing home and a few weeks before I went to school, he died.

It was reassuring to have my Baby Boy doing well and enjoying life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Andy and Mom's Relationship Comes Full Circle

Andy was quite attached to my mom when he was a puppy. Eventually, their relationship returned to that state. My mom took a bigger role in caring for him, giving him food and medicines. Andy would gaze at her the way he did in his youth, a wide-eyed fixation. I didn’t grow jealous because I knew in a year that I’d be moving from Raleigh. Having Andy in good care with someone he loved took high importance to me.

In the mornings, my mom woke up earlier than I did. We took ‘shifts’ looking after my dad. My mom did quite a bit in the morning, afternoon and evening. I did my part in the evening. I’d stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning to keep an eye on him. Sometimes my dad became confused and would do loopy things in his bewildered state. I’d also check on him to see if he needed food or drink. Dialysis limited his mobility and he had to stay in his room once it started. He was captive in that room for 10 hours a day.

When my mom woke up, Andy would go the door between the dining room and kitchen. He would stand there watching her every move. My mom would take that opportunity to give him his medicines hidden in food (“tooties”). She would open the door and hand him food. Normally, I’d be sleeping but sometimes I would drift out sleep to hear Andy chomping on his tooty. Other times, I could see his tail wagging as my mom approached the door. I’d fall back asleep, usually.

My mom would also let Andy out the other door and outside so he could use the bathroom. Andy would immediately return to the living room by the couch beside me and sleep. He was my little soldier being loyal to me. When I woke up, he would go in the den with my mom.

I had to share Andy with someone. I knew eventually, I would have to let him go. I was going to move and he was not able to make the trip with me. I was glad he would be with my mom. The lala’d each other a whole lot.

Andy Swims Again

Soon after Andy was uncaged, we let him swim again. The vet recommended swimming as a form of physical therapy. Getting Andy to swim would not be a problem. The vet did suggest we use some sort of flotation device for Andy in his first week or so of swimming again.

I never knew life vests for dogs existed until then. I went to a pet store and found one. I bought it and brought it home. It took some adjusting for me to properly adjust the straps to fit Andy. Andy patiently waited while I made the adjustments. I pointed to the pool and told him “Get in the watty.”

I didn’t have to twist his arm. He went in and I followed. He swam laps and in circles. He would swim to me or my mom so we could hold him. He loved being in our arms while we stood in the shallow end. Other times, he would stand on the steps. The water cooled him and the “weightlessness” relaxed and soothed him.

He would swim regularly from then on. After a week, he didn’t need to use the life vest. There were times he needed help getting out because his back legs were still a little weak. He still loved to swim. He was enjoying life.

Andy "Uncaged"

After 6 weeks of rest and rehabilitation, Andy was stronger and steadier on his feet. I stopped using the Bottom’s Up leash. He was able to move around freely outside. I had to keep an eye on him making sure he would not run or jump. At heart, he still felt like a baby and was playful.

I also decided to remove the cage. On the day I did it, Andy was still standing in it when I removed it. Removal took about 30 seconds. He stood there motionless. An invisible barrier still existed in his mind making him think he was supposed to stay in the area where the cage had been. I kneeled down and asked him to come over to me. He vigorously wagged his tail and walked over to me. He was happy to be free.

In his first week of freedom, he needed readjusting to walking without support. His walk was more like a waddle. He walked the way astronauts did on the moon. He got to where he wanted but he did it in a goofy way. Once he got his bearings after a few days, he walked normally.

Unsurprisingly, one of the first things he tried to do was climb on the couch.  I told him no and he stopped. The cage didn't go to waste. For a few weeks after, I arranged the cage into the form of a wall and put it in front of the couch.

After a while he got the message that he wasn't supposed to get on the couch. He was such a sweet baby. He mostly stayed on the floor unless he was scared such as during a storm. Otherwise, he would lie on a pallet we made out of blankets. He no longer feared the living room anymore. He preferred staying in the living room. Andy was going to be OK.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Andy's Recovery

Before Andy’s return, I bought a cage for Andy to stay in while he recovered from surgery. The vet said Andy had to stay as calm and still as possible for several weeks. The vet forbid Andy from climbing on furniture again. So, I put the cage in the living room, the only room with enough space for it. It was about 4 or 5 feet wide and over 3ft tall. It was roomy enough affording comfort but not too roomy allowing him to move too much. We put blankets on the ground in case he had any accidents. At first, he did have accidents frequently. As he was weaned off some medications, his incontinence ceased but he did have occasional bowel problems that persisted until he died.

Since Andy became injured, he did not like to be alone. I slept in the living room with him. The couch wasn’t too bad and I could get a normal sleep. Andy loved the company. He would glance up at me once in a while and fall back asleep.

During the day, my mom stayed in the living room. Normally, she spent a lot of time in the den, but for her Baby Boy, she adjusted her habits for Andy’s sake.

I worried at first about having the cage in the living room because Andy was scared of the living room. When he was healthy, he would not go in there. He had a spooked look on his face whenever we tried to lure him in. I also worried how he would react to the cage. Fortunately, neither the venue nor the cage would be an issue. Andy balked at first when he reached the cage’s gate but after I prodded him to get in, he went in.

We had a bowl of food and water for him. We would give him tooties from time to time. I had to walk him several times a day because of his incontinence. In the first week, I still had to use quite a bit of force to support his back end. After time, I found I needed less and less energy to support him. After 6 weeks, he wouldn’t need any support.

Andy had someone with him 24 hours a day. He was never short of attention or companionship.

Unfortunately for me and my mom, just as things were looking up for Andy, my dad’s health got worse. From the time Andy’s back problems resurfaced to the end of his recovery, my dad had at least 2 strokes. He spent weeks in the hospital and rehab. Oddly, my dad was in worse shape at the end of rehab than he was at the start. He couldn’t focus and concentrate. At times, he was disoriented and confused. Towards the end of his rehab, it became clear he could not do his home dialysis alone. Normally, people on peritoneal dialysis have a two week training program at the dialysis center to prepare them for operating the dialysis equipment. I only had one hour to get this thing down pat. I went to the dialysis center where a nurse trained me on a model my dad used. Each step seemed easy and logical, but when they are added up, it could be confusing and overwhelming. I needed the training because my dad made many mistakes when he tried to set up the equipment upon his return.

Although my dad was getting worse, Andy’s recovery would be a bright light and source of happiness in a year that was otherwise difficult and challenging. The operation extended Andy’s life 2 years.

Andy's Back Surgery

Andy's Surgery Site

Andy and I went to the NCSU vet school for another appointment. First, we were going to have an MRI done on him. That alone would cost around $1500. Before I left, the vet (Gallagher) spoke to me about contingencies and prices. Gallagher was a nice enough guy, but the ease and fluidity he could rattle off prices was a little off-putting and seemed a little mercenary. (I realize full disclosure is important but still. . .) He said after the MRI, he would be able to determine where the injury was and subsequently where they could operate if that was possible.

I hugged my Baby Boy and went home. (I think I had to pay some money upfront.) Several hours later, Dr. Gallagher called and my mom answered. At first, he spoke to her about the MRI results. My mom told me to get the other cordless phone so we could all speak and listen. I’m sure Dr. Gallagher thought the arrangement a 40 year old man and his mom had with a dog was weird. Even I think it’s a little weird. Dr. Gallagher told us where Andy’s back problem was, mentioning the vertebrae in particular.

He said surgery was a good option and gave us an estimate for the procedure. Sum total, the price amounted to over $3000. I quipped “A good thing about having multiple owners is splitting the bill.” We laughed and then got down to specifics. We gave the authorization for the surgery, scheduled for the next day.

The critical moment, the vet said, after the surgery was the day after surgery. Whether the dog was able to stand would be a critical issue. If the dog couldn’t stand, then the surgery did not work. My mom called the vet school the day after the surgery. They had good news. Andy was able to stand on his own and he was doing well. They said he was such a sweet dog and a good patient. Maybe they say this to all the owners. People often treat their dogs like kids and all people think their kids are special. But I think in this case, Andy was one of the sweetest dogs they treated.

Andy stayed at the vet for 6 days. I picked him up on a Monday. I spoke to Dr. Gallagher in the lobby for a couple of minutes and went over what medicines Andy had to take and what he could do and not do. I gave Dr. Gallagher the Bottom’s Up leash and shortly after, he brought Andy to me. I don’t think Dr. Gallagher had any problems using the leash.

Andy didn’t recognize me at first nor did he get excited. He was doped up pretty good. He kept marching forward even after Dr. Gallagher handed me the leash. Andy had a major surgery and needed all the opiates he could get. His eyes were a little dull and glassed over. He also smelled a little ‘gamey.’ I put him in my car and went home. Andy was going to live.

Andy's First Visit to the Vet School

One of many bland buildings at NCSU (note, not the vet school)

I went to the NCSU Vet School. The building had as much charm to it as an old Soviet style facility. Sometimes when I’m at State, I forget that it has a school of architecture when I see some of the buildings on campus. Andy and I went into an examination room with an escort by a vet tech. A few minutes later, a vet and a 3rd year vet student came into the room. He spoke of possible treatments for Andy. He said the first step would be a conservative treatment. We would administer medicines for Andy and have him stay in bed all day and rest all day. He said if that didn’t work, then he’d like to have an MRI done on Andy to see if surgery is possible. I left Andy with the vet for a couple of hours for them to administer some tests to him. I picked him up a few hours later.

When I came back, a vet student came out to speak to me. I forgot her name but she was a cutie. She handed me the medicines Andy had to take along with instructions for each one. I don’t remember them all but gabapentin was one of them. It was hoped it would treat Andy’s falling down. My dad was given the very same medicine because he too had been falling down. Gaba didn’t work well for my dad or Andy.

Before leaving, the vet student asked me “He [Andy] likes to kiss a lot, doesn’t he?” I smiled and nodded my head. Inside, I thought of one my nicknames for Andy: Kissybaby. Andy and I went home and started his regimen.

We kept him as calm as possible. We gave him his medicines. He was so sweet about everything. He was an easy patient to treat. He wasn’t fussy or stubborn. His tractability and sweetness made nursing him back to health less of a chore than what is was. His spirit was so strong. I couldn’t give up on him.

The conservative treatment did not work. He still staggered. I had to use the same force to keep him up with the Bottom’s Up leash after the treatment as compared to before. I think a week and a half later, we scheduled another appointment at the vet school. Andy was going to need surgery.

Our Vet Refers Us to the Vet School

I went to the vet about Andy’s partial paralysis. We went over Andy’s medical history in specific his paralysis problem a year before. The vet said he couldn’t do anything for Andy. He discussed conservative approaches. (For those unaware, a “conservative approach” in medicine means “not surgery.”) There were dog rehab facilities around the Triangle. I wasn’t too enthused about that option since it didn’t seem promising. Andy’s problem was big and a canine physical therapist was not going to make things better.

The vet talked about referring Andy to the NCSU Veterinary School. He mentioned one specialist by name. There are vets specializing in neurological surgery, just what Andy needed. My vet wanted to wait a few days before making the referral to see if things would improve. Since I had things under control with the Bottom’s Up leash, I didn’t mind and could wait.

My vet was intrigued by the special leash. He had never seen one before and of course didn’t know how to use it. We spoke about other walking assistance devices, in particular, a canine wheelchair. I asked if he knew anyone who had used it before. He didn’t but said if we felt Andy needed it, then we should get it.

After the vet visit, I dropped Andy off at my mom’s home and went to my condo to pick up some things and clean up. On my way over, my mom called me. The vet called her and said we should take Andy over to NCSU’s vet school that afternoon. He had made an appointment for us. Understandably, this upset me and my mom. We knew Andy’s problem was bad but this indicated it was worse than we thought. I immediately turned around to go home.

Andy and I had a date at the Vet School.

Andy's Back Problem Resurfaces

On the day Andy and I moved in, big problems quickly developed. After I had dropped off Andy at my mom’s, I went back to my condo to get more things. When I returned, my mom told me Andy kept falling down. Perplexed, I asked her what she meant. Andy had been fine earlier that day. I saw Andy out front. He would take a few steps, list to one side, stagger and fall. He would get up and try again only to fall again. His paralysis had returned. It wasn’t a full paralysis but it was bad.

We had to get him to the vet as soon as possible. In the meantime, I had to get a walking-assistance device for him because he could barely walk on his own. My mom called a few pet stores in the Raleigh area trying to see which stores had dog walking devices. I went to one place, (not a big-box store) in Cary to pick a walking assistance device. It had a pad to go under the belly with strings for the owner to help lift the dog up. I didn’t like this device. It did help assist walking effectively but Andy had a hard time urinating. He would pee all over the pad. I could have taken the pad off while he peed, but Andy needed the support the most when he was using the bathroom.

The second device, The Bottom’s Up Leash, worked far better. It had two loops and a leash assembled in one unit. The back legs went through the loops and the leash was used to support him. Andy could easily use the bathroom, both poo-poo and pee-pee. There was a bit of a learning curve trying to put that thing on him. It would fall off if not put on well.

I worried at first how Andy would react to this strange thing being put on him. He had neurotic tendencies and could be skittish. If Andy would not let me take care of him and not let me use a walking-assistance device, I would have to make a hard choice—put him to sleep.

Andy was lying on the bed when I first attempted to put on the Bottom’s Up leash. The moment of truth had come. He didn’t squirm or fidget. He liked me touching him and loved the attention he was getting. He was so sweet. I would go to great lengths to make him better.

Andy’s front legs worked well. When I lifted the leash, he jumped up and got off the bed. The leash worked like a champion. I went out front to let him go to the bathroom. I had to keep his leash taught or else the loops would drop down and I’d have to put the leash back on. I had to use a good amount of strength to support his back half. My right arm screamed with pain after the first few walks. It was like walking around with a 20lb weight in hand with the arm sticking all the way out. I had to grin and bear it because I knew Andy was in trouble and could be close to dying. These were not Hallmark moments but I had to take what I could get in what could have been my last moments with him.

Andy spent almost the whole day in my mom’s bed. He no longer liked being alone. When I worked, I would leave him by himself or 10 or more hours and never had a complaint from him. Now, he cried whenever he was alone for more than 5 minutes. I think he knew something was wrong with him and that he felt vulnerable. He was scared and didn’t want to be by himself. If my mom wasn’t sleeping or napping in there, I would sit in a chair and read a book. My presence placated Andy and made him happy. He would peacefully sleep while I sat and read.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Moving Back Home

I still had time to enroll in law school for Fall 2010, but I postponed going because I wanted to help my mom with taking care of my ailing dad. He wasn’t getting better and from what we could see, he never would. I wanted to keep him out of a nursing home as long as possible and in the meantime, make arrangements to protect his assets before he went into a nursing home. So, at the tender age of 40, I moved back in with my parents and put my condo up for sale. I won’t get too morose but taking care of someone needing around the clock care can wear you out.

Since I only had a few miles to go, I didn’t rent a truck but made many trips back and forth from my condo to transport my things. Dodo was terrified of the moving. He likes calm and tranquility. He does not like people moving fast and he does not like it when people have shoes on. In tradition of our neurotic pets, Dodo was scared when people had shoes on and would stare at the shoes. Who knows what kind of trauma he had with shoes. It can’t be a happy story.

Further, Dodo did not like me. When Dodo first came to our house, he was nice and friendly to me. That changed after I took him to the vet. Dodo did not take kindly to that vet visit. At one point, he had his body pressed against the wall and back arched when he hissed at us. Ever since then, he hated my guts. He ran from any room we were in together. On one of the first few nights I was there, Dodo jumped up on the couch with me and while I was petting him, he turned around and bit me. He then jumped off the couch and ran away.

Dodo’s reaction set the tone for what would happen in the next few days. Andy’s paralysis came back and my dad had another stroke. The fun was just about to begin. (If I had a “sarcastic” font, I would use it here.)

Abby's Ashes

Abby's Last Photo (about a month before she died)

I got my LSAT score 3 days after Abby died. My first thought was “I’ll be damned. I’m going to law school.” My percentile was quadruple that of my first two practice tests. Those extra 3 weeks of studying made all the difference. I got a decent score and would get into a decent school.

I wasn’t happy but more relieved when I saw the score. I was still sad about Abby. At this point, I was glad I wasn’t working. My grief was palpable. I didn’t want to be around other people. Not having to go to work was a good thing at that point in time.

Later, I asked my mom why my dad didn’t bid Abby farewell. She said he could not. He was too stricken with grief. She said later that day when they were sitting on the couch, he started crying. A lot of people loved Abby. She was such a good girl.

The day after she died, her ashes were ready. I’ve waited to scatter them. I will save some ashes to keep with me but I will scatter some at various places.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Abby Dies

Abby in Lake Lynn

I answered the phone as I was going into the building I lived and heard my mom crying. I knew something was wrong before I even picked up the phone because I had just been over at my mom’s after doing some chores for her. I had just seen her, and she’s not the needy type. Abby fell while going down the steps and couldn’t get up. She would never get up again. I returned to my mom’s upon her request and would spend the night there. We fed Abby and hoped she would recuperate. We made her as comfortable as we could. Other than a few guttural groans once in a while, Abby was quiet. The moans were atypical of Abby’s vocalizations. This was different. It was bad.

Later in the night, I got a thin matt and laid it beside Abby. I lay beside her for a few hours. I would have stayed the whole night but Andy kept moving closer and closer to her until he was literally almost on top of her. Abby was too weak to wiggle from under him. I thought Andy’s attachment to her was sweet but I decided to give Abby a little space and went to bed. Andy went to bed at his usual place, my mom’s bed.

My mom woke me up the next morning. Secretly, I hoped Abby would die peacefully in her sleep. I didn’t want her to die in a cold and sterile room at the vet. We inquired about a mobile vet but that vet said Abby would be better served by taking her to her regular vet where they had better diagnostic equipment. I was going to take Abby myself but I would be damned if I was going to see her being loaded on an office cart like a sack of potatoes. Instead, we hired someone who transported pets. Abby’s last ride was much more dignified this way.

My mom didn’t go to the vet so she bid her farewell to Abby. My dad didn’t even do that. I followed the pet transporter to the vet. The vet told me that Abby had internal bleeding that they couldn’t pinpoint it. The vet said they could do surgery but no guarantees would be made. She then brought up euthanization. She tried being tactful and used inane phrases like “she has lived a full life.”

This would be one of many life and death decisions I’d make over the span of 18 months. I gave the go-ahead to put her down. I went into the back and gave her a final farewell. She was sitting up, more than what she did at home. She didn’t recognize me until I kneeled right beside her. Her nose began to twitch indicating she knew who I was. She gave me a kiss. Her nose and tongue were cold. I hugged her. Soon after, she was gone.

On my way home, many thoughts went through my head. Abby had been with me for a third of my life. Oddly and strangely, a dog, this dog, had a positive influence on me. I wasn’t quite the high-strung moody person I was in my 20’s when we got Abby. I had mellowed out and Abby did have a role in that. I also thought about other people suffering in the world, trying to put my pain in perspective. I knew worse things were happening to other people. It didn’t console me. Abby was gone and it hurt a whole fucking bunch.

I reflected on my previous thoughts of what criteria I’d use if I ever had to decide to euthanize Abby. I did have to revise those criteria. If she didn’t eat, couldn’t walk and was in excruciating pain, I would have her put down. Her appetite was not a factor at all in my decision to let her go. In her waning hours, she ate like a king. For example, I gave her a Krispy Kreme donut, which she at first turned away from. An hour later, I heard her rustling around. I didn’t think much of it at the time but when I looked later, the donut was gone. Baby Girl got it.

For her last meal, Abby ate bread, eggs, turkey, sausage and a Krispy Kreme donut! Baby Girl went out in style! Even in death, Abby could make me smile.

Abby's Penultimate Vet Visit

As Abby aged, getting her to the vet was harder. She had to walk more than she was used to and well past her comfort level. I had to help her in the car and pick her up and put her down to get her out. On her next to last visit to the vet, her visit was terrible. Normally, I was satisfied with the treatment the vets gave my pets but on that day, they fucked-up all the way around.

On our way back to the examination room, we stopped by the scale to weigh Abby but had to take a detour. The scale had urine on it. Accidents happen, but to leave behind a puddle of pee is unhygienic, unsanitary as well as half-assed housekeeping. We had to go an extra 50 feet, which for an old, feeble arthritic dog like Abby is excruciatingly far. The vet tech, the very guy I first saw from 13 years before then when I brought in Father, always had a sharp and hasty edge to him. He was walking at a fast clip; Abby labored to keep up. After several yards, I snapped at him to slow down. The tone jolted him but he did slow down.

Finally, we made it to the other scale. We had to walk a country-ass mile in country-ass Knightdale to get there. Abby had something to say about this trip by the time we arrived at our destination. She shit on the floor right by the scale. She has used scatological messages before to let me know how she feels. On that day, she told the vet “Shit on you, asshole.”

The vet tech weighed her and took her blood. Several minutes later, the vet handed me a piece of paper, a print out of Abby’s blood analysis. He circled her BUN and creatinine levels; both were high. Before he said anything, I knew what that meant. My dad had end-stage kidney disease so I was familiar with these measures to determine kidney health. My Baby Girl had kidney problems. All the years of Deramaxx took a toll on her kidneys. The vet asked if we could scale back on her Deramaxx. There is no way, I said. She was in constant pain and couldn’t live without the pills. I felt like a death warrant had been handed to her.

While we were there, I asked the vet to clip her nails. Since Abby didn’t move around much, her nails didn’t naturally trim themselves when she walked. I had this done several times before with Abby without any incidents. This time would be the exception. On one nail, the vet cut too close and drew blood. He used some lame ass excuse that Abby had pulled away. What a shitty thing to do, to blame an old dog. I secretly questioned his skills but didn’t vocalize my concern. He tried to stanch the blood flow but he really dug in there. He finally had to use a special agent to stop the bleeding, a silver nitrate based compound. After 10 minutes, the bleeding stopped.

If that guy charged me for addressing her bleeding, I was going to raise hell but luckily, he didn’t. He shouldn’t have even charged $15 for the nail clipping service since he fucked it up, but he did. I paid the bill and took Abby back home. I was sad having to face the likelihood of Abby’s imminent demise. And it was near.

Neighbor's Dog Tried to Kill Andy

Near the scene of the crime

Christmas Day 2008

My neighbor’s Bull Terrier, Turbo, attacked Andy in the hallway. What a shitty punctuation mark to an overall shitty year. I was on my way to see my cousin when I looked through the front door and saw Turbo and one of its owners trying to come in the door. I immediately changed directions to go out the side door. Turbo, unleashed and without barking or growling, scampered right to us, ran in front of Andy jumped up and chomped on Andy’s face, not letting go. I pulled Andy back and Turbo wouldn’t give. He wouldn’t listen to me. Even worse, he wouldn’t listen to his owner. He intensified his efforts to kill Andy. I screamed at the owner to get her goddamn dog off mine. I had a split second decision to make. I thought about kicking the shit out of the dog. I also thought about running back in my condo, getting something and killing the dog. Fortunately, I had some strength in me that I didn’t know I had and pulled Andy loose.

We immediately went outside and got in the car. Andy’s ear was bleeding. The other owner ran out, apologized and said he’d pay for the vet bills. Andy needed 10 stitches. The bill was over $600. I left the bill at the owner’s door the next day. It took him a week until he gave me a check. In the meantime, the delay led me to think he wasn’t going to pay. I was thinking about suing that son of a bitch. That god damn little psychopathic dog was not on a leash. You don’t have to make an “A” in torts to know that it smells like negligence.

I even thought about suing the HOA. Our HOA rules stated that no more than 2 pets can live in a unit. Turbo was a new addition to that unit, the third pet. The HOA board knew about this rule violation and did nothing about it. Had that little bastard not lived at that place, Andy would have never been attacked. I’m sure that claim would be weak, but it would be nice to put the HOA on the defensive after all their high-and-mightiness over the last few years. Luckily, Turbo’s owner paid the bill in full.

From then on out, I always carried a hammer with me when I took Andy for a walk. I was going to knock the shit out of that bastard if he so much as snarled at Andy. Andy is such a sweet dog. I’ll be goddamned if I was going to have him die at the jaws of that bloodthirsty little bastard.

I don’t know why someone wants a Bull Terrier to begin with. They are ugly as hell. Take a close look at one and not just a glimpse at a distance to see what I mean. In the canine world, they are the missing-link knuckle-draggers with pronounced brow ridges and sloping foreheads. They look like dumb little bastards. They have zero personality. And when they go berserk (and believe me, they will), they go into a blind rage oblivious to other people or even their owners. Personally, I’d put my dog down if he savagely attacked another dog like that, especially after he ignored its owner during the attack. They lost control over the dog and it subsequently almost killed another dog. That dog is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Abby's Sneakiness at Her Last Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2008

My mom, towards the end of dinner, told me to look under the table. I lifted the table cloth and saw Abby sitting directly under the middle of the table! She was laying there and gave me a wide-eyed innocent look. How did an old and arthritic 12 year old dog go unnoticed under a table seating 8 people? Stealthy was the last word I’d use to describe my Baby Girl. At that point in her life, the way she moved was best described as “hobbling.”

But on that day, she knew where the center of the food activity was and went there. She had a life-long love with food that would last until her final day. By this time in her life, she had a dignified air about her, acting calmly and with good measure. She was so cute reverting back to her old ways. It made me think of her days as a puppy when she had so much spunk. Even though she slept a lot, she still exuded a lot of personality. I found her cuteness and sneakiness at her age to be adorable.

I Scared Andy When Studying for the LSAT

Four weeks before my rescheduled LSAT date, I studied in earnest. I had “Plan B”, my preparations for finding a new job, ready to go if I bombed on the LSAT as my practice tests indicated I would. My first two tests were especially atrocious. No law school in the land, even the online ones, was going to grant me admission. But, I paid for the prep course, materials and test, so I was going to take this mother fucker.

Every day, I’d go over at least 20 questions in the logical reasoning segment, my worst segment. I didn’t care how long it took me to get the right answer. I would stare at the book until I got the right answer. Just for the LR section alone, I would take 90 minutes of studying each day. Gradually, very gradually, the time I needed to find the right answers went down.

As fate would have it, a wrinkle was thrown into my study plans. Andy was scared when I studied. He would lay down, point his face directly at me and stare at me with a wide-eyed expression. I knew that look and seen it many times before. He had that look when I chewed gum or popped the bubble-packaging from a UPS delivery. The intensity and focus on my face made him nervous. I loved him a whole bunch but there was no way in hell I was going to let a crazy-ass dog derail my studying. Damn, if that dog didn’t live his life in fear.

I had to do something. First, I left the TV on but kept the volume down low. Usually, I’d keep it on TV Land with something like Bonanza or Gunsmoke. I would then pause every 5 or 10 minutes, look at Andy and say something nice to him. He settled down after my efforts to calm him down but he was still slightly on edge.

My God does day-time TV suck. TV Land was the only station I could stomach during that time slot. Everything else was either some talk show or a judge show. If this is what I have to look forward to when I retire, then retirement is going to suck.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Postponing the LSAT

At the end of the LSAT prep course, my decision on if I was going to law school appeared to be determined for me by an outside factor: my LSAT score. My scores were still bad. I would not have gotten in to one single school in the nation, even the online ones, the direction I was heading. I decided to postpone the test and take it 2 months later. I had already paid for the course. There were no refunds so I might as well take the thing. I felt I needed more preparation. There was so much material in my study guides I had not gone over. If I went over that material and still sucked, then I wouldn’t go to law school. So, two days before the test, I rescheduled. Back then, the administrators allowed for last minute changes without any penalty. All I had to do was pay a small fee and I was ready to go. Now, a person cannot change test dates within a few weeks of his scheduled test date. They will have to either show up and take it or receive an “Absent.” The “Absent” would be reported on the person’s LSAC profile.

In the meantime, I had two months to study for the LSAT and get ready to find a job if my scores still sucked. In the first month, I prepared for a seminar. In my line of work, scientists interviewing for a job have to give a 45 min seminar as part of their interview. I had to go over several years worth of research to prepare for my seminar. I spoke with other guys who found jobs elsewhere, and they needed a few weeks to get ready for their seminars. By the end of 3 weeks, I had a seminar ready. Had I bombed on my LSAT, I would be ready to pull the trigger on my job search.

After taking time off for Christmas and New Years, I would start studying for the LSAT. I realize that up until now, not a word has been mentioned about my dogs. It has all been about me. This entry does set the stage for my next entry about my focus on LSAT studying and how it affected Andy. Seriously, my studying became an issue with Andy, as weird as that sounds.

Andy Left Alone in the Evenings

The first night I attended my LSAT prep course would be the longest I had left Andy alone in quite a while. He was accustomed to me being around all the time and expected it. Taking this course would be “Step 1” towards getting into law school. The course spanned 6 weeks and ended just days before I was to take the real thing. Maybe it was hubris leading me to believe that a month’s worth of preparation would be sufficient. After all, that was the amount of time I needed for the GRE 14 years earlier and I did well on that. For those who don’t know what “hubris” means, it’s a “negative” word, i.e., not one used to flatter. The cold fist of the LSAT would hit me in the face which will be left for another entry to elaborate.

On the first night of the prep course, we took a full-fledged timed LSAT test, but without the writing segment. Counting the introductions and administrative actions and my drive-time, I had left Andy alone for 4-5 hours. He was waiting in the hall for me. I hadn’t seen him this excited in a long time. He grabbed a toy and shook his tail so hard that it made the rest of his body “wag.” He breathed hard and started snorting because he could breathe only through his nose. My Baby Boy had been all alone in the universe, a singularity. I was happy to see him happy.

The joy Andy brought me softened the blow of a not-so-great night. I bombed on the practice exam, finding out 3 days later. Even worse, after 3 hours of intense focusing on reading, my strained eyes could not re-focus when I looked up. I also had a headache. I was going to need reading glasses.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A False Alarm

Andy Waiting to Go Out

A month after Andy’s paralysis incident, I brought him to my condo. I had plenty of time to think of what I was going to do, where I was going to go and when. Because of GSK’s generous severance package, I was able to take my sweet-ass time to make my next step. In the meanwhile, I would kick it with my Baby Boy and enjoy what time I had with him.

One evening after I returned home from working out, I took Andy for a walk. We barely made into the park when trouble started. He started limping, took a few steps and stopped altogether. He held his front paw up and pitifully looked up at me. All I could think was that his bad back had struck again. I also thought he could have sprained or even broken his leg. Regardless, he couldn’t move on his own power. I picked him up, carried him to my car and put him in the back seat. We were going to make yet another trip to the after hours clinic.

Not only had I just finished working out, but I had carried an 80lb dog over 100 yards. This was a fusion between cardio and lifting, an extension of my workout. I was tired and hungry, really hungry. Fortunately for me, the night was very mild, so I left Andy in car 5 minutes while I grabbed a quick bite to eat. I knew a long wait may be ahead and my blood sugar was dropping. When I came back, Andy was quietly lying in the back and sleeping.

I went to the front desk at the clinic after I pulled into the parking lot. I asked a vet tech for assistance bringing Andy inside. She brought another vet tech with her and a stretcher to carry Andy in. Andy was standing in the back waiting for us. When I opened the door, he jumped out like a horse out of the gates at the Kentucky Derby. He appeared to be OK. The vet techs laughed and we all went inside.

After filling out the paperwork, I saw the vet. She inspected him and said he appeared to be fine. I explained why I was overly cautious. She understood. She said unless Andy limped or his leg started to swell in the next few days, he wouldn’t need a follow-up visit at our regular vet. Everything would be fine. I guess Andy stepped on something and it was a false alarm. I didn’t need any more bad news that year.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Visits With Abby

Abby by the "Squirrel Tree"

While I was deciding what to do with my life, I helped my mom out with some small chores here and there since I had free time. As my dad grew sicker, his healthcare demands grew larger. I would pick up prescriptions or some small items from the grocery store, for example. I would then visit for a while at my mom’s. I liked the opportunity to visit my Baby Girl. Of course she was happy to see me. She would wag her tail when I entered the door and then wait for me to walk over to pet her.

I’d go in the den where my parents often were and visited. Abby almost always found her way by my side and quietly lay by my feet, touching either me or the chair I was in. She didn’t make a big production of moving by my side. She would quietly toddle over to my chair and lay down. It was her way of establishing a connection with me and saying “Hello.”

Abby would occasionally want to go out front. She wasn’t as forceful letting me know compared to her younger days but she made her point. I’d stand out front with her and watch her sniff around. My mom said she did something different out front when I was there. Abby went much further down the hill compared to when I wasn’t there. Normally at that stage in her life, she stuck close to the house. The arthritis limited her mobility and she knew better than to go too far.

But with me there, she went ¾ of the way down the hill and would sit. She would stay there for 10 minutes or more. She would once in a while turn her head to make sure I was there and then keep staring out into the distance without focusing on anything in particular. She sat motionless.

I often wondered what was going on in her head. I speculated that she was thinking of her younger days when she was playing with me and her toys out front. She may have been thinking of the times she was roughhousing with Father or chasing Andy around. Of course, she could have been thinking about those squirrels she never quite reach. I’d like to believe she was thinking of the happy times.

Maybe because of all those fun times in the front yard, merely being in that front yard brought her to her “Happy Place.” Being out front may have brought her bliss. These moments were dwindling so I let them last as long as they could. The sun was setting on her.

Overlooked Signs of Andy's Bad Back

I have no doubt that Andy’s bug-bite was the final domino to fall in his bad-back injury but there were signs before the bug-bite indicating something was wrong with his back. I wasn’t able to pick up on those signals. Sure, the twisting and straining Andy did to scratch at his throat aggravated his back but he had back problems before then. Unfortunately, my limited knowledge about dogs resulted in my overlooking the symptoms of his bad back.

First, a few months before the paralysis, Andy’s knees would buckle. He wouldn’t fall on the ground but he would noticeably dip. The knee buckling, when it did happen, took place at the start of our late afternoon walks. I didn’t think much of it and wrote it off as arthritic knees stiffened after a long day of inactivity.

Second, Andy would “knuckle” when he walked. Instead of landing on his paws, he would sometimes land on the knuckles and the claws scraping against the sidewalk would make a grating scratching sound. By the time I looked around to see what he was doing, he had lifted his knuckled foot to take another step so I never actually saw him knuckling. It was only a year later when things with his back got much worse that I would see him knuckling. Instead of merely stepping on his knuckles, he would actually stand on them. His numbness in his legs wouldn’t allow him to feel his missteps.

The third symptom I overlooked was his incontinence. A few times after I just arrived home, he had to go so bad that he would pee on the living room rug. Also, when I woke up in the morning, I had to immediately take him outside or else he would pee inside. Andy’s bad back pinched on his nerves causing him to lose control of his bladder.

I know Andy must have been in a hell of a lot of pain. How he was able to mask it, I don’t know.

Hitting Rock Bottom and Digging:
Paralysis in Andy's Back Legs

Air mattress in living room

(If you ever have to ask yourself "Can I possibly get fatter" or "Can things get worse"; the answer is almost always "YES!")

The next night, very late, I heard my phone ring. Anyone who knows me knows that they better have a damn good reason for calling late. I don’t remember hearing the phone ring. What woke me up was the long message and my mom’s voice. This wasn’t good, I thought. My first impression was that my dad was in trouble. I distinctly remember my mom saying “Andy can’t walk.” I picked up the phone while my mom was still leaving her message.

Andy was walking down the hall, had trouble and collapsed. He tried to get up but couldn’t. Somehow, my mom was able to help him into bed. It was 4am. I could have taken him to the after hours clinic. They close at 8am. I decided to wait until daylight and take him to our regular vet. In the meantime, I went over to my mom’s to see Andy.

He was lying on his side on my mom’s bed. He wagged his tail and tried to move his legs. They moved slowly and weakly. He made a pitiful attempt to get up but could not. I laid down beside him and hugged him. This was bad, even Abby knew it. In her attempt to make Andy move, she grabbed one of his toys and put it by his mouth. That always got him going in the past, so Abby tried in her own way to make things right. It was a sweet and tender moment in one that otherwise felt like a kick in the teeth.

My mom let my stay with Andy and went to the couch to lie down. This could be it for Andy. A dog that can’t walk is normally put down. I wasn’t ready for this. Andy had been so strong and healthy up ‘til then. Abby was the one who had been gradually going downhill. I had been bracing myself for her death in the previous 2 years. But Andy’s death was one I couldn’t deal with. It hurt a whole bunch.

At 7:30, I drove my car to the front where it would be easier to bring Andy to the car. I picked Andy up and took him to my car. At the vet, I had a vet tech help me bring him in. I hated how the vet brought animals in. Instead of a stretcher, they used an office cart. Abby had been on it and did not look comfortable on it. I didn’t like seeing her being carted around like she was a piece of office equipment. It wasn’t dignified.

The vet was blunt and honest with us about Andy’s prognosis. Andy had a bad back and he may not walk again. He did leave off the putting him down part, but it was understood. The vet put Andy through a regimen of ultrasound treatments on his back and gave him steroids. A patch of hair was shaved off his back to administer the ultrasound treatments.

I dropped my mom off and went home. I didn’t go to the lab. I was about to be laid off and couldn’t have gived a shit about work. I emailed my boss who responded that I didn’t have to declare a vacation day giving me a free pass. I stayed home all day waiting for news. At the end of the day, Andy was able to stand on his feet. The next day, he was able to walk. This was the first time Andy stayed overnight at the vet. After his second night there, I picked him up the next day.

The vet gave Andy steroids to take over the next two weeks. Andy had to pee frequently and he needed even closer care than when he had the bug bite. He would not stay at my place again for a month. When he did come home, I slept in the living room on the first floor from then on until I moved from my condo. No longer would I sleep in my bed upstairs. I didn’t want Andy climbing stairs anymore and risking aggravating his back. I would sleep on the couch and he would sleep on the couch, love seat or rug. I didn’t sleep in a bed on a regular basis until over two years later.

Andy had a close call. I was happy he survived but he would not be able to move with me wherever I went. He was getting old and needed more care. Losing my job wasn’t the sad part for me. Having to let go of my Baby Boy was the sad part.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Shitty Day Got Shittier

I went home and was going to put the rest of the day behind me. My fate was sealed and there wasn’t shit I could do about it. Weeks later, I found how just how true that was. Someone told me that the managers had already made their decisions of who would stay, even before the Town Hall meeting was held. I wanted to spend the rest of that miserable day with my Baby Boy. Even that would be denied from me.

I walked into the door but Andy didn’t come greet me as normal. Instead, he was sitting on the rug in the living room with a scared look in his eyes. I looked closer and his hair all around his neck was matted in a liquid like substance. It was puss. How he got infected, I don’t know. The vet later guessed it was a bug or a spider of some sort that bit Andy causing the infection.

Since it was after 6pm, I would have to take Andy to the after hours clinic. I didn’t want to wait until the next day. It looked pretty nasty and Andy must have been in quite a bit of pain. I took him by my mom’s so she could see and we decided to take Andy to the clinic that night. That place costs money, usually around $200 just to walk in the door.

The vet wasn’t sure if Andy had to stay overnight. She gave me an estimate of the procedure and requested I pay half upfront before any work was done. I signed forms and paid the deposit and went home. A couple of hours later, Andy was ready to go. The vet had shaved Andy’s throat area, cleaned up the area and gave him some medicines.

She gave me instructions to not let him scratch the area or else he would aggravate it. She recommended he be supervised around the clock. Andy would have to stay at my mom’s for the next few days. I went back to the vet, picked up Andy and took him to my mom’s. On the way over, he quietly started scratching his throat, just what he wasn’t supposed to do. Since he didn’t have his collar on, I couldn’t tell what he was doing until he had scratched several times. I bet his throat was a hundred times worse than any razor burn I’ve ever had. My Baby Boy was miserable.

I dropped him off at my mom’s and went home to put an end to an awful day. What a wonderful way to enter middle age. Happy fucking birthday to me.

A Gift for My 40th Birthday:
Massive Lay-Offs Announced

May 2008

I woke up on my 40th birthday knowing it was going to be a shitty day. GSK had a global R&D Town Hall meeting to reveal what the reorganized company would look like. Our department managers let the word out about the depth of the cuts: “It’s a deep cut.” Sure enough, the budget for R&D was cut in half. It didn’t take a mastermind to figure out that most departments would be cut in half. What was noteworthy about that day was the size of the audiences in RTP, Pennsylvania and France. Even though the announcement was in RTP, the meeting was simulcast to other GSK sites. The audiences in NC and PA were standing-room-only and in good sized auditoriums. However, in France, the video cast was in a conference room with only a half dozen people in it. Were the French not interested in the re-org? No. French laws make it damned near impossible to fire or lay-off people. Their jobs were safe; they knew it and couldn’t have cared less about the carnage we were about to face.

The execs got down to business and didn’t sugar-coat it. Once I heard the size of the budget decrease, I would have stood up right then and there and went back to my lab, got out my butter and jam because I knew I was toast. Unfortunately, I had accepted a ride over to the north campus instead of driving myself. I had to listen to the details of how our jobs would be outsourced to other companies, including ones in China.

Later in the day, we had another meeting just for our department to give details of what to do next. HR gave details about the severance packages. We had to “reapply” for jobs in the reorganized company. The company required us to fill out a particular form to reapply for a job and if one didn’t, then a severance package would not be offered. Too bad we had to do these electronically or else I would have filled my form out in crayon. That would have been passive aggressive, a “weapon of the weak” giving me great pleasure. HR said we had an option on the form to say “Give me the severance package.” Several people did that. I thought long and hard about doing that but decided against it. I thought to myself “Why make their jobs any easier?” I was going to make them go through the uncomfortable process of telling me I wasn’t offered a position. When the day did come, I would act sad upon hearing the news but deep down, I didn’t give a shit. It was an undignified end to a not-so-happy chapter in my life.

I also had to act with dignity because I needed references. Word gets out about people who acted like jack-asses during the notification procedure. I heard one guy basically cussed out a manager when he was let go. A couple of months later, a few positions opened up and that guy would have likely got it except for his outburst. The short-term gratification wore off eventually and he was left with a damaged reputation.

Besides, I needed to be on the manager’s good side. I had a paper I wanted to publish and needed his sign-off for approval on this matter. He would approve of my paper for publication without any hardships or acrimony.

What I did worry about now, on my 40th birthday was what to do. If I stayed in the industry, I would have to move hundreds or even thousands of miles from NC. Some guys did just that. Some guys ended up in Tennessee, Florida, Massachusetts, Washington (both DC and the state) and even Canada. The jobs in NC were not there. I even thought of asking Aventis for my old job back but my pride got in the way.

I worried what I was going to do with Andy. He was an old guy by then but he was doing well. He couldn’t run anymore because of his arthritis but he could walk well. I didn’t know how he would handle a big move like that. I worried I would have to leave him behind in NC like I would Abby. It broke my heart.

I thought about going to law school. I had been thinking of that for almost ten years. I didn’t love my job as GSK but the benefits and pay were just good enough making it hard to leave. This time would be a good opportunity for me to go. The window was closing fast and this would be my last chance. Of course, I’d have to take the LSAT. I didn’t know how I’d do on that. I even thought about being a patent agent. One of the senior scientists, a guy in his mid 50’s, took that route.

I also thought about working in a different line of work such as teaching. That idea didn’t last long. I’m not particularly fond of kids.

All day, the one thing I kept thinking of was “What am I going to do with Andy?”