Spoiled. Rotten.

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Yes. I spoil our girls.  Rotten.

A trip to the pet store buys them a treat of smoked pig’s ears or a cow’s hoof.  Just b’cuz. Cruising through the aisles,  I’ll nimbly toss into my cart peanut butter nibbles and pull toys. Sometimes its a doggy cookie frosted with cute little sayings. Other times it might be a jerky treat or a rawhide.

Of course, if the packaging has a Berner on it – it’s a given.  I’m buying it.  And then there’s Costco…..

“Oh! Look honey!” I yell over the clamor of Costco shoppers.  I’m pointing to a dog treat package that has a picture of a Bernese Mountain Dog sitting proudly on the bottom corner.  Malcolm is five carts away grabbing his Mexican Coke.

“We should get these for Dolce and Amore,” I state as I’m tossing two packs onto the Costco flatbed.

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“Geezus!  They’re $27 bucks each! Put ’em back!”  Malcolm has sticker shock. He shoves the packages back in their bin and tries to push the cart on down the aisle.

“But the girls will love’em and it has a Berner on it!”  Like that justifies the cost and the purchase.

“We are not spending $50 some odd dollars just because it has a Berner on the packaging – you don’t even know what it is!”  thinking that will close the conversation down and we can get the hell out of Costco.

“Yes, I do, they’re Bull Sticks or if you want the technical name, PENIS.  PENIS. PENIS.” I repeated.  Well that certainly garnered some stares from strangers. Malcolm grabs the package to read the labeling. That starts another tirade.

“Geezus!  These things cost over $2 a piece!  There’s only twelve in the pack.”

“So?”

And then he did the calculations.

“Holy Mother of Gawd!  It’s over twenty dollars a pound.  We don’t even buy filet steak for ourselves for that much and you’re gonna buy it for our dogs?”

“And your point being?”  I dug my heels in deep.  My stubborn Swedish heritage was kick’n in.  His frugal Scottish blood was simmering but not boiling. I had this one in the bag.

“Fine! I’ll only get one package.” I relented.  “We can always buy more later,” I added under my breath as I put the single package of Bull Sticks on top of the bag of lemons. Oops.  He heard that.  Malcolm shot me that look.  You know, that look husbands give wives that wives almost always ignore.  I gave him one back.  You know, the one wives gives to husbands when they are being a male.  A male that has no understanding of a female.

We bought the Bull Sticks.

Many spent dollars later, we begin the trek back up the hill to Santa Fe.  “Now don’t be giving them to the girls all at once.  Dole’em out slowly so they’ll last,” Malcolm lectured me on the drive home. “I know, I know, I’ll space them out to last  It will be for special ocassions.” I gave him the answer he wanted.  I knew the girls would love them.  And they did.

Luv’ed them so much that one night a few weeks ago, we walked in from being out and found bits of plastic packaging scattered throughout the room.  The room was decimated with small pieces of plastic stuff.

“Oh crap!” Malcolm heard me shouting as I walked into the house first. Well, actually my language was much worse than a simple “crap”.  Every swear word that rhymes with “duck”, “luck” and “truck” spewed from my lips. “What did you two do?” I asked Dolce and Amore.  d-and-a-1Hearing me from out in the garage, Malcolm hesitated coming on through. He knew there had to be a mess and he knew if he waited in the garage long enough, perhaps I would be the one to clean it up. He didn’t know what, just that he didn’t want to deal with it. What he didn’t realize was the girls had counter-surfed the kitchen and nabbed the Bull Stick package. Twelve sticks missing. One $27 bag of Bull Penis’ ripped and shredded throughout the room. I have no doubt it was Dolce, our sneaky  instigator. Just as I have no doubt that Amore quickly joined in to get her share of the loot.  They both looked guilty. And pretty damn pleased with themselves.

When I went to grab the broom to clean up their mess, I saw an unopened Bull Stick bag sitting above the garage refrigerator that Malcolm had purchased on his last trip to Costco. I chuckled to myself, knowing Malcolm is just as bad as I am.

Like I said, spoiled.  Rotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

happy pawlidays!

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it’s mine!

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From day one, the tag line for this blog has been, “if it falls on the floor, it’s mine!” You guys have no idea how apropos this statement has come to mean.

Two words.  Two syllables. But full of meaning and emotion  –  “It’s mine!”

Those two words have taken on a life of its own.  Those two syllables have created a monster.  “It’s mine” has morphed into blurred lines and non-existent boundaries.  “It’s mine” has bestowed entitlement to a dog.  A big dog with a mine of it’s own.  Strong willed and defiant, this dog has decided “it’s mine!” is her M.O.

I’m not talking a few dropped cheese crumbs on the floor tiles, however that’s part of the problem. It’s a proven fact, all edible scraps that fall onto the floor is in canine territory and belongs to our dog mops.  And, I’m not just talking about bones to chew on or Kongs to gnaw.  I recognize those are in the possession of our girls, purchased for their enjoyment.  It’s theirs.

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Nope, I’m talking about the true doggy definition of “it’s mine.”  I’m talking Amore. You see, she believes everything is hers.  It goes something like this…..

ME:  Amore!  That’s my shoe!

AMORE:  No, it’s mine!

ME:  No, Amore, it’s my shoe.

AMORE:  But, I like it, therefore it’s mine.

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my shoe

ME:  All shoes are mine, Amore.

AMORE:  Well, it’s in my mouth, so it’s mine.

ME:  It doesn’t work like that Amore.  That’s my shoe.

AMORE:  But, I just had it a little while ago, so that makes it mine.

ME:  Amore, let go of my shoe.

AMORE:  It looks like mine, so it must it’s mine.

ME:  Bad girl!  Drop!

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grrrrrr…..

AMORE:  I saw it first, it’s mine.

AMORE:  Do not even think of it, it’s mine!

ME:  It was in the closet, it’s not yours.

AMORE:  If I chew it, then all the pieces are mine!

ME:  You don’t get my shoe! Or its pieces!

AMORE:  Well, if you put it down, it’s mine!

AMORE:  AND, if I tire of it, it’s still mine!

ME:  No and NO!

AMORE:  And, if I don’t even want it, it’s mine!

AMORE:  Besides, it’s practically edible, so it’s mine! AH!

ME:  AMORE!  Let me repeat myself, All SHOES ARE MINE!

AMORE:  Not if I can take it, then it’s mine!

ME:  No Shoes or no dinner!

AMORE:  Hee, hee, hee.  If I want it back, it’s mine!

AMORE:  Ok, FINE!  (pout)

AMORE:  Mom?

AMORE:  Mom?

AMORE:  Where’s Dolce’s Kong?

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Mine!

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grand marshal

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Amore and Dolce have always been our ‘go-everywhere’ dogs.  Where we go, they go.  To the store, into town, over to friends, the girls tag-along.  And, it never fails, where they go, they attract attention.  I mean, come on, two big Berners?  Sittin’ side-by-side?  Tails a-waggin?  Loopy grins on their faces?  A day doesn’t go by without Malcolm or I receiving some type of comment on the girls.

Take them to the store and immediately Dolce and Amore jump into the front seats as we exit the vehicle. Other store patrons chuckle over seeing our two dogs, respectfully sitting upright in the driver’s and passenger’s seats.  dolce-in-drivers-seat

“Beautiful dogs,” “Love your dogs,” “What kind of dogs are these,” “Can I pet them?” are words heard regularly, as we load our groceries into the car.

On occasion, we spy people discretely pulling out their phones to snap a quick pic of our prom queens in their limo. They always say it for someone else.  Yeah, right.

Amore and Dolce soak up the attention.  They paw and preen, even do the leaning thing against stranger’s legs as they are ooh’ed and ahh’ed over on our walks.   In an instant, they are the Grand Marshals of the parade.  All important.  All expectant of the praise. Passing out doggy smiles and paw waves like they were throwing penny candy to the spectators.

A few weekends ago, Malcolm and I took the girls up the mountain to hike around in the Aspens. It was a truly beautiful day.  The leaves had already initiated their pageantry of yellows, oranges, and reds as we headed up the trail.  The sky was crystal blue.  The air crisp with the scent of pine boughs and cones.  Amore and Dolce were in canine heaven. New scents and a new trail were theirs for the taking.  Along with more adoration from strangers.

I doubt we had gone more than twenty yards up the trail, when we were stopped by a group of tourists asking about the girls.  “What kind of dogs are they?”  “Can we take a picture with them?” We paused for the Kodak moment.

Another thirty yards and we were hailed by a family with young children.  “Can I pet the doggie?” a brave little lass asked in a small voice.  With nods of permission, she stepped forward to give Dolce a small caress on her head.  Dolce, sweetheart that she is, laid down at the sneaker-clad feet of the little girl, rolling over for a belly rub. Giggles erupted from the child as Amore licked her face.  Little ones are a favorite with our girls.

The next mile was broken up with no less than eleven groups of hikers all asking about our dogs, slowing down our parade up the hill.

In betwimg_0127een, Malcolm and I tried for our own photo-op of our dogs.  I had visions of the perfect Christmas Card.  The girls had visions of more dog worshiping.  Of them.  By others. Cuz they don’t get enough love at home.  NOT!

Every time we stopped for a selfie, people would stop to pet Amore and Dolce. Every time we would strike up the band to move on up the trail, strangers pumped us with questions about the breed of Amore and Dolce.  Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade through New York moved faster than we were getting hiking up the trail.

When we heard there was a small creek up ahead and around a bend, we made that our destination.  The girls would be able to wade in to cool off.  Malc and I would be able to scout for suitable location for our holiday photo shoot.

With the creek in sight, I found a good-sized boulder to pramore-creekop against, the girls found the shallow water, and Malcolm found a fellow hiker to take a few pictures.

Click.  Click.

“Come in closer.” Click.

“No, closer.”  Click.

“You’re too far away.”  Click. Click.

That’s the great thing about digital pictures.  You can delete all the crappy ones and it hasn’t cost you a thing.  Outmalc-amore-creek of 50 or so pictures, we actually had quite a few that were decent.  A couple were card worthy, a few were blog worthy.

The best ones were with our Grand Marshals.  Amore and Dolce were the hit of the parade.

 

 
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When Tiamo had her litter, the pups averaged about one pound each with Dolce and Amore weighing in at .98 lbs and 1.5 lbs respectively.  They were so tiny you could nestle a single puppy in the palm of your hand and still wiggle your pinkie and thumb.  Within 48 hours they had doubled their weight.  We were impressed.

And slightly nervous…

 

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With Momma supplying the nutrition, each puppy easily grew two to four pounds a week.  By the time the little tykes had opened their eyes they had gained some solid substance.  They had outgrown our food scale we used to weigh them, and the palm of our hands as we held them.  It now took two hands to hold our roly poly’s.  We knew the puppies were healthy, which was a good sign.  It was also a sign of things to come.

When we added chow to their diets, Amore and Dolce  were tipping the scales at 14 pounds, give or take a few ounces.   With their fat bellies, they were nothing but huge balls of fur.  Now that I think back on those times, they were bigger than huge.  It was time to be scared.  But noooo, we were oblivious to our future.

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14 lbs. It’s all relative.  To a weightlifter, 14 lbs. is nothing.  They single-handedly lift weights many times that.  To us, fourteen  pounds is huge when it is all wiggly and squirmy.  For us, fourteen pounds is really twenty-eight pounds.  14 lbs. times two.  You never just get one dog on your lap, you get both.

Fourteen pounds can make your wrists ache. And your back twinge as you pick the pups up in your arms. And 14 pounds will soon be 100 pounds.  100 lbs. times two.  We were screwed and there was no going back.

When 14 lbs became 34 pounds in a little over a month later, we knew we were in trouble.  Our food costs doubled as they ate more and more, and our vet bills tripled.  And both girls wanted to sit on us or be beside us.  And there was Tiamo, our momma.  We were a household of dogs.  Our life was never gonna be the same.

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At six months Amore and Dolce hit 65 lbs.,  friends would comment, “Oh, my!” as one of the dogs would lean up against them, causing them to lose their balance.  “Just look at those paws! These are gonna be some big dogs!”  We knew that.  Yup, we knew that.

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Sixty-five pounds cranked up to 84 lbs by the time they had their first birthday.  We were never gonna return to normal.  Our  lives just became all about our girls.  Momma weighed in at 98 lbs. and here were two more fast approaching three digits on the scale.  Within the next year, we were going to be looking at 300 lbs. worth of lap-dogs. Two-thirds of which were still puppies. Yikes!

Over the next two to three years a Berner could easily add another 10-30 lbs onto their frame.  Well into their second and third year, Bernese Mountain Dogs will continue to lay down bone, put on width and substance, and their heads will continue to broaden.  Amore and Dolce were no exception to the general rule of Berners being slow maturing dogs.

Three years old, Amore and Dolce finally grew into their bodies but they were far from mature.  They still had their puppy on.  For over 36 months, Malcolm and I would look at each other and ask,”when will they calm down?”  “When will they grow out of their puppy phase?”  “When will they quit growing?” We were at the 200 marker:  200 pounds of puppy plus 100 pounds of chow a month costing us $200 every 60 days.  We were exhausted.

I can honestly say, to this day, they haven’t.  Grown out of their puppy years that is.  Well, not completely.  They take longer naps and have quit chewing shoes and books, but Amore and Dolce will always be our puppies.  Our girls.  And the best gifts we could have ever given ourselves.

At eight years of age, Amore and Dolce hover just under 100 lbs. each.  Dolce is slightly heavier from eating too many apples, Amore is slightly higher in height.  Both fight over who gets to sit on Malcolm or me.  We have resigned ourselves to dog hair in our wine and canine bodies in our laps.

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There is an old Swiss saying, “Three years a puppy, three years a good dog, three years an old dog and the rest is a gift.”  It’s an accurate description of Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Here’s to our 100 lb. gift(s) that still likes to sit on our lap!

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happy campers

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Like most pet owners, nothing brings us more joy then seeing our beloved four-legged children happy.  And we go out of our way to bring them nothing but an abundance of happiness and comfort.  We buy them special treats and toys, make sure they have soft cushiony pillows to sleep on, take’em on walks.  We love’em, pet’em, provide for them.

Malcolm and I have found a simple scratch behind the ears and Dolce is in ecstasy.  Eyes closed, you just know she is in heaven.  Amore adores a rough love down.  Rub her sides and back haunches like a deep massage and she is in bliss land.  One of the few times she’ll stay still.

They go berserko when it’s time for their hikes, initiating a barking frenzy until loaded into the car.  365 days a year we take them out to the Galisteo basin for their daily walks.  Through rain, snow, wind and cold, we suffer for their happiness.  Our girls love the cold.  Us, not so much.  But we do it cuz we know how much joy it brings them.

“Man, Amore was one happy camper when she spotted a jack rabbit on our hike today!” Malcolm relayed to me when I got home from work.  “She took off after it like a shotgun blast!  Of course, she only ran about 40 yards before she tuckered out.”  Malcolm chuckled over the memory.  “She came back all shiney eyed and excited!”   Amore is our scout, always on the look out for adventure.

Over the years, we have narrowed down Dolce and Amore’s happy list to three main activities. We are talking happy camper activities here.  Total happiness.  Total joy. Two of the three are seasonal.  The third is daily.  And just so you know, treats are a given so they aren’t on the list.

Snow.

There are no two ways about it, Amore and Dolce love the snow.  On occasion they even sleep in it, only to come inside covered with white and hop on the bed at four in the morning shaking off the wet debris.  Snow days are happy camper days.  The girls would live and breathe snow if it was available on a regular basis.  So we bundle up like Ralphie in the Christmas Story movie and take them to play.  We freeze our asses off, along with our noses and our toes to watch Dolce make snow angels and Amore run through the powder like a dolphin.  Their joy brings us joy.

Then there is our harvest.

About every four or five years, if we are lucky enough, come late August through October, we get apples.  Our girls love apples.  No, you don’t understand, they loooove apples.  Love to snap those shiney red orbs off of the low hanging limbs.  Love to lay down in the cool shade of the branches and stock pile the fruit.  And they love to eat’em.

The second she hears the portal door opens, Dolce is out, with Amore on her heels.  They’ll beeline down to our lone fruit tree and burrow into the apple-laddened nirvana. I’m serious here, this tree is their heaven.  You can see their eyes fold back as they tug an apple off it’s mooring.  We watch as they each back up, apple in their mouth and drop the red fruit onto their growing pile of fruit.  Like a kid in a candy store, Dolce and Amore don’t know which apple to chomp on first.  The girls are in their element and they couldn’t be happier.

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On a daily basis, Dolce and Amore bring happy to our hearts.  And, on a daily basis, Dolce and Amore get their third happy.  It’s their special time that has become a ritual.

I like to get up early, get ready for work, and then enjoy a cup of coffee before leaving to head into town.  I feed the girls, grab a mug and read a bit on my iPad.  One by one, Amore and then Dolce come by for their early morning snuggle.  First Amore, always a bit restless, she’ll hop up on the couch lay her head down for a few minutes and then go search out her next adventure.   A scratch on the belly, a rub behind the ears and she is off and running.  Then it’s Dolce’s turn.

Dolce knows the drill.  She positions herself on the sofa, backs up into the couch pocket and gives me the nod.  She knows with a certainty, I’ll gently pull her back into my arms.  It her cuddle time.  They say dogs don’t like to cuddle.  They lie.  My Dolce could stay for hours nestled besides me.  For the next 40 or so minutes, Dolce is in her happy place, content with nuzzles and hugs.  And me…….

I really don’t get much reading done, but I am one happy camper!

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what dog hears

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We all know dogs have selective hearing.

When Amore was in her teenage years, she was a handful.  Headstrong, willful, she refused to “sit”, “stay” or “come” when we called to her.  Totally blew us off.  Even with the promise of a treat, she would ignore us when we issued commands.  Oh, she heard us alright.   We would see her ears twitch, her head would cock to the side, her little brain thinking and then she would give us her tail.  The canine equivalent to flipping us the bird.

Malcolm would put on his serious voice, deepening the word as he gave the command.  “Come” he would say in his stern sargent’s voice.

“Come!” he repeated, sharpening the directive.

“Amore! COME!!” he said for the third time.

Amore gave him the look and went back to what she was doing. There was no “three-time’s-a-charm” ol’ college try.  And, after the third repeat, dogs really don’t tune in anymore.  All they hear is yada, yada, yada, etc., etc., etc., and so on and so on and so on.

After talking to a dog trainer, we realized Amore just didn’t like the word “come”.  Why?  It started with a “C”.  Poor baby, it hurt her ears. It seems a lot of dogs comprehend “H” and “W” word commands easier.  Who knew?

Word commands such as HERE, HEEL, HUPP (H + up), and WAIT,  are more pleasing to their ears.  All one-syllable words.  Words like HOLD,  HUGG, WHERE, WALK, and  WHAT (to be said when furiously barking) became synonymous with the old standards of, come, sit, follow, up, stay, stand, no, load up, fetch and find.

Malcolm and I liked the new commands, not only were they one-syllable, but they were mostly four-letter words.  Always a good feeling to spew those.  In the past, there was nothing like a four-letter word to get the point across.

G.A.W.D    D.A.M.N   it   D.A.W.G.   C.O.M.E.!  Screamed in frustration.

or, my favorite,

F # & K  –   N.O.T.T.  my  N.U.T.T.s, said in pain as Amore jumped, paws first, on Malcolm as he was spawled on the couch.

We switched our command to “HERE” (minus the gawd damn) and lo and behold, Amore obeyed. Came wanting her treat, but she came none the less.  We now say “WAIT” to Amore before allowed to sit on the sofa, with all body parts preserved.  HUPP is for the girls to load up into the car for a WALK, and HUGG will get you a cuddle and dog licks as their paws wrap around our waist.

And Malcolm and I, we have a running joke about what Amore and Dolce actually hear……..

what a dog hears

 

 

 

pin the tail

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In 2002, Malcolm and I threw the dart.

The finely chiseled point hit Santa Fe, New Mexico on our relocation map and a few months later we packed up and moved to the Land of Enchantment.  As we were narrowing down the destination to call our new home, I informed Malc I would moved anywhere west of the Mississippi.  Malcolm calmly informed me, the zip code we called “ours” must have the New York Times delivered.

Well, I can safely say, Santa Fe is west of the mighty river but the Times delivery was a bit spotty the first few years of residence.  Yes, it was delivered, sometimes only 3 days after print.  Other times we would collect a weeks worth of daily papers crammed in our mail box.

We contracted with a REALTOR® and started the process of buying our dream home.  It was September and the weather was gorgeous.  As we walked through houses that fit our criteria, attended open houses on the weekends, and looked through the Internet for FSBOs, we found one consistent fact.  Very few homes in Santa Fe have air conditioning.  For that matter, very few even have swamp coolers.

“Oh, you don’t really need them,” our REALTOR® stated.  “It’s only warm a few weeks in June.”

“What do you mean no central air?”  Malcolm questioned.  Malcolm hails from Hotlanta, Georgia.  My roots are from Central California.  Hot, hot, hot summers were a staple for both of us.

“Seriously, the temperature here only gets to about 85 – 90 degrees for a couple of weeks in June.”  SOLD!  We signed the mortgage sans air conditioning and ceiling fans.

Our beautiful fall turned into a cold winter.  We have radiant heat and my toes have never been so warm. We loved the snow and the cold. We were loving our new digs. Then the snow melted into a windy spring.

“When does the wind stop?” I asked our now REALTOR® friend.

“Dont’t worry, this is just our March winds.”  She replied.

It was May.

“Don’t plant anything until after May 15,” she added.  “We could easy have another freeze or some spring snow.”  And we did have another freeze and more snow. With snow in May, there was no way our summers would be reminiscent of our past ones.  We smiled to ourselves, glad to be away from the humidity of Georgia and the high temperatures of California.

We blew into June, by now well versed in New Mexico’s erratic weather.  From past experiences, we both knew 85 degrees of hot days was nothing.  Anything under 95 degrees was cool compared to where we came from.  We convinced ourselves we didn’t need manufactured cold air.  We opened our doors and windows and captured the cross winds. For the most part, it worked.

Through out the years, June in Santa Fe has varied from cold to cool to warmish to hot.  We have installed ceiling fans where needed.  Five of them.  We have purchased oscillating fans for air movement.  Six of them.  Our REALTOR® was correct – the hot temperatures last only a few weeks.  Usually from mid-June to Labor day, with July cooling down some from the monsoons.

Until this year.

This year, it has been 100 and hell degrees since Memorial weekend.  It is time to flip the calendar to August.

Dolce and Amore have suffered right along with us.  It’s too hot to walk them, too hot to leave them in the car as we run errands in town.  Too hot period. The temperatures this summer have been almost unbearable for the girls.

Even with the fans spinning on high, the hot summer air has been stifling.   On occasion I’ve resorted to using their bushy wagging tails as a fan, convincing Malcolm to rub their ears as I positioned myself behind one of the girls to catch some tail wind.  

We watch the girls panting on the cool brick floor in misery.

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We watch them move from room to room searching out the coolest areas of the house.

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We take them on car drives with the air conditioning blasting. Not going anywhere in particular – just driving in a cold car to cool down.

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We have even taken them down to the local pool to give them some relief.

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We have clipped their fur as short was possible, trimming their feathers, their bellies, their sides and chests.  We fill their water bowl with ice cubes for chomping. We keep water spritzers close by to spray some coolness on Dolce or Amore.  It’s still too hot.

And it’s still 100 and hell degrees.

 

 

 

screeeeeech!

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screeeeeech.

“Did you hear that?” I questioned Malcolm.  We were both reading our pads in the living room, the windows and doors open to allow the gentle cross-breeze through.  It was one of those early evenings where the work was done and the day was wrapping up.  Malcolm had poured us each a glass of an Australian Malbec to sip as we read.  Fat cat was sprawled on her back, paws in the air.  Dolce was gnawing on a bone and Amore was wandering the perimeter.

SCREeeeeech.

“WTF?” Malcolm heard the loud chirring noise this time.  My eyes flew to the ceiling.  The large vigas up high will crack and groan as the house settles but this screech was different.  This sounded like it was coming from the guest bedroom and it was louder than a mouse.

SCREEEeeech.

“What do you think it is?” I asked.

“No idea!”  Another loud squeak was heard, along with a heavy thud.

“Do you think it came from down in the guest room?”

“Why don’t you go check?”

“You go check!  I’m not going down there!”

SCREEEEEECH!  THUMP! THUD!

Crap!  This time the screeeeeech reverberated between the living room and guest room.

“It’s coming closer!”  I whispered to Malcolm.  “Do you think a critter came indoors?”  We’ve had a few varmints brought in by Gordita and the girls.  A couple of times a bird has flown in via the fireplace chimney.  This screeeeeech wasn’t human.  It brought the hairs on the back of my neck straight out.  My reptilian brain was flashing danger, danger.  Another screeeeeech came from under our large picturesque windows in the living room.  Followed by a thump and a thud.   It was coming closer.

“Where are the girls?”  I did a quick head count.  Gordita was still on her back, paws up, unperturbed by the noise.  Still intent on her bone, Dolce was uncaring of our panic.  Where was Amore?   Dear god, where was she? With the doors open, Amore had been in and out.   Had she been attacked?  Coyotes roam fairly close to the house, could she have been lured out from the safety of our portal?

SCREEEEEECH!

The hairs on my arm were on full alert.  I slowly backed up, inching towards the garage.  When my back hit the door, I reached for the knob and slowly opened it, sliding my arm through the crack to grab a nearby shovel.  Any weapon was better than nothing.  Malcolm headed to the portal to find Amore.

SCREEEEEECH!  THUMP!  THUMP! THUD!

I raised the shovel in attack mode.

“psst!”

“Psst!”

“PSST!”

“Megs!  Come out here!”  Malcolm whispered from the portal, his index finger raised up to his lips, silently telling me to keep quiet.  I tip-toed out, shovel in hand.  Malcolm had stepped off the brick portal and was leaning around the corner of the house.  I peered around him, my heart beating out of my chest.

SCREEEEEECH! THUD!

And there was Amore.

SCREEEEEECH!

Chasing after lizards.

THUMP!

As they climbed up the stuccoed sides of our house.

THUD!

The screeeeeeching noise was Amore jumping up and raking her paws along the outer walls.  Her strong claws scraping the stucco as she reached out to snag a lizard.  Imagine a large canine taking vertical leaps against  the solid structure of our house.  That was Amore.  Her whole body stretching upwards as she sprang into the air.  Her focus solely on the lizard.  Her paws screeeeeeching against the wall as she slid back down to the ground.

The thumps and thuds was her 100 pound body sumo wrestling with the same barrier of wood and stucco.  I lowered the shovel, my heart rate slowing, my panic subsiding.  The movement attracted Amore’s attention.

Eyes shiny and bright, tail wagging in pure, unadulterated joy, Amore had her catch dangling from her muzzle.  Amore had tagged her first lizard.

Thank god it wasn’t a snake.

May

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It always amazes me how fast time flies.

As a family with only dogs and one fat cat, Malcolm and I find that most days merge into weeks into months into years as life speeds by.  Those days tend to be a blur of memories, mostly good ones, mostly happy ones, but mixed in with the fond remembrances are the harsh realities of life.

Earlier this week Malcolm and celebrated our anniversary.  As we reminisced our married life, memories of our early days brought forth giggles and laughs over old jokes, old adventures, and old ‘remember when’s. It also brought saddened smiles of other anniversaries.  Our ‘borrowed’ kid, Sam, and our first child, Tiamo.  One was our nephew, the other our beloved Bernese Mountain Dog.  Both were ‘firsts’ in our lives.

May is the month we honor Moms, congratulate Grads, and celebrate Anniversaries.  And May is the month we remember those who have left our lives but not our hearts……


 

Malcolm and I don’t have children – we have dogs.  Use to be three, now two huge, wonderfully sweet, spoiled brats.  Both of us were in our forties when we meet and married, well beyond the age to consider kids. But still young enough to fall into the pet trap.

Like most parents with real kids, Tiamo, our first Bernese Mountain Dog, was easy to raise and didn’t give us any trouble.  Much. We spent hours training her, socializing her, correcting her, loving her.

Santa Fe is a dog friendly town, permitting canines on leash most everywhere and we took her everywhere that allowed dogs.  She was part of our family, we were part of her pack. There was never a time she wasn’t with either Malcolm or I.

Tiamo would sit at our feet, under the table, while we sat outside eating lunch at the local cafes and bistros. She loved to watch the other patrons, always hoping there might be other dogs around.  She was so well-behaved, little nippers would climb all over her and she loved the attention.  She loved people and other animals, especially Thugs.

But most of all, she LOVED Sam.

Sam was our nephew and was loved like a son.  In so many ways, he was the kid we never had.

Sam at sunset - AZ

One freezing cold January day, Sam arrived in Santa Fe. He arrived shirtless, in shorts and wearing flip-flops. He planned to stay for a short weekend visit. He was passing through New Mexico on his way to life.

I had never “truly” met this nephew of Malcolm’s. He attended our wedding, but like most brides on the wedding day, I didn’t remember much. As for Malcolm, it had been years since he had any true contact with him. Short emails and such, but no one-on-one, face-to-face conversations. In truth, neither one of us knew Sam very well, and me not at all. Neither one of us knew what to expect. I have no doubt Sam felt the same way.

Sam was 23 years, not even a quarter of a century old, and traveling through his life. While both Malcolm and I were fast approaching the half-dollar mark and getting ready to slide down the other side.  Sam was just starting on his expedition, his life’s trek. We were winding down from ours. We were poles apart on where we all were in our lives, in age, in experiences, and in goals. Somehow we managed to find common ground and meet in the middle.

My plan was to cook up a storm, for in my experience, food solved all dilemmas. Sam was in his early twenties, an age when all males ate a lot, extra servings and seconds, so double batches were required.   I went to work in the kitchen.

Malcolm’s plan was to show Sam around town, drive up through the mountains, expose Sam to the wonders of Santa Fe. Malcolm gassed up the SUV.

Sam’s plan was to document life through his travels, videoing his journey, recording his thoughts. He had graduated from college and his young artist’s soul was begging to be set free and loose in the wilds. His jump off was Santa Fe. He had tricked out his truck and camper into a cozy living area. He jimmy-rigged a camera mount on his bicycle to record his wanderings, pulled some money from his savings and had a full tank of gas and ideas. Ready. Set. Go.

He never left Santa Fe. One week later, after living in his truck at the Wal-Mart parking lot, Sam moved into our household, taking over the guest bedroom.

I had someone new to spoil, while  Malcolm had someone new with which to impart wisdom and advice.   Not having kids, we loved the fact he came diaper free and with manners.  He was trained.  We bonded quickly and the three of us became a family. We loved Sam – Sam loved us. Sam was special. Unique. We “adopted” him without any hesitation.

When Malcolm was turning fifty, I surprised him with a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy.  Born on Thanksgiving Day, Tiamo joined our new family when she was eleven weeks old. We all instantly fell in love with her, especially Sam. Although, I think he originally saw her as a chick magnet with four legs and fur.  I mean, seriously, what female under 80 and not blind, would not fall in love with a Bernese puppy! For that matter, Sam was a hottie. What female under 30 and/or blind would not fall for a tall handsome Texan.

Sam took part in Tiamo’s training.  He assisted in walking her, grooming her and teaching her to sit, along with other commands. Sam would volunteer to bring Tiamo to the vet when she needed her booster shots. He took care of Tiamo when we went away for travel and trips. Sam was Tiamo’s third caregiver. The two of them were inseparable.

When Sam later moved into town, I think he missed Tiamo more than he missed us.  I know Tiamo missed him something fierce.  She would go absolutely bonkers when Sam came to visit and wouldn’t leave his side.  Malcolm and I were ignored. For Tiamo, Sam was it.

Tiamo would have this goofy grin on her face when Sam showed up.  Her eyes would light up and she would prance around, showing off for Sam.  Sam always brought her a treat.  Something special just for her.  It got so every time Sam came, she would immediately reach for his pant’s pocket, nosing her muzzle, sniffing for her treat.   Sam never failed to disappoint her.

Tiamo was the happiest when the three of us were together.  Sam, Malcolm and I. Plus Tiamo. She would grab her toy of the week, gnawing on it while laying at our feet, listening to our voices as we caught up on our lives.  Her family together, Tiamo was happy and content.

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Tiamo

Sam loved the outdoors.  Even on the coldest of days, he and Malcolm would sit outside, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, enjoying a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, discussing life.  They would pull up two old wooden rocking chairs to the edge of the portal, facing west, and observe the sky’s colors as they faded from brilliant blue to fiery orange to pitch black.  Tiamo at their feet.  They would still be talking as the stars turned on their lights, twinkling from above.  Tiamo was content to be with her “boys”.

Some nights, Malcolm and Sam would light a small fire in the clay Chiminea for warmth.  Other times, they would gently rock their chairs to the cadence of their conversation, low murmurs that would tease Tiamo into a soft sleep at their feet. During the summer months, Sam and Malcolm would take Tiamo for midnight walks after it had cooled down from the day’s heat.  Tiamo happily trotting along besides the two of them. Plainly said, Tiamo LOVED Sam.

When Sam was 27, he passed away. The first year, after Sam’s death, was the hardest.  Malcolm and I had to re-adjust our family back down to two with a dog. Along with Tiamo, we had to re-adjust to never seeing Sam again.  We all mourned.  We all missed Sam.  Like barbed wire twisted around our hearts, we felt every razor-sharp prong squeezing into our grief and sorrow.  Our hearts were bleeding, bruised and beat up. Tiamo’s was as well.

The following spring after Sam’s death, I started a memorial garden.  West of our covered portal, in full view of the day’s end, I planted flowery shrubs, bushes and flowers in every color to remind us of the sun winking good night.  Fiery reds and oranges, brilliant blue hues, twinkling whites and luminous purples. Cheerful yellows and soft pinks. Bright colors to reflect life’s wonder. Colorful shades of nature reminiscent of watching the sun disappear behind the Sandias as all of us conversed. A salute to our loved ones. A nod to Sam. We missed our Sam, but are so thankful he joined our life for what little time we had with him.

We have since laid flagstone, moved the clay Chiminea pot to the middle of the stonework and added more wooden rocking chairs. Birdhouses and yard art are scattered around to commemorate the joy of life.  Sam’s life. Bright colors surround the garden, flowers edging the stone’s perimeter. Pinon, pine trees and junipers providing the shade and adding a wind break.  It has become a happy place. It is a continual work in progress.

Tiamo was half way through her sixth year when Malcolm and I had to put her down.  Cancer.  Heart-wrenching.  Sad.  Deep. It was early May and we had two weeks to prepare for the finality of losing her.  We had been through the grief of losing Sam. Now we were going to go through the heartache and anguish of losing another beloved child.

There was no question that we would bury Tiamo at home in our Memorial Garden. A place where Tiamo would sit at Sam’s feet as Malcolm and Sam watched the sun set. Malcolm had chosen an area in the garden where Tiamo loved to lay while Sam and Malcolm chatted, solving the world’s problems.  Under a big juniper tree, he started to dig her burial plot.

As Malcolm prepared Tiamo’s final resting spot, Tiamo laid by the deepening hole and watched, silently giving us her acceptance of what was to come.   She was ready.  We were not.

We didn’t want to let her go. Memories of her as a puppy, remembrances of Sam “borrowing” Tiamo to assist him in picking up long haired co-eds, recollections of Tiamo sitting at our feet while on the portal, flooded our hearts. Our beautiful Tiamo was in pain. No more walks on the green belt, no more belly rubs at night, no more trips in the car. We knew it wouldn’t be long.

Our veterinarian had told us we would know when to bring her in. “When it’s time to stop the suffering, you’ll know,” she said, her eyes filled with sympathy.

Malcolm and I felt like we were playing at being God, making the decision about when to end Tiamo’s life, when to “bring her in.” “When it was time” turned into “then it was time” way too soon. With tears in our eyes and a heavy, burdened heart, we put Tiamo down. Again, Malcolm and I deeply grieved.

When we bring pets into our lives, we come to the understanding that, most likely we will outlive them by many years. Most likely there will be many other pets in between. We had already put Thugs down, our aging cat of nearly twenty-two years. Malcolm and I accepted that. Hate it, but know it, and know this is life.  This is the harsh reality we all go through.  Damn it hurts.

We buried Tiamo in her favorite spot, shaded by junipers and surrounded by color, facing west to watch the sun set.  She is deeply missed.

I would like to believe Sam and Tiamo are high in the sky, in their happy place together.  Tiamo has her “Sam” to play with, sniffing out an endless supply of treats from his pockets, prancing around in a field of soft green clover.  Sam has Tiamo, keeping him company while he enjoys the fresh air and outdoors.

We miss our kids.

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lassie

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How come

with just a few barks

everyone can understand

that Lassie is saying

Timmy fell down the well

but with my endless whining and gnawing

you can’t understand

that I am saying

I’d rather the earth swallowed me whole

than go out in public wearing this raincoat

     by Francesco Marciuliano


After Dolce spent weeks at the vet’s recovering from her several surgeries last summer, she returned to us with a new vice.  Her days rubbing paws with other canine inmates manifested into a  penchant to be heard. In the 53 days spent at the vet’s healing, Dolce learned how to bark.  Loud.  Often. And for no reason.

This is no Lassie bark.  This is no “the house is burning down and I’m saving you” bark.  It’s not a doorbell bark or a TV bark or a car just drove up bark.  Nope.  This is a trumpet of deafening, abrasive clamoring.  With no translation. No explanation.

Now, Tiamo, she had a few Lassie bark moments.  She would come down into the den as Malcolm and I watched TV and do the bedtime bark shuffle.  She would stand in the doorway and back up as she barked three times.  It was nine o’clock and time for me to come to bed.  Nine o’clock on the dot.  She never missed the dot.  Three sharp barks with exclamation marks.  She would then race back to the bedroom and wait for me.

Once Tiamo came down to the den calling out to us with an excited yawp.  There was enough bellow in her bluster to give us pause.  It wasn’t nine yet, there had been no yelp from the TV, we were curious as to her behavior.  I followed her back up into the kitchen and discovered Thugs, our old and aging cat at the time, had gotten himself stuck on the counter and could not get down.  He had expanded all his energy in his jump up and now found himself without the stamina to climb down.  Thug’s days of enterprising activity had long passed him by.  He had twenty years of hard living behind him and his life style had catch up to him.  Tiamo just wanted her buddy safe, down on the ground where she could look after him.

Another time, another barking frenzy, Tiamo came to warn us the replacement mousers had knocked over a glass vase full of water.  Not only was there water all over the table and floor, but shards of glass was everywhere.  Her mayday kept our bare feet from being sliced up.

But Dolce, she just barks.

Bark.  Bark.  Bark.  She knows only one word.  Bark.

It’s all about context.

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crouch n’ scrunch

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It doesn’t take much for Dolce and Amore to realize there is a car trip on the agenda.  Just the simple act of putting on socks and shoes will start the dancing chorus of excited barking.  The grabbing of the car keys, the purse in hand, are more visuals for them to be on the alert.  Two steps taken in the direction of the garage door has the girls pawing at the door knob to be the first one out.  Nothing excites the dogs more than the thought of a trip in the car.

A disgruntled Dolce sitting in the backFor Dolce, her excitement starts at the first right out of our driveway. And then the crouch n’ scrunch starts.  What’s that you say?  Oh, let me tell ya….

The crouch n’ scrunch is the side effect of frenzied scouting for the first available opportunity to bark. Loudly.  It’s the first phase of searching for movement on the hike and bike trail that runs along side the road. It begins with Dolce planting herself in the middle of the back between the two front seats.  Then she crouches.  Scrooching down, she scrunches her shoulders and head to have the perfect view out the front window.  Posture be damned, she is on the look out for fellow canines, humans, cyclists, birds, pesky flies, anything, just give her something to objectify. Okay, nothing works just as well.

Because nothing, is just as good if not better, than barking away at the possible threat a dog on a leash might pose as we drive by at warp speed.  A walking human will incite her vocal chords with or without the slightest possibility a dog might be trotting next to them as we pass.  A cyclist in the bike lane will receive a barking to just because.  It is, therefore she will bark.  There is nothing, therefore she will bark some more.

“Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear.”
Dave Barry

The crouch n’ scrunch is Dolce’s latest trademark in car-riding alignment.  She compliments the position with a ping-pong head bobble.  Right, left, right, left.  Her eyes darting up and down the trail as she swings her head back and forth.  Wishing.  Hoping.  For anything.

During the summer months, Dolce’s frustration escalates when her vision is impaired by the tall grass and weeds that sprout up along side the trail. Her brown-haired brows pull down in annoyance when she can’t lay her eyes on the short-legged canines.  Those little dogs that fall below the weed line, hidden from sight. You want to really piss Dolce off? Block her view.  Pull down the sun visor or lean too far over the center console where she’s on the look out and you’ll get a quick retaliation, doggy style.  A strong paw and/or snout will inform you to move back to your own territory.  A small yip will instruct you to put up the visor.  Don’t obstruct her vista.

We are fortunate this crouch n’ scrunch is a short-lived phase.  Ten miles later, Dolce has forgotten all about barking at nothing.

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my side

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As creatures of comfort, we all have special rituals and/or habits that brings us small pleasures.  From sneaking a piece of sinful dark chocolate to a cherished cup of coffee, it’s the little things that bring us bliss. Simple joys that give us that drawn out “ahhhhh” moment.  It’s a cold beer after a hot day.  It’s grabbing a warm blanket and settling into your favorite chair in the evening to watch some TV. It’s fresh sheets as you climb into bed, curling up to sleep.

We all know there’s nothing better than nature fresh, clean sheets.  Crisp, cool, clean sheets – how many of us stretch and sigh as we slide between the covers?  Rolling into the perfect position as we lay on our side of the bed and close our eyes. How many of you fluff your pillows and arrange them just so?  Who among us rolls first to the left and then on to their stomach?  Or do you sleep on you back, arms above your head, knee bent?  Are you a left sider or a right sider?

We humans get pretty territorial when it comes to which side of the bed we sleep on.  Some want the side closest to the bathroom.  Some want the right side just because that is what they are used to. And some want next to the side closest to an electrical outlet for their alarm clocks and landline.  In our household, either one of us is lucky enough to have a side.

When you have dogs, dogs who consider the middle, bottom and your down pillow as their side of the bed, we’re lucky to have a corner of the blanket and three square inches of mattress. There are two sides to each bed and Dolce and Amore have ownership of both.  There is no left or right side, only a Dolce or Amore’s side.

the dog sideBoth girls like to climb on the bed for a little night-time loving as I prepare to go to sleep.  Dolce especially loves to curl up against my legs as I absently scratch her ears, her head draped across my thighs.  Amore will troop cover the covers and pillows as she heads to the top of the bed to get her share of rubs.  Ten minutes later they are off to other parts of the house, only to return in the wee hours of the night to take over the bed, staking their claim on the mattress.

There are times when I ask Malcolm to call the dogs so I can have some leg space.  I beg him to give me ten minutes to enjoy the bed to myself before he lets the girls in.

“Let me get settled and then they can hop up,”  I plead.  Without his help, I’d be curled up into a cramped ball, while the dogs sleep diagonally across the bed, paws in the air, taking up all the space.

But still, we let them up on the bed.  It’s a special time for me to give love and comfort to our girls.  My special ritual.  My special pleasure.

The other day on facebook, I ran across a video of James Stewart and Johnny Carson. In it, James Stewart reads a poem about his dog.

And, now you know why Dolce and Amore have their side of the bed.

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White noise

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Swish.  Swosh.  Swish.  Swosh.  Click click click click.  Click click click click.

The subtle sounds vibrate through the house as Dolce and Amore ramble in and out from the pen.  Swish.  Swosh.  The first sound is the dog door flap as it swings back and forth.  There is a gentle cadence in the sway of the heavy plastic protecting the entrance to the house.  Swish.  Swosh.  Swish.  Swosh.  Two dogs in.  Two dogs out.  The click click click click clatter comes later, as they move further into our residence.

Throughout the day, Malcolm and I tune out the swish swosh as the girls come and go.  The sounds blend into the audible buzz of our household.  The hum of the refrigerator, ticks of the clocks, birds cawing, cars that drive by.  White noise that doesn’t even penetrate.

In our sub-consciousness, we know Dolce just came in from the pen.  Swish.  Swosh.  Coming through for a drive by to check out what’s going on, Dolce swings through the kitchen first before going to the water bowl and on to the couch.  As we hear the slurps of her licking up water, somewhere in the back of our brain we tell ourselves to add fresh water and ice to the bowl.  We listen to her grunts and sighs as she settles into a comfy position on the sofa.  We hear all this as we continue with what we’re doing.  We have become so use to the background melody Dolce and Amore make, it has become an echoing beat in our minds.  A little song that plays over and over.  A part of our everyday life we don’t even notice.  White noise we won’t even hear.

“Where are the girls?” Malcolm will ask.  “I just heard them go outside,” I’ll reply.  I chronicled the swish swosh as an exit.  It’s an unconscious, sightless audit I do, taking inventory of the girl’s actions.

During the night, Malcolm and I register the acoustic swish in our sleep.  It’s part of the sounds our minds filter out as we slumber.  It’s immediately followed by little clicks as their paws hit the brick floors.  In our sleep, we mindlessly track them as they wander through the darken house.  Click click click click.  Followed by another set of click click click click.  Never loud enough to fully wake either one of us, never annoying, it’s a calming presence that blankets us with warmth.

Dolce especially has turned into our protector.  She likes to sleep just outside the dog door, guarding the entrance.  Amore likes to sleep on the cool bricks at the foot of our bed, chaperoning her human folks. During the night they take turns as they roam through the house, securing the premises.  Click click click click.  Even in the depth of sleep, I hear the clicks as they defend their territory.  Patrolling.  A small moan is heard as our canine sentinels settle back down to sleep.  All is well in their world.

Many believe white noise is like radio static.  Disturbing, irritating, abrasive.  To Malcolm and I, white noise is music to our ears.

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I’m outta’ here

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You ever feel like it’s never-ending?  Like it’s one thing after another and it just doesn’t stop?  Such is our life.  This summer it has been one thing after another.  Just when we get one dog healed, the other decides she wants equal attention.  Just when we pay off the first vet’s bill, we rack up another.  Just when we think things are calming down, it’s safe to stick our heads out of the hole, life throws us another whammy.

Earlier this summer, Amore flipped her stomach.  The vet gave us a choice of emergency surgery or to euthanize her.  Amore breezed through her ordeal and Malcolm and I both thought we had dodged the bullet.  Two days later you would never have known anything was wrong other than a shaved belly.

A month later Dolce pulled up with the same symptoms.  Again, we thought we had dodged the bullet when we were reassured her stomach was stable, but the vet thought we needed to check out her back leg.  In layman’s terms, it looked like she had torn her ACL in her left hind elbow.  We brought her home and made an appointment with the surgeon.

Malcolm and I are big proponents of ensuring quality of life for our dogs.  When we took on the responsibility of caring for the girls, we accepted this.  We took a big gulp, sucked it up big time, and headed into repairing her leg.  July 24th.  It was a Friday.  The vet planned on keeping her a good, solid week to keep the leg protected and give it a good start to heal before she would be able to come home.  Once home, she would need to be crated for six weeks. Yikes!  We knew she wouldn’t like that, not one bit.  We dragged out the crate from the garage, dusted it off and made room in our bedroom for the unsightly, huge thing in anticipation for her home-coming.

Our vet, Dr. Gruda, called late that night to give us an update.  Dolce came through just fine.  She had a few pins in her to stabilize the leg and she was groggy from the drugs but over all she was doing good.  We planned to pick her up the following week.  The next Friday, Malcolm hadn’t even made it all the way home with Dolce in the car when he had to turn around and bring her back to the vets.  Halfway home he noticed some bleeding from her incision.  Dolce was going back to the vets.

Nine days later, we were able to bring our baby home.  Yep, she had to wear the collar of shame.  IMG_1431Yep, she had to be crated at all times.  And, yep, our life was hell.  Dolce hated the crate, just as we suspected she would.  She whined, she barked, she whimpered.

When Malcolm brought her in for her two-week check up, x-rays showed the pins had slipped and her little bone was broken.  She was going back under the knife.  We have no idea what happened, just that her six weeks of crating had just been extended and another surgery was needed.  By this time, a month had passed.  Scar tissue and healing had occurred hiding the pins.  Dr. Gruda was working blind as he plated the break, repinned the joint and sewed her up.  X-rays revealed she still had one pin in her joint and it had to be removed.  A third operation was needed just days after the second one.  They say the third time’s the charm and this time it was.  With Dr. Gruda’s blessing, we kept Dolce at the vets for two weeks, almost three, just so she would heal.

September 11th, late in the afternoon, both Malcolm and I went bring Dolce home.  I sat in the back seat to keep her calm in her excitement to see us.  This time, her incarceration had been 18 days and she was done with the vets.  She was stick a fork in it done.  She wanted home, she wanted us.  Even though we had visited her on weekends, even though there were other dogs to bark with, even though she had vet techs she favored, she wanted outta’ there.

Straight into the crate she went, only to be released to be fed and to do her duty outside.  Always leashed, always under control.  We could walk her for about 10 minutes for a little exercise but other than that, she was in her padded cell.  For two days, all was well.  The third day, hell broke out.

Malcolm and I had to run into town late afternoon that Sunday.  Dolce had her brief walk, she was fed and watered and back in her crate.  We quickly took our leave.  We were only gone two hours, when I opened the back door upon our return and was greeted by two happy dogs.  WTF?  Dolce wasn’t suppose to be out.  Son of a bitch!  I checked the crate and found it still latched but the front gate was bent.  The little shit had squirmed through the bottom of the gate to freedom.  Immediately we grabbed some strip ties to re-enforce the seams and bottom. That worked for one more day.  Twice more she escaped.  IMG_1632

There was no way we were going to be able to keep Dolce in her crate.  She was not going back in.  She was outta’ there.

I texted Dr. Gruda:  We have a situation.  Dolce has broken out 3x’s from crate.  Please advise.

Dr. Gruda:  Bring her back.  We’ll keep her for another two weeks until her leg has healed well enough.

Me:  On our way.

We are on day four, ten more and she’s outta’ there!

 

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Out of coffee

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“Don’t you ever run out of D & A (short for Dolce and Amore) stories to write about?” friends often ask me.  Even Malcolm will question, “how do you remember all the things Amore and Dolce do?”  I think to myself, of course I remember the silly antics of Amore and funny things Dolce does.  They’re my kids.  My brain goes into mother mode and takes a memory snapshot of their canine shenanigans.  I mean, hello?  Have ya’ not been reading along here?  Dolce and Amore never fail to deliver.  Those two are always up to something.

I equate all this to coffee.  Something is always brewing.  And we have lost more than one coffee filled cup to a swish of a tail or a head lifting muzzle.

The funny thing is, the girls understand the importance of coffee.  The start of their mornings evolve around my first cuppa Joe on to Malcolm’s reheating the coffee pot a few hours later.  The girls know they will get fed directly following my early morning stumble out to the kitchen to turn on the coffee maker.  They eagerly trail behind me as I make my way to the counter and push the start button.  They hear that loud beep and they take their places next to their individual feed stands, ready for deliverance.  Their breakfast comes after my coffee.  Oh yeah, coffee is a big deal to them.

I’ve always enjoyed my coffee. When I was a kid, I remember being told to drink it black.  Straight up.  No fillers.  Leaded. I took that to mean only wussies put cream and sugar in their coffee.  Back then, we didn’t have Starbucks in our lives.  Skinny Lattes and Cafe Mochas were never heard of. Our choices were limited to Folgers and MJB.  Sometimes Sanka (uck!).  If you worked in an office, Farmers Brothers was your only option in the employee lounge.  Juan Valdez was our coffee god.

Coffee is my social hour.  I savor the dark rich brew as I enjoy the early morning hours prior to leaving for work.  Me, Dolce and Amore cuddled together, as I read the morning news. I savor my friendships as I join my BFFs on weekends for a small respite from the dogs, catching up on what’s going on.  I savor the enjoyment of a special brew after a special dinner on the town.  Winding down the conversation before we pay, leave and head home to Dolce and Amore.  One last moment of a perfect meal someone else prepared.

I learned to appreciate coffee even more so when I had an opportunity to spend several weeks in Brasil.  Coffee harvesting is extremely labor intensive.  Hand-picked, those little beans eventually end up in a football field sized brick floor, sorted by color and hand-raked with brooms into rows for further processing.   And, those hardened hands that picked the beans only make about $5 a tree as they pick their way through the orchard.  Since then, I have never questioned the cost of coffee or the price of a Starbucks.

Dolce and Amore get pretty excited once Malcolm is ready to get going for the day.  The hours between me leaving for work and Malcolm arising from slumber, leave them eager for company.  The girls have learned a different beep with Malcolm.  Malcolm is usually left with a cold pot of coffee that he will nuke for his morning beverage.  The two minutes in the microwave is when they get the Malcolm Morning Meet n’ Greet.  From the first beep of starting the microwave to the final beep announcing the nuke job is done, the coffee hot, the dogs get their morning love from Malcolm.  Two minutes of rubbing, scratching and love.  Yep, Dolce and Amore understand the importance of coffee.

So, as long as our household doesn’t run out of coffee, I won’t run out of stories about the dogs. However, I do confess, I have, at times, resorted to stealing hotel room coffee packets for our emergency stash.

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the mutt manuscripts

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Meet the girls!

Two of the most beautiful and very spoiled Bernese Mountain Dogs, whose adorable, funny antics will bring chuckles and smiles and sometimes a few tears as you read their tales.  True stories, hilarious escapades, and entertaining dog adventures, all chronicling their heartwarming and humorous capers, along with their playful frolics that often times land these fearless canines in the dog house.

Touching and tender, amusing and comical, these moving narratives and snippets of their lives impart bow-wow wisdom and show the loyalty and love between man’s best friend and their human care givers.

COMING SOON!

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when push comes to pull

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Bernese Mountain Dogs are an old breed.  Amore and Dolce’s long ago ancestors were once used as all-purpose farm dogs. Originating from Switzerland long before the time they were recognized as a purebred dog, Berners were used as watchdogs for guarding property and to drive dairy cattle long distances from the farm to up to the alpine pastures.  And, they were considered great draft dogs.  One of their most essential historical tasks was to transport fresh milk, cheese and other farm fresh produce for small farmers pulling carts and small wagons containing the wares to market. berner-cart 2

Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred to haul small drays.  Like a cowdog’s first instinct is to herd, nipping at the heels of cattle, Berner’s have a predisposition to want to push and pull.  Their deep barreled chest and strong upper body strength gives them a solid muscle pack to push against a harness.  berner cart 1

When Tiamo was a youngster, she started to push her way between our legs, usually from behind. Similar to her forebears, she would thrust her shoulders against Malcolm or my lower limbs, her head slightly down, her front paws digging into the ground for traction.  If you were ready for the intrusion, Tiamo would continue to press through, gaining a neck rub and an ear scratch as she emerged on the other side.  If you weren’t on the ready, tragic tumbling could befall.

We first thought this was some sort of game with her.  Her canine way of getting some extra lovin!  We came to realize Tiamo was doing what she was bred to do – to push against a harness, to pull her freight.  Our legs were her harness.  We toyed with the idea of cart training her.  We had grand thoughts of her hauling our groceries, or maybe even us, to and from the store.  We nixed that thought pretty damn quick.  The cost of equipment and training gave that idea an abrupt death.  Add the image of another large thing to store and gather dust in the garage and Malcolm and I dropped the cart notion like a hot potato.berner cart 3

To her dying day, Tiamo loved to push between our legs to petting victory on the other side.  She always won.

Her heritage lying deep in her heart, Dolce has the same innate desire to push.  In the last couple of years, Dolce has started the same game of pushing between our legs from behind and coming up the victor with scratchin’ and rubbin’ as she pokes her head through. Dolce considers it her duty, when she can make Malcolm or myself move forward ten feet or more.  It’s her role even if  she gets us to travel less.  No matter, she still gets her reward of lovin’ for a job well done.

Berners are a breed that has served for generations as helpmates and faithful canine companions.  They are considered working dogs and need chores to feel useful to their owners, to have a purpose, to feel important. For Dolce, the labor is in the pushing, the challenge is in moving one of us forward, and the reward is some well deserved lovin! blog signature 2-25-14

oblivious

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There are times when Malcolm and I really wonder about the dogs.  Seriously, Einstein they are so not.  That’s not saying Amore or Dolce are dull as dishwater or as dumb as dirt, they definitely have personality.  But there are times when their lack of intellect shines way too brightly.  Maybe I should have said, their lack of awareness, with their head-in-the-clouds wool gathering.  Both dogs have a tendency to be a little bit of a ditz. Both have a susceptibility to be slightly unaware of events.  Both are a little spacy and a whole lot of space cadet.  That’s not to say Amore and Dolce don’t have moments of smartness or acts of cleverness.  It’s just, these moments are usually overshadowed by their propensity to be totally oblivious to their surroundings.

On one hand, it adds multiple chuckles full of humor to Malc’s and my day.  Like the day when Dolce was barking at a dog that wasn’t there.

Dolce is our traveling watchdog when we take the girls in the car with us.  She sits in the middle of the back seat, head scrunched down to study the countryside.  Eyes alert, tracking left and right, she scrutinizes the walking trails on the shoulders of the road, waiting to call out her find.  When she spots a dog and owner on the hike n’ bike path as we drive by, she lets out a rowdy clamor, claiming dibs on spying the other canine first.  The larger the dog, the louder the bark.

It so happens, about the time we cross over the RR tracks on our main drag, there always seems to be this one dog, an Airedale, walking with its owner.  We pass by them enough times that Dolce is constantly on the lookout for them.  Ready to be the first to hit the buzzer.  Ready to bark.  A month or so ago, we were driving towards home, when Amore blocked Dolce view (deliberate or not, we’ll never know).  Dolce, so intent at being upset with Amore, forgot all about the upcoming railroad tracks.  Until she heard our tires thump thump over the parallel tracks. By the second thump Dolce was in a barking frenzy as she was sprawled out in the back.  When her head popped up to finish her spiel, she realized there was no dog, no Airedale, no human.  Nothing walked the trail but a gentle breeze.  Totally oblivious there had been no one on the trail.  Her embarrassment took over, as her yelps quickly puttered out.  Yeah, we got a good laugh over that one.

On the other hand, we (okay, maybe it’s just me) fret and worry over their absent-mindedness, their inattentiveness.  Like last week when Malcolm was walking the girls at the Galisteo Basin.

If Malcolm and I were to describe ourselves as parents, I would be the worry wart.  The one that takes all the safety precautions.  The one that harps on Malcolm to leash up the girls. The one that errs on the far side of caution when it comes to Amore and Dolce.  Malcolm on the other hand is the easy-going parent.  The dad that is always reassuring me that they will be just fine.  Leave em’ be.  They need to run off their excess energy he tells me as he unhooks their leashes.  That being said, when Malcolm walks the dogs, he usually doesn’t harness and leash them.  I’m mostly ok with that, as the Galisteo Basin is fairly empty of other hikers during the work day.  I mean, how much trouble could they get into, right?

Last week was no different from any other day at the Basin.  Malcolm let the girls take a twenty yard lead as he started out on the trail.  About five minutes into the walk they both came running back up to Malcolm as he trailed behind, hopeful for a treat.  While Amore was hugging his wake, Dolce took over the point position.  She was maybe fifteen feet or so in front, happily dog-jogging along, stopping every once in a while to sniff out what was new in the neighborhood, when Malcolm heard a loud buzzing.  There was something in the back of his brain that screamed danger.  Malcolm calls it his reptilian brain coming forward.  In any case, it was a noise he had never heard before, but he instinctively knew.  He grabbed Amore from behind him and bellowed at Dolce to come.  Whether it was his tone of voice, or if she, for once, decided to obey his command, miraculously, Dolce ambled back to Malcolm, totally oblivious to any threat.  Right there, in the middle of the road, not two feet away from where Dolce just was trotting along, was a rattlesnake.  Mean, coiled and ready to attack.   IMG_0184

Dolce had no idea she was literally inches to being bit.  She was in her own little world, enjoying life.  Didn’t even see the blasted thing.  Didn’t sense it, hear it, or see it.  Scared the be-jebbies out of Malcolm.  Scared me just hearing out it.  Rattlesnakes are no laughing matter.

It’s true that God protects children and animals.  I’m thinking someone upstairs was watching over Dolce that day.

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flip flop

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Flip flop.  Yup.  That’s all it took.  A quick flip-flop.

From the moment we brought Tiamo into our lives, we knew there were some risks.  There were ‘things’ to look out for.  Large breed dogs characteristically have a higher tendency to have bad hip and shoulder placements.  Bernese Mountain Dogs especially, have a higher rate of having cancer.  And there was the dreaded and deadly stomach twist, something our vet had informed Malcolm and I to be aware of.

Berners’ typically only stay in our lives 7 to 10 years, their longevity is much shorter than other breeds.  Malcolm and I vowed to love Tiamo every minute, every day, we would be lucky enough to have her in our lives. Every day would be a blessing.

When Tiamo passed, we were heart-broken.  Our hearts did a tragic flip-flop turning upside down, inside out.  We understood the hazards, knew the uncertainly of her life span and were still willing to take the gamble that maybe she would be with us for seven years, or, if we were lucky, ten.  We would take whatever the creator gave us.

When cancer took Tiamo’s life, we became even more vigilant with Amore and Dolce.  I am constantly checking for swollen lymph glands.  Malcolm and I are attentive in watching for limps of pain from their hips or shoulders.  The slightest sign of discomfort, not eating, or an abnormally of behavior in either dog will put us both on alert.

The girls have certainly seen the inside of the vet’s clinic more than enough times.  We’ve been through two shoulder surgeries (Dolce), a stuck bone in the throat that required surgery (Amore), a swallowed rope, almost requiring surgery (Amore), another swallowed bone, more surgery (Amore), grass splinters in the throat, only a local needed this time (Amore), the plague (Amore), cactus spines in the paw (Amore and Dolce) and more.  For as many times as we’ve taken the dogs to the vet’s, Malcolm likes to joke that we have bought and paid for at least two F-250’s that Dr. Bob likes drives.  We know we have, at the very least, financially helped build his new clinic.

With each vet’s visit, it’s a hit to our wallet.  Canine health care isn’t cheap.  Each surgery lowers our saving’s balance.  Ka-ching!  Each time, Malcolm and I examine how far are we willing to go, willing to spend,  and willing to do.  Our biggest concern is whether or not the surgery or procedure will continue to bring quality of life to the dogs.  Will they suffer if we do, or if we don’t, do something.

What we learned is we will do anything when an emergency hits. As we all know, emergencies only hit when you least expect it, usually at night or on a weekend…..

Our night was progressing like normal.  I arrived at home from work at my usual time.  The girls were fed their dinner before Malcolm started our evening meal.  I set the table, Malcolm was at the stove, Amore and Dolce were watching for fallen scraps.  When dinner was ready, Amore laid down by my feet, Dolce behind Malcolm’s chair.  All normal occurrences.  Then about an hour later, I noticed Amore started to get agitated.  Whinny.  Making noise.  Acting weird.

“What’s going on with Amore?” Malc asked me as he walked into the room.

“Don’t know.  Something’s going on with her,” I answered as I observed her strange behavior. “I’ve been watching her, but can’t figure it out.”

“What do you think?”

“Ah, it will probably pass, it usually does.  She ate all her dinner and I just saw her drink some water.  She’ll most likely be fine.”  Eating dinner and drinking water are good signs.  She’d be all right.

“Well, let’s just watch it for a while and if she’s still acting up in the morning, we’ll take her in”

“Ok.”

Only it wasn’t okay.  Ten minutes later both Malcolm and I instinctively knew something wasn’t right.  We knew not to wait. Some sixth sense told us to take her into the ER Vet Clinic.  Now.  Not twelve hours later.  Not in the morning. Now.

Thirty minutes later, the night-time ER vet told us we either do surgery now or she’ll need to euthanize Amore.  Amore’s stomach had twisted.  Flipped-flopped an 180.  The vet needed our consent and Amore needed to be prepped immediately if going into surgery.  Time was critical.  What were we going to do? We had no time to analyze the situation.  No time to assess. The vet explained the consequences of surgery.  Amore had a 40% chance of not surviving the surgery.  Without surgery, no chance at all.

“How much is the surgery?”  The question had to be asked.

“Depends on what I find when I go in, how bad the stomach flipped and twisted.” Dr. Mourano replied.  “Best case scenario, around $3,500, worse case would be $5,500.  Then there is after-care. Maybe another grand or so.”

Both Malcolm and I gulped in a quick breath.  Tears flooded my eyes, running down my checks.  I turned to Malcolm.  “I’ll get a second job, I’ll work weekends!” I sobbed.  We can’t lose Amore.”  Malcolm’s eyes told me he felt the same.  We would do whatever it took to save Amore.

Malcolm turned to the vet, “do it!” he ordered.  We would worry aboût how much it would cost later.  For now, our worries were concentrated on Amore making it through the surgery.  For now, we worried about how much contamination was done to the stomach, how much collateral damage was done to her spleen, if they could keep her blood pressure from dropping, and we worried if her heart would make it though.  Ten p.m. turned into midnight as we waited in the empty lobby while the techs were keeping up posted on her status.  By one a.m. Dr. Mourano ventured out to the waiting room in her scrubs.  Her smile answered our fears.

“Amore did great!” were her first words.  “Her spleen was intact and still attached, and there wasn’t any damage to the stomach lining that needed to be cut away.  I tacked the stomach down so this won’t happen again.”  All I felt was relief as she launched into the surgery specifics.  I heard phrases like, “you were lucky you brought her in when you did”, and “her blood count is rising to where we want it”.  The rest was a blur.  Amore’s flipped-flopped stomach had flipped-flopped my mental state all to hell.IMG_0342

I had to be up in four more hours for work.  I had a huge meeting I was chairing four hours after that.  I didn’t care, Amore would be okay. Our family would be okay.

At five p.m. that next day, we brought Amore home.  She had over thirty staples and had to take all sorts of pills and medication. She had three of her four paws shaved for IV’s and hook ups during the operation.  She looked like a poodle.  She was on soft foods and no running, jumping or getting excited.  The drugs kept her sedated for five days.  Our little girl was not her usual self.

A week later Amore started licking her incision.  We tried the collar cone only to find it chewed and ripped up in the dog pen, so we safety pinned one of Malcolm’s t-shirts around her torso and back for tummy protection.  She loved it!  We had our Amore back.IMG_0350

We might be digging out of debt but we wouldn’t be digging a grave.

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