The limp

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It started in July with a limp.

Well, a limp is nothing new to Malcolm and I.  Between Amore and a Dolce and all their combined surgeries, a limp is nothing.  When it comes to the girls, a limp can be caused by a multitude of things.  A bad landing when jumping out of the SUV.  An embedded cacti spine.  Arthritis.

It was a slight limp, no biggie.  Dolce still loved her walks, was still jumping up on the couch and scrambling off the bed.  Dolce still ran after Amore and ran in for dinner.  Her eyes still bright and full of life, it was nothing to be concerned over.  It was just a little noticeable.  Really, it was nothing.

It was a persistent limp.  Like a lingering cough, it just wouldn’t go away.  A vet visit determined it was macro-degerative joint disease or in common language, arthritis.  Not an unexpected diagnosis.  Dolce was a month shy of nine years and in Berner years, this is old.  After shoulder and leg surgeries in her puppy days, arthritis seemed not only plausible but a reasonable conclusion.  Nine years of over compensating on her driver’s side had created complications down the road.  Pain meds were prescribed, exercise was ordered, weight loss recommended.  All geared to help with her arthritis.  We were all over it.

But the limp didn’t go away and by the end of August the limp had worsened.  To the point where Dolce wasn’t putting any weight on her left paw.  Her load-bearing front leg was hitched up and held up, she refused to use it.  Her walks were shortened, her running subdued and awkward.  Dolce was hopping, not walking.  She was panting, not breathing normal.  Her eyes dull, not shiny. She was in pain.  Terrible pain.  Worried, Malcolm and I made an appointment for a Canine Physical Therapist.  A rehab specialist for dogs.  We knew how important it was for Dolce to use her leg, and it was obvious the arthritis had advanced.

One look at Dolce’s front paw and we were told to head straight to our vet.  Something wasn’t right.  Our worry turned into panic.  Another set of x-rays showed the bone configuration had changed.  It was time for a biopsy.

Biopsies are never fun. For neither the patient nor the parent.  Dolce needed to spend  time in the vet hospital, Malcolm and I needed to wait for the results.  We had an unknown. Arthritis is much easier to understand and comprehend.  Humans have arthritis.  Berners have bad hips, e.g., Hip Dysplasia. We could deal with arthritis – but this new unknown threw us off kilter.  We were unprepared.  The “what if’s” and “if so’s”  and “how do we’s” swirled in our heads.  Our discussions were geared around quality of life, and costs, and the unacceptable that neither one of us were willing to say out loud, but it stood out there like the ugly pink elephant in the room.  The only one not affected was Amore.  She was soaking up the attention, having us all to herself.  With one less child in the house, Amore was loving the extra love.  No sharing us, the couch and bed just for her.

It was the end of September when Malcolm called me at work.  I remember it was mid-afternoon and I had worked through lunch.  “Hon, you need to come over to Dr. Gruda’s.”  No hello.  Tersely spoken.  “Let me finish up what I’m working on and I’ll meet you over there.”  “No, honey, now!  I’m already there.”  Click.  Dr. Gruda has been the girls’ vet since he removed their dew claws at two days old.  He has been through every surgery, every sickness, every shot Dolce and Amore has had.  I headed his way.

Our waiting was over.  The biopsy confirmed Dolce had a cancerous tumor entwined between the bones of her left front paw.  On the driver’s side.  Our sweet, sweet Dolce had cancer.  The dreaded big “C”.  Our worse fears confirmed. We were devastated.  “Has it spread?”  “What does Dr. Gruda say?”  “What are our options?”

“Honey, we either amputate in the morning and start chemo ASAP, or Dr. Gruda needs to put her down this afternoon. We have to make a decision.  Now.”  There was no question in my heart as to what we should do, but there were so many more concerns to discuss.  Monetary issues being one of them. Surgery and chemo wasn’t going to be cheap.  Less than college but a whole lot more than braces would cost if we had kids. Does anyone want to put a price on a life? When does it become too much? Chemo treatments might only extend her life by 18 months or so. Was it worth the expense? Dolce had just turned nine.  With a life expectancy of 7 to 10 years, we were in her bonus years as it were.  What if her hips go out.  Or her other paw?  What if the cancer had spread? What if? What if? What if?  I was a wreck.  Malcolm was my rock.

With a deep breath and a choking gulp, I told Malcolm I wanted to amputate.  I wasn’t ready to let Dolce go.  I just couldn’t do it. My sweet, sweet baby was still good everywhere else.  She still had heart.  She still had three mostly good legs. We walked inside the vet’s office and signed the release.  I am thankful Malcolm felt the same.  Surgery was scheduled for early the next morning.

And just like that Dolce is now a three-legged canine.  Her limp turned into gimp.  Although in pain from the surgery, Dolce’s breathing evened out, her eyes went back to bright.  Dolce no longer suffered with pain.  My little trooper was a bit unsteady, wrapped in bandages and gauzes, and wobbling on three legs, but was able to come home a week later.

It’s been ten weeks since surgery.  We are on the last leg of chemo treatments and slowly building up Dolce’s stamina.  She is gaining her confidence back, growing stronger, and learning a new kind of balance. Her walks are longer and just this Thanksgiving weekend, she ran past us while out on the trail. A first.  She struggles with stairs with over two steps, and with positioning her back legs.  She still needs assistance getting up on the bed but can jump on the couch like an old pro.

All in all, she’s a healthy canine and is accepting of the circumstance.  We tease her and call her Peggy, Gimpy  and Tripod.  She jokes back with a push between our legs.

Its a new life.  For all of us. But we have our baby.

 

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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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.

 

 

 

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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wiggle butt

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I doubt there is a dog alive that doesn’t have one.  A wiggle butt that is.

That happy dance of joy performed just for you when you return home.  That warp-speed tail wag when it is chow time.  That hinny shake when it’s time for a w-a-l-k.  That twirl of excitement when car keys rattle and a trip in the truck is gonna happen.

I doubt there is a dog alive that doesn’t have a three-foot leap when an adventure is about to start.

That gyrating spin of tail and fur when the back door is opened for escape.  That springing vault over the back of a sofa when the frig door is opened.  That hurdle over arms and legs  when they hear the garage door rolling up and the car being parked. That tail waggle bound over muddy puddles, through rain, sleet and snow.

I doubt there is a dog alive that doesn’t voice their opinion when the doorbell peals.

That barking frenzy disco rendered when they realize someone is on the other side of the door. That clamorous running from room to room to announce we have company. That twist and turn accompanied with loudness when they spot another person on the trail.

I doubt there is a dog alive that doesn’t have one.  A wiggle butt that is.

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pockets

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I once worked with this accountant guy, who would walk around the office saying,  “Same pair of jeans, different pocket.”  It was his slang for the familiar saying, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  To him, money was the same no matter which bank account it came from (I didn’t say he was a good accountant). He was a doofus kind of guy, typical nerdy numbers man, can’t even remember what he looked like, but I never forgot his quote.

My dad always carried his keys and loose change in his pockets.  Wallet in the back right pocket, his keys in the front left, mixed in with nickels and dimes. Myself? I’ve learned never to put my car keys in any of my pockets after I water-logged the key fob in the washer from forgetting to clear out my pockets.  Then I found out how much those fobs cost to replace. Never. Again.

Pockets today are designed differently from yesteryear’s.  Frequently advertised as an added feature, you’ll see the “5-pocket” everywhere. That fifth pocket is a joke.  It’s not like you can put anything in it. What? Taxi money?  Your spare key?  A dog treat?  And if you do, I can guaran-damn-tee ya’, you will forget about it and all will be in this week’s wash. That fifth pocket is for decor only.  Don’t use it.

Now a days, almost all of my pockets harbor food.  Dog food and dog treats and dog biscuits. Filled with anything peanut butter flavored, we use dog treats to keep our big mutts in line. You’ll find ’em in my pant’s pockets, coat pockets, vest pockets, even shirt pockets.  I have it down to a science:  Jean pockets will hold around one large handful of treats, each; Coat pockets can hold up to 50 or so dog biscuits; Vests, somewhere around a cup’s worth if in the outer pockets, less if using the inside ones.  Shirts, not so much.  Only use the shirt pocket if going through your bank’s drive thru teller and you specifically ask for a dog treat.  Tuck that baby in the pen pocket to award your canine for sitting so sweetly in the back seat later.

On walks, both girls know I carry treats in my pockets to reward good behavior.  Amore especially, will block my path with dandelion hopes of getting a treat.  Ten feet down the trail and she’s body blocking me for a kibble.  Dolce is more discreet. DSC00523She’ll dog our steps three feet from behind so she doesn’t miss out when the goods are distributed.  She’s right there, eyeing our hands and elbows just in case they rise above the waist line as we reach into the pocket. Dolce is quick to align herself front row and center when the treats come out of hiding.

The other day, the weather just cold enough to need an outer garment,  I grabbed my down vest as we were leaving to walk the dogs.  To my dismay, I discovered last year’s crumbs when I stuffed my hands in the outer pockets. Uck!  Dolce and Amore were all over that once they got a whiff.

Dolce gloating after getting an extra treat!

Dolce gloating after getting an extra treat!

It used to be I could wear my jeans several times before throwing them in the wash.  Until dogs.  Until Dolce and Amore. Now I need to pull out my pockets to shake out the dog treat debris.  Now crumbs and broken pieces of dog biscuits accumulating deep in the caverns of my pockets need to be shop vac ‘d out.  Now, I am a poster child for nose dribble and muzzle drool deposited from Dolce and Amore poking in my pockets, sniffing out treats.

And now, after one wearing, my jeans look and smell like peanut butter dog treats, sometimes worse, depending on where the nose has been. I do lots of laundry and I check out the pockets. All of them.

And now, for some reason, every time I pull out my pockets to shake out the crumbs, I think of doofus saying, “Same pair of jeans, different pocket.”

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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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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

dripping faucet

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From behind me, I heard the soft ping of splatter hitting a hard surface.  Seconds later, another drip followed.   A sort of pling…. pling…. pling sound vibrated through me.  The drops of moisture I envisioned were quietly being announced by the audible drip, drip, drip sound coming from somewhere behind my back.   I was in the kitchen preparing dinner for Amore and Dolce, as Malcolm was away for the weekend.  When one of us is traveling, all household chores falls on the other.  Supper for the dogs being one.

I instinctively knew the kitchen sink faucet had bitten the big one.  Gone on to faucet heaven.  We’d been having trouble with our sink faucet.  The swivel arm was reduced to a “left-side” only rotation, the handy-dandy nozzle handle only pulled out about a fifth of its length, and the water pressure was down to a weak flow.  The week before Malcolm left was filled so full of busy, we told ourselves we would deal with the faulty faucet when Malcolm got back into town.

Damn!  Just my luck the sink faucet died while Malcolm was gone. With a heavy sigh, I prepared myself to clearing out the underneath junk pile of trash bins, scrubbers, rubber gloves and cleaning supplies, crawling on my back to hunt for the turn-off valve.  I was going to have to deal with replacing the faucet on my own.

Another splash, louder this time, had me turning around to glare at the offensive faucet.  Only the faucet was dripless.  Dry as bone.  Nothing.  Nada.  No drip.  No mess.  Nope the problem wasn’t with the leaking faucet, but rather with the girls.  Both of which were obsessively oozing dog drool, while eagerly waiting for their kibble feast.

Dogs drool.  There’s no getting around it.  They drip, dribble, drop, drivel and drool.  Boy, do they drooooool.  One large, dog infused drip  at a time.  Times two.  Amore and Dolce both are droolers.  Both are heavy slavers. Malcolm and I have dealt with dog slobber and wet spots going on near seven years.  Ten if you include Tiamo in the mix.

Those whom know and understand dogs, know there is no telling what that dog drool is mixed with – there is no telling where a dog’s tongue has been.  And there is sure as hell no telling what a dog  has put in it’s mouth.DSC00561

We have learned to discretely wipe our drooled upon hands against our jeans before greeting friends and acquaintances.  We have quickly positioned couch pillows over pools of moisture when guests go to sit on the sofa.  We have become adept at hiding all slobber evidence. We have mopped more floors than the average housewife and we have changed clothing more than a super-model on the runway.  We keep hand sanitizer in every room and in the car.  Dog drool does that to a  person.

There are two things I am thankful for… The first being, we have brick floors throughout the house.  It’s an easy clean.  And second, Malcolm got to deal with the faucet!

 

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Rooh-tines

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“I have my rooh-tine,” Malcolm tells me as I ask him about his day.  He’s a southern boy and some words he drag-asses out.  Just as he likes to drag out the morning.  Me? I’m usually up and out first thing so I mostly miss the his ‘morning rooh-tine’.

“Fur-rst,” Malcolm informs me, “I mosey on out to the kitchen while the dawgs are clamoring for attention. Their tails are furiously whaagging, but they keep their distance until I’m able to pour some coffee and nud-ke it in the mic, warming it up.  Once they hear the beep of the microwave starting its radiation, they know I have 1 1/2 minutes to give them their morning L.O.O.O.V.E. and they zero in for the kell.”

“Ahhhh,” I coo. The girls are so cute trying to edge out the other when it comes to getting attention. The competition between them can be fierce.  Two hands, two dogs.  Each hand goes out to pet the girls.  But Amore is only interested in keeping the other hand off of Dolce.  And Dolce is only concerned with pushing Amore further away than an arms stretch.  The most you can hope for is for Dolce to stay on the right and Amore keeps to the left.

“Yeah, it’s phunny how Dolce and Amore know when it’s their time,” He continues.  Okay, now, I’m making fun of Malc’s southern drawl, which I love by the way.

“And then what?” I question.

“Well, then it’s S & M time,” he grins proudly.  S & M time? Is there something I need to know? Something he hasn’t told me yet.  Thirteen years of marriage and the things you learn about your spouse. I wait him out.

“Yeeep!” Malcolm chuckles. Sofa and Malcolm time.  DSC00491That’s when they know I’ll let them up on the couch, while I’m reading the paper.  Dolce waits along side of me while I position the pillows and get sit-u-ated.” Again, Malcolm draws out his words and his story.  Once I’m prone with a blanket and my coffee, Dolce leaps over my legs to the back of the couch and settles in for a nap.  Amore takes the spare space by my feet.”

Malcolm loves his dogs and loves having them next to him.  The coffee tastes sweeter when the dogs are up close.  The paper reads better when surrounded by Amore and Dolce.  The sofa softer.  And his day perfect, when all the elements of his ‘rooh-tine’ come together.

“Once the NY TImes is read, we all take a lit’ nap,” he finishes.

“A nap? You just got up!”

“Yeah, but its rooh-tine!”

Fast forward to a few days ago, when a special uncle of Amore and Dolce’s sent an email to Malcolm and I.  Uncle Dan is from D.C. and is especially fond of the girls. He understands how our world revolves around the dogs and he most definitely understands Malcolm and his ‘rooh-tines’. The email included a short poem his brother-in-law had written.  It is spot on.

Until I had a dog
I never knew how sweet a routine could be.
I hear her stir, subtly, and I think she hears me.
She eagerly waits for my door to open in the morning.
We both stretch when I emerge and her tail gently wags as I rub her head.

She paces while I fix my coffee, passing in
front of me as I discard yesterday’s filter.
She walks up and down the hall, and circles the island.
I can hear paws on the hardwoods.
When I spin the metal lid onto the glass coffee canister 
she comes back like a cat to a can opener.
She knows I have a piece of a banana for her before she goes outside.

I change her water and fill a bowl with a scoop of food,
leaving it on the washstand.
If I take too long she occasionally paws at the door.
When I let her in she goes directly to the washstand and
rears up like a stallion until I put it down.
Her tail wags wildly as she digs in, then slows to a stop as she
gets serious about eating, like she hasn’t been fed for days.

I take my coffee to the living room, plug my phone in to charge,
and grab a meditation book from the coffee table.
She patiently waits by my spot on the couch.
Then the sweetest part of every day happens.
As I sit to read she lays her adorable face on my leg.
I rub her head as I read and when I look at her she is watching me.

These are moments I can never take for granted.
Every day it is as sweet as the day before.
I never knew how sweet a routine could be
Until I had a dog.
 Written by Joe Thomas
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off! down!

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From day one, a dog should never be allowed to jump on people.  Nor should they ever leap or hurdle themselves at their human folks. Never should a dog misbehave or act out.  A dog should never lift those two front paws higher than a grasshopper.  From the on set of their training, a dog should learn who is in command, who is boss.  They should understand the most basic of commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “down” and “off”.  Not only should they learn these directives but they should obey them.  At all times.

And then we have our dogs.  Two of the sweetest, most precious spoiled brats ever.

Obedience training was never a problem with their mother, Tiamo. She learned her lessons quick and fast.  She was obedient, well-behaved, and damn near perfect.  She was gentle, kind and calm.  Our mama was doggy royalty, she was so regal. Friends and neighbors would ask her over for visits, we were just tag-a-longs.  And she was asked everywhere.  Invitations were addressed to Tiamo and guests, Malcolm and I being reduced to being chauffeurs for our favored canine. Tiamo had been so easy be around, people flocked to her. Everyone loved her.

And, then we have Dolce and Amore.  Two of the most rambunctious, excitable troublemakers ever.

In the beginning puppy days, we tried to master Dolce and Amore’s training.  We tried to obtain the end-product of perfectly well-behaved dogs.  We wanted the kind of dogs that others would kindly whisper how well-mannered they were, how “good” they were. We wanted another well-trained Tiamo.

And we got Dolce and Amore.

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Good natured but not good mannered.  So good-looking but not so good at obeying orders.  Good at instigating canine capers but not good at staying out of mischief.

We’re not bad doggy parents.  Really we’re not! In the beginning, the girls weren’t allowed on the couch or the bed.  All furniture was off-limits.  That lasted all of five days.  We didn’t permit them to jump on us or give in to their silent pleas to sit on our laps.  Well, that lasted at least a good five hours.  Malcolm and I didn’t tolerate begging at the dinner table for scraps or sanction any counter-surfing.  That one lasted maybe five minutes, max.  We tried our best and found the system was broken.  Training for Dolce and Amore came to a halt.

There  was no way we could hold out against two of the most precious little puppies looking at us beseechingly with hope in their eyes.  There was no way I could command “OFF!” when my girls were giving me hugs as they welcomed me home.  I know, I know, dog hugs equate to jumping on me, paws at my waist, head at my chest.  But dog hugs are so precious.  A special dance between puppy love and human affection.

I gave up saying “DOWN!” when one of the girls crawled up on the couch to cuddle with me, their head on my lap.  I couldn’t give up our special time together.  DSC00404

We no longer command “STAY!” when we really mean come, when the dogs are such a part of our family we want them with us.  Where we goeth, they goeth, only not to visit friends.  Our friends don’t quite know what to make of Dolce and Amore, especially after Tiamo.  High-energy and high maintainance, the girls require a dog-proofed house.  But damn if they aren’t happy dogs!

happy dawg

happy dawg

We’re so glad we got Dolce and Amore.

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Wicked Pricklers

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“Gawd Damn! Son-ov-ah-beeeeach!” I heard from the other room. Malcolm was swearing up a storm. I peeked around the kitchen corner and watched him hobble to the couch on one foot.  Poor guy had stepped on a broken-off cactus spine, it’s embedded head sticking out of his bare footed heel. Another screech of cussing occurred as he pulled out the offending sticker.  Surgery is sometimes worse than the injury. The spines don’t pull out easily and one needs a pair of needle nose pliers and a steady hand.  Ouch! I cringed, having stepped on a few of them myself. It hurts like a muther, with the agony lasting for a good hour. As usual, one of the girls had carried in the aggressive prong and Malcolm was the unlucky sole that found it.

If it’s not a cactus spine, it’s a goat-head or a cocklebur, or puncture vines, or sand burrs. When you live in the high desert, there are a number abusive pricklers that attach themselves to any and every passersby. Amore and Dolce seem to be hosts to all of them.  Their long hair attracting it’s share of stickers.  We take precautions with their fur.  We trim their coat, their under belly and forelegs.  At the start of summer, their beautiful leg feathers are clipped short, their paws sheared.  We shave their tummy’s, cut back on their tail fringe and prune their sides.  Anything to keep the stickers to a minimum. For both the dogs and for us. As we have painfully experienced, if it hitches a ride on the girl’s fur and makes it inside the house, it stands to reason, at some point, those prickly lit’le bastards will latch on to one of us…….

As I’ve mentioned in the past, we like to walk the girls at the Galisteo Basin Preserve, an open space trail network with over 18 miles of bike and hike trails.  What use to be ranch land, the GBP still has remnants of its past with tall windmills, falling down sheep herder shacks, and man-made dams for watering the livestock and wildlife.  If we happened to have had a good monsoon season, the odds are good the dam will be full of water.  Back in September, we hiked the Cottonwood trail and found the dam full.  Amore and Dolce made straight for the water, playing in the shallow lake. Mud and muck be damned, our girls were partying in the cool pool of rain run-off.

Belly high play

Belly high play

So yesterday we thought we would check to see if the dam still had some water.  The past few weeks we have had some measurable rain and I figured there should still be some water available for the girls to soak their paws.

“Let’s take em’ to the dam” I suggested.  The hike to the pond is only a mile or so up the trail with just a slight incline.  Malc agreed.  We noticed the grass was taller but much drier than when we had hiked this route in September.  With the coming of winter, the green turf had already turned to golden tan and brown.  But yesterday was one of those perfect fall days that had a cloudless, brilliant blue sky. It was warm enough for wearing just a T-Shirt and shorts with the slight breeze a modest whisper.  If there was water in the dam, it would be the last pool party of the year.  I couldn’t wait to check.

We rounded the last bend to the dam and Amore took off.  She was headed for the water and sprinted towards the cool reservoir.  We were right behind her.  The lake was down to a mud patch and a little surface water but enough for Dolce and Amore to get dirty. Enough for some muddy play time.  Malcolm and I stopped to watch Amore race to the mire.  Abruptly, she turned, hastily running back to us.

“What’s wrong with Amore?” I turned to Malcolm and asked.

“Oh, shit!”

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nasty little suckers

I looked down at Amore. She was covered in stickers. Infested with them.  Her collar, sides, belly, underarms, legs, tail and paws had hundreds of nasty burrs tangled within her fur.  Amore had run straight through a large patch of wicked pricklers.  The dry burrs clung to her coat, knotting in her hair.  Every time she moved, the sharp barbed stickers dug in deeper beneath her beautiful black coat.  With resolve, I pulled out the Leatherman from my pack.  Malcolm and I started the long tedious process of removing the thorns.  We stopped counting after eighty and still had more to go. Our gloveless fingers were numb from the penetrating prickly points. There would be no water play today.  We hiked back down the trail.  We knew there were more burrs buried on her body, but needed scissors to cut out the rest.  We headed home.

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one of hundreds

Amore had had enough of Malcolm and I picking at her fur. She was done with us yanking and pulling her hair as we extracted the stickers from her body.  It took the two of us over an hour on the trail to pick out the worst of the bunch.  We still had more to go.  I sat in the back of the SUV to soothe and placate her on the ride home.

Once home, I grabbed the scissors and began cutting out the remaining burrs. By the end of Amore’s impromptu hair cut, I had a good sized pile of stickers, stacked on the floor, ready for me to throw away…..

“Gawd Damn! Son-ov-ah-beeeeach!” I heard from the other room an hour or two later.

Oops!  Must’ve missed one on the floor.

 

 

 

 

just yesterday

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The old gray mare,
She ain’t what she used to be
Ain’t what she used to be,
Ain’t what she used to be
The old gray mare,
She ain’t what she used to be
Many long years ago.

Many long years ago,
Many long years ago,
The old gray mare,
She ain’t what she used to be
Many long years ago.

Oh, yeah!  We’ve all had that wonderful little ditty sung to us at one birthday or another.  A childish tune to remind us of our age, our wrinkles and our gray strands of hair.

It’s never an issue when others start to show signs of aging.  When friends “out gray” you or when siblings are first to parade their seniority with age spots and knee creaks.  Nope, it’s never a concern when others display their maturity with saggy boobs, baggy jowls or flabby old-women arms.  In today’s world, all theses aging deficits can be overcome with a little nip n’ tuck, a little botox and a long sleeve sweater.

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matching crows feet

Me?  I’m okay with my beginners set of wrinkles, I’ve always found crows feet attractive.  I call’em laugh lines.  I’m doing okay with the sag, bag and flab trio that comes with sliding past the 50 year marker. I’ve earned those.   I’m even okay with my dyed gray hairs… as long as they stay dyed.  And, I’m okay with my few expanding freckles I found on my wrist and forearm.  Age spots aren’t THAT bad.  Those are badges of experiences and wisdom.  Comes with the territory I tell myself.

What I’m not okay with is seeing these same aging symptoms on the girls.

Just yesterday they were little wiggly puppies with roly-poly tummies and the most precious puppy breath ever.

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Amore and Dolce in their younger days

Just yesterday they were rambunctious young pups with more energy than a power plant on steroids.  And, just yesterday Amore and Dolce were full of piss n’ vinegar, eager to start the morning before the first light of the day, not crossing the finish line until dark.

showing some gray

showing some gray

But just yesterday, I noticed Amore showing some gray in her brows, a little gray in her muzzle.  Just yesterday, I watched Dolce rising up in the mornings a little slower, her back hips reluctant to move as quick.  Just yesterday Malcolm had to lift Amore down from the SUV when he returned from taking the girls for a walk.  The jump too much for her.

Just yesterday I remarked to Malcolm how the girls were sleeping later into the morning, how they were taking longer naps and seeking the sun’s warmth as they curled up on the couch for a snooze.  Just yesterday I observed Amore running slower on our walks, and Dolce lagging further behind.

Just yesterday Amore and Dolce were sumo wrestling in the living room, today they flop down on the sun-warmed bricks for some shut-eye.  Just yesterday, they were destroying books, magazines and newspapers in our absence.  Today they don’t even notice we are gone.

Just yesterday …

the fisherman

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tilting at the windmill

The Galisteo Basin Preserve was once a large cattle ranch.   It is miles of cow trails, rutted dirt roads and nature.  Old cowboy camps and lean tos dot the countryside with broken-down foundation remains and falling-down corrals.  A dry river bed runs through the ranch, it’s eroded banks reaching as high as twenty-to-thirty feet above the sandy river floor in some places.  I know of three windmills with water troughs at their base, their blades creaking against the wind as the pump struggles to pull up water for the trough.  All combined, it is a rustic reminder of its western heritage and the old frontier.

Just a few miles from our home, the GBP is now a hiker’s mecca.  It’s a horse and rider’s trail workout and mountain biker’s nirvana.  It’s where we take the girls for their daily walks.

Our first few experiences at the Preserve were riddled with adventure.  As Amore scouted for lizards, Tiamo trotted along sniffing every low hanging branch there was.  Dolce stayed at our heels.  New trails brought new scents and the girls would scatter about to investigate the foreign territory.  Once or twice we will catch sight of a coyote, several times we have crossed paths with snakes.  We’ve seen evidence of antelope and deer and have heard of sightings of mountain lions.  The easy access to water makes the area ideal for wildlife.  And koi.

The dogs had a habit of drinking the trough water at the tail end of our hikes.  Though we packed water with us to keep the girls hydrated throughout our walks, they like the cold, fresh from the well, water.  We make a point to stop at the troughs before loading up into the car, allowing the girls one last sip.

It was on a cold, drizzly January day, the wind kicking up due to an incoming storm, when we were trying to get a quick walk in before being hit with the impending deluge.  As we finished our hike and neared the water trough, Tiamo ran ahead to get her fill.  At the edge of the trough she stilled, looking intently into the darkened mossy water.  We saw she was tracking something but had no idea what.  Her quick eyes had spotted movement and she was on it. Waiting just a few seconds, she moved her head in a little circle and before we knew it, leaped over the rim into the water trough.  Icy cold water splashed heavily over the sides.   Large water droplets landing on both Malcolm and I.  Cold, freezing ucky water  soaking our sweatshirts.  The wake of her splash landing on our boots.

“What the hell?” Malcolm shouted.  With a death grip, I grabbed on to the collars of Amore and Dolce, the only foot-loose canines left on dry land.  I wasn’t about to let Amore and Dolce follow into the trough along with mama.  Malcolm scrambled to get to Tiamo.  Once in the trough, Tiamo didn’t want to get out.  She had more fish to fry.  Literally.  Namely the koi hiding deep in the bottom moss of the water tank.  Tiamo had gone fishing.

As I held on to the girls, Malcolm struggled to haul Tiamo out of the water.  Jumping in was much easier than climbing out.  The rim was nothing more than a sharp torch-cut metal edge, hurtful for Tiamo to balance her paws on to jump out.  The weight of the water, the slippery moss-covered bottom hindered her escape from the cold water.  She was stuck.  She was completely soaked, now trembling from the frigid water.   The koi forgotten, she wanted out.

There was no two ways about it.  Malcolm was going to have to lift her out.  He was going to have to reach in the finger-numbing icy water to pull Tiamo out.  Cussing like a sailor, Malc stripped off his jacket and sweatshirt, pulled off his gloves and plunged his arms into the water, encircling Tiamo’s belly to heft her out of the water.  100 pounds of basically full on dead weight – this was not going to be an easy feat.  As she was clearing the water Tiamo panicked.  Back legs kicking, front paws scratching Malcolm’s bare torso, Tiamo twisted and turned for freedom.  Malcolm and Tiamo landed on dry land but both were soaking wet.  And freezing.  And stinky from the stagnant waters.  Malcolm was covered in stinky mossy uck.  Tiamo just stunk.

Needless to say, I drove home, Malcolm sat in the back with the dogs.

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Dolce scouting for goldfish

 

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so god made a dog

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It starts with a tiny whimper, a small murmur barely audible to our human ears.  The slight quaking of Amore’s front fore legs is, at first, scarcely discernible underneath her thick feathery fur.  Amore’s apprehension and anxiety quickly escalates into deep, heavy panting and full body tremors, along with wide-eyed panic and fright.  All caused by thunder. Thunder and lightning.

Up until a year ago, Amore would sleep right through the loud clashing of thunder.  Up until a year ago, the rumble of thunderstorms, the whip of lightning didn’t bother her.  Up until a year ago, Amore was fine with the summer storms that rolled over our high desert. Today it’s a different story.

Today, Amore’s fear from the loud crack of lightning sends her into terrifying distress.  Today, her terror and fear of a storm can last long after the billowing dark clouds have passed.  It’s heartrending to witness.  Her terror and anguish is agonizing to watch.  We’ve tried everything.  Thunder shirts, calming music, distractions, car drives.  We have read articles and books and talked to experts to learn how to minimize and/or eliminate her fear.  Nothing seems works but to wait it out, giving her time to calm down while the tempest blows by.

July marks the start of our monsoon season and right on cue, our monsoon rains came within days after the calendar flipped to the seventh month.  This Fourth of July weekend brought a series of rains, cool relief from the hot temperatures of summer.  But with the rains came thunder and lightning, and on it’s heels, came Amore’s shaking and rapid breathing,  her anxiety palatable.  By late Sunday afternoon another storm was rolling through, the growl and grumble of thunder far in the background was faint and distant.  Amore’s keen hearing distinguished the thunder.  Fear gathered in her brown eyes as she quickly recognized the rumble.  The tremors already starting as terror locked in on her body.

Malcolm and I instinctively knew this time it was going to be a bad one.  Malcolm hurried to retrieve the thunder shirt as I went towards Amore.  Before I could reach her shaking frame, before I could take two steps forward, Dolce was already there besides Amore, offering her comfort and love.

As obvious dog lovers, Malcolm and I understand the joy and comfort dogs give humans.  We know how rehab dogs can help patients heal, both physically and mentally.  We are aware that canines can sense the onset of seizures and depression and assist their owners.  Dogs give and give and give and give some more to their loved ones.  They are a comfort to our soul, a balm to our weary hearts. They can pack more smiles in the wag of their tail then a kid in a candy store. Loyal, a trusted companion, without judgement, they are man’s best friend.  We understand why god made a dog.

So when Malcolm and I saw Dolce come along side of Amore, leaning against her to give relief, we froze in place to observe.  We watched in awe as Dolce nudged her litter mate, reassuring Amore that all would be okay. We watched Dolce as she licked away at Amore’s mental fear and pain.  We watched Dolce place a gentle paw on a quivering Amore to calm her, soothe her.  Dolce’s paw stayed on Amore shoulder for over ten minutes before the shaking began to still.  We watched Dolce lean against her sister for more than a half-hour, easing Amore’s anguish, absorbing her fear.  We watched Dolce give peace to her sibling.  Watching Dolce give comfort, we understand why god made a dog.

So God made a dog……

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