Thursday, April 11, 2013

Farewell Puppy

                I never intended to have a dog, pretty much for the same reasons why I never expected to have a kid.  With my schedule, my work, and in all honesty, my selfishness, I knew I wouldn’t have the time or give enough attention that would be needed to make that child or dog happy.  But in 2000, I got one.  I didn’t go searching for one, she sort of fell into our laps.  She was given to my mother-in-law because the owner couldn’t care for her.  My inlaw didn’t have the room for her, but wanted to make sure the pup had a life.  The times I would visit, the pup, a beautiful collie/sheepdog, would be in a fenced in area in the backyard.  It was a big area, but I could feel the solitude.  She was so sweet.  I would go the fence and gently pet her and look into those beautiful eyes.  I honestly spent more time with the dog than I did visiting the family.  It was never easy leaving. 
                After much consideration, we decided to bring her home.  Despite my fears of not being able to give her the attention she so desperately wanted, I knew we’d be able to give her more than she was receiving at that time.  Plus she would have a much bigger backyard in which to roam, so I knew she would be happier.  (This really isn’t easy for me.  At this very moment of writing, except for the last paragraph, she is still with us.  I feel it’s only a few weeks, and I wanted to write this now because I won’t be able to afterwards).  She immediately took to her new home.  As if she’d been imprisoned, she took to her backyard with glee and her inquisitive nature had her roaming all over.  She was in heaven.
                The years flew by and there are so many movies in my head where she’s the star.  Lined along the perimeter of our backyard, right next to wall, were all kinds of trees and plants.  There wasn’t really a way to get back there in some places, especially for humans, but she had made herself a little path, right along the perimeter.  Maybe it was sheepdog in her, an instinct to ensure that everything was safe, but she would walk that path every now and then.  She would walk that path, and then stop at a lavender plant and smell.  She loved smelling that plant, just standing there for a few seconds to enjoy its aroma, and then continue her walk. 
                There was a time in my life where I would go out back and run lines.  Not rehearse a script, for all my actor friends out there, but in basketball practice, you’d start at one line, run to the next and run back, and continue to the next furthest line and back.  It wasn’t easy at first, because she would run with me and sometimes get in my way.  She learned quickly to make sure she was out of the way, and before long she would just go to her blanket and sit down to watch me. 
                She was a hunter.  Lizards, birds, gophers, you name it, she hunted it and there were quite a few times we’d find one of those dead near her house.  She loved catching lizards, but hated the taste.  There were a few times when we would see her catch one and she’d make such a face afterwards, we’d laugh.  Watching her go into hunting mode was so cool.  She’d be sitting there and then all of a sudden, her ears would perk up and her eyes would hone in on a lizard on the wall.  Slowly getting up, she’d sit still for several minutes, then slowly take one step.  Focused and intent, she stayed for a few moments, and then take another step.  I swear it would be a ten minute exercise.  Moving as stealthily as possible, she would close in on her prey and then pounce.  More often than not, the prey escaped, but she had her fair share.
                She was also a bit of a snob.  She loved playing ball, but only a few times.  After getting the ball a couple of times, she was done.  She would either stop going after the ball, or pick up the ball and go into her house.  Talk about grabbing your ball and going home, she was over it.  One time, my friend kept pulling the ball out of her mouth and throwing it.  I guess she liked that ball because she would go get it, but would not go back to him.  He then followed her and did it again.  This time she chased the ball down and ran into her house.  It was a big house, and she went in there deep, so unless you got on your knees, you couldn’t see her.  Anyhow, my friend reached in and started reaching for the ball.  I can still see this, but from my angle all I saw was her paw come out and slap his hand. 
                Her snobbishness was also seen when we tried to bring her a friend.  We thought that maybe she was lonely, so we brought her a companion.  By this time it was about 2007, so she had 7 years of having the backyard to herself.  She did not take to that poor dog at all.  That poor dog was so friendly and wanted love so badly, and my Pup wouldn’t give her the time of day.  The dog would follow her, but Pup hardly acknowledged her.  That dog was bigger and more high maintenance and after a few days, we realized it wasn’t going to work.  They were already starting to get territorial, so we gave that dog away.  Yes, Puppy was a snob.
                She was also very smart.  For the longest time, she was strictly outdoors, but that changed after a few thunderstorms.  Poor thing, she got so frightened with those and fireworks.  I didn’t realize how much until one day when we were leaving in the morning, and opening the front door, found her right there.  She had been so scared, she clawed her way through the fence and huddled right against the front door.  I felt so bad.  I didn’t even hear the thunder, and she was so quiet, she never barked unless there were strangers around.  From then on, she would come inside, and she knew how to work it.  Not allowed on the furniture, she would get a bit scared and jump into my lap, knowing I was not about to push her off.  That accomplished, she had access to the furniture as well.  Eventually she had her own chair.  But sleeping outside, she knew when it was time to go to bed when I’d turn off my cell phone.  She’d hear that sound, she’d walk over to the door.  In the last years of living at that house, we’d leave the door to the garage just a bit ajar, and she’d walk over to it and with her paw, open the door and walk into the garage where she’d have access to the outside through her doggie door.  She would walk in and out whenever she wanted. 
                In the last few months, she began dragging her back paw from arthritis, and being 15, there wasn’t much we could do.  Some medicine to help ease the pain, but that’s about all we could do.  We would put a sock on that paw so she wouldn’t scrape and bleed.  Fully indoors for the past few years, we would go out back occasionally to walk around.  Walking behind her as she limped has not been easy.  I can still see her when I would come home and she would jump all over.  I would say, “Let’s run” and we’d take off in the back, running all over the yard.  She would run behind the shed and come tearing out, running with and past me.  Now, limping around the pool, she’ll stop and catch a glimpse of a lizard.  The hunter in her springs up, but though the spirit is there, the body isn’t, and she moves on. 
                That was my Ladie.  That was her given name, though I’d rarely call her that.  She was always Puppy, and she would listen.  Like a parent, if I used her given name, she was in trouble.  About 6 years ago, my wife would say that she’s not a puppy anymore and that she’s getting old, but I would resist such talk.  But I knew she spoke truth, and the past few months, that has shown that to be even more apparent.  She wouldn’t turn when I’d call her, and though she was a snob, I knew wasn’t ignoring me, but that her hearing was beginning to go, especially after she had no problems with recent thunderstorms and fireworks. 
                The past few months have been hard.  As I’ve seen her body wearing down, I have many regrets.  I wish I had given her more time, more attention.  I wish I wouldn’t scare her during Laker games when I’d yell at the TV.  I wish I’d have just had her indoors since day one.  She was the sweetest thing who loved pizza and carrots, who was so happy when I’d come home, who, in this last year, would try to herd us away from the door to keep us from leaving, who gave us the first indication that there was a ghost in our house (that’s another blog entry), and who was always curious on what we were doing.  She was my Pup, and she knew it.  I couldn’t say no to her.  There was so much sweetness in her eyes that I wanted her to be happy.
                Today I had to put my Pup down.  All I wanted to do was drop her at the vets and leave.  But there’s no way I could do that.  She hated that place, and I didn’t want her last moments to be all alone in a place she hated.  Last night she got everything she loved; her treats, pizza, yogurt, and ice cream.  And it was so hard this morning because she was so alert, her ears up and checking out everything.  But I could see the pain, and she could no longer walk, so carrying her into a room where I’d last see her was something I did for her:  to end her pain and to be with her in her final moments.  And as I held her, in those final moments as she laid down, her eyes, those beautiful eyes that would look at me with so much love, those eyes that would curiously look at everything around her, the life drained from those beautiful eyes and I knew my time as a dog owner was done.  I’m not going to say anything inane as I have a sense of parenthood, and I don’t have a clue on animals and the afterlife.  All I’ll say is that when she first came to our house she ran around like she was in heaven, and I hope that when her life slipped from my arms, she began running in heaven.  

Goodbye my Pup, you were the absolute best.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Who are you?

It’s a question that’s not being posed to you as it were coming from me.  As if you came up to me, and I asked, “Who are you?  And what do you want?”  It’s a question you ask the reflection when you look at the mirror each morning.  That’s of course assuming you look at the mirror in the morning.  That’s a pretty safe assumption though, as I’m sure some of you might spend too much time looking in the mirror.  I’m obviously kidding, but it’s a question I feel we’re not asking ourselves enough. 

When I say enough, I really question as to how many times we look at ourselves and ask who we are.  Do we ask that on a weekly basis?  A monthly?  Time goes by so quickly, and it’s so easy for the year to come to a close before we assess what we’ve been doing for those past 12 months.  And frankly, I can understand why we don’t ask that question more often.  It’s not an easy question to answer.  Not easy because it’s so hard to find the basis of the answer.  Do you base your answer on your actions?  Or do you base it on your words?  How about your motives?  Quite often we intend to act on something, but for whatever reason fail to do so, but we sincerely meant to follow through. 

I guess when it all comes down to it, do your actions match the words you say you are?  When someone else asks who we may be, we may very well be quick to give a general positive overview on the person we are, but we can be very honest and say that we’re not totally honest in our response to that individual.  Which is not altogether bad, because who wants to hear the whole dirty laundry list of someone we just met?  But really, do our actions match our words?  And sure, we’re not always going to follow through on what we say we’re going to do, but as a rule, can it be said that the way you describe yourself would be recognizable to those around you who see how you act? 

It’s an age old question.  In the Bible, Paul would lament over the fact that he didn’t do the things he knew he should do, and the things he shouldn’t do, he found himself doing.  Of course, that’s a little different, because that was a man that was trying to live up to a standard, God’s standard, and found himself failing.  Which, when you think about it, was a pretty good answer to our question.  He would look at the reflective surface, and honestly admit that he wasn’t the man he should be. 

This question has been going through my mind a lot lately, and I figure it comes down to two reasons.  The first is that I live in a town and, to various degrees of success, work in an industry where there is a lot of talk.  I have, over the last 5 years, met so many people who have talked of who they know, what they’ve done, what they can do, and at the end of the day, is all hot air.  Their actions were, in some cases, almost the opposite of what they said they stood for and do.  One of the comments I would get a lot from my colleagues was they appreciated the fact that I would give them the straight skinny.  Whether it was good new or bad news, an encouragement or a harsh critique, they respected me for giving it to them between the eyes.  They may not have always liked what I said, but I was just being upfront with them, and they dug that.  As I said before, “honesty:  we may not always see eye to eye, but you’ll always know where I stand.”  So with all the talk that I’ve heard, I wonder how often, if at all, do others look in the mirror and ask themselves this question.

The second reason is to present a challenge; to myself definitely, but also to you, if you’re so inclined as to accept challenges from people whom you barely know.  It hit me pretty hard last night as the temperature dropped pretty low for SoCal.  I hate the cold, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I get cold easily.  Born and raised in SoCal, 65, for me, is on the chilly side.  I was thinking about all the people on the street having to deal with the bitter cold on top of being hungry, and I wondered if I’m doing enough to help them.  Enough, there’s a loaded term.  You ask the rich, greedy man how much is enough, and he’ll answer “more.”  But you know what I mean.  I can say that I care for the homeless, but if I’m not doing much to help them, does it really mean I care for them?  Before you answer what seems to be a simple question, think of this simple analogy.  I care about the Dodgers.  Root for them, excited when they win, bummed when they lose, but I haven’t done one thing in the past, at least, 7 years to help them.  Haven’t attended a game, bought any merchandise, not one dollar to support the team.  Does it mean I don’t care about them?  That’s different, you say, you don’t personally know the Dodgers.  True, but you can also say that about the homeless.  Let’s take a different approach.  How many of us have old friends that we care about deeply, but seldom have contact.  Life is busy, you work, they work, you have family, they have family, and weeks and months go by without a word.  You haven’t done anything at all for them for months, but you still care very much for them.

The challenge is to look at the reflection and ask that simple question, and other questions will flow.  Do your actions support who you say you are?  If not, why?  What are your motives behind your actions, and what are some excuses we make to explain our lack of action.  C.S Lewis had a great quote in “The ScrewTape Letters” (great book, by the way):  “The more often you feel without acting, the harder it will be to act the next time, and in the long run, the harder it will be to feel.”  I think about that when I pass by those holding signs and asking for a bit of help.  The more often I pass them without doing anything, the easier it becomes to act the same the next time.  It’s at those times when I need to hold up that mirror.