Friday, December 5, 2008

Need Holiday Gift Ideas? Consider Canine Reads

Here’s a little push for a book I read recently called “The Dogs Who Found Me: What I’ve Learned From the Pets Who Were Left Behind” by Ken Foster.

I stumbled on the book while browsing around on the Powell’s Books Web site and had to have it. The author shares his stories of dog adoptions, from New York City to a Mississippi truck stop, and details the way that dogs tend to choose us more than we may choose them.

That wasn’t the case with me and Leo. I fell in love with his photo online and mooned over him for months before I made the trek to the Oregon Humane Society to adopt him. I had decided he would be mine before I even met him, and it never even occurred to me that he might not like me.

As it turned out, our first meeting was rather anticlimactic. He was sleeping, as I detailed in an earlier post, and when we retired to the playroom to get to know each other better, he seemed more interested in playing with my neighbor, who had driven me to the shelter.

It wasn’t until we got home, to my little two-room apartment, that he really acknowledged me. He first made a thorough inspection of the premises, sniffing along the floors and walls. He refused to eat or drink anything, but made a great show of scratching the floor near his dishes, as though to mark the area as his own.

I sat on the couch, watching him intently. When his inspection was complete, he came over to the couch and launched himself into my lap. There he whimpered and lathered my face with kisses, as though to thank me for giving him a place to live.

Months later, I discovered this book online, “Tails From Katrina.” It’s a collection of photos of the cats and dogs that were rescued by the Oregon Humane Society and brought back to the OHS shelter in Portland. I made a beeline to Powell’s and found the book.

There, on page 15, was Leo.

Leo's 15 minutes of fame in that book is one of my greatest treasures. Either of these books would make great holiday gift ideas for the crazy dog lady in your life.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Trick or Treat

We survived another Halloween—this year with a surplus of candy. (Treat!) In past years, there’s been a mad rush at the door and we’ve had to ration candy toward the end of the night. (Trick.) Not so this year. (Treat!) It was fairly quiet and with friends over to visit (our summer houseguest Ripple’s people) who helped man the door, it was more fun: I had time to sit back, sip on wine, and toss down candy. (Treat!) Unfortunately, wine and too much candy made for a nasty stomach situation later on. (Trick.)

I didn’t bother to dress Leo in his Elvis costume, or even put the jack-o-lantern handkerchief on him (the one that the groomer sent him home in a few weeks ago). Why bother? We had to shut Leo and Ripple (who got along just fine this time) in the kitchen because every time a trick-or-treater knocked on the door, both dogs went berserk and barked up a storm.

Could Leo read my facial expression and tell that I was annoyed when he barked at our little candy-seeking visitors? Though a study cited in this article on findingDulcinea might suggest yes, I would probably say no.

He does respond to my emotions—that I really do believe—but I think he picks up on auditory cues. When he hears my husband and me arguing, he’ll come and sit by my side, as though to guard me. To fully understand the significance of this, you have to understand that Leo doesn’t budge from his couch and fuzzy blanket and pillow but for two things: the suggestion of a walk or a morsel to eat. The fact that a verbal argument inspires him to leave the comfort of his fuzzy nest and seek me out is remarkable.

Still, his guarding me is probably more about protecting the source of his walks and meals and fuzzy blanket and pillow--that would be me--and less about being in tune with my emotional needs.

He is a male dog, after all. (!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Leos in the News

My friend Stan sent me this story over the summer: it’s about a pit bull named Leo who was rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring and rehabilitated to serve as a therapy dog to cancer patients.

Though I’ve always been a bit intimidated by pit bulls and swore that I would never have one, reading about this Leo made me reexamine my attitudes. Here’s a pit bull that was trained to be a fighter and yet he’s now a silly love bug in a clown collar making friends wherever he goes.

Chows have a bad reputation, too, yet my Leo is a sweetie pie—once you’ve earned his trust and gotten acquainted with his personal quirks, that is. So maybe I can’t write off all pit bulls, either.

And speaking of Michael Vick, my dear mother-in-law sent my Leo a Michael Vick chew toy. Gotta love her sense of humor! Fortunately for this chew toy, Leo isn’t much of a chewer (unless it’s edible, or something that belongs to a baby).

On the other end of the doggie spectrum is this Leo, a tiny terrier mix no bigger than a cat, who stood guard over a litter of kittens during a house fire in Australia. This little guy had to be revived with oxygen and a heart massage after guarding the kittens in thick smoke. He’s now back at home and hailed as a hero. Awwwww….

Little lap dogs usually annoy me—they all seem to suffer from the Napoleon Syndrome and can be so yappy and nippy. But I’d make an exception for this little Leo any day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scary Movie Time

There’s nothing I like better than to turn off the lights and curl up on the couch with snacks at hand to watch a movie. Halloween is no exception, only the movies have to be scary.

I recently wrote a feature on findingDulcinea recommending “Five Scary Movies for Halloween.” Writing about the movies made me think about them again and, in the case of “The Haunting,” inspired me to rent the movie for the first time.

Be assured: I think all of the movies in the article are scary. But by far the scariest movie on the list has to be “The Shining.”

I first saw “The Shining” when I was in college. My school, Bard College, had a Friday and a Sunday night tradition of showing films in what we called the old gym. It was an old gymnasium—the school’s original, I’m sure—with a stage and a screen and ratty old couches and easy chairs strewn about.

Bard was pretty lawless then, and we were allowed to bring in our own food and booze and smoke to our heart’s (lung’s?) content. I arrived to see “The Shining” feeling rather tipsy and armed with a paper grocery bag full of popcorn. How many batches did I pop up in my dorm room? A LOT.

Being young and foolish and wanting to seem mature and sophisticated, my drink of choice back then was gin and tonic. I had mixed myself a generous portion and then transferred the supersized cocktail into the half liter bottle that the tonic came in, thinking it would not only last the duration of the movie, but make for easy slugging straight from the bottle.

I was right.

Alas, much of the movie was a blur. But I do remember laughing out loud, trying to focus my blurred vision, and stumbling out of the movie drunkenly declaring, “That wasn’t scary!” Seems booze and scary movies don’t mix.

Years later, I decided to give “The Shining” another chance. I rented it and watched it at home—alone. It scared the bejeezus out of me! I was a puddle quivering under a blanket on the couch. I had to pause the movie several times in order to get a grip on myself.

Just writing about the movie for the findingDulcinea article creeped me right out. Sitting at my computer in my office, all alone in the house, remembering scenes from the movie…it made me uneasy.

So I had to rent the movie yet again. It arrived from Netflix today. I can’t wait to watch it tonight, with my husband—without gin and tonic.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Dog Eat Dog Waste World

Aren’t my titles just awful?

Awhile back, findingDulcinea did a story on the strange and wondrous things that dogs eat, entitled, “Vet Removes 13 Golf Balls from Dog’s Stomach.”

Of course the story caught my attention. Leo doesn’t eat golf balls, nor does he make a habit of eating non-food items (a practice that I learned from this article is called “pica.”)

Well, if you consider road kill and the feces of other animals to be “non-food items” (I do) then he does engage in the practice of pica. But there’s another term—a far uglier word—to more accurately describe what Leo engages in: coprophagy. Coprophagy, as I learned in the findingDulcinea article, describes the practice of a dog eating his own or another dog’s waste. I wonder if this applies to the practice of eating cat waste? Because cat waste is Leo’s all-time favorite.

I vowed to make him wear a muzzle after the fiasco this summer when he punctured the inside of his mouth with a bone from something dead that he ate. But the first muzzle seemed to big; with a little effort, he was able to get stuff in his mouth. So I exchanged that muzzle for a smaller size. The smaller one made it impossible for him to open his mouth at all, and made him wheeze as though it were suffocating him. Harrumpf.

So I haven’t been making him wear the muzzle—which made him look scary in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way. Wait a minute! This could be his Halloween costume this year, though it would be hard to compete with the little guy in this photo, eh?

Last year, Leo was Elvis for Halloween. I bought the costume online and was sorely disappointed when it arrived: the spangled leggings were far too long for his stubby legs, and the sparkled cape was cheaply made from some horrible material. All in all, he looked like a shabby Elvis impersonator.

Any suggestions for Leo's costume this year are heartily welcomed. Send 'em my way!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Losing Whiskers

Oh dear. Cha Cha Chow hasn’t been updated in over a month. As one of my old managers (a stern English woman) used to say in reference to something that was sadly in need of update, Cha Cha Chow “has grown whiskers.”

What can I say? Leo hasn’t been involved in any major calamities recently. The fur that was shaved off the side of his face has started to fill in, giving him some five o’clock shadow. He did have a bout of the itchies at the beginning of September, resulting in a few areas that were shaved clean, including the base of his tail. As a result, he looks rather mangy right now; random bald spots are not his best look.

And as for growing whiskers, Leo’s Salvador Dali whisker is gone! This isn’t the first time it’s made a mysterious disappearance. It seems to fall out after a month or so, only to grow back in. Grow in, fall out, repeat. If I had the time, I could write an entire entry on “The Mystery of the Salvador Dali Whisker.” But I don’t, and I won’t.

Instead, I’ll plug a few findingDulcinea stories that I really liked today. First there was “When Couples Split, Who Gets the Pets?” further proof that our pets have become, for better or worse, our children (in the absence of real children, that is).

Site Spotlight turned me on to DailyLit, a great place to get inspired to do a little reading of the literary kind.

And who knew that Buster Keaton had such beautiful eyes? With all that falling off stage and straddling moving trains and general slapsticking that he did, I never noticed his eyes before. Nice peepers, Buster.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Leo’s Mama/Sister/Daughter?

My friend Elissa recently ran into a dog that looked a lot like Leo. She sent me an email with a photo she took of the dog:

“The pic didn't turn out very good. The doggy was in the shade because she was hot ;)

I wanted to get another one but I think the guy thought I was hitting on him. He kept bringing up his wife. This dog--her name was Bear!--looked just like Leo. She was 12 and even had his little funny stiff walk and his grey hair (and eye boogers!) This guy said they are smooth chows and have much better personalities than other chows. Their bodies are also built differently. Maybe it is Leo's mama? Or his sister? The guy got her from a flea market--he didn't say where--and he wasn't sure where she was originally from.”

First, the detail about the wife cracked me up. Second, it blew me away how much this dog Bear really does look like Leo! The shape of her muzzle, her nose, her purple tongue and her eyes are all similar to Leo’s. She’s even graying in the same areas as Leo (though Leo is admittedly more gray).

I wish the guy knew where Bear originally hailed from. Could it really be a long-lost relative of Leo’s? Maybe. I was told at the Humane Society that Leo is at least nine years old, though probably older (they said it was hard to determine how much wear and tear was the result of age vs. surviving a hurricane). If Bear really is 12 years old, I’m thinking Leo must be at least her age (eeek). Maybe she’s Leo’s sister, or Leo’s daughter. Only genetic testing could tell for sure. I’ll have to settle with curious speculation.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Face Only a Mother Could Love

Ripple has gone home to her people and life has returned to normal for Leo. Normal, except for that hole in the side of his face.

One morning I was walking both doggies when Leo snatched up something dead lying beneath a giant tree. I didn’t get a chance to see what it was; all I could see were dangling appendages hanging out the sides of his mouth that slightly resembled a plucked chicken.

I yanked on his leash and ordered him to drop it. Nothing doing. He rabidly chewed and swallowed, the sound of crunching, cracking bones turning my stomach. And then suddenly he collapsed on his side.

“My God the chicken corpse is killing him!” I thought as I gasped. Then just as quickly he hopped back up and went about sniffing around for more. The walk was officially over in my mind, and we headed homeward.

When I told my husband about Leo’s snack and subsequent collapse, he laughed. “Maybe he was overcome with pleasure?” he suggested. I wasn’t buying it.

The next morning, my husband and I were getting ready for our four-day road trip to Vancouver, B.C. It was to be our “real” honeymoon trip (as opposed to the practice one we’d had immediately after the wedding). We had a rental car to pick up and hotel reservations already made.

I was about to take the doggies out for a quick last walk before hitting the road when my husband asked, “What’s this on Leo’s face?”

I ran my hand over his muzzle to find a giant lump, the size of a baseball, protruding from the right side. How didn’t I notice this before? And when did it first appear?

We loaded him in the car and drove to the vet. I told the receptionist the chicken corpse story, relating the crunching of the bones and Leo’s sudden collapse. They were busy that day, she said, and would hold him until a doctor had a moment to examine him. That was at 10:00 a.m.

We drove home and fretted over whether to delay the rental car or cancel it altogether. At 1:30 p.m., the vet called. The bump was an abscess, she said, and she’d have to anesthetize Leo to examine him further and see where it originated—inside or outside of his mouth—and then drain it. He would probably be ready for pick around 6:30 p.m.

And so our road trip to Vancouver quickly became a foolish endeavor. Leave the next day to drive all day, spend one day in Vancouver, then drive back? I cancelled the hotel reservation; they charged me a $97 cancellation fee. Meanwhile, my husband had a disappointment meltdown and stormed out of the house.

At 6:30 we arrived to pick him up. Turns out, he had punctured the inside of his mouth with a bone from the mysterious chicken corpse and it had gotten infected and formed the abscess. The vet tech brought him in with a drainage tube sticking out of the side and bottom of his face; she instructed me to flush it twice a day (fat chance of Leo holding still for that, I thought). He was still very groggy from the anesthesia and insisted on collapsing into a deep sleep rather than walk, so my husband carried him out to the car, and then into the house once we arrived at home. (Oh, and they charged me $400; this was turning out to be a very expensive non-vacation experience for me.)

The next morning, I put the dreaded cone on him so he couldn’t scratch the tube out of place. He was up and around as usual, growling at Ripple to back off. By the end of the day, the inside of the cone was already reeking of rotten flesh; I was eager to take him back to the vet to have the drainage tube removed.

And the following day, off came the cone and out came the tube. Leo will be on antibiotics for two weeks or more. And the fur on the right side of his face will take awhile to fill in again.

He’ll also be wearing a muzzle for our walks from now on. No more dining on cat poop, road kill or mysterious chicken corpses for him.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Houseguest

We have a houseguest this week: she’s a nine-year-old blue heeler/pit bull mix named Ripple. Her people are on the East Coast for a wedding, so Ripple is staying with us for awhile.

Leo and Ripple met two years ago on a camping trip. Their introduction took place with little fanfare—some sniffing in various areas, some circling. Then they pretty much ignored each other for the rest of the trip.

Leo has been to Ripple’s house a couple of times, and Ripple has visited us on several occasions. For the most part, they have continued to ignore each other.

Until this time, that is. Once it became clear to Leo that Ripple wasn’t here for just a visit--that she was actually going to sleep over and eat her meals here and join him on his walks--then things abruptly changed. He became hyper-aware of Ripple’s every move, and of the brand-new, 15-pound bag of dog food that accompanied her.

On her first morning with us, I put Leo out back and busted open Ripple’s bag of dog food. Rather than pounce on the small bowl of food that I placed on the floor (as Leo would have done), Ripple made a cautious approach to the bowl. She sniffed the food and with her nose, ever so daintily rearranged the nuggets in the bowl. Then she nudged the bowl around, here and there, pausing to survey her progress, as though trying for a more aesthetically pleasing placement. My husband’s flip flops were nearby, and she nudged those around as well, finally arranging them in an L shape around the bowl. Then she deserted the whole project and went to the living room.

I stood back and watched in amazement. Leo would have emptied the bowl instantly.

“Ok, Ripple,” I announced as I grabbed her dish and put it on the counter. “We’ll try this again after our walk.”

Walking the two dogs together was a challenge, to say the least. Ripple is quick and limber and focused on getting ahead; Leo pokes along, stopping to sniff and/or pee on every tree/bush/garbage can/object that cries out to be peed on that we pass. The worst is when they decide to go in different directions and I find myself tangled in crisscrossing leashes, or when they both lunge for a nearby cat. But with Ripple at the helm, encouraging progress and efficiency, Leo was inspired to try and keep up, and we covered our usual distance in half the time.

When we returned, it was time to try breakfast with both dogs. I shut Ripple in the living room with her bowl of previously arranged food, and fed Leo at his usual spot in the kitchen. At first, he was distracted—mesmerized, even--by the now opened bag of dog food standing nearby. After inhaling his raw chicken patty, he returned his attention to the dog food bag, gazing lovingly at it.

I went to check on Ripple. Her bowl was empty save for five nuggets. “Good job, Ripple!” I grabbed her bowl and put it on the dining room table. With the door now open, Leo came rushing in and sniffed around the table. He could smell those five remaining nuggets and it was driving him mad. When Ripple came by to see what all the sniffing was about, Leo lunged and snarled at her, telling her to back off.

I scolded him and he returned to his vigil by the dog food bag in the kitchen. At last glance, he was sitting and staring at the bag. I went outside to trim my roses and came back in to find Leo’s head buried deep inside the dog food bag, a muffled sound of inhalation and snorting and crunching taking place inside.

I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out. Ripple quietly made her way into the kitchen and watched with a forlorn expression as I scolded him.

I put the bag of food on the kitchen table and went about making my breakfast. Leo stood watch nearby and when Ripple came by for some affection, Leo warned her again to back off by pouncing on her with some prehistoric barks and snarls.

Is this what it’s like to have kids who fight constantly?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hair Limbo

As luck would have it, after I completed The Itchies Trilogy, Leo had a flare-up of hotspots and scratching. I thought that maybe a bath in his special soothing shampoo might offer him some relief, and decided that a haircut would make it easier for me to keep the fur out of the hotspots—and keep them clean. So I made an appointment at the groomers.

I instructed the gal to give him a brush cut, thinking that if the fur wasn’t shaved down to the skin that it would be less irritating, and that Leo wouldn’t feel so defiled afterwards. I was wrong (at least about the Leo feeling defiled part).

When I picked him up from the groomers, he gave me nary a glance as he hustled out the door. Where was the usual tail wagging, head bobbing, “Am I glad to see you!” greeting? Once outside, he took a long, self-satisfied pee on the side of the building and then hopped in the back seat for the ride home.

I offered him a bowl of water; he wasn’t interested. I petted him and told him he looked very handsome (this was a lie; with the fur so close to his body, his large head is accentuated and his ears stick out, making him look like a fruit bat). He ignored me and looked out the window, his nose pressed between the window glass and the door casing, fervently sniffing, sniffing, sniffing.

We rode home like this; me occasionally shooting glances in the rearview mirror and cooing at him, him ignoring me, the wind of the moving car making his protruding nose run all over the glass (my husband wouldn’t be happy about this; I was driving his car and the window looked like a dozen first graders had sneezed on it, then taken up a finger painting project).

When we got home, he made a beeline for the house. It was like he was a teenager who had just gotten a bad haircut and didn’t want any of his buddies to see him (a teenager who would wear a baseball hat until his hair grew out again).

I can feel Leo’s pain. I’m in hair limbo myself. My hair is coming in gray—no, white, actually—and I’m tired of trying to hide it. My hair first started going white when I was in my mid-20s. Everyone in my mom’s side of the family grays early; I have two male cousins just one year older than me who have heads full of shocking gray/white hair.

So what to do? Continue coloring it? Or let it go? At the moment I have about an inch of white on top of my head, followed by an auburn color that fades into an orangey red at the ends. It’s truly awful. I wear a hat whenever I leave the house.

Should I give in and color those roots again? Or should I color it all a lighter shade (blonde?) to blend with the white? Or should I get a buzz cut like Leo and just let it go au natural?

While I languish in hair coloring purgatory, wondering what to do, Leo and I will suffer our bad hair days together.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Itchies, Part III

So where is all this talk of itchiness and skin allergies and cones leading to? It was meant to provide a bit of history on Leo’s chronic condition and bring you up to date on his current state of itchiness.

Last year, Leo was itchy well into November. I was beginning to worry that maybe his seasonal allergies were going to become a year-round state of affairs. I did tons of research online and kept coming across glowing recommendations for a product called Solid Gold Seameal (read the reviews on Petco if you don’t believe me).

I decided to give it a last-ditch try and started him on the Seameal in December. It took about a month before I saw a difference in his coat but there it was: the bald patches filled in and his coat was shiny and silky overall.

And how is Leo doing this summer, you ask? Drum roll, please: Here we are in August and Leo has only been to the vet once this summer.

This is a huge improvement over the past two summers, and I believe this miracle of skin and coat improvement is due to the Solid Gold Seameal. Forgive me while I perform a little product endorsement here (you can be damn sure I wouldn’t do this if it didn’t work, and no—I’m not getting kickbacks from the company that manufactures it) but I had tried other supplements and shampoos recommended by pet store owners and vets, to no avail.

The Seameal looks and smells like seaweed that has been dried and pulverized into a powder. At first, I had my doubts that Leo would even eat it. Sure, he eats the poop of other dogs and cats without discernment but when it comes to the stuff I put in his bowl, he can be a bit finicky.

Like when I started adding salmon oil tabs to his meals: at first I cut open the tab and squirted the salmon oil on his food. He gave it a sniff and refused to eat. Then I tried mixing the whole tab in with his raw meat; he would eat every last drop, save for the lonely salmon tab at the bottom of the bowl. Somewhere along the line, though, he decided the tabs weren’t so awful; now his bowl is always empty.

So I’ll keep giving him ½ teaspoon of the Seameal with each meal (though I’ve learned to buy it on Amazon; there are better deals on it there) and keep feeding him the expensive raw meat diet (I rotate between lamb, venison and turkey/chicken patties by Nature’s Variety, and keep taking him to the groomer for therapeutic baths. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that he remains cone-free for the rest of the summer.

And that concludes "The Itchies Trilogy" (I swear).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Itchies, Part II

Leo’s first summer in Portland was a disaster. After lots of scratching and licking resulted in a visit to the vet, I found out that he had numerous infections. The vet prescribed antibiotics for the infections and steroids for the itching, and so began Leo’s new health regimen.

I squirted cleaner in his ears (though admittedly, most of it just trickled down the side of his furry face, making a mess of his fur, because I was too squeamish to really get down inside his ears). I switched him to a pricey raw meat diet, hoping that real food with no fillers might do the trick. And I dutifully took him to the vet to have his anal sacs regularly expressed. Anal sacs express themselves? This was new to me (and technically, they don’t express themselves—they require someone else to express them).

Eventually the ear infection went away, and so did the staph and anal sac infections. But the overall itching and hot spots proved more stubborn. Several different vets gave me their opinions yet all remained stumped. I spent a fortune on Leo that summer, and still he had little relief from the itching and irritation.

Finally we were referred to a veterinary allergy and dermatology specialist. She remarked that Leo looked very dignified with his gray eyebrows, and took him into a separate exam room. A few moments later they returned.

Her diagnosis? He was most likely allergic to northwest pollens, just like the rest of the population that had moved here from another part of the country (namely, me). “Duh,” I thought. For another $1,000, she could do allergy testing to determine the exact cause of his allergies. I would then be required to give him injections that would, over the course of a year, desensitize him to the allergen(s). And cost lots more money.

I told her I had to think it over, and ushered Leo out the door and into the car where I promptly burst into tears. How could I possibly afford this allergy treatment stuff? And how could I possibly give him regular injections when I had a hard enough time cleaning his ears? Clearly I was a rotten dog owner. Words like “unfit,” “negligent” and “cheap” bounced around in my head as I drove home.

Eventually summer faded into fall and miraculously, Leo’s allergic reactions faded away, too. The itching stopped and his coat became bright and shiny once more—until the following summer, when he exploded with hot spots again. By now I had found a new vet, and this one not only gave him steroids for the itching but also put him in the cone.

Ah, the dreaded cone. Once again, people on the street would point and laugh. At home, we made the requisite jokes (“Son, you’ve got a lampshade on your head.”) Leo wasn’t happy about this new contraption; the cone made it difficult for him to perform everyday tasks. When he tried to hop up onto his couch, the cone would deflect off the couch, sending him back to the floor. Rounding corners took repeated efforts and even smelling flowers was a challenge.
Taking care of Leo in the cone was no treat, either. It was like taking care of a special needs person: after every meal, the inside of his cone was filled with raw meat splatter that I would carefully wipe clean.

Despite my lifelong love of summer and sunshine, I found myself pining for rainy days that would wash away the evil pollens. There had to be a better way!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Itchies, Part I

I adopted Leo in January 2006. That year, summer arrived early in Portland. It was hot in May—really hot. And with his thick shag of black fur, Leo wasn’t digging it. To make matters worse, I lived in a tiny apartment with only three windows and a ceiling fan to stir the dead air around. On a hot day, we were both miserable in our (oven) den.

So I thought I was doing Leo a favor when I had him shaved. What I didn’t realize was the emotional impact that shaving would have on him. He came home from the groomers looking—how shall I put it?—diminished. Underneath all that gloriously thick fur was the scrawny, wrinkly body of an old man—a scrawny, wrinkly body with a bushy tail and a furry bobble head attached. He looked ridiculous.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. People on the street would point and laugh when I took him for a walk. He looked ridiculous, and he knew it. Accuse me of anthropomorphizing him, but robbed as he was of his thick, showy fur, he was depressed. I could see it in his eyes and in his body language. In an attempt to cheer him up, I bought him a very macho studded collar. It did little to console him.

And then a cold spell descended on Portland and we were plunged back into rainy winter days. I worried that he would catch cold and scoured the city to find a raincoat. I bought two and returned two; they wouldn’t fit over his giant head. On the chilliest of nights, I swaddled him in an old flannel shirt.

“You look great in flannel!” I told him. “The grunge look really suits you.”
The look in his eyes said, “Bite me.”

As May rolled into June, his fur began to grow back and his spirits lifted. But by July, he was itching like mad. At first I thought it was just the fur growing in, irritating his skin. But the itching persisted. I wondered if he had contracted some strange skin condition from the filthy flood waters in New Orleans that was only now manifesting itself.

Then the licking and chewing began in earnest, mostly in his groin area. I worried that he had the canine equivalent of jock itch. It was disgusting to hear him licking and snorkeling (like a pug, a breed of dog I’m not fond of) until he was literally out of breath and had to come up for air, panting like mad.

My husband (then just a mere boyfriend) said I worried about Leo too much. He said Leo was just doing what dogs do—itch and lick and snorkel.

I ignored him and promptly took Leo to the vet and got a not-so-definitive diagnosis: Leo was allergic to….something. Something in his food? An environmental irritant? My friend Heather was allergic to grass of all things. Was Leo allergic to grass? Whatever it was, it had resulted in an ear infection, an anal sac infection, hot spots (areas where he had chewed away the fur to reveal a bald and bloody spot on his skin) and a staph infection. My poor Leo was a mess!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Little House in Willamette Valley

Rather than barbeques and fireworks, our July 4th weekend was spent tearing the roof off the house in preparation for a new one. Most people would hire someone to do this sort of thing for them. But to my husband, this is a perfectly reasonable task to take on yourself (with the help of some friends, of course).

You see, my husband grew up the son of a carpenter and was a carpenter for many years—it’s one of the things I love about him. In his late 20s, he went back to school and earned his Masters degree in education—another thing that I love about him. (A guy who can fix things and build stuff AND talk educational philosophy and children’s books? This was the man for me.)

My appreciation of the sensitive manly man—the man who can do guy stuff and still carry on an intelligent, insightful conversation—was inspired early in life. I credit the “Little House on the Prairie” books for planting the seed that blossomed into the notion that men should be well-versed in tasks requiring brute strength and stamina, yet still refined.

It was the book version of Pa—not the curly haired boy-man of the TV show, Michael Landon—who served as the benchmark by which all other men would be judged in my life. Pa Ingalls was a guy who could fell massive trees, build a log cabin, tame wild horses, hunt down dinner, and then come home to bounce you on his knee, beguile you with stories, and play a jig on the fiddle—all while a plague of locusts swept across the prairie, engulfing your house.

So when my husband came down from the roof after spending 12 hours in the blazing sun—sunburned and grimy with soot and sweat, yet still his usual easy-going, cheerful self, quick with a goofy laugh—I felt a strange mixture of concern (it’s hot and dangerous up there, and he was obviously exhausted), pride (show me a harder working man than my man!) and, oddly enough, arousal (sure he was filthy and stank like road kill, but it was nothing a shower couldn’t fix.)

Day One of roof removal transformed me into a pioneer woman. It was my responsibility to keep the men fed and watered. I served breakfast, lunch and dinner; made sure there was plenty of ice water with slices of lemon available; and even tried to lob a bottle of Gatorade up on the roof (unfortunately, I throw like a girl and the bottle went crashing through our back kitchen window, spraying broken glass everywhere, much to Leo’s disgust and my embarrassment).
Day Two I hit the yard as the clean up crew. I waded through knee-deep piles of shingles, loaded them onto a wheelbarrow and wheeled it over to the rented dumpster where my husband would pile drive it up into the dumpster (my flimsy girl arms, not much good at throwing, weren’t much good at dumping the wheelbarrow, either).

Day Three I divided my time between clean up, grocery shopping and more cooking. Days Four and Five, the guys were on their own—I had to go back to work.

But now we have a new roof. And my husband tore off the horrible vinyl siding on the exterior walls to reveal a lovely little 1920s house underneath. All that’s left is patching and painting and resurrecting the demolished flowerbeds and erecting the picket fence…and a million other things. But my husband will surely weather it all with his cheerful nature and goofy laugh.

I only hope a plague of locusts doesn’t sweep into town.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Love & Marriage

Why is June considered the classic wedding month? Though I got married in June, I’m hardly what comes to mind as a fresh-faced (read: young) “June Bride.” As a first-time bride at the age of 38, I was more of a Geriatric Bride. Maybe I should have gotten married in October (a month that suggests decay) or December (a month that suggests age, as in “May/December romance”).

Be that as it may, wedding season is upon us. If you needed further proof of that, just take a look at this story that recently ran on findingDulcinea: “More Dog Owners Performing ‘Holy Muttrimony’

Wow. Dogs are getting married but homosexual human couples cannot. I wonder if gay canine couples are allowed to get married? I’m sure the whole canine marriage movement was probably started by a dog clothing/accessories company trying to increase sales. So many things in our soulless, capitalist culture seem to be, at the core, all about the act of making money. (Even a gay friend, when talking about gay marriage, recognized the economic boost that would occur as a result of legalizing gay marriage. “Just think of all those gay couples registering at Crate+Barrel,” he said.)

Though the Wedding Industrial Complex may be unstoppable, I don’t see marriage in Leo’s future. Sure, I wanted him to be a part of our wedding ceremony as our ring bearer. I pictured him wearing a snappy bowtie with the rings nestled under a little hat on top of his head, like those that bellhops wear in old movies. But there was no way I would stress him out with a flight to the East Coast, so he stayed home with our roommate.

Then I tried to incorporate him into my vows: when I talked about the reasons I loved my husband-to-be, I said, “And I love you because you love my dog, Leo.” After the rehearsal, my future husband said, with arched eyebrow, “Do you really have to mention Leo in our wedding?” So I took that line out. Begrudgingly.

Alas, Leo was not part of our wedding. And I’m pretty sure he’s a confirmed bachelor. Until he was rescued and brought to Portland, he was “fully intact.” We like to joke that he has puppy offspring all over the South—that he was a ramblin’ man who spread his seed far and wide.

When “Dark Water Rising” (a documentary on the animal rescues of Hurricane Katrina) was released, I had to see it, if only to see if Leo made a cameo appearance. He didn’t, thankfully—given the awful conditions those poor animals were found in.

One animal rescuer in the film commented on the large number of pit bulls that were rescued, and the number of dogs showing evidence of dog fighting, and the alarming number of dogs that weren’t spayed or neutered. “I’ve never seen so many balls!” she declared.

Yep, Leo was one of those dogs. But now he has no balls, and no desire to fraternize with other dogs, and is stubborn and headstrong with little in the way of communication skills—not exactly the makings of a Good Husband.

Sorry, Leo. You’ll never know the joys of registering at Crate+Barrel.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Strangely, Pleasantly

I’m delighted to report that I’m married now. So many barely perceptible changes have taken place. My fiancé (a term I was never comfortable using) has now become my husband. My eyelash extensions have all fallen out, leaving my stubby blonde lashes in their wake. And I have a thick band of silver on my left hand that glows like moonlight and makes me feel so very Grown Up.

Leading up to the wedding, there was lots of stress and insomnia. Lots of cooking and shopping and driving to and fro. Lots of talking and laughing with family. Lots of meager showers with zero water pressure (my mom’s house has plumbing like from the late 1800s).

The day of the wedding was warm and sunny with fluffy white clouds dotting the sky. Then immediately before the ceremony, the sky became dark and menacing. Thunder rumbled and it began to pour with rain. I was on my second glass of wine and beyond being perturbed.

I rode to the ceremony with my brother and his wife and baby girl. We sat in the car waiting for the rain to let up. My best friend Terri, who was serving as our Maid of Honor/Best Man/Rock, came to the car and asked what I needed. “Bourbon,” I told her. She promptly returned with a tumbler full.

Eventually the rain stopped and the chairs were toweled off. I was strangely, pleasantly calm as my parents walked me down the stone path serving as our aisle. I felt relaxed and happy. And why not? My man was there and waiting (I wouldn’t be stood up at the altar; yay!) the rain had stopped (yay!) and midway through the ceremony, the sun broke through the clouds and we were flooded with golden evening light for a Dawning of the Universe affect (triple yay!).

I had asked my cousin and his wife to surprise us with a reading. I had read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein at their wedding about 15 years ago. His wife read an excerpt from “Les Miserables” and my cousin read “Hug O' War” by Shel Silverstein:
“I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.”

How awesome is that?

We exchanged the vows we had written for each other, and then we exchanged the rings. My man said, “I am honored to call you my wife,” and put the ring on my finger. I was suppose to return the favor and say “I am honored to call you my husband.”

But instead, out came “I am honored to call you my wife.” My mom yelled out “Freudian slip” and everyone else erupted in laughter, including me and my new husband.

My new husband. My husband. My husband. The word feels strangely, pleasantly good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Full Set

I’m getting married in five days. I’m distracted, scattered, excited, nervous. Caught up in a flurry of activity one minute, staring into space a thousand miles away the next.

I started packing on Friday. Went shopping and worked on my vows on Saturday. Did laundry and more packing and had my eyelashes tinted on Sunday.

Eyelashes what? When a hippie friend of mine told me that she regularly had her eyelashes tinted, I said I’d never heard of anything more frivolous or ridiculous.

Then an old roommate who had gone to cosmetology school insisted on tinting my eyelashes once. She had me lay down, close my eyes, and then she saturated my eyelashes with black dye. I lay there for 10 minutes, letting it soak in, then she wiped it off. Voila—done. Instead of invisible blonde eyelashes, I had sweeping black eyelashes. No more itchy, gloppy mascara. And I wasn’t blinded by the experience! I was hooked.

I used to have my eyelashes tinted regularly when I lived in San Francisco. Salons where littered around SF like Starbucks. They were everywhere, they were fast and they were cheap. An eyelash tint was about $15, and took about half an hour.

However, eyelash tinting isn’t part of the Portland scene, apparently. I had a very difficult time trying to find a salon that did it, and the one salon I did find charged $30. So I don’t get my eyelashes tinted on a regular basis anymore. I save it for special occasions.

My wedding is a special occasion. When I made an appointment at the salon down the street, the Chinese gal asked if I wanted a “full set.” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. Both eyes? Top and bottom lashes? Yes, and yes.

She had me lay down and close my eyes. And then she went to work, applying the dye. Another Chinese woman came in and they chatted and laughed back and forth in Chinese.

I thought of the Seinfeld episode when Elaine goes for a manicure and the Chinese ladies are insulting her as they work on her nails. “Princess wants her nails done, does she?”

What were these ladies saying about me? Surely they were insulting my inadequate eyelashes. “White girl with stubby lashes wants exotic black eyelashes, huh?”

A half hour passed. The ladies continued talking and laughing. Another half hour passed. The gal who was doing my eyelashes was hovering close to my face. “Cuse me,” she said when she burped.

An hour slid by. “What the hell is she doing?” I thought. This was taking far too long. And she seemed to be tugging and pulling on my eyelashes. I was getting really impatient. And irritated. When she worked on my left eye, she placed her hand under my nose, blocking my nostrils. Was she trying to kill me? Eyelash tinting had never been such an ordeal before. What the hell was going on? Another half hour passed. Then she announced that she was almost done, that it would be just another half hour. I was seething.

Finally, finally, she was finished. She told me to sit up. She handed me a mirror and instructed me to take a look. I had long, black, sweeping eyelashes. But they weren’t my own. I looked over to see a jar filled with little black eyelashes. Unattached to eyelids as they were, they looked like little eyelash corpses. Much to my surprise, she had given me eyelash extensions.

But that wasn’t the only surprise of the day. Next she charged me $137. I looked like Morticia, and it was gonna cost me $137 (plus tip) for the privilege.

Morticia, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?

I do.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ode to Leo’s Couch

Leo’s couch is, without a doubt, the 1973 Cadillac of couches.

A marvel of 1970s construction covered in green and gold fabric, the couch is large. Very large. It’s also beginning to cave in on itself, and it’s very lowest dipping point—where the left-end cushion and the middle cushion meet—is where Leo struggles to climb aboard and settle himself into sweet lounging oblivion.

It was the fiance’s furniture showpiece before I moved in and brought my couch along with me. But Leo claimed it as his own long before that.

When the fiancé and I were first dating, we spent weeknights at my little apartment and weekends at his house. I told Leo it was our country house and he made himself right at home. On the couch.

On Saturday nights, the fiancé and I would settle in to watch a movie and he would try to coax Leo off the couch. I, however, was happy to squeeze into whatever small space Leo left for us. It was surprising to me then how absolutely fulfilling I found this simple act: squeezing onto the couch with my man and my dog made me feel downright giddy.

Maybe it was because I had been single for so long, with the couch all to myself. It also brought to mind a photo of my mom’s family in the 1950s.

It was New Year’s Eve and my grandmother (who died when my mom was only two years old), my grandfather and six kids (my mom the baby on an older sister’s lap) are all crammed together on one couch (and a pulled-up chair). All tousled hair and party hats and noisemakers. I can almost feel the body warmth in that photo, smell the smells of kids and old slippers, feel the elbows and hips of the bodies seated next to each other, on top of each other. Isn’t this the intimacy of home and family life that we all desire?

Funny to think that our furniture plays a part in this intimacy. Silent, reliable, mere props on the stage of our daily productions. Barely noticed and taken for granted. Until years later, that is, when we see them in pictures and ridicule them for falling out of fashion. An orange velvet chair? A purple flowered couch? We point and laugh. “What was I thinking?” we ask.

Perhaps children understand the true essence of furniture best. A child’s world is such a small world—usually the confines of a house. So much time is spent on the floor, climbing on the furniture, jumping off the furniture, building blanket forts with the furniture. It’s children who come to be familiar with the undersides of tables and chairs and beds, the thrilling discoveries that lurk beneath couch cushions, the peculiarities of patterns in upholstery.

When my parents divorced, my father moved out and left behind his Lazy Boy recliner. It was green with armrests of wood and a wood lever on the lower right side that kicked up the footrest. I was six years old, my brother was three years old, and the recliner became Ours. It was big enough for both of us to snuggle in and watch “Little House on the Prairie” or “Happy Days.” It often served as the main pillar of a blanket fort. And the armrests were perfect as pretend motorcycles that we could race, side by side (though we often fought over who got the right side with the lever, because it made a perfect kick start).

The recliner is long gone from my mom’s house but it’s still clear in my mind’s eye. I can see where the green fabric was wearing thin, where the wood armrests were beginning to splinter, where cookie crumbs were likely to gather. I can still sense its bulk, still see the gouges we made in the wood floor every time we moved it, still remember how it smelled when I buried my face in it to do a headstand.

The fiancé says we need to get rid of Leo’s couch, that it’s stinking up the house. I tell him no way, that Leo will be buried on that couch. I picture Leo resting in peace on the couch, being lowered by a crane into his grave.

Or maybe a burial at sea would be nicer. I’ll launch Leo and his couch into the Pacific Ocean and watch as they float away into the sunset. Leo Mosquito Burrito riding the Cadillac of couches to the Other Side.

This might be a fitting way for them both to go.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leo Flies the Coop

Leo escaped from our backyard a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a preconceived escape plan, like that depicted in “Escape from Alcatraz” (a movie I loved when I saw it at the age of eleven, though my fiancé asserts that “Papillon” is far superior). No, Leo didn’t have a file buried in his fur, or a shank hidden under his collar. It was all rather sudden and reactive on his part, and downright startling on mine.

Our backyard is mostly fenced except for the entry leading to the deck. In order to keep Leo confined and out of trouble, I’ve been using one of our large planter boxes as a barricade there. It’s easily two feet high and I assured myself that there was no way he could jump over it. After all, hip dysplasia and arthritis in his spine have rendered his back legs pretty much useless. And, I reasoned, he has a hard enough time hoisting himself up on his couch.

So I often leave him out back unattended. He likes to stare down the neighbor’s cat as she basks in the sun on the other side of the fence, or nibble on my fiance’s favorite plants or just lounge on the welcome mat in the shade.

On this particular night, I had just gotten out of the shower and threw on my bathrobe and flip flops. My face was a neon red from some new facial astringent that apparently was burning off my epidermis. It was almost 9 p.m. but still light out, and I decided it was time to bring in Leo.

Leaning out the back door, I called for him to come in. He ignored me but he always ignores me (unless there’s the scent of food emanating from my hand). He was staring intently at something, every muscle flexed and on edge, ready to fire. I turned my head to see what he was seeing and caught a flash of movement. Then I turned back to Leo, just in time to see him leap over the planter in a single bound and tear across the side yard and the street in mad pursuit of….something.

I wouldn’t fare well in combat. In crisis situations, I tend to freak out a little bit. This was a crisis situation. First I screamed to the fiancé, who couldn’t hear me. Then I flung open the gate and began my own mad pursuit of Leo, who by now was tearing across the neighbor’s lawn.

Flip flops a flippin’ and bathrobe a flappin’, I ran across the street, not even thinking to look both ways, my eyes trained on Leo (a ball of black fur gathering speed and momentum), my stomach a rotten pit of fear and remorse. There was another street in his path, a busier street with fast-moving traffic. I was terrified I would hear the screech of tires, terrified I would hear his yelp of pain, sick in my guts at the imagined sight of him lying in the street.

But there he was. Running circles around a big old tree in the neighbor’s yard, his eyes fixed on something way up high in the branches. As he veered my way, I dug in my flip flops (how pitifully weak one feels in flip flops) and made a grab for the thick fur on his back, prepared to wrestle him to the ground.

Adrenaline must have fortified me because with a little work, we both came to stop, my hand buried deep in his fur. I thought he might snap at me, or try to pull free. But he only gave me the usual indignant whining I get when we’re walking and I drag him away from something he desperately wants.

My limbs were still trembling from fear as I took hold of his collar and led him home. He trotted along, occasionally shooting glances over his shoulder back to the tree.

We came inside and found the fiancé on the couch, where I’d left him. He’d missed all the excitement. Breathless and still trembling, I told him what had happened, how I’d screamed to him, how scared I was that Leo would be hit by a car, how I’d grabbed hold of his fur. It all sounded so melodramatic, so silly, so commonplace.

The next morning, I fortified the barricade. A three foot high piece of plywood on top of the planter box should do the trick. Leo will need a file or a shank to escape now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

Summer made an impetuous appearance here in Oregon last week. One day it was chilly and rainy and I was wearing my trademark skuzzy sweater. The next day it was in the 90s. I hung up my skuzzy sweater with a “See ya in the fall!” finality, threw on my favorite purple tank top and opened up all the windows. It was hard to stay focused on work, and the impulse to step out on our deck and bask in the sun tugged at my brain.

Good thing I was working on a story about the evils of tanning. “Teens Unaffected by ‘Healthy Tan’ Debate” reminded me of myself. Regardless of skin cancer warnings and admonitions that they’ll end up looking like leather handbags, teens continue to tan in record numbers. Why? For the same reason I did way back in the 1980s: because I thought it made me look better.

“Sun worshipper” does not begin to describe my romance with the almighty sun. Growing up in the snow belt of upstate New York, I pined for intense UV exposure all winter long. After being cooped up in a cold, drafty house for five months, nothing could warm me so thoroughly as the sun. It seemed to heat the frozen marrow in my bones. It energized me, and made me feel as though I could emerge from hibernation, triumphant once more.

The first temperate, relatively mild, sun-dappled days of early spring found me pulling my lawn chair from the barn. Snow banks lurked in the shadows along the sides of the house and under trees, but that didn’t stop me from finding the sunniest spot on the soggy lawn and baring my winter bleached skin. This was just a warm-up.

Memorial Day weekend was a good bet for laying down the base tan. Or base burn, I should say. I’m very fair and always burn before tanning. This I viewed as a mere annoyance, a small challenge to be overcome. With enough persistence and dedication, I could weather the burn.

And weather it I did. I suffered more sunburns than I can count. Sunburns that left me in bed for days, slathered with Noxema (for it’s cooling and moisturizing effect), blisters popping up on my shoulders and forehead (and once, even my eyelids), headaches, nausea and chills that made it impossible to do anything but lie there in misery.

Eventually the burn would fade and my skin would peel—first big sheets of it, dwindling to smaller and smaller bits and flakes. You’d think one ordeal like this would send a girl to the drug store for sunscreen with SPF 50 gagamillion.

Not me. Because once the pain was gone and the peeling had stopped, I was brown underneath. Just as a snake or a crab molts its old skin, I would shed the old winter version of myself to reveal a brand new and revitalized version—in my mind, a brown and attractive version.

I loved that a dark tan made my blue eyes appear bluer. That a tan made me look and feel thinner. That it cleared up my bad teenager skin. I even remember telling my mom, at the age of 14, that I loved how no one could tell that I was blushing when I had a tan (being an overly shy girl, one who was easily embarrassed and scandalized at the slightest provocation, this was a true saving grace).

During summer vacations in high school, I was a professional tanner. I never had summer jobs, so tanning was my job. Good thing I graduated and went to college and started working after that. Sure, I would still tan here and there, but time restrictions were a major stumbling block. It’s hard to get a “deep, dark, savage tan” when you work in an office all day.

Then I started noticing some freckles on my face that I hadn’t had as a child. After traveling in Latin America for six months, my best friend growing up (being her characteristically blunt self) was quick to point out that I had “even more” sun damage. And then I began to examine, with grave suspicion, every mole and imperfection on my body, looking for changes and irregularities in shape and texture.

So last weekend, during our heat wave, after writing the story about teens and tanning, we went to the beach. Instead of slapping on the Hawaiian Tropic, I dutifully applied sunscreen. Rather than prancing around in a bikini at high noon, I wore a long sleeve shirt and a hat, and made every effort to stay out of direct sunlight.

No more tanning for me. No more burning. No more molting. I'll stick with the pale skin I was born with. (Besides, it takes a lot to make me blush these days.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Go Hornets!

The NBA finals are taking place right now. Anyone who knows me is thinking, “What the hell is she talking about?” because I’ve never shown any interest in the NBA or basketball or sports, for that matter.

But when you live with two men who watch every NBA game that’s televised (and we have cable, so that’s a lot) and these two men also play fantasy basketball (and you’re engaged to the 2008 winner of his fantasy basketball league), you’re bound to be exposed to—I mean, inundated with—basketball.

I suppose it was one of those “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” type of things. How ever it happened, I found myself sitting down to watch the games. And I enjoyed it. The athleticism, the gravity-defying assents to the basket, the tattoos, the handsome young things slapping each others’ butts—that’s entertainment.

Then I found out that the New Orleans Hornets are in the finals, and my enthusiasm was kicked up a notch. I may not know sports but I do know that New Orleans isn’t exactly a leading sports franchise kind of town. The fact that New Orleans made it to the finals was a rare and beautiful thing, of this I was certain. Plus New Orleans is Leo’s hometown, and I had spent a summer in New Orleans so this kinship with the city also added to my interest. And after all that New Orleans has been through, I thought, “The city deserves to win. New Orleans needs this.”

So a couple Saturdays ago, I sat down to watch Game One between the New Orleans Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs. I had spent the day buzzing around town, dropping Leo at the groomer and doing some shopping. While flipping through one of the weekly artsy-fartsy newspapers at my favorite coffee shop, I stumbled on an article about a local chocolate maker. “Lulu’s Raw Chocolate Alchemy” promised something akin to an orgasm combined with divine ecstasy. Being that it was “that time of the month,” chocolate was on my list of must-haves. I made a mental note to get me some of that Lulu’s chocolate before I headed home.

When I finally settled into the couch for the Big Game, I was a very happy woman. Leo was clean and fluffy and smelling like a new carpet, the Hornets were looking good, and I had a jar of Lulu’s Lavender Blueberry chocolate to dip into.

As I sat on the couch, watching my team and eating my chocolate, a strange and wondrous thing happened: a wave of warmth and joy radiated through my body, starting somewhere in my belly and spreading down to my toes and up through the top of my head. Hot damn! Was it the chocolate or the fact that the Hornets were up by eight points within the first five minutes of the game?

Sure, the chocolate had promised pleasure not unlike that of Ecstasy but I didn’t really believe it. It had to be my complete and utter shock at seeing the Hornets spank the Spurs (the Spurs are a team we love to hate in this household, because they are so good, and because they play mean, dirty B-ball).

Whatever it was, I found myself transformed into a rabid fan. I was yelling at the TV, telling Manu Ginobli (of the Spurs) to get out of the way and stop being such a little bitch. I was slapping Chris Paul (of the Hornets) on the back, telling him great job on that kamikaze drive to the basket. I concentrated my efforts at the free throw line, saying quietly, “Sink it, Melvin (Hornets), sink it.” And when Tony Parker (Spurs) threatened to drive it to the basket, I said “Oh go home to Eva (Longoria, of “Desperate Housewives”) where you belong!”

Suddenly I was emotionally invested in a sporting event and it was both invigorating and comical. I “woo-hooed!” when New Orleans won the game, and “woo-hooed!” again when they went on to win Game Two. I was devastated when they lost Game Three and thought I might cry when they lost Game Four.

But last night, the Hornets won Game Five. “Step aside, Anthony Bourdain (of “No Reservations”),” I announced. “The Hornets are my new TV crush.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

A headline on our very own findingDulcinea proclaims what I’ve secretly known all along: “Dog Owners Love Pets More than Family.”

The article cites a study performed at Wright State University in Ohio. The study asked more than 100 college students to rate their attachment to family members (including the family dog). Some students reported feeling closer to their dogs than to their fathers.

Maybe the study is a reflection of the sad state of fatherhood as we know it, though I find that interpretation insulting to dogs (sorry, fathers). More likely, it’s just another one of those studies that proves what We the People already knew: some of us would rather spend the day with our dog than with anyone else.

My fiancé has long suspected that I love Leo more than him. Is it the fact that I’ll get up early to walk Leo but I won’t get up early to make coffee for my fiancé before he leaves for work? Or that I spend more money on Leo than I do on my fiancé? Or that I rub and pet and coo at Leo more than I do my fiancé?

It’s precisely these things that make my fiance’s eyebrow arch in consternation. But do I believe for a single moment that Leo loves me back with the same fervor? As the article on findingDulcinea suggests, and as I know from my own experience, the answer is no.

Sure, I like to think that Leo feels a certain fondness for me, or that he misses me when I leave the house (unlike the dog in this video that my friend Heather sent me, who seems to be having a grand old time while his owner is presumably away).

In Leo’s defense, he does get excited when my fiancé and I return home after a night out on the town (it’s me he does his wiggle butt/tail wag/bobble head “welcome home” routine on first). And when I stumble out of bed in the morning, I find him lounging on his couch doing his paw tap/tail wag/bobble head “good morning” routine (reserved expressly for me). And he seems to prefer to take his walks with me rather than my fiancé (my walks are longer and more varied, and allow Leo the freedom to determine the destination; in other words, I let him drag me wherever he wants to go).

But when it comes down to it, the notion that Leo is loyal to me or loves me (or anyone else, for that matter) is just plain false. What Leo “loves” is food and a comfortable place to sleep (preferably on a real piece of furniture—not anything resembling a “dog bed,” thank you very much). If Leo is capable of any sort of recognition of his surroundings and his caretaker, it’s probably more along the lines of: “I got it pretty good here. Two squares a day, plenty of drinking water, my own couch, two daily strolls around town to hunt squirrels and cats and snack on cat poop, belly rubs from an over-eager redhead, and a day at the spa every eight weeks. Not too shabby.”

Clearly, I am Leo’s bitch. He is a social parasite, a charming con artist. Our relationship is a silly charade. “You only want me for my resources!” I tell him between face nuzzles. But then he gives me a stinky kiss, or lightly paws my arm for attention, or does the wiggle butt/tail wag/head bobble routine when I walk in the door, and I’m more than happy to take part in the charade once more.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We All Scream for Ice Cream

A few minutes after I took the photo for last week’s post, I discovered a pile of barf on my (semi) new Persian rug. It was Leo’s just-eaten breakfast.

He’s naturally a fast eater--you’d think the bowl of venison/chicken/lamb-patty-mixed-with-dry-food-and-three-supplements was fresh kill that he had to quickly ingest before other predators came along. Or that I starve him (I don’t; he’s at least five pounds overweight, maybe more.)

But that particular morning, I was trying to get a decent photo of him in his little red raincoat while he ate breakfast. He was inhaling his food as usual, but also shooting me suspicious glances. He doesn’t like the camera and having it pointed at him when he was eating must have stressed him out.

So when my gaze swept round the living room and landed on the pile of barf, I felt awful about it. What made it even more awful was that my Tuesday morning phone meeting had just started. Cell phone pressed to my ear, I knelt down to inspect it. (Again, it’s that mothering instinct to examine everything that goes in and comes out of our charges.)

When Leo saw that I found the barf, he decided he needed to have a look at it, too. He trotted over, sniffed at it and then proceeded to lick it. With the phone sandwiched between my ear and my shoulder, I tried to wrestle him away from the barf. But tug and pull as I might, he had decided this was something very delicious. Giving up in disgust, I turned my back to him for the rest of the phone meeting.

He does things that gross me out on a daily basis. There’s the nasty habit of eating poop. Not his own, mind you, but that of other dogs. And cats. Cat poop is his favorite; it’s higher in protein (or so I’ve read online). Our neighbor Bob has two cats that poop all over his lawn, much to his dismay. My fiancé jokingly offered up Leo’s services.

Then there are the things he does to embarrass me. There’s the ill-timed poop: when he decides to lay one down on someone’s lawn just as they come out of the house (I make a grand show of placing the poop bag over my hand and scooping it up). Or the flower garden romp: when he tramples into a flowerbed to sniff around like a blood hound hot on the coon trail, leaving me to drag him out just in time for the owner to pull up and shoot me dirty looks. Or the all-out mayhem induced by cats: he’ll break into a sprint to chase them (not caring that I’m dragging behind on the other end of the leash) or if the cat is bold and stands its ground, he’ll plant himself and bark his deepest, most menacing bark (which just ends up sounding like a bunch of empty threats).

But the most memorable embarrassing moment with Leo had to be last summer. We were out for our evening walk, trudging up a rather steep hill. Somewhere an ice cream truck was parked with its annoying ice cream truck song blaring away. Something about the ice cream truck song (it’s deliriousness? it’s forced gaiety?) always makes Leo howl, and this was no exception. Every few steps up the hill, Leo stopped and howled. I welcomed the rest, for it was a very hot day and a very steep hill.

When we reached the top, though, there was the ice cream truck. And there was a line of parents and kids waiting to buy ice cream. And there Leo decided to plant himself, and howl. He would not budge and he would not stop howling. I tugged at his leash. I pulled at his collar. I tried sweet-talking him with promises of treats. I tried enticing him with encouraging whistles. The ice cream truck continued it’s maniacal tune, Leo continued howling, and the ice cream eaters pointed at us and laughed.

I had to laugh, too. And when I buried my face in his fur (to laugh and to hide) Leo decided it was time to go home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April Showers Bring May Impatience

The forecast for the next nine days in the Portland, Oregon area is rain. Sure, they vary what they call it: “Showers,” “Rain,” “Few Showers,” even “Cloudy” (meaning that water probably won’t be falling from the sky, but it’ll still be dark and overcast). It all adds up to the same thing, though: an absence of sun.

And an absence of sun bums me out. Call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), call it the wintertime blues, call it whatever you like—living in perpetual darkness just plain sucks.

Leo doesn’t seem to mind, though. If it’s raining steadily, he wears his raincoat. It has a collar that stands up on the back of his neck and pockets that say “Outward Hound.” When I first put it on him, I thought he looked like a vampire in a red cape. But then I realized it was something else, an image tucked way, way back in my memory banks: he looks like the Big Bad Wolf after he gobbled up Little Red Riding Hood, donned her cape, and went masquerading around the forest as a cross-dresser.

So while Leo and I trudge around in the rain, I pine for summer. I pine for long, hot, sundrenched days that seem to stretch on and on. I think fondly of the sundresses and skirts I’ll wear (forgetting, momentarily, that I’ll have to shave my legs). I mentally transport myself out of the here and now of rainy April to the here and decidedly not now of cheerfully sunny June.

See, I’ve never been good at being “present” and “staying in the moment.” In fact, I came to the conclusion during a therapy session in college that the present tense, like perpetual darkness, just plain sucks. You’re stuck in the present, forced to live it as it is unfolding. It is what it is and there’s no changing it.

In contrast, the past is so malleable, so dependent on fickle memory, so open to interpretation. The past begs to be messed with. In the retelling of our pasts (whether to ourselves or to others), we exercise supreme power. We choose to highlight this event or completely omit that one. We express how we felt at the time without acknowledging that the memory may have been colored by how we feel today, stuck in this present, retelling the event. And then there’s the “truth” of the memory: do we really even remember the event at all? Or is it a memory we’ve fabricated within ourselves, bolstered by family photos and the stories of other family members?

But let’s leave the past tense alone and move on to the bright, shining future tense. In the future, the possibilities are endless. My dreams and fantasies take place in the future tense, a realm where all kinds of wonderful marvels and ridiculous escapades very well could happen. (Like my fantasy of one day getting married and living in a house and having a garden; it’s happening! Or the dream I had where I was a rock star and Lyle Lovett came on stage when I was playing in front of millions of people and asked me to give him a haircut; it’ll never happen but I never wanted to be a rock star or cut Lyle Lovett’s hair, so who cares!)

The future is slippery and shiny, like an exotic fish—difficult to glimpse, impossible to grab a hold of. And, at least in my mind, it’s always sunny.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pamper My Pooch, Jezebel

My dear friend Elissa has made a contribution to this blog once again. She sent me a link to Jezebel, one of her favorite sites, with details on a chance to win a grooming session courtesy of Animal Planet. Seems Animal Planet has a new reality show, “Groomer Has It,” and the contest is an excuse to celebrate. Not wasting any time, I prepared Leo’s submission:

“Dear Jezebel:
Meet Leo Mosquito Burrito. Leo deserves a grooming session for so many reasons:

Number 1:
He's a grouchy old man and like all old men, he stinks.

Number 2:
He's a Chow mix with the thick, tangled fur of a black bear. I've tried to bathe him myself. It was a cold, wet, soapy disaster. Giving Leo a bath is a job best left to a professional.

And number 3:
Leo was rescued by the Oregon Humane Society in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. He was flown to Portland where he lived in the Humane Society shelter for 3 months before I fell madly in love with him and adopted him.

When I brought him home just over two years ago, he had heart worm, intestinal worms, arthritis and hip dysplasia. X-rays showed that he had suffered a broken rib earlier in life. A recent dental cleaning revealed that most of his teeth were worn to the gum line and three were cracked and had to be pulled (in the words of the veterinarian who cleaned his teeth, "It looks like he's been chewing on a chain for years.")

Leo is a tough old dog who has had a tough life. I've made it my goal to give him the most comfortable retirement possible. He's on a pricey raw meat diet, gets two long walks every day, and has his own couch, fuzzy blanket and pillow for lounging purposes (see photo). He also has a blog devoted to him.

Please consider Leo for the complimentary grooming session. He deserves to get his hair did, dammit!”

Yes, I shamelessly played the Hurricane Katrina card. How could I not? As if he couldn’t win based on the merits of his body odor, level of bathing difficulty and distinguished good looks alone.

As if! But a few days later Elissa sent me another link with the subject line, “It shoulda been Leo.” Leo wasn’t chosen. And I was mad as hell. I felt like a jilted stage mom. What do those dogs have that Leo doesn't?! How could Jezebel not recognize Leo's star power?

We aren't poor losers, though, so Leo and I would like to announce our official endorsement of Oslo. Oslo is currently in the lead and as a large, extra furry, extra stinky kind of dog, we feel this is a gal we can relate to. Please cast your vote for Oslo!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Old Dog, New Whisker

“Leo has a new whisker,” I announced to the Fiance when he came home from work one evening. (Sadly, this passes for conversation-worthy news when you work at home with only a dog for distraction).

The whisker seemed to sprout over night—a rebellious white whisker with a jaunty curve to it, ala Salvador Dali’s mustache.

You may think me overly observant in regard to Leo, a smidgen too attentive, perhaps slightly obsessive. Yet my observations don’t stop here.

I can also tell you the color and consistency of the bowel movement he had this morning. I can tell you what his bowel movement was like last night, too. This isn’t a result of grotesque curiosity or a scatological fetish. No, no.

Poop is one of the first indications of illness. You’ve got to keep tabs on these things. Mothers of infants know this; this is why they peer into diapers and take stock of the contents. Too hard? Too soft? A strange color? Any warning signs and signals lurking within?

So when the Fiance walks Leo, the first question I ask when they return is, “Did he poop?” The point of a walk is twofold: 1) to provide an opportunity to excrete waste (particularly solid waste) and 2) to provide exercise and fresh air. If Leo had a nice walk but didn’t poop, then the walk is considered only partly successful (and I fret and wonder why there was no pooping). The Fiance jokes that one of these days, I’ll demand genetic testing to confirm that the poop in the bag in the garbage can outside is indeed Leo’s—and not just some random dog’s he picked up to appease me.

Beyond the daily monitoring of what goes in and what comes out, I take note of his nose (wet? dry? warm? cold?), his eyes (always running due to entropion, but excessively so?) and his gait (stiffer than usual? any signs of limping?)

But the whisker—I didn’t see it coming. It blindsided me. It’s a sign of time passing, of Leo aging. He’s at least nine years old, probably older, and despite all that I do to keep him healthy and slow the aging process, he’ll only continue to get older. (Though maybe some of the anti-aging strategies outlined in "Lifestyle of the Century: Will You Live to 100?" will work for Leo.)

I’m feeling older, too. And the signs of time passing have snuck up on me, too. It seems I can go for months and months and see no perceptible difference in myself. And then BLAM! I look in the mirror one day and am startled to see that I’ve aged five years.

This aging process is a sneaky one; the years and the wear and tear seem to accumulate in some invisible part of me, only to surface all at once, seemingly over night. I note the dark(er) circles under my eyes, the (even more) lines around my mouth. I try to conjure up the face that used to look back at me at age 30, at 21, at 14. Have I really been all those faces? Am I a sum of those women now?

I wonder if Leo looks back fondly on his puppy days, or if there’s a recognition in his body, somewhere, that things don’t work as good as they used to. Probably not. That sort of longing and nostalgia is reserved for us humans, isn’t it?

So I’m going to give props to my old dog and try to learn something from him. And I'm going to try and make it sound clever and make it serve as an ending for this too-long post. Here goes: Acknowledge the whisker (or the wrinkle or the dark circle) and keep on truckin’.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Deep Tissue Massage Impostor

My friend Elissa sent this silly video to me with the message: “Nigel and Leo!” Nigel is her cat.

The video cracks me up to no end. And it got me thinking that maybe Leo could use a massage (though not by a cat; he’d sooner engage in extreme fighting with a cat than allow it to “massage” him anywhere). He has arthritis and hip dysplasia and judging by the looks of his x-rays, he’s probably in pain most of the time: the “c” joints in his hips have been worn to resemble more of an “l” joint. There’s nothing really left to support his back legs, which explains his stilted gait and overall clumsiness (stairs are a challenge).

The night I adopted him at the Humane Society, one of the volunteers who worked closely with Leo told me how they had brought in massage therapists to give the dogs massages. Leo had a reputation for being aloof and wary with strangers, she explained, but once the massage was underway, he stretched himself out and reveled in the contact.

When I was eight years old, I decided I wanted to be a masseuse. Something I saw on TV must have planted the seed—it was probably a soap opera. I used to pretend that I worked in a very fancy spa. First I would carefully fold one of our bath towels (it had to be a white one) over my left arm. Meanwhile, I would make my 5-year-old brother take off his shirt and lay face down on my mom’s ironing board. Standing on tippy toes, I would liberally pour baby oil all over his back. Then I would spread the oil around, give him a few rapid chops like I’d seen on TV and call it a day. (I was never quite sure what the towel was for but it came in handy for mopping up the baby oil.)

When I had one of many identity crises a few years back, the masseuse idea resurfaced. Why not leave my comfortable marketing job in San Francisco and become a massage therapist? I took classes in basic Swedish massage at night and quickly determined that a) I’m not comfortable touching people I don’t know b) I like getting massages a whole lot better than I do giving them and c) I just plain suck at giving massages.

My hands are always cold; that was the first hurdle. And I would get so nervous before giving a massage that my hands would tremble uncontrollably. Cold, shaky hands are not a recipe for a great massage.

But Leo doesn’t seem to mind my cold hands. And touching him doesn’t make me nervous. In fact, petting him is quite relaxing and enjoyable. Maybe it’s time to study up on canine anatomy and really work his muscles instead of just luxuriating in his thick fur. This time, though, I’ll skip the baby oil and the ironing board.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flossin’ the Clean Chompers

For as long as I’ve had him, Leo has had foul breath, the kind that makes you recoil in horror when he gives you a kiss. I knew I should get his teeth cleaned but I balked when I heard the price: $360 minimum, plus extra if extractions were required.

Sheesh. Don’t people have anything better to spend their money on? (Shoes, for example?) That was my thinking. But after a conversation with his vet where she warned of the potential health problems that could occur as a result of plaque and tartar build up, much like in people, I decided it was time to drop the cash and invest in this old dog’s mouth.

Cleaning a dog’s teeth is no simple task. Like surgery, it requires general anesthesia and monitoring of vital signs. I dropped him at the vet’s office early in the morning, after a quick walk and no breakfast (the first assault to his system that day). In the afternoon, the vet called to tell me that the procedure had gone well but that Leo’s teeth were badly worn. “It looks like he’s been chewing on a chain for years,” she said.

Well, he probably had been chewing on a chain for years—in New Orleans, I explained. She went on to tell me that three of his teeth were cracked and beginning to get infected around the gum line, and so had to be extracted (bringing the cost up to $460). Yikes! I’d had a bunch of dental work performed recently myself, so the sensation of having teeth pulled was still fresh in my mind (double yikes). Poor Leo.

When I went to pick him up, his eyes were glazed and he was bouncing off the walls. Apparently, he’d been given something to bring him out of the anesthesia. He was agitated and restless in the car on the ride home. I decided to skip his evening walk and brought him inside.

Leo is always hungry, and always underfoot when we’re trying to make dinner. He’ll position himself wherever you happen to be chopping the onions, peeling the garlic or grating the cheese, waiting for any small tidbit to drop from the sky and become fair game.

With no breakfast and three teeth missing, he was hungry as ever. But the vet had warned that anesthesia can cause nausea so I was advised not to feed him that night.

Dinner was not in the cards for old Leo—the final assault of the day. As we went about our dinner prep and ate our dinner and cleared our plates, Leo wandered slowly behind us, head hanging low, stopping now and again to stare at the floor.

Poor guy. He looked like Eeyore. A sad, broken Eeyore with gleaming white teeth and minty fresh breath.

Alas, Leo will never appreciate the importance of good dental health (and if you have any doubts, you should take a look at the findingDulcinea Dental Health Web Guide), but I will certainly appreciate a healthier dog and better-smelling doggie kisses—a far better investment than new shoes, eh?