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 fiancĂ© 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’.