Don’t Go: In Praise of the Occasional Wallow

Madeleine is a clever girl, and also a stubborn one. The other day when I was trying to leave to go to the gym, bag in hand, she parked her little butt firmly in the backyard, refusing to come in–even when I called her with a visible piece of food in hand, even when I opened the refrigerator door, a sound that usually gets a really rapid response. I finally had to pick her up and bring her indoors.

As I recently wrote, I am very glad I adopted Madeleine. Allowing happiness into your life is a good thing, as is looking on the bright side, if you can to do it without nauseating all the people you know. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid painful emotions. Sometimes it’s cathartic to have a good wallow.

I’ve been filled with dread all week, channeling last year’s countdown to saying good-bye to Frankie, a year ago today. I chose Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, because I like the Mexican tradition of incorporating death as a natural part of life. And the artwork.

Day of the Dead Skeleton Dog by Lisa Luree

Day of the Dead Skeleton Dog by Lisa Luree

But euthanizing a beloved pet is not a natural part of life, even when you know in your head that you’re doing the right thing.  It haunts you, and it compounds the pain of missing that pet’s company. I finally allowed myself to go with it, to indulge in a running nose, ugly cry-fest, which is a lot better than the free-floating anxiety I’ve been experiencing as November 1 drew close. Madeleine may have sensed my sadness, even before she heard the honking nose blows, and decided it wasn’t a good idea for me to venture out into an amusement-free zone.

I appreciate the sentiment. But today I’m allowing myself to fully grieve my late, great friend Frankie, who will always have a special place in my heart. You never forget your first love, whether four legged or two.

Posted in Pet loss | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Catching Happiness

This past week, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. I wanted to buy myself something nice for my birthday but decided I was too broke even to get the new tennis shoes I need.

I was wallowing.

I do that. I’m a wallower. I try not to wallow in public too much, so as not to get a reputation for walking around with a cloud over my head, but mild misery is my default mode. My comfort zone.

Joe Btfsplk

Joe Btfsplk. If you’re as old as I am, you’ll remember him.

Then I thought about last year’s birthday. Talk about misery. I had made a commitment to say farewell to Frankie in a week, on November 1, the Day of the Dead. I’m not going to link to any of my posts from that time, or even look at them myself; it’s too upsetting. But remembering last year, when I really had a reason to wallow, I realized I had gotten myself a pretty great early birthday present in July: Madeleine. She’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Catching the Happiness Bug

Adopting another dog wasn’t an easy decision. I felt like I was betraying Frankie, who I was/am still mourning. And I was free of responsibility for the first time in years. I wanted to travel.

But a funny thing happened last spring. I got infected by a friend’s happiness.

Leo, who blogs at Kenzo the Hovawart, also had a terrible horrible year, having to say good-bye to his beloved Viva. He wrote a lot of sad posts, which made me sad too, thus keeping me in my comfort zone.

Then he adopted another dog, Tilde. He kept posting pictures of her playing with his first dog, Kenzo, and writing these really funny blog posts. Clearly he was–dare I say it?–happy, even though I knew he was still thinking of Viva.

I felt envious.

The urge to travel was still there–and so was a fear of the unknown. What if I didn’t like a new dog as much as I liked Frankie? I’d be stuck at home AND in a bad canine relationship.

And if I liked the new dog, that would be even worse. Dogs die and rip your heart out.

Still, the possibility of happiness, even if it couldn’t last forever… it had a certain appeal. And so I took the plunge.

Madeleine the Monkey

As has been confirmed more and more since my last post, Madeleine isn’t much like Frankie, except for being small and white and cute and stubborn (it comes with terrier territory) and bending gender stereotypes–Madeleine pees like a boy, Frankie peed like a girl. Madeleine is bold, food driven; Frankie was shy and, though he liked his chow, was too stressed to eat at all outside. He didn’t spend his waking hours trying to manipulate me into feeding him or trying to find food in every nook and cranny.

Madeleine is a gremlin, a troublemaker, too smart for her own good. I spend a lot of time during my walks with her feeling frustrated, wanting to yell. True confession: I poked her in the side one morning because she was barking–not out of fear but because she thought it would elicit treats from me. I was annoyed with myself: In heading off her (once legitimate) anxiety over seeing other dogs pass in the street, I had inadvertently trained her to associate barking with treats. She wasn’t going to let the fact that she’d overcome her anxiety stop her. My poke didn’t bother her but made me feel like an awful person.

But I spend far more time laughing than I do frustrated when I’m with Madeleine, at her and at myself. I love her spirit, her energy, and, in the end, even her ability to outwit me.

And she walks really, really fast, guaranteeing that I produce endorphins.

She’s also very sweet. I suspect that if I was lying injured in the street, she would go for help, or at least guard me. I adored Frankie with all my heart, but I was never sure about his interest in taking on any kind of caretaker role reversal.

Arrr, arrr, arrrf!

A bit patchyI’m not suggesting that Madeleine is a cure all for my foul moods–as evidenced by my bout of wallowing over being broke. Nor am I recommending that everyone who is mourning the loss of a pet rush out to get another one. We all have to go at our own pace.

Above all, someone in the throes of a serious depression might find the responsibility of caring for a dog to be burdensome. Another blogger friend, Pamela, wrote very movingly about that on Something Wagging This Way Comes: Dogs Don’t Cure Depression.

I’m just saying that opting for the possibility of happiness by getting a dog turned out to be the right decision for me.

My friend Cynthia put my wallowing into perspective. En route to dinner with her last week, I complained about being broke. On the way home, I mentioned that I’d spent a half an hour on the internet looking for a pirate costume for Madeleine. She laughed at me and said, “I thought you couldn’t afford tennis shoes.”

It’s always dangerous to have friends who have your number.

Not to mention dogs.

Posted in pet adoption | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Meet Madeleine

So last week this happened: I adopted a dog. She’s about four years old and weighs 12.2 pounds. She came with the name Madeleine and I like the gravitas of that, though she is very small and very lively so I don’t think anyone will blame me if I start calling her Maddie.

MadeleineI didn’t exactly intend to adopt her. I mean, I’d been inching my way towards thinking about adoption. I’d started ogling adoption sites. I visited the local shelter and, the same day, attended a few adoption events. But I didn’t find “my” dog, the dog that spoke to my heart, and found the whole process depressing. I was about to petsit a friend’s dog and figured I’d put the search on hold.

Then another friend posted a picture from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSAZ) on Facebook and tagged me.

Oh my. Those eyes.

The post said there was an adoption event across town where I could meet this cutie. I went. There she was, by herself in a pen. I took her in a room with me. She shed. She was very pink. Was she sunburned, I wondered, did she have allergies?

I learned she was picked as a stray in the next county over, which only has a high kill shelter. It was clear that, at one point she had had puppies; her figure isn’t entirely girlish.

Was she traumatized?

If she was, there were no visible signs of it. She was friendly and perky.

I asked the universe whether she was “my” dog–you know, if she licks me in the next minute, then she is, if she follows me when I get up then she is–and the universe said yes, but I was still uncertain. The volunteer from HSSAZ gave me the adoption form and said she’d be at the PetSmart until 3.

I sat in the car and filled out the form. Then I drove away. I called the friend whose dog I was going to petsit the following day to see what she thought; I didn’t want to jeopardize the arrangement. She wasn’t home. At five minutes to 3 I phoned the volunteer, who said she was about to bring Madeleine back to the humane society and that if I was interested I should drive over there.

I stood in front of Frankie’s shrine, shed a few tears, and asked if it was okay if I got a new friend. I got no answer from him or the universe.

I waited a while. I drove over to HSSAZ. After I heard the volunteer tell the second person who phoned about Madeleine that there was someone sitting and thinking about it, I took the plunge.

Frankie shrine, the big picture

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

My friend whose dog I was going to pet sit phoned me back soon after I brought Madeleine home. I kept repeating, “I got a dog.” She said, “You sound slightly hysterical.”

I was.

I had a dark night of the soul, tossing and turning. What had I done? What happened to my travel plans–my life as a free woman?

This time, as opposed to the first time I got a dog, I know what I don’t know. The food. The insurance. The training. The car seats. The vet. There is so much that I need to do, so much money I need to spend.

Madeleine, however, had no such reservations about me and my home.

Madeleine’s MO

A week in, I know that Madeleine is not like Frankie, except for the little white fuzzy part. She is bold and confident, claiming me by the second night when Mimzy, the dog I was petsitting, arrived.

You can see, below, which bed was intended for whom. I celebrate Madeleine’s aesthetic sense, if not her ability to share. The ebony and ivory effect is much better with the contrast.

M and M, Ebony and Ivory

Madeleine is also part mountain goat. When things were suspiciously quiet and I went outside my office to look, I found her standing on top of the kitchen table. I now know I have to push the chairs in every time. I also know that I need to use a rubber band to secure the door handle of the cabinet where I keep my trash.

Even in repose, Madeline likes to find odd perches–the armrest, say, as opposed to the couch.

Resting on the armrest

She managed to escape the harness that I used to secure her in the car, twice, even after the (new) vet I took her to made sure it was on properly.

She does not seem afraid of the car, however. Nor of lightening. She barks at it, rather than shaking.

Not a replacement

A friend whose heels Madeleine tried to nip–three times!–said that Madeleine would never be the companion to me Frankie was, which was very mean. It was also true, in its fashion. She will be a different companion to me. I have yet to find out exactly what kind, but there is no question anymore that she is “my” dog, whether the universe or Frankie intended her for me or not. When I took her in the car to go to the vet and she seemed worried, I promised her I was taking her home again, that I would always take her home again.

In the meantime, while trying to establish such good habits as no begging at the table–Madeleine has the most pitiful little whimper and a way of putting her paws up on your legs and looking into your eyes–I am also trying to relax.

And here I can take a page out of Madeleine’s book.

Stretch marks who cares

 

Posted in pet adoption | Tagged , , , , | 42 Comments

Dispatches from a Professional Dog Person

hats 2Can we talk? I’m having a bit of an identity crisis.

A Woman of Many Hats (including a sombrero)

Depending on whom you ask and when, I am a…

  • Literata (= female member of the literati; woman with Ph.D. in poetry)
  • Travel editor
  • Guidebook author
  • Travel writer
  • Food and spirits writer
  • Pet writer and blogger
  • Freelance editor
  • Blogger about Freud, genealogy, and meat.

Looking back, I see I’ve followed my interests more than my common sense in a society that demands specialization.  Still, after many, many years of waffling, I finally feel comfortable defining myself as a writer.

Sometimes realizing that I ended up doing what I always wanted to do when I was a kid even makes me happy.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I’m glad I never managed to fit myself into a box, though it wasn’t for want of trying. I’ve gotten an amazing education, without paying any extra tuition. The drawback? People you’ve met in one phase of your life, especially those whose passions coincide with yours at the point of intersection, are convinced that they know the “real” you.  A friend I’ve kept up with since graduate school told me the other day that she always reads my blog. “Which one?” I wanted to ask — but I knew the answer. For her, there is only Freud’s Butcher, my so-called intellectual outlet.

ButcherBadgex200pxOthers seem to believe in metamorphosis, to assume people change on a cellular level when they pursue a different interest.  I had the odd experience recently of seeing myself discussed, obituary style, on a Facebook literary page, where I learned that I’ve “become a professional dog person.” I understand that it’s shorthand, but it’s also shortsightedness, suggesting there’s nothing I might say about pets or animal welfare that could synch with an interest in poetry, that I use as fewer brain cells here than I do when writing about Freud or genealogy.

There’s not much we can do about other people’s perceptions of us. We can only try to be the people we aspire to be — or, putting on my professional dog person’s hat, the people that our dogs think we are.

The Book That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Which brings me, finally, to my point.

I’ve been in a black mood lately. It’s what happens when you lose a muse, a best friend, an identity. For nine years, whether I wrote about him or not, a large part of how I defined myself was as Frankie’s person.

I wrote about the loss. I had a fundraiser in Frankie’s memory. And, for a while, I thought I might write another dog book; I have a good one in mind, if I say so myself. But I realized that I’m not ready to tackle it yet. I need a bit of distance.

That’s true too of the family history book I was planning. I’ve enjoyed exploring the past, locating relatives from around the world. But all roads in that story seem to lead to the Holocaust, whether succumbing to it or surviving it. I need to step back from that sadness too.

It suddenly struck me: Before Frankie and Freud, there was Misguided, the working title of a memoir of my life as a travel writer (in some incarnations, the subtitle was Confessions of a Travel Slut). Started more than a decade ago, the book has been through two agents, one of whom decided at the last minute that she didn’t like my persona (um, that would be me), the other of whom disappeared after a single round of sending out sample chapters.

The last time I worked on the memoir was in 2008; Frankie had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and had never been keen on travel in any case. It seemed like a good time for me to settle in and reflect. I hired an editor to read the proposal and sample chapters of my memoir and then sent them around to agents again.

Somehow I ended up selling a book about dogs directly to a publisher instead.

A Woman with a Plan

In the intervening six years, publishing has changed — and so has my attitude towards it. With four books with large, traditional publishers under my belt, I have nothing to prove. And I’ve realized just how much marketing authors have to do to sell books for which they only receive a small percentage. This time, I’m going to publish the book myself. Stay tuned for the details; I don’t have them yet.

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to write the book first.

So I’ve dusted off the old sample chapters and, for the first time, approached the book from the beginning, organically, rather than picking out tidbits to serve as agent or publisher bait. Starting any large project is always tough, but so far this has been a blast. I’ve been getting in touch with old friends from my days as a travel editor at Prentice Hall (Chapter 1), including several of the authors whose books I worked on. One of them confirmed that I was the first editor to allow the use of the word “penis” in a Frommer’s guide — a historic moment!

I’ve also been revisiting some less pleasant memories.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, it’s said, and I believe in the literary corollary: The best revenge is writing well. Those of you who have done me wrong should be very afraid.

But you pet peeps have nothing to worry about, I promise. You’ve always made me proud to be a professional dog person.

Posted in Book writing | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Pet Adoption Videos That Don’t Make Me Want to Kill Myself (But Do Make Me a Little Sad)

Shelter Pet Project 2014First things first.

I love the Shelter Pet Project, a joint effort of the Ad Council, Maddie’s Fund, and the Humane Society of the United States  to end the euthanasia of healthy animals.

I wrote a three-part series about it a couple of years ago.

In Part 1, I covered the first phase of the project, which produced and distributed a series of videos aimed at changing the perception of shelter pets as being inferior. The message: Human problems lead to pets being sent to shelters, not problems with the animals.

You can see one of the videos that I highlighted, below.

In Part 2, I discussed how the Shelter Pet Project came under the aegis of the Ad Council, which was enormously influential in helping to spread the word.

In Part 3, I showcased the new (as of late 2011) series of videos and discussed the role that the shelters and the American public need to play in order for the campaign to succeed.

Here’s one example:

I think it’s clear what a huge supporter I am.

But now there’s a new series.

Can we talk?

We’re among friends. I love the new posters that the Shelter Pet Project put out; the one at the top of the page reminds me of a certain shaggy someone.

But the videos that are centerpiece of their new campaign?

And the feline version:

I get it: the sound and visual effects put appealing pets up close to your computer, phone or TV screen. But the bare room? The tapping against the glass? The frenetic running around? They all make me a little sad.

Maybe it’s me. I’ve been in a sad mood lately. I’d love your feedback. What do you think of this new campaign, especially in relation to the earlier ones?

Posted in Animal Welfare | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

Frankie’s Fund: Death With Dignity Through Old Dog Haven

cropped-ODH_WebHeader_Jiggy_021314When I said good-bye to Frankie, I had many regrets, all related to the fact that dogs are not immortal or immune from mind-destroying diseases. One thing I never regretted, however, was the way that Frankie left this world. Spoiled and ministered to even more than usual, my sweet boy never doubted for a minute that he was loved.

You never know what’s going to inspire you. I wanted to honor Frankie and, though there were aspects of his life that could have benefited from research funds (canine diabetes and canine cognitive dysfunction, to name two), I knew I couldn’t raise enough Frankie for blog-004money to make a difference. Then I realized that, just as I had given Frankie a good death, it was within my power to help other dogs have one too. The idea that no dog should end a life in fear and confusion, feeling alone, was the impetus for Frankie’s Fund.

The fund’s donations — more than $3,000 – went to the Grey Muzzle Organization, an umbrella nonprofit that thoroughly screens the recipients of its grants to senior dogs. I was pleased that the chosen recipient of Frankie’s Fund was the Death with Dignity program offered by  Old Dog Haven, a network of private homes in western Washington state. I didn’t know anything about the organization or its programs beforehand, but Death with Dignity turned out to fit my vision for the fund to a tee.

I think you’ll agree.

Old Dog Haven’s Death With Dignity Program

As the organization describes the program in the grant proposal:

Too often old dogs who are close to death end up in shelters, or become ill while there. One of our priorities is to get these dogs into a home for a few weeks, days or even hours so they feel safe, wanted, loved and cared for and can leave the world gently with love around them…. It’s hard for us to understand how owners could walk away from their dog at the very end, but it happens. As sad as it makes us, we gladly step in to give the dog comfort, try to “fix” their medical issues if possible, and help them finish their journey.

Along with appreciating the difficulty of offering this last gift to old dogs, the other thing that I love about Old Dog Haven is that these often-brief encounters are not forgotten. Each dog that goes into the home of an Old Dog Haven foster caretaker is immortalized in the blogosphere — where nothing ever disappears, for better or worse.

As the director of Old Dog Haven puts it:

We do a memorial profile and picture for each dog we lose,  on the website under We Remember, and it makes those who loved that dog feel a lot better.  We DO remember these little souls.

I’d like to highlight some of the stories here too.

Sophia’s Story

[Triple tissue alert!]

Sophia  was brought to a shelter far out on the Olympic Peninsula by owners who said she was 18 years old and had her last puppies three years earlier.  She was discovered to have very advanced congestive heart failure, and taken to local veterinary emergency clinic at Old Dog Haven’s expense, while Old Dog Haven lined up a hospice home and transport, transport not being an easy matter from this distant location.

The foster took her directly to her own vet and they did their best to pull her through, despite knowing that the chance of recovery was zero but hoping for some good days — which were achieved.  Sophia passed after enjoying the best of care for 12 days, and her foster mom wrote the following tribute.

A scared pup when she first came in...

A scared pup when she first came in…

We knew that tiny Sophia would not have much time with us but we wanted whatever time to be as comfortable and full of love as possible.  She came very sick with congestive heart failure and very stressed: she’d been left (at what was supposedly 18 years of age) at a shelter not knowing what had happened, then had yet another move to a new home.  With medication for her failing heart and severe joint pain, as well as a lot of love and effort to help her eat, she was able to rally enough to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of her new life — like looking out the windows in the arms of her foster mom or exploring her new surroundings.

Her mom cherished the time just holding her for hours each day and she quickly responded.  Her eyes began to have a sparkle to them and her stress melted away.

... Sophia soon gained confidence under the kind touch of her foster mom

… Sophia soon gained confidence under the kind touch of her foster mom

Our time with her though ended much sooner than any of us wanted, despite all our efforts and her willingness to fight.  Her little body just could no longer carry on.  Her foster mom is thankful for every moment spent with her and adds that  she is always amazed how these dogs can overcome all they have been through and are still able to let go of that and accept the love they are now given.  It is heartbreaking to let them go, yet the rewards of being part of their precious lives, even but for a short time, leaves a lasting impression that no one can take away.   Sophia was a special angel who is deeply missed.

Note: The official fundraising is over, but if you want to donate to help other dogs like Sophia in Frankie’s memory, the best way is to send a check to Old Dog Haven and note that you want it to go to Frankie’s Fund/Death with Dignity; see the Donations page for address details.

Posted in dog hospice | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

My Funny Valentine

Still the one...

Hotel Indigo, San Diego, summer 2009

Some days are tougher than others. This is one of the bad ones. A year ago, for Valentine’s Day, I posted this picture on Facebook and labeled it, “You’re still the one.” Frankie had slowed down, no question, but we were still having fun. He made me laugh every day.

Today I woke up and felt a hole in my soul.

Time heals. This I know. But first loves of every species hold a special place in our hearts. So here’s to you, my funny Valentine. And to all who are feeling sad on this day.

“Stay” takes on a new meaning, doesn’t it?

Posted in Pet loss | Tagged , | 14 Comments

The First Cut Is the Deepest: Trying to Love Again

Frankie the love bug

Frankie the love bug

A song has been running through my head lately….

In my readings, especially about pet mourning, I often come across the term “heart dog,” which I take to be the canine equivalent of a human soul mate. But what does that mean — and what are the implications of having had that experience?

I don’t think I could have loved Frankie any more than I did — still do — but I wonder….Did he earn heart dog status because he was my first dog, because he was Frankie, or both? I definitely didn’t love him at first sight — and vice versa. It’s hard to say which of us was more terrified of the other initially.

Was it the learning, the hard work, the earning of Frankie’s trust that deepened our bond? Or all that plus something even more intangible?

The bigger question: Can find I find such a connection with another dog? And what happens if I get one and don’t feel it?

So I put it to the blogosphere: Have you experienced the loss of a pet with whom you felt uniquely bonded, and then brought another into your home? What happened?

I’d love to hear from you.

But wait…

I know it’s not time yet. I want to travel. I want to heal. That said, contemplating a furry future while watching a video from the past that I didn’t know existed — I thought Rod Stewart wrote the song! — is, I think, a first step.

By the way, if you haven’t already watched the Cat Stevens version, go back and — I dare you! — tell me that it’s not about a loving and losing a dog.*

*Update!

Alert music fan Homie Danger — who deserves a “like” on Facebook, y’hear! — pointed out Cat Stevens did indeed love his dog, and even dedicated an entire song to him.

More music!

Just as I hadn’t realized there was an earlier version than Rod Stewart’s, I hadn’t realized there was a later cover, by Cheryl Crow. Must be a generational thing…

Here’s Rod:

And here’s Cheryl:

Posted in Pet loss | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

Feel-Good Friday: ABBA, Budweiser & Pet Bowls (the TV, Not Food, Variety)

The boys at Lazy Dog Ranch-001A promise is a promise and I’m keeping two of them with this post: To continue my Pet Adoption Videos That Don’t Make Me Want to Kill Myself series, and to post once a week.

ABBA Is Mean

This great adoption video from the SPCA of Wake County was called to my attention earlier this week by alert Facebook friend Karen Lifshey-Shapiro. It looked familiar — and now I know why: It turns out I had already posted it. 

That’s the great thing about getting older and having an, um, full memory card, according to the New York Times; you never know when something you’ve already experienced is going to be interesting and new again.

Anyway, it turns out that you can no longer hear ABBA’s upbeat “Take a Chance on Me” on the earlier version that I posted, for copyright reasons, in spite of the fact that the Wake County SPCA tried to get a license. Enjoy it here while you can.

Budweiser Buds

The new Budweiser Super Bowl ad, a continuation of last year’s feel-good story about dogs and Clydesdales, has gone viral before its halftime debut this weekend, thanks to folks like me. Hey, I don’t mind being emotionally manipulated when it comes to puppies and horses. Besides, the word “adoption” is being drilled into people’s subconsciousness along with beer and cute puppies, even though the scenario shown isn’t your typical adoption situation.

Speaking of adoption, it turns out that this ad was not shot with puppies from the Southern Paws Rescue in Highland, Il, as several folks posted on Facebook. No matter. The rescue’s dogs were involved in another photo shoot for Budweiser, and it’s great that this ad got the discussion going about the fact that there are many purebreds available in shelters.

I admit I have a particular soft spot in my heart for love connections between canines and equines. I will always be blown away by the fact — not easily evident in the picture at the top of this post, but trust me — that Frankie the Shy was fearless when it came to approaching a horse on the Lazy Dog Ranch. He showed nothing but friendly curiosity and interest in the largest creature I ever introduced him to.

Puppies & Kittens, No Football, Oh My!

I’m not big on competitive sports, but if I were going to watch a play off you can bet it would be Puppy Bowl X on Animal Planet. And for feline fans, there’s the Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl.

If you’re a glutton for cute, I believe you can watch both. Kittens go first, naturally.

 

Posted in pet adoption videos | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Once Upon an Urn: The Irrational, Magical Tale of Frankie’s Return

Get a cup of coffee and settle in for a few minutes. You’re in for a bit of a long ride. But consider that it’s taken me far longer to put this tale together — a good part of a lifetime, now that I think about it.

Lake Srinigar, Kashmir. No, there was nothing in that hookah. We were just weird.

Lake Srinigar, Kashmir, my ex-husband and I and the boatman. No, there was nothing in that hookah. We were just weird.

Ashes to Ashes

No one is rational about death, especially the death of a loved one. No one.

A belief in heaven doesn’t protect you from a case of the crazies; neither does atheism. Grief just manifests in different ways, some more socially acceptable than others.

Indeed, the very fact of grieving a pet, in whatever fashion, is considered irrational in some circles, though not the ones I frequent if I can help it. If you’re reading this, I imagine you share those sentiments.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my key forms of irrationality relates to the physical aftermath of death. I’ve never been particularly squeamish about the living.  And when you have a dog, it’s virtually impossible to avoid contact with bodily fluids, including — often — blood.

But the dead. Ugh.

And that includes their ashes. You’d think that dry detritus would unobjectionable, especially for someone who lives in the desert, but not for me. It might be the bits of bone I heard don’t get burned, or the reduction of something animate to a dirt cognate. I can’t explain it. All I know is that, although cremation seemed the best option when I was unable to donate Frankie’s body to science — see Five Things I Want to Tell You, While I Can Without Sobbing, About My Dog’s Departure — I couldn’t cope with bringing his ashes home. I had my friend John pick them up from the crematorium and take them to his house.

The crematorium also made a paw print of Frankie that John attempted to give me. Ewww! Maybe I should have made one while Frankie was alive, but I didn’t. Now the last thing I wanted was a visual representation of someone paw-printing my poor lifeless sweetie.

If your best human friend died, would you want a postmortem hand print?

That’s what I mean — irrational. Or differently rationaled. I know people cherish such mementos. I’m just not one of them.

A Stint in Limbo

Cowboy Frankie

Cowboy Frankie. Observe the hat

And so John kept Frankie in his house. For a while, I didn’t ask where. And I wavered between joking about Frankie as though he were alive  — did he enjoy the quiet in John’s house, as opposed to mine? Was he a good house guest? — to getting upset when John brought the topic up.

I give John a huge amount of credit for putting up with my Frankie irrationality (during Frankie’s life too, I hasten to add).

He inspired a greeting cards, refrigerator magnet and cocktail napkins

He inspired a greeting card, refrigerator magnet and cocktail napkins

I said good-bye to Frankie on November 1. By the time I went to Thanksgiving at John’s house, I was ready to ask about Frankie’s precise resting place. It turned out that Frankie was part of John’s entertainment unit — specifically, he was perched atop the television. I found that oddly comforting. Jokes about Frankie’s viewing preferences commenced, and I began feeling slightly less like every nerve was exposed when we discussed him.

I don’t know how long this acclimatization process might have gone on, with me getting gradually less upset at the thought of Frankie’s ashes, if John’s departure for a three-month teaching stint in Paris hadn’t been approaching in mid-January.

I couldn’t bear the thought of Frankie being alone for that length of time, and in a house that wasn’t mine. Note: It’s yet another sign of my irrationality that the phrase “a three-month teaching stint in Paris” brought up worries about Frankie’s ashes being left alone rather than extreme Paris envy.

I was now faced with the dilemma:  If I took Frankie home, where would I put him?  I never did find the Day of the Dead urn I was contemplating — I didn’t try very hard. You know, ashes — and I could neither imagine putting the plain box from the crematorium on display nor hiding it away.

It turned out the answer had been staring me right in the face all the time.

My Hippie Honeymoon

Lake Srinigar, again. One of these days I'll have to write about that

Lake Srinigar, again. One of these days I’ll have to write about that

You’ve probably been wondering where that goofy picture on the top of the page comes in. I’ve finally arrived at the background portion of the story.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I took what I fondly refer to as my hippie honeymoon, a three-month journey from Istanbul through Iran and Afghanistan to India and Nepal, with a return through Uzbekistan and Russia — then part of the Soviet Union — to Frankfurt and back to New York. I mention this itinerary, not to suggest my intrepid nature — I was 21, and if you’re not intrepid (read: foolhardy) then, when can you be? —  but to give you an idea of what it meant to schlep home an unwieldy and rather heavy item that I bought in Afghanistan: A graceful, hand-decorated vessel made of undetermined metal, possibly pewter and copper. I wasn’t sure of its purpose. If I thought about it, I imagined it filled with water and brought to a long table, accompanied by a basin, so diners in flowing robes could wash their hands before or after a meal.

It was not a sensible purchase, to put it mildly, but that was the point. It embodied everything about the trip and about the future that was exotic and magical, like Ali Baba’s lamp.

But while it invoked the intangibles of life’s promise, this vessel was also sturdy, virtually indestructible; I wasn’t worried about it breaking along the way. And I didn’t know how old it was, but there was an ageless quality to it.

More Travels

It stayed with me on all of life’s journeys, through the end of my marriage and another rented apartment in Brooklyn to a smaller co-op apartment in Manhattan, and, finally, to my current Tucson home.

It got pride of place on the top of my bedroom dresser, where I began to drape necklaces and scarves on it. In later years, the dresser top turned out to be a convenient gathering place for Frankie’s squeaky carrots, which tended to scatter. Our nearby bed — eventually, mattress on the floor — was the launching pad for most of the chases.

Frankie shrine 2You may be getting the picture already but, oddly, it took me a while to figure it out — even after I put the wire sculpture that my niece got me on top of the dresser.

But with John’s departure imminent, the proverbial light bulb started flashing.

This item, to which I never attached any noun in my mind, not even “pitcher,”  had found its purpose after all these years: It was Frankie’s urn.

It seemed obvious. Frankie the shy had traveled the world in his imagination – okay, maybe mine. What could be more fitting than for him to spend his days in a lovely urn from a faraway land?

A Well-Urned Rest

Now all that was left was to get Frankie’s ashes back.

If you think I instantly got over my aversion to Frankie’s ashy incarnation once I decided on a resting place, think again. I brought the urn over to John’s house, with the plan to return the next day when the transfer was made. I couldn’t bear to think about the process, including possible spillage, being enacted while I was present.

Yet once I was assured the deed was done, a weird but wonderful transmogrification took place. Frankie’s ashes and the urn, lid secured and spout internally stoppered, became a single beloved object that I could contemplate without fear and loathing.

I put the urn in the front seat of my car, strapped it into the seat belt, and drove Frankie back across town. Home.

Since then, I have been enjoying changing the configuration of Frankie’s dresser-top shrine.

The strands of  Mardi Gras beads that Frankie wore with such grace on the greeting card, refrigerator magnet, and cocktail napkins in which he was featured were among the necklaces that had originally been draped on the urn. And, as I mentioned, the beloved squeaky carrots were already on the dresser.  I started gathering other things from Frankie’s life, including the much mended squeaky chile, the ur squeaky carrot, and the mat on which Frankie’s water bowl had rested. I propped up the card that featured Frankie and AJ Em’s Frankie portrait on an adjacent jewelry stand.

Frankie shrine, the big picture

Frankie shrine, the big picture

Then I thought of the cowboy hat that Frankie wore in the first video trailer promoting Am I Boring My Dog. I’m not sure whether it’s better on the jewelry stand behind the card and picture or on the urn itself. What do you think? Too much?

Frankie shrine with cowboy hat, squeaky chile forwardIn case you didn’t notice, along with putting the hat on the urn, I also placed the squeaky chile atop the squeaky carrot.

I will no doubt go on tweaking this for a long time.

The limits — and limitlessness — of metaphor

I want to be clear: I don’t take Frankie’s residence in the urn to symbolize the death of my youthful dreams — or even of my middle aged ones. Frankie was my first dog, and he opened up another wonderful and exotic world for me, that of furry friendship. Maybe I’ll adopt another dog, this time one who loves to travel. Maybe we’ll go to wonderful places together.

Maybe not.

It doesn’t matter.

Call it irrational, but the rightness of the fit of Frankie with his resting place provided a respite, for however long, from grief. The message that I took from this lovely bit of serendipity was the metamorphosis — and indestructibility — of life’s infinite possibilities.

Posted in Pet loss | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments