Come see me, Sophie (poem and essay)

Come see me, Sophie, as you’re walking the blue twilight between worlds.

Come see me, in that dream land, when the pain disappears and the body absorbs into stars, and we can behold the sun as it rises on this first new day.

Come see me,
From your world beyond breath, when the boldness of your heart finds itself again, and in the unburdening from flesh you can see the magic of who you are.

Come see me, Sophie, watching the tears of a Sophie-less morning,
Then scamper off to the world you now belong to,
catching joy like butterflies,
looking back to see me (one more time)
Quietly calm in the salty stream
Daring the world to make me forget

For as on the lawn that day with my hand stretched out was forever and when you reached back to me through Time, painted me into wholeness with vibrant splashes of your self making my heart thump with happiness, and your eyes became the wonder of the blue sky and in the deep green of our moment the clouds watched and danced across the sun.

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Sophie was an old girl I cared for for several years. She’d had been adopted as a senior dog—when I met her dad and his three dogs, he wasn’t even living with his future-wife yet—from a post off a FB rescue page, and joining sled dogs Greta and Tala, was a huge personality that liked all the attention and used her expressive face and “talking” to get it. I once looked back on one of our (by then) easy level walks adapted to her weak back legs and saw her ambling along with a “rope” hanging out of her mouth, trying to chew. The “rope” was a rat tail and the only way I got her to drop it (I worried it had been poisoned) was to briskly walk until she could either open her mouth to breathe/keep living and drop the rat or not get enough air. I’m happy to say she chose the former. She could hardly walk without a wobble but “hell yes; let me bend/stoop then chew this enormous dead poison while trying to walk without stumbling because I’m so fucking bored right now.”

Sophie went downhill very suddenly when I was caring for her in July 2017. She wouldn’t eat the pre-cooked steaks or chicken her family had left—she was in decline but they thought it was okay to go on a hasty honeymoon to Montana—and when I cradled her back end with my sweatshirt and steadied her front with her leash to get her out to sit in the side yard—a long-favorite activity—she laid under the tree where I set her and, as Greta and Tala played, looked in that way of a sadness impenetrable by anything else.
And I’ve cared for many animals now who went on to pass, and have been asked by families to help them gauge the question of “when?” Because they don’t want the animals to suffer for their own selfish desire to keep them alive yet it’s hard to even think clearly through the hazy intentional-contemplation of making something they love not-alive.

And there are deep questions asked. For instance: how much suffering is too much? Some people who have a hard time with emotional experiences and/or active grieving won’t be able to tolerate much suffering at all. The first time their rabid-eater doesn’t finish their supper they might start believing their pet is not enjoying life enough anymore; it’s possible their own anxiety about grief might be trying to make the process more manageable by controlling it as best they can or that they don’t want to feel they’re betraying their stewardship of their pet by not listening to the “signs.” In contrast, some people who have seen grief and feel comfortable navigating it can endure more for longer. Often way too long. And then there are those—most of us—who don’t know enough about it to be well-informed, and live with the agony of not knowing what to do. Is THIS the sign? About which, who could say? A vet will offer clinical data, offering to do a dental on a 16 year old cat just to give some hope.

For me, Sophie’s sadness is often the metric. The “sign.” Senior animals do bounce back from not eating and do have bad days—often really bad days—but when the eyes begin to look like they’ve never experienced happiness, it’s time to begin the process of saying goodbye.

So I did. That night, 7/11/2017, on the evening visit. Her parents (doctors) were rushing back from their trip—driving all night—to themselves begin the process and on that last visit, I sat with Sophie on the dirty concrete of her parents back patio, stroking her head.
And they got back and the morning of 7/12/2017 were able to see her off in purposeful-dignity but before I knew they had, I got woken up very early that morning by something “saying” this poem.

For the night before, sitting with her on that concrete—her sisters doing their own thing—I felt the Sophie she’d been for me. The lively fun of conversation and expressiveness in a story where a homeless senior dog gets to go on to light up a world. And knew (I mean, I did hope her doc fam would know some trick to keep her going but deep down, I knew) she’d be going where I couldn’t be part of it anymore, couldn’t see her; that this was my last chance. So sitting there, I told her I’d miss her, and asked her to come see me when she got to wherever it was that she was going.

A few months passed and I was asked to come sit for the family’s other two dogs, and it was weird because sometimes at dusk—when her sisters and I would be sitting in the yard (like all four of us used to do)—I swear I’d see Sophie. The first time it scared me because we’re trained to indulge only the “logic” of our left brain. Having things be utterly predictable is such a great comfort to humanity.

But such it is that in the known universe of which humans understand very little beyond non-quantum, not everything has to make sense to our left brain. And, in fact, it’s almost an irrational idea that it ever would, and after the passing of Sophie and many others—facing the deep questions, many with no clear answer—I’ve since made peace with the wisdom of believing in the vastness of what we don’t know and in playing the part of an active observer of that which is as yet undefined.

 

Bug book #1

This is the book I made for Julia’s birthday in May (2020) about her dog, Lady, who we often call Bug; Julia adopted Bug from Rescue Rovers in March of 2019.
 
I don’t think I could ever thank @rescuerovers enough for bringing this little girl in from the harsh unsafety of the streets (of New Mexico) last year. I wouldn’t even know how to say it, because the words would fail to complete the idea. She’s just a new and beautiful world.
 
Julia’s beau gave us all the gift of getting Lady’s DNA done so we’d know more about her breed. We knew this: she seemed to definitely have herder blood in there but was also very chatty—we thought maybe husky or hound?—and was VERY expressive, using her face, paws and interactions very intentionally to this purpose. Plus she was smart, attentive/adaptive, and fantastic with cats.
 
Fast forward to where we get the results and realize that Lady is, in percentages:
 
American bulldog 20
Australian cattle dog 18.4
Rottweiler 13
German Shepherd 11
Husky 9.3
Chow chow 8.5
America Staffordshire Terrier 6.7
Supermutt 12.8
 
Yes. Every “aggressive” breed you can think of packed into a salami-stealing, cat-loving, family-focused snuggler that tips the balance every single day (for many people) into a better life.
 
FYI, I Used Walgreen‘s platform to make this and I would highly recommend it; It’s so easy to use. I’ve written another Bug book but I’ve got 45,000 pics on my phone so am perpetually lost when I go to find anything, to include appropriate Bug opps.
 
 

Working that cone

“But if we bling my cone, would I still look sad enough to work the treat circuit?”

Yes. I suggested to Chloe that we jazz up her cone and give it some bling. Because she’d had 15 teeth removed then got 10 days worth of antibiotics to be crammed down her throat plus a cone to wear, and that seemed like quite a load about which some extra TLC was needed. Since that’s what you do for your squad when shit gets real.

But her eyes here seemed to speak another truth and when she toodled out the doggie door as vibrantly as ever I thought that maybe in some ways she’s managing this turn of events with an ingenuity humanity itself is incapable of reaching. For if you look at the big picture, being this pathetic is an opportunity which comes around once–maybe twice–a lifetime and it’s almost maniacal not to be given the chance to fully work its little heart out.

And at that point, I rapidly changed my perspective, and reaching for yet one more treat, decided that Chloe is actually her own bling.

Here it comes

Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right. Nineteen pet sits today, up at 5, lots more dogs than cats (this irregular/imbalanced truth often arrives like the rush of retail), Greta and Tala’s (and Sophies [see Come See Me, Sophie]) family leaving later because new baby is teething, colder day, easier on the dogs, new shoes, old car, star rising, melting ice of (emotional) winters, sun, sun, sun, here it comes, tricking minds into living inside the surprising joy of a moment of NoThing, smiles returned to faces, waking the safety of our soul its taken years for us to clear. [Its a Beatles kind of day]

[in memoriam to 2019]

Some Little darlin’s from that day

7/20/2019

Rustling

I’m hiking with Oscar and Pica—two dogs I sit for—up Emigration Canyon on a deserted trail I’ve never known.

And surrounding us is rustling from bushes and in my latent hesitation, the thoughts start whistling. Is the sound large or small? advancing or fleeing? Will this be that mountain lion up the canyon they warned about, or like that time I walked right past a coyote in a front yard and only saw it once I glanced back and it was silhouetted against the front porch light?

And ahead, a lone howl where there are no houses calls out the better of pushing through on this trail I don’t know, and as we walk out of desolation, in my mind is what I’d do if something (moose, cougar, coyote…) tried to hurt the dogs. I have the will to live, my daughters, pets, a life; yet as the sun becomes a predator, I already know what I’d do if something attacked the dogs. I’d do whatever it took to save them.

And it might seem a grand gesture hollowly-filled by hypotheticals but it eased my mind to push through acceptance of death in exchange for an honorable life.

And as we make our way down the trail back towards the road, Oscar looks back to make sure I’m okay like he’s already done a dozen times and in that one gesture suddenly I’m awake enough to realize that he’d actually do the same for me.

(7/2019)

Detours

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I don’t know how I came to make my living as a pet sitter.  I really don’t.  I love animals but have an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters degree in teaching; after my divorce, I was committed to being a teacher.  Went back to school, got a para job in the public schools; was a 42 year old student teacher (did my thesis on math anxiety in preservice teachers) and invested years trying to get a full-time teaching job in Utah—doing stints as PE teacher, testing coordinator, reading interventionist—sacrificing time, money, and my own peace of mind to do so. I saw myself as a teacher; my brain kept telling me that story over and over again: that starting a pet sitting business would be the supplement to my teaching income, helping me make ends meet for a single parent like myself.

But Life is sometimes like unwrapping a gift in slow-mo: the joy at the end is often part of an agonizing process of patience. Because I love this picture, I love Kora, I love the bark of this tree, I love how,—within a single shot—the snow unifies all of nature’s creatures, resting on Kora and trees and ground—leaves uncovered slightly as if through archaeological dusting another world is being revealed—and how the colors and texture mix and contrast until I feel—cold and wet though I was when I snapped this—a palpable experience of peace when I look at it.

And while it’s hard to back up from such a picture and not question why I was unable to see myself within this story, the questioning makes me wiser.  For though unwrapping it was agonizing, the joy of finding myself here has taught me that it takes a long time to learn how to get out of your own way in order that you could more fully know yourself but in so doing, emanating from the wreckage of former certainty are often the most lovely things.

Like the calm of white snowflakes drifting towards the fur of a black dog slowing you down so you can more fully see what you are.

[I graduated in 2011–a tough teaching market anyways–and didn’t start pet sitting full-time until 2016, five very stressful and disappointing years later.  Sometimes Life has to pound harder on the door for certain people]