The Cat That Wasn’t Schwartz

After Schwartz died, I was sad and furious and confused and within two weeks of his death, I had already asked my pilates instructor where the good cat rescues are around here. Because I am a fuckwit.

I got into an email exchange with one cat rescue operation that had an entire litter of black kitten gremlins with yellow eyes, and had “pre-approved” me to come visit the creature of my choice. I made an appointment, and my son wanted to come along. We were expected to drive to the rescue, and the kitten, named “Yodel,” chosen from the briefest description and smallest profile photo, would be brought to our car where we could meet him. If he met with our approval, we could take him then. The suggested donation was $200, payable via an well-known mobile phone payment app, which was not accessible at the rescue because of poor connectivity issues. No one in this part of Westchester wants the towers that reliable mobile phone coverage require. So we were expected to pay the donation in advance, using the an well-known mobile phone payment app, without having seen the animal. Or decided to definitely do this. I may be a fuckwit, but at least I knew to just take cash.

We arrived. I texted to let them know we’d arrived. We sat in the driveway, in awkward silence, for about 15 minutes. A teenager came out, and asked us which cat we had come to see. I stared into the trees and thought about how I could meet 100 kittens and none of them would be Schwartz. I wanted to leave. It was a terrible idea. Then, they brought out a box with a cat inside, and we were told to roll up the windows of our car, put the box in the car, and open it and hold him.

“Take as long as you want,” they said.

He was not Schwartz. He had a weird, two-tone meow, a long skinny body, and big ears. We took turns holding him. We gave them $200 and headed straight for Petco.

We bought food, and litter, and some small toys and a pink feather wand.

When we got home, the Bacon Provider was on the phone, working, so we took the cat that was not Schwartz to an upstairs bathroom. We set up a litter box, and fed him, and played with him. At dinner I began to wonder how I would tell the Bacon Provider what a fuckwit I was, and that I’d gone and gotten a new cat that was not Schwartz. I slept on it.

When I woke up the next day, I fed the new cat that was not Schwartz and carried him downstairs and woke the Bacon Provider who was still very much asleep. Instead of telling him, I handed him the cat that was not Schwartz.

“When did you get this?” he asked.

There was a bunch of other shit going on that week, so the new cat that wasn’t Schwartz had to stay upstairs and settle in. He liked the pink feather toy a lot, but also chasing balls.

On pilates day, I took the cat that wasn’t Schwartz to the room where I do pilates. He galloped around like a nut until he was tired, and my teacher was delighted.

Time passed. Eggi had her puppy. We let the cat that wasn’t Schwartz out of the bathroom, and he took to sitting at the top of the stairs, watching us.

He began expanding his territory by about 12 feet a day. He broke a lamp. The Bacon Provider grumbled, “I didn’t do it.”

He kind of has a thing for bathrooms and checked out all the fixtures.

The cat that is not Schwartz reaches under the door to the kitchen, and Fellow is obsessed with the idea that every so often there is a cat paw there.

At night he creeps around the house, making mischief, scaring Eggi, and enticing her to bark. Then he comes in our room, jumps up on the bed, and curls up between us. Just as Schwartz did.

He is not Schwartz. He is, nevertheless, fascinated by Dibs.

I have named him Grackle.

Today in September

Well, that was a month. Thirty whole days, one right after the other.

I have had a lot of sleepy days this September, with a baby puppy in the house. When I’m not well-rested, I’m more short-tempered, and inclined to despair. Bad pandemic numbers confirm my sense that things are not going to be ok. But there’s a puppy. He’s here. He’s adorable.

My skin prickles in September, like a yellow jacket wasp just landed on me, and it’s gonna sting me, again and again.

We passed the six billion coronavirus doses administered this month, as a planet. I get that there are still people out there who distrust Big Pharma, who are skeptical about the origins of this pandemic, who think the medical establishment in the U.S. rushed to create immunizations, and that money followed that might have been spent on treatment options. You can think these things and still get vaccinated.

Next month is my twelfth month of this project. I intend to continue.

Welping

The first night I spent on the floor outside the whelping box, Eggi thought it was fine—great, even— and spent it next to me, outside of the whelping box, on the dog beds. 

The next night, I did it again, and she was up a number of times, digging. It’s a sign that labor may be coming soon. I dutifully continued taking her temperature, and it did finally drop, and we continued the monitoring every few hours around the clock. 

I was really tired from sleeping on the floor with the dog. Was it Sunday? Or Wednesday?

The puppy’s heart rate was good and strong, but once we passed the due date, it was a little on the low side, and while we could poke at it to try to wake it up, and the heart rate would rise, briefly, and fall again. We all began to be worried. If labor doesn’t progress in a dog, the placenta gets old and the puppy dies. 

It’s not unusual for a singleton puppy to be born via c-section. We had been warned. It’s the puppies that signal the mother to go into labor, I guess. I thought we were ready. We kept in touch with the WhelpWise service, and our reproductive vet, and our regular vet. Everyone had input.

I made a lot of phone calls. I thought about how bitches all over the world get knocked up in the backyard by a neighborhood dog, dig a hole in the soft, dry dirt under the porch, and whelp without so much as anyone even knowing they were even preggers. I thought about the money spent, and the miles traveled, and the people hoping for an Eggi puppy. I thought about the losses of this past month, and of the past couple of years. I really needed this to come out ok.

And then I had to hand Eggi off to a vet tech in the parking lot of a strange emergency hospital in Connecticut. 

And driving home, crying almost every highway mile,  and then, sitting stunned in silence in my kitchen  with my coat still on, alone in my regrets and fears.

And waiting for the call.

The call came quickly enough. Mother and baby were doing fine and would be going home just as soon as Eggi was awake enough to walk out. They didn’t want the baby in the hospital a minute longer than absolutely necessary. When we picked them up, Eggi walked out of the hospital, looking out of it and the baby, a wriggling, kicking boy was carried to the curb in a cardboard coffee bean box with an old towel in it. He was absolutely perfect.

The first night with the new puppy was extra long. Eggi seemed to be in pain from the surgery, and still quite out of it. I knew the clock was ticking for getting colostrum into the lil pupper. She was having a hard time lying down so I had to help, contriving a maneuver where I wrapped my arms around her, forced her back legs to bend and laid her side as swiftly and painlessly as I could. 

All of my memories of learning to nurse came back that night. Dogs that have c-sections don’t always know what’s happened; some refuse to nurse their babies. I stayed with Eggi and held her, supervising and only half awake. I heard the puppy gulping as the milk let down. For a third night. I was sleeping a little here and there on the floor in the laundry room and nodding off in the whelping box. 

As the sky lightened on the morning of the first of September, around 5:30 a.m. Eggi reached for her puppy began licking him intently, and it was like the new software had been downloaded in the night. Here was mother mode: nesting, licking, nursing.

It took a few days for the puppy to start gaining weight. But once he did, he fattened right up. Within hours Eggi could show you where he was if you asked her, “Where’s your baby?”

She had to be walked on leash for short trips only while her incision healed. I found the online support group for people with singleton puppies and made a sling so I could carry the puppy.  There isn’t much to do in the first few weeks, just laundry, and peaceful admiration for a dog who turns out to be a wonderful, attentive mother. I got caught up on some sleep.

More Terrible News

My children have always known the Bacon Provider’s mother as Nagymama–literally, Big Mama– which is Hungarian for Grandma. She always lived far away, in the remote land of Floridaba, which is how my husband’s family says it in Hungarian. On birthdays and Easter and Mikulás Nap, Nagymama sent gifts and enormous chocolate bars and fancy dress up clothes, always with handwritten notes in her Old World cursive. She treated my niece like one of her own grandchildren, and sent gifts for her as well; they maintained a regular correspondence: after my niece dutifully sent thank you notes, Nagymama would write back, and the exchange continued past the polite replies.

Once when Nagymama visited, and they were young enough for picture books, my children piled into her lap, demanding that she read them an entire stack. When the came to an old, yellowed, falling-apart copy of the Scholastic book Rabbit and Skunk and the Scary Rock, she read on. Nagymama’s accent, with slow careful diction and rolling all the R’s made this simple story of friends dealing with their feelings about a scary rock, an absolute laugh riot. When she finished, my kids asked for it again. and, of course, she never said no.

On a visit to Florida more recently, my eldest son found himself sitting next to Nagymama during a meal and had the opportunity to ask her about her life in Hungary before, during, and after the Second World War, and he had the presence of mind to record some of the conversation on his mobile phone. Again, she spoke slowly, with carefully pronounced words, a few, “Well, you know…,” about her mother trying to find enough food for her and her siblings, and about being so cold they picked up discarded paper from the street to line their shoes.

As my mother in law, I accept that I may not be good enough for her favorite son. Who ever could be? She always had a lot of praise for my skills as a mother. This I always have taken as a true compliment. Nagymama magnificently stubborn: if you gave her reason to have a bad opinion of you, she would no longer speak your name. Nagymama famous for her almost infinite capacity for saying yes to children: yes, I will read the silly book again; yes, you can have my pen; yes, we can light the fancy candles; yes, tell me about your dream.

There were years when we were in graduate school when a note in our mail from her on the fancy stationery would probably have cash–several bills, and not twenties. She had not had an easy life, and she understood how lovely it was not to have to have the cheapest things.

For many years, she spoke of wanting a dog, but she hesitated to get one. She felt it would be too hard to outlive a beloved pet. Eventually, she got for herself a pumi, a small, quirky, Hungarian shepherd, with a curly coat like a poodle. The dog was very devoted to her. To forestall the grief of ever losing her, she got another. It was this dog, the second pumi, who was there for the decline.

Sometime in the past few years, she began to re-read her many books, and they were suddenly beautiful and completely new to her. She was delighted. To family it was an ominous sign.

More recently, she began to be diminished by the ravages of dementia, yet absent other serious heath issues. The lucky little dog followed her everywhere, and got breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, late lunch, tea, and dinner, and any other meal she could imagine. The dog grew dangerously stout. Then, Nagymama started to forget the dog. The dog at her heels became a trip hazard, and a new home had to be found for her. Just one of the many, small emergencies in her decline. My husband’s youngest sister took complete responsibility for her care, an enormous, difficult, heartbreaking, time-consuming job.

When we saw Nagymama in July, on a lark, she seemed frail but not doomed. She was bedridden after a fall. But she smiled. Surely we would be able to see her in a few months. and next year.

But, no.

Last Saturday, we were out walking the dogs, waiting for Eggi’s labor to start, heading around the corner from our house. My husband had the easy-to-walk Captain and I had the other two dogs.

As we walked and talked, my husband seemed distracted, but he has been working on an app, and has a lot on his plate work-wise, and he’d heard from his sister that his mother was near the end, so he had a lot on his mind. A group of cyclists came down the hill towards us, and from my side of the road I could see there were quite a few of them, so I said bring Captain over here– to my side of the road–and I guess he was lost in thought and didn’t hear me, and the lead cyclist had to shout, and Captain had to be yanked, and nothing happened, but it was a close call.

As we headed into the woods, we spoke of the close call, and I thought about how hard it is to focus on any one thing in these pandemic times. It was Saturday. I had been counting the days until Eggi’s whelp date. How was this weekend going to play out? I wasn’t paying attention when my husband stopped and took his phone out of his pocket to answer it. So I was many steps ahead when I realized he wasn’t with me. Turning, I knew by his words, his posture, his face, that it was his sister calling. That it was the news. That it was not unexpected, and not welcome. That it was the news that Nagymama had died.

She’d gone peacefully, at home, in the care of devoted daughter and the hospice nurse. The sister who had always taken care of her mother, who had refused all babysitters as a child, who had returned to her home town after medical school and training, who led a life not altogether separate from her mother’s, she saw the thing through, and now her mother was gone. A nightmare.

We finished the dog walk. The dogs were good. I tried to convince Eggi to spend that night in her whelping box. I slept on the floor next to the whelping box, and of course she preferred sleeping next to me.

Today in August

I woke up today and until my friend H told me otherwise, I announced and promoted the idea that today is Friday

(in case you were wondering how it’s going).

It is, in fact, Thursday. But August? You sucked almost entirely.

A Twitter friend mistook the skulls on the 23rd for pandas, and so in an effort to improve August, there were, briefly, pandas.

No amount of panda faces was going to make me feel better about losing my cat, though.

Two other, major things happened to us in August. More detailed stories to come in the next weeks.

WhelpMas Eve

I was counting on Schwartz to be here this coming weekend, and was sure he’d have made himself annoying or useful. Annoying and useful. Or maybe just annoying. 

I still see him in the front hall out of the corner of my eye. I would say that he left this life with unfinished business, but the dogs were my deal, not his, and he couldn’t have given a fart about Eggi having puppies; he never imagined it. He would have liked them, though, I think, in his superior way, and might have made a good tutor, which is what I had in mind.

And anyway, why am I saying “puppies?”

I am getting ahead of myself. 

I am using the WhelpWise service, which was recommended by the reproductive vet. They send a uterine monitor and a doppler and you start using them at least 10 days before the whelp date. You upload the data from the uterine monitor and they call back, providing real feedback on contractions. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will be there to tell us if labor is progressing, or if it isn’t, and we can check the puppy’s heart rate as we go.

It took me a few days to be ready to open the box, though. Its presence a box on the doorstep felt like a scold: “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into,” it announced. “No going back now.”

We borrowed a whelping box and let the huge box sit in the garage for a couple days while we summoned the energy to set it up. All the coats and shoes (and shoes and boots and boots) had to go somewhere else. And the box needed cleaning. And we had to think about exactly where we wanted to put it. Fellow and the Wizard (who was visiting for the weekend) watched us work, interested. Was it for them? 

Fellow gave it a try. He liked it. What was it for? He didn’t know.

Eggi needed to be lured into the box with treats. I texted my dog trainer. Did we need to feed her in there to get her used to it? I was told not to worry. She’ll use it when the time comes. The Wizard waited about a day to try it out for himself. It was to his satisfaction. 

Suddenly it was definitely time to open the box from WhelpWise, and even read the manual and also watch the instructional video. Then I watched the pertinent bits of the video again.

I tried the doppler myself, and thought ok, I guess I found a puppy, maybe? but it wasn’t until I got the Bacon Provider to watch the video and try it for himself that I felt aha! yes! there it is.

And then, because the Bacon Provider was pretty good at it, we thought we found a second puppy next to the first, and for the rest of that night and most of the following day we were so happy with the news that there were going to be two. Two felt perfect. Not enough to be able to put a puppy into the hands of everyone we know who says they want one, but, still. Two. We were pleased.

Pleased until the appointment the next day with my vet for an X-ray.

Pleased until the vet tech brought Eggi back to the car and said she did great. Pleased until they said, puppy looks good, but there is only one.

So I was back to worrying about one puppy. Puppies need littermates, to get in their way, to play with, to negotiate for resources, to practice being dogs with. Puppies themselves signal to the mother when labor should start. Sometimes singleton puppies don’t signal enough, or get too big and are too hard to deliver. The advice rolled in. “Schedule a c-section,” I was told by too may people. People who know I’m in the care of a top reproductive vet. Out of concern. Out of an abundance of caution.

Now that we are within 5 or 6 days of whelping, we are doing uterine monitoring twice a day, for an hour each session. The best readings come from a bitch who is lying down, so even though there is a harness you can use to strap it on, our routine is to have Eggi lie down on the dog bed. I hold her head and she goes to sleep. And there we stay for 60 minutes.

I am not so good at sitting still for an hour, so I try to prepare, with the KenKens handy, and a pencil. Or some ink and a brush to do the Today is

Captain will go to sleep nearby, and slip into dreams where he twitches all over and softly woofs. Fellow wants to be involved, wants to have a turn, never wants to miss out. 

We had to pretend to ultrasound him. 

Fellow has no experience with puppies, either, although I guess he was one, but anyway maybe he can pick up Schwartz’s unfinished business, being annoying and useful.

Goodbye to All That Cat

I don’t know where to begin so I am going to try to just start anywhere. I am terribly sad to say that Schwartz died unexpectedly Sunday; so there you have it.

It was absolutely unexpected. He had been perfectly healthy his entire life and I was counting on him to help me with Eggi’s whelping at the end of the month. I don’t even know how to write this. I tell so many Schwartz stories how can this be the last? I take so many pictures of him, in this post I am only posting the most recent, from the beginning of May onward. Take? Took. Sigh. Took.

I want to say Schwartz is a particular cat, which is to say Schwartz was a particular cat. But this is ridiculous. He was a cat, and all cats are particular. I am still convincing myself that he is no longer here. He was here a minute ago. The doors to our closets are still carefully closed, to keep him from going in and peeing on our exercise clothes (dirty or clean). Just now, I shut the backdoor when I went out with the dogs, because I didn’t want to let the cat out. The abstract cat, I guess. Last night we left the door to our bathroom ajar, in case he wanted in or out. I did pilates virtually, and left the door open for him. He never misses a session. Misses? Missed.

I continue to see him out of the corner of my eye, in the kitchen, on the stairs, in my husband’s office, on the pile of finished projects in the sewing room; there he is, the Void, lurking just beyond what you’re looking at. I almost fed him this morning. You want me to call him? He’s around here somewhere.

Schwartz noisily announced meal times and liked in recent months to have a little parade for breakfast and dinner and had been asking for his food to be put down here or there rather than in the one spot by his big big water dish as he had in years past. Having three dogs meant Schwartz always had to have his dinner and breakfast when they were locked in their kennels having theirs. He was always a good eater, though anything he left in his bowl the dogs would find immediately upon release from their kennels, the hungriest dog title going to either Captain or Eggi (Fellow is more a food stealer of opportunity than a premeditated taker of cat kibble).

So if Schwartz was eating less it would have been hard to detect in the hubbub of dogs cleaning up whatever he left on his plate.

I had noticed in the last few weeks or so that he was starting to lose weight, and maybe not getting around quite as well; but he was, after all, 16. 

Among his particular feelings, Schwartz despised being put in a crate, going for car rides, and especially being taken to the vet, so we were a bit behind on ordinary wellness checks and vaccinations. (There are at least four other stories about Schwartz going to the vet: here, here, here, and here). He was an indoor cat, though, and seemed to be not especially at risk of contracting something.

He loved sitting at the human dinner table and having his share of roast chicken, lamb, eggs, pork chops, steak, bacon, pepperoni or sushi. He liked to be brushed until he didn’t. He consented to being picked up and carried, but would rather not. I recall that in Seattle he was a lap-sitter, but somewhere along the way he stopped asking, preferring to curl up near a person working on a computer. He was very good over the years at being well. And was never sick, not with anything, ever. He had an entanglement with a sculpture which almost killed him and pulled out a nail panicking over being in a crate, but that was the extent of his medical history. And the nail grew back after about five years.

He liked to try to run outside whenever we stood on the front porch to watch a thunderstorm. He loved sprawling on my sewing table. He liked to bite the dogs on their shoulders and hocks. He liked sleeping on the dog beds when they left one empty, and sometimes peed on a dog bed because he was a cat. He liked cat nip. And sun puddles. He posed for pictures, including Christmas shots with the dogs under the tree, and helped me write a children’s story. He liked drinking water from the far side of a large ceramic bowl. He slept next to the Bacon Provider, and took up half the bed when my husband was on business trips.

He seemed eternal.

Like the void itself.

Like the one character, Úrsula Iguarán, in One Hundred Years of Solitude that you forget about and then when she’s still there again and she’s like really, really old but you’re like, oh, yeah, her she never died, did she? Our oldest housepet.

Last week, I realized Schwartz missed a day of pooping. I cleaned his litter boxes daily (yes, two, side by side, because cats have very particular needs and that was what worked for him) and there hadn’t been a poop in a bit. This wasn’t he first time we missed a poop, because, of course, on occasion when he couldn’t be bothered to go IN the litterbox he would go BY the litterbox, and the dogs, having a keen taste for cat food also have a keen taste for cat excrement.  But anyway, not pooping. And when I thought about it, maybe asking for breakfast and not digging into it. So, I got him a vet appointment, but seeing how it was going to be some ground to cover (him not having been seen by a vet in so long), I thought I would wait for a good time slot with my vet.

As you know, I’ve seen a lot of vets lately.

There was nothing until Thursday (today), which I felt would be fine. I was offered something sooner with another vet and I did not take it. While I was scheduling I made an appointment for Captain to have a checkup; he’s turning 14 this month, and has a quiet, persistent cough that has resisted all our attempts to treat it so far. A worrisome thing, but not as worrisome as the cat.

Saturday, Schwartz did not even go through the motions of asking for breakfast and then not eating it. It occurred to me then that it may not have been a picky cat thing of wanting something different and that he was sick. He napped the whole day. I checked on him. He seemed relaxed and peaceful, and not uncomfortable. Sunday morning I found him in an odd corner of the laundry room, and he complained at my harshly. He was in real pain. I realized my error and got ready to rush him to the emergency room.

I stuffed Schwartz into a kennel without any protest, another sign that he was in distress. 

At the emergency vet hospital they did an ultrasound, found some masses in his abdomen. The ER vet suggested he was pale and needed a blood transfusion and hospitalization. She estimated the cost for me around $4,000-$5,000. I thought about what he would want, what was reasonable, and what was realistic. I asked if they could stabilize him and let him come home. The ER vet countered with wanting to do bloodwork and a chest x-ray; I thought that sounded like a good plan. Maybe then he could come home.

I went home to wait for the vet’s call, and the call came quickly. All Schwartz’s blood values were critical; he was headed for septic shock. The ER vet again suggested he could have a transfusion and be hospitalized, and have a diagnostic ultrasound Monday morning.

I said it sounded like it was time to let him go. I asked them to wait so we could come and say goodbye. I woke my youngest child, who wasn’t up yet, and so did not even know the cat was sick.

The receptionist looked as stricken as we felt, and showed us to a room. My youngest (who is 24) had never been to the vet before, and I blabbed at him about how in veterinary medicine you get estimates, alone with a diagnosis and care plan. I thought about other times I’d been at this vet hospital. I’d been lectured by a young vet in this very room about ear infections in dogs when I’d been dealing with them for a decade and knew as much as he did. 

A tech brought Schwartz in, bundled in blankets, with an IV port in a hidden leg. We put him on the table and loved on him a while, and then I told the stricken receptionist that we were ready. The vet come soon enough armed with a handful of syringes which she laid on the table. She explained what each contained. That it would be painless. She asked if we had any questions. 

In life, Schwartz was demanding and sometimes loud and uncompromising. He died with his eyes open, after suffering with secret cancer for weeks or months, and hidden it.

We are all smarting from the loss of him. I had tweeted that I was at the ER vet and that the news was bad and have been so overwhelmed with the kind, sad replies that I haven’t been able to bring myself to post the news anyplace else.

I keep seeing him here in the house. His litterboxes are still set up. I have several bags of his favorite food in the pantry because I didn’t want to run out in the pandemic supply chain interruptions. Every place he liked to sleep in the house (the top bunk in the guest room bunkbed upstairs, the windowsill in my bedroom, my grandmother’s green chair in the living room) still has the matted layer of cat hair. Eggi and Fellow still look for his food dishes, but Captain seems to know it’s not worth the trouble. He alone remembers that there can be pets here one day and gone the next. 

Today in July

Opening nonsense paragraph: now with fewer words.

Followed by second paragraph, now with more jokes. Ok, maybe no jokes. No jokes at all.

Third paragraph, nothing funny. Ok, wait. July 13th’s cat is really ugly. I made it ugly, and liked it that way. Ugly, and dangerous. It’s a mood. Ugly cats are funny.

Old novels have a lot of women doing needlework in them. They never lose needles in the bed of the Air BnB, and, man, I looked and looked and never found it. I am getting faster at the needlework, and somewhat better, but sorry, whoever finds that lost needle, in their unsuspecting foot, or worse.

This would be a good point to have some words about buildings, pets, or food. I’m sorry. Yes, we each know that one someone who won’t get vaccinated, and, no, there is not this one thing you can say to them to get them to change their mind.

Gee whiz, July was long

Looks like over 150 skulls this month (unless I counted wrong). And three cats.

Disbelief

I just couldn’t do it yesterday. I might have. I had a couple of train rides, into the city, and then back again. But I was sleepy, and bored, did the KenKens in the paper and the crossword on my phone. So, once again, Thursday, I didn’t get it done.

The pandemic rages on.

The CDC is trying to offer some new advice about mask wearing, having lost so much credibility back in March of 2019 when they said we didn’t need masks. At the time, the Bacon Provider didn’t believe it, he said it was obviously airborne, and he bought a box of N-95s; we still have a few left. Later, some said the guidance was because the previous administration wasn’t prepared to tackle a public health emergency, and there weren’t enough masks to go around. More recently, the CDC issued guidance that vaccinated people could go without masks. Now they are changing their recommendation, but it isn’t clear. When I drove south earlier this month, I saw people clearly happy to go without a mask, because they’d never worn one, and never intended to.

My doctor’s office still requires you to wear a mask. So does the local pharmacy. But sure, Republican congressmen, do a lot of anti-mask stunts, to pander to your base. Make it political. Ok. It’s good for you, and no one else.

Captain, who thinks thunder is going to get him, beds can be made more comfortable by digging, and someday, he will catch the shiny.

I cleared my schedule Thursday to go to the dentist. I picked a train the night before, reset the login for the app you can use to buy tickets. Before I left, I made a haircut appointment for Saturday (the first since November of 2019), and called the vet I hadn’t heard from who was supposed to call me about that ultrasound. It was his day off. I repeated my request to send a report to my vet.

We no longer have annual passes for the parking lot, so I had to pay at the kiosk. The kiosk was just confusing enough that I managed to buy two, one-day parking passes, good for that day, and that day only. As a family with a bunch of little kids approached, I offered them a free parking pass. They were all wearing masks–even the baby in the stroller–and rushed past me without so much as a “No, thank you.” Like I shouldn’t be taking to them.

Once on the platform, I checked the screen for the 11:24 southbound train. It was not listed. I asked a woman sitting on the bench nearby. She said with amused puzzlement that, well, it was listed there just a minute ago. The next train wasn’t for an hour, which would not be in time for the dentist appointment. I would wait on the platform. Either it was coming, or it wasn’t.

An announcement: the 11:21 northbound train will be arriving at 11:31.

No word on the 11:24 southbound, and still no one else seemed alarmed.

When the train arrived, all thoughts gone of it ever not arriving.

Once on board, I had to figure out a seat for myself facing the right way. Half the seats on a MetroNorth train face one way, and the other half face the opposite way. That there are people in this world who can sit and ride a train backwards is almost incomprehensible to me.

Traffic into the city is reported to be back to pre-pandemic levels, but the trains run half-empty. Instead of ads in the train cars, there are posters reminding riders that we are required to wear a mask, we should try to stay six feet apart, and we should wash our hands. At White Plains, a trio of aging bros gets on and stands the whole way into the city. They talk about travel, and snow, and one of them keeps pulling down his mask when he wants to make a point. He pulls it back up when he listens.

Jorts

Because it took us so many days to get home from Eggi’s breeding, it was easy to put it out of our minds. Eggi seemed to be back to herself, certainly. We had a dog show to think about. I had written instructions from my repro vet to seek an ultrasound from a known, reliable veterinary radiologist, and to schedule it for 28 days post-LH surge. I called the office of a different repro vet, who is not as far from Bedhead Hills, thinking he would be a good backup to have in place in case of emergency. He came highly recommended from two of my trusted dog friends.

I made the appointment several weeks in advance, knowing as I did that the practice was very busy. All the vets are very busy now. The day of the appointment I had not slept well the night before, percolating with anxiety dreams. Eggi was hungry, but she was not looking very pregnant to me.

We left for the appointment at the front of the wave of bad rush hour traffic. Pushing along, we hit a slow spot, as cars weaved around some large pieces of tire tread, and I did not see the dead baby bear resting peacefully in the middle of the highway until I was almost on top of it. It looked like it was sleeping on I-84.

Schwartz thinks he is the main character in every story.

We showed up on time for our visit and because of pandemic restrictions there were signs in the parking lot saying to call to check in and stay in your car. So we did. A smiling vet tech who seemed about 14 came out with a clipboard. She pronounced the dog’s name, “Ugly?” and had the procedure wrong,  asked for a credit card and took my dog away. I sat in the hot car trying to steady myself for disappointing news.

When the vet tech returned, she told me the vet would call me, but congratulations, she’s pregnant. “Only one puppy, though,” she added. “Possibly two.”

I texted my husband, and hit the road. Having not met the vet, seen a picture, or been reassured, yes, really, I didn’t believe it. I waited a few days for the promised call, and it never came.

How am I supposed to believe a vet I haven’t met? Who hasn’t called? How do I protect myself from what might be disappointing news, especially now that I’ve had my hopes raised?

Eggi, who believes in cuddles, sometimes thinks the floor is lava, worries about strangers.

The dentist says my teeth look ok. She asks what’s new, and I tell her stories of my dogs, of picking a stud, of doing a breeding in a hotel room, of sitting in hot cars in the parking lots of various vets. She tells me she wants me to write a book. I say I will have to change all the names, to pretend it’s fiction.

I catch the 2:10 back to Bedhead Hills.

When I get back to my car, I discover that someone (or something) has taken a big shit in the narrow space between it and the next car. It seems fresh, or at least the big shiny green flies on it think it is.

Fellow believes that he is missing out on something

Today, my repro vet’s assistant calls to tell me that they received an emailed report about Eggi’s ultrasound, a blank PDF page with no masthead, and two sentence fragments: one stating that they confirmed finding one puppy and another indicating I should get a follow-up x-ray. It was so completely non-standard the assistant wondered if it was even real.

Titled Deed

So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice. 

Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.

Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt,  and Dock Diving, just to name a few). 

The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.

There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away. 

The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.

It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.

Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.

As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt. 

We stopped many times.  I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.

Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.

Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.

Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.

Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.

So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.

We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.

Celebratory Beer

For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.

Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.

Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.

At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.

Saturday, the hot, humid  weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.

Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.

At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.

Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas.