Four Legs

Because of the Covid pandemic (which continues unabated), last year’s Vizsla National was postponed from April to October, so while it was held only a few months ago, it’s already time for this year’s, in Minnesota. And I hear it’s way out west next year, so I’ve been pretending oh, sure I’ll go again this time. Why not? I don’t have anything better going on. Who does?

Besides, Eggi and Fellow and I have been working pretty hard at obedience and agility, going to twice-weekly classes with our trainer who teaches in her backyard when the weather allows and in a classroom above her garage when it doesn’t.  My dogs love the classes, indoors or out, and whether I wear a mask or don’t, they’re used to both by now.

I thought it would be good to do some practice shows locally to get ready for our big trip. I did a couple of conformation days handling my own dogs in the breed ring, and while they know what to do, I understand it like a child playing dress-up, wobbling around in high heels and a party dress that doesn’t fit, miming doing cheers with an imaginary glass of champagne. Eggi was so surprised I was in the breed ring with her she watched the handler next to me. Fellow had the grumpiest judge I’ve ever seen, and I strangely enjoyed watching her find fault with him. No ribbons. Who cares?  They’re both grand champions, and I’m not chasing more breed titles with them.

Now, in the obedience ring, this is where we might stand out. Novice obedience is easy for Eggi, so I felt Eggi and my trips around the ring would be confidence boosters; she and I already have a beginner novice title that we completed last summer in Vermont.  Fellow is younger, less experienced, goofier, and easily excited, so I was hoping I would be able to use my time with Eggi in the ring reinforcing the calm, positive efficient way I need to work with Fellow. I signed up for the two dogs to do two different classes each of the days, Saturday and Sunday, one of obedience and one of rally. I had four numbers to manage between the two dogs, three judges, and three rings over two days. It was for practice. 

We arrived early as one must. The drive had been unremarkable. I had brought a pair of travel crates and a chair which I took inside and set up. I also had to check on and change the classes I entered with Eggi, so I had to find the superintendent to do that first thing. There are A sections and B sections for novice levels; A is for the Novice handlers with no previous titles and B is for Novice handlers with any previous titles but if you read the rules carefully you might come to the conclusion (as I had) that being a beginner and working on your first titles might be reason to put you in the A group, but any title at all puts you in the B group. Anyway, I managed to get myself switched into the correct class, by trying to be polite and apologetic, or maybe they’re used to nitwits like me, begging for mercy. In any event, by doing so, Eggi and I would show in the B group, and we would have to be last to go. 

Walking into the Better Living Center at the Big E, I could tell something was wrong. Like, if you showed up at a high school party, the music was loud and unfamiliar, and you could smell something burning, a couple of kids looked like they were already puking, and all before you even made it inside. The Better Living Center was crowded (13 rings), and it was loud. And it wasn’t fun and happy loud; it was tense loud. Eggi stopped to smell every pillar like it had just been peed on. Fellow turned to me and just barked in my face.

It was too crowded. It was too loud loud. There was a puddle of pee by the obedience and rally rings that I watched dry slowly over two days, turning from a wet puddle to a sheet of thin, faintly yellow crystallized urine. No one came and cleaned it up. The first dog to go in Eggi’s novice obedience class stepped 15 feet into the ring, stopped, squatted, and took a dump. His handler picked it up, the ring steward rushed over and dabbed at the spot with a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer (yes, hand sanitizer), and the judge moved the cones for the figure 8 away from the place where it had happened. This pair was disqualified for pooping in the ring. 

When Eggi and I entered the ring, the judge commented that mine was the third vizsla in the class. I replied that one of them was Eggi’s grandmother. The judge may or may not have said anything else. In retrospect, I think she may have tried to say something nice to set me at ease, which was hard to do, and became increasingly more difficult as we moved through the ring, because from that moment onward I’m pretty sure I misunderstood most of what she said, at least at first.

Eggi had her good moments, and a few, unexpected moments of sightseeing. Her automatic sit while heeling was absent. She came when called but finished herself and never presented herself in front of me. It was a bit like showing a dog that already had a novice title but I did not know how to handle. Nevertheless, we got a qualifying score, and were called back for the group long sit and down.

And that might have gone ok had the judge not lined us up so that one dog had to sit in the spot where the disqualified dog had pooped earlier. And of course, one dog was instructed to sit there, and it was mine. The sitting actually went ok. But for the down stay, which lasts a minute, Eggi started by hinted to me that there might be a problem when she lay down diagonally away from me rather than straight. And after about 35 seconds I could see that she was thinking about doing something with one hip. Was she going to roll onto one side? That would be ok. But, no. At 45 seconds she popped up into a beautiful square sit, with a satisfied smirk on her face. She surveyed the other, obedient dogs, all good, lying down dogs for the full minute, Eggi clearly thinking, “All y’all are doing down stay on the dog dooky floor mat like a bunch dog dooky chumps.”

So we were disqualified. With 15 seconds to go. No score. No qualifying leg towards her title. Not the confidence booster I was sure it would be.

Fellow’s turn was pretty typical for him. He was boisterous, bumping into me on the heel work and popping up whenever I returned to him, costing us a qualifying score as well. 

Then we took a couple trips around the rally ring, which is the miniature golf of obedience. It was reasonably fun, as I believe it is intended to be. You go in the ring and follow the signs. Both dogs had qualifying legs.   And then we went home, ran around the yard and ate ramen

The next day, all the obedience judges traded places. Fellow’s ring worked very efficiently that morning, so I showed him first. He kept himself together better, and bumped into me less. The judge told me twice how beautiful he was and asked about his breeding. He had a qualifying score, and that was his second beginner novice leg so when he shows at the Vizsla National he could possibly finish his title.

Eggi and I had practiced everything she’d had trouble with the day before, so I went in feeling confident it would go ok. Alas, the sightseeing during off-leash heeling was even worse on Sunday. The overall noise level was less, but a work crew arrived during our turn and started dismantling the ring next to us. When I left Eggi to do the recall (where the dog sits and stays and the handler crosses to the other side of the ring and calls the dog on the signal of the judge), there was a tremendous crashing noise behind her. Eggi did not get up, but she did turn her head to look, and she did not turn back to look at me. The judge signaled. I was in a situation I had never practiced: my dog was not even looking at me. Normally, I say, “come!” brightly and clearly. Some people say their dog’s name and then “come.” I decided, given that she was looking out of the ring, that I would say, “Eggi! Come!” as loudly (and brightly and clearly) as I could manage. So I did.

Slowly, she turned her head towards me. She sat, still stuck to the spot where I had told her to stay. She had stayed through a loud crashing noise. She had been extremely good, hadn’t she. Had I just said her name? What were we doing? Still she sat. 

I called again: “Come.”

She came. But we did not have a qualifying score. Again.

Did I sit in my chair and cry while I watched the work crew who ruined my obedience competition roll up the mats and take the ring away? Yes.

Wasn’t this supposed to be practice? Wasn’t Eggi actually very good, under very hard circumstances? Isn’t this just a dog show? Yes, yes, and yes.

Did I go and learn the miniature golf rally course and stick around and do that with both dogs? Also, yes.

Fellow was first of my two goes in rally. I like to get those rally courses over with, so we marched through it very efficiently, and on our way out the judge said Thank you, which is kind of weird because usually they tell you if you qualified or not. But I thought we nailed it. Whatever. It’s only practice.

So I put Fellow in his box and grabbed Eggi out of hers and got her walking around warming up and I saw someone getting ready to go in the ring ahead of us who was practicing a specific sign, the 5th one, which was down your dog, walk around them, and proceed, and I’m thinking….wait….I didn’t dooooo that

But what did I just do? because I did the whole thing so fast I didn’t even remember… 

I grabbed my map just to make sure, and oh boy, howdy, I just skipped it? Or made something up? Or had him sit instead of down? I still don’t know.

Anyway, Eggi did do that sign correctly, but Fellow never did. So Eggi had a qualifying rally leg that day, but Fellow didn’t. Which means that she, too, could perhaps finish a novice rally title at the Vizsla National. 

But the goal of going is to enjoy it. We leave in the morning.

Sick as a Dog

It felt like Tuesday (it was Thursday), and I saw my shadow, so I thought I should sit outside (it rained and snowed) and enjoy the (brief moments of) sunshine but the dog came in and just opened his trap and puked as if only to remind me that though he was sicker before and now he was a bit better (so much better, really). But really, he could take another turn for the worse. At any minute.

When we hit the middle of February, our Captain reached the age of 14 1/2, and celebrated with some dog tummy trouble. I made the old guy a batch of dog stew (sweet potato and beef), and when he wasn’t better by the time we’d used up the first batch, I took him to the vet.

The vet pulled some blood, gave him some fluids, gave me a pep talk, and sent us home.

Captain rejected the second batch of the same stew. I made a third batch–heroically cancelling Zoom pilates, and rushing to the store as soon as they opened–out of grated white potato and gently simmered chicken breast; he rolled a tiny nugget of chicken over his teeth and pushed it out again, and vomited in my lap.

We made another trip to the vet. A bowl of dog stew fell out of the fridge on me and I wore the splashed pants all day. We added sub-cutaneous fluids, and several medications, one for the sour stomach, one for the nausea, another to coat his esophagus.

More times than I can count, I sat alone in a quiet corner of the house where I could hear none of my husband’s work meetings and cried. I despaired that he seemed to be on his way out.

Eggi and Fellow took turns sleeping next to him, and not because it had been especially cold.

My internet friends like to tell me that Captain is their favorite, and they noticed the absence of Your Daily Captain photos. I posted that he was “not eating,” and had to reply “pancreatitis,” two or ten times, which was as much as I knew. Veterinary medicine makes it possible to do an ultrasound and discover what horrible thing is causing the funky blood levels and vomiting. Or we can guess (that it’s cancer), keep him as comfortable for as long as we can, and when it’s time to let him go, let him go.

There was a day when I could get no food into him and no pills. I settled into the familiar, bitter feeling of how completely shitty the past couple of years have been for me and for everyone, of the losses on top of losses, and of course this was what was going down. I set up Captain’s fluids out of a resigned obligation to him, even though he wouldn’t eat. I accidentally stabbed myself with a used needle and laughed because it hurt like hell, bled everywhere, and I felt like I deserved it.

About an hour later I offered him a bite of chicken and he actually ate it. I fed him a bit more, and even tricked him into taking his meds. The next day, I got more food into him, more meds, and picked up more fluids. He wagged his tail at known visitors. He wanted me to feed him, one bite at a time, so I did.

He rallied. He had a few more good days and a couple of rough nights lately. He sleeps most of the time. Fellow still tries to get a game going.

Today he is still here. I can hear his light snores as he naps on the heating pad. We bought that heating pad for Cherry, who lived to be 15.

Cherry was a fantastic dog who guessed what I wanted, and who, in the way of good bitches, really never put a foot wrong. Sure, she disliked the vet and barked at little girls she was suspicious of. Her passing opened the door for new dogs and new friends and learning new things like agility and obedience. Cherry is always right behind me when I go snowshoeing, perfectly careful not to step on the back of my snowshoes, unless she needs me to see something, or slow down, or think of her.

The Turkey

[NOTE: Yucky photos of a turkey carcass, but no guts or anything. Just dirty meat.]

Somehow, last Thursday I forgot it was Thursday and I didn’t write anything.

I have been staying busy doing nothing, trying not to get the Omicron variant as the entirety of America seems to be working on getting it. No one outside of my paranoid household and any given hospital ICU seems bothered by this, though. Half of America still won’t get vaccinated. The other half of America might definitely sometimes wear a mask, mostly covering part of their face, at the doctor, when they go to the movies (ok, until it’s like dark anyway), and when they walk into restaurants (but obviously not when they’re eating). They’re uncomplainingly sending their kids to in-person school, taught by whatever random substitute is replacing their usual teacher (because she’s out with COVID), and they’re just so psyched for when this whole thing is like over and we can like just go back to like normal.

Last Friday I passed some garbage on the side of the road near my house, which is, in and of itself, a remarkable thing. I live in a community with both paved and unpaved roads, all lovingly maintained by our taxes to preserve the rural flavor. The local Department of Thoroughfares is quite responsive if alerted to a downed limb or illegal dumping, and typically the roads stay clear. Those of us who walk our dogs around here pick up errant trash when we see it and this corner of Bedhead Hills stays picture perfect.

So when I ran out again to mail a letter, and it was still there. I slowed and rolled down my window.

The turkey, out of its wrapper

It was a turkey.

Not like a wild kind of turkey that lives in a flock in the woods around here. It was a naked, plucked, legless, headless, ready-to-be-salted-and-peppered-and-roasted kind of bird. It was raw, and not frozen. It had slid out from its butcher paper wrapper, and bounced, out of whatever vehicle it was being delivered by. I imagine it was in the way of something else that had to be delivered, and it got moved, and then it slipped out. It was abandoned in the gravel at the side of the road, and easily a 20 pounder.

Now, whoever dropped this turkey obviously messed up. Big time. Maybe the turkey escaped without notice. Maybe the turkey exited the vehicle with a dramatic flourish. Either way, someone around here did not get their 20+ pound fresh turkey delivered Friday. It was a turkey they were waiting for, that they had special ordered, that they weren’t expecting to need to defrost; this wasn’t an easy to replace item. This was dinner for 12, plus a weekend’s worth of leftovers.

All I really wanted to see happen next was the sad turkey accident going to a good re-purpose. Sure, it wouldn’t be feeding the neighbor’s weekend houseguests, but maybe the crows would find it. Or the coyotes I sometimes hear yip-yipping in the woods. We’ve heard stories of the bears down the hill, and I’ve even seen their poo around here. Would a bear eat that? Might they come up this far? And when the deer died in our wetland, we had a great congregation of vultures gather. Would there be vultures?

Friday night we had a big wind storm, so I drove down to check the carcass late and didn’t get out of my car. Saturday morning it was very cold, so I put Eggi in her jacket and she and I walked down together first thing. She noticed the crow in the tree before she saw the turkey, and they exchanged insults. The crow was still shouting at us as we retreated homeward through our woods.

That day was very, very cold. I assumed that whatever was scraping away at the turkey wasn’t going to be able to move it, since everything was frozen solid.

Sunday afternoon, I took Eggi for another walk to see if it was still there.

It was.

By Monday afternoon, the snow was very soggy, and the turkey was turned over, but it was still there. The Bacon Provider ran out to mail something and said he saw buzzards in the road, but didn’t get a picture.

Tuesday, I took Eggi to obedience class, and the turkey was lying on its back again in the middle of the road.

Ew

A few hours later it was out of the middle of the road but not quite to the shoulder.

Had something attempted to carry it, and failed?

Yesterday afternoon, before we got more snow, the carcass was to be found over on the shoulder, and was looking pretty stringy and dirty.

At 11:45 this morning, Eggi and I saw that it was in similar condition, under fresh snow.

Today at about 5 pm, I drove down to try to see if I could find it before I lost the light.

All that is left are the two big thigh bones, the spine, and the pelvis. And, of course, the plastic hock lock, because plastic is forever.

Participant

October 14, 2021: We go on a long car ride to Virginia where I get to stay in a hotel. Maggie says it is the Vizsla National Specialty Show. Elevators are mysterious, but new toilet water is always worth trying.

October 15, 2021: Agility today. I get measured, officially. I am 22 3/4” so I will get to jump in the 24” novice division. I get loose during my warmup so I can say hi to some new vizslas. When it is our turn to go, Maggie is too slow after fence two and doesn’t tell me about the tunnel, and mis-cues me so I jump the fence before the weave poles backwards, and she needs two tries to get me into the weave poles the right way. Then I don’t want to hold still on the pause table. I run past the A-frame which is huge so I have to come back and climb it from a stand-still instead of running up. Everyone gasps. The teeter lands with a boom and I spring for the last fence. 60 faults, 75 seconds, no qualifying score, no ribbon. I win a fancy towel. Had a great time.

October 16, 2021: New hotel. Hundreds of vizslas here. Obedience and Rally today. Maggie seems tense. I try to be my best good boy. I have some trouble doing a sit in the right spot, but we have qualifying scores in both beginner novice obedience and novice rally, so we even get some ribbons. Had a great time. Watch several hours of HGTV in the hotel room because Maggie won’t let me watch anything with shouting or shooting.

October 17, 2021: Went for a long walk on the eerily empty college campus next to the hotel. Had a great time. Spent several hours selling raffle tickets, which made me whiny. My mother Lucy won best veteran in the sweepstakes class. We ran into Eli and his owner in the dark when I was supposed to pee. I felt like he smelled familiar and Maggie said he is the father of Eggi’s puppy. 

October 18, 2021: Another day selling raffle tickets. Also watching home remodeling shows on TV. Saw some ducks. Had a great time.

October 19, 2021: Got a bath. Went in the show ring with a handler I didn’t know. Got to show with my mother and sister. She got second place for brood bitch. The wait for getting our picture taken was long. Still, had a great time.

October 20, 2021: Today we competed for the breed. We had to line up in catalog order, which Maggie said was numerical order even though the steward corrected her and said it was catalog order. There was such a long line of vizslas that it actually did go on forever. We go in the ring, they check our numbers and we go out again. Then we wait. I go in the ring with the new handler from yesterday and make the first cut. Then there is more waiting. I go in again with a different new handler and make the second cut. Then we wait some more. I go in for the third cut, and do not make it. Don’t care. Had a great time.

Maggie let me go to bed early. She went back to the show and watched Eli win the whole thing, even though he is 12 1/2. She says Eli looked like he was in it to win it. My sister Lolli went best of opposite, which is pretty impressive for being my boring sister. 

They pin the Iron Dog competitors, who did two agility courses, rally, obedience and conformation and had their scores totaled. Maggie did not enter me in two agility classes, only one, so I have a zero in one column and I come in second to last. But I get a participant ribbon.

October 21, 2021: Today is the last day. There is a different judge, and more new handlers and I get cut in the second round. Maggie comes and gets me, thanks the handler and takes me straight outside to pee, and then we go to the car to drive home. I am so very happy to get into the car and I am so tired I sleep on top of the crate pad and not under the crate pad like I sometimes do.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

Just One More Errand

Early in the evening between the first breeding and the second, I was sitting in the hotel restaurant eating half of a Kansas City strip steak that I intended to share with the dogs and I jokingly pointed out via text to the Bacon Provider that I could just drive down and see his mom in a quick trip of about 7 hours.

Shortly, we put together a real plan. He would fly down, I could meet him at the airport, and we could drive back together.

I was the big winner, because after driving 900 miles straight through by myself, a second driver made the drive sound easy. Ok, maybe not easy. Easier. So, Friday I did a little shopping (I had left Bedhead Hills without my toiletry bag), packed up my stuff and my sleepy bitch, and checked out. The Bacon Provider’s flight was expected at 9 p.m. in Tampa. 

The question of the trip down to Tampa was Where will We Pee, and the answer was Not Here.

I hit the same trio of delays: traffic, construction, and storms. The storms delayed the Bacon Provider’s flight as well, so in the end, he was an hour and a half late, and I pulled up in front of the airport just as he stepped outside.

From Tampa we hopped down to Sarasota, closer to his mom’s.   We stayed at the Westin, which is next to the Four Seasons, pretends to be almost as nice, and half the price. Currently, the Westin’s rooftop bar is a popular spot, and a sheriff was on the premises, riding the elevator,  both evenings we were there. As Eggi and I looked for something like grass for her to pee on, we witnessed a bar patron berating a parking valet (who barely looked old enough to drive, rattling about in his hotel polo shirt and khaki shorts) for not being willing or able to sell him drugs.

I have been going to Florida irregularly and/or regularly since I was in high school, and some of the nicer parts have been prettied up, so they no longer really look like Florida. The crummy, run-down bits are fewer and probably worse, but the jay-walking guy with no shoes and no belt, holding up his pants with one hand, hopping over some fire ants and disappearing into the bushes by the vacant bait and tackle shop isn’t as sorry a sight as the gently swaying guy in the elevator, cradling a big bag of take-out Red Lobster who smells so strongly of Kahlua you wonder if he’s been bathing in it. 

Despite the catastrophic collapse of a Miami condo, Florida is, at this moment, enjoying a frenzied real estate boom; they’re unmasked, unvaccinated, sunburned, and don’t wanna hear none of your nonsense about climate change, rising seas, ocean acidification, or worsening storms. They want all-cash deals, 20% over asking, and where’s that bartender I need another mojito. It’s ok, though, because it will all be under water by 2061.

It was good to see the Bacon Provider’s mother, anyway. She is dwindling, to be sure, and did not know me, but she said my husband’s name, and laughed some. It seems particularly unfair that someone whose life has been filled with trials, is, at the end, an enormous responsibility to her youngest daughter, who shares the job with a rotating team of carers. We can hope to see her again before the true end. The Bacon Provider hasn’t been able to visit since the pandemic began, and I guess this is another thing returning to normal, if visiting your ailing mother before she goes is ever normal.

For her part, Eggi was pleasant with the nurse, quiet indoors, and discovered lizards in the backyard, and so had a fine experience. To life, Eggi! To life!

We left the next morning hoping to outrun Tropical Storm Elsa, that was swirling into the Gulf of Mexico and preparing to make landfall on our heels.

The day we left Florida was, in fact, the Fourth of July, which is a holiday celebrated by Americans out of doors, with parades, sunburns, barbecues, and fireworks. Any excessive displays of the American flag these days should probably be met with suspicion, and this holiday doubles down with American public drunkenness.

We wanted to stay someplace interesting and break up the next leg before our stop in Virginia, and settled on Charleston, South Carolina, which wasn’t much out of the way. Charleston turns out to be difficult with dogs (there is essentially no grass anywhere in the old, interesting part of town where you might stay). But we had a nice long walk and eventually Eggi peed on a slim handful of weeds growing in an empty gravel church parking lot. 

At dinner a large we were told the hotel restaurant wouldn’t have a table for us at such late notice but in fact we were able to eat early and see a large group of partiers emerge from the elevator where they had been stuck for a good twenty minutes. When the shrieking was over, half left and the other half stayed to get real drunk. 

We soaked our feet and went to bed quite early and did not hear the fireworks at all.

In the morning we hit the road early Eggi even peed in the street like a proper urbanite. As the trip continued, Eggi became more expert with elevators, and could even use the “ding” and the light to predict which doors would open in a bank of elevators. Only once in a week did she try to defend the space from other people getting on.

We hit afternoon traffic coming into DC even though it was a holiday for most people. I guess it was everyone else coming back from the holiday weekend. And, so, another several hour stretch of bumper to bumper stop and go highway miles, and once again it fell during my driving shift. After so many days of this kind of driving, I had a cramp on my right leg. 

Living in Bedhead Hills, which is served by a commuter train to New York City, I can imagine a scenic and relaxing high-speed rail system, with stops in New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Tampa. It could even be based on green technology, and on the 4th of July we could toast to our Independence from fossil fuels.