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Archive for February, 2018

Nancy Deming-May

January 2014

The last I saw him, he was in the back of our master adopter, Dawn’s, Rav4, crowded next to his latest favorite obsession – Jojo, the goofy eight month old female black lab.  They were both wedged into the back next to a crate with an ill-tempered boxer, who was thankfully well covered with a thick quilt.  Duke’s classic black and white coat was silky soft and he smelled of coconut-oatmeal from his bath the day before, and a little bit of dog, of course.  He was headed to a local Petco, for a day of being assessed and maybe made over, on account of his striking contrasting brown and blue eyes.  Fortunately though, Dawn is a quick assessor of people, AND she specializes in border collies – the Aspergians of the dog world – wicked smart, compulsive obsessive, and a little detached.  He would NOT go to some young impulsive non-adult looking for a “cool” dog.  She would make sure the people who took him into their homes were ready for the challenge – daily rigorous exercise, firm, consistent discipline, a lifetime commitment, and an appreciation for the breed’s quirky behaviors.  Have you ever seen a dog herd a fire?  Did you know every run is better if you add circles and spins?

Duke came to us via a local dog lover, who was in her childhood neighborhood in the western part of the state over Thanksgiving.  It’s a region known for its beautiful mountains as well as its high unemployment and array of mobile homes.  Debra noticed the dog on the end of a chain, outside of a simple home.  Every time she passed by the house, she would look for him.  He was always there.  Finally, she stopped and knocked on the door.  She offered to help in whatever way she could with the dog.  Many people would take offense at this slight hint of improper care, but Debra has a caring, non-judgmental, disarming way about her that has led to much success in dog rescues over the years.  After the initial contact, Debra left her number and went on her way.  Several days later the woman called.  She had thought about it and agreed that this was no life for a dog.  Their current landlord wouldn’t let the dog inside unless it was really cold, and then only in the basement.  Her two younger girls were afraid of him and she was willing to let him find a better home.  The rescue began.

Between multiple animal rescue specialists, we got him picked up, vetted, neutered (he was four and a half), got his shots up to date, bathed and boarded.  I had a good friend who lived near him who rescues dogs, but she wasn’t willing to take him into her house as he “marked” EVERYwhere.  What else do you do for fun at the end of a chain day in and day out?  Two days after Christmas, Debra picked him up from the vet clinic and headed east where we met in a local Target parking lot.  I felt like I was going to pick up my newly adopted foreign child at the airport, I was so excited.  Debra and her husband pulled up in their large SUV and I greeted them all at the driver’s side door.  Duke was trying to crawl into Steve’s lap.  We made sure we had the leash secured and let him out of the car where he pulled like a sled dog from one hedge to the other in order to smell and leave his scent.  He seemed okay with us petting him, but didn’t seem too interested in us in his quest to case the area and espy anything that moved.  We caught up on his latest news and commented on his beauty, upset stomach, “stinky smell”, and great potential, while he nonchalantly patrolled the area.  Eventually, he walked over to me and gently reared back on his hind legs and wrapped his front arms around my waist – normally a dog-discipline-no-no for me, but this pseudo-hug melted my heart and was allowed as we made our initial connection.  I was ready to take him home.

Every foster dog experience goes differently.  Some come in so timid and near feral, that they have to be carried outside and placed down on the ground to do their business.  Others have been so nervous or afraid, they have growled and snapped at anyone who came close.  We usually tether them to the kitchen table which forces them to be around us, get used to our movements and noise, and eventually settle in.  The tethering approach though, was not optimum for a 43 pound dog that had been at the end of a chain for the past three years – and a border collie at that – the breed known for their boundless energy and focus.  Further, Duke had developed this amazing habit of switching back and forth at the end of his tether – ducking under the leash, twirling in the signature BC circles, until his leash looked like a celebratory ribbon capping a child’s birthday party.  We settled on the crate approach.

Duke went into a large crate we had placed in the middle of kitchen/dining room area.  His smell was so bad that another bath was essential.  It was late though, and trust still needed to be built before we got that intimate with each other.  We fed him, walked him (as much as a pacing, twirling, nervous border collie can be walked), and discovered another habit he had picked up at the end of his chain – playing with his food bowl.  As we were trying to get to sleep, we were jarred out of our relaxation mode by the sound of a metal bowl being flipped into the air and clanging loudly against the metal bars of his crate.  We removed the bowl, carried the stinky crate with a puzzled dog into the garage, and all settled down for our first night together.

The next morning, after another nervous walk and breakfast and then another get-down-to-business walk, I opted for our walk-in shower with the removable shower head.  Convenient, though not ideal, as I usually get about as wet as the dog – especially if I lose hold of the shower head and it splays around annoyingly.  I figured out quickly that Duke was okay with the gentle warm water spray but not when I tried to put it on a harder setting – his fear-factor rose considerably.  I suspect he’d had a hose turned on him more than a few times while trying to survive at the end of his chain.  He eventually settled down and I got him suds up and rinsed, dried and smelling much better.

I took him, along with my husband, and my long-time foster-training Jack Russell terrier, Smitty, to the local single-track mountain bike trail and we enjoyed a good, long, smell-full walk.  He wasn’t too used to walking on a leash, so we had the usual challenges – made a little tougher by his size, speed, and determination.  He had an almost dangerous knack for banging into the side of my knee – perhaps a remnant of his herding mentality.  He would walk out ahead of us for a bit, but always seemed to want to stop and come around behind us – as if to make sure we were all staying together.

Duke gradually settled into our routine.  We usually find it takes about three days before they seem to feel comfortable.  We all like to know what is expected of us and what comes next.  Once our fosters understand that, they seem to relax a bit.  I am very fortunate to have a local doggie daycare business (Dogwood Run) nearby that agrees to take my fosters in for free.  This keeps the dog from getting too bored in a crate all day, and has the added benefit of helping the dog get better dog-socialized, in addition to exercised.  There is nothing like a roomful of our peers to teach us how to behave.  The employees there are also, by nature, very patient and empathetic dog-lovers who are always glad to help teach a dog that humans are in charge, but we are also kind and can be trusted.

They had some problems with him “marking” inside the daycare facility at first, but a squirting water bottle and firm words corrected that within the first week.  I sometimes will carry my smaller fosters downstairs so I can get them right outside and praise them for taking care of business in the grass, but Duke was a little too big to be carried and I had my share of accidents.  The one at the top of the stairs against the railing, such that it sprayed out on the carpeted stairs below and ran down the wall, was especially memorable.  He really learned quickly though, and within a week, I was no longer cleaning or correcting “accidents.”  The only other significant carpet episode involved an attempted change in food that led to an all-night vigil of carpet cleaning and re-cleaning.

Other adventures for Duke included outings to the dog park where at first he obsessed with the stainless steel water bowl, picking it up with his teeth and carrying it around, tossing it in the air, and doing endless circles in between carries.  No wonder his teeth were all chipped and his canines short for his age.  Dawn, my BC expert, thought this was a good sign however – he had found a relatively harmless way to amuse himself at the end of his relentless chain.  Many chain-rescues she sees have really tough OCD habits to break – maybe they’ve become obsessed with killing small critters or anything that moves, or very aggressive with anything that gets near it.  And border collies with their OCD tendencies anyway can be especially difficult to rehabilitate.

Duke quickly figured out that there were much more exciting things happening at the dog park than water bowls, and he quickly turned his attention to all the dogs that needed herding – especially Jojo – a greyhound-fast, rambunctious eight month old black lab foster of Dawn’s.  Poor Jojo became Duke’s new obsession – a status which she both simultaneously reveled in and reviled.

So eventually things settled down for all of us, Duke figured out our routine and we figured out his.  We settled on an acceptable food for carpet preservation and we learned he was very suspicious of young men, and thus warned my son’s friends to stay clear of him.  We figured he must have been taunted by teenage boys or young men at some point to develop that much of a prejudice.  We eventually let him around our grandchildren with great caution and supervision on our part, but he seemed oblivious to their presence and energy – even when the eight year old crawled around the living room baa-ing like a sheep in the hopes of getting herded.  The grandchildren especially enjoyed being locked in his crate (temporarily only of course) while the dogs looked on in wonder.  Skate-boarders and joggers seemed to trigger nothing feral in him, and our hopes for his eventual forever home grew stronger.  After about a month, both he a Jojo hit the jackpot.

Duke’s new family took the form of a middle-aged couple who had lost their dog about a year earlier.  They had been on low alert, but were in no rush to find a replacement.  They were both drawn to him that Sunday at Petco, and quizzed Dawn a long time about the breed and their quirky habits and challenges.  She was somewhat disappointed when they left, as they seemed genuinely interested in the dog and the breed.  It was several hours before she was surprised to look up and see them again with relieved smiles on their faces.  They had gone home and researched the breed and discussed it and were now very excited about working with Duke and giving him the discipline, exercise and love he needed.  They had a farm they went to on the weekends and were ready to take another dog into their lives.  Dawn completed the interview and paperwork, and handed over his records before walking them to the door to wish them good luck.  Dawn texted me a jubilant message that both Duke and Jojo had found their forever homes that day.  Later she emailed a longer explanation in which she shared what encouraged her the most about the couple: They never said anything about how “cool” his eyes were – though obvious, it’s really not what’s most important about any dog or relationship (looks); they were most excited about working with and training him and getting to know the breed.

We ALL feel good about Duke’s long and happy life ahead.  If only every dog could be so lucky.

February 2014 Outing Photos from Duke’s New Family

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Nancy Deming-May

December 2015

I’ve truly wondered over these past years about the “whys” of dementia as my mother has descended down this seemingly endless staircase.  Why did she have to get this? Why does it make her more thoughtless?  Why does she say those hurtful things?  Why can’t she at least remember THAT? Why does she hoard stuff?  Why didn’t she take better care of herself?  Why didn’t she plan better – especially after seeing her parents?

There are also the “whens”.  When did this really begin?  When were her first mini-strokes?  When did she last have her wallet?  When should I take her back to this or that doctor?  When should I start or stop this or that medicine? When is it okay to decide to stop dragging her from doctor to doctor, and just do enough to keep her comfortable?

Then there are the “whats”.  What should, or could, I do differently, so this doesn’t happen to me or my children?  What is the best level of care and supervision to keep her safe, yet preserve her independence as much and as long as possible?

As we have maneuvered these endless questions, I’ve had to work hard to find the good in her illness.  I’ve read books and articles on dying and/or dementia with intense interest.  I was especially fascinated by the article in The Atlantic by Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, “Why I Want to Die at 75.”  A quote of his that I find particularly on target is, “But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”

I’ve vowed I won’t let myself get to this same level (as my mom) with my kids.  I’ll stop ANY antibiotic – even for the simple UTIs – so I don’t have to drag my kids through this quagmire of frustration, obligation, and guilt.  I’ve wondered about the meaning of it all – the articles that say how much the author grew or learned from their torturous experience of caring for an elderly parent.

With each step down the staircase, I’ve tried to be honest and accepting of myself and my feelings.  I’ve bristled at her “joking” comments that hurt – because she doesn’t have the frontal lobe to sense their inappropriateness.  I’ve done my best to hold my tongue when she demanded certain things – minute in their instance – huge in their history.  I’ve tried to look at the bright side – how things could always be worse.  I’ve been grateful for my sister, and cousins, and friends that I can be honest with – especially those who have shared the same experience and understand when I admit that though I am really good at caring for her (getting her to the right doctors, monitoring her meds, keeping track of her finances, protecting her from predators), I no longer enjoy spending time with her.  This too, brings me guilt.

Recently, my mother has taken a turn for the worse.  After a fall where she suffered an eventual compression fracture in her back, she was wracked with pain and wanted nothing more than to lie on her bed undisturbed.  After multiple, tortuous outings to various doctors’ appointments, we finally determined the source of her pain (it took five weeks).  We eventually brought in Hospice to help.  I found their greatest contribution was giving me permission to stop trying to “fix” everything and to just keep her comfortable.  In the meantime, she has lost over 30 pounds, and though her back has healed, her mind has further suffered from the prolonged period of inactivity.  So now she is “back” and semi-mobile again – though more frail and with just a shred of memory.  I now tell her stories for her, though sadly, she no longer recalls them, even with my prompting.

I wonder how much longer this will continue.  It seems to me that we are “lingerers” in my family.  We don’t go quickly – we hang on and suffer, or at least endure.  This is not how I want to go.

We are back to that Why question again.  When I discuss my thoughts about not lingering with my husband, his perspective is that simple things will be enough for us – one more milestone of the kids, grandkids, or great-grandkids will make it worthwhile.  We joke about what we will need to keep us content – how we love watching and listening to birds, gardening, straightening things up (OCD people understand).  I joke about giving me a flower bush to deadhead or taking me into woods for walks even if I’m in a wheelchair.  I get that, but I wonder about the effect of my likely disability and dependence on my children or primary caregivers.  His family history has not been one of lingering.  They have long independent lives and then slip away quietly and quickly.

As I ponder the “What is enough?” question, my mother continues her decline.  Where is the bottom of this dementia descent?  Over the past several weeks, her memory has been so vacant that she doesn’t even interrupt our dinner conversations to demand an explanation that she can’t understand.  And then, I’ll be walking her back to her room after our meal, and she’ll turn to me and say, “I just love you,” followed by, “I’m so glad you’re my daughter.”  To which I am taken aback, and reply, “Aw Mom, you’re going to make me cry, and I love you too.”

I take her back to her room and get her settled, and as I walk back out to my car, I shake my head and feel the gratitude wash over me.

And I vow to tell my children how much I love them.

Maybe this is enough.

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