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Women are innate nurturers. Which is why my new role as full-timer caregiver to our Sheba was bound to happen. It was also a natural result of being in love with our dog.
This particular morning, the day is going something more akin to a horse race at Arlington Park. I tend to Sheba and our other two dogs of relative age and ailments:
AND, we’re up…
HERE we are, leading Rainier down the trail, we sure do hope those Canyon motorists don’t notice our skimpily clad bedroom attire but she really did need to go out RIGHT AWAY it’s been a long night…
THERE she is, that Sheba-she, hanging back on the front porch, she’s not feelin’ it, she doesn’t want to come, she never did come when she was called…
THERE goes that Linus, breaking away from the pack, he’s taking the lead, that short little Shar-Pei nose isn’t much but he sure is sticking it out front…
THERE goes Rainier, she’s lagging behind, wagging that fluffy tail of hers, she sure is expressive, just look at her smile…
BOY! It may take a while, that cancer in her paw is slowing her gait down but not her little spirit, she sure is a loving pup of nearly fifteen years, that Rainier…
WHERE is that Sheba-she, is she still on the porch, she’s watching it all – No! – she doesn’t want to go near that dog mom – all that squeezing and pressing on that bladder she wants nothing to do with any of that this morning thank you very much!
FOLKS, the big question we’re all asking ourselves this morning – Will she go to the bathroom on her own? – Oops! – What’s that on the carpet – Jesus! – Don’t step on it – BOY, what a way to start your morning or end your night!
WE’RE still watching – who’s comin’ round the corner – will that Sheba come off that front porch or will she simply stand there staring at Linus as he lifts that leg – I wonder she’s not jealous he can go on his own?
THERE she is – she’s heading back inside — Frank just opened the door – she’s looking for that hot dog – Oh! – that Armour Hot Dog – the dog Sheba loves to bite – the one with all those special little things inside, it’s got more crunch – she doesn’t seem to mind — she gets lots of those little Armour Hot Dogs three or four times a day…
NOW COMES Rainier breakin’ round the turn — she’s ambling back into the house — she’s after her own Armour Hot Dog – it’s special too all that Tramadol — but she doesn’t seem to mind – Look at her woof that down!…
And thus, our day begins. The same as any other. Anyone who has raised children or cared for animals knows the required rituals. Sometimes it feels like a race to meet everyone’s needs. Nothing else can happen until everyone’s been fed or pottied…
In spite of the newer more frenzied rigor, I appreciate this particular morning. Late summer has come – golden aspen leaves peak through the green. The fullness of summer yields to the expression of autumn. As they shimmer and speak a little louder in the increasing winds, the grey squirrel clings to the branches outside the window of the French bathroom doors, chattering and tail-twitching. His pine nut-stuffed cheeks inform we are on the cusp of a new season.
I welcome the change in seasons. I embrace the opportunity to slow life down just a bit.
I head back into the house, after this part of our morning ritual ends, to follow our new regimen of dog care for the pack: A cocktail of prescribed pharmaceuticals. The brilliant Israeli neurologist we found after three weeks of searching gave us a measure of hope for Sheba’s bladder. Three times a day, we are packing pills – Gabipentin, Prednisilone, Famotidin, Bethanecol, Baytril – into those special Armour Hot Dogs. They all line up excitedly – Linus stammering his paws, smiling – he is the only one getting just the dog – Sheba takes hers readily, the Prednisilone makes her appetite voracious. Rainier takes her Tramadol-laced hot dog reluctantly. It’s keeping her cancer pain down while she lives out the remainder her fifteen or so years. I can’t bear to think of losing her as well; yet it feels more a natural course of allowing life to unfold.
I stare at Sheba after we’ve finished this round of doling out the pills. I realize that I’m turning into an obsessive-compulsive over her condition. Her situation is impacting and engulfing and overwhelming me to the point I cannot concentrate on my other real-life responsibilities. It’s just that I can’t help any of it.
Which is precisely the point – anyone who has ever loved and wanted to help animals understands that each deliver a healthy dose of helplessness alongside the love.
It’s the problem with having a dog, a close friend said to me recently, you get so attached.
What’s the answer, then, not ever loving an animal? I couldn’t envision a life not loving animals.
Maybe, she said, it’s better not to…
I didn’t agree, but I understood.
With Sheba, we’ve connected on a soulful level, the way you sometimes can with a particular horse or a cat or a dog. I remember when I first recognized that she held within her something that I always believed was in me. It’s her resilience, her strength. She knows what it’s like to feel thrown away. She’s fought all her life just to be herself. She escaped euthanasia by an angel’s breath after eight months in a shelter before my good friend found her and brought her to me. In all the reasons for mistrust, she found someone on whom she could rely. In all that rejection and loss for being the independent spirit she’s been, she has bounced back fully. Until this event, she was bounding up ski slopes and mountain ridges with the fervor and enthusiasm of a six-week old puppy. I’ve had the deepest admiration and respect for her strong spirit. To her, I vowed I would never abandon her. And sometimes, even when it’s only a dog, you just have to admire an inherent determination to get back up, no matter what life throws at them.
If you let love in deep enough, it moves your life in ways unexpected.
My husband has come to love her as I do. He sees the uniqueness of her that shines brightest among the three we have. He understands the bonds that tied our hearts together. He knows the sadness that comes with helplessness, the moment you realize you have no control over what affects your heart.
He reminds me in the wee hours of the morning when grief and stress steal away my slumber that we have no real control over any of this.
He reminds me as I cry for the seventh time in three days, that no one in the world would not agree we are doing all we can to help. Then, he adds, they’d probably think we were a couple of idiots.
I know what he means. Sometimes, I do indeed feel like an idiot. Albeit, a helpless one. There are times I just stare at her and those crooked Shepherd ears, hanging relaxed on her greying head, betraying the character that is quintessential Sheba-she. Often, she lies along the creek while I meditate and simply stares back at me. These days, she is more contemplative, moving just a bit slower than before. But she is still that special soul that I just need to have around.
My husband and I joke, at this stage, between our respective expenditures to keep her here: She’s our Ten Thousand Dollar mutt. On two separate occasions, the stroke nearly claimed her. Veterinarians are professionals, after all – all that education, experience and training, comes at a price. And yet – at what price, the dog you love the most?
I glance over at my husband as we send Sheba, Linus and Rainier out the door. I know that we were meant to be together. He is the only one who would ever devote himself so completely and selflessly as to join me in saving the dog I once rescued because he understands she rescued me for him. I vowed to her in the moments in between peace and heartache I would stick around if only just for her. Sometimes, life can carve out the simplest of complexities into a sheer will to live despite the hardships.
We walk out into the day after the pack. They’re all resting in the late summer sunshine on the front porch. For the moment, the race is over. It’ll be about two hours before trying to express Sheba’s bladder, and another eight before the next go-round of doling out those special little Armour Hot Dogs. We’re hoping this new round of medical treatment will help restore her bladder back to health, so we can have her for the remainder her long canine life. And just for this moment, we move into our respective rituals for the work of the day, bidding each other goodbye, until we meet on the front porch a little while later…
Stay tuned for Episode 3 of The Sheba Chronicles…
The Sheba Chronicles: Episode 1
I’ve always been able to help my life. Until somewhere in 2009 when it all changed. After twenty years in law, a profession certain to engender a false sense of control and feeling of authority, I lost the ability to control anything.
Since then, I adopt the Buddhist philosophy of letting go and noticing…
This morning, I cannot not help but notice, as I am washing my Shepherd’s excrement off my arm, I have to let go the need to control what I prefer to be doing and embrace my new role of playing nursemaid to my stroke-afflicted Shepherd mix, Sheba. Despite my best intentions, life is calling me to turn back in her direction and tend to her most basic biological needs as I would have been doing had I ever born children.
Her most recent downfall from the effects of a stroke four years ago has left her unable to relieve her body of anything. It appears we may be running out of the borrowed time we’d been given.
Still in all, I’m determined to keep her with me as long as is humanly possible.
She doesn’t want my help – but I am summoned by duty and obligation and irrational love to give it anyway. I take her gently by the scruff of the neck and walk her over to the grass on the side of our mountain log home. Laying her willful self on her side, I place my hands around her overly full bladder, pressing as hard as I can, but not too – just enough to get her to eliminate, the neurologist said.
Meanwhile, she struggles and cries and I wince – I don’t know who is hurting more – and the round of Gabepentin for her pain seems to have little effect. She bites hard and kicks at me with her hind legs.
I carefully lean my knee on her neck all Dog Whisperer like to calm her mind. She doesn’t appreciate nor understand our new process. I speak to her in as gentle tones as I can, the way I used to calm my carriage horses on Michigan Avenue during a traffic jam. Easy, Sheba…
It’s like asking an elephant to chill – sometimes, if the goddesses have parted the skies, I can get a stream of urine – until wait – there is something else.
I try hard not to lean in too close. The smell makes me gag, I turn my head away. I am forced to watch, because the neurologist said, This is how I got her to eliminate…you should have no problem…
I tell myself that I deserve the excrement smeared on my forearm, that warm blob and more coming, because I am pressing on the system where it all comes from. I would prefer the coveted number one, not two – and it comes but sporadically – meanwhile her flailing strong legs are kicking and smearing more number two at me.
Finally, neither of us can take any more. I have to be satisfied with this go-round of output. I know I’ve gotten at least some of the important things, mostly because it’s all over the inside of my arm.
I let her up and she turns to look at me and I feel I am the worst human being in the world. I feel she hates me and is wondering why we are spending our otherwise peaceful mornings with her on her side and me kneeling over her.
She turns to look at me before she trots away, heading down to the creek to drink some more water. She is thirsty from the Prednisilone prescribed for her inflamed bladder. I objected to the steroid that seemed to kick off this whole nightmare. Her bladder is inflamed, she needs it, the neurologist said.
I follow her down to the creek, needing to wash the contents of her stomach off my arm. I try to return to my writing or accounting or the phone call I was tending before I interrupted it all, because I know it is only a matter of another hour before we’re back at it again. I watch her lap up more water with conflicted feelings of appreciation for her healthy thirst and dread for the next episode. She turns to stare shamefully at me.
Or so, I infer.
Sixteen days ago, we were relaxing on our front porch, when it became increasingly apparent our dog had stopped being able to eliminate. We’d already been at it for an entire week of ER visits and we thought we’d gotten the issue under control.
After calling the ER veterinarian from two days before, we slammed a cup of coffee, fed the five cats and other two dogs, loaded up the car and headed for one of the best places in the country for animal emergencies – Colorado State University. It’s the Grey’s Anatomy version in the veterinary world, a teaching hospital staffed with some of the highest and best looking talents in the country.
I felt so responsible, this was my dog before we met. I should have come into my new marriage with a healthy mutt. My poor husband has footed the Five Thousand Dollar veterinarian bill and counting.
After the long two-hour drive, we waited the politely appropriate time for a team of beautiful veterinarians to greet us in the lobby. Our dog’s bladder is about to burst! I explained to the receptionist.
Please have a seat, she responded.
I sat reluctantly, dread spinning my mind into a downfall. I just need you to help her live, I explained through sobs to the young veterinary student. She takes the leash from my hands.
I watch her lead away my beloved dog and disappear down the hallway. We wait. An eternity later, another polite and inordinately good-looking white coated professional appears: You have to leave your dog here, she said. I can’t help but notice her long blonde tresses. Are all the new veterinarians this good looking?
We’ll catheterize her, continue her meds, she explains.
How long? I ask. We don’t know. We’ll need to have her here until the meds kick in.
The next day, I made the long drive back up with Linus, our Lab Shar-pei mutt. I brought him to see that Sheba was still with us, just in the hospital for a few days. He freaked when we returned without her that Sunday afternoon.
Linus and I and are led into a room where another new veterinary student of feminine prowess, strength and talent and her gorgeous sorrel-haired resident meet us. I feel confident, like we are in the hands of Dr. Christina Yang herself. Sheba saunters in, dragging catheter behind.
We have her on the meds, the sorrel-haired resident explains, but we are waiting to see if they kick in.
How long, do you think? I ask. I’m not expecting any answer that will soothe my mind. I haven’t been able to get one so far.
Four days, at the very least, the Bethanecol and Prazosine will take some time to kick in, she offers weakly.
I leave the veterinary hospital, feeling the weight of the week before me. I am determined to visit her every day, so she doesn’t feel abandoned. She is a shelter mutt, after all, a dog who understands what it’s like, to feel thrown away. I feel her best chance for recovery lies in my hands and it is up to me to keep her spirit bright.
Or so, I tell the little gremlin of control residing in the dark recesses of my mind…
Stay tuned for Episode 2 of The Sheba Chronicles…