Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Under the Full Moon

I was in my pajamas, standing on my bedroom balcony and looking over my backyard, admiring its tranquil beauty in the moonlight, when I saw the two skunks on my patio. I wasn’t concerned since they were climbing the fence and appeared to be leaving.

But then—oh no!  I heard the “clack” of the doggie door and realized that my greyhound, Olivia, wasn’t at my side. I rushed downstairs, but it was too late.

Olivia had caught one of the skunks and was tearing into it, chunks of skin and fur flying everywhere, blood spraying the patio floor and sliding glass door. I managed to drag Olivia inside when I saw the skunk’s partner re-entering the yard, looking for his mate. I tried closing the doggie door but the angry skunk was forcing his head through the door, snarling and trying to bite my bare heels as I used them to push his head backward. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the skunk was joined by two equally rabid rabbits that were also growling, biting, and shoving their heads through the doggie door trying to enter my home.

Then the skunk lifted his tail and a flume of white spray shot out, covering my entire patio in a putrid veil of white mist like a fog machine at a concert. The foul fog started creeping through the doggie door, violating my beautiful home, my peaceful sanctuary. It burned my eyes, my throat, my nostrils, and I realized I’d lost the battle….

I woke up with a start, gasping for air, my heart pounding like a jackhammer. The symbolism of the dream did not escape me.

Just a few weeks ago my neighbor had told me about the excruciating pain she was experiencing from her sciatica. But earlier this day, when I asked her husband how she was doing, he told me the pain turned out to be, not her sciatica, but stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized.  She was now under the care of Hope Hospice.

A few days prior I had visited a family member fading away from inoperable pancreatic cancer. And this Friday marks my beloved mother’s five year anniversary. She died just three weeks after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Cancer. Damned fucking cancer. Insidious, invasive, and quietly aggressive, snaking into homes, destroying lives, shattering hearts.

Eventually I fell back into an uneasy sleep. But the malodorous stench of that dream haunted me for days. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Secret's in the Sod

There’s always a ramp up period with any new dog, right? 

With sweet, shy Elvis it was mastering the scary stairs and conquering Kilimanjaro. When Mom passed away in 2009 and I adopted her greyhound, Lucy, it was months before the little white hound got over her fear of the dreaded doggie door. 

And with Olivia, well she had a slight issue with trust. All now in the past, of course. These days, as we spoon on her pillow and I pepper her needle nose with kisses, I tell her, “Remember that time you snapped at me and almost shaved the peach fuzz off my cheek?” And we both laugh over the silly misunderstanding as she nuzzles her head deeper under my chin and nudges me for more kisses.

Now there’s Hazel. Funny, goofy, affectionate Hazel, an instant love bug who mastered the stairs and doggie door in record time. When I began the housebreaking process, I noticed that aside from that first night, she wasn't having accidents in the house, which was good. But she also wasn't going in the backyard, which was not so good. Instead, she was holding it and going only when we went on walks, which could sometimes be 12 hours apart. This dog had to learn to do her business in the backyard when I was at work. 

I called Golden State Greyhound Adoption for advice and was told to take her out and stand in the yard with her throughout the day in 10 minute cycles.  Morning, noon and night. Never give her the opportunity to pee in the house. Eventually she would go in the backyard. 

Sounds easy enough, right?

Except it wasn't. She simply wouldn't go. Would. Not. Go. There I was, every morning at 5:15 am, in my pajamas, half asleep and standing in my backyard waiting for Hazel to do her business,begging her to do her business, but nothing.She'd just look at me with her big doe eyes and then fall asleep on the welcome mat near the sliding glass door.  At that hour I wanted to join her.  A couple times she'd hunch over the rocks that border my fence, like she was about to do something, and I'd get so excited and hold my breath and think, "yes, yes!" But then she'd stop. Circle. Paw the ground quickly, like she was touching a hot iron, and then go back to the welcome mat and lay down. 

And so, I'd take her for a quick walk and then crate her while I was at the office. I hated doing this after she'd already lived the first four years of her life in a crate, but I had no choice: she had to learn to pee outside before I could give her free rein of my home.  

Finally, when no progress was made after two weeks, I called a trainer for advice. Janis said this was a common problem with dogs that had a preference for particular substrates, like grass or (GULP) carpet. "Try a couple rolls of sod," she suggested. "When she produces, lavish her with praise like she's just done the most brilliant thing in the history of dogdom."

Okay. So I bought some sod, which was pretty darn cheap thanks to California's drought because hey, no one's planting sod these days, right?  Laid it in the area where I wanted Hazel to go, just like the trainer said. 

Then watched. Waited.Prayed.

It was all of 10 minutes before Hazel came sniffing around with Olivia at her side. Helloooo, what was this?  And maybe another minute or two before the sod was baptized. My neighbors must have thought I'd gone nuts because allelujia!  I lavished praise upon my little girl as if she'd just done the most brilliant thing in the history of dogdom. 

And don'tcha know it? She had.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Week Two with Hazel

Judging from this photo, I'd say Hazel is feeling right at home, wouldn't you? 

Our first two weeks together have gone incredibly smooth...oh, except for that sea of urine, in the center of my living room, that was so large I swear it had waves. The "accident" occurred after I turned my back on her for one minute. Okay, maybe two.

Olivia just looked at the bright yellow puddle slowly seeping across the hardwood floors, and then at Hazel with this stunned expression that said, "Oh no you didn't." And then she looked at me like, "I didn't do it. Honest."

I couldn't get mad. Hazel was brand spankin' new, right off a Florida racetrack just last May. As far as she was concerned, any place outside her crate was fair game. This was how it worked at the track, right? But eventually, she would learn to go outside, as did Elvis, Lucy, and Olivia. I mopped up the floor, threw away the contaminated throw pillows, and dragged Olivia's bed into the yard for a good wash, followed with a spraying of Nature's Miracle. 

The ramp-up period with a new dog is always a challenge, I know. But I signed up for it because I also know that every puddle, every "NO!" and every chewed slipper will be worth its weight in gold when replaced with needle-nose nuzzles. Oh, there's nothing more rewarding, trust me.

Just ask me about Elvis, Lucy, and Olivia. And coming soon, Hazel.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Introducing Hazel

I wasn't planning on getting a second dog. Really. The day started out as an innocent play date for Olivia at the home of Tom and Susan. They have three greyhounds of their own and my girl always comes home dog-tired after a day of romping with her peeps. 

Only this time, Tom and Susan were fostering a little 4-year-old fawn straight off a Florida track. Better known as Miss Bessie in the 93 heats she ran as a race dog. Her final race was on May 21 before she was rescued by Golden State Greyhound Adoption

Anyway, you know that old Linda Ronstadt song, the one with the lyrics that go, "...just one look and I fell so hard in love, with you?"  Well....

Olivia now has a new sister, a sweet and affectionate little love bug I've named Hazel. Once again I'm a two-dog household.  

Oh, I know what this means, mind you. Double the work. Double the food. Double the vet bills, cleaning, and costs. 

And double the love.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pet Tails and the Rainbow Bridge

Yes, it's true. As you might have read in last Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, after 13 years, Pet Tales is crossing the Rainbow Bridge.  

I could hear the regret in my editor's voice when she called to break the news. She said that despite recognizing the popularity of the weekly column, "market research" shows that newspapers need to take a different direction. I'm guessing this is why sections of the paper keep getting revamped--they're still trying to identify what that "direction" may be. 

These days print media is doing their best to connect with a generation that simply doesn't read print anymore. If it ain't online, they ain't readin'.  Trying to reach this generation might be as hopeless an endeavor as trying to get my generation to convert solely to e-readers, smart phones, and iPads. Oh, I've got a Kindle and an iPhone. But I'll never use them for my news. Never.

I love newspapers. Always have. My affair with print started in 1967 when I was 9-years old and with my folks visiting Aunt Amelia and Uncle Frank in San Francisco one weekend. I was bored. Oh God, so bored. Theirs was not a kid-friendly house, and it was cold outside. And foggy. No yard to play in, no toys, no other kids. Bored bored bored. 

And so, when I came across their Sunday San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle, I started reading it out of sheer desperation. Anything to kill time.  But my interest in the paper suddenly spiked when I came across a photo of actor Tommy Steele in the entertainment section. Helloooo! I had just seen his new movie, Half a Sixpence, a few weeks earlier and had an enormous crush on the British singer/actor.  

I  must have been the only 9-year old in history to ever ask her parents for a subscription to the San Francisco Examiner. I got it and have never stopped reading. Even when I moved to Utah for a couple years, I continued my subscription to the weekend Examiner/Chronicle, although it would  arrive three days later.  No matter where I lived, no local rag could ever replace my beloved hometown newspaper.

Yes, I love print. The smell of the ink, the tactile feel of the paper, the peripheral news elsewhere on the page that catches my eye--maybe a word or a picture--and so I find myself reading an article or blurb that I had no intention of reading and as a result, I learn something new. It just doesn't work that way online. Sigh....

But Back to Pet Tales 
My main regret is losing this voice for the rescue community. It's been extremely rewarding to spotlight the joys of animal companionship and share the many wonderful resources we have throughout the Bay Area.  From bunnies and birds to chihuahuas and pit bulls, there's a rescue group for that one particular person looking for that one particular pet. Plus, I've met so many wonderful people, like-minded folk who love the creatures that share their lives.

But the good news is, I've been asked to write a pet "lifestyle" column in the 96 Hours section of the Chronicle, addressing trends, events, and quirky topics that appeal to pet owners. It'll be different, but fun and I'm looking forward to discovering what's out there. Because really, I don't get out much...what IS out there? I need readers to share their favorite pet tips and ideas with me.  

Thanks for reading Pet Tales all these years. I hope you'll follow me over to 96 Hours for the new column, which is yet to be named. I had suggested "Heavy Petting" which a few editors liked, but the Powers That Be nixed that one. Oh well. 

Can't win 'em all.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ugly Shelter Dog

I loved this email I received from a Pet Tales reader, Holly Field, of Fort Collins, CO.  She was responding to last week's column (Maddie's Pet Adoption Days) about a shelter pet finding her forever home. I asked Holly if I could share her email and she agreed, so here it is.  This made my heart smile; hope it does yours as well.

"I always tear up when I hear of animals finding their homes. I have a dear friend, Susan, who lives in Santa Fe and for years volunteered at a shelter taking dogs out for walks on Sundays. I don't know how she steeled herself for it, but she managed. She had a dog-sitting business and owned two already, so she couldn't bring any more home.

There was one particular dog that was very sweet, but quite ugly. She loved him and feared he'd never find a home. One day, when she was out walking another, she heard him barking, barking, barking...and she looked up to see his little head sticking out of the window of a car that was leaving the shelter.  

She knew he was saying,'Susan! Susan! Susan! I have my family and they have a BOY!!!!!'"

Photo credit:

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Different Type of Memorial Day

A few months ago, I came home to find a large package on my front porch. The return address read The San Francisco Chronicle, the newspaper where I've been a freelance columnist for the past 13 years.  

What the heck was this?

I opened the box to find dozens and dozens of envelopes and small packages from names I didn't recognize. As I started sifting through the contents, mystified, I noticed a common theme: many expressed sympathy about the death of my mother in 2009, others addressed the death of my greyhound, Lucy, in 2011, and the remaining lamented the loss of my boy, Elvis, in 2012.  Confused, I took another look at the envelopes and realized that every one of them were postmarked between 2009 - 2012. 

These were condolence messages from readers of my Pet Tales column. 

Apparently, as a freelancer, the newspaper's mail room staff wasn't familiar with my (cough) brilliant prose and didn't know what to do with all the incoming mail. And so, all the letters and packages sent by caring readers languished in a dark corner of the basement until--fast forward to 2014-- someone had the foresight to look me up. 

Hence the box on my porch.

The outpouring of love, sympathy and support expressed in every piece of correspondence was so overwhelming that eventually I had to stop.  Each card and letter brought back a flood of fresh memories, like I'd just lost my mom, Lucy and Elvis, days ago, and not years.  I set aside the box of letters to read at a later date; perhaps when I wasn't caught off guard about revisiting these painful periods in my life.

That date was today. Appropriately enough, Memorial Day. A day of memories.

Sifting through the letters, I again found myself overwhelmed, but this time I knew what I was diving into and was emotionally prepared. Each card and letter was like a loving hug from a pair of warm arms who felt my pain and wanted to make me feel better. Some sent photos, others shared similar experiences or comforting books, a few sent invitations for therapeutic hikes or meditation retreats. I was amazed that these readers--total strangers--took the time to buy a card or write a letter, and pen messages of such depth and compassion.  

And I was equally mortified that they hadn't received a response from me. A "thank you" for their thoughtful words.  Of course, they had no way of knowing that their letters hadn't been received. They probably just thought I was too busy or didn't care.

But I do care.  Very much.

And so, I'll be busy the next few weekends, sending emails, dropping notes. I want each reader to know that their kind words, however late, were very much appreciated.

Because no matter what the postmark says, it's never too late to return a hug.
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