When I was a young newspaper reporter who needed to fill some time in between covering car crashes and jury trials, my editor would send me around to local businesses to do profiles on their products. One of those businesses was Kokatat, a manufacturer of paddle sports apparel and gear in Arcata, California. I toured the factory and spoke with the owner, who told me that Kokatat is a Yurok Indian word that means “into the water.” I don’t remember anything else I learned that day, but I’ve never forgotten that.

The word is on my mind tonight as I remember a day in 2007 when my mother and I took her Golden Retriever puppy Sunny to the river for the first time. We were staying at a small resort on the McKenzie River soon after Labor Day, and had the whole place pretty much to ourselves. My big dog, Ruby, had passed a few weeks prior and I was in mourning. Spending time with a boisterous 6-month-old puppy was bittersweet—so much life ahead of her, but she was not my dog.

Sunny was my parents’ second lifetime dog. They waited nearly four years after their first lifetime dog passed to get another puppy, and she was their darling baby from the day they laid eyes on her.

The second morning of our stay, I let my mother sleep in while I slipped out of the cabin and down to the beach with Sunny. It was deserted at that early hour, except for a flock of four or five ducks that were poking around at the waterline. Sunny had been down to the river the day before and had shown no interest in going in the water, so I let her off the leash. She nosed around and false-charged the ducks a few times, while they just ignored her advances. But when she wouldn’t leave them alone, they decided as a group to set sail downriver. Seeing them all swimming away from her before she’d had time to really even get to know them was too much for Sunny. She didn’t hesitate before splashing into the water after them. They kept going. And she kept going after them. And before I knew it, she was out in the middle of the McKenzie and heading downstream fast. She was just a puppy who had never even been in the water before.

My mother was too far away to hear me when I yelled, and yelled, and yelled for Sunny to come back. Nobody was anywhere on the grounds of our resort. There was a fence that ran all the way down to the waterline at the edge of the property, which Sunny had just sailed past. I clambered over that fence and I ran as hard as I could to keep pace with her as she shot downstream. I shouted and whistled and begged her to come back until I was hoarse, unable to bear the thought of losing another dog so soon, let alone this dog.

I don’t know how far I ran before she finally swam to the shore and plunged into my arms, but she made her way out of the water that day. I walked her back to our cabin and came in to find my mother just waking up. She’d had no idea what had just happened. Our relief was gigantic.

That night, as we were talking of this and other things, I started to cry. Mom asked me why, and it took me a minute to sort it out. Finally I told her, “Ruby would never have done that.” I missed my dog that ran to the sound of my voice. Sunny was not my dog and she never did that; I marvel still that she came back to me at all. But she did come to me the one time when it counted the most, and for that I will always be grateful. My parents’ love for their dog is a mighty force, and they deserved to have her for the full measure of her life.



When we were at the cabin, Sunny would start each day by running into my bedroom and vaulting onto my bed. She would plant herself flat on top of me and enthusiastically lick my face to wake me up and I have to tell you: I have never experienced a better wake-up call before or since. I told my friends when I returned from the visit that the title of Best Dog In the World and the little tiara that goes with it had officially been passed from Ruby to Sunny.

Some time this summer, when nobody was looking, Sunny stepped to the edge of another river that she had no choice but to enter. A tumor in her spleen that had spread into her lungs was stealing her breath. She slipped silently into the water where the current took her, and she could not make it back to shore this time. My parents said goodbye to her this morning and sent her on her way to the Rainbow Bridge we all hope and dream awaits our pets and, someday, us.

My parents and their dog.

My parents and their dog.

She was a good girl, and much loved. She will live forever in our hearts.

Good dog. Stay.

Good dog. Stay.

How to love a dog

I took the Von Schnauzer Krauts to the vet this morning for some blood work and exams ahead of their biannual teeth cleaning later this week. Rudy just needed a distemper booster and a blood draw, but because it has been more than 90 days since he last saw the vet, he had to get an exam from the doctor as well per hospital policy. I mentioned that both Rudy’s eyes have been weepy and crusty this spring, and further examination revealed a condition that, since we caught it early, can be treated before it progresses to the point of damaging his corneas and potentially causing him pain and discomfort for the rest of his life. I paid a $39 exam fee for that information, in addition to the tests and medications. Worth it? I certainly thought so.

While I was waiting for the staff to retrieve Reggie from her all-day annual liver function tests, I observed a couple who had two enormous German Shepherds in hand argue with the receptionist about that 90-day exam policy because all their dogs needed was a Bordetella booster. “That’s absurd!” the man ranted. “It’s just a damn revenue scam! You guys space these shots just far enough apart so that you can make more money off us.” The receptionist excused herself to consult the doctor, and I made a point of catching the guy’s eye. “I have complained about that policy myself,” I told him, “but you know, the exam gives them a chance to maybe catch something early and…” He didn’t let me finish. “It’s a dog,” he said curtly. “I love my dogs, but if they find cancer or something, it’s a dog.” He jerked his dogs along with him as he moved to the other side of the lobby from me. I guess those shepherds are just so out of luck if they ever get sick.

Well, it seems to me that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say they love their pets and those who actually do.

As for me, I am willing to do everything I can do to give my dogs the best quality of life possible while they are in my care. If that means instilling drops and ointment in Rudy’s eyes for the rest of his life, I’ll gladly do it. I hope I won’t have to, of course, for his sake, but for sure that’s what I will be doing for the next 10 days. He wouldn’t eat his breakfast out of his dish this morning, but he would eat it bite by bite from my hand, so I fed it to him that way because he is too skinny to be skipping any meals. If that were the only way he would ever eat, I’d be scooping up wet kibble by hand twice a day every day. How could I not? I am his guardian, his caretaker, his whole world. He is indeed a dog, but he’s my dog, and he deserves good care and a good life. That’s in my power to give him, and it’s my pleasure to do so.

So here are the basics of loving a dog, in my opinion. Just the bare minimum, mind you.

charlie-brown-hugging-snoopy How to Love a Dog

  1. Spay/neuter as soon as the dog comes into your care or as early as your veterinarian advises.
  2. Microchip as soon as the dog comes into your care, and keep the registration information current.
  3. Keep all vaccinations current, and spring for that full examination by a vet a couple of times a year.
  4. Put a collar and tag with your address and phone number on the dog any time it is away from your house or yard (on walks, in the car, at the dog park, etc.). Always obey leash laws.
  5. Provide a secure area for the dog to eliminate, and keep it clean. Always keep a baggie or two in your pocket to pick up after the dog when you’re away from home.
  6. Feed the best-quality food you can afford. Consult your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight for your dog and read the label on the can or bag to determine how much to feed it to maintain that weight.
  7. Exercise your dog as often as you can: run, walk, swim, play fetch. If you can do this around other people and/or other dogs, so much the better.
  8. Teach your dog basic manners, such as not to jump up on people. A well-mannered dog is a joy forever.
  9. Keep your dog clean, which includes checking it often for foxtails, ticks and fleas, and regular bathing and grooming. This is good for its health and makes it more enjoyable to be around.
  10. Provide plenty of safe chew toys so that your dog has something entertaining to do when you’re away, and so it will leave your stuff alone. Rawhide is non-staining, not too smelly, and fully digestible.

Of course, we go well beyond the minimum in our house. I’d add, let your dog sleep beside you on your bed so you can rub his belly until he falls asleep and starts snoring like a bumblebee. Let him live in the house so he can be with you as much as possible. Arrange your furniture so that he can look out the front window and keep an eye on things in the ‘hood. Make sure he’s warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer. Get his teeth cleaned as needed. Play the games he likes to play. Cuddle with him. Give him the last bite of every piece of toast. And tell him he’s a good dog, every single day.


I am a good dog! You gonna eat that?

House seasons

There are many ways to track the seasons, the calendar being only the most obvious and arbitrary.

I track the seasons by how my house stays warm and cool, and how I stay warm and cool in it. Let’s begin with spring, which is heralded by Furnace Stays Off Overnight Day. As the days warm, there’s Attic Fan Kicks On Day, followed fairly soon after by A/C Kicks On Day. The passing summer is marked by Removing Wool Blankets from the Bed Day, Lisa Turns Off the Heating Pad at Her Feet Night, Attic Fan Kicks on Before Noon Day, and A/C Runs All Night, which usually occurs at the zenith of the Hot All the Time season.

As the summer wanes and the days cool, we see the A/C Stays Off All Day, after which we usually get at least a couple of gloriously temperate weeks when I don’t have to either heat or cool the house and that is our favorite season.

But before you know it, Furnace Kicks On Day rolls around, and that means Cold All the Time season is just around the corner. Eventually I have to put the wool blankets and heating pad back on the bed, usually around Doggie Daytime Warming Station Activation Day (when I put a heating pad under a blanket on the couch to keep them from getting chilled). And so begins the long cold stretch when the furnace runs continuously, the heating pads are in place all day and all night, and the piles of blankets on the bed and a lot of snuggling together for body heat manage to keep us all from shivering ourselves senseless at night.


This year the weather has been out of order for months, so today was A/C Kicks On Day with a vengeance, which should not be here for another couple of weeks. I can tell it’s too hot when I find Rudy stretched out like this on the bed.


It already looks like it’s going to be a long A/C Runs All Day and Night season in these parts. We’ll do our best to keep cool.

Goodbye to a virtual friend

One of the very first (non-family, non-friend) followers of Going Forward, and by far my most prolific commenter ever, is a woman named Ruth Rainwater, a fellow WordPress blogger at A New Beginning. She found me through Freshly Pressed, and ever after was generous about liking and commenting not only on my posts, but also on my business’s Facebook page. We corresponded a few times about blogging and other topics.


One of Ruth’s posts from September 2014.

Ruth was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2013, and published her last blog post on Christmas Day last year; she fought a hard battle and things turned sharply for the worse around that time. I have been checking her blog every week in hopes that she would write again, but finally confirmed that she has passed. The word “Remembering” now appears over her name on her Facebook page.


She and I never met, of course, and I know next to nothing about her except what she blogged about. I don’t even know what she looks like because she never posted photos of herself. But she was a faithful virtual friend to me, to my blog and to my business, and I am grateful to have found a place in the circle of her attention. It’s nice to know that my words reached out and touched a stranger, somebody who was willing to faithfully interact with and tirelessly encourage me. She was a graceful, prolific, good-humored writer. I have been missing her name in my Inbox, and am sorry I won’t ever see it again.

Dog stories

Anyone who knows me well would tell you my life went to the dogs years ago, and I cannot disagree. This week, though, it’s really been all about the dogs, and a few of my readers love the dog stories, so here’s what’s been happening at our house.

Dog Story 1: Max

On Monday afternoon, I saw a little black Chihuahua playing in the street I was driving down, a one-block connector between the two main roads going through my town. I stopped and got out to see if he would come to me. Instead, he laid down and rolled over for a belly rub. I put my emergency car leash on him, picked him up, and knocked on the door of the nearest house. The woman who answered the door said yes, she knew the dog. His name is Max, he lives next door, “he gets out all the time” and bothers her dogs, and the owners “are not very nice to him.” I suggested he might be happier in a new home, and she agreed. “Then you never saw me here, okay?” I said. She smiled and nodded without another word.

Even with this tacit permission, I was not willing to just outright steal the dog. I went over to Max’s house and knocked on the door, but nobody answered. Seeing that the house sat on an unfenced lot so close to the traffic, I felt I had no choice but to take him home with me for safekeeping, after stopping by my vet to have him scanned for a microchip that I knew he wouldn’t have (he didn’t). They examined his teeth and testicles and said he appeared to be about 8 months old.

I introduced him to my dogs out in the backyard and, despite his youthful exuberance and intense sexual interest in both of them, they all seemed to get along reasonably well. Within a matter of hours, I was completely attached to the little guy. I’ve only ever loved three dogs in my life, but he could have been the fourth. For about 24 hours, in fact, he was.


Even knowing that he has no ID, is not neutered long past the point when he needed to be, and lives in a ramshackle dump of a house with no yard in the care of people who don’t seem to have any interest in keeping him safe, I still couldn’t steal him even though I wanted to, badly. But I dutifully called the local shelter to report a found dog, and the receptionist told me someone had called about two minutes earlier to report a lost black Chihuahua. I promptly called the guy, who told me every single detail about this dog before I even asked, so I knew he was, in fact, the owner. He made a convincing case that he and his family loved Max and that he hadn’t slept a wink overnight for worry. After at least three minutes of non-stop talking about this dog, he finally paused and said in a ragged voice, “please tell me you have him.”

“I do,” I said after a pause that was probably a beat too long, and told him how I’d found Max in the street in front of his house and had picked him up to keep him safe. Feeling tears rise in spite of myself, I asked the guy if he would consider letting Max stay with me, since I have a fenced yard and other dogs he can play with and all. Absolutely not, he said; he just loved Max, and so did his kids. He said he’d bought the dog for his daughter “so they could grow up together.” I told him I’d bring Max back to him later in the day, and he thanked me profusely. He even offered to give me a reward, but I asked him instead to promise me he would get Max chipped and fixed right away and take really good care of him, which of course he said he would do.

When I took Max back, the owner was not at home. Instead, I was met at the door by an unkempt young woman who showed no interest in Max whatsoever and he showed none in her, either. I had to push him into the house and make her take the leash. When I said I was concerned that the yard was not fenced, she said, “yeah, I know but I don’t care. I’m just the babysitter.” Her charge was an infant on her hip, still in diapers and not even walking—this was the child for whom Max was purchased. Looking at the indifferent babysitter, the dilapidated house, the wide-open yard, and Max straining toward me at the end of his leash and whining, I deeply regretted my decision to return him. He clearly was neither safe nor well cared for in that environment, and I expect he’ll meet his sorry end in the middle of one of those busy streets one of these days. I sometimes wish my scruples did not so strongly compel me to try to do the “right” thing.

Dog Story 2: The Wolf Dog

My backyard shares common fences with three other yards. One of them, which I’ll call North Neighbor, contains at least one and possibly more dogs (I never see it/them because the fence is so high, but I hear it/them barking all day most days). Occasionally my dogs and the North dog(s) will get into a barking match at the fence, which can get pretty loud.

While Max was with us and all the dogs were outside, I heard an uproar that sounded louder and much fiercer than what I usually hear from the North dogs. Again, I can’t see anything through the fences, but it sounded like there was a large and apparently aggressive dog in the yard on the other side, which I’ll call East Neighbor. Things calmed down quickly and I didn’t think much about it until later in the evening, when I took all three dogs for a walk and ran into East Neighbor out in front of his house. As we chatted, he mentioned that his son had just gotten a wolf hybrid dog, and my blood ran cold because I just don’t think that any good can come of crossing dogs with wolves and keeping the offspring as pets. He has three sons, two of whom live with him and one of whom is grown and gone, and he didn’t specify which one had the dog. I didn’t want to over-react and start peppering him with questions right then, but I got it in my head that a full-grown wolf dog was living right next door to me and that it had been the instigator of the kerfuffle at the fence earlier. I had visions of an enormous snarling beast coming right through that suddenly flimsy-looking fence and killing my dogs with a single snap. Okay, so maybe I did over-react a bit.

The next day, I caught the neighbor outside again and asked all my questions, adding that it’s actually illegal to own a wolf hybrid in our state. I said I was really concerned about my dogs’ safety, which he completely dismissed with, “but it’s just a puppy!” Yeah, but puppies grow into dogs, I said, and I don’t want any trouble for either of us because if the dog hurt another dog or a person, he would be liable for it. He would not take anything I said seriously, and I was appalled that a man my own age could not look just a little way down the road of life, imagine even a few possible scenarios that could be bad for him, and maybe consider taking precautions accordingly.

As we were talking, a car pulled up in front of his house and a young couple got out. A small fuzzy black dog ran toward us and East Neighbor greeted it affectionately. She was all soft paws and puppy breath and cute as she could be, all 10 or 12 pounds of her. “This is the wolf dog,” he said, and I felt my ears turn pink. “THIS?! This is the one?” He smirked knowingly and said, “told ya she was just a puppy.” And in fact, she did not appear to be any kind of a threat at all, let alone any kind of wolf. I felt foolish for a moment, but my point still stands: Any dog can bite. Any dog can be dangerous Any dog that runs loose can cause harm to people and other dogs, and is itself in danger. Which is why every dog should be kept under control, and “voice control” is never fail-safe.

I asked East to keep the dog restrained in his front yard when she visits (she won’t be living there), and to work with me to keep our shared fence in good repair, as much for my sake and that of my dogs as for his own. “You wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her,” I reminded him, and told him that I am only concerned because I love dogs, all dogs. He kept trying to brush off my concerns right to the end of our conversation, but he said he would consider not letting the dog run loose (I will believe that when I see it). He closed by thanking me for being a good neighbor, and I hope he meant that sincerely. I try to be.

Dog Story 3: The Floof

Last night I heard my dogs going absolutely nuts barking in the front room, and came out to see what was going on. I saw a guy across the street walking four large dogs together, which seemed to be almost too much for him to handle. On the other side of the street from him was a lady holding a small floofy dog, and I couldn’t tell by looking whether there was a confrontation among them or exactly what was going on. In a few minutes, the dog walker turned and went back the way he came, and I realized the lady was going door to door with the little dog, so I stepped outside to talk to her. She said she’d found him loose on the next street over and that she couldn’t keep him because she lives with all those big dogs the guy was walking. I said I’d take him in for the night, so we put him into my backyard and introduced him to my dogs with no problems.

I got him scanned at my vet’s this morning and he has no chip and no collar but he does have his nads, again, which I think is just unconscionable and tantamount to neglect. Fortunately, he is not nearly so disrespectful of personal space with my dogs as Max was, but he has already motivated Rudy to mark in the house for the first time in years and I am not sure I want to keep him because even though he’s just a perfect little sweetheart, I am so done cleaning up dog effluent.

I’ve put an ad on Craigslist and knocked on several doors in my neighborhood but haven’t gotten any response yet. He appears to be a purebred and well-groomed Lhasa Apso, so I’m hopeful his owners are looking for him and he will be home with them by tonight.

He went out to do his business early this morning and got soaked when the sprinklers came on.

He went out to do his business early this morning and got soaked when the sprinklers came on.

And there you have it, all the Doggy Times in La Casita Bonita! I hope things calm down pretty soon because these comings and goings are more than a little hard on my heart.

Update, April 25: The floofy one, whose name is Cocoa, was picked up by his owner late last night, so I didn’t have to put up with another night of his whining in his crate. A happy ending for all!


We are who we are

I grew up a tough little tomboy perpetually riding in my older brother’s wake, and often wished I had been born a boy as well so that I could do all the things that he could do. Well into my teens, strangers would ask me, “are you a boy or a girl?” and my answer often surprised them. Even so, I have always known and accepted (at some stages more gracefully than others) that I am a female person in a female body. The longer I live, the more I appreciate the gifts of my gender, even while chafing against the restrictions it also imposes. When I entertain the idea of being male now, I find it distasteful. I won’t get into the details of why.

I will confess, I don’t really understand transgenderism and I know I’m not alone in that. Gender is an enormous component of one’s identity, and having any confusion around that is a ticket to all kinds of struggles: personally, interpersonally and socially. The first distinction we make about any person is “he” or “she.” With few exceptions, human beings are not able to conceptualize or tolerate anything outside of or in between those two poles.

But I do understand and give mad props to unconditional love and clear-eyed acceptance of people as they are even when they are not what we want them to be or wish they were. That’s why I so appreciate the story of Jeff and Hillary Whittington and their son Ryland as told in the CNN Films video “Raising Ryland.” (Sorry, video preview is not available.)


As soon as he could speak, 3-year-old Ryland began telling his parents that he was a boy and that he wanted to cut his long hair and wear boy’s clothing. They were understandably shocked and incredulous, and they could have shouted him down, mocked him, or isolated and punished him into complying with their understanding of which gender their child was biologically assigned at birth. But they didn’t. They listened to him. They supported him. They defended him. They loved him. And no matter what or who he chooses to be later in his life, he is always going to know that his family has his back, and that he is a person of value. There is no greater gift that parents can give their children.

The Whittington family.

The Whittington family.

In an open letter, Hillary Whittington warned all their friends and family that should they choose not to support her and her husband’s decision to accept their child as he is, they can expect that their relationship with the entire Whittingon family will no longer progress because “Our child’s happiness is most important to us.” Amen! Really, what else is there? Maintaining the appearance of “normality” for the sake of keeping society’s approval? Rigidly demanding adherence to a single definition of reality that their child is unable to accept? Living in isolation, shame and fear until somebody breaks down, or dies? All because of a simple quirk of biology? No.

We are who we are, and I hope that someday human beings will learn how to see one another as souls and spirits with infinite potential rather than as mere bodies born to play ancient, predestined roles.

I wish this little boy and his family all the best.

Mirepoix Soup

Winter seems to have passed us by altogether this year. After a couple of weeks of snow and ice in early November, it’s been pretty much spring ever since. Everything is budding and blooming and greening up earlier than I’ve ever seen it. But today, after several sunny days in a row, was overcast, which put me in a mood for soup.

Inspired by a recipe from Food 52 for Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, I decided to clean out the last of the hardy veggies from my fridge and counter tops. I had all I needed for mirepoix, plus a few potatoes and some garlic, and that right there is a fine soup base. Add an outrageous amount of butter and soon all will be right with the world.


Mirepoix Soup

1 stick butter
3-4 c each onion, carrots, celery and potatoes, cut in 1/2″ dice
6-8 garlic cloves (or to taste), thinly sliced
4 c mushroom or chicken stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)
1 Tbs dried thyme
2 Tbs Tarragon Pepper Blend
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

  1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and garlic and stir well to coat.
  3. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook about 10 minutes.
  4. Add stock, herbs, salt and bay leaves and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaves and blend to desired level of smoothness with a stick blender.
  6. Just before serving, stir in 1 tsp of any kind of flavored vinegar you like, such as tarragon, golden balsamic, sherry, or apple cider. It only takes a little to add a tremendous depth of flavor.

A bowl or two of that warmed me up nicely, and I shared the rest with my neighbors who are in various stages of a winter cold.

The sun is expected to come out again tomorrow, so I can go back to thinking about washing the car and mowing the lawn.