The almost dog

Last month, I did a crazy thing.

It all started innocently enough on July 14 when my cousin shared on Facebook her local animal shelter’s post about a Mastiff-mix dog named Matteo. She commented, “Three dogs in a small house would be too much for us…but give this guy a look or a share. Love the gentle giants!”

matteo

Matteo

Look at that face! What’s not to love?!

I see dozens and dozens of posts just like this one every single week on Facebook from all over the country, and this particular dog was located more than 500 miles away from me. Something in his eyes drew me completely in, though, so I took the next baby step. I commented.

comments

If my cousin had made any other reply than the one she did, or made no reply at all, nothing would have come of it and we’d all have just gone on with our lives. But once the thing was set in motion, there was no stopping it.

On the Monday after she posted Matteo, she went to the shelter to meet him, and I followed along with her in my first-ever FaceTime conversation. Matteo was enthusiastic but not unruly, highly interactive with his visitors, and quick to sit for a treat that he took oh-so-gently. He even gave my cousin a quick kiss, which confirmed his considerable charm. I was sold. She was sold. We both so wanted this to be a love match.

On Tuesday, I made the decision to go meet Matteo and, with luck, bring him home with us, so my to-do list kicked into high gear. I had to figure out how to get there, how long it would take, how much it would cost, whether my homeowner’s insurance would allow me to have another dog, and so on. Did I have a collar and leash? A bed? A crate? Enough food to feed him? It was a 12-hour drive to get to him, and I knew he would be adopted quickly so I could not wait.

Fortunately, the shelter is closed on Wednesdays and no adoptions would take place, so I had a little time. There was a scramble trying to communicate with the shelter during their maddeningly limited telephone hours and open hours, but I was able to confirm before I left town that he was still available. So on Wednesday morning, I packed a bag, put the little dogs in the car, and off we went down the long, long road from here to there. I felt I was going on a blind date with every intention of coming home married. But I was ready, and I had the ring in my pocket in the form of Ruby’s old collar, fitted out with a shiny new tag for what I hoped would be my new big dog.

matteo collar

Put a ring on it

Two days of driving across four states later, I pulled up to the shelter half an hour before it opened on Thursday afternoon and waited nervously, very nervously. Matteo is so big, and my dogs are so small. We had no information about how he interacted with small dogs. I can handle a big dog and I already knew I’d love him, but the doggie meet-and-greet could go wrong in any number of ways, and that’s what was going to make or break this match. We all had to love one another or it wasn’t going to work.

The shelter is run by the city, and it is a busy, crowded, noisy place full of dogs and people in constant motion. I had a long wait and some paperwork to fill out before a volunteer finally brought Matteo out and put us together in a small yard. Just as he had with my cousin, he sat nicely for a treat and took it gently and allowed me to pet him without a single hesitation. He was frantic to be out of the kennel and out of the yard, so much so that I could not hold his attention without a treat in my hand. The shelter had named him Matteo at intake so the word meant nothing to him. There was no calling him to me or really, any interacting with him to be done at all except giving treats. I felt a chill.

Getting him together with my dogs seemed to be almost more than the shelter could accommodate. They insisted on having two handlers, one for Matteo and one for the littles, to ensure that no negative interactions occurred and that my dogs would feel no need to protect me from a strange dog. The female volunteer who took Matteo radiated anxiety about the meeting—her face seemed locked in a grimace of dread the entire time. The male volunteer who took my dogs, on the other hand, could not have been more blasé about the whole thing. He continually reassured me that all was just fine, while the female handler balked at each new iteration of interaction between the dogs. They progressed smoothly from walking past each other on leash to circling and sniffing each other on leash to moving around the yard together freely off leash to walking with me all together on leash. “That’s it, that’s as good as it’s gonna get for a first meeting,” the male handler said. “I think they’re good.”

My concern at that point was that Matteo seemed to want to interact only with the female handler and not with me or my dogs. There were no play bows, no nose-sniffs, no false charges or chasing around between the dogs, and Matteo never once initiated interaction with me. The three dogs essentially moved to separate areas of the large yard and ignored one another. I asked the female handler to leave the yard to let me see how Matteo would be with just us. With one last grimace, she walked out and closed the gate behind her. I turned to see Matteo running back and forth along the fence anxiously looking for her, and he would not return to us for the remainder of the visit.

Looking back, that’s the moment I realized Matteo was not going home with us, although it took me the whole rest of the evening to clarify that in my mind because I had invested so much time and treasure and emotion in getting there and meeting him and wanting this to work. But the fact was, no matter how I felt about him, he obviously felt no sense of connection whatsoever to me or to my dogs. He was not interested in joining our pack.

matteo

What a handsome boy

Despite all the effort expended, I chose to leave him there and drive home the next day, completing a journey of a thousand miles in 72 hours for what at first appeared to be, essentially, nothing.

It wasn’t for nothing, though.

I learned how big my heart is, and how much strength I have to do a very big, very scary thing for the right reasons. I also learned that my cousin and I make a formidable team and that I can count on her support 100%. I could not have done the thing without her.

When I got home, several people had just one question for me: “What were you thinking?!”

What I was thinking is, it’s been 9 years since I had a big dog that I felt could protect me and allow us to go places that I don’t feel safe going alone or with the little dogs. I was thinking, that absolutely beautiful boy got a raw deal by being dumped at that shelter, and I had the power to punch his ticket out to the sweet life. I was thinking, I can’t save them all, but I could save this one. I was thinking, I wanted to make a difference. And I almost did. If he had loved us back, even just a little bit, just for a moment, in that shelter yard, he’d be here with us now—probably snoring on the couch with the littles rolled up on either side to share body heat.

He was almost our dog. We were almost his family.

Matteo was adopted out the day after I got home, and I hope he now has the best life a dog could ever dream of—even better than the one I could provide. I hope he knows his name, and that he is loved, and that he is safe and happy wherever he is.

 

Turning the page

We here at Going Forward (meaning: me) are pleased to be finally turning the page over from 2014, leaving behind us a difficult year stuck in the doldrums, so to speak, with high hopes for fair winds and following seas to support all our efforts in the coming year.

One thing I’ve been remiss in over the past 12 months is my blogging, and I hope to be better about that. I will tell you that I’ve been having my share of struggles, large and small, but I won’t tell you all the details because, you know, the internet. My focus on surviving and resolving those struggles has taken up a lot of my time and emotional energy, leaving little left over to talk about it all here. 

I completed my certification as a nursing assistant in February, and decided not to pursue any job opportunities in that field for several reasons. I have found the knowledge I gained very helpful in assisting my parents, however, and that is the whole reason I took the course so I consider the time well spent.

My weight has been bobbing up and down all year, gradually trending upward. I pay a handsome fee to participate in Weight Watchers each month, but can’t seem to motivate myself to follow the program. Not sure what I’m going to do about that, although I think my options are, essentially, to fish or cut bait. I’ve determined that part of why I am not feeling so great right now physically is my higher weight, and that I definitely feel better when I am about 20 lbs. lighter. It’s just a matter of finding the mojo to get myself there.

My darling doggies are, as ever, the lights of my life. Rudy had a tumor on his foot this summer that required the removal of a toe, but he’s fully recovered from that now as if nothing ever happened. Reggie has maintained perfect health and excellent behavior all year, and I’m very pleased with and proud of both of them.

My parents have been holding pretty steady, with a few mishaps here and there but generally okay. I had hoped my mother would be walking on her own again by last spring, but she took a fall in her garage a few months ago that has slowed her way down and it looks like the wheelchair might be here to stay.

On the business front, I branched out from product photography into real estate photography over the summer, and got a crash course in how to light a room properly (which is much trickier than you might think). This endeavor proved profitable and allowed me to acquire a bunch of new photography equipment, including lenses and lights, that have expanded my repertoire considerably. I hope to substantially increase this service in 2015.

At home, I have invested considerable time and treasure in my cooking practice, and that has been tremendously rewarding for me emotionally. I have been creating my own recipes and riffing with confidence on others’ recipes to create dishes that delight me—and as we know, I am a huge fan of my own cooking. 😉 I spent 10 days with my folks over Christmas and cooked many meals for them that they immensely enjoyed as well, so I seem to be doing it right! I recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, and gifted it to my mom and my brother-in-law for Christmas. My sister and mom have read it and they both say that it has changed their lives. I had the same reaction. Highly recommended.

Like 2013, 2014 ended on an unexpected, expensive and stressful note. In 2013, it was Rudy’s mysterious illness over Christmas vacation, and the keying damage to my car while I was visiting my parents. This year, we hit a deer on our way to my parents’ house, which disabled my car with a busted radiator but fortunately did no harm to us. The accident occurred roughly midway between my house and theirs, so I had to leave my car in the nearest town for 10 days to be repaired and got to drive a brand-new rented Hyundai Santa Fe in the meantime, which was actually a rather nice consolation. When we came through to retrieve my car on our way back to our home this week, the icy roads and snowy weather were so treacherous that we had to stay overnight there. I have never seen such horrendous driving conditions in 12 years of going back and forth over that road, and have never in 30 years of driving hit a deer. I am hoping my deer-strike clock will now reset and I’ll have another 30 years of no trouble!

And so we begin another fresh year. I am really hopeful that the hard times are behind me and I am so very ready to move forward on so many fronts. Rev the engine, pop the clutch, let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy 2015!

the-time-is-now-lets-do-this

A sticky situation

The dogs and I were traveling today to visit my parents, and we made our usual rest stop at a small park that is surrounded by pine trees that were all exuding sap into pools at their bases. Both dogs had to stop and sniff and pee at each and every tree, of course, and by the time we got back to the car, 5 of their 8 hairy little Schnauzer paws were clotted and sticky with pitch.

The best way to remove pitch from hair (or from anything, actually) is with oil, and that’s not something I carry around in the car with me (although I will be adding a small bottle of baby oil to the glove compartment tomorrow). All I had to work with was a tube of petroleum jelly, some tissues, and a Leatherman tool with scissors that I keep in the car on account of you never know.

Fortunately, these three items were sufficient to turn the back seat of the car into a makeshift grooming parlor, where it took me nearly half an hour to get the worst of the gunk off their paws and, uh, ground deep under my fingernails. 😦

sticky-pawed dogs awaiting rescue

Notice how they display absolutely no signs of remorse for the mess they’ve gotten themselves into!

Even though they both spent most of the rest of the trip chewing enthusiastically on their respective paws, at least I know they were not ingesting pine sap commingled with rocks and dirt.

When we got to my folks’ house, they had to endure yet more cleansing—feet and beards—before I was going to allow them on the bed.

Now they are starting to look  a little bit remorseful (Reggie just stood there resting her chin on the side of the tub in mute protest).

Now they are starting to look a little bit remorseful (Reggie just stood there the whole time resting her chin on the side of the tub in mute protest).

I will definitely have to remember to take a different route around that park the next time we go there.

Traveling with dogs

My trip with the dogs to my parents’ house included an overnight stop at a hotel, one that we’ve stayed in before. Our last visit there in the middle of winter was a nightmare because three high school athletic teams were staying there the same night, and they were active and noisy well into the wee hours of the morning. Rudy growled and barked at every thump and shout, and I got hardly any sleep the whole night.

This visit was a little better, or at least quieter–we didn’t hear a peep from any of the other guests so Rudy didn’t make a peep all night, either. The weather was continuously rainy, though, and the pet area was two flights of stairs away from our room, so I was deeply anxious that the dogs would require their 2 a.m. bio break like they do at home. I again got very little sleep because every time they moved, I imagined they needed to go out (fortunately, they didn’t). I had bad dreams and a bit of heartburn from a late, spicy dinner, so I was overheated all night and really uncomfortable. I tossed and turned and wished we were at home in our own bed.

Around 6 a.m., I was awakened by a strong vibration in the bed. Since it wasn’t that kind of bed, the only thing it could be was my dog. Rudy slept next to me on top of the covers while Reggie had decamped to the other bed, and by dawn he was chilled clear through and shivering uncontrollably. I pulled him under the covers and held him until he stopped shivering, while Reggie stood on the other bed watching us. She made no move toward the door to indicate she had to go out, but she also wouldn’t lie down again or jump over to my bed. When I finally got up for my own bio break, I realized she, too, was shivering hard. Cue the guilt! My poor dogs must have had as miserable a night as I did.

When it was time for breakfast, I told the dogs they could stay in the warm(er) hotel room and be quiet, or I would put them in the bone-cold car so they wouldn’t bother anyone. I shut the door behind me and got about 10 steps across the parking lot before they both started yapping and squealing at the top of their lungs. Since it was still early, I reluctantly tossed them into the car while I went to eat, and came back 20 minutes later to find them, once again, shivering uncontrollably. What’s a dog mom to do?

We got on the road with no problems and proceeded to my parents’ house that was flooded to survey the damage and satisfy my curiosity about how things are going with the reconstruction. My brother was there working on the plumbing and answered all my many questions. The damage is really horrendous; 80% of the house is stripped to the studs–no flooring, no walls, no ceilings, no fixtures.

I’ll post some pics of that later.

After seeing the house, visiting with my favorite high school English teacher, and taking a turn around my old home town, we headed on up the road to my parents’ other home. We stopped for a break at a sweet little “pocket park” alongside the highway where the dogs could run around safely off leash. We had the whole place all to ourselves, and they both enjoyed getting their feet wet on a fine spring day.

reggie-wading rudy-wading

They were both so good about being in the car for hours and hours, and behaved beautifully while we were at the damaged house by minding me the whole time and not getting into anything they shouldn’t have. They have been there with me only once before, and this time they were both agitated and puzzled by how much it had changed. Dogs know what’s going on, more than we give them credit for.

Even though they cost me some sleep, I am glad to have them with me when I travel, for so many reasons.

Really spring

Not a minute too soon, the sun is shining with real warmth, the snow-cooled winds off the mountains have stilled, and today looks, feels and smells like spring after a very long winter.

daffodil

The first daffodil of the season in my yard, peeking out from under the fence rail.

I’ve put the dogs out to play in the back yard for most of the morning because they won’t get cold, and in the meantime, I’m packing my bags to leave town. It’s time, once again, for another visit with my parents to celebrate Easter and my mother’s birthday next week. I’m told that there’s far more evidence of spring at their house than a lone daffodil in the front yard, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Home for the holidays

We drove all day, most of it over and through snow, a lot of it in the dark, but arrived safely tonight at my parents’ house to spend the holiday week. My sister and her family are here too, so we are ready to do the full-tilt boogie Christmas thing!

christmas-boogie

I feel very blessed that I can come home to be with my family every year. We have our ups and downs, as all families do, but we always have fun together, too. With any luck, I’ll have some great pictures and stories to share with you this week.

A sorry chain of assumptions

I had to buy new tires for my car today because … well, there are a lot of reasons for that. And let me tell you what, my tires and I have been ill-served because people tend to assume things they should verify for themselves. And, mostly it was me who assumed. 😦

assumption

First of all, my tires are all unevenly worn. I found out today that the car was badly out of alignment, which has contributed substantially to this condition. Also, the rear shocks apparently need to be replaced. The first link in our chain of assumptions is mine, thinking that every time I have taken my car to the dealership from which I bought it four years ago, they checked the tires. I assumed they’d tell me if the tires were wearing unevenly, and that they’d check the alignment, too, as a matter of course. I pay extra for the “full-service” oil change and they are supposed to check all this stuff. But never once in four years of quarterly service have the words “tires” or “alignment” been mentioned.

Oh, and apparently tires are supposed to be rotated every 5,000 miles. Who knew? I have never rotated my tires in more than 40,000 miles. Again, not one word about this from the dealership in four years.

When I took the car to them yesterday to ask about new tires, the service manager came out to look at my car and check the sticker on the door that says what size the manufacturer recommends, then gave me a quote on some 235 70R16 tires. I didn’t know what any of those numbers meant, but I assumed the service manager did. Since this is a major purchase no matter how you slice it, I dutifully took the quote he gave me and trudged off around town to five other tire places asking about what they had in that size for my car (which, I should note, I took with me just in case they wanted to look at it). Not one other salesman in any other store did more than give my vehicle a cursory glance through the window before telling me what tires they recommended, then telling me they didn’t have that size in stock. Every one of them gave me a quote that did not include the cost of alignment, probably because nobody bothered to actually look at either my car or its tires.

One of the last places I went to was Costco, which also did not have the size of tire I requested. I asked them about doing an alignment and maybe the shocks, too, and they  said “we only do tires.” So I assumed that all tire shops do is tires.

Feeling frustrated and edging toward panic because I have a long drive to make over the (snowy) hills and through the woods to my parents’ house for Christmas in a couple of days, I finally pulled in to the last local tire store on the list late this afternoon. The guy didn’t look at my car or my tires, but he gave me a reasonable quote on what appeared to be some good-quality tires and he not only had that size in stock but he could do the job on the spot. I assumed he knew what he was talking about so I handed over my keys. He assumed I knew what size of tire I needed based on “that stack of quotes you brought in.”

Only when the car was up on the rack did he finally come out to tell me that oops, my wheels are 15″, not 16″. The smaller wheels and tires are the manufacturer’s second option, not the preferred option. When I bought the car used, it had oversized wheels and undersized tires on it that I immediately replaced, and again, I assumed that the tire store that sold me those new tires and wheels selected the proper size. Back then, I had absolutely zero tire knowledge, which has since been rectified somewhat thanks to the internet. At least now I know what the numbers mean, and a 70R16 is a 16″ tire. Unfortunately, I never took the time to look at that sticker on the door, nor even to look at my current tires and see what was what. I relied entirely on the advice of the “experts” without verifying one single thing for myself. Ha. Never again.

The good news with the tires is that the smaller ones cost less. The bad news is that I wasted all that time at all those shops asking for a 16″ tire when they might well have had the 15″ ones I actually needed in stock. Also, remembering my conversation at Costco, I assumed that all tire stores do not do shocks. While they were finishing up the alignment, I was on the phone with the dealership making an appointment to have those done first thing tomorrow morning so my ride will be in top shape for our trip. I mentioned this in passing to the tire store guy and he said “of course we do shocks. We do it all, any kind of service you need.” And more cheaply than the dealership, too.

Sigh.

I should have taken better care of my tires from the start and educated myself about rotation schedules and alignment issues. I should have verified my tire size and determined for myself what I needed. I should have made each one of the tire guys come out and look at my tires to make sure he knew exactly what he was dealing with. I should have asked at every store what services they offered. I should have been smarter, more careful, more proactive, less trusting, less rushed. I shouldn’t have let this go right up until the last minute so that fear clouded my judgment.

I do intend to take better care of this set of tires, and of my car as well from now on. Now that I know better, I won’t let this sorry mess happen to me again.