Happy New Year!

It’s a new year, a new decade, and I feel filled with hope for the future. Even though we drag our old problems past midnight into the next day, week, month and year, I feel as if 2010 brings a chance to start fresh.

For those who are following the dog saga, Chico is back in the kennel until I can find a shelter that will take him. I swear he’s sweet and lovable in normal times. If I’m sitting in my office and call him, he’ll come trotting in from wherever he is and rest his chin in my lap. He’s eager to please. But outside, he keeps jumping the fences, and he has proven that he can’t get along with other dogs. Last Tuesday, he went after a visiting dog and got both him and me with his teeth. We’ll both live, but it was scary. My old dog didn’t get along with other animals either, but she rarely met them face to face; we were able to control her whereabouts. Not so with Chico. He’s in exile, and Annie is with me. Enough on that subject.

We got a break from the rain today, and I can even see some blue sky up there. Around these parts, when the sun makes an appearance, we drop everything and go outside. Annie and I took a walk and played with her big stick–and proved that young knees work a lot better than aging ones. I’m working hard to train her more consistently so that her bully genes don’t cause any problems like the ones mentioned above.

Tonight I play the vigil Mass for the Epiphany–the Feast of the Three Kings. Once more through the Christmas songs. When I finished practicing this afternoon, I rocked out on some old 60s songs. Boy, it was fun. It’s a new year, and I’m ready to jam.

I’ve got my Christmas decorations down and my calendars up, and I’m ready for the new year. My resolutions? Just to get those things done that I kept putting off last year and to count my blessings instead of my injuries. How about you? Any resolutions?

Thanks for reading me this last year. We’ll venture into new territory each week, usually on Thursdays. I look forward to exploring my world with you.

Boxing Day

I could use a punching bag today, but the pugilistic type of boxing is not what the title refers to. It’s a UK tradition referring to how people box everything up and put it away the day after Christmas. I’m doing a little of that, but I’m also playing referee between my dog Chico and the world. I had taken him back to the kennel for Christmas. I was going to be gone most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He seemed happy enough to return to the world of concrete cages and barking dogs of all types. Annie and I settled into happy togetherness. I thought I would pick Chico up tomorrow.

But today, a day when I planned to relax, a woman called about Chico. She was very anxious to meet him and willing to drive an hour and half to the kennel if she could meet him today. Okay. Trying very hard to put it all into God’s hands, I drove up the frosty winding road to the kennel, parking just as she arrived. But oh, Chico. He came out like a speeding bullet, jumped all over me and almost pulled me off the hill. I got him to sit and lie down long enough for her to pet him and decide he was very cute. But they had him on a leash the width of a shoestring and that didn’t work. He needs a big-dog collar and big-dog leash. She tried to walk him and decided he was too much for her. Apologizing, she said no.

Since I was already there, I paid his bill and brought him home. If someone else calls, it will be easier if I have him with me.

When we arrived, he and Annie went into full fight mode, but they calmed down pretty quickly. However, Chico will not play with her, and as soon as I opened the door he flew over the fence. It was quite amazing. Such a graceful arc through air, up and over. If I leave the gate open, he checks in from time to time, but I can’t let Annie out now. Meanwhile, I had just started to type this when I heard my neighbor by the gate trying to call Chico, trying to bribe him into coming home. She doesn’t understand that he’s no longer the docile little puppy he used to be. At dark, I will corral him, but I can’t hold this animal that doesn’t want to stay here, and I can’t keep him if he endangers people and animals in his path. I’m giving it two weeks, then taking him to an animal shelter.

When the setting sun gilds the tops of the trees, I’ll lock him in for the night. He’ll go to sleep, blocky head on his massive paws. Both dogs will sleep in the laundry room with a portable heater going against the intense cold that has set in again. I’ll give them cookies, assure them I love them, and wish them “Boa noite” as I shut the door.

I pray that someone else, someone strong, someone with a fence and no cats, someone willing to give a bully dog a break, will call.

While Chico was gone, Christmas happened. This was my first one without any family and without Fred. The best parts happened during the hours I was playing music with the church choir onChristmas Eve and Christmas. I opened my gifts alone, so conscious of Fred’s empty chair. There weren’t many gifts until the last minute, but each one is a special blessing. I am so grateful for my friends and for the family members who remembered me from afar.

Instead of having Christmas dinner, I drove to Albany to visit Fred in the nursing home. It was a pretty ordinary day there. I doubt the residents knew it was Christmas. I read Fred’s Christmas cards to him and helped him open his gifts. Then we adjourned to the living room area for warm peanut butter cookies with sprinkles and a Christmas carol singalong with staff members. I dozed on Fred’s shoulder through part of a Christmas movie.

The same woman is still saying it’s time to go home. Loy is still hollaring “Hey!” Eugene stood up and his pants fell down, exposing his diapers and skinny white legs. And Fred and I parted with tears in our eyes.

Life has its ups and downs. In spite of everything that has happened this year, I’m hopeful for 2010. I hope you are, too.

Christmas is over. Hooray! Happy New Year!

Doggone It

I had all these funny stories to share about my dogs, about how Chico learned to jump the fence, about how I built a barrier of a broken-down wheelbarrow, ladder and compost bin, and Chico found another spot to jump the fence. Then I dragged two very large and heavy boards to the new place, and he jumped somewhere else. Then I stood out in the yard and played goalie by the gate because he was jumping there. But finally he started jumping/climbing the six-foot chain link enclosure I had built earlier this year at great expense. He no longer wanted to stay in the yard and play with his sister; he just wanted to jump and run.

I learned not to chase him because he just kept going. If I left a gate open, he would sneak in. The trick was to catch him before he jumped over the fence again. But suddenly this weekend, he not only learned to jump anywhere there wasn’t a tree behind the fence, he learned to get over the supposedly dog-proof enclosure. I put in a call to the dog trainer to see if she could come help me work on training him to come when I called and see what could be done to dog-proof the yard. We were still playing phone tag when Chico got out over and over this morning.

My neighbor, who has been most patient, complained that my dog was trying to kill his cat. Furthermore, he had caught him trying to kill another dog on the next street. Sooner or later, dear, sweet Chico was going to get hurt or killed. Many of my gun-toting neighbors would not hesitate to shoot a dog who was attacking their animals. Nor could I spend all of my free time chasing that dog, never able to relax in my own yard.

Chico had to go. As soon as I got him corraled, I put him in the car. For now, he is at the kennel where my old dog used to board. I want to find him a loving home where he has all the room he needs to run. I will keep his sister Annie for now. I know she is more brokenhearted than I am. And yet, we are both relieved to be free of the pressure of trying to keep in a dog who needs to run away.

I feel like a failure. Fred and I did a great job with Sadie, our old dog. We provided a very good life for her and were with her when she died. But then we took in Hallie for only a couple weeks before we decided she was too wild and had to go back to the shelter. And now, after all the noise I’ve made about my two puppies and all the stories I’ve told, I handed Chico over to a stranger.

Riding in the car, he sat on the passenger seat with his head against the cushion, looking like he might be sick. He knew this wasn’t good. I was crying, and we were riding down windy roads he had never seen before. This was not a trip to the beach. Back at home, I see his beautiful self everywhere I look but I also feel the relief, too.

Dr. Hurty, if you’re still reading my blog, I tried my best, but with Fred gone to a nursing home, I was outnumbered and overpowered. I am looking for a good home for Chico. All I ask is that they love him and take good care of him. He’s a beautiful dog with a loving heart. He’s my baby, but it’s time for him to move on.

The Dog Who Walks in Circles

Last week I said I was going to tell you about THE FALL. The fall doesn’t seem so important now that the bruises are fading, but a promise is a promise.

Feeling trapped in the office on a beautiful day (unlike today’s permanent cloud cover), I had taken some work with me to Lost Creek State Park. Sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean, I watched couples and teens and kids in bathing suits and tons of dogs enjoying the beach and thought phooey, I’m going home, put on my shorts, get me a dog and go play in the water. Uh, yeah.

It was Chico’s turn. He’s the black dog, the bigger one who sits on the passenger seat and keeps setting off the seat belt alarm because he’s so heavy. With a little hand-to-paw fighting and one dashed toe on a paving stone, I got his sister Annie outside and Chico in the car. I decided to try South Beach, which is bigger and might be less crowded.

Well, Chico is the sweetest dog in the world, but in unfamiliar places, he walks in curlicues instead of a straight line and the word “heel” loses all meaning. When we reached the surfline, the water was MOVING, and he panicked. As he tried to bolt inland, I tripped over his long legs and went flying, landing hard on the packed sand. Ow! Right away, of course, I thought, broken hip. But no, despite my aging bones, my hip was okay. It took a little longer to decide whether my calf was intact. Red and sore, it throbbed, and I decided not to move for a while. It amazes me that people can see someone my age go flying and not come over to see if I’m all right, but no one did. I just sat there with my butt in the wet sand, holding Chico with my right hand, probing my left leg with my left hand. I decided I was probably just bruised.

Eventually I pulled myself up and walked a little ways, letting the water splash on my bare leg as Chico continued to walk in curlicues, stepping into the water when it stood still, pulling away with every little wavelet. Pretty soon I let him drag me onto the dry sand, where I sat with my arms around him for a while, and then we went home. I had a whopper of a bruise, which is just now fading away, and I have decided not to take Chico to the beach for a while.

Working and running in the rain

It’s another rainy day on the Oregon Coast. We have had so many wet, cold, gray days that some of us can’t help fantasizing about driving south until we hit sunshine and warmth. The weather reports from back home in California taunt us with temperatures in the 70s and a big “S” for sun. My computer says it’s 39 degrees here right now at nearly 9:30 a.m.

But Oregonians are tough. They know that if they don’t work in the rain, nothing will get ever get done. As I type, the concrete guys are back. A couple days ago, these bold gentlemen in their slickers dug out the mud and scraps of lawn in the shady side of the new dog enclosure to prepare for the concrete. Now they’re laying strips of metal within the wooden forms and getting ready to pour, even though it’s raining sideways. If the rain continues, the slab will be stippled with raindrops. It seems appropriate.

I’m tempted to run out and write something in the wet concrete as soon as they leave. Meanwhile the dogs and I keep looking out the windows, the same mixture of eagerness, curiosity and anxiety on our faces.

Being unable to let the dogs into their enclosure the last two days has been a challenge. Chico jumped the old fence twice yesterday. On the next block, I met a neighbor named Sandy. “You’re the writer, aren’t you?” she asked as Chico zoomed past me and out of sight. “Yes,” I said and resumed the chase. Lord, that dog loves to run. He darted in and out of the driveways somewhat in the direction I was going. We arrived home at the same time. As I opened the door, he skidded over the step and across the carpet, his tongue hanging out like a foot-long piece of baloney. Whew!

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