family


Avery Monchito, aka Monkey the MonkI never was much for Bad Boys. I’ve always been attracted to the aloof chin-scratchers who fight with words and not fists or intimidation. But unwittingly, I fell for one, and I fell hard.

Avery Monchito, street name: “Monkey,” was a special kind of dog. And when I say special, I mean in all meanings of the word.

He was a beautiful dog – golden haired, soft to the touch who felt exactly like a premium Gund stuffed animal . . . the ones you pay top dollar for. He also had a feminine look about him. One of the reasons we adopted him in 2001 was because he reminded Brent of Seiko the Watchdog, a dog we rescued from the busy street behind our house when she escaped while her parents were away for the weekend. Brent fell in love with that dog in the very short time we had her and thought, “Well they look the same, they must be the same.”

He could not have been more wrong. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Avery was trouble from the get-go.

The shelter told us that he had been adopted and returned four times that year. We said, “Bad pet owners.” The shelter told us that he was returned once because he growled at the lady who adopted him. We said, “Clearly an inexperienced dog owner.” The shelter told us that he didn’t really like other animals. We said, “He’ll get over it in our house.” So, it was really our fault when everything that the shelter said came to pass.

That first couple of weeks (indeed 3 or more years) was trying. He viciously snarled at Brent when Brent tried to move him off of the bed that very first night in our house (result: a life-long ban on furniture sitting). He chewed through 2 steel kennels out of panic, nervousness, or boredom (result: drugs, counseling, and lots of money spent on training books). He picked on (read: attacked) the other animals in the house (result: a life-long practice of getting everything last – food, attention, having the door opened for you when you need to go outside, etc.). By Day 3, Brent wanted to return him to the shelter. Over my dead body, I said. We were warned about this behavior, and we made a commitment to him. Animals are not disposable. So, over his enthusiastic objections, we kept Avery, thus starting an new life with a new set of expectations.

The Journey of Discovery

Avery, Lord of the ElvesLike most shelter animals, you never know their true history. Avery was no exception. One of my first memories of him was when we first brought him home and let him loose in our enormous backyard. He ran the most exuberant figure-8s around the yard that I had ever seen. It was not a tear, but more of a sustained Sunday-drive kind of a run. Like Pepe Le Pew chasing after the cat with love in his heart. Head up, chest out, eyes half closed, feet barely in motion yet gliding along the ground. It was so joyous.

I remember thinking that maybe we were giving this dog something he had never experienced before — freedom. For, you see, there were signs that at least part of Avery’s first 5 years without us were spent solely as a Yard Dog. While our other dogs scrambled to get out of the rain and snow, he would stand outside in the worst weather without a second thought. Especially in the first few years, he would not pass any dish of water without trying to drink the entire dish dry, whether that dish was a puddle on the ground or a gallon-sized container. This dog had been deprived of something or neglected, to be sure. But untangling those issues would both try our patience and teach us patience.

We discovered his unexplained fear of power tools. During the construction of our neighborhood, he would tremble at the sound of a nailgun a block away. When Brent worked in the garage, Avery would be curled around the backside of the toilet in the bathroom on the other side of the house. When he jumped off of the second-story balcony at my brother’s house many years ago, we thought he was just stupid, until we found out almost 5 years later that my brother was using a power drill on that same balcony with the door to the house closed. Avery jumped 2 stories off of the balcony to get away from the drill.

Some discoveries were fun, though. Like the time was I was dancing around the house and being goofy, clapping my hands and singing some made up song. For no reason at all, I jumped and yelled “SIENTASE!” Avery’s tush hit the floor. In all the time we had him, I often wondered why a 5-year-old dog didn’t know any basic commands, like Sit. But it never occurred to me that Avery spoke Spanish. So, we started learning some basic commands in Spanish (abajo, venga), and it felt like we were finally coming together as a family.

The Monkey is in Day Care

Avery, by any definition, was not a smart dog. He was like the teenager that every family loves to complain about who never seems to learn his lesson. Avery was our problem child.

But he was also, quintessentially, my dog. He followed me around the house. He pined in the entryway for my return when I was away (whether to the mailbox or on a week-long trip). And he listened to me when I corrected him, where he often gave Brent the middle claw and the cold shoulder.

I think (or at least I hope) this was because I understood him better than most. Monkey was tough, but when you broke through the crap, you found that he wanted what we all want – someone to lean on and who would be there for him no matter what. He learned not to trust, but he trusted me (and eventually Brent, though that took longer). That trust was earned, to be sure, and it was a great badge of honor. 5 homes in 1 year would take a toll on any foster kid, and who knows how many before that. But once he found that we weren’t going to give him away for his bad behavior, he loosened up, if only a little.

After a long battle with unconfirmed and undiagnosed illnesses (not for lack of trying, mind you), we had to let our Monkey go tonight. It was as painful a decision as anything you could ever imagine. And it was made all the more painful by the fact that we spent gobs and gobs of money on specialists that told us, yes, there is something wrong with him, but, no, we don’t know what it is. Finally, in the end, it came down to tumors in his liver, but we know that wasn’t what has been causing him so many neurological problems all these years. It doesn’t really matter why, though, does it. The tumors and the infection were enough. He felt like crap and there was nothing more we could do for him. I held him and kissed him and apologized to him and told him that I loved him. He was a rotten scoundrel of a dog, but oh God am I going to miss him . . .

In the Beginning

That Funky MonkeyI’m not the first to say it, but it is true that when you come to the end, you think about the beginning. The first day I met him, the first day we laid eyes on each other, I was sitting on the Petsmart floor after I reluctantly agreed to see this dog. He walked right over to me, turned around, planted his butt in my lap, and growled at the neighboring dog at the mobile adoption. This, in a nutshell, is Avery. The street-punk Momma’s Boy. Brent was the one who initially just had to have him, but in the end it was me who had to have him. And letting him go is a kind of sadness that I cannot begin to describe.

Advertisements
Teva Bonita Rosita Chihuahua, aka T-Bone, Boney Rose, etc., etc...

Teva Bonita Rosita Chihuahua, aka T-Bone, Boney Rose, etc., etc...

I noticed her on my first day volunteering with the Yolo County SPCA. The shrunken German Shepherd look-alike, completely filthy from head to toe, as were all of the dogs from Carrie’s foster farm. She was sitting in a kennel with a pre-teen who was more interested in the new puppies that had arrived on the scene. I fell in love with another dog that day (“Midnight” – the mother of the puppies), but I made a mental note to tell Brent about this pretty little Sheltie/Shepherd mix. He always wanted a shepherd.

Over the weeks, I learned her story – as much of a story as any pet in a shelter can bring with them. She was 4 years old, something about being surrendered by a man who had his own issues in his life (a move? An illness? No one quite knew or could remember the details). I watched each week as shoppers would browse the selection of adoptable animals in front of the Davis Petco, sure of the fact that Teva would be adopted by one of them. She was attractive, good natured, mellow. Not at all like the fidgety, hyper-active dogs with “issues” that were the typical scene in an environment like that. Week after week, however, I watched prospective adopters look at her and then move on to the next. At 4 years old, she was positively geriatric – no one wanted a dog more than a year old.

In the meantime, Brent started visiting me on those Saturdays. Every once in awhile, he would pass in front of my cage with Teva on a leash. Walking her. Checking her out. Spending Alone Time with her in the grass – far away from the chaos that was Mobile Adoption Day. You can see where this is going. I had my “Midnight” picked out, he had his Teva. Our family was starting to take shape.

Then it happened. Just as we were finalizing plans on a house in Winters, another couple about our age was looking for a dog. Their choice was between Teva and “Midnight.” We panicked. I knew they would pick Teva (how could one not?), and I was angry at myself because I didn’t adopt them ahead of time. Brent was very mad. I pulled rank and called Carrie – we wanted to adopt both of the dogs. Too late, Carrie said. The couple had already chosen . . . Midnight. Unbelievable. Why could no one see what I saw in her? The best dog anyone could ever choose, gone unchosen again. That Saturday, Brent paid Teva’s adoption fee along with the newly-returned “Midnight” (immediately changed to Edith), even though we had no place to bring them home to until the house in Winters was finished.

When Brent got caught in a corporate downsizing, our world was turned upside down. Within 6 weeks, we moved to Brent’s hometown in New Mexico, 2 dogs and 3 cats in tow. It was a traumatic time in our lives. Living arrangements weren’t completely stable, I had no job, Brent only a student position, I knew virtually no one, isolated. My dogs were my best friends. While Edie showed nurturing concern, Teva showed courage and curiosity with the new situation. After awhile, I took her lead and found a bit more courage to investigate the possibilities of this strange new land that would be my home. It was the first of many lessons I learned from this 37 lb. creature.

Follow Your Bliss with No Fear.

I remember the times we took her out to Deer Trap Mesa. We learned quickly to put a harness on her for maximum briefcase-carrying-like mobility in case one of her jaunts down a sheer face of the mesa for a peek over the canyon edge ended in a call to Search and Rescue.

And the time we were running her in the soccer fields, and the 1 foot wall that she had jumped over had risen to a 6 foot retaining wall. We called her back, she responded, jumped as though she were jumping over a small wall, only to do her best Scooby Doo scrambling imitation mid-air and landing with a belly-thumping thud on the ground beneath. Shake it off, she seemed to say. Battlescars build character.

And all the times she and Edie would run the full length of the Quad’s front yard – with much-faster Edith knocking over the full-speed Teva, rolling her in the grass like a spare tire.

Edie and Teva on a sunny snow day in the backyard, 2006.

Edie and Teva on a sunny snow day in the backyard, 2006.

The times we would visit the dog parks. She had an uncanny way of posturing and posing to defuse potential altercations with other dogs and make them all play together as friends. You could see her saying, “I can take you if you really want to go there, but why? I’d much rather play and be happy together.”

And that girl loved playing in the snow. I don’t think she had ever seen the stuff before we moved to New Mexico, but she took full use of her time to catch up on all she was missing while we were here.

Stubbornness Isn’t Really So Bad

If there was only one thing about Bone that I could say I admired the most, it was her sense of free will, wrapped in that iridescent blanket of stubbornness. That girl would learn how to “shake”, demonstrate that she could do it once, then never do it again — “I’m proving to you that I’m smart, but I won’t play your Stupid Pet Tricks. Give me something worthy of my talents.” On more than one occasion, after, say, she stole a portion of Brent’s lunch off the coffee table when he wasn’t looking and got caught, you could see her mind processing the consequences — “If I do what Dad says and stop eating the pizza, I get in trouble for stealing, and I don’t get the pizza. BUT if I keep eating it, I still get in trouble for stealing, but I also get the pizza. Decisions, decisions…” Then she would keep eating the pizza. “How bad can the punishment be?” she’d think. “These people are wusses.”

I remember Brent coming home from taking Edie and Teva on a trail ride, exasperated at “the damned dog!”. While Edie would maim herself to keep up with the pace, Teva would take her sweet time. If something caught her eye and needed investigating, she’d investigate. If she got too tired, she’d slow down or simply stop mid-trail and lie down for a bit. “What’s the rush? We’re missing all this great stuff by going so fast. Plus, I don’t want to run this fast anyway. It’s not like you’re going to leave me behind, or anything.” Sure enough, Brent would wait at the top of the crest, the bottom of the hill, or just around the bend, and Teva would trot along to meet him when she was good and ready, never veering from the trail, but never working harder than she wanted to.

Joie De Vivre

T-Bone in AZ, 2002

T-Bone in AZ, 2002

Teva did everything with a sheer love and passion for living.

When she ate, she would take her time, slowing savoring the complex flavors of her premium dog chow or McDonald’s french fries with the same enthusiasm as a wine and cheese connoisseur. “Hmmm. Very good vintage. Nutty, with a hint of oak.”

Everyday after work, Freight Train would come alive! Open the garage door where she had been cooped up with her siblings all day and watch her GO! Run as fast as my legs will take me! Oh, oh. . . sliding, sliding. . . BAM! Hip into the wall! Let’s try again – only faster! More abandon! Running, running, we’re gonna make the turn this time. . . SLAM! Full body into the opposite wall! CRASH! goes the framed picture that was waiting to be hung! Glass everywhere! Well, People. You know that I do this routine every day, and you know that I’m klutzy and loving it! So don’t yell at me over a broken frame when you clearly knew disaster would happen if you left it out! Still, pretty cool glass shatter, don’t you think? One of my better Freight Train moments. . .

The doctor even marvelled at her sheer will to live – saying “She’s a tough old lady! You could see her, 90 years old, living by herself, rearranging the furniture. . .” Except for the “old lady” bit, she was 100% correct. Stubborn and focused, Teva could have been an astronaut if she had opposable thumbs.

The Day We Hoped Would Never Come

Hemangiosarcoma is a wicked disease, and our best friend had it. She fought valiantly for 11.5 weeks against a disease that experts said wouldn’t take her past 12 weeks. She almost made it.

On Saturday evening, she was showing signs of pain – the first time ever she had shown pain. X-rays showed that her insides were just a tangled mess. The spleen tumor had grown and was pressing on her stomach and her intestines. The heart tumor had grown and was pressing on her trachea, esophagus, and lungs. Her stomach was not properly digesting food, and so was enlarged beyond its own capacity. Her once normal hourglass figure looked as though someone had slipped a helium balloon down her gut and pumped it up.

I’m sure there were things we could have done for her – pump her stomach, more meds. At that point, though, she was already on high doses of so many meds – prednisone, tramadol, famotidine, yunnan baiyao, cephalexin – the meds were the only things that were keeping her from full blown infection and inflammation. Anything else was crossing into the “inhumane” category. Plus, she felt like crap. The rollercoaster was finally pulling into the station, but wouldn’t quite stop on it’s own without human intervention. Our intervention.

At 1:00 AM, Sunday morning, with a beautiful full moon shining through a still and warm summer’s night, my beautiful and brave best friend was lovingly (yet reluctantly) guided to her final stop. It wasn’t her time, but cancer had other plans. I told her that as long as she was fighting, I would fight for her. Her body was fighting against a dirty opponent, though. Cancer had more tricks up its sleeve than we could attack against.

I love her more than I can possibly explain, and I will always regret not being able to save her from this dirty, rotten scoundrel of a disease that took hold of her in the first place. When she died, a sliver of my own heart died along with her. The house has a hole in it without her there. My life has a hole in it without her there.

Our girl taking a nap during the New Year's celebration, AZ 2002.

Our girl taking a nap during the New Year's celebration, AZ 2002.

Brent says that he sees her reincarnated as a horse. I agree. But a wild horse. Free to roam, free to play, free to smell the wind and eat the grass and gallop around at her own pace. I hope I see her again someday like this. In some ways, we weren’t the right family for her. Too sedentary and predictable. Boring. She was exactly the right dog for us, though, and our world will not be the same without her.

  1. If (A) I don’t want to have to make the decision to put her down, and (B) I really want her to die peacefully in her sleep, and (C) the world conspires to make happen that which I concentrate energy into, then should I put “Teva dies peacefully in her sleep after an Up Day” on my Vision Board?
  2. When Brent and I are in serious talks about whether or not this is The Time, I start to think about the Monty Python and the Holy Grail skit “Bring Out Your Dead“. A Sample:

Cart Master: Bring out your dead!

Customer: Here’s one.

Dead Person: I’m not dead. . . .

Customer: Yes he is.

Dead Person: I’m not! . . .

Customer: Well, he will be soon. He’s very ill.

Dead Person: I’m getting better!

Customer: No, you’re not. You’ll be stone dead in a moment. . .

Dead Person: I don’t want to go on the cart!

Customer: Oh, don’t be such a baby. . . .

  1. Too bad my artist neighbor stopped smoking pot. A few long, slow tokes blown into her face might make her feel better and stimulate her appetite.

The shocking news about the passing of Tim Russert was made all the worse by the realization that he could have had a chance of survival had an AED been present and used after his collapse.ABCNews.com posted a video clip of GMA’s Diane Sawyer and Dr. Memhet Oz explaining the sudden cardiac arrest that Tim suffered and how an AED could have jumpstarted his heart.

Automated External Defibrillators do not help with heart attacks – the slower death of heart tissue, where the victim often feels terrible but is usually awake and conscious.AEDs were designed for specific incidences of sudden cardiac arrest, where the electrical pulses that run the heart get all out of sorts and the heart just starts vibrating in place, otherwise known as ventricular fibrillation. AEDs recognize the fibrillation patterns and recommends shock only in those cases.

Do You Know Where Your AED Is?

Maybe it is the safety culture here at the Lab, but I was completely shocked when I watched the video clip from above. They wandered around the halls and asked ABC staffers if they knew if an AED was on the property, where it was located, and if they knew how to use it.The answer, in a nutshell, was a resounding No to all questions.

LANL got AEDs beginning in 2000. The Wellness Center was one of two sites to pilot the Lab’s AED program, so I have been trained and kept up my AED certification since 2000. Today, my 7 story building has a total of 14 AEDs – 2 on each floor next to the stairwells and close to the break rooms.So to imagine that an organization the size of the ABC studios in New York, with all of the people that work there and the type of equipment they work with, wouldn’t have people trained in the use of AEDs or even people who know if an AED was on the premises is irresponsible at best.

Not Just for Fat, Old Guys

I heard that the Lab was introducing AEDs because The Mucky-Mucks were concerned about the aging population – some guys have been here since the late 1950s-early 1960s. But these have been used 3 times in the last 8 years that I know of, two of which I was generally involved in.

  1. A 50+ year old user at the Wellness Center was on a diet that he read about in Playboy magazine (low calorie, high exercise).After his workout, he went into the shower and promptly passed out. CPR was started, the AED was at the scene, pads applied, shock not administered.
  2. A marathon runner in his early 40’s came back to the Wellness Center after his afternoon 15-mile run, went into the weight room, sat in the chest press machine, inhaled deeply, and pushed on the bars while holding his breath (the classic valsalva maneuver). His heart stopped. CPR was started and AED pads were applied when the paramedics arrived (luckily they were on their way to the WC to workout). I had the distinct pleasure of tracking down the man’s wife in an executive meeting to tell her that her husband was about to be taken away in an ambulance.
  3. An electrician in his mid-30’s performing work on a ladder and was electrocuted. An AED was on the scene, a shock was administered successfully.

In each of these incidents, the people survived, even if the AED wasn’t “used.” It was a help to the first responders, however, knowing that there was a machine at the ready, monitoring the situation, and giving some feedback of whether or not they were on the right track. And notice, save for the first guy, we aren’t talking about overweight, middle-aged people that suffered sudden cardiac arrest. It can happen to otherwise perfectly healthy people, too.

My Recommendation: Get Training First

Even though AEDs are made to be completely dummy-proof, I would recommend training beforehand. For non-gadget people, they can be intimidating and confusing – especially in a panic situation. For non-medical people, the idea of stripping off someone’s shirt, applying sticky pads to their chest and pushing the ON/OFF button is really intimidating, much less push the SHOCK button. With this, practice and preparation helps.

Also, there are situations that you might run into that you don’t think about – what if a guy has a really hairy chest and the pads aren’t adhering right (the packs come with a disposable razor, gotta shave him)? Can they go over bras (sort of, push the straps out of the way, put the other pad lower on the ribcage – clear of the underwire)? What if someone has a pacemaker (use the AED anyway – if the person has no pulse, the pacemaker is broken so the AED shock won’t hurt)?

CPR/AED – Not Just for Strangers Anymore

I heard in one of my trainings (though I can’t find the statistics to back it up) that people perform CPR on others they know more often that the “stranger/bystander” CPR – likely because people often go into cardiac arrest when they are in familiar places (dining with friends, at a family member’s home, at work, in the gym, etc.). Take Tim Russert – he passed out surrounded by colleagues who loved and respected him, but could not save him through CPR alone.

So I encourage you to find a local chapter of the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association and sign up for CPR/AED class. Take a group of friends and make an afternoon of it.

Marlo Silva was a classmate of mine through grade school and junior high. Three-quarters tomboy, Marlo rode horses, rode to school in a big truck, and didn’t give a rip about what others thought of her. While Marlo was chucking dodgeballs on the school yard, I was wrapped up in pre-teen girldom (frienemies with Shannon Parsons, wanting Daniel Bigham to like me). But Marlo seemed to be above all of that. She was confident and non-judgmental. I remember her being among the first to talk to the new kid in class and tolerate all of the crappy things that little kids did to one another with a nonchalance that was unusual for me.

In high school, I was in awe of Shelby Borchard. Shelby was 2 years older than me, girl-next-door pretty, a cheerleader, and dating the quarterback of the football team. She could have easily been a Mean Girl, but she wasn’t. She was one of the sweetest people I knew, and she was always very kind to me.

Teva is very much an amalgamation of all of the cool girls that I’ve personally known, and some of the ones that I wish I knew. Part Mia Hamm, part Jennifer Garner, she is an adventurous, confident, and audacious go-getter. She has always done things her own way with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. The pretty girl tomboy who can keep up with a rough game in the schoolyard, welcomes the new kid to the house without attitude or judgment, puts up with the crappy things other “lesser” dogs do, and she’s the only one in our family that I trust implicitly with children, the elderly, and other animals with my back turned. She could have easily been a model in an REI or Title 9 catalog – snowboarder in winter, rockclimber in summer, yoga poser/salsa dancer/pizza eater and beer drinker year round.

But that was nine days ago. After a hemangiosarcoma diagnosis, three trips to the emergency vet in 7 days, and several seizures or “syncopal episodes” (no one really can tell us which with any certainty), Brent and I are talking about euthanasia. We’re not there yet, but if we can’t get these things controlled with the meds soon, we won’t have her the 1-2 months that the “experts” tell us we have. The oncologist said we could “go aggressive” with treatment – surgery, chemo. But that would only give us another 5-7 months with her, and that’s being optimistic. So, we’ve opted for hospice. Steroids to control swelling and inflammation, pain meds, and yunnan baiyao for any internal bleeding.

I can’t tell if any of it is doing any good, though, because she still seems pretty out of it. She’s sleeping more, but she did hang out in the backyard yesterday morning eating grass and breathing in the sun and wind. Then again, we did have to run to the E-vet yesterday evening because of an “episode.” It is just so hard to watch her deteriorate and not be able to throw any amount of money at it to fix it.

This past Saturday, Brent and I drove to pick up his new baby – a red Suzuki SV650S. He took both the Harley-Davidson’s and Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s rider safety courses, bought all of his gear, and has now put 150 miles on it. The thought of driving it on I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe without ever having driven on the roads before made him a bit uncomfortable, so we took scenic Hwy. 14 from Tijeras to Santa Fe (which I’ve never been on before), stopping in Madrid for lunch. He’s doing pretty well on it, so far, and I know he’s a cautious person in general, so I’m not too concerned. Still doesn’t make me want to ride on it, but as long as his insurance coverage is maxed and I’m the beneficiary to it all, he can do what he wants.

What is it with guys and bikes?