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It’s true. They really do eat your homework.

Just this morning I was interviewing a gentleman for an article I’m writing about depression.  Along the way he said, though not precisely in these words, that an effective treatment for depression is one that helps you return to being fully human, to being able to get your life moving again so you can be completely the person you are.  We need to acknowledge, he said, that the way most of us live our lives in this 21st century culture is out of balance with our inherent humanity.

This really speaks to something that I’ve been ranting about lately to anyone who will stand still and listen to me. We work too hard at jobs that don’t feed anything but our wallets, we eat stuff that isn’t really food, we live sedentary lives out of touch with our bodies and what they have evolved to be able to do, we neglect our spiritual selves, and we live apart from the people and communities who love and support us.

This morning I read this news report about Ratchet, a dog that some of the rest of you may also have been reading about for a couple of weeks now.  In war-torn Iraq, the dog who came to be called Ratchet and a young service woman from Minneapolis, Army Specialist Gwen Beberg, found each other and formed their own little community. Beberg, anticipating her homecoming, has been trying to arrange for Ratchet to be transferred stateside at the same time.

No dice, said the Powers That Be–military personnel are not allowed to have or care for pets, they said, and we can bear no responsibility for the transfer of this dog.

Beberg and another soldier rescued one-month-old Ratchet from a burning pile of trash in May, and from that point on Beberg and Ratchet were more than just companions–they were lifelines for each other. Beberg’s mother credits the pup with supporting her daughter through the stresses of her deployment.

This week, with the cooperation of many different people and organizations, including the U.S.-based Baghdad Pups, Ratchet was finally flown to Beberg’s home state, where her parents will care for him until Beberg herself gets home next month.

Even those of us who find this war deplorable and senseless must acknowledge the toll taken–both in war zones and after returning home–on the lives and well being of the men and women involved, and on those who care for them.  I can’t imagine a better source of endless and enduring comfort and support for a returning soldier than a dog who knows and loves her without boundaries or conditions. All the more so if that dog and that soldier have shared a common experience.

I even wonder whether it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give every service member a dog.

Congratulations, Ratchet.  And Gwen–come home safely.

Second Child, who is now in high school, was sitting with a friend in study hall engaged in that old fashioned educational pastime of comparing cell phone photos with the boy sitting beside her.  The boy held out his phone for her to see, and the conversation went like this:

Boy:  And this is my dog.

Second Child: Cool . . . wait . . . hey! What kind of dog is that?

Boy: An airedale.

Second child (screaming): AN AIREDALE?!!!!

Teacher: Shhhhh, you two.

Boy (whispering): Yeah, I know, you’ve probably never heard of them.

Second child: (screaming again) HEARD OF THEM? (whispering) I mean, heard of them?  I’ve got TWO of them at home!

Boy:: (screams) YOU DO?!!! OMG, OMG!

Second child and Crispin as a pup

Second child and Crispin as a pup

Clearly a get-together is in order. Maybe the kids can come along, too.

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Family medical concerns on several fronts. The insurance company recreationally denying coverage for said concerns–you know, just because they can. Fights ensuing. Me winning (take that, evil insurance demons!). Stressful school transitions.

As for the dogs, they’ve had a pretty quiet week. Some cockleburrs have had to be severely dealt with. And they can’t figure out why First Child has disappeared (he’s at college, but they won’t understand that) and why Second Child has suddenly started getting up at dawn and is taken away every morning by a large yellow school bus. Oh, and their dog blog friend Lilly tangled with a rattlesnake–and won (go, Lilly! and hang in there, Roxanne!).

And then there were the Conventions, requiring that the Two Legs be away in another room for several evenings watching The Box. As a result, and at our purely partisan request, Dinah and Crispin have gone to bite some people in other states, so for this week, we bring you instead of news closer to home, this video. Pure enjoyment, via Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish.

Hope your September is going well.

On the heels of my mentioning yesterday the Boston Globe and NPR stories on how far to take medical treatment (with all of its associated costs) for our pets, NPR did another long bit on this today, on Neil Conan’s afternoon program, Talk of the Nation. You can read it (or, after 6 p.m. eastern time today, listen to it) here. Today’s discussion included several animal experts and advocates, including Jon Katz, whose work and writing I enjoy and admire.

Four or 5 years ago Dinah went down. I mean, one minute she was fine and the next minute she was Seriously Not. Slumped in the floor, silent, not eating or even really responding to us. Given the unnatural stoicism of airedales, we were alarmed, and within the hour we were on our way to the vet.

Not just the vet, of course, but the Emergency Vet. Near midnight. On a Sunday night. That may go without saying, since in our experience and that of many of our friends, veterinary (and for that matter, pediatric) emergencies occur only Late At Night and when the vet (or pediatrician) is Very Far Away. The other tenet, of course, is that the emergency vet is Very Expensive–$200 just to walk in the door and start the real tab running. At least the pediatrician takes our insurance. The vet–not so much. For many of us, that’s a lot of money, and in our case it led to much more money, though we didn’t know that on that scary Sunday night.

She was a very sick dog, and while I won’t go into detail, the basics are that she had a lot of peculiar symptoms (none of which seemed to explain her condition), she needed round the clock care, IV fluids, and a menu of services that prevented us from transferring her to our nice Neighborhood Vet the following morning. Three days and many, many dollars (and tears) later, she was fine. And–whew!–home. They never did figure out what was wrong with her, but she’d either gotten over whatever it was under the tremendous healing power of airedale vigor and hardheadedness, or something they’d done–and they freely admitted they could not themselves make the connection–had pulled her through.

In retrospect, I think it’s just as well that I didn’t know on Sunday night how much money we’d end up spending. Looking back, I’m glad she got the treatment she needed and is still with us. Since then, we’ve made the hard call to refuse intensive emergency medical care for a beloved cat who had a stroke, and for another, who had been part of our family for 17 years, with cancer. Since then we pulled Dinah through another Emergency Vet adventure (also on a Sunday night–see?) for something that would quickly have become life threatening if not addressed immediately. Small procedure, big bucks.

Tough decisions. Listen to the program.

Whoo! Been away too long. Last week, when it began, looked like this:

The week itself was a busy one, dog-news-wise. Leona Helmsley’s dog got rich . . .

. . . and then not so rich when a judge decreased little Trouble’s inheritance by much more than I will see in my financial lifetime. In between times he received death threats and his caretaker had to spirit him off to some place “in a nice warm climate” to protect him against kidnapping.

The New York Times reported on the rise in the use of made-for-human-type medicines for canine mental health problems.

The Boston Globe ran a story (and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered discussed it) about people who spend controversial amounts of money on health care for severely ill pets, including a goose whose cancer care has–so far–cost in the neighborhood of $20,000 (the goose, whose name is Boswell, has his own blog).

Please note that I’m not taking sides on any of these issues. Discuss among yourselves.

On the home front here, the big news was yet another swing in the dominant-dog pendulum. Dinah was already 5 when her nephew Crispin came to live with us, and immediately he assumed that she was Boss. She’s kind of dour in temperament–she’s low-key, solid, loving, loyal, and she loves a nice romp in the yard once in a while, but in truth she can be a little grumpy. A little Eyore in there, you know? And she’d much rather snooze under the picnic table than run circles around it. In spite of (or because of?) her charming personality, she is my darling.

Onto the scene pops Crispin, who is the happiest creature on the planet, no matter what–one of his nicknames is “Crispin, the happy trotting elf” (yes, we are Coupling fans).  You can’t help but love Crispin. He’s the velcro dog, our little black and tan satellite, always in our orbit whether we’re going for a walk in the woods or just down the hall to the kitchen. If Dinah likes to mosey gently through her day, his favorite modes of getting from one place to another (and back again and there again and back again and there again and back again, before you can blink) are sprinting, springing, speeding, and scurrying. If we all go out together, she’s ambling and he’s and scrambling.

Lately, he’s decided he’s in charge of several things. Like biscuits, even if they’re given to her first. In fact, a few days ago they had one of those snarling, snapping fights that I’d illustrate for you except that I can’t find an image of one of those cartoon scuffles in which arms and legs and fists sticking out of a little spiky, whirling cloud. Only in this case it would be paws and jaws and short skinny tails and big white tusks teeth.

OOF! POW! SNAP! JAB!

In the end, Dinah got her biscuit back, but she bears the scars from a nasty little nip her nephew gave her. Things are largely copacetic now, but they’re still miffed enough at one another that I could not get them to pose together in a recreation of the portrait with which I began this post–you know, an After to match up with the Before. So here they are in all their (separate) summer glory, transformed from wooly beasts to pretty good looking airedales. That would be Crispin on the porch, looking over his territory for something to chase, and Dinah happily rustling around in the foliage, looking for a cool place to nap:

Here’s hoping that everyone and their dog made it through the 4th festivities without getting lost (I mean you or your dog). Dinah did, as predicted, spend part of the evening under the knees that were under the desk in the office, but damp weather here meant that there were fewer thunderous explosions than there are in some years. A few miles north, I had a quiet evening with my friends’ dog, who, except for a few scary moments when some little squibs going off next door turned her into my very best, ear scratching, pat-giving friend for ten minutes, was fine. Our biggest dilemma was deciding whether Shanghai Noon or That Mitchell and Webb Look made the best distracting viewing.

It occurred to me this morning, though, that it always helps to know what you would do in a crisis before the crisis hits, so I’ve been Googling around for a good lost dog game plan. There’s good advice to be had here, here, and here, but most of them boil down to:

  • getting the word out, not just to neighbors, the local police, your local animal control officer, and all the neighborhood kids.*
  • Making and distributing eye-catching posters with a recent photo of your lost dog (I am rather proud of the one in yesterday’s post that I made for Dinah, and it occurs to me that it’s probably a good idea for you to make one up right NOW and put it on your computer in case you ever need it).
  • One of the best pieces of advice, I think, is to give posters to your mail carrier and to any UPS or FedEx delivery folks that work your neighborhood.

This reminds me that my friend Stephen has a lovely little border collie mix who likes to ride shotgun with the FedEx man, who has several times discovered–sometimes hours later–that the dog hopped into his truck while he was delivering a package at Stephen’s house, and now he and the dog are buddies and Stephen is no longer taken aback when the delivery guy makes a second stop at his home to bring the dog back after they’ve had a nice ride together. Small town life, you know?

__

* The writer of one of these advice lists is apparently unaware that most of “the neighborhood kids” now spend their daylight hours in darkened rooms playing with their Game Boys until repetitive motion injuries make them stop, playing Guitar Hero until their parents make them stop, sending catty IMs to each other, and taking meticulous care of virtual pets, unaware that some real pets out there might need their help, and that they are not out building forts and climbing trees and practicing double-dutch and playing kick-the-can.

This seems an appropriate day to tell Dinah’s 4th of July story. Dinah has always been a very brave animal–warning away all the dangerous deer and bunnies in our yard, doing battle with a hand-held orbital floor sander (while we were taking a break from forcing it to work on our floor, she slipped into the living room, grabbed it in her teeth, and repeatedly smashed it against the floor until she subdued it), protecting us from postal carriers and UPS and FedEx delivery folks, barking anytime she noticed there was excess oxygen. She was fearless–afraid of nothing.

Two years ago on July 4 we decided we’d slip out for a quick dinner at our favorite shrimp place. First Child was at a fireworks-watching party, Second Child was at sleep-away camp for the week, and we were all alone for the night. It was a beautiful evening and we knew we’d be back soon, so we left Dinah in the yard, of which roughly an acre is enclosed by invisible fencing. This is her paradise–a huge, grassy expanse with a covered porch, both sunny and shady places, squirrels and chipmunks to bully, and an elevated deck from which she loves to survey her kingdom.

The fencing is also her protection–though we have a very large back yard, the house is 200+ years old, and as is often the case with old houses, it sits very close to the road (the road being considerably wider than it was in 1790), and the road is a heavily traveled state highway, especially busy in the summer as it leads to a popular state beach about 3 miles south of here.

As it happened, though, it was such a lovely evening that we decided to leave the car downtown (downtown, you understand, is all of 2 blocks long where I live) and walk down to the beach to see a bit of the fireworks display that the town sponsors–they shoot the rockets from an offshore barge and we (and scores of other people) know just which beach to visit for the best viewing. We got home at about 10, relaxed, full of shrimp and with sandy feet.

Our surprise at not being met at the end of the path (the edge of her invisibly fenced territory) by Dinah when we got home quickly turned to concern, then to fear, then to horror. Dinah was gone. Not on or under the porch, not snoozing by the cedar tree, not surveying her kingdom from the deck. Not responding to our calls, nor to the rattle of the biscuit box.

Gone.

The pack leader got in the car and drove all over the neighborhood, looking and calling. First Child, when he returned from his own fireworks viewing, joined in the hunt. So did the local police, who cruised through our part of town looking for her, too. At 2 a.m., sick with dread, we went to bed, but not to sleep. I kept wondering how we’d tell Second Child that her dog had run away and been hit by a car.

At 6:30 we were up and making Lost Dog signs on the computer. We figured we could start calling neighbors at around 8 a.m., and made a list of folks to call. We called the pound, but no one was there yet. I was heartsick. How could she be gone? She had never challenged the invisible fence–had someone taken her? And she was completely clueless about roads, and ours was so busy.

At 7:40, the phone rang. “I hate to call so early,” a woman said, “But I think I have your dog. She’s with me and she’s fine.” Dinah was okay (fine, even)! And found. The Pack Leader had his car keys out before I was even off the phone. No more than 10 minutes later Dinah bounded into the house. I was just limp with relief, and I think she was, too. I sat down in the kitchen floor (still in my bathrobe) and Dinah threw herself down, put her head in my lap, and simply howled. And I burst into tears and said furiously to my husband, “Someday she’ll REALLY be gone or she’ll die and break my heart because I love this dog and IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.”

“Yup,” he said, and smiled. My dog person gene had suddenly activated.

Our heroine had refused David’s offer of a cash reward for her kindness, but later in the afternoon I made a loaf of homemade bread and took it up to the house where Dinah had been found. The house was about a mile up the road from us, but on the same street and–mercifully–the same side of the road. Slowly we began to piece together what we had suspected the night before. People in the neighborhood had also been putting on their own fireworks shows. And Dinah got scared, and, panicking, ran across her fence line, then, not wanting to get zapped again by running back through it, ran away from the yard through the woods. As the crow flies (or the terrified airedale scampers), she could have reached her rescuer’s house without ever going near the road. The woman who found her said she’d gone out early to put her trash cans out for collection, and found Dinah sitting in her garage. Dinah was tired and dirty and scared, but she let the woman pet her and check her collar tags, including the one with our name and phone number on it. When the Pack Leader pulled up in their driveway, she was sitting on the porch enjoying being petted by the woman’s two small kids, but when she saw the PL she bolted for his car and hopped in over him as soon as he opened the door to get out. “Home, Dad,” she said.

Ever since that night, though, she’s been terrified of fireworks, and of thunder. So tonight while the kids are roasting marshmallows, we’ll slip her one with a Benadryl tablet inside (vet’s suggestion), and as the bombs are bursting in air, Dinah will be under the Pack Leader’s desk, her head tucked between his knees, waiting for the ruckus to subside. And I’ll be up the street babysitting Tris, the dog of friends of ours who will be away this evening, protecting her from the scary fireworks and keeping her from pulling the baseboard heaters off their walls, her personal fear response. In the next town over, my friend Sandi will be calming her noise-phobic dog Jordie, who has been known to eat through the drywall when it storms.

It’s a tough job. But a dog person’s gotta do it.

Blog surfing the other day took me to a wonderful site, Les Petits Bonhers de Miss T, having mostly to do with beautiful sewing and embroidery projects. For many of these she provides instructions and charts. And, it’s not like I’m looking for stuff to do, but I may have to dig out the old embroidery needles and some black and tan floss for these babies:

Being partial to airedales, I think one more stitch under the noses and a few black stitches along the back would turn them into wonderful ‘dales. Searching Miss T’s site, though, will turn up all kinds of wonderful things–scotty dogs, reindeer, teapots, even a few rather decorative toilets.

Besides, Miss T fits perfectly into the cat person/dog person theme–my French is a little rusty, but I’m pretty sure the note she has written over the cross stitch chart says that she’s 100 times more cat person than dog person. As I know all too well, those can easily become the proverbial famous last words . . . look out, Miss T (and thanks for the kind permission to link to your blog).

The pack leader and I headed up to the Farmington (Connecticut) antiques show today, as we do most years at about this time. There were lots of people there with their dogs (including a seriously handsome and well-behaved pair of schnauzers and an adorable boxer puppy), and we briefly felt guilty about not bringing Dinah or Crispin, but it was hot hot hot humid humid humid and about the time we broke down and bought overpriced (but medically necessary) Italian ices, we decided they were probably happier at home after all.

Besides the living and breathing dogs, we saw lots of dog collectibles, like these:

and

Clearly I have a weakness for terriers in general and airedales in particular. I get airdales. And who wouldn’t love an airedale on wheels? Actually, it’s probably a good thing they don’t have wheels. I can only imagine the roller derby hell speeding through my kitchen and living room if Dinah and Crispin were that mobile! And of course they’d have to have scary roller derby names, perhaps Dina-Myte and The Crispinator. And we’d have to have our identities changed and go into hiding.

Here’s the thing I don’t get, though. Collectibles. Collecting things. Ask the pack leader, who has filled much of the house with antique fly fishing rods. They’re lovely. They’re (sort of) useful. But would one or two, even 5 or 6, not be enough? Instead of, oh, 4 or 5 hundred? I guess I just don’t have the gene (though I fully appreciate that in lean years–and there have been a number of those), the fly rod trade has served us well.

I know there are people who collect dog stuff, either in general or specific to a breed to which they are partial. I have a pin of an airedale. And I once gave the pack leader an Airedale Pale Ale tee shirt he wears at the gym. But that’s as far as I can take it. Two airedales are in and of themselves a complete collection for me.

What about you–do you collect stuff related to dogs? What do you have, and what are you still looking for?

He is so shaggy. People are amazed when he gets up and they suddenly realize they have been talking to the wrong end. --Elizabeth Jones
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