Making adjustments

Poor Banjo

Poor Banjo!

Banjo is my family’s 18-month-old yellow Lab. If he can be summed up in one word, it’s exuberant. If two words – wildly exuberant. He is a force to be reckoned with, ninety-one pounds of raw energy barreling toward us at top speed in hopes of 1) eating something or 2) having us throw a ball or stick for him to retrieve. Endlessly. Banjo goes into a frenzy if he thinks we’re about to stop throwing said ball or stick, the bodily equivalent of shouting NONONONONOPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!!!! His beautiful gold-green eyes (sky-blue when he was a baby) go pink around the rims; he often leaves us humans coated in a layer of frothy slobber, prompting us to quote Bill Murray’s line to Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters: “He slimed me.”

During attempted walks on the leash (key word: attempted – these walks are more like trying to restrain a steam locomotive), Banjo’s mouth foams to the point of looking rabid, unnerving to anyone who might recall a certain story about a big yellow dog exposed to hydrophobia. I mentally push this horrible connection away the instant it comes to mind. Managing Banjo has become something of a Herculean challenge, to say the least. Twice he’s escaped from us, running, barking and foaming, through our neighborhood, causing one woman to run into her house and giving young men chase. I corralled him once myself and got him safely to our fenced backyard. The other time my older son chased him for forty-five minutes, while Banjo had the time of his life ripping through neighbor’s yards and swimming in the pond across the street from our house. In disgust, my son gave up and stormed home, at which point Banjo, sopping with pond water, bounded back up the driveway.

Banjo escaped from the backyard recently, having dislodged two slats of the wooden fence by repeatedly jumping against them with his considerable weight. Looking at the slats, presently secured with bungee cords until we can nail them back properly, my husband said, “If we can’t contain him, we’re not going to be able to keep him.”

My turn to say NONONONONOPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!!!! 

Despite all, I love this wildly exuberant dog. He’s been with us since he was seven weeks old, a ball of yellow fuzz that slept in my lap or on my feet. Banjo’s presence represents hope and survival, his own as well as my husband’s during a dark time;  I wrote about it in The unplanned baby. How can I just give him up? Yes, he’s one giant mess. Sure, he sheds copiously, enough hair to make a whole other dog. Yes, he dug up the pipe leading from the propane tank by the back deck until the stench of gas frightened us all, giving us visions of the whole place blowing at any moment, until we buried the pipe again and built a small wall of cinder blocks around it. Banjo barked at these blocks nonstop, all day, every day, for about a month.

But when he goes into his crate at night, he looks at me with those golden-green eyes and waits patiently for me to reach through and rub him for a minute. When I do, he leans his head against my hand, closes his eyes, and savors every second – the sweetest, most loving of creatures.

If only he would stay this calm more often . . . .

It was inevitable, of course, and past time, really. It had to be done.

We took Banjo to be neutered.

We did not know until we picked him up that he’d be wearing a cone to keep him from interfering with his surgery site until it healed – for seven days.

“There’s no way,” I said, watching Banjo writhing, twisting, and jumping, trying to rid himself of this horrid thing around his head. But after a few minutes, he sat still, with his head hanging down. Subjugated, submissive, maybe even dejected, Banjo seemed to be contemplating this new, unfortunate turn of events.

In the subsequent days, he simply made the necessary adjustments.

He learned that he had to put the entire cone opening over his food and water bowl to eat and drink. I laughed at the sight. He looked like something straight out of science fiction, a vacuum-headed suction creature from another planet. He ran through the backyard, as exuberant as ever, with his cone pointed toward the sky like a morning-glory flower. He wanted to play so badly that, despite the cone, he managed to drag a five-foot pine limb thicker than my arm to me in hopes that I’d throw it for him.

He still waited for me to rub his head when he went into his crate to sleep.

“I am so sorry about all of this, Banjo,” I said, working my hand through the bars and past the cone.

He shifted his head to help me reach him, leaned against my hand, and closed his eyes. So accepting and forgiving.

I rubbed him an extra-long time, tears stinging my own eyes.

My husband and I took the cone off after four days. We couldn’t stand it anymore.

Banjo is healed now, running unfettered again in the backyard each day of this glorious, sunny spring. He never fails to lift my spirits, this big, beautiful, messy boy. He reminds me that setbacks are temporary, that whatever pain and hardships come, there’s something good waiting just on the other side. Accept, make the necessary adjustments, carry on – cheerfully.

Just another of life’s lessons from an exuberant yellow dog that will hopefully be calmer now.

Regardless, here’s the truth about Banjo: He doesn’t belong to me. I belong to him.

Always.

Reflection: What are the necessary adjustments must you make in your own life, currently? Think acceptance, forgiveness, healing, moving beyond. What’s the something better that might be waiting on the other side of the struggle, the pain? Write your truths.

 

Oh, Henry

Henry playing dead

Henry, playing dead.

Henry is the latest addition to our family.

He belongs to my oldest son, who’s come back home to live temporarily.

Henry is a Pit mix. His coat is a shiny, smoky gray with white markings. He has a tiny underbite, as bulldogs do. His eyes take in everything – he is incredibly perceptive of moods and every move we humans make. If he thinks someone is angry, he creeps over to his crate and goes in.

He is meek, the gentlest, most affectionate dog; he never seems to get enough belly rubs. He puts one paw up on your arm when you pet him. He is always ready to play – he brings tennis balls to us and drops them in our laps. If we’re too slow in responding, Henry nudges the ball closer to our hands.

If we fail to give Henry the attention he wants, he lies in the floor and plays dead. Poor neglected creature!

On the second night home, Henry hopped up on my husband’s and my bed, where he settled himself Sphinx-like, quite majestically, looking at us as if to say: “This is where I shall sleep henceforth. This is my place.”

And so it is. Henry snuggles deep between us every night, often sleeping with his head on my leg.

My husband tells our son: “Henry is our dog now.”

Our son rolls his eyes. “Yeah, sure, Dad.”

Henry has been used to living in an apartment, so having a big backyard where he can run around is an absolute joy to him. He’s in dog paradise.

One morning our son went to call him back in and Henry was gone.

Someone had left the gate open.

A stab went through my heart – I could hardly breathe. This is our boy’s beloved dog, he brings him here, and we lose him. 

Our son had adopted Henry from an animal shelter.

He was a stray.

“HEENNNNNRRRYYYY!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I ran outside in my pajamas, not caring if the neighbors woke up to see. “HEEEEENNNNNRYYYY!”

After a couple of heart-wrenching minutes, our son found Henry on the front porch, looking guilty. Once inside the house, Henry slunk over to his crate and lay down, looking at us with the whites of his eyes showing.

Oh, Henry.

We are so thankful that you’re here.

 

Henry

Henry making himself at home.

 

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogged determination

nikolaus

Nikolaus

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word perseverance? Perhaps it’s The Little Engine That Could. Or Jim Valvano.

I think of Nikolaus.

He’s a dachshund, and if you’ve ever owned one or read E.B. White, you know that the breed tends to be stubborn – as my eastern North Carolinian father would say, “hard-headed.”

Nik came to us when he was three months old. My boys, ages twelve and four, had been begging for a miniature dachshund after they puppy-sat one for friends on vacation. They knew exactly what they wanted: A little chocolate female. So when another friend called to say that her elderly mother had this very creature but could not take care of it, and if we wanted this puppy, we could have it, my boys were elated.

On the much-anticipated day of arrival, we opened the crate door and out strutted Nik. He was tiny, weighing maybe five pounds.

Within sixty seconds, these things developed:

“Mom, she’s not chocolate,” the older son observed. The puppy’s glossy coat was deep red, nearly crimson.

“Mom, she’s peeing on the carpet!” squealed the younger son. A remarkably large puddle, I might add, for a bladder so small.

“And she’s a boy,” I noted, running for the paper towels.

Just sixty seconds to an inkling that This Might Not Be What We Imagined.

Nik looked at us lovingly, wagging his tail.

He was, I decided in the weeks and months following, completely untrainable. He could not control his bladder. He wet the carpet, sofa, beds, everything. He would not “go” when we took him outside. Crate training did not work at all – he eliminated in it immediately upon entering. Exasperated, I asked the vet: “Why isn’t this working? I read that dogs don’t like to mess up their dens.”

The vet shrugged. “With some dogs, it’s just a behavioral issue.”

Great, I thought. It did not occur to me until much later that he’d been crated a lot as a puppy because his elderly owner could not keep with the demands of caring for him. He cried loudly the whole time he was in the crate. Nik, I learned, never wanted to be confined.

The futile attempt to housebreak him reached its zenith when we moved to a new house two years later.

“Boys, I don’t know what else to do. I’ve tried everything. I can’t housebreak Nik. He hates his crate, I’m going to work full-time, and I can’t let him mess up everything. Maybe it’s time for him to go to a new home.”

The younger son began to sob. “No! We can’t give him away. He is ours. We’re his family.”

My husband, not Nik’s biggest fan by a long shot, melted: “Shh, don’t cry, son. We won’t give Nik away.”

I glared at him.

“Nik can stay in my room when we’re all out,” offered the older son. “I’ll clean up if he has an accident.”

I thought of the new carpet and sighed. “All right, then. This means everyone is going to have to look after him. EVERYONE.”

The strange thing is that Nik seemed to know about this, because, on moving into the new house, he was instantly, miraculously housebroken. Whenever he needed to go, he went to the back door and waited to be let out. Just like that. After two years of abject failure.

The boys taught this untrainable dog to “sit pretty” for a treat, which meant that at every meal Nik was by one of our chairs, holding his pose like a groundhog, in hopes that we’d give him a bite. I taught him to roll over, so if sitting pretty didn’t work, he’d roll over to get his treat. That’s his entire repertoire: Two tricks.

Nik follows me everywhere in utter devotion, and when he was younger he’d jump into my chair to wedge himself between me and the chair back when I was writing. He is wary of my husband – they are in competition for my attention – but as soon as my husband leaves the room, Nik flies over to curl up in my lap, as if claiming me.

The boys say, “He loves you the best.”

Nik’s intense gaze seems to say the very same thing. He watches my every move.

A couple of years ago, we thought we were about to lose him.

My husband and I heard him fall on the landing of the stairs leading to the upstairs bedroom, which we dubbed “Nik’s lair,” as Nik was long accustomed to staying there during the day when the family was out. He’d also go up whenever he was tired or ready to go to bed for the night. By this time the older son was grown and gone, and the room belonged to the younger one, who was not home at the moment. On hearing Nik fall, my husband and I rushed to find him crumpled but conscious on the landing.

My husband began to cry.

“Stop it! You, of all people, crying about Nik! Don’t tell me you’re attached to him after all!”

“It’s the boys,” sobbed my husband. “Having to tell them that Nik … that he might …”

I picked Nik up as carefully as I would a newborn baby. “I’m wrapping him in a blanket. You’re driving us to the vet. Stop crying.”

The trouble was two kinked-up vertebrae, which the vet easily pointed out. He dispensed medication and sent us home.

I made a pallet for Nik in the living room and covered him with the blanket. For two days, Nik didn’t walk. The younger son slept  on the couch to be near him at night. Nik did not eat nor do anything when we took him outside. He just looked at us with big eyes and never made a sound – when he’s not crated, Nik hardly ever makes any noise.

In the wee hours of the third morning, I woke up and decided to check on Nik. My son was sound asleep on the couch. Nik’s blanket was still tucked on his pallet, but Nik was nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t on the couch with my son. I started searching, growing increasingly alarmed. He’s crawled off away from us to die. That’s what animals do. He wasn’t in the kitchen, under the chair where he likes to take his treats.

I woke up my son: “Where’s Nik?”

“He’s not on his pallet?” asked my groggy teenager.

“I can’t find him anywhere!”

I woke up my husband: “Nik has disappeared!”

“How is that possible?” He and my son looked again in all the places I’d just looked.

Then I thought, No – surely not – I don’t know how he could …

The upstairs bedroom. That’s where he’d want to be, if …

My heart pounding, and dread deepening with every step, I climbed the stairs and opened the bedroom door. I turned on the light.

No Nik. Normally he’d have jumped on my son’s bed and gone to sleep.

But he couldn’t jump now, not with his back … very carefully, I lifted the dust ruffle.

A tail thumped in greeting, and two eyes looked out at me as if to say, I just came up to bed like I always do.

I cannot envision how he did it, how he dragged himself all the way from his pallet, up the stairs to his favorite, safe place. Knowing he could not jump, he contented himself with sleeping under the bed instead of on top of it.

I do not cry easily, but I did then.

He recuperated, and it happened again a month ago. This time Nik could not walk for a week and a half. The vet – a different one now – called to see how he was faring.

“He’s not any better,” I said into the phone. “No change. He knows us and wags his tail, but he can’t move.”

“It may be time to think about the quality of life,” the vet said, gently.

We tried to talk about it, the boys, their dad, and I.

“But he knows us still,” I said. “He doesn’t seem to be suffering, except for not being able to walk.”

“Yeah, it’s not like he’s in a coma,” said the younger son.

“If you make that decision, I want to be there,” said the older son, who’d come by on his way home from work. He rubbed Nik’s head.

Nik looked at us lovingly.

Another day passed, and another. He still did not walk.

My younger son and I took turns bringing Nik’s food and water to him. Nik ate and drank – good signs. I carried him out several times a day – he obediently did what he needed to do, lying in the grass. I carried him back inside, put him in his beloved new dog bed, and covered him with a blanket.

More days passed.

And one day when I carried him out, I felt his back legs press against my side. When I took him out, he stood. By himself, he stood, for a few seconds, on his old white paws, looking at me lovingly from his little white face, before his legs gave out and he flopped down.

Each day after, he could stand for a bit longer at a time.

He is fifteen now, turning sixteen in January.  He runs from room to room again like he did when he was a puppy, still begging for treats although he can’t sit pretty anymore, or even see his treats as well as he once did, but he gobbles them just like always.

And every night, one of us carries him upstairs to his favorite, safe place to sleep.

Reflect: Who – or what – represents perseverance to you?  Why? What have you learned from this person or situation, and what have you learned about yourself?

 

 

 

The unplanned baby

Banjo 8 weeks

Banjo, 8 weeks old

He was born on a Sunday in early November, during the first freeze. For some reason, his mother didn’t seek shelter. She delivered nine puppies out in the open on that bitter night; before they were discovered, five of them died.

Getting a puppy was not even a thought when my husband and I stayed with his sister on her Virginia farm near the turn of the year. Our minds were consumed by the purpose of our trip: consulting with a surgeon on my husband’s rare form of eye disease. Following the appointment, burdened with the confirmation that my husband would soon lose his eye, my sister-in-law drove us by the old hay barn where her son was working:

“Let me know if you hear of anyone who wants a puppy. They’re pure Labs but this litter was unplanned, the second this year. I just want them to go to good homes.”

I was halfway paying attention from the back seat of the Suburban when she rolled the window down and called out: “Go get the big one.”

My nephew slipped into the barn. He returned momentarily with a fuzzy yellow ball, walked around to the passenger side, and placed it in my husband’s arms.

Two sky-blue, baby eyes looked round at me from a face that seemed a hundred years old.

He came home with us, of course, this unplanned baby that cried at the top of his surprisingly powerful lungs the entire three-hour journey back to North Carolina. We’re insane, I thought. We have a surgery to contend with and the surgeon said recuperation would be rough. We don’t even know what the long-term prognosis will be. There’s no puppy stuff at home, he’s going to shed like crazy, a big dog in the house, there’s the whole ordeal of housebreaking, we already HAVE a dog, that’s really enough, dear Lord, listen to this crying, we will never sleep another night…

Our college student/musician son was waiting at the door when we pulled up. He nestled the puppy against his heart and named him Banjo, not after the instrument, but the video game he loved as a child, Banjo Kazooie.  Baby Banjo slept in the bed with him and, incredibly, never made a peep that night or any night thereafter.

It was our darkest winter. Through snow, ice storms, surgery to remove my husband’s eye and his painful recovery, Banjo was the bright spot, an endearing and comical diversion, exactly what we needed. He radiated life, healing, and joy; he drove the bleakness away. His very presence represented survival. Turns out that instead of coming at the worst possible time, the unplanned baby came at the best time of all.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, the characters sail into a darkness where nightmares come true, with no obvious means of escape. Just as the nightmares begin, Lucy whispers, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” An albatross appears in the darkness, circles Lucy, and whispers to her in Aslan’s voice: “Courage, dear heart.” Within minutes, the darkness begins to lift; the characters find their way out.

For the record, Banjo looked so like a lion cub that we briefly thought about renaming him Aslan, until we decided that it would be utterly impossible ever to reprimand a creature with that name.

Reflect: When has your life or work been interrupted by something unplanned? Where in that experience might there be an unexpected gift? What chances are you willing to take to find it?

If you’d like to read more about Banjo: Making adjustments