Rrrarf…RRRARF…RRRARF… I am met by drawn back lips, a large yapping jaw, and jagged teeth as I peek through the crack I have created in the doorway. I have come here at the request of the owner of this large totally black male German Shepherd to let him out to go potty since she will be gone for about twelve hours. I visited this home just a couple of days ago to meet Jay, a 7-year-old recently adopted dog. He barked at me initially but then was happy and approachable. He rubbed his head on me and delighted in my ear rubs and sociable pats. He seemed like a friendly fellow.
I am always cautious with animals that do not know me, and I am not surprised at this fairly normal response to my invading his territory. I have come prepared with a couple of dog treats. I extend my hand with the treat to Jay through the crack in the door. He takes one look at what I have to offer, turns tail, and sprints off through the kitchen, continuing the hair-raising barking as he goes. Then all is silent.
I fully push open the door and slowly tread through the lighted kitchen and into the living room. I peer into the darkened bedroom where Jay has fled. Two bright shining circles reflect back at me. I flip on the light switch. Grrr… a low growl emits from the trembling animal perched on the bed.
“Jay, it’s OK. I’m not going to hurt you,” I speak kindly and softly while tossing another of my treats his way and taking a few steps in his direction. He continues to stare at me and send that little rumbling growl my way. We repeat this a few times over the next ten minutes with little progress.
“Do you want me to take over?” It’s the voice of my hubby behind me who has followed me after hearing the initial greeting.
“He’s all yours.”
“It’s OK, Jay. Do you want to go out?
The ears perk up and Jay jumps off the bed, heading for the door Dave holds open for him. In a flash he is gone. I am not sure this was a good idea. I am thinking we should have left him for tonight and hoped for the best. My biggest fear now is that he is out, and we will not be able to corral him. He does have an e-collar on that his owner told me that, if pressed, he would return right away. I pace on the porch holding the remote control to the collar while Dave tries to keep a sight line on the dog’s hurried strides around the yard. I am anxious and worried. I think he has gone far enough into the dark, so I push the button, “Jay, come here,” I call. He bounds up the step then back through the door I am holding open. But I am too slow and whatever fear overwhelms him takes over again and all his power is applied to the door as he makes a determined escape.
“Jay, come here,” I demand but I am ignored. He paces a few times in the southern yard than disappears around the house. Dave follows. I wait, hoping that they will reappear but as the minutes tick by, no dark shadows re-appear. In the distance, coyotes howl. I finally walk around the house. There is no one in sight. “Where are you?” I call into the stillness. There is no reply.
Now I am really worried and desperate. Did Jay run off into the field and Dave follow? I dig out the flashlight, shining it into the deepening darkness while I stride out into the field to the west of the house. Where could they have gone? How can they have totally disappeared so fast?
“Dave, where are you?” I call over and over into the blackness. No voice drifts back to me. Now I am panicked. Finally, the light bulb goes on in my head. Use your phone and call him. Dah! As I am preparing to dial, I hear my name being called.
“Where have you been?” I demand
“Jay came around the house right to the other door, so I let him in.”
All this time, I have been desperately searching, he and the dog have been safely inside the house.
“I thought I should let him in if that’s what he wanted even if it wasn’t the right door. I don’t think he peed but that’s the way it is. I was able to get him to eat the treats. He let me rub his ears and his belly and I got his e-collar off.”
Well, Dave gets the prize for being the dog whisperer. Not sure we accomplished what we set out to do but at least the doggie is safely back in the house.
“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.
“I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.
The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.
Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.
A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange.Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.
We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.
We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.
Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.
I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.
It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.
“Riiiinggggg, riiiinggggg, riiiinggggg,” The sound of my hubby’s phone interrupts our supper preparation on this Saturday. I feel that twitch of annoyance but then sigh. This has always been my life for almost thirty years of being married to a self-employed electrician. This time it is our tenant who rents the apartment above Gordon’s shop.
“Could you come and fix the garage door opener? It doesn’t work and I am going to have weight-loss surgery on Tuesday and won’t be able to lift it afterward,” she implores.
When Gordon returns an hour later, he indicates that he has not been successful in diagnosing the problem, “Can you call an overhead door company on Monday? She said her surgery was on Tuesday, so we need to get it fixed before then.”
Monday afternoon finds me guiding the overhead door repair technician to the vexing garage door. I push it up by hand and step inside the garage. Whoa! What is that putrid horrible smell? The lady tenant has lived in our above-the-shop apartment for almost twelve years. Neither my hubby nor I have been in the actual apartment in many years. For just a fleeting moment, a thought crosses my mind, what if she dies while having this surgery done, what will we find up there in that apartment. I quickly dismiss that notion. That’s not likely.
The tenant has communicated to me that she expects to be back on Saturday. I toy with the idea of going up there while she is gone and seeing just what is going on. Gordon and I have suspected that she now has a dog. She had a cat when she moved in. And how does one care for a large dog in an upstairs apartment when one can hardly get up and down the steps themselves? I quickly dismiss my desire to investigate as we have not informed her of any intent to enter the apartment as is legally required.
Thursday morning, I receive a call from my husband. He sounds distressed.
“Sally died in Mexico!” He blurts out.
What??? My premonition is disturbingly slapping me in the face. I exhale a short laugh. “I was not really expecting that, but I am not too surprised,” I tell him.
“Her brother called,” continues my husband, “and said that she died. I didn’t know she was going to Mexico for her surgery. He is going to contact us later about removing her possessions from the apartment and cleaning up. I gave him until the end of December to get everything out.”
“The end of December!?” I repeat, my heart sinking.
My stomach has clenched into a tight knot and a wave of weariness slides over me. She is gone, just like that. Guess it is time to go see exactly what the condition of the apartment is. I knew a day of reckoning was coming. I just wasn’t expecting it quite yet. But denial of the signs- the glimpses of a dog, the smell – only works for so long.
The rancid smell touches my nose as soon as I push open the front entry door. Behind the door is a package of doggie training pads and cardboard laid out on the cement landing. The seventeen steep steps to the apartment are a little dirty but not bad. Both latches on the final entry door have been busted out. I gingerly push open the door. I gasp at the sight that greets my eyes, followed by total breath holding. The stench is overpowering. Covering the floor in the dining area are rumbled blankets, dog poop, and urine stains coated with cat and dog hair. My stomach has started to churn. I tiptoe carefully around piles of dog excrement as I explore the bedroom, living area, kitchen, and finally the bathroom. I touch nothing. I am repulsed. I cannot believe anyone would want to even sit on the toilet. I am about to gag, and I make a hasty escape from this dungeon.
I wonder where the dog and cat are. The tenant’s brother informs me in a phone conversation later that day that he picked up the dog from the local kennel before flying to Mexico. He insists however, “Sally left the cat in the apartment because she wasn’t going to be gone that long.” I am puzzled as I look around on my second trip to investigate this claim. There is a big bowl of water in the middle of the kitchen floor but no cat to be seen, no cat food visible and no litter box. I text the tenant’s brother with this information. I finish, “The cat could be hiding so I have decided to take some cat food today and see if it disappears.” I also suggest that maybe she boarded the cat with someone at the last minute.
“I just don’t want a cat to starve to death in the apartment or destroy the property,” he expresses his concern in return.
I chuckle sarcastically to myself. This man is clueless about his sister. “I appreciate your concern for the property,” I text, “but it is too late for that.” I want to cry. The hardwood floors are totally ruined. But he is still in Mexico and trying to deal with his sister’s body. I assure him that I will feed and water the cat until he can come if it is there and alive yet.
I drive home on this Saturday and collect a small bag of cat food and a dish. This time I don an N95 mask and some gloves. I don’t really think there is a cat here, but this will be the litmus test. I leave a small dish of food. I gather up my courage to climb those steps into the cesspool again on Monday morning to check the result of my experiment. The bowl is empty. OK, something ate it. I fill the bowl again with cat food and decide to drive home to get a litter box. I am not sure it will be of much help at this point but maybe it will prevent a couple of dumps into the already toxic mess. When I return in just under an hour, the food again is gone. That smothers my doubts. Somewhere in here is a cat.
Each day, I make the trip to put out food which disappears by the next time I come. On Thursday, I spend a few minutes quietly standing and looking around.
“Meow, Meow,” I hear the soft sound. And there she is, a thin silver-gray colored kitty. She approaches tentatively and finally allows me to pet her. It is time for me to go and as I close the door behind me, the cell phone rings.
“I would like to come this afternoon and see what the situation is,” begins the voice of the tenant’s brother, “and maybe if we can catch the cat, I will take her.” In the background, a harsh loud meowing reverberates over and over through the door. Well, the cat has had enough of being alone. Maybe there is hope of catching her today.
A few hours later as the tenant’s brother, nephew, and I climb the stairs, they are shocked by the state of affairs that we find, “I can’t believe that she was living like this. I had no idea.”
At first, there is no sign of the cat. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” I call. In a few minutes, she appears from one of the open kitchen cabinets. She still is not sure about all these strange people and stays just out of reach. Nephew reaches down and strokes her face hesitantly. “I don’t want to get bitten,” he wavers. He does finally pick her up but as she struggles to get away, he releases her. My heart sinks. I can just see her escaping back into her secure hiding place. She doesn’t look too wild or dangerous to me. Once she calms down, I pick her up again and hang on when she attempts to flee. Soon she calms down and allows me to hold her and stroke her back.
Nephew looks around for something to contain the cat in for transport. There is a Tupperware storage container between the living room and dining area that looks promising.
“See if you can empty that and we can put her in there,” I suggest.
He lifts the lid and peeks in. Quickly, he slams it back shut. “Un Uh!” he says.
“Well, what is in there?” I question.
“Poop,” he answers.
Oh dear. Really? The poop storage container!!!
The decision is eventually made to take Kitty without a carrier. I just hope she doesn’t disappear in their vehicle or escape. Good-bye Kitty.
On Friday, I drive by the apartment building and notice that the dumpster is full. They are not losing any time in tackling this project. I am relieved as there is nothing quite so depressing as being faced with such a mess.
I text Brother on Saturday to let him know that all the appliances are to be left with the apartment. I forgot to inform him of that.
“Okay, thanks,” He responds, “We got a start yesterday, but the real work begins on Monday. I am renting a dump trailer and planning on having the apartment empty by Tuesday evening. Wish us luck.”
“I do wish you luck,” I answer, “And thank you so much for taking care of this.” I feel a huge sense of relief that Brother is diving right in and taking on this overwhelming, gross task. I am afraid that if I were in his shoes, I would have thrown my hands in the air and just walked away, leaving the mess for the landlord. I think he is being overoptimistic with his time estimation but every step forward that he makes is one less that I have to navigate.
I climb the steps to the apartment on Tuesday evening. The stench has decreased significantly with the emptying of the contents of the building. It is still filthy but so much better. I look through cabinets, the closet, and various nooks and crannies. Most everything is gone with the exception of two things. The carpet still rests on the living room floor. That grimy piece of dirt infested threads needs to go too. I peek in the refrigerator. He must have forgotten that. It is still plumb full.
“I will be back on Friday,” he informs me when I contact him about his further plans.
“Could you carry the carpet down to the dumpster when you come back?” I ask. “And by the way, the refrigerator is full yet.” I think he may have forgotten.
I am hopeful that those final two items will get taken care of in addition to the emptying of the garage downstairs when he returns. Then we will be ready to hire a commercial heavy-duty cleaner.
I have been so impressed with the work that this gentleman has done so far that I have allowed myself to be overly optimistic. On Friday, I receive his final text, “I’ve gone as far as I’m going to go. I did not empty the refrigerator. I just don’t have a stomach for it.”
OK so I guess emptying the refrigerator is my job. He did not say anything about the rug, so it is time to investigate just what is left. On Sunday, we stop at the shop for my hubby to check on some supplies. I peek in the dumpster. There is no rug in it. That means it is still upstairs. Well, I guess that is our job too. Next, I head straight for the garage below the apartment. As I open the overhead door, I am jolted. I was expecting an empty garage. Instead, it is half-full of discarded computers, a monitor, printers, a 64” TV, 4 various vacuum cleaners, a couple of brand new looking handicapped accessories, and various other miscellaneous pieces. What am I supposed to do with all this stuff? They are all items that need a cash outlay in order to discard. Great! Just great! I guess he got tired of his non-paying non-productive task and just decided he was done. I can’t say I blame him, but I am disappointed that his great start just petered out and flopped.
I return to the apartment on Monday with a couple of tasks in mind. I want to try all the devices that Brother has left and see if any of them work. I want to take down the curtains to wash them and I need to empty the refrigerator. I begin with the curtains. Ugh, they are dirty. Well, so much for my idea of washing them. I cringe at the filth then stuff them in a garbage bag. As I traverse the laundry room removing curtains, I decide to give the clothes dryer a spin. It responds quite promptly and begins to turn. Clunk, Clunk, Clunk…. It sounds like it is running on scorched bearings. I shut it off immediately once the burning smell reaches my nostrils.
It is time to move on to the refrigerator. The freezer is stacked plumb full of frozen single serve meals. It seems a shame to throw it all away but even it emits a nasty odor. The main cooling compartment contains curdled milk in a jug and various leftovers in different stages of disintegration. Four large garbage bags fill as I pull out container after container. I peak in the bottom drawers and discover an inch-deep layer of mold. Ick! My last discovery is on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Box after box of the medication insulin for diabetes touches my fingers. What a waste! It all gets heaved into the dumpster. I let out a sad mournful sigh. The apartment is empty, and this is the end of one life here on earth. Now it is time to move on to the cleaning.
“What should we do to celebrate our wedding anniversary?” questions my husband.
“We can’t go to a movie, eat out, or visit any museums with all the restrictions from Covid,” I reply.
“How about if we go to a different State Park that we haven’t been to before in the southeastern part of the state?
That sounds good to me so the evening before our planned adventure, Gordon researches the various state parks in Southeastern Minnesota and decides upon Beaver Creek Valley State Park close to Caledonia. Neither one has ever heard of it before and we definitely have not visited it before. He prints off some Google directions to help with our navigating.
We decide to take Claire, our puppy, with us for the day. I am beginning to think that we should have a diaper bag ready to take along just like for a baby. We need a water bottle, bowl to drink from, harness, leash, a towel to clean feet, and last but not least, doggie poop bags. By 8 a.m., we have all our supplies gathered and are ready for our conquest.
Deviating from our printed Google directions, we drive to Plainview for our usual Kwik Trip breakfast. Travel continues down Hwy 42 to Kellogg, then south on Hwy 61. We make a stop on Garvin Heights in Winona to give Claire a break. Of course, she instantly leaves her calling card after getting out of the car. Time to use those extra plastic grocery bags.
Not really knowing where we are going, we finally plug the address for Beaver Creek Valley State Park into the GPS. Oh no! Its first command directs us to Interstate 90 and insists that we get on it. No ma’am. We do not want to travel the interstate. We want to take back country roads, so we just keep driving on right over the interstate. The sign says this is County 19. The road travels along I90 for a while then turns south. Soon we find ourselves on a back-country gravel road. The landscape is rolling. Steep bluffs are contrasted with farms nestled in the valley. The trees are just starting to turn color. We wind around the sides of hills, through valleys, and along meadows with herds of beef cattle. Surprisingly, the direction goddess is silent. Now this is more like it. This twisting trailing path we are on takes us almost exactly to the state park after a sidetrack down what looks like a minimally maintained road.
It has been a densely foggy morning. A damp coolness still hangs in the air as we start our stroll across a well-crafted five-foot-wide wooden bridge. The creek gurgles lazily beneath our feet. The blacktop path transitions into a well-worn dirt track. It has rained recently so there are widely spaced mud puddles. Claire is excited and she leans into the body harness dragging me after her. It is all I can do to hold back her thirty pounds powered by four-wheel drive. Us old people behind the dog are much slower. Gordon has been struggling with plantar fasciitis making for a painful hobble at times. Still he is determined to hike and take photos today.
We soon arrive at the first creek crossing. A free-standing bridge is balanced over the water. There are no handrails, just a few wooden slats securely fastened together. Clair eagerly tugs on the leash in her hurry to investigate the flowing water. She has never been near open water before and as part Golden Retriever, Gordon and I suspect she might like water. Soon she wades into the green lilies along the shoreline. What reappears is a dog with four very muddy feet and legs. Ah! This is fun! She must be thinking. Before I can stop her, she rolls upside down in the shallow mud. No…o…o…! Now our cream-colored dog is brown on her back and top of her head. Well there is not much I can do about it right now. Maybe, I will throw her all the way in later. She pads around in the shallower areas of the flowing water until it is time to move on.
The hiking trail runs parallel to the river. Gordon and I stroll slowly along taking in the beauty of the day. Some of the trees are starting to change color. Gordon stops occasionally to take photos. Claire pulls me along with enthusiasm. I am not moving fast enough for her. She finds every small trail that divvies off to the river and turns to try make her way there. After several turns like this, she looks a sight. There are green and brown seed pods clinging to her face, her legs, and her body. What a distressing mess! Claire’s hair is wavy and about two inches long and these, what I call, prickers seem to become well enmeshed deep into the soft, thick layers.
The path we have chosen to walk is about a three-mile round trip. There are two separate loops within the greater circle. We decide to trace both loops. The day warms as the sun burns away the fog and climbs higher. Off comes my coat and then, the sweater. Gordon begins to have pain between his shoulder blades which is not uncommon, so I offer to carry the camera bag and the tripod. Both of us are starting to feel our weariness as we reach the furthest most point in our trek and turn back towards the beginning.
Claire barks robustly and loudly at every person we meet. This is unacceptable. We seem to be able to mitigate this by stopping to sit and be quiet when humans come by. It is harder to bark and lunge while seated on one’s butt. Our stops become more frequent as the number of hikers increases with the passing of the day. She also wades into the gushing water with every creek crossing of which there are many. Finally, there is a splash as she gets brave enough to jump in from one of the bridge crossings. She has lost none of her energy and continues to pull actively, trying to drag me along. The same cannot be said for us. We are moving slower and slower.
As we make our way back to the parking lot, I mark off in my head each segment of the trail as we come to a signpost. We are almost there. Finally, we come to a river crossing that does not seem to have a bridge across it.
“I don’t remember ever crossing open water,” Gordon comments.
“I don’t either,” I agree, “This must not be the right place.”
As we continue along the path, I step on a protruding rock in the path. Without warning, my left ankle turns over and I pitch forward. Claire, who I have been leaning back on trying to slow her forward motion, continues her dive forward. I have no way to stop the forward pitch. I slam into the ground with my right knee first followed by my right arm. The leash handle clatters along the ground before Claire stops and looks questioningly back at me. I lay there stunned. I want to cry. My knee hurts. My arm hurts. The camera bag and the tripod have clobbered me from behind. Gordon rescues me from the extra load. We can hear people coming so I stumble to my feet. I am glad no one saw my ridiculous spill onto the ground. Everything seems intact so we start out on our hike again. We haven’t gone more than a few hundred feet until we meet a lone older gentleman who throws a question our way, “Are you going around again?”
“No,” I reply, “Just trying to get back to the parking lot.”
The man does not say any more but as he moves on, Gordon and I look at each other.
“That’s a strange question. Are we going the wrong way? Did we miss the turn back to the parking lot?”
Now we are totally confused. “I don’t know if we are going the right way.”
“Well, let’s go back to that last crossing again and see if we missed something.”
Disheartened, we turn and trudge back the other direction. Within a few hundred feet, we arrive again at the crossing we had discussed earlier. The bridge we could not see coming from the other direction is now clearly visible off to the right.
“This must be the path back to the car.”
A few hundred more feet and it is evident that we are now going the right way. If we hadn’t met that man who asked a strange question, we would have walked another mile before realizing that we were totally turned around. It reminds me a little of life’s journey. There are others along our walk of life who try to point us in the right way. Sometimes, we don’t pay any attention to the wisdom they are offering us and end up way off course – a difficulty we could have avoided if we had been tuned in.
By now, it is pushing three o’clock in the afternoon and we are thirsty and hungry. Claire has had all the water needed from the river, but we did not remember a water bottle for ourselves.
“Where should we eat?” is the next question of the day.
I grab the local Minnesota county map book that I keep under the car seat. I quickly peruse it. “If we keep going just a few miles south on this road, we should arrive in Caledonia,” I announce, “Let’s see if we can find some fast food there.”
Caledonia turns out to be a good size town with many businesses and several franchise eating joints. We grab some Subway sandwiches and cool refreshing pop and take our treasures back to a city park that I had spied on our way into town. There we have a quiet lunch in the shade of a few trees. It is time to head for home. Our last stop at Dairy Queen in Chatfield is the “icing on the cake” as the saying goes. Time to begin year thirty in our married walk of life.
“Goldendoodles AKC Registered Parents w/Champion Bloodlines, Microchipped, Shots, Potty Trained, and Some Obedience Training, $500, Call, Will Send Pictures,” so reads the ad in the “Dog” section of the Post-Bulletin. I am intrigued. I have been reading the dog ads for several months off and on since our beloved Bella died four years ago. I am looking for just the right dog to fill that empty spot in our hearts while at the same time hoping to delay getting one until I retire in a couple of years.
I decided a long time ago that I do not want a puppy. A puppy is exhauting during that first year while he/she grows into a lovable tolerable dog. I also do not want a dog that sheds all over my house. That means whatever dog we get needs to have poodle or one of the other small non-shedding dogs mixed into its heritage. Our first two dogs while Erin was small were non-shedding. One was a mutt consisting of American Eskimo, Pomeranian, and Toy Poodle. The second was a Bichon/Shih Tzu mixture. Then came Bella, a much begged for German Shepherd mix. Although the most lovable dog of the three, piles of hair covering all my furniture was the trademark.
The problem with my two criteria is that it is very difficult to find an older shelter dog where it is known that they have some Poodle mixed in. So this ad excites me and seems to offer a compromise. It says the puppies are “potty trained” and that they have “some obedience training.” To top off the positives as I see it, the price is right. Five hundred dollars for a golden doodle is cheap. I mull over the ad for a week before I call the number listed. And when I call, I find out that they are about five months old. They should be past the very early puppy stage as well.
“Can you come today?” questions the lady, “I have three people coming this morning to look at the females. There are four females and two males.”
I hesitate. I had not planned on making a fifty-mile trip on this Saturday. “How about if we come tomorrow afternoon?”
If I have done my math correctly, this information she has given me means there will be one female and two males left. I really do want a female. She also proceeds to tell me that this was their first time breeding dogs and they didn’t realize that having the puppies in the fall would result in not being able to get rid of them. There were eleven puppies originally and they were able to get rid of five in the fall, leaving six to winter over.
The following day, Sunday, Gordon and I make the trip to see our potential acquisition. We arrive early and the couple is waiting for us. The two males are locked up and they bring out the female. She is a beautiful puppy with a cream-colored curly coat of hair.
“She was the smallest one of the litter and always the shy one. She is really shy around new people,” the man informs us, “but she does well with us.” The puppy whom they are calling “Baby Girl” because they have not named her shrinks away from us and cowers behind the gentleman. He finally picks her up and strokes her sad droopy ears.
“Oh yes,” the lady adds, “and she piddles on the floor when a stranger comes, and she is excited.”
I am beginning to have serious doubts about taking this puppy. I have read that shy dogs often become aggressive. But we are here and I feel like we can’t just walk away.
“Can we bring her back if this doesn’t work out?” I question.
“Oh, yes. We would want you to do that.”
Shoving all the screaming doubts into the back of my head, we gather up the shaking puppy in our arms and deposit her into the kennel we have brought along in the back of the car. She is panting as fast as she can and shaking like a leaf. She is terrified. All the way home over the next hour, her rapid breathing generates torrents of water off her little pink tongue.
From the moment we arrive home, grave doubts crisscross through my mind about our decision. Clair, as we have decided to call her on the way home, refuses to get out of the kennel and then makes no effort to pee when taken outside on a leash. Snowflake, the cat, takes one look at this strange creature we have brought home, hisses with humped back at her, and whacks Claire with her paw. Clair tucks tail and scurries away in the other direction as fast as she can go. Oh, this is working out great. The puppy is now terrified of the cat and takes every opportunity to hide by the front door. By the time we head for bed, Claire has piddled pretty much everywhere on the carpeted floor upstairs but doesn’t even think about doing the same thing outdoors. Well, we were told she pees when she is frightened and being terrified of everything results in pee unbridled. So much for my expectation that this new dog has already been housetrained.
I get up a ½ hour early the next morning to take Claire outdoors. In spite of being in her kennel all night, she makes no effort to relieve herself outdoors and I can tell the kennel floor is wet. I am exhausted from lack of sleep and feeling overwhelmed by this whole situation. Why did I ever think that this was a good idea? Unable to get her to eat any breakfast or to follow me upstairs, I pick her up and carry her up with me. I set up a baby gate to keep her from running back downstairs to hide from the cat and so I can keep her in my sights. She huddles terrified by the gate while the cat nonchalantly addles by. I have no more started to wash up for the day then I hear a terrified yelp from the sitting area. I step out of the bathroom to see little brown rolls of poop tumbling out of the dog as she streaks down the hallway. This is not even half funny. I rush her outside, but of course, it is already too late. All that is left to do is clean up the mess.
I have prior obligations in town for the morning, so I place her back in her kennel for a few hours. There has still been no elimination in the great outdoors, but the kennel is again wet when I come home. I am exasperated. It is time to go back to square one with the housetraining. Apparently, the only one housetrained was the caretaker. When I think back to the situation Claire came from, I realize why there might be a problem. The puppies were only allowed access to a very small kitchen area. The rest of the house was baby-gated off. Claire has no experience with carpet or roaming free. Each puppy had their own kennel in a mudroom area, but the outdoor area used for potty training was approximately a ten by ten area cordoned off by more child fencing. The bottom of the area was covered with outdoor grass matting. I am puzzled why one would choose to use something for training that seems an awful lot like carpet. I guess it does keep the feet clean. Clair has no experience on a leash and no real experience in an actual yard either. I trudge down to the basement and retrieve the smaller kennel we used for our first two dogs. It is much more cramped but gives her less room to use for relieving herself. I put the bigger one away temporarily until I can trust her.
I have also made a decision to “enroll” our new puppy in puppy daycare at a facility along my route to work. If someone had ever told me when I was growing up on the farm that someday I would use puppy daycare, I would have laughed their head off. How silly! But here I am doing the unthinkable. It will keep Claire from being locked up for over ten hours per day and force her to interact with other people and dogs. Maybe she will grow out of this frickin cowardly behavior.
But of course, now I have to get her to the daycare each morning on my way to work. I again get up a ½ hour early on my second day of being a new puppy owner. I have made a plan so that this morning ends differently than our first – or so I think. My plan is to take her out in my pajamas and then eat breakfast while she eats hers. That way I can keep an eye on her and get her outdoors if she shows signs of relieving herself. She loves the snow, so she is delighted with our early morning escapade into the dark front yard. But that is as far as it goes. Frustrated, I give up. I need to get ready for work. I set her water and food bowls right next to the table and dole out the specified amount of food. I prepare my own breakfast and sit down to eat. I think Claire will want to be next to me and will eat while I eat, but there is another problem. Snowflake sprawls in the middle of the kitchen floor as is her usual behavior. Claire, as a result, scurries into the entryway and hides by the door. Oh, this is working so well. Having a dog who is terrified of the cat is never going to work.
My stomach is curled into a tight knot and the tension is mounting. I am feeling overwhelmed by this uncharacteristically non-puppy like animal. I again carry Claire upstairs and put up the baby gate while I go about getting ready for work. She cowers by the gate and I ignore her for now.
“What’s this?” questions my husband as he walks into the living area to turn on the TV. There on the floor again are the brown rolls. “N..o..o..o..o..o!!!!”
“This is never going to work. I think we should just take her back,” I blurt out in defeat.
“Let’s just give her a couple of weeks and then decide,” Gordon encourages.
It’s time to get started to work since I have to make that extra stop to let the puppy off. Claire, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to fight the leash much and for that I am thankful. But she has no interest in crossing the threshold into the garage. That is terrifying. With some treats and a little encouragement, we finally get that accomplished but getting into the car is a definite hardstop. Finally, I pick her up and drop her into the front seat. She sits there trembling then tries to climb over onto me. I push her back to the passenger side. She continues to try to push her quaking body over to my side on the five-mile ride to town. She refuses to even consider my treats. I don’t even try to coax her out of the car and into the dog kennel. I simply pick her up and haul her into the building. Several large dogs bark loudly and crash into the door dividing the kennel from the reception area. This has the makings of more terrorizing rather than calming. I turn and walk out. I have had all the chaos I can handle for one morning. It is Gordon’s responsibility to pick her up.
Gordon reports later that she refused to come to him when he stopped to pick her up.
“She did just fine with all the other dogs,” is the report of the kennel attendant.
Gordon carries her out to his truck and deposits her on the passenger side. Claire instantly scrambles over the two-foot-high homemade center console towards the driver’s side scattering work papers in all directions.
“I don’t think this is working at all,” is his comment later that evening. “I think we should consider taking her back.”
“Well, let’s give her a couple of weeks,” I reply. “She has only been with us a couple of days.” Gordon and I go back and forth over the course of the first week, continually switching roles in our emotions and convictions as to whether we should send her back.
By the third day, a small miracle does occur. Claire pees outside – always in the snow but outside. This could be a problem when the snow melts. And I have figured out that if I walk her down the drive before going back inside in the morning, she poops. And then Gordon starts to fall in love with her. I scour the internet looking for solutions to the cat terror issue.
“You need to take her upstairs with you in the evening and pen her up there with you,” I instruct Gordon, “She can’t just sit hiding by the front door.”
And then we hit on another solution. “Feed the dog high-desire treats while in the presence of the cat,” says one internet site. I guess it is worth a try except Claire doesn’t really care for her dog food as a treat. Not much entices her. Then we discover that people food, chicken, she is crazy over. This is a no-no (according to pet experts) but we are a couple of desperados. A couple of sessions of feeding chicken to a begging dog and cat just a few inches from each other starts an astonishing transformation. The fear is forgotten in the pursuit of the tasty morsels. Soon both cat and dog are tentatively sniffing each other and then running away. One day I hear a bark from Claire. She has gotten up the courage to bark at the cat instead of fleeing. A few more days and Claire is tormenting the cat trying to get her to run. At least, normal cat/dog behavior is appearing. Finally, the being on the lookout and running away to hide disappears. One problem solved.
The next problem we need to tackle is getting in and out of the car. We practice getting in and out with more treats. Still she shakes like a leaf and whines. I finally take her along for the three-hour ride to Ames to see Erin. She trembles most of the way down. But after a busy few hours playing with Erin’s big dogs, Claire keels over on the way home and sleeps. We have cured the overwhelming anxiety of riding in a car.
As the next weeks flow by, Claire becomes a mischievous puppy. She bounces around the house undaunted by the cat. She tears around the yard like a banshee chasing a stick. She eats every piece of garbage she finds. She jumps into the car for a ride without a second thought. What a total turnaround. She does still hit the house with her pee and poop once in a while. After all, she still is a puppy and only we are fully trained. But we both now say, “I think we’ll keep her.”
gets up at 5 a.m. and leaves the hotel. I am awake anyway so I might as well
get up. I wander over to the conference early and eat my breakfast alone
outside on the patio. Our scheduled adventure for today is an ATV ride at 1
p.m. I had a little panic attack this morning while looking at one of the maps.
I see an Arizona Off-Road Adventure company located close to Camp Verde. My
ticket has an address in West Sedona. Did I make a mistake? If we show up at
the wrong place, we have thrown away a bunch of money.
head back to the hotel room after the next to last lecture and meet Hubby in
the hallway on his way back to the room as well. We hurriedly throw together a
lunch as the GPS says it will take us a ½ hour to our destination. “The traffic
is terrible this morning,” is Hubby’s report for the morning.
arrive with time to spare and my anxiety about showing up at the wrong place is
not justified. We sign the usual, “This is a dangerous activity and we are not
responsible if you die” paper before being fitted with a kerchief to cover our
mouth and nose, a helmet to protect our brains, and googles to protect our
eyes. Now we look like bandits. We settle down to wait for other people to
arrive before being taken to a small track outback to practice driving. “For
how many people is this the first time they have driven an ATV?” asks our
instructor. All four hands in our group go up. Well at least we are not alone
in needing to look like beginners.
wants to go first?”
some instruction on how to push the throttle and how to apply the brakes, I am
off. Slowly I crawl around the track. They purposely made it with deep holes
and rocks and short turns. Turning the machine seems to be my biggest problem
but I make it around without any significant problem. Hmmm! Maybe I can drive
this thing. Everyone else takes a turn before we are ready to leave. Hubby does
his trial run without any problem either so soon we are piling into a van to be
hauled to the Coconino National Forest. Contrary to my preconceived notion, national
forests in Arizona do not necessarily contain trees. This one has short scrubs,
mostly dirt, cacti, and stones.
I am a little apprehensive but also a little excited. This has the potential to be smashing fun. We are soon lined up behind our guide. We will be riding 25 miles of dirt trails covered with rock and holes and twists and turns. It takes a little getting used to the throttle which needs to be operated with one’s right thumb. The temperature is only about 80 degrees but the helmet with the face kerchief makes for a smothering sensation. I soon ditch the kerchief over my face. It doesn’t seem that dusty. As I get more used to the machine, accelerating in short burst is a thrill. We travel down a forest road first and then turn onto a path through the “forest.” It is more like a cow path through a dry and barren land. We eventually climb higher on the Sawtooth Ridge and stop for a break. We gaze out over a vast valley below to the red rock formations miles away. Then we begin our ascent back down and back to our starting point. The last few miles takes us on the gravel forest road, and we step up our pace. With the wind in our face, we throttle the machines and sail towards the drop off spot. Whee! A little taste of risk-taking enhances the thrill. Our ride takes about three hours and before we know it, we are back to the truck and heading back to Sedona.
Our plan for the evening is to watch the sunset from the airport above Sedona so we pick up some Subway sandwiches to picnic there. The person working in Subway is sullen and inattentive. I think she would just as soon have not been there. This is our second attempt at buying Subway in Sedona and neither one has turned out particularly well. The last time, the bread on the sandwiches was hard and the cookies stale. This time the sandwiches were good, but the cookies were still stale. Time to give up on Subway here.
The drive up airport road is one of twists and turns. It cost $3 to park in the parking lot there but the view is awesome. We wander down a trail along the ridge and settle ourselves on a bench there. Hubby sets up the camera to get some pictures. The wind is getting cool as the sun goes down. We keep expecting the rocks to turn red with the sun sliding below the horizon but the color changes little. Hubby is somewhat disappointed as the hype has been great that it is such a spectacular view at sunset. It is still a great view. It just doesn’t meet what we have been told to believe. Oh well, time to get back to the hotel.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
Today is my last day of the anesthesia conference and our last day in Sedona before we fly back tomorrow. Hubby left early to explore so I thought I would get up and visit the Pink Jeep concierge desk at the hotel before the conference starts. We made a last-minute decision last evening to see if we could get reservations for the Pink Jeep trip to the Honanki Indian ruins in Boyton Canyon. I walk up to the concierge desk, but no one is staffing it.
“When does the concierge desk open,” I ask the hotel desk attendant.
“They don’t start until 8 a.m. on the weekends.”
Well that’s weird. Why would one have less coverage on the weekend when it is busier than during the week? Oh well, I guess I will have to come back between conference sessions.
When I return at 8:30, a gentleman is available to help me. And I am in luck. They have a 2 p.m. time slot for the venture we are looking at. That should be perfect. I can attend the whole conference on the last day, maybe get in a nap, and still make it to uptown Sedona by 1:30 p.m.
arrive back to an empty hotel room as Hubby has not yet returned. I spend a few
minutes gathering our things together for travel home tomorrow before he
have to go right now,” he announces.
I ask. I was planning on a nice little nap. “Don’t we at least have time to
are thousands of cars today with a two- mile backup on route 179. I don’t know
why it is so busy, but it took me ½ hour to travel just a few miles.”
let’s at least try to eat first. We still have an hour and ¾,” I implore.
hurriedly eat our usual cold cut tortilla lunch in the hotel room and set off
on this beautiful day. Traffic is slow but there are no extended periods of traffic
stoppage. I try to relax. We will be just fine. The sun is shining
brightly with no clouds in the sky. The temperature is about 80 degrees. We
have had no cloudy or rainy days since we arrived here.
reach Uptown Sedona where the Pink Jeep headquarters is located with time to
spare. The next order of business is finding a parking spot. The town is
flooded with people. I don’t know if this is business as usual for Sedona or if
this is extra ordinary. We decide to try out some back streets and do find one
parking spot in front of some mailboxes in Lot B. Is this a legal parking spot,
we ask? We look high and low for any signs indicating our car will be towed if
we park here. There are none. Next we need to figure out how to get across the
street. The one thing the designers of round-abouts forgot to address was
pedestrian crossing. When there is wall to wall traffic with no breaks in the
continuous flow of speeding vehicles, how does one get across? Soon I notice
that some traffic control people have been called into service on this busy Saturday.
One activates a traffic signal that was dark and dormant and another stands at
the next round about up the street and stops traffic periodically to allow safe
have arrived with an hour and a half to spare. We do some shop browsing before
settling down in the waiting area of the jeep company. At 1:45, we are given
some basic instructions on our trip. The most humorous one is the instruction
on how to fasten a seat belt. Then we are assigned to our driver. There are six
of us in the open-air pink jeep with overhead roll bars. And yes, the jeeps are
pink. The first part of our journey is on a hard-top road. It then turns into
dirt as we again enter the Coconino National Forest. The roads are of the same
status as the ones we traveled on the ATVs. They are strange uneven rock
underlay and are full of potholes. We bounce around as we wind through more red
rock country with tall mesas off in the distance. After about an hour ride, we
arrive at the Indian ruins. The sun is hot as it beats down on us. We have a
fairly short walk through the “forest” to the ruins. A slight breeze blows and
we get intermittent shade from the scrubby trees. One lady in our group is
almost 80 years old resulting in a rather slow walk for the rest of us
not-quite-as-old folks. There are some rocks and tree roots to stumble over and
a short section of natural stone steps to traverse.
are told the walls built of stones mortared together with mud that connect
directly to the cliff wall are left over homes or community buildings from a
people that lived there in the 1400s. On the cliff walls, in some places barely
visible, are various sketches and drawings made by these people. It looks like
a rather unique place to live – hidden up against the 1000-foot-high cliff
lady in our group is unable to take the pictures she wants as her batteries
have reached their useful life expectancy. Noticing her predicament, my always
generous husband offers her his backup batteries. She graciously accepts.
Hopefully, his will last until we get home as they are rechargeable.
soon return to our pink jeep. There are two elevated seats along each side and
one in the back. Hubby and I squeeze into the back seat for the ride back. It
is a little like riding in the back of a school bus, but we enjoy the cool
breezes as we head back to town. There, we decide to eat in a restaurant along
Sedona’s Uptown streets. There are many to choose from. First, I remind Hubby
that we were going to stop at the chocolate shop. I saw a tasty looking bar there
earlier that reminded me of the peanut butter bars I used to love. They have a
peanut butter core covered by chocolate. My mouth has been watering all
afternoon. The chocolate covered orange sticks are attracting my hubby. As we
check out, the smiling young lady with flowing long pigtails greets us
cheerfully, “Thank you for coming back. I gave you a 20% discount for stopping
again.” She remembered us from earlier even with the multitude of people
flowing through the shop.
mouth is watering for a hamburger, so we pick a restaurant called the Cowboy
Café. The waiters are dressed like cowboys with one even having a gun on his
hip. I am not sure if that is just for looks or if it is actually loaded. Afterall,
Arizona is an open carry state. I about fall over after previewing the menu. I
was hoping for a reasonably priced meal, but this is anything but that. It
looks more high class. We finally decide to order a plate of appetizer for us
both. It includes rattlesnake sausage, buffalo skewers, breaded fried cactus,
and some type of spicy “bread.” Each item comes with a sauce. I keep forgetting
that we are close to Mexico and finding food that is not spiced up is a
challenge. We will need to get out the Gaviscon tonight.
the time we finish eating, it is time to head for the Red Rock Rangers station
where they are holding a View The Stars Party. The hour-long astronomy
presentation is following by star viewing through several different telescopes
outside in the dark. The sky is cloudless and the stars shine brightly. The air
is cool enough to require the addition of a sweater. All the rocks and things
to trip over are lined with red lights which supposedly does not affect one’s
night vision. I soon realize that I will have trouble navigating in the dark as
my balance since my stroke in February seems to be dependent on having visual
orientation. Hubby’s primary interest is photographing the stars and the milky
way. By 8:30, we are both tired and head back to the hotel.
last evening is spent packing up and getting ready for a quick departure in the
morning. Our flight is not until 12:15 (noon) but we have a two-hour drive, a
need to return the rental car, then catch the rental car shuttle to the airport
and get ourselves through security. We get all this accomplished with two hours
to spare to eat a leisurely breakfast. “Traveling would be so much fun,” I
comment to Hubby, “if there just weren’t
any people.” Take a deep breath, I tell myself, and take it one step at a
time. Maybe by the time we are too old to travel, we will have this travel
thing figured out.
first segment of our journey to Chicago from Phoenix goes quite smoothly. There
are some thunderstorms in the Chicago area with rain pouring down on arrival.
This leads to some turbulence and rather panicked instructions to stay in our
seats and buckle up, but we arrive a ½ hour ahead of schedule. We have a
three-hour layover here so there is no need to hurry. Our text message from
American Airlines gives up a gate number of L1A. We settle in to wait. I spend
the time catching up on my writing and do some reading.
5:58 p.m., our cell phones ding to tell us that our flight has been moved to
gate L3. We gather up our luggage and move a few gates down. The board still
says this flight is on time for takeoff at 8:45 p.m. At about the time the
electronic board indicates we should be boarding the plane, the cell phone asks
for our attention again. Time for takeoff has changed to 9 p.m. Five minutes later,
the next message says the gate has changed to H3A with the takeoff time still
being 9 p.m. We get up and begin our walk across the airport this time to a
different wing. We have no more started our walk than the next message informs
us the gate has been changed to H1B. Seriously people! Is it that hard to
figure out what you are doing? And now departure time has been changed to
head is spinning, and I am beginning to doubt that we will be arriving home
tonight. Finally at 9 p.m., another arriving load of travelers deplane and we
almost immediately begin boarding. Maybe there is still hope. Once
everyone is comfortably seated, the captain announces, “We will be pushing away
from the jet bridge in just a few minutes but expect a 40-minute wait for
takeoff.” I groan. But as promised, by 10 p.m., we are airborne and headed for
walk into the house at midnight. “Kitty Kitty Where are you?” Several times
while in Sedona, I wondered if I had put her food out and I couldn’t remember but
I convinced myself that I couldn’t have possibly forgotten something so
important. I look up at the shelf where I put her food so that I could just set
it down before we left. OH NO! The bowl of food still sits high up on
the shelf. I never gave her the food on the way out the door six days ago. Poor
Snowflake. She greets us with her usual “Meow Meow Meow Meow!” She does not
seem any the worse for the situation. I am not sure if she is protesting that
we left her alone or that she is starving. I quickly feed her, but she doesn’t
seem particularly over hungry. She is just happy we are home and wants us to
Having two litter boxes does not solve Clover’s peeing all over the house problem and several more weeks go by. I do finally take Clover to the veterinarian, just in case it is a bladder infection as some have suggested as a possibility. The vet’s conclusion is that she has little stones in her bladder and possibly a bladder infection. I am given a prescription for an oxalate lowering cat food diet and antibiotics that I am supposed to give every day for 14 days. Separating the cats for feeding is not much of a problem as we have already been doing that due to an inability of the felines to co-exist while eating. Giving antibiotics every day to a skittish cat who has no interest in being caught is a totally different matter. I ask the vet if they don’t have an extended activity antibiotic that they could give as a shot. “No,” he says, “they don’t.” Our daughter disagrees, “They do have a 14-day antibiotic that they can give to animals who are difficult to coral. It is just not the ideal one for this purpose but sometimes the only choice with uncooperative animals.”
“Will you get me some and help me give it to Clover,” I beg. I have only managed to administer 1 dose in of the prescribed oral medication.
“Alright,” she responds, “I will get it for you and help you give it.”
Daughter shows up at our door on Sunday evening. I was hopeful I could catch Clover before she came because Clover had decided in the last few weeks that I could be trusted in a limited way. She has begun coming every evening while I sit at my desk to be petted. Tonight, Clover senses something is amiss, and stays hidden behind the desk. Grrr!
How to catch her, is the question? My daughter and I both crawl under the heavy metal desk. I reach in one way while she reaches in the other. A ball of fur shoots by and Daughter is able to catch a leg. We hustle her into the bathroom in case she should attempt another escape, and the shot is soon delivered.
A spirit of hopeful anticipation prevails. Maybe this is the answer. After dumping gallons of Nature’s Miracle Enzyme formula on the soiled areas, putting down tin foil and plastic to discourage frequenting of those areas, we wait to see what the result will be of the latest changes. Maybe denial is the best psychological mechanism to deal with these issues as we convince ourselves that the situation has gotten better. Hubby reports more soiled litter in the litter box. The smell diminishes. Until one day. Willow, the puppy, is coming to stay for a week. I move the dog kennel over into the hallway in preparation, thinking that moving it away from the cat litter box will be helpful. The doorway to the kennel is left slightly ajar- after all, why should it matter if it is closed. A few minutes later, I spy Clover sitting in the kennel relieving herself. Seriously? She apparently hasn’t forgotten that this was her favorite place to pee after Bella died. A sense of utter defeat floods over me. I lock the kennel door but the cycle I thought I had broken begins again. Hubby and I both know that she is urinating somewhere other than the litter box, but where is the question? I try to tell myself that strong urine smell in the bathroom is my imagination as I can’t find the evidence. Just to cover my bases, I throw away the bathroom rugs, but the smell persists.
“Look where Clover is!” my husband draws my attention towards the area behind the couch and under the table where the baby cradle rests. “It looks to me like she is peeing.”
I can not quite believe my eyes. There squats Clover in the cradle happily relieving herself. As I inspect the cradle, it is obvious that this has been going on for some time. The whole bottom is wet and stained from the caustic fluid. That yellow stain at the end of the cradle in the blue light is truly the overflow of the waterfall. The good news is the mystery has been solved but the bad news is now I have reached the end of my rope. My hopefulness of ever solving this problem goes out the window.
The one litter box, some food, and some water are soon relocated into the bathroom and Clover has a new living arrangement. What am I going to do with her long term? I can’t put her outdoors as she is declawed in front. I can’t give her away as no one wants a cat that pees all over the house. I have already planned to pull up all the carpets to rid the house of enticing places to pee but peeing in and on the furniture is a different matter. All that is left is euthanasia. I do have a small soft spot in my heart for this cat so maybe one more trip to the vet just to make sure this is not a medical problem is in order.
I sit on the bench to wait in the veterinarian’s front office. The warm temperature of the room persuades me to take off my coat and tuck it beside me. I further decide to leave it there while I join the veterinarian in the back room to discuss the situation and decide what the next step should be. The decision is made to leave Clover there, so they can sedate her and do some more extensive testing. Daughter will take her home in the evening and keep her for a while to see if a change of environment and housemates will turn the behavior around. As I walk out, I pick up my coat from the bench. My fingers touch a very wet spot. Hmmm! My coat was dry when I left it on the bench. And is that a very distinct smell of cat pee? I look at the vet office cat sitting in the window eyeing me. How ironic? I am not sure if I should laugh or cry. I will take my pee covered coat and go home.
Bella has been gone a couple of months. It is time to let her go and move on. Or so I think. What I have not considered is that the two cats, Snowflake and Clover, also had a very close relationship with Bella. They slept snuggled up every night; one on each end of the dog. But they have never particularly liked each other. Now, they start to seek contact from us, the humans. Snowflake crawls up on Hubby’s chest in the evening and snuggles in right next to his face. She scratches on our bedroom door several times during each night, disrupting our sleep. How annoying! Our skittish Clover who never before would allow us to touch her has decided that I am her friend. She comes every evening to my desk when I come home from work and sprawls out on top of my papers. Meow! Meow! Then she rolls around and everything slides off onto the floor.
As several weeks have passed, I think we are settling into a new routine. Father’s Day brings the obtaining of a new puppy, Willow, by our daughter for their home. Occasionally, she brings the puppy over and oh what fun it is to torment the cats. One day, after Willow has gone home, I walk past the garbage can. Whew! What is that terrible smell? The strong odor of cat urine just about barrels me over. As I investigate further, I realize it is coming from the dog kennel. We have left Bella’s kennel in its place in the entryway with the door slightly ajar. That terrible odor is coming from inside. Has the untrained puppy been using that for her place of business? I wonder. I remove the soft pad from the bottom, wash it, and close the door after replacing it. A day later, I notice Clover clawing at the door trying to get in. Then the light goes on for me. It is Clover that has been using it as a litter box. Not thinking too much more about it, I comfort myself with the thought that now that the door is closed, she will have to go back to the litter box.
If I only knew that I am so wrong. A few weeks later, our daughter informs me that the main floor bathroom now smells like cat pee. I don’t smell anything but then my smeller has been deficient for many years. As I sniff around the area and get closer to the hallway outside the downstairs bedrooms, the smell gets stronger and stronger. Great! Just great! After being blocked from using the kennel, she has moved on to using the carpet at the end of the hallway. About the same time, I get a whiff of this same smell when I step out of our bedroom door upstairs every morning. I try to convince myself that this isn’t true but after a couple of mornings, I realize that denial is no longer possible.
This situation is royally frustrating. I remember going to visit my husband’s aunt when she was still alive and always being repulsed by the strong odor of cat pee in her house. I was never going to have a house that smelled like that. Now, I have a house that reeks of cat pee. I have no idea what to do about this. I search my brain for what might be the cause of this sudden change in habits. Is it the arrival of the new puppy that torments them occasionally? Is it the loss of Bella? Is it a territory war? Is it a bladder infection as some have suggested? I have noticed the two cats having more frequent squabbles so that is the approach I decide to pursue. I buy another Litter Robot for the main floor and place it at the end of the hallway where the cat has been urinating. I also order a black light in the hopes of finding and cleaning all the areas she has been frequenting.
Even though I think I have all the bases covered, every time I sit in my recliner in the living room, I get waves of cat urine ammonia hitting my nose. There has to be another spot I am missing. Even the black light is not clarifying my suspicions. One evening while our daughter is visiting, we go on a journey around the house. Her conclusion is that the smell is coming out of the heat vent. At first, I do not believe her but the more I sniff, the more I am convinced that she is right. Peeing down the heat vent just adds to the aroma as every time the furnace runs, it gets distributed nicely around the house. Uggh!! I’m embarrassed to even think of having visitors.
I wash out the heat vent the best that I can and schedule for a carpet cleaner to come. Maybe, the best solution would be to rip up all the carpeting and put in hardwood floors. There seems to be less fur flying so maybe having 2 litter boxes is the solution. Daughter says one is supposed to have the same number of litter boxes as there are cats plus one. The automatic ones I love so well “only” cost $500 a piece. So what’s a little money to buy a third one if it permanently solves the problem? Better yet, who wants two cats?
A tri-colored, 16-pound 10-week old collie puppy tries to get her feet organized to make it up our two front steps. I laugh at her. She has no steps at her own home and has no idea how to push up with her back feet to propel herself upward. Her presence at my house is in response to “Will you watch our puppy while we go to LARP this weekend?” from our daughter. What is a mother to say? I am always happy to help my daughter.
Since Bella died, I have been asked numerous times if we are going to get another dog. The answer is always “no, I am going to wait until my daughter gets one, has it trained, and then can’t keep it when she gets into the University of MN Veterinarian school. Then I will have a dog.” I have no desire to ever have a puppy again. “It is just like having a 2-year-old in the house,” I warn my offspring.
The puppy, named Willow, bounces around the dining/living area getting acquainted with, of all things, Snowflake, one of the cats. It puffs up like a marshmallow and hisses and swats from under the lamp end table. Willow is delighted and encouraged by this behavior. A moving toy to play with. After all, the cat has no front claws to do any real damage.
Soon Willow collapses on the carpet for a nap. I decide to get some paperwork done while I don’t have to figure out where she is every five seconds. Her hour naptime is far too short for me and soon she is grabbing every piece of thread that hangs out, whether it be on the rug, the afghan, or the doll’s foot. My daughter had told me that she goes about two hours before needing to pee but I forgot to pay attention to the part about “being taken out after she wakes up from a nap.” It isn’t two hours yet so I am startled to realize the squatting puppy is peeing on my carpet. “No,” I holler, scoop her up, and rush out the door. Sigh. This is starting out well! Note to self – take her out RIGHT after she wakes up.
A well exercised puppy is a well behaved puppy is my mantra so in the mid-afternoon, we head out for a walk. I decide to use my retractable leash instead of the short 4-foot one that our children use. Willow is soon lagging off in the grass or the weeds on one side or the other of the driveway – stopping constantly to smell and inspect. Willow getting wrapped around a tree encourages me to tighten up on the length of freedom. Then she just lays down. “Come on, puppy.” I tug gently until she reluctantly gets up and swaggers after me. There is something intrinsically wrong with an old lady that can run faster than a puppy. Our walk does produce poop so the walk can be marked up as a success in the puppy sitting business – outdoors where it belongs.
It is time to head upstairs again when we get back which is where our family tends to hang out. Willow sits at the bottom of the stairs and watches me go up. “Rrrff, Rrrff, Rrrff” She looks pathetically up at me. “OK, it is time for you to learn to go up stairs. I am not going to carry you every time we go up and down.” I clip the leash back into her harness and gently tug. I give her a boost every time she puts her front feet up onto the next step. Soon, she has traversed the 14th step. Upstairs, she kills the toy pheasant, attacks Hubby’s toes that swing so temptingly, and chews on the chair. I can feel the stress level rising. It is impossible to get anything done when my head has to spin every 30 seconds. At one point, she starts gagging like she is going to throw up. I guess those strings of floss she found to chew on are not too palatable. I can’t run fast enough to get down the stairs and out the door in time so I guide her over to the plastic chair runner. That turns out to be a smart move. Another time, I notice that she has one of my soft ear plugs in her mouth. Where she found that I will never know. Around and around we go as she thinks this is a game. I will never be forgiven when she chokes on that expanding thing. Then she keels over for a nap. I think I need another one too.
During one of our trips out doors to go potty in the afternoon, I make a rather rash decision to take her out without a leash. She doesn’t seem like a puppy that would run away. I am right about that part but I soon discover that Willow has no interest in coming back in. She plunks down in the middle of the yard and gazes at me. Such a cute, innocent puppy. She cocks her head and looks at me when I call, clap my hands, whistle, and do a chicken dance but she does not move. When I approach her, she dashes just a few more feet away and sits down again. Finally, I capture the sly puppy and haul her back indoors. I think I have learned my lesson. There obviously is a reason why the kids leave the puppy run around with the leash still attached and dragging.
By 8:30 pm, my stress level has hit about an 8 out of 10. Maybe, one more walk will wear her out enough so that everyone’s night is restful. It is a beautiful evening as we set out around the pasture while the sun slides toward the horizon. Walking, however, is not what Willow is interested in doing. I half drag, half encourage her to stay on the path and keep up with me. She stops to chew on the bottom fence wire. Try that on the next one up and you will never do that again. Even a relaxing evening walk is not relaxing. And then, Willow sees a calf. She begins a terrified dance and streaks off in the other direction. Finally, she gets brave enough to turn and courageously bark at the enemy. She trembles all over and refuses to go past those aliens. Finally, I resort to picking her up, talk calmly to her, and hold her securely while we walk the rest of the way home. Her little head keeps whipping around to calculate at what moment we will be pulverized by the thundering hooves behind us.
I am only too thankful that bedtime has arrived. I tuck Willow into her kennel for the night. Our kennel is the same as hers at home. Our daughter assured me that she is able to get through the night without going out to go potty. I am doubtful but hopeful. I have no more reached the top of the stairs than the high pitched howling/barking begins. I take my newspaper and seclude myself in the bedroom where I am hoping the sound cannot penetrate. Again, I am wrong. After twenty minutes, I am about to lose my mind. My earplugs are downstairs in the cupboard. Do I want to get up and go get them? And then, just like that, peaceful silence reigns. I finally fall into a fitful sleep.
A little after 6 a.m., I crawl out of bed and escort the excited puppy outdoors where she successfully empties her bladder. We walk around for a few more minutes as in the back of my mind, I am thinking she should soon need to poop again. When nothing happens, we traipse back into the house. I scoop breakfast into her bowl. She is busy eating. She looks so innocent and I need to get ready for church. I head back upstairs to the bathroom. I don’t think I have spent more than five minutes freshening up when I decide to check on Willow. I do not put my glasses on so my world is blurry. As I head down the stairs, I notice brown sticks all over the living room carpet. What in the world has she gotten into in five minutes? As I get closer, I am horrified to realize the brown sticks are poop rolls everywhere. How could such a small animal poop so much in such a short time? If in the declining memory of old age, I have forgotten why I never want a puppy, I have starkly been reminded.
When our daughter and son-in-law come to pick up the puppy later in the day, Willow jumps up and down with joy, then without a bit of difficulty, proudly shows off her stair climbing skills as she disappears out of sight to the upper level. Funny, she couldn’t do that an hour ago. So the weekend did have one success. Willow can now climb stairs all by herself.
By the end of the first week on a good dose of Doxycycline, Bella looks pretty chipper. She begs to go for a walk with me. Then suddenly by nightfall, she regresses.
“Bella looks terrible tonight,” Hubby greets me as I come in the door from volunteering work.
“She looked great this morning,” I counter.
She refuses to eat her evening meal and she staggers when she tries to run. I excuse what we are seeing as being weakness caused from not eating. If I could only get her to eat. I go back to the first vet and ask for some prednisone tablets which I break into 10 and 5 mg doses. This may be a huge mistake but I conclude that she is starving to death so it does not much matter about the effects of long term prednisone. I continue the doxycycline 400mg per day and add 10mg of prednisone. Within a day, she is gobbling a can of soft cat food mixed with her dry dog food. With a sigh of relief, I pack up several cans of cat food, a bag of dry dog food, all her medications, and accessories and meet our daughter for an exchange. She will keep Bella for the weekend while Hubby and I make a trip to Long Prairie, MN for a book promotion weekend.
Treehouse B&B @ Long Priarie, MN
Bella wags her tail happily and excitedly whines to get out of Daughter’s house and into my car when I go to pick her up on Sunday. She looks like her normal self. Daughter tells me that she bought some canned dog food, warmed it up, and mixed it with the dry dog food. Bella has been chowing it down like a healthy dog. When I get Bella home, I make a decision, that in looking back, results in a final decline. I decrease the prednisone dosage to 5 mg a day, thinking that a small maintenance dose might be all that is needed to keep her on an even keel until we can finish all her antibiotics.
I can tell Bella is still running a fever as she puffs when it isn’t in-the-least-bit hot but otherwise, seems stable. But by Tuesday, things have changed. I send her out to go potty before we leave for the evening. She seems OK when I put her out but is totally dizzy and disoriented when she comes back in. She cannot walk a straight line and lays down in the middle of the floor as she can’t navigate. This is the first either of us have seen her like this. I expect to find her dead when we come home but she wags her tail in greeting and does not seem worse than before. However, by the next evening, she is refusing to eat again and I have to force the pills down her throat. The part of me that is a nurse knows that there is no longer any hope. We have fallen back into a deep dark hole and I see no point in doing this anymore. The emotional part of me wants to save her and the logical part of me knows that it is not possible.
By Thursday morning, it is obvious that Bella has seriously declined again. I had been told by a colleague at work about a vet clinic in Eden Prairie where they can do MRIs, CT scans, and all kinds of advanced tests at their clinic. As a last ditch effort, I assist Bella into the car and make a two-hour drive to this clinic in Eden Prairie. While I fill out paper work, the assistant takes Bella away to exam her. They then meet with me to explain what they would like to do and how much it will cost. They are recommending some blood work, a urinalysis, a chest x-ray, and some biopsies if they see any enlarged lymph nodes. They will be happy to perform all of these things that day, all to the tune of $1500 due and payable before I leave. Whoa!That’s a lot of money. Other than the blood work, which they already have from the local vet a couple weeks earlier, I don’t see that any of the other things will be particularly helpful.
“What would an MRI cost?” I ask.
“Guess that is not going to be happening.” I assert.
“Do you realize that Bella had no platelets already on the bloodwork done at your local clinic? Did he mention that to you?” Doc asks.
I sort through my brain trying to remember what was said at the local clinic. I think lower that normal platelets were mentioned but not “no platelets.” I don’t know what to do.
“I want to call my husband and daughter before I make a decision.” I tell the veterinarian.
“OK, we will leave you alone for a time while you call your family.”
Again, the emotional part of me wants to keep going but the rational part of me knows it is time to quit. “I think we are just pouring money down a deep dark hole,” I finally communicate my decision to the veterinarian after talking to Hubby and Daughter.
“Well, if you don’t let us do any of this, we can’t help you,” is her response back. Now I feel guilty and like I am a really bad pet owner. But I am resolute. It is time to go. My plan is to go home and increase the prednisone to 20 mg twice a day. This is the treatment for an auto-immune disorder that is causing her to destroy her platelets. It is what I should have been doing all along. That is why she got better during the couple of days I had her on 10mg per day of the prednisone. None of the other stuff being proposed is going to be of any help.
Bella lies quietly on the back car seat on the way home. She meets my eyes every time I look back at her. I hold a tiny little hope that we can still turn this around. But it is too late. By evening, her breathing has changed to being more labored and there is a red fluid dripping from her nose. She refuses her food and her pills. We struggle to get them down her. It takes all her strength to follow Hubby down the stairs and out the door for her before bed potty time. Then she heads out across the yard and lies down instead of coming back in. She just looks at us when we call her name.
“Can you come and help me bring Bella back in?” Hubby implores. “I can’t leave her out there tonight.” Frost is predicted and the temperature is supposed to drop into the 20s.
I wake up several times during the night wondering if she is still alive.
“Can you go down and check on Bella?” are the first words out of Hubby’s mouth in the morning.
“I’m going,” I reply. I already know what I will find. I find her lying in the mud room where life has fled. She is at peace now. Sadness envelopes me. Bella had become a part of who we are.
I make a phone call to Daughter and we plan for a burial in our pet grave yard in the woods on Saturday morning. Hubby digs the grave on Friday evening while I am at work. “I cried the whole time I was digging,” he says with sorrow.
Hubby and Daughter sob and embrace as we carefully lay our beloved pet to rest. If I start to cry, I will never stop.
“Bella, and Blackie, and Honey Spot, and Purr will be waiting in heaven for us,” Daughter declares. Maybe they will. Maybe they will. Who am I to say they won’t be?
For me, the emptiness of the house is what messes with my brain the most. There is no happy barking when someone comes or the doorbell rings. There is no ringing of the bell on the door saying, “I want to go out.” There is no begging for food or play. There is no wagging tail and happy greeting of unconditional love when I come home. I have to keep telling myself she is no longer here.
“Are you going to get another dog?” Is the question that keeps being asked. I don’t want another dog. I want Bella.