Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finding Bear

The snow started to fall before we went to bed. If it had been rain it would have clattered loudly on the roof but it fell silently, glinting through the beam of the porch light and gathering in a thin veil on the deck, the kind that can be blown away with a sharp exhale of breath.

We talked late in the kitchen about Bear, talked about the practical things. Weirdly, talked about when might be “the time” with her lying right there, stretched out on her bed. Would she make it to Christmas? We wondered. What about her birthday, just a week away? Because the past couple of weeks had been difficult, she had changed markedly and we weren’t completely sure if it was because of her medication or if things were progressing. She was losing her balance all the time, walking into things, disappearing into dazes, it all seemed very much like she was over-medicated. But what if she wasn’t?

At about four in the morning I make my way down stairs to the kitchen. I awoke to the sound of Bear’s toenails clicking across the floor, as I do every night when she needs to go out for a pee. Snow blankets the sills and pushes up against the tall skinny windows that line the stairs. I squint out past the pool of light spilling from the window and see it is still snowing.

“Bear, it snowed lots!” I say to her in a half-whisper as she meets me at the bottom of the stairs. For a moment, around the lump in my throat that has been there for months, there is joy.

“I want Bear to see the snow,” Morgan had said during our conversation in the kitchen that night. It was something I had been thinking about as well in the last month as I watched her start to struggle a bit. She loves the snow and I just wanted her to get a chance to play in it again.

And here it is, piling up against the screen door so I have to lean my weight against it, snow ploughing ahead of it like a breaking wave. It gathers in drifts up the trunks of trees and clings to branches. It is magical and sad all at the same time, because it sort of feels like some big checklist we’re working through, ticking off the onward march of time.

The dogs return covered in snow. Murdoch barges in as usual and Bear waits for the way to be clear and then walks through the open door with confidence and I try not to get too excited.

It was just two days before in the wee hours of the morning when I pushed open the door to let her in that my heart broke as she stood there staring at the door, confused, trying to figure out how to get back inside.

That day we were advised to stop her second medication, the one we started a month ago after her latest seizure. Although the levels of medication did not test high in her system the vet did think there was concern over Bear’s reaction to it.

By the morning of the snow, Bear has missed three doses of medicine and she is starting to behave more like herself. She is more alive and playful, she doesn’t fall over or walk into things, she seems more alert, more present. She marches sure-footed through the snow, demands sticks be thrown, does not sink so quickly into such deep sleeps. It is a relief to have her back, even as the threat of another seizure looms now that she is on reduced medication.

But, in the meantime, there’s a birthday to celebrate. And there’s snow.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A trip to the vet

The sky has been changing colour all day. It began a golden pink with blue streaks of thin clouds as the sun appeared over the mountains, then settled into a thin, white-gray that sometimes looked blue, sometimes silver, before becoming heavy with the more serious shade of slate. By the afternoon, as we drive along the dirt road to our vet’s office, it has brightened to a pretty pale gray that seems to bleed its colour onto the mountains, making them look hazy and far away.

The smell of cows and empty farm fields fills the car, sliding in at the back windows, along with cool, damp air that swirls at my neck and the wet sound of our tires flying over muddy roads, the odd ping of a pebble bouncing off the metal bits underneath. There have been heavy dews lately and frosts that have melted mid-morning and mists just hanging in the air, settling on things, that have kept everything wet and mucky.

In the back seat, Bear lies between the two open windows, her back legs positioned awkwardly beneath her, the way they’d finally folded after shakily standing at the window for a short time over rutted roads. We are sure she is on too much medication and our visit to the vet today is to see where the levels of her new medication sit in her system. We hope the dosage can be decreased. Bear has been quite unsteady on her feet lately and she disappears into dazes and her depth perception is all messed up, she keeps banging into things, misjudging doorways and exactly how big her feet are.

When we turn into the driveway at the vet’s, Bear pushes herself up again to look out the window, her nose sniffing the air ravenously. She is excited for exactly 40 seconds, the time it takes for us to park, let her scramble out of the car, clip on her leash and walk the five steps to the door of the little house that is our vet’s office.

It is a step up into the waiting room and Bear, who usually walks right in beside me, stops at the threshold. “Come on Bear,” I say as I step inside. But she looks the other way and I give her leash a tug. If Morgan hadn’t been standing beside her and encouraging her forward, I’m not sure we would have made it inside, but she reluctantly walks heavily into the room and then sticks herself to my side as we sit and wait.

We have been lucky all these years with Bear. Even with her double-cruciate injury a couple of years ago and a mysterious limp in one of her front legs when she was five, she has been a healthy dog; vet visits have been kept to the bare minimum throughout her life.

But then there was this summer. I have lost count of the number of times we’ve been to the vet over the last six months. Bear has been a trooper through it all, the poking and prodding, the seizures, the medications, the knowing that something isn’t quite right but not sure exactly what. She has been very brave, doing all the things we asked, going with the vet techs when needed. But today, she said quite clearly, she’s had enough.

“I’ll just take her to the back to get some blood and then we’ll meet you in the room,” says one of the vet techs. Morgan and I nod in agreement and I hand Bear’s leash to her. This is the part where Bear usually follows along slowly, her head hanging down, her tail between her legs. But today she refuses to stand.

No thanks.

I lift up her back end and walk beside her, taking her collar in my hand as the vet tech keeps hold of the leash. Bear drops her head down, pushes back with her front feet and we are dragging her across the floor. “It’s okay Bear,” I say.

Yeah right.

As we round the corner of the front desk and the door to the back room comes into view, Bear goes limp, drops to the floor and suddenly weighs twice as much as she did just a moment ago. I struggle to pick up her back end and put her back on her feet but I can’t budge her, it is like she has turned to stone.

No way. I’m not doing it. You can’t make me.

“Here,” says Morgan, stepping in to take her leash. As the leash is transferred to his hand, Bear bolts to her feet and makes a beeline for the exit, Morgan just about jogging behind her.

Quick, open the door. Let’s get out of here.

It is kind of funny and sad all at the same time. And as I try to come up with a way to make this less painful I spy the container of treats on the counter. I open the lid and grab a few, ready to coax her forward with her stomach, but as I look, Morgan is already bending down to pick her up and as he walks past me with a mortified Bear in his arms, I pop a treat in her mouth, which she takes quite happily, if not absentmindedly.

You can’t do this. It’s an outrage. Ooo, I’ll have one of those.

We stay with her in the room as the vet takes some blood. It is over in little more than a second and then a quick chat and Morgan takes Bear back out through the waiting room, straight to the exit and outside.

It is pouring when we leave. Big fat raindrops, bright and almost cheerful, reflect the white sky. Mist still hangs on the mountains and the windshield wipers swish across the glass. Bear lies in the back seat with her back to us, not at all impressed with our performance, and we apologize profusely while rain flecks the window.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Excuse me, could we just play now?

Murdoch and I follow the trail through our woods, stopping every few steps so he can drop a stick at my feet and I can throw it for him off into the trees, bare of leaves and underbrush so it is open and easily navigable. Our feet crunch over dried brown leaves, frozen now and covered with a dusting of snow, the kind that collects on flat surfaces and looks like a carpet of tiny Styrofoam balls.

It is later in the afternoon, the sun hangs low in the sky, a flat white disc just visible behind a gray-white layer of cloud. In spots the cloud thins to let through a blush of blue.

I feel like I am just squeezing Murdoch in these days. Our walks are shorter than usual and I resort quickly to the throwing of a stick (which he, thankfully, loves) in hopes that the clipped bursts of more intense exercise will make up for the abbreviated walks.

We are, of course, completely focused on Bear, as we have been since the spring, wanting to enjoy every second we have left, make sure she’s happy and comfortable. We don’t like to leave her alone for too long because she still has to pee all the time and her medication makes her sleepy and somewhat unsteady on her feet.

So Murdoch waits, resorting to long meaningful stares, deep soulful sighs, and then ramming his head under elbows, flopping his chin heavily into laps, surreptitiously licking fingers, hands, sleeves, anything to get attention.

But it has kind of always been that way with him. Sometimes I think Murdoch showed up in our lives at completely the wrong time. When I found him on the side of the road, a rambunctious puppy of indeterminate age, it was just a month before we were moving to our new house taking with us Bear, our two cats and an elderly Max whose relaxing retirement was soon to be completely shattered.

We hadn’t planned on keeping the puppy, he was clearly wild, not trained and determined to use his massive jaw and gleaming teeth to inflict mass destruction on the world around him. No one was safe. Max was bullied, Bear was angry, Chestnut became so stressed out it set him off down the long road of recurring urinary tract infections. Cleo was the only one who seemed to take it all in stride. But then she doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on at the best of times.

I sometimes think if things had been different, if we hadn’t been in the process of moving when I found him, if we hadn’t waffled so much in that first month about whether or not we would keep him, if Max hadn’t needed so much care during Murdoch’s first couple of years with us, if Bear hadn’t injured first one cruciate and then the other, if there had just been more time in the beginning then maybe there would have been a lot more patience. Perhaps Murdoch would have had the chance to start out on the right foot; obedience class, followed by advanced obedience class, followed by exclusive attention at home, resulting in a well-adjusted non-grumpy dog.

But, alas, things weren’t different. Murdoch kind of got a raw deal from the beginning, not that he didn’t have a part to play in that, with his bratty attitude and his disregard for all life. He was not terribly easy on the limited patience we did have.

Murdoch is going to be five soon (we think) and although he’s settled down a lot with the simple passage of time, there is still so much of the delinquent in him, not the least of which is his whole car chasing thing. When Bear was his age she had just spent the year traveling with us by car and canoe halfway across Canada and back again, living in a tent, meeting all sorts of people who gushed over her at every turn, our beautiful, well-behaved girl. The thought of taking Murdoch anywhere there are people, or strange dogs, or vehicles of any kind, makes my stomach flip over. But it’s not fair to compare them I guess. They are completely different dogs, with completely different life stories.

So when Murdoch sidles into a room and quietly slinks up to that stray sock lying on the floor or the exposed mitten in the basket at the top of the stairs or the toque left on a chair and carefully takes it between his teeth and then slides it, with one quick motion, into his mouth before stealing away to sit with it by the fire, I know he is just looking for attention and I think, perhaps it is time to go and play in the woods.

Murdoch and I walk along the trail in the forest, our feet crunching over the snow-dusted, frozen leaves, and I throw a stick for him around bare trees, watching him fly over the ground. The stick becomes progressively smaller as it gets ground down by sharp teeth and bounced off of tree trunks until Murdoch is spitting splinters at my feet. We find a bigger stick to start the game anew and I ask him if he’s ready as I hold the stick above my head and watch his eyes grow wider, his body stiffen, his energy focus. I whip the stick as hard as I can off into the woods and he bounds after it, his feet kicking up little sprays of snow.

He lives for this, I think. And, for a short time at least, so will I.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bear days

A good day in the woods.
Riding in the Jeep.
Swimming at Lenore Lake.
This is how you chew a stick.
Got any more ice cream?
There's a path here, I swear.
At the swimming hole.
Now that's a stick!
In the canoe. One of Bear's favourite things, after swimming, sticks, peanut butter...
Taking the time to smell some flowers.. and eat some grass.
Bear and her shadow.
Stop taking my picture and throw the stick!
On the way home after a day at the beach.