Saturday, June 28, 2008


I sit in the living room, reading a book. Four dogs sleep nearby. Butch, Kadi and Winston lie at various spots on the floor, and Lucy snuggles next to me on the sofa. The peacefulness surrounds us like a warm, soft hug.

After nearly an hour of undisturbed quiet, I lay my book on the end table and rise to go into another room. Around a corner and two steps away from the living room, I spot a puddle in the hall. “Oh my gosh!” I say loudly. “Who pee-peed on the floor?”

I take two steps backward and lean back far enough to look into the living room. Butch, Kadi and Winston are exactly where they were before. Except for the fact that all three of them have turned their heads to look at me, they haven’t changed position.

Lucy, however, has moved. She's on the sofa, but it's the other sofa. The one across the room from where I’d left her seconds ago. She lies in the center of the sofa, perpendicular to the back of it. She’s on her belly, with her head scrunched down and her chin resting on her paws. Her eyes are as big as I’ve ever seen them, and they're intensely focused on my face. She wags her tail tentatively, side to side, in slow motion, as if she imagines there's a white flag tied to it.

I opt for paper towels instead of a crime scene kit, so I can’t prove Lucy did it. Let's just say she's a canine of interest.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hitting a new low

I’ve heard all the jokes about old people who are cranky all the time, and ever since I officially became an old person, I’ve wanted to dispel that rumor. I’ve always imagined myself growing old gracefully the way my grandmother did, with a perpetual smile on my face and a kind word for everybody. Lately, I’m really struggling with that.

Over the past two or three years, since the post-Katrina population explosion created one endless traffic jam on Baton Rouge area roads, I’ve developed an unpleasant habit. I find that in the semi-soundproof sanctuary of my automobile, where I’m sure no one can hear me, I have begun to state out loud my opinion of other drivers and to address them by names that seem appropriate only in the heat of the moment.”

Sometimes I do it in the form of a statement: “That’s really smart, (expletive deleted).”

Or it may be in the form of a question: “What the hell kind of signal was that, (expletive deleted)?”

To be clear, the drivers who tick me off are doing stupid things, creating traffic hazards, and possibly putting my life in danger, so they totally deserve to have it called to their attention. Still, I’m too cowardly wise to confront an idiot like that directly, so it isn't as if anyone's behavior is being changed by my words. All the anger does is make me feel bad. I know it would be healthier for me to blow it off, let it go, and I’m really working on that.

But last week? Last week I was driving on a little residential side street. There was no traffic at all. Half a block ahead of me, I spotted a squirrel in the grass near the curb on my left. I could tell by looking at him that he was thinking about crossing the road, so I slowed down and watched carefully. Just before I pulled up even with the squirrel, he darted into my path. I braked hard, and I promise you my first thought was, “Ohhhh, be careful little squirrel!”

I didn’t hit the squirrel. But the squirrel didn’t cross the road, either. He stopped directly in front of my right front tire and looked from one side of the street to the other, back and forth, back and forth. “Hmm, what should I do?” he seemed to be thinking. “Should I go back to where I started? Or would it make more sense to go the rest of the way to the other side of the street? Let me think...I’m just. Not. Sure. What I want to do. This lady doesn’t seem inclined to run over me, so I have some time to make up my mind. Hum-de-dum-de-dum, eeny, meeny, miney, mo.” And then he turned around and crossed in front of me again, right back to where he’d started.

That’s when I called a squirrel an a$$hole, right out loud.

I'm worried that I may have crossed some kind of a line.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blah-blah, whine, whatever

I learned a long time ago that in order to maintain my sanity, I need to build a certain amount of down time into every day and a big chunk of it (usually Sunday) into every week. It isn’t that my life is particularly stressful; compared to lots of folks, it’s fairly sedate. The problem is that I’ve grown used to sedate. That’s the way I like it.

And the last two weeks have been hectic:

***** I’ve driven into Baton Rouge twice to take Butch to the vet. (Two phone calls were necessary to arrange that).

***** I’ve had two doctors’ appointments for myself: one with the GP to get prescriptions renewed and one with the dermatologist to confirm that all the spots that have materialized on my skin over the past few years are benign and common. (These appointments also required two phone calls, one of which was wasted because they had no record of the appointment when I showed up. Fortunately, they were able to fit me in.)

***** The cable TV guy had to come out twice, once when I was home and once when I wasn’t, to replace the DVR that was installed about five months ago and fix the on-screen caller ID that has never worked. (These repairs took three telephone calls, and I found out the day after they fixed the caller ID that my voice mail stopped working. Haven’t dealt with that one yet.)

***** There were multiple after-work trips to Kmart, the gas station and, because rain practically every afternoon prevented supermarket shopping, an assortment of fast-food restaurants. All in all, I’ve had something to do almost every evening.

Needless to say, all that stuff -- plus a full-time job, of course -- cut dramatically into my blogging time. I did my best to keep up with reading my favorite blogs, but I got way behind on posting and commenting.

The brightest spot of this whole two-week period was Friday afternoon, when my two daughters and I had lunch together, then went to see Sex and the City. We had a great time. I guess I could consider that afternoon as “down time,” but I felt so “up” about it, it would seem like a misnomer.

Yesterday and today, surrounded by chores that needed doing, I’ve taken it easy. It’s Sunday evening already, and I’m still in my bathrobe. I turned on the dishwasher earlier, and I'll possibly wash a couple of loads of laundry before bedtime. First, though, I think I’ll get dressed. It's time to go get take-out food again, and I can multi-task by picking up the Sunday morning newspaper that's still sitting at the curb.

I’ll try to spend some quality time here next week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Politico Butch (alternate title: Lie low, unstitch)

Butch has never been particularly enthusiastic about riding in the car, and he's resisted it even more than usual on our many recent trips to the veterinarian. (I guess enough anal probes could have that effect on an otherwise affable pooch.) Yesterday, when I had to take him back to the vet to get his stitches removed, I was expecting quite a struggle.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

When Butch heard me get the leash out of the cabinet, he walked to the front door and waited. Outside, he didn't pull away from the car. He stood quietly until I opened the door, then climbed right up inside it, crossed the back seat and assumed his usual riding position: standing up with his head between the door post and the back of the front seat.

He seemed to be in such a good mood. He didn't pant, didn't tremble, didn't whine. Thirty-five minutes later, when we arrived at the vet's office, Butch didn't wait for me to open the back car door. Instead, he climbed forward between the front seats, over the console and the emergency brake, and followed me out the front door. I barely had time to grab his leash first.

Once out of the car, he didn't fool around. He walked carefully to the curb, took a step up, and led me toward the front door, barely stopping to sniff all the wonderful doggy smells on the sidewalk. He waited patiently while I opened the outer door, then the inner door. Inside, he couldn't have been happier.

It was five o'clock, and the lobby was crowded. Butch worked the crowd. If he'd been human, I would have thought he was politicking, so eager he was to meet all the people and make new friends. He stretched the leash as far as it would go in the direction of each voice he heard, his tail wagging furiously.

After we checked in, we moved over to a seating area to wait. Butch knew the lay of the land. He quickly zeroed in on the table where the treat jar stands and made it his business to buddy up to the lady seated next to it. It didn't take more than 15 seconds for him to score a couple of treats. That lady indulged him for a while, and as soon as she left, another woman who'd been seated nearby got up and moved into the vacated seat. She picked up where the first lady left off, petting Butch and offering him (low-cal) treats. He bestowed many kisses on both of them.

When the vet tech came to take us to the back, Butch followed through the lobby and down the hall as if he could see everything clearly -- didn't miss a step. Inside the exam room, he stood beside me for just a moment, then lay down comfortably on the floor to wait. He showed no signs of stress whatsoever.

The vet came in, and Butch rose to greet her, exchanging his kisses and tail wags for her skritches and still more treats. While this was going on, she and I talked about his progress, and then it was time for him to step up onto the stainless steel table, the one that rises up to waist height at the touch of a button.

Huh-uh. Not gonna do it. The instant Butch's foot touched the table, he pulled it back and dropped into a sitting position on the floor. The vet tech attempted to put her arms under his belly to lift him, so he countered with his favorite anti-bath move: he fell over onto his back and went completely limp, legs sticking out in every direction.

There's no picking him up when he does that.

I give the vet credit for being a good sport. She abandoned the table idea, thrust a handful of treats into my palm, and assigned me the job of holding Butch's head and distracting him with the treats. The vet tech knelt beside him to keep his body still. And the vet, bless her heart, got down on the floor on her knees and elbows, held Butch's tail out of her way somehow, and carefully clipped and plucked the stitches out of his butt.

I chatted with the vet a bit more, after which Butch held his head high as we made one last pass among his "constituents" and left the building. There's no doubt in my mind that if he had understood the concept of applause, he would have expected it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Timothy John Russert, Jr. - 1950-2008

Move over, St. Peter, there’s a new guy in town.

You’ve been in charge of the Pearly Gates as long as I can remember and then some, if I’m to believe what I’m told, and I’ve never heard any complaints about the job you’re doing. Today, though, I’m thinking you must have been in dire need of some help.

Most of us here on Earth have watched the news enough to be aware of the population explosion on our planet. I guess more people living means more people dying, and that must translate into longer lines of souls waiting for you to decide if you’ll let them into Heaven.

I’m not exactly sure what the criteria for entry are these days. I’m guessing the basics are still used as guidelines, like obeying the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule, but I suspect the Powers That Be have eased up on some of the old rules and set the bar higher on others. Possibly, if enough lawyers have made it into Heaven, they’ve convinced you to create another whole set of ordinances to serve as loopholes in case too many of the new arrivals are litigious. It's probably getting increasingly difficult to keep up with all of that.

I’m thinking about all this stuff, thinking maybe you need help, because I can’t think of any other reason why God would have taken Tim Russert from us right in the middle of this important, historical election. He was the one current news journalist I felt I could count on religiously (if you don’t mind my use of the word) to sort through the truths, the half-truths and the full-blown lies. He was unbiased. He was well-prepared, armed with the background knowledge to ask all the right questions of our leaders and those who aspired to lead us. His questions elicited the kind of answers we needed to help us evaluate the subjects of his interviews and make good decisions in the voting booth. If the information we needed was mired in complexities, he whipped out his whiteboard and erasable markers and made it clear for us.

How are we going to get along without him? And how must he feel about being called away at this particular time? As one of his news colleagues shared today, Tim Russert considered election year to be his Super Bowl. Why in the world (or in Heaven?) was journalism's quarterback yanked right before the second half of this high-stakes game?

I was asking myself all those questions, St. Peter, and after a while it dawned on me that there might be an even more important job for Tim Russert to do. He’s uniquely qualified for a job like yours. His fairness, his thoroughness, his ability to separate truth from self-serving rhetoric in the course of an interview -– nowhere are those skills more valuable than right there at the Pearly Gates. If that’s where he is, then I guess I understand, but I still feel really, really sad. And I do wish you could have handled things on your own at least through November.

When you see God, St. Peter, please remind Him that those of us in America have some important decisions to make in the next few months. We’ll need His guidance more than ever now that Tim Russert is gone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's NOT cancer!

Hallelujah! Butch's biopsy came back clean, no cancer cells at all.

When I first posted about the biopsy, nan16 commented: "I have heard that sometimes when there have been numerous infections, scar tissue eventually builds up and it looks and feels like a tumor, much like an abscess can calcify around it after a long time." She was right on the money.

Butch has had repeated infections since October, and the speculation is that there was an anal-sac rupture that kept the area infected with bacteria. For now, he's on another four-week round of antibiotics, and then we'll see.

The vet said she doesn't think surgery is an option in the near future because the tissue in the affected area is too fragile. I wonder, though, if an anal sac ruptured, won't it keep on causing infections one right after another? We go back next Tuesday to get Butch's stitches out, so I'll ask more questions then.

Thank you all so much for worrying right along with us. Your support made it a lot easier to keep a positive outlook while we waited for news.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The ravages of nature

The granddogs, Lucy and Winston, were with us from Thursday night until a couple of hours ago, which meant more frequent trips to the backyard over the past few days. Around noon yesterday, when I opened the back door to let all the dogs back inside, I noticed an injured green lizard just a couple of feet from the door. I started to move it, but the dogs whizzed past me so fast I just ignored the lizard and shut the door. I thought maybe a bird would get it if I was lucky.

The next time I let the dogs out, the lizard was still there, and it was covered with hundreds of fire ants. My goal quickly changed from moving the lizard to keeping the dogs out of the moving, lizard-shaped mass of ants. If you've never been bitten by fire ants, you wouldn't believe how painful the bites are.

We made a couple more trips outside before bedtime, and each time I glanced warily at the lizard. The ants were still working on it when I locked the door for the last time, but their numbers seemed to be dwindling.

This morning, first thing, I stepped outside with the pups and found this (click the picture to get a better look if you aren't squeamish):

It was so hot at seven o'clock this morning that I only got this one shot of the lizard's skeleton before my camera lens fogged up. While I wiped the condensation off the lens with the hem of my bathrobe, dainty little Lucy spotted the string of tiny bones and had herself a pre-breakfast snack. (No kisses for Lucy today.)

I'd made the appropriate grossed-out noises and headed back to the door when something else caught my eye:

This furry creature was about two inches long. It was on the concrete just under the patio table. We get furry caterpillars here sometimes, but I've never seen anything like this, so I waited and watched for a minute. It didn't move. I touched it with the toe of my slip-on shoe (afraid that the shoe would slip off), and the thing still didn't move. I bent down to get a closer look. The more I looked at it, the more horrified I became. It looked like a piece of Winston's foot.

Just in time to prevent a total freak-out, Winston came running up to the door. I inspected him quickly, breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn't have to explain something terrible to his mother, and went back to checking out the furry thing under the table.

I nudged it with my foot once more, then kicked it all the way over to look at its underbelly. Hmm. The underbelly was a swatch of fabric, with visible stitches. That's when I remembered seeing a ravaged stuffed animal lying just inside the door. A stuffed animal, further investigation revealed, that now had only one ear.

This was entirely too much raw nature for a city girl to handle so early in the morning.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Try, try again

Tuesday night Butch whined, paced and chewed at his behind until almost six in the morning. I don’t know if he slept at all, and I personally slept for about an hour, if you add all the five-minute sleep intervals together.

By the time the sun came up Wednesday morning, my brain was so fried that I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I couldn’t leave Butch alone to inflict certain damage on his new stitches, and I was so exhausted I felt sick, but there were things I had to do at the office. I managed an inadequate sponge-bath and five minutes with a curling iron, then puzzled what to do about Butch. He’d stopped whining. He’d had food and water and had successfully completed his business outside, which was very good news under the circumstances. I made a split-second decision, put the leash on him and took him with me to work.

In the nearly three years since Butch’s eye surgery, this was the first time he’d been anywhere other than his own house, his own yard, or the animal hospital. He hesitated just inside the door to the office, then relaxed when friendly hands and voices welcomed him. I led him down the hall to my desk, spread a clean sheet on the floor, and encouraged him to lie down. He remained alert, wagging his tail and straining at the leash to get better acquainted with new people, then finally calmed down and napped on the sheet.

As soon as the crucial jobs were done, I took the rest of the day off. Butch and I went home, where I thought we'd go to sleep immediately. We didn’t. He licked and chewed, and I made him stop. Over and over and over.

In your comments to my last post, several of you asked about the possibility of putting one of those cone-shaped Elizabethan collars on Butch. If I hadn’t been too tired to respond, I’d have told you about the time when he’d had the cruciate ligaments repaired in both knees. The vet put an E-collar on him then, but removed it minutes later out of concern that Butch’s leaping and bucking would further damage his injured legs. And then I’d have told you that a different vet had tried an E-collar after Butch’s eye surgery, removing it almost immediately in fear that Butch’s blindly violent twists and turns would cause him additional harm. In my mind, the E-collar wouldn’t work this time, either, but you made me think about it.

By Wednesday night I could have slept through a tornado, and I think Butch must have been in the same shape. I only recall telling him to stop chewing a few times during that night, and we got all the way out of bed only twice.

On Thursday morning I was relieved that Butch’s bottom didn’t look too bad, and I thought maybe the urge to chew the stitches had passed. I cut the tail off an old, soft T-shirt and fashioned a diaper I thought might keep him away from the stitches. Then I left for work and worried about him all morning long. By the time I got home at lunchtime, Butch had managed to chew the stitches enough that blood and other gunk was dripping down his backside, and I wasn’t sure if he’d done serious damage or not. I cleaned him up, patched him as well as I could, and made a better diaper, this one out of an old pillow case, with an elastic belt looped through slots I'd cut in it. Then I went back to work just long enough to request emergency vacation time.

Back we went to the vet. Remarkably, Butch hadn’t done permanent damage. Aside from all the licking and chewing, the vet said, he appeared to be healing nicely. She added a second antibiotic to his daily medications, plus an ointment to apply to his stitches twice a day. Then I asked if we could try the E-collar again. I told her everything I just told you about his prior experiences with it, but I was getting desperate. I told her he might just have to suck it up and deal with it this time.

A vet tech left the room for a few minutes and came back with an E-collar. They fastened it around Butch’s neck and we waited for the explosion. He shook his head gently a couple of times. He scooted backwards to try to get away from it. And that was it. There was no more drama. He had a hard time navigating with that big thing on his head -- a harder time than a sighted dog would have had -- but he kept his dignity and managed the best he could.

He’s worn the collar almost constantly since then, and he’s bumped into a lot of things. At first he had a problem of over-correction. If he bumped something to his right, he’d turn 180 degrees to his left and crash into something on that side, but he’s beginning to get the hang of it. Because his nose serves as his eyes, he’s used to walking with his nose just inches from the floor. He can’t do that now without the bottom of the collar dragging against the floor. Instead, he’s learned to walk a few steps with his head held high, then flip it way forward to plop the whole circumference of the circular collar against the floor while he takes a good whiff. He’s figured out how to back out slowly when the collar has prevented him from turning around in tight spots. He seems to have accepted the fact that he can't scratch his behind, or his ears for that matter, and to live with that reality.

This afternoon, not quite brave enough to leap up onto the sofa while wearing the new collar, Butch summoned up the courage to climb up cautiously. Once there, he snuggled up against me and laid his head with its big silly "hat" on my chest. He’s learned that most of the pleasures of life are still available to him, and I’ve learned it’s not so bad to watch television through a semi-transparent plastic cone.

Considering everything Butch has had to deal with in his ten years, I suppose he's grown to understand that a big lampshade attached to his head is no big deal.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

And now we wait

It'll be sometime next week before we have the results of the biopsy, but Butch is home.

Much to everybody's relief, he had no problems during anesthesia this time. He is showing some of the same behaviors that scared me so much after his last bout of anesthesia -- whining with every exhaled breath, pacing, bumping into things -- but it doesn't frighten me as much this time around.

I can tell that the biggest problem we're going to have in the next few days is to keep him from "chewing" on his freshly shaved behind and possibly pulling out stitches. I just fussed at him twice to make him stop it. After the second time, he climbed off the futon and went into the living room. I followed him in there and found him -- no surprise -- with his head up under his tail.

So, since Butch can't be trusted, I won't write as much as I intended to tonight. I'll post again as soon as I don't have to police him. In the meantime, please know how much I appreciate your concern and your prayers.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Welcome distractions

I've spent most of the weekend watching TV (the Democratic Party delegate debate), reading (a new Harlan Coben mystery), catching up on writing book reviews (boy, was I behind), and playing with all the dogs (the granddogs spent Friday and Saturday nights with us). Now it's Sunday night and I'm doing last-minute laundry that I could have done Friday night.

I'm trying to keep my mind preoccupied with trivial stuff so I won't worry about my best boy, Butch. We visited the vet again Saturday morning, following up after he completed four weeks of antibiotics to treat his anal sac infection. The infection seems to have cleared up, and Butch doesn't have his head up under his tail nearly so often, so I know he's more comfortable than he was. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the vet says there's a mass in his rectal area that seems to involve more than swollen anal sacs. She thinks he has a tumor. She actually said the "C-word." I'll take him in Tuesday for a biopsy, which means putting him under anesthesia again. Considering the problems he had last time, that's a scary enough concept without even thinking about the possible results of the biopsy.

So, I won't let myself think about it yet. At least not much. He's in good spirits and doesn't seem to be in any pain, and I owe it to him to keep my attitude as positive as his is.

I'll keep you posted.