Monday, September 28, 2009

Fading Hope, Finding Forgiveness

My hope that Girly will come back has dimmed more and more each day. I feel like I am both an observer and a participant in all the emotions, experiences, and reactions that come with a loss. The sorrow is just the anteroom to so much more -- I retreat into the dark chambers of guilt, responsibility, failure. I reflect on the irony that I wrote about unaccompanied suffering -- and that is most likely exactly what happened to that sweet cat I rescued all those years ago at a Greyhound station in Santa Maria, California. I try to avoid thinking about it, and the images come unbidden into my mind -- or invited by all those who mention "coyote". Not just a cat and not just sorrow -- a plunge into all that loss represents and all that a sudden, traumatic event reminds us about the uncertainties and unfairness of life.

There is no easy fix for this -- but I know I will be okay again, and I know I will find some way to give meaning to what has happened. But right now it is just awful -- our repeated searches have yielded nothing. I will take the "missing" signs down tomorrow because their only purpose now is to flash her picture at me when I am not expecting it, and that is hard. I will find a way to forgive myself for not noticing that she had slipped outside eight nights ago, but I am not there yet -- this is clearly going to be a process...

But, life does go on -- even as we wrestle with the existential questions and painful losses. Luckily, the dogs still need walking and training and so on. It is wrong to let what is lost take away the joy associated with what we still have -- and I still have many reasons to be grateful, including my lovely girls.


Halo and her daughters, Asia and Zoey

Cadi and Zoey

Asia and Zoey

Asia and Halo

Stay safe.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Agility Noah

Our cat, Noah, has been visiting my daughter (Nicole) in Utah because his diabetes was quite out of control. We wanted him treated by our Salt Lake vet and Nicole was very dedicated to getting a handle on his whacky blood sugar. We are leaving him with her indefinitely, but Nicole and Noah came up for a quick visit this weekend.

As you know, Noah is quite the Feline Puppy Nanny and was happy to see all the girls that he has raised.

Noah is doing so well that he decided it was time to do some agility! Nicole was the handler and here they are getting ready for their course...

The course started with the tunnel, and Noah did great at that!

His weaves were not exactly border collie fast, but he is, after all, a cat (don't tell him that though!).

All right -- we finally finished the weaves and it was on to the teeter -- not a big challenge for a cat...

Jumping was a little problematic...

But his table?? WOW

Just one problem -- he refused to get off the table and settled in for a nap. He was not at all disturbed when we did some work with Halo -- after all, he said, there was room on the table for both of them!

Sigh... Table count is normally five seconds -- Noah was going on 15 minutes...

The walk of shame -- pulled off the course for being uncooperative and refusing to wake up from his cat nap :)

Hope your day is an unexpectedly fun one!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Life Goes On (for some)

I am trying to finish the week before I give in to the trauma and sorrow about the vanished cat.

In the meantime, life has to go forward, if under a dark, heavy cloud. The beauty of a dog is that she lives only in the moment, happy at the gifts of the present.

Zoey and Sydney enjoyed playing this morning -- Zoey likes to chase toys and Sydney likes to chase Zoey...

Here is Syd

Zoey avoiding her tail being pulled by just being still with her toy for a moment.

Zoey waiting for me to again throw the yellow ball with feet.

The chase is on.

Sharing is nice :)

Air Zoey

Hope you have it in you to be playful today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Smoke From a Not-So-Distant Fire

The smoke from the fire has settled on our valley and I cannot even see the mountains, which as you know are very close to us. That heavy smoke feels a bit metaphorical for me right now, as I find myself in a personal smoky, dark space. Isn't it interesting how we can move in and out of darkness, even as nothing around us really seems all that different? The mountains, which were so close and brilliant, now seem unreal -- like there could not really be anything out there except that heavy, dark smoke. It is all about perspective I suppose, and sometimes that is hard to adjust.

The missing cat heaped fuel on my personal bonfire -- I wish she would come home.

But the thing about dogs is that even on days when you really need to just go to bed with kleenex and cookie dough, you have to keep plugging along somehow. And so Galen and I took the puppies to the river...

This first shot is of the puppies on the edge of the river -- isn't it just beautiful?

It was Zoey's first time at the river and she is a definite water dog. On the other hand (paw), Sydney was not sure about all that wet stuff and only peer pressure got her in -- see for yourself...

And now we have Zoey enjoying the water -- she happily retrieved sticks and just enjoyed running and leaping in the water. Remember Air Zoey??

I hope there are no fires burning near you, and that your outlook is bright and sunny.


We are heartbroken. Our sweet gray cat, Girly, has been missing for almost two days. She must have gone out unnoticed on Sunday evening because she was not there to help with feeding the dogs on Monday morning.

Girly was 100% an indoor cat until we moved here, and it is so safe and secluded that she has been allowed out for little adventures but she never goes far and stays out only a very short time.

I am heartsick about this -- I have had her for over eight years since I found her at a Greyhound station in California while at a dog show. She has been a fun and happy cat, and we miss her :(

I have looked and looked, and now have signs up offering a reward. Please think good thoughts.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Pictures

This is from last night -- it is blurry but you can get the idea. I took it from our deck.

Here are two views of the same fire from this morning...

And oblivious to the fire burning just a few miles away, here are Zoey and Asia...

Hope your weekend is going well!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Day Off -- aahhhhhhh

How wonderful to have a weekend at home! My new rule is no more back-to-back weekends on the road during the school year as it is just too disruptive. But that is all behind me and we are enjoying a lovely, relaxing day at home. I walked dogs, made zucchini bread, unpacked from last weekend and so on -- I need about two weeks of days like this.

So I have nothing exciting to report and just wanted to share some pictures. First of all, that fire continues to burn -- I took this from our back deck.

Here is very cute and now one year old Zoey...

Sydney was feeling photogenic today -- first here she is with her cousin, Asia...

And here she is with her mom, Cadi, in what is now one of my new favorite pictures -- aren't they just lovely together?! And what a resemblance!

I hope you are having a very relaxing weekend -- come on over and enjoy some zucchini bread!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Riley, from the "A" Litter, is not only smart but he is also quite lovely and has done quite a bit of modeling, especially for PetSmart. Here he is with his latest "spread"... (click on the photo to make it larger)

He lives in Arizona with Kay and Sue so you will have to travel a bit to get his autograph!

Monday, September 14, 2009


Where to start?! It feels like I am ending a rather hectic stretch and the break will be nice. I went to Utah over Labor Day weekend and did an agility trial while also trying to visit the Dear Husband and assorted friends and family, and give a talk about grief with Kim at the Sheriff's Office. My new cell phone -- perhaps channeling how I was feeling -- went completely dark and was inaccessible, necessitating a trip to the Verizon store on a morning I was already booked solid. I missed seeing Cali -- sorry Cali!!!! :(

So that was a rather busy four days, and because the talk was not done until 4 pm on Tuesday, I did not get back to Montana until the wee hours of Wednesday -- just in time to sleep for a few hours before being at a faculty meeting bright and early at 9 a.m.

So Wednesday and Thursday were quite busy, with no time to do much catching up from being gone and soon it was Friday and time to leave yet again! I taught all afternoon and then left for Graham, Washington with Cadi, Asia and Maize to do a two day draft test.

I stayed at a nice Bed and Breakfast with two other people who were there for the draft test -- I called it the draft test dorm :) I had stayed there seven years ago when I went up for Abra to be bred to Zaltana, which produced Halo -- who produced Asia who was with me -- did you follow all that??

Anyway, it is a nice place with this view of Mt. Rainier:

I took that picture at dawn and wish it had been lighter but I was never actually there during daylight! I arrived after midnight and was at the draft test site on Saturday morning before 7 a.m. to assemble my two carts and get ready for the long day. I really love draft tests -- they are very low key and friendly, and there is lots of time to just visit with people.

My goal was an NDD on Asia but since I was driving 7.5 hours I decided to make the most of it and I also entered Cadi in the Open Draft test and Cadi/Maize in Novice Brace.

I actually had not practiced much with Cadi by herself and she had to pull 80 pounds, which I confess to not having done in over a year. I figured that all the recent brace work with Maize would have to be practice/conditioning enough; my time was limited and I was focused on Asia. Anyway, Cadi was wonderful and although she made me work, she passed that open draft test on Saturday morning.

My next team was the Cadi/Maize brace -- Maize already has all the titles so we were working on that title for Cadi. Unfortunately the dogs passed but I flunked. The dogs do a group stay for three minutes and when another dog got up and walked over -- with his cart -- to say hello to the girls I yelled across the ring, "stay!" -- oops :(

A draft test is pass/fail and so one little mistake and that is all she wrote -- oh well. I was annoyed at myself but got over it quickly -- I am, after all, only human! And what right did I have to be upset?! My nine year old berner was there doing the draft test with her daughter and I was not unaware of that blessing.

Okay, with the temperature at 90 and more humidity than I am used to, it was finally time to change once again (I matched my shirt/socks to the dogs' harnesses) and get ready to rock and roll with Asia. Asia's color is maroon, which is the main color for the University of Montana so I was all set with a University of Montana shirt and very stylish striped University of Montana socks. Asia was fully decked out in her matching collar, leash and harness -- you know what Joan says: "look good, feel good, do good!"

Asia was amazing -- 100% on her game. If I had buttons on my maroon University of Montana shirt -- well, it was Kim's shirt (sorry Kim but I was desperate!) -- but if Kim's shirt would have had buttons they would have popped off with pride :) What a good girl she was -- Asia passed the test easily and earned her NDD (Novice Draft Dog), which made her a Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America's Versatility Dog -- that is a Big Deal -- and she is just 25 months! Since a dog cannot even earn the award before 24 months, this is quite an accomplishment.

Here are a couple of pictures of Asia right after we finished the test -- note the very cool accessories in the cart:

Doesn't the cart look great? I have had it for YEARS and when I moved I lost the shafts so Cassie's grandpa (remember that Cassie is my daughter-in-law), who just happens to live near me, made the new shafts and my daughter/son-in-law helped me paint the cart when I was in Utah.

So, what colors were the others girls, you ask? Well, Cadi is hot pink so has a lovely hot pink harness and I wore my pink shirt/socks. I used Cadi/Maize's parade harnesses and wore a green/yellow shirt to match and I put their bows on, which had never been seen before in a draft test and was quite the hit.

The test finally ended on Saturday and the hot, sweaty, tired crowd all went to dinner, which was fun. And then we got up early on Sunday and did it again -- sort of... I only ran the brace team since Asia and Cadi had earned their desired titles the day before. Maize and Cadi appreciated that I did not screw up and we all managed to pass the test, but we did lose one bow, which wound up in the hair of one of the judges!

So, I came home from Utah for less than three days (days in which I taught my classes, worked for hospice and etc.) and was off to Washington where we had fun and earned three new draft titles and made our baby Asia a Versatility Dog -- pretty nice weekend I would say :)

I enjoy earning titles with the dogs. Having goals and training towards them is fun and ensures that the dogs have an interesting life -- they truly LOVE their "work". And I like goals and accomplishing things, and so the titles represent good things for all of us. Yes, it all takes time but most people have something that they are passionate about and it often makes no sense to others.

On Sunday, the draft test shared the park with a car show -- that was quite interesting. Clearly some people are passionate about old cars and loud music from the 50's and 60's -- really loud music! While it might seem as if there is nothing similar between a crowd of enthused dog lovers and a crowd of equally enthused car lovers, if you think about it one can see that it is really the same -- the two groups are just one crowd of people who are really passionate about something. Yes, the "something" is different but the feelings are similar and I tried to remember that as I was humming along with that funny Little Nash Rambler song that was blaring throughout the park and wondering what could be so exciting about an old car that was not even big enough to fit a dog crate?! ;)

So yes, I do spend a lot of time, energy and money on my dogs -- but in doing so I both gain a sense of competence and recharge, which allows me to do my work, including staying present in my research, which is all about the deaths of children and how parents cope. And maybe that bright red old car that is cleaner than my house has ever been and is way too small for a crate allows one of those older men to save the lives of children so that I never encounter their parents...

When you think about it too hard, life is quite interesting...

Sometimes it is best to take a break from all that thinking and just enjoy some cute dogs -- here is Sydney being a snake...

Zoey and Sydney

Cute Syd again

In this picture Karnage is no doubt bragging to Halo about a recent kill...

The new versatility Dog, Asia

We are home for the rest of September so maybe I can catch up on things now -- like all the emails I owe people! But we will also be training and getting ready for some new adventures :)

I hope your life has passion and adventure but if not -- get busy!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Parade Time Again!

How fun to be in a parade! The little kids are SO excited and happy -- it is contagious :)

But let me back up and share the adventure getting to the parade! My brace cart was modified by a hospice colleague's husband so I stopped by the hospice office to pick it up on the way to Hamilton, which is the county seat and site of the Fair Parade.

We loaded the cart -- which is quite heavy -- into the back of Trusty Rusty, my old pick-up. I would have used the van but Galen needed to go to class at the university and he is scared to drive Trusty Rusty, who has a -- gasp -- clutch!!!! So, this is all Galen's fault.

Off we went, down Highway 93 towards Hamilton, when suddenly I heard a noise and looked in the rearview mirror only to see -- as if in slow motion -- my cart doing a cartwheel (appropriately enough, I suppose) out of the truck and onto the road!!!! Holy Heart Attack!!!!!!!

I pulled over in a panic and raced back to see whether my cart was reduced to toothpicks and it just so happened that the person behind me -- who saw the whole thing and luckily wasn't tailgating -- was one of the three people I know in the county (okay, I know a few more than three people but not many more).

She helped me pick up the cart and get it off the highway, where we assessed for damage. If the cart were a mountain biker, she would be proudly sporting some lovely road rash -- and a cracked bone -- but amazingly the cart seemed relatively okay!! Those Wilczek carts are VERY well made!!! (

So, back to our story -- we got the cart in the truck and TIED IT DOWN. Who knew such a heavy thing could fly so well?! We made it -- going very slowly -- to the appointed meeting point where we further assessed for damage, but other than a couple of loose screws it seemed fine -- and who doesn't have a few of those?!

So the cart decoration committee (i.e., Sherri) got to work and soon we had ourselves a float of sorts. Loaded with the ice chests filled with Otter Pops and hitched to our mother-daughter dog team we were ready to roll.

Parades involve lots of sitting around and waiting, and then frantic activity through town where the streets are filled with horse poop, candy, and kids -- sometimes all mixed together! The sitting around part is great for visiting, and the dogs had quite a few unusual visitors.

I took this picture with my phone so not a great picture, but you can get the idea :)

Pretty soon along came the mascot for the University of Montana football team. Now, remember that Montana does not have a professional sports team and so the U of M Grizzly football team is as close to the NFL as we get, and the fans are RABID. Monte, the mascot, is therefore a celebrity but took the time to meet the girls, who were no doubt wondering if the Easter Bunny was next!

We had a great time and I will leave you with this cute shot of Cadi and a reminder that life is really just like one long parade -- mishaps, sitting around, and frantic activity -- so enjoy!