Saturday, January 10, 2009

Baptism...Or How Bob Rescued Cinnamon, Won Her Heart and Kept His Wife From Killing Him All in One Day

I grew up with dogs, and have seen them do a lot of oddball things. But the first time Cinnamon (also known as SweetyPuss, My Little Girl, and Bad Dog! Bad Dog! ) saw snow, she did something I had actually never seen a dog do before. We were on our way to Mazama, a little town in the North Cascades where Highway 202 ends in the winter time after the pass is slammed shut by a dam of  winter snow. We had stopped at Sleeping Lady for dinner, and I had just opened the car door, when a brown and white blur shoved past me going Mach II with her hair on fire with a long red leash whipping behind her like an angry snake. She made a beeline straight for the nearest snowbank, stuck her head in all the way past her eyeballs up to the base of her ears and then just stood perfectly still, with only her ears sticking out of the snow. Startled, I remember wondering if dogs get headaches. Then she suddenly jerked her head out, looked around, ran straight to another snow bank and did the same thing again. And again. I didn't know Cinnamon very well then. Of course, now I realize that this was a sign. She didn't have headaches. She was nuts.

Now this happens sometimes when you adopt an adult dog. You don't know them, they don't know you, but you're glued together for life, and occasionally one or both of you turns out to be crazy. This time, I swear, it's her.

The fact that I'm a dog person didn't mean much to Bob when we met. Bob didn't have much experience with dogs. He is a classic cat person. He secretly figured that when the last member of my pack of geriatric border collies "went to heaven," I'd be happy in a one-cat family. So when Mac died after sharing my life for 17 years, and Bob caught me late at night cruising photographs of rescue dogs on Border Collie Match.Com, he was truly caught off guard. After the third or fourth night in a row, he finally sighed and said something like, "Ok, but it better be a pretty PATHETIC story," clearly not anticipating just how pathetic some of these dogs could be.

A few searches later, and I had found her. She had been abandoned in a small town in rural Utah, and was wandering the streets in ragged condition at about 6 months of age. They caught her easily...the first couple of times. She escaped twice from her first "forever family," the second time while "Mom" was doing a little "time out" at the local jail for drug possession. She escaped again from an animal control officer, and was ultimately recaptured, largely because the shotgun blast she had taken to her hindquarters sometime after her escape had rendered her left hind leg useless, slowing her down to something less than warp speed. I first saw her at the back of a pack of howling rescue dogs, running back and forth on three good legs, not making a single sound. Her fur was orange from malnutrition, a set of "dew" claws stuck straight out on her back legs like an extra set of thumbs, and her eyes were a startling golden brown. When her rescuer handed me her lead, she bolted away from me so quickly that she nearly decapitated herself when she hit the end of the leash. The wild look on her face transformed to complete shock when she spotted Sandy, and she promptly wet herself. Wow, I thought instantly, I'm in love.

On the day I brought her home, she cowered in the back of the car and cried softly for over one hundred miles. Back home, after two packages of wieners and three viewings of Ocean's Eleven (she loves George Clooney, as it turns out) we were buds. At the end of the day, she jumped up on the couch, rolled on her back and let me rub her belly with a big, heavy sigh.

We named her Cinnamon for her brown color. We discovered that she snores when she sleeps on her back, and has very frequent, smelly farts if she eats apples. She's really smart. She quickly learned to accept a leash and to poop outside. She stopped trying to eat the cat after only one or two days. She can sit, lie down and shake hands, and knows right from left. But she was convinced that something scary lived underneath the cold air return grate in the living room, and she refused to eat from a metal bowl. She stopped dead in the street to watch airplanes in the sky. She had to be taught how to make dog toys squeak. And she had some sort of problem with Bob. She would hide behind me and peak at him around my legs. She would run away and hide under the bed. Bob had to avoid direct eye contact or she would pee on the floor. After five weeks, things were not getting better. Run, hide, peak out from behind me, spot Sandy, pee on the floor.

In December we planned a winter break at a rental cabin in Mazama. We couldn't bear to put Cinnamon in a kennel, so she came along. The cabin sat in the middle of a meadow on the Methow River, deep in snow and isolated, except for the occasional sound of voices of cross-country skiers passing on the trails nearby. Bob and I settled into a routine of soaking in the hottub, walking the dog in the snow, reading books, more soaking in the hottub, sudoku, sipping red wine, cooking and then soaking in the hot tub. Cinnamon settled into her routine of poop walks, on-leash frisbee, gnawing on a fancy new giant red lobster squeak toy, chewing up a pair of the owner's slippers, and diving under the bed whenever snow slid off the roof or Bob got up out of a chair--both of which happened fairly often. Outside, the snow fell relentlessly, sifting around the doors and the steps and covering our tracks. In the evenings the deer moved like ghosts through the field outside, chest-high in snow.

Although we were out in the middle of nowhere, I still suggested that we keep Cinnamon on leash both indoors and out, because a) she didn't come when she was called, probably because b) she didn't understand that Cinnamon was her name yet and c) for whatever reason, Bob still scared the crap out of her. When Bob said he didn't think she'd run away, I mentioned that losing the dog would be the least of his worries--mending his wife's broken heart would be the real challenge. I got the "Husband Smile" in response, so I was pretty sure he wasn't listening.

On the morning that Cinnamon went missing from her walk with Sandy, I had just settled by the fire to read a book.

Bad decisions are often easy to identify in hindsight--take for example that time in 1994 when I decided to pet a drugged-out 500-lb gorilla I was anesthetizing in a local zoo hospital. The instant that humongous hand closed in a lightening-quick grab around mine and I felt the bones in my fingers start to rearrange painfully in its grip, I realized two things; that this animal was both phenomenally strong and unbelievably quick, and that I had just made a potentially fatal error. Lucky for me, IV drugs work really fast, even on gorillas.

So the second I saw from the corner of my eye a familiar brown and white blur porpoising her way all alone in great snow-showering leaps across the snow drifts in a straight run for the river and the highway beyond, I knew that "somebody" had goofed up.

A lot of cursing ensued. And an explosive scramble for boots and coat and hat and gloves. By the time I hit the snow, Bob was already 50 yards ahead of me at a dead run. Or "dead plow," anyway. Neither of us was moving very fast through thigh-high drifts. It took a several minutes to reach the river, where I caught up to Bob, and then nearly keeled over from the effort.

Here, the silence of the snowfields was replaced by the dull low roar of the river, flowing in a lazy "s" below the high bank where we were standing. A couple of downed lodgepole pines lay across the water to the west, to the east the bank flattened out and ran along side the river. But where was Cinnamon? We searched around frantically, calling her name, as if that would do any good. We found a set of tracks that went off to the east, curved around and ended at the water. A large piece of snowbank appeared to be freshly broken at the water's edge, with no tracks leading away. My heart sank. Nothing could survive long in the ice cold water.

Bob and I looked at each other in despair, and then something moved on the bank across the river. Standing on the opposite side, completely drenched and wild-eyed, was our dog. We called, we clapped, we whistled, we tried to "good dog" her into coming back across and all the while she ran back and forth on the opposite bank, whining. No way was she getting in the water again. After a while, she began to look longingly behind her to the woods, and that's when Sandy decided to try to wade across to get her.

He slid down the twelve or so feet of bank to the edge of the water and walked out near a shallow area where the dog had apparently crossed. Sandy was wearing high boots and wasn't worried about getting his feet wet, but as it turned out, what we both took for snow at the river's edge was actually a thin layer of snow-covered ice camouflaging about 4 and a half feet of fast-moving water. One small step--and I could see the shock on Bob's face as he went in unexpectedly up to his armpits. The bank was sheer with nothing obvious to grab onto. I had the shock of knowing at once that the dog was now a lost cause, because the real question had suddenly become whether Bob would still be alive in another 10 minutes. I did something for which Bob never entirely forgave me. I stood absolutely still and waited.

It's my day job to manage emergencies. Ninety-eight percent boredom, two percent sheer terror. That's how people describe what I do for a living. And during the two percent part, panic is definitely not on your side. I took a deep breath and glanced back to the house, making terrible calculations. Three or four minutes for me to get to the house. A 911 call to bring help from the nearest town--twenty minutes away. That would take another four or five minutes. Did the cabin owners have a rope, chain, or anything around with which I could pull Sandy from the river? Where would it be? In the garage? Where was the garage key? It would be at least ten minutes to go and come back, and then only if I was fast and lucky and did everything right on the first try. I thought back to the day my older brother fell into the creek in the middle of winter when we were teenagers. He had been walking on a wet bank and fell into only about 3 feet of water, getting tangled in some submerged barbed wire when he slipped. Dad and I heard him yell as he went in. Some boys on the neighboring farm heard him too, and came running fast across the fields. When we got to him, only his nose and mouth were sticking out above water. He had been submerged for less than 5 minutes, and was so cold he could barely move. It took two grown men to pull him out of the water, and then he had barely survived. How in the world was I going to get Bob out of the water by myself?

I waited as Bob reached for the bank. One try, I thought. He gets exactly one try and I'm gone, I'm running for help. I watched. Seconds passed. He reached for a branch dangling from the bank, pulled on it, and then another. Then, a miracle happened and he hoisted himself up and out of the water. I looked across the river--Cinnamon was heading for the woods. We had lost her. And Bob wasn't completely out of danger yet--in those wet clothes, he could rapidly become hypothermic, and we were still a long way from the cabin.

I started to walk toward Bob, but he shot me a sharp look and marched right on past me and down river to where the trees had fallen over the water. I caught a glimpse of him as he crossed the river. He reached the other side and called Cinnamon's name. And that is when the second miracle happened.

She turned and she came to him. Her head was low, and her tail was wagging a little. He clipped the leash on her collar and lead her back to the fallen trees. When she refused to cross the river he hoisted all 40 lbs of her up under one arm and carried her across the river. And instead of struggling, she let him. I was going to get to keep them both after all.

Bob didn't say much on the way back to the cabin, other than that he wasn't cold at all, and what the heck did I think I was doing, just standing there like that on the bank not saying a word? When we got back to the cabin, I made him strip and get in the hottub. After about ten minutes, when he complained that the hot tub must be malfunctioning because it wasn't very warm, I just smiled and made him stay in until he was no longer hypothermic. The thermometer in the tub read 104 degrees.

So that is the story of how Bob saved Cinnamon and won her heart. From that time on, she stopped peeing on the floor, and no longer dove under the bed whenever he moved. After a few months, she started talking and "roos" whenever she's happy or excited. And she flies into a frenzy of joy whenever Bob comes home, because like me she knows it's a miracle to get to see someone you love one more time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Seven New Year's Resolutions for 2009

2008 is drawing to a close and 2009 can be heard creeping up the hall on little cat feet, so it's time to reflect on the year past and look forward to the year to come in an annual celebration of lessons learned called:  My New Year's Resolutions.  As many of you know, I have adopted the Ellen Degeneres philosophy, which is to set goals I actually have some hope of achieving, and simultaneously celebrating the things that seem to be working well for me so far, by not changing a thing.  So here goes:

Resolution #1.  I resolve not to go sledding with the dog anymore.  True, there was this brief moment--with her leash tied to the front rail of my Mountain Boy Ultimate Flyer and that beautiful, unblemished, snow-packed street laying before us like a glittering white and virgin Olympic luge track...a moment just before the squirrel skittered across the street and the dog exploded with a deafening howl in a cloud of fur and a hail of ice clawings--when sledding with the dog had actually seemed like a funny idea.  At 45 mph careening down 37th behind a howling Devil Dog and the Bottomless Potholes in front of Epiphany Parish Episcopal Church looming straight ahead, not so much.

Resolution #2.  I resolve to drink more sage margaritas.  This is to replace the red wine I have to give up because even a sip now gives me a pounding headache.  Sage margaritas are not only tasty, but they put me in a good mood.  And I sing much better and more loudly after 3 or 4 of them.  True, sage margaritas don't have the cardiovascular sparing advantages of red wine (which contains lots of antioxidants and is therefore good for your coronaries), but then again, I will always have chocolate, whose flavenoids and antiplatelet activities will more than make up for it.  For those of you who remember last year's resolutions, see 2007 Resolution #1 "I resolve to keep eating chocolate."  I was particularly successful in 2008 at keeping Resolution #1.

Resolution #3.  I resolve to look at a travel book the next time before answering impulsively when Sandy asks something like "Hey, Pookie, wanna go for a little hike in Spain?"  Travel books often contain key information like just how many thousands of feet straight up the "gentle hillside undulations" are, whether there is anything to eat besides boiled rabbit and cabbage, and will there be decent shopping at the end.  It is precisely such key information that can help you formulate a more practical and meaningful response like "Sure, Snookums, but only if we spend a weekend in Tahiti afterwards where I can just lay on the beach and have nice young men bring me umbrella drinks while my blisters heal."

Resolution #4.  I resolve not to vote in the 2009 Presidential Election.  The current president has certainly not been boring.  In fact, he has been both occasionally entertaining and, most of the time, a little scary.  And not just because he's so conservative.   Sure, he's called on the world to join together in fighting terrorism, has injected faith into government, and lowered interest rates so that more people could afford homes.  But he has clung to an oil-based economy while the world continues to overheat and suffocate in greenhouse gases, has been slow to support minorities and women, and, well, frankly his national energy policy, which includes ramping up heavily in nuclear power, not only sucks, it poses a clear and present danger to the rest of the globe.  So President Ahmadinejad will just have to win re-election without me.

Resolution #5.  The next time I am on an international flight and they call overhead for a doctor, I'm sending Sandy.  This will accomplish two things;  it will keep me out of unusual quasi-medical situations at 37,000 feet, and it will satisfy Sandy's secret longing to be called "Doctor."  And let's face it.  If you, oh, let's say for example, decide to go into precipitous labor somewhere over the Atlantic, where the only medical supplies are a kid's lunch pail filled with gauze, a pair of scissors, some smelling salts and a bottle of nitroglycerin, you're probably better off having a real professional sit down and pray for you than have an anesthesiologist, or even worse, a radiation oncologist or an orthopedic surgeon show up and try to figure out which way the baby is supposed to come out.

Resolution #6.  I'm going to live my leap second to its fullest.  It isn't every year you get an extra 1/60th of a minute just tossed in for good measure.  And no one says I had to use it right after midnight last night.  I'm saving mine for when I really need it.  That extra leap second may come in handy before I respond the next time a male hospital administrator calls me "sweetie."

Resolution #7.  After discussing it with Sandy, I have decided against running for a seat in the US Senate this year.  Caroline Kennedy has Camelot, and Roland Burris seems very nice, but I have something critical that they both lack, and which is uniquely valuable in this particular year.  I'm a political nobody.  No one can accuse me of currying favors from my Governor, since I have no money and absolutely no political capital with which to influence anyone.  There is absolutely no danger that I will be seated in any real election, which means that the people who want to duke it out for the full term have about a year and a half in which to get their act together, while I hold down the fort.  I also want to point out that I have actual administrative and financial experience heading a multi-million dollar corporation (seriously), have ideal skills to deal with narcissistic personalities (I work with doctors), and I have bona fide hard-ball negotiation skills (I'm married).  I come complete with my own personal organizer (a border collie) and security system (don't forget the pink sequin-adorned taser I acquired during last year's after-Xmas sales).  With these attributes, and as a short-term appointee with no hope of re-election, I can actually get stuff done, since I won't care who-owes-what-to-whom at the end of my term.  Unlike a recent candidate for even higher office, I have actually visited several foreign countries (just see my Facebook page--"places I have visited" if you don't believe me), I know some real actual Russians (and not just looked at them with binoculars from my front yard), and I regularly read Newsweek to keep up with world affairs.  Despite all of these wonderful reasons to make myself available for public service, Sandy points out that unfortunately I lack what apparently are the only hard qualifications necessary for those senate seats:  I don't live in either New York or Illinois.