Friday, February 19, 2010

Lumps and Life

Baxter is an elegant dog. He has always been a tad tall for his breed, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, but his long legs and lean body create a perfectly balanced and graceful form beneath his scruffy hair. Baxter is a dog who looks as good wet as he does dry (Kirby, on the other hand, rather needs the fluffy hair). But as he's gotten older, Baxter's beautiful tweedy coat has camouflaged his increasing lumpiness. Thank goodness, the vet tells us these lumps are only lipomas -- benign, fatty growths that are quite common in older dogs, particularly retrievers and other hunting dogs.

It's very hard for me to admit Baxter is getting old. On April 4 he will turn 11 -- he is, most definitely, in his golden years. But he has so much energy, such joie de vivre, it's sometimes hard to see the signs of age. But they're there. When I run my hands down his sides, I feel the landscape of a half-dozen lumps beneath his skin. More on his neck, his chest, down his thighs. All covered by that glorious hair.

The vet always takes meticulous measurements to ensure none are growing at a rapid rate that might suggest some other form of tumor. So far, nothing to worry about, he says. I hope so. I just wish there was something I could do. Some way I could hold off the inevitable decline that begins with a few lumps and the occasional shaky back leg. I don't want to see my boy grow old. I want him to always be the spry, athletic, goofy yet soulful pup I've known and loved for the past decade-plus.

Among other things, one lesson I learned from my father's death is that we must cherish every moment we have with our loved ones. But I sometimes forget this. I too often take my family members -- including our dogs -- for granted. When I get done working, doing all those important things I need to get done, I just know they'll be there.
But they won't.

So today I took a nap with the dogs. Something I haven't done in a while. I stepped away from the computer and curled up next to Baxter on the floor. He stretched and nestled into the crook of my arm. Kirby curled up next to my leg. And we snoozed.
Pure bliss.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kato: A Sad Story with a Happy Ending

Another long period without writing my blog. It has been such a strange few months since we got back from Japan. Some good things have happened. And some sad things have happened, one of which was the passing of my dear uncle in Iowa and the drama that ensued around the fate of his little dog, Kato.

My uncle had no children. His wife had passed away a couple of years ago, leaving him and their new puppy, a little white pomeranian named Kato, to fend for themselves. Life was never quite the same for my uncle after my aunt died, and while Kato was quite a handful for an arthritic fellow in his mid-80s, that little dog seemed to be the only joy in my uncle's life.

Kato was, of course, the little prince of the household. I'm not sure he ever heard the word "no." My aunt and uncle had always had poms, but Kato was by far the liveliest (and, I think, the cutest) puppy they'd ever had. He bounced. He could spin blindingly fast in circles. He did laps around the house. He loved to play in the snow for hour on end. And, as all puppies do, he created mischief.

According to reports from my uncle, Kato mellowed a bit as he matured, but he still maintained an energy level unrivalled by any of his predecessors. Kato's greatest asset was his sweet disposition. He never growled. He seemed to be smiling all the time. He absolutely loved sitting in your lap and would bathe you with kisses if you let him. And it was that loving personality that kept my uncle going day after day.

I took this video of Kato with my phone when my mom and I went to visit my uncle last fall. At the time, I had no idea how significant this little video would be to Kato's future.

We learned the news of my uncle's passing when we returned from Japan. My heart sank. Then my sadness quickly turned to concern -- what about Kato? He had stayed in my uncle's house and was being fed by a neighbor while my uncle was in the hospital. Now what? He needed an immediate temporary home and, at some point, a permanent home.

Still jetlagged from my trip and overwhelmed with a combination of grief and a nasty chest cold, I made finding a safe place for Kato a number one priority. I contacted the national Pomeranian rescue and learned there wasn't a rescue organization taking poms anywhere near my uncle. So I put the word out to some of my friends and family on Facebook... And here's where I most appreciated Facebook's capacity to make connections with old friends.

Through Facebook I had re-connected with Lisa, a dog-loving friend from my childhood days, who still lives in the town where I grew up (the town where my uncle lived). Lisa (dear soul) immediately ran down to the local shelter and asked about rescue resources... Within the day she connected me with Linda, a woman who provides temporary care for dogs in her home. Linda agreed to care for Kato until our family could get back to Iowa or until we made arrangements for his adoption...whichever came first.

The next morning Linda was at my uncle's house, picked-up little Kato (who was, by now, quite confused and lonely) and took him straight to the vet, where I had made arrangements to have him neutered. She picked him up from the vet, took him home, cleaned him up and proceeded to give him as much love and comfort as a sweet, lonely little dog could take.

I turned again to my dog-loving connections and sent around the little video of Kato...hoping that someone among my friends or family back there would want to give him a permanent loving home. A few days later I got a note from one of my cousins...she had sent the video to some dear friends in Minnesota who were looking for a little dog, and Kato's video had simply charmed them.

To make a long story a wee bit less long... I had some long talks with Kato's temporary caregiver (who had also fallen in love with Kato, but couldn't keep him permanently due to family concerns). She said he had been wonderful with her grandchildren, got along splendidly with her cat and would make a fine companion for a family with children. He was just in need of some basic training.

I had a few long talks with the prospective family, asked them questions, told them of Kato's sweet and gentle nature, and made sure they knew Kato would require some firm guidance to learn the rules of the house. They were OK with it all. They seemed like wonderful people. We had a new home for Kato!

When I went back to Iowa for my uncle's funeral I had a chance to visit Kato before his new family came to pick him up. When he saw Mom and me, his little brow furrowed and he got this look of concern on his face... Did he remember us from my uncle's house? He snuggled into my arms and looked up at me with his sweet, dark eyes. At that point I almost had a hard time not packing him up and taking him back to Oregon myself. But I knew this was the right many people had come together to help this little dog. And there was a nice family just a couple of hours away who were incredibly excited about adopting him.

I spoke with Kato's new family recently. He's settling in. The kids love him. It took the cats a while to warm up to him, but now they play chase and get along just fine. He adores playing in the snow and snuggling up in the evening. He's had a few behavior issues to resolve, as expected, but with love and firm guidance, he is making progress. Most of all, he's happy. And his new family is happy. And I know that's what my uncle wanted for his sweet little Kato.