Today is June 14, 2020 and American Flag Day. American history reports that Elizabth Griscom Ross (aka Betsy Ross) sewed the first American flag. Quaker history reports that she grew up in a Quaker family. However, she married outside the faith (eloping with John Ross who was a member of the Church of England) and was expelled from the Religious Society of Friends. (Yes, we did that at one point.) Ross was not, however, a seamstress. She was an upholsterer.
With 115,521 deaths today in the U.S. from COVID-19 many people have experienced the trauma of letting go of a loved one. There is a sorrow that comes with death unlike any other. That sorrow is magnified so much more when it is impossible to be by the side of your loved one in that moment of transition from this life. Sadly there have been too many people lost in this pandemic and too many who have had to let go from a distance. In writing the next few lines I am deeply aware of these realities.
We are letting go this week of one of the Girls, Madison. We took her to the veterinary yesterday to learn why she seemed to be having difficulty walking and was losing weight. Madison is a geriatric dog so her symptoms were not really surprising. She is 14 and a half in human years at least. She may be older, in fact, we suspect she is. We never saw her records because she was a rescue from a puppy mill in Ohio. Our investigation suggested she was at least three years old when she came to us. Geriatric or not, we felt like something wasn’t right and we wanted to have her checked out.
At first, the vet thought it was osteo-arthritis and simply muscle atrophy, which is common in older dogs. Then he did a blood test. The blood test prompted him to do an ultrasound. Then he delivered the news. “It’s her time,” he said. “There is nothing I can do for her. So she is not in pain, I recommend you wait no longer than a week.” He explained in further detail that she was severely anemic, a mass had formed within her, and she was bleeding internally. “It’s her time.”
Madison is not the dog that was supposed to leave us already. Dolly has been contending with Cushing’s Disease and was, in fact, not supposed to live past last July. However, a growth discovered inside her last year was benign and she is still very much alive. This news about Madison came as a shock.
We aren’t sure that it is a shock to Dolly though. We got her a year after Madison and have strong evidence that she is one of Madison’s first pups. For the past several days, before taking Madison to the vet, we noticed that Dolly was staying especially close to Madison. Dogs know stuff, don’t they?
We are making arrangements for Peaceful Passage to come on Friday afternoon to help Madison leave and help us let go. COVID-19 restrictions means that the vet cannot come into our house so we’ll have to prepare to say good-bye to her in the garage. We are grateful that Madison came to our home, we are incredibly sad that she is leaving now, and, yet, we will get to be with her when she does.
In the human world it appears that part of the new normal will be that we cannot be with our family members when they die. This a cruel reality of the pandemic. To those who have already lost loved ones in this time and to those who are to experience it, we wish it were not.
We couldn’t stand it any more. We could both smell them and we didn’t want to be near them. It was time. So I prepared the water and the soap, and Clemencia rounded up Dolly first. The Girls got a bath! (What? You thought I was referring to Bert and Ernie? No way! They are doing fine…unwashed for 33 days and counting!)
Saturday, April 18, 2020 – Live to Blog from the Bath
Dolly and Madison Come Clean
The great thing about sheltering-in-place is that we get to do all those things we should be doing more regularly but usually don’t because we think we’ve got better things to do. Bathing the dogs is one of those tasks that becomes unavoidable when we can’t leave the house. We did avoid it for five weeks but that seemed as far as I could push it. “Would you like to help me give the Girls a bath?” was Clemencia’s siren call that I could not resist. Nor would it be wise for me to resist any longer.
The Girls are pretty good about getting baths though it is not their favorite way to spend a Saturday. Today I got the water at just the right temperature and I think they found it quite soothing and relaxing. You know how dogs, when they are getting a bath, always seem to the do the wet dog shake from head to toe at just the wrong moment? It only happened once today…with Madison…who is usually looking for a way to best me anyway.
From what we have learned, we believe Madison is Dolly’s mother. Both were rescues from of a “backyard breeder” puppy mill in Ohio. The breeder specialized in parti-colored miniature schnauzers. In this case they are “liver” and white. “Liver” – what a horrible name for a color! (Great with onions though!)
Miniature schnauzers are considered to be hypoallergenic dogs because they shed very little and their coats are generally safe for people with allergies. This is because they have hair rather than fur. Madison’s hair is extremely fine, soft, and full. In fact, it feels almost like fluffy cotton balls. Dolly has the more traditional miniature schnauzer hair – is it short and a bit wiry, kind of like mine these days.
Madison came to us in 2008. She had been, from what we could learn before she “disappeared” from the breeder’s website, the star breeder. Her disposition is incredibly sweet and her coloring is beautiful. We suspect she was so popular because of the color and composition of her hair. She was bred nonstop from the earliest age possible. Her pups were sold at a premium, probably to pet shops. She had been over-bred by December of 2007 and her uterus prolapsed. She nearly died birthing her last litter and they had to be taken surgically. She was of no more use to the breeder and so was scheduled to be put down. However, the dog rescue was able to convince the breeder to let them take her and find her a new home. They agreed, spayed her, scrubbed her AKC records, and she was removed (shortly after we got her) from their website.
When we met Madison, we did not pick her. She picked us. Actually, she picked Clemencia. We were sitting on the floor and she walked over to Clemencia, licked her face, and then stood guard – not allowing any of the other dogs to get close to her. That was all it took.
A year later we went back to get Dolly from the same rescue. Clemencia had found her on the rescue’s website and fell in love with her. Dolly was about a year, maybe two, younger than Madison. Because we were given no paperwork from the breeder, we’ve never known their ages for sure. On the website she also looked very much like Madison. Clemencia, Madison, and I made the trip to see Dolly. However, we didn’t recognize her as the dog on the website. She was an incredibly homely dog and looked nothing like that dog and nothing like Madison. But Madison recognized her. She went to her and began to care for her like a mother cares for one of her pups. Again, Madison made the choice by choosing the only dog in the room that was likely one of her first puppies.
We later found other evidence of their mother/daughter relationship. First, there was their names – Dolly and Madison. Dolly’s name was originally spelled “Dolley” on the paperwork. They were named, apparently, after the former First Lady, whose name was spelled the same. We don’t believe their names were a coincidence. Then Clemencia’s research found that Madison had been bred to Dolly’s father. And, finally, we watched their interaction. It was, from the beginning, very loving and they have always been inseparable. In our minds, all of this says they are mother and daughter and that is how they are introduced.
Like any rescue animals, Madison and Dolly came to us with “issues.” Neither knew how to play and, to this day, they play very little. Both had been debarked by the breeder and they had all the other things done to them to give them the unique miniature schnauzer look. We call Madison a “pillow” because her favorite thing to do is to lay next to either of us or sit on our laps (well, more accurately, mostly Clemencia’s lap). Dolly is more high strung and anxious. We believe she had been maltreated by children because she gets very anxious and frightened around them. Hence, we have always made sure she has maintained “social distance” from children. Dolly is considered “my” dog because she is more inclined to hang out with me than with Clemencia…though she is usually – even as I write this – laying near Clemencia as she works in her office.
By the way, Dolly has become a beautiful dog. We don’t know if that is because she has physically become more beautiful or if she has become more beautiful in our eyes. I suspect it is a little bit of both.
Madison is 14 now and Dolly is soon to be 13. Over a year ago Dolly was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and has been on daily medication for it. However, the medication only postpones the inevitable for about 3 years. We are watching her slowly deteriorate and know that it will not be long before she will need to leave us. Our commitment to our pets has always been death with dignity and without pain when the time comes. This is part of the Iowa and Colombia farm ethic we both grew up with. When we know the time is near, and before she suffers, we will call our friends at Peaceful Passage, and let her go as we hold her in our arms of love, comfort, and appreciation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we humans could transition with so little pain and yet so much dignity and grace?
Coffee with Alonzo and Starlee
We started our Saturday morning with Alonzo and Starlee again over coffee on Zoom. We’ve decided to make this a standing weekly engagement since none of us are going anywhere on Saturdays for a while. We talked bidets again only briefly but long enough to let them know we had been inspired by them and had ordered our own. For fun, we explored the topics of epidemiology, why some people test negative for COVID-19 yet still have the symptoms (is the test bad?), how to determine if public figures have a particular psychopathology or are just intrinsically evil, and comparisons of COVID-19 infection rates and death rates in their part of the world and ours. Overall, a very light conversation indeed! Next week we’ll try to be much more serious. Promise.
Here’s a great weekend treat from Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe from their television show appropriately titled SCTV. This sketch appears to have come out of it’s first season, in 1976 and 1977. Each of the cast members you see in this clip went on to fame as actors and comedians. See if you can recognize them!
Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep valuing the pets in your life for joy and love offer, especially in difficult times.