Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Song for September

A little companion story and song for my September post:

In the few weeks before he died, Frodo was having trouble getting up and down the back stairs on the deck to go to the bathroom in the grass.  Unlike some dogs, Frodo always, only, went to the bathroom on the grass, with the sole exception being when it snowed and he decided that a snow-covered deck was no different than snow-covered grass.  So, I started carrying him down there much of the time, but I knew he didn't love it.  Already he had to be carried up to the bed, when just weeks before he could spring up there with the energy of first-grader.  My first plan to solve this problem was to build a ramp, or rather, have my very talented father come up and build a ramp.  I went so far as to take measurements and do geometry, but ultimately decided the project was too involved for something I wasn't sure he would even use; he was a creature of habit and an attempt years ago, during his back injury days, to coax him to walk up those little stairs you can get at Walgreens was met with a blank doggie stare.

Then I had a flash of brilliance. If he couldn't come down to the grass, I'd make the grass come to him.  After a ridiculous attempt to buy sod at Lowe's, where they not only don't carry it, but the garden center clerk didn't even know what it was (Me: "Do you have rolls of sod?" Garden Center Clerk: "Huh. Sod. I don't think so. Maybe. I'm not sure. What is sod anyway? Maybe I should call and ask?" Me: "Yeah, why don't you do that."), I went to a local nursery where you can buy a six foot roll of sod for the utterly reasonable price of five dollars.
After getting it home and lugging it inside (six feet of sod is heavy), I cut it in half (tip: regular scissors will indeed cut through sod!) and laid it out on the back deck.  And suddenly I had a lovely little patch of grass for Frodo to do his business, right out the back door. 

Convincing him to use it was another story.  At first he found it to be a delightful place to lay in the sun, which was just fine with me, though it meant I was still carrying him down the steps.  I was afraid I'd have to sod the entire back deck, in order for him to have the proper square footage to pee and poop and sun. Eventually he began to use it occasionally for its intended purpose, though he never full bought into the notion of the sod patch as a replacement for his precious backyard kingdom, a place where his beagle nose sniffed out all the goings on of the neighborhood cats and squirrels. But the chance to give him a little joy on that little patch of grass was the best five dollars I ever spent.

The sod started to turn brown in his last days.  That's not some sort of metaphor; apparently sod on a deck still needs to be watered.

In the spirit of that little patch of grass, I wanted to post this song. As usual, James Taylor delivers.

"Well, the sun's not so hot in the sky today
And you know I can see summertime slipping on away
A few more geese are gone, a few more leaves turning red
But the grass is as soft as a feather in a featherbed
So I'll be king and you'll be queen
Our kingdom's gonna be this little patch of green
Won't you lie down here right now
In this September grass
Won't you lie down with me now
September grass
Oh the memory is like the sweetest pain..."

It’ll be September all year

When Frodo first got sick back in late June or July, I had a thought that I don't think I ever spoke out loud, because I couldn't fathom it wouldn't be true. "Just make it through to your month, Mr. September."  You see, Frodo had the honor of having one of his adorable photos from Tails Pet Photography featured in the 2013 Barkstown Road calendar and silly as it sounds, all year I'd been looking forward to turning the page over to "his" month.  Mark and I always said he should be famous; he had the personality and looks of a star. 

So much so that when Mark and I were at the vet with him that day, that very early morning, making that awful decision we knew was the right one, we sat beside him and did one of our favorite activities: listing all his good “features,” as well called them, his physical attributes we never got tired of pointing out, features that had become so dear to us, many with nicknames of their own. His soft and floppy ears, the racing stripe down his forehead, the way his eyes matched his eyelashes which matched his orange fur. His pink tongue. The black lining around his eyes we called his “permanent make-up.” The two little spots under his soft, floppy ears. His wet, black nose, seemingly made out of the same material as his rough, black pads. His “seam,” the place where his fur converged under his belly as if he’d been sewn together.  The "fringe" of fur on his hind legs. His striped toenails. The little tufts of iridescent fur between his toes.  The perfect white tip at the end of his tail.  He had so many good features, and so we went on and on and on, naming these features in the shorthand we'd come to know so well. It was a beautiful moment of the two of us saying goodbye to this amazing creature who we loved more than we thought possible.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I’d jump in front of a possum for you

When you called to me that night from the backyard, your familiar voice in a particularly urgent timbre, I knew something was wrong.  There you stood, in between the bush that always needs trimming and the birdbath that never seems to get used, facing off with a very large possum.  He hissed and you made a growl-y sound back, a noise from the back of your throat that I’d never quite heard before.  That you were the one closest to the house, out of the two of you, would seem to make this easy:  you merely need to turn and run inside, and I’ll slam the door behind us.  But your back was to me and I could sense the fear you had of turning and running, afraid this creature would run just a little faster.  As the person who was next in line in this stand-off, I had a bit of the same fear.  

I wondered why the possum didn’t turn and run, up the wooden fence, or around the back of the bush, but even with its hissing bravado I could sense he had the same concern, not wanting to be the first to break the stare.  You stepped forward just a bit, testing the limits, and he countered his slightly-frightened side-step by hissing with increased ferocity.  Then he mirrored your move, and you reenacted his, and for a moment it was like a dance in the boxing ring, two prize fighters moving around an invisible center.  I called to you, but you either didn’t hear me through the adrenaline or you weren’t ready to surrender.  I made a mental inventory of the weapons in the house, a short list it turns out, and I landed on the kitchen broom as the best choice, its length and solid wooden handle making up for the rather wimpy straw-end.   

My only other real option was a heavy glass vase by the back door, and as I imagined a lifetime of picking up shards of glass from the backyard, I quickly went in for the broom.  I could have come back in full offensive mode, swung the broom, and made enough of a distraction to get you inside, but I had another problem.  I’m not much for rodents. Or rather, marsupials with rat-like tails disguising themselves as rodents. My own fears began to take over and I wasn’t sure exactly how close I wanted to get to him.  He was acting more and more agitated; those teeth-baring hissing sounds, the arched back, and onyx eyes gaining in intensity.   You seemed more and more desperate, and the Muhammad Ali re-enactment had now placed you off to the side, and the direct line to the door was no longer direct.  I played out a few scenarios in my mind, all of them involving one of us getting a course of rabies shots and a definite trip to the emergency room.    

And then, with the clarity that comes when the thing you love most is in danger, I acted.  I took the few quick steps to where you stood, grabbed your collar, scooped you up, and ran inside.  Kneeling down to pet your fur, I said, “I love you so much, I’d jump in front of a possum for you.” And if I wrote country songs, I’d write that one for you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Songs for Frodo

Though there is always a lot of music in my life, I've found I tend to turn to it most in the most emotional or difficult times.  I have always enjoyed making mixtapes, or mix CDs, or now, apparently, YouTube/Spotify playlists, for myself or friends... the art of finding just the right songs, with just the right lyrics, in just the right order has been well-documented by many, not the least of which, of course, being Rob Gordon in "High Fidelity."


So, one of the first things I started doing after Frodo died was listening to music, finding some songs of solace for my broken heart.  Many of them weren't particularly dog-specific, but many were, so I decided to make a little (virtual) Dog Mixtape for myself.  There's some good stuff on here, so I thought I'd share it.  And until I can find some more words to write about him, this is a good substitute.  Thanks to all who sent me song suggestions!

(I know I should probably feel bad for using Spotify and YouTube for this, both of which probably pay songwriters actual pennies for using their work, so I promise I'll tip my local musician a little extra to make up for the bad karma.  If you enjoy this, you should do the same.)


Your Adorable Beast -- Bobby Bare, Jr.
This is the song I keep coming back to. Frodo looked so, so cute at the end of my leash.
"Obedient and true, loyal through and through, a fuzzy reflection of you."


Make Me the Man (My Dog Thinks I Am) -- Jimmy Scott
"If I was the man my dog thinks I am, I could do anything.... he must think my name's Superman"

I Love My Dog -- Cat Stevens
"All he asks from me is the food to give him strength
All he ever needs is love and that he knows he'll get....
All the pay I need comes shining through his eyes"

Frodo Nonsense

A couple years ago I took a creative writing class, and one of our assignments was to write an essay (200 words or less) of complete non-sense.  This was mine. 


It’s cold outside, but still I spring from the covers bright-eyed; thankfully my blanket is sewn onto my skin.  The downside to that is I leave pieces of myself everywhere I go.  The nice lady says I’m like a cat the way I clean myself with my tongue, which is ridiculous since I’m nothing like a cat. Still, I do enjoy freshly licked hands.  I use them to arrange my blanket that sits on the pillow which is bigger than I am.  When I eat socks, I get to exchange them for cookies.  Later, walking in the neighborhood, I smell a pizza crust around the corner and make a run for it.  The grass tickles my chin as I run.  It reminds me of chasing motorcycles, though I usually only catch their sound.  Speaking of chasing, there are creatures in my yard that I need to find, but the nice lady calls to me, shaking cookies. She talks to me in a language I cannot speak, write, or understand, and she makes perfect sense. 

Fun Facts About Frodo

A few months ago, Frodo was the Friday Featured Dog on the Facebook page of his favorite pet store, Barkstown Road.  Barkstown's owner, Kim, asked me to submit a few sentences about him, but I couldn't stop at just a few.  

I could write paragraphs about each and every one of these things, but this is a good place to start getting to know him. 


Fun Facts About Me: I am a 12-ish year-old beagle, rescued from the Mid-City Mall parking lot in June 2002 by a nice man and woman; they thought I was lost, but it turns out I was found.  Until I had to retire because of a back injury, I was well-known as the fastest dog at the Morton Avenue Dog Park.  Also, I once pick-pocketed a $100 bill out of someone’s wallet, earning me one of my many nicknames, The Artful Dodger.

Favorite Activities: Making “coves” with the blankets on the bed; walking to Barkstown Road for a treat; practicing my downward dog every morning.

Pet Peeves: Not being able to climb trees to catch squirrels; bad people who stopped good dogs like me from getting to walk on the Big Four Bridge; rain.

Special Talents:  Detecting the smallest piece of pizza crust on the other side of the street while out on a walk; knowing the distinct difference in the sound of a bag of dried fruit vs. the sound of a bag of treats; looking cute.

Dog heroes:  Hope, the Border Collie thrown out of a car on I-65 and rescued & rehabilitated by NoKill Louisville and the Arrow Fund; Ruby and Otis, because their mom owns an ENTIRE STORE full of treats.

Favorite Barkstown Road items:   Honest Kitchen food (Keen!); alligator dental chews;  Rocko’s Rewards treats; the latest trendy and colorful bandana.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Comics for Frodo

I'm not as much of a regular reader of the Sunday comics anymore, but I loved them tremendously as a kid and I still appreciate the way they can convey so much emotion and wisdom in just a few frames. There are probably a ton of doggie-centered comics (plus, obviously, Snoopy/Peanuts), but these three mean a lot to me. 


My mom sent me this cartoon years ago (she’s always been great at sending the best newspaper clippings!). I’ve kept it on my fridge ever since, through several moves. Now, it’s like she gave it to me again.

This one probably came from my mom too.  Happiness is indeed a warm puppy.

I'm not sure where this one came from, but it also has had a place on the fridge for awhile.  Note the date.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Poems for Frodo

(I posted these last week on my facebook page, but wanted to post them here as well.)

I borrowed the first lovely poem below from a friend's facebook page. I remembered him posting it when his sweet dog Sophie died, and thankfully my mental post-it note included the general month and year so I could find it again. The second poem I recalled from my own love of poetry as a perfect ode to losing someone special.  

*I may add to this post as I discover other poems that help me through my grief.  If anyone has poems to include, feel free to send them to me or comment below. 

Oddjob, a Bull Terrier

You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
you do not connect
the sunlight altering
the darkening oleanders
in the sea-garden,
the gold going out of the palms.
You do not connect this,
the fleck of the drizzle
on your flesh,
with the dog’s whimper,
the thunder doesn’t frighten,
the readiness is all;
what follows at your feet
is trying to tell you
the silence is all:
it is deeper than the readiness,
it is sea-deep,

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Remembering Frodo

One week ago I had to say goodbye to the best dog, and friend, I could imagine.  Six years ago, when I had to let go of my sweet rabbit Grizzy, I immediately wrote out a eulogy for her.  It was comforting to write, and in the years since it has been comforting to read, and to send to others when their animal companions died.  But with Frodo, my dog of eleven years, I have been unable to complete more than one or two sentences about his life and how much he was loved.  In part, I believe, because that love was so huge.  But also because there are so many good stories, that distilling them all into one email, or Facebook post, seemed impossible.  I suppose I could have just placed my memories between the pages of a journal, but I have been touched by so many who have shed a tear for Frodo -- either because they knew him, or had heard stories, or just suspected from that sweet face that he was as great a dog as you could find -- and so I wanted to share more of him.

So, a blog is born through the death of a friend.  I hope I can honor him even half as much as he deserves.  

And, because it still rings true, here’s the eulogy I wrote for Grizzy. 


Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness that I must tell you that Grizzy (aka, Griswold V. Connecticut) died last night, peacefully, in her sleep, after a recent illness and stroke.  She would have been 11 years old this June, and has been our beloved pet since August of 1996. 

I'm sending this to all of you because you have known her, helped care for her, loved her, or simply heard stories about her.  As I have been reminiscing about her in the last few days I am reminded again and again what an amazing bunny she was.  She survived copper poisoning due to eating a lamp cord, moves to six different apartments and houses, a fall into my downstairs neighbor's ceiling, and a well-intentioned but unwelcomed addition of a sister in Emma Goldman, the gray lop-eared rabbit some of you knew.  I have gone through countless lint rollers, Radio Shack cord wraps, bags of litter, and bales of hay.  She never tired of her favorite diet of cilantro, mango pieces, broccoli, and phone books. And inside an apartment at 1841 Roanoke Ave, someone is wondering what on earth happened to the wallpaper in the kitchen.

I will remember her through the holes she chewed in my t-shirts, the bunny-pee stains on my kitchen floor, the six-inch stack of photos I unearthed last night.  I will remember the memories of her hopping, jumping, lounging around on her side, washing her face, and cleaning her ears.  I will remember her spunky spirit and her sweet disposition.  I will remember her soft fur and her adorable spot.  She was loving and she was loved.  Not a bad way to live your life... we should all try to do more of each of those. 

It is times like these that I remember how grateful I am for my friends and my family, and for the unconditional love of the companions we bring into our homes as pets.  Someone told me yesterday how courageous the people are who take in animals, knowing that they will, in all likelihood, die before we do.  How true. 

Thanks to all of you for your love and support.  Grizzy would want to thank you too. 

love always,
March 23, 2007