Lap dog

The Little Peanut: Charlotte

It’s 9:15 on a Saturday morning, utterly silent in the beach house where we’re staying. I’m sitting in a recliner with a hard-cover book and a mug of coffee.

To my left is a view of the ocean, with waves pulsing onto the shore. Straight ahead is a ceiling fan, its three blades soundlessly slicing the air. A black, furry creature has settled onto my outstretched legs, facing away from me and scrunched into a comfortable sleeping position.

It’s Charlotte, of course, and we’re enjoying the peace and quiet before everyone else in the house gets up to start their day.

I’m enjoying this book of spiritual, non-spiritual essays by Brian Doyle, the late Portland writer beloved by so many who embraced his one-of-a-kind approach toward syntax and punctuation, and appreciated his musings about love and grace and wonder and kindness.

I suppose it’s a combination of Doyle’s perspective and the luxury of sitting here alone with my thoughts that prompts me, ironically, to put down the book and let my mind wander.

If I were at home, I’d have opened this laptop and started in grading the latest batch of online homework submitted by my students. But, no, not this time.

This is what I thought of: my lap dog.

On a quiet walk above the water.

From her wet nose to her tucked-in tail, she measures about 18 inches. I can feel the rhythm of her breath as she inhales and exhales, inhales and exhales. My hand glides down her muscular back, from just below her collar to her haunches. I linger for a moment on her ears, soft as rose petals, gently rubbing them between thumb and two fingers.

She woke me up this morning, her chocolate eyes and fist-sized face about four inches from my own and her tail going like a windshield wiper.

We’ve owned five other dogs, but this one has captured my heart like no other. I think it’s because she is a perfectly imperfect dog.

Charlotte has an underbite that means her upper lip doesn’t quite come all the way down on the right side. She has a mouthful of teeth resembling two rows of craggy Chiclets, and a wispy beard that can make her look raggedy or regal, depending on your view. She’s also got a shrill bark that seems more likely to come from a dog ten times her size.

Lil’ Char is a rescue dog whose backstory we’ll never know. She’s a survivor of the streets, for sure, picked up by animal control when she was just a year old, with her puppy alongside her. They were separated at the pet adoption shelter. We got Charlotte, the assertive,  headstrong and surprisingly affectionate mother. Someone else took home her pup. Who knows what they got?

I really should get up and freshen my coffee, I think. I really should get started grading those online assignments. I really should pick up the book again.

But, no, not now. Let me gaze at the ceiling fan for another moment, Let me turn my head to the surf. Let me sit here, just sit, with my perfectly imperfect lap dog.

Resolved: Get outdoors!

Somehow I managed to go nearly an entire year without hauling my butt down to Tryon Creek State Park, one of the most scenic, soul-satisfying places in the metro area.

Until Monday of this week, I hadn’t paid a visit to this beautiful place, barely 10 minutes away from downtown Portland. It’s quite the urban refuge, with its second-growth forest, intersecting trails and meandering creek, fresh air and plenty of peace and quiet.

So after an invigorating half-hour run, I knew what my 2020 resolution would be: to spend more time outdoors.

Lately, I’ve been getting more of my exercise at the gym near our home, most often in the pool or on a bike in a cycling class. Running on those bark-lined trails at Tryon Creek reminded me how much I’ve always enjoyed doing so outdoors.

I followed up two days later with a New Years Day morning run, with a light rain that let up after a few minutes on another half-hour run in my urban neighborhood.

I’ve got plenty of resolutions to work on this year. Many are familiar ones: Drink more water. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Limit the sweets and second helpings. Others are new, private ones: No details here but they’re all aimed at improving my sense of personal conduct and consideration for others.

I hope to hold myself accountable on the “Get outdoors!” resolution in more than one way. Aside from running, there will be plenty of opportunity to hop on my bike, explore new hiking trails in the city and around the region, and take my little friend, Charlotte, with me on neighborhood walks.

Speaking of which…

The wild place next door

By Tim Akimoff

You wake up and hear the birds chirping. Your cat left another chewed up mouse on your doorstep. There’s a lump of something unidentifiable on the side of the freeway during your commute to work. The evening news shows a picture of a young bear that was killed because it became habituated to humans. 

Your interactions with the natural world are limited. 

But you watch slow-motion nature shows, richly voiced by celebrity conservationists. There are all those YouTube videos of ferrets chasing down snow rabbits, morons getting too close to a bison at Yellowstone National Park and that one guy who has a tame black panther that gives him hugs. So you’re savvy about nature.  

I walk for an hour in the Fairview Wetlands every day. They are directly across from my office in an industrial park. I have walked them every day for almost four years now. I have seen a lot in those four years, but the more I go, the less I understand the place. Or, rather, the more I have questions about the beautiful complexity of a seasonal life. 

January, and the ground is hard. Not frozen, but unyielding. The branches are bare, the wind just moves through as a whole. And there are not very many people out walking in the blustery weather. It’s bleak, and I’m mesmerized by the waterfowl that have taken up residence in the big pond. They are getting their mating colors. They’re loud, and they bring an energy to the place that belies the barren sullenness of that season. 

March, and the ground has softened, the ice has thawed, and there are little indicators of life on the wind, though it still blows through the place unbroken. There is water everywhere. A few brave people walk the trails now, though they do so with earphones in or with a phone extended in front of them. Of course, I’m no different, I’m looking at this place through a digital interface. I use a plant ID app to tell me if I’m seeing a native aquatic plant or something invasive. I use eBird to count the birds. I use iNaturalist to indicate whether I’ve seen a Pacific tree frog or a Bull frog. And I see everything through a Canon digital camera with a 400mm lens. 

May, and we’re at the height of the spring migration. There are a dozen varieties of warblers, small, often yellow or some combination thereof, bird that winters in Central America and flies through Oregon to the wide-open spaces up north, and the green-up is in full force, and the wind now moves through slowly, playing the leaves as chimes above my head.  

August, and the water is gone, tall, dry, brown grasses dominate the landscape, and the migrants have migrated. The local birds: The Scrub jays, the Black-capped Chickadees, the Downy woodpeckers, the American goldfinches and the Cooper’s hawk form a microcosm of a community, otherwise known as an ecosystem. It is not a friendly one, in that the Cooper’s hawk must eat, and the Cooper’s hawk eats birds. The other birds know this and try to keep the Cooper’s hawk from eating by harassing it constantly. The wind has a voice in the drying leaves and tall grasses that sounds like loud whispers. Other people say that the Cottonwoods like to gossip. 

November, and the rains trickle down the feeder creeks and the hillsides into the depression that is the wetlands. The ponds slowly fill, and the south-migrating shore birds find their way to the shallow waters to feed on invertebrates coming back to life in the thirst-quenching waters that always travel downhill. As the shorebirds depart, the ducks and geese move in, often overwintering on the big pond. A few will stay into the next spring and raise their young in the ponds, a race for survival against the weather clock. The leaves have mostly fallen, and the wind is drowned out by the sound of the rain falling on fallen leaves.  

The wetlands were designed by my brother when he worked as the wetlands manager for the City of Salem. That I get to enjoy them every day is a gift, one he left to me and to many others. And most importantly to the wildlife that live there and those that stop in for a bit on the shoulder seasons.  

Tim Akimoff: Appreciating and documenting the natural world

Tim Akimoff worked as a reporter for newspapers, television and radio in Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Chicago for a decade, before going to work for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a writer and social media coordinator. He says, “I like Hemingway’s work ethic, Vonnegut’s morbid comedy, Fairey’s street art and canned fish.”

Editor’s note: I met Tim in 2005, when he was a University of Oregon student and I was The Oregonian’s recruiter. He joined the newsroom as a reporting intern that fall and I have seen him build his multimedia skills and polish his writing every year since. His wildlife photography is stunning.

Tomorrow: Lillian Mongeau Hughes | When you’re sitting on a plane: A reflection on a mother’s love

A trio of terriers and one red dog

terrier trio

It’s treat time at the dog park and these three are ready to snack. From left: Penny, Charlotte and Coco.

They are three lovable rascals named Coco, Penny and Charlotte. All three are a terrier mix of some kind. All three are female. All three are rescue dogs. And along with their buddy, a handsome male Shiba Inu named Yukai, they are the reason why Lori and I met up with their owners for a potluck in the park on Sunday evening.

More precisely, we were at the elementary school in our Northeast Portland neighborhood where our four dogs formed a canine friendship that has transferred over to us humans. We come from the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and Western Europe. We represent three generations. We are two married couples and two single people.

Yes, we are all dog people. But we wouldn’t have become friends so quickly — or maybe  even at all — were it not for our “girls” and Yukai.

***

There’s a small athletic field where the three terriers have been romping around on the emerald-green grass for the past six months or so, rolling and tumbling and chasing each other as if they had known each other all their lives. Yukai, meanwhile, stays on his long leash, acting as something of a sergeant-at-arms should any visiting dog get too rowdy.

Seeing them play never fails to bring a smile. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, we know we can take pleasure in seeing these creatures greet each other and tear across the field. Makes any personal stresses melt away.

What’s remarkable is how they’ve spurred a friendship among six people who could not be more different as individuals.

dog people

Dog people, from left: Arturo and Lindsey with Penny; George R., Laura, Lori with Charlotte, and George W.

There’s George W., owner of Coco. He’s a mid-40s public engagement specialist for a regional government agency, Raised in Arkansas and educated at Harvard, George is gregarious, well-traveled and an “11” on a friendliness scale of 1-to-10.

There’s Lindsey and Arturo, owners of Penny. They are a married couple in their early 30s. Lindsey is from Orange County, California, and works for a vacation rentals company, often taking Penny to work with her. Arturo works for Nike and comes from Barcelona, Spain, where he and Lindsey met when she was a study-abroad student. The two complement each other well with their warm personalities.

There’s Lori and I, owners of Charlotte. We grew up in San Francisco and its suburbs, respectively.

And there’s Laura, about the same age as Lori and me, who is the owner of 11-year-old Yukai. She’s originally from Minnesota and also works for Nike as a consultant. Laura is direct, assertive and witty. She walks the neighborhood streets with her red dog and two cats. It’s quite the sight, with the two felines trailing behind and occasionally taking cover behind a bush or plant.

George adopted Coco last November. Lindsey and Arturo adopted Penny in January. We’ve had Charlotte for four years and Laura has had Yukai for twice as long.

***

The reason for the potluck?

Lindsey and Arturo are leaving their apartment, located across the street from the school, and are moving to a house they bought in Southwest Portland. We’re all happy to see them buy their first home, but sad to know we won’t see them as often. They’ve promised to visit from time to time.

We wanted to send them off with a casual gathering and so we did it Sunday. The dogs were well behaved when they weren’t fully occupied with each other and Yukai kept a regal eye on things. The food was delicious. Laura brought enough banana bread that we could share a slice with a few others who came later — a couple whose Australian Shepherd is another regular at the park and an 8-year-old girl who’s won our hearts as someone who adores each of our pets.

She’s Katie. She lives near the school and she visits often, with her younger brother or her best friend, and frequently joins us in a seated circle on the lawn. She knows all of her our names, she throws balls for the dogs, and keeps up to date on school and her other activities.

Her brother Alex and mother, Jo, showed up last night, too. Jo has had a plot in the same school/community garden as Lori, so we’ve met her before.

As we enjoyed the perfect weather and tasty meal, we all agreed how serendipitous it was that just the right circumstances brought us together. All of us were looking for a place to exercise our dogs. We found it and much more: a community of dog owners who’ve transcended generational differences to find friendship.

There’s no doubt we owe it to Coco, Penny and Charlotte — and Yukai.

Previously on this blog: Charlotte’s playground

Charlotte’s playground

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Charlotte romps at the schoolyard park with Coco, up close, and Penny in the distance.

Is there anything that quite defines “joy” as seeing a dog romping across a grassy field, ears back, eyes wide, running and tumbling with other canines?

Didn’t think so.

Lately, Lori and I have been treated to this sight over and over again at the neighborhood school two blocks from our home. For the past several weeks, Charlotte and a growing number of four-legged friends have been running with abandon in that sweet spot between dinner and dusk.

Our little black beauty is especially joyous chasing — or being chased by — Coco and Penny, two similar-sized dogs with similar temperaments. The three of them greet each other like best friends and quickly launch into play, darting in and around us, and invariably winding up in a whirling ball of fur.

charlotte-2

Charlotte gets a taste of her own medicine as Penny nips at her heels.

This wouldn’t normally strike anyone as remarkable — a few dogs running around a partially fenced-in athletic field. But if you knew Charlotte’s back story like we do, you’d appreciate how far she’s come in her socialization with other dogs and her trust of their humans.

Like Coco and Penny, little Charlotte is a terrier-mix and a rescue dog, with a past no one really knows. We adopted her in October 2014, as a scrawny 11-pound, 2-year-old mother who’d been picked up on the street with her puppy. She’s now five years old, tipping the scales at 16-plus pounds, and well adapted to our home. (Her puppy was adopted out to another home.)

charlotte-park

Charlotte catches her breath after another round of chase.

Two years ago, though, she and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed big dogs at a dog park in another part of town. Charlotte suffered a bite wound near her tail and I escaped with scratches, a bloody lip and a torn jacket. Even after she mended, we were wary of situations where she might get targeted again by larger dogs.

That’s why it’s been such a pleasure to see Charlotte run free in the company of other animals she knows and likes, and to also let other adults pet her between romps on the grass.

It wasn’t always like this. Charlotte’s always been one to bark at strangers rather than approach them.  But within this little circle of friends, she’s also becoming trusting of Penny’s owners, Arturo and Lindsey, and Coco’s human, also named George.

She also gets along very well with Yukai, a handsome Shiba Inu, and his owner, Laura, who carries around a small pouch of dog treats and jokingly refers to herself as “the doggie crack lady.”

On the most recent Sunday night, Charlotte was the first arrival at what I’ve come to think of as her own private playground. When Penny and Coco showed up, it was as if another party had begun. Another round of joy.

charlotte-mothers day

Charlotte strikes a pose on Mother’s Day 2018.

A quiet Christmas

It’s coming up on 10 o’clock the morning after Christmas and all is peaceful in the Rede abode and in our neighborhood.

Slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and put Norah Jones and James Taylor on the CD player. (Some things don’t change.)

Outside, the distant rumble of a garbage truck making its rounds is the only sound disrupting the silence. Patches of white on the street and sidewalk bear witness to the light snowfall that we had on Christmas Eve. The mercury hasn’t moved much since then, although I’m looking at sunshine and blue skies.

For the past several weeks, the message to Buy! Buy! Buy! has been hard to escape as retailers, advertisers and marketers throw all their energy at us from every which way — print, TV, radio and especially online. We’ve gone from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Last-Minute Bargains to End-of-Year Blowout Sales without missing a beat.

Whew. And, no thanks.

***

We had a quiet Christmas this year. Simple and meaningful and celebrated in two phases.

With our youngest son and his family in Missouri, we took the opportunity to visit them in early December, well ahead of the stress that comes along with Christmas travel. We enjoyed the company of Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn over the course of five days and four nights without the manufactured pressure of the holidays.

We did indulge in the spirit of the season, however, with a nighttime visit to the ranch where Anheuser-Busch raises its famous Clydesdale horses. Holiday lights, hot cocoa, handfuls of kettlecorn, and a close-up view of these magnificent animals made for a chilly but memorable evening.

Back in Portland, we celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve with our other two children during a Five Dog Night.

Nathan and girlfriend Sara came over with Uni, their Yorkshire Terrier, and Hector, their rescue mutt. Simone came over with Quimby, my favorite Chihuahua, and Templeton, a Mini-Me version of an Irish Wolfhound. (Her wife, Kyndall, was unable to join us as she was committed to visiting family members in eastern Washington and Idaho.) Charlotte, as the rambunctious hostess, made it five four-legged creatures.

Dinner, drinks and dessert were a nice set-up for Punderdome, a card game for pun lovers. (Truth be told, the gathering also served as an early birthday celebration for yours truly.)

When it came time to leave, the streets were slick and icy enough that Simone spent the night, resulting in bonus time with our daughter on Christmas morning.

As dusk arrived, we kicked our plans into gear: Grab an early dinner at Frank’s Noodle House, a family-run joint featuring Chinese hand-pulled noodles, and then head on over to the Hollywood Theater to see “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Frances McDormand delivers a powerful performance as a strong-willed mother taking extreme measures to prod local law enforcement into doing more to solve her daughter’s murder. Great movie with a cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage.

(Interesting that the movie is set in Missouri. Not really, though. No such place as Ebbing. Plus, the film was shot in North Carolina.)

All in all, a very nice celebration. Even when it’s not possible to have all your loved ones in a single place, there’s a way to celebrate separately with meaning.

xmas-obama

A Christmas gift for the two of us. Miss him.

 

8 for the 8th

During the past month, I pushed everything to the side — gladly — to make room for Voices of August, the annual wordfest that features one guest blog post each day for 31 days.

With a new month already begun, I’m giving myself permission to look back at a few things of note. More precisely, eight things during the eighth month of the year. No surprise that they would touch on a few favorites: baseball, beer and the beach, live music, movies, education and exercise. In chronological order…

(Click on images to view captions.)

1. Liz Longley at DougFir Lounge.

Third time seeing this indie artist in Portland — and she gets better every time.

2. Escape to the Oregon Coast.

While Portland and the Willamette Valley endured triple-digit heat, Lori and I and Charlotte visited our friends Steve and Kelly Kern at their home in Manzanita.

3. School’s out. Taught two summer session classes, back-to-back, at Portland State.

4. Brewskis. Found my way to The Wayfinder, an awesome brewpub in inner Southeast Portland, with the help of a friend who works in the area.

george-david

Sampling one of more than a dozen beers on tap with David Quisenberry.

5. The Bodacious Bakers. More live music, featuring siblings we’ve known since their pre-K days.

clara-marshall baker

Clara Baker performs an original composition with brother Marshall during a show at the Alberta Street Pub on Aug. 10.

6. At the movies. Went to the Living Room Theater in downtown Portland to see “Detroit,” a film based on a police raid at a motel that occurred during the 1967 riots. Very well done and very hard to watch, given the white cops-on-black civilians violence that was fueled by blatant racism. Watch the trailer here.

7. At the ballpark. Caught a Thursday night ballgame between the Hillsboro Hops and the Boise Hawks. Well played game that included a late home run to seal a 7-1 win for the home team in this Northwest League contest.

8. Exercise! My morning routine pretty much fell apart at the beginning of the year, when I was scrambling to keep up with three college classes and a part-time job at a nonprofit. Things got so bad I logged fewer than 10 exercise days a month for five consecutive months. July brought 18. August 21!

 

george-knee

So then I ruined my momentum by falling off my bike on a neighborhood ride. Lesson learned? Never use your front brake only when riding with one hand.

Not always right, but always sure 

Orca1

Who wouldn’t be obsessed with this affectionate, quirky and adorable creature?

By Alana Cox

I never liked cats. I always thought they had an agenda, and I was sure they could tell I wasn’t a “cat person.”

A friend’s cat, the aptly named Scamper, scratched me across the neck when I was little. Our cat growing up, Prancer, was a good cat because she was so dog-like. She went with us on walks and hunted around the yard. Unfortunately, unlike our dog, she could actually catch the animals she chased with rather macabre results.

My husband had been begging me for a cat for our entire relationship. I put him off and said maybe when we bought a house I’d think about it. Finally, after an amazing trip to Orcas Island, we adopted a little tuxedo cat and named her Orca.

Orca the Killer Kitten can be found on Instagram @orcakitty. I am #obsessed with her. She is affectionate and quirky and adorable. And it has me wondering what other arbitrary but firm positions I have that I need to reconsider.

Orca2

Orca the Killer Kitten

I’ve always been pretty risk averse. I have also always had a pretty extensive list of non-negotiables that I would defend to the end. Super important stuff, like Viva is the only brand of paper towels worth its salt, and mushrooms taste earthy in a “taste-like-dirt” sense. As a non-practicing attorney, I have to hone my debate skills on something (read: everything).

But Orca, among other things, has me wondering if I need to check my premises and become more ready to take a leap. What else am I wrong but sure about? What else am I missing?

Like most people, when I was a teenager I thought I knew everything, and that is a lesson I need to keep on learning. I still don’t know everything.

Maybe I could enjoy snorkeling more now than I did when I was 15 (but fish are creepy when you’re on their turf!). Maybe I won’t spend the rest of my career in government (but I love public service! Maybe I should get over the dim lighting and gore and get into Game of Thrones. Maybe the city I landed in by coincidence and timing isn’t meant to be my forever home.

Alana Cox

Alana Cox

So this year I am resolved to think less about the worst thing that could happen (bad cat scratches up house and human!) and more about the best (cutest cat in history softens heart!). I am excited to find out what else I am wrong about (it’s not mushrooms, though, those are gross).

***

Alana Cox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband, Jason, and kitty Orca.  

Editor’s note: Alana is a daughter of our dear friends Tom and Elsa Guiney. We’ve watched her move through the stages of life, from cuddly infant to teenager and college student to fun, responsible adult. And now, cat owner.

Tomorrow: John Knapp, The odometer

Yes, this dog

By Lynn St. Georges

“No. Not this dog.” Jim’s eyes swelled with tears.

It was June 30, 2005, five days after our dog, Maggie, had to be euthanized. She was only 10 years old but her suffering from congestive heart failure had grown too severe.

Worse, it had been just two months since Jim had to close his business and file for disability. Decades of living with a particularly virulent form of Hepatitis C that was unresponsive to any treatments had resulted in decompensated liver disease. Jim had hepatic encephalopathy, which negatively affected his cognition. Ironically, it was diagnosed after he was unable to follow my directions to take Maggie to the vet cardiologist.

Maggie

Sweet Maggie

For four days after Maggie died, I stayed home from work. Jim’s clinical depression was in overdrive. I only recently made him sell the handgun he had gotten from his father decades before.

On the fifth day, I said, “Enough. We are going to the shelter to get a dog.”

“But I’m not ready to replace Maggie,” he responded. I explained that this would be a new dog because we could never replace sweet Maggie. “And,” I continued, “I can’t keep missing work.” I drug him to the car and drove to the shelter, ignoring his protests.

As we walked down the aisle of kennels, mostly big black dogs that were lab mixes excitedly leapt around their cages. “Take ME!” they seemed to bark. We kept walking down the aisle until we came to a small, cream-colored terrier mix. The dog was crouched into a fetal curl, visibly quivering.

Maggie was a small, cream-colored dog.

I stopped and Jim looked at the dog and then at me. He looked back at the dog. “No. No. Not this dog.”

Ignoring him, I went with my gut. I left Jim and went to find an attendant to let this terrified animal out to meet us. The three of us entered a get-acquainted room and the dog, who we learned was named Lily, jumped into my lap and furiously licked my face. I looked at Jim and again his eyes filled with tears. Maggie never gave kisses.

Lynn St. Georges

Lynn St. Georges

We were being hurried to make a decision. Lily had been at the shelter a week and a rescue organization had been called to pick her up and take her to a foster home since she was so stressed out. While waiting we learned that Lily had been picked up as a stray in the street a week before. Since she was micro chipped the shelter called her owner, who told the shelter, “she’s not worth the money to bail out.” They said she was two-to-three years old. The person from the rescue organization was there waiting for our decision.

“I want to get this dog,” I told Jim. We’d been together decades and he knew me well enough to know I meant it. He angrily left and waited in the car while I completed the adoption papers. When Lily and I finally joined him, Lily jumped into his lap and I drove home.

We walked Lily into the house on her leash and unleashed her. She immediately leapt onto the end of our couch, ran across the top of it, leapt over the corner table and lamp onto the love seat, raced across the top of that to the far end, where she landed on the throw pillow, squishing it with her front paws while circling a few times and then lay down panting and looking at us with what can only be described as joy. “So this is how it’s going to be then,” I said to her. I looked at Jim and he was smiling.

I went back to work and Jim fell in love with Lily, who fell very hard in love with Jim. They were a twosome. I was the food person and Lily really did not care much for me beyond that. Two weeks after we brought Lily home, we took a 2-week road trip through the Canadian Rockies. Jim used to tease that he figured Lily thought she was adopted by vagabonds.

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Jim, Lynn and Lily, aka the vagabonds, in Alberta, Canada.

The years passed and Lily remained solely devoted to Jim. It wasn’t until a few weeks before he died that she suddenly became my dog. I never knew if she intuited his death and figured she’d better befriend me, or if she knew I would need her after he died; regardless, she was now my dog. It felt cruel to me that Jim was still living, but I’m not sure he really noticed the switch.

The night Jim died in our bed, Lily was lying on his legs. Two hours later the mortuary van arrived, and she remained on him while the two men came in. I finally had to force her to leave him as they bagged him up and wheeled him out, Lily and I laying on the bed the entire time.

Lily loved Jim so much. Whenever I would ask her, “Where’s Daddy?”, she’d lift her head and raise her ears and look around, her tail wagging furiously. The morning after he died, I looked at her and asked, “Lily, where’s Daddy?” and she did not react. She lay there looking at me. She knew better than I did. Daddy was gone.

This little dog who was such a man’s dog became my dog. I considered giving her away because I had to go back to the office, and I had no idea how to leave her alone all day when she was used to having a companion and would pee on the floor if distressed. I mentioned my idea to my two neighbors, who both told me to give them a house key and they would take care of her. I would come home from work and some days Lily would be gone, at a neighbor’s house. Some days the TV would be changed to a children’s station, and I knew Ava and her mom, Julie, had been inside. Some days there was a note from Julie and Ava: “We love you, Lynn!” And in spite of how much I did not want to share my private space with others, I learned that being cared for was necessary. I learned that like Lily, I had to open my heart to live.

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Lily visiting at Ava’s home.

Since Jim died in September 2009, Lily has grown overly obsessed with me. I worry that she worries too much. I acknowledge that I project my feelings on her, anthropomorphizing my thoughts and actions on her. I presume it’s because she watched her beloved daddy die, and she figured that was not going to be something she would endure again.

Then I met Keith and Lily had a new daddy, a new man to love, this man-loving creature. And she fell in love with Keith, but her devotion to me is too strong now. She can’t bear if I am out of the room for more than a minute and comes to find me. I worry about her devotion, which feels like an unhealthy obsession.

keith & lily

Keith, Daddy No. 2, and Lily.

Now my old girl is pushing 15 years old. Her eyes are clouded with age. She has periods of incontinence. She still loves to play, but not as long or as hard. She gets more-easily annoyed by the cats. Her anxiety over my whereabouts worsens. And I worry about her now, too. Our bond is ridiculously strong and it worries me, for us both.

I expect she will cross Rainbow Bridge while I am still alive, and I know that I will drop to my knees. She is, in some respects, a thread to my late husband. I worry about the time when it’s time. Living at the edge of the world here on the north Oregon coast, there are no emergency vets. I can’t see to drive at night in the rain on dark mountain roads. What will I do if the time comes when it’s not a good time, as it always does? These worries keep me from my sleep. I lie in bed and listen for her snoring, knowing she is there and not needing my attention. For today, we are well.

Lily

My girl and my heart, Miss Lily Ann Belle

***

Lynn St. Georges lives on the north Oregon coast with her partner, Keith, four cats and this amazing canine named Lily.

Editor’s note: I met Lynn in 2009 after she had written about her mother’s death in a letter to the editor to The Oregonian. An exchange of emails led to a friendship between us. She became a member of my bowling team for one season and a steadfast supporter of VOA. She is strikingly honest, having chronicled her journey of grief, loss and love on this blog.  

Tomorrow: Eric Wilcox, Risky business: Getting involved

Little Charlotte

george-charlotte

Taking a break in the shade with Charlotte during a neighborhood walk on a hot afternoon.

While Lori spends another couple days in the Midwest with our granddaughter, I’m getting lots of one-on-one time with Charlotte, our little rescue dog.

If yet another blog post about our sweet-but-sassy border terrier mix prompts an eyeroll, so be it.

I used to be a cat person for a long time, appreciative of their independence and their impeccable grooming, but it’s safe to say I’ve done a 180. Why? I think it’s because it’s dawned on me that a dog’s unabashed affection and loyalty are wonderful qualities, not to be taken for granted.

I think I appreciate those qualities — and Charlotte’s spirited personality — even more because they are such a respite from the daily rat race and toxic political environment that we find ourselves in. Charlotte is tail-wagging happy when she wakes up in the morning; run-around-the-house excited when I come home from teaching in the middle of the day; and still plenty playful when I return again in the late afternoon.

It’s enough to make a grown man want to give that love back to an animal who’s won my heart in a way no dog before her has. Her elegant, royal name is such a contrast to her terrier-pug features, highlighted by an underbite and a tuft of unruly whiskers beneath her chin.

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Lori ‘s been in Missouri since Thursday, visiting with our son Jordan and daughter-in-law Jamie so she can be there for Emalyn’s first birthday. She comes home tomorrow night and I know Charlotte will be beside herself when Lori walks in the door.

We’ve been holding down the fort in the meantime. (Mabel doesn’t lift a paw, but that’s the nature of a cat.)

Saturday was an especially nice day.

— I took Charlotte to Normandale Park in Northeast Portland, thinking she might like spending time in the enclosed small-dog park there. Before we even got near, a scruffy little dog, even smaller than Charlotte, came scampering across the lawn toward us. Instant friends.

The two dogs romped around, chasing each other in tight circles, as if they’d known each other a long time. It was gratifying to see inasmuch as the last time I took Charlotte to a dog park was that day in November when two big dogs, off-leash, came charging after her and bit me instead. This outing was a contrast in every way. Plus, Charlie’s owners were awfully nice.

— That afternoon, I took Charlotte to the pet supplies store near our home. I’d been told the day before that there was going to be a little party with special treats for the furry ones.

Turned out the sales clerk was off by a week. But she offered to fetch a frozen doggie treat for Charlotte — a dogsicle made from fermented goat milk and blueberries. Charlotte’s become a regular there at Pet Pros. She’s gotten to know the help and now goes behind the counter, where she knows she’ll get a cookie or two. She sits and takes it from the hand, something she never would have done before. Ordinarily, she barks aggressively at most other dogs and defensively at humans she doesn’t know, so this behavior is nice to see.

After dinner the TV comes on, and Charlotte settles onto my lap and stretches out toward the screen. Soon enough she’s snoozing. The thought that she was picked up as a stray running the streets makes me sad, but also happy that we can provide her with a warm, stable home.

— Finally, Charlotte joins me on a nighttime walk. Memories of when we first got her come flooding back. Many a night I’d walk her in the middle of the night, enjoying the lack of distractions while our neighbors slept.

As we get ready to call it a night, I pick her up like a football and head up the stairs. My left hand cups her chest and I can feel the rhythmic beating of her heart. And that sensory connection makes me feel all the more attached to her.