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Oct 9, 2014

Diary entry, 2014-9-30, day #8560.
    Again this month I cooked all my food outdoors each week on a wood burning cooker. I resumed eating some boiled grains every day again after a 6 month hiatus to see if I had a gluten intolerance. I still felt fine after eating grains every day again and they kept me filled up a little better It felt good to have the gluten intolerance test done and my body felt generally quite good every day.
    My nightly showers got rather cold by the end of the month as the weather (and thus the tap water) cooled off. They had the first frost one night in the normally colder parts of the state. The shower water will be warmer when I start running the wood stove but I have been procrastinating because I don't feel like running up and down the cellar stairs frequently to stoke it. This time of year still makes me nostalgic for the coming ski season despite fact that I have not skied for 15 years. I got my last swim at the lake this summer. I only swam twice this summer and no biking, rope climbing, unicycling, skating or anything like that this summer. I had very few visits to uncle Winslow this summer that I had frequently in previous years. Just a lot of long, lovely dog walks.
    One sunny Saturday morning this month I locked myself out of my house. I walked through the neighborhood at 10 am in my underwear to get my spare key from its distant hiding spot. I expect recurrent nightmares about it to commence soon. Luckily my underwear looks like regular athletic wear.
    This month Richie, Beth's brother, long suffering from Parkinson's, went into hospice and died a couple days later. I went to visit the family and Tom asked me to launch a Chinese “sky lantern” as a memorial. A sky lantern is a paper hot air balloon about 3 feet tall powered by a wax candle. I had bought a dozen a year ago and had been dying to try one out. But they regrettably had languished on my desk until Tom asked me. So it felt so good to finally try one out. It worked great! The family all came down to the lake at dusk. It was a beautiful, still evening and the balloon made a lovely flickering golden yellow glow in the blue evening sky as it floated, slowly and silently above the very tall pines, over the Mass Turnpike.. I know it eventually ran out of fuel and fell to earth but we all imagined that it went all the way to heaven. I was just hoping that it did not run out of fuel prematurely and I was relieved to see it continue to rise until it was out of sight. There were tearful smiles and hugs there on the same dock where just a year before some us had gone for a swim together on just such a warm, gentle evening.
    Also this month I found out that one of my favorite regular long time customers is moving away. I drove by her house by chance and was surprised to see a for sale sign. I was quite hurt that she did not tell me. And I had very much hoped this month to bring 86 year old Bunny down to meet the elders of my family in Manomet because she had been childhood friends with them there and has not seen them since then. But I don't think that will be happening this year. And my friend Judy from protest had a loss the same week as the. Her 18 year old grandson had been bullied about his medical condition, Tourette's and killed himself.
    I did very little tree work this month because I wanted to address some of the other worries on my list.. I very much wanted to get taxes, roof, house maintenance and autumn tree spraying planning and preparation done but I did almost no direct work on those projects. I fixed the chipper carburetor, reorganized my tree tools into cab of pickup truck, got trucks' lights repaired and inspections done, established a good relationship with new periodontist at Tufts and got my teeth further inspected, detected, neglected and rejected. I cleaned the house wood stove chimney in preparation for the heating season, split a couple pickup trucks full of giant firewood logs, and sealed up the house foundation to keep mice from entering as the weather gets cold. I felt pleased with all that but none the less tense about the looming projects of replacing the roof of my house, income tax preparation and tree spraying. I got all the little things off my list so I will be able to focus more singly on those larger tasks. I felt a lot of stress and I spent a lot of time typing on the computer and thinking. I looked up a lot of jokes this month. I incidentally continued to learn tricks on how to use the computer better and I am getting pretty good at it.
    The most significant event was that Pepper the Dog got extremely lethargic and would not eat. She became emaciated and weak. When I first held her in my hands as a wee puppy, I knew the day would come I would bury her and I would cry and I would be OK with it. It's just was not ready for it to come so soon. I had some things to do first, some things that don't matter.
    Diary, 9-5: “The part of my day I cherish the most was when I was sitting in the grass watching Pepper slowly eat a piece of bread during our walk in the warm afternoon sun. It was a thrill to see her eat anything at all and I harbored hopes that this meant she was getting better. After she ate she wobbled over to me and just wanted to be scratched. I love scratching her because I feel like I can give her at least one thing that feels good in contrast to all the discomfort she must feel. I am watching her slowly lose her will to live. She just sits outside in the dirt or the grass, staring off or laying with her eyes closed. If it wasn't for her labored panting, I might think she was dead already.”
    9-6 “The fact that Pepper may be dying soon, that I may have been watching her end days without realizing it, is starting to sink in to the pit of my stomach. I noticed her belly swelling as the vet said might happen. I am very tense and it will be difficult to wait until Monday to take her to the vet. I took a nice long time to walk her today. Soon it will be just me and Loki, I think.”
    9-8 “Today was the day I went to the vet and got the really bad news I was not expecting. The uncertain had become the definite. Previously I was a bit melancholy but hesitant to admit more than that to myself. Today I was overcome. The vet told me it was a heart condition and the prognosis was poor. The cough that she had all summer was not kennel cough as originally diagnosed but was cough from chronic congestive heart failure. I called Laura who cried. I got a wonderful, heartfelt phone call from our puppy period friend Nicole who was the human caretaker for Colby, Pepper's brother. Colby was euthanized about a year ago because of a big cyst.“
    9-10 “I can't get it all off my mind and I don't even want to. I wake up in the morning and realize it was not a bad dream. My stomach feels like lead. My throat is cramped and sore from getting choked up so much. My thoughts race frantically. I feel happy and sad at the same time. I have all these feelings to deal with and no time because I am trying to make it good for Pepper. The things that usually make me happy don't matter to me now. I have to let this matter for a while. The good thing is that she does not know what is coming.”
    The week after that vet visit I wasn't good for much.  I spent a lot of typing in my diary and thinking. I thought about all the particular fields and woods I had grown to love so much when walking the dogs, sunny and fresh in my mind. I saw Pepper's little toys on the floor and thought about them still laying there after she has died. I felt like I did during September, in 2010, when I was told I had cancer.  I thought about how people who are losing a child often say, “I wish it could be me instead.” I thought about Richie's elderly mother and my friend Judy, also 85 years old, who lost the grandchild to suicide. I thought about the period of time when I was gradually losing my marriage, also in September. I felt like I wasted a lot of time in my life. Some nights I did not sleep so good. September 11 came and went. I recalled when Laura and I lived at Tom's house, I recalled watching the planes hit the buildings on tv. September is such a beautiful time of year. I notice that when something bad happens, things around me all suddenly become iridescently beautiful.
    I have long entertained a dream that I would someday take a trip and drive around the country with the dogs, visiting relatives and exploring, opening the truck door every once in a while to let the dogs run. It hurt to realize that was not going to happen now.  But nonetheless, I found myself feeling exhilarated, excited, happy to savor these last weeks, maybe months with Pepper.  It was the strange sensation of being happy and sad at the same time, as I felt when Laura was packing to leave but we were still living together, quite happily.  
    It was after my marriage was finally over that it really sunk into me.  I expect it will be the same when I lose Pepper. It took me some years to gradually start caring about things again. During those years I experienced an unexpected kind of bliss, a permission to enjoy little things.  “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose...” Janis Joplin.  
    I know sadness eventually loses its power over you. But this month I didn't wanna let the feeling go right away. I wanted to have nostalgic memories of my experiences with Pepper and feel the love for a while first, and the regret and wistfulness too.
    I did a lot of research. I read technical papers about the relationship between dog breed, dietary taurine, and dilated cardiomyopathy. The more I read, the more grim it looked. I found the best vegan commercial kibble. I called the tech people at the manufacturer and Tufts veterinary school in Grafton and satisfied myself that it is nutritionally adequate. I stopped feeding Pepper home cooked and started feeding kibble only. I started taurine supplements and Enalapril cardiac meds. In a week she was like a new dog and continued to gain weight and energy the rest of the month. By the end of the month she was almost like normal and eating voraciously.  She plays again and periodically mauls me. She even bothers the neighborhood with barking again, wants to fight other dogs and kill wildlife. The way she has been improving makes me harbor some unrealistic expectations that she will live some more years. I have to remind myself that it will most likely be months.
    I had blood drawn from Loki as well to test for taurine deficiency which can be the cause of the kind of heart problem Pepper has. I fear that my home cooked vegan diet may be the cause of Pepper's heart problem. I am anxiously awaiting the results of the expensive test.  One thing I won't miss is the vet bills.
    I love going to the vet's because the dogs love going there.  I will miss that.  I thought about asking for a job there when this is over.  
    For the last couple years, since the divorce, I have felt overwhelmed with work and other worries and have not been taking the dogs out for walks. They spent every day confined in their grassy fenced in dog yard. But this last winter I could not stand to look at them like that any more. Around January I relinquished some other daily tasks and resumed taking them for daily walks. Now, in the early afternoon every day, they start to get excited. They know that they will get a walk every day without fail. They are finally getting some of the freedom to dig, roam, chase and sniff that they so desperately need and the change in how they act has been dramatic. I am so glad I did it when I did back in January.
    This month as Pepper got sick and weak,  All the times that she pissed in the bed, chewed up the inside of my car, and ran away didn't bother me anymore. Frankly, I guess they never did. When she got sick all my strict little rules for her went out the window as did most of my other cares and worries. At the beginning of the month I decided to defer most of my work ambitions for a couple months so I could take better care of her. We went on lots of long walks. I developed a 100 foot “dragline” leash that allows the dogs great freedom to run but gives me full control of their safety. I found the old cowbells from years ago that they again wear so that I can find them when they disappear in the underbrush.  They really perk up in the afternoon when they hear me get those bells out. They finally have what I have always hoped for them, to be off-leash dogs able to explore freely.
    But I can only walk one dog at a time so daily walks are time-consuming. As Pepper improved, all my troubles seemed small. But after I while worries returned. I have much to do before winter; replace the roof on my house, annual truck maintenance, tree trimming for customers, tree spraying. The neighbors, who are trying to sell their house, are getting sick of looking at the tarp on my leaky roof. I fear they may rat me out to the building inspector which would make my life exponentially more difficult. Since Pepper started doing so much better toward the end of the month, I decided to resume spending more time on some of my other now urgent worries. By the end of the month I had reduced the length of the daily walks to a more sustainable one hour per dog per day.
    When my mom was dying, she and my father had hoped to get up to the ocean cottage at Manomet one last time. Sadly they didn't quite make it. I would really like to get Pepper down to more time. I have memories from when she was a puppy of us both running joyously in the sun on White Horse Beach. But it does not look like that is going to happen this autumn and instead we have both instead been very content with walks at the local fresh water beach. I feel very fortunate. The only unfortunate thing is that I have so many other demands on my time right now. But I do what I can. I am looking forward to at least a couple more good months with Pepper. It doesn't suck for me now, it sucks for Pepper. For me it will suck when she is gone. Right now I have my wheels back under me.
    I know people might think it silly that I have been so distraught at losing Pepper.  I was a bit surprised to feel as affected as I have been. I did not really want dogs but  my wife did.   My marriage was a bit shakey and I wanted to make her happy.  So I agreed.
     But then something happened.  Every morning I woke up to a marriage that was dissolving under my feet and work I didn't care about. Every morning the dogs stared longingly over the fence into the fields and the woods and then look back at me expectantly.  That patient look of excited expectancy always gets me.  Prisoners is what they were. That's what I jokingly called them, “The Prisoners.”  A lot of people don't want to admit their pets are just prisoners kept for their amusement and comfort.  I didn't want to be one of those people.  I couldn't enjoy my freedom when I knew that they didn't have theirs. I wanted to do the right thing by them, as I had committed to do.  I would phone my customers and tell them I was not coming work for them today.  I would take the day off to do the right thing for the dogs.  After a while I started doing that most days. I felt very good about myself for that.  
    I spent a lot of time learning about dog training. I learned directly from some of the most knowledgeable in the world. A dog starts life not caring about the human at all. The human seeks to make himself “relevant” to the dog. The dog is coaxed and forced to look to the human for everything it needs and eventually seems to realize that it is utterly dependent on the human. That's when the human knows he has the dog in the palm of the hand. It is a happy symbiosis after that. The human makes sure the dog does what it's told and makes sure it gets what it needs every time it does. The dog gets hungry or wants to go out to pee, it comes to the human and looks up with expectancy. 
     In order to secure reliable compliance from the dog, the human strives to be a reliable provider every time the dog comes with a problem.  The human does this to insure eager and reliable compliance, but after a while it's more than that.  After a while the human can't bear to let the dog down when it comes with those eyes.
    Of course there are times when it is inconvenient for the human to oblige the dog.  But at these times the human doesn't want the dog to sit there persistently trying but not getting rewarded.  If that happened the dog would give up trying and cease to think of the human as relevant, as someone who will solve the dog's problems.  Such times the human will say something like, "Go be a dog." and after saying that the human will then ignore the dog's efforts.  The dog will realize that it won't work at the times when the human says, "Go be a dog." and the dog will come back another time eager to try again.  
    A day will come when Pepper will come to me with a problem that can't be solved. She will come and look at me patiently, waiting for me to figure out what she needs.  I've seen it.  When she was at her sickest she feebly came to me and sat looking at me.  I offered her food but she just looked at it and then back at me.  I opened the door for her to go out and she just looked at it and then looked back at me.  She just sat there looking at me with those eyes and she couldn't understand why I wasn't doing it right.  After a while she gave up and spent her days outside, sitting in one place for hours, staring over the fence.
    I've had a temporary reprive since she's been better.  But I know it's coming.  She'll come to me.  I won't be able to do a thing and it's tearing me up.  I'll betray her and it'll be the last thing she knows. She won't understand and I'll say, "Go be a dog."

   The dogs are sleeping at my feet now, waiting patiently for morning teeth brushing and meals. Pepper has that cardiac cough occasionally, though much less than before we started the medication. She groans occasionally too, as she always does when she shifts position to get comfortable. I recognize the groan as the same sound that she makes when I scratch her each night as we are falling asleep, an indication of exquisite pleasure I'm pretty sure it's the same groan I hear now, a groan of pleasure, satisfaction and contentment.  

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