Peace out, Joy

by

JC Schildbach

The kid and I had been making offhand comments about putting Joy down for so long, that once I actually made the call to have it done, I was caught off guard by the flood of emotion a few minutes later.  I went through the call pretty much like a straightforward business matter: What’s the cost? What’s the soonest you can send someone out?

But when I went to relay the information to M, I made it through the date and time no problem, then choked up when I tried to explain the cremation options.  I paused long enough for M to ask “Are you ok?”

I meant to say, “Not really,” but all that came out was a squeak of a “no” followed by me closing my eyes in a vain effort to stop any tears from escaping.  The cremation options discussion would have to wait until later.  I was heading out to Costco.

To back up a bit, the kid and I had been making offhand comments about putting Joy down for quite some time, because Joy was clearly getting weaker and struggling with pain issues, not to mention breathing heavily after just minor physical exertion. For close to a year, we’d had had to coax her outside by offering a treat – and by ‘coax her outside’, I mean we had to bribe her just to get her to stand up.  She would occasionally, of her own free will, get up and move to a different location, usually to be with M or to move to a cooler or more comfortable location.

On multiple occasions, we had tried to springboard these comments into actual discussions of why it would be beneficial for Joy to ‘move on.’ But M wasn’t having any of it. She could see that Joy was still alert, and appeared at least reasonably happy much of the time. Joy spent most of her time asleep—and usually only screamed and cried for a few minutes when trying to get up from a long rest, or in the middle of just about any TV program or movie we were trying to watch.  We were able to manage her pain, for the most part, with OTC CBD.

The turning point in the whole situation came when M and I returned from a weekend trip.  The kid had texted us the day before that Joy had cried/screamed for almost four hours straight on Saturday. On our arrival home Sunday night, Joy made her way to the top of the stairs to greet us, and there she stayed for hours, occasionally bursting into loud crying jags.  I used a sling to try to help her get up and move, but that only led to more crying, and some awkward escape attempts that propelled her into furniture or far afield from any destination we might have been aiming for.  She eventually struggled her way into the kitchen and slurped up as much water as she could.

Joy would stay in that same basic spot for her remaining hours.

Joy lying down

Joy: 10/15/2004 – 9/24/2019

I stayed up late, attempting to read and write, and not making much headway on either project—frequently reverting back to screwing around online. Joy woke up every so often, engaging in loud crying jags. I couldn’t get her to get up and go out, and the CBD-filled treats I was feeding her clearly weren’t getting the job done, aside from making her comfortable and sleepy enough to go down for a half-hour or so at a time.

I eventually started researching in-home euthanasia for dogs. Being as it was the middle of the night, and I didn’t imagine we’d have much luck moving Joy to the car and getting her to a 24-hour vet, I was hoping to find some humane, in-home method we could legally administer ourselves. Virtually every article that mentioned some way or other to euthanize a dog (beyond the ‘call an in-home service’ or ‘take your dog to her/his regular vet’) urged readers to ‘check local ordinances’ – which, of course meant, ‘this is probably illegal where you live, so good luck.’ The same basic warnings went along with the idea of burying your dog on your property.

Around 2:00 a.m., Joy started crying again, and was clearly struggling with trying to get up on the slippery kitchen floor.  I helped her onto the living room carpet, where she generally has an easier time getting up, only to have the struggle continue, culminating in the realization that she was trying to get up and go outside to relieve herself…in a big way. I cleaned and cleaned while Joy’s breathing went through a variety of odd stages…mostly very rapid and shallow, with brief periods of gasping for air, or settling in to long, labored, moaning breaths.

Convinced Joy was on her way out, I went to wake up M, who, in turn, woke up the kid.  We all gathered by Joy, now back on the kitchen floor, along with our other two dogs, Darby and Bobby, who were clearly frightened by whatever was going on, and tried to keep their distance.  Roughly 45 minutes passed with us all expecting some final death rattle and exit.  Instead, Joy’s breathing returned to it’s relatively normal-but-labored state and she seemed to say ‘thanks for your concern, but I’m gonna be around a while longer.’

We all went to bed, or back to bed in everybody’s case but mine.  It was 4:00 a.m.

Four hours later, I was startled awake by Joy’s crying, somewhat confused Joy was still alive. I’d been – well, I wouldn’t say hoping—but thinking she would have passed in the night after the display we’d witnessed. I rolled out of bed and headed upstairs, where M was on the couch watching videos on her laptop.  Joy was right where she’d been hours before. M told me she had called out from work, also thinking Joy would pass.

I went back to bed for a few more hours, occasionally being wakened by Joy’s cries. Eventually, I called our vet’s office. They gave us contact info for a few in-home dog euthanasia services. Ever the smart shopper, I called the first number they gave me and booked an appointment, jotting down names and prices without giving much thought to whether it was a good, or even reasonable deal, or if it was normal to have to give 24 hours notice to have your dog put down.  Given the number of dog owners in the region, I have no doubt that these services are probably booked all the time, and 24 hours hardly seemed a stretch.  I set up the appointment for the latest available time the following night, unsure of what the kid’s schedule was, or if M was planning to go to work or not (I was on my usual days off, in addition to having taken vacation days, in no way anticipating that this is how I would be spending my time away from the office).

Our ‘euthanizer’, Dr. Audrey, was, perhaps younger than we expected…but, really, not having done this before, I didn’t know what to expect. Wearing a pony tail, a light-beige sweater, and deep-red pants with an autumn-colored leaf pattern, she seemed a pleasantly non-threatening angel-of-doggy-death.

Just prior to her arrival, I was getting frustrated with the pressure cooker not allowing me to set the cooking time appropriately for a corned-beef brisket, and continued in my button-poking while Dr. Audrey gently eased M into accepting Joy’s passing. I eventually dug out the operating manual for the pressure cooker, set the damn thing as best I could, and got down on the kitchen floor with Joy, M, and Dr. Audrey.  The kid, Darby, and Bobby all kept a bit of sorrowed distance.

When it was all over and Dr. Audrey had taken the body away (we opted for the private cremation where we would get the ashes back, the kid offering to design and build a special urn), we toasted Joy with martinis, and sat in the living room comforting our remaining dogs and each other with tales of Joy’s antics….among my favorites…

On the way home from the shelter where we got Joy, she repeatedly kept climbing into my lap until I just decided it was (slightly) less dangerous to drive with her in my lap than to try to fight her off again and again. On arriving home, she didn’t leave my side for nearly two weeks (I was working out of our home then), except for one escape attempt, where she took off down the road for several blocks, constantly looking back over her shoulder to make sure I was still following.  When I stopped, she apparently decided it was better to come back than to keep going…

Prior to bringing her home, we were thinking of different names for Joy, since Joy was not (as far as we knew) her actual name from before she arrived at the shelter.  However, because our landlord left town for several days after telling us it was ok to have a dog at the house, and the shelter couldn’t reach him for almost a week, we got used to calling her Joy while visiting her daily, waiting for the shelter to confirm it was ok for us to take her home.

We bought a house a few years after getting Joy, and realized that on July 4th, we could see all kinds of fireworks around the region from our roof. Not a big fan of explosions, Joy, not wanting to be alone, climbed up a ladder onto the roof to join us in watching the fireworks (I had a picture of M, the kid, and Joy sitting on the roof, but can’t find it – not sure if it was digitally wiped out in a computer incident, or what). Getting Joy back off the roof was not an easy task, and I’m surprised neither she nor I were injured at all in the process.

Joy was a champion tennis-ball fetcher.  She would make insane, twisting leaps into the air to catch a ball.  She especially loved chasing them into the water and swimming back with them, just to get us to throw them as far away as possible, over and over.

Joy waiting for a throw

Joy — waiting at Lake Cushman — ‘you think you jackasses could stop the jibber jabber and maybe throw a ball?’

One time, we had gone out to dinner, leaving Joy at home alone.  On returning, she was standing on the kitchen table, eating an almost full stick of butter. Rather than leaping away to pretend she wasn’t doing such a thing, she stood her ground, rushing to finish the butter before we could get to her.

I won’t go on about all the times Joy bit or nipped people out of some misguided sense of a need to protect her pack, or growled and whined and barked at people over at our house.  If you were here, you know exactly what I’m talking about and how loud and aggravating it could be. It was a fear behavior we never managed to cure her of.

Still, she was (mostly) a good dog.  She was the first dog all three of us ever had as our own. We loved her, and we’ll miss her.

Peace out, Joy.  See you when we see you. Just know you’re still here with us forever.

 

 

We Who Buy Bags of Dirt

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

I spent an inordinate amount of time this morning attempting to purchase what I hope is the final bag of potting soil I need for this year’s “garden.” What I thought would be a quick and convenient stop in the midst of other chores, became, instead, a series of interactions with numerous store employees apparently necessary to the process of transporting a two-cubic-foot bag of ‘Black Gold’ from the no-public-access, chain-link parking lot pen where it is kept, to the actual checkout counter where I could pay for it. In past, would merely wheel a shopping cart to the garden center of the store, throw the dirt-bag in, and be on my way–well, after paying for it, of course.

Such has become the plight of the urban gardener. Okay, not really. That was the only time this year I’d experienced such an involved dirt-buying process, since that was the first time I’d stopped by that particular store for soil this year. And, I don’t know if I can really call myself an urban gardener. While I did buy that particular bag of soil in Seattle proper, I live in a rurally suburban (suburbanly rural?) area a few minutes north of the city.

Just to give you a sense of the rural flavor of the decades-old ‘development’ we moved into, the neighbor who owns rather large swaths of used-to-be-farmland to the south and west of our house still keeps ‘free range’ chickens—so free range that when we moved in, the chickens were very much in the habit of hopping the fence and making a mess of our yard. Our rather excitable part-Blue-Heeler mutt cured the chickens of that habit in short order.  In the meantime, we’ve grown accustomed to the ever-present sounds of clucking, which guests to our home often find rather amusing and hard to ignore.

Joy: Chicken chaser extraordinaire

Joy: Chicken chaser extraordinaire

That same chicken-owning neighbor also has a rather picturesque (read: abandoned and decaying) “canning shed” on the lot to our west, complete with rusted-out, ancient farm equipment, providing a lovely home to numerous small animals, of those varieties which are attracted to collapsing wooden structures.

The canning shed next door

The canning shed next door–do you see it?

We live within walking distance of many other neighbors who keep chickens, goats, horses, and cows, mostly in small numbers.

Still, I started my more-arguably-urban gardening adventures, of the vegetable-growing variety, back when we lived in the north end of Seattle. At the time, said ventures were mostly confined to attempts to grow pumpkins to be used for jack-o-lanterns, a fun project for myself and the then-elementary-school-aged kid.

But, each year, some new plight would befall the pumpkins…neighborhood cats thinking the cleared patch of dirt was an amazingly generous bathroom I had installed expressly for them…squirrels enjoying just enough of a taste of the young pumpkins to cause them to bleed out and die (the pumpkins, not the squirrels)…various forms of plant blight. We were lucky if, by the end of the growing season, we had a pumpkin or two large enough to accommodate the knife and a candle.

The first growing season we spent in our current digs, I had what I thought was a good thing going in terms of pumpkin patches. To the east of our house, I had cleared a patch. Several plants were going. Birds were kept away by rubber snakes (and the removal of the garish birdhouses the previous neighbor hung in the carport—birdhouses for which she left express care instructions–sorry, Vera, not your house anymore, not your birdhouses anymore, and not my intention to regularly clean a bunch of bird crap out of a carport and off of my car–and, yes, I just accused somebody of garrishness after stating that I deliberately place rubber snakes in my yard). Squirrels generally steered clear of the property because of the dogs. Few-to-no neighborhood cats were prowling about. No serious plant diseases.

And then…the sun shifted.   Well, actually, the earth tilted just a bit too far (although still within normal parameters) leading to that same chicken-raising, canning-shed-neglecting neighbor’s large stand of pine trees denying my pumpkins access to direct, glorious sunlight. The pumpkins didn’t die. They just had their growth viciously stunted.   I ended up with a small crop of apple-to-grapefruit-sized pumpkins. I drew jack-o-lantern style faces on them with a sharpie, and went off to the supermarket to buy carving pumpkins.

The following year, I attempted to address the problems of shifting light by doing some container planting, up on the back deck. Plant blight took the small number of pumpkin plants that year.

But something slightly revelatory (well, to me anyway) took place that year. On a whim, while shopping for pumpkin seeds and containers to grow them in, I picked up a few extra pots, and some tomato starts. Despite knowing nothing of how to grow tomatoes (I’m still not particularly knowledgeable—I just read and try different things) we got quite a few ‘Lemon Boys’ and ‘Early Girls’ that year. And, as those who grow their own tomatoes know, the difference in taste and texture between homegrown tomatoes, and store-bought, mass produced tomatoes is as vast as the gulf between the concept of trickle-down economics and reality.

The next year I added more varieties of tomatoes, learning an important lesson about “days to harvest.”

The year after that, I added more varieties of tomatoes, and a few varieties of peppers, and abandoned the idea of pumpkins altogether. Each year, I’ve expanded the container-garden to where we can count on a good crop of multiple varieties of tomatoes and peppers, a decent batch of cucumbers, some snow peas and green beans, and some hit-and-miss with different types of squash.

Each year, as spring arrives, I get into gardening mode, buying seeds and starts, adding new pots and new varieties of plants. M enjoys the results, so she endures the mess and my enthusiastically-delivered, but surely-boring explanations of various things going on with the plans.

A few years back, we added a greenhouse to the effort—one of those walk-in, metal-frame with netted-plastic, collapsible/moveable kind. I’m still trying to decide if that made a great deal of sense in terms of the actual amount of time it adds to the growing season (basically just a few weeks at the beginning and the end, when we could realistically just move the still-producing plants inside the house, although the light situation would be tricky).

This year, we purchased a rain barrel—which I am still waiting to install, as we also, in a case of bad timing, treated the roof for moss at about the same time. A recycled olive barrel full of diluted herbicides is not, I assume, a particularly good water source for growing vegetables and fruits.

Down on the farm

Down on the farm up on the deck

I’ve also gone back to attempting to grow pumpkins again this year. I mentioned this to the (now-adult, and learning wood-working) kid one night, explaining to her that I was contemplating building a simple, 8’ x 4’ frame for the front yard (hopefully out of reach of the neighbor’s pine shade). At the time, I had already gotten multiple varieties of pumpkin seeds into a seeding tray, and was trying to decide on a good strategy for where and how to transplant them.

The kid asked me to sketch out my idea for the frame, and asked me several questions about my insistence on certain aspects of the frame. A few days later, while I was at work, I got a series of text messages from her about varieties of wood and my willingness to front her a bit of cash. I arrived home to a completed, 8’ x 4’ cedar frame, complete with stakes, parked on the floor near the back sliding-glass door—something that would surely just be in the bought-some-wood-didn’t-get-around-to-the-actual-building phase if left up to me.

So, last weekend, I finally cleared the ground, set in the frame and soil, and got my pumpkin and squash starts in. I also have multiple kinds of squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, and snow peas in movable containers, all started from seeds. Once again, I waited too late to grow my tomatoes and peppers from seeds, so bought starts, some of which are still waiting to get into their more permanent pots–hence, the dirt-buying trip this morning).

I suppose I could wax philosophic about the zen of gardening, or the joy of producing one’s own food, or maybe the health and mental health benefits of making space for a little bit of nature in one’s immediate surroundings…or maybe about how my and M’s grandfathers (well, actually M’s step-grandfather) were both committed to pretty significant gardening operations (not container-based). But, really, I engage in all the work of raising these plants because it leads to some very tasty food…well, maybe not the pumpkin patch…that’s just tied to my lifelong obsession with Halloween.

At any rate, it will be interesting (well, to me, at least) to see whether the pumpkin plants survive the shade, the rabbits, moles, squirrels, and birds, and produce anything that can be turned into a jack-o’-lantern.

But, whether we’ll be working on pumpkins grown in my front yard or purchased from Safeway, the carving party is already set for October 25.

Happy Halloween…I mean, happy gardening!