Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving With A Silly Bill

I've been trying to get a video of sixteen year old Mama Pajama interacting with the rest of her pack, without much success. When she sees me pointing the phone or the iPad at her - realizing that it will steal her soul or eat her biscuits or do something equally heinous in dog-think - she gives me a righteous stink eye and departs. Pronto.

She had a mighty perky day yesterday. In fact, this blog post might not have come to fruition, what with how the morning started and my near death experience, and all.

You see, Mama Pajama woke up in fine fettle yesterday morning. So much so that she started her zoomies when her feet first hit the floor. This was amusing and delightful to my sleepcracked brain; she sparkled and spun and did wobbly leapies at 5:30 AM, and my heart went right along with her. 

Until she bounded ahead of me down the hall. Toward the Stairs of Satan. Twisting narrow hardwood eleven-foot uneven opportunities for neck-breaking disaster. Slo-mo sleep addled me with some lonely synapse firing, "Danger Will Smith, or old dog, or whatever precious being is careening towards the brink!"


I grabbed her by her skinny, bald tail as she hurled her fragile bones over the precipice. Gack.

When I got home from work in the evening Mama Pajama was still having a good day. I thought I would try to get a video - yet again. I want to share how she boinks the younger dogs; how she bows at them and pounces in fun. How they respond so gently to her, even the wild ones. I want to let you smile with your heart the way I do. So I tried again.

I don't have to say one more word about what I'm grateful for on this Thanksgiving morning, do I?

hug your hounds and your silly humans and Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mama Pajama's Eyes

Yesterday I shared an old post about what I see in my old dog's eyes, and I promised I would write about Mama Pajama's eyes today. I've never had a dog as old as Mama Pajama; she is sixteen years and five months. She and her brother, Fat Charlie, were Very Old Souls even when they wore very young bodies. Mama Pajama's eyes carry stories of centuries.

 I think she is around nine or ten weeks old in this photo - taken by Rhonda Gold, maybe.   She looks quite serious, doesn't she? She had a solemn, pensive quality from her earliest moments. She seemed to know things.  She had stories to tell. 

In this photo she is twelve weeks old. She was promised to a home who couldn't take her until she was six months old. She was going to be a hearing dog. It didn't work out - on the other end - and I think she is telling Bill that we were being foolish humans; that she would be with us for life. She knew better than we did. She's always known better. I was trying not to become too attached to her at this point. How ridiculous was that? I thought she was going to leave me and I couldn't bear it.

The pack: Gracious, Caruso, Mama Pajama, Giacomino, Fat Charlie, Maria. All gone now, except Mama Pajama. 

I don't want to give the impression that Mama Pajama was dour or humorless. Far from it! One of her first nicknames, one that sticks to this day, was Bright Eyes. Her eyes sparkled with fun. She and Fat Charlie spent hours playing chase, dodge, bob and weave in our big old yard at the farm. That yard was two acres of fenced frenzy. Squirrels and leaves and room for a whippet to get up to full speed. Plenty of sun and shade for a perfect lay-down in the grass with one eye scanning for witless squirrels who weren't paying attention. Mama Pajama always paid attention. 

She is around nine months old in this picture and she is giving the lure a piece of her mind. This dog loved to run. She's a small whippet. At her heaviest she was twenty-five pounds. 

She ran against bigger whippets and she beat them. Look at her smile. Look at her go!

She ran against Irish Wolfhounds and Borzoi, she ran against Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Salukis, she ran against Scottish Deerhounds and Afghans and she beat them all.

I know there are other dogs who love to run as much as Mama Pajama did, but I don't believe there has ever been a soul who loved to run more. 

I have never laughed more while training a dog for obedience competition. She got her title in three trials, wagging and smiling every step of the way. Doing her trademark leap into my arms when we left the ring, and right along her shining eyes telling me I had done a good job. I don't remember teaching Mama Pajama. She just knew.
The photo below was actually after she got sick. It was a leapie for old times' sake. You can see it in her eyes.

When Mama Pajama got sick, her eyes told a story I didn't want to hear. 

At first, in the face of her god-awful disease, her eyes were pure courage, while her ears rotted off and abscesses formed in her feet. 

 As she got sicker her eyes changed. She could not comprehend her world - what her world had become. She was tired. My brave little dog was frightened. If any of her pack bumped into her she screamed in pain. She went off by herself. She stopped looking at me. 

She stopped trusting.

She stopped having fun.

I thought she was going to leave me and I couldn't bear it. But she didn't leave me. She beat that damned disease. She went into remission - physically. Because for years, after her body was healed, her mind and spirit weren't.  I don't have photos of this time that I am willing to share. She was afraid of everything. She was afraid to run. My throat closes and burns like fire as I write these words: she was afraid of me. 

My little brave Bright Eyes was afraid of me.

I thought she had left me and I couldn't bear it.

I don't know what miracle brought her back to me. I had told Ol' Poke and Stick* that I had some serious thinking to do. That I didn't know what quality there was to Mama Pajama's life. That I couldn't find a drop of joy. That maybe it was time. "No," said the man who had saved her life, "No, Patience. She's still eating, isn't she?" Yes. "No," he said. "You don't need to be thinking like that now. You don't need to be thinking like that."

It wasn't long, maybe only a day or two after that conversation that Mama Pajama started to wag her tail again. Once in a while she would smile at me. She started sniffing Fat Charlie and she would greet him with a play bow! Oh my heart!

One day when she went out in the little city yard to pee, out of the blue she did something she'd never done before. She channeled her half-sister Willow and did backwards spins, like a reining horse. I laughed like a four-year-old child on Christmas morning. I blinked my eyes; surely they were playing a trick on me. Her eyes sparkled and danced faster than her feet! She spun until she was dizzy. Her one remaining lung sucked great gulps of air through an enormous open-mouthed grin. That tail of hers, bald now, wagged just like it had all those years ago.

Can you blame me for sounding like a silly old fool? Can you blame me after all of those years?

She rejoined the pack. She adores her youngest great grand niece, Tindra the wild. She plays with Tindra and Jabber.

At sixteen, Mama Pajama's eyes are cloudy. When we all go to bed, Mama cries. She never cried. Not when she was dying. Not when she sat in her crate in the van when it wasn't her turn to run, and I had forgotten to close her crate door, and she waited with the door wide open until I picked up her slip lead. Then she exploded out of her crate, but she didn't cry.

When she cries at night now - such a strange sound - I get up and I love on her. I massage her neck and her bony shoulders. She quiets, until I've gotten back in bed and am nearly asleep. (We still can't convince her to sleep in our bed; God knows we've tried.) She cries again. I get up and offer her a drink. Ah that was it; she was thirsty. I tickle her tummy and kiss her nose and this time we all fall asleep.

I am the luckiest servant alive. I have my little dog back. Those eyes. They don't see much any more but they sparkle again. I see my little Old Soul. I see her courage, her fun, her spunk, her fire. I see her brother and her uncle and her father, her sister and her mother. I see my friends and my past and my future in my little dog's eyes. I probably am just a silly old fool, but that's okay.

 hug your hounds

Saturday, November 2, 2013


On the first of November in 1991 my first whippet was born. At the time neither she nor I had the slightest inkling that we would meet and that she would change my life rather dramatically; or maybe she knew. Dogs do know things.

I got Gracious when she was six months old. I was her fifth home. After she had been with me for three months, I went to visit a faraway friend for a week. When I returned, Gracious was nearly bald. Her hair had fallen out. I promised her I wouldn't leave her again. And I didn't.

Gracious had the best memory of any dog - or human for that matter - I've ever encountered. I nearly lost her at a dog event when she saw Lesley Potts. I didn't know Lesley. Gracious had lived with Lesley for a few weeks when she was an eleven week old pup. She was eight months old at the time, and she saw her old friend and bolted to greet her, nearly pulling her lead from my hand. I learned to hold on to Gracious's lead extra tight whenever we were somewhere that Lesley might be.

Then there was Linda. All of my dogs adored Linda. Well, so do I! Gracious bestowed her highest honor upon Linda: she gave my dearest friend her one and only puppy, Willow. There was absolutely no question of her gift, or of her pleasure and satisfaction at Linda's acceptance.

Throughout Willow's life, at least once a week Linda would drive the hour to our farm to visit and walk, and Gracious and Willow would revel in the fantastic-ness of their reunion. Gracious would greet her daughter, and thank Linda and share her glee. Light would shine in our farmhouse kitchen. It was a delicious contagion; a warm smile erupts even now as I remember.

Gracious got me started with my appreciation of European whippets. Her dad was the ultra-traveled, highly successful Kiwi: AM, DK, FR, Int CH Beautiful Dreamer du Sac à Malices. I think he even went to Japan an got his championship there, as well. 

Gracious got me started. She got me started showing. Got me started lure coursing and racing. Got me started in obedience and agility. The fun, the joy, the friendships, the joy, the addiction, the joy, the commitment, the joy, all of that love, and all of that joy

Top photo by me, middle photo by Laurie Erickson, bottom photo by Steve Surfman.

hug your hounds and hold your memories close