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Making the Leap

Friday, February 22, 2019

I headed to the animal shelter on Tuesday morning, having spent the night at Kelly's house in Columbus  (I'm writing on Friday). I'd gotten in around midnight from Medford, Oregon. and was tacking another night and day onto my trip. I must really be thinking hard about this dog. I'd told nobody what I was up to, just told my family I was too tired to make the drive home Monday night. Which was not a lie.

 I walked up to the counter at CHA Rescue in Columbus, OH at the stroke of noon, when they opened. "I'm here to see Curtis," I said, very quietly. The words sounded so strange coming out of me. I still couldn't believe I was standing at the counter of an animal shelter, saying them. I'd always said that if I was going to have a dog, I didn't want to inherit anyone else's mistakes. I wanted to craft a puppy from nine weeks on, and make it, as much as possible, conform to the image in  my head.

I may be biased, but Chet Baker was one CUTE puppy, wearing his tubesock jacket.

I did that with Chet Baker, and deep inside I had a hard time believing that a grown dog could fit my needs as well as one I'd shaped from puppyhood. But here I was. "I'm here to see Curtis."

There was something about his smile, and the way Kelly wrote about him, that gave me faith enough to at least go look.
To meet this dog, who might wind up going home with me.

I was actually trembling because I had fallen far enough into his spell to know that I'd probably leave with Curtis. And that prospect terrified me. Going back into the responsibility, the expense, the time commitment of caring for a dog; the constant back-of-the-mind worry about what to do with him every time I had to leave. I'd had a year and a half of worry-free travel, and I had loved it. But I'd also had a year and a half without a dog's warm popcorn scent, without the feel of a satiny coat, without  companionship on hikes and runs, without the laughter and love of a dog. It had been a good year, until it wasn't a good year any more.

And there he was, behind a stainless steel grid.  He didn't get up when Carrie unlatched his door. All the other dogs were standing at their doors, barking. Curtis was silent, watchful. He wasn't barking. He was thinking.

She clipped a leash on his collar and handed it to me. We walked together to a spacious exercise area with a single bench.   I could see Curtis was a favorite, though he'd been at the shelter for less than a week. His style reminded me of someone.

I had read through his medical records. He'd been dropped at a southern Ohio shelter on December 27 by his owner's parents. Curtis' owner had to go into rehab, and left two dogs with them. It was they who had surrendered Curtis. 

When he came in, Curtis couldn't bear weight on his left hind leg. He had ticks, and tested positive for both Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis. He was intact, and was said to be four years old. His teeth were in bad shape. Over the next month and a half, a dog fostering organization paid to give him the veterinary care he'd been denied for too long. Six teeth were pulled (mostly lower incisors, and one canine). He was neutered, and given a total of almost 40 days of doxycycline for tick-borne disease, as well as Clindamycin for his teeth. He got anti-inflammatories and painkillers, too. The hind leg lameness resolved with treatment. Whether it was caused by tick-borne disease or an injury, it got better. Finally, Curtis was ready for adoption, and he was accepted by CHA.  

He arrived in Columbus on Wednesday, February 13, and I saw Kelly's Instagram post on Saturday, Feb. 16. Now, Kelly has all of seven posts on Instagram. What are the chances that I'd be scrolling through my feed and see one of seven posts by my friend?

Is he already someone's darling?

And now here it was the next Tuesday, February 19, and this pretty little dog was, against all odds, still here and I was walking him up and down the dog run. I stopped and sat on the bench. Curtis leapt up beside me and leaned against me. Oh. It was clear he wanted to be with me. 

I asked him to stay, and walked to the end of the run. He never took his eyes off me. OK! He leapt off the bench and ran to me. He had a wigwag in his run. I fretted about that hind leg.

He kept jumping up to sit on the bench. And he made sure to keep a paw or two on my bag. So, you know, if I picked up my bag to go, I'd have to move him...or take him, too.

"He is WORKIN' you! My goodness!"  Carrie laughed. 'Struth. That dog stared into my eyes the entire time. He was lasering out his plan for our future together. He was sending me pictures of us, together, for good.

He leaned on me and licked my chin. I looked down at my fleece and jeans and they were absolutely coated in dog hair. Ew. Oh. Ack. I'd been spoiled by Chet's tiny eyelash hairs. 

I thought about drifts of dog hair on my kitchen floor. Hair on the butter in its dish. (Right, Jeanne?)
 I thought about whether I should be doing this at all. Did I really want to get back into dog ownership again, with all it entailed? Couldn't someone tell me what to do, other than this dog, staring holes in me?

 I milled around, threw a toy for him, sat down on the bench. He dutifully fetched it, twice, then laid it down and resumed staring into my eyes. 

"Fetching is stupid. Let's go. What happens now is you take me home."

The sun winked out in a wooly gray sky. 

 It was cold out there. Curtis was shivering. We had to go back inside. There was nothing else to do in the dog run. Carrie put him back in his cell so I could fill out the paperwork. 
 Fill out the paperwork! Am I doing this??
Curtis hesitated, but walked slowly back in and curled up on his hammock. The door clanged behind him. He sighed and put his head on his paws. I could feel despair wash out of him and over me. Another fail, he was thinking. I barely made it to the restroom before bursting into tears. I was so conflicted, so unsure, walking in circles, sobbing. It seemed so cruel to put him back in the cell, to dash his sweet doggish hopes, even for a few minutes. And the thought that I might be dashing them altogether sent me into a new gale of tears.

I got a clipboard, snuffling, and filled out two pages of forms. Did I own or rent my house? Who else lived there with me? How would I handle misbehavior like barking or digging? (What would be the right answer here? I wrote, "Firm correction." Was the yard fenced? I smiled. A form could not begin to describe the situation this dog would be inheriting. How do you describe doggie Valhalla?

I started to cry again. I needed to go see Curtis, to ask him if this was the right thing to do. 


Just as before, he didn't get up. He looked into my eyes, never breaking his gaze.  I stood silently, looking back at him from about ten feet away. 

"Everything will be all right," he said.  "You'll see."

OK Curtis. Come on. I'm going to take you home, hair and misgivings and firm corrections and all.

You won't be sorry.  I promise. 

Missing Chet Baker

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Looking right into my soul, he was. Because he was a higher being, and because he wanted a bikkit. I have been missing this little feller so much lately. It's almost been worse lately than right after he left. Been needing kisses, and not getting any. Missing the popcorn smell of his pawdypads, the click of his toenails, the inkblot in all my landscape photos. Missing everything about him.

It's been an even year and a half since Chet Baker left us, and I have steadfastly refused to consider replacing him. I have straight-armed any number of kind people who suggested that I should consider another dog. It had been just too damn freaking hard to lose him. I didn't want to have to go through that again, ever. My heart couldn't take any more. Plus, I said, I have no backup; nobody else in the house to let a dog out, to feed one when I'm called away. I'd been enjoying the freedom of coming and going without a thought. Can't tie myself down like that again, I said.

In the stone-hard center of my heart, I knew that there was a dog out there waiting for me to find him, but I would never have said that to anyone but Shila. OK, I did say it to Shila.

When the time is right, I thought; when I'm finally ready, the Universe will present a dog to me. I will NOT go looking. He will just appear to me. Maybe come up to my door, dirty and starving. That was the scenario I most often imagined.
And it will not be just any dog. It will be The Dog. 
I will feel an instant connection, and I will know this is it. There will be no room for doubt. If I have any doubt, it isn't the one.

Scrolling through my Instagram feed on Saturday, Feb. 16, my heart gave a flip when I saw my sweet friend Kelly's post about a Valentine's fundraiser for CHA, the private animal rescue organization which runs an exemplary shelter--clean and spacious-in a Columbus industrial park. Kelly volunteers there, placing dogs in need with people in need of dogs. Kelly knew Chet Baker. She knows a good dog when she sees one.


If you click on the photo you can see that Curtis' tail is blurred because it's wagging so hard.

I really liked this dog's size, carriage, and looks, but I liked Kelly's description of his personality even more. Whoa. This dog is up for adoption? Throwing caution to the wind, I left a public comment:
 "Is he already someone's darling?"

 If you know me, you know that this is atypical. I am much more a private message kind of inquirer.

When Kelly didn't reply, I tried to forget about Curtis. I waited a few hours, knowing I often don't see my Instagram comments or messages for days.  Oh, screw it. I'll message her.
So I sent her a text. And she replied, "I'm sorry, but I believe Curtis was adopted this afternoon." 

My heart had floated up to the ceiling, and now it sank back down like a tired balloon.  Too late. 
I guess it wasn't meant to be. Put Curtis out of your mind now, Zick, and listen to your more sensible self.

Thanks to a huge winter storm and flight cancellations, it took about 34 hours to make my punctuated way to a deliriously wonderful time at Klamath Falls Winter Wings Festival in Oregon. I had two talks to give, and a field trip to help with, and a whole lot of fabulous birds to photograph. And I was just winding down from the festival on Sunday afternoon when I got a text from Kelly. 

"It turns out Curtis is still available! I was mistaken yesterday. Because he strikes me as a potential match for your lifestyle and desired dog personality, I wanted you to know he's still adoptable. Of course: no pressure. And shoot me a text if you have any questions."

Oh, I had questions. And man, the whiplash of thinking Curtis was inaccessible, talking myself down with all the reasons I didn't need a dog in my life, and then wha wha whaaa? He's available after all? 
I replied,

"Wow. Thank you for letting me know. Gotta think about that. I wasn't expecting that. I don't get into Columbus until nearly midnight Monday, unfortunately, if all goes well." At that point, I was only wanting to go home. I was dead tired. Winter travel during huge snowstorms will do that to you. Staying another night in Columbus to meet a dog I'm not even sure I should be looking at? Mmmm. Hmmmm. Derr.

"No problem. It's a huge decision (at least, it should be). By all means, let it simmer."

I got Curtis' story (more on that later) and I thought about it all evening. I was thinking about him when I woke up to start my journey from Medford OR to Columbus on Monday. I texted Kelly. 

"I feel like I should meet him before deciding anything. Obviously." 

Kelly said she'd see if he was still there when she went on shift Monday afternoon. I would be flying all that day. When I landed in Phoenix, I saw some messages from Kelly.

"Well Curtis is still here! I'm very surprised. Thought he'd be snatched up already. He's 4 yrs. old, 38 lb. As far as breed, straight-up Heinz 57."

I stared at the photos. This might be the perfect dog. Fabulous personality, and this beautiful?  Striped like a gol-durn tiger??

With a completely black face and soft little black ears that flop over? And a great big spoon-tongue for kissing? (Also, how cute is Kelly here? Look how she lights up around this dog!)

 The first two photos hooked me, but this last one killed me daid. Thanks a LOT, Kelly, you minx.

There is someone in those eyes, an  old soul. Someone with a sense of humor and a strong sense of self. Dogs who will look directly at a camera are very, very rare. Dogs who enjoy it are rarer still. I had one of those rare ones for twelve beautiful years. I know. Now here this dog was, looking at the camera like Chet used to. I could see him bombing all my flower photos, durn him, just because he thinks he's a better subject than some little flar.

Torturing myself, I went online to see if I could find Curtis. OMG. There he was, looking perky af, for any Tom, Dick or Mary to set their sights on.  Gulp. Who else was looking at Curtis tonight? The shelter wouldn't open until noon on Tuesday. Would he still be there when I got there? If I could make myself DO this?

This is probably the worst cliffhanger I've ever posted. Sorry.


 Yep, that's me, cackling. 

Another Little Patient

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

She was blind, or very nearly so, and I'd been watching her for a couple of weeks, waiting for the moment when she'd be so debilitated she gave up and sat on the ground. That moment came on a brutally cold morning after a snowy night. As I went to fill the feeders, there she sat, quietly on the snow at the base of a birch. She had given up.

I have no photos of the moment, but this is what she looked like--her eyes pasted shut on both sides.

This poor little creature has taken a sunflower heart from the feeder, and brought it up to the chamaecyparis just outside my studio window to process it. She's too weak to compete at the bustling feeders.

 She can see just enough through one slitted eye to avoid capture. Her time will come. I hope I'm there when it does.

What's felling these birds is Mycoplasma, a dread infection better known as house finch disease. And we have house finches to thank for introducing it into the general population of native species. Not their fault--we brought them to the East back in the dark ages, when keeping wild birds in cages was an accepted practice. And when they were released, a tiny founder population of perhaps a hundred birds escaping their crate at a New York airport, they bred and bred. But they were inbred, and they had no natural resistance to the germs they found here. And so it began.

Now, Mycoplasma stalks more than a dozen species, and the list is growing--everything from goldfinches to blue jays.

This bird was incredibly lucky to be picked up by somebody with a $75 bottle of an antibiotic called Tylan, and the resolve to cure her.

She would live in a roomy cage in my bat/bird room for the next three weeks, drinking water laced with bitter Tylan and sweetened with Stevia. :) It helps. 

She hated being caged.

Most of the time she looked like this

but every once in awhile I could sneak into the corner with my telephoto and hope to capture her at rest. Yes, her tail is a mess thanks to bashing it against the wires. Ideally, she should be kept in a nylon, soft-sided cage. I'll get there. Still hobbling along with my archaic old equipment. Trying to do no harm, sometimes failing. Believe it or not, I was able to preen it back into near- perfect shape when I finally caught her for release. No feathers were broken; they were just mussed.

She pigged out on sunflower chips and drank copious amounts of Tylan/Stevia water. Good girl.

For some reason, Blogger gags on my videos. I'll post one, and it's there. Post another, and the first one disappears. Trying to post two at once is nearly impossible. I'll beat my head against Blogger's wall for hours, trying to get these videos to take.

Trying again, after both vanished. Yep. Soon as I get one posted, the other vanishes. Man, that's frustrating. I'm gonna post this quick while they're still both visible. Thought you'd be lifted up, as I am, by the little perchicoree! she voices as I open my hand. She did say thank you. :)

I'm speaking twicet at Wings of Winter Festival, Klamath Falls, OR, this coming weekend, Feb. 15-16 2019! Talking about a snowy owl's crazy journey on Friday, and about baby birds on Saturday. I cannot WAIT. Haven't been anywhere for months. And the birding there is off the hook fabulous! Come see me! See left sidebar of this blog for details!

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