My last dog?

We have a new dog. A golden retriever. And it’s with a touch of guilt that I write this post to mention it. After Merlin, our shepherd mix, passed away, I looked at adopting again. I started the search process, but grew frustrated and impatient with it. Here in Los Angeles, there are thousands of dogs to choose from. Very sad. It’s overwhelming, and makes you wonder how it’s possible that all of these dogs need homes. Humans, hmm.

Enlight31

Happy Griff 

I had something else to consider regarding which dog to get: my time is running out. I don’t feel comfortable believing I have loads of days ahead of me thanks to cystic fibrosis and my current health and age. Again, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. But I’m not going to count on that luck holding out forever. One bad virus or infection and who knows.

So, I made an executive decision and chose a predictable dog breed that I’ve always loved, and one that would be great for my daughter and wife, especially in the long run if I’m not around. They love cuddly, friendly dogs. And we couldn’t get another yellow lab because we already had the greatest one ever.

Enter Griffin, or Griff. Or when he steals stuff, Grifter.

He’s 34 pounds of pure fluff and fun, and working on growing into his paws, which look really big right now.

The best news: the reality of having him is better than the dream. He’s a little gem and exactly what I wanted. He’s smart and learns fast. And he’s full of mischief at times, but calm in nature. And he is friendly when meeting people and other dogs.

He draws a crowd in public. It’s like escorting a celebrity around town: “Sorry, folks, Mr. Griff has to leave. He has a meeting at the studio for Air Bud 10. You’ll be seeing him soon on the big screen.”

If you’d like to check out our future grooming headache, I created an Instagram account for him. @GoldenFluffalo.

Griff has already delivered a ton of joy and smiles to our lives. And my crazy dream is to certify him as a therapy dog and have him live with me during hospital stays. It sure would make them easier to survive. I know it’s a crazy idea, but I like thinking of him hanging out in the room.

I’ll train him to pull my IV pole on walks, retrieve my meds from the nurses, and growl at the RTs I don’t care for.

It’s nice when life gives us these little gems to get us through the hard days. I’m forever grateful.

 

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Yogurt Pup Down

“Merlin has the brain of an 18-year-old dog,” said the neurologist, pointing to our 18-MONTH-old pup’s MRI image on the screen. He honed in on the large streaks and patches of white in Merlin’s brain, then showed us a healthy dog’s brain, which was mostly blackish-gray with minimal traces of white.

“His brain is shrinking.”

My wife cried. I blurted out, louder than I intended in the small exam room, “What? Really? You’re kidding me? No.” The doctor wasn’t kidding. And though we suspected there might be something wrong with Merlin’s brain, we had expected a tumor or lesions – an ailment that could be treated with radiation or steroids, not one out of a science fiction movie.

Our sensitive gem of a dog that we’d adopted and raised from a pup had a rare central nervous disorder, NCL, seen once a year at the vet hospital. It had no cure or method to slow it down. And no amount of money could extend his life or our time together. Merlin had a month or two left to live.

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My wife had noticed changes in Merlin back in October. A shy dog always, he now seemed more withdrawn at times and fearful. He now shook his head after stressful situations, like a tick. I thought they were hiccups. My wife knew it was more. But Merlin ate his food and everything else seemed fine. Life went on, but my wife watched him closely.

December and the holidays rolled around and I got very sick. So did Merlin, though we didn’t know it. We thought the changes we noticed were behavior related. He wouldn’t go on walks anymore. Every blowing leaf, passing car, barking dog and random sound caused him to park himself on the sidewalk or roll over into the gutter. During one walk, as the sun set, my wife had to pick him up and carry him back to the car. Darkness spooked him.

On a late afternoon in January, with the low winter light glowing gold in those the moments when afternoon flips to evening, I heard Merlin barking and growling in the bedroom. Not normal. Turning the light on, I spotted him backed into a corner beside the nightstand barking and growling at nothing. He snarled and whipped his head from side to side, hitting the wall, as if trying to shake the grasp of a phantom.

I coaxed him out of the bedroom and got him to stop for few minutes when I spoke to him or fed him a treat or dinner. But it continued, on and off, for a couple more hours. Normal behavior and normal dog for a few minutes, followed by the head shaking.

At the vet the next morning, we showed her video of Merlin and explained his behavior over the last month. This isn’t normal, she said bluntly, and yet had no idea what it was. She recommended seeing a behaviorist first, then possibly a neurologist. We should have skipped right to the neurologist.

During our rapid “discovery period” of Merlin’s illness, my wife sensed Merlin was having vision problems. So, with the behaviorist a distant option, I made an appointment with an eye specialist. Across the valley, I drove, through a monsoon and rain-filled freeway cluttered with blowing trash and the shattered remains of Christmas trees someone didn’t secure to their truck, to discover Merlin was going blind.

But not because his eyes were bad, or not reacting to different colored lights and other tests that I never knew existed for a dog, but because the signals from his eyes weren’t reaching his brain. His optic nerve ignored the information, which is a central nervous system disorder, and not the news I expected or wanted.

The vet explained in detail, but my mind traveled somewhere else at that moment – to the realization a tidal wave of grief was rolling my way and there was no running or hiding from it.

The vet’s advice: Get the “first available appointment” with a neurologist.

Several days later, we dropped Merlin off for an MRI and spinal tap and waited for the news. We knew it was bad when they called and said they performed the MRI but not the spinal tap and the doctor needed to see us later that day. We knew what the MRI images would reveal without seeing them – an abrupt change to our lives, a shock to our hearts, and doom and gloom.

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My wife loves dogs. She feeds them, walks them, and gives them more attention than I get from her. Yes, jealousy. And they depend on her and love her in return. It’s something to see, this bond. And my teenage daughter mirrors my wife in her love of the pups.

Now if owning dogs has opened my eyes to anything, it’s why we don’t allow euthanasia for humans in most states. Who wants to make that decision? It’s horrible and gut-wrenching with dogs. I can’t imagine what it would be like with a human. How long do you wait to do it? What’s the best timing? What’s best for you? How much suffering will everyone endure during the process of deciding?

You hope and pray you’re doing the right thing. And then you live with the choice you made and the memory of the last moments. Forever.

We made the decision to euthanize Merlin. We didn’t want to see him suffer the long seizures, or swing his head into another wall or piece of furniture. Or growl at us, or bite unintentionally. He’d already started not to recognize us. And we didn’t want to him to live in our memories that way.

I remember each dog I’ve taken to the vet for the their last visit. Mocha, our chocolate lab, age 14. It took two shots to end her life. She retrieved anything you threw, was a strong hunting dog, and slept next to my wife’s pregnant stomach at night. Harley, age 15, an all-black, low-key chow mix who was there when we brought our daughter home from the hospital after she was born, and who shared many of her childhood years. Then there was Luna, our magical yellow lab, age 8, cancer, who could read my wife’s mind and who was the most balanced and lovable of our dogs.

I live with the memories of these endings.

With Merlin, I held it together pretty well and compartmentalized the grief while I could. My daughter and wife, well, reality crushed them. Grief and love for Merlin teeter-tottered their emotions while I watched from a distance waiting to carry out my duty at the vet.

Merlin lived like an alpha wolf his last week. We fed him every great food we could think of. My wife cooked him a steak and gave him piles of chicken chunks in his dinner. He enjoyed peanut butter bones several times a day. And he snacked on his favorite jerky treats whenever he liked. A king’s life, one might say. I surprised him with a full yogurt, not just the remains of mine. One night he hopped up and ate scrambled eggs from a plate on the kitchen table. Manners no longer required, my friend. Go to town.

Life was good, life was fun in those last moments together. But they went fast.

It’s a strange feeling not to be able to swallow. It happened on the way to the vet and I thought I was going to have a panic attack, the emotions of the situation bubbling over. Our sweet little dog. The coolest looking dog we’ve ever had. His end coming way too soon.

I don’t feel like going through the details of the last hour of Merlin’s life at the vet. They were caring and gave us time to say goodbye. The moment I’ll never forget is when they gave Merlin a sedative to make him drowsy and he jumped and placed his front paws on my lap and I helped him up. I spent about 15 minutes with him curled up there, sleeping, as a petted him in the silence of the darkened room, saying goodbye, wondering what it was about this dog and the moments we shared that touched me so deeply. I’ll never know or understand. He just did. And that’s enough for me.

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While I was on IVs and asleep, Merlin found a comfortable spot next to me.

 

 

 

 

 

My wife decides not to leave me for Jackson Browne

She was two feet away from him, back to back – close enough to inhale his rock-star pheromones and hear his “Running on Empty” voice talking to the people behind us in line.

The moment she’d waited for her entire life was here.

The man, the artist, standing right there, within arm’s reach, as we waited to see him and other musicians perform a benefit concert at the Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon

What cruel twist of fate brought this choice to her now, after all of these years of waiting, hoping?

She needed to decide: say nothing, or seize the opportunity to meet the man of her teenage dreams after years of longing and listening to his music, first on scratchy records, then CDs that could easily be played over and over again until the laser in the CD player burned out. And of course there were the dreamy posters of Jackson with his cool rock-star hair and model good looks.

Oh, Jackson, if we ever meet, it will be love at first sight for the two of us. 

I must say that Jackson Browne seemed like a very cool guy. He hung out in the line with some friends before the show, and sat on stage the entire concert and watched the other artists. The joke all week prior to the concert was telling my daughter that we might have to hold her mother back from rushing the stage. But there we were four rows back and my wife stayed put.

[click to enlarge} I must say that Jackson Browne seemed like a very cool guy. He hung out in the line with some friends before the show, and sat on stage the entire concert and watched the other artists. The joke all week prior to the concert was telling my daughter that we might have to hold her mother back from rushing the stage. But there we were four rows back and my wife stayed put. BTW, though JB played only one song, the concert and other artists were amazing.

All she had to do was turn around, look him in the eyes, and say, “I’ve dreamed about you for years. I’m yours, kiss me now, I’ll leave my husband and we’ll run away and live off of your money until the end, which, because you’re older, will probably come sooner.”

But she didn’t. She chose me over of an aging multimillionaire rock star. Yes, me, a genetically defective mutant who spends several weeks each year in the hospital.

And all I have to say is, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, HONEY? That was your chance and you blew it.

Poor Jackson. He’ll never know the love and goodness he missed out on.

Underdog 1, Jackson Browne 0.

My wife discovers my blog

Everything is temporary. Especially secrets.

After 3 years, 4 months, 383 posts, 2,733 comments, and rarely publicizing my blog, my wife discovered it. The gig is up, done, over. Goodbye to my secret. It’s kaput. ARGGGHHHH!

So, how did this happen and who is to blame?

Congratulations to my wife for her discovery. Well done. (I love you a ton, honey. Now find the next one. :-) ) © iQoncept - Fotolia.com

Congratulations to my wife for her discovery. Well done. (I love you a ton, hot mama. Now find the next one. 🙂 )
© iQoncept – Fotolia.com

Google. Yes, Google.

Bang. Done. Over with.

But did the little detective tell me right away when she found it? No. She read a bunch of the posts first.

However, unlike me, she’s the worst when it comes to keeping secrets and couldn’t help but confess, though I give her style points for her method of choice: she wrote a comment for a post, used her silly Disney alias, Dakota, and sent it with an email address I’d recognize.

I walked the 50 feet to her home office. And that was it. I got the low down on how she found it.

One of my blogging friends emailed me a CF question about marriage and I copied and pasted the text to my wife to get her opinion. She Googled my friend’s name and it came up attached to my blog, which she clicked on. It didn’t take her long to put 7 and 10 together (Denver Broncos, Fox, McGriddles) and realize it was me. (BTW, Josh, she really likes the header you created. Thank you.)

Somehow, my wife finding it feels like an ending. 

So, what do I do now? Do I continue to write this blog? Do I quit it and start another, bury it deeper in the internet?

Or, do I hand it over to her and let her write it for a while? (You found it, it’s your responsibility now, Honey.)

I don’t know. We’ll see. To be continued. Or not.

Man Musk

“What’s that smell?” my wife asked, as I stood there, sweating, after working outside on a hot day.

Now this was a few years ago and I probably had my manly tool belt strapped on and was looking pretty studly, or as studly as I can possibly look without a bag on my head.

“It’s my Man Musk,” I said. “Would you like some?”

Hey, it's my Skuncle Joe.

Hey, it’s my Skuncle Joe.

“No, I don’t want some. You smell ripe.”

This confused me because don’t we eat fruit when it’s ripe? So, I smelled good enough to eat?

Nope, wrong, not good enough to eat, as I chased her around the kitchen trying to hug her and cover her face with my armpit. But she’s quick like a rabbit, and I couldn’t catch my baby mama.

So, “man musk” is our term now for me working up a nice musky smell. And, after eight days in the hospital and my last shower the day of my jailing, I’ve brewed a nice healthy batch.

It may be my imagination, but while I was outside building a gate today I noticed a number of attractive female joggers running by my house – some more than once. I told my wife, who rolled her eyes, but reminded her that man musk is high in protein and pheromones. It makes me irresistible, romance-novel desirable.  And there was a breeze today, so it all makes sense.

Man musk has a quite a history, dating back 100s of years. Check out this lesser-known Robert Frost poem:

Oh, Man Musk, how I love ya,
My eyes burn, my nose runs,
Watch me work and saw,
And flex me mighty guns.

Ladies stop and stare,
Nose up in the wind,
Take a deep sniff if you dare,
Soon, you’ll say, “I sinned.”
Oh, the power of Man Musk,
Rhino horn mixed with beaver tusk.

Yeah, I’m ripe and tart,
Smelling worse than a fart.
I’m too stupid to know,
Not as smart as your average Joe.

Day of the Dolphins

(Warning: No dolphins were harmed in the writing of this post. And, as it is with all human interactions in my life, everything is my fault)

Pop Quiz

1) The primary reason I, the Unknown Idiot, don’t go to children’s birthday parties is:

A. I hate birthday parties
B. All of the mothers stare at me and undress me with their eyes
C. I believe I will catch a cold and end up in the hospital
D. I break out in hives if I eat cake without first drinking a six-pack of Old Milwaukee

2) True or false: Raising an 11-year old daughter can, on certain days, make you want to ram your head into a brick wall.

A. True
B. False

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I broke my rule of not going to birthday parties with my daughter. However, I had a good reason to jump aboard the most recent invite: whale watching.

Spending the afternoon on a boat on the Pacific Ocean looking for giant mammals? I was so there.

And there I was with my wife and daughter Sunday afternoon as we boarded a double-decker boat for a four-hour journey to the waters of two Channel Islands: Anacapa and Santa Cruz.

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Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

3) Approximately, how many Anacapa islands can you fit on Santa Cruz island?

A. 1
B. 10
C. 100
D. None unless you’re Godzilla and you like to tear up islands and move them other places

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According to the tour guide, you can fit about 100 of the tiny Anacapa on Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. Good to know.

So, the boat ride was a blast, as the wind created exciting swells. I stayed on the covered upper level by myself, away from the lower deck, the elements, and the party with its toilets filled with vomiting parents, and had my own zen moments staring at the water and watching people flinch every time they thought a whale popped its head out of the water. None did.

I made trips outside to the exposed deck and cold wind – it was ball-freezing cold – and enjoyed the sun and heaving. I wore my hunting cap, not that I hunt, but it covers my ears better than the paper bag I usually wear over my head.

The offending pants. The front isn't looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The offending pants. The front isn’t looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The rest of my stylish ensemble included a windproof, lined jacket, turtleneck, two t-shirts and my special “hot pants.” Not the “hot pants” that models wear, though I am a male underwear model in my spare time and could totally get away with wearing the short type of hot pants.

When you're on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That's what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn't find the whales. But we found something better.

When you’re on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That’s what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn’t find the whales. But we found something better.

My hot pants, made by Abercrombie, are literally “hot” because they’re lined with flannel, keeping my rock-hard buns and jewels nice and warm on cold days. Unfortunately, after 15 plus years of wearing them, they’ve seen better days. One might say that I look homeless wearing them.

Oh, and they upset my daughter now that she’s a self-conscious 11-year old (more on this later).

Though no whales made an appearance during our trip, we did see something very special: hundreds of common dolphins racing to a feeding area occupied by hundreds of gulls.

Think: dolphin party.

They swam next to the boat, under the boat, around the boat, in the distance, and up and out of the water. Hundreds of them.

All I can add is that it’s a good thing the fuckers can’t fly because we would have shot them out of the sky and feasted on dolphin stew. Kidding, this isn’t “the cove” where killing dolphins is allowed.

No, this is California and we don’t eat our dolphins here. We love our dolphins. We shoot them with iPhones and digital cameras and post their pictures to our blogs with cute captions, like “Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.”

Back to the day trip.

It's very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don't listen to direction and surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

It’s very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don’t listen to direction or surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

Whales: zero, dolphins: a ton.

Back to shore we headed. Shortly after 5 we were off to downtown Ventura for some Thai food, where we joined a good friend and her daughter.

Now my daughter, who was tired and hungry from being in the cold and running around the boat with her friends, sat there on the vinyl bench-seat one wrong comment away from Tasmanian Devil mode.

And sure enough the spark arrived when her friend said to me: “Hey, you have holes in your pants.”

I find that lying in these situations is best.

“No, I don’t. You’re imagining things.”

But she stuck to her guns and disagree with my attempt to deflect by telling a blatant lie.

Hey, it's Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

My daughter’s eyes focused on me. Arms crossed. She shook her head in disgust.

“What?” I said to her in a light and fun tone, hoping to make her smile.

“You embarrassed me, daddy.” Repeat that sentence two more times.

Scene: Angry daughter, all conversation at the table halted.

Disappointed my usual charm didn’t work, I let it go and focused on my Tom Kha soup. I decided to discuss it at home and not get into a fight that would have led to the burning down of one of my favorite Thai food restaurants, then going to jail for it, with my daughter telling me, as they took me away in handcuffs, I shouldn’t have worn those pants,.

“But I didn’t even get to taste the pumpkin curry with chicken,” I would have said, adding to my wife, “Honey, get it to go. I’ll be out in five years. Wait for me.”

Well that didn’t happen. Fortunately.

But we did talk about it later, which was like me talking to a dolphin about not worrying about what other dolphins think of her daddy dolphin.

“What?” the daughter dolphin said. “No comprende human language.”

Then my daughter gave my wife some attitude and that was all she wrote. My wife delivered the hurt and guilt. Tears, crying, and an apology for moi. Nice job, Hon. Hey, that worked out. Boy, this parenting stuff is a boatload of fun. A boatload.

All I can think these days, and that night, as I tried to go to sleep and the bed rose and fell, “God, don’t let me mess her up for life.”

It was so easy when my daughter was 4 or 5 or 7. Now she’s a genius whirlwind of love and emotions, and dynamite.

Look at her the wrong way, wear the wrong pants, discount how she’s feeling about a situation (Mommy understands, you don’t), and “bang,” here’s a boat oar to the head.

But still, even with a cracked skull, it’s impossible not to love this little dophin girl more than life itself.

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4) True or False: The loser known as Unknown is always one step away from a major disaster of some sort or another. 
A. True
B. True

The bionic dog

This summer was an expensive but fun one for us. Kitchen remodel. Month at the beach. New right knee for our yellow lab.

At the dog beach.

Adios, home equity. It was nice knowing you.

But as I said to my wife the other day, “Money, you can’t eat it when you’re dead.”

She said, “that doesn’t make sense.” And she was correct. It doesn’t. Sometimes, the stuff just comes out of my mouth.

Earlier this year, our yellow lab tore her ACL in one knee, and had a partial tear in the other. The vet told us it’s common for the second knee to tear 100 percent after the first surgery. And he was correct. It did. We had hoped it wouldn’t, but last week we noticed Luna limping and keeping it off the ground, a bad sign.

Off to the vet my wife went. Second tear confirmed.

It was less of a decision of whether to do the second surgery – another 5K burned – as it was of when to do the surgery. After a day of discussion, we decided to do it right away. We can’t stand to watch Luna limp around, not to mention that it must hurt. So, in she goes this week for the second bionic knee filled with screws (pretty much what holds my brain together). After that there is a three-month recovery period (the first month is the hardest, because we have to restrict her to the dog bed, except for going out to fertilize the lawn). In four months, she’ll be pulling a sled again. Or should be to earn back the cost of the two surgeries.

To pay for the operation, we’ll be cutting back in 2013. We placed a vase on the dining table and scraps of paper in the mouth of a nutcracker. Each time we save money, we write it down and drop it in. Last night, I lowered our DirecTV subscription. Goodbye, Laker’s games. Hello, $300 saved over the next 12 months.

Oh, that wet dog smell.

My daughter also gave up Little Pony episodes, which she wasn’t thrilled about. She almost got a late-night ass-chewing from my wife when she said: “you aren’t giving up anything, Mama,” not comprehending the money going out the door was also earned by her mother.

We’ll be thinking up other ways to cut out spending in 2013. I gave up Christmas presents from my wife and daughter. And the landline phone may be going – why do we have it and two cell phones?

And, as Luna’s picture made two 2013 dog calendars, we’re thinking of letting people take their pictures with her for 5 bucks a pop. I can tell you exactly how much this plan will make – $15. Five from my wife, my daughter and me.

All of this for the love of a dog we raised from a pup alongside our daughter. What choice did we have?