All dogs go to heaven. An ode to the very best of dogs.

“All dogs go to heaven.”  A friend told me this last night.  She is not a dog person, but I think she meant it.  Today I hope she is right.  In a few hours we will escort our big red friend of 14 years into the beyond.  His hour is near.  I listened to his deep breathing all night.  It was unhurried and content to meet what comes next, same as it ever was.

ImageI tried to match both his breath and his contentment.  Now it is morning.  As the birds came alive in the canopy of trees outside our window, Ranger grew restless, drank water, and then emptied his bladder beside the bed.  My husband gently gathered him up and carried him outside.  He rests at  my side  while I write, on my grandmothers Persian rug which he prefers to the expensive pet boutique bed we bought for his old hips.  His breath is still even.   He is not suffering, but he has dropped dramatically since our last trip down the path to the lake Monday.  It was a routine walk for us.  No swim, but all the familiar steps and smells we’ve worn together over the 12 years we’ve lived in this ‘hood.  By yesterday he was weaving like a drunk.  It is his time, my husband called my office to warn me.

Ranger reflects the family who has grown up with him: big personality and big counter surfer.  Santa Claus brought him 13 Christmas Eves ago.  There no military dignity or great outdoors tradition behind the name “Ranger.”  We had young boys.  “Ranger” is simply and unfortunately short for “Power Ranger.”

There were always headlines with Ranger.  As recently as last month he got out one night during a family birthday.  In the chaos, we did not notice him missing until early the next morning.  Ranger spent the night trapped in a koi pond.  He had apparently tumbled in and patiently waited, up to his neck in green slime and fat carp, for us to rescue him.  His hips were too old to make the leap out.  A year ago on Memorial Day he took himself on a walk down to the lake where he was found by a runner who took him home.  We located him several hours later via the miracle of Craigslist, but not before he’d enjoyed a nice brunch and a sunbath on a deck with several young couples.  It was never a surprise when the phone rang and we heard a neighbor say,  “I just saw Ranger head down to Sandy’s pool AGAIN.”

For most of his life he was a lean 75 lb. package of muscle.  And he stood very tall and proud until the day he could not stand any more (yesterday).  It is not  sentimentality to say he had the good looks of a Hollywood leading man and those looks scarcely faded.  He was good natured to most, but very protective of us, especially of Betty, the small black lab who came home with us 5 years ago.   I have never had a better, more true running partner than Ranger.  A well meaning newly-graduated vet once advised me that it wasn’t fair to run so far and often with a dog as large as Ranger.  But Ranger didn’t think it was fair to leave him at home.  There were many miles along the lake; there were many more miles on sidewalks and roads.  But the  most memorable miles were in the winter in the shadow of Mt. Rainier.  After my shoulder surgery, when I had to miss the first half of a ski season, Mark and the boys would dump Ranger and me ten miles up a snowy Forest Service road before they left for the lifts.  Alone in the woods, seeing only the occasional kook living off the grid with his shotguns in a rusty trailer, Ranger and I would run our way back to the cabin.  The story of his first encounter with a mother elk is family legend.  It was a stand-off in the end, but Ranger came close to having his forehead branded by her hoof and never tried that again.

Having a dog like Ranger brought out the gentleness in our sons.  Those words sound like a cliche, but sometimes cliches work because they are true.  Ranger was a very accessible dog, though never an unconditional lover.  He was never a lap dog.  But our sons gave to him and he loved back.  He was their first freedom – at the end of a leash, he walked them around the block.  He was their first responsibility – at the end of the school day, he awaited.

Ranger is not perfect.  Unlike other dogs, for instance, he  is not unfailingly loyal.  When Betty was young they took off into the woods along the White River.  He quickly abandoned Betty, who could not keep up.  In fact, he left her baying pitifully in the middle of a patch of trees where I located her by her cries ten minutes later.  He came home sweaty and foul and deliriously happy with himself two hours after that.

In addition to disappearing whenever he wanted to, did I mention that he never met a garbage can he didn’t fall in love with – or couldn’t open?  Or that Mark claims he was never truly housebroken? Or that I am actually allergic to dogs, even Ranger?  Or that one year during Christmas dinner he ate a lot of the new Legos and we were never sure whether he passed them all  through his digestive tract or not because during that holiday season we were too busy and mostly  too grossed out to check?

 Maybe all those miles on trails and road created a bond between me and the old boy – or more likely because I was the only reliable food source.  In recent years, once everyone was in for the night, he slept close by my side of the bed, always trotting downstairs beside me and reporting to the espresso machine in the morning, but sleeping protectively beside me if I wasn’t the first to rise.  One of his most endearing qualities developed when the boys became teenagers with later-night social lives.  He would lie on the landing where he could he could hear the sound of their cars rolling home and see all of our bedroom doors.  Once everyone was tucked in bed, he would sink into his place on the floor beside me.

We once had a dog named Nakiska, who went chasing rainbows over a swollen waterfall one Easter morning in the North Cascades.  We never saw him again.  “He was the best of dogs, he was the worst of dogs.  G#damn ‘im, g#bless him,” Mark exclaimed over and over in our grief.  We won’t say that about Ranger.  About Ranger we  can only say that in our lives filled with dogs, he has  been the very best..

If a mother cries out in cyberspace, will it make a sound?

Quai des brumes...!!!

Image by Denis Collette...!!! via Flickr

Subtitle:  “Born to Blog Under a Pseudonym” or “My Path to Now”

I was born to blog.  Some  might say I have been blogging since long before “Al Gore Invented the Internet.”  Harriet the Spy was my childhood heroine.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_the_Spy  Yes, I was the one in the hoody, hunched over the notebook chronicling the late  1960s and the 1970s in Upstate New York and Ontario.  My family rolled eyes, cringed and made paranoid comments in stage whispers.  The compulsion continued and I have innumerable volumes tucked away in locked trunks and sealed envelopes on my property in An Unnamed West Coast City.  One of my sisters and one of my best friends are under strict orders to destroy them when the earthly me disappears.  Most of the volumes are too tender for me to revisit.  And I have warned everyone who might be implicated in them, journals entries are moments in time.  Those moments weren’t intended for you and I can’t help you if you take them forcibly from the pages.  My husband of 21 years read one of those journals once.  25 years ago.  I married him anyway, but the moments in time he took away from them still rear their ugly heads occasionally – so many life chapters later.

But that is a soft launch to what this blog might be about.  I am a mother.  Oh yes, I am a licensed professional too.  A wife, daughter, friend, sister, citizen of the planet, neighbor, school volunteer, yogi, runner, short order cook, reader, board member, credible downhill skiier, left wing liberal, and investor too.  I am over-opinionated, sometimes razor-tongued, maintain friendships and business relationships “forever” and have a high tolerance for the chaos and hilarity of raising children and my past. For a long time, I think many would have looked at this snapshot and said, “Lucky.”  Lately , however, I   learned that  my eldest (18) (1) has regularly used drugs of varying strengths since he was 13;  and (2) stolen from us to support the habit; and (3) dropped out of h.s.   We then  (4) put him in rehab on an emergency basis; (5) got a call telling us  he had been kicked out of rehab ; and then (6) had to pick him up also on an emergency basis.   Then  I (7) returned to work 4 days later after holding him prisoner for as long as I could at our cabin, only to (7) receive a call that my 74 year old not-ill mother had died peacefully  in her sleep.  From there I  (8) raced  East with junkie in tow, rest of family following; and   (9) celebrated, eulogized and cremated my mother (not necessarily in that order).  Only to get, by week’s end, to (10) having junkie son relapse on deceased mother’s alcohol.  (11) Attended a dizzying number of AA meetings with son who seemed to have at least drunken the AA Kool Aid before he was kicked out of rehab; and (12) got him re-enrolled in a program that would allow him to finish h.s. almost timely – for  a price.  Somewhere along the way he decided; (13) “Sobriety is not for me at this time of my life,” and (14) Neither is family life, at least not this family’s life.  So he (15) moved out to the streets, he says, until he (16)    found an apartment with a girl who apparently has no last name or job ; and (17) discovered food stamps.  But he did (18) graduate from h.s. And all this before the summer solstice!