Friday, March 30, 2012

Smooth Operator




This is Quinn, or rather, was Quinn.

Quinn passed away largely due to the ravages of old age on March 29, 2012. He was the most recent in a long line of Fox Terriers, six Smooths and a Wire, owned by my family. Dad chose him from a profile that I printed out from Petfinder after my Smooth, Ozzie, succumbed to cancer in 2005. Quinn joined the family sometime in the spring of 2006.

At the time, Pedigree employees were rescuing and placing dogs retired from the brand's tasting program in Missouri. They assured us that Quinn had never been mistreated, that the dogs were regularly exercised and socialized, and that he was in excellent health. He was nine years old. That program has since evolved into the Pedigree Adopt-a-Stray campaign. This has a lot to do with why I was a little pissed when the AKC decided to dump Pedigree's sponsorship this year in favor of the prestige brand Eukanuba...it makes me wonder what happens to Eukanuba's lab dogs when they retire. Quinn kept working all his life, too, picking out the flavors he didn't like and setting them on the floor beside his dish. (Pansy, the Basset, would clean those up for him.)

We figured out several things as soon as we got him home: he had never spent any time on grass, and he wasn't housebroken. He was timid, which is extremely uncharacteristic for the breed, and he was terrified of men. The latter was problematic, because we'd gotten him primarily for my dad. He didn't like being picked up and held, although he loved to sleep in my mother's lap- that was hard on me, because I used to haul the Foxies around in my arms like babies.

I loved Quinn, despite his odd personality. He was a dear little old man. For almost three years, we thought he'd been de-barked, which isn't unheard of with Fox Terriers because of their shrill vocal pitch. One day, he opened his mouth and cut loose with a sharp bark, startling my parents because he'd never made a peep before. Once he found his voice, he never lost it. It took him that long to figure out that he wouldn't be punished for saying something and to trust us enough to try.

When my mother went into the hospital last year, he skittered in circuits around the house searching for her. He wasn't able to sleep, and stood at the foot of the stairs howling each night until my father came down and carried him up to the bedroom. He'd still stand bolt-upright on the bed for an hour or two, panting, unable to relax, before his anxiety gave way to exhaustion.

I'll miss him rushing to the gate, barking gaily, whenever I drove up. I'll miss that pointy little face pushing into my hand, begging me to rub his snout. I'll miss the inquisitive 'terrier tilt' when we spoke to him or he heard sounds that he didn't quite recognize. I'll miss my mother's Papillon tugging at his collar after he became deaf in his last two years of life, telling him it was time to 'go potty' outside.

My sister and I used to chant to him, "Quinnie, Quinnie, Quinnie," in a sing-song voice. He'd tilt his head and dance from side to side, his toenails clicking on the hard floor like little tap shoes.

A few months ago, I took him to my parents' vet, who had also treated my Smooths during their final illnesses. Dr. Smith and I went to high school together, and he said to me, "It's up to your parents, but the blood work shows that the old fella may have a tumor of some kind. At his age, the surgery would probably kill him." I'd already had The Talk with my folks, so I replied, "Mike, we've discussed it. Let's just make the old guy as comfortable as possible until the time comes." When I went out to the reception desk to pay, the undertaker who cremates pets for the practice was standing there with two small crematory urns. He looked at me, then down at Quinn, and said, "I took care of a couple of little dogs like that for your family several years ago." I choked up a little and said, "Those were my dogs, Ozzie and Jane. You may have to take care of this one before too awfully long."

Dad mentioned to his best friend's son that Quinn was dying, so William arrived at the house yesterday morning with a shovel to dig the grave. He told my father to call when it was time, and he'd come back to fill it in. Quinn passed away from what Dad thinks was probably a stroke shortly thereafter. He joined Oliver, their first Smooth, Sherman, my childhood Wire, our Old English Sheepdog, Strawberry, my original cat, Mr. Cat, and Mom's first Papillon, Didi, out by the fence on the lee side of the house. It's a tiny pet graveyard out there. Oliver has a granite headstone cut by a monument company and there's a persimmon tree growing from his grave. Several of our other dogs were cremated; their urns are lined up along the bar in the family room with photos, forming a kind of shrine to departed pets.

Late last night, American Fox Terrier Rescue got a pleading e-mail from a young widow who needed to find a home for her two Wires. I know a show breeder who has two injured, retired Smooths that he wants to place in a Fox Terrier-experienced home. It's really too soon, and my mother doesn't want another dog...but I worry about my father. He's lost both of his closest friends, and now he's buried his last terrier. He needs a friend.

Quinn was the last small terrier in the family. Even with my two Airedales, whom I love with all my heart, having Quinn as a touchstone eased the pain of not having my own Smooth. Airedales are a little hard to carry around in your arms, you see. Smooths dance lightly on their little 'cat feet', and spring into the air with alacrity. I'll really miss that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dog Show *clap,clap* Dog Show *clap,clap*

Every year just before St. Patrick's Day, one of the largest dog shows in the country blows into Louisville, Kentucky. It's four days and several different breed and kennel clubs' worth of canine madness. My Airedale rescue, Airedale Terrier Rescue and Adoption, always has a booth in the foyer where the public buys tickets to observe the event. We rarely earn much money for the group, but the point is really to increase awareness. We are almost always flanked by Brittany Spaniel rescue and Golden Retriever rescue, and the last couple of years, No-Kill Louisville has been directly across from us.

I've been at this show since I was a child, and I've handled a couple of dogs here as a favor to someone who was jammed up scheduling-wise with her contract dogs. By way of explanation, a contract dog is a dog a handler is paid to show by someone else; frequently, these folks have their own dogs and stagger the ring schedules in order to make sure that they get shown as well. The contract dogs, however, are a professional handler's bread and butter, so if the show is running behind schedule and things start to overlap (which is common), their personal dogs don't always make it into the ring. Because this happened a couple of times while I was in college and the handler in question knew me and knew that I knew how to show a Smooth Fox Terrier, she grabbed me as I passed her in the grooming area and begged me to take her dog in for her while she showed a contract dog in another ring.

I loved this dog. His call name was "Decker". Decker was a beautiful little black-and-white Smooth Fox from amazing lines, but he did, if we're being honest, have a slight 'Roman nose', a small bump on the facial plane following his sinuses about halfway from his nose to his eyes. It wasn't too bad, though, and he was otherwise a very nicely put-together dog. He had come to know me when I attended a very small show in Lexington where I ended up helping out by taking him into the ring. Louisville, however, is a totally different ball of wax.

Because it's a huge show and follows closely after Westminster on the show circuit, there are some pretty high-profile handlers and dogs in attendance. The competition is fierce. With Decker trotting gaily along in front of me, I went into the ring against two legendary handlers, one of whom is probably the single most-famous owner/breeder/handler in the history of Smooth Foxes (at eighty-plus, she will be in Louisville handling her own dogs this weekend)- and I was scared. to. death. The great thing about show dogs, though, is that they know what they're doing even if you don't. He did his thing, we got clobbered, and that was that. At least he wasn't a Lakeland, because Bill Cosby (yes, that Bill Cosby) owns the most successful string of Lakelands ever and they are shown at Louisville. They are rarely defeated in the ring.

If you've never seen the movie Best In Show, you should watch it. It captures the zeitgeist of the fancy quite accurately, and with a great deal of insightful, wry humor. The quirks portrayed in the movie are exactly why I wasn't interested in continuing training as a handler. I love dogs, but I'm a pure hobbyist. I can't take the cattiness and pressure, and frankly, a lot of people are either aloof or crappy in how they treat their dogs.

So anyway, if you'll be in Louisville on Saturday or Sunday, head over to the Fair and Exposition Center and stop by the booth. We'll be right out front between the popcorn guy and the ticket window!

Monday, March 12, 2012

She Drives Me Crazy and Nowhere Else

When one's aging parents reach a certain point, it becomes necessary to take away their car keys. My father (who is the elder by five years) took my mother's keys away a little while back because no matter how close it came to killing her each time, or how many bald-faced lies she could tell about it, she was driving to the drive-thru cigarette store to get her smokes. When she was too sick and weak to drive herself, she began giving the housekeeper money to go buy them for her- this stopped when my father had a little chat with the housekeeper about Mom's eminent demise from smoking.

Somewhere along the line, Mom had decided that Dad had smelled cigarette smoke in her car, and her blind was that my sister was smoking while she ran their errands in it (I don't smoke, so she couldn't pin it on me). Thing was, Dad hadn't smelled it in the car. He smelled it in the house, on her clothes, and in her hair. Did I mention that she's on oxygen, by the way?

We'd walk past the downstairs half-bath and smell it, as the fumes seeped out from under the edge of the door. Cigarettes have that metallic odor that is unique to smoking tobacco- it's unmistakable, and nothing else smells exactly like it, but she'd lie like a rug when we confronted her. The last time she had a cardiac incident, just after her first cousin died, I was summoned home from the family wake following the funeral because Mom needed to go to the hospital again. I practically broke the sound barrier crossing the eighty miles from her hometown to mine; still, she sat there with a perfectly straight face and lied to us.

While she was in the hospital that time, my father and sister scoured every corner of the house and her car to find all of her cigarette hidey-holes. Dad collected all of the sets of keys to her car and hid them. After several months of non-driving and total non-smoking, Mom was released from care by her cardiologist. She's got a one-year follow-up, but she has no arrhythmia, her lungs are clear, and her congestive failure has eased up. The next day, she cranked up about her car keys. Again.

Every time we talk to Mom now, the conversation veers to the dangerous subject of her car keys. The other day, I asked how she was feeling and she informed me that a fourth (?!?!?) filling had fallen out.  In the course of the conversation, I told her that I'd take a day off and come home to take her down to her dentist. She told me that Dad was too cheap to let her go, and that she'd get the housekeeper to take her (insert insane cackling laughter here) if Daddy would let her have the car keys. I told her that she sounded insane, and her response was, "Well, MAYBE I AM!" (More crazy laughter.)

My mother was never this manipulative when she was in her right mind. This is proof positive to me that nicotine is addicting at levels that people really fail to understand; she's a tobacco junkie who will resort to anything to get her fix. This includes forcing us to take her to WalMart in the hope that she'll convince us, through her obstreperousness and exaggerated lethargy, to leave her alone long enough to go buy cigarettes while we're distracted by the prospect of getting home before midnight.

I love my mother, but this is really getting on my last nerve. If her teeth hurt that much, you'd think she'd let me take her to the dentist, but no. Either she drives herself, or she doesn't go. I guess every tooth is going to rot out of her head, because my father's not giving her the keys.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ms. Independent

Yesterday was the first time I've ever personally heard my mother be disingenuous about my having never married.

We were in the waiting room at her cardiologist's office in Louisville when she struck up a conversation with the wife of another patient. It turned out that they were from Smalltownland- we knew them, of course, but had not seen them in many years. They used to live next door to Dad's original medical partner, and the wife once drove an unfortunately-hued brown Mercedes that was quite the object of derision for a while. Society matrons tended to drive vehicles of the following colors: silver, banker's grey, pale metallic beige, black, navy blue, or maroon then, and the fashion-forward medium brown Mercedes was not well-regarded.

My mother and this lady had never been friends or moved in the same social circles, so the conversation was understandably confined to neutral topics, such as the sudden and tragic death of my father's best friend back at Christmas and my beloved childhood dentist's increasing dementia. In the course of the conversation, the lady asked my mother about my sister and whether she was married. The topic turned to the other doctor's daughter, who, like me, has never married and is very career-oriented. My mother said, lightly, "Oh, she's a lot like AiredaleGirl; too independent to even consider it, I think."

If you're unfamiliar with Southern conversational mores, that was shorthand for, "I know you're planning to go clucking to everyone you know about how my daughter never could find a husband, so I'm just going to cut you off at the pass." Mom had already mentioned my full professorship earlier in the conversation, but the fact that she felt the urge to qualify both mine and Michelle's (she's an MD in Manhattan, by the way) unmarried state really floored me. In some ways, it was a shot at the woman to whom she was speaking, who had a college education but had never aspired to more than being her husband's secretary and trophy wife, but the other edge of the sword was her obvious belief that I'm too flawed to find a husband.

My anxiety over this was serious enough that I had nightmares about it. I've been engaged twice; the first one wanted me to give up college to start having babies for him at nineteen. The second one was, shall we say, rather liberal with his attentions...and the day that I was confronted with the unequivocal truth of it, I clocked him in the head with a hundred-dollar Mason-Pearson hairbrush at twenty paces- and that's ten years of my life that I'll never get back. I was so far in denial that I should've applied for Egyptian citizenship, but his was the engagement ring I was sporting in the Smalltownland Pizza Hut on a certain fateful December night...I'd "made my bed, and had to lie in it". (I was not, however, prepared to share it; thus the end of the engagement.)

It's not the The Boyfriend doesn't want to marry me- in fact, he's more anxious to get married than I am. I just don't like uncertainty, and there's just a little too much of that floating around these days for my taste. It's not that I can't, or won't, get married- I've had a couple of bad experiences and I just haven't. Of course, at my sister's wedding reception, it was a tableful of my father's colleagues and their wives who came to my defense when Dad announced, "Thank God I'll never have to do this again," meaning 'participate in a wedding'. First, the orthopedic surgeon said, "You have another daughter," and then when Dad repeated himself for emphasis, his best friend added, "Who is standing directly behind you." My father probably doesn't remember it, but I certainly do.

A lot of my friends are married or have been married, past tense. That suits them perfectly fine, and I'm happy for them. I just wish my mother hadn't decided that at this late date that she needs to make excuses for why I'm not married.