Monday, December 20, 2010

Angel Dog

This is my first drawing in about two years. It is about death and a dog.

I'm crude, I'm simplistic, and I'm raw. It will take some time to become refined again.

I'm not going to write a book and make a lot of money. I doubt I can even paint and make any money. I've seen some artists I'm better than, and seen some artists that are better than me. But for people with schizophrenia, I'm doing pretty good. In all this drawing took me about four hours to make. Looks simple, but it took a little work. Just a drawing, then color in with oil pastels, manipulating the pastels with my finger tips.

Since I've given up on making any money, I'm going to make art just to please me. I know I did some fantastic stuff on zyprexa, and that on Geodone I'm not as good, at least according to my husband. Right now I suffer the most from rusty syndrome, not having a pencil in my hand and the command for my brain to come up with imagery. There is a place you go to in your head when you have a blank piece of paper in front of you. I haven't been there in a while.

After I finished this drawing (total time; two creative periods, two days) I had some time left so I started on the next drawing. Best to keep going as long as the mind doesn't shut off. Eventually it shut off, like on all days. The window that my brain can be creative is about 2 to 3 hours long. I assume I have that window because of my illness and how my schizophrenia has configured my brain structure. Its about the same time window for painting or for writing. At least it is concentrated time, no dithering, no distractions, pure concentration. At art school they wanted in studio class you to concentrate for 3 to 5 hours making art and I couldn't do this; got suicidal during class or after because of the stress of the situation. Realized I could never get my art degree because of my limitations. So quit art school after one semester. Can't force the brain to exceed these invisible limits or else the brain starts cannibalizing itself and you get schizophrenic symptoms. My symptoms are always, self destruction. Its my form of delusion.

Feeling tired but fit after today's creative effort. More work tomorrow. A new window to of time to be creative in.

Every day several hours of creativity. They add up. And the product is a finished work of art.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Visiting Puppies

Visited the German Shepherd breeder today. She walked us through her home, gathering fresh bedding. When we got in the heated shed where the puppies are being kept in she told us to take off our shoes and changed the pads in the puppy's box. Then she put down a blanket next to the box. We sat on the blanket and she picked up every puppy and kept loading them into our laps. Some of the puppies spilled out of our laps, didn't matter. The puppies could be scooped up again and then gathered in, some on each other's head, some falling into the crevices of our legs. But I think the puppies liked the heat of our bodies. In this litter there is one female and one male that are light colored, the rest are all dark with little tan strokes over their eyes. Odds are we take home a dark colored pup, and I do hope this happens. In all there were two males and 5 females. We will take home a female.

Two puppies complained about the mother leaving and our presence. I hope these vocal ones are not one of the ones the breeder picks for us. I'd rather a puppy that simply goes with the flow of life. The ones that cried we kept petting and holding them close until they got used to our scent. In the end, they all quieted. We stayed for about 50 minutes. The breeder stepped out of the cage that surrounds where the mother and her puppies are contained and closed the door. She sat on a chair about six feet away and talked with us. She wanted the puppies to get used to our scent, they are already familiar with hers and it is good for them to have to get used to something new. Humans are a fact of life it is best they get accustomed to as young as possible.

At this age the puppies can see but they don't trust their eyes. They can walk but they are they wobbly. I got little licks on my hands, and even, one puppy tried to put a finger in his or her mouth. Mike bent over and got licks on his face. Lucky him. Mostly the puppies want a safe place where they can sleep. At least our presence, after alarming some of them, made them sleepy.

I asked Mike to look for auras. He said that the puppies all share one big aura at this young age (almost 4 weeks) and it is rainbow in hue. He met a pregnant friend of mine once in the grocery store and told me afterwords that around her stomach was a rainbow circle. So I guess babies get rainbow auras. On our adult dog Mike saw an aura that was gold or yellow in color, the same color of a human who is in a stable and healthy frame of mind. But each puppy did have something special to them. He said that right around where their heart is were white sparkles. It sounds magical to me, someone who doesn't have the gift to see auras. Auras are extensions of our souls, a little spill over from what the body doesn't capture, and it soothes me to know that someone is seeing in living creatures the touch of the divine. My husband thinks that babies have a gift of heaven still in them, being so close to coming from heaven, and this gift makes us love them and want to take care of them and protect them. Heaven makes babies lovable, whether they are human or animal, because babies are so helpless and fragile.

On the way home from the breeders we had to stop at Wal-Mart and buy my husband some more socks. I couldn't help myself, I wanted to look at dog toys. We bought two. Last week we bought two baby gates to keep the puppy we take home on the linoleum floor of the kitchen. Of course we will house train the puppy as fast as we can, but if she has accidents, best it is on linoleum floor for easy clean up. During the day while my husband is at work I will make drawings or paintings on the kitchen table with the puppy on a leash clipped to my belt. Plan is, and my husband is quite serious about this, I take the puppy outside every hour on the hour. My last dog (also a pure bred German Shepherd) was taken home as a puppy at 8 weeks of age and potty trained not to go in the house in three weeks.

Little by little we are preparing for the new gift of life to enter our home.

I wake in the morning and it feels odd not be hustling a dog outside to have a bathroom break. I know that the luxury of only worrying about myself is about to change. It feels like the calm before the storm.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Puppy

I've been accepted by a breeder of German Shepherd dogs to buy one of her puppies. She made me fill out an on-line application and have a personal visit before she would agree to sell me a dog. And in this arrangement, she picks the puppy from the litter for me - all I know ahead of time is that I'm getting a female. The breeder is in complete control, and God help me, I'm paying a lot of money for this pure bred puppy so I pray she gives me a good one.

The breeder is very cheerful, very humorous, and has been raising German shepherds for decades. We get 8 obedience lessons from her with the purchase of the puppy, and I would like to take the offer, but she lives 1 hour and 20 minutes from our house. This distance is an annoyance to my husband. When we went to visit the puppies and the breeder for the first time we were traveling after my husband came home from work, in the dark. Driving in the dark was very stressful for my husband and unfortunately we got lost, even though I had mapquest directions printed out. Our downfall was a road that had no marking sign on it, so we did not recognize the turn. Happily Emily (the breeder's name) picked up the phone when I called on my cell, and she talked my husband through the twists and turns to her home.

The first thing the breeder did was show us the dog kennels. She has many German Shepherds kept in kennels housed in a barn. Amazingly the dogs hardly barked. She let out of the kennels our puppy's grandfather and grandmother, and some other relative. These dogs happily greeted us, and then scooted back into their kennels on a command. Very impressive. I think the breeder was trying to demonstrate the character of her dogs, and what would be hopefully inherited by her puppies. She said that people called her nuts for going all the way to Canada to find a male for her female to mate with, but she was very picky. I think about how careful she was in selecting us as owners, I imagine that to breed her dog she was even more careful. I described to her in my application Plum Pudding as being nervous and dominant and needing a lot of training and she replied in the next email that both the parents were easy living with dogs, and that the puppies should be very "tractable" and less difficult to raise than Plum Pudding.

At last we met the mother with her puppies. The mother was sensitive and looked very worried upon our arrival. However she didn't bark or growl. She allowed herself to be led away. Occasionally we would hear her leap at the closed door that separated us from her. The puppies were just a little over two weeks old and they were starting to open their eyes. In addition to being mostly blind they didn't really crawl or walk yet. What they wanted to do was to snuggle into one big puppy pile. The breeder encouraged us to pick up a puppy. What I did while I was sitting on the floor was to lay out the puppy on my arm, cradled against my stomach, and simply stroke it. No puppy whimpered, no puppy struggled. The breeder said with a smile that when they were born they looked like rats, and then moles, and now they were at the woodchuck phase. She said that they did all kinds of "mean" things to the puppies, like turning them over on their backs, to get them used to being handled by humans.

I'm a little bit scared at how expensive this puppy is. Before finding this breeder I emailed a whole bunch of breeders that were in a two hour radius from our home. I explained that my German Shepherd had died the previous week and that I was now doing research on puppies. One breeder answered me with an estimate, high and low, of how much the average breeder will ask for a pure bred German Shepherd puppy. What we found has a cost that falls in the middle. I didn't even consider the breeders who did not start their answering email without a line of sympathy for my lost dog. If a breeder said, "I'm sorry for your loss...." I wished to work with them. If a breeder just sent a business email I didn't want to work with them. Funny how sensitive I am about Plum, expecting other people to be sensitive as well. And of course, if the puppy was on the high end estimate of expense, I rejected that breeder as well. One breeder I rejected because on-line they had a picture of their huge house, very rich people. I'm silly.

My best friend and my therapist both thought I should get a mutt or at least a rescue shelter dog. I wondered at myself why I didn't get the easy breed Labrador Retriever puppy that is so popular right now. They are friendly dogs who wish nothing more than to please and they don't cost nearly as much as a German Shepherd. I can only come to the conclusion that I am trying to replace Plum Pudding. She was difficult to raise and had flaws (one trainer said she was a good dog but not a great dog) but I loved her despite being difficult. The fault must have lain with me not being a good enough trainer. For the past two days I have spent my mornings on-line reading articles about dog training. I'm not a natural dog trainer, and as ignorant as I am, I know my husband is even more ignorant. But we are both committed to doing better with this puppy than we did with Plum Pudding. I agree with what I've read; loving the dog is never enough. They have to see you as the leader of the pack and an authority figure. Any weakness and the dog feels insecure. Dog minds are no way near like human minds and it is important to know the dog perspective.

One thing that my husband and I will do is keep a leash tied to our waists at all times and have the dog clipped to the leash. It was a method suggested in a book and seen again twice on-line. I've read nothing that indicates it does any harm. It is useful for instance if the dog jumps up on something, you pull the leash and the dog gets corrected, by seemingly, its environment. Hopefully we can also guide it on what to chew and what not to chew. We will also be crate training the puppy. So if we leave the house the dog is crated and it can't go on a nervous chewing rampage and destroy our furniture. In the crate the dog will feel safe and protected even if it is left alone. Also, the dog shouldn't go to the bathroom in the crate. I read that a dog either goes outside or it goes in the house, it is an either or statement. You can't have a grown dog a little bit house-trained, this is like being a little bit pregnant. While housebreaking the puppy accidents can happen but in our circumstance where there is a person at home during the day, the message should get through quickly. I've got the advantage that I can go outside every hour. Plum Pudding was housebroken in three weeks to a month's time. I read an article that said the average age for being trained was 6 months but I know that I can do it much quicker. Every time the puppy is put in the crate it is learning bladder control and strengthening its bladder muscles.

I have memories of Plum Pudding leaping up to take things off of counters and table tops. Just a piece of paper would be for her a find, she would grab it and tear it to shreds with furious glee. If you have the puppy clipped to your waist on a leash that type of behavior can be stopped immediately. I think Plum was given too much freedom. Eventually I did have a trainer say this to me. And the more I read the more I don't think Plum was crazy (as I had assumed) rather, she was just being a puppy. Correct, correct, guide, guide, play, play - this is what I will be doing all day long at first. Fondly, I remember too Plum's exhausted slumber. Trainers will say "a tired dog is a good dog" and I know this to be true. Happily puppies need a lot of sleep. This will save my sanity. And the fact that when my husband is home I can pass the leash to him and let the puppy be his responsibility.

Obedience training will begin immediately. Sit and come first. Come is really easy with puppies because they want to be with you. And before letting the puppy eat a meal it will have to sit, even for a few seconds, in front of the bowl of food. I'm not expecting a lot at 8 weeks. Just some familiarity with words. Saying "outside" every time we go outside. Saying "get busy" while the puppy is in the middle of going to the bathroom. It used to always tickle me how I would praise the dog to the sky for pooping. It was a habit I never stopped. Plum must have thought I was nuts. But boy, was she perfectly housebroken. The only time we had accidents was when she had diarrhea, and she couldn't help herself.

Irrationally, I'm afraid my new puppy will die like Plum died. I'm afraid my heart will be broken again. I'm scared of illness. I'm scared of cars. I'm scared of choking on small objects.

We had lunch guests last Sunday. An elderly couple from church and my mother and best friend Rocki. The night before I had to cook for four hours straight. But before I cooked, I had to go grocery shopping. In-between the shopping and the cooking I needed to rest. I do have a form of schizophrenia after all and my drive and focus is limited. I tried sitting and drinking two cups of tea to summon up the needed energy to cook. This didn't do the trick, so I retreated to the dark bedroom and laid down. A place where there was no stimulation, no distraction, and all senses are in retreat from the world. I pulled the bed comforter up close to my face. And then I smelled her. I smelled Plum Pudding in my bed comforter. I had taken up a corner that often lies on the floor, and Plum liked to rest curled up on the floor next to me. I smelled Plum and burst into tears at the pain of the loss of her. So anticipating a puppy is joyful, but I'm still grieving.

Our cat Frannie is almost constantly sitting on top of the couch with a clear view of our kitchen door. When Plum was here all Frannie wanted was to lie on the bed where it was soft and warm. I had to kick her out after 8 or 9 hours and say, "go pee, go eat some food". Frannie was raised with Plum as a kitten and it is clear to me, by her odd behavior now, that she is waiting for Plum to come home. I am amazed but I am certain, Frannie is grieving. She wants to see Plum come in through the kitchen door and be there to greet her. Her universe, the sense of what is right in this home, is in disarray because Plum is not here. And unlike me, she has no future thoughts of a new puppy to distract her. My mother said, "Tell her Plum had died" so I petted her and told her this but all she did was lean into me and purr.

We go back in a week and see the puppies again. The breeder suggested it, so we are not being a pain in her ass. And from what I've read, the more contact with humans, both sexes, the better the socialization of the puppies. So by visiting again, and handling the puppies, we are doing the breeder a favor as well.

I am looking forward to this visit with a joy that overshadows any other activity that is planned for this week. We are supposed to go out to a fancy restaurant with another couple, my husband works with the man. But I couldn't give a rat's ass for this opportunity to socialize with nice people. Nothing, in my world, compares with holding a puppy once again. I'm focused and driven, probably because there is so much pain lying hidden in the center of me.

I think, next time I hold a puppy, I'm going to smell it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good-bye Plum Pudding

Last night we had to put our dog to sleep. She got bloat. When she was a puppy I was warned about bloat, that German Shepherds are susceptible to it. I was told not to let her eat after exercise, and that small meals, twice a day was better than one big meal. We followed the rule about not letting her eat after exercise, but we fed her one meal in the evening.

Last evening, after eating, she wanted to vomit so my husband took her outside. It is not uncommon, if she has eaten really fast, to throw up her whole meal. But my husband said that what she threw up was white and milky. And when he took her into the house she was moaning and whining and looking terrible, head hung low, tail dragging. At first we thought, "throw it all up baby, that will be the best" and my husband put an old blanket down for her to stand on and throw up on. He said, "touch her side" and I did and it was very hard. Her stomach was hard too. She threw some more of the white stuff up and I said, this is really wrong, I've never seen anything like this, I'm calling the vet. Our vet had an emergency clinic's number on the answering machine since I was calling at 7pm. The emergency clinic told me it was probably bloat and to bring her right in right away. I said, "will she die in the car?" and they just repeated, bring her in. The clinic was 40 minutes away, but they said that they were closest to us.

The night people wanted to weigh her, then take an ex-ray and put in a catheter. We said yes. It all happened very quickly. Then the vet came out and said that she had bloat, and that her stomach was twisted and they might need to remove her spleen as well. The twisted stomach could cut off blood supply, but we had moved fast and gotten her to the vet fast so there might not be much tissue damage. Once the stomach was untwisted they would staple it to her side, and she could never get bloat again. The bottom price for the operation was $2,500. Without the operation there was a 100% chance that she would die.

In the car driving to the vet my husband asked me what our price was for the dog's life. What the ceiling we said we would spend or put her down. She is almost 9 years old and she already has arthritis, which we are treating successfully. In the past I have said that we would not spend more than $1,000 but in the car last evening I said, $2,000. My husband agreed.

When the vet faced us and said the cost would be $2,500 I could not let Plum die. It was just 500 more than what we had agreed upon in the car, so I figured, it is only money and I want my baby to live.

The vet went away and then a nurse came out with the paper work. But the prices were different on paper then what the vet had quoted. What they wanted me to sign was that I agreed to be held responsible for all fees. All the medical procedures were listed, some that were necessary, and some that would take place in case of an emergency. Now the sum for the operation and recovery was a bottom price of $3,500 and a top price of $5,500. This could wipe out our savings account. And I said, finally defeated, we will have to euthanize her.

The nurse went away and a second nurse came out. This one said that they could do away with some of the medical procedures, take a little more risk, for instance do less bloodwork, and lower the price. But my husband and I still couldn't pay the amount they asked. They talked about payment plans, but if you don't pay everything in a year there is huge interest fees. And I just knew how my husband felt. He was thinking what new medical problem would appear because Plum was moving into old age? The vet had said that bloat was more likely in Plum at her age because internal ligaments loosen. If I had known this I would have switched to feeding her twice a day in smaller amounts. But I swear, I was never told bloat was fatal, and I was never told that it wasn't somehow connected to exercise. And we did not take Plum for a walk last night since it was raining. Nothing, I mean nothing was different from routine.

There are simply some things in life we know we can't have because we don't have the money. We live like this, every day, weighing the costs and benefits, and choosing usually what is cheapest. I would like an eternity band made out of diamonds to go with my wedding band. Can't have it. I would like to buy my husband a precision watch that is Swiss made and high quality, keeping perfect time, since the watch a man wears is sometimes the cause of much envy among men. But I settled for Christmas to buy him a new watch that was Swiss made and cheap. I will probably never own a winter coat that is new. And I will probably never buy a sofa that is new either.

We buy our groceries in two places, trying to save money. What we need at Wal-Mart, and what they have, we buy first because this is rock bottom prices for food. After Wal-Mart we go to the regular grocery store. And we almost never buy name brands, and we always compare prices to what is on sale and buy the cheapest. Then there are the foods that are quality, and that are good for you to eat, like ketchup that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup additive, or peanut butter that is simply 100% peanuts. If we can avoid high fructose corn syrup or trans fatty acids we do.

Two nights ago my husband said, "I am tired of leftover turkey and manicotti, can we go out to dinner at the Chelsa Royal?" I said, "I just did the bills for rent, electricity, the phone and internet, and now there is about $40 in our checking account for emergencies, but no money to eat out. I'm so sorry because you so rarely ask for anything for yourself. We can go to Taco Bell and spend $10 on Tacos." But my husband was sick of Tacos, and he wanted the sit down home cooked meal that they serve at the Chelsa Royal and probably too the micro-brewery beer he would have gotten with the meal. So he smiled really nice and said that he would try to find something at home to eat.

It hurts to know that if I had $25,000 in savings I would have signed the papers for Plum's operation. She could have lived. I spent literally thousands of dollars training her - this was when I was married to a millionaire. I worked with three different trainers. The food trainer, the choke chain trainer, and the electric shock police dog trainer. Each trainer was a move up in severity because Plum didn't want to be trained. She was highly dominant and did not recognize me as an authority figure at first. I had to be trained too to be in control. The trainers toughened me up as they broke her down a little. That was just the way it had to be if she was not going to bite someone and co-exist peacefully in society. At last she turned into a sweet old dog who knew her commands very well, heel, sit, down, jump up, lie down, go away, come here. I knew her personality like the back of my hand. When the phone would ring, and I didn't hear it or move to answer it Plum would make strange moaning noises to get my attention. She did the same thing when the tea kettle was whistling and I was in a different room and didn't hear that. But when someone knocked on our door (we have no doorbell) her bark was loud and urgent. The tone of the bark was unmistakable and it meant that a person was standing outside. So no need for a doorbell. And I never feared that our house would be robbed. Her bark was super scary. When I opened the door I held her collar and said to our visitor, "Let her smell you and it will be o.k" and then Plum sniffed. After the sniff she would relax. Perhaps she would pick up on the fact that I was relaxed, and I wanted this person to come into the apartment. I am certain that if I were alarmed, she would have stayed alarmed. When we would take Plum on a walk through town so many people would say, "Can I pet her?" and I would say to Plum, "Go say hello" and sometimes, "Kisses". There would be more sniffing of the person and then with the command "kisses" sometimes a lick.

A trainer once said to me, as I complained on how hard it was to civilize the wild hellion of a puppy that I had chosen, that some people would love to have the dog I had. How come? I asked in amazement. "Because she wants to be with you and she will never run away". And this was true. In the woods we could go walking and she could be off leash. When I heard distant voices approaching along the trail, or saw someone, I would call Plum and she would come to my hand. Then my hand would reach under her collar and attach a leash. It got to be that when Plum heard someone approaching she ran to me even before I gave the command. She saw a pattern of behavior and was able to anticipate what I wanted.

Plum had brown eyes but when she sometimes looked at me, and she was happy, I swear her eyes shone and I called her "bright-eyes". There is almost no describing the phenomena of an alert German Shepherd, not when they are alert with tension, but alert with life and happiness. I suppose it is their intelligence. Dumb dogs can be happy, and are sweet, but a German Shepherd feeling really good about themselves is beautiful to behold. They seem to be electric, giving off energy. Always when I looked into Plum's eyes there was somebody home there. A presence, looking back at me.

Plum was such a difficult puppy because she wanted her way. She wanted to control the humans. Her rules meant that she would pull anything off of tables or counter tops and rip it to shreds. Her rules meant that she could bite and bark and run wherever she wanted. And while she was very dominant, she was fearful as well. That meant if someone backed her physically into a corner, and she felt fearful, she might bite. Training her gave her confidence, it told her that there are rules to the way the world worked, and that as long as she was following a rule, she was safe. For instance. If she was put in a sit, or down position, she was working and would not bark or lunge at strange dogs or other humans. For Plum there was either free time, where she could get her way, or there was work time, when she was following the rules. When we were in public we tried to get her to work as much as possible, and so, have her under our thumb.

In the house Plum really liked to stick with the humans. Where the humans were she wanted to be. She would follow us from room to room in the house. We have a tiny bathroom, but when my husband was in the shower, and I was at the sink brushing my teeth, Plum wanted to be in the tiny room with us. My husband called it sticking with the pack. Plum wanted to be part of the pack at all times. It was insecurity but it was love too.

The house feels really empty. One of the cats won't come into the warm bedroom, her favorite place in the world. She sits out in the cold kitchen. She was a kitten when Plum was a puppy. She had Plum's number. She knew Plum liked to chase moving objects so around Plum she walked really slow and Plum ignored her. Sometimes when she was on the bed, and Plum was on the floor, she would touch noses with Plum. We say right now she is out in the kitchen because she is waiting for Plum to come home. She knows something is wrong.

Right before they euthenized Plum they let us have some alone time with Plum. All I could do was cry and repeat to her over and over "good girl". I thought of nothing original to say. But my husband was stoking her and telling her things, like he would meet her again in Summerland and that she was the best dog he had ever had. He's had a lot of dogs. I have nothing to compare, except the dog I had as a teenager that always was chained up on a run in the back yard. She didn't get much attention. Plum got a lot of attention everyday. I said to my husband today, after work, were you telling Plum the truth that she was the best dog you've ever had? And he told me about the different personalities of the dogs that he has loved, but in the end, he said that Plum was almost human.

All the trouble I went through with raising Plum. And I would do it all over again.

I hope, after I've had a period to grieve, to do it all over again.

You're in heaven now Plum. How I hate to be separated from you.