Adios To A Dear Friend

In perfect understanding I shall come
And lay my hand in yours, and at your feet
Sit, silent, with my head against your knee.

                       Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wish I didn’t have to write this blog. I wish that I could turn the clock back, make different decisions, do something to make this a happy post. But I can’t. My buddy Zee, the dog I’ve mentioned in this blog more often than I have any other, died two weeks ago. The circumstances are too painful to describe, but my worst fears were realized when I took a trip to Maui to visit a friend. I’ve left the property and the country many times since Zee went blind, but this time was different. This time, I knew that she needed me more than before, this time I sensed that she was starting to lose her hearing and was not as aware of what was going on around her. And this time, there were people that were going to come and work on the house while I was gone. People who don’t know her like I do, who don’t love her like I do and who clearly didn’t realize, despite my admonishments, that they needed to be extra careful when they drove down the driveway.

Despite her passing so many days ago, I haven’t been able to write this until now. It’s been too emotional, too raw and each time I’ve tried my eyes have misted over so I can’t see the computer screen. As the days have passed though, I’ve tried to accept what I cannot change and comforted myself with the knowledge that she will not suffer any more.

While it’s impossible to know how difficult it was for her to be blind, how much she suffered as a result, I know that she was frightened more often than before. At times she’d get so excited – dinner time and when I said, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?”- that she’d run headlong into solid surfaces. That had to hurt. Despite her blindness, she never lost her love of joining me on the beach for a walk or run. She would brave the steps down to the beach, me guiding her with my voice and once we hit the sand, she would exhibit the same exuberance she did as a younger dog – rolling in the wet sand, trotting along with her head and tail held high. She used her nose to follow me and, if she lost my scent, when I called to her, she’d cock her head in the most adorable way, her ears held erect, as though she was thinking, “Is that you?” She’d zone in on the origin of my voice and come loping along until she caught up.

I hadn’t met Mr. T yet in 2002 when she arrived on his property, wrapped in a towel, tiny, dehydrated and nearly dead. Found in the Santa Catarina arroyo, she was left to die in the hot Baja sun along with the rest of her litter mates. She was the only one strong enough to survive. When he took her in his big hands, her eyes were white and her little body was stiff, but T hand fed her milk for several hours and by morning she was standing up in the cardboard box where she’d been placed, looking around curiously and wagging her tail in hopes of getting more nourishment from the nice man who’d nursed her back to health. The very next day she began wreaking havoc on everything and everyone, especially Doobie and Ruby, the two canines in residence. Not long after, he dubbed her “Crazy!” when he looked on in amazement as she ran down to the beach and launched herself into the shorebreak in a  somersault that would give Aly Raisman a run for her money.

In 2005 I was here alone for the first time looking after the dogs when she nearly succumbed to the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis. Zee was never one to turn down a meal, so when she refused to eat, I took her to the vet. To my great consternation, after giving her an injection of antibiotics and potassium to counteract the effects of starvation, he sent us home. That night as I fretted about being her only caretaker, her eyes turned white again. Convinced she was dying from hunger, I resorted to force feeding her a mixture of milk and raw egg using the plunger from a syringe to draw the liquid up and squirt it into her cheek. The first attempt failed as she wouldn’t swallow it, so I had to hold her mouth shut and her head aloft while massaging the fluid into her throat. I prayed a lot that night, asking God not to take her. But the main reason wasn’t because I was afraid of losing Zee, I honestly didn’t think it would do my relationship with T any good if she died on my watch.

Afterwards I sensed that she knew I’d helped her and a bond began to grow between us that was only strengthened when she began to lose her sight. I believe the disease left her permanently weakened and likely caused her blindness.

Before she lost her vision, at night I locked Zee in the garage along with a couple of the other dogs, where they had comfy dog beds and I knew they couldn’t get into trouble. In the desert, “trouble” can take many forms including skunks, coyotes, rattlesnakes and barking at nesting sea turtles. Once everything went permanently dark, Zee began freaking out when she was locked in the garage. One morning I discovered she’d clawed a big hole in the door frame and then the next she tore it off the wall completely. That’s when I knew I was going to have to make an exception to house rules and let her sleep inside with me. I brought first one and then, in time, two dog beds into the house – placing one in the living room, the other in my bedroom. From then on, she spent most of the time lying on one of those beds, content to be near me. If I walked anywhere on the property, she followed with her nose to the ground. If I left the property and didn’t invite her along, she trotted up the driveway and lay near the gate awaiting my return.

She got into the habit of quietly absconding with one of my flip-flops in the middle of the night. In the morning I’d find it in her bed, often under her chin. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that the smell of my feet could be that comforting.

After the first few tentative descents, she figured out that the stairs in the house were evenly spaced, unlike those to the beach, so each morning she would navigate the stairs confidently, bouncing down from step to step two feet at a time. While visiting my friend in Central California last week, my heart lurched when I heard that familiar rhythmic clicking sound as her blind dog “No-Cow” used the same technique to go down the stairs.

Now that I’m home again the reminders are everywhere. The places she liked to lay, the toys she cheerfully carried up the driveway, the eye drops that relieved the pressure in her eye. Even the big fuzzy grey balls of her hair gathered in corners and under the couch choked me up enough that I made sweeping an unusually high priority when I got home. I don’t have the nerve to go look at the place where Felipe buried her. Just seeing her collar, the one covered in brightly colored peace signs, lying next to where she died made me cry. That collar was perfect for such a peaceful being. Even as a younger dog, when the other dogs chased cars, ATVs, cows and other dogs, she never joined in.

When I brought Peanut home, Zee was the only dog that would put up with her young exuberance.

Zee was the sweetest dog in my world, a constant reminder to be patient and loving, to live every day to the fullest, to choose quiet contentment over anger or complaint. If you were to tell me, as someone once did, that dogs are incapable of feeling emotions, let alone expressing them, I would have introduced you to Zee. You’d be hard pressed to dispute that her bark in response to, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?” was filled with enthusiasm or that she was smiling when she appeared at the barbecue, a paper plate held carefully in her mouth.

With any luck that corny poem that never fails to reduce me to tears, Beyond the Rainbow, will turn out to be true and she’ll be there waiting for me along with Soweso, Kipling, Fletcher, and Jinny when I leave this planet too.

The Messenger

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three days (it broke my heart to leave her there, wondering why I’d abandoned her in a strange-smelling cage). When I returned he gave us more drops and told me to keep applying both. At this point, he was convinced that she was completely blind, that the pressure in her eye caused by the glaucoma had ruptured the connection between the retina and the optic nerve, but I hold out hope none-the-less. I continue more than thirty days later to drop the clear liquid medicine into her left eye twice daily.
I knew things were looking bleak when she walked off the retaining wall one afternoon. We’d just been to the beach and she seemed to be doing pretty well, when I watched, dumbfounded, as she walked along the edge of the retaining wall and then stepped right out into open space, falling a good four feet to the ground below. I’m somewhat relieved that from my vantage point I couldn’t see her land because when I ran the hundred meters or so around the wall to see if she was okay (silently praying please be okay, please be okay) she clearly had landed on her face, poor dog. She was spitting sand and dirt, closing and opening her mouth and shaking her head as she stumbled to and fro about the yard. I checked her for serious injury, somehow she’d managed to escape with nothing more than a mouth full of dirt (mind you, I suspect the next day, if she could have, she’d have requested an Advil or two for the pain in her nose, neck and goodness knows what other body parts). Then I noticed a thick branch of one of the bougainvillea shrubs I’d just pruned was broken through. I said another prayer, this time of thanks, that she hadn’t poked one of her failing eyes out altogether.
After the fall from the wall, I took extra care to make sure she wasn’t going to pull a similar stunt while I stood idly by. My heart ached when she started walking into walls, cabinets, stone columns and wooden posts. I started yelling the command, “CAREFUL Zee!” every time I saw her approaching a solid upright surface. Slowly she learned that this meant danger and pain were imminent. She fell a couple feet off the side of the stairs to the beach one day, again ending up with a mouth full of dirt and sending my heart squeezing down upon itself in empathetic pain. I began walking her on a leash up and down the long uneven stairs and issuing commands as we approached each step, “Step Zee,…Big Step,…Step.” I’d become a seeing-eye human.
On the beach I worried about her getting carried away in the beach break that she’s always loved to roll around in. It is her habit to trot down into the white water as it rushes up onto the sand, flop onto her side and then onto her back, her legs waving back and forth as she gets wet and her coat becomes a sandy mess. She rubs her head into the sand, flops around a few more times and then gets up and shakes it all off, refreshed, renewed. I imagine it’s like a mini spa treatment – exfoliating and invigorating.
“Zee” is short for “Crazy,” a name she earned when she first arrived in Vinorama and turned the then two-dog household upside-down with her high energy hi-jinx. Most evenings, as the sun sinks towards the horizon, the dogs and I like to walk or run down to a place where there are several rocky islets out in the water.  The rocks are too often inundated by the waves at high tide, making them poor nesting grounds, but Pelicans, seagulls, terns and petrels use them as a resting place. Up until a few years ago Zee, seeing the birds, would swim the 30 or 40 yards out to the rocks and, with the tide and swell tossing her about, somehow manage to scramble up to chase those birds with all the energy and gusto of a pup.
It’s astonishing and, yes, a bit depressing what a difference a few years make.
She has always been and, in spite of current circumstances, remains a happy dog. More than any of our other five dogs who are given to bouts of worry, fear or bad temper, Zee has always been content. Even in the haze of pressing darkness, she trots down the beach head held high, tail wagging. She still enjoys a snack of sun-dried porcupine fish – her nose clearly unaffected by what it is that ails her eyes – and a good roll in the surf. But I watch her closely now, tuning in to her mood, acutely aware that in time she may be given over to bouts of depression or confusion. I see concern wash over her face when she ignores my cries to be careful and walks headlong into a wall of granite where just a moment ago it was smooth sailing over soft moist sand. We give her extra treats and let her lick the dinner plates as compensation.
Watching her struggle I am acutely aware that this is beginning of the end for her. She’s ten years old and on the high side of a slippery slope. We used to call her “Zee the Intrepid” for her adventurous nature with the sea. Now I think “Zee the Messenger” might be more appropriate. She serves to remind me every day that we are mortal and have little say in when our time here is up. I feel the volume on the urgency to leave behind some legacy I’ve been feeling in recent years get cranked up full bore. What have I done with this life of mine? What of value will be left behind?
So I keep writing in the hope that it will mean something to someone.