Monday, May 30, 2011

Busy weekend: Seattle-->Vancouver, BC-->Victoria, BC-->Vancouver-->Seattle. One fun part? Kids in carseats bobbing heads to the Roots.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

45 minutes of crying involved but everyone survived 1st day of daycare. Dylan did okay too. ;-)
Trying daycare for 1st time. Seems expensive but you're saying, "If I give you this money, will you care for & nurture my child as I would?"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Perils of toddler vocab: Mom: I've gotta cut the snacks: I'm getting big. Ava: "Nana, you're not big. You're humongous!" Next lesson? Tact.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Oh Boy! Oberto paper hats my kids are playing in prove that dried meat products had too prominent a role in our weekend.

RIP Isis: 2002-2011

In early March, I said goodbye to my dog Isis, who was struggling with bone cancer in her front shoulder. She was nine years old and the first dog that was truly mine from the start and not just the family dog. I've tried writing about this for weeks but haven't been able to sufficiently capture my thoughts on having to put her down. May is Pet Cancer Awareness month, so this seems like the perfect time to tell her/our story.

Isis came into our life just a few months after we married, once we agreed that kids weren't on the horizon just yet, but that we could probably manage the responsibilities of a dog. She became my first baby, or furr baby, as some called her. My dog-lover parents were instantly smitten too, dubbing her their "granddog." And just as they would do with the real grandchildren to follow, they would periodically call to see if she could come spend the night or weekend or week, saying their resident dog missed her and "needed to bond."

She came to us from the Seattle Animal Shelter as just another of the thousands of pit bull/pit bull mixes that churn in and out of animal shelters nationwide each year. She was six months old, about 15 pounds, and curled up perfectly on my lap.

Later, she would grow into a 60-pound lap dog, oblivious that the lap came with a weight limit of sorts.

She was always happiest next to, or on, me. During her training for her Canine Good Citizen test (which she passed at 10 months: boo ya!), she leaned against me between drills, drawing a correction from the instructor.

"She's being lazy," she said. "If she leans against you, she automatically knows when you start to move so she doesn't have to stand at attention waiting for your cue." Lazy? Sounds smart to me. Besides, I loved knowing she was close by and keeping my leg warm.
She never strayed too far from a free hand available to pet her glossy fur, which often surprised people not put off by her large, typically pit bull-size head: "Oh! She's soft!" They would exclaim, as if expecting the breed's fierce reputation to be reflected in a brillo-rough coat. In fact, after baths, her black and brown brindle coat looked shiny and black, like a seal come ashore.

Although her face and body were clearly pit bull, her demeanor seemed to hint at a mix. "She's so friendly!" people would say, as she licked outstretched hands and faces, en route to rolling over on her back for a belly rub. "Is she part Lab?" No. Just a friendly pit bull who never met a human she didn't like.

In fact, she was so friendly that if we ran errands and I left her tied up outside stores while I ran in, I inevitably returned to find some passerby on their knees kissing and petting her wriggling body.
One summer at an outdoor shopping area, I returned from the bathroom to find a groundskeeper sitting down with Isis in his lap receiving the doggie equivalent of a full body massage.

"I love dogs and she is just beautiful!" he said, smiling broadly while kissing and rubbing an ecstatic Isis.  I suggested to J. that maybe I should get her a sign that said, 'Please don't french kiss my dog.'

"This is Seattle," he said derisively. "That's not going to stop them. Just brush her teeth afterwards."

I adored her. And it was mutual. J., however, merely liked her most of the time. Besides being a neat freak, J. was raised with a different approach to dogs than my "she's part of the family" upbringing. In his family, dogs lived outside or under the porch and were fed whatever dog food was on sale or table scraps. They rarely crossed the threshold of the house. In my family, dogs lived indoors, slept next to your bed, or on it if they were so inclined, and were generally another kid, though lower in the family hierarchy.

So though we agreed to bringing a dog into our life, we didn't discuss expectations around her place in it. That ambivalence is reflected in the holiday card I did a year after she joined us.
As evidenced by our matching ear to ear grins, Isis and I are thrilled. 
J.? Not so much. As he said at the time, "In my family, we don't take pictures with dogs."
My parents' response? "Why didn't you tell us you were getting pictures with Isis?! We would have come too!"

There would be many more pictures over the years. We just left J. out after that. 

But Isis sometimes won him over, nudging her way under his arm for a hug.
But we did compromise. Our house then had pristine wood floors that had been preserved in a green shag carpet for decades. When we took them up to reveal the wood, after a few months and a few scratches, I agreed that Isis would forever wear booties inside rather than be banished to the basement or outside. Isis was easy: after an initial, booty-induced, floppy-footed walk across the room that left me gasping with laughter, she accepted them and patiently waited at the door every time I needed to put them on.

She had incredible stamina and because dog parks here close at dusk, which is 4:30 p.m. in winter, I spent much of her first winter with us bundled up, standing in the rain with an umbrella in some urban open space I'd spotted, car headlights pointed into the distance, using a Chuck-it to throw a tennis ball as far as I could 50 times or more for her to retrieve.

I often tired before she did and I tried not to dwell on the realization that if I actually learned tennis with the balls instead, I'd have a new circle of friends and a more socially-acceptable explanation for the wear and tear on my elbow. But by the time she was five, though she still had the same energy, five to 10 throws and a nice walk would suffice.

The ensuing years were full of dog parks, weekend jaunts, and lots of walks. Eventually, I became pregnant with my first actual baby, Ava. Isis sensed that something was afoot and stuck even closer to me, resting her head on my growing belly at night. I also tried to maximize our time together, knowing that things would change with a baby around.

Once Ava came home, I was cautious at first, unsure of how Isis might react, having never had puppies or been around many babies, although she was beloved by our many then-small nieces and nephews.
But after watching her around the baby, I could see a reflection of her breed's historical description as a "nanny dog" noted for its ease and protective instinct around kids. In short, Isis was wonderful with Ava, always close, but not too close.

One day, as Ava started to cry in another room, Isis padded slowly in to check on her, looking quizzically into the play yard. She then came to me and looked back towards the room as if to say, "Uh, you gonna take care of her? She seems upset. 'Cause if not, I'm going to go lick her and see if that works."

Isis learned to walk slowly alongside the stroller as I pushed Ava around the neighborhood, and I eventually let Ava hold her leash. She too, was a dog-lover from the start, despite happily greeting Isis with her dad's pet name for Isis: "Hi Stinky Puppy!" 
Walking around our 'hood.
On the Washington Coast at Long Beach, WA.

A few years after we got Isis from the Seattle Animal Shelter, my parents had to put their 15 or so year old dog down after a long period of deterioration from a number of age-related ailments. Once they were ready to add another dog to the family, we spent weeks visiting dogs at local shelters. None of them 'spoke' to my dad, who was having the hardest time adjusting to the dog's death.

Once again, the Seattle Animal Shelter came through. I spotted a pit bull mix there that seemed just right for my folks. They called him Tux, because of the black and white markings on his chest that looked like a tiny tuxedo. As my parents applied for adoption, Isis served as a character reference of sorts.

With a constant glut of pit bulls and pit mixes and sometimes-nefarious characters looking to adopt and use them in negative ways, the shelter staff put potential adopters through a background check, hoping to make forever matches for their adoptable pets and reduce the number of dogs cycled back through the shelter.

Because of Isis, we learned they were somewhat pre-approved. A shelter staffer remembered her from a local dog park. "Is that Isis? I know her: she's great!" he said. "So well-behaved, even with a ton of dogs around. Total pit bull breed ambassador. She'll be part of Tux's family? Then we know he'll be in good hands."

Still, Isis, as my parents' "granddog," had the final say, because she would be spending a lot of time with the new addition. We put them in the play area and waited. The gangly boy beelined for Isis, eager to play. She was extremely tolerant, allowing him to jump on her back, nip at her tail, and generally make a pest of himself in an effort to get her to play with him. After several minutes, he finally crossed some doggie behavioral line, and Isis growled, putting him in check. He assumed a submissive posture, then returned to play, chastened and more polite.
"That's good," said the shelter staff watching the interaction. "She's teaching him manners. And he's learning. They're going to get along great." And they did.

Still, he almost couldn't live up to the expectations Isis had created for my parents. His first night home with them, my dad called, frustrated. "This dog may not work out. He won't listen, he won't sit, he's not doing anything we tell him. He's not like Isis."

You mean Isis who'd I'd taken through several multi-week training classes over the past few years, and with whom I've worked for years on teaching and reinforcing manners, cues, rules, and my own consistency, while bonding and building a relationship of mutual trust? The puppy you've had for four hours isn't behaving like her or responding to the new name you've given him in the past few hours? Yeah, he's totally defective.

So J. and I went over, commandeered some treats and showed them some quick training tips: holding a treat just above and behind his head to make him raise his head and sit. Deciding on words: "What will you say when you want him to come, go, stay, kennel up, drop it? Use those consistently and show him what you want so that he starts associating the action with the word."

Within minutes, we had him sitting on cue, coming when called, and laying down, though not staying. We looked like Cesar Milan-quality trainers, but everything we showed them we'd learned or refined with Isis. Knowing her, loving her and learning her needs and wants had made us better pet owners. Only later did I realize she taught us lessons that had remarkable usefulness when our kids came along. For example:
  1. Treats always make a long trip more bearable and hugs always make both parties feel better.
  2. Everyone in the house must treat each other with respect and courtesy. At our house, that means no unnecessary yelling/barking, no physical aggression (whether you have two legs or four), and manners matter, always.
  3. Don't let a dog/kid do something as a puppy/child that you don't want them doing when they're full grown. Like lunging at people, biting, jumping up, hitting you or being rude.
  4. Don't let a dog/kid do something in the summer that you that you don't want them doing year-round. Like sitting in the driver's seat in your car. It's cute when it's dry out. Not so much in the winter when there's a soaking wet dog butt involved.
  5. A household works best when everyone has chores. It's character-building and the price you pay for being part of the family and receiving the benefits that entails, such as food, clothing/collars/chew toys/Disney-emblazoned geegaws, and a lovely roof over your head. Isis's chores were letting us know when something was amiss outside, following commands, and being an awesome dog.
There was a lot to love about her.
  • She had great patience.
  • When she was happy, she licked people and their clothing.
  • She could jump over a eight foot fence, easily. She never did this at home, but did at a doggie daycare.
  • She sometimes jumped head-high to lick unsuspecting people at the dog park, delighting some, freaking out others. She never did this at home either.
  • She was a fast, fearless learner and picked up the basics of agility in the first class.
  • She knew what the word "closer" meant and would move a retrieved ball closer to me if asked.
  • She could discern between her toys and the kids' toys and never chewed the latter.
  • She rarely barked and her signal for needing to go out was placing her head gently on my knee. It took me a couple accidents to figure out that subtle hint when she was little.
  • Like me, she got cold easily in the winter and loved being wrapped up in fleece blanket in her bed or crate. I spent many a winter evening with her curled up next to me in my office with a heater on at a level warm enough to grow orchids.  
But no one or dog is perfect, and she had her drawbacks.
  • She snored, loudly.
  • She farted a lot, also loudly. She had a very sensitive stomach and we tried several high- and low-end products hoping to curb her gaseous effects. "Why the hell are we paying $25 dollars for a small bag of food that still makes her smell like she ate a rotten water buffalo carcass?" Jason asked, opening windows. We ultimately ended up with Beneful, which seemed to help.
  • She required a lot of exercise when she was young, although it was really only a problem during Seattle's rainy winters, when short, dark, wet days made any outdoor activity a miserable venture.
  • She could destroy a "chew proof" toy in minutes, sometimes seconds.
But overall, she was great and the best practice I ever had for raising a kid. Which is why I'm especially grateful that she lasted long enough for both my kids to get to know her well.
Ava (2 1/2y.o), Dylan (6 months) and Isis
When she started limping last fall, we thought the knee problem she'd had a few years ago had come back, as mysteriously as it had disappeared. The holidays were rough for us, punctuated by a flood at our home, and an unexpected move into a rental that fit a host of mobility needs we had for J.'s live-in Great Aunt, but that did not allow dogs. So Isis went to stay with my parents until we could get settled and figure out next steps.

Within a few weeks, the limp was more pronounced and she was visibly in pain. We took her in and x-rays confirmed a large growth in her front shoulder. The vet said she'd dealt with several super nice pit bulls over the past year that had developed cancer. "It's never the mean, vicious ones," she said sadly. "Always the sweet, gentle ones." She explained that if we tried a really aggressive treatment, including chemo and amputation, we'd still only get a few extra months with Isis.

A few years ago, when my parents' dog began to fall apart, my dad was reluctant to put her down, so she was in a lot of pain at the end. This time around, he suggested we not make the same mistake and instead do it sooner rather than later.

Still, we initially opted to wait and see if Isis rebounded. She would have good days of frolicking with my parents' dog and the kids, then a bad one of barely being able to get off her couch and down the stairs to go to the bathroom. When the muscle under her shoulder became noticeably wasted away, I began to worry that it might shatter as she made her way up or down the stairs - a risk the doctor had warned us about as the growth ate away at her bone mass. I knew it was time.

We grappled with how to explain what was happening in terms a three year old would understand and I'd held off on telling Ava until we firmed up our plans.
The day we decided to take Isis to be put down, we let Dylan and Ava play with her one last time, and explained it like this, which is what she volunteers to anyone who asks, and even some who don't: "My dog Isis got sick and her leg was hurting. The vet couldn't fix it and Isis was hurting really bad so she went to go be in heaven with Jesus so she wouldn't hurt anymore and she can run and play again with poodles. But I miss her." Not sure where the poodle part came from, but she got the gist of it.
When we took Isis in for the last time, the vet explained that she'd get one shot to relax her, and one more that would gradually, but relatively quickly, slow her breathing then stop her heart. We'd been through this before with my parents' old dog and knew what to expect: a couple shots, five to 10 minutes of glassy-eyed stupor, and her heart would just stop beating.

So my dad, mom and I crowded into a small exam room at the vet with Isis, and my mom and I stroked her head as she received each injection. Five minutes went by. Her heart beat resolutely. 10 minutes went by. 15 minutes. 20 minutes. The doctor checked her again and finally said, "Um, I've never had to do this but I'm going to have to give her another shot."

Kneeling there on the floor of the slightly dingy, fluorescent-lit exam room with tears in my eyes, and fur covering my pants for the last time, I laughed. Isis, in dying, as she had in living, showed herself to be a prime example of her breed and its reputation as a strong, big-hearted dog that would only reluctantly leave your side.

This article in the New York Times speaks to how big a role dogs can play in our lives: Emotional Power Broker of the Modern Family - NYTimes 

Isis certainly played a big role in mine and I miss her immensely, as does Ava, who still mentions her sometimes when we see other dogs. We took one of the pictures of Isis and the kids to hang on the "friends and family" wall in Ava's class. At her parent/teacher conference, soon after we put Isis down, her teacher said, "She really loved that dog. Even before Isis got sick, every picture she drew had Isis in it."
I feel blessed to have known Isis's love and that my kids experienced it too. She helped me teach my kids about love, caring, pet ownership and responsibility, gentleness, sickness, the limits of medical care, and how we are expected to treat one another (and our pets) in our family. Funny how a dog helped us illustrate how to be good people to each other.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Busy day w/kids: library story time, low-cost kid helmet giveaway in Bellevue, new Ava scooter & stroll @ Renton's Coulon Park stroll. Naps needed all around.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Hosted Mother's Day brunch for 19 adults and 7 kids. Tasty menu, lots of laughs, NBA game. Relaxing? No. Enjoyable? Very. Cleanup? Underway.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Milestone: for 3rd time in a week, almost 17 m.o. woke up dry and peed in the potty! 1st step of long road to end of diapers.