Big Paw Prints to Follow

ELBEE Thank goodness she changed the title. This post was going to be called Life Goes On which I thought was depressing and kind of a cliche.

Last week I went to UCLA with Gus. Walking into the hospital for the first time since Charley passed was as emotional as walking in with him for the very first time years ago. Carol, a wise woman and honorary “aunt” to the Doods who helps out with PAC, said that Charley would always be by my side to guide me and keep me brave. He definitely was there in spirit that morning.

I asked Marsha, the groomer with all of the magic colors, to give Gus pastel ears and a pastel tail for Easter. To be honest I think it was to create a distraction. I also think I brought Gus instead of Elbee because there was no chance anyone would mistake him for Charley and lead to an awkward moment.

GUS I’m starting to like the colors but with Pack Leader keeping my hair long, about 10 people said that I looked like a sheep. Someone else commented that I looked like a member of an 80’s hair band. What is that?

ELBEE Normally I would be insulted about not going into the hospital but out of respect for my big brother, I get it. And note to self: try to explain to Gus how much P.L. misses the 80’s.

I was very nervous about seeing all of the people at the hospital who miss Charley almost as much as I do. I was afraid that I would end up a blubbering mess. Fortunately, everyone was so kind and supportive. There were hugs and there were tears but the morning was healing. Gus was a big part of that. He comforted me at the same time that he reached out to patients and staff. He showed a certain grace and maturity that I hadn’t seen before.

He really stepped up his game. It was as if he knew that he had some big paw prints to fill. He strode through the lobby with total confidence. Well, as much as a little guy can stride. He was sweeter than ever. A woman in the volunteer office was so enchanted that he became her favorite dog within five minutes. I noticed him doing something that Charley often did. He would sit very still and look around as if assessing the situation to see what he needed to do. Note to the daughters: No I have not lost it. He really did. I have witnesses.

He almost over performed. I’d give him the hand signal for down and he’d follow that but then add a bunch of tricks on his own. He got laughs. He got applause. He won people over. He helped me cope.

All in all the day went well. Gus was exhausted but worked like a champ. Despite more mood swings than I had during menopause and pregnancies put together, I didn’t end up a blubbering mess. That happened later.

At night my husband found a package on the doorstep and said,  “you’ve got something here from UCLA.” Having no idea what to expect, I tore it open and found this beautiful plaque. I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of the gesture and the sentiments behind it that the tears started pouring down my face. They were tears of sadness but also of pride and gratitude.

 

 

Dogs Cry Too

 

 

It’s obvious that Elbee and Gus have  been feeling the loss of their big brother. They are both more subdued. Yet each one seems to be grieving in his own way. At least neither one has a pimple like I did.

Elbee was howling in his sleep the other night and has even whimpered a few times. That’s something he’s never done before.

ELBEE But thank goodness I don’t have a pimple.

He was always happy resting on the floor. Now he sleeps in Charley’s spot on the bed with his head on the footboard. Speaking of the bed, he is sometimes prone to stomach problems during the night. When it happened in the past, Charley would always nudge me awake with his paw so that I would let Elbee out. Well last night was one of those nights. Elbee didn’t nudge me but instead did a soft bark (not his usual really loud annoying one) to get me up. It was surprising.

ELBEE I thought this was supposed to be about my grieving, not my personal habits.

He also seems to have become a lot more mellow. I think it’s because, as much as he loved Charley, he now has one less dog to compete with. It’s no secret that Elbee enjoys undivided attention.

ELBEE Has it ever occurred to her that I may be maturing.

Today was the happiest I’ve seen Elbee in weeks. My grandson Ryan, one of his favorite people in the world, slept over and really seemed to cheer him up.

Gus looks sad and a bit lost without Charley. As Charley quietly passed away in the yard, the little guy sat about ten feet away, watching intently and not moving. It was if he understood what was happening. More and more, I notice him sitting very still with that serious look on his face.

As I’ve shared in previous posts, Gus worked several events with Charley so not only was he bonded to him but Charley was his teacher. Together they comforted at the UCLA candlelight vigil. They taught an anti-bullying group from Compton about kindness. They showed unconditional acceptance to children at a special needs camp. At each of these events they would occasionally check in, licking each other on the face.

Gus has picked up some of Charley’s habits. He’s become a little “stalkerish” in a good way and follows me around the house. The other day he even pushed open the bathroom door to find me. Charley, and my kids when they were young, are the only ones who have ever done that.

He also does the “nudge” during the night. Unlike Charley, who did it so I would let Elbee out to throw up, Gus just does it so I’ll wake up and pet him. The poor guy is lonely.

Elbee Really?

As the weeks have gone by, Elbee and Gus have turned to each other more and more. Very rarely will you find either of them alone. This unusual “rug” is the two of them cuddled together for comfort and support.

 

And on a Lighter Note…Sort of

 

This post was going to be titled Confessions of a Hot Mess because that’s about how well I’ve been coping with Charley being gone. Just to give you an idea of how badly it’s been going, I have a pimple. I am way to old to have a pimple. A daughter said it was stress.

I’ve been hiking in the mountains and spending time with Elbee, Gus and Riley, our Golden retriever and Charley’s uncle, trying to come to terms with the loss. I miss Charley’s protective presence following me around the house. I miss that other welcoming bark when I come home. I miss walking into the hospital with him by my side.

This morning I pictured Charley sitting next to me, with his paw on my lap and staring at me as if to say, “get a grip.” Well, today I’m going to get a grip. I’m going to celebrate some of the fun we had when Charley was younger.

Many of you know we did the movie I Love You Man.

ELBEE Is there anyone who doesn’t know about their blink and you missed it cameo which Pack Leader thought put her in Oscar contention? Yes, I’m back. With my big brother gone, I have to be the voice of reason and be funny. You try it.

By the way, I’m wearing glasses to give the photo some gravitas. See, I’m smarter than I look.

Since Elbee mentioned the Oscars, let me share that Charley and I worked an Academy Awards gifting suite. To be honest, I don’t think it was an A-list event because the “stars” had to wear rubber bracelets so we’d know they were stars. In earlier posts, I’ve written about Charley being on Pit Bulls and Parolees, making the cover of the Bed Head Pajama Catalog and being in several parades, including the Hollywood Christmas Parade with the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan.

Charley and I also  participated in numerous street fairs and charity walks. Among others, we took part in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the Light the Night Walk against cancer and Mariette Hartley’s Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention where Charley was the mascot.

Speaking of mascots, for several years he was the mascot for the Los Angeles Police Academy magnet schools, a program that prepares high schoolers for careers in law enforcement. The kids loved him but the officer who had to introduce Charley at a meeting had trouble keeping a straight face when he brought out my huge, shaggy dog.

I can only imagine what former Chief Bratton was thinking when they shot this photo or when Charley took part in graduation exercises.

 

Charley initially got involved in the program because I was the weight training coach for the students. I would often bring him to events to teach them about the healing work of therapy dogs.

ELBEE Oh no! She mentioned weight lifting! So soon after Charley’s passing and she’s going to bring out a bodybuilding photo from the archives. I threatened to boycott the blog if she ever did it again but under the circumstances I have to cut her some slack. I mean the pimple and all.

 

 

 

 

 

A Life Well Lived

 

 

Sometimes it was hard to believe that Charley was a dog. Nicole, the middle daughter and the one who actually loves all the Doods, said that he was like a mystical creature who would never die. Like a unicorn.

Missing my wonderful “unicorn,” I took advantage of a beautiful, breezy morning to hike up into the mountains. As I enjoyed the healing freedom, the spectacular views and the wildflowers, thoughts of Charley came flooding in. I could almost feel his spirit.

 

In his ten plus years at UCLA Medical Center and at Providence Tarzana Hospital his interactions with patients, staff and families were so simple and natural but at the same time extraordinary. He entertained with tricks. He comforted. He healed. He always seemed to have an instinct about who needed him the most.

For some reason, as I climbed the trails that morning, I kept remembering many of the more difficult situations. Those were the times when his grace and kindness really helped me as well as the people we were visiting.

At Providence, with the okay of their oncologists, we visited cancer patients. Charley spent time with Susan, an absolutely amazing woman who was battling the disease. When she was in a “funk,” having him on her bed made her feel better for hours. On the day she confided that she was done fighting and going home, it was only Charley’s presence that kept me from losing it. She is gone but her husband has sent me touching messages about how much Charley meant to both of them.

We were asked to see a man who was terminal but waiting for his daughter to fly in and say goodbye. Without Charley by my side, I don’t know if I could have entered that hospital room. He truly did teach me to be brave.

The patient’s wife, who had been in tears, hugged Charley and started smiling as he leaned on her. I gave the patient a treat for Charley who gently took it out of his hand. Then we sat and chatted quietly as he petted my big sweet dog. We spent a peaceful, emotionally healing few minutes.

Years ago Charley did several visits with a young girl in the neuropsych unit at UCLA that I will never forget. Jani, according to doctors at the hospital, was born schizophrenic. She loved animals in general and Charley in particular. However, on a rough morning she tried to kick him. Unfortunately it was the same day that a reporter from the L.A. Times was doing a story about her.

The column one article talked about Jani having a very bad day and trying to kick the hospital dog. What the reporter didn’t know was that the next time we came in to see her, Jani ran over to Charley, hugged him and said, “I’m so sorry. I love you, Charley.” On our following visit, she gave him this page from a coloring book that she had signed. She even apologized for not having time to fill it in. I saved it because it moved me so deeply.

I emailed the reporter to tell her about the positive interactions and she got permission to put it on the newspaper’s blog. That’s why I’m able to share the story now. Charley with his kindness and gentle spirit was able to reach Janni.

After Charley passed, Ursula, a wonderful therapist in the NPI, sent me a note with an Irish saying that she felt applied to Charley,  “We will not see his like again.” How fortunate were all of those who saw his “like.” How fortunate was I to be at his side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye My Gentle Giant

 

When Charley was six months old, we were in the waiting room at the vet when a woman walked over and commented on his demeanor, saying that he would be a perfect therapy dog. The very next morning this thoughtful stranger called me with the number for the UCLA People Animal Connection. Little did I know, it was a phone call that would change my life.

Charley was my dog but as we worked together over the years, he became my friend, my partner, oh let’s face it, my soulmate. The daughters referred to him as my “other husband.” He died the same way he lived, with grace, dignity and concern for my well being. He knew that I could never make the decision to let him go so he made it for me.

In early posts I wrote about all of the training and testing, but nothing prepared me for the emotions of walking into the hospital with him for the first time. I confess that I have a basic fear of hospitals and a bit of “white coat syndrome.” Yet when I went into the hospital lobby with that big, beautiful animal by my side, I was at ease.

Charley’s first bed visit was with a patient who had been been hospitalized for quite some time waiting for a heart transplant. She looked so frail in the small bed with equipment everywhere. My hands were shaking as I helped Charley step gently onto the bed. As he instinctively cuddled by her side, the woman wrapped her arms around him, started to cry and then to smile, sharing how lonesome she was for her own three dogs.

I watched in wonder as Charley comforted her. Any skepticism I had about how much a dog could accomplish completely disappeared. It was the moment that I became a true believer in the healing power, or maybe magic, of therapy dogs.

Two other patients experiencing “Charley love”

 

Charley became my teacher. That first day in the hospital, he taught me to be brave. Over the more than ten years that we volunteered together, he taught me to focus and be present for the patients, families and staff members who needed us. He taught me about unconditional love.

Charley was a special soul who lived a life of joy and purpose. His kindness, intuition and ability to heal were legendary.  People still talk about the day that a woman who had been catatonic for over a week smiled and petted him. No one who experienced the Charley “lean” or the gentle grip of his big front paw ever forgot it.

At twelve, Charley was slowing down but still seemed to enjoy special events. The night before he passed, he and his mini-me Gus were visiting Bruin athletes at the UCLA Hall of Fame. He was his usual charming self and worked the room like a pro.

 

He seemed restless when we got home, so I spent most of the night sitting with him. In the morning, I left him on the bed while I went to feed the rest of the pack. When I came back upstairs, he wasn’t there. I found him in the yard. He had chosen a quiet spot under some purple flowering bushes to lay down. A half hour later he was gone. His giant heart had stopped beating.

 

 

 

The Pink Trees

It’s no secret that I’m a little, okay a lot, obsessed with the dogs but I confess that I have a few other obsessions. For instance, why are there three or four helicopters flying over the mountains near our house at all hours of the night? The middle daughter was about to tell me that I was losing it when she looked out the bedroom window and there they were.

I also have a thing about wood rat nests. I took a class at a nature center and was fascinated. A rat family will build a nest out of sticks and leaves at the base of a tree. Each time a new rat moves in they add on. The nests can get huge. For some reason they remind me of condos. By the way, even though I like the living arrangement, I did not touch the stuffed rat when they passed it around in class. I have standards.

             Wood Rat Nest Yesterday  

I am really obsessed with the cherry trees that grow around a small lake in a nearby park. In February I start driving by almost every day to see if they’re in bloom yet.

THE DOODS Pack Leader is not kidding. Can we tell you how many times we’ve had to act excited to see the trees. Just look at this photo. At least we look cute and aren’t wearing hats and sunglasses. 

Pink Trees and the Doods

One year I convinced the whole family that we should meet by the lake on a Sunday to see the pink blooms at their peak. Apparently, I was not the only one who had that idea. It was chaotic. There were people everywhere. Parking was a nightmare. The oldest daughter, who couldn’t care less about the pink trees, thought it was one of the worst ideas I’d ever had.

A few weeks later she walked into our house, looked at me and said, “Mom you win.” Driving over, she had seen some pink trees, that she normally would never have noticed, and immediately thought of me. I think she’s afraid that the pink trees and I will haunt her forever.

Today she texted a photo that is the main reason I decided to write this post. That is my granddaughter smiling in front of some pink trees! Not to mention that she loves to find wood rat nests when we go hiking. I did win!

 

 

For My Brother Stan

 

When I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble finding the words. Then it dawned on me. It was because it was about someone so dear to my heart.

THE DOODS Wonder which one of us she’s talking about.

 

My brother Stan’s birthday was March 3rd. He was like the Jewish dog whisperer long before Cesar Milan took the title, without the Jewish part. He was a television director in San Francisco but had a real knack for training his dogs. I never remember him taking a class or hiring anyone. It just seemed to happen naturally. He was also one of the funniest people I have ever known.

He always gave his dogs people names like Max, Stella and Dave, a dog named after David Letterman because Letterman had a dog named Stan. The fact that he gave them those names may explain why they felt obligated to live up to his trust. Somehow that hasn’t always worked for me.

ELBEE And would you care to explain my name. No wonder I have issues.

In the fall of 1995, we were living at the beach in Malibu while our house was being repaired after the Northridge earthquake. One morning my brother called to tell me that he had been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and would be undergoing major surgery. After I picked myself up off the floor and got the phone back to my ear, we decided that he would stay with us while he recuperated. His only request was that he bring Larry.

Larry, a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix, was the most special of all Stan’s dogs. When they arrived at our house, Larry instantly bonded with Cody, our  Golden Retriever. The two of them became best friends. They would explode onto the sand, doing laps, swimming, sunning. Yet much of the time they sat quietly by Stan’s side or took walks up the beach with him.

After a few months, feeling somewhat better, my brother decided to move back to his house in Oakland and return to work. Despite a positive attitude, he knew that his time was limited and wanted to live his life as fully and normally as possible.

When it came time to say good-bye to Stan and Larry, I don’t know who was a bigger mess, me or Cody. Being a realist, Stan asked me if, when the time came, we would adopt Larry. Since he was being so direct, I couldn’t offer all of the platitudes that were trying to jump out of my mouth, so all I said was, “of course.”

I have a confession. I started to write about Stan and Larry coming back in the months before my brother’s death but it got too depressing. Let me just say that we lost Stan on July 22, 1996 at the age of 47. That was also the day that his beloved Larry became my beloved Larry.

 

 

Am I Blue?

Some posts just seem to write themselves and even come with photos! If you’ve seen Gus on Facebook lately, you may have noticed that his ears and tail are blue. Marsha, his wonderful and creative groomer, went to a dog expo last weekend and got inspired.

ELBEE I feel a little guilty which doesn’t happen very often. I was eavesdropping, which does happen very often, and heard Marsha telling Pack Leader how she’d love to try some doggie hair dyes on Gus. I should have warned the little guy but I was just so relieved that I wasn’t going to be her first victim.

I thought it sounded like a great idea. We agreed that she should go with a more conservative approach and use the temporary color even though the permanent colors were fabulous.

When I came to pick him up, Gus looked adorable. He was so cute with the touches of blue but I admit he seemed a bit embarrassed.

ELBEE Of course he was embarrassed. What self-respecting dog wouldn’t be? And don’t forget we’ve worn hats and sunglasses.

The next morning when I arrived at UCLA with Gus, he was like a pint sized celebrity. I lost count of how many people wanted to take his picture. The kids in the neuropsych units where he visits were so excited when they saw him. Some of the teens with their own multi-colored hair could really relate.

GUS  I’m not usually a complainer but I felt ridiculous. I’m supposed to be blonde, not blue. I tried sitting outside the emergency room hoping someone would help me, but nothing. All I kept thinking was, “Just don’t let me run into any dogs I know.”

Then it happened. There was Tommy the Bichon, my buddy, my wingman. We were even on the Channel 7 news together. He was so shocked, at first he couldn’t even look at me. Still, after we sat in the lobby together, chatting with each other and having a bunch of people pet us, I started to feel better.

By the time we headed down to valet parking, I was actually feeling pretty good. I thought that maybe the blue made me look handsome and adventurous. But as we were waiting for the car,  a woman came running up and shouted, “OMG! It’s a fluff monster.” 

I thought it couldn’t get any worse but the next day a granddaughter was over and said that I looked like a blueberry! Are you kidding? I look like a fruit? Charley and Elbee warned me that I might need therapy but I’m not even three yet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearts and Doodles

In last Monday’s post I mentioned that this week I would be writing about the Doods’ purpose. Then Valentines Day came along and I had a change of “heart.”

THE DOODS Is it just us or do Pack Leader’s jokes keep getting lamer. If we knew how, we’d do the eye roll.

A few months ago, UCLA did photo shoots with the dogs in the People Animal Connection for valentine cards. On the holiday, the dogs (and their people) distributed them to patients and staff.

THE DOODS Don’t get us wrong. We appreciate the thought behind it and the fact that they wanted to feature us and our canine colleagues, but do you see these? We’re therapy dogs, not clowns. 

And as if those weren’t bad enough, take a look at this one. Someone is turning into a stage mother. At least we have  proof that she put us into these ridiculous get ups. I wonder if we should contact the lawyer daughter to see if we can sue her for something like embarrassment.

 

Speaking of daughters, Nicole, the middle one and our favorite, got Pack Leader back on track. She told P.L. that she should be writing about our wonderful hearts.

 

 

Okay, enough already. I give up. Let me tell you briefly about the beautiful heart of each Dood.

Charley, the senior Dood, has an intuitive heart. He has always had the gift of being able to sense who needs him the most. He will then gently push himself against them. No one who has experienced the Charley “lean” ever forgets it. It’s like a magical hug.

Elbee is a bit of a show off with the heart of a joker. His antics seem designed to draw attention. His gift is to make everyone laugh and forget their difficult surroundings. If he doesn’t get the crowd reaction he’s going for, he’ll flop into someone’s lap.

Gus, at barely three years old, has a heart of pure sweetness. At work, he cuddles with people and seems to know just when to give someone a soft lick on the cheek. When we adopted him, we were told he was a Teddy Bear Doodle. With his cute dog smile, he truly is like a little, lovable stuffed animal.

My parents, who passed away when I was quite young, had a special way to sign every card and note to each other. At the very end, they would write A.K.A.A.S. My mother even had a charm on her bracelet with those letters.

They stood for “a kiss and a smile.” As I thought about those words on Valentines Day, it suddenly dawned on me that in a certain way they so poignantly summed up the Doods and all of their loving interactions.

 

 

 

A Grandma’s Purpose

In my usual spirit of honesty, I admit that I went to see A Dog’s Purpose. Yes, I knew that there was a lot of negative publicity about the film. A video had surfaced that showed some questionable training techniques with a German Shepherd. And yes, the Jewish guilt was killing me.

Call me a hypocrite but you can also call me a grandma who needed a family friendly film. My 12 year old grandson Ryan was sleeping over and my husband and I (he’s guilty too) had promised to take him to a movie. He wanted to see it and we thought it would be great because we could sit through it without falling asleep or pretending that we were entertained.

That picture above is not a photo of Ryan. His mother is the one we refer to as “Jennifer who hates Facebook.” That adorable little boy is Ryder, Danielle’s son. She and Nicole are the two daughters who actually like my blog. Well, there was that one incident when they were going to hire Jennifer to sue me for writing, “Top 12 Reasons that Dogs are Better than Children” (3/14/16) but we settled out of court. I got them gift certificates from Nordstrom.

Okay, I am a sucker for dog movies. It’s also true that I still haven’t recovered from Old Yeller. I saw it as a kid and ended up sobbing hysterically but someone assured me that a Dog’s Purpose had a happy ending. Hey, I’m the one who overdoses on Hallmark movies at Christmas. I like happy endings.

There is another part to my excuse. Call it a grandma’s purpose. A few years ago I told my two older grandchildren that my job was to spoil them. They’ve held me to it. One day they even asked if I wanted to take them to Target and spoil them. Do you really think I was going to say no to the movie? I refuse to discuss what we bought at the snack bar.

The movie is about a dog that keeps getting reincarnated as different breeds, fulfilling different roles. And I’m the one who’s crazy. The daughters all think I’ve lost it when I tell them that I “channel” the Doods in my writing.

I have to say, the movie really made me do a lot of thinking about the Doods and the work they accomplish.

THE DOODS Finally!

 

 

Each of the three seems to have his own unique style and sense of purpose. They are all so giving but in different ways. I’ll share more about that next week.

THE DOODS Seriously?

To end on a positive note, the Humane Society decided that proper procedure was followed in training the dogs for the movie. It was concluded that the video may have been edited. I’ll take it. It makes my guilty conscience feel a little less guilty.

Breaking news! After some negotiating, I got permission to include this photo of the other two wonderful grandchildren.