A Double Dose of Doodle

A few weeks ago I posted about my long time friend Roberta who is waging the most determined fight against brain cancer. Roberta is so tough that if anyone can scare cancer, she’s the one.

She has the rare gift of acknowledging reality, working with it and creating the best possible scenario. In this case she has developed a whole arsenal of medical and emotional support. That includes, as I shared in the other post, the neighborhood dogs who visit when she’s working out in her garage and the Doods. The first time I went to visit I brought Gus. Last week it was the dynamic duo, Gus and Elbee.

As soon as we drove up to her house, the front door flew open and she came out to greet us, hair and makeup done. And you know I consider that a big plus.

ELBEE It’s no secret. I do too.

She was in a great mood, positive, upbeat and welcoming. There was laughter. There was a lovely lunch.

There was also a bit of dog chaos. The minute the Doods pranced though the door they became the center of attention. Roberta was running around with them, applauding all of their tricks, sneaking them treats every time I turned my back. Then as they finally tired out, she sprawled on the floor with both of them for some unconditional dog love and support.

As she was resting with Gus and Elbee, gently petting them, we began talking quietly about how much the time with the dogs means to her. That’s when she urged me to do this follow up because she wanted people to truly understand the impact that dogs, and particularly therapy dogs, can have on someone who is fighting for his or her life.

I asked Roberta if she would send me an email expressing how the dogs are affecting her. I thought it would mean so much more coming directly from someone who is experiencing dog therapy rather than from my observations. It’s difficult to do this with hospital patients because of confidentiality issues.

She wrote some extremely touching things about me that modesty prevents me from sharing. Oh who am I kidding. Showoff that I am, I’ll tell you one. She said the dogs were “unique and amazing” because they take after me.

ELBEE I was so proud that Pack Leader was staying out of it but I guess she couldn’t help herself.

Seriously, Roberta did say that she feels so great when she knows the Doods are coming over. She can hardly wait until they arrive. She absolutely loves to roll around on the floor with my “incredible animals,” and yes, “give them dog biscuits, the best variety,” when I’m not looking.  She also wrote, ” It is a thrill to have them in my house, pet them and gain peace of mind.” How bad can the world be when dogs and their leaders exist to help others.” Amen Roberta. I am proud to call you my friend.

 

 

Oddballs in the Mountains

Over the years I’ve seen some unusual hikers. No, I’m not referring to the woman without makeup. That reminds me of the time a man walked over to me carrying a live snake he’d just found. I said, “I’m wearing a cute outfit and lipstick. Do I look like someone who would want to hold a snake?”

ELBEE These comments are from a woman who puts on blush if she gets up to go to the bathroom during the night.

And yes, I’ve been know to dabble in a little eye shadow.

I’ve posted about the hiker who was naked except for a baseball hat and tennis shoes. Then there was the dirty, disheveled young man who unwrapped a blanket he was carrying to show me a drone that he’d found. And let’s not forget the bike rider in the mesh cycling suit. Now that was really disturbing.

GUS And I thought the coyotes were scary. Where is Charley when I need him!

The other morning I found someone else to add to the list. I was about ten minutes up a trail, enjoying the peace and quiet, when suddenly, in the distance, I heard a man shouting, “I am. I am. I am.”

That was followed by a few moments of silence so I was hoping it was a one time shout out and he’d gotten it out of his system. That’s when I heard the same booming voice yelling, “I am beauty. I am love. I am elegant.”

ELBEE I am elegant? Are you kidding me?

He continued, “I am excellent. I surrender to more love and joy than I have ever experienced.”

ELBEE His wife probably kicked him out of the house because all of his positivity was giving her a headache.

By the way, I think my eyes look fabulous.

 

GUS Oy vey!

 

Next time the daughters get on my case about going into the mountains to find myself, I’m going to tell them about this guy. I don’t have an issue with his affirmations but did he really have to share them with everyone within a ten mile radius.

Speaking of affirmations, I tried meditating for a period of time but I kept falling asleep. Someone told me that was avoidance. I told them it was boredom.

When I reached the top of the main trail, with him still over sharing somewhere in the distance, I sprinted up a little side trail. Since running is against my religion that should give you an idea of how uncomfortable I was.

I thought I had made a clean getaway when whom should I hear behind me but Mr. “I am. I am fine.” I turned around expecting to see him in some sort of robes or weird outfit. I admit I was kind of disappointed to see a royal blue hoodie and hiking shorts. Even worse he had a cell phone. To his credit, once he realized I was up there, he stopped chanting.

I have one more addition to the oddball list. This man, unlike the naked jogger, had all of his clothes on but no shoes. I don’t even want to imagine what the bottom of his feet looked like.

ELBEE Don’t quote me but I think Gwyneth Paltrow calls them “earthers.” 

Yentas by Proxy

In my June post A Different Dynamic, I wrote about how much Charley’s passing had changed the rhythm of the pack, especially during our walks. Now there is a new twist. It seems that two fluffy white dogs instead of three are less intimidating. People feel even more comfortable stopping to chat. And yes, I’m a yenta so I probably encourage it.

As soon as anyone approaches, Gus immediately cuddles up to them with tail wagging and a smile on his face. Elbee, as we know, is the canine answer to Mariah Carey. He will still sometimes do his obnoxious bark but he loves being noticed.

ELBEE Excuse me. I have a lot to say. If Pack Leader would pay attention, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.

People get so comfortable petting the Doods that they talk about all sorts of personal things.

ELBEE Maybe because she brags to everyone we meet that we’re therapy dogs. 

One woman asked if I was a dog walker. When I said no, she looked a little disappointed. Then she explained that she needed help with her own dog because she was having shoulder problems. She was only putting off surgery because she had heart issues. We took off before I heard the rest of her medical history.

Then there was the woman working in the garden in front of her house. As she was petting Gus and Elbee, she went into a diatribe about her crazy neighbor across the street. If it was all true, I’m never walking over that way again.

A man passing by on a busy street suddenly stopped to see the dogs. After a casual conversation, he began sharing or maybe oversharing about his divorce and how it was all his fault. Apparently, he really wanted to win her back. I think he kept petting them so that I would commiserate or offer advice.

ELBEE She takes us for a walk and all of a sudden she’s “Dear Abby” of the street. What concerns me is that I’m becoming a yenta by association. Just look at this picture. And I’m starting to have a lot more opinions.

 

 

 

GUS I’m just a nice, friendly kid…kind of a people pleaser. I don’t know how I keep getting caught up in all of this stuff. I don’t want to be accused of aiding and abetting a yenta. Would I have to get the lawyer daughter to defend me?

Aside from all of the conversations, we get some very interesting commentary. An older man, possibly homeless (yes I’m judging) passed us and said, “Oh it’s the foofy dogs and the lady with the foofy hair.”

ME AND ELBEE Really??

 

Perhaps my favorite was an elderly lady driving an “elderly” Mercedes who pulled up next to us and rolled down her window. As she puffed on a cigarette and coughed, she said, “You and the dogs add a lot of class to the neighborhood.”

 

 

 

 

Another Crazy Dog Lady

My friend Roberta is a force of nature. She’s strong, bright, honest and compassionate. Her accomplishments in the field of education are legendary.   She was on the Los Angeles school board and founded the high school magnet program that I worked with for several years. Above all she’s a fighter who is now waging the battle of her life against brain cancer.

We’ve been friends for over thirty years. It’s the kind of friendship where we may not talk for quite some time but once we pick up the phone it’s as if we chatted yesterday. She called the other day about getting together, but it was really the Doods she wanted to see. Roberta, like me, is a crazy dog lady. She is also a long time exercise person. I’ll admit right here that we actually flexed for each other during our visit.

ELBEE Thank goodness she didn’t throw in anything from the bodybuilding archives. Under the circumstances, that would have been totally tacky.

She really can’t deal with a pet right now but she figured out a way to combine her exercise and her love for dogs. She works out on weight lifting equipment in the garage, so she let her neighbors know that as soon as they saw the door open in the morning, they were welcome to bring in their dogs. Of course she added a box of biscuits as a little incentive. Soon four or five started dropping by every day.

Figuring that if neighborhood dogs were lifting her spirits, therapy dogs would be even better, she got in touch with me. I told you she was smart. She called to ask if I would bring a Dood or two over to her house. Gus was working at UCLA Wednesday, so I offered to stop by after we finished. From the moment we arrived Gus was treated like a VIP or would that be a VID?

It turned out to be a great afternoon for Roberta, the other people at her house and for Gus. The mood was light, everyone smiling and laughing. I don’t think Gus’s tricks ever got more applause. He was being offered treats from all directions. He even got a seat at the dining room table. I had to put my foot down, however, when they offered to serve him lunch.

After all of the activity, Roberta sprawled on the floor for a little quiet time with Gus. As soon as she lay down, he walked over and cuddled next to her. Then in his signature move, he rolled over for a belly rub. It was such a sweet perfect moment of healing. It was my beautiful therapy dog doing what he does best for my dear friend.

 

 

 

Another Birthday, Another Butt Burner

Some people celebrate their birthdays with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Others like to get a cake from a special bakery. I celebrate by hiking up the butt burner, which maybe I should rethink considering that my birthday is in July and it’s really hot outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE Maybe she should consider going to a senior cooling center instead.

The birthday was on a nice morning as far as summer mornings go. There were a few clouds and a soft breeze. As I began my way up the trail, I was enjoying the scenery and the tranquility. It was challenging, but I was happy that I could still do it.

ELBEE Hello, she just did it last week so it’s not really much of a stretch. On the other hand, I’m impressed that she can still do it at her age. I’ve done the butt burner and it’s not easy. I absolutely refuse to do it in the summer heat, though. It ruins my hair.

As for this unfortunate photo, it’s her first birthday since Charley passed so I let her dress me up. I’d prefer to be anonymous but I’m so well known by now, that’s almost impossible.

Then the air warmed up, the sun got stronger, the breeze disappeared and I started thinking that going shopping might be a better alternative. To add insult to injury, the show offs who had set out early were smiling and waving as they passed me on their way down. Not to mention the young ones who ran by me on their way up. Hey, I never said anything about not complaining.

Undeterred and sweating, I kept going. About forty minutes later,  I made it to dirt Mulholland, an unpaved road that crosses through the Santa Monica Mountains. Since it was the birthday hike, I climbed a little higher where there is a beautiful ocean view. From there I decided to really go for it and come down a short steep hill that only the “regulars” use. It involves a bit of slipping and sliding but is really fun.

ELBEE No wonder the daughters think she’s a shade short of cuckoo.

As I made it to the bottom, feeling pretty good about myself, I saw a guy holding his phone and leaning against his bike on the side of Mulholland. He looked at me and said, ” I was just watching you and waiting to call 911. Figured you were going to wipe out at any moment.” I debated whether he was being thoughtful or making an age crack.

GUS Even I know that was an age crack. 

ELBEE Apparently, dressing us up has become another birthday obsession for Pack Leader. I mean, look at Gus (are you kidding me) and poor Riley!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from Grandma Land

My grandson Ryan is about to become a teenager. Being a writing hoarder, I recently found something that I wrote years ago when I was helping out by taking him to pre-school. Sorry but the Doods are going to be left out this week, although Ryan and Charley were each around three at the time and growing up together.

ELBEE That’s it. I’m finding a new blog.

 

I’m going to share it just as I jotted it down long ago in that classroom.

Help, I’m trapped in pre-school Hell, a sub-division of Grandma Land. I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor that I’m guessing is filled with rocks, trying to be invisible or as least extremely boring. This is in the hopes that my grandson will disengage and play with the other children rather than grab me in a choke hold. A hold, by the way, that I think has been banned by LAPD.

Many decades ago when the three daughters were starting pre-school, the system was simple. You dropped them off and left them screaming as you skulked away. At that point you had choices. You could sit in your car crying hysterically because your baby was growing up. You could be wracked with guilt because you had just left your offspring with near strangers which also involved hysterical crying. Or, as was the case when I left the youngest, I did the happy dance in the parking lot singing “freedom, freedom, freedom” and then went shopping. Okay so I didn’t win mother of the year but I did find a fabulous pair of shoes.

There were exceptions. I had a friend who was expecting her oldest daughter to have great separation anxiety. Instead, when Sally (her name has been changed in solidarity with moms everywhere and to avoid lawsuits) dropped off Susie (also a fake name), the child turned to her and said “See you later, mom.” Sally ran to her car and sobbed because she had enough separation anxiety for both of them. Looking back, there was so much drama in that parking lot a therapist could have cleaned up!

But I digress. Back to my invisible grandma spot on the floor. In a cage to my left is a mean looking albino guinea pig the size of a small dog. It has a smaller black and white accomplice. I would almost swear the two are conspiring to escape and bite me. I must seem like an easy mark because I’m glued to my pillow spot. I wonder if guinea pigs carry rabies.

ELBEE She’s sharing about guinea pigs instead of me. I’m getting an agent.

Facing me in a cute little toy stroller is an anatomically correct doll. He, yes he, is naked except for a piece of plastic pizza draped unceremoniously across his chest. Considering myself to be a fairly hip grandma, I still feel a little behind the times. After all, when the daughters were small they had gender non-specific dolls who could only be identified by hair and wardrobe.

I am happy to report that despite my presence or non-presence, Ryan made it through pre-school with flying colors. I would like to add that he has always had a special bond with the Doods. Are you happy Elbee?

ELBEE For the record, I have been his favorite for years.

 

Ryan is also the wonderful young man who made this touching photo tribute for Charley when he passed.

 

UCLA Pups on Parade

I was in the middle of writing this when we had a massive power outage in the neighborhood. I wondered if it was the universe telling me that my post sucked. I’m going to assume it was just a result of the heat wave we’re having and “power on.”

ELBEE If that was supposed to be funny, I should be doing stand-up. 

At the risk of sounding corny and emotional, I have to say that the Fourth of July was very special this year. No matter what side of the political, social or grocery aisle (shout out to all you vegans) people were on, there was a real sense of wanting to reach out and connect with each other.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t run to have Marsha, Gus’s groomer/colorist, dye his ears and tail red and blue as soon as I knew that he was going to be in a parade. She even came up with the idea of putting paper plates over his ears to keep the color where it was supposed to be while she was applying it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE I admit that I was a little jealous until I saw that photo. Paper plates on my ears! As if!

GUS It’s the price of beauty.

Since we had to do the color a few days before the event, I sort of forgot about it until I took the dogs walking. Almost everyone we passed smiled and wished us a happy fourth. There was a pervasive sense of patriotism.

On the day of the parade, we met in Pacific Palisades with several of the other teams from the UCLA People Animal Connection. From the moment we arrived,   the atmosphere was incredibly warm and friendly. People seemed truly happy to be uniting in appreciation of America. It was a celebration of our history and our freedom.

 

I had been in the parade a couple of times but this year seemed different. The crowd was larger and if possible more enthusiastic.

 

Gus was so excited, his red and blue tail never stopped wagging. Before we started walking, he flirted with Ella, a Golden Retriever, and drooled over Gracie, a darling Chihauhau who is the smallest dog in the program in terms of size but not of heart.

As we started down Sunset Boulevard with all of the other dogs, Gus played to the crowd. He visited with spectators along the route and even did a few impromptu dance moves. With the children, he was spectacular. I have never seen so many smiling faces. Okay, once or twice he got a little tired and I had to carry him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the other two parades, Charley was by my side, greeting celebrants, young and old. As you know, we lost him this year but we also lost Tovah, another special member of PAC. She was a beautiful Dachshund who happened to be Charley’s “girlfriend.” They often worked events, including the parade, together, with Tovah riding in her wagon as she got older.

I cherish this photo of them. It will always represent the Fourth of July to me. Without even trying, Gus is once again following in his big brother’s paw prints. He’s carrying on in the tradition of Charley and Tovah, making them both proud.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Therapy Dogaholic

This week I decided to rework the post that started it all, Confessions of a Happy Dogaholic. Only a few people saw it because I was nervous about showing it to anyone. Now that I’ve overshared all over the place, I thought why not this too.

ELBEE Personally I think it was just a slow news day.

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with the dogs. I talk about them incessantly which I’m sure is why so many people encouraged me to write about them in the first place. They were probably hoping I’d shut up and stop talking about them.

ELBEE Good luck with that. Wait, it’s about us. Keep talking.

There were even one or two people who hinted that I might want to join some sort of 12-step program. That was never going to happen. We all know that I enjoy my dog addiction. It’s not causing liver damage and I really can’t get with the whole anonymous concept. Hey, remember, in the 80’s and 90’s I was a competitive bodybuilder. Does that scream anonymous on any level?

ELBEE Where does she find these things?? I threatened to boycott this blog and even offered not to bark for a year if she’d stop. I give up.

GUS I shouldn’t admit it but I’m kind of starting to like them. I think all the therapy has really helped me cope.

 

Hey, old habits die hard. I often wondered what had triggered my love of dogs but didn’t have an “aha” moment until one day when I was looking at some of my baby pictures. Two things jumped out at me. First, I was a really unattractive baby. Second, there was some sort of adorable dog in almost every photo.

In retrospect, I think they were an attempt to distract from my looks. I also have a suspicion that they were rented or borrowed since they seemed to vary from month to month. My mother was so sweet and kind, I’m sure she was trying to help me out. At least with the cute dog/ugly baby thing going on, people had something to work with. They could say, “aw how darling” and still pass a lie detector test.

Today I am grateful to all of those anonymous dogs and to the ones who actually were our pets like Killer, the sweetest Cocker Spaniel in the world. From the time I was a little girl, they turned me into an animal lover. I am even more grateful to the late Charley and to Elbee and Gus.

ELBEE Excuse me. A great name like Killer and I get stuck with Elbee.

I’ve written that there are pivotal moments in life. Being a passenger in a near-fatal car accident was one of mine. Another was the very first time that I walked into UCLA Medical Center with Charley by my side. So thank you to the Doods, even you Elbee, for turning me into a therapy dogaholic.

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma with the Dogs Part Two

This post is a miracle just because it ever got written. The two youngest grandchildren were here to visit this weekend. Add two Doods to the mix. Throw in that almost four year old Bella is not a fan of big dogs and you have a recipe for chaos.

As I’ve shared in the past, she loves the dogs in photos. In person, not so much. I thought that with Charley gone it might be different but apparently Elbee now looks huge. Her fear of Charley has been replaced with a fear of Elbee.

She may have a point about his size. When I was walking the dogs this morning, someone driving by saw Elbee and called out, “Wow, big dog!”

ELBEE In case she forgets to mention it, someone else yelled out “hey, super cute.”

As you can imagine, Elbee does not take well to being avoided, or ignored and started following her everywhere. He was a dog on a mission.

ELBEE Hellooo. I’m a therapy dog. It’s my job not to be ignored.

Gus was a different story. By virtue of his size, it took her much less time to warm up to him. He practically won her over without even trying. He’s smaller, even with the poofy hair, so it kind of gave him favored dog status. I also think that being a Teddy Bear Doodle, he has the stuffed animal thing going for him. I should mention that Riley, our fourteen year old Golden, lay around like an area rug to stay out of the line of screaming.

I think Elbee might have remained “canine non grata” if my older granddaughter hadn’t come over. She’s an animal lover who immediately gave him a huge hug. Not sure how she did it, but she convinced Bella that it was okay to be in the same room with him. She even got her to pet him.

Before the truce, Bella wanted me to carry her all over the house in case Elbee decided to pop out and surprise her, or even worse, try to lick her. It’s not that she’s heavy but carrying her up and down stairs was a pretty good workout. Instead of “grandma with the dogs,” her nickname for me, I should be called “grandma with the biceps!”

ELBEE Oh no, a closet selfie. I should have seen that one coming. 

GUS What’s a bicep?

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Dynamic

I confess that this post is going to be very self-indulgent.

ELBEE So what else is new?

The most painful losses in my life, other than the loss of my youth, have been my parents, my brother, and two very close friends. Losing Charley ranks right up there.

ELBEE To those of you who think that’s inappropriate (I don’t) remember that Pack Leader shared the birth of her grandson and Gus passing his therapy dog test in the same sentence.

I don’t mean that losing him hurts the same way that it hurts to lose a person. Oh who am I kidding. Of course it does. He was like my shadow and my protector.   He was a near constant presence in my everyday life. I think he considered himself my service dog but couldn’t figure out exactly what he was supposed to do for me.

Now that he’s been gone a few months, I realize just how much he orchestrated the rhythm of the the pack. I first noticed a change in the dynamics during our walks. When I used to take the three out together, Charley, by virtue of his size and personality, would get most of the attention. He could win people over in a matter of seconds. To compete, Elbee would either bark and be obnoxious or feign disinterest.

 

 

ELBEE Excuse me for expressing the two sides of my personality.

Without Charley by his side, Elbee appears larger and gets noticed a lot more. People constantly comment on how beautiful he is and are curious about his breed. Not surprisingly, he is thriving on the attention. At work he is so calm and focused, it’s like a different dog.

ELBEE Not sure if I should be flattered or offended. 

As for Gus, when he walked between the other two, he sometimes got lost in all of the hair. People couldn’t even see him. Now he struts by my side wagging his tail and smiling like the cute little diva he’s become.

Not sure if it’s my imagination or my hopefulness, but at work he seems to be showing some of Charley’s intuition. At UCLA this week, Gus was completely focused on a man sitting alone on a bench across the lobby. When he pulled me over to him, the man told me that he was nervous and stressed because his wife was having her third cancer surgery. Petting Gus, he relaxed and smiled and said that it, “made his day.”

When I come home may be the time I miss Charley’s presence the most. Riley, our senior citizen Golden is usually asleep behind the door. Elbee and Gus will run to greet me but it’s not the frenzy that it used to be. They’re excited but a little more subdued. It dawned on me that as well behaved as Charley was, he was the enthusiastic leader of the welcome home committee. He was so relieved that I was back that he made most of the noise and spurred on the other two. One of the hardest things since Charley’s passing has been not to hear that huge bark.