So many times in the past decade, something I’ve written on this blog has helped someone. With that in mind, here are my tips for the care of a dying dog.
1. Unsalted beef broth. We bought tetra packs of unsalted beef broth in the few days when Matty stopped eating, so he could get some nutrition. The unsalted part was important; he would have gotten really thirsty otherwise.
2. Liver pate heated up. Johanna made some for New Years Eve, and I had a couple of spoonfuls of it cold from the fridge which was awesome, but Matty liked his slightly warm. Gross to me, but when I needed a special last meal, this is what I gave him, and he scarfed it down.
3. Lots and lots of blankets. After years of getting cute dog beds and having them stink up, I got the dogs mattresses for a baby crib. They were $25 each from Amazon, and are vinyl so they can be wiped down with cleaning stuff easily. I didn’t bother buying baby sheets, instead I stretched one old bed sheet over both of them, and washed it every week in the regular laundry load. When Matty was too sick to make it the length of the apartment, I dragged his mattress into the living room (and then Leeloo’s because she wouldn’t sleep away from him) and let him sleep in the living room with extra sheets, and a towel for a blanket because when the heat clicked off he was in a draft.
4. Medicine combos. Back when we were hoping he’d recover, the vet gave me a pain pill and a muscle relaxer and told me not to mix them because “he would get loopy”. After confirming that was the only “negative” side effect, I consistently fed him the combo three times a day. I would often climb into the dog bed, too, find a little something for myself, and we would cuddle and contemplate the universe together.
5. Mouse TV. We have a mouse problem currently. Three baby mice let themselves get caught in half an hour right as Matty was getting sick, and then three more in the next few days. Inspired by the memory of March 2008 when Matty met a goldfish for the first time, I put the mice in a giant tupperware storage bin with cardboard tubes and let him watch them scamper. It was like watching TV! I recommend a goldfish for sure, but we worked with what we had.
6. Pee pads. Matty died because of a crushed spinal cord in his neck that quickly traveled the length of his spine. The result was that he couldn’t hold his pee. These saved us so much on laundry.
Mattingly “Matty” the dog passed away yesterday. He was surrounded by his family and was able to die at home thanks to a wonderful vet that makes house calls. One of my great joys in life was stretching out on the floor and letting him “little spoon” into me. When it was time, I stretched out again for the last time and curled around him with my hand on his chest. I thanked him. “Thank you” had always come more naturally to me than “Good boy!”
I placed my hand on his chest so I could feel his heart stop myself. He was thirteen.
Matty was adopted at the age of two (ish) from the North Shore Animal League, selected because he was surrounded by cages of dogs barking while he was curled up and sound asleep. His ability to fall asleep anywhere in the middle of ruckus would continue throughout his life. He loved wandering into the middle of a house party and nodding off surrounded by friends.
Matty had really short legs and a really long body that made people stop and smile at him. He was a “people dog” and got on well with everyone including very small children. He would approach them gently (usually right at eye level, as he was so short), having learned they would often produce snacks from their pockets, or at least be likely coated in a delicious film of applesauce or peanut butter. If nothing else, he delighted in their very tiny pats, and would allow them to marvel at the floppy softness of his years and explore his nostrils with their fingers. He loved visitors, too, defined in his mind as anyone who came through the front door, which once included a drunk three am intruder that he greeted sleepily with a wagging tail.
His family quickly learned to avoid putting comforters, stuffed animals, and bath mats in his reach as he would pull them apart while spreading the stuffing throughout the room. After conquering his stuffed enemy, he would fall asleep curled up on the tufts and strings of victory.
“Matty ball” was a solo game he invented that was delightful to watch. He would throw the ball across the yard with his foot then scurry towards it and catch it in his mouth. When he wasn’t doing this he would wrestle with his sister, Leeloo, or have a nap in the backyard.
A heavy fur coat meant Matty was always ready for a snow storm: his favorite weather. When the snow would pile up over his face he would bound through it, seemingly laughing, with only the very top of his black head visible in the bobbing up and down. Occasionally he would stretch out in a snow drift luxuriously and let snowflakes pile up on his back.
Matty was very kind. Once in the waiting room at the vet a puppy took his bushy tail for a chew toy and pounced on it. He glanced backward at her tiny, harmless attack and looked back at me with his expressive triangle-shaped eyebrows raised.
“Kids!” he seemed to say, and let her continue playing as long as she wanted.
Everyone loved when a fire truck went by and Matty was in the room. He would howl his response: a long, full, wild note, and those in the room with him – dog and human alike – typically joined in. The more voices he managed to raise along with his the harder his tail thumped against the floor in happiness.
Matty was a great partner for swimming, car rides, cuddles, and strolls through the park. He will be missed by all of his good friends, and leave his parents with a long-bodied, short-legged, dog-shaped hole in their hearts.
Matty is dying, I think. Christmas morning he was fine tearing into his gift, and then by the end of the next day he couldn’t walk up the back steps. There are stones in his bladder and he can barely walk at all now, and I’m not sure if medication is helping so we’re trying some other things, and surgery is painful and dangerous because of a UTI and expensive and… surgery for a dog, I mean, I’ve done it before, but I don’t think I believe in it now, even for a dog that I’ve had so long he feels like he’s part of my soul. Part of my soul is dying.
He could get better, but I don’t feel like that’s likely. There are too many problems at either end (shoulder, bladder) and its like a house of cards to put him together again, and even all the construction in the world might not work, and if it did, it wouldn’t work for very long, so… he’s on medications, and we’re seeing if they help. He’s 13, and we had hoped he’d live to 11 years old, so I feel lucky with my “out of warrantee” pup but, oh god, can’t he just live forever?
This holiday season has been absolutely wonderful.
We went to Johanna’s parents house in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, driving through an unexpected nor’easter in a trip that took us six hours when it normally takes just under three. We made latkes for Hanukkah and cinnamon rolls from scratch for Christmas morning. We at them after presents and before a monster nap, then took a slow walk and had Mexican for lunch.
My “love language” is gifts, and I was so excited about shopping this year (Amazon Prime is the most amazing invention ever). I tried not to go TOO overboard, but this year felt special being engaged, and I might have. It’s ok.
We decided in early in the month to put up a tree but my ornaments are still in storage so we put up a tiny five foot pine, wrapped it with a single string of lights, and added candy canes. I used glue, paint, glitter and cardboard to make a star for the top, and we stuck it in the window for our neighbors to enjoy, too. We sat next to it while we lit Hanukkah candles, but my menorah was in storage, too, so I put them in shot glasses with crumpled tin foil to keep them upright.
We also visited Micah and Jen in Connecticut and I got to visit their Christmas ornaments, which I realized just this year is sentimental for me, too. I’ve been seeing some of them every year since Christmas 1998 at her parent’s house.
Going out on New Years in New York City is insane. I insist on staying home where it’s warm and safe; that eventually that morphed into inviting people over to join me, and we had about 20 people in the living room on New Years Eve. A few years ago my girlfriends started showing up in cocktail dresses from Rent the Runway instead of the sweatpants I told them they could totally wear, and most all of us gals take the opportunity to get gussied up. I set up a photo booth in the kitchen.
We had a rough few days with Matty; I was pretty sure it was the end of my 13 year old dog, but he’s still here, on a ton of pain medications, and resting comfortably. He pulled a neck muscle and has a bladder infection. I’m hoping he feels better soon, and that I get to keep him for a few more years, but I really have no idea. I’d give all of the presents just to keep him (and I got some REALLY good presents.)
Here’s to a hopeful 2015.
I adore doing gift guides every year, but this year it kind of slid through the cracks for me. I have a Pinterest board, though, where you can see everything I’ve got my fingers crossed for to find in my stocking, under the tree, or by the menorah. (We kind of do everything up in here. Whatever.)
Anything else good I should know about? P.S. How to give excellent gifts, according to science.
Marley joked that I am the only person he’s ever met that is really, genuinely into Christmas music. I get it; a lot of it kind of sucks, and the rest is cornball. Here’s what I’m listening to this year, in a mix that will evolve and expand as December goes on. It’s not exactly cornball free, but it’s pretty good.
The mix is broken into three categories: it starts jazzy (with the sexiest version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy ever: Sugar Rum Cherry by Duke Ellington) and then goes into a soft, folksy indie rock section, featuring the my favorite version of Mele Kalikimaka, sung by KT Tunstall. It finishes up with a whole selection of songs that toe the line between awful and awesome: Dominick the Donkey, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, and a club mix version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy called “The Nuctcraka”.
Have a listen; it’s ecumenical with a few Hanukkah songs in there, too.
I met Megan years ago – she was my high school friend Jen’s roommate in college and we met at some sort of gathering at Jen’s house – and I liked her immediately. When she started the company Sheep Farm Felt with her sisters and mother I was so excited for her, and it’s been really awesome to watch her business grow. They make handcrafted felt ball garlands out of wool.
I’m inspired by the way she does business; she invested in a smart phone to handle orders in a more timely manner as well as use Instagram to create a wonderful account featuring Felton, the tiny felted sheep, who serves as a sort of mascot. The packaging is absolutely gorgeous; when you open up your parcel from them you can feel how much love and care goes into packing orders. In the time they’ve been in business, they’ve sent their beautiful, quirky handmade felt balls all over the world.
The first photo is our garland in the living room; I wanted something cheerful for the blank space over the photos, and it’s just the thing.
Megan sent me the long version of her story and how they got started. I was going to pull out pieces to share here but it’s so good I think you’ll want to read it, too, so her email to me is cut and pasted below. It’s got adventure, community, and women doing business. Thanks for sharing, Megan.
If you want to order your own Sheep Farm Felt wool ball garland, go here to order from their Etsy store, and use the code AMBER14 to get free shipping in the continental US from now until 31 January. Here’s Megan:
My parents met in a living Colonial history village, my mom-a weaver and spinner, my dad-a woodcarver. After repeatedly fixing her loom (he was also the one sneaking in her shop early and breaking it), they fell in love, got married, and had 3 daughters. (The middle one being the most adorable, of course.)
We lived in Port Republic, a small town in South Jersey where my dad is the mayor and where generations of my family have lived since the early 1600′s. When my sisters and I were 2, 4, and 6, we had a house fire and lost everything we owned.
The town rallied together and bought us everything we needed to begin again- books, toys, winter coats, pots and pans, gift certificates to the grocery store- everything you can imagine. Overwhelmed by the generosity of our town, my parents did the only thing they could think of to give back to the community they loved. When our house was rebuilt, they added a classroom and opened up a folk art school so they could teach their skills to anyone who wanted to learn.
They taught woodcarving, basketry, quilting, candle making, weaving, doll making, and little girls came to our home for Colonial tea parties for their birthdays. My sisters and I were invited to teach along side of my mom when we all turned 12.
It was during these classes that I learned the most vital lessons: If you want to connect with someone, create with them. When people are making something to put in their home, or give away as a gift, they are essentially crafting a new piece of their history- something one-of-a-kind that they have made with their hands that now has a story.
Fast forward MY history…past getting married, moving down the street from my parents’ farm, becoming an art teacher…to having my own little flock- 3 littles 4 and under. I found myself in the daily routine of filling up sippy cups and stepping on Cheerios, and wanting so desperately to do the two fundamental things I was taught: connect with people and create.
I had seen wool felt ball garlands on Pinterest, and thought it was the perfect project for me- simple, free (if you happen to have a never-ending supply of wool being grown down the street), and something I could make for people who wanted to add a bit of color and natural fiber into their homes. I listed a few on Etsy….and I could never have imagined the response I would get.
After six months, my “never-ending supply” was not as “never-ending” as I had hoped, and I had a difficult time keeping up with demands. I found a supplier to partner with from Nepal who is free-trade, ethical, and uses the most lovely, colorful, wooliest wool from a sheep farm in New Zealand.
I am in absolute love with what I do. Everyday, I get orders from all over the world- Spain, Singapore, Australia, France, the U.S., Italy…. from people who want to bring something I make into their homes. My customers are some of the sweetest people, and I love the conversations I get to have with them. They are getting ready for their son’s first birthday party, or wanting to add a homey touch to their dorm room, or trying to find a garland to match their sofa and love seat, or add a pop of color in their nursery…. I just love hearing all their stories behind their purchases!
My absolute favorite part of the process is wrapping up each purchase with tissue paper and twine, writing a hand-written thank you note, and tucking in a little needle felted sheep ornament handmade from wool from our sheep farm. I know when my customers go to their mail box, it is going to make their day. My job is more than just selling bits of colored wool on string, I am supplying people with something that will become a piece of their home and history.
I love the crap out of Elizabeth Gilbert. (Of course I do.)
This essay where she talks about throwing out the word “balance” speaks so strongly to where I am right now. I’m not balanced, and it’s been weird to struggle with that because I crave order and neatness and, yes, balance, and use them as benchmarks of success, along with happiness and contentment. I also measure wealth by friends, so I know I’m doing something right, but “balance” has always killed me. I never got it quite right. She says that’s ok. I think so, too.
I was explaining to my friend Jesse at a dinner party last week that I got weirdly successful in the past two years, but I didn’t really notice until super recently when I looked at my healthy bank account and my booked calendar simultaneously and it clicked. When I was going through a divorce, my options were to wallow on the couch watching TV or fling myself headfirst into my work with a ferocity I’m not quite sure I’d be able to muster today. I was lonely, and scared, and sad. It was sink or swim, and I swam like a motherfucker, although really, it was more like a flailing awkward dog paddle with arms and legs all akimbo, but it worked, and I just looked up, just now, and I’m so far away from where I started, and people have been cheering me on, and I’m so fucking proud and thankful.
Had sought balance this wouldn’t have happened. Had I worked “in moderation” my business wouldn’t have bloomed. The excessive work helped heal me. The unbalance of working every night until three in the morning restored my soul.
Here’s to embracing the “beautiful mess” of life that includes rapid success in certain areas with slower growth in others. Until the tables shift once again, and we mourn the old, and we move on.
My chiropractor told me that when we are kids, we learn the patterns of holding ourselves and moving from the people around us. I’ve seen it be true: Amish people move noticeably slower than English people. People in Paris move differently than Americans do, so even if you dress the part, you’ll never be mistaken as French. In India and other parts of South Asia they have the head wobble which doesn’t exist anywhere else.
I often sit on the couch with my right arm straight up in the air. I never questioned this until someone else did, and I had no idea why, until I remembered my dad doing it growing up. He had a shoulder surgery when I was a kid and would stretch out the tendons while he relaxed on the couch watching TV or reading. Essentially, I’m trying to heal an injury I don’t have.
I’m trying, now, to figure out what other patterns I have imbedded in me unquestioned. I’m looking for them in other people, too, especially Marley as I get to know his family and compare their personalities to his. My friend Jen and her mother make the same soft, mildly annoyed sound when something minor goes awry, and Jen’s adopted son smiles exactly like her husband. I think this has something to do with why people and their dogs start to look alike, but I’m not sure.
Is this called something?
There’s a stone in Matty’s bladder that’s 6cm large. It could stay put for the rest of his life, it can roll around harmlessly, or it can dislodge, block his urine flow, and kill him in 24 hours if I’m not watching. Surgery is an option, but an expensive and painful one. Although I love my dogs insanely, I’m a pretty pragmatic dog owner. He’s thirteen, not three. But he’s not nineteen, either, and this is the first time anything has gone wrong with him. Basically, I’m smack dab in the middle of a big grey area without a clear correct answer.
Two weeks ago he started dribbling instead of peeing in a stream, so I made an emergency vet appointment for the next afternoon. I asked Rob (my ex for new readers; Matty was originally his) to come, too. [We have a possibly only-in-Brooklyn "co-parenting" relationship that works out really well when either of us needs a dog sitter... or an extra set of hands at the vet.] I had to put the dogs in a town car to get them there. Leeloo spent the whole ride hiding behind me and shaking (we have to travel as a pack; she has meltdowns when they’re separated) while he rode with his face out the window enjoying the view. He’s so good natured.
The ultimate conclusion was that we’ll take a wait and see approach. He’s been a little bit grouchy with Leeloo lately, and I’m concerned that’s part of it. At the groomers he growled at her, and the other day their play fight got a little too rough. It’s so hard to think about. I’d always assumed that when “that time” came, it would be more of a cut and dry thing, not a ticking time bomb in his bladder that may or may not go off at any second. This is kind of the worst, but I’m hoping for the best.
Matty, dude, you’re breaking my heart.