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Kukur Tihar in Brooklyn

If I had known a few weeks ago how much celebrating Kuku Tihar would mean to us, I would have planned for it way, way in advance. As it was, we spent a few months with it on our calendar, and realized we were really excited about it the day before. We bought holi powders from Amazon that arrived in time, but we had to wake up really, really early to celebrate and decorate the dog. Next year, we’re taking the day off.

Kukur Tihar is a festival that is part of Diwali in Nepal. Although no one celebrates here, we couldn’t resist the photo shoot opportunity, and Leeloo loved being loved and snugged on. She also got a LOT of treats, and made everyone we encountered on her afternoon walk smile.

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How To Take Care of a Dog Who is Dying

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.

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Matty 2002 (ish) – 2015

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.

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Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing.

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.

I think.

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?

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The Hazards of Loving an Elderly Dog

Matty update:

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.

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Catching Up

My website is done. Go look and tell me what you think! I have to start blogging again on it, before my wedding season starts happening fast and furiously. It feels overwhelming to think about catching up on the past three months.

No word on Matty yet – I had to cancel our appointment last week because I was really sick, but I’ll keep you posted. So far, the best way to get him to eat seems to be coconut oil mixed in with his food, and he’s getting spoiled. Worth it.

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BRB: Under a Pile of Dirt

It’s been a frustrating few months over here business-wise, hence my general silence on my poor blog. I wanted some updates to my website, and turned to my usual people. They weren’t available as I wanted, so I sought out someone else. I kept getting in contact with people who each do one part of the vast process that is having and maintaining a website. There are “front end” people, “back end” people, and something called “FTP” which everyone understands but me. I have no idea what any of this means.

I broke down; metaphorically busting open my piggy bank, offering whoever would step forward to just DO IT.

Do the stuff that makes it work.

Do all of the stuff together. Make it go.

For the past few months, I’ve felt like I’m under a pile of dirt trying to make sense of this.

On top of this, my dogs are sick. Leeloo stopped eating, and it turned out a major tooth cleaning was in order. This involved her getting knocked out and having dental work done. Now I have to brush her teeth every day, a task that involves me coming away covered in dog spit and chicken-flavored tooth paste. Now she’s eating, but Matty has stopped. There was a glorious 24 hours where everyone was eating as they should. Now he is laying around the house listless. He’s nearly 13, and I’m fearing not-good things. We go to the vet tomorrow.

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Birthday Portraits, an Eight Year Tradition

This was ALMOST the final photo. You can see the one that made the cut, and that links you to years previous, here.

If you follow me on – oh, just about any social media platform – you know that yesterday, I turned 32. It was hard to miss; I pretty much refused to shut up about it for 24 hours straight, starting at 12:01 am when I showed the waiter the time and announced my celebration had begun. He gave me my beer on the house. (Yes, we eat late in New York.) I also took a photo of myself, a now eight year tradition I intend to keep up as long as humanly possible. It’s been so fun to watch my face change. I’m thinner and oh-so-slightly more wrinkled around the eyes. My hair has varied lengths in the photos but remains largely unchanged, as does my smile.

For the first time this year, I took my birthday photo in a non-bathroom mirror. I have a new, giant full-length mirror in my pink bedroom, and the light is gorgeous in there. I had so much fun doing my 20 minute photo shoot (featuring Matty, now twelve, who took my sitting on the floor as an invitation to get close.)

The concept that everyone has one day where they get to be special and have a reminder that they are worth celebrating just for being here is such a happy one for me, and I get bummed out by the “let’s not make a big deal out of it, you’re *insert adult age that doesn’t divide by 10 here*” narrative. Birthdays are AWESOME! I’m on a one-woman mission to get everyone else excited about them, too.

My suburban mom dance skills are unrivaled.

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Matty in the Snow

On Tuesday, Brooklyn got hit with about 14 inches of the fluffiest snow I’ve ever seen. Matty is in heaven. He kept asking to be let out into our tiny back yard to he could frolic and plow his face into it. His basset hound legs make him REALLY low to the ground, so the snow went up to his chin, which I think made the challenge of walking around in the stuff even more fun for him.

What a fantastic weirdo. I love him so much.

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The One Where Jesse and Johanna Eloped in My Backyard

The sweetest thing happened in my backyard at the beginning of this month: Jesse and Johanna got married in it. And I married them! (As long as we are standing in New York City, I have the power vested in me, having been ordained by the Universal Life Church, of which I am considered a member of the monastery. Anyone can be, providing they agree with the church’s only doctrine: “Do only what is right.”)

We met a few weeks earlier to discuss the logistics of everything and talk details.

“I don’t really need a bouquet.” said Johanna. I narrowed my eyes at her, then typed into my laptop, “Amber gets the flowers.”

My intern Alex was thrilled to photograph her first wedding solo. And listen: to get married in New York City, all you really need is two people in love (and with ID), an officiant, a witness, a marriage license, and a 24 hour waiting period. But really, you should have photos if you can. When I presented the opportunity Alex, she was thrilled, and I was relieved. Of course I’d have taken photos after had she not been there, but having her handle it was incredible, and we got wonderful ceremony photos I just couldn’t have pulled off while officiating. I edited them afterwards, and we make a good team. We were all so thankful for Alex.

I wrote their ceremony using various sources and added my own heart-felt words. Writing the whole thing made me cry, so I married my two dogs to each other that morning for practice, until I could read the words without my lip quivering.

They wrote their own vows, and exchanged rings that Sophia made for them. A friend of hers and his brother attended as witnesses, and her parents, grandma and brother were Skyped in. They blew bubbles at the screen afterwards. I hung twinkle lights on my clothesline and made $10 worth of corner store daises into a bouquet, tied together with some blue ribbon I had. We broke out bubbly at home before going around the corner to the local bar where many more friends descended to wish them well. I made a tipsy speech, as I tend to do. Matty and Leeloo crashed post-ceremony.

It will be one of my favorite days of the year.

I love them so much.

***

Here is the ceremony I wrote for them, although I’m leaving their personal vows out. (I’m really protective of this, actually, which is why I sat so long before sharing anything about it.)

I took a page out of the Barack Obama speech writer handbook to craft my opening words: three bullet points after each main thought. Have you noticed that? I thought it worked out well.

Beginning:

Dearly beloved,

We are gathered here today to witness the marriage vows of Jessie Bowline and Johanna Johnson. If there is anyone present who knows of any legal reason why these two should not be married, please speak now or forever hold your peace.

Do you both come here to be married of your own free will?

Opening words:

Our societal narrative often paints marriage as a cage – “The old ball and chain” – but marriage actually gives you great freedom.
It is a safe harbor, so you may feel free take risks!
It is a constant, from which you may test your limits fearlessly.
It is proof of love that that allows you to transcend your insecurities.

I encourage you both today to do these things:
Climb high secure in the knowledge that if you fall, someone will catch you.
Embrace marriage as a starting point from which you reach your greatest capacity as individuals.
Bravely forge new paths, secure in the warm knowledge that if you becoming lost, there will always be someone there to help you find your way back home.

Rings:

You will exchange rings now, so please join hands.

To reach out to someone and be acknowledged and loved is a human need. Taking the hand of one who loves you is a powerful symbol of that unspoken bond. Your hands are also the part of you that you use the most, and as you go about your days, your wedding rings will be a tangible reminder of the promises you’ve made to each other today. They will always be with you, visible, worn openly; a symbol to the world that this person is already taken, already spoken for. Wear your symbols of love and family with great pride.

Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and keep her all the days of your life? If so, say I do.
As a symbol of your promise, place the ring on Johanna’s finger.

Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and keep him all the days of your life? If so, say I do. As a symbol of your promise, place the ring on Jesse’s finger.

Personal Vows:

You have chosen to share you own vows with each other.
*Jesse’s vows*
*Johanna’s vows*

Pronouncement:

Jesse, Johanna, because you have consented to be united in the bonds of marriage, and have exchanged you wedding vows with all of us here today, it is my privilege, by the power vested in me by the state of New York, to pronounce you husband and wife.

You may kiss the bride!

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