Friday, November 27, 2015


Our two dogs, the two little furry personalities that are so important to us, are fading. Sprocket is just fading in color. Zeek is fading in a more mortal way, a cancer eating away at him.

Sprocket's fade is merely a matter of his hair lightening from red to orange as a rather odd side effect of the medicine he's taking for Valley Fever, the fungal disease he caught in Arizona last winter. Recent blood tests showed that his antibody count is down by 75%. He still has at least another four months of treatment ahead of him, but the improvement is such great news.

Zeek's fade is that kind of fade. He's recovered from his surgeries, but the cancer is still there. He’s seeming more and more like a worn out old man. We’re squeezing as much fun and adventure as possible into his life, not that that’s very different from his usual fare, but now it has a bit of urgency about it. This needs to be his best… what? Few months? Six months? We can’t know, of course, beyond the vet's prognosis, which was three to six months.

This morning, both dogs woke me up barking at something at 4:30. I needed to be up early anyway so I took the opportunity to go ahead and start the morning routine a couple of hours early. Normally when I turn on the coffee machine, the boys know that it’s time to go out to pee. On this particular morning, however, Zeek was having nothing to do with the usual morning routine. He clearly had no intentions of getting out of bed. Sprocket, however, was right on cue, trotting outside to take care of morning business. When he was three steps out the door, though, that business quickly changed in nature. His nose jutted straight up into the air and he suddenly became very animated, nose to the ground, sniffing vigorously around the courtyard and yard in a way that let me know that he was detecting something out of the ordinary. I grabbed a flashlight and took a little amble through the yard with him to see what was so interesting.

The first thing I noticed was that my floating bog plants in the courtyard waterlily tub were relatively ravaged, tipped over and missing soil. There were muddy five-fingered smears and little scraps of leaf matter all over the edge of the bathtub, wet tracks on the little wooden table that (apparently) allows access to the tub, and I saw no sign of the big orange goldfish that lives (lived?) in that tub.

On to the patio: fresh wet tracks coming from the boys’ fish-hunting tub where there were a mere two surviving minnows, down from a dozen. When Sprocket sniffed at a tall plant stand (which, naturally, allows access to another waterlily pot,) I noticed that the waterlily had been tipped over. Around the base of the third and final waterlily tub, there was a scattering of ripped waterlily leaves, broken flower stems, and the cheesy plastic turtle that floats in that tub had been pulled out and its soft body pulled from the shell.

Further inspection of the non-aquatic parts of the yard revealed signs of a small hurricane having ripped through the raspberry patch, leaving canes smashed, bent and broken. Small branches were broken off my precious apple espaliers and unripe apples were scattered in the grass.

It was a disaster. My first thought can easily be imagined and needs not be spelled out here. My second thought was, “If anything can pull Zeek out of his funk, it's this.”

Back in the house where he was still nestled in a heap of blankets, I delivered, to no effect, a series of what would normally be instantly inspiring, exciting hunting summons. “Zeek, let’s go get it!” “Zeek, check it out!” “Zeek, what is it?” “Zeek, let’s go!” “ZEEK! THERE’S! A! RAC! COOOOON!”

Nothing. Not interested. This was a big change. A sad change. We know he’s fading, but to not respond at all to the very words he lives to hear? This was a first.

Dejected, I went back to making coffee. During the next few minutes, Zeek did rouse himself, oh so slowly, from his warm nest and wandered, disinterested, through the kitchen, finally, stiffly, making his way outside, and BAM! The second he stepped out the door and caught the scent of the garden invader, he lit up! His code exploded and he was on fire! Now he won’t eat breakfast, not because his mouth hurts or because he doesn’t feel good, or because he’s worn out and dying, but because he is way too busy hunting.

Suddenly, he is more alive than he's been in weeks. I have never been happier to have a raccoon ravaging my garden.

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