The Mugwump : october 2014

"First Things First" (cont...)

Willow...sometimes a boy needs a hero

Willow ya ask? Sit down, there's a story for you...you see that loathesome character that goes by the nickname "The Big C" found her front left leg (and may now have found other organs) sometime around May or June of 2013. No telling how long it had been working its evil, but when I first realized she had more than a sprain, the osteo sarcoma, or "slow bone explosion" as her vet called it, was about three weeks away from breaking her leg. Now I've grown a bit weary of hearing, "this couldn't be worse news" from doctors in my lifetime, but that didn't keep it from happening yet again on this day in Alexandria, Minnesota.

I had only faced this scenario once before with an animal and that was a clear cut case (Chief was doing well at this point) with a cat. But this was very different, because this was WILLOW for crying out loud and because all those close to me whom I consulted...well...they were all in agreement...from "she's had a good life", to "my friend did it and it was horrible"...yes sir, prognosis grim and not a soul said, "Do it!"...which of course meant I had to... And not for a moment to be defiant...but because...it wasn't her time.

For two gut wrenching days I looked into her eyes and for something, anything that might swing the pendulum back in favor of a heroic measure for her and again, not for me...the Vet had been great but matter of fact (as they are supposed to be)...neither encouraging or discouraging. The "tripawed" related websites were a mixed bag...many horror stories and many successes, but mostly for younger, rear leg amputees. With the clock tickng on when her leg might break and her pain becominng obviously extreme, I reached back to another old adage, this one from a good ol' American by the name of Mark Twain, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.".

From there it was easy. There is no dog with more fight, more heart and deserved to show both...two weeks later, I returned to Alexandria and let the good doctors at the Douglas County Animal Clinic remove her leg. According to the doc, "we are shooting for six months and hoping for more.". That I could live with, for without the surgery her leg would have broken in hours or days he later told me and I was confident I could get in lots of spoiling and good-byes if it was to be just six....

I will never forget the grin on her face when she emerged from the ER minus the leg...and I will never forget the look on the staff's face when I said, "Willow...what did you do with your leg?" She gave me the "Chessie" snarl and raced to me...just as she has done so many times since, for I am happy to sit here today and tell you that I have gotten in each and every one of those farewells in those first six months and plenty more in the eight that have folowed.

Yep, at over a year and counting, the old girl with a good life and a "baby leg" ignored another page on the calendar and turned eleven on July 6, 20014. She then had the audacity to celebrate the one year anniversary of her surgery on August 4, 20014 by adding two more bodies of water to her "Great Lakes & Rivers of the West I Swam" list...

While I know cancer is still lurking within (95% of the time this cancer has spread when the tumor appears) there is still plenty of fight and a really big heart still beating inside that Chessie brisket (Chessie owners know what I'm tallking about), so I think it is long over due that I add her to my very short, "Jim's Hero List".

Diesel...borrowed time

No telling whether it will be Diesel, (my Coyote mix) or Willow who is next to go but in either case, like Chief, a part of me will die with them. Ironically, Diesel who has been on borrowed time and cheating death since the day he was born in the wilds of the White Mountain Apache reservation, may be otherwise healthy when I have to make that decision. I say 'otherwise healthy' because from his midsection up, Diesel is a stalwart of health and wisdom.

Sadly, it's those deformed back legs the Creator gifted him with on the day he was born that turned him into my $3,000 rez dog that may be his undoing. As the subject of one of my best selling images, Diesel has dwarfed those rewards with a rare look into the mind of a Coydog...wait, I take that back, into the heart of a Coydog. Can't remember which company (Apple? or maybe I'm making this up?) had the slogan, "Think Different", but Diesel has been doing it from day one... that's why he's alive...odd how that "thinking differnt" thing works out more often than not...but I digress.

He has his good days and he has his bad days, so until further notice, aspirin is my drug of choice for whether it be his domestic DNA or coyote heritage, he has always (or unless Prong Horn appear) been content to watch the perimiter.

(it's what kept him alive as an orphaned pup after all), in anticipation of the days ahead and "the day", I am exploring several options... either way, it is clear that they bring him great discomfort...so until then, off his feet, he shall remain Sphynx like and continue as he has for over ten years, to contently survey the landscape and alert his pack to dangers well before I or the domestics are aware. On his feet? Well, sadly, he walks slowly and softly, but still carries that "big stick" attitude of course.

Lozen...mothers know best

For those who are new or don't recall, Lozen (named for a female Apache warrior) was left for dead in some weeds on the day she was born, outside a Canton, Texas wine bar. How she made it into my hands nine days later is a long story and just one more dumb thing I've done after a glass or three...but I digress...

More to the point, Lozen is a work in progress...actually that's a lie. I'm not sure she has made any progress since she learned to crap outside. The formula making and bottle feeding every three hours seem like "Days of Heaven"...and all of her bad qualities are still in tact and I search daily for good ones that stick.

Of all of the dogs I have ever owned,including a breeding bitch Akita I rescued from a puppy mill years ago, she, without question has been the most frustrating animal I have ever had the pleasure of scolding. Had I known then what I know now, she would have surely been named her "Occupy Tunell" as her feeling of entitlement knows no bounds and is not only a way of life, but almost cost her her life when Willow kept tally of how many bones she had stolen from her over the course of a week, then struck with blood in her eyes.

While in retrospect, I can look back at all the others as gifts from day one, Lozen was no doubt sent as a test, if not a curse. To date she has had a us banned from two campgrounds and caused other issues too numerous to mention, Regardless, as is always the case with dog behavior, I have no one to blame but myself and do. What I am guilty of besides letting my guard down, is at times, trying to pretend that she is normal and hoping that by pretending that, she might actually act that way "in public" as my mom used to say. But like me back in the day, that is apparently too much to ask.

I suppose the real problem lies with the fact that I am the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes and my scent was imprinted on her (good lord what a poisoned cocktail) well before that. Couple it with the fact that as a 200lb man, I had no idea how to teach her a pack pecking order as well as a 2lb dominate male littermate would have and you have a disaster recipe from which horror films are made. To dramatic? Please consider the folowing...to Lozen, I am MOM...YIKES! Now introduce that I play with my animals as they play with one another...a behavior evidently imprinted on me by my father, so yes, I have a Cujo in the making.

You see not long before I was NOT left in the weeds on the day I was born, my dad had a Rhodesian Ridgeback that died leaving him ruined. So much so that one day, a day on which I was no doubt either wrecked over the death of another pet (or not behaving in public), my mom reminded me of a picture of Cinder, the dog he loved more than life itself, (or at least me) proudly standing next to a chaise lounge he had shredded. She explaind that my dad used to come back into the house scratched from head to toe and with his clothes equally destroyed, but with a smile a mile wide...she then wondered, "I think if he could have put you back and kept Cinder, he would have."

Now see in today's "pajama boy" world that (not to mention the woodshed workouts) would be cause for his arrest as it would surely have lasting damage to my self esteem. What isn't considered is the lasting effect it had on my appreciation and respect for animals under my charge...so don't despair, (cringing is ok) or call the SPCA, Lozen will be fine...in fact, if I were not on the road full time, but enjoying the solitude of a ranch in Montana, all of her qualities that fall so far beyond the peramiters of the way city dogs are supposed to behave, would be just what I want in a pup...therein lies the delicate balance I have had to walk for over seven years on the road as outsider, drifter meets "where you from" America.

I guess in the end the point of all this is that I need to direct that warrior spirit she was born with without taking the dog out of the dog. I see it all the time at shows with hunter working dogs and more with no purpose but to sit and be still. It's the flipside of what I feel when I see how as a society we have taken the man out of most little boys, while introducing the woman to the youngest of little girls...seems more than a little backwards to me.

Oh well, never was very good at puzzles, so I shall just be content to know that when I and all these hounds under my charge, take our final walk and meet up once again, I will smother them in "next world" hugs, give them bones with never ending gristle, then track down Lozen's Creator so I can ask, "what were you thinking?". My guess is I will be quickly put in my mere mortal place (or worse) and reminded that there is a reason for "dead dog" piles, and how sometimes, mothers do indeed know best.

The years between...

As I mentioned in the "First Things First" introduction, the tales and thoughts have not gone unwritten during the gap from Roadnotes to this The Mugwump...I thought at one point I would relate every moment in great detail with great irony and dark humor, but I now realize my heart isn't in reciting what now seems like mythology with any great fervor.

Whether it be putting a gun to the head of a low life thief at 4am in Albuquerque, or detailing another cancer scare two Christmas' ago or even more strangely, just weeks later meeting the teenage son of a friend who had just been diagnosed with the very rare cancer I feared I had and now knew so much about...well, it all seems so much trail dust now, that I can only focus on the next grand tale, the next rare image of the west, and two...ok, two and a half irreplaceable dogs...I say this with conviction because I know there will be much to be said about all three.

That not withstanding, I have had many more thoughts and encounters to be told soon, but for now... thank you Chief.