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Excerpt from BORDERLAND, chapter 8 “Magic Tricks for Puppies”

Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript BORDERLAND: A DOG, A LOVE, A DOUBLE-HELIX (or I might call the book AWESOME DOG, not sure). Anyway, the passages come late the book, from chapter eight, “Magic Tricks for Puppies.”

What you need to know:

Mick, before I knew he was mine.

Mick, before I knew he was mine. Note there is no Ash-Wednesday cross on his brow.

 

I had spent two years searching for my “soul dog,” the dog most perfect for me, and I found Mick, a Border Collie puppy. I was also writing a book about Border Collies, and Mick was supposed to be the happy ending. Shortly after I brought him home, he began to wither away–and so did my writing career. At nine months of age, Mick ended up in intensive care, dying of a disease no vet could diagnose.

In my manuscript, meditations on the power of language interlace with hospital scenes while the vets and I fight for my puppy’s life:

Enchant. En-, upon or against, chant, to sing, “to sing against,” to influence.  Enchant has the same root as “incantation,” which is to chant magical words in order to put a spell upon, to bewitch. Bippity-boppity-border-collie. The word “charm,” also shares the same root, Latin, canare, (canary!) meaning “to sing.” A charm is an object, action, saying, or song with magical power. Puppy.

The next morning, I woke before dawn to what might be called “a panic attack,” and called the vet. The good news was that Mick’s GI tract had begun to function again. The bloat was over. He was eating small amounts of Science I/D. The bad news was septicemia. They’d given him a blood transfusion and begun aggressive antibiotic treatments.

Despite his high fever, he was more alert. They let me take him out of his crate and walk him around Intensive Care. Hunched and uncertain, he stepped gingerly. He stood with his head low, blinking like Rip Van Winkle. My cell phone kept lighting up with notifications from his Facebook family wanting updates on Mick. “His fever’s come down a little,” I wrote. “His mind is clearing. They let me take him out of his cage.”

Mick and the Yorkie.

Mick and the Yorkie.

I posted photos of Mick greeting the tiny Yorkie with a cone around her neck and a bow in her hair, the beautiful black-and-white Border Collie posed as if for a hearth photo on a white towel, the matted Pomeranian who wouldn’t stop yapping. Their gaze and movements showed that none felt so sick as Mick did, and his chemistry profiles bore out the danger he carried inside him. Among humans, sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals. It kills within hours. It causes chills and confusion, and Mick shivered, but he did not seem confused. He moved solemnly from cage to cage. Hello, hello. Good-bye, good-bye. His neck had been shaved and thickly bandaged to protect his blood transfusion port. He bowed his head to each of his fellow patients, swished his tail, averted his gaze just enough. “It’s okay,” he seemed to say, with a kind of graciousness you wouldn’t expect from one so young, from one so not-human. “You’ll be okay,” he told them.

The nurses took notice.

What are you in for?

What are you in for?

Spell. The origin of the word “spell” has nothing to do with the so-called correct sequence of letters to make up a word. It comes from the Old English, spellian, meaning “to talk,” “to announce,” the same root as gospel, godspell, “the good news.” In its noun form, it still means “to speak,” only “spell” also indicates a sequence of words or syllables that, if uttered or written in the proper sequence, are themselves an act of magic. Hyperbilirubinemia, hypoalbuminemia! Sometimes spells hide within spells. They breach the membrane between witchcraft to religion: open sesame (from the Hebrew sem name, “in the name of Heaven”), hocus pocus (from the Latin Mass, hoc est corpus, “This is my body,” a magic spell that, presto change-o, turns bread into the meat of Christ); abracadabra, (from the Aramaic אברא כדברא, meaning “I create as the word creates,” or Hebrew, “It came to pass as it was spoken”), reminiscent of the Fiat Lux, from Genesis 1:3 “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” What the Creator decrees, He creates. The Fiat Lux is the original magic spell. The entire universe sprang from a magic word, which probably wasn’t “Big” and wasn’t “Bang.” If we knew what The Word was and we said it, what would happen? Would it tear us in half? Rumpelstiltskin.

Two nurses knelt and offered Mick tiny wet meatballs of dog food. He took them gently. If they knew him like I knew him, if they even knew him half so well as his Facebook friends knew him, would it make a difference?

“Can you say, ‘Thank you?’ Mick?” I said. “Shake.” And he did. Such a simple trick.

Trick, from the Old French, trique, meaning “deceit, treachery.”

The nurses lit up. They smiled at me. Never was Mick in more danger, yet suddenly, they no longer gave him up for dead.

He was too weak for most of his tricks. I had to show the nurses not just that he was in there, but who was in there. “He knows a lot of tricks. Hold up your hand like this,” I said, just the way I told little children. The one nurse held up the palm of her hand. Now say, “Touch.”

Head low, ears flopped to the side, Mick bumped her palm with his nose. She lit up again, just like little children do. He was keen, looking in her eyes, looking in mine. “Trick,” from the Latin tricari, meaning “to be evasive, to shuffle.”

“He’s so smart!”

“Flick your hand like this and say, ‘spin.’”

She did, and, still too tired to lift his own ears and tail, bandaged and weighted by the heart monitor strapped to his middle, Mick turned a little circle.

“Oh, my God!” the nurses gasped.

He loved their astonishment. He ate up their wonder. He wagged and dropped onto his side, clattering over his heart monitor. He gave them his shaved and bony belly to rub.

If they saw how extraordinary he was, saw him the way I did, maybe they’d care more, from the Old English carian, “to be anxious, to grieve.” I said, “Did you see the cross on his forehead?” An illusion, from the Latin, illusionem, “to deceive, to play with.”

Now, they hadn’t noticed, but now they saw it. They marveled.

“Of course he strolled around hitting on the nurses.” I later wrote to his Facebook friends. “He went from patient to patient, offering each an encouraging wag. He was particularly interested in what the other Border Collie was in for.”

“Trick,” from tricæ, meaning “trifles, nonsense, a tangle of difficulties.”

The familiar, if tedious, word grammar meant, back in the twelfth century, “learning, knowledge,” and by the fifteenth century, that learning included “magic, alchemy, astrology, even witchcraft,” wrote Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (3). By the seventeenth century, in Scotland the word evolved into glamor, meaning “magical enchantment, charms, and spells.” The word eventually included the spell cast by beauty. “The bridge between the words glamour and grammar is magic,” writes Clark. “In popular gothic stories detailing the misadventures of witches and vampires, the word glamor (without a u)—as both a noun and a verb—describes a magic spell that puts someone in a trance or makes a person forget” (3).

The nurses forgot who he’d been to them before. Even so diminished, he was charming them. “Maybe you’d like a little walk outside?” said one nurse in her best baby talk.

The photo.

That picture.

Mick and I went into a small, muddy back yard. He knew the yard, I could see, he’d been in it without me. He walked a few steps, sniffing the ground. He squinted into the bright shade. Somehow, more than the fluorescent lights, the outdoors showed how dead he nearly was, bony shoulders poking through his yellow mesh tee-shirt, the yellow tube snaking from his nostril. The earth would have little to reclaim. Perhaps his performance had exhausted him, or the slight breeze was too much for his thin coat and high fever. Afterwards I posted, “Then he went out for a snuffle around the backyard of the hospital, sneezed, and asked me, ‘Do I have something on my nose?’” Publicly cheerful, I didn’t want the Facebook chorus to despair. If they lost faith, who would pray for Mick? With some effort, he climbed back onto the doorstep and turned to look at me, the very picture of misery and defeat. Hating myself a little bit, I took that picture too; something about it was truer than the others, the limp ears, the yellow tube, the heavy head, the world-weariness on the face of a creature who still had yet to hit puberty, and the strange cross stamped on his brow clear in the light he could not bear.

“He’s ready to come in,” I said.

Prayer, too, is magic, from the Latin precari, “to ask, to petition, to beg.” The word “precarious” has the same root, meaning “to be dependent on someone else’s will.” Thy will be done. “Curse,” from the Old English, curs, is just another kind of prayer, one begging evil to befall someone. For good or evil, prayer is a form of spiritual begging, and its power increases according the goodness of the prayer, the desperation and/or selflessness of the supplicant, and/or the number of supplicants all pleading the same plea, prayer chains and prayer requests, palanca, the lever, a rigid bar and pivot point and the cumulative force of supplicants moving the hand of God, the Great Puppet. Prayers often operate on the assumption that God, like an irascible genie or a worn-out dad, will break down and grant the noisiest wish, clamor, a call, an outcry, a plea, a claim, “to demand by virtue or right.” In some ways, prayer is sorcery, which influences fate by “sorting” lots, from the Old English hlot, meaning “portion, decision, choice,” deciding who should live, who should die, who should rise again. He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. Please, Lord. If You please. If it please You.

“He seems a little better,” I said, more as a question.

“He’s better when you’re here,” said the one nurse. “It makes a difference. Nobody else visits their animals.”

The other nodded.

“You’re kidding me.” I couldn’t imagine other people didn’t visit their pets. How could that be? But I realized, every time I’d been in that back room, I was the only person who didn’t work there.

How else can I speak our words to him?

How else can I speak our words to him?

“I have to come,” I said. “How else could I talk to him?” I was addicted to canine conversation, and Mick was my best partner. Who else would half-climb into his cage and whisper, “Come, Mick,” to make him see himself trotting toward me across our lawn? Who else would say, “Let’s go to school. Is that Minnie?” so his tail swished? That was how I conjured Minnie, from the Latin, coniurare, meaning “to swear together, to conspire, to command a demon by invocation or spell, to cause to appear in the mind, to call into existence as by magic.” I would whisper into his ear, “Let’s go upstairs,” and so raise our staircase in his mind. When I said, “Mew,” at the same pitch Audrey said it, Mick raised his eyebrows. His brain filled with the scent, sight, and sound of cat. That’s how I sent his mind’s nose scent-searching for her fluffy butt. “Let’s go downstairs. Want to go outside? Let’s get your collar, put your paws up, paws up, where’s your Frisbee?” Live, keep living, come home, Mickey, come forth! Only in the flesh could I perform this magic, be the magician, from the word Magi, the three wise men, followers of the order of the Magus Zoroaster, Magus Magusian, those who brought gifts to the baby Jesus and gifted us with the word “magician.”

I said, “Mick, my good boy,” from the Old High German guot, meaning “fit, suitable, belonging together.” Stay with me.

“Talk to him,” my stepfather’s hospice nurse had said. “He can still hear you.”

And so as John died, my mother and I spoke of Yosemite, his favorite place on Earth, the soaring vault of Half Dome, the dizzy view from Glacier Point, the summer snow, the sound and the scent of mist at the base of Bridalveil Falls, and the cry of coyotes against the valley walls. With a mighty spell my mother and I conjured Yosemite and teleported him there, but his backyard would have been good enough. If John were to have opened his eyes, he’d have seen the breeze tousle dappled shadows and light. Everywhere the confetti of flowers flew. Bluebirds and goldfinches sailed, blue and yellow, to and fro.

“I have to go,” I said to the nurses. “But before I do, Mick wants to show you one last trick. It’s just a trick, you know. But it’s all he’s got.”

And they agreed to see it. So I took a bit of the food, showed it to Mick, and said his name. Still squinting, he locked eyes with me, because he was keen, because he was biddable, because he was brave, because he was still Mick. I leaned forward and offered my arm for him to put his paws up. He was still game, even when his packed blood cell count was down to eighteen percent. With effort, he stood on his hind legs and placed his front paws on my forearm.

“Say your prayers.”

He bowed his head between his paws. Mick and I froze, and the tableau planted itself in their minds: the brave and dying puppy bowed in prayer. Unseen but right out in the open, I slipped him the treat under my arm.

“Oh!” cried the nurses. They marveled at what they had beheld, and pondered it in their hearts.

The team who saved Mick's life.

The team who saved Mick.

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Tulley and Life’s Precious Moments – Living with Lymphoma

TULLEY and LIFE’S PRECIOUS MOMENTS

Tulley’s had a busy month. Our goal has always been to make sure that his good quality of life never wavers. We were thrilled when his most recent bloodwork was perfect. He was far from anemic so we decided to administer another round of chemo. As before a few days post chemo he had a couple days of feeling nauseous so we administered antiemetic medication, which helped. The days that he was inappetent I would mix meat flavored baby food with liquid Pediasure and feed him through an oral syringe. He never minded the shake; in fact I think he enjoyed it. We did find a brand of food and treats made by Orijen that he really likes so the cupboard is well stocked.

It was the last weekend in October when Tulley escorted Ed, Mirk, and me to Maryland for a sheepherding competition. We packed up the truck first thing in the morning and got on our way. We anticipated about a 4 hour drive and wanted to be south of the DC area before the evening rush hour. Other than the usual traffic delays the trip was pleasantly uneventful. As we neared our location and drove over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge it was a pleasure watching both dogs window surfing while taking in the ocean air. Tulley8

Our hotel was located in an area known as Kent Narrows. The Narrows channel barely separates Kent Island from the mainland. The region is rich with history, beautiful nature preserves and spectacular restaurants. We arrived late afternoon and checked into our room. Once the dogs were walked and the truck unloaded we headed across the street from our hotel to admire the beautiful water view and have a nice seafood dinner.

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The following morning we were up and out early, Mirk and I were entered to compete twice. The weather was fair, there was a little chill in the air in the morning but by the afternoon the sun came out so brilliant and warm. The trial was held at the beautiful Long Shot Farm in Church Hill, hosted by Sherry and Dave Smith. Sherry made a beef stew for lunch which was absolutely delicious, so much so that Tulley decided that was what he wanted to eat. I was so relieved that we finally found something that Tulley really enjoyed and ate readily. Mirk and I finished up our runs, both respectable runs but not good enough to finish in the ribbons. I wasn’t disappointed, Mirk did a great job. Tulley6

Truthfully I felt like we had already won when Tulley ravenously ate so much of Sherry’s stew. As we were packing and getting ready to go, we went to say goodbye to everyone and thank Sherry and Dave for their hospitality. Sherry handed me a large container full of the stew for Tulley.  Her kind gesture meant so much more than she could ever imagine, I couldn’t thank her enough. We headed back to our hotel to get some rest; we’d be heading home in the morning.

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I take Tulley to work with me as often as I can; he loves riding in the truck. There are always plenty of people wanting to feed him. Barb always makes sure she has lots of beef treats for him every time she walks into my office. On occasion Dr. Lagana will return from her lunch with a yummy cheeseburger and the bank drive-thru always keeps an adequate supply of biscuits on hand. He really enjoys being outside, getting some fresh air and playing a game of fetch. There are never a shortage of other dogs to play with and a fenced yard at the hospital so we go out as often as my time permits.  The hospital cats are also a form of amusement to Tulley; he’ll chase them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Of course I make every effort to deter that behavior.EchoTulley

Recently a package arrived in the mail for Tulley and he was thrilled—it was like Christmas morning! As I put the box on the floor Tulley hovered over it with anticipation. As I tore back the packaging tape and opened the top he promptly stuck his head into the box and promptly rooted through each item removing the contents one by one.  In the midst of his rummaging he found an awesome squeaky sock monkey, pulled it out of the box and promptly took off running into the living room, squeaking it all the while. We can’t thank Karen, Jim, Morgan and Wyatt enough for making Tulley’s day and ours as well. We cherish every moment.

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The weather this fall has been beautiful. Tulley enjoys spending the nice days outside with Ed while he clears the leaves, stacks wood, and prepares for winter. We delight in watching Tulley so carefree, jumping in a pile of leaves and bouncing around like a rabbit. He’s also always on guard making sure that the local herd deer stay off of his yard. Echo’s always nearby as well; she and Tulley are nearly inseparable. They truly are the, “cutest couple,”Tulley5

So for now we’ll continue to take it day by day and make sure that Tulley is enjoying each and every moment.

Chemotherapy

TULLEY

There are so few words, the diagnosis, Lymphoma. First chemotherapy treatment tomorrow. Please share any personal experiences. Updates to follow.

Here is Tulley’s rescue story.   https://bordercollieinquisitor.com/category/mean-dog/

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Whatever Your Dream

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The Moyer Menagerie, Part 2

Luke, Fly & Tillie

Pam was barely able to speak in between her sobs. “Luke needs to have his eye removed. It’s swollen and painful.” The veterinarian had told her that he had cancer in his spleen that had gone to his brain. “I’m not convinced the cancer is anywhere but in his eye though, and I’d like to go for a second opinion and quickly. Can you recommend another doctor?” Continue reading

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Smile! It’s Friday!

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Love Your Cuddlesome Pups–the Problem of Our Mismatched Lifespans

Wow, my dear, old Casey would have been twenty years old today!

Twenty years with such a companion seems too short, and yet she only lasted fifteen, which is a generous span for a dog.

Such reflections always put me in mind of these words by Konrad Lorenz, from Man Meets Dog: “When god created the world, he evidently did not foresee the Continue reading