Tag Archives: children

Congratulations to our BCI Writer, Terri Florentino

Northeast Woman!

Animal advocate: Salem Twp. woman turns childhood passion into a way of life

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2014:04:03 12:59:07

MICHAEL J. MULLEN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Terri Florentino, hospital manager at Abington Veterinary Center, with dog-in-training Angelina, left, and two of her own border collies, Mirk and Echo.

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Elf on the Shelf Down the Hatch


Living with Grace

by Judy Bonner

“Can your dog come over?”

The words refocused my attention to Gracie.  We were at the vet’s check-out window, paying the bill.  Gracie was tethered to a hook under the window.

Psst! Come on over!

Psst! Come on over!

I looked down at Gracie.  Her eyes were dancing, her lips in a puckered up smile, her butt wiggling.  Gracie loves people, especially children.  Who was now the apple of Gracie’s eye?

I looked up.  There was a woman at the next check-out window.  She again asked if my dog could come over.  Why not, I thought.  But wait, what is that in her hand?  A leash?  My eyes narrowed in on that leash, following it down to the floor.  Sure enough, it attached to a dog sitting tightly next to the woman’s legs, a dog not much bigger than Gracie.

Okay, take a step back, I thought to myself.  I stood in front of Gracie.  For as much as Gracie loves people, she is cautious around other dogs.

Gracie did not play with other puppies at break time in kindergarten class; she preferred a side seat with a good view instead.  She made friends at our group dog training classes, but certainly not at the first class.  She came to enjoy a good one-on-one play with her favorite friends.  On her short list were a Golden Retriever, a Great Dane, a Cocker Spaniel, a Basset Hound, and a Wheaton Terrier, the only female in her circle of pals.

Otherwise, Gracie generally offers up calming signals to most dogs in her path…turning her head, sniffing the ground, making a C-curve, changing direction, all to avoid a face-to–face encounter.  She is now a four-year-old Border Collie.  I have one finger left on each hand to add to my count of dogs Gracie has shown a great displeasure of their presence and behaviors.

The woman, probably noticing my hesitation, went on to say her dog was a rescue, living with her four years now.  “It’s only in the last year that I can pick up a broom without her running behind a door. This is the first time she has shown ANY interest in another dog.”  Four eyes were pleading with me–the dog’s and her owner’s.

No words from Gracie.  I glanced down at her.  Hmm . . . now a sitting wiggle-butt.  “It is up to Gracie.”  I gave Gracie permission to “go visit,” thinking she would head straight for the woman, ignoring the dog.  Nope.  Gracie walked softly and slowly over to the dog.  They touched noses and started sniffing each other’s muzzle and face.  Good so far, but dogs in her face is something Gracie will tolerate but does not enjoy.   Best not to push our luck.  “Good girl, Gracie,” I said.  “All done. Let’s go now.”  Gracie returned to my side.

“Thank-you” the woman said.  I smiled and nodded.  Back to business.   I signed the credit card slip, gathered all my papers together, and looped Gracie’s leash in my hand.  We headed to the exit door.

“Can she come over one more time?”

I turned around.  “It is up to Gracie,” I said.  Gracie was once again doing her sitting wiggle-butt.  “You can go visit.” I touched her head as she glided past me to the other dog.  I let them greet each other longer this time before calling Gracie back to me.

The woman started crying.  “You don’t know how much this means to me,” she said,  kneeling down to hug her dog.  “This is the first time I’ve seen her really happy.” The dog snuggled into her owner’s embrace.

Tears welled up in my eyes as Gracie and I tuned around to leave. I’d had dogs my whole life.  My journey with Gracie was unlike any other.  This was another entry into my journal of living with grace.

Wee, Part 3

The Heart of a Lion

by Terri Florentino

Terri and Navy

Proud parents!

My husband and I were now the proud parents of a son in the U.S. Navy. After the cheering, hugging, and congratulations I slipped my phone out of my pocket to send Megan a text. “How are Echo and the puppies, Wee?” It didn’t take her long to respond that all was well. I was relieved.

The following evening we arrived home late. I planned to pick Echo and the pups up from Megan the next morning.

The next day I awoke early. I was eager to see Echo and the pups. I wondered if Wee had gained even a couple of ounces in my absence. Echo enthusiastically greeted me right at the door as I walked into Megan’s house. “I missed you too, girl, where are the puppies?” I said to Echo. She promptly turned and made her way swiftly up the steps and into a spare bedroom. By the time I caught up, Echo had already jumped into the whelping box. The puppies were all making their way to her for another morning snack. Even Wee had found a place to nurse and by now was starting to develop enough strength to hang.

Megan followed me into the bedroom, smiling.

“How’s Wee doing?” I said.

“The same, no better, no worse.”

I was disappointed, but at least he was no worse. “Have you decided which puppy you like?”

“So far my favorite’s the firstborn male, but it’s hard to tell. They’re still so young.”

I began getting the pups packed up and ready to go. “I want you to visit them as often as you like. The social development’s good for them.”

“Thanks, that’ll be a tough job,” Megan laughed.

Once we arrived home, Wyn was so excited to see the pups, she could barely contain herself. As I moved the pups from the basket to the whelping box she stuck her nose in amongst the little balls of fur pushing, nudging and licking each and every one, especially Wee. I allowed the two to have their usual special bonding time.

Wee at five weeks.

Wee at five weeks.

Now that the pups were home and settled again, life continued as before. The family all stepped up to offer extra support and care for Wee. It was also time to notify the seven families that the puppies would be ready to go in another month. I arranged a puppy visitation day for those who lived close enough to make the trip.

I wasn’t ready to promise Wee to anyone just yet.

Wee progressed, consistently a week behind his littermates. His vision and his gait improved. His gut tolerated the puppy mash well. To make sure his heart was developing normally, I took him to see a cardiologist, Dr. Goodwin. Obviously charmed by his tiny little patient, no bigger than two handfuls by now, he listened with his stethoscope. The chest piece nearly took up Wee’s entire underside. Next he hooked his tiny body up to an electrocardiograph machine. I watched the colorful waves go up and down all the while listening to the whoosh, whoosh of his heartbeat. Wee was the best patient, lying quietly in the technician’s arms. I had to remind myself to breathe, or I was liable to be the doctor’s next patient. Dr. Goodwin turned off the equipment, took Wee from the technician, held him in his arms so Wee was facing him. “Well little one,” he smiled, “You have the heart of a lion.”

“His heart sounds OK?” I said, remembering now to take a breath, as I wiped tears from my eyes.

“Yes, his heart is perfect.”

Wellness exams and first vaccines were still a few weeks away. I decided that I wouldn’t torment myself with “what if’s” and would just enjoy the time I had left with the pups. By now they were keeping the family and me busy with three feedings a day, taking them outdoors to learn to do their “good puppy” business, cleaning up, and giving them lots of hugs and kisses.

Wee and his new friend.

Wee and his new friend.

Soon enough puppy visitation day arrived. Luckily it was a gorgeous day, and the families and friends came to hold, hug, and love them. A little boy who scooped up Wee and wouldn’t let him go. Wee was perfectly content with his new friend. I must say, it was a beautiful sight. I beamed with delight watching Wee with his littermates enjoying all of the attention.

In the meantime I had gotten an email from someone looking for a dog. She went on to talk about her last dog that had since passed away. She felt she was ready for another. I was immediately drawn to her compassion and thoughtfulness. My only concern was that she lived in Colorado, and I wasn’t willing to ship a puppy in cargo. We exchanged phone numbers, and I gave her a call.

“I would love a Border Collie,” Wendy told me. “I’m an endurance athlete so an active dog would suit me.” We talked for a long time. I discussed some options with Wendy and then mentioned Wee.

“He must be adorable! Would you please send me some pictures?” Wendy said.

“Sure, I’ll send pictures, but I need you to know that I have had concerns about his development.” I couldn’t guarantee he’d develop normally. We decided I’d send pictures, and we’d wait to see how he continued to develop.

The day arrived for the pups to receive their first vaccines. I packed up the whole bunch and off we went to see Dr. Jeschke. One by one he weighed, examined, and vaccinated them.
“What do you think of Wee?” I asked.

“He looks good, other than the fact that he’s smaller than his littermates. If he doesn’t continue to grow, I’d like to rule out a liver shunt. We’d need to do some bloodwork and an ultrasound.”

My fears resurfaced. “Should we do it soon?”

“Not yet,” he smiled. “He’s all right for now. Don’t over think it.”

The next twenty-four hours I watched the puppies closely for any vaccine reactions, and they all did well, even Wee!

Megan's Brea and Ace

Megan’s Brea and Ace

The following weekend all the pups would be heading out on their new adventures with their families. As always, the day arrived sooner than later. The box of tissues was ready to roll! One by one, the families arrived, scooping up their chosen bundle of joy. I’d go over all of the appropriate information and paperwork and exchange hugs and puppy kisses as they made their way out the front door. Megan chose not just the firstborn black-and-white male but also a female that so closely resembled Wyn I could barely let her go. Normally I don’t recommend that someone take two puppies, but Megan and her husband Keith were up to the task. I would also be an intricate part of helping her raise the pups. I told her, “We’ll have joint custody,” and she laughed and hugged me.

In the meantime Wendy and I continued to correspond about Wee. By this time I was more at ease with his progress. The little stinker was doing great!

“I’d really like to adopt Wee,” Wendy wrote me. “I have a trip planned to PA. I’ll make arrangements to have him fly in coach with me. What do you say—can he come home to Colorado?”

“I’d be honored,” I replied. “What a lucky pup to live with you in Colorado.” So the arrangements were made for Wee to travel to with Wendy to become her long-distance running companion in the mountains of Colorado. The littlest pup was going on the biggest adventure!

Wee, Part 2

I Wish I Had a Crystal Ball

by Terri Florentino

echosailorpups1“These pups are gorgeous! What a beautiful and balanced litter–four males and four females,” my mom, Sandy, exclaimed while scooping up Wee pup. “This little guy is a fighter.”

He was awful small. He needed extra attention, more than I could give. “I’ll need your help,” I said.

She nuzzled Wee’s tiny nose. “You know how much I love taking care of the puppies.”

“He’s a bottom feeder,” I joked. “He makes his way along Echo’s underside to find a nipple. We need to keep watch all the time to stop the others from elbowing him away from the milk bar.”

photo 2My husband, my mom, my two daughters, and I arranged our schedules so someone was always there to rotate the puppies and make sure Wee was nursing. One of my shifts was two a.m. The first few nights, I’d lie awake and worry. Two a.m. just couldn’t come soon enough. Finally I’d get out of bed, make my way to the whelping area, peer into the box, and hold my breath until my gaze found little Wee and saw him move.

photo 3-1

Wyn and Wee.

Echo’s daughter, Wyn, was a big help too. Whenever Echo left the box to eat, drink, or stretch her legs in the yard,  Wyn climbed in, lay down, and licked and nuzzled the puppies. In fact, the puppies suckled on her so much, she started lactating. This phenomenon is perfectly normal, commonly found with packs of wolves. The pregnant female will select an assistant from among the other females to help her rear the puppies. Wyn was such a good second mom, I was able to let her have Wee all to herself. Thanks to her, Wee didn’t have to struggle to nourish himself, and she seemed blissful.

wee 1Once I stopped worrying that he might not make it through the day, I began to worry about Wee’s physical development. His littermates could drag themselves along by pulling with their front legs and pushing with their back. Wee could push along with his back legs, but he could not tuck his front legs underneath to pull himself forward. When you held him up he would extend his front legs out to his sides in a “splat,” position.  He might never be structurally sound enough to walk. Several times a day I’d force him to exercise his limbs, and the more I worked with him, the more I saw he wasn’t developing normally. He was going to need constant physical therapy.

“OK, girls, let me show you a few stretching and strengthening activities I’d like you to do with Wee a couple of times a day,”  I explained to my daughters, Amy and Heather.

“Not a problem,” Amy said.

“Do you think it will help him?” Heather asked.

“I’m not sure, but we have to try,” I said, and they were eager to help.

photo 5My second immediate worry was the shape of his head. It was dome-like, indicative of hydrocephalus, a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid doesn’t drain properly, causing an apple-shaped head. Symptoms include loss of movement and coordination, depression, vision problems, and seizures.

I wished I had a crystal ball. Was Wee going to develop normally? Or would he only need more and more from us?  Would he suffer? I began to wonder if I was being fair to my family. By now we were all emotionally invested. What if Wee didn’t make it? How would I know if euthanasia was the humane thing? How would I break the news to them? I dreaded the thought of putting my family through the pain of losing the little guy.

I decided that as long as he progressed and wasn’t in pain, I’d continue to help him to carry on.

photo 2-1Every day I watched him tussle his way through his littermates to the “milk bar.” I tried to find the balance between normal puppy interaction and frustration. I didn’t want him to develop a “Napoleon” complex. Whenever I sensed him getting overly annoyed, I intervened and either moved him right up to a nipple or allowed him nurse peacefully alone with Wyn.

Once his belly was full, however, he wasn’t content unless he was curled up with his littermates in this puppy Jenga-like arrangement. They were so charming all cozy and coiled up together.

As the days passed, he continued to grow. His development seemed to be typically a week behind his littermates. His legs became stronger, and he developed the ability to tuck his front legs underneath in order to pull himself along.

At about fourteen days, his littermates’ eyes started to open. I didn’t see Wee’s little tiny black eyes until he was closer to twenty-one days old. I was concerned that he might never have normal vision.

photo 1When the puppies are at about three to four weeks, I introduce solid food. The food is puppy kibble soaked in water, giving it an oatmeal consistency. I make sure they always have more than enough food. I never want them to have to fight for it. Once they’ve eaten their hearts’ content, the puppies look like they just had a finger painting contest all over one another. Echo would take delight in finishing the uneaten portion and licking all her puppies clean. Early on in the feeding process, Wee needed to be separated to be fed. He wasn’t  coordinated enough to hold his head up to eat and swallow effectively. He sat in our laps while we held his head in position and let him lick the kibble off of our fingers. He loved these feeding sessions and ate so enthusiastically, we almost wished this sweet task would last forever.

When the pups were three weeks, my son was graduating from Navy basic training. I asked Megan if she would take care of Echo and the puppies while my family and I were out of town.  Since Megan worked as a veterinary surgical technician, I knew she’d make sure the puppies had everything they needed. She was also taking one of the puppies, so this opportunity would give her ample quality time with them. I left her with detailed instructions on how to care for the puppies, especially Wee.

“I know you will do great,” I said. “If anything goes wrong with Wee, I trust you will do the right thing.”

“I won’t make any decision unless I speak to you first,” she said.

photo 3The next morning my family and I packed up and headed out to Chicago. As I left Megan smiling down at the puppies and stroking them, I worried about her. Yet again, there was another person emotionally invested in our adorable little runt. I felt bad leaving Wee. He was so used to all of us tending  him, our smells and sights and ways of doing things. Would this stress him? I couldn’t help but wonder if he would perish while I was out of town.

Dusty, Part 4

Love Him Wisely

by Terri Florentino

“The truth is,” Susan said. She paused and ran her hand over her mouth. She took a breath. “Dusty can be so volatile that I’m afraid of him.”

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

I tensed. “Sometimes there are hard deci—”

“No. I’m in this for the long haul. We all are.”

“Okay. Good,” I relaxed. “I’m going to need you to love him wisely.”

“Can do,” Susan said.

We agreed to check back frequently, and a week or so later I visited them to follow up after their trip to the vet. I heard happy yelling and scrabbling behind the door as Susan put Dusty behind the baby gate. She let me in smiling and breathless.

“You were right,” she said. “The doctor agreed medication would ease his stress and lower his aggression. He’s been on it a few days now.”

I moved deliberately and calmly, never looking directly at him. Behind the gate he sat cute as a button and watched me intently. “Have you noticed any differences yet?”

“I’d say he’s showing a little less a play drive, which is sad, but the good news is, he is definitely less reactive.” She led me into the kitchen. “Juice? Tea?”

The fur family.

The fur family.

I could hear the hope in her voice, and I smiled. “Don’t relax yet. We’ve just begun. Keep a leash on him at all times, indoors and out, day and night.” This way he if started to act inappropriately they could get control of him quickly. “Think of the leash as an umbilical cord. If you want your dog to learn from you, he needs to be attached to you.”

Robert met us in the kitchen looking more at ease than the last time I saw him. We shook hands.

“I was just saying, be aware of Dusty’s body language and watch for early signs of reactivity.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Susan said. She put a kettle on the stove. “His body stiffens, his head drops, his eyes stare, and he might let out a low growl you can barely hear.”

“The second you see him enter that mode, change the subject.”

“Should I offer to take him for a walk or to get the ball?” Robert asked.

“Yes, and I’ll teach you to learn some constructive learning games in class,” I said and grinned. “You’ll have a whole repertoire of new subjects.”

Susan was setting three teacups and saucers on the counter. She turned and flashed me a big smile at the thought of Dusty having lots of fun things to do besides snap and growl.

It’s important to be pro-active rather than re-active. “Let’s not set him up to fail. For instance, he’s not sleeping in your bed anymore.” I took a seat at the kitchen table, and Robert joined me. “Since that last episode with you and the bed, Dusty has lost the privilege of sharing that space. Do you see what I mean?”

Susan set a box of herbal teas on the counter and turned around with a frown. “Where should he sleep?”

“In a crate, where you know exactly where he is and what he’s doing.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Robert said, relieved.

Susan set a plate of sugar cookies on the table and joined us. We discussed Dusty’s fear of people he didn’t know. “Don’t force the issue this early on. Once you and Dusty attend my classes we’ll work on promoting positive interaction.” The kettle whistled, and Susan got up. “In the meantime allow him to be social with people he’s relaxed with, but take him immediately out of any situation that makes him uncomfortable. Baby steps, okay?”

I explained the nothing-for-free concept. “Dusty needs to earn everything,” I said, as Susan filled my teacup. “Everything. Toys, food, treats, free time, and affection must be earned.”

Susan and Robert looked at each other, dipping their teabags. “This is going to be hard,” Robert said.

“It’s doable,” Susan said.

“It’s worth it,” I said. We raised our teacups. “To Dusty.”

It took years. They trained Dusty in basic obedience, rally, tricks, Beyond Backyard, and even Canine Good Citizen.

“One of the secrets,” Susan said in an email, was that “Dusty loved the hotdogs we used for training. It helped keep him focused on me. Each night the family and I also enjoyed practicing all of the skills we learned with Dusty, and it tired him out.”

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Surprisingly Dusty was tolerant of other dogs. He didn’t want to wrestle and play with them, but he was comfortable in their presence. Susan and Robert eventually got two cats. “I never thought Dusty would get along with the cats, but I believe they helped with his social development. He and Tigger are good friends. Autumn tolerates him. It’s so funny seeing our tough guy get smacked around by a cat and tolerate it.”

“Dusty and I formed a strong bond during the training process. I had a blast training him, and he loved to learn. I was amazed at the transformation in Dusty once I stopped the punishment and intimidation technique I’d learned on television. I focused on his good qualities. Seeing the twinkle in his eye and overall happier demeanor motivated me to keep going. After I while, I wasn’t afraid of him anymore. I was more and more determined to save him. We were able to wean him off of the Prozac after only a year. It got easier and easier to love him. We became the best buddies I dreamed we would be.”

Dusty and the Kids

Dusty and the Kids

Susan and Robert did a remarkable job with Dusty. I had cautioned them that Dusty’s baseline personality would never completely change, so the behavior management techniques have to be lifelong habits, and they followed through. I’ve seen it too often: the biggest mistake that my clients make is falling back into their old habits with their dogs. When they fall back, the dog falls back, and the trouble’s back.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore,” Susan said. “But I’ll always be guarded in certain situations. He still gets annoyed. It’s clear he can never be trusted, just as Terri predicted. He still wants to be the boss, but we try to keep a nothing-for-free attitude with him. I recognize his triggers and immediately change the subject. He’s much easier to re-direct now, and he’ll forgive and forget quickly. He rarely sleeps with us, and when he does he’s on a leash, and Rob gets in bed first, then he is invited up. My mission is to make sure he stays on the right path.”

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Some things haven’t changed. Susan is still his favorite person, and he’s protective of their daughter Sarah. He still keeps an eye on Robert. He’s an intelligent dog, so he was easy to train. He demands attention but he’s learned to ask for it playfully. He loves riding in the car, going to the beach or park, and seeing other dogs. “The best part,” Susan said, “besides being able to keep and develop a satisfying relationship with Dusty, was meeting the people along the way, who helped us.  Especially Terri, but we met others who truly cared about our plight, and understood the potential heartbreak and stress of what it was like to have to deal with him.”

Susan got choked up remembering the tough times. “So many of our friends and family said we should euthanize him.” She shook her head. “I never knew the depth of the relationships between man and dog, and how much a dog understands and feels. I learned about dog rescue, and saw people give of their time, money and emotions to protect the helpless lives of so many dogs.   How inspiring is that? I appreciate dogs more than ever, and even though Dusty will never be a therapy dog, I am inspired. I hope to have a Therapy Dog one day.  I never would have been exposed to that if it wasn’t for Dusty. This experience has been invaluable to me in many ways.”

“Now I realize the truth in Anatole France’s quote, Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

Beach Dusty

Keeping Mick

Mick is always ready for anything.

Mick is ready for anything.

Terri and I want to apologize and thank you for your patience. Our work here has come to a halt since Mick, of “Finding Mick,” suffered his second mysterious and potentially fatal health crisis. I’ve been distracted, distraught, and exhausted. Terri, with the help of her friend and colleague Megan Biduk-Lashinski, has been researching and networking, doing her part to save him.


The Ash Wednesday Dog

Born with the mark of a cross on his forehead, Mick is the inspiration for the “Inquisitor” in our name and the model for many of our posters and promos.

In September he turned one year old. He was the runt of his litter, but I didn’t choose him because he was small and frail. Quite the opposite–he was small, yet anything but frail. I wanted a courageous, independent, outgoing canine partner, a dog who could meet the world with a frank and friendly attitude. Mick has been that dog.


Mick likes to help me with my chores.

I expected Mick to be hard-headed. I was braced for a disciplinary challenge, but he turned out to be eager to please me always.  He’s been at my side wherever pet laws allow, and then some. He’s completed puppy class and beginning obedience and is slated for introduction to agility. I teach in a public school, where Mick instantly became a beloved mascot. He frequents local businesses and restaurants. Around town, people are starting to recognize him, “Oh, that’s the famous Mick!”

His failure to thrive began early. We’ve spent a lot of time in local pet food shops, where his charm inspired employees to try to find a food to please and nourish him. Like many of his breed, he’s spooky-smart, but he’s also sublimely sweet, unflappable, and ready for anything.

His last trainer said, “I’ve seen a lot of awesome dogs. Mick is a super-awesome dog.”

Mick with his Uncle Pike.

Mick tries to keep up with his Uncle Pike.

DSC06785This past July Mick spent eight days in intensive care. Last week, he again required round-the-clock care, this time for four days. As in July, doctors have run every test they can think of to figure out what’s trying to kill our Mick. Again and again, test results come back normal–or if they’re abnormal, they’re mystifying. It’s now clear that Mick is fighting a rare and deadly disease. He’s been recovering quickly from his latest “crash,” but we’re still waiting for a diagnosis and praying for a cure.

P1030446While we await the latest test results, Mick is back at home and gaining strength. Terri and I began work on a new series of “Dusty” stories for you. We’ll keep you posted about Mick’s outcome.

It was a long journey finding Mick. It’s been a long year trying to keep him. I feel certain we’re close to a diagnosis and a cure. He loves and is loved by way too many people–nobody’s losing Mick!

Love Me, Love My Lookalike

Do You and Your Dog Look Alike?

by Lisa Lanser-Rose


From Cesar Canine Cuisine

We want to see! Email us your photos and a few words about the two of you to bordercollieinquisitor@gmail.com. We’ll feature you and your lookalike in our special Twins Issue.

Studies confirm that people tend to choose dogs who look like them. Vanity? Familiarity? Call it what you will, but it’s human nature. In this picture, I’m with three dogs. If you didn’t know us, which one would you think was mine?


Even though I love my little Border Collie Mick to pieces, if I had to choose among these three, I might have chosen the tall, curly-haired, golden Labradoodle. I felt a powerful, inexplicable connection between us . . .

We’d love to see you and your best lookalike friend. Email us your photos and a few words to bordercollieinquisitor@gmail.com for our special Twins Issue, coming soon.


Finding Mick, Part 7

You and Me, Casey

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

Casey's not going anywhere.


After moving my only immediate family member out of my house, I drove the forty-five minutes home thinking about everything other than the fact that I’d just cut my heart out and stored it in a cement-block dorm room. When I got home, I took Casey outside to play Frisbee, just as we did every day. Delaney might as well have been over at a friend’s house for the afternoon. I sat on the grass, and Casey dropped her Frisbee near my feet and whined until I threw it. When I did, rather that rocket after it the way she used to, she watched it sail and skid onto the grass, then whined at me. We weren’t the creatures we once were, she and I. “I can’t reach it,” I said, and she fetched it. I threw the Frisbee and Casey panted to and fro, stopping occasionally to drink out of my water glass, which made it her water glass.

Against the horizon in my mind, the sails of dark thoughts approached: my mother, my stepfather John, my father. Casey was in her final years, but for me, there were more to come. . . . I decided I had stuff to do. I got up, and we went into the kitchen, but when we got there, it turned out I had nothing to do in there.

So I took the stairs two at a time, Casey behind because she wasn’t fast enough anymore to head me off the way Border Collies do. When I burst into my bedroom, I stopped short, and Casey bumped into me. I had nothing to do in my bedroom either.

I veered toward the rubble in Delaney’s bedroom, but at the sight of my only child’s ransacked room, a howl rose in my throat. Casey knocked into me, and I closed the door before I made a noise.

Casey and I swerved and trotted down to the kitchen. I had people to call—my mother and my friend Nina, or maybe someone in the tribe, or maybe Fred or Dan or Vito, three men whom I kept as friends as long as we never discussed falling into love or falling into bed. But when I sat on the kitchen stool and picked up the phone, I was wrong about that, too. I put the phone back on its charger.

I'm here! I'm here!

I’m here! I’m here!

Casey suggested we try the living room and led me in there, but I couldn’t think of anything to do there, either.  She looked at me sideways, her jaws parted slightly in a leering pant. Her body seemed padded and ponderous as she stepped toward her orthopedic dog pillow, glancing back at me over her shoulder to see what I thought of her suggestion that we maybe lie down on it together for a while?

We tried that. I stroked her shoulders and face, and she put one paw on my chest and pushed until her elbow locked, keeping me at arm’s length. She’d always done that, as if she liked being close, but not too close. We lay there for several ticking minutes. Her eyes closed. Her locked leg vibrated. The air conditioning shut off. The refrigerator shut off. On nearby I-19, the traffic amplified its stage whisper, giving its incessant soliloquy that this was the most densely populated county in Florida, with an average of thirty-three hundred people per square mile and three-hundred-and-eighty thousand cars on the road, an average of fifty-two highway deaths a year on this stretch, far, far from woodland and farmland and sheep, under a sky scribbled with wires and littered with billboards. My stomach growled. I asked Casey, “Want dinner?”

Casey was stone deaf, but we understood each other. We both got up.

I bounded to the kitchen, and, laboriously, she followed. It was time for dinner, time to scoop some dog food, haul open the fridge, and start cooking, as I’d done nearly every day since I’d gotten my own kitchen twenty-four years before—but I was wrong again. Once I’d poured kibbled into Casey’s bowl, there wasn’t anyone else to feed.

Casey inhaled her kibble like a Shop-Vac. The cat slithered seductively against the kitchen faucet. I opened a drizzle for her. A stillness settled in my brain.

Casey tiptoed up behind me, panted, and burped.

I went down on my knees and wept. With her paws, Casey pried my hands away from my face to bump me with her nose and lick me, and I rolled away and keened. I had loved every second of my days and nights as Delaney’s mom. I had loved her and loved the woman I was in her company. Frightened, Casey came around and shoved her nose between my hands and face, and I got up. I rinsed my face in the sink, then went down again. If I couldn’t be Delaney’s mom anymore, I didn’t want to be anyone else.

I cried until a headache shut me up. I ate a bowl of cereal so I could keep an aspirin down and went to bed. About three in the morning, I woke and remembered. Delaney’s room was located exactly where it always had been, across the hall, behind a closed door, but now it gaped in the dark like the maw of a mausoleum. I slid off the bed to cry on Casey. We huddled on the floor, clinging to each other, the lone survivors.

Audrey the Afterthought Cat

Audrey the Afterthought Cat

And somewhere in the house, there crept an afterthought, a cat.

Day after day, night after night went on like this. Casey had always slept near the foot of my bed, which meant that I had spent fourteen years making a Border-Collie-sized birth around the foot. In the middle of these post-apocalyptic empty-nest nights, I had to get out of bed and crawl on the floor if I wanted to sob into her coat. I had never before made such use of my dog, but it became a midnight ritual. Like other physiological acts that involved uncontrolled bodily sounds and fluids, unhinged grief was best performed behind a locked door, with access to toilet paper and running water.

The dog was wet for two months.

Finding Mick, Part 6

Try Me,

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

"He just wanted some rest."

“He just wanted some rest.”

After we dressed John in new pajamas, (“He just wanted some rest,” my mother had said), we sat on the patio, my mother on the swing, I in a chair across from her, each balancing a sourdough baguette, cheese, and tapenade sandwich on a plate. We ate like the damned, tearing the bread with our eyeteeth.

We had swallowed the last, thick bites when we heard the thump, jingle, and rattle of firemen rolling the stretcher down the front hall, and then, a duller sound, the firemen rolling the stretcher, more slowly, out.

You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.

“You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.”

For about a week after John’s death, I stayed to help with the kind of paperwork that requires other papers you don’t have. We got none of it done. I did what I could: I wrote the obituary. I opened an account online for John’s mourners to leave digital notes on a virtual grave. Mostly, I kept my mother company in person, my daughter company through Skype, and endured more time without the company of my dog. Being dogless is a hardship I don’t understand, but I suffered it from the time I was a toddler until I got my first dog at eleven years old. When I was married and my daughter and I flew to California without my husband, my mother used to tease me, “You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.”

Then came the day when my mother heard the thump, jingle, and rattle of me rolling my suitcase down her front hall. We heaved my suitcase into the trunk and headed for the airport shuttle depot. My mother gunned the engine to merge into traffic on Interstate Route 1. “Humans aren’t made to live alone,” she said. “I’ve never lived alone.”

“No way.” My mind flickered with views of every place I ever lived alone, from my graduate-school apartment to summers in every home I ever shared with Delaney—she’d abandon me for six weeks with her father. After she left, I’d spend a few days crying with Casey on the couch, then get up and love my life. I’d learned I could live alone anywhere, anytime. Try me.

The turn indicator clicked, and my mother piloted the car into a narrow gap in traffic. I gasped as the hood of her car eclipsed the license plate of the car in front of us. I put my foot on the imaginary brake on the passenger floorboard. “Mom. Slow down.”

Not made to live alone.

“I’ll be back next summer, me and my entourage.”

“I lived with my parents, then my roommates, then I married your father.”

“How about we slow down so we can see that car’s license plate?”

“When he left, I had you kids, then John. I’ve always lived with someone. My whole life.”

Until today. It dawned on me, when I left, she’d be alone for the first time in her life. “You have Ginger.”

“She’s John’s cat.”

I said, “If we survive this drive, I’ll be back next summer, me and my entourage.”

“Laura says I tailgate.”

“That whole multi-car pile-up thing? You’re how it happens.”

“Laura texts and drives.”

“You’re what? Seventy-one? The world is supposed to be tailgating you. Could you please just tap the brake, like three times?”

When I landed in Florida, Delaney and I had three days of her childhood left. I ferried her to Home Depot and Publix and Target and Borders and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We ate at all our places: Eddie and Sam’s New York Pizza and Sea-Sea

No room for Casey.

No room for Casey.

Rider’s and Tum Rub Thai and Gino’s. We went to Tampa Theatre and the Clearwater Cinema Café. We took Casey to the dog beach at Honeymoon Island. We found my heirloom steamer trunk and packed it with a desk lamp and a purple tool kit and a box of thumbtacks and Scotch tape and tampons, and lastly we tucked in a rolled-up Donnie Darko poster and the plush George the Curious Monkey doll that I bought for her when she was nine months old. When I heard there was a kitchen in the dorm, I hand-copied recipes for Delaney’s favorite ragout and vegan cupcakes and curry and Penne Franco. Delaney got mad at me when I fell asleep during our Kill Bill marathon. On campus move-in day, I took a picture of the loaded car with Delaney and Casey beside it. We were sad there was no room for Casey , but we were running late for the prescribed move-in hour, which made me anxious as we stood in line for the dorm key and then had to go to billing to clear up a mistake and then back in line for the key. When we finally got into the dorm room, Delaney’s roommate hadn’t yet arrived. I helped her rearrange the furniture and make her bed.

DSC02322I was just hanging her second Audrey Hepburn poster when she said, “Mom!”

“What?” When I saw her face had gone still, I froze.

“Thanks,” my daughter said.

She hugged me, and the strangest thing happened: my mom-life flashed before my eyes, or rather, it howled through me. Again she opened her eyes wide as the obstetrician clipped the umbilicus and convulsed as if she felt it. Delaney sat at her child-sized table and played with her Playmobil. Delaney swung her little fist at the dogs when they eyed her pizza. She waved good-bye when I left her at saxophone lessons, at horseback riding lessons, at math tutorials, at the airport gangway to board a plane to visit her father alone. Sunny Florida afternoons she sat with me on the lawn and debriefed me on her school day while I threw the Frisbee for Casey. Again Delaney and I laughed ourselves blue the time I pretended to aim  the car for a squirrel and horrified two mommies walking their children—I had to pull over down the block, out of sight—only the two of us knew why it was so funny. Again Delaney and I sniggered in the grocery store aisle because I was so impatient behind a slow old man that I mocked his gait outrageously enough to make John Cleese proud. Delaney and I bundled under a blanket in the dark to watch Ghost World. Delaney and I ate ice cream topped with chopped “Famous Anus” cookies and watched “Absolutely Fabulous” marathons. Again Delaney burst into my room in the middle of the night after a bad dream. Delaney strolled into my bedroom while I got dressed and said, “Wow, I’ve never met anyone so determined to look like a goober.” Again Delaney and I rode to school together every morning and home together every afternoon day after day, year after year, in city after city after city after city. Delaney and her girlfriends quipped downstairs in our living room while I crouched upstairs grateful that my home was filled with such rambunctiously sarcastic young women.

I loosened my grip and pulled away. Our curls tangled together, just for a moment, then slid free with soft, separate, bounces. “Okay,” I said. “That’s it, then?”

"Bye, Mom."

“Bye, Mom.”