“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Monday, April 2, 2012

Part II, Day Two: Thanksgiving in Spring

Among the kindest of many kind things people have done for us in recent weeks, James and Glenn invited us to come to dinner and spend the night at their place near Stowe on the eve of Zoe's first adventure in Chinese traditional herbal medicine and acupuncture.

I "met" James through Annie, a lovely former student, who is currently in the Peace Corps in Zambia with her husband, Andrew.  Annie worked with James at Green Mountain Coffee and sent me an e-mail this fall to tell me that her coworker and his partner, Glenn, had a golden retriever with osteosarcoma, just like Zoe.  She said the dog was on the same path as Zoe is--amputation, then chemotherapy--but was also being treated by an integrative vet.  It's East meets West in Vermont, and also, Boston, where James drives Milo for monthly visits to his oncologist.  The vet that gives Milo the Chinese herbs and pokes him with needles is less than 20 minutes from their house.

We arrive at 4 on a cool, raw day with scuttling clouds and tawny light that feels more like late November than late March.  The house, on four wooded acres, with a deck overlooking the Green Mountain valley, is private and spa-like, and I already feel relaxed before I knock on the door.

Milo is in Zoe's bed, but Zoe is intrigued by the kitchen
Milo and Emily
Inside, the open living room/dining area/kitchen with the panoramic view is more dogcentric than any home I've ever been in.  Milo, who is almost 11, thumps his tail from his C-shaped day bed, and Emily, a golden Chesapeake retriever curly girl, is 12, and before I can bring my bags in Zoe and I are told by these two that we need to keep our priorities straight.  We plop ourselves down for the meet and greet, and then I bring Zoe's plaid bed near theirs before I bring in anything else.  Milo promptly scoots onto it, claiming it as his.  Zoe doesn't mind.  She likes what's happening in the kitchen.  "She can seem a little aloof at first," I say to James, who goes over to her and sits down with her to begin getting acquainted.  "It's just that she has a job to do.  She has to herd everyone and watch the house and keep us safe.  And she needs a little space to watch everyone and everything equally."

so patient, so brave, so good
Glenn and Milo
While James roasts a turkey, Glenn and Milo and Zoe and I head out to walk around some groomed public fields.  I'm in awe of how Glenn and Milo have this routine down.  Glenn lifts all 75 pounds of Milo into the trunk, then finds room for the go-cart.  When we arrive, he carries Milo out and straps him in.  Milo is a tripod like Zoe, but his back left leg can't do its part now.  He was fine at first, but then he had to have radiation on the back leg because of another mass, and then he blew out his knee.  Plus he has arthritis.  But oh, that sweet, young-looking, brave face.  He is all love and all head.  He pushes that head into you and says, "Look into my eyes soulfully, now," and time stops.

true love
Zoe has her big chance.  She is with a comrade.  They are both tripods, both fighting the same aggressive disease.  He is patient and sweet and friendly, a natural-born teacher, and he would be happy to show her the ropes since he has two more months of experience than she does with oncology, pills, and doctor visits.  But Zoe, side by side with her special needs doggy counterpart, takes off.  Milo is feeling a little under the weather today.  He can't go very fast or very far.  Zoe has been in the car all day.  She runs ahead, comes back, runs ahead, and comes back, but then ditches us for the company of some small, swift dogs.  One, a beagle/retriever mix, has been known to run off into the wild, but his person thinks the retriever part of him is starting to keep him close to the pack.  Zoe would love to show off her herding skills and bring the errant dog back, but he's on his best behavior.
Zoe shoots ahead to meet the swifites
Milo meets the dogs in the 'hood
Zoe turns to check on us and make sure we're still there
Back at the house, we sit down to drink the French red wine I brought and to nibble on goat cheese brie and hummus and crackers.  I didn't have lunch, and the smell of the turkey is making me a little giddy.  We talk about our dogs and our pasts.  James and Glenn met over 17 years ago in San Francisco when they were both working for AIDS hospice.  James grew up in Upper Michigan, served in the military, studied parks recreation on the GI bill in Arkansas, and is currently applying his considerable charm to his work at Green Mountain coffee where he gives tours.  Glenn is from Pennsylvania, has a background in marketing, and now works in IT at Green Mountain.  They give me three free bags and I think ahead to the caffeine highs that will fuel future posts.

I notice later, especially when I bring out the camera, that the colors around us--soft sienna, mustard, saffron, and nutmeg--match the coats of their dogs.  This is a golden retriever pooch palace.

At doggy dining time, James feeds all three dogs at once, topping up Zoe's boring food with some cat food to help the medicine go down.  I watch him give Milo his meds.  Several pills go on his tongue.  James wears gloves, like we're supposed to but don't, and when I marvel at this he says he only put them on to impress me, and that he hardly ever does it either.  Then Milo gets a reward: dried liver treats.  After dinner, Milo gets a baster-full of what they call a "slurry" of Chinese herbs, slippery elm, mushrooms, and a variety of herbs and antioxidants that Glenn, who has a nutrition degree, has been reading about and adding to since the diagnosis.  Milo swallows it all and puts his heavy head in James' hand with gratitude.  James asks if I've noticed that Zoe might have lost her taste for beef marrow bones since she started chemo.  He has created new bones filled with a frozen health drink he makes himself with almond butter and fruit.  All three dogs chomp these down, then suck out the delicious center with a sound like happy people slurping oysters.

Dinner is the succulent turkey, roasted brussel sprouts that have been sauteed with bacon and shallots, mashed sweet potatoes, and a green salad.  Dessert is fresh berries with lemon curd and yogurt.  The dogs get little nibbles of everything.  This is my idea of comfort food--gourmet comfort food.  I'm in heaven.

Where is that flying kitty off to now?
These guys are fun and funny, generous and sweet.  We talk about politics (same allergies to certain bullies and bigots), our respective travels, the move from a very fast-paced urban life in San Francisco to rural Vermont, their remodeling work on the house, and then it's dogs, dogs, dogs.  I would be writing everything down, I should be writing everything down, but Glenn beats me to it.  They also give me a book on dogs and cancer, and a novel I've been wanting to read (with a dog protagonist: The Art of Racing in the Rain.)  I give them Dog Years by Mark Doty, my favorite dog book, but I wish I had more to offer them than that.

As Dog is my witness, you will talk to me
sacked out pups; Zoe's got the bone
Zoe is a shy dog, but she takes to these two humans right away, and cozies up to them, trying to steal attention from the other two dogs.  But the star of the show, as far as she is concerned, is that acrobatic cat, who flies up the stairs, runs to the bedroom headboard, then leaps to the kitchen counter and to the top of the fridge.  Zoe is enthralled.  This is as close to a cat as she has ever been, and still, the cat is elusive, but that's okay: Zoe loves the thrill of the chase.  The cat is not going to snuggle with her, or share her toys, although Zoe did sneak downstairs and nibble from her bowl.

The next morning, we wake up to Winter, the Sequel, and I have to spend some time scraping off my car.  James and I take all three dogs on a snowy trail.  I'm touched when I watch the way James, as Glenn did yesterday, helps Milo in his cart.  He has to lift the cart a little to help Milo pee, and later, before we get into the car, he cleans up Milo's bottom.  He does all this with such sweetness and patience and grace.  Milo just beams and waits, leaning that big soft head against his person.

A few days later, after Milo visits the chiropractor, he will get his mojo back.  Check out his stunts on you-tube.  He's so inspiring.  When I asked if it would be okay for me to share this link with blog viewers, Glenn wrote, "I like getting the word out about dogs with disabilities and their ability to have a great life!"  So please share:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvBeWh3-r4U

What I'm learning is that while Zoe's diagnosis has made us think about the future in a less expansive way, she has also opened our hearts and brought a wider world to us, leading us to people and other dogs and other experiences and houses and lives we would have never known about, were it not for her. 

Usually, after visiting someone's house, I have to put Zoe in the car first, before I pack the trunk, so that she knows she won't be left behind.  If not, she cries.  This morning, for the first time in all our years of traveling together, Zoe won't get in the car.  In fact, she won't leave the yard.  She just parks herself in front of the door to the Vermont Comfort Pooch Palace and looks at me calmly, with her superior knowledge, waiting for me to realize that she knows best.  It's a version of her "hell no, I won't go" look, but less defiant, more calm and beatific, until I call her again, and again, and again, and finally she comes running to see what other surprises are waiting for her down this valley road.

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