Oh, baby. What a dog.

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 26, 2013 12:37 AM

I’m not a fan of the derogatory statement “what a dog.” It’s used to insult people behaving badly but it’s actually more of an insult to dogs. Dogs are usually much better than people. Yes, they’re animals. But only if you think of animals as being creatures less than human, and I don’t. I’m of the mindset that animals are creatures often better than human.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I am a huge dog person. That saying alone explains a bit about how I think. I’m a dog person. A dog-person. I love dogs, but I understand dogs. I am part dog. Maybe I was a dog in another life. I often joke that in my next life, I’m coming back as a dog with a good owner in a nice house.

I see a dog and I go all gooey inside. I want to get close to them, to pet them; to hug and kiss on them. I am careful to ask the owner first, of course. Because sometimes people train their dogs to be aggressive, or because they may be aggressive by nature. I understand this. Still, I ooh and awe. I smile. Hell, I grin. My Facebook page is covered with dog-related pages. My checkbook cover (yes, I still have a checkbook, for those bills that I can’t yet pay online and for emergencies) is dog bones.

Maguire was my Honey Bear, my big furry baby. I loved that dog more than life itself and was nearly inconsolable when we lost him, as was Kevin (as was Roy, Bobbi, everyone who knew him). In our eyes, he was a fur-person, capable of understanding most of what we said and of carrying on conversations. Yes, we often spoke for him but he was very articulate.

Cooper came along in October and for a while it was a bit like having a new roommate. We didn’t know any of his quirks; he didn’t know any of ours. But soon he settled right in and before you know it, he too became quite the conversationalist. Turns out he’s pretty funny. Great sense of humor, fairly smart. While he’s not the cultured boy that Maguire was, and is, in fact, more of a Honey Boo Boo than a Honey Bear. More trailer trash than high class. We love him anyway, because he’s now our baby.

Turns out we’re not the only ones. There are an awful lot of people out there who feel the same way. According to research, people who think of their dogs as babies are actually kind of correct in that dogs react to their humans in a manner that “eerily mimics how human children respond to their parents.” The researchers used an experiment that involved something called the “secure base effect,” something that is typically found in the nearly unbreakable emotional ties between parents and their children.

Dog test subjects, who earned treats by manipulating interactive toys, were placed in situations where there was an absent owner, a silent owner and an encouraging owner (I would have used the word “parent” since we’re talking about dogs being our babies but I suppose that’s picking nits). The dogs whose owners/parents weren’t present were much less interested in working for their treats than when those owners/parents were in the room.

Dogs appeared to be most comfortable and most willing to take a chance when they were near their people, offering what has been deemed “the first evidence for the similarity between the secure base effect found in dog-owner and child-caregiver relationships.”

Evidently science has already deciphered this effect in human-children versus fur-children. Kids who were able to use their mother as a secure base were found to be more motivated and persistent than those whose mothers were absent.

This comes as no real surprise to either dog trainers or dog owners. It certainly comes as no surprise to this dog owner.

Maguire was my baby; I spent every day with him. Cooper is now my baby; I spend every day with him. Maguire was a good boy, smart, knew all of his toys by name, had a vocabulary that was at least a hundred if not more words. Cooper is becoming a good boy, too. He’s smart; he’s learning his toys by name. He knows to take one up to my office and to bring it down at night, and trot around the house with it in his mouth. He sits, he does paw bump, he does stay game and he gets rewarded for it.

What a dog. What a boy.

And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.

Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.

Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

The Tuesday episode

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 24, 2012 11:35 PM

In today’s installment of Lorin’s weird dreams, I was in my old college Toyota, having chosen that over my mother’s much sleeker Supra and I was driving one of my clients and her little girl to the beach. My sister was also with us but she was about 5. It was raining like hell, I couldn’t see but I was driving straight ahead as if I could. My brother was there, too, at the front of the car, telling me which way to go – to the right! – like he was on the bow of a boat – starboard! – so as not to hit anything or go off the road. But I hit something anyway and then I had to get another car and the beach was too crowded anyway.

To which I say, huh?

The human mind is an amazing place to visit but I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

On this Tuesday, I have spent some time watching a service-puppy-cam. I do this sometimes simply for the smile value. It’s addictive, watching puppies frolic and eat and sleep and play. There are six particular puppies on this one live cam, and one mother, all golden retrievers. The puppies are in training to become service dogs. They evidently start this training at a very early age, conditioning them to certain things. I don’t know what all was done, but I watched the woman I’m assuming is Holly since the cam’s name is Holly’s Half Dozen as she lifted each up onto a table, removed their collars, maybe trimmed their nails, fed them something off her fingers and made sure they stood up. There was no sound on the cam; I wish there was. I would like to have heard the little puppy yips and yuks as they pounced and chewed and acted all kinds of puppy-tough. I’ve had the cam minimized, down in the lower right of my screen, most of the day.

At one point I had first Bobbi and then Kevin completely hooked. Kevin was even doing a running commentary. Hey, guys. Watch this. Hey. Where’s mom? Hey, did you see what’s happening over here?

A still from Tuesday's puppy-cam episode

Watching these little balls of fluff on puppy TV made me remember my own ball of fluff when he was just 8 weeks old. So much energy, bounding around the house, bouncing instead of running, eating his food in mid-air as we were pouring it into his bowl, terrified to go too far on a walk, even on his leash. We kennel-trained Maguire, and each night, after he had been fed and taken outside for a small puppy walk, we’d let him run around the house. Each night, that meant a gradual emptying of his kennel. His house, we called it. It was his den, his sanctuary. There was a blanket, his toys. And one by one, each thing inside would be carried outside and deposited in a nice little Maguire pile on the rug in the dining room. Then the playing would commence.

When we first got our beloved boy, we still lived in a two-story town house with a sunken living room. There were two steps down and he handled those well. The stairs up to the second floor were another tail all together. They were split, with three up to a small landing, then a 90º turn to the left where the majority of the steps loomed and led to another landing. Another sharp 90º turn to the left, up two and you were in the hallway that separated the two bedrooms. He could get up the first three, make the turn and then get up one. Then he’d stand there with his front paws up on the next step, rear legs on the first step, and cry that wonderful little puppy cry that said “it’s too scary; I can’t do it.” One of us would pick him up, assuring him that everything was just fine. He tried and tried.

One night, after I’d gotten home and taken him out, he was tearing around the dining room with his blue bone in his mouth. I dashed upstairs to get something and as I was up there, the phone rang. I was in the master bedroom; I grabbed it. It was Kevin. We talked for only a minute or two but as I was standing in the bedroom, suddenly this little black ball of fur popped around the corner. He had made it up all the stairs. He raced down the hall toward me, little legs moving as fast as he could make them, his ears flopping in his created breeze, tongue hanging just to one side of his mouth; a big grin on his face. He was so proud. He had braved the mountain to get to mom and he had conquered.

I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, as I type the story, I’m smiling through my tears. Dog, he was cute.

On the web cam, mom has come in. She’s eating as the puppies feed. She looks sad, in that beautiful way that dogs do; I suspect she’s over this motherhood thing. They’re getting too big; she’s tired.

There are seven dogs on this show, all of them that sweet honey color, all of them well-cared for; loved. It’s crowded like the beach in my dream but the weather is fine. It’s naptime now. One just tipped over his brother, another stood in the empty food bowl. Another one is curled on what I believe is the equivalent of the puppy litter box. Mom is lying in the middle of them all, surveying her pups. Now her head, too, goes down. Soon the feet twitch; the dreams have begun.

Another episode comes to an end. Roll credits.

Ruffing it

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 13, 2012 1:22 AM

Silverton, Oregon is a small city located on the banks of the Silver Creek, nestled in the foothills of the Cascades east of Salem. Established in 1854 by Polly Coon Price, who planned her new town around an old Oregon White Oak tree, it was originally a trading and banking center that grew in prominence as the Pacific Northwest expanded. By 1894, it had a population of nearly 900, and by 1921, it boasted several types of industries producing exports for other areas of the Northwest including flour, timber and metal piping. The weather in the city, then as now, was cool and rainy, often into the summer. But on one February day, the day after Valentine’s day, in 1924, the weather was stunningly sunny and warm. A dog hobbled down the main street of Silverton. He was ragged, footsore; mangy. He walked slowly, deliberately until he found the place he was looking for, barked once and lay down.

Elizabeth and Frank Brazier opened the door and gasped, for the scrawny dog peacefully asleep outside their restaurant, the Rio Café, was their 2-year-old scotch collie-mix, Bobbie, who had disappeared on August 15, 1923. Bobbie had accompanied the family on a cross-country road trip, and when they stopped for gas in Wolcott, Indiana, he had been chased by several wild dogs, disappearing into the wilderness. The Braziers had searched everywhere, calling for their beloved pup. They spent several days but couldn’t find him. They called around the town. They advertised in the local newspaper. Nothing. And so they drove, devastated, back to Silverton, but not before leaving word that should anyone find Bobbie, they would pay to have him sent home via rail. Their last vision of Bobbie had been of him running for his life with three snarling dogs in hot pursuit.

Bobbie on the car

But Bobbie wasn’t really lost. He followed, evidently, traversing some 2800 miles alone, swimming rivers and crossing the Continental Divide in the dead of winter, fighting off predators. It took him six months to the day to get back to Silverton.

The Braziers were overjoyed. The local paper, the Silverton Appeal, printed the story of the incredible dog’s trek, a story that was quickly picked up and printed in other papers around the country. People began writing letters, many addressed simply to Bobbie, the Wonder Dog, or Silverton’s Bobbie. Some of the people who wrote claimed to have seen the dog as he navigated his way home; they spoke of distinguishing marks including a mostly tucked tail that curled to the right, and three white paws. Bobbie, it seemed, had many friends along his journey.

Bobbie and Frank

The Humane Society of Portland gathered the letters and pieced together what appeared to be a surprisingly precise account of the dog’s route. After not finding his people in Wolcott, Bobbie first went toward the Northeast, further into Indiana. Then, based on eyewitness accounts, he started exploring other directions. He went a bit south. He went due east and due west, perhaps trying to pick up a familiar scent. He must have found it.

On their trip back to Oregon, the Braziers had left their car in service stations each night. Bobbie visited each of these stations as he traveled home. He spent time in a camp of transients, then called hobos. He stayed for a while with an Irish woman in Portland who nursed him back to health after some sort of accident left his legs and paws torn and bleeding.

Silverton is famous for several things. Cartoonist Homer Davenport hailed from there as did Clark Gable, but Bobbie, the wonder dog, is the town’s most famous citizen. He was given a medal by the Humane Society. Silverton gave him the key to the city – no amount of research I did could tell me if the key was edible – and perhaps best of all, permission to walk the streets of town free from fear of the dogcatcher. The Home Beautifying Exposition in Portland built him a miniature bungalow for his new doghouse.

He lived like a king for the remainder of his days, which, sadly, were not many. Just three years later, Bobbie died. Veterinarians wondered if the strain of his journey had finally caught up to him.  His cause of death was listed as ptomaine poisoning, a type of food poisoning.

Bobbie was buried with honors at the Humane Society’s pet cemetery in Portland where Rin Tin Tin placed a wreath on his grave. Each year, Silverton still honors the memory of Bobbie with a parade. By all accounts he was truly an amazing dog, one who loved his family greatly, who endured great suffering to be with them; one who is worth celebrating.

Live it out loud, Bobbie. Wherever you’re ruffing it.

A gray Mercedes, three golden retrievers, a mutt and a woman named Donna

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:36 AM

Friday afternoons tend to be quiet. Most of my clients – and Kevin’s, too – are busy wrapping up their weeks and looking forward to the weekend. Starting around 1 pm, the emails begin to taper off as do the phone calls. People don’t want to review anything or discuss anything new; most everything can and does wait until Mondays. This is true in most businesses whether you’re self-employed or not. By Friday, the week is done. By Friday afternoon, the weekend has begun. For this reason, I often schedule our hair appointments on Friday afternoons. Today was such a day.

Around 2:45 we both put on jeans, grabbed a lightweight leather jacket from the hall closet, a helmet of choice from the garage (open face for Mr. Michel; closed for Mrs.), climbed aboard the big Nomad and jetted off into the Valley for 3 o’clock appointments.

The day was lovely, the sun warm, the air cool. Naturally it was warmer once we got into Woodland Hills, often 10º hotter than where we live. Still, it wasn’t so warm that we were uncomfortable in our leathers. We arrived at the salon just after 3 but it wasn’t a problem. We were the only clients Tammy had today because two weeks ago she fell and broke the wrist and elbow on her left arm. Makes it difficult to cut hair. Still, she was offering color and though we both need a haircut, me somewhat desperately, we decided that color was better than nothing. Kevin had his painted on; mine scrubbed in. For my hairdresser and salon friends: is all men’s hair color painted on? Or is it just painted on for those who have – how shall I put this magnanimously – thinning hair and receding hairlines? I mean no disrespect; I love my husband’s hair.

When we were freshly shampooed, I blow dried my own hair. Again please see broken wrist and elbow above, and we chatted for a bit longer before climbing back on the bike and journeying home. We had talked about stopping at the grocery store on the way. There’s no Fritini tonight since Bobbi has a mock test tomorrow for the second part of her testing to become a licensed therapist. Next weekend is Memorial Day so perhaps we’ll do something then; we’ll see. I had mentioned that we could just go home since there was no rush and it was still fairly early, shower and then go to the store in the car. But Kevin decided that since we were out, we should just go past the turn for the house and continue on to the light, turn left and hit our favorite neighborhood grocery.

He drove up and around the top of the parking lot, turning down toward the store at the end, looping around to the next aisle and then coming to a stop next to a gray Mercedes sedan. I slid off toward the car and started undoing my helmet strap. That’s when I saw a big blonde head, mouth open in a silly grin, big floppy ears perked forward, nose against the glass watching me from the safety of the nice leather back seat. And then there was another one, this one a little redder. They were crawling over each other, peering at the strange visitors, obviously from another planet. But they weren’t scared; rather just curious. The redder one stayed in her prone position while the blonder one stood, tail swooshing back and forth over his redheaded little sister. I was thrilled as I usually am when I see dogs in a car. I want to stick my hand through the open windows, and this car had all four windows down slightly and was parked in the shade. I want to pet them and kiss on them. But I’m smart enough to realize that that’s stupid. Instead, I grinned back and said “hi, beautiful!” and the tail wagged more.

Then, two pointy ears appeared in the lower part of the front passenger seat window. “Oh, another one!” This dog was much smaller, and hard to determine as far as breed. I suspected mutt. It would later be confirmed that my suspicion was correct.

As I was fawning over the dogs, Kevin came up next to me, a huge grin on his face as well. He started making his usual hand-gestures, sort of pointing/waving/beckoning them to come to him even though they were in the car. He wanted, like me, to just pet them, rough up their ears, smell their fur. He moved toward the back of the car so he could see them through the back window. The red one had her paws up on the back of the car and her head leaning on the back seat as she gazed out with adoration at my husband. Then Kevin made a discovery: “There’s a third one!” On the far side of the backseat, another big blonde bear of a head appeared. Three golden retrievers in the back seat of this gray Mercedes sedan and one smaller, pointy-eared mutt in the front seat who didn’t seem to want to be bothered with his brethren in the back. We smiled and laughed and talked to them as they put up with us. They were waiting patiently for their person, and I think both Kevin and I were lingering a bit, hoping said person would come out.

She did, holding two small bags of groceries. We told her how beautiful her dogs were and asked if all four were hers. Three were; the forth, the redhead with her head on the back, was not. She was puppy-sitting. The puppy’s name was Abby and she’s seven months old. As we talked to the woman we also laughed as Abby tried to push her nose through the back window. Evidently Abby had been hit by a car and left on the road with a broken leg. She was rescued, surgery was performed, they weren’t sure she’d recover, but she did and she’s a happy, healthy little girl.

The woman is part of a Golden Retriever rescue group here in Ventura County. She lives locally but she’s been rescuing goldens for over seven years. We told her about Maguire, how he was part golden/part Australian Shepherd, a big boy, the love of our lives, and I started to cry, as I do every time I talk about my beloved boy. She gave me a hug. She also gave us the card of the group, Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue, and said that if and when we were ready to let her know.

Her name was Donna. She was on her way to the dog park. We wished her and her herd well and good “parking,” and went into the store. I was still in tears but I felt better. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it was hope. 

A lucky woman

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 24, 2012 8:29 PM

My house is quiet again today. It was lively this morning, with alarms beginning sometime around 2 am only to be placed into snooze mode as it was much too early. The real alarms, the ones that requested everyone to rise, get ready and get out, started at the appointed time of 5. There was a short series of buzzes that emanated from the guest room upstairs. It was soon quieted, no doubt by my sister’s hand. Next came a cell phone, followed quickly by an iPod, both alarms having a softer though no less powerful message. Soon I could hear the floor boards in the bathroom creaking. Yes, they definitely need to be fixed. Some day. Some day.

I lay in bed and listened to the girls getting ready. We had to leave for the airport and they were busy making pretty for the trip, packing their last minute items. The coffee pot clicked on, and soon, I heard the telltale gurgle of it finishing, and the aroma of freshly brewed French roast wafted our way. My alarm was supposed to go off at 5:30 but I was obviously awake. At 5:28, I rolled out of bed, slipped into sweat pants and a hoodie, pulled on a pair of socks, laced up my running shoes, ran a brush through my tangled mess of hair, brushed my teeth and went out to the kitchen. Poured some coffee as I squinted at the light over the sink. Kevin was still in bed. I poured him a cup. I knew he was going to want to get up to say goodbye, to see us off.

Soon the girls came down, lugging their carry-on bags. Khris had some coffee; Shawn took the last piece of the coffee cake I made on Sunday morning, wrapped it up in some napkins. They hugged Kevin and started to say their goodbyes while I took the bags out to the Rover. It was still dark though the sky was turning from midnight to dusty gray. I could see clouds high; the brightest stars still shown but were beginning to fade. The girls came out, climbed into the car. I kissed my husband and told him to go back to bed, hoped I’d be home by 7:30. Maybe I’d even go back to bed, too. It was 5:45.

We drove through the ever-lightening dark, along the 101, into the Valley toward the rising sun. The traffic was heavy but moving as I suspected it would be. It doesn’t start to really pack up until closer to 6:30. We would be nearly to the airport by then. We talked about the flight, about their trip. Khris and I sipped our coffee; Shawn munched her cake. We were tired. By 6:45 we were in front of Virgin America at Terminal 3. It was fairly quiet. I pulled to a stop in the appropriate white zone (for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only), and we all spilled out onto the asphalt. The sun was shining, climbing into the sky; soon they would be as well. The bags were removed from the back and then it was time to say goodbye.

LAX in the morning

I am not a crier, but I’ve spent more time in tears in the last month and a half than probably any time in my entire life. As I hugged by beautiful niece and then my beautiful sister, I felt the tears sting my eyes, felt the lump in my throat, felt the heat in my face. It was so wonderful to have them here but it was just a visit and visits always come to an end. It’s times like this though, when saying goodbye, that I realize how far away I am from many of the ones I love. Sometimes, that’s hard. This morning was such a time.

It is my choice to live out here. It was my choice to move here 26 years ago and I don’t regret it. California has been very good to me. I have an incredible husband and truly remarkable friends, friends who are family. I love the west; I have always believed I was born to live out here. I fit in here. I’m comfortable.

But as Khris and Shawn took their bags and started through the glass doors, as I watched those doors slide open to swallow up my only sister and my only niece, I felt sad. And just for that moment, lonely. I miss them all the time, though I get used to not seeing them. But it was fabulous to have them here, to celebrate some of our great California weather (and some not-so-great California weather), to cook and drink wine (Shawn’s was sparkling cider) and visit and relax. It was a lovely long weekend.

As I type this tonight, they’re home, no doubt already in bed. Khris has her favorite pillow, Shawn is nestled into her sheets and comforter with Lucky, their dog, nearby. May they sleep long and restfully, and wake up tomorrow to enjoy their New Hampshire Wednesday, their routine, their lives. We all lead separate lives that intersect when we allow them, lives that are happy and successful and real and full of love. Maybe it’s how we were raised; maybe we’re just lucky. It’s no wonder that’s the name Shawn chose for their puppy four years ago. She knew.

I know, too. I’m a lucky woman. Living it out loud, here in California. 

Three weeks

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 27, 2012 8:04 PM

It was three weeks ago today that we lost our beloved Maguire. Twenty-one days since we last smelled his fur and stroked his head, since we could lie down on the floor beside him and hug on him. We’re doing better but we’re not great. I find myself in tears at the strangest times, and I struggle with thinking that it’s OK for me to still be so destroyed by his loss and feeling that I really need to move on. I wonder if it has to do with so much of society still thinking that the loss of a pet doesn’t truly constitute the loss of a family member. But Maguire was family. In many ways he was better than most people I know. His love was unconditional; his presence constant and reassuring.

We still come into the house quietly so as not to scare him. Once he started to lose his hearing we had to be careful. More than once, we’d just open the door normally, barreling in from the garage or through the front door and he’d react, even if just for a second until he realized who it was, with fear, jumping up, ears pinned back, tail tucked. But we learned quickly. He would sleep on the rug just inside the door and we always checked to see if he was awake. If he wasn’t, we’d call his name quietly, which is funny because he couldn’t hear it, and we’d tap gently on the floor. What he couldn’t hear he could feel. Those big beautiful brown eyes would roll open slowly, focus, and I swear he’d smile. Hi, guys.

Kevin still comes into the house at walk time, catching himself just before he says: “HB? Wanna go?” HB is his pet name for me; wanna go was code for time to trot the pup. Trot the pup being a code we came up with after Maguire learned, many years ago, the word “walk.” We couldn’t say it, in any tone of voice, without him starting to spin in circles and prance in place. He could be upstairs, asleep on pride landing, and I’d say the word ‘walk’ downstairs in the bedroom and I’d hear the rumble of his 80 pounds flying down the stairs. We started spelling it, but he figured that out too. Trot the pup was our last code, and it worked because he started to lose his hearing. Then we made walking movements with our fingers. Maguire, it seems, knew sign language.

Each time I walk down the stairs from my loft, I expect to see him sprawled on the floor in the living room, somewhere between the bottom of the stairs, the back door and the kitchen. He always picked the most strategic spot so that both Kevin and I would have to walk past or over him in order to get anywhere. Most of the time, he’d wake up, raise his head and give us a look that said: “Where are you going? And will there be cheese?”

I am forever disappointed by these descents because he’s not in the living room, nor is he in the bedroom. I don’t hear him slurping up his water and then stopping for a bit of voyeurism as he stared out the kitchen window watching the neighbors, in their cars or on foot, go by. Eventually he’d make his way around the table and back out into the room. The kitchen table is a pub table so it’s high. It sits in our bay window in the kitchen and he could always walk behind it, next to the window. He used to be able to back up but once his rear legs stopped working as well, backing up became more difficult. Sometimes he’d get caught under the table especially if one of the chairs was pulled out slightly and he thought he could go through rather than around. He’d stand there patiently until someone noticed his predicament and moved the chair out of the way so he could saunter off and find a toy.

I miss the sounds he made, the harrumph exhale as all the air pushed out of his body when he laid down; the clank of his tags on the floor. The sigh, like his life was so hard. The way he clicked across the floor, jazz puppy, his front feet high-stepping, his back sort of dragging. It was like listening to a drum and a brush. The way he’d stop at the entrance to the bedroom at night as we were getting ready for bed. He’d had a drink, he’d checked to make sure all the doors were locked, that the house was secure. And then, once he had our attention, he’d bound the short distance toward his bed, which still sits in the corner, and ram it with his head, lifting it up again and again, spilling all of the toys onto the floor. Then he’d look at us: “My job here is done.” And lay down to sleep.

I miss … him.

Three weeks since he left us. Each day gets a little bit easier and little bit harder. I suspect it will for a while yet. My brain understands he’s gone; my heart still breaks in a million different ways. I know it but I don’t want to believe it. I guess that’s called grief. It will pass when it passes. In the mean time, I will celebrate the memory of our boy. I will celebrate the joy he brought. I will celebrate the incredible effect he had on all who knew him.

I will celebrate Maguire.

Drawing by Maguire's best friend and second dad, Roy Guzman

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When the wrong side is the right side and the right side is the wrong side, does that mean you’re upside down and inside out?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 13, 2012 10:43 PM

It happens at the strangest times. A decision is made and suddenly you find yourself standing across from everyone else in your life. No one is angry, no one is really sad. Everyone is just confused. Are you on the wrong side of an issue if everyone who means anything to you is on the other side, even if you think you’re absolutely right? Or are you on the right side and you feel infinitely confident that all will eventually see you for the brilliant humanitarian that you are?

I wonder.

And what if the right side or the wrong side is not a decision but a feeling? Lately, my emotions have been all over the map, and even though I know why I can’t help but feel that my sadness is wrong even though I know it’s expected, and my happiness is right even though somewhere deep down inside it feels like it should be wrong. I fluctuate daily. I’m all over the proverbial map. One minute I feel fine, the next I’m angry. One day I’m sad, the next I’m laughing like normal. Talking and conversing, and then I’m in tears.

It makes me feel upside down.

Upside down is to be in complete disorder, topsy turvy, so perhaps upside down isn’t quite accurate. I’m not in complete disorder, nor am I topsy turvy since I really don’t know exactly what that means other than being in complete disorder. But I do know what it’s like to have my emotions be discombobulated, to wonder if I’m making the right decision when I decide on something as mundane as what to have for dinner – the lemon-pepper crusted sea bass versus the endive salad – or something as profound as if Maguire could have recovered if we’d given him just one more day. Deciding on dinner doesn’t affect my life though I suppose it could if my decision leads to, say, food poisoning. Deciding to end a life affects mine greatly. It affects Kevin’s, and Roy’s and Bobbi’s, and all of the people who have been so wonderful with their kind and understanding words. It affected his life.

I think it’s normal to question your decisions, to wonder. Otherwise, there’s no introspection, there’s no opportunity to learn and grow and discover. I question all the time.

What if I chose another profession and I was a teacher? Would I be living the same life; a better one; a worse one?

What if I was a rock star?

What if I decided to stay married to my first husband and had moved to New York? Would we still be married and how miserable would I be? I actually have no doubt I would be extremely unhappy; I was unhappy before we made the decision to split up. I was unhappy before we got married.

Did we make the right decisions with Justin? Did we teach him well about how to be a good human being, a productive member of society?

What if we could have done more to help Maguire?

What if someone had been with my dad the night he died? Would he still be alive? If that was the case, my family’s whole world would be upside down and right-side up. My brother might still be up on the mountain. My dad would have met his grandson, Caden; would have lived to be an elder statesman, in his 70s, still playing golf, probably thrilled that we were eventually moving to Tucson. Imagine the courses.

The thing is, I’m not a big fan of what ifs because I honestly don’t believe in them. What ifs are fantasy arguments; they don’t exist. Still, when I’m feeling out of sorts sometimes it’s easy to go there. I wonder if I’ve made the wrong decision and what would have happened if I made a different decision even though there’s no way of knowing whether a different decision would have been better, or worse.

But since I don’t believe in what ifs, it doesn’t matter.

But what if I did?

Still when my orb is spinning in weird orbits, I find myself wondering if I’m right or wrong, upside or inside. When my orb is spinning in normal orbits, I still wonder. I think that’s the curse and the blessing of being self-aware. And for that reason, I celebrate the wonder of wondering if the wrong side is actually right or if the right side is really wrong and whether it’s all just upside, downside, inside out or what.

I wonder.

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The subject was roses

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:34 PM

We have six rose bushes in our backyard tucked against the wall. None are in bloom right now but when they are, the backyard alights in colors of blood red, gentle pink, sterling violet and glowing yellow. They’re glorious when they bloom, filling the backyard with brilliant color that is alive and lush. Their fragrance drifts through the house on a soft breeze, light and floral and lovely.

Roses have a long history that stretches to some 35 million years ago, though the cultivation of them began much more recently, in Asia around 5000 years ago. Greek mythology tells us of the goddess of flowers, Chloris. One day while Chloris was cleaning in the forest, she found the lifeless body of a nymph and to bring the nymph back to life, Chloris turned to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, who gave the nymph beauty. Dionysus, the god of wine, added a sweet nectar, and the three graces provided charm, brightness and joy. Finally, Zephyr, the West wind, blew away the clouds so that the sun god, Apollo, could shine and make the flower bloom. The rose was born. Hindu’s have another version. In theirs, the creator of the world Brahma, and the protector of the world, Vishnu, argued over which flower was more most beautiful. Vishnu chose the rose. Thousands of years later, in the tombs of Egypt, wreaths made with flowers, roses among them, were discovered.

Roses became synonymous with excess during the Roman Empire. During the 15th century, the factions fighting to control England used it as a symbol with the white rose representing York and the red representing Lancaster. In the 17th century, roses were considered legal tender. Napoleon’s wife Josephine loved roses so much she established an extensive collection containing more than 250 rose varieties.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, all roses were pink or white. The red rose first came from China in 1800. Bright yellow roses entered the vase in 1900. Since then, the colors have come to symbolize very real emotions. Red means love, pink is thank you, yellow equals joy, orange is desire, peach is appreciation, lavender enchantment, black death; white roses are sometimes called the flower of light.

White roses from Maryann, to celebrate Maguire

Last night we ordered out again. I simply haven’t been in the mood to cook the last few days. Kevin called Fresh Brothers in Westlake for a smorgasbord of edible items mostly bad. Chicken wings, pizza with mushrooms, French fries and a salad to balance it all. He hung up; I poured a glass of wine. There was a knock at the door and we both looked at each other. It wasn’t possible that the food was here that quickly. Even if they’d managed to cook it, it’s at least a 10 minute drive from Westlake Village. As I stood in the kitchen as Kevin went to answer the door.

It was Maryann, with a dozen white roses, brought to celebrate Maguire. We all hugged and cried, then got to talking … about the dog, about her impending move, about life and death. We had a glass of wine together and Fresh Brothers eventually arrived and though we invited her to share our not-very-healthy meal, she declined. She had her own dogs to get home to. Lucky and Tessie. They needed to be walked; needed some attention paid.

I cut about an inch from the stem of each rose. I poured the packet of whatever it is into the bottom of a vase and filled it with water before placing the flowers inside. I stood and looked at them, inhaled their fragrance and embraced what they symbolized. Light, beginnings, purity and love. Perfect.

We were sad, we remain heartbroken over the loss of our beautiful Maguire. But our friends and family have made it so much easier to bear.

Oh, bear. Honey bear.

Celebrate him. Celebrate that. 

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Celebrating Maguire

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 6, 2012 10:57 PM

“Let's get a dog.” With those words, my husband sealed our fate. 

I had two caveats. OK, three caveats. I wanted to get an older female from the shelter; I wanted a longer haired dog with floppy ears; and I couldn't go with Kevin to find the one who met all of the criteria. I would approve or disapprove of whomever he found, but I knew if I walked through the shelter too many times, I would want to take them all home. If Kevin could do the hard work of narrowing down my choices, then I'd be OK, or so I theorized. He agreed and dutifully went every Saturday morning for some number of weeks while I stayed home in bed. 

Then came Saturday, February 15. He and Justin burst into the house with news. They had found the perfect dog! Then Kevin broke the news to me: it was male. But the dog they had found, that he knew was “our dog,” also wasn't older.

“How not older?” I asked.

“He's a puppy.”

Off we went to the Agoura Animal Shelter. Justin scampered ahead, then kneeled down in front of a cage as he waited for us, pointing excitedly. There, in the corner, on his back, feet in the air, snoring to beat the band, was a little black ball of fur, 8 weeks old and the cutest thing I had ever seen. We couldn't take him home that day because he'd just been brought in on Friday and there was a 72-hour hold in case someone claimed him. We wouldn't be able to get him until Monday morning. We bided our time; we went to Pet Smart and bought every puppy related thing we could find. A tiny collar, a bake-it-to-make it temporary nametag, food, toys, a leash, and a kennel since we had decided to kennel train him. We didn't have a name though. 

On Monday morning, we were at the shelter before they opened. When someone finally arrived around 7, Kevin jumped out of the car. The lady politely told him that there were no adoptions before 7:30. “That's fine,” he said. “I just want you to know that I'm here for #19, in case anyone else comes. I want you to know that we were here first.”

The pup was ours within the hour. He was stinky and loving and adorable, burying his head under my chin as I carried him to the car. We named him Maguire because on the drive home, as I was holding him, he pushed his nose into the center console of Kevin's BMW, nosing around for something, and came out with a dollar bill in his mouth. Show me the money.

That was February 17, 1997. He grew up with us, starting his life first in our townhouse in Calabasas and then moving a short time later to the OP where he had a yard. I remember when we first moved in, and I think the sprinklers had run. It was a Sunday morning and we let him outside in the backyard, which is fenced so he could roam about as he pleased and we didn't have to worry about him getting lost. A short time later, I went to the back door to call him. Eventually he came running, so damned pleased with himself. He couldn't wait to show me what he'd been doing. 

Which was digging a hole in the mud. He was covered from the bottoms of his front pads to the tops of his front legs and even into his chest. Kevin and I just stood there and laughed as he wagged his tail wanting to come in, maybe get a cookie or two. Instead, Kevin filled a bucket of warm water and squeezed his way out the door, being careful to not let Maguire in. Then he proceeded to put the dog's front paws into the bucket. That pleased look changed to complete rejection in a flash. 

Over the years, we went through countless toys. He loved the flexible plastic toys at first. He would get hold of one and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until he punctured it. Then he would start tearing it apart, one little piece at a time, spitting each piece into a neat pile off to the side. When he'd find the squeaker, he'd pull that out too, and then he was done. New toy please. As he got older, he preferred plush toys, though they proved to be no less indestructible. He would chew at the faux fur, nibbling and pulling until he could work a thread free. It looked like he was flossing. He'd pull the thread until he could unravel part of the body, exposing a hole. Then he'd proceed to pull out all of the stuffing, one biteful at a time and deposit that off to the side. As with the plastic toys, once he got to the squeaker and removed it, discarding it onto the floor, he was done. He had killed his prey. 

Maguire was never much of a dog person but he was a people person. He didn't care if you were a small child or an older adult, he was always happy to see you, even more so if you had a treat for him. He loved that all the kids came to visit on Halloween and he greeted every one personally. He loved delivery people like the UPS guy whom we affectionately named “hey buddy” because that's always how he greeted Maguire, along with a great roughing of the ears. 

He had his routines and to break with routine would elicit much guilting on his part. We pee'd in the front yard first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In between, backyard pee breaks were OK. There was a big cookie in the morning after the front yard pee, and treats throughout the day just because he was so wonderful. Every night around 7:30, there was a walk. He was never big on eating his own food and preferred chicken, pasta, ham, cheese, pizza bones (crusts), and a baguette, sometimes cheese with the baguette. 

He never got on the furniture, but he did like our bed. Often, when he was younger, we'd find him on Kevin's side, on his back, feet in the air basking in the afternoon sun streaming through the blinds. As he got older he just snoozed at the foot of the bed or the foot of the stairs. He liked to be up against things. I think it gave him comfort. 

Maguire and mom. He's definitely not on the couch.

We lost our beloved boy today. He never recovered from the terrible seizures he had on Friday night, and this morning we made the agonizing decision to let him go. He wasn't in any pain, but he wasn't Maguire any longer. He was tired; there was no spirit left in his beautiful brown eyes. Once he was gone, he looked peaceful, at rest.

This afternoon, as I was standing at the back door, looking for my dog and feeling the crushing weight of the empty house and my emptier soul, I watched a blue bird peck the ground where Maguire would often lay. I wondered if the bird somehow knew that the big dog, that tremendous blustering ball of life, was no longer here, so it was safe. As I watched, it flew away. It wasn't the same without Maguire.

He was with us for 15 plus years and we are forever grateful for every second, and for the love and joy he brought to our family, to our lives. As I always joked, he was the best thing to ever happen to four feet. I'll believe that forever. 

We love you, honey bear. Sleep now. Sleep now.

Our boy, just two weeks ago; with Honk

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