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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

SANDY AND ME

A Shaggy Dog Story

Copyright © 2002 Roger N. Meyer

All Rights Reserved

 

 

     You know....

 

     Sometimes when you pull an all-nighter like I pulled last night to get some work out, you get so punchy that your brain fires away on its own.  You don't have to work at it.

 

     This morning, on my way down to a Portland suburb to deliver a complex legal filing to a great family, the lack of sleep, my utter state of exhaustion, opened a wonderful door, if briefly, for me.

 

     Just before I left San Francisco to come to Portland and take up a new life as a social work student--that didn't work out, but the social work has anyhow--I had a terrible dilemma.  I was going away from my little house at the South end of town, knew I had to find a tenant to occupy the place while I was up here being a book grind, and also had a really sad piece of business to conduct.

 

     My dog.

 

     She was 13.  A beautiful, simple, loving Border Collie mix, loyal, earnest.  You know the numbers.  Female too, which meant a kind of watchdog thing that's a little different with lady dogs than with the guy dogs.

 

     She was my constant companion.  I was still working as a cabinetmaker, and I didn't want to leave her out in the small back yard, so she was a great housedog.  Fortunately, I had wood floors, and she had long hair, so every time I opened the front door with the back windows open, these tumbleweed size balls of her long hair would drift across my impeccable floors reminding me that impeccable as they were, I had this animal, see?

 

     I never did buy a new couch.  I could have.  I had the money.

 

     Good reason.  It was hers.  That throw.  The only thing between decency and Goodwill.  Heck.  It was so soiled under the throw that they'd not take it either.  Her dog hair.  Somehow I didn't mind.  I sat and listened to my music with the dog sometimes on the couch.  She was usually there when I came home.  If she wasn't there, she'd be on my bed.  So I had that wool car blanket.  That was hers too.

 

     It was hers.

 

     She was 13.  During the early spring before I knew exactly where I'd be going to social work school, she developed a terrific fever.  She got so sick that the vet had to give her alcohol baths, bathing her with buckets of rubbing alcohol to wick the heat off her poor body.  By the time the fever--a virus, actually--was under control, she had been heavily anti-bioticked.  You know the drill.  Reduce the temperature, but then you do these mega doses of antibiotics.  Little did I know--or the vet for that matter--that the fever had cooked her brain quite a bit, and so by the time she was well enough to come home, and eight hundred bucks later than when I brought her in, her immune system was so zapped by the antibiotics that within about 48 hours, she started to go into this fever thing AGAIN.  Oh no. What had happened was that at each site of the earlier injections, she had developed galloping infections because her immune system had been compromised.

 

     Four days later she was OK.  But not really.  That was a few months after I realized that this wonderful animal, my companion, was deaf.  Happens with some breeds as they get old, you know.  Well, she was a "visual person," like her master.  But in being a dog, she also used her hearing to orient herself.  With half of that system gone, the moment I was out of her sight, even to the extent of her turning her head away from me, she couldn't hear me call her.

 

     I didn't think too much of that, because she was always within a short distance, within eyesight.  But then the fever, the virus, the fever, the recovery.  Her system had been so overloaded that with the fever, she lost a lot of what her brain could tell her about life.  I think those of you with pets know this one.  Anyway, the "kicker" was when I realized that once she turned her head away, she would absolutely get panic stricken because she couldn't see me, and then, because she was deaf, she couldn't use her ears to re-orient herself to my presence.  I hadn't needed to call, of course.  You know dogs and hearing.  This was serious.  When she "lost me," she would quite literally go off in all directions at once, in a panic, and that, that was too much.

 

     To know it was to feel it, and then to realize that as she was getting of that age, and having more accidents, and then with the fever and the disorientation, it was time.

 

     Oh.  I was so logical about this.  I "knew" that the attachment, owner-to-animal, was a profound one for me.  I knew that without knowing much more than that.  I was undiagnosed Aspie and my logic told me:  Get yourself to a human pet psychologist, someone who specializes in grief counseling for owners of animals that have had their lives ended.  Seemed like a good idea.  So I made the appointment, and saw the woman.  She was great.  We had a good hour.  I "described" my feelings.  Of course, what was that?

 

     I didn't have a clue.

 

     Oh, it wasn't going through the motions for nothing.  I knew that I couldn't take her to Portland, a new place, without having found a place to live and a place for her.  And with her having gotten sick, and then realizing how her deafness freaked ME out, even if early on, it didn't freak her out, well that was too much.

 

     So, before I saw the therapist, I had decided to put her down.  The therapist was part of my carefully-thought-out logic kit.  I figured, "Think 'move' leads to Sandy leads to 'get my head ready leads to take care of Sandy and it's done."  I had it all handled, or at least I thought I did.

 

     Aspie.

 

     After the second fever episode, she started the crazies as described above, and was having more accidents.  It wasn't the wood floors, of course, but I have a good, too-healthy gag reflex, and some of the accidents, you know, were messy.  So, it became a matter of getting things in order, packing up my stuff, and then, a good time before I was scheduled to depart, doing the final appointment with the vet.

 

     During that time--it must have been about three months--I started to say goodbye.  Without saying anything, without "showing" anything, I think she knew, too.

 

     You know, animals.

 

     Sometimes they know.

 

     I was the driver.  So we went to all of "our" places.  Twin Peaks, where she would lie on my lap as I sat at the edge of the parking lot overlooking the city at night, and stroke her, and she would kind of hum.  Hey, you say.  Dogs don't hum.  I know that.  But Sandy, well, Sandy would hum for me.

 

     And then there were the swings overlooking the Mission District right at the West edge of Potrero Hill, my old haunt, where she first came to me, and where she stayed with a retired nurse who lived on the corner, sometime.  Golly.  When I moved from that little house on Potrero Hill, there was this weird thing.  It took a while to make the move, and I drove her back and forth in my old International pickup truck.  About three miles. Some long runs between stop lights.  All industrial and light freeway, and then the new place.  What was weird was that after I moved, I sometimes left the front door to my new place open, carelessly.  And then she was gone.

 

     Guess what?

 

     Somehow she backtracked, she trotted all the way back to Potrero Hill, and I would get a call from this retired nurse.  Come get Sandy.  She's here.

 

     Strange.

 

     Well, she finally "stuck" with the new place.  But Potrero Hill.  That was a special place for her as it was for me.  Though I no longer lived on the hill, I still would go over to that playground at the top of Vermont Street as it wound its corkscrew up the side of the hill.  I'd sit on those swings, overlooking the Mission, sit on the strap bottom swings, and "swoosh."  I was flying.  Because the swings were so close to the steep drop off down to the Highway 101 freeway that cut Potrero Hill off from the Mission district, and there were only poplar trees and spruces, small ones, at the edge of that hill, I would "fly" over the edge of that hill from my perch on the swing.  No.  Not an out of body experience, but something you have to experience to know.

 

     That park.  That was a place for Sandy, too.  So we went there.

 

     McLaren Park.  Where I would go in my shorty shorts into the black raspberry patch and pick my hands black with the stained sweetness of just-ripened berries.  I liked that place because there was a water tap.  People let their dogs out up there, and there were a couple of picnic tables.

 

     Berries.  You know the sensation.  Great.  That was another place.

 

     And then there was the ocean,  Funny.  She wasn't a water dog, but she was tolerant--maybe the word is fascinated by the place--by the gulls and other things rolling and moving ahead of her as we walked down the strip-like beach that was getting uglier and cluttered with more city sewer outfall construction every year.  There too.

 

     Finally, it was time.  I didn't, I couldn't take the time to really let go, not when she was still Sandy.  I had bought a Polaroid to take snaps of the house so I'd know what it looked like when I was up in Portland.  I took photos of her at the top of the back stairs, her eyes red points from the flash.  There she was on the cement patio area, our "outdoor Sandy wash" place where she would stand patiently as I brought seven bleach bottles full of warm water down from the laundry room and washed her down.  A couple of pictures there.  And at the park.

 

     So, it was really time.

 

     Funny.  She knew when it was "vet time."  I don't know how, exactly, except that every time we had been to the vet, it was "bad."  So, she stiffened.  Something different though.  I think she knew.  She didn't fight the leash.

 

     The leash was new.  Over the past two months, we needed it.  I was so scared of her losing me on our walks that she learned the leash.  Pretty good for an old dog.

 

     I know she knew.

 

     Twice before I had brought her to the vet, not knowing whether I would have her back.  This time, maybe she got it from my body chemistry.  Maybe it was my face.  My eyes.

 

     Oh.  Then I was a pretty stone-faced guy.  Late forties.  Good shape.  Cabinetmaking saw to that.  But the emotions, nope.  I had pretty much buttoned those up.  I was through with therapy.  I had lots of therapy.  Tons of it.  So this was so logical.

 

     But no.  It wasn't logical.

 

     She knew.

 

     And now I come to this drive to Wilsonville, here in Portland, 13 years later, this morning, after an all-nighter.  No sleep.  Man, I was flying.  Hands tight on that steering wheel.  Traffic was great.  I told this family I would be there at 8:30.  Perfect.  My timing was tight.  Perfect.

 

     But Oh.

 

     Out of the depths, way down at the base of my skull, way down there in the basic emotion stuff part of the brain, a night without sleep released something I didn't expect.  I wanted it.  It was time.  I concentrated on the road.  Remembering this time was different.  Before it was just remembering her, snippets of memory.  Factoids.  Little flashes of visual memories.  Like the snapshots.  Darn Polaroids.  I still have them around somewhere, along with my dream work, and my writings when I was being therapized as a much younger guy.

 

     So here we are.  Pelting rain.  I'm driving steady.  Got to.  No sleep, you know.

 

     And there I was.  And there was Sandy.  In my lap, as I sat on the floor in the quiet room at the vet's, legs outstretched.  Sandy between my legs, softly draped over them.  Before, when I've "seen this," I remember the vet coming to us when we'd been there in the softly lit room, sitting both of us on that cold floor in the middle of a late July day.  She came from my left.  That's where the images stopped.  Yes, I remembered a kind of floating image of her leaning over, crouched, with the syringe.  No pain.

 

     Funny.  Dogs and injections.  They don't "jump" like we do.  At least Sandy didn't.  She could have.  Think about all of those injections I hadn't seen her take when she was in the alcohol bath cool down a couple of months back.  But no.  Not a flinch.

 

     Smooth.

 

     And here, something "not there before" coursed out of the depths at the exact deep center of my skull.  Not to the front of my head, not to my forehead, but right to my eyes.  That's it.  There were tears before.  Yes.  Lots of them.  But these were different.  They weren't from the front of my head.  They were from way down deep, straight, simple, powerful.  I could feel it.  I could feel the incredible awe as I knew her soul started to slip away.  She was quiet.  She was really quiet.  Oh, she was so soft, so relaxed.  I could feel it.  I could.  Really.

 

     And so I drove, hands at the ten and two o'clock positions.  I'm a good driver.  I don't know how, when I'm so tired.  But the tears.  There.  There they are.  They're different.

 

     Slobber.  That's it.  Snuffle and slobber.  But there was something else.  My eyes burned from having been open too long.  No sleep…and then, after maybe three minutes, I kind of "woke up."  Here I was, on a freeway on my way to Wilsonville at 8:30 on a Saturday morning after a  "steady Eddy" all nighter.  Man...am I a professional.

 

     Gotta get this one together.  The eyes.  All red, and really red and wet.  You know.  Like a good cry.  Well, this wasn't "like."  This was the real thing.  Maybe five minutes, tops.  But there it was.

 

     Different than "seeing her" before.  I don't want to think about this too much.  Not now.  But I know that this kind of eyewash...this was something different.

 

     I was different.

 

     As I drew closer to my destination, maybe seven minutes away, I started to "work on putting it together."

 

     Yeah.  I made it.

 

     No need to tell them.

 

     I was pumped about the legal work I had done for them.  An all-nighter, after all.  And here I am.  Nearly sixty.

 

     Geez.  When I was writing the book, how many of those nights I just worked right through.  But that was a couple of years ago.

 

     This was different

 

     Sixty!  I was sixty.

 

     Sixty and Sandy came back at me.

 

     And I met her face on.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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