Sunday, January 31, 2010

For Jerry I pluck from my imagination heartfelt gold stars, ribbons, and awards.

He stays with one two three four dogs when I am at a night meeting or working at the bar. That leaves him to shuffle bottles of supplements enzymes and prescriptions, regular dog food wet dog food special dog food dry prescription dog food frozen raw dog food that smells like warmed death. Lily loves it and I have to turn on the overhead oven fan and look away. I don't want to smell it and I don't want an eye-full to haunt me. Lily loves loves loves what appears to be sinewy dark meat and chips of bone and blood clotted within the mix.

He didn't want me to do this and it adds to pressure pushing on me like I am either heating up or standing in the cold -- the air around me has a texture that adheres to me and presses tightens settles in like wax drying along my arms forehead back and eyelids.

Mom drops off paper towels and I soak up the pee running in little rivers and anxious to pool in the low spots.

Earlier tonight I am in the basement in front of the dryer when I hear: LILY! Get downstairs. GO! I look up and see her shadow -- large ears and long snout with the end of her collar flopping like a loose belt. Jerry wants her down here and out of the living room and kitchen and out from under his feet and out of his way. She crowds us sometimes -- one more dog eager for a bite of something. She is eager for our attention. She peed on the floor starting near the kitchen and trailing a warm, acrid line across the wood the rug the wood and finally the carpet. Lily!

Jerry is trying to heat some soup and finally he is tired of turning around and running into Lily eager hungry persistent Lily who always wants to be first in line. I yell upstairs: Don’t lose your temper with her. She is a dog and she’s sick!

I am deaf to my own words and soon lose patience. I am cleaning up the damp floor and pressing paper towels into the carpet. I go out twice with Lily to see if her restlessness means she wants to mark another spot in the snow. Finally she is beside me nudging for attention and I say, What! What do you want?

She probably needs to go out, Jerry tells me. Whenever she starts acting funny she needs to go, he said.

WHY! We just WENT! Again I flop my too-short arms into his too-long sleeves of a warm sweatshirt and trudge outside.

I now wear my hiking boots so I can move through snow poo mud and wait for Lily to make another mess that I’ll be chasing with a shovel tomorrow. Strain. It’s the stuff of headaches and cramps in your stomach. It’s the funny pressure behind your eyes that makes orbs of color appear as if the eye’s surface were soiled like a parking lot puddle, carrying the beautiful pollutants of oil and residue across the surface.

Strain doesn’t come in shot glasses. It is so much bigger. I hear Jerry: Hershey! Forget it, I am not getting up…

Jerry? What is she doing, I ask? I am up now and go into the living room. What do I need to do?

Jerry? What do I need to do?

He said: Give me a chance to answer already!

OK, What do I need to do.

He tells me, It’s HERSHEY! She’s in the kitchen helping herself to a chewy. The drawer is open.

Why is the drawer open, I ask.

Lily. She pulls it open she bites the knob in her teeth.

Does she do this every night?

This is usually about the time I put her downstairs.

Does she do this every night?

Why are getting aggravated at me, he asks?

Does she do this every night, I ask again.

The tension is putting on its helmet and tightening the strap beneath its chin. It’s about to run me into a wall and I know it and it’s happened before and I am never ready. Earlier today we read on the Internet about inflamed bowel disease. We read about treatments and problems and the larger intestinal swelling compared to the smaller intestine. Vomit, blood and mucus in the stool were possible.

I am happy to say that we’ve seen non of that in Lily. It’s not curable, Jerry reads to me from one website. Never mind a cure. I would like to have just a simple management program. I would like just a few hours between messes that send me again for the paper towels and cleaner. We still do not know what is wrong with Lily, but daily we are finding more things wrong with me.

I wanted a little relief. A glass of Merlot at a window table where there is a candle and Jerry and we sip and talk and for a few minutes I am not home watching Lily. I am not standing in a doorway with one shoulder against the wood quietly looking as Hershey flops on her back and wiggles to itch dry skin, as Bandit sits, ears alert watching Lily peer out the front window. Ozzie snorts. Is Bandit going to get upset with Lily in his space?

Yesterday I sat on the couch and when I looked down I saw Bandit’s feet touching Lily’s feet. This morning Lily stood next to Bandit where he lay on the floor, the tops of his ears brushed her chin. Tonight as Jerry scratched Bandit’s ears and Lily, unaware of Bandit’s silent snarl and wrinkled lip, looked happily at me, wagging.

Outside today in the sun it’s still barely 10 degrees. We chase a stick. Lily and Hershey growl over the same snowy branch that I throw and throw. Bandit is up on the ridge sniffing. Up on the hill I look across dips and rises in the land -- trees bare and stark and thrust upward in dark slashes across the white. Boulders and stones reemerge from beneath the snow with enough sunlight.

I sit at night with my wine and I read. I write down thoughts of Lily. Thoughts that break loose like shards freed when the tension eases and my mind -- a clenched nerve -- releases. Its attention diverted for an hour by a book by a character by a scenario fleetingly more alluring than my own.

Tonight I go downstairs and grab the notebook. What little thoughts did I scrawl? What will they tell me? Am I holding the whole situation way too close to my nose? Do I even have a chance of understanding what’s going on and making a good decision?

Across the perfect white page: Again she eats like she’s starving like she is trying to slam her snout through the bottom of the bowl.

I must have written this next comment after a meeting. I wrote -- I stood listening to talk about ticks. I remember the day Lily ran up to me as I jogged. Her head was covered with shiny, fattened ticks filled with her blood. Her head was a pin-cushion of shiny gray ticks.

Jerry gets up to go into the kitchen and mumbles something to himself or to the dogs as he goes.

What did you say, I ask.


What did you SAY?


Stress for some reason grips me with this desperate feeling as if I am about to fall. My stomach poised for a swift drop, I cannot leave him alone. Anxiety leaves its bruises not on me, but on the faces of those around me. It is lines and dark circles. It is sagging expressions and eyes without shine.

If one round of pills and diet does not work, another will. Right?

The dogs don’t love each other, but as the trainer said, they have to at least tolerate one another. I see progress there. Now I need to worry about her weight. One pound at a time. Then we’ll work on the house training.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

She is honey and Guinness and sawdust and shadows. She is light coffee and tar, caramel and licorice. Lily is skin and Lily is bones. Lily is pretty and young with eyes that say different things to me depending on my mood.
Are you happy Lily? Does anything hurt? Would you tell me you like it here if I could understand?
She folds like an envelope to lie on her pillow. Every crease and corner pops into place as she drops her head her too big head onto long legs and paws. Her back curves around -- one notch at a time to reach her tail that is like a broom against the floor, the tiles, the chair. She stays like that and watches me read. I see words about a fight a car accident, couples counseling and anger management. The words tell me about problems real or make-believe, but certainly happening somewhere in the world. They are not happening here. Our biggest problem in this house is learning to get along and learning what is wrong with Lily.
For days a dream from childhood crowds other thoughts. I face a door with a penny slot in the handle. Looking down at my little girl hands I see a purse filled with coppery change. I drop a penny in the slot and the door opens. I step through and realize the door has no handle on this side, but another door and another slot are before me, just a little smaller. Another door another slot. Smaller. Smaller. I panic. What’s wrong with you Lily?
I ran with her this morning as the first snowflakes landed on my skin, and by the time we returned from the woods we could count our footsteps in the snow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Something is crawling around out there.

Stepping outside with Lily I hear water trickling over rocks in the neighbor's yard, Lily's sniff sniff sniff, and the leaves breaking apart under my feet.

Lily finds a spot and soaks it, then trots off toward the shed where an aluminum ladder leans. I still hear the water, her nose, and the rustling of something cornered by the shed, the stone wall, and Lily. It's 10:46 pm and I don't want to see what's in that shadow.

MOVE Lily!

I don't know what it was, but I know who it could have been: a possum, raccoon, or skunk. Those three rummaging foraging bold creatures have lurked at the edges of our patio steeling cat food, ripping through trash, and staring through the glass at us with our noses inches from their defiant little faces and greedy hands.

Today was a day of new words for new medications and new attempts to find what makes Lily sick. While we wait, however, I again put paper towels on my list.

As I set our alarm and sat on the bed with Jerry, Ozzy poked his mini little round pug head up to see us. Bandit was next to us and Hershey kept a spot on the couch in the living room. Lily, who checks in on us, sniffs, then leaves the room. She moves away with the sound of nails against the hardwood. I hear her reach the front door then begin a return lap. Watching the floor to see her shadow enter the bedroom head first, the darkness against white carpet never comes. I stood and peeked around the door to find Lily centered perfectly in the doorway. I hear something like wet, heavy pudding hitting the floor.

I run for the dwindling last roll of paper towels I swallow the giggling. They're downstairs on a bar stool, waiting and ready. Back up the spiral stairs and across the living room and I am back at the doorway where Lily looks at me with her head to the side.

This dog is certainly not house trained.

Reaching for the mess I am laughing in bursts like it tickles. Finally it's funny,

Dad came for Lily today and she went for a walk with my parents. She stayed with them for part of the morning. When Dad dropped her off he left me a note saying, everything went fine and I [Lily] would like to visit again.

I have trouble shaking the dreams dragged up through the murk of anxiety this morning. I passed through my day with a cloud of apprehension crouched on my back and digging in.

Enough. I am falling asleep.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Little thoughts are everywhere.
They cover pieces of paper in winding scrawl and fit in between lists for laundry dinner shopping and things I have to remember. There isn't enough room for Lily here so I start someplace else. Magazine covers and notebooks from work. I even have a few words crowding items on a receipt.
One torn page shows off the deep maroon crescents of wine stains where I rested my glass the night before the trainer came. I had questions questions questions.
Lily pees in strange places. I read the sentence and wonder again about the random squat on the tile the rug the tile or outside if I catch it in time. How do I send the best message? I wanted to know how to juggle all these dogs. Sixteen legs both large and small hurrying around me waiting for the right message. Four snouts eight ears eight eyes watching and asking me what do I want them to do? What do I want?
Dogs need jobs to do, they need to behave in a way they think pleases me. They need my approval.
On a third line that is too long for the page I read my meandering thought: be sure they are all OK with their place in the house. Be sure they are safe.
Sitting at work Monday I make calls to the vet and ask what we should try next. I want to try pills that help her pancreas. The vet wants to try treating inflamed bowel syndrome first. Since I am just someone who read something on the Internet and he is the vet, I say OK.
Despite the worry and rolls of paper towels that I endlessly deplete as I pick up after Lily, Lily who can't hold it in, Lily who eats and eats and stays so skinny, there are teeny moments when I am hopeful. I flip a page in my book about drug addiction about agony and the unrelenting compulsion to drink. As I let the page fall I hear a gentle scraping. Below me on her pillow Lily is all folded up in sleep and her back paw twitches as she dreams.
Turning back to the book's pages I again trade my plight for an alcoholic's horrible and enlightening and painful and vital days in rehab.
Often when I am unsettled I am also spooked. I took over my shoulder when I read, wondering what is causing my skin to tingle as if something stares at my vulnerable spine bent in a lazy slouch as I read.
What is coming? What will happen? Will I ever come home and feel like this is a welcoming place where peace is easy and sleep is fast?
Tension. It's a hateful and patient thing that slaps itself on you in clear layers that tighten as they dry. They squeeze and grow heavy. I look in the mirror. I hold up my hands. I stare at myself and realize I just don't have the right tools for this job. One day last week the tension got me. Crouched down on the floor with my head pressed between my palms -- again -- I was crying and babbling and taking those long pitiful breaths and finally I just screamed this long and exhausted sound of frustration. Then I went to work and looked at Nancy, John, Curtiss, and tried to imagine any of them crumpled on the floor squeezing their head. I laughed. It's always funny unless it's happening to you.
Lily. She has taken over my thoughts my attention and my house. Completely.
She is no thinner but no better.
I mop the basement again and go down to read my book. Lily sits with her body curved, feet out, and her head pressed flat on the floor between her front paws. Looking at me, I imagine that she is a spirit trying to see how she can stretch the stuff of soft-hearted people.
Up early this morning and my head and body are heavy with warmth and left over sleep. I want to nestle back into the pocket of sheets and blanket that held my body all night. Warm and dreaming. My dreams were all anxiety. Once upon a time I had this affair. He wanted more more more more and became obsessed and eventually a source of some serious stress, one broken windshield, spying, and a real concern that there would be a confrontation one day. At last the terrible fight came in the middle of our office. Shouting and swearing. I think they asked him to quit or leave or something because a week later he was gone. The notes and strange phone calls and angry stares and sudden silences when I entered the room were all gone, but the anxiety left a dent in my subconscious that flexes when I am upset. My dream: Brian has my notebook and I desperately need it. My notes and interviews and contact numbers and things I JUST NEED are in his hands. I have to get that notebook.
I wake and leave the bed's hypnotic warmth that tells me to sleep a little longer and I get the hiking shoes on.
I step outside with Lily on her pretty red leash and we run stumble walk, make long strides up through the rocks and trees. I am warm out in the woods without a jacket on January 25 at 6:45 in the morning. By the time I get home and get in the shower and get in the truck for work I know I am going to be late.
Lily, I am trying.
Thank God for my parents who will come walk her and talk to her and be her friends. Thank God for Jerry who took the dogs out in the woods before I got home.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I thought I heard gunshots, Jerry said.
Looking for answers, Hershey raises her ears and rushes to peer downstairs into a basement soaked in darkness. The answers aren't down there. Answers and understanding don't happen in lightless voids where ordinary things like misplaced coffee mugs, a dog leash, or a chewed rubber bone become unfamiliar, strange, and slightly frightening. Even in dreams there is light. We see. We understand. By morning the spell breaks.
Hershey's tail wags with reservation. I wonder what she learns from the sooty black emptiness.
Like rain splashing against dry leaves, our fireplace crackles. Jerry talks to Lily who sits in front of him with her red collar gaping around her skinny neck.
Hi Lili, Lily hi.
I can't stay awake anymore, but the day was busy good busy busy busy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lily left something unpleasant on the tile floor, on the upstairs rug, and near the doggy door. The phone rings and Jerry tells me we’re out of oil. Fifty seven degrees in the house, four dogs to walk or jog or shuttle through the woods, an oil delivery and work are all shouting for attention in my head so I leave. Lily goes downstairs where she can be messy. Ozzy snorts on the couch and Hershey and Bandit snuggle in their favorite spots. Selfish selfish selfish: I run down the road alone. All by myself hands free no leashes no pulling tugging dogs and my feet slap over and over. Only my feet.
A neighbor with his docile yellow lab walks past. Guilt.
Back home after the couple of miles I stole for me and only me I decide to slap a leash on Lily and let everyone else just run wild in the woods. I toss a stick and Lily and Hershey love it fight over it break it apart. Bandit runs and blends in with the landscape. Ozzy pees against a tree.
Later at work I wonder if she is happy if she hurts if she is comfortable. I wonder if the other dogs will like her eventually and respond to her attempts to play and I wonder if Bandit will relent and stop picking fights. I wonder if I am smart enough or possess the perseverance to train this clumsy pack of willful dogs into something I can manage, into something that allows me to walk in my front door without shoving a knee into someone’s snout and preventing their mad dash to wherever. I have hope and lose it and wonder if the house will be warm when Jerry gets home. The oil delivery came, leaving a $601 dollar hole in our account.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It’s early morning and half an hour before the sun edges over a mountain line on the other side of Lake Zoar. Little bit by little bit it creeps above the horizon. Snow has faded from the ground and now Lily and I crash through the woods like loud static. Across dried leaves and snapping twigs our feet pound. A branch catches my knit hat. Briars tear at my clothes and Lily keeps moving sniffing looking for something to eat bite chase. Hold It! She stops.
We’re working on being obedient. While I hold one end of the leash and repeat myself Lily is doing whatever 18-month-old doggy thing she wants. I saw the vet today who gave me pills that contain clay. Maybe that will bind her insides.
Birds, sunlight. We run home after a quick pass through a mini grove of cedars perched on a cluster of rocks. Portions of the ground are smooth where deer lay at night. Days in the past and during a hard rain, stick in hand and dogs galloping past me, I saw deer staring my way from beneath a similar island of trees. They were in profile, heads turned. Away they ran out from under the protection of branches and evergreen. The dogs either didn’t notice or didn’t care. That was weeks ago, before Lily.
This morning with her nose poking the contours of smoothed leaves, she traces an outline perfectly matched to a deer that will return later, watching for hunters, coyotes, flying arrows, and men in bright orange after them after them after them. I watch for flying saucers, veterinary bills, training bills, and a sign that Lily’s stomach is holding her food. Each day I hope her ribs will blend into fattening fur.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I have to control the food and water, keep them separated, provide daily training, go for more than one walk as recommended. I have to get it right get it right get it right. The problem? I am at work and away from the dogs. I am at the perfect distance to do neither harm nor good.

Problem two is my mood.

Three is finding money for training, vet visits, special diets, medicines, and the hundreds of sheets of paper towels I rip through then toss at the tile to soak up fresh flowing urine running in a tidy little stream across the grout.

Four is the thought that I might not make it after learning what I learned today. I learned how to practice commands with the dogs and keep them listening. I learned to use their name first if I wanted them to follow. I learned to simply say Sit or Come or Wait or Quiet as an order. I learned to enforce my orders. I learned that I am an idiot.
Patty is a professional trainer who met me today. I wanted her to help me make certain that everyone in the house is safe and happy. What's the use of helping Lily get better if she's not at peace in the house? What is the point of being anywhere that is not peaceful?

Why did you rescue her, Patty asks.
Look at her. I have a reason for every rib, every hip and leg bone.

You have how many dogs? You can't keep adding strays and rescues, she said. I think: how many days in a year? How many times am I capable of driving to the pound, filling the truck with dirty snouts and tails, muddy paws, fleas, drool, fur, and driving home. To me I don't pick up strays or rescues. I have four dogs. They are mine I love them I need to learn to deal with them.

Training. I am standing in a pair of flip flops with a toothpick raised like a spear and wondering how to stab it into the ice and climb the glacier. I am standing in my living room in a pair of hiking boots with a dog leash wondering how to rejoin the normal world where people say and do rational stuff. As if anything makes sense.

The trainer is competent and equipped to knock me back to kindergarten, speak slowly, and make sure I get it. Seriously, thank God for her help, her tact in the presence of a very impulsive bleeding heart. Thank God she will return.

Patience Lily. I need patience. I need my dogs safe and healthy.

I had a complete meltdown today, which I will keep to myself.

Lily lily lily, hungry Lily has been chomping on a raw diet with supplements and twice today she left us a present. Unlike the runny muck she has been dropping in puddles as frequently as once an hour, she did a new trick tonight. Twice she laid something down in one piece and hours apart.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I smelled something tonight that was worse than dead flesh, excrement, decay, rot, or decomposition. Lily left a mess tainted with a new, raw diet and supplements and I immediately turned on the house fan, lit candles, and tried not to cry.
We have made some assumptions and with my friend Cindy's help regarding who to call and my mother's regular visits to play and love Lily, maybe we have slid forward a smidgen. Lily now has the help of one Thomaston food store owner and I spoke to my vet about treating Lily as if her pancreas is not producing the proper digestive enzymes. Skip the test and its expense.
Our progress is measured in hours. I feed her and watch the clock. She did not need to sniff around the yard for more than two hours.
Her hips protrude like doorknobs, her ribs ripple as the fur shifts when she moves from black to tan to black along the bony ridges.
Thank you to my friends with their suggestions: yogurt, raw food, and vitamins included. Thank you to my friends who write to me or call and offer support. I think I need to close this tiny chapter and let this rest with you for just a little while.
Is anything working?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

They're all upstairs and outside the bedroom door. I hear panting and a creaking hinge. Bandit comes in to flop around on the bed, pushing his icy black nose under my arm. We sleep.
Later, Bandit is at the door with his forehead wrinkled, ears up.
Out of bed I let him into the living room and reach down as other snouts and ears and doggy grins flow toward me.
No growling or snapping or fights. Holding my breath and watching the four dogs swirl around the coffee table, over the rug, bump the rocking chair, shove past Jerry on the couch and move around and around, they all eventually look at me.
Let us out! I know they are thinking of chewing sticks and sniffing the snow. They want to fly over rocks and squeeze beneath fallen trees in the woods -- me scrambling behind. My hiking boots against the hillside will never be as nimble as four legs, claws, and a lightness that accompanies the simplicity of endless happiness at the sight of a stick spinning across the sky, stabbing into the snow where it waits for teeth.
The minute I look at Jerry my mood crashes. He has been alone with the four dogs every night since Tuesday when I went to a meeting and another meeting Wednesday night and the bar Thursday and Friday nights. By Saturday morning I am tired and crabby and he has used up all his reserves of patience.
I take her out every twenty minutes and it's annoying, he tells me.
She's been cooped up.
It's annoying! Why do you stick up for the dogs before me?
Sadly, I stick up for the dog: I am just saying that she probably has cabin fever...
Why can't you just agree with me and say Ok for once?
I am not sticking up for the dogs before you, I just think she is a poor dog and doesn't have a choice.
What about my choice? Jerry asks. You care about that dog more than the other dogs or me. She has taken over your life, that's all you think about right now.
Yes, it is, I tell him. That does NOT mean I don't care about you or put everybody else second. (Even though that's what is happening) I have displaced everything to squeeze in Lily.
I am going to take Lily out and run some energy off, I say.
So now your dogs are stuck in the basement while you go with her? Jerry tells me it's not fair and only causes jealously and problems when I separate them.
Well, I say, I can't take all of them for a jog unless I go in the woods.
You said you could do all of them.
Did I say that before Bandit and Lily were fighting? I didn't know there would be problems.
I tell Jerry I don't know what to do here. I am afraid. I am worried they'll fight.
Take them all in the woods then, he tells me.
That's what I eventually do.
I tell Jerry, you are SO aggravated today. At me. (As if he shouldn't be).
Well, I feel like you're mad at me. You're tense and aggravated and sound like it's my FAULT.
I walk to where Lily sits quietly, immobile, curled up, watching the two of us argue, wondering if those angry voices are for her.
She needs help, Jerry.

This invasive thick blackness sits at my peripheral vision and I feel pangs of anxiety in my ribs and bones and body and the clenched feeling returns to my neck.

I won't leave with the dogs until Jerry and I are settled. I know I ruined his mood for the day.
Patience? Maybe tomorrow.
Jerry asks, do we really have to tell the whole world our business?
I keep quiet and look over at him.

Back from the woods I leave Bandit on the run outside. He loves to just sit and look at the street, trees, house, passing cars. Lily, Hershey and Ozzy the pug are inside and they do just fine around one another. reading through my notes from a feed store owner I see the initials EPI -- endocrine pancreatic insufficiency. He has spoken with three shepherd owners who described nearly the same problem that Lily is having. The diarrhea is abundant, dense, and frequent. I no longer leave the lights off downstairs in the morning as the soft light creeps in through the windows. I need to see the floor, the dirty, spotted, pee stained floor.
Maybe she is not breaking down her food properly, he tells me.
We'll see. I ordered food and supplies that he recommends. He sounds confident and knowledgeable and I need to trust him. I need something to trust.
All of us are in the house now. Every dog has a cushion, corner of the couch, or place on a rug. No one is upset with anyone else. Bandit and Lily sniff and act normally. I see it for the false hope that it is and know that whatever triggers his impulse to guard his possession will prevail if I don't begin to understand my dogs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Today is the day after Lily ran away and I give up on her, me, and the idea that I can help the poor, underweight dog get better, get along, and fit in. I called a trainer and we shall see how lost I am, but at least Lily is home, and at least I can start to understand the problem she has with Bandit. I can't handle the fights and the damp cloth as I draw blood away from Bandit's eyes.
Images burst in my imagination -- strobes of scenes I do not control. For some reason I continually see Lily beside me in the truck, her head turned back to stare at the floor, window, floor, then me. She is in the passenger's seat and we leave the vet's office and suddenly poor Lily deflates. Her body folds against the seat and she holds the posture of someone eternally waiting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Standing in the woods with a flashlight at 7 pm screaming Lily! I wonder if I will be able to bite this off one day at a time when I can't even make it through 10 minutes...
Rushing through the woods as inane thoughts rush around my skull at 7:15 I hold up the flashlight looking for Lily. Lily!
If this is it, then none of it mattered.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I get home to a clean basement floor. It appears that Lily didn't have diarrhea today, although I've seen her eat it.
Outside the thermometer yesterday said zero. Nothing, not a shred of warmth, but today we have 20 degrees. Twenty more than we had yesterday and I decide to go with Lily into the woods scaring off the trolls and nymphs that make noises in the dark and leave behind goosebumps that burst at the sight of shadows and dark places.
Early. I smell coffee perking while Jerry showers and I grab for a leash.
Lily and I swerve beneath fallen saplings and stretch over rocks and I trip on snowy ground with dips and spikes not quite clear yet. Another half hour and I'll have enough light to see the uneven path tricking my feet.
We dash around, toss a stick, and Lily's ears sit on top of her head -- linen napkins like tepees side by side.
Back home Jerry balances coffee on his lap, sips, and keeps his legs warm beneath a blanket.
I am going down to take a shower, I tell him.
I am going to work, he answers.
OK, I'll wait.
The dogs, I don't want to leave the dogs alone so I'll wait.
Go take a shower, he says.
NO! I can't leave them alone I need to know one of us is watching what if something happens I am nervous about Bandit I don't want any more fights I'll WAIT.
Forget it. He tosses the blanket from his lap and finishes getting dressed for work.
Slam. His coffee splashes from the mug I gave him for Christmas as he bangs it on the table, unfinished.
My mother comes to take Lily out or to be her friend or pet her and spend time talking softly to her and rubbing her belly and just being a friend to a lonely dog left alone in the basement. Despite the big sunny windows and doggy door to the outside and as many of my books as she wants to chew, Lily sits on her rug and waits.
I feel I should be with her to feed her and hug her and look at her when she lifts her head, looking looking looking for something familiar.
Meetings after work and I am not home until 9 pm.
I fed her, Jerry tells me. You're right, I think that 20 minutes after she eats, it's that same food pouring out.
I guess she was busy again decorating the snow outside.
I wonder if her pills are even getting into her system.
Thank you mom, thank you Cindy, thank you Kara, thank you Jerry, thank you to everyone who helps, visits, sends advice, and to those who have to live in the same house as me.
I'll ask the vet to do X-rays. Why wait. Almost three weeks and not a single extra pound to pad her ribs.

Monday, January 11, 2010

If stress was a color it would be a deep and indelible black smear that spreads and soaks and seeps into every fiber. But, you can't see it for the rotten black cloud that it is. Instead it shows up in behavior and turns an average person like me into something colossal and ugly, I'll admit it. I suddenly filled the room like we had the whole team stuffed in the elevator. Suddenly, the walls and ceiling rush toward me.
I had one of those moments that causes bystanders to stare, to stop with coffee half raised to their parted, frozen lips, to hang there with a hand on the door mid-swing, to shut up on their cell phone conversations when, for once, they find something immediately more interesting than their own conversation.
Thank God I had no witnesses other than Jerry. Curse me for cracking up only on Jerry.
Why do I always get the worst? He asked me later.
Add a little stress and I am a real science experiment. If this wasn't happening to me it would be funny.
There I am struggling to get Lily's array of pills into her stomach. I've got yummy delicious and never-before-rejected cheese folded over in my fingers. Come here Lily. It goes in and something warns her to avoid it. A few chomps. Refusal. The teeth slam shut like a barrier and cheese bits and shards of multi-colored pills spill everywhere.
Jerry walks in as I pick up the pieces, pushing other dogs away. I stand and open my hand to view the chunks of half chewed cheese, dog spit, and crumbled pill bits in my palm. One prominent green trail clings to my pinkie where the green pill sticks like a wad of gum.
What's that on your hand? Jerry asks.
No, what's that?
Pills, her pills she needs to take them and suddenly she won't and now it's all over and Ozzy is eating it off the FLOOR.
What is that? It's not pills, he said.
I just said it's PILLS.
No. What is on your HAND? I look at where he points and see a piece of cheese.

Up early and out into the woods with Lily. It's my only chance today to let her run and get her some exercise. I get the feeling she wasn't a cooped-up-in-the-house-all-day-for-hours kind of dog. Later I wonder if she's feeling confined and unhappy. Sort of like me when I want to jump through the office window and drift off on a current.
Out in the woods our footprints look like shadows and trees are dark spears rising from the uneven and snowy forest floor. Lily lopes along with me and a stick until she smells something better. She hurries away and I realize she is completely untethered unless she decides to come when I call. I scramble over stones and fallen trees to reach the hill. Up. I look for a shadow in the distance resembling a dog, when something with perked ears turns to me.
Lily? From about 50 yards away she trots closer. Relief. back home.
Diarrhea is all over the floor. Nothing has changed. At work I call my veterinarian and ask when I should start to worry. Not yet.
A friend at work warns that sometimes... she shakes her head. I guess I should conclude that sometimes there is no solution.
By the time I go home I get ready for the close watch I keep on the dogs. No fights. More messes in the basement.
I realize that I have meetings Tuesday and Wenesday nights after work, and go to a second night job on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, which I tell Jerry after saying, you're not going to like me much. This leaves the dogs, hassle, responsibility, and aggrivation all on Jerry's hands. I think I need to either bring Lily with me somehow, or call for help. Help.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I look down and count her ribs, her vertebrae, and my gaze wanders on to look at the beautiful cascade of her tail. Its tip brushes the ground.
I was awful today. Edgy. Nervous.
Poor Lily just can't keep her food in. I try to give her pills that I imagine will heal her, although they are only another attempt to find a solution to her urgent diarrhea. It comes and comes.
More paper towels and mopping. Small plastic bags filled with the messes I clean are spread across the patio where I toss them outside. They look like a burst of mushrooms.
Large, round and green. Oblong thick and white. Perfectly round. Her pills are a mystery to me. How will these capsules reach inside Lily's body and make her well? I fold them in a slice of cheese and push it beneath the rice in her dish. She finds it, drags it out, chomps once, and drops it. I pick it up and push the now crumbling pocket of cheese and pills into her mouth. Her head shakes and the bits of cheese and pills and rice are everywhere.
Oh Lily.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The day is terrifying, hopeful, and ultimately a good reason to press my temples between my palms.
Just a scratch, just a scratch. It's under his eye and there is another one on his lid.
Again I am swabbing Bandit's fur and dabbing at blood.
Hershey and I grab a leash and bundle up for another jog, another 20-degree day with sun. Back home. I take Lily on her own run. Home again and into the woods with Bandit and Hershey. Ozzy the pug anchors the couch.
I am back again and all of us are in the basement. Lily slips out the dog door and Bandit decides to pursue. Fight fight fight.
I have scruff in each fist. The last thing I remember seeing in that moment will never leave me: Bandit pulling back, wild eyes, the baggy rolls around his neck stretching like a shirt hanging on a nail where Lily holds him in a bite.
Jerry. Swearing and angry, he pulls Lily away and shouts at her, chasing her upstairs.
It wasn't her, it was Bandit, I am yelling.
Doesn't matter. She is ruining this house, I didn't want this dog. This dog has to go, that's it, he said. Jerry goes upstairs.
I need help, I need to call a trainer, I tell him.
Whatever you want. When do I get to have peace in my own house, he yells.
I wander from kitchen to dining room to bedroom. I fold things. I wash things. I pour a glass of water, then sit on the couch.
I can't do this without your help, I say. I can't do something if you are so completely opposed.
When do I get a say? What about what I want, Jerry asks.
With Bandit's injured little face in my fingers I kiss his wrinkly head and smudge tears into his fur. My poor dog.
These are our dogs for almost five years, you want to see them hurt? For her? She has to go, Jerry says.
Do I call my parents, the vet, a trainer? Oh Lily.
I should trade them all in for pet rocks.
I know logically that this is all my fault, but if I give up on Lily I will be resentful and angry. God, what did I do to our little household?
Later, Jerry hugs me. I don't want this between us, he said. He tells me we need to watch them more closely and pay attention and I agree and I am relieved so relieved.
By the way, we had less mess to pick up today and at last Lily is being difficult about taking her pills. Just like a normal dog.
She is such a good girl.
Tonight at 11 pm everyone is asleep. Lily on one braided rug and Bandit on another. Hershey and Ozzy push and shove over blankets on the couch. I muster up a ton of false hope as I peer at what looks safe and calm, but could blow up into an ugly and dangerous fight at any second.
As she sleeps her stomach growls, which reminds me that the vet called. If things do not improve, we'll try something else...
We separate the dogs in the house before Jerry and his daughter Erica and I go for a ride. When we get home we find something new about Lily. For the rest of the night she farts, and Ozzy cocks his head to stare at her behind. That means she's digesting, right? Iv'e been feeding her a bunch.
I have left out of my story all the millions of little worries fluttering through my head and making a mess of the place.
I will be apologizing for this forever. How much will a dog trainer cost? Will we eventually have the peaceful household Jerry wants back?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Looking at what she leaves on the floor is like reading tealeaves. Did she digest the meat and rice, or are we getting it all back intact? 48 pounds. She actually dropped a pound since our first vet’s visit.
Bandit’s top lid is slightly swollen where he clashed with Lily. My poor dog who lives in this house comfortably until his space is invaded by a restless, starving German shepherd sniffing his tail, his footprints in the snow, his bed, his bowl.
Lily sits in my truck looking out the back window. Looking at me until we’re out of the car and on a scale and cowering while blood flows from our arm into a vial.
Tests: negative for parasites. The vet changes her antibiotics, changes her food, introduces pro-biotics for her intestines. Why so much diarrhea? Why no weight gain?
I write a check for $345 dollars and squeeze my eyes shut. I listen to advice about dog behaviorists and trainers. I need to erase the tension among the dogs and the people in my house.
We each deserve to lay our heads down in the dark, breath deeply, and remain undisturbed until we wake.
A baby gate! Jerry says, put up the gate. Keep them apart when they eat, that’s when there are problems…
He is right, and it’s so simple! They all eat at the same time just fine with supervision. I feed Lily over and over and over and often alone, praying she’ll soak up a little extra. That’s when somehow the eyes in the back of my head aren’t working. Bandit sneaks in. Fight. Brief and dangerous. Their snarling mixes with my yelling. They stop. Bandit pants. Blood is smudged beneath his eye and I feel I have forced him into an impossible and violent place, like ordering him into a minefield.
Another day and I sit at work and wish I could look toward home and somehow see that they are alright. Work ends and I call Jerry incessantly. Are you home? Are they OK? Was there a problem? How’s Lily how’s Lily. How is she?
I close the bar where I work Thursday nights and drive home with hope with fear with a pep talk in my head that fades with images of Bandit’s bloodied and uncomprehending face.
I look through the front door and see Bandit, Hershey, and Little Ozzy the pug wagging. Stepping to the sliding basement door Lily emerges. She seems OK. Baby gate, food, downstairs to read.
I find a scrap of paper where I wrote, sorry, I am stupid and tried to throw dogs together and do something that wouldn’t work. I had planned to give it to Jerry during a moment of self-hatred, but I never did.
From the corner of my eye I see that something isn’t right with the note. I look more closely and see the handwriting is funny. Jerry had added: You’re just an animal lover who is trying to do the right thing.
Thanks you Jerry. Lily comes down to curl up in a mesh of jutting bones and plunks her head on the floor. Good girl Lily.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bandit and Lily are fighting over food. I wipe blood from Bandit's face. Oh, help.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I forgot about the sweet potato. In the kitchen sink was something round with one side mangled like birds had pecked it. Blackened in spots where the air had soaked in, the sweet potato in the sink was a mystery until morning.
Lily was chewing on it and they [the two other perturbed dogs] fought over it, Jerry tells me. What dog rummages through a kitchen and decides to eat a raw sweet potato? Lily had been with us only a couple of days and she ate like it was a race, slamming her snout against the bottom of her food bowl as she emptied it.
I find new bones everyday. Sifting through her fur and rubbing behind Lily's ears I feel something that has never slipped beneath my fingertips on the other dogs. Ridges. I can pinch them between my fingers like a potato chip.
She paces. She sniffs, stands at the door. Outside Lily? Want to go out?It's after 8 pm and I am getting home from a meeting. Bags of treats and my purse land beside the coffee table.
Where's the leash?Outside we add more scuffs to the snowfall and Lily finds a spot. From one side of the thin stretch of my backyard to the other we move. Shed, ladder, stonewall, dogwood, patio steps.
At the front door I reach to push the handle and Lily turns her head. Seconds later she was down the steps and heading toward the driveway.Lily. Lily! Stopping at the trucks she waits. Did her prior owner always take her along? I hate thinking that she is home alone while I sit at work hating the thought that she is alone. I am sorry Lily.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nothing she eats stays in. Poor Lily. It’s as though her intestines are only a few feet long. Up this morning before sunrise and outside with her, crashing around on clumsy paws and glancing toward the horizon. Shadowed hills holding up a pink dawn. She sniffs and finds a place she likes then mark the snow. Good girl Lily. She wants to play but I am afraid to let her off the leash.
Would she catch a scent and run? We should have gone out in the dog pen, but up here above the woodpile is easier. Yesterday I tossed a toy for her in the pen back and forth and over and over she returned it to me. Snow on her black nose.
I thought the pills had been helping bind her stomach, but I had so much to clean up today. Did any of her food soak in? No parasites and no worms, says her vet. More color creeps into the sky and we hop inside. Time for work soon where I glance through a dog trainer’s handbook. Patience. I just have to make it through today with Lily thinking she is a good girl.
I call Jerry at least 5 times during the day. Do you think the dogs are OK? Do you think Bandit and Hershey are ganging up on her? What if the house catches fire?
I ask and ask. No, he said, the house hasn’t burned down yet, has it? They’re fine, he tells me. Would I pick something up for dinner? It’s only 3:30 pm Monday.
I'll be home in two hours. I call Jerry one more time. Call me as soon as you get home, I ask. Then I waited while time sat down in a recliner, lowered its hat over its eyes and took a nap, stretching every heart wrenching second like chewing gum.
Home. Four happy faces look at me through the front door windows. Jerry is smiling on the couch. Thank God. We discovered only yesterday that when Lily stands next to the front door, looks at us, looks outside, looks at us, she want to go out. She needs to go out. Now.
Lily needs to go out into the cold and dark, or the too early morning about four times as much as anyone else in the house. Tonight I return home with a plan. Since Lily hesitates to step through the swinging doggy door, I open a sliding window to the pen, step outside, and coax her through. We’ll just be outside every half hour tonight and maybe we’ll get used to going to the bathroom out here. That was my plan. Is that house training? Hardly.Midnight: Lily’s stomach is loud. I scoop some dry dog food into a cup and as I reach down toward her bowl she swings her head up sniffing. The little round “fortified chicken flavor” bits crash all over the kitchen. I go to bed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

JANUARY 2, 2010: Twenty degrees. A two-mile jog. Lily doesn’t even pant. Good girl, good girl. The heap of rice and meat mixture is dwindling. Six pounds of chop meat and more than eight cups of instant rice and I think it’s at last beginning to stick to her insides. At night with a glass of wine and a book, I read. I watch Lily as she looks up at me. Is she happy? Will my dogs ever just play with her? Play and accept her? I have a lot of work to do. One thing at a time.
JANUARY 3, 2010: Should we get another doggy bed? We get a doggy bed with reservations. I drop it on the basement floor and Hershey grabs a corner, digs her teeth into the soft fabric and shakes shakes shakes. I rescue it before the tearing starts. Food, pills, chasing Lily with the ear ointment, leashes, we needed more paper towels.
Is she housebroken? Pacing and pacing, but we think she is just looking for “her spot” but she has no spot because this isn’t really her house yet. This will take time.
Need to go out Lily, Jerry asks. She did. Maybe she had been asking us to let her out all along.
Leftover turkey on the counter left unattended ended in a big argument over scraps on the floor. Snarling and growling. I hear it and run to the kitchen where everyone is scrambling for a piece. Out in the pen Lily fetches a toy I bought, but I am the only one who will play with her. It’s been a week and one day. We need patience and a good training book. Good girl Lily.

JANUARY 4: Around 7:30 the sun rises over the ridge of mountains and finally reflects a bright orange off the windows. I step cautiously through the house and out to work. Paws clack against the door as someone jumps up to watch me leave. I can’t look back.
NEW YEAR’S EVE MORNING: I jog with my dogs. I include Lily, but I take her separately. She behaves so well with her ears twisted forward, a loping gate, obedient. Ho, hold it, hold it, I say. Lily stops by my side and we wait, then continue.
Lily and I make tracks in the snow. About a half mile from home she slows, lifts her back paws. She hops a bit, then sits like the Sphynx — immobile, watchful, willing to remain eternally. I tug her along and we trot home. Bandit and Hershey and short, stumbling Ozzy the pug run free while I keep Lily tethered to me. All of us run up behind the house and play in the woods. Good girl Lily.

JANUARY 1, 2010: So many bones. Ribs and hips and ridge after ridge of backbone. We finish one bottle of pills. Lily's messes downstairs are less frequent. We hear her stomach gurgle. I feed her and feed her and feed her little bits all day. Is it soaking in?
Why is she peeing upstairs now?
Everyone piles into the truck and we travel to the forest. Jerry is with me. Thank God for Jerry. Lily stays with us. They chase sticks and argue and nip. Hershey wants to be left alone. Lily wants to play. Hershey gets annoyed. Lily wants to play. They run and splash at the slushy edges of Lake Zoar. Eventually we’re home, everyone sleeps, and I find a surprise downstairs. Lily left something that’s a little firmer, a little heavier than before. Good girl Lily.
THE WEEK AFTER CHRISTMAS: Lily is alone with Bandit and Hershey in the tiled basement with a doggy door to the outside pen. I was a wreck. Was Lily happy, was she warm, was she jumping over the fence and getting away, getting hit by a car, getting lost in the woods, getting along with the other dogs? Would she get better or would she continue shooting food through her system, turning inside out? New Year’s Eve was coming and as I knelt on the downstairs tile floor — again and again — to wrap up a loose pile in paper towels then mop, I wondered if I should call the vet again. I wondered if Lily would trust me. Would she try to run away?
Fights over food bowls, dog toys, attention from Jerry and I. Bandit's new occasional habit includes a wrinkled nose and growling as he plods behind Lily. Why was this dog in his house? We now have a precarious home-life and nobody is happy with me. Everything and every dog to its place and I went and threw a bomb into it.
Help me Jerry … but he is doing the dishes.
Together Lily and I make and clean up messes, clean her ears, take pills. After a few days I find she is great on a leash, eager to listen, and still craps everywhere.

I call the vet and get another type of pill. She needs to hold her food. With ribs like a scallop shell Lily sits and watches me cook for her. Simmering chop meat and the sweet, but faint smell of rice rise with the steam from the pot. Help me Jerry … he feeds her too. Such an appetite.
DECEMBER 26: I see Lily and her owner standing in the rain — a quiet man and his companion are side-by-side on a drizzling morning. Awkward handshakes. I am glad he will let Lily go. I am relieved to help. She is damp and eager. She jumps up onto the passenger seat and her owner lets the leash fall: goodbye, I love you Lily. She has a huge appetite, he said. She is literally a bottomless pit, I soon discover — everything that goes in promptly comes out. Her owner and I talk. It rains. I leave.
Lily smells as though she dragged her feet and tail through her own mess that morning. In the car and home and up to the outdoor pen where my lab Hershey and husky mix Bandit jump up, stare, and express their aggravation. Another dog in their space. From upstairs in the house I hear a tinny, rasping bark coming from Ozzy the pug who wants to know what's going on outside.
Around back and up the steps to the front door, Lily and I look in through a window. No one, including my boyfriend Jerry, is happy to see us. Downstairs and into the shower to wash the grime away, Lily and I make a mess with soap and towels
First, second, and at last a third try found me a vet who could see me the day after Christmas. Back in the car. Lily sat in the seat behind me, rigid. I saw her ears perked as I glanced in the rearview. So far she hadn’t made a sound.
The vet’s office is thick with lingering smells of perpetually cleaned messes on the tile. Lily tugs at her lead, sets her back feet slightly apart and adds a gift of her own. I need paper towels, I tell one of the girls.
After almost $400 dollars, another accident in the exam room while we waited, Lily and I soon found our starting point: cooked chop meat and rice would be the menu, along with antibiotics for Lyme and one other tick-borne disease. Pills to bind her insides and stop the diarrhea — I really really hope. Ointment for an ear infection. Luck, please. Luck.
A thermometer in the rear end and a needle for blood in her arm and a few minutes later we're back in the truck. Good girl Lily.
DECEMBER 31, 2009: Today is my sixth day with Lily. Thin and ravenous, Lily is a year-old German shepherd who is 25 pounds underweight. She has almond-shaped eyes like honey, two ear infections, Lyme disease, and diarrhea that turns on and off like a faucet.
The day after Christmas I went to get her, finally finally finally ending the three weeks of worry over one bony but loving 49.8-pound dog a neighbor and I found running around on our road. We called the police and off she went in a patrol car headed for the pound. A day later she was returned to her owner. Could I help this dog?
I called animal control. Animal control called the owner. I waited forever for my phone to ring. I went to pick her up her the day after Christmas.