Sunday, August 28, 2005

he stares at me with dark brown eyes

In one of these postings I mentioned Champ. I'm supposed to call him a Staffordshire Terrier, says my partner. I am so naive that when I picked him up and brought him in from the street I thought "oh, maybe a little shepherd cross". It was my kindly vet who looked at me with pity and said "you have a pitbull".
Champ has been with us now for about a year and a half. It was in late February 2004 that one of my street friends came to the bookstore, hardly able to speak. "There's a hurt dog, down by the hamburger place". The dog had been thrown about 300 feet after being hit by a truck. The truck never stopped, but the next car did. And those folks checked with the nearest vet, who said, well, it was a weekend, she didn't want to come to the surgery, and anyway, the dog was just a stray. (No, that vet does not treat my critters). Since my elderly yellow lab and I walk all the town streets, and greet all the town dogs, I felt certain I would recognize the hurt dog and be able to reunite it with its family. So I walked down to where it lay, curled up in a patch of grass, stunned. Looked like one leg had been shattered. He looked up at me with his dark eyes and feebly wagged his tail. I sat down beside him and talked to him.
I had never seen the dog before. Close to sunset, a storm coming on. I asked around. Anyone know the dog? Anyone seen him with a person? Lots of head shakes and "sorry, never seen him before". One woman said she'd seen him, running loose, for about a week. There was another dog kind of like him in the next town, a couple miles away. She thought they'd been abandoned.
He was thin, in obvious pain, and still gently, hopefully wagging his tail. I went back to my shop and got my big yellow lab. There was no way I was going to bring the hurt dog in if he and Buddy were going to fight or have problems.
Buddy walked up to the hurt dog, and they touched noses. Tails wagged. The hurt one laid his head wearily back on the ground. Buddy circled and lay down, back touching the hurt dog's back. It was as if he was saying "Okay guy, I'm here, and I am no threat to you".
A friend helped me get the dog into the back of his car, and to the bookstore. As I carried him inside I handled him awkwardly, and he cried out in pain. "I'm sorry" I told him. He licked my hand.
I gave him some Arnica to help with the trauma while we tried to get a vet to see him. The first night he was here I ended up staying with him, sleeping next to him on the floor, patting him when he whined in pain or fear.
My vet told me the hurt leg, which the dog didn't seem able to use at all, was not broken but rather nerve-damaged. In such cases, he said, the usual thing was amputation. The dog and I stared at him. He then said, well, with care there was a small chance--maybe 2%--that the nerves could heal a little. But the dangers were many--gangrene, injuries, infections. He did know someone who'd made a kind of split for her dog's leg, and that helped...but he didn't hold out much hope.
With medicines to help prevent infections and ease the pain we came back. I put out ads, seeking the dog's family. No one replied.
So it was doggie arts and crafts time. I made cardboard splints, padded with fabric, wrapped in vet-wrap (a nifty invention a horse owner told me about--it is used for racehorse's legs). Every scrape or wound was salved. Bandages were changed sometimes four times a day.
Champ runs now, although with a limp. Nerve function has returned to most of his leg, but not to the bottom of his foot, so he still wears a small, bright wrap over his pads. He and Buddy are great friends. The store cats sleep with him. For perhaps the first month with us he was "my foster dog" but after that month we knew he was in fact one of our family. That's when my daughter and I sat and called a list of about a hundred possible names. We had hoped for something very poetic, but he answered to Champ, and Champ it was and is.
We've gotten more information about him, at least rumors. He may have been part of a group of pits being trained to fight. He would have been very bad at it, which may be why he was abandoned. My partner sometimes calls him Ferdinand the Pitbull--Champ would much rather lay his head in your lap than fight anything or anyone.
He curls up in the best chair in the store, pretending to be one of the bookstore kitties. He loves to greet the customers.
And yes, every so often someone less naive than I was says "Omigod, it's a pitbull". If they are very uncomfortable I'll let Champ go back into the back room to watch the goldfish a while, or sit with his human pal, my youngest son. And yes, they tell me he is dangerous, by breed.
Don't believe it. He's watching me type now, with the big fluffy cat Destiny sleeping curled up next to him. She blinks her blue eyes and settles back.
Champ has been, as have all my animal friends, a great teacher. He has taught me hope and perseverance and determination. He has taught me that 2% odds might sound bad, but that nothing is truly impossible. When I am struggling with long tasks, when I am tempted to give up hope, Champ dances over and stares at me with his luminous eyes. He's put me in touch with the pitbull in my heart.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

the summer winds on

In the vacant lot down the road the sweetbriar seed pods have begun to ripen. It is one of my favorite plants,a rose (also known, more poetically, in England, as eglantine) with small pink single blossoms and large, sweet rosehips. The leaves smell like apples, and perfume the air for a long way after the rain. In this field there are also chicory flowers, sky blue and white, and Queen Anne's Lace. For a gardener I have a strange fondness for weeds, and places where nature pushes into the midst of the town.
The vacant lot is where a lot of my street friends sleep from time to time. In the early morning, or late at night, while I am walking one of my dogs, I will come across one of them. Usually I move quietly, trying not to wake them, after first checking to make certain they are still breathing. It's not something to take for granted, breath and life, not in this little town. If I wished, I could tell the tales of--what--maybe 20 dead souls, found under the bridge between this town and the next, or dead at the post office next door (that was a murder, and a sad story; the man spent his last day listening to music in my shop. He liked Mozart a lot, and told me about his family. He'd just gotten out of jail.), or dead in the fields, or by the road. Some suicides, some overdoses, a couple murders.
And this is, all in all, a sweet little town, where my Down Syndrome teen wanders safely, watched by other shop keepers and my street friends. What would it be like in the city?
My city friends, however, tell me they don't encounter the numbers of deaths, or the stories, I do here. So perhaps the intimacy brings these lives and deaths closer? I don't know.
Today in the middle of the shop a huge cauldron of kale soup sits. Folks come and go, taking second and third helpings. For some it is the only meal they will have today. My yuppie tourist customers also eat their share, and they are welcome to do so. They tell me it is a odd place, this multipurpose bookstore in the middle of nowhere.
They call it the lost coast, out here where we live (and I wish we were closer to the actual sea--we are about 20 miles inland). Last night my partner and youngest meandered out one of the dirt roads to the tiny cottage of a good friend. It was my friend's birthday. He's a naturalist, who always chides me that I love the wrong birds and the wrong plants, but who has a kind heart. His home perches on a rock many hundreds of feet above one of the creeks flowing to one of the rivers. It is beautiful, and somewhat terrifying: a sheer, inescapable drop. But my friend perches there happy and secure as one of the hawks who live nearby. We had icecream soup (melted icecream, because we got lost getting there) and chunks of cake and wine. For my son, raspberry soda. We watched the stars come out and the dust settle, and ended up talking about the war--one of the other visitors is the peace ambassador from our county, soon to go to DC. I think, really, I would rather have talked of birds.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cindy Sheehan

In today's heat Cindy has been on my mind a lot. She's standing in Crawford, Texas, waiting to talk to Bush. Yeah, she talked to him--or met him, anyway, in a room full of token mothers-of-dead-sons, a bit after her son Casey was killed in Iraq. She says he never quite got her name, called her "Mom". She wants some explanation of the deaths, of all the needless suffering. She's standing till she gets that. Today my partner and I fought, because I was sending cards that said "talk to Cindy" to Bush at the Whitehouse. I asked him to send one. No way, he said, having no desire to communicate with the Prez. I raged uncharacteristically.
Maybe because I stood alone last Friday in my women in black vigil, and when you stand alone, in the heat, you think about each death, each injury, each stupid, useless act of pain. I figured out that my town has less people in it than the soldiers dead in Iraq, and that my entire county has less people in it than civilians reported dead in Iraq.
The ravens flew on the air currents, swooping, gliding, calling out now and again. People passing flashed peace signs. I cried. I want this to stop, today. Casey was 24. Cindy carries a picture of him as a toddler. Open, smiling face. I post a lot of those photos on the window near this computer. People passing stop to look. Some are angry, some are sad. You do what you can, and you go on, over and over. My thoughts are with you, Cindy, there in the Texas heat.

Monday, August 08, 2005

when the lights go out

In this remote region it doesn't take much to disrupt the electricity. In the winter the storms bring down huge trees, which bring down fragile lines, which break, and cause the electricity to shut down throughout the hills and valleys. When we are at our cabin in the hills this doesn't affect us in the least; we use candlelight there, and carry water from the spring, and heat with bits of dry branches gathered in the early morning. In town, at the shop, everything is electric.
So when the lights went off last night (a car having run into a power pole down towards the coast), and my youngest and I were here, and the store cats and two dogs clustered round, it was a challenge and an adventure. Yes, I lit candles, and found a flashlight. But the heat of day had built up, and my boy, who has Down Syndrome and has some fears and some major lack of fears, wanted to go out into the town. We took the flashlight and went into the streets. The town has a very small population--barely about a thousand, and only one main street, on which our shop and a few others sit, a stretch broken by a big vacant field.
With the lights gone the sky above the town was vast. Everywhere it seemed there were dogs running, and cats I'd never met, darting into the darkness, adventuring. We walked, and sat, and walked, and gazed at the Milky Way. Coming back past the market, which had closed, we found one of the clerks trying to get into his truck. He'd lost his keys. Fortunately, he told us, his truck doesn't need a key to start. If only he could get the little side window open. I stopped and focused the flashlight beam on the little screws he was trying to undo. Success. But then, prying open the window...He wished for a bigger blade; his pocket knife was pretty tiny. So we walked, my son and I, back to the dark bookstore and came back with two nice huge knives (I use them to cut up salads and bread). The smaller one did the trick, and the guy drove off.
Today, when I was buying bread, he greeted me "Hey, it's the lady with the knives!" Heads swiveled. The thoughts could have been written in balloons over their heads "gee, she doesn't look dangerous".
Can't wait till the gossip gets back to me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

the stories go on

The phone rang a few minutes ago. It was D., who asked "is this the.....bookstore?" She'd phoned last week with a message for one of the street guys; basically " your dog needs you." She'd had the dog, an aging male built like a Rottweiller with short legs, for nearly a year. The dog kept getting out, in search of his person. He'd been with his guy through many a homeless camp and in a few short lived attempts at being indoors and safe. He's about the sweetest old dog I know, with the exception of my 14 year old yellow lab, who is known to our family as the Buddy-satva. Buddy accepts and loves all beings, from squalling abandoned kittens to disgruntled old veterans.
But anyway, I'd passed D's message on this morning. "He came and got him" she said, "thank you so much". But she was crying as if her heart would break. It's okay, she said; I needed them to be back together. The dog's person is going through yet another series of court dates, but has some disability money now, and a place to rest his huge shaggy head. I hope his dog will keep safe with him now. D. said the dog showed more excitement than she'd seen in him all year long.
The August heat continues unabated. I close up the store in early morning to hold some of the cool night air. The animals press themselves to the cool linoleum. We'll miss this heat when the winter hits us, and we can't get warm enough, but now we all move as little as possible and think about cool things.