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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Walking Away From the Old Year

Singer waits patiently while I work at my laptop this morning. I told her we were going on a walk, a special one that lasts exactly one hour. I’ve timed it—doorstep to doorstep. It’s a bike trail that parallels a golf course. In the off season, I used to walk Saylor on the edge of the golf course, it was so beautiful and I loved the feel of the springy turf underneath our feet. Then the golf course ends and we walk between the bike trail and the backyards of Shorewood Village, nestled within Madison. There is a certain dog that lives along this route, I’ll be sure to get Singer on the trail before we come to his house. He’s a barker and I think they have an invisible fence that stops him from lunging at walkers. The trail goes all the way to the university, but we’ll stop and turn around at a street called Shorewood Boulevard. Then the route back is the same. I love this route, and look forward to showing it to Singer. Today the world is frosty with a crusty snow, should be very pretty.

Singer doesn’t know the word “walk” yet. I imagine she ran among pine trees with her doggie friends to get her exercise, a free and wild existence weaving through the trees under a wide open sky. Compare that to this rather regimented “walk” business, and it's no wonder that Singer blandly looks at me when I say "walk?" Saylor loved her walks. I am proud to say that we walked every day of her life, except when we were on vacation and the last few weeks of her life. The word “walk” would elicit excitement, her ears would perk up, and she would look around for a shoe that she would pick up in her mouth to bring to me. “No, that’s not my shoe, that’s Daddy’s!” Sometimes she would pick up my shoe, and I had to get her to drop it so I could put it on. These humans need their shoes for some reason when they walk, so I’ll help them out!

So Singer is snoozing on the couch, oblivious to my plan. But I have confidence that she will soon look forward to our daily walks, just like Saylor did. Today, we will be walking away from the old year, and toward a new year. It’s meditative to walk, and I love to think about my life while allowing the images of nature to soothe my consciousness, seeping in like a mysterious balm through the wind, the snow, the trees, the birds, the sky. Singer will be no doubt an alert sentinel, her head attuned to every animal, scent or sound, excitement rippling through her muscles, propelling her magnificent, prancing walk.

This is near the beginning of the bike trail, that is also along a railroad track. As we cross over to the next year, Singer waits for me to show her which way to go...
Notice how many bike tire tracks, even in this slippery weather! Madison is a big bike city.
This is where we get off the trail to walk along the golf course. I stopped to take a picture, and Singer turns around to see what I am doing...hence, the back end shot!
We stop to take a look around. Singer notices everything.
"I think I like this, Mom!" Her coat looks so pretty against the rusty colored pine needles.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


It is awesome to behold a new generation, whether it's a human baby or dog. In my case, the dog is remarkably similar to its prior generation, which has this redeeming quality that is utterly amazing. When you miss someone, it's the little things that come to mind:  the look in their eye, the way they smiled, the way they smelled. Those things you know you will never experience again when the person or pet passes on. But can experience at least some of them again with a dog, I've found. I have witnessed it these last few days. Singer is not Saylor but she is so similar to a young Saylor that I fall in this reverie of thinking it is her, only healthy. And I'm several years younger again! In the backyard, Singer plays with a ball like a young prancing Saylor did so many years ago. I can almost feel my mouth drop a little as I watch her in the sun, knowing it's not her, yet feeling like it is. All my sorrow just melts away at those moments. I've been trying to think if this is a good thing, or bad thing. Is it truly redemptive? I don't know, but it feels very right to have Singer in my life right now. She is not quite Saylor, she doesn't do everything Saylor did, but there are enough things that burn away the corrosive sadness to let the warm light of love shine through again, and I relive those moments I shared with Saylor. I think this is a good thing.

Today, Singer met our neighbor dog, Pollyanna, who is a ten year old Springer Spaniel. Singer barked, but she stopped when I held her collar and told her no. Polly's owner, Nancy, urged us to let the dogs sniff noses across the fence, but I am being extra cautious with introductions, both with neighbor dogs and with Dakota. Who was it who said, "Prepare for the worst, expect the best." I am doing just that with Singer. I'll be out with her in the yard for awhile. She loved being loose in the yard, wagging her tail full speed while she watched shadows of birds flying, thinking they were small animals scurrying on the ground. She rushed the fence when she saw a bunny in the next yard, but stopped when I called her.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Introducing Another Walk Route

I took Singer on another walk that I routinely used, this one in my neighborhood. It runs about 25 minutes long, unless Saylor would tug to go a different way. She would get bored with the same routes sometimes, and then we would vary the walk. I wasn't too surprised to see Singer behave like Saylor used to when she was young--she tried to chase a squirrel up an old oak tree:
That is so "Irish setter" ! They all think they can climb big old trees and catch those squirrels! I just laughed when this happened and it brought back so many memories. She stopped when she saw another squirrel a little later in the walk and of course wanted to take off after it. But she is very responsive to my voice commands, and quickly abandoned the idea. She doesn't always sit or lie down when asked, though, so we will have to work on that. The next photo was when I stopped to get my camera out, she stopped too, and so this shot is when she was trying to turn around to see me:
I only got these two of her on our walk today because I was handling her poop bag and a camera. But she enjoyed herself and I loved seeing how similar she is to my young Saylor. We saw a few dogs on this walk and she seems less wary of them. Also, I took her to the vet's today, and she was so good. She was very calm, except she is so nosy and wanted to sniff all the food bags on the shelf and of course pushed off the small items on the floor. A little kid watched her and laughed as I tried to put them back on the shelf. Outside, there is a hair salon right next to the clinic and a hair stylist came rushing out without his coat, "What kind of dog is that? We all saw you walking by and thought what a beautiful dog!"  He apparently really wanted to know, so of course I told him.  

I put Singer in her crate when we got home because I had to run out to buy some groceries. She doesn't like to be crated, but that is what we will have to do until I'm absolutely sure there will be no chasing Dakota while we're not home. She has been very good around Dakota, who has a perennial annoyed look on his face when he sees her. He's probably thinking, "I thought we were done with bringing up a setter..." But overall, I'm very pleased with how the two of them are getting along. Singer knows Dakota is a pet and part of the family, like she is. She wants to be part of the family, I can tell, which is probably why she hates the crate. She is currently snoozing on the couch, her favorite place in the house so far because she can look out the bay window into the backyard, where bunnies sometimes dare to enter. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Her First Full Day in Madison

Singer literally prances as she walks. Her head swivels around, looking at her new environment, and her paws curl cutely as she swiftly walks along. We headed to Garner Park this morning, a favorite walk I used to take with Saylor. There is a good mix of prairie, pine trees and woods, and hills in this park that borders a busy street called Mineral Point. Cars whiz up a hill along the edge where a sidewalk meanders through tall oak trees. Check out the picture called Road to the Park:
In the park itself, there is a beautiful prairie that is maintained by the city. I've seen deer there, and there is the usual wildlife scattered throughout. There is a small copse of pine trees right in the middle of the prairie--very pretty:
Singer stood at the ridge of a hill and looked around, soaking in all that she could sense through her eyes, ears and of course her nose. I think she liked what she saw.

Monday, December 26, 2011

She's Here! Singer is Home

Above:  Singer in the car, coming home.
Below: Nate and Saylor, when she was the same age as Singer is now.
 Singer and Nate Dec. 26, 2011
 Jeff and Singer, in the kitchen

 See how calm the animals are? Dakota on my lap, Singer lying near us.
As you can tell from the pictures, Singer is home. She was very frightened at first, and getting into the car was an ordeal for her. She shivered the whole way home. Kate had to coax her in and we took a long time to coax her out. She knows the word, "House" because she ran up to the door when I asked her if she wanted to go inside the house. She took a quick tour of the house, then we went and showed her the crate in the basement and offered her water. She went into the crate, so we decided to leave her there for a while. Dakota came downstairs, Singer's ears went up and she watched as he sauntered near her. Dakota was unimpressed and decided to go back upstairs. Singer watched both Nate and Jeff a bit warily, so she seems to be a bit afraid of men. We all decided to give her a short walk around the block, since the weather is so nice, around 40 degrees and sunny. She perked right up, started sniffing the ground and looking around. She has a very springy walk, very energetic. She reminds me of Saylor when she was quite young, about a year old. She enjoyed seeing the squirrels and sniffing the ground as she walked along, and seemed to relax more. She saw a Golden Retriever down the street, Ally, who can be cantankerous at times, so we decided to wait to let her and her owner, a retired gym teacher who is a neighbor of ours, pass. Singer watched warily. She tends to be very submissive around Nate, especially, but she quickly responds to his warmth and tenderness. Already, she seems to know that this is her home. She is very smart, I can tell. She also loves kisses on her head, and will lick your face when you kiss her. I think I'm in love.

Tonight, she will sleep in Saylor's old bed right next to my side, a leash over the bedpost just in case she decides she wants to find Dakota. But everything is progressing really well, and we are very happy to have her. More tomorrow.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dakota is Doing Okay -- For Now

The new vet checked out Dakota, listened to his slight wheezing sounds with his stethoscope, and looked at me with a quizzical look on his face. "You heard those sounds just with your ear?" I told him I bent down close to listen. But still, they were pretty hard to hear, he said. I blushed as I realized how neurotic he thought I was. But remember, we had just lost Saylor not too long ago, I wanted to remind him but didn't. What had I missed with her last illness?

We decided not to treat Dakota's asthma. Instead we discussed giving him a trial of Prozak to help him with the transition of bringing Singer into our home. He assured me that it couldn't hurt. So we will try it with him for a month or two, then taper him off of it. "It should give him more confidence," the vet noted. And perhaps he will need it to deal with an unfamiliar dog in the house who just may decide that he's a squirrel. I don't want him cowering under the couch all day.

Ambivalence came back with a vengeance last night around two in the morning. I looked out to see snow falling, and remembered how much Saylor loved the snow. She loved licking it off the sidewalk on our walks. She loved prancing in the snow in our backyard. The moonlight casts a greyish blue light on newly fallen snow that is so ethereal. I couldn't help but think of her and wish she was here. She is my angel dog.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Does Age at Adoption Make a Difference?

In reviewing my earlier post, I was struck how different it feels to adopt an older dog than a puppy. I have been thinking about the similarities between human and dog adoptions and wonder how far the analogy can be taken. When we decided to adopt Saylor as a nine-week old puppy, we were all pretty excited. We didn't worry how she would fit in with the family (e.g., Dakota) and we didn't second-guess all of our choices. We went crazy buying puppy toys and equipment and never thought about anything negative. Just positive joy. And true to our feelings, what followed was pure joy, for the most part. I'll skip the puppy trials.

But now, I am second-guessing everything we do in preparation for Singer. She is, after all, an adult dog, with her preferences set. I even hesitated to buy her a toy, wondering if a typical squeaky toy would be too "juvenile" for her tastes...I laugh even as I write this. Neurotic, I guess.

I am taking Dakota to our new vet today to check him out. Since kittenhood, he's suffered from mild asthma, slight wheezing, but nothing more serious. I want to be sure he's feeling fine when Singer comes, but I also realize that this is in keeping with my more neurotic feelings this time around. I have doubts, and want every thing to be okay, so I am bringing Dakota to the vet's, just to make sure. I wonder if adoptive parents of older children feel the same way? Do they doubt their decisions more than parents of newborns?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Waiting to Adopt Our New Dog

Our beloved Irish setter, Saylor April Song, died on Sunday, December 4, 2011 after a short illness with pneumonia and newly diagnosed diabetes. She was eight years old--too young to leave us so soon. When our breeder heard of our loss, she offered to give us a four year old female, related to Saylor through their paternal side. She is Singer, a Canadian champion, who needed a new home because she doesn't fit in with the breeding program. We accepted, ambivalently at first (no one can replace Saylor) but now are looking forward to receiving her the day after Christmas.

We have a cat, Dakota, who is used to a rollicking Irish setter. He helped Saylor to grow up and now is wondering where she is. He's been nervous and clingy these past few days. He's twelve years old, and I think he knows on some level that Saylor has died. We were concerned when we heard that Singer has never been around cats, but I believe she can be trained to behave. We hope Singer will help to heal Dakota's loss, too. I believe he misses her as well.

I am preparing our home just like I imagine an adoptive parent would while waiting for their new child to arrive. I wonder, what is she like? How is she like Saylor? How is she different? I have washed all of Saylor's bedding, since she had pneumonia, and who knows where she picked it up, (could've been at the vet's, the only place that seems possible). So Singer will have fresh clean bedding. I bought her a new toy, a dolphin that has a quieter sound created from crushed plastic bottles, and is made of durable wool. I have her food and treats, and have signed us up for a training class in January. A lot of my equipment is still usable from Saylor, which saves us a lot of money. This is good, considering Saylor's last vet bill.

I long to look into Singer's eyes and ponder her temperament. My breeder says she is sweet and loves to cuddle, which is generally true with all Irish setters, I believe. I look forward to learning about her nuances that make her unique, her special preferences, gifts and talents. Like human babies, they are all unique and special. Even their scent. I loved to smell Saylor's warm soft head and feel her rough paws while looking into her brown eyes, so full of love and contentment. I know I will find something similar in Singer's eyes.