Thursday, October 24, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Sadie

Princess Sadie in her prime
10/23/13 Betty Kaiser's Chatterbox
“Dogs are not our whole life 
but they make our life whole.”
Roger Caras

It is hard to believe that our beloved Sadie is gone. It seems like just yesterday that my husband and I adopted a little red-haired, four-footed bundle of joy and brought her home to live with our mixed pack of cats, dogs, wildlife and people.

Sadie was one of only two pups in her litter and her owners were very protective of her future. First, we had to pass a telephone questionnaire: Where did we live? How many people were in the home? Were there other animals? Would someone be home during the day to keep her company? Would she be an inside or outside dog? Was our property fenced? It was quite an interrogation!

After the telephone test we were given the family’s address in Portland and allowed to visit the puppies in person. We were on our best behavior. After all, we were being judged for parental suitability. We met the canine birth parents, played with the puppies and were instructed in the care and feeding of Mini-Dachshunds by the family’s two teenage sons.

We promised to love, honor and cherish her. More instructions were given. Finally, we were accepted. The big question was whether or not this little girl would accept us. Fortunately, as we started the long drive home she quickly settled down. I covered her with a blanket as she nestled in my arms and immediately climbed into our hearts.

At home our tiny bundle was checked out and accepted by our resident German Shepherd. Lady would become her BFF (Best Friend Forever). Thus the bonding of the pack began and an indescribably wonderful 14-year relationship of love, joy and companionship was established.
It was one of mutual co-dependence. We loved her. She loved us. We took care of her. She took care of us. She was our buddy. Our best friend. Our comforter. Our joy. Just watching her happily bound out into the meadow, barking and wagging her tail made us happy.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. About 18-months ago Sadie slowed down dramatically after a back injury. Sammy, her 5-year old buddy, would come bounding into the house and bark for her to come outside and play. She wasn’t interested. Instead, she was content to settle down indoors and watch him from a fluffy cushion overlooking the deck and meadow.

As the year progressed I realized she was showing her age. Her once shiny red coat was now a dusty brown and her muzzle was gray. Her vision was cloudy and hearing diminished. In a few short weeks she was completely deaf. To get her attention we had to touch her on the back and then use sign language to communicate commands.

With her loss of hearing came some behavioral changes-especially a separation anxiety. She developed a particularly annoying habit of whining or shrilly barking when she wanted attention. She would sharply (and constantly) yip to come in or go out of the house. Most days she would tremble with frustration as she peered outside.

This summer her hindquarters quit cooperating with her forepaws. Going up and down stairs was trial and error. If the stairs were narrow and steep she would not attempt them. Even outside, where the steps were wide and broad she hesitated. Casual, carefree running and jumping stopped and her breathing became labored.

She was being treated for a mysterious allergy that caused violent sneezing. Then there was a diagnosis of bronchitis. Finally, late one Sunday evening after she had been coughing and sneezing uncontrollably all day, we took her to the Veterinary ER in Springfield. At midnight we had a new diagnosis of sinus infection caused by a possible nasal blockage. We went home with new medications, heavy hearts and a very sick dog.

Days went by and she didn’t get better. A specialist was consulted and it was decided that our precious pup had an inoperable nasal tumor. A specially compounded medication had a fifty-percent chance of buying her some time. Question: Time for what? It seemed that it would only delay her inevitable death. What were we to do?

The next morning Sadie was clearly suffering. She and I snuggled on her favorite chair but she didn’t want to be touched or petted. She couldn’t breath but she could talk. And talk she did. She looked me in the eyes and yipped and yelped and gasped. It seemed to me that she was repeatedly saying, “Help me!”

I gave her a sedative to calm her down and prayed. We have had to have other dogs euthanized and it’s never easy to “play God.” So I asked, “Would it be in her best interest to extend her life or end it?

One by one, the answers to that question fell into place. Sadie was 14 years old. She had a terminal illness. This illness (tumor, unable to breathe, constant coughing spasms) could not be significantly alleviated by medication. She wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Treatment would only maintain a poor quality of life. She had lost all joy in being a dog. There was no gain in medication. Only pain.

On Friday, Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m. Sadie crossed over to that place where Lady, her BFF, and the rest of our pack were waiting. As she left this world and our tears fell, I thought my heart would break. We had promised to love, honor and cherish her. She did all that and more for us. Now she was gone from our lives but lives forever in our hearts—along all the other pets that have made us better people.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Step by step brings hope for homeless

10/9/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s 7 a.m. and my clock radio is spilling out the morning news.  As I snuggle down under my warm blankets for a little more sleep my mind starts to wake up as I take in what has happened overnight.
Inevitably, the news is bad.

Recently, a boat packed with African immigrants sank off the coast of Italy. In New York, arrests are being made after dozens of motorcyclists swarmed an SUV (some injured in the process), pulled the driver from his vehicle and beat him. In Myanmar, men armed with machetes to kill and destroy, continue to attack villages. The inhabitants of planet earth are literally taking a beating.

As I process this news, I don’t think I’m alone in asking, “What is our world coming to?” Nor am I the only one to look around helplessly and say, “I’m just one person. How can I help make things better?”

Well, today’s column is about one person who decided there was something she could do to help  (not harm) one segment of our population-the homeless. It’s a subject that Lane County residents are familiar with: How do we help the homeless help themselves?

I came across Anne Mahlum’s answer to the problem while searching the web for information on Eugene’s situation. The SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) camp protest was in full steam. The subject was so complex that the more I read, the more confused I became. “There are no solutions,” I thought.

Mahlum would disagree. She is an attractive, young, blond woman who took up running to save her sanity. Her father was an alcoholic and running was her way of dealing with his alcoholism as it affected her. Running was therapy. “Running,” she says, “really is a metaphor for life. You just have to take it one step at a time.”

At 5 a.m. on most days of the week, Mahlum could be found running the dark streets of Philadelphia. A veteran marathoner, her route took her by a shelter for the homeless where the men would cheer her on. She would wave and pay them scant attention. But one day something changed.

She remembers thinking, “Why am I running past these guys? I’m moving my life forward every day and these guys are standing in the same spot.” On that day in 2007, ‘Back on my Feet,’ was born.

Mahlum contacted the shelter for permission; got donations of running gear and invited the shelter residents to join her three days a week on a mile long run. She no longer passed them by. She was including them in her life. Requirements were simple. They must live in an affiliated facility; be clean and sober for 30 days; attend an informational session and sign a commitment form.

Other runners in the community volunteered to run with and encourage the shelter residents. Along with the male and female shelter residents, the diverse group included doctors, janitors, and students. Their run between 5:30-6 a.m. begins in a circle with a request to say your name and something you like about yourself. One man smiles and offers, “I like getting my life back together.”

When they run, “You can’t tell who’s homeless and who’s not,” says Mahlum. “All you can tell is who’s the fastest. ‘’’

The informal runs eventually morphed into a program that has returned productive individuals to society. Mahlum says it’s simple. “We’re all looking for the same thing. We all want to be appreciated, loved and supported. People don’t want to be in shelters, they just don’t know how NOT to be there.”

‘Back on my Feet’ gives shelter residents shoes and gear but their running commitment includes community and social building opportunities. With their participation in multiple activities they earn access to job training partners, housing opportunities and $2500 in financial aid. It’s a success, Mahlum says, because runners are motivated, reliable, ambitious and responsible.

One of those motivated individuals is shown in a video. Kenny joined a running team in 2008. Until then he had been stuck in a shelter. He couldn’t get out. He says, “As I began to run, my mind became healthier. My body became healthier. And my decisions became healthier.” Today Kenny says it was like a marathon to get where he is but now he’s so happy. “Working consistently around the city (in landscaping) is a beautiful thing. Now I’ve got my own place. My own kitchen. My own shower. There’s nothing like your own.”

‘Back on my Feet’ now has 10 chapters to help in their homeless outreach. And because of a simple team running program, hundreds of homeless individuals have found meaning in life. They have found light at the end of a long tunnel. Yes, they now have jobs and housing but they have something more—hope and purpose

Anne Mahlum has won many awards for her work but she’s not impressed with herself. She’s impressed with the people she’s helping. “Put people in a positive environment,” she says, and it’s amazing what can happen. I’m not the one changing their lives. They’re doing it for themselves.”

Now, every morning when I wake up to the news, I think of Anne Mahlum and our community of volunteers: our local Relief Nursery; Community Sharing; Parent Partnership; hospital and school volunteers and so many others who bring sunshine to darkness.

Yes, the world seems to be spinning out of control. But there is no end to hope. One person can certainly make a difference but working together we can change our world. Step by step by step.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.