Sunday, November 30, 2008


This picture was taken two days ago on the Trolley Trail, when Andy and I took the dogs out in the shoreline’s cold November air. It was the day after Thanksgiving, the early afternoon, and already the sun was low in the sky, maybe ninety minutes from touching the horizon.

The lighting was totally uncooperative for photos, so this was the only good shot I got of the day, as the low sun came between the slats of the railing and lit up Gus’s white face. He looks just fine in the photo, but there’s something that still not quite right in his health.

It seems very unlikely at this point that he has lymphoma, though the tests weren’t totally conclusive on that score. The fact that his lymph nodes calmed down once he was on antibiotics is really encouraging, but he’s just not himself, especially the last few days. In fact, his lethargy is almost as bad as it was when his nodes were swollen, and he has lumps, almost like bug-bites, in a collection on one hip and scattered a few other places. His eyes still don’t drain quite right, though they seem better. His right eye is still a little swollen, though, so his gaze is slightly lopsided.

He’s also sneezing like crazy if he runs around or sniffs at the ground outside. I’d write it off to a cold if it hadn’t been going on so long.

After ten days of antibiotics, he’s definitely better, but he’s not cured, so we’ll definitely be back at the vet again this week so we can iron this out. It’s just so frustrating that he can’t tell us if his joints ache or if his throat hurts. He can’t tell us if he’s only acting tired because he’s stuffed up or headachy.

He still perked up when I left the house today: he stood by the door and stared at me, which is his normal way of demanding to come along once he’s seen me put shoes on or heard me grab my keys. He’s still eating fairly normally and better than he was a week ago. I’m probably just getting worked up over something fairly minor. Ah well...such is the fate of a dog dad.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chasing Light

As the days grow shorter and shorter, it gets harder and harder to get anywhere with the dogs between work and sundown. Fortunately, the early hours of the school day mean I've had enough time until now to grab those few sundown minutes of cold light.

Today, though, was a lazy Sunday, so we had the prime daylight hours to spend together in the woods. No need to rush, though the dogs took every opportunity to spring up and down the trail. I, however, strolled and kept a look out for birds. I even spotted a couple of deer off across the meadow. They were downwind, so while the dogs missed them completely, they took off once they smelled us, too fast for me to swap to the telephoto.

Goofy Gus was more than willing to jump up on a log and pose. It was really nice to see him feeling more like his normal self, since he’s been sick. A couple of weeks ago, not too long after his sixth birthday, he started looking lethargic and lacking appetite. His eyes were a little weepy, as if his tear ducts weren’t clearing them, and, scariest of all, the lymph nodes in his neck swelled up.

I took him to the vet the Friday before last, and she was very concerned about the lymph swelling. She was even more concerned to find that other lymph sites were also moderately swollen. She took needle aspirates (tiny bits of tissue pulled out by a needle) from two lymph sites and sent them out to the lab, along with a blood sample.

She wanted to test for canine lymphosarcoma (lymphoma), which is unpleasantly common in Golden Retrievers. While it’s treatable with chemotherapy, the medicine usually only buys the dog one more good year with a high quality of life. Learning that Gus might be getting a countdown timer was obviously upsetting, and I’ll admit with some embarrassment that I was kind of a wreck about it.

After a stressful weekend last week, we received the results of Gus’s tests, and it looks like he’s in the clear. We’ve started him on antibiotics and the lymph swelling has come down dramatically. His appetite seems to be returning to normal (he’s never been much of an eater), and his energy level is getting back to where it belongs too.

So it was no trouble for him to hop up on the log and stay there for a minute while I snapped a few photos.

Comet remains unrelentingly, unremittingly Comet. It’s around forty degrees out on this walk, but the sprinting has left this goofy, sloppy dog covered in froth.

Gus is now a middle aged fellow, and though he’s as intense as ever about tennis balls and walks, he never had exactly the kind of silly exuberance I see in Comet. Gus has always seemed so purposeful, so driven, even when all he’s doing is running up and down a trail or a beach, smelling and rolling. He pursues joy like he’s under contract.

Comet, though, lacks either the attention span or the sense of gravitas, or both, and he does everything wholeheartedly, bouncing from smell to smell as the spirit takes him.

The only sign of life, aside from the deer and a heron far down the marsh, was this lone Chickadee. He called his little heart out in these reeds, but I didn’t hear any call back.

A lonely Chickadee is a little bit sad, but I hope he had some family up in the high trees.

I snapped this picture earlier in the week, on Thursday, a day we truly had to hurry to catch the last light of the day. We had started Gus on the antibiotics the night before, and he was already perking up, so I sped home from work just in time to catch the last hour of sun and the dusklight that’s bright enough for walking in the woods.

I’ve spent a long time these last six years teaching this good dog to stay reliably, and I realized that the time might come that he might not be able to obey that particular command.

The reprieve from the lymphoma diagnosis notwithstanding, I was reminded of what brief, bright creatures these dogs are and how powerless we are to call “stay” when we most mean it.

Come what may, though, I’ll always remember my sundog at his best.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shaking It Off

Barack Obama was elected president of the United States today. I don’t talk politics much on here, but I’ve also made no secret of my feelings for the Bush administration. I’ve been disappointed since the election that put him in office, and I’ve gone from unhappy to disgusted over the last eight years. But history will surely Bush-bash thoroughly over the next few centuries, so there’s no reason for me to do it here, no matter how badly I feel the need to shake him off.

Obama, however, has been my candidate since the primaries, and I’m overjoyed to see him elected.

The dogs and I took a trip down to New Jersey to visit my parents, and we all took a stroll around a lake near their house. The pictures are, obviously, out of order so far. At the end of the walk, the path crosses one of the town beaches, and despite the forty-degree weather, the dogs jumped right in. In this picture, before they jumped in, they certainly look plenty warm.

I borrowed my mom’s camera, a 12MP model one step up from my XTi, as well as her 100x400 lens. I got some great, crisp shots of them frolicking in the autumn woods. Echoes of Peter, Paul, and Mary there, but no mist today.

My dad threw a stick for them so I could stand at a better angle to catch some great action shots. The colors were just perfect, especially the turning leaves reflected on the water.

These photos also have a certain kind of Baywatch flair.

That’s Gus’s wake in the background, not a boat’s.

Gus, of course, will not be outdone in the swimming department. He almost looks like an aquatic animal sometimes. His eyes, as always, are locked on target.

Skilled hydrodynamics experts will, however, notice Comet’s wake ahead of Gus.

Speaking of aquatic mammals, I present Dolphin-Dog.

Satisfied-Dog: another species found on these shores.

After the lake, we went back to my parents’ house and I shot birds in the back yard with the 100x400. The lighting was great and the birds were cooperative, so the shots are pretty good.