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Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Final Four (Months of 2015)

I've been writing about 2015 in four-month chunks, so it's time to finish things off with a recap of September through December.

SEPTEMBER


I started off September by spending afternoons with Curly, the labradoodle puppy. His people were going to be gone all day, so I'd come around to feed him breakfast and play with him and take him out so that he wouldn't get too restless in his crate. He was going through his second naughty puppy phase (ages 7-9 months), so he was constantly, actively looking for trouble, especially the sort of trouble you could chew on! You couldn't take your eyes off of him for more than a moment! It was a considerable contrast to Mr. Gorgeous, who was then down to his final weeks of life. I went to visit him one afternoon in the middle of the month just to make sure I got to see him before he died and got to talk to his family about his impending passing. That was the same day that a woman backed into the side of my car in a parking lot, a simple low-speed fender bender that morphed into a nightmare when, after the fact, the person who hit my car accused me of hitting her! Despite being blatantly untrue (as the damage to our respective cars attested), it upset me to be accused of lying. If I had been to blame, I would have readily owned up to it. It was quite the learning experience. A few days later, I heard that Sandy passed away.

Curly the puppy, bouncy and lively and wanting to chew on everything!

Mr. Gorgeous.
You can see the blood on his hind foot from where he scraped open one of his nails while scuffing his paws because of his degenerative myelopathy. 

Goldie parted company with this life in mid-September.
You can read my tribute to her here.

Warm, sunny weather meant our garden continued to grow like crazy! Despite our vigilance, the occasional zucchini got away from us and grew into a monster. Here's a big one next to Abbey for comparison!

I took some nice photos of bees in September, like this tiny one about the size of a grain of rice...

...and these honey bees at Mr. Gorgeous' house, as well as...

....insects that mimic bees, such as this drone fly.

I observed a bald eagle observing me.

A nice photo of Abbey, who learned a number of hand signals that month.

And in the final days of September, I looked after Mr. Gorgeous for one last time and said goodbye.

He was gorgeous to the last.

One of the nights that I was there was when the full moon eclipse took place. This is what I wrote to my friends on that day:


I would have had a pretty great view of at least part of the eclipse if I'd made the effort, but I was putting that effort into Mr. Gorgeous And by "effort," I mean, "sitting on the couch in the TV room for a couple of hours and not going anywhere so he doesn't feel like he needs to get up and also to keep an eye on him to hopefully prevent him from having an accident in the house." Thanks to my efforts, Mr. Gorgeous got to spend three hours sleeping inside near me WITHOUT having an accident and now he's gone to bed. It may be years, but there will be another full moon eclipse. There will not be another Mr. Gorgeous.
My last photo of the one and only. You can read my tribute to him here.

And so both a month...

....and an era came to an end.

OCTOBER


A variety of dog-related happenings went on in October, including time with Curly (ending 10/4), Mr. Gorgeous' death (10/6), Abbey's 11th adopt-a-versary (10/12), a short overnight stay with Pipsqueak (10/13-10/15), and Abbey's first and last experience trying on fairy wings (10/30). I also marked my 6th anniversary of living with chronic migraines (10/19) and made an especially cute veggie witch for Halloween (10/31), but October of 2015 was the Month of the Filling.

Curly was still busy chewing!

I took Curly to play with Cutie! They had a blast together and I was so proud of how Cutie modified the intensity of her play to match Curly's size.

Abbey's 11th Gotcha Day portrait.

Pipsqueak!

While Abbey may like wearing shirts, she does NOT like wearing wings.

Every year, we put out a veggie witch for Halloween. It's been my job for some time now to do the decorating and this was one of my cuter efforts!

It had been a year and a half since I'd last been to the dentist because between the migraines and the allodynia and fatigue and bad weather and dog-sitting, I'd had to cancel and delay appointment after appointment. To my chagrin, my teeth had suffered during that time and I needed six fillings. It's been an ongoing source of discouragement that my health issues have been so hard on my teeth, but I'm lucking to have a very understanding dentist. An example:


Last night, my brain thought it would be amusing to torture me with both can't-fall-asleep AND can't-stay asleep insomnia. The result is that today I am exhausted and nauseated and my skin is burning and I am in no shape whatsoever to get three fillings this afternoon. So I called my dentist's office two hours before my appointment and said, "Hi, I have an appointment this afternoon but I'm not feeling well..." and the receptionist said, "Oh, is this Colleen?" You see, they know me there. They know I often have to cancel appointments with just a few hours' notice and they are not only accepting of this, but really care about my well-being and always treat me with understanding and compassion. Everyone at the dentist's office--from the receptionists to my hygienist to the dentist--know that I am doing the best I can. This means so much to me!



Trigeminal nerve branches.
I had three cavities on each side of my mouth, so we decided to do the three on the right first and the the three on the left one week later. This seemed like a decent plan, but it turned out to be overly ambitious. Dental work and migraines do not get along in general, and while fillings are not usually a big deal, the lower branches of my trigeminal nerve (the upper branch is in a perpetual state of inflammation, thanks to my migraines) got irritated and hypersensitive. I couldn't tolerate heat or cold (and not just food--going outside when the air was cool was a problem!) and chewing anything firmer than a soft piece of bread was painful. Worse yet, the weather started impacting the sites! Any of these irritating factors could trigger a deep, sharp ache, usually deep down in my jaw but sometimes encompassing much of my face, that lasted for hours. I went back to the dentist multiple times to get my bite adjusted and to discuss this pain, but there was not much to do except to wait to see if the nerves would calm down. They did, eventually, after two months, but during the first four weeks or so in particular, I was miserable and had to spend most of my time in bed because the pain was eating up all of my energy.

NOVEMBER


Thanks to the filling-induced nerve pain, November didn't start off very pleasantly. There was a bright spot, though. One day, while getting out of my car as he was passing by on a walk, Curly recognized me! And not only did he recognize me, he went bananas with excitement! I liked that he knew it was me even though I was completely out of context and it was very affirming to have him be so happy to see me, especially when I hadn't been feeling well. In other health news, I restarted physical therapy on my neck at long last and received an official fibromyalgia diagnosis. This wasn't a big shocker, just a confirmation of something I'd suspected for a while after it dawned on me that most people don't get weird aching and stiffness and pain that come sand goes without any actual injury. It has been a background issue for years, ever since it was triggered by tapering off a medication a decade ago. It was constant and agonizing back then, but fortunately, it's typically only a minor irritation now, though sometimes it makes it hard for me to sleep and when I don't sleep well, all of my health suffers. In other notes, I finally had my car examined by the insurance company after more than a month of arguing with the person who'd hit my car and their insurance immediately decided that they would accept my claim (and my insurance denied theirs) because the physical evidence backed up my story that I was not at fault. It was a relief to finally have that contentious issue resolved.

Abbey enjoys some late-fall sunshine.

Sable and Goldie were best friends.
I spent the third week of November in the company of Sable and friends. Sable, a border collie-black lab mix, was Goldie's best friend and next-door neighbor. She also lives with a Yorkie mix I'll call Scruffy and a calico cat, Beanie. Their owner used to be a set designer, so their house is incredibly cool, full of art and plants and whimsical details. The dogs are very friendly and a lot of fun, so despite my dental work still giving me pain, I enjoyed my time with them. I spent most of my hours there reading and snuggling with the dogs on the couch. I couldn't ask for a more pleasant way of passing the hours!

Sable and Scruffy.

Sable likes to demonstrate her affection by mashing her face against yours.

One of her many endearing traits is that she likes to sprawl upside-down on your lap.

We all spent a lot of time on the couch!

This ceramic dog's head knob on the cupboard containing the dog food is one of the house's many delightful details.

Sable can be a whirlwind of motion one minute...

...and sound asleep the next.

She and Scruffy are good friends who enjoy a bit of wrestling from time to time.

Scruffy is sweet, quiet, and rather timid. He needs a fair amount of reassurance from the people around him, but he's a formidable hunter when it comes to small animals.

Beanie regarded me with a great deal of suspicion. I do not believe I was able to pet her on this first stay.

After a quiet Thanksgiving with only my parents, I settled in for a long stay with Pipsqueak. There was only one major issue to mar this beginning: Abbey, in my absence, got up in the middle of the night, got into the trash, and had a severe case of wandering intestinal remorse all over the downstairs of our house. Prior to her experience with prednisone in February, Abbey had never once gotten into the trash, but she found it a fitting way to express her displeasure at my absence. Oh, Abbey!

Silly Miss Abbey.

The final days of November were notable for the freezing fog that created beautiful frost on every surface. We don't often have stretches of weather below freezing, so it was a cool opportunity to get some unusual photographs.



DECEMBER


Because Pipsqueak's family had never left her before and she's a sensitive little dog, we'd spent the better part of a year working up to the point where she was totally comfortable with me being there and her family being gone. All that hard work paid off: Pipsqueak adjusted to living with me without any apparent distress. She ate her meals without issue and took to sleeping under the covers with me. Pipsqueak's house is very calm and quiet, so it was a good place for continuing to recover from my fillings, though I missed seeing Abbey on a daily basis and she most certainly missed me. According to my parents, Abbey panted and paced and cried and barked and was constantly demanding to go outside and was not her usual mellow self at all. One day, my mother came home but couldn't find Abbey, but she could hear Abbey banging on something. She finally found Abbey in my closet. Abbey had managed to somehow squeeze in through a small opening, but then knocked the sliding doors off the track so she couldn't get back out again! She was very glad when I came home after two weeks away.

She may be tiny, but she's also mighty!

All snuggled up.

Pipsqueak and I spent most of our days in front of the fire.

Miss Abbey, happy now that I was home again.

December was notable for the record-breaking rain. It wasn't the usual Seattle drizzle, either. It poured and poured and poured, hour after hour. Pipsqueak was not a fan and refused to go out and I didn't blame her! Many of these rainstorms were accompanied by very low barometric pressure, which made me miserable. As a result, even when my facial nerves started to calm down around the third week of December, I continued to feel unwell. Also, I managed to really hurt my back while mailing out this year's c.creativity calendars. Not, as you might think, from packing or lifting, but by stumbling into a hole in the dark when walking out of the post office! I had a very hard time sitting and rising for several days and had to enlist help to move all of my things back home from Pipsqueak's.

It was my most successful year for calendars ever!

One bright spot was the fact for the first time in years, I was not dog-sitting for Christmas. This meant that I had more energy than usual and was better to enjoy the festivities. Also, I got jeggings. This may seem like a funny thing to be excited about, but I have had a terrible time wearing denim in recent years because the texture of the fabric triggers sensory overload for me. Therefore, dressing like a normal person (and not one in pajamas covered in dog hair) is usually stressful and exhausting. However, these jeggings are soft and stretchy enough that I can wear them without being overstimulated and are loose and stylish enough that I look like I'm wearing ordinary jeans.

Abbey posing (unhappily) by the Christmas tree.

Abbey gave me one more bit of trouble in December: I'd vowed, after our traumatic experience back in July (which I still haven't written about!) where she didn't recover properly from being sedaed, that I would not have her anesthetized unless absolutely necessary. I'd hoped it would be a long time before any such need should arise, but Abbey, being an old dog, decided to manufacture a new growth. A funny pinkish patch on her belly, it quadrupled in size within a matter of weeks. The vet didn't care for the feel of it, so off it came on the 30th, along with the large lipoma directly underneath it, just in case some cells had strayed from one to the other. It was a good thing we removed it, because it was a Level One mast cell tumor (but because it was removed completely, it shouldn't come back), and thankfully she suffered no ill effects whatsoever from the surgery. She was ready to walk herself out of the clinic and jump into the car under her own power to go home and didn't even seem to notice that she'd had surgery. As usual, I didn't need to put a cone on her because she left the stitches alone, though she did enjoy wearing the shirts I used to keep the stitches covered. The vet could tell that she hadn't licked them even once! I was proud of my girl! I was also very pleased that Abbey, now fully deaf, happily slept through the New Year's Eve fireworks without a single shake, pant, or whimper.

From surgery to sunbathing in a matter of hours!

That brings us to the end of 2015 and my attempt to write about it in four-month chunks, a practice I think I will have to abandon in 2016, seeing as it is already April and I have more interesting things to write about than just about what I've been doing. If you missed the earlier installments on 2015, you can find them here:


Even if I'm not able to write as much as I like, I do regularly share photos on my Facebook photography page.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Requiem for Mr. Gorgeous


I'm so sorry to have to report that on October 6th of 2015, the world became a less beautiful place. Mr. Gorgeous, my longtime collie friend, passed away.

His back legs were too weak for him
to stand for long periods of time.
It was time. While his degenerative myelopathy had progressed more slowly than is the case for most dogs, the inexorable degradation of his spinal cord had advanced to the point that he had only tenuous control over his bowels and his hind legs had become so weak that rising and standing and walking had become difficult. Despite having a hearty appetite, he was wasting away. Although his beautiful coat masked the severity of his thinness, he weighed only half of what he did in his prime. He really truly had become a shadow of his former self. He spent most of his time sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sometimes seemed a bit befuddled when awake. Laryngeal paralysis (which is fairly common in large, old dogs) had reduced his bark to a whispery exhalation and it often left him anxious and overheated. Thirteen and a half is old for any dog, but especially for a dog his size. He was deteriorating, slowly but steadily, and soon the day when he would not be able to get up at all was going to be at hand. His family had been talking with me about trying to make the decision to help him cross over and I think I will share what I wrote because I believe in what I said and it just might help someone else someday.


My heart goes out to you as you face this distressing decision. I appreciate how hard it is because while he is very, very tired, in some respects he seems much as he ever was, though in truth, as I've gone back through all my photos of him in recents weeks, I'm reminded that he really has lost tremendous ground and no longer is doing many of the things he enjoyed. I've been thinking a lot of my other clients who passed away and will mention Sweetheart's story since it may help you come to terms with your decision. Sweetheart's family moved six months before she died, but I knew, that last time I saw her, that she would not live much longer. Her spirit was still so very bright, her personality still so very strong, but her body was exhausted. In the end, she got a terrible respiratory infection that she couldn't fight off. Her last days were spent in the hospital and they ended up having to put her down on Christmas Day. Most of us will die that way--sick and in the hospital. But you have a chance to let Mr. Gorgeous go when he isn't sick and suffering. (Though I suspect, given how much weight he's lost, he is, somewhere in his core, already sick, or, at the very least, failing.) A beloved pet's agony can make it easy for us to make the decision to end their suffering, but with Mr. Gorgeous, you have the chance to spare him that. You can give him the best day ever: all the grilled cheese and baloney sandwiches he wants, a trip to his favorite park, and then you help him shuffle off this mortal coil so that he may slumber that eternal sleep, as Shakespeare put it. Make no mistake, it chokes me up to write about it. And there is no way out of the grief that will follow. I lay down on the floor with him before I left the other night and told him everything I wanted him to know and sang him my favorite lullaby. Being Mr. Gorgeous, he wasn't all that interested, so I also gave him some extra cheese. He was pretty stoked about the cheese. And then I came home and cried. I do not envy what you have ahead of you and you are very much in my thoughts.  
My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking." It is not really about the end of the harvest, but about death. I thought of it during my recent days with Mr. Gorgeous (the apples on your trees helped jog my memory). I'm sharing it in particular because of the lines "...there may be two or three/ Apples I didn't pick upon some bough./ But I am done with apple-picking now." We don't always have to pick every single apple for the harvest to be over. The frost has come, winter is nigh.

You could see, when he slept, how little of him
 remained and how close he was to death.
I took care of him one last time, nearly six years after he became my first dog client, a week before he died. We ambled around together and he went so far as to follow me all the way up to the top of his long yard each day as I photographed things. In the evenings, after making sure he'd pooped, we'd spend some time down in the TV room, just as we always had, though now I left the door open for him for a steady flow of cool air to keep him comfortable and a ready exit in case he had to hustle out in a hurry to answer nature's call. I also got some dry shampoo for dogs and spent a couple of days working it through his coat so he would look and smell his best at the end. He was far too frail to bathe and he'd become less and less tolerant of brushing as his skin grew more sensitive. The last thing I did for the Ancient Kitty was to give him a cornstarch bath after he'd lost the ability to clean himself and I remembered how good it made him feel to be clean and for me to be able to preform that service for him. Mr. Gorgeous' coat was one of his defining features, so I liked the idea that I could help him be at his most beautiful. I believe in death and dying well, so I felt it was an honor to care for him during his final days. I made sure I knew what his family wanted for him in the event that his death came before it was scheduled and was glad, not horrified, that they prepared his grave before they went, just in case. (Lest you judge them unfeeling for leaving, I will mention that it was a parent's death that forced them to go out of town.) I must admit, there were moments went it felt a little awkward because knowing that his passing was imminent forced me to confront how alive he was. "I hope you don't mind, buddy," I said to him as we sat together in the grass, "that I've been going around telling people it's time for you die." Honestly, though, I was truly glad to do it, and it gave me a chance to do what I needed to do for my goodbyes. I took some selfies with him, rather to his disgruntlement, and as I mentioned in the email above, that final evening, I got down on the floor with him and told him everything I wanted him to know, including that if the saying, "Heaven is the place where every dog you've ever loved comes to greet you," is true, I expected him to be in that number. My heart full, I fed Mr. Gorgeous some final pieces of cheese. His back legs slid out from under him while he was eating his cheese and he ended up on his rump, looking pathetic and confused, and after I walked out, I realized I couldn't stand for that to be my final view of him, so I went back and peeked through the window and saw him up and walking around and felt better. Then I went home and cried.

He was still so gorgeous. It seemed impossible that such a perfect thing might die.

His family informed me that he was eagerly eating cheese--his favorite thing--when the end came. He looked beautiful even in death and is buried beneath the huge old cedar tree next to house, the place where, in life, he surveyed his kingdom and whose branches he was perpetually collecting in his fur. I like knowing where he is and knowing, too, that as long as the tree stands, as it has for hundreds of years and may for many hundreds more, his bones shall mingle with its roots and he will be sheltered there long after everyone who knew him is gone.

Mr. Gorgeous lies for eternity in this very spot where he so often watched over his world.

He spent many hours under the cedar collecting its fallen branches in his fur.

From the base of the tree, he had a clear view of the upper reaches of his kingdom.

He's there now, beside the rock below the huge cedar at the bottom of the drive.

Mr. Gorgeous at 3 months.
But enough about Mr. Gorgeous' death! It's time to talk about the life of this singular and magnificent beast. I would sometimes get asked, while walking him, "Is he a show dog?" and despite his great beauty, Mr. Gorgeous had very humble beginnings. He was part of a puppy mill bust involving a couple who were breeding collies in terrible conditions, too many dogs packed in filthy pens. Mr. Gorgeous was lucky: he was just a pup, roughly four weeks old and still nursing, when the kennel was disbanded and the dogs seized. He and his mother and litter went to a foster home while the sentence for puppy mill owners was worked out; no dogs could be adopted out until the final terms were in place. Thus, Mr. Gorgeous was approximately three months old when his forever family came to look at the pup that his foster family called "Tank." Mr. Gorgeous was larger than your average collie and I thought perhaps the puppy mill was breeding them to unusually big and attractive (with perhaps smaller-than-average smarts), but apparently he was the big one in his litter--and perhaps a bit of a bruiser, too! So in July of 2002, little Mr. Gorgeous, sporting a baby-sized ruff and the out-of-proportion body parts common to all adolescents, was adopted by his forever family.

The newly-adopted Mr. Gorgeous with "his" kids.

I didn't come into Mr. Gorgeous' life until December of 2009. I understand that he had a fair amount of pep and was even known to jump around a bit when he was younger, but by the time I knew him, the wild days of his youth were over and he had entered a more sedate stage of middle age that tended to involve all four paws on the ground--even his counter-surfing days were largely behind him. He still got up on the furniture now and then in those first years, though!

This is the first photo I took of
Mr. Gorgeous--the first of thousands!

A naughty Mr. Gorgeous, interrupted while napping on the couch.

One time in the first days of our acquaintance, I couldn't find Mr. G. anywhere. At long last I discovered him in this chair in the music room. I suppose he liked being part of a symphony of browns.

So pretty.
Mr. Gorgeous is a pseudonym I picked for this blog, but it was a name that fitted him perfectly. He was quite simply one of the handsomest dogs I've ever seen. Properly bred collies are usually 22"-26" inches at the shoulder and 50-75 pounds, so at roughly 27" and 80 pounds in his prime, Mr. Gorgeous was bigger than most members of his breed and his magnificent coat was second to none. His fully pricked ears and swinging gait made him look graceful and alert and his somewhat distant gaze gave him a regal air. Alas! Few and far between were the thoughts that passed through Mr. G.'s elegant noggin and I'm afraid most of those thoughts were directed toward trifling concerns such as rabbits and baloney and wanting to pee on things. Rough collies are supposed to be extremely intelligent and deeply sensitive; Mr. Gorgeous was...not. His range of expressions and emotions were rather on the narrow end--he was the sort of dog who looks out upon the world and says, "Huh." To be fair, he may have been smarter and more emotional than he let on, but if so, he was quite unconcerned about letting those thoughts and feelings be known. His main mode of expressing affectionate was to plod around after whoever he liked and while I pride myself on being able to read dogs well, most of Mr. Gorgeous' opinions not related to food (all of them expressed by looking at me fixedly with his mouth open) remained inscrutable to me. He was not the sort of dog who wagged his tail (Mr. Gorgeous' typical greeting when you came in the house was to lift his head as if to say, "Oh, hey. It's you," and then return to his nap) and if you wanted him to save you if you fell in a well, you'd better hope there were bunch of squirrels and cats and rabbits down there with you!

Mr. Gorgeous looks out over the world and thinks, "Huh."

He was rather detached about matters.

Was he indifferent? Or merely inexpressive?

Or perhaps he was simply content.

There's no need, of course, for every dog to be a genius. 

Whatever his IQ might have been, he had the brainpower to oversee his territory...

....take advantage of opportunities when he felt so inclined...

...and follow the humans to and fro should he be interested in doing so.

He was so beautiful that all he had to do was exist and that was enough.

Who is the fairest of them all?
So maybe Mr. Gorgeous was more fluff than brains, but what magnificent fluff it was! (A little girl once asked in an awestruck voice, "Is that a lion?") Wherever he went, Mr. Gorgeous turned heads. I liked taking him for walks along the busy waterfront parks near his home and I loved hearing the whispers of amazement that preceded his progress and followed in his wake. I would often stop and ask people (who would invariably query, "Is that a Lassie-dog?") if they wished to pet him, which they always did, and Mr. Gorgeous, while not especially gregarious, had an amiable nature and was not above being admired. He greeted his fans politely, would deign to be petted for a few minutes, and then he'd move on. While he was not nearly as excited about people as most dogs are, he did like children. He would patiently submit to being petted by toddlers and I remember fondly the time when we encountered a family at a park with two kids who were very nearly the same age as his kids--both off at college by that point--were when they adopted him. He put his ears in happy position and simply could not get enough of their attention. It was probably the most animated I ever saw him while interacting with people!

Handsome.

Stunning.

Striking.

Arresting.

Beautiful.

Gorgeous.

In addition to being so good-looking, Mr. Gorgeous also had this marvelous floating trot. If you could persuaded him to stop marking things while on a walk (no small task), he would shift into a different gear and this trot would emerge, loose and swinging, a majestic gait for a majestic dog! He had a variety of speeds, including the slow plod he used when meandering around the grounds and the sudden dive he'd make toward an entrancing scent while on a walk. Up until arthritis and then the degenerative myelopathy slowed him down, he could run, too. There was the bounding "get back here, you rabbit!" sprint that he used when chasing wildlife, but the best run was the one he'd do alongside your car when you drove in. I loved when I came to the house and he was waiting at the gate at the top of the long drive. He would run down the length of it beside your car, an activity suffused with joy. I always intended to get a video of him doing this and I always forgot, or it was inconvenient, and then it was too late.


An example of Mr. Gorgeous' lovely trot.

Waiting at the gate at the top of the drive, ready to run the length of it with whoever will be driving in. I wish I had a video to go with this photo.

Happy to see me!
Mr. G. and I were good friends. He was always at least moderately pleased to see me when I showed up and definitely liked that I allowed him to push his way through my legs first in one direction and then another, a habit that his owners tried to discourage but that I must confess I enjoyed. We played together, too; indeed, I'd forgotten how playful he was in those early years until I went back through my photos to choose ones for this post. His favorite game was a sort of slow-motion keep-away: I'd throw a toy for him to fetch, he'd retrieve it, but before it could be thrown again, I'd first have to chase him as he jogged leisurely away from me, head held high. He thought it was particularly fun when I switched directions on him! I was always happy to pet him, too. He liked being scratched under the chin, which would make him stretch his neck out and groan, and he especially loved having the inside of his ear rubbed with a knuckle, prompting deep sighs and contented moaning. He would express his affection by loyally loitering in my vicinity, trailing after me as I roamed around his massive yard with my camera, waiting at the bottom of the stairs when I went up or outside the guesthouse when I went in, and settling with a thump by my chair when I was at the kitchen table or using the computer at the desk.

Mr. Gorgeous pushes himself forward though my legs and says hi...

...and then pauses on the way back to get a good rump scratching.

A clip of Mr. Gorgeous at play.

Playing keep-away with his kitty.

While he was not obsessed with it in the way many dogs are, Mr. Gorgeous occasionally would like to play a game of fetch.

Fluff in motion!

Mr. Gorgeous and a toy against a green backdrop.

He loved a good ear rubbing.

I was very fond of his ears.

While he wasn't very animated in expressing his affections, he did like to stay nearby.
Here he is waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs...

...outside the guest house...

....beside the kitchen table...

...and just behind the computer chair.

When I spoke to him, I seldom called Mr. Gorgeous by his real name; to me, he was Buddy. Occasionally that was shortened to "Bud," especially if I was trying to get him to stand still while I was brushing him, and he was also "Funny Buddy," "Fluffy Buddy," or "Big Fluffy."

"Watcha doin', Buddy?"


"Who's my Fluffy Buddy?!"


"Hey, Bud, get back here, you still have cedar branches in your fur!"


"How's it going, Big Fluffy?"

We were good friends, he and I.

Mr. G. was polite but reserved with most dogs.
Mr. Gorgeous was not especially interested in other dogs, but got along with them well enough. More often than not, other dogs were scared of him because of his size. Little did they know that he was a total pushover! One time we encountered a tiny longhaired chihuahua whose coloring, incidentally, was very similar to Mr. G.'s. This little scrap of fluff took one look at the giant mountain of fluff and let out a shrill series of "Don't even think about it!" barks, startling and scaring poor Mr. Gorgeous, who shied away fearfully. That little dog, smaller than Mr. Gorgeous' head, was more than a match for him! Because he was largely indifferent and rather submissive to other dogs, Mr. Gorgeous was a good match for my Abbey, who does better with large, mellow, male dogs. I took them on a few walks together over the years. His dispassionate response also made it possible to host another dog in his house, like the time when a family emergency meant that I needed to double up with him and Goldie. Every now and then, though, a dog would come along that matched whatever it was that he required in a play partner (if he saw other dogs playing, Mr. Gorgeous would often let out a series of excited, high-pitched barks, but if you let him loose, often as not he would just try to hump them) and they would run and run and it was a beautiful thing.

"Beauty and the Beast" is what my mother calls this photo of Abbey and Mr. Gorgeous!

Mr. Gorgeous was highly tolerant of, if not overly interested in, other dogs, including guests in his house like Goldie.

He seldom played, but when he did, it was a beautiful thing!

Looking rather silly while
chomping on a rawhide stick.
It may be hard to believe, but Mr. Gorgeous was capable of looking ridiculous. This was especially true when he'd had his annual shaving. Underneath all that fur was a surprisingly narrow dog! When the fur was long, it was a magnet for debris of all kinds. In addition to picking things up laying on them, he also loved to scratch his face in the bushes and get sticks and leaves in his coat that way. I did not witness it myself, but the photo his owners sent me of Mr. Gorgeous sporting a huge branch in his fur made me laugh! It also cracked me up that after living with wood floors all his life, Mr. Gorgeous still worked hard every day to fluff them up. In fact, he would ignore a perfectly good dog bed in favor of the wood floor that remained so stubbornly flat and hard despite his best efforts!

A very narrow dog dwelled beneath the voluminous coat.

When long, it picked up all kinds of debris...

...including, on one occasion, this large branch!

His habit of rubbing his face in all the bushes didn't help.

Mr. Gorgeous' thick coat wasn't quite as elegant-looking from rear.

I like how he appeared to float in the grass on the raft of his fur.

Sound asleep on his very favorite piece of hard, flat floor. In all those years, it never fluffed once.

He did love this bed, at least!

Mr. Gorgeous attempts to fluff the floor. 
This clip was shot toward the very end, when he didn't have much feeling in his hind legs, so he's rather tottery.

Mr. G. looks really happy
in a lot of these photos,
but the truth be told, he's
just wandering around
with his mouth open.
Other idiosyncrasies included his habit of laying down to drink his water; his tendency, when you opened a door that he was staring through to let him in or out, to suddenly decide that he needed to think it over; the way he would bark wildly if outside after dark, making in necessary to keep him in the house, unless he was on leash, after the sun went down; and the way he would stare accusingly at you if his meal did not meet his standards (he liked a little extra something, be it cheese or meat or broth, on it, though what he accepted as a proper offering would change). For a dog so focused on food, he was actually quite picky and refused many dog treats. If he did eat them, it was usually after dropping them on the floor and thinking over whether or not he was interested. For some reason, he found me irresistible when I used a broom, so whenever I swept, Mr. Gorgeous inevitably tried to hump me, which was not something he did at any other time. One of his more lamentable talents was his uncanny ability, despite my best efforts, to drop the mushiest possible poop in the hardest possible place to clean it up. This often meant rough concrete or, his speciality, someone's ornamental grasses. He was also given to wandering and while it never happened when I was taking care of him, if he could escape his yard, he would. Don't worry, his owners told me, if he gets out, he'll go to the park.

He preferred to drink his water, no matter what kind of bowl it was in, while laying down.

"I wanted out until you opened the door, but now I have to rethink it."

Barking his fool head off.

Mr. Gorgeous liked these green-and-white dental chews (seen by his front paw), but only after they'd been left sitting on the floor for a while. One time, I found one stuck in his fur!

He liked to face backward while riding in the car.

Because he might wander--or swim!--off, I usually left him behind when I went down to photograph things in the unfenced lower reaches of the yard.

It's where he wanted to be most of all.
Oh, the park! It was his favorite place. While it was a little more than a quarter mile away if you walked there via the streets, it was less 500 feet away as the collie swims, should Mr. Gorgeous find himself unsupervised in the lower yard by the lake. However he could get there, Mr. Gorgeous wanted to go and quite a few times when I went there with him on a sanctioned visit, he was recognized by other regular park goers who had brought him home at one time or another when he'd wandered off! It's a very nice park, with docks surrounding a swimming area and a separate little bit of beach where a dog might sniff and pee on things and some stretches of grass, including a space where the locals often let their dogs off leash. There were always people to visit (the highlight of those many interactions that he and I had there has to be the time when three tipsy Russians made a great fuss over him, taking his photo and offering him booze and regaling me with the tale of how they'd recently met a couple who were traveling with a miniature donkey that rode with them in the cab of their truck--Mr. Gorgeous was second only to that donkey in their minds as far as amazing animals they had seen and the only time I saw Mr. Gorgeous happier among strangers was when he was petted by that particular young family I mentioned earlier in this post) and dogs to greet and plants to sniff and waters to test and things to pee on (he was an inveterate marker). We often went there at sundown and after we'd made a circuit or two of the park, I'd sit on one of the benches on the dock and detangle his fur with my fingers.

Mr. Gorgeous' beloved park.

We often went there at sunset.

There was sand and grass and water, with so many things to sniff and dogs and people to meet!

One of my other favorite places to take him, on days when I wasn't feeling up to the steep hike up from the house on the way out and then again up from his preferred park on the way home, was a very flat park not too far down the road that was also popular with local dog owners. It was at that park that I met Lady and her owner and it was through Lady that I got to know Sweetheart and through Sweetheart I got to know Cutie! (I will add that Mr. Gorgeous' family recommended me to Goldie, who passed my name on to Pipsqueak, Little Buddy, and Sable & Co. In other words, Mr. G. is directly responsible for my entire dog-sitting business.) From Mr. Gorgeous' point of view, the best thing about that park were the light posts set every few yards along the path, a most excellent place for reading and sending pee-mail! I also liked that park because of the bald eagles that lived and nested in the trees and, more practically, because it was conveniently located adjacent to the lively waterfront downtown parks but the parking was free and always available. There was another nearby lakefront park with boardwalks over wetlands that I was very fond of and which Mr. Gorgeous enjoyed. Because he was good in the car and his equanimity could be relied upon, it was fun to take him to different parks all over the city to add variety to our walks.

A rainbow rises over our second-favorite park on a damp day.

A wintry sunset at the park. You can see the short light posts along the path that Mr. Gorgeous so enjoyed marking.

A collie in the grass at another one of our favorite parks near his home.

Mr. Gorgeous waits for me to finish photographing things from one of the viewing platforms. He always got lots of attention from passersby while waiting!

Up until Mr. Gorgeous could no longer get in the car, we drove all over the area to add variety to our walks.

I dipped these mosquito larvae out
of one of the ponds to photograph.
It must be said, I owe a tremendous artistic debt to Mr. Gorgeous. During our walks, I took thousands of photographs of flowers and trees and leaves and shrubs and sunsets. I took many thousands more in his yard. I photographed objects in his beautiful house. I photographed the weather in all seasons as it rolled across the lake. I photographed the dozens of bird species that visited his yard and documented all kinds of insects. And I took thousands of photographs of Mr. Gorgeous. I started with a point-and-shoot camera, upgraded to a DSLR with a macro lens, and then added a telephoto lens. I spent hours roaming his property with my camera in hand and Mr. Gorgeous in tow. I kept my camera handy at all times when I was in his house because you never knew when you might spot a flock of swans flying by or eagles circling overhead or a sunset that evolved into something ever more spectacular as each minute passed. It was not unusual for me to take several hundred photographs every day while I took care of him. My photo catalogue would be so much poorer had I never known him!

Photographs taken on May 6, 2013 at Mr. Gorgeous' house include tulips, leaves, chess pieces, flowers, water bubbles, and flowering tree branches. 

Photographs taken on September 27, 2015 include koi in one of the ponds, apples, grasses, zinnias, a dried artichoke flower, two kinds of hover flies, roses, a backlit leaf, a spider, berries, Mr. Gorgeous, and bees from his beehive.

Thank you, Mr. Gorgeous, for being so photogenic and living in such photogenic surroundings!

I also took some photos of the two of us together over the years.

On the dock at sunset in February of 2010.

In April of 2010.
He didn't actually like having his head so close to mine, but sometimes I made him so we could get a photo together.

February 2011.

February 2012.

August 2012. We'd just been swimming together in the lake!

In January of 2013 I captured our reflections.

May of 2013.
(There's a big gap in selfies after I replaced my point-and-shoot with a heavy DSLR that usually had a large lens on it.)

I took this one in May of 2015.
He was clearly in decline at that point and I was worried I might not see him again.

September 30th, 2015.
I knew this was our last day together, so I made him take selfies with me. It wasn't easy to do with my heavy DSLR in one hand and trying to wrangle an unenthusiastic Mr. Gorgeous with the other, but I got what I needed.

It's rather hard to bring this post to a close because it means bringing Mr. Gorgeous to a close. Nevertheless, we've come to the end.

This is the final photograph I took of Mr. Gorgeous.

I believe that death is an important part of life. I believe that it is okay for Mr. Gorgeous to have died. He'd had a long and absolutely wonderful life. Talk about a lucky dog: he didn't just have a yard, he had property! It was full of things to sniff and rabbits to chase and bushes to scratch his face in and trees to shelter under. He also got taken on daily walks, he could rely on getting tasty tidbits in his food, and he had comfortable dog beds even if he often preferred the floor. Despite being poorly bred, he was in robust good health until he reached old age and even his degenerative myelopathy progressed far more slowly than most cases do. We should all be so lucky to have a life such as Mr. Gorgeous lived! It's also okay to miss him, to be heartbroken, to find difficulty grasping that there is no more Mr. Gorgeous. It's easy to pretend that he's still at his house, leaving his regular trail of drool droplets, trying to drink out of toilets, barking at the geese to get off his lawn, dragging in more cedar branches, and attempting yet again to get the hardwood floor down in the TV room shaped to his liking.


But Mr. Gorgeous' sun has set. The harvest is over, winter is here. And yet, the spring will come. It will not be as beautiful without Mr. Gorgeous to ornament the season, but it will be spring nonetheless.

Me and my buddy.

And in that spring, and in the seasons and years that follow, I will continue to think of and miss my dear collie friend, the one and only Mr. Gorgeous.