Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Spreading Frisco's Ashes

Frisco died on August 24, and his ashes came back to me two weeks later.

The first couple of days after his death had been horrible, but by a couple of days later the pain of his loss had faded some. He still haunted my dreams for a few weeks, but those were almost pleasant experiences — like getting a few extra minutes with his company. It probably helps that I was moving to a new apartment the very week after his death, so my eye would no longer be drawn to the spots where he liked to nap, expecting to see him there.

But picking up his ashes, in the last place I had seen him alive, brought all the pain back full-strength.

The staff at the Austin Veterinary Hospital had known Frisco for only a couple of months, but (like everyone he met), they fell in love with him immediately. So it was a sad day for them, as well, when they received the small white box heavy with his remains. I thanked them once again for the wonderful care they had given us through his final days.

Frisco touched so many lives, but I think it was appropriate that Darlene and I shared the evening alone, the night we put him to rest. Of all the places he had lived, and all the wonderful experiences, there was one place on earth that he loved more than any other: the swimming hole underneath Barton Springs Pool, in Austin's Zilker Park. It was only fitting that he return there one last time.

The pool is an Austin landmark. It isn't a conventional pool at all, but a spring-fed creek that has been dammed up to form an ice-cold swimming hole perhaps a quarter-mile long. And just under the dam, there is doggie heaven.

It is an unofficial but tacitly recognized dog park with a broad concrete bank from which to throw a ball into the water. Frisco, of course, loved to swim. (He was a golden. It comes with the territory.) But this isn't just any swimming hole. Far up the bank, where the dam ends, there is a spillway that opens into a long concrete chute running down the base of the dam and into the water, where there is another spillway. The combined churning of those two courses of water makes for a rumbling, turbulent area perhaps four feet deep in the midst of a broad, shallow area where people wade with their dogs.

Frisco used to beg me to drop his ball at the top end of the chute. He would scamper down the slope with tremendous agitation, watching its path and stabbing his mouth after it. Sometimes he would end the game early by catching it, but most times he chased it all the way down to the roiling whitewater spot, where it was immediately driven deep underwater. He would plunge in after it, swimming in place and waiting for the ball to pop back up again.

On a good day, when the rains have been feeding the river, it is easy to imagine a dog being sucked under and never coming back. But not Frisco. He would fight the current for long minutes, sometimes missing the ball and forcing it back under the water, sometimes swimming in circles in case it re-emerged behind him. When he had caught it and made his way up the bank, he instantly began pestering me to throw it in again. Even in his later days, he could go in and out of the water for an hour or more.

Darlene and I arranged to meet there now, near sundown on a warm Sunday evening. The water is low and slow-moving at this time of year, so the reflection of the fading orange sky was crisp on the creek. We sat for a time on a low rock wall, talking about what a wonderful life he'd had and swapping stories that began with "Do you remember that time when??" I cradled the box in my lap, stroking it as if it were
his forehead.

A group of college-aged swimmers had arrived just after dark, so we sat for a while in silence when all the stories and all the tears had run out. Eventually, they moved on. There was still a young couple in the water opposite us, but we decided that his ashes weren't likely to affect them.

I took the bag of ashes from the box. But as soon as he was in my hands, heavy, soft and solid, I was paralyzed. The bag seemed so soft, just like Frisco, and I didn't want to end my last moment holding him. I talked to him for one last time, thanking him again for all the wonderful times. Darlene laid an understanding hand on my shoulder. She had only lived with him for his first two years, so she was able to be a calming presence for me.

Then I felt it was time, and I carried him to the water chute, as I had carried so many racquetballs. The stadium lights from the pool next door gave a kind of eerie, shimmering light to the fast-moving water. I bent down to the water quickly, so I wouldn't have time to pause again. The water ran white for a moment, then he disappeared. I thought of Frisco, running sideways down the side of the chute to get his racquetball. Now he had made his last run.

Darlene had brought flowers. She knelt next to me, and laid them silently in the water. They sped down the chute, and separated, and bobbed slowly around the broad area under the dam. The couple across from us were standing together, waist-deep in the water, holding each other. The young man reached down and grabbed a mum that was floating by, and he gave it to her. I have been told that the mum is a symbol of hope for the future.

There is a flock of swans that live on the creek, and they used to have a mutually-teasing relationship with Frisco. He swam after them and sent them scattering, and they would swim back and forth with their tails flipping water into the air in big arcs whenever he was on the opposite shore. Tonight, they were huddled in a little cluster across from us. The swans were curious about the flowers and took to the water, swimming slowly downstream with them. Like an honor guard.

Darlene and I watched the flowers slowly disappear down the blackened stream, until I grabbed her hand and said, "he's gone." We shared a long, firm hug, then walked up the long, darkened hill and separated.

Darlene had wished that some of his ashes might sink to the bottom, so that they will be a part of the place for as long as possible. If there were such thing as a soul that survives the body, then Frisco would grab hold of that bottom as tightly as possible, so that he could continue forever, playing in his favorite spot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Future of the FriscoDogBlog

Dear friends of Frisco,

Several people have asked me what I will do with this site, now that my beloved boy is gone. I intend to keep it open for a while, and I expect I will post occasional reflections and remembrances here.

Frisco's ashes are to be returned to me within a week or two. When they come, I will be inviting his closest friends to participate in a ceremony on his behalf. We will say as many words for him as we are able to get out, and then I will sprinkle his ashes in the churning waters of his favorite swimming hole.

I will write up that experience, and then I will officially shut down the FriscoDogBlog. It will still be available on the web, but there will be no further additions or edits made. I believe that is the kindest tribute I can give to him.

I am currently working on a multimedia CD with scenes from Frisco's life, set to music. If you have suggestions as to the most appropriate music, I would love to hear them. Or if you want a copy of the CD, please let me know. I think there are places where I can put the multimedia content online, but I'm sure that the CD version will be better.


Friday, August 25, 2006

It's Over

8/24/2006 1:30 PM

Dear friends,

I have just returned, alone, from the veterinarian's office.

Frisco began having a major seizure at 11:45 Central Time this morning. I called my vet, and she confirmed that it was time. I called and caught my roommate at her desk just as she was leaving for lunch. She came home immediately to help me, as I was in no fit state to drive. With great difficulty, I lifted him to carry him to the car. He was scared and upset, and continued convulsing as we made our way to the Austin Veterinary Hospital.

The staff were well-prepared and very professional. We were immediately taken to an exam room and given a few minutes to say good-bye. I thanked Frisco for the years of joy he brought to my life, then knocked for Dr. Besch to come in and perform the injection. He was not actively writhing as long as I kept a soothing hand on his shoulder, but his muscles were tense and his eyes were wild and afraid.

Then, at once, he relaxed. It took a while for his heart to stop beating, and I held him and stroked his silky fur until it did.

I am going off to be alone for a while now, and then I'm sure I will grieve as I deal with all life's stresses: by writing.

Thank you all for your kind words and advice over the past few weeks.



Another Clumsy Morning for FriscoDog

8/24/2006, 8:30 AM

Frisco started being a little more clumsy the night before last, and by yesterday morning he could barely stand. I had to help him stand up to do his business, and guide him into the house so he wouldn't fall over. I called the vet and carried him in for another cortisone shot right away.

This morning, he seems a little better, but he's still clumsy. He didn't want to go outside until he was practically bursting, and again I had to lay a hand on his shoulder to keep him upright. When he finished and I let go, he flopped onto his right side and rolled into some bushes.

Now he's lying on the cool, hard floor of the living room, looking very frustrated. Hopefullythe effects of the cortisone will continue to increase throughout the day.


Another trip to the vet


This morning, Frisco was very unstable on his feet. It took some doing to guide him outside,
and he fell hard on his side a couple of times. I finally got him to eat his breakfast, and to
take care of his biological needs, only with my hand on his right to keep him from falling
over. He fell several times on my way into the house, as he ran up ahead of where I could
keep a grip on his shoulder.

I took him in for another cortisone shot, his fourth or so since taking ill. I am pleased to note
that it has been something like three weeks, which is the longest he's been without a shot --
so the trend is in the right direction. It usually takes a while for the steroid to kick in, so I
expect him to awaken tomorrow morning with new vigor.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Enough Was Enough

Tonight I was going to look at another apartment. Frisco went to the front yard with me, sniffed and peed -- but he refused to go anywhere near the car. When I needed to leave, he trotted over to the door and stood there, pointing toward the indoors. He didn't seem to be too distressed all day today, but he didn't have any interest in going anywhere near that car again. Poor kid I must have over-done it a little bit.

Loving the water

Frisco's dad spent the hot part of today looking for a place to live for next year (lease is upin a week or so). When I came home, he was lying on the cool tile, staying out of the heat. I fed him, and he seemed good, so I whispered in his ear: "Frisco, would you like to go swimming?"

"Swimming" is a magic word for FriscoDog. When he was a young pup, he used to demand to be taken swimming on a regular basis, and if I happened to drive past his favorite swimming hole while he was in the car, he jabbed his schnozz in the air in the direction of his park, as if to tell me I had missed the turn. He still loves the water.

Even with his body lying flat on the floor, he managed to raise his head and perk up his ears when I asked if he was interested in a trip to the water park. I made for the door, and he hauled himself off the floor to come with me.

Frisco is a problem-solver. He has figured out that he can't quite make it directly into the back seat of my car, but he can climb into the footwell and from there up to the seat. I tried to help him in, and he elbowed me away. He wiggled his own way up and into the back seat, where soft blanket is draped to protect him and to keep my upholstery relatively dog-free.

I hugged the curves out through Hill Country to the park, and I saw him in the rear view mirror, getting increasingly excited.

When I stopped the car and tried to help him down, he blew right past me, the racquetball in his mouth. He knew right where we were, and by the time I had collected my stuff to head down with him he was halfway down the path, standing there and looking back up the hill in frustration. As soon as I started down the hill to join him, he turned and dashed down to the water, despite leaning to the right the whole way.

I used an old backpacker's trick to identify that we had about 45 minutes of sunlight left, and I told him so. He planted the ball in my right hand and munched it two or three times, which is his standard way of demanding that I throw it for him. I took it from his mouth, and he fell back two or three clumsy, excited steps.

He had trouble finding it the first time (nearly losing it out the mouth of the creek), but he quickly figured out the general area into which I was throwing little gentle tosses. I threw to the exact same spot each time, so as not to tax his limited vision, and he always chased it down. The water came up just to his chest, so he didn't have to swim but benetifed from his bouyancy. He found a more gentle slope to climb up, so he didn't have to exit the water in the same spot where he had belly-flopped a moment before.

The sky was normal for Texas this year: powder blue, with high and icy cirrus clouds teasing us with the fact that there is water in the air. As the sun settled down, the sky turned to crimson, then faded to a beautiful orange. The water was an increasingly dark reflection of the sky, and I quickly lost track of the ball -- but Frisco did not, and would not let me stop throwing.

We stayed at least fifteen minutes after I had completely lost the ability to see where he was, much more so his ball. But after an hour or so, he looked like a very tired lopsided dog, and I took him inside. He walked on his own, though clumsily.

Some on this board have questioned whether I am imposing my own will and desires on my poor sick dog. Those people have never seen him at the watering hole -- much less, had him thrust his slobbery racquetball into their open hands. I am not just along for the ride: what matters to him is the racquetball.

I know this is all due to my having upped his Prednisone does, and it will go away. But for now, he gets to enjoy all of his favorite activities.


PS, Frisco's vet bills have put quite a strain on my limited finances, despite kind help from many of his friends. If you would like to contribute to Friscodog’s vet bills, you may do so at PayPal. Thank you so much, to all of you who have already helped in so many ways!

Official PayPal Seal

Or you may directly contact the North Austin Veterinary Hospital (http://austinveterinary.citysearch.com/), Telephone: (512) 476-9191. Tell them it's for Frisco, and they'll know who he is.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Slowly fetching

You know how Alzheimer's patients often are called "sundowners," because they do well all day but struggle at night? Frisco recently has been a different kind of sundowner: he has struggled all day long, then performed relatively well once the heat of day had dissipated.

Tonight was different. He was every bit as clumsy after-hours as he had been during the day. When he asked me to take him outside I was hopeful that he might be up for another medium-length game of fetch. I gave him a relatively easy throw, but it took him five minutes of falling and crashing and collapsing against the hedges before he found it. Once he had, he headed straight for the back door and collapsed on the cold Purgo floor of our living room.


PS, Frisco's vet bills have put quite a strain on my limited finances, despite kind help from many of his friends. If you would like to contribute to Friscodog’s vet bills, you may do so at PayPal. Thank you so much, to all of you who have already helped in so many ways!

Official PayPal Seal

Or you may directly contact the North Austin Veterinary Hospital (http://austinveterinary.citysearch.com/), at: Tel: (512) 476-9191. Tell them it's for Frisco, and they'll know who he is.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Not such a good day

Frisco is seeming to have a rough time of it today, as he did yesterday.

He's had an eye infection for a while, and I've been keeping antibiotic ointment on it, but I think it still itches him. This morning I caught him trying to scratch his eye socket with his rear leg. Not such a good idea, for a dog with equilibrium problems! I scratched it for him, irrigated it with saline, and applied more ointment, which seemed to help.

He's breathing awfully heavily, and he seems to have a lot of phlegm in his throat. He's been panting a lot more, ever since this ordeal began, and I think he's just tired. Of course, it doesn't help that it was 102 degrees out there this afternoon when he went to do his business!

He does seem to be stumbling a bit more, as well. It could just be that he's gained some weight. Prednisone causes insatiable appetite, and of course he's not getting his usual amount of exercise.

He's still enjoying life, and as I noted yesterday he can change dramatically within a single day. So I'm trying not to read too much into this rough day.


PS, Frisco's vet bills have put quite a strain on my limited finances, despite kind help from many of his friends. If you would like to contribute to Friscodog’s vet bills, you may do so at PayPal. Thank you so much, to all of you who have already helped in so many ways!

Official PayPal Seal

Or you may directly contact the North Austin Veterinary Hospital (http://austinveterinary.citysearch.com/), at: Tel: (512) 476-9191. Tell them it's for Frisco, and they'll know who he is.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Down, and Up Again

When FriscoDog's ordeal began, I knew it was serious the day he gave up chasing the racquetball. Those of you who know him personally know that he never goes anywhere without a ball in his mouth, and he never used to allow me to sit for a moment without throwing the ball for him.

Indeed, even when he is barely able to walk, he expects me to throw the ball for him every time he has to peep (poop and pee). He waits, leaning, catching himself occasionally with his right foreleg, until I throw it; he tracks it down, however much it takes; and THEN he peeps. On a bad day, he bypasses me and heads straight for the back door to be let in.

Today started badly, with a bit more stumbling than usual, and an especially bad incident. I had prepared some chicken for Frisco, which got the attention of my roommate's dogs.

When I tried to take him outside to eat his meat, the other two crowded close to the door. As I opened it for him and tried to fend them off, either they spooked him, or I spooked him, but his precarious balance was upset. He conked his head hard on the left side of the doorframe, careened to the right and banged his side, hard, into the post on the other side of the door, then flopped on his left side and rolled 360 degrees. He took a moment to get up before I was able to give him his meal.

After that bad experience, he lay down by my side and slept away the day. He still insisted on following me around the house (especially when I moved toward the kitchen), but that was his only movement for hours. I tried not to do too much, so that he wouldn't feel obliged to stand and walk.

He seemed to walk better, though, as night wore on. By midnight, he clearly wanted to go outside again -- even when he realized that he'd gotten all the food he was getting. So I took him out, thinking he just wanted to be outside, in his natural element. I grabbed my computer and a good cigar, figuring on a relaxing night of work on the patio with my dog at my feet. Frisco had other ideas.

He lay next to me for a while, then got up and rummaged around until he had found one of the many racquetballs he's deposited strategically. He brought it to me, and I threw it for him, and he brought it back, and I threw it again. Most times, he found it much more quickly than he has been able to do in recent days, though once or twice it took him a while. He fetched eagerly for fifteen or twenty minutes, a recent record, before finally calling it quits and standing by the door until I let him inside.

I stayed outside, but I watched through the window as he took a long, long drink of water. His tongue doesn't work so well these days, so he discharges almost as much as he takes in, but eventually he had his fill. I half-expected him to come back out for more, but he disappeared from view and rested while I stayed outside to write this blog entry. Now I'll go inside and give him a congratulatory rub-down before going to bed.


PS, Frisco's vet bills have put quite a strain on my limited finances, despite kind help from many of his friends. If you would like to contribute to Friscodog’s vet bills, you may do so at PayPal. Thank you so much, to all of you who have already done so.

Official PayPal Seal