Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Pets: Not for the Faint-Hearted


I've held a lot of this in for a year, and this is NOT a pleasant or easy read. It is not funny, and there is detail I'm not sorry about sharing but isn't fun. This is your warning.

Today is the one year anniversary of Chewy's death.

That's a kind way of saying it: a euphemism, really, because Chewy didn't die naturally or in an accident. Chewy died because I made the decision to kill him, and I think I'll carry guilt for the rest of my life.

The time came for Thor in December 2016, and with him I waited too long. He'd been declining with cancer for a while, and by the time we brought him in there really was no choice. He was so ready to go the last few days he just slept with his head on my lap, asking for help. When the vet came in he sighed heavily with obvious relief, licked my hand to say goodbye, and relaxed. He was asleep in seconds and gone in less than a minute. I promised myself I wouldn't make any other pets suffer on my selfish behalf when it's time, because his last couple of weeks were miserable for him, and it was purely due to my inability to say goodbye.

A year later, in 2017, Chewy wasn't ready. His back legs mostly didn't work anymore (I had to use a towel-sling to get him outside to go potty), his voice had mostly given out, but overall he was pretty alert and perky, if immobile. As fall set in, though, he was starting to falter and his joints hurt some. He fell down the stairs almost daily: he'd try his damnedest to climb up to sleep in my office while I worked: it usually took a couple of tries and sometimes my help. I'd hear him thump his way back down, his back legs having failed him again, his poor belly and chin smacking each step down to the landing. It hurt: he'd lie there and pant for a long time before trying again. And he'd still try again EVERY GODDAMNED TIME. I tried to work from the living room as much as I could, but it wasn't enough.

Still, on his last day the weather was gorgeous (much like today...thanks dude) and he spent a long while standing or lying in the grass barking at things in the neighborhood. Just randomly joyfully barking, as though not a damn thing was wrong at all. He had cheeseburgers for lunch, as much puppy ice cream as he wanted, and napped in the sun with the kitten for a while before I took him in. The whole day I second guessed myself, because this was my dog again. he had a great day. He wasn't ready to go.

I made the decision to put him down before the deep cold hit his joints, before the trips down the stairs broke his neck, before he got stuck in the snow or ice just trying to go potty in the winter. I made the decision to kill my dog before he was emotionally ready to go, because I didn't want him to experience the decline I saw in Thor and have a miserable ending. I wanted him to go out when he'd had a good day. I'll never be sure that was the right thing to do. I played god and killed my pet before Death came for him.

He was 130lbs at the end: I couldn't pick him up. The day I brought him to the vet, I had to have help lifting him in and use a sling to bring him into the office. And he was so goddamned happy and cheerful, saying hi to everyone like normal.

When we took Thor in, my vet gave me the reality of faces of euthanasia. In Thor's case, we were lucky: everything went quietly and easily because he was so ready to go, but there are many variations of death, and luckily he'd told me other possible outcomes.

When the techs put Chewy's IV in, he wiggled and they'd missed the vein, so the sedative didn't work. He struggled to get up. They had to re-do the IV and the sedative. He watched me as it finally kicked in, obviously wondering what the fuck was going on here, and struggled more until his eyes half closed and his tongue stuck out of his mouth on the exam room's floor. He was too big for the blanket they put down, you see, and he couldn't relax enough to lay his head in my lap. I petted and talked to him without stopping, reassuring him and staying calm as my vet administered Pepto-pink death through a hypodermic into my dog's front leg.

I'll never use Pepto again.

Chewy struggled, flailed, drooled, twitched, and desperately tried to lift his head even mostly sedated as the drug reached his heart. He didn't go easily: he fought like a goddamned warrior right up until the end.

He wasn't ready. And even though a cold analytical view of his status and the immediate future of suffering still has me falling on the side that i did what was best for him, it doesn't FEEL like I did what was best for him.

And that's why pet stewardship is both awesome and fucking awful. You are their god. They are a part of your universe, but you are ALL of theirs, and it's the human's responsibility not only to do what's right and necessary no matter how awful it is (even when it sticks with you forever), but also to BE THERE for it.

There's an article going around in social media about a vet's take on owners who leave their pets alone to die. I get that it's awful and hard: I've seen both sides of the process and it's not always easy. I get that if you have a backup or truly can't control your grief, it's better to leave than stress them out more. But ultimately, I firmly believe you are the adult. You are the human, and taking on that life means you are responsible for it through to the end.

You suck it up and stay with them (and stay calm) because it's not about YOU. Comforting a loved one as they die is an act of compassion and love, and pets deserve that honor after dedicating their lives to you. It sucks. It's terrible, and exhausting, and it's really fucking hard to not start bawling when they're going, whether Death comes easy or not. It's also part of the gig. I get there by remembering advice I'd been given years ago, when I struggled with a different situation that threatened to overwhelm my ability to be present for someone else's crisis: stay in the love.

Focus on THEM: focus all your love and energy and comfort and petting and gratitude for their time with you on them.

Leaving this world showered in affection and reassurance and comfort from the person/people at the center of your universe can't be a bad thing: if that's all you can give your pets that's enough, even when their end comes before they're ready. After they're gone, by all means fall apart. I did.

I did today as I wrote this, because October is a time of endings and I'll remember his last day until I see him again. Han asked me recently where dogs go when they die, and can we visit them, and will we see them again (Evil piped in and said Heaven is another planet). Nothing like a 6 year old's perfectly reasonable questions (WHY DO I GET THEM? I'm the AUNT!) to get a girl thinking about what my boys are doing in their afterlives. I presume bunny-chasing and barking are high on the list.

I miss Thor and Chewy as horrendously as I am eternally grateful for my current furry monsters.
And someday I'll do this dance again. A long, long time from now.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Book Review: Picture Perfect Cowboy by Tiffany Reisz

Retired bull rider Jason Waters is about as tightly wound and uncomfortable as a cowboy can be. He fits every surface assumption about a rodeo athlete more accustomed to thousand pound pissed off animals than people: lean, quiet, calm, conservative, and unfailingly polite. Unfortunately for Jason (and luckily for us), a promise to a fellow rodeo buddy puts Jason in the position of posing naked for a hot-rodeo-boys calendar: a calendar Simone Levine is shooting. Simone's unique combination of artistic mischief and harmlessness cuts through the Jason's polite shield, and he unexpectedly reveals a secret he's carried for years. And so they begin with a nude photo shoot and a naked confession.

One of my favorite things about Tiffany Reisz's work is the way she takes a familiar romance novel premise and twists it down excellently unexpected paths. Picture Perfect Cowboy occurs in the Original Sinners universe, which generally guarantees a certain level of character depth (oh yes, that pun is intended) as well as varying levels of smut. This story doesn't disappoint, as it turns out Jason is terrified his own predilections make him a terrible and depraved man. Simone, on the other hand, is an occasional professional at King's NY club and a personal friend of Mistress Nora. Who better to help Jason  relax and be who he is, by proving that a little depravity doesn't make him a bad guy?

Again, the romance theme of the "good woman is all a rake needs to be reformed" is revised to a more modern and entertainingly smutty adventure. Reisz doesn't skimp on the varying erotic scenes. True to form, some are pure sexiness while some skate the edge of downright uncomfortable, and there's really no predicting which scenes will have either effect on any reader. If you aren't an expert on spanking after this, you weren't paying attention.

What's really interesting in this story is Jason's evolution, both in emotional growth and technical skill. I love that Reisz always delves into the how/why of a character's kinks, and though some of the motivating factors can be judged as awful (through no fault of Jason's own), the end result is an acceptance without judgment of his needs as an adult. Simone (with a little help from Nora and Soren) actively encourages Jason to accept himself and navigate the twisty ethical and emotional effects of desires he's been ashamed of as morally terrible due to his upbringing.

In addition to his internal struggle, relationship conflicts arise as outside parties are introduced to Jason and Simone's private world, and the vast lifestyle differences between a Kentucky horse rancher and a New York professional kinkster interfere. Picture Perfect Cowboy is a lot of relationship packed into a pretty short package. Tiffany Reisz covers both traditional romance novel issues as well as BDSM kink with the same excellent style in the other Sinners books.

My only complaint is the traditional market length of this story necessarily leaves little room for more, and I wanted more. The best possible danger of writing is convincing readers the characters are real people you want to hang out with: this is an absolute success. I hope this becomes a bit of a series since at least one other character has some clear Sinner potential, because I thoroughly enjoyed Simone and Jason's love story. Also, I'm not going to lie, I'd love to find out how Jason and Griffin get along.

Picture Perfect Cowboy by Tiffany Reisz is available on November 5th in hardcover and ebook from 8th Circle Press.
Picture Perfect Cowboy on Amazon

Friday, September 07, 2018

More Things Ragnar Ate and Drunk Walrus Impersonations. These Are Unrelated.

Once in a while, I re-up a subscription to one of those monthly boxes of random fun stuff, just because who doesn't like getting a box of something NOT bills in the mail? 

This month, it was a witchybox full of various pagan bits and pieces (um, let's be clear I mean bits and pieces of things that are often associated with witches and pagans, not bits and pieces OF a pagan...that'd be gross, and way messier than this box turned out to be). 

Ragnar apparently thought the box smelled fascinating. Therefore, Ragnar ripped the box apart in the middle of my office floor when I was in another room. 

Interestingly, there was some incense, some bath salts (the sort for bathing in, not the sort that turn a person into a face-eating zombie), a candle or two, a set of Tarot Cards...and the ONLY thing he destroyed was the box the cards came in. My wall-eating, shoe-devouring, garbage destroying dog OPENED the jar of bath salt and very carefully didn't eat any, and left everything else alone. 

I'm fairly certain that box came with some sort of anti-dog-destruction spell, and it seems to be persistent. 

Last night I used some of the salts. I usually leave the bathroom door open a little so they don't scratch at it when I'm in a bath, and Ragar slammed his way enthusiastically into the room per usual. Then he stopped, all four legs went completely stiff, his hackles went up just a little, and he stared in horrified disbelief. Seriously, his message "WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" was crystal clear, and hilarious. He wouldn't come near the bathtub, and jumped back if I moved the water. He made a ridiculous whine/growl noise and ran out of the room. 

You guys, I'm not kidding: he went to get Angus. My dog tattled on me for being in the bathtub, and brought the actual ruler of the household in to check. Ragnar stayed over a foot away from the tub while Angus jumped on the side, licked my knee, batted the water a little, and settled there to watch floating lavender bits. It's possible he stuck his face in the water and sneezed. I was laughing too hard to be certain. 

Ragnar continued his protest by lying on the bathroom floor and keeping both eyes on us, clearly worried the horrible water monster would kill us both. He grumbled like an old man for the entire time. 

He also ate both of my last two pairs of sunglasses recently: he gets zero sympathy. 

In other news, I'm taking my open-water scuba diving certification dives this weekend. In order to do said dives, I'm required to go to the scuba shop and try on wetsuits (because it's September in MN and lakes are starting to cool off, especially at 20 feet down). 

Have you ever tried on a wetsuit? I mean the 7mm version, not the cute skinny 3mm half suits used for warm weather/warm water stuff. Have you ever tried to pull on a pair of tights that REFUSE to allow you to pull them all the way up so the crotch is, well, in the crotch? It's infinitely harder to do when the fucking tights are weird rubbery material that squishes under your fingers and doesn't move much. 

WHO INVENTED THIS FRESH HELL? Seriously, I'd like to put the wetsuit creator in the same room as the dipshit who invented thong underwear or control-top pantyhose and beat them all with something humiliating. Like a giant dildo. 

I'm 6' tall, and I'm not one of those willowy thin tall chicks. Wrangling my buns into that thing involved flailing, heavy breathing, sweating, swearing, and eventually falling over like a damn drunk walrus. And having dropped off my yoga practice and not having any natural contortionist ability, I had to leave the dressing room and get help to zip it up. Since I wasn't actually GOING diving, I wasn't in a swimsuit - awesome. 

I have to do this tomorrow and Sunday in front of people...if I don't cause the rest of the divers to fall overboard and drown from laughing too hard, I deserve a goddamned medal.