By Amber Kizer
In Part 2, Sweetie was released upon the world to “adventure” herself all over the place. Her resume was already topping several pages, but this next one will need you to think back to the nineties, better yet watch the opening credits to Baywatch before we continue… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDMYDC2jjKM (or Google “Baywatch Opening Credits” and get to Youtube that way). Now, as the camera pans these svelte fictional California lifeguards, just keep panning a little to the right and insert this photo of Sweetie into the line-up. She fits right in with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Lee Anderson, doesn’t she? And full disclosure; Sweetie is wearing a red fleece, not a bathing suit, but please don’t tell her that.
Our Baywatch Babe imagines herself as a lifeguard on the beaches of Whidbey Island…not for people…not for dogs, or seagulls, or even wayward rocks (you’ll remember her adoration for the granite spheres)…No, Sweetie is a lifeguard for the often overlooked, “drowning driftwood.” Sweetie likes to dig, she loves her squeaky tennis balls, she collects rock specimens, chases cats and birds when given opportunity…these and perhaps finding out how she reacts to other dogs were our pressing thoughts as we piled out at the beach the first time. This particular beach is not off leash so we had several lengths with us. Along with balls, there were treats to practice training between the expected ebb and flows of Sweetie barking, “Isn’t-the-beach-magnificent-humans?”
And then she saw the flotsam. Or was it jetsam?No matter, she’d rescue them both. Notice in the photos I wasn’t exactly dressed to dive into the water with her, and you may notice that there were several attempts made to stay at a reasonable wading depth. We face choices with these dogs—to follow the joy with them, whatever shape that takes, or not. To not, imposes our ideas on what they should be, and how they should react, often missing the possibilities of what might be. We choose to follow the joy whenever possible. So, I was quickly waist-deep, laughing uproariously, at Ebey’s Landing watching Sweetie live out her lifeguard dreams. Each time she’s gone to the beach it’s the same, though my clothing gets more appropriate for full-body wading. Save the driftwood.Logs. Branches. Milled. Chunks. She does not discriminate. And we’ve kept the twenty-five foot line on her because quite frankly, the look in her eye as she spies something bob in the shipping lane, way over near Port Townsend, doesn’t engender the hope of a strong recall.
The other rather surprising skillset is that Sweetie is an avid Coyote Conversationalist. We live in a valley with at least one pack of coyotes who have hunted the woods and farmlands here for years, often visiting for chicken take-out, or a beloved but unlucky feline. The dogs in our lives have either been protective in their responses to coyote yips and yowls, or haven’t really cared. Never have we encountered a pooch who speaks Coyote fluently. Until Sweetie.
The first time Sweetie responded to the coyote pack was the evening of The Harvest Moon the end of September. She’d gone out to get a drink and sniff the night air, when we heard the call of the coyotes running in the valley. And then she answered. In a deep, barrel chested tone that only presents itself to the coyotes, Sweetie plopped her butt down, shoved her nose toward high noon and rumbled back. The coyotes took a breath of silence—probably surprised by her fluency—and then called again. This went on for some time as we listened, looking at each other perplexed. Are they really talking to each other?We ushered her inside at the point it appeared she was inviting the pack for tea. But it’s happened multiple times, namely at three a.m., she’ll wake enough from a sound sleep (she hears them before we do in this case) to lift her head and answer their calls. Often she’ll do this without standing, or even really waking up as if she’s merely calling, “Would love to join you but I’m dog tired tonight…” I’m fairly certain a young coyote pup might knock on the door and ask if Sweetie can come out to play.
Sweetie is also the designated Feline Entry/Exit Butler. When Sweetie started feeling better she wanted to play with and/or chase the three cats who are also part of this family. She wasn’t malicious or aggressive, just very very interested. “Kiss the kitty. Leave the kitty. We love the kitty,” was quite the mantra for a while there. She has learned to give the two old girls some space (most of the time) and they in turn have learned to let her smell them in private places. Sweetie and Sugar even spend most nap times within paw reach of each other. But early on Eli decided they’d be friends regardless of the barreling speed Sweetie ran his way.
Eli considers himself an ambassador of sorts because he followed the old girls home and invited himself inside…we literally had a moment of, “Do we have TWO black cats? Wait, who is THAT?” It should go without saying at this point, but Eli was part of the family almost immediately. He’s been friends with every dog that comes through this home and Sweetie was not going to be an exception.
When Eli wants to come inside he screams for us to let him in. We hear him well. But just in case, he and Sweetie have a pact that she will announce his desires to enter or exit the building in her best butler voice. He in turn lets her sniff him rambunctiously, some might even say invasively, each time he enters. When he exits, they appear to hear a starting gun and both take off at top speed—he up his ramp over the fence and Sweetie to the gate. She has yet to figure out that the gate is not going to mysteriously open and he will always make it to the other side first. Eli goes on our walks with us, comes for ball time when we’re in the yard and otherwise touches base with Sweetie multiple times per day. He also brings home other wild cats every few months, but that’s a whole other story.
Chocolatier: Sweetie will come from anywhere once the hint of chocolate permeates the air. The first time she reacted to chocolate was a box of See’s. She seems to think M&Ms, baking chocolate bars, Halloween candy, and chocolate chips are all the best things ever. She licks the air as if in Willy Wonka’s land of sugary wall paper. She has not eaten any chocolate while in our care, though we are sure she has in the past. We’re super careful where we leave the treats, but fair warning if you stop by with chocolate. The dog may tackle you for it. We’ve also promised her that she can eat as much chocolate as she wants on her last day. We hope this is a promise we’re able to keep.
One of the toughest parts about embracing a dog long neglected, and near the end of its life, is knowing what issues to vet and what to let ride. Is this normal or…? Initially, it’s quite easy—there are acute needs like Sweetie’s tumor surgery, a mouth of bad teeth, or a skin infection that clearly aren’t the norm.
But it gets tougher to know if a limp is one of age and simply practicing an NFL football hike one too many times, or if it’s indicative of a larger problem. When a dog has been in the family from youth it’s easy to spot changes and medical abnormalities. It’s not as easy to know what’s normal in the midst of learning a dog’s particular normal. Judith is amazing and has been hugely helpful in deciphering what is what, but sometimes it comes down to instinct and intuition. Sometimes a trip to the vet is required just in case.
For Sweetie’s limp, we took x-rays to rule out cancer, or skeletal injury. X-rays required sedation. The few lumps and bumps that are growing around her body seem to be fatty tumors, or skin tags, that we can simply watch for now. She vomits, or urps, often—special food seems to have cut down on that though this could be indicative of stomach cancer in the works. Because she is not terribly concerned, nor does she have other symptoms impacting her comfort, we’re waiting to take the next diagnostic steps. She doesn’t mind going to the vet at all—just don’t try to examine anything—loving touches are fine, think about looking closely, and whoa Nellie. So another round of sedation would be required. I bring these medical issues up because it’s the support of sponsors and donors who fund the vet care, and the special food, that allow us, the fosters, to focus on the love and the joy of providing a sweet life. I know I can take Sweetie in to see the doc, or a specialist, as needed for her comfort. That is such an incredible gift from you, the ODH network, to the dogs, but also to the foster humans.
So as you think about gifts for someone who has everything, or your year-end thoughts of charity get a reminder from the accountant…from our family, please know that Max, Precious, and now Sweetie have graced our family in 2018 with their spirits and their lives. You made their care and comfort possible. You made it possible for us to simply love, laugh, and yes, cry with them. Max and Precious graced us with their last days, while Sweetie is still building her resume.
Sweetie is asking Santa for a billion squeaky balls, a herd of tiny plastic pigs, and a whole box of dark chocolate truffles. Two out of three ain’t bad? We all thank you and wish you a joyous holiday season and a sweet life.