Saturday, September 26, 2009


What is the value of a dog?

My answer would have been different a week ago. "A dog is just an animal," I would have said. "There is no reason to sink a boatload of money into saving a dog's life." I no longer agree with that week-ago me. I did not know myself.


As a girl - like most girls - I was an animal lover. My mother was not. No dogs allowed. No questions, no arguments, no dogs. Period.

When I was eight, my friend Steph with a 'ph' dared a group of us to go pet her St. Bernard, Peter. We were on our way to a tumbling competition in Illinois, and Steph's was the last stop before we hit the road for the weekend. Peter was outside, leashed to a stake in the ground. I'd been to Steph's house several times and Peter had always been a sweet, drooling fuzzball. I had no reason to suspect that Peter would be any different that fall afternoon. Steph knew though. Peter hated to be on a leash. Peter was dangerous when he was tied up. The other girls must have known too, because they giggled when I took the dare. I was confident in my Dolittlian ability to speak with animals. I took the dare. I approached Peter, and just as I reached my hand out to pat his head, I saw the teeth. There were his teeth and I heard his growl, and I did what any eight year old girl would do. I turned to run away. His front paws grabbed me by the shoulders before I could run, and he bit me. I was wearing a pink cotton t-shirt (not the thin baby tees my kids wear, but the thick 1970's kind of t-shirt that was made to last) and my favorite jean jacket. Steph's dad, a doctor of apparent unDolittle variety, put eight stitches in my back for free.

We went on to Illinois later than expected and I competed the next day. My mom patched up my jacket and I continued to wear it proudly with hope that someone would ask about the stitches in the back. Peter was euthanized after he bit the mailman the second time. I no longer believed in my ability to converse with animals.

And I avoided big dogs.


When we got Caspian five years ago, we decided the following:
1. We were not going to pay for pet insurance.
2. If the dog got cancer or some other expensive condition, we would not treat it. We cannot afford treatment, and we would let him go as comfortably as possible.
3. Probably nothing else would happen.

Five days ago we learned:
1. Pet insurance would have been a good investment.
2. You cannot know ahead of time what you will decide.
3. Other things happen, lung torsion and pyothorax to name just a couple.


It's been eighteen years since I got a degree in Economics, but I still remember the principles of Cost-Benefit Analysis. Life gives plenty of opportunities to practice the principle. A sick dog also gives opportunity. In Cost-Benefit Analysis, the costs of a proposed action and the benefits of the same action are listed, quantified when possible, and compared. The tangibles are easy to identify and quantify, but a decision made on the tangibles is incomplete and can be the wrong decision. It's often the intangibles that can tip the balance and change the perceived net present value of the proposed action. Intangibles are often virtually impossible to quantify.


Caspian's Intangibles:

He barks when people come to the door. Friends, foes (well, I am assuming here), and UPS deliveries are all greeted with barking. He doesn't ever bark at the mailman. I've grown to appreciate the barking as means of telling us that something is happening. I've left my kids alone at home countless times and never worried about their safety. The first few times we left them alone were much easier because I considered the dog to be a protector.

He barks when he smells smoke. He will wake us if there is ever a fire.

He makes Steve exercise. I would say he makes us all exercise, but that is not true. Steve is his man, and Caspian must have a walk, or at minimum a game of catch with Steve or his day is incomplete. Any exercise benefit the rest of us achieve is purely of our own initiative.

He keeps our minds and wits sharp. He is a sneaky, crafty thief. We've learned to think like dogs, and take protective measures to preserve our food, trash, and toilet paper. He has sparked our creativity.

He feels a bit like a monstrous Beany Baby. His black hair is soft and never rejects the moisture of a tear.

He comes when called, mostly.

He knows how to put his ball away in the toybox when playtime is over, he knows his rug is where he receives treats, and he goes to his crate willingly when we leave - as long as peanut butter is there for him.

He still remembers how to bring in the newspaper, even though we cancelled the paper years ago and he only gets to practice with the free paper that comes occasionally. We get to laugh because he happily prances into the house with a shake, shake, shake of the paper, drops it, and runs to the rug for a treat. Job well done.

He's become a member of our family.

I am no longer afraid of dogs.


The intangibles tipped the scales, and Caspian is home.


Call me crazy. I would have.

Grateful Number 235

235. Caspian is still alive.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gratefuls in the midst of destruction and restoration

In the last couple of weeks, we've had our kitchen gutted and begun filling it back up with good things. Flooring and cabinets so far. It may be three more weeks before we get a counter top and running water in there, but progress it is.

There is, well there was, an old farmhouse along the road just past our church. It sat watch at that farm corner with its outbuilding or two and its cute little porch out front for more years than I can hope to have for myself. Of course it was white once. Absolutely. It was holding tight to the remainder of its grayed whiteness just this week, in sharp contrast to the plywood blinders someone slapped over the windows a while back.

I've had a long intrigue with this particular house for some reason. I think people lived there when we moved here ten years ago. There were signs of occupation anyway, the type of occupation an aged home gets from renters. I saw in that place a bit of my childhood. Green grass growing clear through from the yard into the ditch and up to the road. Cornfield cutting off the yard from two sides at a right angle. Gravel driveway. I've never lived on a farm, but somehow I carry farm life deeply. This decrepit farmhouse at the edge of suburbia gave me daydreamy moments. Over the years I've wondered what it was like inside, and who built it for whom, and why was it not loved anymore? I wondered if I could save it. I knew I could not.

I drove past the house in the morning at the moment the machinery took a swipe at the roof and the walls caved in on themselves. Two men wearing hard hats and big bellies stood there in the grass, faces upturned. There is no place to stop and watch, so I drove on to work. Later, trucks drove away with the debris. They left behind a green square with a hole-side driveway. I suppose even the hole is gone by now.

There will be no new farm house to keep watch at the corner. The finality grieves me.

Maybe the destruction of my kitchen and the destruction of the farmhouse was just a coincidence. My kitchen had to be torn apart to remove the mold from the water leak a couple months ago. And mold there was, between the layers of flooring and in the newspapers stuffed behind the cabinets. Newspapers? Why? Some things we'll never know, like why a farmhouse is neglected into oblivion.

Neglect, intended or accidental yields similar results. Destruction is fast and loud and messy and disruptive and so shocking, but it's only part of the story. Restoration begins with slow and painstaking work toward the long awaited mysterious end. There lies the hope.

228. Being reminded of the day El sang "That's Amore" while vaccuuming.
229. Being able to do something for someone without them knowing it.
230. Getting a fabulous deal on rugs.
231. Putting down the rugs today.
232. Watching the boxes clear out of the living room day by day.
233. Watching the kitchen get closer to done every day.
234. Hearing the laughter of the three people I love the most.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

End of Summer Gratefuls

215. Cool days. Cool nights.

216. The full moon. New every time. Wondrous.

217. The tomato plant that could. And did. And still does.

218. A good start to school, all told.

219. A kick in the pants (mine). Tears. Effort. Success.

220. Long afternoon light.

221. Feeling better after a short-lived cold.

222. The feel of Caspian's hair after a grooming.

223. Unexpected e-mail.

224. A book.

225. Lunch with a daughter.

226. Water ice with a daughter.

227. Dinner with a husband. Well, that's tomorrow. Grateful in advance.