Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Wicked Witch of the Westies

This morning Capone completed his fourth obedience class. He did extremely well, but in the middle of the class he started acting a little strange. He began gagging on his treats (an integral part of obedience training), and finally plopped down on the floor and yakked. 

He threw up right in the middle of obedience class. It was awful. He looked up at me in confusion, his embarrassment obvious, especially when the cute little shar-pei next to him tried to eat his vomit. Capone looked like he might throw up again at the thought.

The trainer told everyone to take a break and he even took Capone for me so I could clean up the mess. It was the first time we’d been with this particular trainer, but I liked him. He smiled a lot and looked like Santa.

"Are you sure you don't mind holding him?" I asked.

“It’s fine,” he said. “I’ve got him. These things happen.”

I swear I almost heard a “ho, ho, ho” in his voice when he laughed, but it may just have been wishful thinking. I grabbed some paper towels, bags, and a spray cleaner, but no matter how much I scrubbed, it was still pretty obvious where Capone had puked. I realized there were a lot of other stains on the floor and decided it was clean enough.

I couldn’t figure out what had made him sick. He’d been a little clingy all morning, and had whimpered a bit as we dropped off my middle son at an SAT class. We’d arrived ridiculously early for training, so I'd attempted to take him for a little walk. He was remarkable uncooperative, and it was ridiculously cold, so I gave up after a few minutes. I hadn’t dressed for the weather since I had erroneously assumed it would not be 17 degrees outside on March 28 (I was wrong). I’d left in a hurry and had forgotten my hat and gloves. I’d also forgotten to put on socks. It was a busy morning, but this was sadly typical in my life.

I let Capone play in the dog park a few minutes before class with his doggy friends and he had a blast. Maybe too much of a blast. He was so excited when we walked into class that he almost vibrated. He performed well otherwise, but I wondered if all the running and romping in the dog park may have triggered the puking.

I chose a spot near the door for the rest of the class and when Capone started gagging again, I pulled him outside immediately. I didn’t want to go through the whole cleaning-up-the-dog-vomit routine again. Once was more than enough.

As soon as I got outside, I saw her. The Wicked Witch of the Westies. She was back. She pulled up to a space close to the dog walk area and pulled the Westies out of the car one by one, little balls of perfectly groomed white fur. They had on matching sweaters that were color coordinated. It was sickening.

I looked down at my feet. I hadn’t managed to get socks on this morning, and she had the time to color coordinate Icelandic dog sweaters and dress four Westies. There was something very wrong with this picture.

Once again, she didn’t make eye contact or acknowledge our existence, but her little dogs did. They barked and yipped and stared at Capone. He looked up at them once, seemed confused by their sweaters, and went back to sniffing rocks that other dogs had peed on.

“That’s my boy,” I said, as I gave him a pat.

We went back into the class, Capone didn’t barf again, and I realized I had no time for people like the Wicked Witch of the Westies. I had to be realistic. I didn’t even have time to find a pair of socks. If she wanted to be a snob and refuse to talk to or even look at anyone else, it really was her loss.

I tried for a moment to imagine having the kind of life in which I’d be motivated to purchase matching Icelandic sweaters for four identical dogs, and I just couldn’t do it.  It sounded like a sad, pathetic life indeed.

I tried to muster up some sympathy for the Wicked Witch of the Westies, but I couldn’t do that either. Mostly because I caught a glimpse of her sweater when she unzipped her coat. 

It was Icelandic. She matched her dogs.

 Tired puppy after obedience class on his favorite blanket - not a sweater in sight.

Becoming a Fanilow

When my friend called me last week and said she had an extra ticket to a Barry Manilow concert, I decided to go even though I had huge reservations about the whole idea. I’d never been a fan, and I thought Barry Manilow had become a bit of a joke, almost a parody of himself. As the concert date neared, I actually began to dread it. Then the flashbacks started.

Madonna. Almost four years ago. I’d never been a fan of her, either, but I decided to go on a whim. It hadn’t turned out well. The audience had been filled with middle aged women, some of them wearing lace fingerless gloves and giant bows in their hair. Although Madonna came on stage almost two hours late, there was a giant projection of a stained glass window and we thought we heard the strains to “Like a Prayer”. Everyone got very excited, but then the window shattered and the music changed to a song no one in the audience seemed to have heard before. Incan priests in full headdresses rose out of hidden compartments on the stage (I think they were actual Incans). Madonna danced and sang and we sort of tried to follow along. Then a bed appeared on the stage and Madonna sang “Bang You’re Dead, Shot My Lover in the Head” (I’m guessing that was the name of the song because she repeated that over and over again). She pretended to shoot a male dancer, then she stripped, then she climbed on top of him with an open bible and a bottle of whiskey and pretended to simulate a sex act.

I looked around at the faces of the shocked middle-aged women with drooping bows in their hair. They’d come hoping to relive a piece of their childhood and hear songs they’d known and loved, but Madonna refused to give them that moment.

The low point came when she writhed nearly naked on the floor, telling the audience she was taking donations for charity, and asking people to throw money onto the stage. A few people half-heartedly threw some bills at her, and she got angry, swearing and calling people cheap until they threw more. People started leaving at this point, even though the concert wasn’t over.

On the ride to the Barry Manilow concert, I wondered if the same thing might happen. I mean, I knew Barry wouldn’t be writhing nearly naked on the stage, but I wondered if we’d all leave feeling a little disappointed and a bit sad and kind of dirty.

As soon as Barry took the stage, I knew it would be different. By the end of the concert I was a fan. It wasn’t just about enjoying the concert. Barry taught me some important lessons I could use as a writer.

1.     Know your fans. Barry understands his demographic. It’s mostly women over the age of forty. The few men in the audience were there under duress. There was a boy in front of us, who actually seemed to be enjoying the concert almost as much as his mother, and there some adorable teenaged girls behind us who kept getting excited and saying, “Grandma! You love this song! Grandma!” They were sweet, but they weren’t Barry’s bread and butter. Grandma was his bread and butter.

2.     Know what your fans want and play for your fans. Barry nailed this one, and this is exactly where Madonna went wrong.  She played what she wanted to and didn’t care if the people in the audience liked it or not. It might be “artistic” or “edgy” to do so, but it’s also a good way to alienate loyal fans. Remember this as a writer. Barry has sung “Copacapana” an infinite number of times, but each time he does it with grace, style, and energy. It’s what his fans want to hear and he respects his fans enough to do it. If you want to write for yourself and your own pleasure, fine. That’s your prerogative. But if you want to be a successful writer and build a bigger fan base, take a note from Barry.

3.     Know what you’re good at. I think the biggest shock of the evening came when I listened – really listened – to Barry’s songs and realized the man is a genius. His words are poetic, powerful, beautiful, and achingly romantic.  He’s the Boss of the Ballads, the Sultan of Slow Dances, and the Earl of Elevator Music, but he's a master at what he does and he sticks to it. If you’re really gifted at writing YA, do it. If you have a knack for romance, go for it. Set aside your preconceived ideas about what is true art and write what you’re good at. Let the literary snobs look down their noses at you. Who cares? Be true to yourself.

4.     But break out of your comfort zone every once in a while. This might seem the opposite of what I said above, but I saw Barry do this on stage with a boogie woogie tune and a bluesy number and realized even though these weren’t the songs he was most famous for, they were fun and he had fun performing them.  It’s nice to stretch and reach as a artist, as long as you have a firm understanding of your fan base and also of your own talents. I had to try a lot of different genres before I really found one that fit. I wouldn’t have figured this out if I hadn’t been a little flexible and willing to try new things.

5.     Storytelling is key. I’d heard Barry’s songs as a teenager, but listening them to an adult, and as a writer, made me appreciate them even more. He is a born storyteller. Take the song “Copacabana” as an example. In a few short sentences, you like Lola, you want her to end up having a happily ever after with Nick, you know they’ll be trouble when Rico comes into the bar, and the ending of the song just about breaks your heart. Barry just wrote an entire novel and put it into a short song. That is masterful storytelling. I think a good exercise for any writer would be to see if you could tell a story like that, encapsulating plot, character description, story arc, and denouement into a few short, concise sentences. Talk about brevity and word choice and the power of words to create mood – this is not easy to do.

The day after the concert, I shared my thoughts with my husband. He was trying to read the newspaper. Although he was happy I’d had a good time and a sort of an epiphany at the concert, when I tried to give him concrete examples, he looked confused.

“It’s like when he begins ‘I Write the Songs’ with the line, ‘I’ve been alive forever, and I wrote the very first song.’ That’s poetry. Don’t you love that song?”

He thought about it a bit. “Um. I don’t know that song.”

I froze, wondering how that could be possible, and began rattling off a list of songs I thought me must know. “Mandy”, “I Made it Through the Rain”, “Even Now”, and finally “Copacabana.”  Finally, I had a reaction.

“Oh. I might have heard that one.”

Now it was my turn to look confused. “You must have heard these songs. They sort of defined an entire generation.”

He shrugged. “I listened to Metallica when I was in high school.”

End of subject. Oh, well. He might not see the beauty of Barry the way I did, but I did score a minor victory. I heard him singing “Copacabana” under his breath as he finished reading the newspaper.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Anal Gland Expression and Other Things No One Warned You About

Our lives with the new puppy had been going so well. Capone the Wonder Dog, at five months old and a whopping 56 pounds, had become the calmest, sweetest, best puppy we could have ever imagined. Other than trying to eat an occasional shoe or newspaper or wine cork, he’d actually become quite manageable and pleasant.

Just last Saturday we attended our third obedience class. The instructor asked to use Capone four times to demonstrate to the other dogs how it should be done. FOUR times. It was awesome. He was a doggy obedience rock star.

To make things even better, Capone's old arch nemesis Luke was in attendance with his owner (No Brows). No one asked Luke to demonstrate anything. Not once. And No Brows did not look pleased. Or perhaps it was the way she drew on her eyebrows that day - she may have accidentally drawn “irritated brows” rather than her usual  “perpetually surprised brows”, but I knew she secretly wanted Luke to be the one chosen for demonstration. I suspect she had severe dog jealousy towards Capone that day.

After class, we took the puppies to the dog park to frolic. I’d never done this before because it had always been too icy. On Saturday it was a bit rainy, but I decided to go for it anyway. Capone had a wonderful time, and it was fun to watch him romp and play with the other puppies. They jumped and ran and rubbed against each other and shared a water bowl. They were like preschoolers, and just like a preschooler, Capone came home with more than happy memories.

Sunday came, the Ides of March, and Demir called out to me when he let Capone out of his kennel. “There is definitely something wrong with his eye.”

We’d been noticing a little drainage the last few days, but Capone seemed fine so we figured it was nothing serious. Sunday morning, however, was much worse. His drainage had changed color and his eyes looked crusty. A giant blob of mucus hung next to his eye, and he promptly wiped it on my polar fleece jammies.

“Oh, God,” said Demir, pointing his finger at Capone. “He just wiped that…stuff….on your leg.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty gross. I think he has conjunctivitis.”

Demir’s eyes got huge and I could tell he was remembering the Great Pink Eye Debacle of Christmas 2003 (a precursor to the Horrible Head Lice Episode of 2004). “Can we get it, too?”

“Oh, no,” I said, although I had no idea at all if that was true. In this case I figured lying was the best policy.

On Monday morning his eyes were even worse. I scheduled an appointment with his vet, which was a very good thing. He did have conjunctivitis (and no - humans cannot get it) (amen). He’d lost all his baby teeth, something else people never tell you about puppies. When they teethe, they bleed – on their toys and on their pillow and on your socks. And they drop sharp little baby dogteeth all over the house, which you will find as soon as you go barefoot.

“He looks great,” said the vet, “and the eye issues could be related to the teething.”

She checked his tummy, giggled when he tried to lick her face, and then she got to the other end and stopped laughing.

“Uh, oh,” she said. “His anal glands feel really swollen. Has he been scooting around on his bottom?”

I shook my head and gave Capone a grateful pat. I’d seen videos of that kind of thing. “Not at all.”

She continued fondling his nether regions. “Well, we’d better express them. Otherwise he might have a problem and you’ll just have to bring him back in.”

“Sure,” I said. We now have vet insurance now, so the idea of how much this could cost didn’t even make me flinch. “What exactly are anal glands and how do you express them?”

This is another one of those things that people who have never had dogs would not know. Dogs have anal glands. They squirt something nasty out of them after they poo, which is like a marker to other dogs saying, “Hey, this crap is mine!” Why they need to do this, I cannot imagine, but sometimes the anal glands get blocked up and need to be expressed, which is basically milking them until a foul smelling fluid drips out.

“You can express them at home, if you’d rather.”

There was no hesitation in my response. “No. Nooooo. No. You go ahead.”

Later, I found a video about anal gland expression, and I was glad I let the vet take care of it. Basically you have to don a haz-mat suit, lock yourself in your bathroom with you dog, and prepare to be emotionally scarred. No thanks.

“It’s probably better if you don’t see this,” said the vet.

No argument from me. At all. There are some things I have no wish to see. Ever.

Capone came back, wagging his tail and seeming none the worse for wear. We went into waiting room to pay and saw a very tiny Asian lady crouching in the corner with her arms wrapped around the neck of a very large poodle. She looked like she could be a WWF wrestler. I think the move she was performing was some kind of doggy headlock. She looked absolutely panic stricken, but the dog looked even worse. His eyes were bulging out from the force of the wrestling move she was using on him.

“So sorry,” she said. “He doesn’t do well with other dogs.”

Capone looked and me and I swear he winked. It may have just been the conjunctivitis, but I like to think the winking was because he was thinking the same thing I was. The poodle might not be the one with the problem.

Our moment of understanding ended when Capone decided to lurch towards the poodle, his goopy eyes wide and crazed. I thought Psycho Poodle Lady was going to cry.

“Maybe I should take him out to the car,” I said, as Capone barked and lunged.

The lady behind the desk smiled. She was completely unfazed by Capone’s cacophony and Psycho Poodle Lady’s distress.

“We’ll have your ointment ready shortly.”

When we got outside, something really weird happened. Capone refused to get into the car. This has never, ever happened before. The car is a source of constant delight for Capone because I get him into his kennel by tossing a bunch of treats in there. It is also the only place he can hang out on his Batman snuggi and he loves his Batman snuggi.

I tried pulling him close to the car, leading him with treats, but he dug his heels in. He looked absolutely terrified. The only way I could get him into the car was to physically lift all 56 squirming, uncooperative pounds of him into the car. Then I tossed an entire handful of treats into the kennel. He jumped in, but when I zipped it shut, he whimpered.

“What is wrong with you, boy?” I asked. I would soon find out.

The anal gland expressing and the encounter with Psycho Poodle Lady had made us a bit late, and I had to pick up my youngest at school. Thankfully, it was only a few minutes away from the vet. I parked near a grassy area and took Capone out for a little stroll. He’d been whimpering and whining in the kennel and I thought a little walk was just what he needed. I was wrong. He didn’t need a little walk. He needed something else entirely.

Capone shot out of the car like a rocket and ran to the grassy area near the parking lot, pulling me behind him. He immediately squatted and produced the noisiest and most explosive diarrhea possible, and it went on forever. He squat walked back and forth, tooting and shooting out nasty, poopy sprays of everything inside his intestines. It was awful. This is yet another thing no one tells you. Anal gland expression can lead to explosive diarrhea, and it will happen within minutes after the procedure. This would have been really good to know.

I checked my phone. School would be out in exactly three minutes, and an entire hoard of kids would be walking through the toxic wasteland Capone had just created in order to get to their cars or walk home. I had to act fast, and I had to be brave.

I’ll spare you the details, but I can tell you it required the use of many, many biodegradable poop bags and I hope to never experience that again. I was exhausted, mentally and physically and probably emotionally. Capone was exhausted, too, and I’m pretty sure his butt was more than just a little sore. He waddled back to the car, climbed slowing into his crate, and promptly fell into a tired heap, farting every so often in his sleep.

As we drove off into the sunset, I concluded that finding out about these things by accident was probably for the best. If I’d known what was coming (and what would come out of Capone) I would have been terrified. Ignorance is bliss. Anal gland expressing is not. Lessons learned.

                                   Sad puppy at the vet just before his anal gland expression.