Monthly Archives: April 2012

One Year Later.

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My dad died a year ago today. To say that it’s been a tough year is an understatement. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and wonder if he knows how much I miss him. My life changed that day forever, but, the changes started 3 years prior when he told me that he had Parkinson’s Disease.
My dad had always been a “do-er”, if anything needed fixing, he was your guy. Shortly before his Parkinson’s diagnosis, he started to have some issues which caused him to be a bit more reluctant to take on big projects. At the time, none of us really thought much of it, just that his shoulder hurt or his toe was messed up, but, looking back, those things were major precursors of what was to come. During the first year I was back in Pa. from Baltimore, my dad became more and more reluctant to commit to doing any major physical work. Looking back, a major red flag was when I asked him to come to my house one day when I needed a plumber and had to go to work. He had done it once before and not mentioned any issues, but, this time, he said that he couldn’t handle the dogs. I knew his toe had been bothering him and affecting his balance, but, now, I see that there was probably so much more going on. A few months after that, he told me that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, right around the time of his 57th birthday. I just remember saying “I’m so sorry daddy” over and over on the phone, crying with Paul and getting right onto Google.
My dad declined pretty rapidly. That shoulder problem got worse and the toe caused on-going balance and mobility problems. He had a hard time doing things that he previously enjoyed, like going to games and tail-gating. He did them for as long as he could and enjoyed them as much as possible, but, they took a toll on him. Over time, he focused his energies more on things that he enjoyed, but, that didn’t sap him as much: cooking, going out for dinner and lunches with friends. All of us who knew and loved him could see the decline, but, we could also see the tenacity to stay active and involved in living. It was admirable and inspiring. He would have two grills going, a game on in the kitchen and one in the family room and not only enjoy the eating of a good meal, but, the preparation involved. He loved to spend time with all of us and even when he was really not feeling well, made an effort to put on a brave face. He would usually miss the end of the game he had been waiting for all day, because all the cooking exhausted him *and he and Paul really enjoyed a good “specialty”cocktail*,but, he never, ever, complained. When asked how he was feeling, the most he would admit to was being a bit tired.
I loved when my dad and Lisa would come here to visit. Paul and my dad had an informal cooking competition going on and it was always fun to cook for my dad, because he was just so appreciative of good food. I swear, sometimes I can still see him outside, leaning on the fence, talking to Paul and my brother, Jason as the grilling was going on. When we went to his house, my dad would often have tried a new recipe or would make his famous meatballs, because he knew how much we loved them.
In November of 2010, my dad and I took a trip to Florida together. It was the first time we had done something that was just the two of us in a long time. While on this trip, his decline became that much more apparent to me and I knew deep down inside that he was not going to be around much longer. I just knew it. We had great talks on that trip and I treasure it deeply. Shortly after we returned home, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. And, suddenly, the end seemed even nearer.
Throughout all of this, I did not, and still do not have a relationship with my mother. My mother is not safe for me. I figured that out after years of arguments about how my dad was a terrible person, whose parents were terrible people, whose brother was a terrible person and how all of the interactions my brother and I had with my dad brought us that much closer to being terrible people ourselves. The final straw came in late 2008, when she said that my dad’s Parkinson’s diagnosis could be due to “lifestyle issues” and could not and would not simply be supportive or empathetic to the fact that this was a big deal for all of us. This made my father’s illness and death that much more difficult, because I didn’t have another parent to lean on, to cry with…but, when she called about a month after his death, not to see how I was doing, but, to remind me of a life insurance policy, I knew I had made the right decision a few years earlier. My mother is not someone I can rely on, but, fortunately for all of us, my stepmother Lisa is. Lisa was also someone my father could rely on and I am so grateful that he was with her through his illness and when he passed.
We spent much of last March going back and forth to Abington Hospital, where my father had surgery to remove the lung cancer. He fought hard to recover and after almost a month, he was discharged. I think of that month as being a whirlwind of worry, love and laughter. I have never felt so close to my father or the rest of my family. As usual, he rarely complained and showed us all why he was known as “Street Fighting Man” among his Rolling Stones friends. He did his exercises, joked with the nurses and doctors, enjoyed being rolled down to the cafeteria when he was well enough and kept his spirits high for all of us when we visited. The day he was sent home was one of the happiest of my life and I still have the text messages we sent back and forth as he was on his way home and I sat in a Bensalem parking lot between clients.
My dad was home for about 3 weeks before he died. He did some physical therapy, but, it was very plain to see the toll the surgery and the hospital stay took on him. He had lost a lot of muscle mass, and he seemed to have shriveled in on himself. I remember all of us getting together for dinner for my birthday last year, and him struggling to get up from his chair. I remember him looking at me as he walked back to the table and thinking very clearly that he was really not doing well and to be prepared. He died one week later. We had not spoken in between, as he was having difficulty with his voice, but, had texted back and forth many times. He assured me time and again that, though he wasn’t feeling all that great he was sure it would pass. I know now that he was just being brave for me…for all of us.
In the year since his passing, I have known more emotions than I would have ever thought possible. I went through a deep depression and for a while, believed I would always feel that way and that things were never going to get better. I have worried tremendously about my brother and his well- being. I have felt like an orphan at times. I felt deeper anger towards my mother than I would ever would have believed myself capable of. I have felt the love of the people around me and let that help me back to being me….for the most part, anyway. I still have a sense of sadness and confusion at times, but, much of that has been relieved by getting involved in something that matters deeply to me: dogs.
The link between losing my dad and working harder than ever to save dogs may seem indirect, but, for me it is pretty direct. Losing my dad, going through a deep depression and trying to find meaning in life again, which seemed so unfair and difficult caused me to reassess what matters to me and how I want to live my life. I think my dad lived his life that way: focus on what’s important to you and honor it. I have the opportunity, thanks to him, to make the life that I want and be proud of. My stepmother once said to me that if he was alive, he would say, “Thanks Wa-wie (his silly way of saying my name) for working hard to save animal’s lives”, and ironically, though we always had pets growing up, I think it was Lisa, my stepmother, who helped him see pets as part of the family and not something that was just there.
Sometimes, I am reminded of my dad in ways that are painful. My brother sometimes tilts his head and looks down in thought in a way that makes him look exactly like my dad. Sometimes, I have to have difficult conversations with people about things that I would rather not have. Soon, I will be faced with what to do with “The Florida Place”. This will not be just about selling a house that he loved, but, about cleaning out 20 years worth of his “stuff”. There are clothes, and old suntan lotion, golf tees and booze…all acquired through 20 years of visits with family and friends. Though I dread the idea of doing this and selling the most wonderful place on the beach I have ever been, I mostly dread the idea of losing the connection that the house symbolizes. It was a place he gladly offered use of to all of us, where memories are held and were made. For my whole family….it was home to many Super Bowl parties and visits, when it was played in Miami, it was a vacation destination for years for my uncle and his family, it was where I had the good fortune to travel to with just my dad on a few occasions and it was where he and Lisa got away once in a while to be together without having to do anything other than enjoy each other’s company. It’s been a big part of our lives for a long time, so, this is gonna be tough.
More often these days, though, I smile when I think of my dad. I still cry and am still sad, but, I will think ofย  fun times and how he supported me through rough ones….like, how he and Lisa sent me flowers when I lost my first dog, Taz. Like how he never once bad mouthed my mother when I was upset, but, instead would comfort me and tell me how sorry he was for it. I think about fishing together and going to “the little beach”, how he took me to swim with dolphins for my 30th birthday and the “dates” we used to go on after he and my mother got divorced. I think of him cannon-balling into the pool for my young cousins, who had nothing less than hero worship for him and I think of what a kick he got out of himself when he could finally talk after surgery and sounded like Darth Vader.
This morning, my stepmother called and her phone usually comes up as her maiden name…today it came up as “Schmid, James D”…that threw me a little. A little later, we are all meeting for lunch at one of his favorite spots and going to the cemetery. I am sure we will laugh and cry and we will be there to comfort each other. The pain and the sense of loss will be there, for sure, but, so will the sense of love that he gave to all of us. My dad was way too young to die, but, he lived a good life that he could be proud of. At the end of it all, I think that’s the most important thing: being proud of who you are and what you have accomplished. Not in terms of career or finances…what you have accomplished in your relationships. My father cherished the people closest to him and I am so grateful to be his daughter. To have gotten to share some of his life with him. I try to remember that when I am feeling down or cynical…that it is more important to cherish and enjoy what you’ve got than anything else….the rest is just background noise.

This is me and my dad on that trip to Florida. We went to a classic car show and this car was on his “Bucket List”. I was so worried about him the whole time we were away…but, he sure did have fun that day ๐Ÿ™‚

So Long, Jenga.

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Everyone knows by now that Jenga went to her forever home last night, as I chronicled her every move on Facebook. As was the case when Angie was adopted, I had a tremendous mix of emotions, mostly stress while at the shelter. I had a bazillion thoughts running through my head…what if they don’t like her?….what if she falls apart without us?…..are we making a mistake not keeping her?…..will she dazzle them with her goofiness?….and on and on. I guess that’s normal, and just like with Angie, she trotted off with her new mom and dad as if we never even existed. The nerve of her! Kidding, I was fine until that very moment, and immediately lost it and hugged Paul, who said, “want to go inside and pick a new foster?” Good man I married. I pulled myself together, went over and gave Sunny (who was heading into foster care) a hug and we headed home. Basically, I have been fine since they drove away, except for those moments when a silly Jenga thing pops into my head…her running through the house, with a blanket trailing behind her…laying sprawled out, hanging off the couch…the way that she would put her face in mine as we fell asleep….her exuberance with training….her desperation to get some animal, any animal in this house to just play with her, pleeeeeeaaase!
Fostering is hard work, emotionally and logistically. Emotionally, it is a rollercoaster. Since both dogs had health issues when they arrived, there was quite a bit of worry. Once those were addressed, we worried about their training and getting them house-trained and having good manners. Both Angie and Jenga were excellent pupils and training was pretty much a breeze. They proved themselves able to focus and generalize and willing to learn. Angie’s biggest issue when she left was separation anxiety, which I have said before I thought was more about our arrangement here than anything and Jenga’s biggest issue was being a clutz…and that, well, I don’t know that we can expect that to change ๐Ÿ™‚ Paul and I sleep separately when we have a foster, mostly so the foster isn’t the only one without company at night..and because when both Angie and Jenga got here, they were both so sick that we felt keeping a close eye on them was important. This is not something that is even the least bit of an issue for us…it’s just something we do as part of the job. So, for the first time in 7 weeks, I got back into bed with my husband, 2 dogs and 2 cats. It was quite a bit more crowded than we all have gotten used to and when I came back from the bathroom at 4am, I found Trixie and Savannah snuggled quite closely to each other in my spot. Cozy….and I felt terrible moving them, since they were probably thinking, “ahhhhh, she’s gone again…”, but, I carved out my spot once again. They’ll have to resign themselves to less space once more.
I can say in all honesty, that I probably enjoyed Jenga’s company more than almost any dog I have ever known, except for maybe, Taz, my first dog as an adult and my favorite dog ever. Jenga has a goofy quality about her that was sort of cartoonish….think Scooby Doo and his wildly scrambling legs. I also imagine that if she could speak, she would sound very Scooby-ish. Jenga is just one of those dogs who everyone who meets her, knows she is special. With her huge, square head, her long body and expressive eyes, she just wins everyone over. Every person that she came into contact while with us was enamored immediately. Her personality is just so likeable and enthusiastic that she is impossible not to like. This dog who, when I first met her, was not looking so great, and was super uncertain about everything, blossomed into a social butterfly who liked everyone she met and I think that knowing she was safe and loved with us is what made the difference. What a gift it is to be able to do that for an animal. For me, and I am pretty sure for Paul, too, it makes handing them over easier…knowing that we did the right thing by them. Healed them, fed them, trained them and loved them so that they were ready for a lifetime of happiness….and, that the pain and uncertainty of the past was where it belonged…in the past.
Having said that…the handing over part is not easy at all. I feel like I have a huge hole in my heart that, I guess, will only be filled by the next dog. And, there will be a next dog…just not until I get back from California in May. The fact that Paul asked me last night if I wanted to go in and pick a new foster says so much to me about our commitment and love for each other. Paul comes from a different culture, where animals are not valued as family members the way they are for so many of us here in the US, but, I think that volunteering at the shelter has caused him to look at this in a whole new way and I am so thankful for that. I think that nursing a sick animal back to health has been a gratifying to him as it is to me. I am so glad we are doing this together…and that I married someone who is willing to put up with all of this!
Jenga’s new family has promised to keep in touch, so I’m sure I will have updates. And, even though it won’t be for aboutย  a month…I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the question “who’s next?” isn’t constantly running through my head. Fostering is far and away the best rollercoaster I have ever been on!
This is Jenga the first time I met her…at the end of January. I was struck right away by how sad she seemed. I fell in love with her immediately.

This is her a few days ago, after about a month and a half of living with us. Relaxed, happy and transfixed by giant bees!

And, this is Jenga last night, with her new mom and dad. Happy Gotcha Day, Samantha, Dave & Jenga ๐Ÿ™‚

In other news…Lovefourpaws is hosting the first big on-site adoption event of the year this coming weekend! Come down to ACCT and meet some great people, and find your new best friend! Save a life…you’ll like yourself better for it ๐Ÿ˜‰

My Birthday Wish.

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It’s funny how life changes. Sometimes the changes are subtle and sometimes they are dramatic. The gray hairs and the sun damage have been subtle…the emotional shift has been dramatic. A few years ago, if you asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I probably would have said something like a Coach purse or an iPad or some kind of fancy,expensive thing. Those kinds of things don’t even really enter my thinking anymore. My focus has shifted dramatically in the past year and most of that has to do with my father’s illness and passing. There is nothing like losing someone who helped shape who you are to cause you to examine that very thing and ask yourself the question: who am I?
Of course that question is pretty complex, but, what I have found in the last year is that the things I once valued are no longer the things I value now. A Coach purse might be nice, but, it does not make my heart swell with love the way seeing a deserving animal saved does. An iPad might be fun, but, a dog who busts out of his crate in the car to cover me in kisses is more fun.
My dad dying at 60 did much more than remind me that life is short. It reminded me that life is to be lived and to be lived doing things you enjoy. For my dad, those things were eating good food, spending time with people he loved and enjoying a good game…with or without tailgate, at the stadium or at home, but always, fully decked out in team gear. My dad taught me a lot about life, both in his approach to living and in his approach to illness and death. I am still learning about a lot of things and I know there are things he would wish I was doing better, but, I do believe he would agree with the path I have chosen. Do I spend a lot of money saving dogs? Yes…fosters at the Nanan house are treated like royalty. Have I donated a lot of money? Yes…but, if my $5 contribution helps a dog get needed surgery, or cats removed from a hoarding situation medical care, it’s worth it to me every time I click “donate”. Have I spent an inordinate amount of time crying for dogs who have either died or may die? Yes…but, they are worth every tear.
The thing that started all of this for me and inspired to me get involved is an organization called “Lovefourpaws” and a woman named Teri. I don’t know how I found the L4P page on Facebook, but, it wasย  literally a life-changing event. I started following what was going on at ACCT in Philadelphia. I was inspired by the events, the fundraising, the awareness raising and, most of all, the updates and pictures Teri posted of her Pen Pals. I was struck by the dedication I saw to the dogs at ACCT by the volunteers. Though all I did for a while was drop off donations for Teri,I kept thinking that I wanted to do more. My heart was still raw from losing my dad, so, it took a while to work up the courage to ask her about volunteering. But, once I did and went to orientation, I have never looked back. It is quite literally the best thing I have ever done. I have met some truly amazing people, spent time with incredible dogs, some who have moved on to fantastic lives and some who were not as lucky and gotten to share this experience with my husband and brother, who also started volunteering.
So, what is my birthday wish? It is that more people have the good fortune I have had to find a passion. There were many times last year where I honestly wondered if life was worth living and if anything was really worth trying for. Bringing Angie home and literally saving her life and nursing her back to health was a first step towards realizing that it is worth it. Making friends like Michelle, who cried with me in the mall food court when I told her my story, helped me realize it is worth it. Sobbing on the phone with Nora, when our Pen Pal Gidget was saved at the very last minute helped me realize it is worth it. Watching my husband and my brother enjoy the company ofย  a shelter dog or marvel at Jenga’s progress help me realize it is worth it.
I have been on a bit of a shelter hiatus the past two weeks. Our business is taking off, and after 2 close calls with Pen Pals, I felt like I needed a bit of a breather. While there is little in life that has scared or upset me more than knowing a dog I have worked with and come to love may die, there is little sweeter than when they are saved. But, sometimes the wild roller coaster of emotions can be hard to process. With the upcoming anniversary of my dad’s passing, I have felt like it is more than I can handle. But, tomorrow is a big clean-up, organized by someone I have come to consider a good friend, Lara. So, I will be there to do whatever needs to be done. And, I will get to do it with the most amazingly dedicated group of people I have ever met.
Sometimes, like most people, my life is hard. I have inherited a lot of responsibilities that I am not always sure how to manage. I have taken on a lot of things that sometimes feel really heavy and unfixable. But, because of the people in my life who support and love me, most days I am able to keep moving forward.
I am grateful for everything I have learned this past year. Grateful for every tear, for every hug and for every struggle. Truly grateful.

In other news, Jenga goes to her forever home on Monday. That’s gonna be hard, but, we are excited for her and her new family. We are confident that she will get all the love she deserves. We will miss her tremendously…Jenga has added more love and laughter to our lives than we ever expected. And, to think that someone else thought so little of her that they didn’t come looking for her. Crazy. I’ll never understand that part…the idea that cats and dogs are disposable, that they don’t matter. So, I guess that’s one of my birthday wishes, too: that more dogs like Jenga get the chance to live a full life…one of love, good food and devoted humans who would do anything to ensure their happiness. I can hardly think of anything more gratifying….and fun ๐Ÿ™‚

Who rescued who?

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You may have seen the question in the title of this post before, or seen bumper stickers or tee shirts that say something like it, or “My adopted dog (cat) rescued me.” I have asked myself this question many times before and always think that as much as I may have helped an animal, really, my life has improved for having helped.
Since I brought my very first dog home, the animals I have had the privilege of knowing have improved the quality of my life in ways that are hard to measure. They make me laugh, they teach me patience, they cause me to think about things other than myself and my own selfish problems and they have time and time again, taught me compassion.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, both Paul and I love our foster dog, Jenga to the moon and back. Most of those same people think we are going to end up keeping her. We are not. For a few reasons. While there will never be another Jenga, there will always be another dog in need like she was. No doubt about that. I long for the day when that is not the case, but, today is not that day. If we keep Jenga, it will be purely selfish. I know that…and I also know that I won’t be able to live with myself if we are selfish about this. It is not the time for us to add a permanent dog to our household. And, that’s ok. We will miss her like crazy, but, we feel totally confident that she is going to the right people and willย  live the life of love that she deserves. We met Samantha and Dave yesterday, and once they are settled into their new home, Jenga will go live with them. *I am crying as I type this* Paul and I agreed that they are the right fit for her….young, excited about having her come live with them, moving into a very dog-friendly area and, did I say excited? Not just about getting a dog…but, excited that the dog is Jenga.
In case I haven’t sung Jenga’s praises enough, you need to know that I think she might be the most amazing dog I have ever met. She is a sport about everything, has the funniest little quirks (like her little dancing routine when she gets excited, the whole bathroom rug thing, the hugging, the sleeping face to face thing, the way she literally throws herself into a “down”, the way she tries to squeeze into the front seat of the car….I could go on and on) and has an unbelievably resilient spirit. It blows my mind on a daily basis that someone let this dog go. That someone didn’t see how worthwhile she is. She amazes me and it has been a gift to have her live in our home, even if for just a short time. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to her, but, I am looking forward to passing the torch to the people who will give her the best life possible. Clearly, this dog deserves to be able to play in a dog park with dogs who actually want to play with her and not forever disappointed because the grumpy old dogs here, nor, the very tolerant cats don’t respond to her enthusiastic play bows!
Here’s a picture from yesterday when Samantha & Dave came to meet Jenga at the park ๐Ÿ™‚ It should be noted that she very enthusiastically went off for a walk with them without even looking back at us. And, obviously she gave them hugs, because that’s how you always greet people you just met, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m so excited for all of them.

In other GREAT news, Paul’s Pen Pal, Taz went into foster care yesterday with the friend of another volunteer. This was such great news, because Taz is a truly fantastic dog, who had a hard time at the shelter, getting pretty sick fairly soon after arriving. On Saturday, Paul and I gave him a bath and his reward for being such a sport about it was a Kong stuffed with goodies and I swear I have never seen a dog so happy with something in my life! He carried that thing in his mouth for like 15 minutes, tongue hanging out the other side, relishing in it before he decided to eat the noms it held. Taz was Paul’s second Pen Pal and I am so glad it was another success for him ๐Ÿ™‚ Here’s the handsome guy on Saturday!

And, finally, because Taz had gone into foster care in the morning…we took Hova to the event at Pennypack Park yesterday. He proved to be an excellent replacement. The crate was not put together completely, so he escaped into the back of my brother’s car. But, we got to the event safely with the only damage being a chewed off finger on a leather glove. Hova took it upon himself to literally make out with me for the last few minutes in the car, and I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t get him to stop. He was great at the event…learned “sit” and “look”, met some kids and a few horses, wanted to be BFF’s with Jenga and enjoyed the freedom of a few hours out to pee everywhere with wild abandon ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s been a pretty damn good week ๐Ÿ™‚ But, don’t forget…all dogs are always urgent at the shelter. Even if you can’t adopt or foster….you can share!! Tell your friends, share Facebook posts…every single action you take towards saving an animals life counts! Do it today!! You may just save the next Jenga, simply by clicking the share button on Facebook. You will never feel better about having done a simple thing! Visit the Philly Urgents page on Facebook! And, now kitten season is upon us….so spread the word about all the great cats and kittens, too, please!!

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