happy otis

Otis on the shore

A little over a month ago, I noticed that Otis had a couple hard lumps on the right side of his neck, tucked up near his jaw where they were hard to detect. A little nervous, as he's a twelve year-old dog, I brought him in. Running labs on it, they came back as benign basal tumors. "Keep an eye on them, but not usual for a dog that age."

The vet didn't do a bloodtest, but I think even if she had, it wouldn't have mattered in what was to come. She wasn't an over pleasant person, kind of insincere and condescending, had Otis put in a muzzle, so I wasn't too keen on going back to her.

The snows came down hard in the next week or so, and quickly following it, Otis developed a bad case of kennel cough. Once I figured out what it was, I began getting him honey and other treatments that are usually pretty effective for getting puppers through it.

But then Otis stopped eating.

At first, I just thought that maybe he had a sore throat, but it continued, and Otis was a dog who usually wolfed down his food. I thought it might be that I had gotten cheaper food as a spacer until the next check, something I had often done throughout his life - just a small bag of Purina until my next paycheck hit so I could buy the big bag of the good stuff. But when I came home with the good stuff, he showed a similar disinterest. And now that I thought about it, he had kind of been turning his nose up since I started using the different fish juice on his food. Thinking it was some combo of the two, I went and grabbed a bottle of the stuff he used to love.

But he turned his head away at that too, leaving the whole bowl for Maesi to eat.

Now Otis would occassionally do this, eat a couple bites or just skip breakfast. He always rebounded in time for dinner with a renewed appetite, so the first couple meals he did this, I just thought he was being picky. After the third meal, I would hand him a piece of kibble at a time, he'd sniff it, then eat it. In that manner, he ate most of his breakfast.

But after a couple times of this, I began to get worried. I put water on his food to soften it, and that seemed to help for a couple meals, but then he would just sniff at it and walk away. I tried what had worked before, hand-feeding him the now-soggy kibble, but he wasn't interested anymore. He was also turning down the glucosimine pills, which he had been real excited about when I had introduced them to his diet a couple weeks back. I had joked with the roommates that both of the dogs had gone full puppy mode, and I wasn't positive the tablets weren't actually cocaine.

It was around here that the mild buzz at the back of mind, the one that had been gathering in intensity since around October, began to rise in intensity: something was wrong.

I got him wet food after work and he gobbled that stuff down in an instant. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief that maybe he just had a toothache or a sore throat. He was a coughing a little, but the case of kennel cough still seemed fairly mild. I had washed his bowl a week or so back and maybe I hadn't gotten all the soap off. Maybe John, the younger of my two roommates, shewed Otis out of the way once too often while he was eating and he had made some weird association.

He ate a little bit of his food in the morning, not all, but with a full meal in his belly after a handful where he hadn't eaten much at all, I had figured that maybe his stomach had shrunk and he was just full. But even here, some things I had been waving off as Otis' age showing began to ring more bells.

On his walks, for example, he would occasionally pause. Now Maesi had always been an "OMG LET'S GET THROUGH THE WALK LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF DAD WHAT'S THAT UP THERE LET'S GO UP THERE RIGHT NOW" walker, whereas Otis had always been more of a browser, taking his time, sniffing at the things, making sure his marks on the various neighborhood landmarks were still up to date; my arms would perpetually be pulled in two different directions: Maesi towing me, and me towing Otis.

But lately that had changed: Otis needed actual breaks. Rather than sniffing things, he'd just stand still, unmoving, watching me, resisting the tug of the leash. He wasn't pulling back like he wanted to go back and inspect something, he was just telling me he needed to stop, to take a break, and (I now realize) to catch his breath.

Now those pauses were becoming more prevalent. We'd go a block or so and he'd stop. Half a block. He'd start going again, but the pause was there, and when he'd begin walking again, it would be with gingerly, short paces, his head lowered. But he'd still play tug with the leash handle when he saw another dog, enthusastically taking his reward for not freaking out.

That Thursday, things seemed back on track, and Otis had had this growth on his cheek that had gotten steadily worse over the last couple months. Having a little bit of a raise at work, I felt that maybe it was causing him some pain, and maybe that's why he wasn't eating as much. Or if it wasn't, it was ugly, it had to hurt at least a little bit, and I wanted it gone. I dropped by the vet on my way to the gym and made an appointment for the 24th, payday, to take him in and get it lanced (at least), or removed if possible.

By that night, after the walk, he turned down dinner again. Beginning to get desperate, I tried a different kind of wet food and he ate most of it down. At this point, I was sure something was wrong, and his cough was getting worse. Reading that kennel cough could kill a dog's appetite, that was my initial thought, so I got honey and he lapped that down.

But his cough got worse over the weekend and stopped eating entirely, even turning down small chunks of apple and cottage cheese. I wasn't sure, but I also hadn't seen him drink a lot of water, either. To this point in his life, Otis would usually go a day or so without drinking, then he'd polish off an entire bowl or two in one sitting. But day after day? No.

By Wednesday, the 22nd of January, in tears, terrified after he wouldn't eat dinner again, I took him in to the vet.  I was there probably fifteen minutes before closing, condescending vet or no.

Thankfully, I got a different vet this time, and she was everything a vet should be: concerned, respectful, loved the dog, Otis, despite being weak and dehydrated, curled behind me but seemed to like her. They checked his weight only to find he had dropped from 71lbs, his super-healthy diet weight I had been focused at keeping him at these last few years as he got older, to a 66lbs - a nearly 10% drop in weight.

She took his temp and found no fever, checked his gums and confirmed he was badly dehydrated. She checked his lungs and frowned. Given the worsening cough, I had thought that maybe the cough had complicated up to pneumonia, and she confirmed she thought it had, too. She said she wanted to do x-rays - my previous check is the one I pay the majority of my mortgage on, so I was broke, but I had been spending the last two years paying down my credit cards from "the bad times." I had what I felt was a enough room on them, and this was far too important to wait.

They took him out and x-rayed him, then brought him back with some wet "recovery" food. He went to town on it, the first full meal he had eaten in two days. The vet came back in, carrying a tablet. The look on her face told me that something wasn't right.

She put the tablet down on the vet table, showing me an profile x-ray of my boy's torso. The lungs were white with flecks of infection: definitely pneumonia. At first, there was both sadness I hadn't just eaten the inevitable credit card bill and taken him in sooner, as well as a little bit of relief that all his coughing had a solution. But her face said differently.

She pointed out the infection and said it was definitely pneumonia, and that she had some stuff that should knock it out quickly, but she also saw something else there, hiding at the bottom of the lungs. She pointed to a few larger bright spots spread along the bottom of his lungs, three of them that I could see, and said: "These are something else, though, and they worry me."

She went on to ask if Otis had been to Texas or somewhere in the deep south in recent weeks, and of course he hadn't, and she noted that removed the possibility it was a rare type of fungus that presented that way. Of course, the other option was that it was cancerous.

"I'm sorry, but he has a week, maybe two."

She was gentle with her explanations, and a lot of it I already knew, but she didn't give me false hope: even with treatment, his life would now be measured in weeks, and not many of them at that.

My mind flashed to an image of Otis undergoing painful, tiring treatments for a week or two or three, holding on for me, getting weaker and weaker, being in more and more pain. Spending more time in a vet clinic that terrified him in the best of times, ever since his surgery when he had been two or three years old. Him going from his still relatively strong, healthy form to one that was wasted away, holding on as hard as he could just for me, and me ignoring his pain and selfishly holding onto him.

My mind flashed to Fresca, the German shepherd we got in Germany, holding on for nearly fifteen years, her hips gone, blind, mostly unable to smell or bark or eat solid food, having to be carried out to poop or go to the bathroom, all her pride and strength long gone. My dad had once told me, privately, sadly, that they had held on far too long, that Fresca didn't have a good life at her end.

For all that Otis had done for me, all the smiles he had brought me over the years, making me smile with his antics or just licking my face or just being a presence at my side, I owed him that: I owed him the dignity to choose his time. To go out proud and strong and cognizant. To be able to feel that happiness he had brought into my life and into this world and bask in it rather than the terror of a slow, strangling, suffocating death.

"Miracles can happen," the vet said. "I watched a cat that should have died hang on and fight for five more years, the cancer was there but she went on like it didn't matter." And I had heard those stories too, and of course there were hopes and doubts. I glanced at that x-ray again.

"But that's not likely, is it."

She admitted it wasn't.

"So on Friday, I'll have a hard choice to make if he's not showing signs of getting better?"

She agreed.

She said they'd load him up on liquid and electrolytes, he was so dehydrated, as well as a very strong antibiotic for the infection.

"He should perk up by tomorrow."

"And what would 'perking up' look like?"

"Not jumping around, but he should be livelier."

"Eating his food?"

"Yeah, he should. Maybe not all at once, but that recovery food is designed to get them to eat it. I'll send you home with a couple cans - just bring them back if he doesn't use them and we'll credit you for them."

"And if there's no change?"

But of course I knew the answer to that last one. The put in the IV, loaded up his back with a hump full of saline and electrolytes, a white concoction of powerful antibiotics. That done, I thanked them and walked him out to Baron von Tinycar. He was weak, but seemed better, thankfully on his way towards being rehydrated. On the way home, he folded off the car seat, slipping halfway down towards the footwell. I pulled over to the side and got him back on the seat, got him home.

I took a moment to write in to work, to tell them that on top of afternoon on Friday, I was also taking Thursday and all of Friday off. I told them why. Then I logged off of the computer and went and joined Otis back on the bed, where he lay exhausted. I threw an arm around him and just cuddled him, as I had so many times before, but in much lighter times. Now there was a sense of desperation, of finality, to it. I wasn't just holding him, I was burning everything about those moments into my mind, into my memories.

The velvet feel of his cheeks, his soft, sometimes floppy ears, the way he good-naturely groan if I scratched his ear the right way, leaning into it, putting the full weight of his massive hand onto the hand doing the scratching. I petted his flank, felt his breathing, remembering the way it had always struck me as odd that Otis, nearly a third of my weight, had nearly the same breathing rhythm as my own.

I didn't sleep much, and Otis didn't sleep much either, waking up coughing a couple times as he had the previous nights. Still, a small hopeful part of me wanted to think that maybe it had receded a little bit, that all the rehydration had had some effect, albeit small.

Probably around 3am, we fell into an uneasy sleep. I don't know when I woke up, or how long I lay there just holding him, petting him to calm his coughing fits, just trying to make him comfortable. At around 9am, I finally got up, hoping that he'd take to the recovery can like he did the previous night.

He didn't.

He sniffed at it briefly, turned his head away.

"Are you telling me you're done, Otis?"

He looked at me with those far-too-human eyes. They weren't sad, they weren't remorseful: they were the look I had received a thousand times before - when he needed to go outside, when the water dish was full (or not fresh enough), when it was time to go for a walk, when he wanted hugs - he was crushing into me, trying to convey, a desire, willing me to understand him.

It was always the hardest thing to convey to people: his ferocious intelligence. Despite his goofy nature and his idiosynchrasies, the brain behind those eyes was sometimes spooky in its ability to convey desires and empathy, in its ability to reason. And I understood it. Unlike the previous days, where desperation almost gave way to anger, I tried once to feed him by hand, scooping up the wet goop with two fingers and holding it out to him, but he again turned his head and slowly walked back to the bedroom.

Any illusions I had of a "lively Otis" arriving drained away.

Understanding his time was winding down, both us understanding that, I think, I went back to join him, just hugging him close and sobbing. I tried enticing him with the food again, he ate a bite of cottage cheese, but he barely lifted his head off the blanket, and then only enough to turn his head away.

So I just lay there and held him, putting the TV on for noise, but not watching anything, just holding him, just burning these last hours into my mind. Not him dying, I knew those would haunt me, but the feel of him, the little things you never remember when someone's gone.

Each time a coughing fit attacked him, I'd pet him into calmness. It seemed to work. Really, the coughing did seem to be getting a little better, and I allowed myself to hope just a little bit, that maybe he could fight this thing off, live another couple years and I'd remark on how resilient and miraculous it had been.

Somewhere that afternoon, I realized I was wallowing and, the bedroom door closed, maybe Otis was feeding on that, as well as my sadness.

"Want to go for a walk?"

His ears perked up immediately, and he slid off the bed, making his little excited "Mrrm? Merrm?" whine he always did. But he was less animated than he normally was, and Maesi almost knocked him flat in her excitement, not something that would have even been possible a couple weeks prior. I saw it. Of course I saw it.

Leashed up, we went outside into the overcast day, the heavy rains having subsided for the moment. My neighbors were outside, working on one of the many cars they had lined up out there. They were talking to each other, father and grandfather, didn't seem to see me. I crossed the street as I always did, to the wider yard where the kids liked to sniff and trade their scent-stories with all the other dogs that passed that corner.

I wasn't sure how far I'd go - a block, maybe two? I'd play it by ear and see how he did. He still had a full meal in him from the day before, and all those electrolytes and saline, but I was sure he was weak, and he probably wouldn't be able to go far. Maybe just around the block then.

Maesi pulled forward, as she always did, "guiding the pack," but Otis lingered back and, after a few steps, stopped completely.

"Come on, buddy - you want to keep going?"

He just stood there at the end of the leash, not pulling back, but refusing to go further.

I squatted in front of him, gently petted his big, powerful head.

"You okay? Want to go back?"

He turned at that and began to walk back towards home across the stream. Our walk for the day encompassed roughly fifty feet.

Even though it was far too early, I tried dinner, seeing if maybe the rest had helped his appetite, but it hadn't.

The rest of the day blurred by. At one point, after a coughing fit, I grabbed my glass of water and dipped my fingers in it, holding it out for him. He licked the water off, so I did it again. And again, finally just pouring the water into my cupped hand. He wouldn't drink from the bowl when offered, but he was drinking this. But after a few cupped handfuls of water, he lay his head back down, sniffing at my hand, but not drinking.

I called the vet's office, told them he hadn't pepped up, and that I was keeping my appointment on Friday. And that the purpose wasn't going to be for some infected blister on his cheek.

The tech on the other end of the phone, said that I could talk to the vet when I got there at the appointment for a further assesment, but she had been there the previous night, had helped hold the line, had talked to me as I had held him.

At some point, realizing this was the end, I loaded him and his sister into the car and we went for a ride out to Snohomish. It was deep in the winter, and the cows they loved to sniff at weren't outside, but it was still a ride, and they both loved those. It took some time, but the lethargy peeled back a little bit and he was smiling. Slight, but it was there. On the way home, I pulled through a Starbucks and got a puppercino for both of them. Otis licked down about half of his before losing interest, like the smell, but not longer licking at it.

I drove back home.

I had played this out a few times in my life, what his last days would be like. In this imaginary final day, I pictured us going to a big park, letting him walk around and sniff all the things, then coming home and cooking him up a steak or something else suitably decadent: the human food he had been denied all his life. But here, at the end, that had been stolen from me. All I could do was be present. And wait.

We watched movies, I tried to draw, keeping his little furry form pressed against my leg, the way he liked - he always had to be touching me. When he started coughing, I'd pet him.

And that clock continued to wind down, each breath an uncoiling of that spring that had powered his life for twelve years.

That night passed mostly quietly, interrupted by only a couple coughing fits, or him shifting to get into a more comfortable position, probably wondering why I was sleeping facing the wrong direction, my head even with his rather than him facing my feet like he preferred.

But at 4:30 in the morning, that changed.

It began with a couple coughs, but then he couldn't stop, each cough powering another. I pet him, but he kept wheezing to breathe, giving a second to or less to contemplate before the next cough arrived to rob him of his breath. I was sitting up by now, patting his side gently, but it clearly wasn't working.

"Otis? Hey - hey, buddy: breathe. Breathe. It will be over soon, I promise, but please make it to 3pm. Please just a little longer." It babbled out of me and I knew it wasn't helpful. I pulled his limp, gasping form, a 65lbs deadweight, up into a sit, giving that airway a vertical aspect that I hoped would help, remembering my own bout of minor pneumonia a year or two back.

His eyes were glazed, the coughing continuing: wheezecoughwheezecoughwheezecough.

A vision of him dying right there in my arms flashed by, if I had waited too long, if he didn't make it to 3pm but died right here...

I forced his mouth shut and breathed into his nose.

His eyes opened, still glazed, but the cough that was coming was held at bay for a second.

I did it again.

His glazed, surprised eyes rolled slowly towards me, but the coughing had stopped. He licked at his lips once, blinked slowly. His eyes rolled to my own, locking me with a look I hadn't seen before. It's hard to describe, maybe it was gratitude, maybe just shock.

I reached to do it a third time, but he slowly, weakly turned his head away from me, so I didn't. As I swore I would do, I respected his dignity, respect his decision, as much as it might hurt me.

"You okay?"

He looked at me again and laid his head down, but the coughing didn't come back for the rest of that day, and certainly not as bad. Again, that flicker of hope crept in, just a sliver, that maybe it was all wrong, that maybe it was just a really bad case of pneumonia, but no: I had seen the x-rays, too. And Otis still wasn't eating or drinking water; even cupped in my hands, a couple licks I think more to appease me than to get the liquid into his body. He was done.

"Just hold on, kid. Just a few more hours, okay? Please..."

Any illusions I had of his time being delayed in some fashion had been blasted away in that one coughing spell. Time, remorseless and inevitable, the tidal push and pull of his life slowly pulling out from the shore and into the moonlit sea a final time.

I just hugged him close, talked to him a bit, but mostly just sat there, pet him, listened to him breathe, watching his barrel-chested, powerful little form rise and fall, rise and fall, a rhythm of twelve years unwinding towards that moment a few hours distant.

Sometime that afternoon, Clifford came home and Otis raised his head, whuffing at him. It was hoarse and lacked the usual authority he projected at my roommate in his many demands to play ball, but it was more animated than I had seen him in a couple days. He slid off the bed and trotted slowly out to Clifford, his tail almost coming up to full saber, but not quite, still swinging with as much power as he could muster.

Clifford knelt next to him and Otis licked his face.

Biting on the moment of animation, I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk. Of course Maesi, feeling the weight of all the sadness in the house, and cooped up for two days now, hopped up and began her prancy-foot dance, her front feet bouncing uncontrollably back-and-forth on the hardwood floor. Even Otis was caught up in the moment, his ears perked, perhaps having managed to catch his breath, perhaps the antibiotics, powerless against the tumors consuming his lungs, were making some slow progress against the infection from the pneumonia.

Leashes on, we went out into the blustery day. This time, I decided to go the other route, and move as slowly as Otis wanted to. And the progress was slow. He made it across the street, but by the time he reached the far sidewalk, he was moving at that old-man-shuffle that had appeared in the last couple weeks.

"You want any grass, kiddo?"

Maesi was already bouncing to the big clump, wolfing it down as if she was starving, as if she hadn't been eating two meals, hers and Otis', for the last week. The two of them had done this for years: a specific type of wide-bladed grass, and they had never thrown it up. It was just part of our walks: pause for some delicious grass-eating.

But Otis wasn't interested, he just seemed to be content to try to keep moving forward, as if he realized this would be the last walk.

We moved to the corner, further than we had the day before, and rounded the corner. I had some vision of actually being able to round the block, particularly as we slowly made our way up the next block, but at the second house in, under renovation for the last year, he moved out to the slight downward slope, eating some grass - the first thing he had eaten all day, his gate was unbalanced and weak, and stumbled a little bit, but his ears were rolled forward and slightly picked as he ripped up a mouthful or two of grass.

A breeze picked up and he sniffed at it, then he sat down heavily in front of the grass, leaving the clump forgotten in front of him. He just sniffed at the air as it blew across him, his head swiveling, those gorilla-eyes taking in the world around him, just looking at the surrounding neighborhood.

"Do you want to keep going?"

He sniffed at the air, eyes flicking to me for a second.

"It's okay, kiddo. We can just sit here."

And we did; just sat there and took in the wind and coming rain, the bluster of the day slowly building, the gray sky folding back against itself again and again in a ripple of pulled cotton, threatening rain eventually, but holding off for now.

I pet him quietly against that storm, quiet, taking it in with him. And I'm sure he could feel it better than me: that spring slowly uncoiling one tick at a time.

I felt his soft fur beneath my fingers, the warmth of his body beneath that.

After a minute, maybe less, he gathered his back legs under him and stood up, the small burst of energy gained by Clifford's return spent.

"Want to keep going?"

There were slow, sad tailwags to this, but he didn't move.


He just watched me, those yellow eyes taking me in just as his nose had been taking in the universe a few moments before.

"You want to go home, kid?"

He turned slowly and began walking back down the block, moving towards the overgrown hedgerow at the corner that marked the last length of sidewalk before reaching the house. We came back in and I hung up the leashes. I tried to get him to eat a couple bites, but he turned his head again, and I didn't push it. He went back to the bed, laying down with his head facing the door as he usually did.

He'd occasionally give a hearty whuf at Clifford when he came out of his room, but was mostly quiet. Alert, the episode of the morning gone, but quiet.

Jen, my former roommate, had mentioned she wanted to be there when I took him to the vet. Initially, I quelled against that, but quickly realized that Otis had touched more lives than my own, and even admitting that perhaps my friends would want to be there for me, as well. She was thinking she wouldn't be able to make it, but then, with about 45 minutes to go, I checked my phone and saw she was on her way.

Jen had moved out the day Clifford had moved in, and for a couple weeks, Otis had blamed Clifford for that, actually growling when he'd see him. Jen had provided the coveted headskritches, after all, and would often talk to him and play with him, and this new guy had chased her off. Over the last two years, though, especially after Clifford got him Ball, the great, purple spiked thing which Otis would happily chase down the hallway, moving a quick trot to grab it and bring it back. While his fascination with playing fetch had ended a week ago, his love for Clifford hadn't.

When Jen showed up, despite having been gone for perhaps a year and a half, Otis knew her instantly, he immediately puffed up and licked her face, ferociously chuffing at Clifford and guarding "his" Jen. All a game at this point, the days of it being a serious worry of mine long gone: these were two of Otis' favorite people. I asked Clifford if he wanted to go with to the vet, and he seemed to say no, but then consider and nodded.

Time was short now, and I could feel that merciless tug on my ankles, the powerful flow of the ocean slowly and inexorably pulling back. I just hugged him. Jen did. There wasn't much talking.

My alarm went off, thirty minutes to go, even though the vet was only ten or fifteen minutes away. It took me a few minutes to stand, trying to will a few more hours into that clock and, failing that, failing him a final time, I stood and folded up the red blanket he loved to sleep on and under, the same blanket I had wrapped him up in so many times over the last couple years. On a whim, I grabbed his beloved squeakyball, too, but I didn't hold out much hope he'd be interested in it: he had long ago decided that my ball-throwing skills were inferior to Clifford's, although occasionally he'd humor me by letting me throw it.

Out in the car, I put the blanket on the passenger seat, Otis' seat, and came back into the house. There were still ten or so minutes before we had to leave, so I just knelt in front of him and hugged him.

"Want to go for a ride?" His ears shot up as they always did at those words. It felt like betrayal.

That "merm! Mermm! Merm" again, Maesi with her prancyfeet dance. I debated right up to the end if I should bring her. She's another breathtakingly intelligent dog, so empathetic and sensitive that in another life, she could have been a remarkable therapy dog. But instead she landed with me, something I had been thankful with for the better part of thirteen years. I decided that, even if she didn't have the same concept of death, being in the room, being able to smell him and feel him go, would be unambiguous for her, too.

There would be no "Otis left the house and never came back." I've seen that in other pets and I didn't want that fate for Maesi, constantly searching corners and old sleeping places for her companion, her little brother, of the last twelve years.

I loaded Otis into the passenger seat, and Maesi into the back, Otis having to shift a little with the added padding of the blanket beneath him. He gave me a little smile, happy for the one last ride. I didn't want to turn the key, turn on the car; I wanted the moment to stretch, I wanted to burn him into my eyes and never forget that little smile, those eyes...always those eyes.

My little gorillabearpighippodog.

But another thought, a few days from now, maybe not even that long, another episode like that morning, a vision of him getting weaker, being in pain, coughing, coughing, coughing until, exhausted, terrified, powerless, he died.

And I couldn't do that to him. I wouldn't. No matter how hard I loved him, because of how hard I loved him, this had to be the way. Selfishness for his life was a pale candle to the sun his love had shown on my life - I owed him this dignity, and so, so much more.

I turned the key.

The lights gave way as I drove south, each one green as I arrived, Clifford and Jen in tow in his car. I backed into a spot in front of the vet clinic and waited for a few seconds while Jen and Clifford found a place to park. I petted Otis' cheek, his ears, and just watched him. The clouds had been breaking for the last hour or so, and the sun poured in the front windscreen, basking his face in light. He was smiling, a full, broad smile. I ruffled the fur on the top of his head.

With Clifford and Jen out and moving towards the car, I got out and went into the vet, checking in. It was quiet and empty of other animals, so there would be no drama of pulling the dogs past another animal on their way out. The tech behind the desk said I could bring them in and I did so.

I let them out and grabbed the blanket and the squeakyball and made my way inside with the two kids in tow. Maesi was nervous and paced around frantically, but Otis was lethargic and slow - not for the first time, I feel he knew what this was.

For some reason, they wanted to weigh Otis, something he always hated, and I asked if it was actually necessary, considering what we were there for, but lifted him up and sat him on the scale regardless. It wasn't hard to move him now, he didn't struggle.

I didn't bother to look at the scale.

They moved us into a waiting room, relatively small, but easily large enough for three people and two dogs, a black faux leather couch pressed against the far wall, a single small table beside it with a couple magazines and some kleenex. There were two doors on the same wall, one leading to the small lobby we had just come through, the other leading back to the operating and testing room. I sat on the floor between the two doors, unfolding the blanket and throwing it over my legs, refolding it a little so there was some padding against the hard, tiled floor.

Maesi wasn't happy by this, and moved around the room in quick, jerking, nervous movements, but Otis, exhausted it seemed, mostly stood near the middle of the room, mostly facing me, smiling broadly, but sadly. Tired, but happy. I don't know if it was relief or the knowledge the last time he had been here, he had eaten food and was given a humpback of water and drugs. Perhaps it was just relief.

The tech came in, gave me the paperwork for his cremation, went over the details, gave the cheaper option of the community burial, where his ashes would be released with the other dogs cremated that day, spread across an orchird. It sounded beautiful, but Otis didn't particularly like other dogs. The only dog he had ever truly tolerated was Maesi, which had always been sad to me. But no - no, I needed him back. I would take him on one last walk, I would take him to that big park he was robbed of, I would take him to all his spots in the neighborhood, a final claiming of his territory.

He would have liked that.

There was an option for some of his fur and a pawprint. I had taken his pawprint earlier, a big piece of he and Maesi I had been planning earlier, another little flicker in my subconscious that something might have been wrong with him, but this was an impression, and he wouldn't be struggling to pull his paw away for that one. I hoped they don't clip his claws: he always hated that, too. I checked the box, signed the release form, and the tech left.

A few minutes later, the vet came in and my heart fell a little bit as I saw it was the vet from Otis' first appointment and not the one on Wednesday. While very likely a techinically skilled vet, she lacked the personal skills that are so necessary for that job, the skills that require you to deal with the people who own the animals. She meant well, I know she meant well, and was sympathetic in her own way, but by this point, I absolutely knew what was going to happen, and had come to terms with it. Or at least tried to.

I nodded my way through her speech, confirming that I was there to put him down.

She asked for payment in advance, which...I don't really know the kind of person that would stiff a vet, but I'm sure it happens a lot. Particularly if a person is grief-stricken and just wants to get out of the place their companion just died. It perhaps wasn't handled in the most tactful way, but I just handed over the credit card without a word.

I just let Otis roam the room for a few seconds while they ran the card, the vet saying she was going to go get a sedative to "calm him down," and then would come back a few minutes after to put in the catheter. She came back a few seconds later and I held him while she put in the needle for the sedative.

Otis was always good about taking needles, and he was this time too, just looking at me with something I could only describe as a bored face. When she left, that smile came back and I let him wander the small room. Jen and Clifford, tasked with keeping a mildly frantic Maesi in check, both petted him and gave him hugs and then, slightly confused, he began to meander towards the door that led to the lobby, but already his movements were becoming sluggish and not entirely coordinated.

"I think it's starting to kick in," Jen said, and I agreed. Him in reach, I snagged his leash and gently pulled him towards my lap. Just in time, it turned out, as he lost control in his legs and sprawled awkwardly across me, struggled to get back up, but failed. I pulled his legs under him in a more comfortable position for him, wrapped the red blanket up over his far side. I just hugged him. He was still mildly lucid at this point, and I knew me sobbing or crying would freak him out: and I didn't want that to be his last thought on this earth "Why is dad sad? Why is he crying?"

I just told him he was a good boy, and that it was okay, and that it would be over quickly. Two minutes, kid, just two minutes, and I'll be here the entire time. I won't let go of you, okay? I'm here.

The vet came back in, too soon, late out a plastic tray with a couple needles in it, a shaver. I pulled his right arm out of the blanket and stretched it out, and Otis was already gone, the sedative having taken far, far away from the small waiting room, but somewhere in there, I'm sure he could hear us, feel us, smell us, sense me holding me.

She shaved out a patch on his arm, fed in the catheter but realized the cancer and the dehydration had shrank his veins. She left to grab a smaller one, coming back a few moments later. It only took her a few seconds to find the vein again and feed in the catheter. And it was time.

At some point in the last few seconds, Otis' tongue had begun to loll out of his mouth. Cute, sad, at first, now it was all the way out, his jaws pinching off the circulation in it, I'm sure. It just seemed wrong, so I pushed it back into his mouth, just a tiny bit still poking out. The vet pulled out the two needles of the pink stuff.

I knew how fast it worked: stopping the heart and brain in, at most, two minutes. She asked if I was ready and I said I was, and I began talking to him.

"I'm so proud of you, kid. You were so strong. You made me smile every single day, even on days when I wanted to do anything else. You saved my life."

I laid down so I could look into his eyes, but his irises were blown out from the sedative, both great pools of darkness and kept talking to him. I wish I could say I felt him go, that I saw it in his eyes, but there was little change between the sedative and the transition to the poison that killed him.

The vet moved the stethoscope to his still chest and said "He's gone."

The tide had finally pulled back, taking his small, powerful life with it.

She and the tech quietly left the room, but I petted him for a few more minutes, saying what needed to be said. I let go, sobbing over him, telling him I loved him, knowing the tiny being that had powered that body was gone now. But there was still some warmth, his fur was still soft. For a moment more, that husk was still my dog.

I called Maesi over, and she sniffed at him in a lightning quick gesture, and I wondered if what I had done was cruel, or if she would understand: understand why her brother wasn't here anymore.

"He wouldn't have slept like that in life." I pulled in his outstretched right arm and tucked it under him, putting his paws to either side of his nose the way he liked to hold them. I gently lowered him off my lap and to the blanketed floor. Standing up, I went to the hallway back towards the operation room. I could hear laughter, soft, quiet - just people at work doing their job. I caught a tech's attention and told her we were ready.

Two of them came in and lifted his small, limp form off the blanket and carried it back out of the waiting room. I folded up his blanket and grabbed the ball, pet Maesi and took her leash. I moved to the door and opened it to the lobby beyond.

So much of his life was bringing joy to mine, that it doesn't feel right to feel sad. And I mourn his loss, and I am sad, but I try to focus on that happiness he brought me, and how much it would bother him for me to sad, how much he would try to cheer me up.

And I'm trying, kid. I'll try for you. For your memory. For everything you taught me with the joy and love you brought into my life and hundreds of others.

Horse Latitudes

Welcome to the Show.

So this is going to be the only consistent open post on my journal. There are times when I unlock one for non-LJ friends or family to see.

Generally, I'm pretty open to adding new people, so if you want to add me, just comment here and tell me a little about yourself and I'll probably add you back.
Horse Latitudes

The Wonderful World of Oz (Part Two).

"He drinks a lager drink,
He drinks a something drink,
He drinks a drink drink,
drink, drink, drink-drink"

"That One Song about All the Drinking That Was Popular for Some Reason" ~ Chumbawumba

At this point, it still wasn't obvious that we wouldn't be hopping another plane within minutes or hours. The apparent graveyard shift authority of United, resembling a light-skinned black version of Groucho Marx, worked his way up and down the front of the crowds, the five hundred person clusterfuck of sleep-deprived, angry customers a steadily growing and grumbing crowd turning to a mob.

I didn't envy him.

He also didn't make things easier on himself.

"Please be patient and stay in line!" He was shouting at the crowd immediately in front of him, closest to the exit point of security, everyone lining up in front of about the ten counters now open and crewed by nightshift employees who likely never experienced anything even close to this volume. "We'll have refreshments brought out in just a few minutes!"

This calmed people down as we began to realize the last time any of us had eaten was lunchtime several hours ago. Now pushing 1am, the vast majority of the San Francisco airport was closed, along with all the restaurants; the thought of 'refreshments,' anything, was something.

The line early on - people were still smiling at this point.

After about ten minutes, I realized our line wasn't moving at all. Looking far down the terminal, I thought there might be shorter lines down the curve. Taking a short walk with my rapidly fading niece riding on my shoulders, leaning into my neck in a way I was starting to feel all the way down my spine, I found a line at the far end with only four people in it.

I waved my family over and smiled at our brilliance in finding the shortest line in the batch. After a few minutes, watching as the United spokesman made his way down the various stations, repeating his barely-heard updates, Geoff and I headed downstairs to the baggage claim to pull the family's bags.

When we got back to the line, I was surprised that the first person was still there, the United person behind the desk with a deer-in-the-headlights look, his ear trapped inside a phone while he stared blindly at the monitor in front of him.

Meanwhile, the United Groucho Marx made his way down to us, now stating that we would be put on planes heading out the next day and that United would fly out the planes "wingtip to wingtip," basically creating a new, one-time flight to Australia with the plane that was still being worked on.

"We have called up our regular mechanic crew and they'll have the plane fixed shortly. It's up to you if you want to go to a hotel or if you'd rather just wait here for the plane to be repaired." For most of the people in line, many of them now-angry Aussies, this sounded like a good plan: just ride out on the same plane a day later, rather than taking their chances on stand-by.

Meanwhile, I sat on the floor, pulled out my book, and read a few more pages. Three long chapters later, I pulled out my phone, looked at the time, and saw that two hours had passed: the line hadn't moved. Meanwhile, Groucho moved back and forth in front of the long, unmoving lines, continually making promises that it was quickly becoming obvious were just there to mollify the crowd and not something that were really going to happen.

The refreshments, for example, now forgotten behind a wave of "we'll have you all out of here in an hour and sleeping comfortably in hotels where we'll call you," had never materialized. The lines never moved, not a single one of them.

The mood began to turn ugly fast as 4am approached. Groucho claimed there was a 800 number people could call and that it might be faster than waiting in line. The overhead screens, that had gone into a Windows update, hadn't displayed any information for a good while.

I pointed out to Groucho that he could just open Notepad and type in the 800 number, and put it on the screen, rather than marching up and down the multitudes of pissed off yelling it at them.

"That's a great idea - I'll do that right now." There was no eyebrow wiggle, but I assume it was implied. My sister got the 800 number from someone who actually had a pen and paper to write it down with, sat on the floor, and began the process of talking to United that way.

The line, for its part, still hadn't moved. It had been four hours. Likewise, the 800 number never appeared on the screen.

Sitting quietly, reading my book, waiting for the line to move, waiting for my sister to make some headway, I happened to overhear a snippet of conversation that Groucho was having with a rapidly angering Aussie woman.

I walked over to make sure I heard it correctly.

"...we will honor your United flight."

"But what about the connection I missed in Australia? I was going to Cairnes on Jetstar!"

"Listen: we will honor the United flight to Sydney."

"But I missed my flight because of your company's screw up!"

"And we will do our best to make sure you get to Sydney."

I glanced at my own itinerary with dawning horror: our flights out of Sydney were on Jetstar, a decidedly not United airline. Already a full day behind, we were looking at the possibility of being stuck in Sydney when they got there with now way to get to the north coast and meet my dad.

For that matter, we still hadn't nailed down a way to even get to Australia. Groucho began to move back through the crowd, noting that it was getting close to 6am, and that the morning shift would be coming on. Added to that, morning flights would begin going out and we were all jamming up the United lines...

So we'd have to move.

Obviously, that idea was about as popular as you'd think it would be and the vast majority of people who hadn't already given up simply stood still as crews began to set up the portable line-guide ribbons.

My sister, after an hour on the phone, had secured us a pair of rooms at the Holiday Inn and a possible flight on stand-by through Singapore Air. My mom smiled at this, telling us Singapore was a much better airline; by that point, I felt getting flung by trebuchet on a flying turd would be better than flying United.

Assured that United would be picking up the tab, we headed out the door to a waiting shuttle, knowing that we'd be coming right back in five hours. Still, five hours in a real bed sounded worlds better than sitting on the floor of the San Francico airport.
Horse Latitudes

The Wonderful World of Oz (Part One).


"DFDKA;LKJF;E" ~ AC/DC (I have no idea what these guys are saying)

Somewhere on a distant back-burner, the family had always talked about going to Australia as a vacation. Since my brother-in-law was born there, he and my sister had been there a couple times in the intervening years and my parents, always the world-travelers, had been there several times, but never with the entire family together.

About two years ago, my dad first broached the plan of a great family gathering in the land down under and told me to think about it. Of course, the "thinking" part of that took somewhere in the range of a second.

In that one moment, I had no idea that my stable work and home-life would tumble off into weirdness. With a couple months to go, I still hadn't secured a full-time job and I wasn't even sure I was still going to be living in Washington state by the time the fam was due to head for Oz.

But things gradually clicked into place, the final piece snapping tight only a couple days before, finding a few friends to watch my dogs over a weekend when the roommate wouldn't be around.

Two weeks. I was going to have two full weeks in Australia.

With my car having a few issues, I felt it was a better idea to just take the bus and the lightrail on down to the airport, four hours early because, like my mom, on top of bad things happening to my pets, things have a tendency to go goofy when I travel.

Walking in, carrying only a pair of backpacks (one my trusty hiking pack), I went up to the e-counter, checked in, checked in my bag, and, beaming, headed for my terminal, hours ahead of schedule. I got some food, broke out my travel book, and sat down to read.

In two hours, I'd be in San Francisco, hanging with my mom, sister, bro, and niece, all of whom I hadn't seen for the better part of a year and a half. I'd blank out while thinking about Australia and seeing the fam, rereading the same page five or six time before giving up and breaking out the sketchbook.

On the plane, wheels up, airborn, I was on my way.

Three hours later, I walked off the plane and to a text message from my brother; he and my sister had been sending me notes for the better part of a year of Kaili wanting to see her uncle.

Down one United terminal, and up the whole length of another, I could see my mom, long before she saw me, running back and forth down the length of the moving sidewalks, trying to wear out the precocious five year-old before our impending sixteen-hour flight.

Seeing me, she squealed, sprinted the length of the moving sidewalk, and scrambled up into my arms. Carrying her down to the where the rest of the family was, I settled in, Kai on my lap jabbering at me, and caught up. We were only a short distance from the terminal our plane would leave from, only an hour or so until boarding started.

We walked down to the lower level where people were roughly five hundred people had piled in, waiting to board the plane. I managed to sweet talk a stewardess into putting our family in a row, as opposed to separated by several rows.

Another thirty minutes passed as they prepped the plane, and then loaded on the first class and business class people. My dad had burned a bunch of frequent flyer hours to land us all up in Economy Plus: not quite as squished as economy class, but close.

Best I could tell, there was slightly more leg room. Didn't matter: we were all looking forward to spending the next eight hours or so sleeping. Others, bound for the squished back half of the United plane, filed past, huge carryon bags banging against every seat on the way back.

I looked over at my mom, smiled, and high-fived her: just a few hours in the air, half a day, and we'd be in Sydney. I dug out my book, read a couple pages.

Read a couple more.

Cleared a chapter.

Frowning, I looked up - everyone was seated now, the doors shut and had been for a while. There was the low whine of the engines and the air blew recycled beer farts into my face. Other people were chatting quietly, waiting for the plane to push back from the terminal.

After an hour of this, the pilot came on the intercom and told us that there was heavy traffic and we were being asked to stay put. A half hour later, he came back on and told us there was a mechanical issue, but that it was being resolved.

Turned out the mechanical bit was true, and the pilot said there was a fuel leak and we'd have to deplane, that United would try to fix the plane and get us out of there "soon." Groaning, many of us eyeing our connections in Sydney and doing silent calculations, we filed off the plane and into the terminal. All five hundred passengers.

Many were grumbling and, like us, worrying about the connections from Sydney. Another hour ticked by and by now it was pushing into late night; the intercom crackled to life:

"Okay! The mechanics couldn't fix the fuel leak, but we're bringing up another plane from the hanger. We will need a few minutes to shift the bags over and get the crew on board, and then we'll start boarding. Hold onto your ticket stubs as you'll be sitting in the same seat."

A tired-sounding cheer went up from some, others simply looked on or turned to their neighbor to ask for an explanation. Eventually, people began trickling back into the terminal, bags hoisted over shoulders lest the TSA tagged them as potential bombs.

Forty-five minutes later, the call went out for first class passengers to board. Sure enough, the select few that would ride in the egg-shaped pods in first class queued up and handed over their ticket stubs, and filed in. Next were the business class. Then....nothing.

We kept waiting for the the next wave until finally the intercom crackled to life again: "The mechanics have discovered a fuel leak on this plane, too. Please hang onto your ticket stubs and we will try to get you on connecting flights through our affiliates."

At this point, pushing into midnight, there weren't even groans - people were tired of being jerked around. More to the point, most people realized the 'connecting flights' would be leaving the next day at the earliest and would likely also be full flights.

It quickly became apparent that the earliest anyone would be getting out would be sometime mid-week. For me, two weeks of unpaid vacation in Oz was quickly turning into one week in an airport waiting on standby and a much shorter trip in the land down under.

At this point, a man in a green vest, apparently a United manager of some sort, came on the intercom: "If everyone could please pay attention? We're going to move all of you out to our main terminal. We have a whole bank of computers there and will be able to process your requests much more quickly. You'll need to go out, go through security, pick up your bags, and then proceed to the United Desk. From there, we can get you all on connecting flights as soon as possible and vouchers to hotels, if needed."

I had no idea how much I'd hate that man in just a few hours.

My family, all long-time travelers, simply exchanged glances with one another, and realized any arguing would only delay the process, and made our way up to the terminal.

Waiting there was a line of almost five hundred people, all waiting for space on other planes bound for Australia in the next few days.
Horse Latitudes

Maesi Cuddles.

The Making Of

So many of you whom are also friends on my Facebook know that I post gobs of pics of my dogs. And many of you see that I post loads more pictures of Otis than Maesi.

The main reason for this is demonstrated below. Otis, for his part, will sigh dramatically, sit heavily on my foot, and gaze sorrowfully up at me. A gaze so full of sorrow that it can only be sated by cheese, and thus hold that position until my gales of laughter convince him that his most serious "Eeyore" impression isn't impressing me.

Maesi, truly a beautiful dog by any standards, is an...intense...cuddler. A picture like this one:

Takes some work.

This time, rather than simply deleting all the outtakes, I decided to hang onto them, and show you all just how much work goes into those cute furkid pictures.

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Horse Latitudes

Sphinx Logo.

Some of you know this story and some of you don't. I'll put the short version here.

When I moved out here in '99, I did so mainly because Washington was better than Montana jobs-wise. More importantly, Washington, specifically Seattle, had a lot of venture capital money and a lot of game companies.

Jay (whose wedding is this weekend, the pre-stuff starting tonight) and I moved out here to make a game. After watching a few of our friends half-ass their own company together, make millions, and then fall apart as they had no business structure behind it (ie. one of them sued the others because they didn't have a business plan, legal documents, employee documents...it was basically just a project they were doing for fun. ....Until a venture capitalist picked them up), we decided we weren't going to go that road.

We did gobs of research of best practices of setting up a legal business, made a website, put all the documentation together. We actually had a working S-Corporation for my first five years here. Of course, it never went anywhere, first because of the Dot Com crash and then because there just wasn't any money out there following that (especially not for games).

The logo I came up with looked like this:

(we were selling surplus stuff for other companies by this point - this was shortly after I came back from Colorado and shortly before the last nail was put in the coffin).

So I have always wanted to make one of those logo videos to go along with this idea, but never really had the skills to pull it off: a lion with a person's head and wings is harder to pull off than it sounds, and even harder to make look at all good. Even with the company defunct, it was still intimidating.

In the last month, I decided to just do it. Still reworking the logo itself, but compared to the sphinx model, that's REAL easy. Behind the cut is the process I used to create the sphinx and the logo video. I didn't resize these (because I'm an asshole), but I will put them under a cut.

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Still not completely happy with the logo itself, but it's getting there. All told, the logo is FAR easier and quicker to manipulate.
Horse Latitudes

The Last Tool of Diplomacy.

I suspect this one will make the rounds today.

Warning: The video's graphic. Like jodfoster, the transcript is here: Transcript.

"Cry 'Havoc', and let slip the dogs of war, that this foul deed shall smell above the earth with carrion men, groaning for burial."

Julius Caesar ~ Shakespeare

"My answer is bring 'em on."

President George W. Bush ~ July 2, 2003

I've been listening to this report on the BBC for most of the morning. It's hard to listen to, for a variety of reasons.

I have never been in the military, I have never killed anyone, but having grown up with a parent in the military, I guess I could say that I understand the military mindset. The fact that my dad could have been a person in Iraq, actually was in Iraq for six months a couple years ago, brings it home.

This is not a war of fighting Nazis, marching in rank, driving in obvious German Panzer tanks across the fields of France: the insurgents of Iraq dress like civilians. They hide among the civilian populations. That's the point of being an insurgent: blend in, hide in the open.

America did this in our own war against Britain, to a lesser extent.

But to do that means the line between 'civilian' and 'soldier' is blurred. Blurred to the point where a snap-decision can kill a bomb-maker or kill two children in the front seat of a dark van.

Listening to BBC, they did a good job of getting both sides, but they had no bridge. The military commentator simply kept stating variations of: "It's war;" while the civilian who broke the story kept stating variations of: "The US military is desensitized and bloodthirsty."

Both are too simplistic.

For the military point of view, 2007 was a different time - it was at the height of the Surge and the war had been seeing high casualties from road-side bombs and from (civilian-dressed) insurgents. When there was a chance to actually shoot back at the enemy? They took it.

The Apache, the attack helicoptor the scene is viewed from, spots a large group of people in a courtyard (outside a mosque, it looks like). People will see what they want to see.

The order of "Stay firm" comes from what I assume is the equivalent of ground control, someone back in the Green Zone, likely, watching the video feed in real time. He was likely a person trained to spot weapons, but also a person looking for weapons.

He didn't have the benefit of an arrow and text stating "Camera." He had a blurry image of a dark object slung over a shoulder.

He had a person that was carrying an assault rifle. One of the group had an RPG. It was in a 'hot zone,' an area where there was active combat in the area.

He put 2 and 2 together. Unfortunately, 2 and 2 didn't equal 4, this time.

People will see what they want to see, what they think they should see. In this case, he saw a long black tube-like object on the back of two of the people. He saw at least one person with an AK (3:45-3:50 in the video - not obvious in stills, but watching the video, yeah: pretty obvious).

Whoever that person was did not have an endless amount of time to analyze video. They saw a person with an AK-47 (around 3:45-3:50, the guy in the middle of the three guys). They saw dark objects on slings.

They saw RPGs.

They saw the people that were killing Americans and Iraqis, both. They saw the people that were keeping the war going.

In that moment, those people became "the enemy." This is war. This is what war is: you kill as many of "them" as you can until they stop fighting, either because they no longer have the will to fight, or because there are none left to fight.

It's why Sherman, who burned all of Atlanta to the ground, stated: "War is Hell."

So the military commentator was correct: there were no war crimes here - only war. And war is horrible. Those reporters knew it was going to be dangerous - they knew they could be killed.

It is a tribute to them, as well, that they were willing to risk their lives to tell their stories. It is a tragedy they died. They were in that neighborhood because they had heard about the fighting and were going to report on it.

As I write this, those same insurgents that those Apache pilots thought they were shooting at blew up seven apartment buildings of civilians. At least forty-nine civilians were killed by their own countrymen simply to stir up religious tensions. Countless were injured.

And that, unlike the Apache attack, was not a mistake in target.

Does this justify the war? Does this justify the mistake of killing reporters in a war-zone?

No. No, there is no excuse for war: it is the last tool of diplomacy. The point where two people (or nations of people) cannot solve their problems rationally, and one must be destroyed.

I hope we one day live in a world where war isn't necessary. I'm sure those who fight in them would agree more than anyone.

[edit: I'm leaving this post open to the public. I'll likely lock it down later, but for now, it's open. Keep it civil, please - we're friends here.]
Horse Latitudes

Flist Cut

When I first made this journal a little over four years ago, it was to make a side-journal for my closest friends. My real journal was dawntheif and still exists out there, although it hasn't seen much traffic.

My original goal with this journal was to create something smaller and more intimate of people who knew me, either in real life or had been on my LJ for so long, they might as well know me in real life. The dawntheif journal was an amalgamation of people that were added pretty much at random.

While a few of those adds are still with me today (you know who you are), the majority were horrorshows of awkward comments, weird posts, and so on. I'm sure, in context, they were lovely people, but there was no connection there.

The goal with journal was different: to keep things small and close. I swore it would never be larger than 20 people and I had this plan of guarding that number ferociously.

Of course, that's not what happened; I got rolled into the seattle community and met a lot of you in person. dawntheif became a side show and I eventually went through and privatized all its entries.

The rules on this journal broke down.

As of the writing of this entry, I have 89 people in my "Friend Of" section. While I know a few of you, there's a few that haven't posted in years, have moved on to other mediums (Facebook, Twitter, etc), or our interests have simply diverged.

So here it is: I'm cutting down my friends list to a more manageable level. If you think I cut you in error, shoot me a line. Otherwise, if I ever see you in real life, I'll add you back.
Horse Latitudes

A Monster in the Street.

"Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad"

"Mad World" ~ Tears for Fears

There were a few of us in the backyard, talking about whatever was going on inside and looking out over the lake. The grill was fired up, but not quite warm enough to cook.

Jerrica laughed and said something, Otis glancing up at her with open adoration that only puppies can must on this Earth, face partially concealed within those wise puppy-wrinkles.

Maesi sniffed at the far side of the yard, testing at the grass on the fenced side of the yard. I watched her carefully: she’s usually pretty good about staying near us, but lately, with the addition of Otis, she’s taken to jogging away from us, keeping just out of reach, as dogs are wont to do.

Talking to the group around me, motion caught my eye: Maesi had looked up suddenly. My attention tracked to her and then to where she was looking. Seeing nothing, I looked back.

There was a tension running along the thick, black fur of her flanks – she was getting ready to run.

We keep her leash on when she’s running free like this. While she’s good at keeping her body (especially her neck and collar) far away from grasping human hands, she never considers the leash dragging four feet behind her. At those times when she chooses to run, this extra four feet and a foot landing on it, can often be enough to arrest a potential escape.

Almost on command, Maesi was gone, rushing past me, leash just missing my stomping foot. She tore around the unfenced side of the house, making a bee-line for the front yard and the open world beyond.

I’m fast, but no match for a dog. I jogged to the corner just in time for her to tear around the corner again, in full dog-sprint, past me and back into the back yard.

My neighbor was grilling in his backyard, too. Seeing the commotion, he grinned, raised a can of beer in his hand – a salute. One of his friends looked up, too, following his gesture, but their own world was a yard away, and that’s where their concentration was focused.

Jerrica reached for Maesi’s leash as she rushed past, trying to get ahold of the big dog before she could round about and head out to the front yard again. I watched as Otis’ leash dropped from her hand and she clutched for Maesi’s leash. She missed. Barely.

Otis, caught in the moment, took after his older sister, tiny puppy legs pumping to keep up with her; small mouth filled with sharp puppy-teeth trying to find purchase on one of Maesi’s trailing legs.

Maesi took an angle and shot past me again, heading for the front yard at a speed that seemed unreal. Trying to stomp on her leash as she went by, my brain was just registering the fact that our eight-week puppy was now free to roam.

Otis rounded the corner, slipping into the front yard. They both disappeared out of site, me trying to close the gap and failing miserably. I was sprinting, bellowing out for Maesi to stop, to come, to sit, to do anything but run away.

Maesi was on the far corner, across the street, grinning at me from the sidewalk, leash trailing behind her. She was panting, but that dog-grin was written wide across her face.

Otis, on the front lawn, looked back at me and did what all puppies do: ran across the street.

And I saw the SUV coming: a huge GMC Suburban – a monstrosity of metal coming too fast on the neighborhood street. They saw Otis, but it was too late.

The brakes squealed a little bit, but somehow I was able to hear the front passenger-side tire go over Otis’ back legs; his squeal raking its way down my brain and lodging somewhere in my heart.

The brake lights on the Suburban went off, but I had closed the distance with the SUV by then, I pounded on the back window, just above the wiper; screamed at them to wait – Otis was still under the car, just behind the front tire.

I was sobbing at this point – the little dog had grown on me, that sweet little face and those intelligent, almost human-looking eyes. I fell to my knees and reached for his tiny body.

If I could just get him to a vet, he might not walk again, but he’d be fine. He’d be fine.

But the SUV hadn’t gone over his legs – it had gone over his head. But that wasn’t right, either: I had seen it, I had heard him cry out. My thoughts were mostly washed away, but still try to make sense of it.

A dream. A fucking dream.

We didn’t have a lake in our backyard, what were we barbequing for? Inconsistencies began to worm their way up as consciousness drifted back to me.

I clawed my way out of it and reach across the covers of the bed, Jerrica deep in sleep beside me. My eyes focuses on the red numbers projected across the ceiling – 2:12am. A deep breath; my fingers find the short coarse hair of Otis’ side, quite fine and asleep on the bed.

I sit up and lean towards him, shifting him onto my lap and petting him until the dream melts away. I take a ragged breath and his eyes open to slits.

He lets out a sigh and snuggles into the crook of my arm. I breath deep a few times, letting reality exert its flow into my thoughts. I lay back down and shift to my side, pulling a large sigh from Otis.

Sleep doesn’t come for a while, but my heart slows and hurts less.