Category Archives: guard dog

Murphy’s Law ( be vigilant protecting those you love)

 Eleven plus years ago I became  the human charge of Murphy, Great Pyrenees Cross, Captain of the Palace Guard, Ever Vigilant, Scourge of the Forest, my faithful guard dog. Just ten months old at the time, he was unruly and stubbornly independent as all Pyrs are but with consistent rules, lots of affection and exercise as well as allowing for his basic nature as a guard dog he became a fabulous and integral part of our household and the neighbourhood.

Yesterday, 17 March, St. Patrick’s Day, we, Ann and I, eased his way to The Undiscovered Country after a week of physical downturn made more difficult by the most recent heavy snowstorm and cold weather. He had been in good shape for a twelve year old Pyr, leaping over logs and running through the woods as recently as a week ago. The woods seem empty without him and are definitely quieter without his patrolling and on-guard bark designed to keep the denizens of the woods at bay. Now comes the hard part of figuring out my days without my big quiet bear of a dog to consider. 

Who is going to make me laugh every day? How do I arrange my days now that I do not have my ever-present quiet buddy reminding me how much fun it is to check out the spooky forest around us?

A day in our life would begin like this: I am reluctant to get out of my warm bed in my cold, loft-like room and Murphy, polite and kind dog that he is, doesn’t bug me until I actually sit up even though he is listening for that moment.  He stands up and comes over to push his head into me and we have a morning greeting, I massage his shoulders and neck and he pushes all of his 95 pounds into me. He smells really good for a dog, a Pyrenees trait to better blend with the sheep they guard.

I get dressed and go downstairs to light the stove and he will either move to the top of the stairs to wait until I am ready to go out or he will come down and go out to wait for me and our first walk of the day. I don appropriate garb for the walk up the hill and away we go. I used to go down the road with him on leash for the first walk  but I like heading up into the woods better because we both get a better workout and it is faster because there is less stopping for the pee-mail checks. 

We start together but Murphy ranges farther than my loop trail (unless there is a lot of new snow and then he lets me break trail with my snowshoes) but we meet up at various points on the loop. If we go early enough we see deer or turkeys and in the new snow, tracks of porcupine, raccoon, coyote, fox and other residents of the forest. 

At some point on the loop before it intersects with the trail back down ( I call it The Narnia Intersection because my neighbour’s trail arrives at that point as well, making a sort of crossroads. There really ought to be a lamp post just there) he meets me or catches up to me and I have treats for him. We stop and look down the hill through the trees. The trail makes a sharp turn beside some small balsam trees and I head for the Narnia Intersection and down and Murphy takes the high road just below the ridge of the hill. On the way down I stop to see if I can see him as he parallels me. He blends really well no matter the season. Mostly he times his progress so that he arrives in our dooryard exactly when I do.

Late afternoon waiting on the second walk of the day

At that point he takes up a guard position for the  day. When I am in my lair at the back of the garage he is beside the driveway within sight of my door and earshot when it opens or in the woods just outside my door. When I go in to the house to make my breakfast he moves to a position in front of the house or sometimes he comes in for a bite but then goes out immediately because he has a job to do, to be on guard.

On top of the snow pile gives a better view of the road

He has several vantage points beside the driveway and in front of the house and sometimes on the hill behind, but wherever he is, he is always watching down the hill towards the road and the possibility of strangers. He knows all the vehicles of everyone who lives beyond us. The town serviced part of our road ends at the next house but the road continues narrowly through the woods for four other places that are off-grid. When a strange vehicle drives by on the road below he gives a bark of warning. When someone comes up the drive his bark varies depending on whether it is someone we know or a stranger. As soon as I come out to see he sits by my side quietly, ready to assist as needed. I did not train him to do so.

Summer bunker beside the driveway

In summer he has bunkers he digs out beside the drive so he is cool and somewhat hidden. However comfortable he may appear, Murphy is ever vigilant. When he perceives someone or other who does not belong he will bark in a way that sounds like he is about to go into attack mode, but every time I go to the rescue he is invariably lying comfortably with his paws crossed using the least effort for the most gain.

When I work in the yard stacking wood or other chores he positions himself near where I am facing the direction of possible danger. If I am away working on the road he follows Ann around as she works in the garden and protects her in the same manner. Sometimes I join him but he is not to be distracted from his primary focus, that of guarding his peeps. 

Sometime around noon Murphy starts expecting his second walk of the day. I like to walk as late as possible so that it segues into tying him for the night and is closer to the evening meal for him but he is there to remind me all afternoon if it goes too long. Oddly he could take himself up into the woods whenever he choses but he wants to patrol with me even though we are rarely together in the woods. He ALWAYS knows where I am and I am frequently surprised when I am looking back up the trail for him only to turn and see him standing down the trail looking at me quietly to see when I notice him. At that point he runs madly at me and then dizzyingly around in circles making sharp quarter horse-like turns to fetch up beside me panting and grinning.

He does not usually want to eat right away but I know when he does because he brings himself to the leading edge of my sidewalk to bark so that I come out and ask if he wants food and he indicates yes. We go in the house and he waits patiently for me to prepare his meal which is a raw diet of ground chicken and bone mixed with liver, raw egg and grated carrot, zucchini and apple. I drizzle salmon oil on it and put about half a pound of this mixture in his bowl. If he wants more he walks around the table to the pantry and I dish out a second helping. He continues that until he has had enough and then he goes to the door wanting to get back on the job. Great Pyrenees are especially nighttime guard dogs and will bark all night long, ruff ruff ruff, pause, ruff ruff, repeat. It alerts all potential ne’er do wells that they should avoid our neck of the woods. I allow him to bark for a few hours and then I come out to tell him it is time for silent mode so the neighbours can get some sleep. In the summer he wants to stay out all night so he does his best to be quiet. I give him two warnings and if he can not be quiet I bring him inside for the rest of the night. In the winter I always bring him in and he parks himself on the rug at my feet and moves upstairs when I go to bed.

That has been our routine daily for eleven years. Now the day, the yard, the woods feel empty without his energetic presence. Parts of my life will be less complicated with Murphy gone but I don’t relish that. I won’t have to make sure Ann is ok to walk him twice a day when I go on the road and traveling to visit my closer friends and family by road will be easier but he will be missed by many.

He happily came along on road trips to Martha’s Vineyard to visit my bro, New Brunswick (Canada) to see my cousins in Bonney River, The Northeast Kingdom in Vermont to visit my long time friend, and near Kingston Ontario where we lived part time for a while with friends and their two dogs. We kept up the same daily schedule in those places substituting beaches on The Vineyard, shore walks and woods in New Brunswick and woods and beside Lake Ontario with his buddies for our usual forays. 

South Beach, Martha’s Vineyard. Murphy’s first trip.

New River Beach on the Bay of Fundy, NB

Murphy ahead of me on the trail at New River Beach, NB

Murphy and Iggy Delicious at Sand Banks Provincial Park, Prince Edward County, Ontario

Waiting for the Chappy ferry in Edgartown with my brother in June 2010

Boxing Day on Lucy Vincent Beach, Martha’s Vineyard 2012

He never spent a night away from home or away from me until Friday, 16 March 2018 when he had become weakened from not eating or drinking and was unable to effectively empty his bladder. We had been to his vet on Monday as soon as he started exhibiting symptoms and was started on a course of antibiotics and special food thinking it might be a UTI or stones or crystals in his urine. I even raced a meager urine sample back to the vet on Tuesday before our big nor’easter snowstorm started.

We continued to walk a couple of times a day down the road

The morning walk, Wednesday, 14 March, the tail end of the storm

and on Thursday he even took himself down the road unbeknownst to Ann as she walked to the start of the road to get the paper, only noticing him when she turned to walk back. So on Friday I carefully drove him to Midcoast Animal Emergency Clinic in Warren arriving when they opened at 1730 to get x-rays and ultrasound to see if we could find a reason and help him. 

I stayed for several hours and left him in the caring hands of the vets and assistants there who gave him fluids and emptied his bladder and gave him pain meds. In the morning when I called he had eaten and taken his meds and treats easily and was much more comfortable. Twenty minutes later the vet called me to say that with the morning ultrasound, easier to do with him being more comfortable, they had found that one of his kidneys was entirely a mass of some kind with a tendril coming off it and floating fluid-filled cysts in his intestines and something preventing them from inserting a stable catheter and stopping him from being able to eliminate his bladder on his own.

I made the painful decision for euthanasia reasoning that any further procedures would not be tolerated well by Murphy at his relatively advanced age and I did not want to subject him to more getting in and out of my truck and drives to vets. 

Ann and I arrived at midday and I settled the bill first. He heard us right away and was whining and barking for me. We were escorted with Murphy to a private room where we did the morning greeting, smelling, leaning, pushing together and generally re-establishing that we were each ok. He was so much better than the day before. With the added fluids, pain meds and empty bladder he was energetic and after about fifteen minutes of hanging out he started to indicate by moving to the door that we ought to get out of there. I did not want him to become anxious the longer we stayed so I had Ann call the vet assistants in to begin the process by injecting him with anesthesia.

He walked around the room and came to us for love and I spoke to him telling him what a good job he’d always done as our guard and when he was starting to totter a bit I talked him into lying down beside me and I leaned over him kneading his neck and shoulders and continuing a constant patter in my hypno-voice telling him he was my shining star and that he had nothing to do right now but relax, he was the best dog in all the land and was my fabulous and most excellent companion. Ann was rubbing his hips and I talked him right under and continued to talk in his ear as the vet came in and gave him the lethal dose.

I spoke and praised and worked his neck and shoulders leaning over him as I told him how much he had been loved and appreciated for all his vigilance on our behalf until the vet said that his heart had stopped and still I talked to him and told him it was ok to let go and we were so grateful for all he had done for us and then he was gone.

I stayed kneeling on the floor beside him with my face buried in his neck ruff for a couple of minutes until the unique smell that was Murphy began to fade and I knew he was really gone from that beautiful vehicle that he had inhabited for just over twelve years.

Pyrs are difficult, almost always alphas, thinking they know best and are slow or reluctant to follow the commands other dogs obey like marines because why on earth would they sit, come, stay, down when they know what they are doing and have to be ever vigilant? And yet if you can allow for that stubbornness and the suspicion of everyone who is unknown, they are loving and loyal and protective and quiet (indoors) and smell good (when they haven’t surprised a skunk) and leave a huge hole when they are gone too soon. 

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Murphy was a shining star of a Great Pyrenees, doing what he saw as his job right to the end and I am so grateful that he came into my life.Thank you, Murphy Badurphy, Burfie, sweetest of dog companions. You will be missed.








Malingering WInter

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck


Malingering, according to my Shorter Oxford means    to pretend illness in order to escape duty, said especially of soldiers and sailors.  I have a new definition:  lingering in the vicinity with malicious intent, for example, this winter that is still here, lingering maliciously via a wintery mix, two days after the spring equinox.

Now, I’m a big fan of winter in general.  What’s not to like?  There’s the magic of snow falling, blanketing the world, forcing a slowdown, and bringing a quiet that is rare even here in the woods.  I think most people who don’t care for the vagaries of winter are those who have a hard time slowing down and those who allow the weather to limit their activity.  My days don’t change much through the seasons.  I walk twice a day, at least, every day because I feel better for doing so and the dog requires that routine.  Even though he could go for his own walks, he likes to know that I am on patrol as well.  Walking in the winter is actually easier because I can add clothes layers as needed to suit the conditions and I have excellent traction devices as needed too.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Dogs stay cleaner in a cold winter.  No mud.  This winter could have been better with more actual snow and less wintery mix, (freezing rain and sleet ruin good snow for snowshoeing) but it was nice and cold for a  prolonged time.  I have a trail we walk in the afternoon up the hill.  I go fast uphill and Murphy and I both love running downhill in the snow.  I run no matter the footgear, snowshoes, cleats or bare boots.  I run because it’s easier to get momentum and keep it and I figure if it’s slippery (which it usually is, especially where I have already compressed the snow) then the less time my feet are on the ground the less chance to slide suddenly.


Ice on a staghorn sumac.  Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

Ice on a staghorn sumac. Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

The crusty conditions this winter made running downhill more of a challenge.  The frozen trail was mostly a ribbon of mini moguls and stepping to the side could mean going through crust to softer deeper snow.  Concentration is key, but I get laughing as I run because Murphy is often right on my heels so I can’t stop.  I think he thinks it’s funny to run downhill in the snow, nearly on top of me.

This winter we had not enough snow that got crusted with freezing rain, frequently, so I walked shod with cleats mostly and finally found some kickass cleats that  allow me to tap dance on icy hills like our driveway this past December.  My new cleats, Katoohla Microspikes, are like tire chains for my feet.  They have come in really handy when I needed to climb the icy hill no matter the conditions to retrieve Murphy from his bark about patrols.

Several times a week Murphy doesn’t come home from the walk and instead does his patrol of the ridge: ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  He’s a Great Pyrenees by temperament and he could do this all night long.  Slow to learn me, I only just realized that we have been playing a game of his devising.  I call it stalking.  I head up the hill and try to circle around behind and get close enough to him so that he has to acknowledge me and come.  He won’t come when I call because he is on a mission, eliminating all denizens from the area.  I usually fail at round one.  He moves farther away or goes silent.  I concede by walking back toward our dooryard.  In December I would do this so as night fell I could more easily see to get back in the near dark.  I have a headlamp but it is still hard to bushwhack in the dark with a small light.  Easier with deep snow to follow my tracks.

Anyway, once I start walking away, I make some noise and then stop.  Within a minute Murphy comes racing up to where I am, winner of the second round.  Sometimes he really surprises me by leaping out from thick trees nearly in front of me.  I yelp and he looks most gratified.  He gets cookies  and praise and leashed and we head for home.  Sometimes if it’s not too close to nightfall we stop and contemplate the universe.  When there is snow on the ground it’s more easy to see where Murphy sits to keep an eye on things below.  I’m sure he is getting most of his information with his nose but I mostly look and listen.  Crouched on the top of a frozen hill in the spooky woods in January I hear the wind waves in  patterns like the ocean waves.  Ah, to be a bird and be able to surf those waves.

Alas, wingless, bound by gravity, still there is fun to be had.  Now that Spring is here we occasionally get a slightly warming day with some melt between  the sub-zero and wintery mix days.  There are patches of smooth ice on the edges of the road still frozen on the morning walks.  I go cleat-less  and run and slide as far as the leash will let me while Murphy checks the pee-mail.  He gets to make his mark five feet up the trees courtesy of the snow banks beside the road.  Later, those that can perceive it will think a giant dog lives here.

There are lacy ice-edged, frozen puddles to crunch along and later in the day, if it warms enough, slushy snow to squash beneath my feet.  Running downhill then has a lot more slide to it.

While waiting for Murphy to catch me up on the trail loop I discovered a big old pine tree drum.  I was breaking dead branches off the bottom and the remaining bits have several nice tones depending on my striker so I stop as I walk by and drum on the hill sometimes.

It’s all fun and mostly I’ve had a good winter, even trapped by the ice storm over the winter holidays.  I got chains for my truck so I could climb the ice hill so no worries there. Still, I have about two days of wood left in the garage and I will need to move some of my last cord of wood that is stacked (and covered, luckily) outside.  I had hoped that more snow would be gone but now it looks like I’ll have to hack out the pickup and clear out the back so I can load wood and move it.

So for many, maybe most, winter is lingering with malicious intent, but I’m still playing here.  Yippee!

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.



December, also ambivalent

It's just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

It’s just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

We made it through hunting season in November and I don’t have to walk around looking like a pumpkin with legs anymore, and now we’re well into December and it all comes back to me, the things to love and the things to, well, not so much.

I like the snow and as I write this we’re expecting a decent dump starting late tonight.  I’m a night person so I often do a preliminary shovelling of my sidewalk (is it the only one here in Monroe?  Might be.) so that I don’t have to move huge amounts at any one time.  Snow falling is magic and December is usually about the first snows that everyone enjoys.  The snow in April is enjoyed by far fewer folks.

That co-dependant holiday is just around the corner and the millions who do the obligatory gifting are crowding the venues.  A bit closer to the day and you might wonder if no one ever eats  except two times a year if you dare the grocery store.  It took me a couple of times but if you live in Canada and go to someone’s house for Christmas dinner you still need to shop before the holiday anyway, because ALL the grocery stores are closed on Boxing Day.  Weird.

But my real love/not-so-much with December stems from my life with Mr. Ever-Vigilant/ Scourge of the Forest, Murphy.

Who me?  I'm a love puppy.

Who me? I’m a love puppy.

The temperature is cold enough that he has lots of energy to patrol and bark which it is in his nature to do.  The leaves are gone from the trees and the air is crisp and a good barking rhythm can carry across the valley quite nicely, reminding all residents of the woods that they might better avoid this particular stretch.

Until there is a good amount of snow on the ground to make the excessive (in my mind) patrolling difficult, nearly every day it is possible that Murphy will not return from our afternoon foray up the hill and instead will move back and forth barking.  I would take him in the truck to Northern Pond and do our walk there so he would have to finish with me but in December the ice is not necessarily frozen enough and I do not want to repeat the Reverse Lassie. (See my post, The Thanksgiving Song:  for that story.)

Usually he waits for me to at least start the walk with him but today when I came out he was already in full voice.  I started up the hill directly because he was already too close to the neighbour who doesn’t like him patrolling and never forgets an infraction.  I try to get ahead of where he is going so that we can meet in the woods but Murphy was already across the right of way and in the woods on the other side.  There is a loop trail on the neighbour’s property where we used to walk with permission until permission was revoked.  One too many times Murph opted to return in his own time and swing through their dooryard for a friendly chase of a cat if possible, alas.

So today I ran down the snow-covered upper part of the loop to get ahead of him.  I was just looking for the place where we used to cross a little stream when Murphy can running full tilt toward me.  He was all, hey! cool to meet you here! and I was all, what a surprise to find you here too!  I gave him a couple of cookies from my pocket and hooked him up.  He thoughtfully chose to backtrack my trail since it’s good not to go right by the neighbour’s house and give her more fuel for the stories.  ( She never forgets an episode and still uses as an example something he did when he was a juvenile.)

Across the right-of-way we followed my trail up the hill above our garage.  With the little bit of snow it’s hard to see the lay of the ground but traction is not too bad because the moisture from the ground has frozen so some steps are into eight or so inches of ice crystals which gives some traction.  Still there are rocks and piles of branches and some ice so it’s good for the balance to walk such uneven terrain.

So far, I’ve managed to bring him home every time he’s gone on barkabout, but it interrupts my work and I worry that he might get shot by one of those Maine hunters who feel entitled to the deer and erroneously think Murphy threatens that or that he might end up in a trap somewhere where I can’t find him.

Note, the day after:  The perfect winter storm started late last night.  We woke up to 8 inches and I shovelled my way out to the driveway, then barefooted (no snowshoes) down the unploughed driveway with dog and shovel to clear a walkway for my neighbour who has a dodgy heart.  ( Her heart’s in the right place, it’s just not up to heavy physical exertion .)  We walked down the road that the snowplough had done already and the reason I didn’t wear snowshoes.

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

So it’s all good now.  Murphy  and I love to run downhill in the snow, me with snowshoes.  He steals my mitten and flips it into the air, a playful moment for a usually serious guard dog.  Snowshoes were needed for the walk up the hill but not so much that Murphy couldn’t offer to break trail for me, but just enough that he came home from the walk and now is out on his long lead, letting the nearby world know that this hill is guarded, go elsewhere if you are a ne’er-do-well.  Today December is good.

Ambivalence about November


I have a love/hate relationship with November in Maine.  November has long been my favourite month.  I love the ice in the wind presaging snow, the bare trees revealing their spooky branches against the grey skies, and I love Thanksgiving, the best of all holidays that is all about food and no co-dependent expectations.

Alas, it is also deer hunting season so the woods that are normally the domain of the wildlife and Murphy and me have hunters with guns who think that the deer belong to them, as if they are anyone’s.  We wear our blaze orange to signal that we are non-combatants in the deer war but I worry that Murphy will encounter some stranger in our woods and be misunderstood in a deadly way.

Looking buff in his hunting vest

Looking buff in his hunting vest

The thing is, that Murphy is a Great Pyrenees mountain dog by temperament and, ever vigilant, he is serious about keeping all unauthorized intruders from our hill of woods.  Worse, with the cooler weather he has more energy and the bare trees and drier air allow for barking to carry nicely across the valley.  All summer he stays out all night because it is cooler and is quiet but come November, when I tie him outside after his dinner, he barks non-stop until I decide that neighbours need a break.  It’s my compromise, he gets to bark some but not past 8PM.

Then, there is the chance now, until there is a lot of snow ( another reason to wish for lots of snow) that Murphy will not come home from the afternoon walk in the woods and instead do his bark about thing.  Basically he stays at the top of the ridge and roams from one end to the other, covering 100+ acres, barking.  Ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  I’m fairly sure that he could keep this up all night.  It’s the Pyr way of avoiding actual close-up repelling of evil-doers.  Any bad-ass predators will hear him and hunt elsewhere.

So, a couple of times a week I get an additional walk, near dusk, up the hill to entice him home.  He won’t come if I call him of course, because he KNOWS that what he is doing is far more important than any agenda I might have.  Ah, the independent Pyrenees.  So I try to position myself so that he will be moving toward me.  I act suspiciously, make random noise, stay still.  When he is within twenty feet or so I address him conversationally and usually he’ll come over as if to say, hey, Lynn!  You’re in the woods too!  I hook him up, praise him for his excellent job patrolling, give him a couple of treats I happen to have in my pocket and suggest that it might be time to come home.  So far I have always succeeded although a couple of times I’ve walked back in the dark with  the dim circle of my headlamp lighting my way.

Smarter than the average human am I because I have learned not to call out to him as I close in because, like as not, he’ll go into silent running mode and it is just not possible to find a dog that isn’t barking.  Yet another thing to be ambivalent about because if he’s quiet the neighbours aren’t alerted to him on patrol.  It’s a fine line I walk between allowing enough activity within his genetic parameters to allow for well-adjusted dog behaviour and controlling enough so that he complies with societal regulations.

We, that is, I, bend the rules.  After all, I’m the one who has to live with the Captain of the Palace Guard.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Cancer serendipity

Swimming at Northern Pond with Murphy is another great upper body exercise.  THese days he mostly guards from shore and pulls me in when he thinks I've had enough.

Swimming at Northern Pond with Murphy is another great upper body exercise. These days he mostly guards from shore and pulls me in when he thinks I’ve had enough.

I can go months and never think about cancer and that I participated in my own cancer dance sixteen years ago, but lately I’ve been thinking about and talking about cancer and cancer treatments wherever I seem to be.

It started in my head.  I’m back to painting Ann’s house on the inside now that the weather is warm enough and I could get her out of the garden long enough to de-clutter the upper living room so I could move furniture and get my ladders in place.  Painting is good for thinking and lymphedema and exercise came to mind.

When I was diagnosed the doctors wanted to not only lop off the breast but remove lymph nodes to help stage my cancer, so they still say.  Following surgery their plan was to give me radiation, chemotherapy, tamoxifen and possibly radiate my ovaries to put me in menopause and stop my estrogen production because my cancer was estrogen-receptor positive.

I agreed to the surgery and reluctant as I was to have lymph nodes sampled, I was talked into it.  My twenty lymph nodes were free of cancer which helped me  to firmly refuse ALL of their adjuvant therapies.   I was not  a preferred patient with the oncologist because I did the research and decided that just because the treatments are there doesn’t mean I needed them.  Still, in all of my research it wasn’t until AFTER the surgery that I found the studies that stated that as many as 70% of women who had lymph nodes removed,  some time after experienced lymphedema, which is lymph fluid pooling in tissues because the lymph channels have been removed.  For some it can be very debilitating and they have to wear compression sleeves to keep the swelling down.

There was conflicting information about what to do to decrease that possibility.  I worked diligently to regain the full motion of my right arm and at first did not carry anything heavy on that side.  but I resumed swimming  and other forms of exercise, mostly walking the dog several times a day and throwing sticks for him.  I also went fly fishing a month after surgery and of course used my right arm.

These days, I only avoid having blood drawn on my right arm or doing the blood pressure cuff there.  I think, that the statistics I found were so high because, when I was diagnosed at 43, it was still very unusual for someone so young to have breast cancer and most of the breast cancer patients who might have contributed to the statistics would have been over sixty and probably mostly not very active or in shape.

Both extension ladders were needed to reach the 18 foot high windows.

Both extension ladders were needed to reach the 18 foot high windows.

So, this month, I found myself moving  large ladders around, and variously using my palm sander, a caulking gun and a vacuum cleaner up those same ladders.  Some major heavy lifting was involved.  Sixteen years of evidence says to me that exercise is good for staving off lymphedema.

A friend who had a lumpectomy a year before my surgery has had more tests lately because of some discharge.  She was going to forgo the annual mammogram this year but after seeing her doctor did have the mammogram and as well, ultrasound and an MRI and now is going to schedule a biopsy.  All this has led to more talking about treatments and diagnosing of breast cancers.

Then, yesterday I was at the post office to mail painter’s shorts to my brother.  The woman clerk asked if I had lost an earring, something I get frequently because I have always had only one pierced ear, the left one.  So I said, as usual,’I don’t have a hole on this (the right) side’, and she said, ‘you’re also missing a breast.’  I burst out laughing!  That was a first and most amusing.

I was never asked if I wanted reconstruction, maybe because they didn’t think I would live long enough anyway or because there seemed to be skin involvement with my tumour (wasn’t).  My medical wouldn’t pay for a prosthetic and I can always come up with something I’d rather have for that $200 than a fake boob.  I also thought that by disguising my mastectomy  no one would know and conversations  might not be initiated about my cancer.  It’s a very easy surgery to cover up and I think that many who have had it suffer with a lowering of self-esteem and feel less feminine.   They also suffer alone.  I  hoped that by displaying my comfort level with my asymmetrical form that I could inspire others to reconsider or at least talk about it.  My experience, though, is that many don’t even notice.  I was at a  party in Seattle 5 months after my surgery wearing a stretch velvet wrap dress that wrapped from the left across to the flat side.  No one noticed, even my friend’s cousin who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Postal woman said that she thinks that most people still don’t want to talk about it.  Cancer makes them uncomfortable and they are afraid they will get it and die.  A person might as well be afraid of life because life leads to dying too.  We all die.  The important part is how we live.  Lose the fear and life is much more fun, as it should be.

I’m not a cancer survivor.  I had cancer once, a long time ago.  It was environmentally caused and I used that opportunity to improve my body’s related systems and now I focus on (as I always have) having fun, being creative, and learning new things.  Sometimes, like lately, I’m reminded, but mostly it’s not an issue, at all.

contemplating the universe; most amusing and is something I perfected while hanging  with my giant dog friends

contemplating the universe; most amusing and is something I perfected while hanging with my giant dog friends

Mozart, cat, not dog, thinks he’s a dog

The artist cat, perfectly centered

I adopted Mozart from the local SPCA shelter in Comox, six years ago to liven up the sedentary life of my aging, physically failing yet mentally sound Saint Bernard-cross buddy, Jasper.  My idea was that with the addition of a cat to the house Jasper would have a focus other than me, busy in my studio.  I pictured him thinking, ‘What’s that cat doing now?!?’ and, ‘He wants my bone!!!!!!’ allowing me some respite from the role of dog entertainer.

I grew up with cats but hadn’t really had my own cat companion since before I started working on the road.  The last time I’d lived with cats I had some allergic reactions, probably because they were indoor only cats and the accumulated dander was overwhelming.  Since my cancer dance I don’t have the pollen allergies that I used to have, courtesy of strengthening my immune system, but, to be certain, I spent two hours, picking up cats and purposefully rubbing my eyes to see if I would be bothered by cat dander.  The Comox Valley SPCA had over two hundred cats in a couple of rooms, some in cages, some with access to an outdoor area and others hanging around the main desk.  Their facility has ramps and platforms designed for cat happiness, but really they would all be happiest with a real home of their own to manage and guard.  Have a look on sometime to see how many abandoned animals are out there. It’s a shame and I’m here to say that adopting an older animal can be so rewarding.  They are already trained and so grateful to be sprung from that concentration camp, however well-designed.

I needed a cat that was not afraid of giant dogs and I specifically wanted a cat that was not too needy and able to go outside.  They had a couple of suggestions and then said that they could test any cat with the dogs to see if it would be ok so I was left to my own devices to find a cat that caught my attention.

It was toward the end of the day and no cat had seemed like the one.  As I was standing in the office area, someone said,’ What about Mozart?  He’s always trying to get in with the dogs.’  He was right there, waiting for the door to the dog kennel to open so he could go through.  I picked him up and he hung out in my arms without complaint until I put him down and he sauntered away.   His story was that he’d come from a family with lots of other animals and he didn’t seem happy there ( I think he was spraying, maybe hadn’t been altered) so they had surrendered him.  He fit my criteria: fairly independent, beautiful, likes dogs and six years old, so mature.   I said that he’d do and arranged to pick him up in four days so I could equip myself with cat stuff: bowl, litter box, cat door to the basement where the box would be, scratching pad and food.

The ornamental cat

The ornamental cat

I returned in four days, said I’d come for Mozart (he’d been there nearly eight months) and they said ,’ He’s in the big room sleeping on one of the platforms.’  I went in and looked around.  Lots of black and white cats and some long-haired but I spied him on a platform far above my head.  I said, ‘Hey!’ and he looked down at me.  Then I said, ’Want to come with me?’ and I could see him give it moment’s thought and then he came down and sauntered over.  I picked him up and carried him to the carrier they sold me and brought him home.

He emerged from the carrier and began to take command of the territory.   Jasper followed him, looming over until Mozart turned and snarled and a fight ensued.  I broke it up and chastised both of them and they settled down for a bit.

Jasper thinking, I KNOW he wants my bone!

Jasper thinking, I KNOW he wants my bone!

Mozart was amazing from the start.  I showed him what I’d set up for him, his food on the landing where Jasper couldn’t reach, a scratching pad in my hallway/office, the cat door to the basement where the cat box was and he checked it all out with the ingrained aplomb of a collected cat and proceeded to do his best to hang out with Jasper and drive him crazy.

They say a new cat should be kept indoors for a couple of weeks but Mozart was insistent and three days after his arrival I let him out and alerted my fabulous neighbours that he was out and about.  From then he would come on all the walks around the neighbourhood with me and Jasper.  I think it was a funny sight, me in the front, Jasper farther back, sniffing at everything, and Mozart bringing up the rear, checking out everything that Jasper did.  That first week I noticed Mozart on a fence post beside the house so I went to my bedroom window that was over the shed roof of the kitchen and called him.  He jumped to the roof and came over, looked in to check it out, and after that I kept the window open and he came and went whenever he wanted.

Meanwhile, Jasper started carrying his bone everywhere around the house, convinced that Mozart would steal it otherwise, and if I had any trouble getting him to eat I only had to call Mozart over and he would dutifully give a sniff of the dog food and Jasper would hurry over and begin to eat.  ‘What’s that cat doing now?’ was the main curiosity consuming Jasper that spring.  My idea worked.

You shall not pass!  Mozart bars the way, on Jasper's last day.  This still makes me sad.

You shall not pass! Mozart bars the way, on Jasper’s last day. This still makes me sad.

Mozart was very adaptable to my requirements as well.  He could sleep on the bed but only at the foot of the bed where my feet would not be and he accepted that.  I’m also not a big fan of cats on my lap so he adopted the pile of cushions I used as a footstool for his hang out in the living room.  Jasper would come along and loom and pant loudly until Mozart woke up and left in a huff, revenge for the ‘I want your bone’ stare that drove Jasper crazy.

By summer’s end, Mozart had helped Jasper enjoy the last months of his life and I sold the house.  Mid-September began our two week journey east with all my essentials packed in my Suburban  with a litter box for Mozart way in the back and an overlarge carrier for his comfort and a net barrier strung up behind the front seats so He couldn’t get to the front and get in my way.  Originally I thought to give him the run of the back when I was driving but he spent the entire time pushing at the barrier for a weak point so he was relegated to the carrier when I drove and I let him lose in the truck when I stopped for any length of time.

I bought a harness and leash for him but that I only used a couple of times.  Five minutes was all he could handle and then he would freak and do his best Houdini and nearly wriggle out of the harness.  We visited on our way to the east coast and in Point Roberts, WA and Hardwick, VT he managed to sneak out the door when no one was looking.  He came right back though; amazing, for a cat that he realized that the truck was home, until we landed in Maine and he realized that life, in his mind, just got really good.  All I had to do was show Mozart the cat door in the pantry and he was good to go, exploring the neighbourhood.

A month later I got him a dog, Murphy, since we were both missing Jasper so much.  At first I thought I’d made a mistake.  Murphy tried to chase the cats whenever they were in the house (there’s a female, feral cat here too) and he was on a short leash until Mozart decided he’d take back his territory and refused to run anymore.  Now they are buds, but Mozart is definitely the boss.  If Mozart decides he wants Murphy’s food, Murphy stands back and waits until the cat is done.

Murphy in one of his bunkers and Mozart on the wellhouse.  Sometimes Murphy makes tiny bunkers for the cat.

Murphy in one of his bunkers and Mozart on the wellhouse. Sometimes Murphy makes tiny bunkers for the cat.

They stand guard together on the driveway and supervise the chores.

Mozart usually attends the morning walk down the road.  Until a couple of years ago he came on the longer walks in the woods as well.  Now he just meets us on the way back down the hill.  He still visits our neighbour regularly to check his traps ( she is a big time feeder of birds so the prey animals abound at her house.)

As cats go, Mozart is ok.  Ann spoils him, lets him on her lap all the time and lets him sleep anywhere on the bed, but he knows that he can’t do that with me and we get along.  He’s 13 years old now and still going strong and I think he complies with my demands because he’s grateful that I rescued him and got him his very own dog, twice.

I put a shelf outside my window for Mozart.  He jumps up there and bangs on the screen when he wants in, but like Murphy he waits until I ask as well.

I put a shelf outside my window for Mozart. He jumps up there and bangs on the screen when he wants in, but like Murphy he waits until I ask as well.

It’s good to be the dog

Murphy, Scourge of the Forest, back at his post. ‘Whatever. It’s Spring and there are denizens of the forest to terrorize.’

It IS good to be the dog, at least in my world.  There is routine and a most important guard job, a faithful cat companion and an understanding person who allows for the predator, alpha-guardian nature to be expressed, MOSTLY in a harmless way.

I am envious, most days, of Murphy and his lifestyle.  There is the waiting, for good things to happen, but he knows that good things will happen:  the morning ablution walk, the longer ramble in the woods, crunchy cookies (dried chicken breast), meat with salmon oil in a cat food dish, and the nightly vigil that might include barking.  Also there are good surprises, like intruders to be on the alert for and rides in the truck, sometimes to distant places to visit friends in Vermont or Martha’s Vineyard or New Brunswick.  Yeah!!  I am still astounded most days by his mostly exemplary behaviour so he receives regular praise.  He really is good at his job.

Then there is the 3% of the time when ‘exemplary’ is not the descriptive word, and ‘pain in the *&#’ and ‘Scourge of the Forest’ are terms that come to mind.  It was a difficult winter because the lack of snow meant it was easier for Murphy to chose to go on a Bark About rather than return from the afternoon walk.  Typical of the giant guardian breeds, if you are anywhere in the same 100 square mile area of the woods, that is a walk with your person.  Sometimes he’s funny and races home just as I get there (olly,olly in free!) but once a week through the winter he decided to patrol the ridge or go on a hunt and I had to trick him to get the leash on him and marched back to his post at the castle.

March was warm though and he went through a good period until the coolness of April and the movement of the denning animals coincided.  One afternoon, instead of hanging around waiting for the first person to head up the hill with him, Murphy was barking his ‘I have something cornered and I can almost reach!’ bark, much too close to our neighbours who have been quick to call the dog officer when he’s strayed.  SO up the hill I went, leashed him, and brought him back to be tied, earlier than usual.

‘Five more minutes and I would have driven that racoon crazy enough to leave the safety of the hollow under the rock.’

Whatever animal it was, he remembered the next two afternoons, and our neighbours called both times as I realized and brought him home.  So I decided that it was time to do the Northern Pond walk again.  It’s away from people who might worry about him killing something, he gets more exercise (as do I) and he needs to get home by vehicle so, theoretically, he should end the walk when I do.   Ah, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes the scent of something gets him on the silent hunt and call as I might, that lure is more compelling than riding home with me.  And he knows that the trail is not so far from home.  In the past I’ve left him and returned a couple of hours later and he’s hiding in the trees by the entrance, waiting for me to pick him up.  Well, except for one day when I had errands that took me south for several hours and when I returned he wasn’t there;  he’d hitched a ride home with a kind-hearted person who lives on the Dahlia Farm Road.  Good thing his name and address are on his collar.

Two days in a row we had good walk experiences.  We met others but he mostly behaved (wanted to kill a wimpy greyhound but I was ready with the leash and no damage done) and all was well.  Then the third day he didn’t catch up with me on the last leg of the trail.  I called but no Murphy.  Sometimes he cuts to the road and meets me as I’m driving home so he doesn’t have to go all the way back to where we started but this day he did not.  I drove back and forth then went home to eat thinking that I’d return in a couple of hours.

I was just finishing my soup when the phone rang.  ‘Do you have a dog on The Dahlia Farm Road?’  ‘Do you have my dog?’  Yes, he was at the entrance to Northern Pond, watching for me and a friendly electric company dude driving a huge bucket truck stopped to see if his tags had any info, which of course they did.  He said he’d wait with Murphy until I got there (how cool is that?) and when I drove up there was Murph, looking slightly bemused and eager to get in the truck.  Maybe he’s related to Blanche, (‘Ah relyah on the kindness of strangahs….’)

Always an adventure, and the cool seasons are most trouble.  Now that the temperature is warming the energy exertion will be minimized, luckily and Murphy avoids the excess activity and lies on the lawn, soaking up the warmth of the sun, waiting.  Gooooooood dooooooog………..

The waiting is best done lying down.