Happy 9th Anniversary, Alice!

Nine years ago today, we picked up Alice (a.k.a. Alice-Palace, The Palace, Palestra, Poochestrami, Greatest of All Time — we believe that’s her favorite — Buddyhead, and many more) and brought her to her new home. She was recovering from hip dysplasia surgery and we were uncertain she’d ever walk normally but that didn’t stop us from choosing her from the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline (ARPH). And in many ways, Alice rescued us from our grief over losing our first aussie, Autumn.

Here is an open letter to the surgeon who helped give Alice her signature smile (see photo above) and swagger (we also call her Jennifer Lo-paws for the … um … unique sashay in her badonkadonk).  We never met the surgeon who helped us have nine great years with Alice, but we’re most grateful to him and looking forward to many more years with her.

An Open Letter To Dr. James W. Harrison, DMV, MS

Dear Dr. Harrison,

You don’t know us. We’ve never met you but your name appears on a letter that gave one dog a second chance, and changed our lives in the process.   On December 23, 2002, David and Sheryl Stocker, foster parents for the Ohio Chapter of the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline (ARPH), brought an Australian Shepherd named Alice to your Bone, Joint, and Spine Clinic in Columbus, Ohio. Alice had been abandoned to ARPH after it was discovered she had hip dysplasia.

In a letter to Alice’s veterinarian, you wrote: “Upon examination, I noticed pain and crepitus in both hip joints and a positive Ortolani’s sign of about 25 – 30 degrees in both hips. Radiographs revealed the classical lesions of canine hip dysplasia with secondary degenerative joint disease. Today, Alice was taken to surgery. Through a ventral approach to both hips, a femoral head osteoectomy was accomplished without consequence … I will be happy to follow Alice through her expected three- to four-month convalescence.”

What you didn’t know is that around the same time you performed Alice’s surgery, there was a couple in Ohio attempting to heal from their own kind of pain. That couple was us. We’d just lost our 14-year-old Australian Shepherd to cancer, and after more than a decade of being herded around by an Aussie, our house felt empty. We began checking the ARPH website and noticed Alice, whose brown-speckled face, cunning smile, and odd, leaning posture were hard to miss. The description indicated that she was undergoing surgery but would be available for adoption soon.

 We scheduled an appointment to meet this brown merle with a wink of blue in her right eye. Alice bunny-hopped out of her kennel and sat squarely in the center of the room. Nose raised in the air with her eyes focused on us, she gave a warning bark, a low woo-woof. Then she smiled, pleased with her rock-star grand entrance. For a dog that was only weeks into her recovery, she certainly knew how to put on a show for the couple that would soon become her adoring fans. Alice’s smile informed us that she had selected us as her new owners while the Stockers informed us that she might never walk normally. They also confessed – somewhat sheepishly – that she was quite manipulative. We nodded knowingly. Aussies are notorious manipulators and we decided we could manage Alice’s scheming nature along with her bunny hop.

 On January 25, Alice bunny-hopped into our home. We considered contacting you then. We wanted to know her chances of walking on all fours. We were unsure how much to exercise her. You were two hours away and we opted to take her to our regular veterinarian for follow-up care, but we often wondered if you were wondering about her.

As she continued to recover, she manipulated her way into our hearts and the peanut butter jar, and onto our sofa and bed. Once again, our house was under Aussie rule – only this time, it was a two-legged variety. The Stockers suggested getting another dog to encourage Alice to stay active; she was becoming too accustomed to a sedentary life accompanied by sympathetic spoonfuls of peanut butter. In March, we adopted Macy –a blue-merled ball of nervous energy that had been severely abused before being rescued by ARPH.

Alice and Macy became a doggie yin-yang. What Alice possessed in intelligence and confidence, Macy balanced with strength and agility. They supported each other as they healed physically and mentally. Yet, Alice wanted more yang. As Macy zoomed across the backyard in pursuit of a tennis ball, Alice feebly followed, bunny-hopping and barking, as if asking Macy to wait up. We resigned ourselves to having a dog with a two-legged gait but Alice’s determination took hold. On a routine walk, Alice took her first four-legged steps, moving stride for stride with Macy. We watched her confidence bloom as she attempted to run with the other big dogs at the dog park, and we thought about writing you but never put pen to paper.

It’s been eight years since her surgery and Alice has covered countless miles, smiling all the way. She walks, runs, romps, saunters, strolls, and sometimes beats Macy to their final destination. She still puts on shows for her adoring fans. She is Macy’s confident yin and while she’s slowed down some, her love of life still runs strong. She plays every game to win, and she’s not one to give up on anything, including herself or the peanut butter jar.
We’d like to think Alice’s wry smile convinced you to perform her surgery gratis for ARPH, or that you felt the moxy and courage hidden in her disabled legs, and knew that repairing her would reveal her true personality. We’d like to think Alice’s manipulative methods and winking blue eye told you she deserved a second chance to be the strong, clever, and incredible companion she is today. 

We don’t know what it’s like to be a veterinarian who improves the lives of animals and their owners every day. And we certainly don’t know what it’s like to care for a dog like Alice and then never see the outcome of your work. What we do know is that the surgery that may have been just another surgery for you has been a life-altering experience for us.

If there is ever a time you or other veterinarians question whether your work matters, please think of Alice. Your expertise allowed her light and love to shine brightly.

If you met Alice today, we know she’d put on a grandest of shows in your office to thank you – this time, trotting proudly on all fours and smiling all the way.

Amy’s Top 10 Books of 2011

I’m a little late to the 2011 party seeing as it’s 2012 and I’m just now completing my Top 10 book list for 2011 but better late than never, yes?

Happy reading in the new year! Enjoy!

The corn is as high as an elephant’s toenail

Maybe my shabby little garden in Kent, OH pales in comparison to most midwest cornfields, but I’m proud. Damn proud. So here’s the skinny (and I’m including my ears of corn in that statement): little known fact, I’m an armchair gardener. Meaning I don’t garden but I read about it, look at seed catalogs, roam the aisles at nurseries, and wish I had a green thumb but my thumb tends to be several shades away of green and tends to kill all natural things in its path. It’s a menacing thumb, really. I point to something green and it wilts. Or screams in horror. Or shrivels up into a brown, slimy inedible ball. I have these dreams of moving about my beautiful vegetable garden in overalls (or maybe a cute jean skirt and pink gingham blouse), picking pecks of peppers, testing the tomatoes for ripeness, busheling beans (if that’s what you actually do with beans…I wouldn’t know, I buy them at the grocery).

This year, I had big plans. Last year it was all about the fence but now it was going to be all about being organic. A landscape designer told us the front area of the backyard would be perfect for a garden. This was my chance. Nothing like fucking up your garden in front of all of your neighbors! Woo-hoo!

The first task was pest removal — meaning the dogs. Being Aussies, the girls like patroling the perimeter. You know, just on the offchance some marauding sheep get loose. We dont’ call Macy the Vigilante for nothing. After several ramshackle, failed attempts to keep them out of the soon-to-be garden area, we bit the bullet and went for a permanent solution: more fence (which still needs painting but I’m still in the first stage of fence painting which is denial and I’m just pretending the fence will paint itself).

The fence idea worked perfectly. Except for the fact that early planting season was way over. I was not to be deterred. There was a sunny patch near the garage, outside of the fence that was suitable for a much smaller garden. It would be more Little Sprout than ho ho ho Green Giant. I rationalized that I didn’t want to go overboard the first year anyway. Who was I kidding? I wouldn’t have time to take care of the massive bounty that would grow in the original area so there was nothing wrong with going small. Beyond that, I seemed to have a knack for growing crabgrass because it was overtaking the yard and threatening to devour our house.

I planted some corn, beans, peppers and sunflowers according to the directions on the little seed packets. Oh yeah, I followed them to the letter. Then I pleaded with the seeds to grow. I watered them like a dutiful mother. But the garden goddess (that would be Flora) was against me. We had also decided to put in a backyard patio shortly after I planted (note the short, unpainted fence below). Unbeknownst to me, to install the patio, the contractors needed a Bobcat for digging. And this Bobcat rolled right over my fragile seedlings. The contractors, probably feeling more sorry for me because the seedlings were so shabby, shoved the tattered stalks into a tiny corner. Buh-bye garden of the gods.

I figured all was lost, no more pecking and busheling, no more cute overalls, no more feeding half of Kent. But my little seedlings persevered. When they first started growing, I had no idea what was what since everything was packed in tighter than John Candy’s thighs in spandex. Oh, and because I’d never planted anything before. Soon, things started taking shape in the shabby patch. A few stalks of corn, some green peppers, mini sunflowers, and some basil. Said another way, a mess. Nothing could breathe. The corn was coming in too close together and I figured I’d end up with those mini, pickled ears best eaten in salads or Chinese takeout. I thought maybe the corn would mix with the peppers and maybe, by some miracle, I’d accidently develop a weird hybrid vegetable — a corper or a peporn. Maybe Miss Flora or Mother Nature would deem me worthy of birthing a brand new vegetable. I’d be famous! I’d be swimming in overalls!

I might not have developed a hybrid but my little garden did grow, sans the silver bells and cockle shells. And sans the beans I’d planted. And sans most of the corn and sunflowers. But, I digress.

Tonight for dinner, I ate the first two ears of corn. Small but juicy and ever so tasty. A week ago we chopped up some basil for salsa, and the peppers are almost ready — though I don’t think we have enoug for a peck. The corn may not be as high as an elephant’s eye but who gives a rip about an elephant’s eye anyhow when you’ve got juice dribbling down your chin.

My shabby garden turned out to be not so shabby. It’s actually sort of chic in its shabbiness.  Take that, Flora!

Girl Talk – The Alien Invasion

The woman walked in the house with a large basket. Alice thought the basket might hold food.

“Sweet,” Alice barked at Macy, “That basket looks heavy. It might be the motherload of all motherloads. Like ten pounds of fresh steak.”

But when the woman set the basket down and Alice got close enough to sniff it, she backed away, barking.

“What. The. Fuck. Is. That?”

Macy approached the basket cautiously, wiggling her bottom. “Oooooooooh, it’s a baby. And it smells good, sort of like dairy products and poop!”

The woman picked up the baby and held him out to Mom, who bounced the baby on her hip and tweaked its plump cheeks.

Alice bark-howled. “Danger Will Robinson! We’re under attack. It’s an alien invasion and it’s got Mom!” Alice bark-howled again and backed away.

“Alice, that’s enough,” Mom said sharply. “It’s just a baby.” She turned to the woman and apologized for Alice’s barking.

Alice sulked toward the fireplace. “Baby, my ass. If that’s not an alien, then I’m not the greatest Aussie of all time,” she whispered to Macy.

The woman laid the baby on the ottoman as Macy watched closely. “It smells soooooooooooooo good, Alice. And look! It smiles and waves its arms. I think it’s cute. And that smell. Yum. It’s coming from some sort of white thing wrapped around its middle. You should come take a whiff.”

“Don’t get too close,” Alice barked in warning. “You’ll be under its superpowers, too, and then what happens? Next thing you know, we’re all being ruled by aliens, in alien labor camps making alien stuff. This is exactly the kind of thing the Buddies of the Highest Order has been warning against for years. I’ve seen the movies. E.T. looked cute, too. And have you seen what comes out of dude’s chest in those Alien movies? Yeah, that shit looks all nice and cuddly and then it’s nothing but slobber and fangs and mayhem.”

“Look!” Macy yiped. “It poops just like us! I think I’m in love! If you wore one of those white things, the yard wouldn’t be so messy.”

Alice ignored her. “Believe me, we are under siege. Siege, I’m telling ya. Those aliens spawn like crazy. I bet it laid 18 million alien eggs in that white thing. Oh god, oh god, and now mom is taking that white thing to the trash can. We’re done for. This house will be swimming in aliens.” Alice licked her chest. “Do you see any sort of bulge here? I think there’s an alien trying to get out of my chest.”

“You and your conspiracy theories,” Macy sighed. “Mom and dad seem to like it just fine. Mom is holding him and everything.”

Alice rolled her eyes, unconvinced. “Gullible, that’s what you all are. And mom is the worst. Let’s not forget who gives us all the treats in the house.I’m just gonna sit way over here, very far away. You can get your head eaten off first. I’ll see you in Roswell.”

“You’re paranoid,” Macy said. “I think this is really a baby like mom said, and I think he’s super cute. He just smiled at me! I want a baby. A girl baby. I could dress her up and paint her nails and everything. I think I’d be a good mom, don’t you?”

The baby squealed and waved its arms, and Mom and Dad waved back. Alice bark-howled until Dad told her to stop. He instructed Alice and Macy to go downstairs, into the basement.

“This is it,” Alice said, ducking her head and trotting down the steps. “The rapture. The end of days. The four horsemen of the apocolypse are upon us. Beam me up, Scotty. E.T., phone home. Take me to your leader. Even dad is under its control. It’s stronger than the Buddies of the Highest Order. Why won’t anyone listen to me? We have to alert the authorities.”

“Thanks a lot,” Macy whined. “You ruined it. Now we’re locked in the basement. If only I could smell that baby one more time. I miss it already.”

Alice barricaded herself behind the sofa in the corner. “We’ll be safer down here, in the bunker. And I’ll have time to come up with a plan for our survival. Listen to me, if that thing comes down here, you distract it while I escape. Wiggle your butt in its face or something. Just give me enough time to get the hell out of here.”

“What about me?” Macy asked.

“You’ll be fine. Tell the alien you come in peace or something.” Alice curled into the corner, waiting.

“I think they’re eating lunch,” Macy said.

“Lunch? Without us? See, this is how this kind of shit goes down. Alien torture tactics. Starvation. Isolation. I’m going to write my last will and testament.”

Dad came down the steps about an hour later and let them out. “Let’s try again,” he said.

Alice scrambled up the stairs bark-howling. “Run away! Escape! Danger! Alien invasion! The Iceman cometh!”

They were all seated at the dining table and Alice continued to circle the table, barking. No one was listening to her. No one understood they were now under the control of the alien called Liam. Alice crawled under the table and eyed this Liam from below. The bald head, the tiny hands, the plump cheeks and toothless smile. Yeah, maybe it was a baby, Alice thought, but she wasn’t entirely convinced.

Macy crawled under the table with her. “I’ve heard babies drop food. Maybe Liam will feed us.”

Alice laid her head on the floor. “Liam’s not all that. I mean, I put on way better shows. I’ve got great comic timing. I could’ve taken over the world like ten times in the past year but I kept my super Aussie powers to myself. This whole alien thing is overrated, if you ask me. I’ve got way more skills than any Liam in the universe.”

“Oooooh,” Macy said, nipping at Alice’s neck. “You’re jealous.”

“Hells no, I’m not,” Alice said. “Don’t come crying to me when Liam eats your head off. I gave you fair warning. Sheesh. You spend ten years protecting your owners from grave danger every freaking and what kind of thanks do you get in return? The minute this Liam fellow makes an appearance, we’re like yesterday’s soup or day-old bread.”

“I’m going to ask mom if we can get a Liam,” Macy said. “Then I can smell him all the time and we can get a better look at what’s in those white things that lady keeps taking off and putting on him.”

Alice sighed and laid her head on the carpet. “Do what you want Crazypants. I’m just gonna lay right here until the siege is over and everyone comes to their senses again and remembers who’s really in charge of this house. And that’d be moi.”

Alice took one more look at Liam. She had to admit; for an alien, he was pretty darned cute.

Happy 8th Anniversary, Macy!

Eight years ago we were whistling Dixie all the way to a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Versailles, Kentucky.

Why Dixie? That was the name of the dog we were going to add to our little pack.

We’d had Alice for a couple of months and she was still recuperating from her double hip dysplasia surgery. Our veteranarian and Charlene, Alice’s foster mom, suggested that getting another dog for Alice to pal around with might encourage her to walk normally again.  We’d never owned two dogs and Alice was already filling the house with her larger than life personality, but we thought it was a good idea. We were okay with the fact that Alice might bunny-hop the rest of her life but if another dog could show her how to walk on all fours again, we were willing to try it. Besides, Charlene had a lead on a young blue merle Aussie, not yet a year old. She was being fostered a couple of hours south in Kentucky by a woman named Agatha. The Aussie Rescue & Placement Helpline wasn’t going to post her photo because she was “too beautiful” (Dixie could land with a bad breeder or puppy mill) and they wanted to make sure she went to the right home.

(The first picture we received of Macy, formerly known as Dixie)

Agatha emailed a secret snapshot of “Dixie.” In the photo, she was sitting on a sofa, chewing on a small Dixie cup. She was (and is) a beautiful dog, with one brown eye and one blue eye, and a soft face that hinted at shy nature. She was a Milk-Bone cover girl. Agatha told us she was “active.” In Aussie nomenclature, this is code for hyper, nuts, energetic, awake all the time, mischievous, high-maintenance, possibly frustrating, potentially destructive if energies are directed at furniture and shoes instead of dog jobs like tennis balls and kongs, and above all else, highly intelligent. Despite her active status, Agatha also told us she was painfully shy and had a storied past. She’d most likely been severely abused and when Agatha rescued her from a Banfield Clinic attached to a PetsMart, Dixie was a day shy of being euthanized. Gasp. And gasp again. Agatha said she needed a boost in self-confidence and perhaps being around a confident dog would help her regain trust. We looked at Alice…it would be a match made in heaven. Alice could teach Dixie to have a little more moxy. And Dixie could show Alice how to strut her stuff.

On February 22, Agatha and her husband drove north to Newport, KY for a home visit with Dixie. Like all good and reputable rescue organizations, ARPH  does their homework. They don’t just give dogs out to anyone; they inspect, they interview, they question, and they make sure everyone is right for each other. (Too bad they don’t do this with people.) And with Dixie’s background, they wanted to make sure she was going to a home that understood the Aussie way (believe me, it’s different from other dogs) and that Alice was going to accept a little sister into the pack.

Agatha had done some exceptional work with Dixie, getting her comfortable on a leash and housetraining her. When they brought Dixie out of the truck, she was shaking and darting back and forth, head and haunches low to the ground. After a fair amount of oohing and aahing and coaxing her near us in the front yard, we introduced her to Alice who immediately established that she was head dog of the house before retreating underneath the coffee table for a nap. Alice was fine, Dixie was thoroughly petrified, and we were sold. Our first Aussie, Autumn, had been abused as well. We’d helped her re-establish confidence? No problemo. The Purcell house would now be a two-dog, two-person establishment. We told Agatha we needed to think it over but we knew Dixie was ours. We also knew there was absolutely no way we could own a dog named Dixie. It just sound too prissy and small-dog for her.

We scheduled the pick-up for March 2. There was a UK game the night before and Versailles was near Lexington and sort of the middle point between Newport and where Dixie was being fostered. We got tickets for the UK game and arranged to meet in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel the next morning. And then we started the name-the-dog game. When changing a dog’s name, most experts recommend finding something that rhymes with the dog’s original name. Sheesh. Trixie? Misty? Frisky? Betsy? Oy. We were at a loss until we reach our hotel in Lexington and were getting ready for the UK game.

I was looking down into the lobby of the hotel. It was an ocean of blue and white sweatshirts and jackets and hats, the crowd suited up for the game. “What about Macy?” I asked Dave. “For Kyle Macy. Your favorite UK basketball player of all time.”

Brilliant! Thankyouverymuch!

The next morning we picked up Dixie at Cracker Barrel; somehow it seemed appropriate. Our little roadside runaway with big-time self-esteem issues hitching a ride with us at the Cracker Barrel. Again, she was shaking as we loaded her into the back of our red pick-up truck (Dave’s vehicle for hauling band equipment). We placed her on the blanket Agatha had given us and added our own dog blanket, Dave’s childhood comforter with the names and logos of old hockey teams. The comforter had been passed down from Autumn who used it for fourteen years, to Alice and Macy. I spent most of the ride draped over the seat trying to comfort Macy, telling her she was going to a good place where she’d meet a good friend. I doubt she believed me.

The first few weeks with Macy were anything but easy. She was terrified of Dave, who was home most of the day working toward his PhD. We assumed she had been abused by a male and she made it clear that men were to be avoided at all costs. Only I could feed her. Only I could take her for a walk. She didn’t want anything to do with Dave. She ran away from him, hid in corners. She also started forgetting she was house trained and that she wasn’t supposed to chew on clothing, comforters, sofas, or anything filled with some type of stuffing. But man oh man could this girl run. She was lightning fast and graceful. Poor Alice was left in the dust, bunny-hopping across the yard and barking “wait for me” whenever we put them out in the yard.

Dave spent day after day locked in a bedroom with Macy and Alice, trying to make friends with our new addition. I’d come home from work and all three of them looked frazzled and wired and ready for a break from each other. After a full week of lockdown, Macy realized Dave wasn’t such a bad guy and that we were all to be trusted. She settled in and settled down, and followed Alice’s every move.

She also followed me…everywhere. I was her new buddy. Eight years later, she still follows me…everywhere. I call her my Foreman and my Muse. She follows me when I clean the house. Given that she’s a neat freak, apparently she follows me to make sure I’m doing a good job. She follows me to the kitchen, though I’m not sure why because she’s a very picky eater and turns down food more than she eats it. She follows me into the bathroom and even noses open the shower curtain to get a drink of water. Everywhere I go, Macy goes too. And when I’m writing, she’s right there on the bed cheering me on. Okay, really she’s sleeping but I know she’d offer editorial advice if she could. In fact, we’ve decided that she’d read romance novels and the classics along with her trashy fashion magazines.

Eight years later, she still retains some of her original shyness and fear. As much as we’ve worked with her, she’s a wallflower at heart. Unlike Alice, she’s not one to give over her trust for a mere bone. Macy plays hard to get, but once you’re in her circle, she’s yours for life. Just don’t look her in the eye — that’s too much confrontation for her taste.We call her our Goth Girl, for the black fur around her eyes, her own version of eyeliner, and for her pensive disposition. However, get out the leash and it’s Goth Girl Gone Wild. She’s the first one in line for a walk, and she can outrun most any dog at the dog park. She also can be a ferocious drama queen when someone knocks on the door.

We’ve never had a dog that’s so well-groomed. We’re not sure how she does it but we swear she must file her own nails when we’re not looking. Even the groomers are surprised when we bring her in for a trim and they don’t have to do her nails. She’s almost cat-like, but don’t tell her that because she’s not a fan of felines. Or mail carriers. Or squirrels. Or things that move quickly.

Best of all, Macy is Alice’s best pal and vice versa. Macy gives Alice an ear bath daily. We learned that the ear licking is a sign of submission and let’s just say Alice doesn’t mind the fringe benefits of being alpha. They eat, sleep, stroll, and bark together. Macy snuggles up against Alice for naps and takes comfort in Alice’s high level of confidence. Speaking of comfort, we’ve also never had a dog who can get as comfortable as Macy. She re-arranges pillows, fluffs up blankets, and generally makes herself a nice bed out of clothing, pillows, or anything else on the floor.

Macy is our snuggler, our mischief-maker, our athlete, and our beauty queen. During walks, we’re frequently stopped by people who comment on how striking Macy is. After they leave, we always tell Alice she’s pretty, too. You know, sibling rivalry and all that. But as pretty and delicate as she may be, Macy is one heck of a tennis ball player. If we’d had the time, we would’ve trained her for agility competitions because we’re pretty sure she could’ve held her own out on the course. One of our most favorite things to do is watch her run. Girlfriend has game, that’s for sure.

And even though we’ve struggled with Macy’s erratic and fearful behavior sometimes, she’s a good girl at heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better foreman and Alice couldn’t have asked for a better friend. Here’s to many more years with our Macerpants and her own brand of awesome Aussie-ness!