Category Archives: pets

Dungeons, Dragons, and Dreams

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Conan at four months old

It’s been a month and a half since I lost Conan. For awhile, I thought things were getting easier and I started perusing dogs on shelter sites because I miss having a dog around. Then the dreams came.

The first one I was at a party. A friend arrived (I don’t know who), and they brought Conan. In the dream, it turned out that I had given him up to a friend and they were allowing me a visit. I couldn’t stop apologizing to Conan.

The second one I was at a shelter. I was looking at dogs, when I found Conan. In this dream it turned out he wasn’t gone, I’d just accidentally left him at a shelter. I was so happy to find him again.

What these dreams taught me is that I am not really wanting a dog again (yet), I’m wanting Conan again. My searching through adoptable dogs was me looking for one that might be Conan. None of them are.

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The above photo is my party of adventurers (I’m the monk on the far right) with a spiritual guardian represented by the four-sided die. I’m not sure what connection this has to my dreams about Conan, except that Dungeons and Dragons is a place I go to once a week where I am surrounded by friends who make me smile and help me forget for a bit the world that weighs on me.

I once claimed that Dungeons and Dragons had saved my life when my appendix became infected during a game. Now, dealing with life without Conan, Dungeons and Dragons continues to save me. It allows me to be creative, to escape, and to spend time with a group of friends who make me laugh and smile.

People ask me all the time, “How are you?” and I say, “Fine.” It’s true, I am, because when grief hits again it will do so in a wave when I’m not expecting it. Such as on my way home from work, when I suddenly feel happy about walking Conan when I get home. Or first thing in the morning when I expect to see Conan at the foot of my bed. Or when I vacuum my suite and there are no dog dishes to move out of the way. Ask me then, and I am not fine. For those tiny, fleeting moments, grief takes over.

Grief isn’t always about being sad or depressed. Sometimes, grief is about appreciating the moments that made you happy when the one you lost was still with you. So, when I’m asked, I will say, “I’m fine” and that will be an honest answer. But if you do catch me when I am not fine, just remember that it is a fleeting moment. An important moment. A moment I need.

If you want to help me, grab a set of polyhedron dice, and let’s play a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Conan, 2000-2016

I haven’t posted in a long while since there haven’t been any great days for road trips. In other words, I haven’t had much to say, and I don’t like posting just for the sake of posting.

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A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to my pet and friend, Conan the shih tzu. I’ve been debating if I wanted to post about this, or if I wanted to keep the blog light and fluffy. It was during Christmas festivities, when a friend started asking questions about my decisions because he will one day soon also have to make the same decisions, and then when other friends who lost pets recently messaged me telling me about the comfort they took in my openness, that I knew I needed to make this post.

For months while I was trying to make that final decision, I googled for advice and found help online. So, for all those who have pets, I will pass on what I have learned.

1) The Natural Death

475When we think of this concept, we imagine our pets passing painlessly in their sleep into the next realm. That’s what I was hoping for since the day that Conan was diagnosed with liver disease in 2014. The truth is, this concept just doesn’t exist. Conan’s liver disease was probably cutting the air off to his brain, and it was starting to cause his lungs to fill with fluid. If he was going to pass naturally, he would have died in pain, probably when I wasn’t home, and filled with fear. Don’t consider the “natural” option. Natural sucks.

2) Where You Say Goodbye

I considered saying goodbye in our home. It seemed like a place where he’d be most comfortable, and perhaps that would have made it easier. However, that would have meant finding a vet I didn’t know, and there was always a tiny part of me clinging to the notion that someone was going to say to me, “Are you sure about this? He’s fine. Look at him!”

I chose the vet we’d been going to for the last seven years. In the end this was the healthy decision, because the vet had a chance to say goodbye, to tell me that he was going to miss the two of us, and to remind me that I had done more than most would have done. He was amazed that Conan had stayed healthy for so long.”He’s a fighter, that one. You should have no regrets,” is what he told me.

As for Conan’s comfort, his place of solitude was anywhere I was–just as it had always been. Cradled in my arms, his gaze staring up at me, his tiny body completely relaxed.

3) After

I spent so much time preparing for the event, that I didn’t think much about what I was going to do after. I chose to be in the room with him alone, which was a mistake. Take someone with you. I had plenty of people offer, but for some reason I thought it needed to be a moment for me and him. And maybe that moment did–but the moments after was when I knew I needed someone for me the same way Conan always needed me there for him.

When asked if I wanted the ashes, I initially thought no. But thankfully I understood how final that decision was, and decided to say yes in case I changed my mind and wanted them. I did change my mind, and am now very glad I have them.

img_0139-1Grief will come in waves. I can’t tell you what to expect or how to prepare as it comes to everyone differently. I cleaned up and put away his things immediately as having them out just made me sad. However, I keep going on our walks and I say goodbye to him each day when I leave for work as I always did. Sometimes I cry when  memory hits, and sometimes I just smile and remember him.

4) Memories

What I came to understand is that although I loved him no matter what, I was missing him long before he died. I was missing that happy puppy that wagged his tail at the sight of other dogs, who chased my feet when we walked, who jumped onto the couch to sit on my lap, who sniffed out the crumbs when I dropped food, who ran to the door to greet me every day when I came home. That’s the Conan I miss, even if it wasn’t the Conan I loved and said goodbye to.

511I take comfort in remembering the many good times we had together. I may blog about that for a while, because Conan was a part of my life for a very long time–from when I was 28 until 16 and a half years later. We had a lot of really great times. And that is my last piece of advice: don’t fear the memories. Sometimes they may make you sad, but mostly they will bring you comfort.

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Godspeed, little buddy.

James in His Jeep Getting Java – Snoqualmie Edition

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My 2014 Jeep Wrangler.

A few weeks ago, I was in an artist’s store and had a conversation with the proprietor who seemed a little down. We spoke a lot about what she was doing, and the art in the store, and after a few minutes she asked, “What is it you do?”

“I travel from place to place reminding people that they have purpose, and what they do matters,” I said to her, meaning it as a joke, but in a really serious tone. (Blame it on my dry sense of humour.) There was a silence for a few seconds, and at that moment I could just tell that she really did need to hear exactly that. She needed me to be that person who travelled from place to place reminding people that they have purpose. And so for her, in that moment, I was.

“You have purpose,” I said to her, “and what you are doing matters.”
Then came a big smile, and a really sincere thank you. I nodded and smiled back, and told her it was time for me to find my next place. And I left, thinking that this was probably the strangest encounter I have ever had and yet realizing that this is exactly what this world needs. (My theme song at the end of this post relates to this very incident.)

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about Purpose, and what it means to matter and to have a desire to matter. So this week, as I travelled to Snoqualmie Falls, I had a lot of time to ponder this very thing. It’s a three hour drive from Canada to Snoqualmie, with beautiful countryside that is just starting to bloom. The flowers in the fields, and the many colours that are painting across the landscape, is nature’s way of reminding us that no matter how dark and dreary the past may have been everything can be made fresh and new again.

My first stop was Fall City, a population of just under 2000 and a centre that exists right on a very busy highway.

I found a burger shack called Small Fryes that was quite busy, so I figured that would be a good place to stop for lunch. I ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and drink special for $5. It was very greasy–and perfect.

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While on one side of the highway is the town business centre, on the other is the Snoqualmie River. There are benches and tables and places to rest, so I brought my food there (it’s a two minute walk from Small Fryes).

A few more photos of the town:

It’s a twelve minute drive from Fall City to Snoqualmie Falls, and by this point it was just after noon. What I hadn’t considered on my way here, was that this was the Easter weekend and so there were HUNDREDS of tourists at the falls all scrambling for parking. It was seriously insane. I took one try around the lower lot, chose not to cross the highway and die to get to the upper lot, and headed for Snoqualmie City.

This was not a disappointment.

Along the way, there’s an old train that sits on unused tracks adjacent to the highway. Immediately when you enter the town, you see a train museum and the history of Snoqualmie City. It’s amazing!

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I was about ready for some coffee, so I found a place called The Bindlestick Coffee and Beer House. They were really busy, with regulars phoning in orders and only the owner behind the bar making food and serving drinks. But she greeted me straight away, was polite and cheerful, and it was obvious by the way she interacted with her patrons that she loved them and they loved her. Even though I had to wait ten minutes before she could serve me, it was kind of a pleasure to watch this mutual respect happening right in front of me. If I hadn’t just had lunch, this would be a great place for a meal as well as a coffee.

After I had my latte (it was very good and well worth the wait) I sat outside on a bench and watched the town. Snoqualmie City has over ten thousand people, so it is by no means a small town. However, it is a very picturesque and historical city–with the Bindlestick situated right across from the train museum and a park.

I took a walk down to Sandy Cover Park. There were a few families there enjoying the warm day (at this point it was plus 17C and sunny) plus…Amee. (Yes, I am spelling that correctly.) She was with her family, and when she saw me it was love at first sight. In fact, she knew immediately that I had purpose and I mattered. Once our eyes locked, she ran straight for me.

Her owners shouted, “Sorry! She never does this! She’s friendly!” and I kneeled and scratched her head. Amee knew that I was the kind of guy who would love to give her some attention, and so of course she ran right for me. Her owners were pretty cool, too.

When I felt it was time to head back, I decided to give Snoqualmie Falls another shot. I was situated in the right direction to check out the upper parking lot, and I did manage to find a spot. The crowds, however, were not diminished by the amount of time that had passed.

I’m glad that I got to see the falls since that was my main reason for heading this way. Had I not seen them, I would have just as gladly returned another day.

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That was my road trip to Snoqualmie Falls. My purpose that day: to bring a dog happiness. Today, it was something new. And tomorrow, it will be something else. Each day our purpose changes, whether we know in that moment that we are affecting someone’s life or not. What you do matters.

(In case you don’t get the significance of this song, click here.)

 

New Home

It’s been almost two months since I’ve been in my new home. Conan and I have settled in quite nicely, and I think we’ve explored most of the area. Thankfully, I’m walking distance to an Internet cafe, an inkjet refill store, a baker, a butcher (but no candlestick maker – unless you include the knickknack shop, which has lots of candles).

That’s all fine and dandy, but what about Conan? Yes, we are walking distance (though when your legs are three inches long it’s a pretty long trek) to a pet supply shop and a dog groomer. So today, Conan and I visited Something to Bark About so Conan could get a haircut. He was getting scraggy and dirty, so it was definitely time. His after shot is probably one of my favourites of him:

Conan is Okay

After a long, extensive discussion with another vet, I have decided not to go ahead with surgery on Conan.

This is a hard decision to make, as it puts faith into the diagnosis of the opinion that I would rather hear. My reasons were simple: this vet took the time to hear my concerns, and he explained them in a way that I could fully understand what is happening to my dog. Unfortunately, the reason for the lumps are from a cause that is incurable: old age.

My question to this vet was simple: “Do I get my dog surgery every time I feel a little lump? Is this something that my dog, as he gets even older, is going to survive?” He shook his head and said no. Putting a dog through surgery is a final resort, and these lumps are not in a position that should send off any alarm bells. While they have grown larger since the last vet visit, they have not done so in a way that is indicative of cancer. They have reacted as fat cells.

I considered getting him a needle biopsy, but this vet said the same as the last. That the needle biopsies are only 50% accurate, and a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It would just be a lot of discomfort for Conan, for something that can be diagnosed without it.

So, I have opted out of the surgery. Hopefully, I have made the right choice that is best for the boy.

Summer As A Writer

I figure I should post a little on the art of living as a writer – and what my goals are for the next couple of months.

First, I’m getting ready to move. My current address is getting to be too much of a party place, and it’s making it hard to do things such as sleep and write. There’s no such thing as peace and quiet in a building where one neighbour blasts his subwoofers and the other bangs away on a drum set. Yeesh.

This is a photo of what my new place looks like right now. It is currently under renovations, and will be in fantastic shape when I move in. My landlord will be author/editor Tiffany Stone.

As I’m cleaning up, I’m trying to decide what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pack rat, but I definitely have hoarding tendencies. (Though I will also state that after packing up my books and writing supplies there was very little left to pack – further proof that I need another hobby!) I’ve been coming across some old photos and odds and ends that I’d packed away when I’d moved into my current place seven years ago.

One thing I keep getting asked for is a photo of me from high school. During most of my high school career I had a buzz cut, but there was that final year when I grew my hair long into a mullet. This is one of those rare photos of me and my mullet. To be honest, I have no idea when or where this photo was taken. I don’t know what was on my mind, though I don’t look all that happy. (No doubt I was going through some angsty-type of stuff.) But here it is, for all of you who have been asking for a photo from my teen years. When I find more, I’ll post the less embarrassing ones.

I’m also working on filling up a journal full of writings. I plan to have at least one book written by the end of the summer (my summer ends in October – not September), and to do so I found (actually, it was a gift to me) an awesome journal that makes me want to write in it.

Inside of these pages are the scribblings of my mind to my pen to the paper. This is how I work. I don’t create on the computer – I find it distracting and impersonal. I write on paper, with the scent of the ink and the crispness of the journal making me feel as though I am in another place and another time. I’ll keep you posted how my writing progresses.

Chest Lumps

About a month ago I took Conan to the vet because I felt a little lump in his chest. He also had one on his side, but neither lump was large enough that a sample could be taken. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed these lumps growing and, probably due to my own experience with cancer, I grew concerned.

The vet could no longer say that it was nothing. It is definitely worth investigating, although it could wind up just being fat cells. Not only that, but there are three lumps that need removal. Actually, there were three options: a needle biopsy where, while Conan is awake, they freeze the area, hold him down, and remove a piece of the area with a needle. #2: They biopsy the area while he is under by taking a portion out – meaning a second operation if it turns out to be cancer. #3: Complete removal of the lumps – the only 100% guarantee since, if it is cancer, it is a form that doesn’t spread to muscles or bones.

In discussions with the vet, there was the question all pet owners hate to ask: What is this going to cost? I’m thankful that I live in a country where I don’t have to put a monetary value on my health, but, of course, dogs don’t have that luxury. (Yes, there is pet insurance, but if you put that $50+ a month away into a bank savings account, you’ll have a small fortune saved by the time you need it.) As I waited for the doctor to tell me the estimate, I tried to come up with a dollar figure that I wouldn’t pay or borrow to ensure that I would have my companion by my side for at least another ten years. My mind went blank.

I chose the third option, to have the lumps completely removed. Thankfully, it was an estimate that fits in with my budget. It will mean tightening things up over the next few months, and not taking as many weeks off this summer as I’d hoped to do. (Though I will be able to spend a week at home with him while he recovers.) It means not taking my Alaskan cruise, and it means not buying the new couch I was hoping for. But these are sacrifices I’m willing to make for the health and comfort and companionship of my little buddy.

His operation is a week and a half away. I’ll keep you all informed of his progress.

Pets Need Homes

Living in Vancouver and being a pet owner is tough. Landlords all over the city have a blanket “no pet policy,” citing reasons from “animals are too loud” to “animals damage apartments.”

Even my own home is now “no pets allowed.” When I first moved here, it allowed dogs and cats. Most of us had small dogs, and we knew each other from walks and our dogs playing in the courtyard. 

The building was friendly, and it attracted a nice quality of tenant.

Now my dog is “grandfathered” into my lease as new tenants are not allowed pets. The neighbours I knew are all gone, and no one knows anyone in the building. Correction. No one knows everyone, but everyone knows me. Why? Because when I’m walking my dog, people feel comfortable to say hello and start a conversation.

The fact is, anyone with a pet that destroys an apartment will be a nightmare tenant even without the pet. If they don’t have a dog that barks at 2 a.m. unchecked, they’ll have a stereo blasting at 2 a.m. If they don’t have a cat that urinates on the hardwood floors, they’ll have a party where guests … I think you get the idea.

This law is doing only one thing. It’s punishing law abiding, responsible citizens. Actually, it’s doing two things. It’s also crowding the SPCA with animals from people who had to make that ultimate choice: live in a home without the pet, or on the street with it.

On paper, the landlords sound as though they have an iron clad case. In practice, however, their case falls apart. Several years ago Toronto adopted a law that forbade landlords from discriminating against tenants with pets. At first there was the typical outcry, but eventually landlords discovered there was zero increase in problems due to allowing pets.

If you live in Vancouver and want to make sure pets always have a homes the online petition.