A Melancholy Moment

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Finally on our local golf course last week!

Normally, 99.999% of the time, this is me. Not the wine glass- that’s maybe 25% of the time and as much as I wish golf was 100% that isn’t the case, either. But I’m normally smiling, laughing, joking around and happy.

(As I type that I’m trying desperately to do the math to make sure I don’t sound like a flaming alcoholic… should that be 20%? 15% Will my friends laugh and think I underestimated?)

Driving home along muddy gravel roads with 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom potholes in the rain to a husband-less house on Friday, however, I had a moment of melancholy.

I had a few tears.

It wasn’t a pity party by any stretch. It actually had to do with some sadness.

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a couple of weeks ago before the golf course opened

I had done a house call that morning where I helped friends say goodbye to their special canine companion. It was necessary, it was an act of kindness and it was done for all the right reasons. It was also beautiful and peaceful if such an event can be.

It was Time.

But after having done this recently with a few other special canines I realized I have been the veterinarian in this community long enough that I have known these animals their entire lives. And now I’m saying sad goodbyes to some of them.

I was the Easy Cheese lady back when we did 3 sets of the distemper combo and handed out puppy kits.

I spayed and neutered them.

They were participants in my puppy parties.

And they came to the Dog Days of Summer every year.

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UB and Loki at one of the Dog days of Summer

While not all of the recent patients of the Angel of Darkness were puppies when I met them, they were still my patients for several years. It just felt kind of heavy and it all hit me at one specific moment yesterday.

The rainy, dark skies and the cooler temperatures after being teased with sunshine and golf games recently probably didn’t help.

I did allow myself time to think about and process each of the friends I had to help over the Rainbow Bridge and I think veterinarians just simply need to do this from time to time. Sure, I have all sorts of fabulous coping mechanisms- I keep a journal; I share my feelings here and with clients; I play golf; I laugh a LOT; I joke around a LOT; I have ferrets who I talk to in a variety of accents; I don’t take myself seriously; I have a tremendously understanding husband; I write; I have the Aloha hot tub with tiki torches; I drink wine; yadda, yadda….

But veterinarians have enough to worry about in this career that we need to be able to let ourselves emote, from time to time, about stuff that’s just plain sad.

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Fabulous Babulous

It probably also doesn’t help that I found what I believe to be an oral tumor in sweet Bebe’s mouth the other day. She’s fine, though, eating & drinking & bitching at us for her morning Greenies and everything is normal but Dr.Mummy knows its not right.

And she’s lost some weight.

And her hair coat is a bit poor.

But Mummy-me isn’t going to change a thing until Babs gives us a reason to.

Like my clients’ pets did.

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Getting ready for the Furry Scurry a few years ago

The noble Bernese Mountain Dog began limping enough that her parents knew the recently diagnosed bone cancer in her forelimb was taking over.

She walked less and less and started to eat a bit less.

I had done her puppy vaccines and spayed her and fixed her umbilical hernia. She was a puppy party participant and kind of just watched the goofy Labradors and goldens flying around the clinic (although she eventually gave in and played a bit, too.)

She attended Dog Days of Summers and did the Furry Scurry and she hiked in the mountains of Montana and played with her sister and swam in clear rivers and creeks and eventually accepted the newest little sister and she ate like a queen and she lounged outside her house and she loved the heck out of her dad and her new  mom and she was on the greatest adventure ever until it was Time.

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Another Furry Scurry getting ready to go!

Then there was the adorable, 16 year old Yorkie who made it pretty clear to his parents that it was Time. I knew him since I moved here and he and his canine siblings lived a lovely life with their parents. I got to see pictures of him in the basket of the 4-wheeler looking like he was the happiest big dog in a little dog’s body ever. His entire small community knew him and he even got to help out at the bar his folks owned a lot of the time.

I know a lot of hearts were broken when I helped him across the bridge with his mom and dad right there, holding him, rubbing him. Like his mom said, “It isn’t about us anymore, its about him.” It was Time.

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My Nan and the Princess, Cleopatra at a Dog Days of Summer many moons ago

My friends and I had known Sprocket’s time was coming because he was ancient. Most working sled dogs live a great, active life but they rarely make it to 15 years of age but this noble old athlete did and he did it was grace and style. Maybe not with the greatest hair coat in the world but he aged beautifully until he didn’t.

Sprocket was one of their competitive dogs who loved what he did. A Siberian Husky who I respected as both an athlete and a good dog, he started having trouble with his back legs recently. He would rally and we would stop checking to see if I was going to be in town and a few more weeks would pass.

Until the morning when the dog who had run his heart out and played with his yard mates and really liked his injectable anesthesia when he needed it and was one of the alligator bacteria patients years ago let his folks know they needed to come up to the farm for one final visit with Dr.Fyfe.

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Good times with good friends at a Dog Days of Summer

And Friday morning we laid the final dog of a litter of pups I was particularly close to to rest.

The beautiful litter of Great Dane puppies was in trouble from the start when their mom died within days of their birth. We knew it was a challenge to get enough groceries into such a rapid-growing breed but several members of the community were up to the task. It was daunting at best because without much immunity from not having their mom’s milk they couldn’t be exposed to many people so it was a small group who fed, cleaned, rested, and fed the puppies again. Most of the folks who were part of the feeding team became owners of these huge puppies and all but one stayed within our community.

My rep with Royal Canin happily consulted her team of nutritionists and those pups thrived on canned Recovery and wow, what a gorgeous group of dogs they turned into.

On April 22nd, 2009, my surgeon friend from Great Falls came by and he helped me spay and gastropexy the three females, which I had never done before. The three giants laid in a blanketed assembly line as they recovered and it was a pretty special day.

Until the curse of being a Great Dane took over and we lost the father and all of the other siblings over the years.

Generally they aren’t a long-lived breed but Bella made it to 10 years. Until Friday morning, when it was Time.

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Dog Show winners in the “Working Dog” class at one of our later Dog Days

Each and every family I cried with are friends. I’ve had coffees, lunch and supper dates and I’ve supported their buisnesses and I think most of them have read my books.

I counselled them about when to spay, what brand of foods to eat and I dispensed dewormers and did house calls and I sutured them up or took sutures out and I watched relationships grow and flourish even if there was some testing along the way and I shared the beginning, middle and now end of some beautiful lives with special people and their beloved companions and I know how very hard it was to make the decisions they made and I respect all of them for it while knowing how hard their hearts hurt.

Sometimes the making of the decision and acknowledging that it is Time is the hardest part of all. Or maybe its when I ask if my friends are ready… because they will truly never, ever be ready.

I am privileged to get to share the amazing human-animal bond that makes us choose to get another puppy and raise them and love them and care for and guide them through their magical lives as they become perfect middle-aged best friends until they gradually become beloved senior citizens.

My own heart gets wrung out every time we have had to make the decision to send our furry friends on their final adventure.

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Pretty little Bebe Fyfe

I hope I get to have more time to spend with Babs before its Time. Heck, Cleopatra, our Springer is at least 15 and is having her own set of issues. I’m trying not to think about it but I may have to face what Sitka, Danny, Sprocket and Bella’s parents all had to face just recently sooner rather than later.

And I’ll be okay.

Just like all of my friends will.

And every single other pet parent out there who has to face facts when you start making a list of all of the last things you’ll be doing with your buddy.

There are those coping mechanisms.

There is that magnificent hubby and many great friends.

And there is the knowledge that when the sadness is so great it means the love was that great as well.

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Local Coping Mechanism just opened the back 9 last week.

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One of the Furry Scurry’s along the highway in town!

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3 new Coping Mechanisms screwing around in Papa’s clean jeans.

 

One of “Those” Winters

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How to survive winter in western Montana.

I’ve certainly posted pictures of enormous snow drifts and buried hot tubs over the years. And I’ve shared many before & after pictures of our deck in Montana that would be buried overnight and require my little body to shovel as if there were no tomorrow.

I’ve also told winter tales of woe from our ranch in North Dakota, where the winds blow in unimaginably cold temperatures for days and you pray that you don’t get stuck and that your diesel doesn’t gel.

But this winter… this is one for the ages.

 

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Our barn in ND before Alistair could really do some work.

Its been particularly harsh in Bismarck because they have had two extended periods of extreme cold weather and a tremendous amount of snowfall. Usually the snow comes down and blows around. The drifts make travel and movement a challenge but the volume doesn’t often stack up.

Its stacking up this year.

Like it did in 1996/97 where everyone in North Dakota remembers trying to beat the swollen Red River with sandbags. They were unsuccessful and downtown Grand Forks, ND flooded.

 

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Image from 1997 Red River flood (not my picture)

 

Everyone in the state watched the largest city get buried in raging, muddy waters that were formed when the snow never seemed to stop that winter. Snow that was shoved to the sides of the road higher than our one-ton pickup, Big Red when we were at a hockey game in Grand Forks months before the flood.

 

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All that snow melted and it had to go somewhere (not my picture).

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, fire broke out downtown but nobody could get to it because of the floodwaters. North Dakotans are remembering this springtime disaster because the snow this year is much like the snow that winter.

 

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haunting aftermath of the flood and fire (not my photo)

Because nobody wants to see this again.

But we know that many precautions have been made and banks were reinforced so we are all hopeful to avoid that kind of nightmare.

Or the nightmare of 2011 when Bismarck flooded after heavy snowfall in Montana had to go somewhere.

It chose the mighty Missouri.

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Flooded roads and residential areas in Bismarck, 2011 (not my picture).

Families were evacuated, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed and an army of people and pets moved into our home with Alistair for most of the summer.

The Army Corps of Engineers will hopefully be more on top of things this spring so we won’t see a repeat this year.

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snow load and drifts on our ranch in Bismarck right now.

Because there’s a boat-load of snow and its only the middle of January.

Many Montanans say that the snow used to come down like it has all of the time in the “old days”. That people were shoveling and roof-raking all winter long. It was the price you paid to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and I guess we’re paying for it now ourselves.

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My view for much of this winter already.

I have it a lot easier than poor Alistair, though.

For starters, I can plow in the warm comfort of Big Red with Jack Johnson, Iz or Coldplay blaring out of the speakers.

I have the big tractor with the covered cab and more heaters and a radio for company.

I also only have one horse to care for here versus the dozen he must feed and protect in Bismarck.

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from our snow-blown deck in North Dakota last week

Which is a challenge when he’s not there for 2 weeks. Its a challenge when New Neighbor is clueless about our tractor (which does not have a cab, heat or music) and damn near destroys a rim as he tries to clean up the snow. And its a challenge when it feels like 60 degrees below zero and the wind has blown for 3 days while snow kept coming down but he still needs a road to get to the horses and to get to work.

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a challenge to get into the barn where the tractor is kept!

I got to post cute videos of me listening to a warming Hawaiian ukulele with the incredibly beautiful Horseshoe Hills just beyond our Montana dream home while poor Alistair froze himself for hours trying to make sense out of the mess in front of him.

A mess New Neighbor truly hadn’t helped with. A mess our postman refused to enter so we didn’t receive mail for a few days. A mess that was very, very cold.

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You have to have a path, right?

He had to stop 5 times during the massive snow upheaval to shiver and shudder in our heated tack room. He traded socks, toques and gloves and stuck his bare toes directly into the slots on the baseboard heater and hoped beyond hope that when the tractor sounded like it wanted to seize up thanks to gelled diesel that it was just messing with him.

Its not as if he has the splendor of the Rockies to look at while he’s trying to move snow from here to there.

He has the flat, white horizon. Its a treeless, dreary, almost depressing landscape when its like this and you recognize how Seasonal Affected Disorder can creep in.

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My stunning backdrop in Montana.

But this is why we do what we do.

Because he gets to call this place home as well and we can enjoy our time together with our pets, heated tractor and vehicles that hopefully all start.

Today Alistair has been back in the big, warm tractor snowblowing out our driveways that are now too tall for Big Red’s blade to push aside. He has the roads wide enough to land a plane on so I’m ready for the next dump of snow.

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Taking a break on the hay bales yesterday with UB, Cleo & Jockey

And we laughed a lot yesterday splitting wood with our electric wood splitter, playing with our remaining band of merry misfits, hot tubbing with toques on our heads and fires lit in the tiki torches he had to dig out.

We watched PGA golf on Oahu and smiled at the vast difference in landscapes while sipping martinis and wine, and we talked about the antibiotics Cleo is on for a dental infection and the meds I started for Sport for a likely overactive thyroid and we shared a sad glance or two at the empty, cleaned-out ferret cage, Quebec and we make each other smile when spirt of Luigi or spirit of Calypso has something to say and we take Loki outside and beg her to do her business out there and we wonder how long we have with her but we can’t get enough of her snuggling into us and onto us during couch time or through the night and the cribbage game continues and we are hopeful that surgery might be soon to remove a pesky pelvic pin for hubby and that eventually, some day, maybe when the snow melts and hopefully doesn’t flood riverbanks onto the prairies, the sun will shine and we will be able to get back to our golf game.

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Another break in the wood splitting yesterday.

We plug the rigs and the tractors in. We only use diesel 1 which southerners don’t know even exists. We keep a steady supply of wine and vodka and frozen food and pet food on hand. We split more wood. And we move more snow.

And Alistair took the keys away from New Neighbor, saying it was time for them to get their own tractor.

Its just one of those winters and we’re doing everything we can to get through it.

Smiling.

With our version of winter Aloha, booze and hot tubs.

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Bismarck hot tub buried after the 2nd blizzard before Alistair dug a path.

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Our Jetta, Klaus in Montana… probably not going anywhere soon.

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Blasting out a “piddle path” for the dogs last month.