Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rescue Me

 New Years Day, 2009  "Buddy" came into our lives.  Bob and I had both lost our dogs within the last 2 years.  We had a new house with an acre of land that had a 4 foot fence around the WHOLE property.   We both love big dogs.  I had my heart set on a Bernese Mountain Dog.  Bob just wanted "big and friendly mutt."  Our new home and life together was ready for canine company.

We have 3 cats between us.  We love them dearly.  But they are not dogs.  My two are 15 years old.  I had gotten Bob "Lola"  from Craig's list.  I threaten to put her back on Craig's list if she doesn't behave.  My cats had lived with many dogs from our farm days, and with "Rosie" our last Golden Retriever.  So getting another dog would be easy for them.  But Lola had lived her first 4 years with one woman.  When Bob and I moved in together with my cats,  I don't think she spoke to us for 3 months.  Another blog post will be about Lola.

I looked on line for rescue places in the US.  I watch the "Dog Whisperer" with devotion on Friday nights.  Cesar had a story about all the dogs that had to be rehomed due to the mortgage crisis, and people losing their homes.  I wrote to 3 Golden Retriever rescue sites.  I filled out all the applications.  Some took hours to answer all their questions.  And I waited.  And waited. And waited.

On New Years Eve morning a year later I had 3 emails from rescue places.  The first was the Rio Grande Golden Retriever Rescue.  They had photos of "Buddy."  It was clear he was not a pure Golden from the photo.   That made Bob happy.  I called and set up a "meeting for New Years Day.  The lovely woman at the rescue said he was coming down from a ranch in Chama.  She would call me the moment he arrived.  All she knew is he was 3 years old, lived with small children, cattle, and cats and was neutered.   The next day as promised  the lady called and we went to meet him.

On the way Bob and I formulated a plan.  If one has never rescued or adopted from a shelter, the pressure is great to say yes on the spot.  So I told Bob we should look at the dog, and then excuse ourselves and go to the car and have "a talk."  He thought that was a splendid idea.  What if one of us had seen a behavior we were uncomfortable with.  We would have the freedom to talk and make our decision in the comfort and privacy of our car.

We pulled up to an acre property that was surrounded by chain link fencing.  It had several "yards" about 20' x 20' square to keep many dogs until they were adopted.  There were 3 lovely goldens in the house, all looking out at us.  The woman went to the back and came around with Buddy.  We were sitting on lawn chairs on her porch.  Buddy was looking all around, his eyes darting from the street, to us, and to the 3 goldens.  He was clearly lost.  The woman dropped the leash and he came up to Bob.  He put his head on Bob's lap and sighed.  Bob looked at Buddy, then at me.
"What's there to talk about?" he said.

So much for our plan, Buddy was going home with us!  We paid the woman their nominal fee.  Bob walked out to the car while I stood in the driveway with Buddy.  As soon as Bob opened the door Buddy walked to him and hopped in.  We drove home with 85 pounds of matted golden fur panting on the back of our necks.  Buddy had lived outside and his coat was heavy, his nails long, and he looked depressed.   His former owners had left a large bag of food, and his dishes.  We took those with us.  I felt he needed something familiar.

He had lived with 3 small children and his female owner for 3 years.  He looked out the windows for familiar places.  We offered him none.  We were new, and so was our home.  When he walked through the front door 2 cats stood there looking dumbfounded.  Lola came sashaying  into the living room and put on the breaks.  If a cat could say WTF, I know that's what she hissed.  She promptly sought higher ground on the back of the sofa.  In the picture below you see Lola high tailing it away from that damn dog!

Within an hour Buddy was napping in the sun on our front porch.  Lola went into hiding, and the two older cats watched from a distance.  For the next 3 days, Buddy did not eat.  He looked mournfully around for his previous owners.  Although we let him out in the yard...we kept a close watch.  My experience had been that it would take months for him to "give up" on going back to his previous owners.  Left alone he might try and find them on his own.  I had learned that they had left their ranch and were moving to an apartment.  I kept a close eye on him.

It is hard to see in the photo above, but his tail was matted into the fur on his back legs.  Besides needing grooming, he looked good.  Then I looked in his ears.  I could see cattle ticks in his ears.  So I got out the mineral oil.  Bob and I sat on the kitchen floor and I put a few drops in each ear and massaged them to distribute the oil.  This is a trick I learned on the farm.  The ticks will start to crawl out once the oil gets to them.  Sure enough, they started crawling and we caught and killed 3 very large ticks.  Grrrosss!  There was one left that didn't budge.  I would leave that  for our vet. :-)

When I took him to the vet for a check up the Vet was pretty impressed with seeing a cattle tick in a dog's ear.  He freely admitted this as he held the multi legged wriggling tick in his hemostats.  Walking up and down the hall showing it to the staff who oohed and aahhhed at the wriggling tick.   Later the Vet would find a BB under his fur on side.  Buddy had a tough life before we got him.

Those days of guarding the herd, and sleeping under the stars are over for this dog.  He is my shadow, and always sleeps with one eye on me.   His nails are trimmed, and his fur is combed.   Lola continues to put ads up on Craig's list in hopes of getting rid of Buddy.

This photo was taken his first morning with us.  Lola and Francis both having "airplane ears" listening for any dog moves.  Columbus sits next to me as I type.


Buddy on his rug in the kitchen watching me cook...ever hopeful I will drop something.   One of the traits of Buddy is his howling.  He hears the coyotes and starts to howl.  If we howl, he chimes right in.  And if I'm listening to Bluegrass picking, he howls with that.   We have family howling sessions.  It feels so good to howl.  When company comes over most want one howling session before they go.  
Below is a breakfast howl with Bob.

Columbus and Buddy watch me gardening.  Buddy helped me put the 150 bags of soil and manure into the raised beds.  I pulled a yellow landscaping wagon from the car stacked with 6 bags around to the back of the house.  It was me, the yellow wagon, and Buddy.  Back and forth, back and forth.

He's the light of my life.  We are still working on socializing with other dogs.  He spent his formative years guarding the herd from predators.  More on that later.

I know we rescued him, but I feel he rescued us.

Here is  a 20 second video of Buddy playing soccer in the house with our Grandson.

Thanks for reading.  I still amazed that you do.


PS. (do you say PS on a blog?)  Remember the 4ft. fence that went around our whole property?
Buddy can hop over it like a gazelle.  I used to let him out the door thinking he couldn't get out.  Then one day the false sense of security was pulled out from under me.  I called him and saw him trotting down the street towards me, and then he cleared the fence by a foot as he came back INTO our yard.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Still waiting for the Mother Ship

On Saturday night HBO aired "Temple Grandin" the story of an adult woman with autism/aspergers.  To tell the truth, I watched it twice.  Temple Grandin had been my "beacon" of hope when my son was first diagnosed with high functioning autism.  "Rainman" was the only movie about autism out in 1993.  The end of Rainman broke my heart, and I can still see him leaving on the train in the end.  So Temple Grandin's story was my focus.  "Thinking in Pictures" was her first book. It opened my mind to a world I hadn't even known existed, until "A" was here.

The first Autism conference I went to had Temple as the keynote speaker.  They introduced her and she walked up to the podium dressed in her signature vintage cowboy shirt and tie.  She told stories of her childhood, her adult triumphs and struggles.  The entire room was fixed.   Parents sitting on the edge of their seats. You could hear a pin drop.  She was the first adult on the autism spectrum I had ever seen.  Later that would change. After a morning of hearing parents complain about their schools, service providers, etc.-- she was refreshing.   When she finished, we applauded, and some stood up.  She looked away, almost embarrassed.

When we broke for lunch, there were large round tables that sat  8.  To my surprise Temple sat at my table.  A mother and her 13 year old daughter followed and sat right next to Temple.  The mother tried to engage her daughter to connect with Temple, but that wasn't happening.  The 13 year old was using her hands as well as her spoon to shove food in her mouth.  Food was flying everywhere.  Temple watched this kid.  Then, Temple turned to the mother and said: "She is eating like a pig! Just because she has autism doesn't mean she should eat like swine do!  You need to teach her some table manners.  It's gross!"  Temple slid her chair away from the table, picked up her plate and left.   The mother was stunned.  One by one we all left the table. The mother sat there trying to eat her food as her daughter reached over taking handfulls off her mother's plate.  It was gross, Temple was right.

At that moment a light went on for me.  My son was going to learn manners.  It was my job to teach him this.  That would mean work for me as well.  Most of the parents I met were so overwhelmed and focused on cures and blaming of vaccinations.  I felt it really didn't matter how "A" got autism.  He had it, and it was my responsibility to teach him things he would not learn on his own.  I also got fed up with "cures."  I tried diets, vitamin cocktails, and many other "cures."  What became clear was if I spent all my time trying to cure my child--I would not have time to teach him social skills he would need in life.  "A"'s father had the "bad hair cut" theory I saw so often.  People feeling they will somehow out grow autism.  My family wanted him placed in "a home."  Sadly my family never knew my son, as they could not accept him for who he was.  Acceptance of autism in my life came that day, and the work began.

Below is "A" relaxing with his chickens and safety glasses.

I loved these conferences.  I had landed on a planet with my people.  They understood, as few others could.  I went to a MAAP conference (more able autistic persons) and met a whole group of high functioning/aspergers adults.  When they walked into the lobby people stared.   In that hotel I realized that my son was going to be an adult in an adult world one day.  I was  made painfully aware of how people stared at adults who were different.  At this meeting, I met members of ANI.  ANI was founded by Jim Sinclair and was a group of adults who had autism that hung out together on the ANI internet list serve as well as real life.  They formed their own summer camp "Autreat" that we would attend that summer.  We met "Gnat" a woman from the internet with HFA, who would be a great influence over my son in years to come.
Below is Temple relaxing with the Herd.  

The Temple Grandin movie brought back many memories.  Temple was mesmerized  by sliding doors and hated to go through them.  "A" could not handle escalators, and we knew every elevator location in every store.  At one point she lay among cows in the hay.  "A" used to lay down and let his chickens walk all over him.  The painful scene when Temple's Mother was told to institutionalize her brought a lump to my throat, and tears to my eyes.  Been there, done that.  I always say my son had angels along the way: teachers, doctors, autistic friends.  Temple had hers too.  I had forgotten about "A's" obsession with infinity, until I saw Temple ask over and over again "where do they GO?" Meaning an animal or person who had died.  He used to ask: "what is infinity minus one?"  His math professor Grandpa (also on the spectrum) used to say that was impossible.  Years later we would find an article that sort of answered the question. Watching Temple hold her ears when her teacher/angel launched a rocket.  We had lots of ear holding, and my son wore ear plugs to school for years.  "A's" first grade teacher let him make intricate machines out of cardboard boxes and tape at recess that was too loud for him.

An interview the with real Temple follows.

I sent my son to special camps in summer.  I felt it was important for him to learn to live without me.  And at 22 out on his's paid off.  We really couldn't afford it.  But I sent him anyway.  And he got thrown out of a few camps, and plenty of schools for hitting kids and teachers.  Temple went through the same experiences.  Do you think my son wanted to go to these camps?  Nooooo he did not.  It was a struggle, to say the least.  Temple had an Aunt who had a ranch in Arizona.  "A" had Gnat who would let him be who he was.  Teaching to those strengths was the way forward to an independent life for both of these people with autism.

I am saddened when I see parents caught in the "cure trap" and not dealing with behaviors.  One mother I knew had spent 10 years trying different cures, and had a 17 year old who couldn't go anywhere besides school and home.  I am also broken hearted when I see parents "love them to death:" who keep the child at home into adulthood protected from the world by home.  By doing so, the person with autism has little chance of making it in the world without the parent.  Even though autistic people have a higher mortality rate than normal children growing up...I believed I was going to die before my son.  "A" being able to make it without me was imperative.   I was out spoken about these issues, to many a parents and school administrator's head aches.  "He's not going to be a child forever" I would tell the school.  They reached for their ibuprofin, or asprin bottles.

Oliver Sacks wrote a book: "An Anthropologist on Mars."  In it he has a chapter about autism and Temple Grandin.  Many people with autism feel they are "aliens."  Google "alien and autism" and the list is endless.  Recently I heard a man interviewed on the "Coast to Coast" radio program who said he felt the rise in children diagnosed with autism had a reason.  He felt they were here to "save the planet."  Wow, talk about pressure to perform!  "A" told me this one morning at 7 years old when I was trying to get him to hurry so he didn't miss the bus: "You are just my host mother.  The Mother Ship will be here to get me soon."  The Mother Ship has never arrived.  I hope they don't come and get him.  I love him as he is.  In Temple's book and movie she says: "I am different, not less."  Exactly.

Below are a few links to what I have just written about.  1 out of 100 boys are diagnosed on the autism spectrum today.  Most likely you will know someone who has a child with autism, if not your own.  I included Oliver Sacks, Temple Grandin's, ANI, Jim Sinclair's " Don't Mourn for Us,"  and Wrong Planet for starters.

Thanks for reading.  I am still amazed that you do.
xo Suz
"don't mourn for us" by Jim Sinclair: