a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Shock to the System

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Shock to the System

SUMMARY: Boost's Special Toy and cancer and life changes and all that.

In yard news, I took a photo a little while ago of the stack of PVC pipes and (hidden underneath) firewood, none of which I've touched in years. My intention was to post all of it on Freecycle to get it out of the yard.  (Not the extra teeter totter board or agility chute, of course.)

Just discovered that "a little while ago" was June 19 -- of 2015.  So I finally listed them on Freecycle two days ago. Whew!  Yup, I have just enough stuff in my yard that things like that can be out of sight and out of mind for "a little while" indeed.

Like, way back in November of 2013, when Boost's Special Toy vanished.

A side story: I've sometimes wondered whether Boost didn't die of a slowly broken heart. It's this weird idea that infiltrated my brain a couple of years back, and it started with that vanishment.

See, when Boost came on board here, this little blue plush bone with a squeaker in the middle was already here, something that Jake had liked that had been left behind when a much earlier renter and her dog left town.  For some reason that I don't know, that only Boost could ever know, this was her play-by-herself toy. From when she was a pup, she'd hold that bone in her mouth, right in the middle, and squeak squeak squeak while running full speed through tunnel after tunnel, around and around the yard with the joy of speed and freedom and the wind in her hair. Even then, it was her favorite toy.

I knew that the toy would give out eventually, so I started keeping an eye out for replacements of the same size, shape, and material.  I sometimes got close, but it was never the same as the Special Toy, and for some reason she needed that toy in her mouth, mouthing and squeaking, to fly, fly, fly.

I replaced its squeaker two or three times and sewed it back up where the seams were coming loose, but the seam on that one side eventually became raggety enough that sewing it back up wasn't practical.  The squeaker stopped squeaking, and the end of the squeaker stuck out through the fabric, but it still made a soft plastic clicking sound as she mouthed it, and so that's what she did, running full tilt around the tunnels on her own out in the yard with joyful abandon.

That darn toy periodically vanished. I'd sometimes look for it and not find it. But then, a few days later, or a week or two later, there she'd be, racing around the yard with it in her mouth, the thrrrrump thrrrrump of her full-speed dash through the tunnels easily heard from inside, where ever I was.

Sometimes I'd happen to see when she found it again, wherever it had gone; with the delight of a long-lost friend, she'd perk up and pounce on it and, again, tail flying behind, run, run, run.

One day, in November of 2013, as I walked back from dumping kitchen scraps into my compost bin, I noticed it sitting on the walkway in the yard. I walked past it because I had stuff in my hands.  Usually if I notice a plush toy in the yard, I immediately take it inside to prevent it from becoming wet or muddy. But, this time, I walked by it, and I remember it because it felt odd to just leave it out there.

Something like this. (A recreation; back then, before the big drought, there were plants and pots and groundcover and ponds and lawns and jumps and tunnels everywhere).

The next day, I went looking for it and didn't find it. As days and then weeks went by and Boost didn't reappear with it, I started hunting for it more and more, crawling under shrubs, lifting and moving things everywhere. Never found it.  It struck me that some squirrel, finding such a lovely soft plush thing, might have carried it off to its tangle of a nest in some tree somewhere and I'd never see it again.

And after that, I also don't remember ever seeing Boost running through the tunnels on her own again. I felt terrible. It was as if I were personally responsible for the loss of her faithful tunnel-running friend.

That was the beginning.

Three months later, that February, I kicked out the renter who had been living here since before Boost was born.  Not that they were super close, but almost every day he went out in the yard with her when he got home from work and kicked her Jolly Ball until she was ready for a rest. So, for 9 years. And suddenly he was gone.

That was also when my spine started decaying in a major way and I had trouble doing training and walking and hiking and agilitying, and all of those activities became fewer and fewer and fewer, until that summer I was on full disability because I could barely move from room to room without excruciating pain.  And, of course, she being a working border collie, I could see how much she missed it.

All of Boost's life, she and Tika had played together on my bed at least once a day while I dressed in the morning or showered, until maybe about this same timeframe, as Tika's heart became worse and worse and she didn't have the energy for it.

In place of the previous renter, a new woman and her two small dogs moved in.  Boost seemed to really enjoy those little dogs and played with them whenever she had a chance (not often, maybe once a week or so).  Then, after only a short time, the woman and her dogs moved on, as well.

Chip moved in, but he was a wild and crazy thing, and although Boost liked to play with him, it wasn't NEARLy as much as he wanted her to play, so he pestered her and pestered her.  Of course, at the time I didn't know that there was likely already cancer growing within her.

The day that Chip escaped, July 3 of that year, was the first time in several years that I started having Yard Guys come in to do the mow-and-blow treatment every week.  So much debris had accrued while my back had been failing that I was afraid that maybe her little blue bone toy had become tangled in a pile of detritus somewhere, and I specifically showed the guy a picture and begged him to keep a look out for the toy as they commenced a huge cleanup.  (Not only did that not show up, but my FitBit vanished in the yard that day, too, never to be seen again.)

And then Tika died.

So, as Boost's energy level had flagged more and more, I blamed it part on aging and part on mourning all of these important parts of her life that had vanished and that she, as a dog, couldn't fully understand.

And then we discovered her cancer. And then, a year ago this past April, six weeks after Tika, Boost died.

The other day, there was a discussion on Nextdoor about rats in the neighborhood.  They've always been here, they'll always be here.  But that's what reminded me to go look for that photo of the PVC pipes and firewood in the side yard and to take action; would be nice to have one fewer places for rodents to hang out, even though Zorro loves to hunt them.

Tuesday evening, a woman responded to my Freecycle ad saying that she's a teacher and she has some great ideas for projects for all those PVC pipes from my yard and they also go camping in the summer and would love to have the firewood, too.

So, first thing yesterday morning, I hauled all the pipes, a few at a time, out through the side gate to the front lawn. And then I loaded the firewood, a few pieces at a time, into a cart, dumped that out onto the lawn on top of the pipes, over and over again until there were only a couple of small pieces of wood that had fallen between the slats of my firewood support frame.

I knelt, disentangled the wood from the piles of leaves and twigs and soil, pulled them out.

And then I sat there and cried.
Yes, some small critter had pulled this into a hole under the fence.


  1. This story really speaks to me. I have 2 similar stories. My second Dobe, Haven, had a small rubber Christmas stoking toy that she would start squeaking and that would get her howling. She'd have these squeaking/howling sessions a couple of t imes a day but only when she was alone in another part of the house. If anyone walked in on her, she'd stop. I would someimes sneak up and watch her and think how cute she was. We moved a couple of times and always made sure we kept track of it but one day it just disappeared and we never found it again. We tried to find a replacement but couldn't and she never engaged in those squeaking sessions again. The other story is about my sister. We had a tradition of hiding a plastic spider in places in each other's houses for the other to find unawares at some point. the last time my sister came to my house she already knew she was dying from a glioblastoma and it was a sad visit for me as I saw how it was affecting her (this was post surgery and radiation treatment). she left and I later moved up to CT to help care for her as she died and when I returned home I had no heart to go into the guest room that I had decorated just for her visit. When I finally got in there to clean, I moved something and there it was, the plastic spider. I can't even explain the feelings that flooded me. Something like a combination of happiness that she had wanted to play this last trick on me, sadness that she was gone and would never play this trick on me again, laughter that she had had the last word, misery to think that I had lost the person who I always counted on to be my advocate in everything and many more. I have kept that spider along with several of her other little treasures and look at it less and less frequently. But, as you can tell, I don't really need to look at it because I'll never forget that moment as long as I live.

    1. Oh, wow. Wonderful family stories, both of them. Haven was your special girl; how cool that she did some howling to add atmosphere to your life. It's so odd how only certain toys bring out something in some of our critters. Tika had a weasel that made weasel noises that she loved. Went through 2 of them and then couldn't get them any more. Nothing else excited her quite so much for playing with a toy herself. Anyway, the sister story is the best best best story. The love of family & tradition that transcends all else.

  2. And now I'm siting in my car crying too. Well written heartbreaker.

    1. Well, thank you. It was such a strange moment for me, this thing out of nowhere. At least my thought that some critter had stolen it was vindicated, and... ok.... so, actually I'm very very glad that I found it. I'm going to try washing the poor decaying thing and putting it with Boost's memorabilia.

  3. And now I'm siting in my car crying too. Well written heartbreaker.

    1. See? Here's your duplicate entry again! I wonder what tool is causing this to happen? :-) (smile, plus add a puzzled look)

    2. (I usually just delete the extra one.)

  4. Wow oh wow!
    One of Casey’s toys. Funny that it was first adopted by Jake and then later by Boost. (Then later by some lucky rodent?)
    Casey loved anything that was generally dumbbell-shaped and had a squeaker. He needed it in his mouth in order to greet me when I came home from work each day with his signature “ROOOOO ROOOOOOOO!”
    Still cracks me up to think of it.
    And someday I hope to meet a long-haired doxy who needs a home, because I was so in love with Jake, I’d like to find a Jake of my own some day. ❤️
    Thanks for sharing this story.

  5. Thanks for the comments. Casey was a delightful member of the household when he was here. I think that maybe someday I'd like a dog like him--smaller but not too small. And smart!
    Yeah, I can't bear to give that little toy to anyone else. Not because its last owner was a rodent (thief!), but because of that whole story. So it isn't having a chance to be someone else's favorite. Emotions are weird.