Sunday, April 24, 2005

" . . . and Scatters the Frost like Ashes"

"Our Fearless Leader considers whether we'd sound better singing against the wind"

(Here you see what an amateur blogger/HTML formatter I am. If I knew how, these photos would be in the same post.)

"He Spreads the Snow like Wool . . . "

Winter is making a curtain call in southwestern Pennsylvania, and points north and west. The 24th of April, and it's 29 degrees, snowy, foggy and soggy.

So who are these crazy/intrepid people braving the lugubrious weather up on the roof of the Mount Lebanon Presbyterian Church? It's our little pick-up choir, come up to put the final touches on our rehearsal for singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Pirates' game next Sunday. We're suffering for a good cause, to benefit the renovation of the Strand Theater in Zelienople. Not this afternoon; next Sunday at the game. We all hope the weather will be more civilized on the 1st, but if it isn't, we'll be used to it!

(Don't even ask me about being used to the way the Pirates are playing so far this season. I try not to think about it.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Magdalen: In Memoriam

Maddie and Rhadwen, this past January 22nd

Sunday, April 17, 2005

"The Beasts That Perish"

The thing is done. My friend Brenda came over this evening and, with a little help from George my next-door neighbor, we buried my dog Magdalen in the back garden at dusk. Goodbye, my sweet, faithful friend. You were a very good dog indeed, confounding all the idiots at the city animal shelter five years ago who said you were "aggressive, feral, and unadoptable."

This weekend I have been coffin-maker, undertaker, grave-digger, officiating pastor, and chief mourner. All I have to add to it now is monument-maker. Gratifying to think what a versatile, talented person I am, but I'd rather have my dog back.

Tant pis. That's not how things work in this fallen world. I'm not even going to comfort myself with the sentimental absurdity that "all dogs go to heaven." If there is a doggie "heaven," it exists only in our imaginations, not in any real spiritual realm created by God. Without the new life won for us by Jesus Christ, even we human beings would have no hope for immortality; we'd be just like "the beasts that perish." And Jesus didn't die to give eternal life to the beasts; He died and rose again to give His imperishable life to us, who are made in the image of God. The animals, no matter how beloved, aren't in it.

But have I left something out here? Maybe I have. Because in Isaiah 11 where the Lord speaks of how it's going to be in the day when He makes all things new, He describes how various animal species will be getting along with one another. You could say that's only a metaphor, but why bring in the beasts at all if they'll be alien to the New Creation?

And in Romans 8 it says "For the creation [including the animals, domestic and wild] was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." So it can be said that we are redeemed in Christ and somehow, in God's good purpose, the rest of creation is redeemed through us, the redeemed!

Whether that means that we will be reunited with specific beloved pets, I can't say. I can be sure that if that's necessary for us to be happy in eternity, the Lord God will make it so. In the meantime, Maddie gave me five good years and I, I believe, gave her five good years. And for that, may the Lord's name be praised.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

"The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away . . . "

My sweet dog Maddie died this morning at 8:40 at the hospital over in Ohio. And in the end the vets were still baffled over what caused the bleeding that started in her nose and eventually spread to her whole system. They considered auto-immune diseases, they looked again at the possibility of cancer, but the presenting symptoms and the test results all militated against these diagnoses. What it really looked like was rat poisoning. Like she'd got into some Warfarin. But I don't have any rat poison around my place. I don't know anybody in the neighborhood who keeps rat poison around his place. And Maddie, with her bad back two weeks ago, wasn't in a position to go walking round the neighborhood to pick any up along the way.

So what was it? What killed my little dog so quickly? I suppose this is one of those "If-God-wants-me-to-know-the-answer-to-that-He'll-let-me-know" questions. There's no question, though, that I'm glad one of the late shift vets called me at 12:30 AM last night and told me that if I wanted to see Maddie alive, I'd better come right away. I arrived there around 2:00 AM. She was lying on her side and couldn't get up. But she wagged her tail when she saw me-- the last she did-- and after awhile pulled herself out of her kennel to lay her head on my lap. We remained like that till 8:00 AM, when the staff moved us to an examination room, to await the morning shift attending vet. But it was all over long before the vet arrived.

I've brought Maddie home and built her a little pine plank coffin with a brass plate with her name and dates on it on the lid. Tomorrow evening a friend will come and help me bury her in the back garden. I'd like to mark the spot with a rose bush-- a dog rose (rosa canina) if someone would sell me one.

But in the meantime I'm having to get used to the idea she's gone. I keep wanting to call her and expect that she'll come. Then I simply want to swear when I remember how things are. Not at God; just at the fearful and obnoxious unfairness of the last enemy, Death. And I think that if this is how I feel when I've merely lost a beloved pet, how truly terrible the onslaught must be when it's launched against one bereaved of a beloved child, parent, sibling, or spouse. Life seems so tenuous and fragile-- a statement I probably should reflect on theologically, but not now. Not tonight. I've had no sleep since Friday morning, and now that everything's done that needed to be done, the adrenalin that has kept me going is as spent and defunct as my poor little dog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

"The Children's Bread"?

My eyes are closing sideways and my head is dropping into the keyboard, but I thought I'd better update Whomever Might Be Out There with how my dog Magdalen is doing.

Yes, she is still in the land of the living. But it's been up and down since Friday afternoon, with overnights at the local vet's and a stay at the emergency clinic and a blood transfusion and a test for a possible tick-related auto-immune illness (results not back yet) and who knows what all. I visited her at the vet's this afternoon and she's more cheerful, but her nose is still oozing blood and her red cell count is still too low.

Tomorrow we're doing what I thought the other day was beyond possibility: I'm taking her over to the big specialty vet clinic over in Ohio to get the test to see if she really has a tumor or what. I'm not sure which would be worse: a ruptured tumor or an "or what." But after six days of this, I just want to know.

I wonder if I'm turning into one of those neurotic types who lavish on their pets the affection they would've/could've/should've devoted to their children, had they ever had any. But I've never had any and Maddie depends on me, and so I'll do what I can for her.

And if-- no, let's say when she recovers, maybe I should teach her some fancy tricks and she can earn enough to keep us all out of bankruptcy.

Friday, April 08, 2005

"The Life Is in the Blood"

My beautiful dog, Magdalen, is very sick. They say she'll probably die.

She's bleeding from the nose, slowly, since Wednesday night or so, and it won't stop. No, actually, it's getting worse. I've been to two vets yesterday and today, and they both say it's probably from a tumor in her sinuses. So there's nothing, really, they can do.

But they're not totally sure, so she's at the veterinary hospital now, getting fluid through an IV, and some medication to get her blood to clot. I'm to call tomorrow morning to see how she's doing. And to make decisions I'd rather not face.

I can't say this was totally sudden. Maddie hasn't been herself since I returned from interim pastor training in Austin last month. At first it was a backache. From lying around in the kennel nine days and nine nights, the vet said. She's had backaches before. She gets over them. We treated it with pain medication and I waited for her to get better.

But I'd watch her lying on her blanket on my study floor, and she seemed to sleep so stilly, so soundly. I'd actually call her name to rouse her, alarmed by-- what? And when she'd raise her head, she would look uncannily like that bedraggled, diseased, nothing-but-hair-and-bones mutt I helped rescue five years ago. I'd call her and she'd come and I'd smoothen that look away. It's not something I wanted to see.

Her back did get better. She stopped favoring her hindquarters, and went back to sleeping under the bed. But she still didn't have the energy to jump up and sleep on the bed with me and her sister the cat. Well, I figured, she's eight, maybe even nine years old. The muscles take longer to recover.

But two or three days ago I noticed the blood. A little at first. I looked but I couldn't tell where it was coming from, her coat is so long. Then Wednesday night I noticed the dribble from her left nostril. She'd sneeze, and there'd be little drops to clean up, here and there. Yesterday, the nosebleed seemed worse, and I took her to see the vet.

He thought--hoped-- it might only be an infection. After all, she was still eating and drinking with a fine appetite. So he prescribed her an antibiotic and I took her home and gave her her first dose right away. Then I went to work.

When I arrived home yesterday evening, there were bloody sneeze deposits in various places on the bedroom carpet. Oh, Maddie! I realized I'd have to confine her to the bathroom "until she got better."

She didn't like it. She wouldn't settle, even on the bedding I provided. Periodically, I'd hear her scratching at the door. That's when I'd let her out and run her downstairs "hurry, hurry, hurry!" to go outside to relieve herself-- the back pain medication caused her to drink a lot and urinate more, and we didn't need an accident in the closed bathroom. She'd go, then I'd have to harden my heart and shut her in once more.

I didn't go to sleep last night. I was up working on the computer till nearly 4:00 AM. I was restless. Maddie would scratch, I'd let her out. When I'd put her back in, I'd wipe the blood smears off the bathroom floor. A little blood goes a long way, I thought. A little blood.

I wasn't really sleepy at 4:00 this morning. So after I checked on Maddie, I decided to sit in bed and watch the Pope's funeral Mass. I watched till it was over, around 7:00 AM Eastern time. I let Maddie out, but I didn't give her her breakfast. I wish now I had.

I went to sleep till 10:00, when I was awakened by the cat. Rhadwen often-- no, usually-- wakens me in the morning, but this morning it seemed different. I checked on Maddie right away. There was more blood here and there on the bathroom floor, and my dog, my beautiful, playful, shaggy dog, was standing there stiff, as if shellshocked. I petted her, I called her sweet names, and got her to come downstairs and out the back door. But when she went across the porch and through the rip in the screen, she just stood at the top of the porch stairs as if she didn't know what to do. I urged her down into the yard, then went to get Rhadwen's breakfast.

When I next looked out the back door, Maddie wasn't waiting there, eager to come in and eat, as she usually is. She was lying out in the yard, in a patch of sunlight. "Come in, Maddie, poor dog," I urged. "Come in and get your breakfast." She came. She took her antibiotic capsule wrapped in a piece of cheese, but without her usual alacrity (you'd think pills were the greatest treat in the world, the way she jumps for them). And she refused to eat any of her breakfast, or even to take a drink of water.

That's when I knew there was something more serious going on than a little sinus infection. I got dressed, called the vet, wrapped Maddie up in a throw, and took her in.

X-rays, blood counts, an examination, a second opinion examination. All point to the same thing: only a miracle will save my pretty girl. I've always known a day would come when I'd have to let her go, but I'd hoped and expected that wouldn't be for several years yet. We've only been together five years, come the 27th of this month. They say she's not suffering, so I have to try the IV fluids. If I'd just told the vet this morning to put her down, I would always have wondered if I'd acted too precipitously. If I'd given up too soon.

But tomorrow's coming. Whether it's too soon or too late for my Magdalen, tomorrow will tell.