The Puppy in the Memory Care Center

Barclay, the 6 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, walks on his leash in the pastor’s hand down the long first floor hall of the memory care center. People stop and smile. Barclay paws at their legs, scaring a few, but mostly arousing greater desire to touch his soft, fluffy fur.

This is Barclay’s first experience in the memory care center. It’s also his first ride on an elevator. We take the elevator to the second floor.

I knock on the door. We walk in the room to see a parishioner who loves dogs. She’s always had a dog before she lost her independence. Barclay goes to the bed, puts his paws on the side of the bed, and begs to be lifted to say hello to Susan. Susan’s eyes open wide. “Oh, my!” she says. Her face is beaming. I lift Barclay to meet Susan. She reaches out to touch and is delighted by his softness. He licks her face, kisses her mouth, brings her to the rapture only a puppy can at this point in her dying life. There is no time. Time disappears. There is no then. No there. No anywhere but here, no time but now in puppy time on the second floor of the memory care center where Susan doesn’t know she is.

There is NOTHING in this world like a puppy. He just loves everyone the same whether or not we know our own names. Is it a coincidence that ‘dog’ spelled backwards Is ‘god’?

Barclay is watching from the floor. His “owner” is doing something with Susan. “Dad” tales Susan’s hand. They’re holding hands. They close their eyes. Dad is talking in a peaceful tone of voice Barclay hasn’t heard before. It’s very quiet in the room. Susan’s face relaxes and is at peace. Long after Dad has stopped talking, Susan’s eyes stay closed. They hold hands for a long time in the silence. She is at peace. Maybe Susan has gone to be with dog.

Soccer Puppy

After posting a heavy piece on the President’s speech on Syria, 15-week-old Barclay took me aside and suggested I lighten up. “Dad, you have to stop being so serious. Besides, Dad,” he said, “I like President Obama. I thought you did, too. You need to chill out. You need to watch Mom’s video from last night and show it to the world. You humans are just too mean. All this Syria stuff is just a big soccer game.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll put your video up on the blog to bring some laughter and lighten up the superior species. Good dog!”

Puppy salutes Martin Luther King’s Dream

Barclay and the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Barclay and the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fourteen-week old Barclay was reading the morning paper where he read for the first time about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I have a Dream speech” 50 years ago this Wednesday. “Woof!” said Barclay. Then his eyes became sad as he read the other stories in the paper and told his Dad to put on the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) shirt Barclay’s Mom found at a garage sale. The America Barclay wants is one that prevents cruelty to animals, including humans.

“Dad,” he said, “We have to go to Washington this Wednesday! We have to keep the dream alive.”

“We can’t go to Washington,” said Dad. “We’re not ready to go to Washington. Not until you learn to go potty outside. Maybe next year, when you’ve learned that going outside is your contribution to the prevention of cruelty to humans and the American way of life, we can go to Washington and visit Congress to train them too.”

Barclay looked at Dad and said Dad wasn’t worthy to wear that t-shirt. Dad goes inside all the time. “It’s prejudice, pure and simple and I won’t have any part in it! Dad hates dogs!”

“Sit,” said Dad.

“Just another form of cruelty and intimidation,” said Barclay. “Martin would never have treated me like that.”

“You don’t understand,” said Dad. “Martin was able to accomplish what he did in the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement because he put himself under the strict discipline of non-violent resistance. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood discipline and self-discipline. I want you to learn the same thing. Every time you go in the house, it’s an act of violent resistance. It’s an act of terror. Do you understand? Sit!”

Barclay sat, knowing that the treat was in Dad’s hand. He took the treat, then squatted right in front of Dad, and said, “Maybe some day I’ll be self-disciplined like Dr. King. Right now I’m just a puppy in training. … So next year we can go Washington, D.C. and train everyone in Congress and the White House not to make a mess in their own houses?”

Dad was bad today

Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and bad Dad (homo sapiens)

Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and bad Dad (homo sapiens)

The new puppy (3 pounds 8 ounces) was leaping from my arms, flying to the sidewalk before I knew what was happening. It happened so quickly. Barclay was still excited from meeting the children around the corner; he was not his customary docile self.

The plunge from my arms was terrifying. The yelping was blood-curdling. I thought for sure he had hit his head or broken a leg or suffered some internal injury. He crawled forward under the Blue Spruce for protection, still crying loudly. I fetched him from under the tree, held him close, apologized profusely – “I’m so sorry, little guy. I’m so sorry” – and carried him into the house, still traumatized and whimpering. He settled down in my arms while I checked his body for signs of damage. Finding none, I put him down to see how he would walk. His walk was slow but straight. He spent the rest of the day more quietly but was fine as the day wore on, returning to his playful self during late afternoon play time.

Barclay greeted Kay’s return from work with a wagging tail and kisses to her face, as if to say, “Dad was bad today, but I forgave him. I’m glad you’re home!”

It’s a Puppy World

Barclay on chestAfter much careful (actually impulsive) thought, we decided to add to the household. Barclay arrived in this world May 21, 2013. We brought him home last Sunday evening.

Barclay is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed known for extraordinary companionship, quietness, intelligence, beauty, and ease of training, all of which drew us to the breed. But when we saw this little guy, saw those big eyes and that excitedly wagging tail, picked him up (all 3 lbs.6 ounces of him), and experienced the quick licks to the face and gentle nibbles on the ear, we were putty in a 10 week-old puppy’s paw.

Life has changed for him and for us.

He has a home…..and our sleeping days are over. He’s very quiet. Doesn’t whine at all. As we learned Monday night, he’s too young to make it through the night without a potty time. Poor little guy was cold, wet, and shivering when Kay came down at 4:30 for her cup of coffee and quiet time. He recovered well throughout the day, and we adjusted our schedule to be better “parents” to the un-house-broken baby. He has had no other accidents…largely because I watch his every move every day. I’m the stay-at-home puppy dad who now required TWO naps a day, just like Barclay.

We feel very blessed to have lost our mind and ask your good wishes and prayers that the three of us survive puppyhood in “a good way,” as our American Indian friends say.




The puppy shyly made his way across the living from floor to Kay’s feet.

At six-weeks old, he was cute, but he was a “he”. We wanted a “she”.

We had called ahead to ask whether any females were left from the half Bichon Frise – half Shih Tzu litter.

By the time we arrived, the females had been taken. Since we were there and the puppies were out, we stayed to watch them play and to get a better sense for the breed.

Disappointed that there was no female, but unable to forget the pup that came to Kay, we got back in the car and headed for home.

Two blocks from the kennel, Kay broke the silence. “I can’t leave him. I love that puppy. We have to go back and get him.” We went back and got him. Kay held him in a blanket on the way home.

We named him Sebastian. He just seemed like a Sebastian.

Thirteen years later, April 20, 2013, Kay held him once more in a blanket … on the way to the veterinarian.

I keep waiting for him to follow me up or down the stairs, settle by my feet at the computer desk, nuzzle up to my thigh during our nap, pester us to go upstairs when it’s bedtime. The house is not as full.

We got a “he” for a little while. A gift named Sebastian. We never “owned” him. We don’t really own a thing.

To my dying dog

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 24, 2012

You are only two years old…
We still call you “Puppy,” and
Ears prick up, head turns, eyes lift
Even though your muscles hurt.

60 pounds now, full grown…before
Lupus hit, your tail would raise,
On alert. You’d blaze beside
Bicycles, runners, all safe–

Fenced out. Now you move slowly
Just to lie by my chair. The
Medicines seem worse than the
Damn disease: no energy,

Appetite gone, eyes dull. We
Hope, see more vets, but each day
Lose ground. If I were the sick
One, I’d raise hell, but you stick

By my side in spite of pills,
Shots, eye drops and smelly salves.
Soon we must decide: mercy?
Even more bad medicine?

Soon we will both be put down.