able/disabled, cats, disabilities, Dogs, health, loneliness, loss, pets, Uncategorized

TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY

The first thing I did when I got home from the hospital was to lie down and cuddle my girl. She seemed to enjoy it, too. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

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Many of you know that I have been incapacitated since mid-February. At first, the doc thought that my problems were respiratory– bronchitis and perhaps pneumonia, so he sent me to the ER.

My daughter met me there, and after I was finally admitted and assigned to a room, we noticed a couple walking two large therapy dogs down the hall. We invited them in. One animal was a Rhodesian Ridgeback and the other an Akita. It lifted my spirits just to have these animals near me. Nuzzling the furry ruff of the Akita and wrapping my arms around its neck brought me great pleasure. Of course, I know that when we pet an animal, our blood pressure goes down. Aside from the science, when embracing another living creature, it makes us realize that all’s right in the world, or more precisely, I was going to be all right. And eventually I was after surgery for unexpected two compression fractures of the spine and a one week stay in a rehabilitation facility.

Therapy dogs at Las Cruces Memorial Hospital. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

 

Decades ago, I wrote a paper called “The Horse Bar Mitzvah,” that became a chapter in a veterinary medicine textbook.* I presented examples and analyses of the relationships between humans and animals in different settings: horse bar mitzvah; cat mitzvah; dog wedding; festivals honoring the human/animal bond, for example, Blessings of the Animals. In addition, I researched the role of service animals: therapy horses, war dogs, rescue dog, therapy dogs.

Since publication (2000), dogs have increasingly played a vital role in our culture, e.g., at airports, sniffing out the taboo garlic and sausages, as well as drugs. And since 9/11, new roles have developed especially at airports, with the focus on explosives and terrorism.

Human/animal relationships keep evolving. Comfort dogs is a new title given to animals that  show up at scenes of disasters. I was moved seeing televised dogs disembarking from a van within 48 hours at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida. Who could not be cheered by seeing these eager animals there to be stroked and embraced by traumatized children and staff?

 

Doesn’t your heart melt at the sight of these comfort dogs brought to the school by a Lutheran Church Charity helping to dispatch K9 Comfort Boots and Paws on the ground?

 

New duties for dogs progress. Yale University has developed a program utilizing rescue dogs in New York low-income public schools. The dogs become reading buddies and foster social development. At my local university (NMSU), dogs are brought in at exam time to lower the distress students feel during this time of high anxiety. Courthouse Dogs allow specially trained service dogs to accompany children during testimony in a courtroom.

Since my return home from the hospitals, my cat, Sweetie Beattie, is never more than inches away from me. At first, I employed a caregiver to help me with pain issues during the night. Whenever, she came into the bedroom to take care of me, Sweetie Beattie lay at the foot of my bed skeptically eyeing all the caregiver’s movements. Or else she sat on the dresser warily watching the activities. During that time, I called her the Night Nurse for she acted as if she were supervising – definitely looking out for my interest.

The Night Nurse, aka, Sweetie Beattie supervising my activities. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

As aloof as she may ordinarily be, Sweetie seems to sense that I need more of her attention now. Even as I am here at the keyboard, she is on top of my desk backed up against my computer, and with my extended pinky I can stroke the fur on her back. Can that compete with steroids and antibiotics? No, but she is a fantastic supplement.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is mad about her Sweetie Beattie.

 

*Companion Animals and Us:Exploring the Relationships Between People and Pets. Eds: Podberscek and Serpell. Cambridge University Press, UK., 2000.

Visit my online museum: Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture, https://flpcgallery.org

cats, death, loss, pets

How Shall I Remember Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

 

Departed souls stay in our consciousness and we long to acknowledge them.  Especially during Day of the Dead, we pay concrete tribute in a variety of ways.  At La Casa Camino Real here in Las Cruces, NM, some of us created portable shrines.

Suitcase shrine for Harold Dresser.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Suitcase shrine for Harold Dresser. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

I received satisfaction selecting the items that Mariah Chase artistically arranged.  On the inside of the suitcase lid hang polaroid photos of Harold in various costumes worn as a movie and TV extra during the last 25 years of his life.  A box of DeCecco spaghetti rests on the bottom.  Pastai was his favorite food especially when tossed with olive oil and garlic.  You can also see his eyeglasses, his AFTRA membership cards, some plastic pipe fittings that represent the family business, Florence Plumbing Supply, and the cover of the Buena Vista Social Club CD.  Since he loved Cuban music, I played this CD as friends entered the chapel for his 2007 funeral.

Nearby at the Mesilla Valley Plaza, I encountered different styles of remembrances.  They are a reminder that nothing is as powerful as the name of the departed to elicit strong  emotions.  Although I knew none of those names on display, I choked up realizing that each one represented one human being and a history of their impact on earth.  On a multicultural note, I love that each Latino name had an origami crane above it — a Japanese symbol of long life.

Names of deceased with folded origami crane above each one.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Names of deceased with folded origami crane above each one. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

Name of just one person and photo mounted on a stick.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Name of just one person and photo mounted on a stick. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

On Day of the Dead, November 2 (All Soul’s Day), we also acknowledge beloved pets.  The shrine below features paw prints of each of my departed cat companions, their toy, Nemo, and two cans of cat food.  After the unexpected death of Tortuga, my dear friend, Rachel Spector, sent me the stuffed cat as a condolence gift.

Mini shrine to my departed cats, Tommy and Tortuga.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  ©Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2014.
Mini shrine to my departed cats, Tommy and Tortuga. Photo and shrine by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2014.

 

Beyond the momentary acknowledgment on November 2, pet owners find other modes of perennial commemoration.  For example, I gave some of Tommy’s cremains to artist, Rick Rotante.  As part of his Ashes to Art project, he combined Tommy’s ashes with the oils he used to create a painting of Tom.  When I sit at my desk and look up, there he is, that rescue cat who rescued me from depression after the death of my husband, Harold.

Portrait of Tommy his ashes mixed with the oil paint. Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Portrait of Tommy, his ashes mixed with the oil paint. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

My friend, PJ Dempsey, remembers her Half Arabian Pinto mare, Endless Luv, by gazing at a beautiful ceramic bowl in which Luv’s horsehairs have been ingrained.  This is another aesthetic way to commemorate their 19 years of companionship.

 

Luv's horsehair embedded into a ceramic bowl.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Luv’s horsehair embedded into a ceramic bowl. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

No matter the method and regardless of species,  we humans yearn to maintain our relationships with departed souls of those who impacted our lives.  In this way, we honor the spirits of all sentient beings.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who anxiously awaits the arrival of her next furry friend.  Details to follow.

cats, death, loss, pets

The Princess Has Left the Building

 

Princess Tuga.  Crown photo shopped by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Princess Tuga. Crown by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

She was dainty yet elegant. When she took possession of my Las Cruces home, she proudly padded around with tail raised high. But like all royals, she had a flaw – a poor braking system. She’d leap toward a destination yet often miss her mark looking clumsy as she struggled to regain her balance. “You’re just like me,” I’d comment, trying to make her seem like she was truly kin.

Up to now, her life had been traumatic. She had spent her first year and a half in an unstable relationship with an owner who had substance abuse issues. Then when her owner died and lay in their home for four days before discovery, the poor princess was equally untended until authorities marked off the house with yellow tape, tossed the cat into a county animal facility as they carried her owner’s body to the morgue.

Fortunately, a compassionate neighbor adopted the frightened feline from the shelter despite the maximum number of cats she already owned. That’s when she contacted me.

I had recently euthanized my beloved first cat, Tom. Before he became sickly and old, he had been a good companion but very independent. When he jumped onto my bed at night and I petted him too much, he would move to the corner of the bed, and if I persisted in talking lovingly to him, he would leave the room. The princess was different and I treasured her contrasting personality.

When I sat in my recliner at night watching television, she would stretch out above my head on top of the chair. Then after a while, she would make little sounds, seemingly to request a move down into my lap where she would snuggle. I was in the proverbial seventh heaven, and she seemed equally appreciative.

I told her that she would be my furry companion until I exited this plane. My daughter, Andrea, had already agreed to take her after my death. We even joked about it when Andrea visited and regularly asked, “Where’s my kitty?”

But the joke was on me, when, less than a month ago my sweet princess stopped eating.   I took her to the vet, and an x-ray showed a cloud covering her left lung. Further tests and surgery revealed that she had a diaphragmatic hernia. Her stomach and liver had pushed into her upper cavity and her left lung was necrotic.

She survived the surgery and seemed to be recovering but still refused to eat on her own. For over a week I drove her daily to the animal clinic where they force-fed and hydrated her – but to no avail. She failed to thrive. Finally, I couldn’t stand to see her continued suffering and called the euthanasia vet, who concurred that nothing more could be done to improve her condition. When the doc administered the sedative and lethal dosage, my princess, Tortuga, had her eyes focused on me. I kissed her head and told her how much I loved her. Then she was gone.

Farewell, darling Tortuga. Your life was too brief, yet you will remain forever in my heart.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, after an acceptable time of mourning, will adopt another cat. Let’s hope that this third time will be the charm.

cats, death, loss, pets

“Tommy Is My Darling, My Darling, My Darling. Tommy Is My Darling. He’s the Joy of My Life!”

 

Tommy embracing Leila.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Tommy embracing Leila. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

That’s the song I sang to Tom Cat Dresser as the visiting vet euthanized my sweet boy on my bed. I had often sung that tune to him along with other ditties over his six years with me.

 

Tommy hugging Norine's shoe.  © Norine's photo collection, 2014.
Tommy hugging Norine’s shoe. © Norine’s photo collection, 2014.

 

 

Tom was the rescue cat who rescued me. I adopted him from a shelter in Burbank, CA, where he selected me and my granddaughter, Leila, as his forever family. The shelter said he was six; later I realized he was closer to ten.

BT (Before Tom), my husband, Harold, had been in home hospice for a year and I was his sole caregiver. During that time, I set aside all obligations to concentrate on him, and immediately after Harold’s death, I began taking care of everything that had been put on hold: bathroom remodeling; household maintenance; mammogram; colonoscopy, shoulder replacement.  Then when all manic activity ceased, I went into an emotional slump. One daughter recommended that I get a cat. “They’re low maintenance, Ma.”

Tommy in dryer (about to become an urban legend).  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Tommy in dryer (about to become an urban legend). © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

Tommy has never been low maintenance. After a vet checked him out, I discovered he had kidney disease, a heart murmur and high blood pressure. He required special food and meds, but it was too late to give him back. I already loved him.

 

Bag of Tommy.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Bag of Tommy. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Box of Tommy.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Box of Tommy. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

I have never regretted Tom becoming a part of our family.   He learned the Yiddish word “shluffy” (sleep) and accompanied me to my bed at night. He was very talkative and answered when I called his name. Sometimes, he seemed too lazy to make a sound and just opened his mouth to answer silently.  That made me laugh. He made me laugh every day. He brought me physical and emotional comfort when he snuggled with me. Most of all, he reflected the love that I gave to him.

Dear Tommy: Rest in Peace.

Tommy paw print.  © Photo by Mariah Chase, Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Tommy paw print. © Photo by Mariah Chase, Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who eventually will rescue another cat after a respectable time of grieving.

 

loneliness, Los Angeles Times, loss, senior online dating

“The Number You Have Reached Is No Longer In Service.”

My heart sank when I heard the above message while trying to reach a friend by phone.  Optimistically, I called again hoping I had mis-dialed the first time.  No. the message repeated.

Old Fashioned telephone.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Old Fashioned telephone. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

In this most recent experience I was calling a gentleman I had met online, someone I used to see before I moved from California to New Mexico.  We became good friends, but he had severe health problems that worsened after I left.  His condition deteriorated so dramatically that that was our main topic of conversation when we talked by phone.  Nonetheless, he regularly tried to liven up the dialogue by asking, “Are you running for Mayor yet?”  Now he was dead.

Loss of friends and family members is painful, but that is the price we pay for having outlived them.  I remind myself daily to be grateful for each moment that I have when I can do as I please, something as simple as getting out of bed on my own.

When we are young we don’t think about our physical moves.  I used to drive my car into the garage and make numerous trips sprinting up and down the front stairs while carrying groceries and children.  No longer.  Now I plan each move, especially when getting in and out of the car.

Another significant loss occurred when a friend called to say she saw a high school friend’s name in the Los Angeles Times obituaries.  I called his home and confirmed that he had died.  He was my boyfriend from junior high school.  We remained friends from then on, albeit with many time gaps of non-interaction as we moved our separate ways.  But over the last decades we had renewed our friendship, mostly via e-mail and an occasional phone call and attendance at special occasions.

When close friends and family members die, especially mates, loneliness is a realistic expectation.  But it isn’t a given.  One must continue to honor and cherish the gift of life that we have been given.

After my husband died in 2007, I co-authored a book with Fredda Wasserman called, Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love: Your Emotional Journey through End of Life and Grief (Demos, 2010).  We included a pithy quote from someone in a grief support group.

“Do you believe in life after death?”

“Yes, MY life!”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who, despite widowhood and infirmities, is grateful for every day that she has.