able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, pets

Pain, Poop, and Patience/Patients

I never dreamed while contemplating my reverse right shoulder replacement that I would actually have a good time during the process. That never happened after previous surgeries. I’ve had my gall bladder removed; back surgery; both hips and my left shoulder replaced, yet nary one laugh escaped me during those ordeals.


I tried to focus on the outcome of the procedure rather than the process. Does Dr. Sawbones refer to the method of removing the old shoulder parts? OUCH!

Several days after this surgery they transferred me to a brand new rehab center. I should have suspected an unusual environment when the head nurse introduced herself as, “Nurse Anthrax,” (not her real name but one equally toxic). I was incredulous at the naiveté of her parents for giving her such a moniker. That set me off on a scavenger hunt of other ironies, such as entering the physical therapy room and noticing that they were playing “Masonic Funeral Music.”

One day, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Fritz standing in the doorway. His neatly trimmed grey beard and hair reminded me of my late husband. Imagine my excitement when he sat down on the bed, his body touching mine. I wished that he would kiss me. Instead, he turned away and eagerly kissed my red-headed woman visitor. This aroused my jealousy, but then suddenly he disappeared. Could I hold a grudge against him?  No! I knew that next Tuesday, Fritz the Schnauzer therapy dog would visit me again.


Stand-in for Fritz the Therapy Dog.

When you look around the dining area, superficially all you see are old bodies in wheelchairs, some with oxygen cannulas in their noses, others with drains coming from their kidneys, or those with broken limbs in splints. It’s so easy to discount these wounded folks. But that would be  a big mistake. Many of them had led adventurous lives and had had marvelous careers.

Once I opened myself up to their stories, I was constantly stimulated and amazed. I learned the gory details about a husband who dumped his wife for a much younger woman he met on a Greek Island; Wynona entertained me with descriptions of being in Tehran just before the Shah left and the Iranian Revolution began. Nursing attendants told tales of being abused by ex-mates; or about the suspicions single dads encounter when they accompany their teenage daughters to buy underwear. And do you know the difference in the way male attendants give showers compared to female attendants? Mine washed me like he was washing his car, spraying first down one side of me. Then I turned and he washed down the other side. I took care of my own headlights.

One dinner hour I said to my tablemates, “Aren’t the nights long here?” To my  amazement, one ordinarily quiet woman began reciting lines from “Macbeth.” Then she told me about attending Yale and her life’s work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing instructor.

I met the son of a patient who’s a retired probation officer.  Guess what he does in his retirement? He collects and repairs fountain pens. He has written articles about his collection and even had an exhibit of them in nearby Alamogordo. This was a folklorist’s delight.

Sometimes snippets of conversation captured me:

I miss my dog more than my husband;

I married a Roman Catholic priest;

If you leave off your brassiere, your wrinkles disappear;

My dog knows how to spell D-O-G-P-A-R-K.

Food services were excellent and unique for such an institutional setting. For example, one time they served eggs benedict for breakfast; chicken Alfredo over fettuccini for lunch; stir-fry steak and veggies and rice for dinner. And there was an alternative menu available for all three meals.

I met Angelica Wagner, also a patient at the rehab center. She teaches cooking and does catering when not recovering from surgery. As a special occupational therapy exercise, she taught us how to make cherry-filled empanadas. The following week we made mini-cinnamon rolls. This was a very enlightened healing environment.


Angelica Wagner teaching Occupational Therapy patients how to make empanadas. Step one, cutting out the dough. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.
Finished product. Notice fork for using tines to seal the empanada.© Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019.
Putting cherry filling inside dough circles. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019





Still patients complained:

“Can you believe they call this bean soup. The beans aren’t even white?” (I had a cynical hunch that her attitude applied to people, as well.)

“You know, I have to hit the TV remote button FIVE times before it will change channels.”

Overcoming pain and getting the digestive system back to normal after anesthesia and medications are the two most difficult post-op tasks.  It takes patience to be a good patient, something that I lack. Nonetheless, social interactions go a long way in helping rehabilitation. From the many colorful get-well cards to my many visitors, two laden with Stroopwaffel McFlurries, and to my almost-daily visits from Damien, a Papillion, and his driver Carol Witham, fellow patients and staff with their intriguing stories contributed toward my recovery. After almost a full month at the rehab center, I eagerly returned home and with thanks to all of you.


Damien, a frequent visitor who always brought me cheer. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Oops! I forgot to mention something. While I was away I had Liza Chase take care of my cat’s meals in the morning and Roxana Gillette gave Sweetie Beattie the night feeding. Liza left the TV on for the cat 24/7 so she wouldn’t feel alone in the empty house. Often Liza turned on the History Channel. However, one day as she was leaving, the History Channel was airing a show about Hitler. Liza thought that was inappropriate for a Jewish household, so she changed the channel to one about Aliens.



Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is relieved that the surgery is now in the past, and she is home at last with Sweetie Beattie.

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


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.


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.

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cats, customs/rituals, Dogs, pets

How Far Do You Go?

I’m referring to pampering your pets. I am certainly guilty. My daughter even accuses me of spoiling my cat, Sweetie Beattie, just because I give in to her finicky eating habits.

One indulgent act I am certain I would never take. I would never have plastic testicles implanted in my neutered dog, no matter how beloved he might be. Obviously, inventor, Gregg Miller disagrees. He came up with the idea for implanted testicles after his bloodhound, Buck, began to clean himself following castration. According to Miller, the dog acted extremely depressed. However, after the implants, Buck happily resumed his old cleaning habits because they replicated the weight and feel of his natural testicles.

Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Miller’s invention of Neuticles has been a huge success, with over 500,000 neuticles implanted since 1995 in the U.S. as well as in 49 other countries. Miller even won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, a parody of the real Nobel Prize. I would love to have heard THAT acceptance speech.

Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

There seems to be few boundaries for what we won’t do for our animals. I know of other pet owners who regularly inject their diabetic cats with insulin; some who travel out of state to visit veterinarian specialists. Then there is the Colorado couple whose Samoyed needed dialysis with each round costing $1,300. After they were over $25,000 in debt, they established a GoFundMe account to solicit additional funds.

My friend, Marilyn, had a cat, Blossom Dearie, named after the famed jazz singer. Unfortunately, Blossom developed hyperthyroidism and had to be treated with radioactive iodine. As a result, Marilyn had to collect the cat’s feces and deposit them in a hazardous-material container.

And in Australia, as recently as September 14, 2016, a woman rushed her pet goldfish, “Conquer” to the vet. The observant owner had noticed that her fish had stopped eating, and that’s when she realized that Conquer had swallowed a pebble from the bottom of the fish tank. The small stone had gotten stuck in its mouth..

By using anesthesia and a tiny instrument, the vets extracted the jagged rock. The procedure was successful, and Conquer happily returned home to its own fish bowl. The veterinary bill for this life-saving procedure? $500.

Here in Las Cruces, musician, Ross Le Comte and his wife, Alta, had to have their elderly dog, Ace, put down. As the veterinarian administered the first injection, Ross picked up his trumpet and played, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a tune that Ace loved to sing along with Ross on trumpet in a nightly musical ritual.

As Ross tearfully recalled, a few days later, when he and his wife glanced out the back window, they spied a rainbow and said,  “There’s Ace. Everything is Okay.”


Folklorist Norine Dresser cherishes her current feline companion but draws the line at extreme measures.

Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
cats, Nature, pets

Hold That Tiger!

Norine holding Sweetie Beattie. Photo by Mariah Chase. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Norine holding Sweetie Beattie. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.


Cecil, the murdered lion, has garnered our attention because of his senseless death. This act has provoked the public’s outrage against sports hunting additionally inflamed by photos of other shooters proudly displaying their trophies. Who can forget the expression on the face of the woman on the internet with the bloody giraffe she has just bagged?

In contrast, many of us cherish, often over-indulge, our domestic animals. In 2000, I wrote a chapter called, “The Horse Bar Mitzvah” for a British veterinarian medicine textbook called, Companion Animals and Us.“ (Cambridge University Press, UK) The book explored the relationship between humans and animals. In it, I described a woman giving a bar mitzvah for her 13-year-old horse, Sonny, because she boasted that he had given her more love than anyone else in her family, including her ex-husband.

I also interviewed a former Roman Catholic priest who explained why he and his wife gave a cat mitzvah for their thirteen-month-old kitten, Fifi. He explained it in spiritual terms: “The true purpose of the occasion was to celebrate the beauty of creation as manifested in a particular little animal and, at the same time, to realize our own at-homeness in the universe.” He claimed that the cat mitzvah was a celebration of people’s relationship with nature and the cosmos.

He, his wife, and 90 guests took a tongue-in-cheek attitude about the occasion, as well, singing the following parody to the tune of “Sunrise, Sunset.”

 Is this the kitty that I carried? Is this the little cat at play?

I don’t remember growing older. When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty? When did she get her first fur ball?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Norine hugging Sweetie Beattie. Photo by Mariah Chase. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Norine hugging Sweetie Beattie. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

It’s easy to go overboard with our pets, and I almost went too far with my first rescue cat, Tom. However, the shelter didn’t disclose that Tom had litter box issues. Tom preferred my burnt orange carpet to the new self-cleaning litter box I purchased. He frustrated me with this unsanitary problem.

I consulted with other pet owners. “Put foil in the corners of the room.” “Try another kind of litter box.” “Try another kind of litter.” “Have litter boxes in different rooms.” None of these remedies worked.

Desperate, I consulted with a cat psychic only to discover that she diagnosed cat problems by communicating privately with the animals over the phone. I was to place Tom in a room with only a phone, but I just couldn’t visualize Tom confiding to a bodiless voice. That was too much, even for me, so I didn’t sign on for this nonsense.

Just like the majority of pet owners in the U.S., I treasure and spoil my current cat, Sweetie Beattie. Far better to do that than to lay waste to endangered species just because it’s something one can afford to do.

Norine abusing Sweetie Beattie (again). Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Norine abusing Sweetie Beattie (again). Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is an animal lover and abhors sports hunting.

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.