Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ides of February .........The Dead of Winter

Twenty years ago, in a fierce blizzard on the day after Valentine's Day, we lost a very special 2-1/2 year old German Shepherd Dog to canine epilepsy. Fleetwood suffered his second seizure on February 15, 1991 and within minutes he lay dead on the kitchen floor. In the blinding snowstorm we drove his body to the veterinarian for a post-mortem. The vet told us that Fleet was as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside. He could find nothing wrong that would have caused the seizures. It was just a horribly unfortunate occurrence that caused Fleet's death. Epilepsy is supposed to be treatable, not fatal. After his first seizure, we had been advised not to start him on medications, that he may never have another seizure. We were advised to just wait and watch and see. Forty days later, just as we were beginning to relax into normalcy, just as we were daring to let out a cautious sigh of relief, Fleet succumbed during seizure number two.

Sol Ajax, or 'Red', a Tennessee Walker. Direct grandson of Midnight Sun.

Fast forward nine years to February 15, 2000. On this cold, snowy Tuesday morning, when I looked out the kitchen windows I did not see the familiar figure of my 34 year old Tennessee Walking Horse standing in the doorway to the barn. As I made our breakfast, I kept glancing out the window to look for him. Art also grew worried and decided to go out and see if Red was OK. A 34 year old horse is a very old horse. By now Red was our 'only horse', as his buddy of 25 years, Art's horse Prince, had died peacefully in the pasture the previous year at the age of 29 and Red had been going it alone ever since. Art was gone for a while and I grew more anxious. When he returned, I knew something was wrong. He told me that Red was lying down in the straw bedding and that he couldn't get up. At 34 most horses have arthritis and Red was no exception. He could still see and hear but he had very few teeth left with which to chew. We had previously switched him to pelleted food which doesn't require much chewing. I headed out to the barn with Art. We tried so hard to get him to rise to his feet, using bribery and strong coercion. Then we let him rest a bit while we called our neighbors to come and help. They came, four burly farmers, but with all our combined might, we couldn't get RD on his feet again. He had lost his oomph. We called the vet, who came early that evening. Red was near the end of his strength at that point, so we gave him that blessed relief that only we can do for our animal friends. My beloved horse became the second casualty of the Ides of February. We buried him next to his buddy Prince, in the horse pasture overlooking the valley they called home.

Our 14' x 24' Gazebo, reduced to toothpicks
Fast forward to last Tuesday, February 15, 2011. Art and Moses came in from their daily walk down to the lake. Something about Art's demeanor didn't seem right and I asked him if anything was wrong. "Good news and bad news, honey", was his reply. He knows that I absolutely hate to hear that! "OK, give me the bad news first", is my standard come-back. He told me that the gazebo roof had collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and the 60 mph winds we had the night before. He told me he thought the gazebo was ruined. I was stunned, as it seemed we had much heavier snow last winter! Down the hill through the deep snow I went to survey the damage and to take some pictures. I really wasn't prepared for the devastation I saw. As we stood surveying the wreckage, I asked him, "So, what's the GOOD news?"  He replied, "At least I don't have to paint it anymore!"

So February has become to me, a month of death and dying. We seem more vulnerable in the month of February, more diminished with less strength of spirit. It takes a toll; makes us feel that if we can just hang on a bit longer, its grip will loosen and we can escape into the warmth of renewal for one more year, one more springtime.

"Tuffy" ~  Romark's Jolico Tuff Guy
Next week, February 22 will mark nine years since we lost another of our beloved dogs, who we had aptly named Tuff Guy. Tuffy had a genetic condition called 'mega esophagus', which meant that his esophagus resembled a megaphone, large at the throat and tapering down to normal size towards the stomach end. As the dog ages, this condition causes food to lay in the esophagus, which progressively forms a deep pouch that holds ever more food. We worked with Tuffy for over two years to keep him from having attacks of vomiting after eating that often led to aspiration pneumonia. He had several severe episodes that almost killed him. But he was true to his name, a real Tuff Guy. Also, we were not yet willing to let him go, so we continued to aggressively treat his episodes and made many trips to the vet. He pulled through every one of them. He was such a wonderful, loving boy, we really hated to lose him. I prayed to God, "Dear Heavenly Father, please give our good boy Tuffy a normal German Shepherd life", which I felt should properly be 12 years. "Divine Father, he is such a good boy, he deserves his 12 years. Please God, grant Tuffy his full 12 years of life." Well, Tuffy's 12th birthday came...and went... and he lived on for another 3 months! But eventually came the inevitable final episode. He had an aspiration pneumonia and lay in the veterinary hospital, sedated for a week. Every time they tried to lift the sedation, Tuffy would devolve into another attack of violent vomiting and he lost ground very fast. After all, he was 12 years and 3 months old, no longer a young, resilient dog. I had another conversation with God and thanked him for answering my prayers and letting Tuffy have his proper quotient of dog years. I told Him that we were ready to let Tuffy go. As with Red, we were there with Tuffy when his final moments came and he died in our arms.

Driving home from the vet's, as we tearfully recalled Tuffy's life with us, I came to a stunning realization. The date was February 22, 2002. It was exactly 12 years ago to the hour that we had picked up Tuffy as a puppy and brought him home to live with us. God had indeed answered my prayers in a very special way. He had given Tuffy exactly 12 years with us. Our Divine Father sent us a very powerful message, one that He wanted us to make no mistake about. Heartfelt prayers are often answered, though perhaps not in the way we prayed them. We may not be given exactly what we pray for. We may instead be given exactly what we need.


  1. Thanks for writing this. We all have our "bad times" of the year; mine would have to be January, and November is a close second. Funny, along with your February, they are all colder months.

    On a brighter note, that gazebo can be fixed, no? And it sounds like all the animals had happy lives and were in a warm, caring environment. So sorry that Fleetwood's life was so short.

  2. Hi Gerry, thanks for READING this! I enjoy it when people, in your case a "friend", read and respond. It helps me gain a greater perspective on what I've been feeling and what I've expressed, but especially what I can focus on for the future. I find that people seem to seek the positive and their comments reflect that wonderful human quality of 'hope'.

    So, on that brighter note, YES the gazebo can be repaired and we have already called in the carpenters who will start the project just as soon as the snow melts enough so that they can drive their 4X4's down to the lake. THIS time we will take no chances on a recurrence. The new roof will be steep and made from steel. I can't wait to blog about that (hopefully) positive experience!

    See Gerry's blog, ModlandUSA here:

  3. This is a beautiful, sad, happy, poignant post. Thank you for sharing this. As a nurse, I realize some of us are given more time on earth than others, but I can honestly say, if I was a pet, an animal of any kind, I would want you to be my caretaker, and I would want to live on Jolico Farm. Actually I do live there, in my dreams. Patsye

  4. Me, too, I'd like to be a pet on your farm, Max.

    So much loss, it makes me ache for you. How do you carry it all? I hope you find ways to nurture yourself during this memory-month.

    When I showed The Girl your collapsed gazebo on facebook, she couldn't grasp the time frames and asked me, "Were the dog and horse in there, and they died all at once?" In a way, she's right, how losses merge.

    Sending you love for a better rest of February. At least Valentine's Day is in there!

  5. Patsye, thanks so much for the boost your comments always bring to my spirits! Animal, vegetable or mineral, all are welcome at our farm. There's lots of room and lots of love to go around. As always, thanks for commenting...... Max

    Enjoy Patsye's blog, Whimseytopia, An Older Woman and Her Art:

  6. Deborah....haha, you too? You can be my pet anytime/anywhere, my sister from a different mother!

    The comment from The Girl was priceless! I can see how a young one can become confused with this timeline thing. She has that innate sense that children are born with. Time is only linear here on Earth, so she is right about the dogs and the horse dying with the gazebo... and that's what quadruples the sadness. Give her a hug, and save one for yourself.
    From: Max Who Blogs (with love!)

  7. last thing! View Deborah Jiang Stein's website here: It's worth the trip!

  8. About the pet. Only if I'm the favorite. I'm that way. :)
    Okay, we hugged, and went awww. Also, on your facebook we posted a horse drawing she wanted you to have. If you'd rather I email it instead, let me know and feel free to delete it on FB.
    Thanks for showing my link here.

  9. Um....Deborah. Now honey, you know that ALL my pets are my favorites. That's the way Mama's are, each and every baby is the most precious.

    I love the horse drawing......a gift for today but one I can have for always. It's fine on Facebook, but I also save her pictures in my computer so that I can use them again; always with permission from The Girl and Her Mama, of course.

  10. Permission given.
    The Girls says she wants to draw more pictures for you. She wants to know "what other animals and kinds of things does Max like?"

    You can message one of us.

    About favorites. I still should be "The Favorite." I know you already know this.:)

  11. Wow! Great writing Maxine. You paint a detailed picture of the life up there and I feel for you.
    Lots of love to you all.
    Bruce Michael Sheinbart

  12. Thanks for reading and for touching my heart Bruce. Looking forward to some hugs in person this summer! Love to all of you, too. . .
    Aunt Max and Uncle Art