THE WISDOM OF WINNIE
As Dave Barry says in his always, true, and hysterical year end roundup –
“The best thing we can say about 2022 is: It could have been worse. For example, we could have had nuclear Armageddon.”
I’m with Dave on that one.
This has been without question the most challenging and flat-out worst year of my life.
Not that I have not had bad things happen to me in my almost 65 years on this melting planet. I have had real obstacles to overcome, crosses to bear and every other climb every mountain cliché thrown in my path since I was a toddler. But 2022 will go down as the fuckiest fucker of a year.
And if you want to unsubscribe because I swear, be my guest, be my guest, be my guest.
While again, I cannot list all the things I am dealing with, suffice to say it’s a lot.
One of the worst things, and in the long haul it will likely turn out it was the worst, our beloved, adorable, big eyed, all heart, so cute she was on The Dogist, six-year-old, dapple, piebald, mini dachshund Winnie, went blind in October.
Suddenly, in the course of four weeks she could not see a thing. Or we think it was four weeks. We started noticing something was off six weeks before we took her to the vet to find out what was wrong. She had come down with a rare disease called SARDS, Sudden Acquired Retinal Disintegration Syndrome.
Only four thousand dogs a year get it. The majority of them are dachshunds. There is nothing one can do. There is one Doctor in Wisconsin who deals with it. I don’t think he has made much progress. I wrote to him and never heard back.
There are problems in life we overcome, some that just evaporate over time, and some leave an indelible mark on our psyches and souls.
I don’t know that I will ever be the same person again. I will likely be stronger in some ways and more skittish and less trusting in others. I know I will not be as open to many people as so many have proven to be really shitty friends. But that is for another day.
Winnie will never see again. We don’t know what she actually thinks or doesn’t think about this. We so often project onto dogs our own templates of thought.
We ask ourselves, “do you think she remembers what grass looks like?” Does she remember our faces and not just our smells? Can she see her beds, toys and dog bowl tucked back in the recesses of her memories?
When she sleeps does her vision come back and she sees herself running across the backyard in LA on her way to climb up the rocks to chase a squirrel? Is there a visual movie of her former sighted life on a loop lurking behind her dislocated retinal?
On the days when my own problems overwhelm me much of the trauma comes when I focus on the future in comparison to the past. I play out scenes in my mind as I try and go to sleep, so I assume Winnie is doing the same thing.
Since Winnie is a dog she is not a critical thinker. Her memories of the past as far as we know are all sense memories. She sees one thing and that means something else is going to happen. People do that too, but it doesn’t play out in the same way. We can utilize logic and concepts dogs don’t have access to.
For instance, when the suitcases came out, she knew we were leaving her, and she would get anxious and climb inside of them. She obviously couldn’t tell you it was for a week or a month or maybe we were not going anywhere, maybe we were looking for a lost t-shirt. She saw a suitcase and she thought abandon. I get that.
When she saw the vacuum, she barked and barked and chased it around. She had a horrible relationship to vacuums. Which was adopted by the other two dogs. Vacuuming was bedlam, a cacophony of barks, squeals and the roar of the machine.
We always assumed it was the noise that bothered her. But it turns out it was the look of the vacuum that made her crazy. Now when she hears it, she does nothing. And the interesting thing is, the other two no longer care about the vacuum at all. Her anxiety was bleeding onto them, and they followed her lead.
Winnie was a very anxious dog. She was easily triggered. I am an anxious human, also easily triggered. Perhaps why I am aligning our thoughts and responses at times. Now that she cannot see, she is not anxious. Which is actually good. She is more relaxed. And of course, I carry enough anxiety for four.
The difference between Winnie and myself is Winnie is going with the flow. She is living in the moment as animals do. She is not thinking, damn now I will never get to see the Grand Canyon or reread Chekov. OK, she is bright, but she’s never read Chekov and she hates to travel.
Despite her inability to read and lack of curiosity about The Wonders of the World, Winnie is teaching me things every day.
Where I have been focused on the future Winnie is living in the moment and she has not lost her verve, her chutzpah or her wiggle and waggle.
In the beginning we said she lost her sparkle. This was actually the first thing we noticed, because Winnie was all sparkle. And suddenly she was more reticent and quieter. We chalked it up to age. What we didn’t know, and we are kicking ourselves for, she was losing her sight and was deeply confused.
But at a certain point, she clearly figured out she just had to get on with being Winnie and she was not going to do that by sitting in the corner.
Now corners have turned out to be a big thing since Winnie went blind.
Several times a day she will find herself literally in a corner. It’s usually when a door is left partially open, and she ends up in that tringle formed by the open door and the wall.
The old Winnie might have flipped out over that, the new Winnie the Winnie who has figured out how to survive in the face of adversity stands there quietly and either waits for one of us to sweep in and pick her up or she carefully moves in semi-circles trying not to bump into the doors or walls too hard, but enough to find herself turned around and able to get out.
I often feel like I am trapped in a corner these days. Yet unlike Winnie I just get mad and metaphorically ram into the wall. Watching Winnie navigate her corners is helping me navigate mine.
Blind dogs do bump into the things. It’s unavoidable and hard to witness. You can put something called a Halo on them, that lets them know when they are about to bump into something. But we are trying to avoid it and treat her as normally as possible. We want her to learn how to deal and not have to many aids. Thank God she has a long nose. Her snout is so far in front of her head, it usually gets to whatever is in her way first.
But the amazing and inspiring thing is when she does bump into the fridge, the wall, a chair, she just turns around or moves a bit to the left or right, and once she finds a clear path, her tail shoots up and she trots off in the direction of a safe space. She is not frustrated. She is not mad. She does not snarl. She is not self-pitying. All the things I have been for some time now. She is just peppy and on her Winnie way.
This is a lesson for us all in 2023, when you bump into the hard stuff that is standing in your way, just keep on trying until there is a clear path. Don’t freak. Don’t get mad. And when you find it, trot off to the treat drawer to reward yourself.
She clearly remembers where the good things are. In all lives, scratch that, most lives, there are pockets of happy making things, even in the toughest of times. For me it’s exercise class, nature, writing in my journal, hanging with my family. I know what has the potential to make give me some peace and put me in a better mental place. Though I don’t always take advantage of it. Often I opt to mope.
Not Winnie. In all fairness, she takes more naps. She does not run as fast, unless she is on a leash, and then she lets it rip. But she spends more time seeking out the things she knows she likes.
Winnie’s happy places, the treat drawer for instance: she knows exactly where that is. And she will sit by it and stare at it, despite the fact she can’t see it, until one of us opens it and gives her a tiny tasty to make her smile.
She loves her walks. I think that is when she feels the most like the old Winnie. Thus, you can often find her either sitting and again, staring up at where the leashes hang, to let us know, I need a walk. It’s time for some happy. And then one of us takes down the leash, hooks her up to it, she shrieks and wiggles with delight and we hightail it out the door.
This is when I say to myself, “why can’t I be more like Winnie?”
Like all dogs mealtime is the highlight of her day. Of the three dogs, Winnie always had the most reliable inner clock. Breakfast was at 9:30. Dinner 4:30.
Winnie was like a Swiss clock. At 4:20 everyday she started squeaking and making those aggressive feed me noises. We always wondered how she knew it was 4:20. Even after daylight savings changed one way or the other, she was still on schedule. And in the morning, she started nudging around 9:15. Not being able to see has changed that. But not like she has forgotten it or anything. Remember, Winnie is going for what makes her happy. So, now around 8:15 she starts asking for breakfast. And I tend to give it to her. Dinner is less predictable, where we are living it starts getting dark early, before four sometimes. So, she is either an hour late or an hour early, but often early. And without any ability to see, she still knows where the dog bowls are.
She is blessed to have her cousin/aunt Wednesday as her seeing eye dog. Wednesday knows something is not right, and she stands by Winnie when they are outdoors. She waits until Winnie is ready to come in and often stands between Winnie and something that could hurt her. She doesn’t hover or make a fuss; she just seems to turn up when she needs her. Winnie’s trust in Wednesday’s care and love is beyond heartwarming.
Which is a switch as Winnie, who is nine months older, was always the one who took care of Wednesday.
Wednesday will often hide out in rooms and chill alone. She’s one of those gals who needs her me time.
This would inevitably cause one of us to freak out and start yelling Wednesday ran away. Usually, it was Lucy who took that stance.
Winnie would always find her. We’d be looking all over the house. Opening every closet and crawling under beds, it would escalate and soon we’d all be screaming Wednesday ran away.
While Winnie would be standing by a random closed-door pawing, barking and looking at us like – dopes, she’s in here. We grew to rely on Winnie to always find Wednesday for us.
That has not happened since she went blind. And interestingly, Wednesday has not gone off to hide.
We still let Winnie go out in the backyard at night. We always stand and watch. But that is a habit that was built into us in LA after Wednesday was almost eaten by a coyote by our pool.
While we worry, we don’t hover. It’s hard to witness sometimes, but we let her bump into a chair and navigate her way around the BBQ. She finds her way to the grass, and she pees like a normal dog. She sometimes goes off by herself, and again, she will bump into things, but she pops that tail up, gives it a wiggle and a wag, letting everyone know – “I’ve got this.”
She then turns around or hugs the walls or whatever solid surface she can find and makes her way to the door, trots inside, and saddles right up to the treat drawer for a reward.
Her unwillingness to give into her disability has changed us all. It has inspired us and continues to each day.
Winnie will not let this ruin her life. It’s taking her a while to get used to it. But, hey, who wouldn’t? She still can’t do the stairs. Nor will she ever. This was the big indicator that she couldn’t see. She started by falling down the stairs a few times and by the time she was totally blind, she refused to go up or down at all. She would stand at the top shrieking for one of us to carry her.
This morning was the first morning she took a tumble down the stairs since before she went totally blind. I’m not sure how it happened as we are vigilant in watching her on that one. But I walked by, and she just shot down the first group of stairs, but in a straight line, she didn’t tumble, she skied the stairs. And she landed on the landing on her feet. Head up. Tail wagging. Looking straight in the direction of her food bowl. It was breakfast time!
Like most people we have endless totally random nicknames for our dogs. Wally is Bottle. Don’t ask. You don’t have time for the long and winding road to that name.
Wednesday is Schmenny. I don’t even remember how that came to be.
Winne was Minnie Mouse in her Minnie House. But since she lost her sight, she has become Mitzi the Spritzy. Depending on our mood, that can be Mitzi, or mostly it’s Spritz.
This started because after she was diagnosed, we were binging White Lotus; if you have seen it, you know they consume endless Aperol Spritz.’
Aperol Spritz is also one of the two things I drink, that or tequila.
And somehow, we started calling her Mitzi the Spritzy. This new nickname wasn’t an accident. First off, she has a fondness for cocktails. We are not irresponsible parents. We don’t get our dogs drunk. But the first night we brought her home at the age of seven weeks, we opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
One of us put some on our finger and Winnie slurped it up. And ever since then you can stick your finger in a large variety of booze, and she will lick it off.
But Spritz, cutened to Spritzy really describes her. Spritzes are bubbly. They have Prosecco in them which is elegant and fun and fizzy. The Aperol is a happy shade of orange, and they don’t make you drunk, they just make you chill. Less anxious. OK, too many and you may bump into a few walls. But, they are effervescence personified.
Despite her blindness she remains bubbly and effervescent. And Winnie the Minnie Dachshund, aka Mitzi the Spritzy has an indomitable spirit. Blind or sighted – she is a bright spot, a bubbly, happy girl and now it turns out in the face of adversity, an inspiration for us all.
You fall down, you get up and you march to your happy spot. You may bump into the wall on your way, but you back up or move a bit to the left or the right and you find your way to the center of the room, or the inside of the house and you get to your treat drawer as fast as you can.
When you get backed or fronted into a corner, you don’t panic, you don’t yell or bemoan your fate, you quietly figure out how to get yourself turned around. And if you can’t you just sit and wait until someone comes and gets you.
And always know that mealtime is just around the corner. And if it’s not, pretend it is and someone is bound to feed you.
These are all lessons we can carry into 2023.
I say we all have a spritz and make a toast the New Year and to Mitz!
Happy New Year. And may 2023 be a better one for us all.