happy birthday millie

I love Millie more than any other dog I’ve ever had. I feel a little guilty saying that because I have another beloved dog, Lolo, a gentle geezer who has eyes only for me. I love Millie more because of her disability. She lost her sight and developed glaucoma two years ago, and we made the decision to have her eyes removed to relieve the pain.

Millie photographed with the Hipstamatic app using the Tinto 1884 lens and the D-Type Plate "film"

Millie photographed with the Hipstamatic app using the Tinto 1884 lens and the D-Type Plate “film”

Millie drawn by artist James Cooper. studio cooper.com

Millie drawn by artist James Cooper. studio cooper.com

Love grew because she needs a little extra help. She won’t go down stairs, so I have to carry her down when I take them for a walk. She settles in the crook of my arm as relaxed as if she were lying on the couch. It feels like she is a queen being transported in her litter. Love also grew because she doesn’t let her blindness get in the way. She doesn’t feel blind. Millie lives to play fetch and is as good a catcher as when she had sight. She likes to hunt although she was never any good at it – being too spastic and wild. Stealth was never part of her strategy. She hunts pigeons on the sidewalks of New York by smell and the sound of their feathers. I let her lunge at them on her leash and when they scatter she looks up at me, delighted with herself for a job well done. She helps Lolo hunt squirrels and dig for moles when we are at our rural homestead, which is her favorite place in the world. We made this short video of Millie on a recent walk in the woods.

Frank says we love her so much because she still looks and acts like a puppy. That is true. Happy 5th Birthday Millie.

Millie at 3 months old

Millie at 3 months old

blindness is another way of seeing

One recent morning as I walked the dogs down my block, a man smiled at me and said “Is that the sleeping beauty?” I was taken by surprise, but then I recognized him as a gentleman from the neighborhood that had asked after Millie in the summer just after her operation. He was concerned then and now he asked me tenderly “How’s she doing?”. Many people have written me and asked “How’s she doing?” So here is the update. For those of you who don’t know her, Millie is a three year old Toy Fox Terrier weighing 6 pounds. Last spring she suffered a detachment of the lens of her eyes, which caused glaucoma. The pain of the glaucoma could not be controlled with medication and so three weeks after her sudden blindness, the decision was made to remove both of her eyes. I wrote her story here: The Sleeping Beauty.

Now you can see how she’s doing in this video I titled Blind Dog Fetching.

the sleeping beauty

I have been on a hiatus from my blog and I’ve been feeling guilty and unsettled about it. I have turned ideas for blog posts around in my head but they have felt half-hearted and incomplete. Then I realized I’ve been avoiding the reason for my hiatus. Millie, my three-year-old Toy Fox Terrier suddenly went blind on Mother’s Day. Of course, this has nothing to do with home improvement or Loisaida and I thought it had no place here. But it has everything to do with us, and so, I feel the story must be told.

Millie In Sheets – Feb 2012

Millie, the night before she lost her sight – May 11

Millie’s catastrophic blindness came quickly in a few stages, each one more terrible than the last. The first was the shock of seeing the dog suddenly bumping into things and with a growing horror realizing that she could not see. There was the frantic call to the vet on the weekend and the sickening research on the Internet while we waited for Monday to arrive. At her first exam, there was a glimmer of hope because she still had some sight in one eye. She would walk down the street kind of fine, only hesitating at the curbs and we said to each other, “This is not so bad, we can handle this”. Then a week later, her eyes literally broke and with that came the glaucoma with all of its pain. We tried to control the hurtful pressure of the eyes with drops, but it was to no avail. Millie became worse. When I picked her up, she would press her body into my chest as if to be absorbed. There was no hope of saving her remaining sight and very quickly it became clear that because of the pain, there would be no saving her eyes.

Millie underwent surgery for the removal of both her eyes three weeks ago. Some of our friends reacted in horror to the idea and thought we should put her down. People have a visceral response to the notion of a blind dog. Perfect strangers are visibly saddened by it. It is like when you pass by a child in a wheelchair, the sadness is almost physical like fingernails scrapping your skin.

Millie, post op – June 11

It never crossed my mind to put down a vital three-year-old dog. Sight is the third sense for dogs. Their sense of smell and hearing are primary. Millie’s vet at the ABC Animal Hospital kept reassuring me “In a month, you’ll forget the dog is blind”. My friend Raquel said, “don’t fret so much, it will make our hearts bigger”. It’s been only 10 days since she has been off pain meds and was cleared for normal activity post-surgery. Here is what Millie can do now:

– She walks down the noisy and smelly streets of Manhattan with her usual tough girl demeanor – head held high, prancing fast. Everyday, she is a little more confident and she now barely reacts when people walk too close to her.

– Millie can fetch! She is fetching toys that make noise and if you throw a ball, she can find it by the sound of the bounce. She is very quickly learning the commands “hot” and “cold” when she gets too excited and misses hearing where the ball landed.

– She went to the dog park and was not fazed by other dogs. Blind dogs can be intimidated because they cannot see the body language of other dogs.

– They say blind dogs shouldn’t swim because they rely so much on their sense of smell and the pads of their feet to feel out texture. In the water those tools are gone and it is distressing to feel themselves in nothingness. Well, Millie didn’t care, last weekend she jumped in the water and swam in our favorite swimming pond upstate.

Millie, fetching in the garden – July 1

Millie – the Sleeping Beauty

When people notice that she has no eyes, they express so much pity, that I worry the dog will pick up on this. They imagine a blind dog as crippled and sad. How deep and old is the relationship between humans and dogs that strangers react so strongly. But when they catch a glimpse of her spirit, they light up. Very soon, all we will see is her heart. When I see that tiny dog overcoming obstacles with such grace and verve, I think she is teaching me to look adversity in the face and bite it!

Millie,  you are one heroic kick-ass bitch!

*for a video update of Millie posted December 2012 go here.

knitted wool cowls for little dogs

We have tiny dogs. When the children’s clamor for a dog became too loud to ignore and the guinea pigs as cuddly mammals no longer cut it, I had one criteria – the dog had to have miniscule poop. I was not willing to pick up big poop with my hands in public on the streets of New York City. In came the Toy Fox Terriers. They are small and they are smart, but they are shivery. They are cold even in the apartment. My daughter had the idea to knit cowls for them and came up with the easy pattern below. The dogs wear their cowls all winter in the apartment, they lounge and they sleep in them on bitter nights. They wear them instead of coats on balmy days in autumn and early spring.

We use Brown Sheep Lambs Pride Worsted yarn. It is 85% wool and 15% mohair – very good quality. It comes in tons of colors and is very inexpensive for natural fiber. This pattern is sized for very small dogs (ours are 6 and 7 pounds), so you should adjust the number of cast on stitches as needed. The fit is snug enough so that it doesn’t come off easily but loose enough that they are comfortable hanging out with their cowls on.

Cast on 26 st. on number 9 needles.

P2 K2 for 7 rows (RS – P2 K2 then WS – K2 P2)
Row 8 – decrease 1 st at beginning of row and 1 st at end of row
Row 9 – P2 K2 through row
Row 10 – increase 1st at beginning of row and 1 st at end of row
Knit 3 more rows in P2 K2 (in same rib as above)
cast off and stich together into a round cowl, sew in all loose ends.

Lolo

Lolo in lounging mode

Millie – out on a fashionable stroll in Tompkins Square Park