Saturday, June 27, 2009

walking the dog

If we listen, we learn from our pets.

Fifteen years ago, I doubt I would have put the beach at the top of my list of favorite places. As a family, we visited there occasionally when I was young. But, as an adult, it was a place to go for legal and political conferences.

Professor Jiggs changed that perspective.

Thirteen years ago, I took him with me to a bar function at the beach. He was eight months old, but every Golden Retriever gene fired simultaneously. He had a passion for water, and that big pond was his to play in.

I doubt that I saw much of the conference. I certainly do not remember it. But it started Jiggs's love affair with the beach.

No soccer mom was as dedicated to her child as I was to driving that dog. For twelve years, I spent many a Saturday driving him to various beaches. Where he tried to teach me that all of my legal and political obsessions were nothing when compared to what mattered. The sand. The surf. The birds. But, most of all, the smells.

And that meant learning dog time. Living in the moment. "Those dogs coming down the road may never get here. I need to figure out this smell. Right here. Right now."

Some days, we would make the hour drive to Pacific City, he would get out of the car, walk around for five minutes, and be ready to leave. Other days, we would walk for hours until he was about to drop, but he refused to get in the truck.

When I started thinking about moving to Mexico, Jiggs had to be a part of that move. And the beach was going to be a big part of the equation.

And that was the genesis of Factor #10 -- long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset.

I unashamedly lifted that notion from
Nancy's blog. Nancy and Paul took their Pacific Northwest dogs with them to Mazatlan. They were an inspiration that Jiggs could do it, as well.

Those of you who have been reading the blog for some time know that the Jiggs portion of the dream has been tenuous since December of 2007. He started losing the use of both back legs. The muscle structure just disappeared until he looked like a hot rod creation of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth.

But he survived long enough to make the trip down. Then he survived the trip -- barely. And now he has made it through a month of health crisis to become a familiar sight on the Melaque beach.

Up until two weeks ago, I was allowing Jiggs to get accustomed to his new haircut. It was short enough that I could not take him out in the sun -- especially, the hot sun. So, we have been taking walks in the early morning, at dusk, and around midnight.

They are not aerobic walks. But they are usually substantial in time.

The best part is just spending the time with him.

He thinks the best part is getting to greet new people. Children are fascinated by his size. Almost to a child, they run up to him and ask me if they can pet him. How old he is. Is he a boy or a girl. Sometimes: Does he bite.

And he eats up the attention.

He tries the same routine with teens and adults, but most of them recoil from him. For the same reason: his size. If he were not a Golden Retriever, he could be a formidable dog.

When I was having trouble finding a veterinarian for him, I started wondering if I should have brought him. If I had remembered the first rule of dogdom (live in the moment), I would have stopped worrying. Because if I had not brought him, I would have missed the following two days together.

The first was last Tuesday. We got up early for our pre-breakfast walk knowing that a storm was on the way in mere hours. For some reason, Jiggs insisted on walking the beach that morning. The temperature was in the 70s, and he seemed a bit livelier than he had been for some time.

Just as we were about as far as we get from the house on our beach walks, huge drops of rains started falling and the wind started gusting. As far as I knew it was the leading edge of the storm.

But the petrichor had barely begun to hang in the air, and years fell off of Jiggs. He began running -- well, trotting -- and twisting in circles. He seemed to be saying, if this is a hurricane, we are going to enjoy it. As I told you earlier, he sulked all the way home when I pulled the plug on his circus act.

Kim of Boston made a comment this week that it seems as if I have confined myself to the house. I haven't. But I am certainly not getting out as much as I would like.

One reason I came to Mexico was to pursue my archaeology hobby. All of that is on hold for right now. I need to work out some sort of schedule where I can be gone on short trips during the day. For example, I could easily do a day trip to Colima. But not with Jiggs.

On Friday, I tried a little test to get both of us out of the house on a guys' road trip. We headed north to La Manzanilla, the littler beach town that introduced me to this part of Mexico. I had a nice conversation with a friend, and Jiggs got to meet his dog.

We then walked the beach at La Manzanilla. The surf is minimal there. Jiggs walked in the waves up to his belly. And that was good enough for him.

I had never been to the little village of Tenacatita, north across Tenacatita Bay from La Manzanilla. La Manzanilla makes Melaque look like Los Angeles; Tenacatita makes La Manzanilla look like San Francisco.

Tenacatita is extremely small. But it has an almost perfect beach for swimming. Nice sand. Shallow rise. Uncrowded. (Deserted would not be far from accurate.)

We stopped for another walk. I made a big temperature miscalculation. There is a wide strip of dry sand between the road and the wet beach sand. And that strip was hot. I ended up carrying Jiggs across it. He never would have made it, otherwise.

But once his paws hit the wet sand, he was prancing. He was even brave enough to lie down in the sand and let the waves wash up to him. (In Oregon, he let the waves wash over him. But that was a younger dog.)

One day while sitting around a Hollywood pool, Greta Garbo turned to Cole Porter and asked: "Are you happy?" Porter paused, thought about the question, and responded: "Yes. I think I am." Garbo looked off into the middle distance and said: "That must be very strange."

When asked why I chose Mexico, I guess I should answer it the way Jiggs would: because this a great place to spend today.

And like Cole Porter, I can say: Yes. I think I am happy. With life. With my dog. With Mexico.


Paul said...

Thanks, Steve, for the beautiful post. This should help all we readers who have been worrying about you and your choice of places to begin your journey as a retiree.

glorv1 said...

Steve, I love this post. So full of happiness and love and all because of Jiggs. You, I think have made up your mind to direct all your attention on the Professor while he is with you, because it won't happen again. You have plenty of time to "get away," and Jiggs, well his time is very limited and I think that is so gracious and loving of you to give Jiggs what he needs most....your love and full attention. He looks so happy and I wish I could run over there and hug him and let him know that he is a true handsome family pet member. That makes me very happy and I thank you. My hugs to Jiggs and God Bless You.

Babs said...

Ah, Tenacatita - one of the prettiest bays and beaches in Mexico. No need to go to Hualtuco - you've got it all right there........My do Flash, who I had for 16 years LOVED Tenacatita. Especially laying with her belly in the hot sand under a table while we all sat and drank pina coladas and discussed life.....great memories.

1st Mate said...

Steve - Holing up in the house is a good thing to do in the summer heat. Walks before dawn and after sunset are the way to go. Jiggs looks happy, and I'll bet he loves having your company all day now that you don't have to go to a job.

Christine said...

Hey! Jigg's forequarters look pretty buff. Have you visited Just an idea. Christine

maria luz said...

That dog is smiling! It's a beautiful thing.

My Bailey smiles, even though some do not believe a dog smiles. They have never lived their days with a dog who is completely socialized to family living. They will never, ever understand how deeply we are connected to our buddies when they live in our homes. They tune into every nuance of emotion and analyze every breath we take. Bailey knows where I am going before I even get there around here.

For Jiggs it is beach smells, for Bailey it's bunny trails in the backyard and down the street. In Mexico he was practically overwhelmed with the variety of new smells.

This is a beautiful post and I am so, so happy for both of you!


Steve Cotton said...

Paul -- I think I have learned a valuable lesson. When I want to take a tour through the dark recesses of my mind, I will share it with friends over a Coke Light rather than on my blog. Maybe things are just too good here. But yesterday was far more representative of the days I am having than my philosophical ruminations would indicate.

Gloria -- You are probably correct. I came to Mexico to be with Jiggs. No other answer is necessary right now.

Babs -- After getting his paws burnt, I was afraid Jiggs was going to hate Tenacatita. But he loved the place. He cannot get in the surf at our beach because of the rough waves (another post, I think).

1st Mate -- It took Jiggs no time at all to expect that I would be at the house all the time. I cannot go out the front gate without having him toss up a barking storm. I need to go get the oil changed and the transmission checked on the truck. That is going to be a royal drama leaving him behind.

Christine -- His forequarters are not as strong as they look. I considerd a wheel chair option. But everywhere we go here, it would be a problem. Stairs. Sand. Cobblestones. He is getting along all right these days. And I do not mind carrying him over short distances. My forequarters are not nearly so developed as his, though.

Mary of the Light (or is that Electric Mary?) -- I will never cease to be amazed at what dogs can perceive with their noses. Jiggs can stand for 5 minutes sniffing the same spot. I can only imagine what he is processing in his mind. Like Bailey, Jiggs has been wallowing (not literally, fortunately) in the smells of Mexico. It must seem very exotic to him. But he keeps rediscovering a scent he knows far too well -- horse manure on the beach.

BoBo's Mom said...

Great post!! He looks so happy there in the picture. Water has the same effect on BoBo, even though she doesn't actually swim. BoBo thinks Jiggs is a very lucky dog to be able to retire by the beach.

Islagringo said...

We went to that same beach when we were in the area. We saw not one person on that beach. Just miles of those deserted stick covered sun shade things. Even so, we had to pay 5 pesos to sit under them! I loved the beach though. I actually got in the water (!!!) and used my boogie board. Very pleasant day.

Anonymous said...

That looks like one happy dog and sounds like one contented owner. Your posts involving Jiggs are always so upbeat especially so since his health has improved. I'm trying to picture you packing the hound across the sand...just a guy and his dog enjoying a day at the beach. What special adventures you are having together in Mexico. Keep telling tales...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the blog on Jiggs. I am so glad he is doing so well and still teaching you lessons of life.

He looks healthier now that he has a little more hair

I surely do miss him.

I should go down and stay with Jiggs while you wander off on day trips.


Steve Cotton said...

BoBo's Mom -- And I am a lucky guy to be able to retire with Jiggs.

Islangringo -- But there would have been no one to collect my pesos. After all, what sane person would walk across that hot sand?

Anonymous -- I am happy the veterinarian put Jiggs on a diet. As it was, we almost had a few sand trap tumbles.

Mom -- I suspect you would dislike the steps as much as Jiggs does.

Anonymous said...

Steve, your description of the Professor's problem is exactly what's happening to my Sam-dog: "...started losing the use of both back legs. The muscle structure just disappeared..."

It's wonderful to hear how much better Jiggs is doing now - and he does look so happy! Could you please share what brought about the improvement?


Steve Cotton said...

In Oregon, he was receiving a monthly cortisone shot. But the veterinrian here took him off his cortisone and thyroid medicines because Jiggs as having breathiung problems. He is doing fine without them. He is taking something called Artroflex. At best, his condition is stable. But he is still getting older. His rear legs simply are what they are.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful love story!
Thank you!
min Va

Anonymous said...

Steve, I enjoy your daily reflections...and thank you for a new great there is a word to describe that smell. Kathe

Steve Cotton said...

Kathe -- Petrichor is a great word, isn't it? Good word for one of my favorite natural smells.

Jan said...

Very nice story. I love my dog, Teddy, so much and our lives revolve around him somewhat. It amazing how much we love him. I think Jiggs loves the beach and it's going to make him feel better!

Steve Cotton said...

Jan -- He is ecstatic at the moment. The temperature has dropped and it is raining -- two good things in his Book of Things Dogs Really Like. I can tell he is feeling better because he is barking at me this evening.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the info, Steve - I'll have to look for some Artroflex for the Sam-dog... presumably it wouldn't do her any harm, and might do some good!


Steve Cotton said...

Jodancingtree -- Best of luck with it.