The Harlan Chronicles 1

Monday

Harlan

I began 1993 as “The Year of Facing My Fears”. Come to think of it, the only real fear that I had was that of dogs. Actually, it was more of a phobia. At first sight of a bushy tail, I would on the spot, cry a little on the inside and then finally, in a high-pitched squeal, desperately beg for someone to get it/he/she away from me.

You know the type.

So, I resolved that I would beat this screwy dog thing. My mind was made up. I decided to become a foster mother to a homeless dog – a dog something along the lines of small, blind and toothless, preferably small enough to fit into my handbag. The dog would get a nice place to stay and if it didn’t work out, I could bring it back. Win-win.

When I arrived at the no-kill animal shelter, I met with an “adoption counselor”. I didn’t dare confess my reason for fostering a dog as I was aware that those “dog-nuts” would never let me have one if they knew. So I confidently told them that I would be happy to foster the most un-adoptable, passive dog that they had.

Within seconds, I was introduced to Harlan. A 50 lb. black and white Border Collie mix who had been rescued six months prior from an abusive and neglectful owner. While all of the other dogs were barking and jumping up to the front of their cages, Harlan was pressed up far back into the corner of his kennel, a little larger than I had originally imagined, sitting square on his butt with his tummy facing me, jaw clenched and looking alot more afraid of me than I was of him. When I asked what was wrong with him, her response was "He's depressed".

He was perfect!

Despite the fact that it took two shelter employees to drag him out of his kennel and three to stuff him into my Pinto, I was determined that we would get along just fine. I had a doggie crate waiting for him in my den and I just knew that things would work out. Driving home with Harlan huddled on the floorboard of my back seat, I had time to think…“How would I get him out of my car?” “ Was he house broken?” “Is it too late to turn back?”

Part 2: Harlan's Stash

The Harlan Chronicles 2

Sunday


Harlan's Stash
It took three neighborhood volunteers to stuff Harlan snug in his crate and I was quite content and proud of myself. After all, for someone who was as afraid of dogs as I was, we seemed to be getting along just fine. Harlan, cozy in his crate, looking every bit the pill bug and I, completely oblivious to all things canine.

It wasn’t long into this bliss that I detected a foul odor coming from the den. The question about him being housebroken was answered. The good news was that he didn’t relieve himself on my carpet, the bad news was that he wouldn’t come out of his crate. I tried coaxing, leashing, demanding him to come out. No Luck. He stayed in the crate. Refusing to eat or drink (who could blame him) and remaining in the crate was just not an option. With a little help from my friends, we picked up the crate with all 50 lbs of Harlan in it and brought him into the backyard.

After a moderate struggle we were able to get him out of the crate, hose him down and create a new home for him in the backyard garage. A quilt was placed in the corner of the garage and a side door was propped open so that Harlan could come and go as he pleased. Harlan was home.

Sometimes I would watch Harlan by peeking out of my kitchen window where I had an unobstructed view of him and would notice that he would only come out of his garage at night.

Although I would routinely give him treats, he would never take them from me nor would I see him eating them. He would not eat his food or drink water if I was around. He never made eye contact, in fact he would turn his head away from me when I approached. He didn’t bark or growl. Everyday was spent in silence, staring, jaw clenched. If I tried to pet him or scratch his ears, he would visibly tremble. Sure, friends and family would comment on my basket-case of a dog but I being the proud new parent, was unflappable.

A week had passed since I brought Harlan home and I decided that it was time for me to change his bedding. Bravely walking into his garage, I clipped the leash onto his collar and proceeded to drag him out of the garage and tie him to a tree.

When I picked up Harlan’s quilt, I was surprised to see that he had stashed all of his doggie treats under it. Interestingly, I remembered learning somewhere that neglected and abused children will hoard food for fear that they will not be fed again.

It was then and there that I realized Harlan was a soul that needed love, food and a safe place to live. So what if he wasn’t “normal”? Do parents with afflicted children return them? No. They deal with it. Harlan and I would be together for a long time.

Part 3 The Doggie Shrink

The Harlan Chronicles 3

Saturday



The Doggie-Shrink
A few months into our “dog-parent” relationship and after wearing a friend out with Harlan stories and exploits, she gave me the name and number of a “Canine Psychiatrist”.

Who would have thought there were actual doggie-shrinks out there and what degree plan do you pursue in order to be one?

The doggie-shrink turned out to be a card carrying “Pet Behavioralist” named Linda who made house calls.

My suspicion was that "Linda" was really a dog trainer with an impressive title and fee structure.

Harlan's therapy would amount to one hundred and seventy dollars for three, one-hour sessions. The unanswerable question, “Have you lost your mind?” was a fairly common one from friends and relatives.

When Linda came into his life, Harlan had been living with me for about six months. His behavior had not changed with the exception of occasionally coming out into the daylight. When he did come out of his garage, he would literally skulk about. His head and tail down, his shoulders prominently raised. It was an odd sight. Remaining bark-less, he continued to hoard food and sit silently in his garage all day and night. Bathing Harlan was so traumatic that I had a sedative prescribed (for him). Anyone who knew Harlan could see clearly that he needed help.

Despite the fact that I had warned Linda that Harlan would be a tough nut to crack, she initiated his “therapy” with vigor and enthusiasm. Perhaps she considered him to be a professional challenge.

Unfortunately, typical dog enticements like dog treats, hamburger, steak and sweet talk did nothing for Harlan. He would not be coerced into coming out of his garage, sitting, shaking or lying down by these obvious ploys. He refused to walk on a leash or follow any command she would give him. In fact, one afternoon an obviously stressed Linda (bless her heart) put a piece of steak on Harlan’s nose. She was certain he would shake it off and eat it. He didn’t. Harlan sat motionless in his garage with steak on his nose until we left him alone.
By his third therapy session, it was apparent that Linda’s enthusiasm had waned. She explained that Harlan was un-socialized and because of that, he was un-trainable.

Puhleeeeese, what kind of a Canine Psychiatrist was she anyway? Give up on Harlan? I don’t think so. I never heard from her again.

All was not lost on Harlan’s therapy, however. I did learn that dragging Harlan out of his garage by the leash might be too aggressive for him. Instead, Linda taught me to position myself at Harlan’s exit door, then toss pennies behind Harlan until he would stand up and come to me. The sound of the pennies falling would be bothersome to him. It worked!

Part 4  He Speaks!

The Harlan Chronicles 4

Friday

He Speaks!
A year had passed and Harlan and I had come to a comfortable arrangement. Adopting Harlan was just a matter of paperwork and $75.00. I fed him, provided fresh water and a safe environment for him, ensured that he would get his annual shots and medicines (finding a Vet who made house calls wasn’t a problem – just pricey) and he would silently hang out in his house/garage and backyard. We were getting along famously.

Friends didn’t really ‘get’ Harlan's quirks so I felt a need to advocate for him by posting a sign outside his house that nicely informed visitors to allow him privacy - I think it said something to the effect of "GO AWAY".

Harlan occasionally came out of his house whenever he felt the need and seemed to live a life of restful solitude.

One afternoon, I had invited a few friends over for a cookout in the backyard. Everyone seemed to be having a nice time. A couple of people were playing basketball, two or three were about ten feet away from the grill and I was doing my thing by passing out burgers, drinks etc.

Suddenly, Harlan came sneakily skulking (head and tail down, shoulders raised) out of his house. Then, much to our collective surprise - he barked. Harlan speaks? I was thrilled. Good boy!!! Harlan continued to bark but then began to pace in a semi circular fashion, back and forth, all the while surrounding my guests. The semi circle became smaller and smaller as my guests and I became physically closer to one another. As we all stood together, Harlan continued to bark at us. I guess it was time to sit down. We all took our seats at the table. Harlan stopped barking, turned his back to us, sat down and kept an eye out for wolves.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Harlan was “herding” us. Later that year, I attended a Border Collie exhibit at The State Fair of Texas. It was then that I realized Harlan was demonstrating innate Border Collie traits and wasn’t so screwy after all... I'm thinking that by now you're just dying to learn more about Border Collie behaviour so check out Animal Planet's video - http//www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pORF_PVW8Q

Part 5:  Betsy 

The Harlan Chronicles 5

Thursday

Harlan's Friend, Betsy
Harlan was ‘special’ and caring for him was a breeze. He refused the leash, therefore he didn’t go on walks. Despite the fact that he didn’t exercise, he had the run of a big backyard if he should feel the need to use it. He didn’t like to be disturbed and did not require my attention. It was like having a plant that ate. I had learned to accept and love Harlan for who he was and we were quite comfortable with our relationship.

As time went on, I became aware that people were talking. I understood that the word on the street had me made out as a sucker for weird dogs. That wasn’t entirely true. Yes, Harlan was a little weird and yes, I sought out a “different” type of dog - but that was yesterday. I really didn’t care to have a “normal” dog. Never the less, I would frequently receive calls from both friends and strangers telling me about “a starving-stray-sort-of-Lab-mix”, "a blind-in-one-eye-abused-Rhodesian Ridgeback” or "a pitiful Bulldog with-the-mange-I-think”. I was quick to let these callers know that “I really don’t know squat about dogs and I wouldn’t be doing them any favors should I take them in.” Enough said.

But then I got a call from a friend of a friend who described the "coolest, most playful, healthy, stray" but “obviously lost because she was well cared for” Austalian Shepherd. This lady already had four dogs and couldn’t take another in. No one had responded to her flyers about finding the dog and she was afraid to give it up to an animal shelter which would spell certain d-e-a-t-h. She also mentioned that she understood Harlan might benefit if he had a friend. That was where she got me. Maybe Harlan did need a friend.

Betsy was a blast. She was everything that had been described and before you knew it, she and Harlan were simpatico. Following a short 'getting to know you' period, Betsy moved into Harlan’s garage/house. I purchased matching doggie beds for them. Actually, the doggie beds were large plastic bins with sleeping bags in them – the reason for the plastic bins? In the event of flooding, I imagined that the doggie beds would rise with the water level and thereby giving Harlan and Betsy their own ‘boats’ per se - as Dallas is famous for its heavy rainstorms and flooding. Seriously. What can I say?

Every day, Harlan and Betsy would come out of their house and into the sunshine. Although Harlan would not participate, he seemed to tolerate watching Betsy play. She would run rampant in the backyard chasing squirrels. Tugging on Harlan’s ears, jumping and pouncing on him trying to get his attention and showing him that she wanted to play did not phase him.

One afternoon, while watching Betsy's antics from my kitchen window, I saw Betsy lying on her back, suddenly she began wriggling in an apparent frenzy on the grass. Seizure activity!? I ran, calling out to her - "Betsy!" Betsy immediately flipped over, stood up with her tail wagging. She apparently recuperated quickly. I called my friend JoBeth who was experienced with dogs and was assured that ‘normal’ dogs do this sort of thing. Nothing to panic about. Although it was a long while before Harlan showed any signs of improvement, I knew everything would be alright the day I saw both Harlan and Betsy lying on their backs, wriggling on the grass.

Sadly, Betsy passed away only three years after she came into our lives. In that short time she was a dear and devoted friend to both Harlan and I. Through Betsy, Harlan learned how to play, chase squirrels, dig holes, ride properly in a car, take food from a person’s hand, walk on a leash, respond to “sit/shake/come/lie down” and receive a hug from me without peeing all over himself and for that, I will always remain grateful to her.



Part 6 The Grand-Dog

The Harlan Chronicles 6

Wednesday


The Grand-Dog
Dad was born during The Great Depression, raised in a rural community and like many of his contemporaries, experienced hardships that many of us would find difficult to imagine. He had a great love for animals and his compassion for the sick, injured or helpless was admirable. That being said, when confronted with a sick, injured or helpless animal, it was not uncommon to hear him say “the poor thing needs to be put down – get him out of his misery.” Granted, that statement is hard to take for our generation as we have the resources for veterinary care and medicines so, I always cut him slack when he would say such things as I understood where he was coming from.

It was in November of 1997 and I was getting married. I sold my house and would soon be moving into the future "Mr. Something's" place with his three teen-aged sons.

Dad had arrived from Canada, thrilled that his forty-year-old daughter was finally “going to have someone to take care of her”. As if.

It was during the few weeks prior to the wedding, that Dad was able to bond with the new and improved (post Betsy) Harlan.

It was the morning before Doug and I were to be married. Over coffee, Dad asked me if we could have “a talk”.

How sweet. A woman of my age, getting fatherly advice about marriage.

He began, ”So, will Harlan be moving in with you and Doug after you get married?” “Sure” I responded.

Looking very uncomfortable and searching for the right words, he said “Joanie, I am thinking that Harlan might not be very happy at Doug’s house. He’s not quite right and Doug's yard is not as big and there are three boys that he’s not used to.”

I really didn’t get what he was driving at until I recognized the tone in his voice and the look in his eyes - then it hit me. “Dad! You don’t mean we should put him down do you?” Did he think our marriage was doomed with Harlan as part of our new family?

“Oh no, no, no, I was just thinking about Harlan.” he said.

Busted.

Part 7 Harlan's New Home

The Harlan Chronicles 7

Tuesday

Harlan’s New Home
Initially, the move to Mr. Something's house didn’t seem all that traumatic for Harlan. He had a pool now, a personal doghouse and despite the fact that his yard was a little smaller, Harlan seemed to be managing just fine.

I knew we had hit a snag though, when on my way to work one morning, I saw Harlan sleeping beside the right front tire of my car. On my return home, finding Harlan curled up in my parking space was not an unfamiliar sight.

Mr. Something's sons told me they would see Harlan sitting on the corner of our street, just looking around when I wasn't at home. It worried me that he wouldn't stay in our yard but I didn't want to tie him up and he refused to come into the house. So, digging himself out of his yard every night, he would snuggle up beside his familiar friend, a Pontiac Grand Am and go to sleep.

It was evident that Harlan had regressed a little after Betsy had passed away, but the move to a new home had obviously impacted him negatively and the "new and improved" Harlan was gone for a while. He had returned to his solitary ways and once he separated from his attachment to my car, he would spend his time in his house or much to Mr. Something's chagrin, in the backyard landscaping. If anyone approached, he would bolt and hide. Fortunately though, he seemed to continue to enjoy going for walks with me but only if I did not make eye contact before leashing him.

Some time had passed when Mr. Something announced he was going to turn Harlan into a “normal” dog. On one particular morning, Mr. Something told me he was going to take Harlan for a walk and that he would not be “playing games” with him. So, I pulled up a chair and watched my very own “Dog Whisperer” from an upstairs window. It was priceless..

Walking into Harlan’s yard confidently and speaking in a commanding tone, Mr. Something called out for Harlan. After peering into his doghouse and determining that he was in fact inside, he straightened up and stated clearly and authoritatively, “Harlan. Come.” Reaching into the doghouse, he leashed Harlan. Harlan refused to come out. As Mr. Something pulled on the leash, Harlan resisted with equal force. Soon, both Harlan and his doghouse were being dragged across the patio.

Perplexed,  Mr. Something stopped, picked up the doghouse (with Harlan in it) and tried shaking him out. Miraculously, Harlan didn’t budge and remained inside his doghouse. As a final act of desperation he removed the doghouse roof.. That's all it took.

Tail wagging and head up, Harlan was ready to go.

Part 8  Harlan Gets $ick

The Harlan Chronicles 8

Monday


Harlan gets $ickThirteen years had passed since Harlan and I first crossed paths. He was quite a bit slower now and didn’t have the reflexes to ‘bolt’ anymore. His vision was failing and the once black fur on his face had turned white. Harlan had mellowed with age and didn’t seem to mind a stranger’s touch. I knew it was just a matter of time before Harlan would go to the big dog park in the sky but he seemed healthy and happy for now.

Then Harlan became increasingly short of breath. The veterinarian diagnosed him with enlarged heart, Congestive Heart Failure and Atrial Fibrillation. He suggested consulting with a Canine Cardiologist and felt that an Echocardiogram and Thoracentesis should be done.

Ka Ching.

I may have coughed up a lot of money for the ‘Doggie-Shrink’ but I was older and wiser now. This was going to cost a lot more than that. I told the vet that at Harlan's age, I wanted him to receive “medical management” (drugs) only. Harlan stayed overnight at the animal hospital in an oxygen cage. He received Lasix, Digoxin and Vasotec intraveneously and bounced back quite nicely. Upon checking out the vet’s bill, I expected it to be high but a thirty-day supply of oral Lasix, Digoxin and Vasotec for $120.00? As grateful as I was to the vet for curing Harlan, I was equally miffed with him about the drug charge.

When I returned to work, I asked one of the ER Doctors to write the same prescriptions for “Harlan Spotswood”at my address.

I wasn’t sure if I would get hassled by the (people) pharmacy staff if they were made aware that prescriptions were for a dog and I didn't want to take any chances, so I lied.

When I submitted the prescriptions, the nice lady behind the counter asked for “Mr Spotswood’s age, date of birth and insurance”.

I quickly tried to calculate ‘dog years’, but just as fast, I gave up and said “He’s 80”.

Harlan’s date of birth? Hmmmm. How about Valentine’s Day? “February 14th…can you help me figure out the year?” I asked smiling. She was happy to.

Insurance? I told her he was not insured. She then asked about Medicaid. Think fast. “Oh, he is my uncle from Canada, we’ll take care of the cost” I said. “Your prescriptions will be ready in one hour” she said. Dodged a bullet.
Oh, and the total cost of the prescriptions? $15.00.

Part 9  Harlan's End

The Harlan Chronicles 9

Friday


Harlan's End
Harlan slept a lot. He was too weak to walk very far and spent many hours in his bed. Frequently, before sunset Mr. Something would carry him to the car, drive him to the park, then carry him out to a quiet, grassy area where he could just ‘be’.

On one hand, it was really comforting to be able to have Harlan’s head rest on my lap while we hung out at the park in the sunset but on the other hand, I knew he couldn’t resist even if he wanted to.
We would stay until the sun went down and then carry Harlan back to the car again and go home.

Over the course of a few months, the medicines that Harlan was on did not seem to be working as well. His health was declining and he was becoming sleepier and weaker.

As I was not experienced in ‘end of life’ issues for dogs, Harlan and I returned to the animal clinic. I had a few questions…”Is he suffering?”

The vet’s answer would determine as to whether or not I would “put him down”. She didn’t think Harlan was in any distress, “just weak”. "Was Harlan was still eating, drinking and going potty?” He was. Seemingly pleased with my response, she said, “when any of those factors change, Harlan should be reassessed”.

My next question was the most difficult. “What do I do when he dies?” She understood my question and assured me that I could have Animal Control pick him up from my house where he would be brought to a group animal crematorium or I could bring Harlan to the clinic where they would take care of him personally and I would receive his ashes a few weeks later.

I just couldn’t allow myself to consider the Animal Control option. Harlan had become too precious.

It was a beautiful, sunny autumn morning. Mr. Something had come home from the Fire Station and gave Harlan a pork chop. After eating, Harlan walked into the family room and lay down on the floor.

He was gone.

What a life. What a dog.

But, my life with Harlan was not quite over...

Part 10  Harlan's Finale

The Harlan Chronicles 10

Thursday

Harlan’s Finale

Harlan’s ashes arrived two weeks after he died. I picked them up at the animal clinic. They were presented to me in a navy blue velvet bag and inside, a beautiful wooden box with a key. Not sure of what I should do with his ashes, Mr. Something acerbically suggested, “why don't we plant him in the backyard flower bed, he’s used to being in there”.

Delaying my decision, Harlan was placed on the fireplace mantle. That evening, we were meeting our friends Terry and Arthur for dinner. Terry asked me to bring Harlan as she was interested in seeing how he was “packaged”. So, I put Harlan in my purse and off we went to the restaurant. After a few minutes of conversation, I placed Harlan on the table.

“I didn’t know Harlan would be joining us”, Mr. Something said.

Ignoring his comment, I slid Harlan across the table to Terry. A huge smile came across her face and with her eyes welling up, she exclaimed “This is the first time Harlan has ever come to me!”

A few days later, I received a phone call from our local pharmacy. “Is Mr. Spotswood available?” asked the perky pharmacy-lady.

Knowing that Mr. Something doesn’t take prescription medications, I asked, “Which one?” “Mr. Harlan Spotswood” she responded. My heart skipped.

“I’m sorry but unfortunately, Mr. Spotswood has passed away”, I said.

The pharmacy-lady’s tone immediately changed from perky to apologetic...“I am sooo sorry, I noticed he had not refilled this months prescription.”

I thanked her. Done. The lies are over.

To my surprise, the pharmacy-lady dragged me further into my web of deceit. “It’s tough being a caregiver, isn’t it?” she asked. I had to agree with her and added “But he did have a long life, it was just these passed few months that his health had failed”

The pharmacy-lady was so kind and compassionate as she ended our conversation by sticking the knife in my chest and twisting it…”If there is anything that we can do to help, please don’t hesitate to call.”

Announcements of Harlan’s loss were sent to those who knew and knew of him. The passage inside Harlan’s announcement was taken from a plaque outside of the shelter where he found me…

To the countless
Who never felt a gentle touch,
Or heard the whisper of affection…

In Memory of
Harlan Young-Spotswood
1993-2006

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