wings and things

Pip, the therapy dog

Recently, I have been at a bit of a loss for words, not for any particular reason, just feeling quiet. Also I have been quite preoccupied with Pip, our four-and-a-half-months-old miniature schnauzer.

I am training Pip to be a therapy dog and we are now a few weeks into “puppy pre-school.” So far, she is very good at sitting for food but not very good at obeying any other commands although she is house-trained simply because she is an inside/outside dog; and luckily she chooses outside to do her business.

Pip is already relatively well-behaved in the three nursing homes I take her to, including Anthony’s. For the most part, I keep her on a leash but in Anthony’s room she will now settle on her own pillow on the floor near his armchair for a good couple of hours. I keep her pillow, a container of dog biscuits and a water bowl in one of Anthony’s cupboards. In the other two nursing homes, the joy I see on some of the residents’ faces, when they see, pat or even hold Pip, is beautiful.

Anthony smiles at the way I fuss over Pip and I keep hearing myself sounding like an old woman with a little dog (ha!) But, despite his initial reaction to her puppyhood “It’s just a dog, Jules”, he and she have now bonded.

Me: Do you love her, Ants?

Anthony: Well who wouldn’t, Jules.

At home, Pip is now a hurricane of energy; she races in and out of the house and terrorises Jack, our Irish terrier who is still so in awe of her that he stands back when I feed them both and only eats Pip’s leftovers!

Every morning, I am greeted first thing with a deep growl from Pip, which is her rude way of asking me for breakfast. The closer I get to the refrigerator, the deeper the growl. Ming and I are getting a lot of laughs out of this hilarious new addition to the family.

Apparently I can register Pip as a therapy dog once she has undertaken further training so I am looking into this.

So, even though I’ve gone a bit quiet lately, it’s an accepting kind of quietness. I found out the other day that Anthony is now a ‘full hoist’ which means he is unable to walk at all. I had assumed that he was still maybe able to walk, using the walker, in the mornings, but I guess I was a bit nervous to ask the question because I didn’t want to know(?)

Oh how much I wish I had made more of the last time I saw Anthony walk using his walker – that shuffle-sprint-stall that I have known for nearly a decade. It seems impossible that he would now be more or less bed-ridden but I am an idiot to not have seen this coming.

And, as I contemplate whether to cry or not, I see from the front window of what used to be Anthony’s mother’s bedroom – now my study – a black fur-ball of absolute joy racing towards the front door.

Yipping with delight, Pip enters the quiet.


A very quiet house

As many of you already know, Ming lives in an old shed we began to renovate for him years ago (before Anthony went into the nursing home). It has been a very long process but also very exciting. Once it was finally finished, with a new paint job, lino on the floor, windows put in, electricity connected and his bed moved out there (around six months ago) he began to sleep out there regularly. But it wasn’t until recently that he moved all of his stuff out of his old bedroom (in the house) to the shed. Then, two days ago, he moved our old refrigerator in there too so he now has that and a microwave, so he can be (sort of) self-sufficient when it comes to meals.

Ah, meals, yes – a contentious issue for Ming and me. You see he has always been extremely fussy with food. No, let me rephrase that; he has always been extremely FUSSY with food! Let me exemplify. As a newborn, he wouldn’t breastfeed or take a bottle without our coercion (Anthony’s confidence that he’d had this problem with calves, and he could fix it, was unfounded and Ming actually lost some of his scrawny birth weight in his first month of life). He simply wasn’t interested in any sort of sustenance full stop. That first summer of his life I had to actually syringe water/milk/custard/mashed banana into his sweet, rebellious little pursed lips. It was an absolute nightmare.

Long story short, he survived on the bare minimum for years. During toddler years it was crackers and orange juice and sometimes butter, but nothing else. Eventually I took him to a naturopath who did some magic and he got a bit of an appetite but he is still (at 20) one of the most unhungry people I have ever come across. He just doesn’t seem to have a normal appetite reflex thingy – a weird anorexia? Mostly, he doesn’t think to eat, meals are haphazard and then suddenly he will eat four steaks in five minutes.

Needless to say, Anthony and I gave up when he was a kid and just let him ‘graze’. And now that he isn’t a kid any more, he either rejects meals I prepare or says he isn’t hungry. So, a few weeks ago, Ming and I made a decision that has actually saved my sanity (and probably his). When it comes to food, he fends for himself. He buys and prepares his own food and I am not to interfere.

Well, since I don’t eat that much anyway, this has come as a bit of a relief. But it is so hard to let go of 20 years of trying to feed the brat and let him fend for himself.

But it’s so weird and so quiet now and it only hit me tonight. With Anthony now in the nursing home, and Ming in his shed, there is no need any more for me to buy, prepare or cook food for others, so there is no sound of something simmering on the stove or in the crockpot and, because there is nobody in the kitchen any more, the television is off, it is very quiet.

All those years ago, when I first met Anthony and his mother and family, this was the noisiest house I had ever entered – loud voices, radio blaring, eggs and bacon sizzling, kettle boiling, Aga thrumming, dairyhands eating, and big, boisterous Anthony yelling for more toast-and-marmalade please.

So now, with all of that fading into history, and Ants in the nursing home, and Ming in his shed, and food no longer being something any of us share any more, the house is deathly quiet and strange and a little bit unfamiliar.