Pamela Harris

Birthday Dog October 29, 2013

(photo by Joe)

Today Opal would have been one year old.

Two weeks ago, early morning in the midst of our stream-fest, Joe came through the living room and saw me staring at the computer, frozen. I was weeping; I had impulsively gone to a shelter site, saw a puppy and froze. I hadn't meant to go to a shelter site - it was like I was possessed. "Close the window," he said. I couldn't. He came over and gently closed the window and the puppy disappeared.

A few minutes later I went into the kitchen to find a snack and there he was scrambling to close his laptop. On the screen was a dog. "I saw that!" I yelled. For the next week we went down the rabbit hole of shelter dog sites, then at almost the exact same moment we realized that though we missed having a dog, what we really missed was our dog.

We quit looking, then Joe found how to access the website for the local kill shelter's 'At Risk' list. Two legs, three eyes and deaf and blind? We have to go get him, I pleaded. 12 years old, incontinent, bites kids? We can make that work. We watched dogs get adopted off the list, saw new dogs move on to the list. Then we saw a puppy we had our eye on get marked 'Adopted!' I knew it was for the best, until it showed up for adoption on a no-kill shelter's website. Were we ready to get another dog?

We got out a pint and as we dug our way to the bottom we realized that any dog we got right now would be a rebound dog. Let's get through her birthday, get through the holidays. We've definitely entered the food phase of mourning - we talk about what we'll eat for dinner as we're eating breakfast. For now we'll see how life goes.


Vanilla Chocolate Chip October 17, 2013

We've watched 207 episodes of 'The Office.'

16 episodes of 'Arrested Development.'

40 episodes of the original 'CSI.'

We saw 'Game Change' and 'Mud' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' and 'Now You See Me' and 'This is the End.' I watched the last five episodes of 'Breaking Bad.'

We polished off roughly 56 pints of ice cream, though Joe would dispute that, since a tub of Häagen-Dazs is 14 oz., not a full pint and I eat mostly Häagen-Dazs.

Last night we were able to add +1 to our pint/not pint score while watching 'The Italian Job' and when we finished that we watched 'Arrested Development.' Make that series score 17 episodes, not 16.

And that's what I've been doing.



The finale of BREAKING BAD was incredibly satisfying. To see Walt lovingly touch his meth making apparatus while dying is to suddenly make him a scientist at work in his lab. Add to this his admittance that all he's done, he's done for himself because he liked it makes me question his morality, i.e. is there any? Yet the writer of the show, Vince Gilligan, makes sure Walt provides for his family in the most egoless way he can. Walt also saves Jessie and kills the one group of characters in the series who have no soul to lose. To want redemption means a heart beats inside, and that this show came full circle, and went back to its very beginning gives it a complete sense of closure.

I don't own a TV and watch shows on my computer, almost never when they air. We stream a lot and since the dog passed we've been ripping through the America version of THE OFFICE. Streaming means no break between seasons, no weekly pause between shows, no extended cliffhangers or to-be-continued's, so the viewing experience takes on a whole new dimension. Up until this year I watched BREAKING BAD weekly, but this season I missed weeks here and there and watched a few episodes back to back. What was amazing is it didn't matter how I watched it. The show was seamless, a slow build of expectation that in small beats circled back on itself before revving forward. BREAKING BAD could've ended a hundred different ways and the choices the writers made resonated for me far off the computer screen. When the final credits came up, I felt a real pang and couldn't watch anything else for a few hours.

If you need your BREAKING BAD fix forever, a lot of the props are being auctioned off, including the pink teddy bear. It's $7600 and rising, and you have 5 days left to bid. May Gus's Hazmat Suit be with you.


Puppy Love September 25, 2013

(photos by Joan Sowma)

The dogs in our building know. It started with Relic the Rottweiler, Opal's best friend. Joe ran into the big dog downstairs and Relic was all over him, excited. It wasn't excitement in his usual head ram in the pocket, gimme a treat kind of way; it was a weird nuzzle in the gut mixed with a full body I cheer you up wiggle. Later I ran into Bowser, a lovable boxer/pit nut who usually body slams me until I pet him. This time he leaned against my legs as if he wanted to pet me and wagged his tail furiously. Even Duke, a lazy grump of a mutt who disdainfully sighs when he sees us, got animated and hopped and wagged his tail wildly. Thinking about it, it's the tail wagging that's different in all of them. It's like they're sending love and want us to know it's for us, not them.

Opal's foster mother got Opal and her siblings when they were barely a month old and she sent us these pictures. I gotta tell you, the void this dog left is massive.


Analemma September 23, 2013

On Saturday summer changed to fall, my favorite season. The photo/combine above, by Anthony Ayiomamitis, clocks the passage of the sun for almost a year. A website I like to hit each day for photos of what goes on up there offered this description:

'An equinox (equal night), this astronomical event marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the south. With the Sun on the celestial equator, Earth dwellers will experience nearly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. To celebrate, consider this remarkable record of the Sun's yearly journey through planet Earth's sky, made with planned multiple exposures captured on a single piece of 35 millimeter film. Exposures were made at the same time of day (9:00am local time), capturing the Sun's position on dates from January 7 through December 20, 2003. The multiple suns trace an intersecting curve known as an analemma. A foreground base exposure of the Temple of Apollo in ancient Corinth, Greece, appropriate for an analemma, was digitally merged with the film image. Equinox dates correspond to the middle points (not the intersection point) of the analemma. The curve is oriented at the corresponding direction and altitude for the temple, so the Sun's position for the September equinox is at the upper midpoint near picture center. Summer and winter solstices are at analemma top and bottom.'

It sounds like the photo is a digital manipulation in two parts. When it comes to science or solar or documentary photography, we don't need combines. Reality is good enough. I'm posting it because the path of the sun is real and I love the symmetry of it.


One Of My Favorite Photos September 19, 2013

This weekend we went to a surprise party celebrating a wedding anniversary for Joe's second cousin. It was held in a catering hall on Long Island: I had some eggplant rollatini, tomato and cucumber salad, zesty three bean salad and two pieces of yellow wedding cake that had a cannoli filling and buttercream frosting. I couldn't eat the frosting on the second, but when we came home I had some cantaloupe.

A few hours later I got a shooting pain in my left arm and pressure in my chest. Heart disease runs in the family and ten minutes later I was sure I was having a heart attack. Joe started his career as a Paramedic and I could see in his face even he was worried. I have the constitution of a tank and have never had indigestion or heartburn, but I probably could've skipped the cantaloupe. My appetite hasn't been great and I'm queasy after I eat, and what this turned out to be was stress. Or more specifically, panic.

The last few days have been filled with moments where my head spins and catching my breath is tough. For the first time ever I'm sighing when I sit down, sighing when I finish a task, sighing when I decide to watch tv or crate a drawing. Opal used to drop to the floor when she laid down - there was no gentle descent to the carpet but a collapse and grunt and then she'd conk out seconds later. My sighs seem to have taken the place of her grunts and I told Joe that if he sees me barking out the window I want the boar treats, not the cheesy things.

I miss her. We miss her. A family member is missing and I'm realizing that she is not coming back.


Uncertainty September 3, 2013

I'm writing this post and I don't know how it will end.

Four months ago we noticed a bump on our puppie's jaw. It was hard, like bone so we took her to our vet. She hesitantly said it could be CMO - craniomandibular osteopathy - and she sent us to an emergency dog hospital to rule out cancer. CMO is a juvenile bone disease that almost exclusively effects West Highland Terriers and sometimes other small terriers. It's a show dog disease, not something that a pitbull ever gets and no matter who gets it it's very rare.

CMO effects the jaw and head of the dog by laying down new bone on top of existing bone. It's often called Lion's Jaw, since the lower jaw can get very big. It can be fatal and almost always is when it gets into the base of the skull. Excess bone there slowly locks the dog's jaw closed and they starve to death. There's no cure for CMO, though the bones stop growing when the dog hits maturity and sometimes the excess even gets reabsorbed.

When the specialists took x-rays, it confirmed that she had CMO, and once I got through the panic and terror I began researching it. All I could find were cases where euthanasia was the end result, and then I found one paper that was more optimistic. I reached out to the author, Carole Owen, who assured me that CMO is something a dog can live through, and I also exchanged emails with a human geneticist, Pat Venta, who is involved in a CMO research project. There isn't much clinical documentation on CMO outside of a few vet school papers, both because of its rarity and because breeders of high end show dogs didn't want to let it be known if their dogs had CMO, given the financial consequences. This seemed to change in the '80's to a more 'let's see what we can discover to eradicate this disease' and a little more literature became available.

Our vet had never seen a case and researched it and reached out to other vets and mostly found what I did. She understood the tech end of things and came up with a med plan for treating it. CMO is very painful when it's active, usually during a growth spurt, and the meds minimized the pain. We started to watch for signs and could usually tell when it was up, and our dog began getting through the spurts as best as possible.

The CMO wasn't migrating to the back of her head and she was doing great. Then over the last six weeks we noticed that her jaw was getting really big, and the top of her head was starting to bulge. We knew it was on the top of her from initial diagnostic x-rays, and though we were dismayed we weren't surprised. We had put her on a more powerful med and all was still okay, though she'd have occasional bouts where we'd have to up her pain meds.

A week ago Friday we took her to the vet hoping to change her meds (to get her off a steroid she was on) and when we started the new med plan she got listless. Her eye got infected and we treated it. Her ear got infected and we treated that. We saw blood on the carpet on Wednesday and ran a urine sample to the vet and discovered she had a UTI. That night she perked up, but Thursday morning she barely ate so we scrambled some eggs and hand fed her. That evening she wouldn't eat and the vet suggested taking her off all her meds to see exactly what we were dealing with. By Saturday we were back in the vets office pumping her with fluids and antibiotics. The plan was to see how she did and if she didn't improve we'd take her to the emergency dog hospital Sunday. All week she'd be listless, her eyes almost rolling around in her head, then she'd revive and suddenly want to walk. Sunday morning we tried to feed her and her head started shaking, like she had Parkinson's and that was it. We got her in the car and took her to the emergency dog hospital.

She's been in the ICU since then. She was zonked on painkillers Sunday when we went to visit her, but yesterday she fought through the daze when she heard our voices. Joe knelt next to her kennel and she immediately lifted her head. He cracked a jar of peanut butter and her nose started, then she laid back down. She moaned when I patted her head, which felt like hello, though her eyes barely opened since she has no strength. She still hasn't eaten (they give her electrolytes, etc.), she's hooked up to monitors and IV's and is undergoing all kinds of tests. Sunday the doctor worried that the CMO had effected her brain and told us to prepare for a hard decision, i.e. putting her down. Monday a whole new host of issues began and she started to jaundice, but the attending doc didn't think it's related to her disease. They can't find the source of what's going on, yesterday they did more tests and an ultrasound, and early today they'll do a liver biopsy. Our vet and the attending are leaning toward cancer.

When I started the freelance gig Joe would often meet me at the subway after work with the dog and we'd walk home together, then later we'd go out at night and do a long family walk. Our mornings were mostly spent at dog runs and we'd spend a good part of the rest of the day coaxing her down the stairs to get out then coaxing her back in and up since she never wanted to be in. We'd run to the butcher to get her marrow bones, we'd go online to buy her beds and order her food, and roaming the city we'd find great toys and treats to train her with. We'd meet our neighbors with her favorite dog on the stairs or out in front of the building and we'd kibbutz while the dogs wrestled and finally konked out together. We'd walk her down the street and people neither of knew would yell her name. A doorman around the corner fell in love with her and always had us in for treats. With both of us working from home our dog made us much more social than we'd normally be during the day and at times it felt very 19th century as we made our way through our 'visits.'

Neither one of has had a dog in over twenty years and having this dog, our dog, a living, breathing animal with a strong personality, has changed every inch of our lives. Even work - the dog lays on her bed in the kitchen and watches Joe work, then when she gets bored she plods into the living room and lays under my chair. When we open the fridge she pushes her nose in to sniff out watermelon or chicken or steal a lick off a yogurt container. At the dog run she runs amok, then will suddenly run through our legs because she can. That's the other thing to having a dog -- watching trust start to build. I remember the first time she looked up at me while I walked her - I mean really looked at me, like we're doing this together and I hope I'm doing it right. Soon after she started putting a paw on our foot when we stopped. If we stopped longer to chat she'd sit on our feet, even at fifty pounds. We became her pack and she became our family. Though I knew I'd get attached to this dog when we got her, the depth of the attachment is profound.

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Reality Bits September 2, 2013

A very good friend, Mike Indursky, can be seen on 'The Pitch' on AMC this season (Season 2). He's the president of Bliss and is in Episode 2, 'Bliss.' You can watch it on demand. Click here for more info.

Another good friend's sister, Joanne Distefano (who's great) is in 'The Great Food Truck Race' on the Food Network. She had a restaurant on the Jersey shore and lost it in Hurricane Sandy. She's competing on the 'Boardwalk Breakfast Empire' truck. Was competing; her truck was eliminated in Episode 2, but you can read their exit interview and see stills here.


Tug August 26, 2013

It's so nice to be home this morning. So nice.

The other spotted dog has German Short Hair in him too. It must be a strong characteristic, that coat.



Stay in Your Lane August 25, 2013

I just finished this freelance gig and am bone tired. I used to crew on low budget features which meant 5 a.m. call times and 6 day work weeks and I loved it, working without a break for months if necessary. This job had a mind numbing quality, a repetitive sameness with no end in sight where you come in every day and do the same thing with little variation. When I couldn't sit there for another second I'd do book runs , but I'd also cruise around and take the temperature of the place. I was working for a large white collar corporation and it takes a ton of cogs to keep it moving. In this environment the jobs are very defined if your not the bosses bosses boss and the 'stay in your lane' mentality as a friend perfectly put it is paramount to thriving here.

What I liked about the job is it got me out of my life for just long enough to see what I'm doing with fresh objectivity. I also got to learn new business practices and apply them to what I do. Stepping away from my routine lets me see and burn out any dead wood I might be sitting on. Plus, given it was a publishing house, I got to rebuild part of my library and meet interesting people. This job made me very grateful for what I do and I can't wait to dive back into my routine tomorrow with Joe, with the dog and with my work.