11. Kira’s First Halloween and Sheena’s Surgery

This article may be seen in its original form by purchasing the back issue from which it came.

by Patricia Gail Burnham

Kira loved her first Halloween. For treats I made large round cookies decorated as pumpkins with Lifesavers for eyes, candy-corn for noses and candy orange-slices for mouths. The cookies are conventional sugar cookies with orange glaze but very popular with the neighborhood kids. (Actually they were popular with me when I trick-or-treated in Oakland 40 years ago. An elderly lady served them. Her inflexible rule was one cookie per person. My best efforts couldn’t bend that rule.)

Ten years ago it occurred to me that if I made them myself, I could have as many as I wanted. Occasionally children ask me for a second cookie and I am pleased to break the old rule. Having given them out for a dozen years, I am still tickled when a lanky teenager says, “I love these cookies.”

The cookies pretty much assure me a good turnout for Halloween and Kira had a fine time running to the door at each ring of the bell to greet the visitors. She quickly figured out the routine of turning off the lights, opening the door, and handing out the cookies. She also liked that I left some of the cookies unfrosted for the dogs.

In order to get Ringo and Jirel trained to show I took them over to Betty Lou’s for practice. She could play the judge and give them treats while I trotted them around the dead-end street in front of her house. To get enough energy to do that I would stop for a milkshake on the way over and the trio would wait impatiently to be allowed to finish it. Ringo often arrived for practice with a chocolate moustache from reaching for the bottom of the cup.

At first Ringo didn’t even want Betty Lou to touch him. Gradually he learned she and I would both reward him with liver if he performed the routines and allowed the judge’s examination. Starfleet, who was never going to show, complained impatiently from the car. He wanted to play. One day I gave in and let him practice. He was a natural, posing and alerting for bait and looking his prettiest. How ironic that the dog who would have loved to show wouldn’t be allowed because one of his testicles had not quite made it into the scrotum, so he could not qualify.

He did, however, go with Ringo and Jirel to their first dog show. It was a two-hour drive to the Livermore show. I was thrilled Ringo didn’t get carsick. Lots of short car trips helped him outgrow his earlier queasiness.

Ringo a Hit at the Show

When we reached the show ring, folks who were seeing the puppies for the first time came over to admire Ringo. Jirel and Starfleet might as well not have been there. One and all wanted to admire Ringo and touch him. I don’t know what it is about Ringo that makes people want to put their hands on him, but he was a little wide-eyed as one stranger after another came up to him. I asked them to feed him if they wanted to touch him. He survived. He was actually better than Jirel when the judge examined him in the puppy class, but they were happy when their first show was over and we headed home.

Ringo’s engaging personality was winning me over. I have owned a lot of Greyhounds over the years, but his view of the world is unique. He is a heart-warmingly happy dog. His clear distinction between friends and strangers makes people feel special when he adds them to his circle of friends.

One day I walked into the humane society thrift store and found someone’s unicorn collection for sale. The shelf was full of miniature unicorn figurines in a bewildering variety of types. There were elegant unicorns and whimsical unicorns. My eye ran down the line and stopped at one of them and my mind said “That’s Ringo!”

It was a silly white unicorn sitting on his rump, regarding the world with an expectant grin. It sits on the corner of the computer and reminds me of the dog one person who met him calls the “Sweet Baboo.” Sweet is the best adjective for him. Convinced that he could earn treats by allowing strangers to pet him, his opinion of strangers improved. Ringo can be bought with treats.

A lot of people pet him and their most frequent comment afterwards was “He’s so sweet.” These were people who had only met him for seconds so his sweetness is clearly readable in his face. His combination of happiness, good will, and hesitation translates into “sweet.” Nobody ever called Kira “sweet.” They called her smart, clever, intense, and even beautiful, but Ringo had the corner on sweetness.

Sheena returns to the Veterinarian

I took Sheena back for a second ultrasound in November. This time, instead of a neat white golf ball, the tumor looked like a five-inch white starfish spread across the black of her liver. I was shocked at how much the tumor had grown in two months and by the way it was reaching out in all directions with its radiating arms. I could see why Spode’s tumor had been entangled in her vital organs. I could also see that surgery was the only way to keep Sheena’s tumor from killing her, so I made the appointment for the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.

When I arrived home, there was a bulky package in the mail from Pridewood Publishing. It contained a sample of their 1997 Greyhound Calendar and I was astonished to see that eleven of the photos were mine. They also included a check for the use of the pictures. That check would provide the funds to pay for Sheena’s operation. The puppies would be paying for their mother’s surgery. I was surprised Midnight and Braveheart caught the publisher’s eye instead of Ringo. But Braveheart’s self-assurance radiated from the picture.

Fun before the Surgery

The Saturday before the surgery we did fun things. I took the dogs to the park for obedience practice. That is their idea of a great outing since they can earn a lot of lamb liver and get to play with me. Sheena’s contribution to the training is to lie next to Kira on the long sit and long down exercises. Sheena never did see any reason to do a long sit, barely managing it enough times to earn her Companion Dog title. Now she settles herself comfortably next to Kira for five minutes of lying down. If Kira is ever in an obedience trial where the dog next to her breaks the sit to lay down, it shouldn’t faze her.

After practice we went into the baseball diamond so Kira could run. She and Sheena played their version of tag. Kira ran full-out in big circles that came back by Sheena so Sheena could chase her for the first twenty-five feet of her next circle.

We shared ice cream from Fosters. Kira demonstrated her talent at licking out the bottom of a milkshake cup. She is the only dog I have had with a muzzle tiny enough to completely fit into the cup. Most Greyhound noses will fit into the cup but the fit is so snug they then can’t open their mouth to lick. The usual technique Ringo practices is to put the upper part of the muzzle and tongue into the cup, while the lower jaw stays outside. Kira was a better fit.

An Important Photo Shoot

On Sunday, Betty Lou came to help me photograph Kira and Sheena. She suggested we do the photo session the following weekend, until I pointed out there might not be a Sheena to photograph after Tuesday. If the operation went badly, this might be the last chance to photograph the mother and daughter together.

It was an overcast day — the best kind for pictures. The clouds eliminate harsh shadows. Once again, Mr. Everett gave me permission to use his garden for the photographs. He has lived in his house for 50 years and has a lovely garden, complete with a pebbled stream bed crossed by a little bridge. My yard is landscaped for dogs with lawns and fruit trees. His garden provides more attractive photo backgrounds.

Betty Lou held the leashes on the dogs while I threw dog toys and treats to alert them and shot the pictures. Sheena had been through the picture drill before and was bored by the toys, but alert for the food. Kira was fascinated by everything and was a quick, responsive model. The light looked good. The dogs looked good. I hoped the camera was working properly. It had just been repaired after several rolls of film were ruined. I am so nearsighted that I’m at a disadvantage taking pictures. Most of the world is slightly out of focus to me so it’s hard to shoot sharp photos.

In a fit of anxiety, I ran the film through a one-hour developing shop as soon as we finished to see if we succeeded. There was the photo I had wanted. In fact there was a sequence of lovely shots of the mother’s and daughter’s faces together. I thought they would make a good cover photo for a Sheena-Kira book, but I didn’t want them to be Sheena’s memorial photos. Only the rest of the week would tell.

Spending Time with Sheena

I took Monday afternoon off from work to spend time with Sheena. It might be the last time I would see her. She could die under anesthesia. She could die during surgery. She could die after the operation from blood clots or kidney failure.

A month earlier her niece went to the vet to have a minor skin tear sewn up and her heart had stopped during the surgery. She was half Sheena’s age and in better condition. The anesthetic used on her was isoflurene, which is supposed to be the safest anesthetic for Greyhounds. Even if Sheena survived the anesthesia, they could open her up and find an inoperable tumor like Spode’s. I was in a state of near-panic. I offered them Sheena’s sister as a blood donor thinking that her blood might be the best match.

Sheena ate an early dinner, since she wasn’t supposed to eat after 6 p.m. I settled her down on the daybed and lay next to her to watch television, hoping she would be safe during the next day’s surgery. Kira looked startled the next morning when I closed the door on her and left with Sheena. It was only a 10-minute drive to the vet, but I could hardly bring myself to take Sheena into the office and hand her over to the assistant. I asked when the surgery was scheduled. It was scheduled for 1:00 p.m.

Surgery Time Changed

At 1:00 p.m. I was back at the vet’s office, intending to wait while she was being operated on, and found that the time had been changed. A Rottweiler hit by a car was receiving treatment for broken hip, so I went back to work and worried through the afternoon. At 6:00 p.m. I was back at the vet’s office and I was more unnerved when the receptionist sent me into an exam room to wait. Perhaps they didn’t want to tell me in front of the other patients that she died. The exam rooms have little triangular built-in seats in the corner. I perched on one and waited, worrying.

Carla Salido came in wearing hospital greens. I hadn’t seen her since she did Sheena’s C-section. She is tall and slender with dark, curly hair. She said, “The surgery went well. I removed the left liver lobe and the adenoma. But the right liver lobe was inflamed. Removing it would have meant removing almost half the liver and that is about the maximum that can be removed and have the patient survive. So I took a biopsy of the right lobe.”

It was good news and bad news. Sheena had survived the surgery and the adenoma had been removed, but she might have another tumor. That was the one thing I hadn’t worried about. And I thought I had worried about everything. Sheena couldn’t come home until the next day, so I went home to spend a night with Kira trying to fill the space left by her mother.

Kira Missing Sheena

Kira was ecstatic to see me and came bounded into the house looking past me for Sheena. I was touched, but not as touched as I would be. Several weeks later my neighbors said they heard Kira crying pitifully as they tried to see into the yard, afraid that she might have been hurt. When we compared times, I realized those were the two days when Sheena had been at the vet. What the neighbors heard was Kira crying for her mother.

CG Spring 00

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This article and any photos or artwork contained within may not be reproduced or reprinted without express written permission from the author, artists, and/or photographers. 


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