Suddenly, They’re All Gone

Suddenly They're All Gone

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Suddenly, They’re All Gone

By Carol Mithers

Caring for the old is just like parenting an infant, only on really bad acid. It’s all there: the head-spinning exhaustion, the fractured brain, the demands and smells. Only this time with the knowledge that it won’t get better.

That was my life for five years. First came my mother-in-law, then my father-in-law, then my childless aunt, then my mother — all needing different kinds of help as they weakened and started going downhill, all the care overlapping, and almost all of the work to be done despite distance.

You’re so good, friends would murmur, but I wasn’t — there were plenty of days I muttered, “Can’t do this anymore,” and nights when I threw back too many drinks, feeling how badly I needed for it to be over.

Now, though, it is done for real, everyone is dead, and the surprise is that instead of being relieved, I feel worse.

More than a year after the last funeral, I still have all the numbers on speed dial: my in-laws’ neighbors in Texas and my aunt’s in upstate New York; the security guard at my mother’s gated San Diego community; doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms in three states; two home health agencies; the 24-hour hospice nurse. I still sleep with the phone on and stashed on my night table, where I can grab it fast. It’s over, but I can’t let go. No, it’s worse than that: I don’t want to.

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the nightmare of shepherding the old through the time that is the prelude to death but not active dying. I knew it would be bad, but you don’t really understand until you’re there, any more than the childless can grasp why a new mother goes three months without shaving her legs.

“Drowning” was the word that came to my mind as the endless crises unspooled. My terminal mother-in-law, abandoning the 50-year pretense that she could stand her husband to demand: “Put him in a nursing home! Get him out of here!” My father-in-law, newly widowed and alone in an early Alzheimer’s haze, barricading himself in the house against caregivers. My aunt, her lungs destroyed by a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit and reeling from one hospitalization after another, begging me to send morphine so she could end it all.

Alerts peppered every hour. Do something! Your father-in-law’s behind the wheel again. Your aunt’s in the hospital with pneumonia; she’s recovering; no, she’s failing, come quickly; no, she’s been yanked back from death into a life of oxygen concentrators and cognitive crash; find a nursing home — wait, are you in New York? Because your mother’s in the hospital in San Diego and it could be serious, can you get on a plane?

Frantic was my new normal and normal the new never, because when someone is old, especially if dementia is involved, nothing is routine. Even the answer to a straightforward question, like “What day is it?,” vanishes on the wind; every patched-together arrangement works only until it doesn’t.

“Drowning” — also buried, shredded, torn apart. Helping my daughter prep for the SAT, cooking family dinners and maintaining a professional life, while also paying three sets of bills, running three houses in three cities, either planning a trip to see how things were going or recovering from that trip, and never living in just one place.

I started keeping my cellphone on my desk, then leaving it on all night, and finally didn’t even risk putting it down because the one time I did, to watch my child in a high school soccer game, there were five frantic caregiver messages by halftime: Where are you, what should I do, she can’t breathe!

And yet: Parenting on bad acid is still parenting. I wasn’t one of those women who went all dewy-eyed the second she gave birth. “I don’t feel anything,” I remember thinking in dull panic as I looked at my squash-faced, just-born daughter. “How can I love her? She’s a stranger.” Within two weeks, though, I was transformed, flattened by a passion I had never even dreamed existed, and it was the grunt work of motherhood that did it to me, the holding, touching, watching, feeding, smelling — the getting to know the specifics of this little creature in a way that went down to my bones.

I had always imagined that you put up with the job of caring for a baby because you loved her, but for me it was the unfathomable, slightly terrifying intimacy of caregiving that brought the love.

And with my old people, it was the same. The fried-brain resentment that gets you drinking at night fades when you are with someone in the living room or kitchen. Just as it is with a baby, your job is tending, and the comfort you bring is simple and physical. You sit for hours, the heat always cranked up high, doling out pills and pouring water, changing the nitro patch, combing hair. You fix lunch, rub in skin cream.

You come to know the precise texture of thin, dry skin, the kind of touch that pleases, the small things that bring a smile. My father-in-law had to have vanilla ice cream every day, but only Blue Bell brand and in a waffle cone. Even with her thinking garbled, my aunt needed the New York Times crossword puzzle and endless games of gin rummy. My techno-challenged mother wanted written computer instructions to consult the next time the infernal machine swallowed her text.

More than anything else, when you’re with the old, you listen. My Greatest Generation/Army veteran father-in-law, whose interest in the world essentially ended in the late 1950s, talked in endless circles about his small-town childhood and the World War II campaigns of Italy and North Africa. My aunt, obese and isolated for years in a small upstate town, had spent her 30s and 40s single, teaching history in New York City public schools for nine months a year, then buying elegant clothes and setting out for Europe and Africa.

The giraffes came down to the water hole every night, right in front of where I stayed…. One night, in Turkey, in a cafe next to the sea, we danced in the moonlight….

When the present is unbearable and there is no future, the past comes rushing back: family history, secrets and buried memories rising out of the ether. My relentlessly forward-thinking mother never dwelled on sorrow or regret, but she told me one night as we sat among the empty cups and crumbs at the dinner table: My Aunt Belle committed suicide by jumping in front of a subway train.

I was home alone when someone called. I had to tell my father that his sister was dead. I’d never seen him cry before.

I could see it all: my father-in-law’s bungalow in Kaufman, Tex., whose open front door proved irresistible to a contrary billy goat one day in the 1920s. The 10-cents-an-hour wage my aunt earned tending a booth on the Coney Island boardwalk during the Depression — I was saving to buy myself a new pair of shoes, but my mother took the money and I still can’t forgive her for it. My mother’s quiet, wild joy during her first winter in Ithaca, N.Y., when a Cornell scholarship let her escape the dirt and smudge of Queens to a snowfall that stayed white.

All the years I was young, the center of life’s drama, I barely saw these people. Now they were simultaneously disappearing and becoming unbearably real to me, heartbreakingly diminished and yet still powerful, deeply rooted trees that against all reason would not let go.

There was my 98-pound mother, befriending the immigrant podiatrist who tried to relieve her painful, bunion-crippled feet; limping to her desk and squinting her one good eye at that maddening computer, so she could finish an article for her community newspaper. There was my wheezing, demented aunt, frowning at the sign “Don’t Toutch” that her caregiver had placed above a complicated new hallway thermostat, and pushing her walker to it so she could correct the spelling.

Their singularity dazzled me. Their selves, revealed in all their layered complexity, could never be replaced. I came to know them — and I fell in love.

When you care for the old, life can go on unchanged for years. Then suddenly, without much warning, everything shifts. Six months after her cancer diagnosis, my mother-in-law died; 18 months later, my father-in-law fell, had a small stroke, fell again and lasted only two months in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home.

Two years after she survived near-death by respiratory failure, my aunt’s breathing got so bad she couldn’t even make it to the bathroom; she wanted only to sleep, to talk to her long-dead sister, who she insisted she heard on the stairs. You’d better come quick. Minutes after my plane landed at Kennedy Airport I got the call saying she was gone.

Not long after my mother, radiant in a sun-colored jacket and pearls, celebrated her 90th birthday with a huge party, she said her stomach hurt. A week later, I was in a hospital room sobbing against her cold, still shoulder.

I have my life back now, but that fact is less simple than it was before. When I look at the mementos I’ve inherited, the crumbling photo albums, cookbooks that smell of cigarette smoke, ’50s furniture and cut glass, I also see where they used to sit, in other places and rooms. I miss the quiet afternoons, the houses that eventually came to feel like home, in cities I’ll never again have reason to visit. I miss it all. I miss them.

Sometimes, when I’m out, I catch a glimpse of a short, gray-haired man in a baseball cap or a skinny old woman in a tailored bright jacket and my heart stops. I see my old people everywhere, which only reminds me that I’ll never see them again.

When you have a baby, it’s as if your whole self shifts, reshaping itself around a presence that later you can’t even remember living without. You reach down and take a small hand, and joined, you hurtle toward the future. Death just offers stasis, absence, dissolving shadows.

None of that was a surprise, but it’s still a shock. While you’re caring for the old, you can’t believe what you’re called on to do and where you find yourself, can’t believe that your time with them will ever end. Then one day, it just does.

The Paradox of “No-Kill” Animal Welfare Policies

It felt like a good summer for animals. In mid-August Julián Castro became the first (and so far only) Democratic presidential candidate to release an animal welfare policy statement. In September, Michigan became the second U.S. state to announce it had reached “no kill.” (Delaware was the first.) After years of the Trumpian death machine, it was like a rush of fresh air into a suffocating, fetid room.

And yet in the real-world context of dog and cat rescue, one couldn’t help but feel a bit … underwhelmed. “No kill” was “an amazing first for our state,” said the chair and founder of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance. It was “a different path,” offered Castro. “My hometown of San Antonio achieved no-kill status in less than a decade.”

If only it were that simple. America as a whole has been working toward a “no kill” goal for decades, reassured every few years that we’re about to arrive. We haven’t. There are reasons why—and they’re why, as a current call to action, those words are almost meaningless.

To be clear: Criticizing “no kill” isn’t calling for an end to adoption and rescue or a return to the truly terrible old days when rampant killing of shelter animals was just a fact of life. As recently as the 1970s, loose animals—both strays and pets—roamed America’s streets, and otherwise decent people thought nothing of dropping the resulting litters at local shelters to be “put to sleep.” Somewhere between 13 and 23 million cats and dogs died yearly back then, and that no one knows the exact figure is another sign of how little anyone cared: No national reporting structure even existed. Today, shelter euthanasia rates are down dramatically—as much as 90 percent —thanks to the spread of sterilization followed by increased advocacy for adoption and rescue. There are around 14,000 rescue groups of different sizes and focus in this country, and a 2017 paper published in the journal Animals confirmed what these hard-working people already knew: that for dogs, rising adoption rates had helped to bring the killing down.

Credit “no kill” advocacy for some, maybe many of these changes? Sure. Whoever first coined the term, it was brilliant—immediately graspable, a slogan, philosophy, exhortation, declaration of moral outrage, and promise, all in one. Millions of animal lovers have gathered under its umbrella. But the simplicity that makes the phrase so compelling has also made it difficult in practice.

On the most basic level, there’s no consensus on what it means. Most extreme believers say that no animals should be euthanized unless they’re terminal or irredeemably suffering, and that with enough effort, homes can be found for all the others. (Those few deemed unadoptable can be sent to “sanctuaries.”) More common are those who believe in “mostly don’t kill,” that while some animals are sick and screwed up enough to justify putting them down, an array of efforts can save the rest: increased spay/neuter campaigns, adoption promotion, fostering, rescue group alliances, transporting animals from places of oversupply, shelter management changes. Within this vision, a shelter (or city or state) reaches “no kill” when at least 90 percent of the animals it takes in come out alive.

Concrete numbers may be reassuring, but they can be slippery. In a 2018 Psychology Today piece, Hal Herzog, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University and long-time researcher on animal-human relations, offered his own analysis of the Animals study data. Herzog reported that (as most rescuers already knew) euthanasia averages mask huge geographic variation. Within the U.S., for example, far more animals are put down in the south than in the north; in California, euthanasia is higher inland than it is on the coast; in the Los Angeles metro area, it’s higher in shelters run by the county than the city, and higher in some city neighborhoods than others. Even as Michigan celebrated its new status, the Pet Fund Alliance chair acknowledged that “we still have a few communities struggling.”

The reasons behind these differences add a further layer of complication. Animal policy is set locally, so even within a single county separate small cities may have different laws—for how much it costs to license an intact versus sterilized animal, whether or not to impose mandatory spay and neuter laws and how rigorously to enforce them, how shelters are funded and what programs they adopt. (For example, only 32 states require dogs adopted from a public shelter to be sterilized.) Communities vary culturally in how animals are viewed and treated, how aware pet owners are of available resources, how accepting of practices like sterilization. Herzog, for instance, notes that “states with higher rates of gun ownership had more dog deaths,” maybe because “people in the South don’t like restrictions on the sex lives of their pets any more than they like zoning or gun laws.”

Then there’s the huge issue of human economics—or more specifically, the fact that truly helping needy pets requires helping their equally needy owners. The Animals study data showed something else rescuers and shelter workers already knew:  States with lower average incomes kill more domestic animals than wealthier ones, and so do shelters in low-income neighborhoods. Shelters in low-income neighborhoods also have higher rates of owner surrender. Behind those figures: poverty.

In low-income areas, spay/neuter services or routine veterinary care may be unaffordable or inaccessible—in some rural areas and inner-city neighborhoods, there literally are no veterinarians. The animals of the economically challenged are far more likely than those of the affluent to be impounded by animal services (for instance when they escape a badly-fenced yard), then trapped in the system when reclamation fees and fines are beyond the family budget. (These escalating fees mirror other “poverty penalties,” such as license suspension for drivers who can’t afford to pay traffic tickets.)

Staying housed while caring for a pet can be an ongoing struggle. Women without means trying to escape domestic violence find few shelters that will take animals. (Even as research shows that abusers frequently threaten to hurt or actively harm their partners’ beloved pets as a means of control.) For homeless pet owners, sociologist Leslie Irvine observed in My Dog Always Eats First, the choice often comes down to keeping a beloved pet or being housed—traditionally, homeless shelters have not accepted animals. Similar choices face low-income families. One of the key findings in a 2015 study published in Open Journal of Animal Sciences was that pet owners with incomes below $50,000 were significantly more likely than those with money to re-home animals due to cost, particularly of medical care, and housing issues like lack of access to pet-friendly housing ability to pay housing pet deposits. In fact, other surveys show that among the top reason Americans surrender their pets are moving, cost, and a landlord who doesn’t allow pets.

The very real connection between pet ownership and rental housing issues—landlords’ use of previously unenforced “no pets” clauses to push evictions; the shortage of apartments that allow pets makes Julián Castro’s call for pet-friendly policies in federally affordable new housing construction a good start to a necessary conversation. It’s too bad he offered a plan that didn’t address existing housing. Around 4.8 million households receive federal rental assistance, and both private landlords offering Section 8 housing, and public housing authorities can and do restrict pets, whether banning them all, or just specific breeds — most typically pits, Rottweilers, and chows. Human economics also governs what animal welfare efforts can realistically be. Cutting euthanasia by finding pets new homes requires human capital—a roster of volunteers, local rescues and available foster homes — and budgetary support that may be beyond a city’s reach. Just two hours south of Castro’s No Kill San Antonio, for instance, is the city of Edinburg, in the impoverished Rio Grande Valley. Its Palm Valley Animal Shelter, was once described by Best Friends CEO Julie Castle as among those “that are so dramatically under-resourced and over-burdened that they might as well be operating in the 1970s.” A partnership between that mega-organization and the shelter has reportedly raised its save rate from 36 to (a still not great) 51 percent, and even that success had setbacks: During an effort to hold, then transport 800 puppies and small dogs out of the area, many developed distemper—which is endemic in the Valley—and had to be euthanized. Some got sick after they were in their new homes.

To tangibly help these struggling communities, Castro called for the establishment of a $40 million Local Animal Communities grant program within the USDA to “expand access” for vaccinations and spay/neuter in underserved communities, as well as support adoption programs and efforts to reduce thousands of existing feral cat colonies through the strategy of Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR). Activists I spoke to heard that figure and laughed. The year Austin, Texas, a much-celebrated “no kill” city reached its goal, the shelter budget went up more than $1 million and the next year, it requested a million more in “emergency” funds.  TNR remains both logistically difficult—a big percentage of skittish felines must be caught to bring any colony’s birth rates below replacement level—and controversial. A 2013 analysis from the Smithsonian conservation biological Institute and the Fish and Wildlife service estimated that domestic cats kill around 2.4 billion birds in the Continental U.S. each year. In late August, the New York Times reported that a toxoplasmosis infection responsible for killing up to 8 percent of California sea otters had been traced to outdoor domestic cats. It also costs big bucks. According to a 2010 study prepared for Best Friends Animal Society, even supposing the use of volunteer labor and veterinarians offering a discount rate, eradicating the national feral cat population through TNR would cost $8.7 billion.

Even all the money in the world “isn’t enough,” says Lori Weise of Downtown Dog Rescue, who has been working for over 20 years in L.A.’s most challenged neighborhoods. “Money doesn’t help without a plan.”

Another unfortunate reality of the 90 percent “no kill” goal is that even when reached, it may be less real than it appears. Shelters under public and political pressure to have “good” euthanasia numbers also have the incentive to play good numbers games, whether that means adopting out sick or potentially dangerous animals to avoid having to put them down or conversely calling them “untreatable” so they can be euthanized without marring the live release rate. In June, for example, Gothamist reported that Animal Care and Control in New York City (which was supposed to have reached “no kill” five years ago) was excluding from its euthanasia rate statistics owner-surrendered dogs and cats with “problems” like mouthing on their leashes, jumping, and cowering in fear. “Transport”—sending shelter animals from one state to a (presumably better) other, also can be subverted. One “coalition partner” in L.A.’s current “no kill” effort proudly describes its contribution as moving small breed dogs from local shelters to … New York City.

Another strategy: policies that deliberately limit shelter intake. In “no kill” San Antonio, says a source long involved in that city’s rescue world, a “diversion” program allows anyone who finds a stray to keep it at home, while classifying the animal as a shelter impound. “Then, if it’s given away—to whoever— or even escapes, it can be counted as a successful live release.” San Antonio also requires residents to make appointments before surrendering animals, and its website warns that if the shelter is full “you may be asked to seek alternate arrangements.” In practice, says the source, “people turned away just abandon the animals when they leave.”

Or the statistics race leads to not looking too carefully at adopters. The growth of disreputable rescues and outright rescue scams is a constant source of anguish in the rescue world; social media warnings like “There is a Reckless Rescue that has been taking dogs from L.A. Shelters. Please BEWARE!!” appear daily. Worse are organizations that take in more animals than they can properly care for, and individuals who use the guise of rescue to mask hoarding. Yearly, thousands of dogs and cats are removed from “rescue hoarders”—Someday Acres (Tennessee), Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue (Arizona), Road to Home (New York), Elk Grove Animal Rescue (California) … A much-celebrated “live release” from a shelter may land a dog or cat in a fate worse than death. At the Elk Grove rescue, animal service workers found 58 dogs and sick, dehydrated puppies living in a barn “with a strong odor of urine and feces” who hadn’t been been given food or water for 24 hours, as well as “a large Pit Bull dog inside a plastic crate that was not large enough for the for the dog to turn around in, its head was crouched inside, and it was unable to extend its tail.” Road to Home was closed after whistleblowers released a video of over 100 dogs living in a dilapidated warehouse, locked 24/7 in cages filled with urine and feces.

Finally, even when adoption efforts successfully move adorable puppies and apartment-friendly small “fluffies” to new homes, legions of the less desirable—seniors, overbred pit bulls, middle-aged chihuahuas—are left behind. This past June, TV station KVUE in “no kill” Austin reported that the city’s three shelters were at “critical capacity” with nearly 800 dogs and cats, some of which had been held over 3 years. Animals were being housed in pop-up kennels placed in meeting rooms and offices because, said the Austin Animal Center’s communications manager, “we have nowhere for them to go.”

The contradictions of “no kill” are no secret within the rescue world, debated (sometimes quietly, sometimes very loudly) by rescue groups and rescuers, shelter managers, vets. In 2018, an editorial in the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association journal denounced the movement as “destructive” and called for a new model, “socially conscious sheltering” with similar animal welfare goals, but without a numerical end point. Any shelter could save 98 percent of the pets that came in, the authors noted, but only if it was to “manage to a single statistic, and not to the best interest of animals.”  In August, 2019, those principles were adopted by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control.

Maybe “socially conscious” will be a popular new model, maybe not. Maybe other Democratic candidates will declare their own support for animal welfare — if they don’t, we should call them on it. But perhaps it’s time for all of us to dump slogans and platitudes in favor of addressing a complicated, nuanced issue with similarly nuanced action. That means spending as much or more effort on keeping animals from going into shelters as getting them out. Offering humane education “is a cost-effective approach that’s barely being tried,” says Aaron Fisher, founder and CEO of Atlanta Rescue Dog Café, which teaches responsible pet ownership to children as young as pre-K, many in underserved communities. “Hardly a sliver of grant money supports it. Then we wonder why kids grow up and don’t know how to care for their animals.”

It means subsidizing sterilization services and making them easily accessible and providing affordable vet access in poor and rural areas. (Encouraging vets to embrace this effort, suggests Lori Weise, means finding a way to do it that doesn’t require them to sacrifice their own income.) It means legal services that help tenants deal with pet-related housing issues, and more programs that help pet owners with problems hold onto their pets. Shelter-based “intervention” programs, like those run by Downtown Dog Rescue and Home Dog L.A. “don’t have the sexiness that adoptions do, but we can’t adopt our way out of crowded shelters as long as animals keep coming in,” says Kerry Armstrong Lowe, HDLA’s founder and executive director. By offering vet vouchers, food, dog houses, fence repair and help with reclamation fees, since 2013 the two organizations have kept more than 15,000 dogs out of two city shelters.

“No kill” was a powerful starting point for a movement toward change, but the words have become short-hand and a catchphrase that doesn’t lead us forward in the real world. The future demands more than a number.

Opinion: A dog, a neighborhood and a different way of seeing

Los Angeles Times

 

My chow-shepherd Casey and I have walked the same streets for almost 15 years. Every morning, every night, seven days a week, rain or shine. Like most city dogs, Casey enforces this clause of the human-canine contract with meaningful looks, insistent pawing and (when all else fails) a snout-thrust to the laptop that allows no dissent.

I’d like to describe our hundreds of hours spent wandering the neighborhood as meditative, but they have often driven me nuts. Casey chooses the same route, greets whatever dogs are out, sniffs the same bushes from five angles before deigning to pee.

Still, the ritual has shifted some. Many familiar canine faces have vanished, and Casey’s painful shuffle tells me that our time together is short.

And lately, I’ve also come to realize what our walks have given me.

When I tell people about the pocket Westside neighborhood where I live, I always say I’ve never known or felt so deeply connected to a place. I realize now that’s not because my neighborhood is special. It’s because of Casey.

He is why I know every house around me — which lawns are always overgrown and which manicured, which yards have peach trees, and which cacti: walking at a dog’s pace forced me to see them. Casey is why I know every nearby family that ever had a dog, because he pulled me into the canine social orbit — of Blue and Sarah, on the next block; of big Valentine and golden Ollie and a dozen others.

The dogs in turn brought me into the lives of dozens of human neighbors. There was Frank, whose parents’ lives were ruined by the Cultural Revolution; Dan, the dogless dog-lover who drinks beer with friends outside his apartment, a giant jar of treats at his side. Some have become real friends, like Michelle, who came via Ava, a Great Dane mix and his sweet giant pack-mate Baxter. These people watch for me, ask after me, worry if I don’t show.

Fifteen years beside Casey have given me my own slice of Los Angeles. Work and politics and my daughter’s endless soccer games introduced me to a hundred neighborhoods sprawled across the basin. But I know them only from a distance, a camera’s panorama shot of mountains, the sweep of landscape framed by a car window. Walks with Casey are close-ups. I notice the increasingly neglected look of a home newly split by divorce and waiting for sale, the car whose weekly fender-bender damage suggests its driver’s dementia is worsening. In close up, the passage of time becomes concrete — the front lawn swing gives way to a soccer net; the porch steps are replaced by a wheelchair ramp.

The close-ups hold the quiet history of the streets themselves – the scrawled initials “CS 1973” in a driveway, the tiny plaque set in the sidewalk: “WPA 1940.” In our atomized, scattered world, there may be nothing else that roots one in a way so intensely, intimately local as walking the same streets, day after day, at a dog’s pace.

In L.A., 15 years is a long time. My tech-adjacent neighborhood is shifting, its 1940s bungalows giving way to large, white “modernist” boxes, its Subarus being replaced by Teslas. I feel the new world most acutely in the passing of the generation of dogs that first anchored me here. Val, Sarah and Blue are all gone. When Ollie died, his owner walked through the neighborhood crying, hiding Ollie’s rubber balls in bushes for other dogs to find. The day Ava died of cancer, I joined his owner to grieve beside his still body.

And yet, some things hold. Casey and I greet the few remaining old-timers including Albee, a white jindo, now deaf and stiff-legged with arthritis, who has always been Casey’s fiercest enemy. When we ran into him a few weeks ago, the two dogs paused to glare, their hackles raised, then both moved on. They’d still like to kill each other, but it just would be too much work.

As the new houses are finished, we meet the dogs and people who move in. There’s a young woman with a small, sweet-faced pit, a man whose bouncy long-legged mutt has the majestic name of Titan. We navigate the familiar streets, the phone pings relentlessly and headlines pull me toward the human world and its horrors, but Casey will not be rushed. Pee on this tree? No, maybe that one.

Meanwhile, I notice the cloud of purple bougainvillea that looks especially striking against a new home’s gray wall, and the spectacularly gnarled trunk of a 79-year-old pepper tree. Time must be taken, attention must be paid. It’s the gift dogs give us, and what they leave with us when they go.