Brady: Our new foster dog


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For the third time, Julie and I are fostering a Lab. Our recent houseguest is named Brady.

The first and best thing to note about Brady is that he absolutely loves people. He’s quickly grown attached to us and has loved it when we’ve had guests over. He lives for petting. Brady is starting to play with his toys a bit, but isn’t too into that type of activity right now.

What we know about Brady is that he was a farm dog used for breeding. He’s 7 years old and was picked up by Brookline Lab Rescue. We’ve been writing about him on his blog, found on the Brookline site.

This is a good opportunity to talk a bit about fostering. When we had Layla, we welcomed two foster dogs into our house in Greensboro, N.C., Clover and Honey. Both were successfully adopted, and both were great dogs, easy to manage, and mostly got along with Layla. Brady is a little different. He is great, yes, but also more of a challenge because he has struggled to get used to walking on a leash. We’re working with him, but he’ll require some additional training and patience from his new owner.

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I imagine that fostering can be a daunting prospect to some people, because they’re concerned about growing too attached to their foster dog (the ultimate goal with fostering is to find a person or family who will permanently adopt the dog). And yes, we found that with both Clover and Honey, it was not easy to say goodbye at the time. But we were both so happy with the new homes we found for the dogs. That made it a lot easier in the end.

Fostering takes time, energy, and effort. We’ve found that it has been more than worth it. It is a nice way to do some good for animal welfare, and Brady has given us a great deal in return.

On Layla leaving our pack

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Layla was Julie’s dog, first and foremost, so any story about Layla is also a story about Julie.

I married into this family of two. They adopted me. It took Layla a long while to get comfortable with the idea of this particular addition.

The turning point was when I moved to North Carolina and my schedule shifted so that for several months while Julie was off teaching, I spent much of the day alone with Layla before heading out to an afternoon and evening shift. Those daily hours together were when we really got to know each other. I threw her the ball in the backyard — her favorite activity in the world, as it is with many labs — and she retrieved it. We went on walks and runs. We explored our new neighborhood together. I gave her treats — apples and carrots, mostly, because of her allergies.

Julie always joked that our “pack” had a set order: Julie 1, Layla 2, and yours truly 3. OK, it wasn’t really a joke. It was the way it was. Layla would remind me by, for example, jumping on the bed and blocking my way onto it, or cutting me off on the way to the bathroom in order to request a treat. It wasn’t mean-spirited. Just letting me know where she thought I stood in the pack membership.

It’s the relationship between Julie and Layla, though, that was so special. Julie adopted Layla from an early age and together, they battled Layla’s many health problems — severe allergies, digestion-related issues, a first small cancer scare, and finally, an ultimately fatal sarcoma, a disease that robbed Layla of oxygen in her red blood cells, reduced her strength and appetite, and over the course of about half a year, finally sapped her of her energy and her ability to walk steadily.

Her death in early May 2014 — what can I say about it? She was only a bit more than five years old. She was a wonderful, intelligent companion with her own complicated personality — unlike many labs, she wasn’t big on petting and hugs and that sort of affection. She was outgoing and affectionate to some strangers and visitors, standoffish to others. She was great with kids. She bonded with many other dogs. She was fearless when it came to travel. She bounced back from multiple surgeries and blood transfusions. She wasn’t scared of trips to the veterinarian. Many humans could learn a lot from her courage. I know I did.

It may be hard for some who haven’t had this sort of relationship with a dog to understand, but she was a true and full member of our family. Not a pet to be cooed over and babied.

The toughest part (and there are many tough parts) of mourning Layla, for me, has been her absence in so many of our daily routines. Meal times and taking her outside and returning home to let her out. We planned trips and vacations around her. She was always there, and if she wasn’t there, she was often on our minds.

Last year, on a memorable vacation, we visited a beach in North Carolina with Layla. It was the happiest she had ever seen Layla, Julie said. We played with her on the beach each morning, took her on walks and to the little shops in town. She loved the ocean. That’s where we plan to spread her ashes.

Layla’s legacy will live on. Julie is writing a book about her life. Following the example of a local couple here, we hope to start a foundation that provides funding for cancer treatments for dogs on behalf of families who can’t afford to pay for them.

When I focus on Layla’s brief life, I can’t help but struggle with the unfairness that she only lived for five years and a handful of weeks. Cancer usually strikes dogs late in their lives. Layla packed plenty of living into those years. I am comforted by that, and by the wonderful people who have offered their support, in particular the veterinarians and staff at Metropolitan Veterinary Associates.

Layla will live on. It’s just a shame that it won’t be in our little pack of three any longer.

Special Olympics at Widener

Last month, Widener University played host to the Special Olympics. Basketball and swimming were the main events.

I had never been to a Special Olympics event before. The gym and fieldhouse were packed with competitors and supporters.

It was a wonderful time and an inspiring day, as you might imagine. Skill levels varied, of course, but I was struck by the level of competition on some of the basketball courts and in the pool. I saw some very serious competitors out there.

A birthday celebration

In honor of Layla’s fifth birthday (and Ellie’s sixth; Ellie is Julie’s family’s dog) we scheduled some pool time at the local pet day care that Layla attends.
It was a fun time and an excellent opportunity to get the pups some exercise, which has been a hard thing to do with the terrible weather we’ve had this winter.

What to read …

Like many other humans in our fast-paced modern age, I’ve found myself reading less than I’d like, when I’m not reading for professional reasons.

My spouse is making a more concerted effort to read during our downtime, and I’m trying to do the same.

If you like nonfiction, I’d highly recommend Ted Conover. I greatly admire “Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing,” in which the author writes about working as a prison guard in a maximum security lockup. I’ve just started “Whiteout,” his book about working as a cab driver in Aspen, Colo.

The other book I’m working on is “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” by Mason Currey. Currey unearths details on the rituals of 161 writers, artists, playwrights, scientists — folks like that. My personal favorite so far: Ben Franklin’s “Daily Schedule for Success.”

On the move

I — we — are on the move again.

Julie started a new position this fall as a member of the sociology faculty at West Chester University in southeastern Pennsylvania. I just started as a member of the digital communication team at Widener University.

We’ll miss North Carolina, but we’re looking forward to getting to know the Philadelphia region.

Studio at Widener University's new Freedom Hall.

Studio at Widener University’s new Freedom Hall.

The thrills and chills of the ‘Breaking Bad’ finale

First of all and most of all, a TV show’s got to be entertaining, right? Otherwise it never finds an audience in the first place, and years later, viewers aren’t gathering in groups and dressing up in costumes and baking “Breaking Bad” cupcakes as the series finale approaches.

On that level, “Breaking Bad” has always succeeded. It rewards vertical thinking (the step-by-step scientific processes it’s famous for) and creative, lateral thinking (such as Walt’s idea to cook meth under bug-bombing house tents, or the unorthodox vacuum salesman/identity eraser of the penultimate episode). “Breaking Bad” consistently toys with expectations found in the typical crime drama (and family drama). At times, it’s terribly funny (Walt’s reaction shots in the early seasons are priceless; remember the look on his face when Jesse shows up at the airport in the meth-lab RV?) without resorting to the constant malapropisms of “The Sopranos” — although Jesse has his share of those; he and Christopher Moltisanti are TV cousins if there ever were. And then there are Badger and Skinny Pete, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern 2013 richly deserves.

And then there’s Saul.

But mostly, in the final few episodes, the thrills of train heists and stacks of cash and clandestine cat-and-mouse games between Walt and Hank give way, and the dread builds. The roller coaster ride at last pays off, if you can call it a payoff. Sympathetic and unsympathetic characters die, lives are shattered, and Walt is a shambling husk of his former steely self.

With the expert flash-forwards establishing the setting earlier, the final episode is able to zip along in a kind of shorthand that rewards the persistent, attentive fan.  We get a satisfying final showdown or two, but the episode doesn’t pull any punches. The phone conversation between Skyler and Marie and subsequent one-on-one between Skyler and Walt form a devastating summing up of the lives Walt has left in ruin.

If I have a minor complaint with the final episode, it’s that in a couple of spots it is a bit too obvious: when the Stevia dissolves into Lydia’s mug, and when Walt gives the “I did it for me … and I was good at it” speech.

But those are nods to the audience, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Compare it with the ending of “The Sopranos,” which failed, I believe, to some extent because it was a deliberately alienating and unprecedented maneuver — nothing in the rest of the show’s history, not even the dream sequences, prepares the audience for that abrupt fade to black.

The ending of “Breaking Bad” navigates difficult waters. Audiences seem poised to hate finales that don’t meet their lofty expectations. I believe it succeeds by staying true to what got it here, by not trying too hard, and by following its terrible logic to an inevitable conclusion.

(If you’re interested in the backstory and creators of this show and others, I highly recommend “Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad,” by Brett Martin.)