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As I sit here on our couch typing, Max - our Husky - leans his head on me and waits for me to finish. This morning, I'm typing from the couch instead of the floor as pictured, but it's close enough. Our little dog, Ember, lay on the floor less than a foot away. She's ancient now; icky & ooky in terms of the creaks and groans of her slowly worsening arthritis. Ember has been with me a very long time - she's outlived two Malamutes1 and is now working on her first Husky...

Max keeps an eye on his fellow traveler, Ember, who was tired & 'ooky' that day.
Max keeps an eye on his fellow traveler,
Ember, who felt tired & 'ooky'

Why does this matter, or merit a diary? Because our pets are part of our family - they are part of who we are, and they help us be our better selves. They've helped by showing us how to care, how to forgive, and how to remain steadfast and true. Our dogs, in particular, have served as co-caregivers to us: they watch over us and our loved ones. And each other.

It reminds me of the way our furkids - Missy and Ember at first, then Jack and Ember after Missy passed - helped us care for my mother in law while she was still with us, as she fought the inexorable advance of Alzheimer's Disease.

Missy, Ember and Jack helped us significantly in our caregiving journey. They inspired the Woo Tales, which eventually found their way into Her Final Year: A Care-Giving Memoir - the caregiving book that Kossack Shadan7 and I co-authored with our wives, using diary excerpts, emails, personal journal entries and the like to share our caregiving journey with others.

This diary serves several purposes: the first, to let folks know that they can download a free Kindle version of Her Final Year right now, through Sunday. It's been well received: twenty-two 5-star reviews and two 4-star reviews on Amazon. If you know anyone facing, or engaged in, or who has completed the caregiver's journey, please share it with them. You don't need a Kindle device to take advantage of it - you can grab one of Amazon's free Kindle readers, which are available for Android, Apple and desktop systems (both Linux & Windows).

The diary is to also share some additional thoughts on the furballs in our family, as well as wish everyone a very happy Mother's Day.

Jump the orange omnilepticon if you'd like to read on. If not, please share the links to the book & reader anyway - there's a good chance you know someone who could benefit from reading & sharing our journey.


Mumsie (my mother-in-law) developed a strong bond with our pets, particularly Missy the Malamute. Missy was one of kind - she insisted on talking with people. She would lay down, cross her front paws, and fix her gaze on your face as she'd begin to utter woo-woos and warbles in varying durations, much like speech.

And she expected you to understand her, or at least try, and do your best to respond & engage intelligently.

If she thought you were simply attempting to placate her, she'd pause and turn her head slightly, then scold you. Yes, scold. There was no mistaking it. You were being told off by a Malamute, in no uncertain terms. She'd then give you the chance to try again.

The first time she engaged with Mumsie was both touching and amusing: Mumsie called out to HawkWife & I, saying "She's talking to me! I don't know what she's saying - what do I do?"

The subtext was clear: "I want to talk to her, too."

We explained that as long as she opens herself to trying to understand, Missy would guide her: just try to imagine what Missy might be saying or asking about, then respond as if it was asked in English by a friend.

Mumsie was uncertain, but Missy grinned. And the two of them had the first of what became many, many heart-to-heart conversations. Indeed, at one point, it was almost ridiculous (and ridiculously touching): it was one of the coldest days of that particular winter, with biting wind. I usually enjoy a bit of cold, but I could only stay outside for 20 minutes at the most before having to retreat inside.

Mumsie hated the cold; the Alzheimers intensified that a hundredfold. And also gave her spontaneous sensations of being cold even when it was very, very warm.

Nevertheless, on this particular colder-than-hell day, Mumsie walked to the back closet and pulled out her coat.  I asked her where she thought she was going.

"I'm taking Missy outside for a while. She's a snow dog - she needs to go out in the sun, in the cold. She'll be fine."

And with that, she put on her coat, hat and gloves and walked out onto the porch with Missy. I followed, for a bit anyway.

They stayed out on the porch and talked for two frickin' hours. I didn't - I had to go back in, to the nice warm house.  When they finally came back inside, Mumsie matter-of-factly removed her coat, hat and gloves and, followed by her furry friend, returned to her standard seat in the living room.

Long after Missy passed away, Mumsie still remembered her. Even when Malamute Jack joined us, she didn't confuse the new big fuzzy snow dog with her departed furry friend.

As for Jack, he was conscripted by Ember into immediate service: he became an integral part of the Mumsie Morning Routine. He didn't know how to open Mumsie's bedroom door (Missy did - she'd not only open it, she'd sometimes go in and close it behind her), but he would "Woo" to get HawkWife or I to open the door when Ember told him it was time to get Mumsie up for the day.

Once inside, Ember would hop up onto the bed and gently wake Mumsie with kisses. Mumsie would awake with a smile, give scritches and then totter into her bathroom. When she'd emerge, Jack would do the "Let's play!" paw slap - to which she'd always respond "I can't play with you - I'm 83 years old!" Jack would, like clockwork, cock his head as if to say "Oh, yeah...I forgot" then hop up onto her bed as she'd change.

It was a very beautiful, almost surreal process that repeated itself without fail for many mornings. It helped regulate Mumsie's schedule (Ember never let us be late to open the door), and that helped not only Mumsie, but also Wifey (HawkWife) and I.

And stories like that - portions of them, anyway, along with others, comprise both the Woo Tales and made it into Her Final Year. By sharing those stories with the community here, and by compiling them along with additional material and some interstitial bits to tie 'em together in the book form, we were able to share our experiences with others, to let them know that they aren't truly, completely alone - others have gone through similar experiences, and understand. And our hopes & prayers are with them.

Thanks for reading.


1 Sequentially. Missy (a little grudgingly) helped raise Ember, who was only 6 months old when she came to us. Missy lived to be about 14 1/2. Then came Mr. Jack, who was with us for about 5 1/2 years before bone cancer took him from us. :/

Originally posted to GreyHawk on Sat May 10, 2014 at 05:31 AM PDT.

Also republished by CareGiving Kos, Boston Kossacks, and Barriers and Bridges.

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