How to Survive Working From Home

Image courtesy of Doug McCaughan

I can’t believe, when I looked at the post history, that it’s been over a year since I put something up here. In all honesty, this hasn’t been in my mind much, I’ve mostly been focusing on other things: photography, travel, living. I’ve always meant to write some new posts but there are always other distractions. But no more! Thanks to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the world is sheltering at home. Social Distancing is the new buzz-word and normal. People look at anyone with a sniffle or cough with alarm and concern and in many cases, fear. TP is flying off the shelves, and across the world businesses, stores, restaurants, bars and other entities are closed.

Many people are having to work from home now, perhaps for only a few days or a few weeks, but possibly a few months. And this can be quite a shock to someone who is used to working in an office environment, surrounded by coworkers and colleagues. Suddenly so many people find that they are being told they MUST telecommute for the foreseeable future as nations struggle to slow the rate of infection. So here, then, are some tips I have from over a decade of working from home full time.

Dont Be Overwhelmed

This is harder than it seems, especially if you’re gregarious or used to just having people around, and are not an introvert like me. If you’re not used to it, working from home can feel overwhelming. You feel disconnected. You feel removed from your work friends. The absence of familiar office sounds can play a number on your psyche. All I can suggest here is to periodically take a deep breath, let it out slowly and just center yourself. Practice meditative breathing to help those feelings.

Avoid Facebook

This one is easy. Facebook is a distraction anyway. But there is SO MUCH doom and gloom in the echo chamber that you will be bombarded by the apocalyptic foreboding everyone is amplifying to fever pitch. So I’d suggest avoiding Facebook and social media, and even the news, at least for most of the day. My manager has said he’s now “mentally distancing” himself from social media and news outlets for his own sanity, limiting each to no more than 30 minutes a day. Give it a try. You’ll find that it helps reduce the anxiety, and reduced anxiety helps also alleviate those feelings of being overwhelmed mentioned above.

Work From a Spare Room

If you are fortunate enough to have a small home office, spare bedroom, or any sort of separate space, work there. There’s a nice disconnect each day when you leave the office and begin the commute home, leaving work behind. That disconnect is more difficult to find when your work is right down the hall, or worse, when it’s right there next to the couch you also sit on to watch Netflix at night. I have a small home office I use that is a converted spare bedroom. In that I have my work computer, and I spend most of my day in this room working, and as soon as my work day is done, I step out of this room, turn off all the lights and close the door behind me.

Those steps help me “turn off” my “work mode” to a certain degree. Of course, it’s not like “turning off” by leaving the office and enjoying a 45 – 60 minute drive through the countryside, but it’s the best I can get as a remote worker.

If you can’t allocate an actual room, then try to set up a workstation in a far corner. Or in a living room, if you spend social time in the Den. Or in a formal dining room, if you take meals in an eat-in kitchen. Or course, not everyone will have that kind of space, but for those that do, this can really help you separate “work” from “home” and help you let go of work at the end of the day.

Take a Breather

Just like working in an office, you need to take breaks when working at home. In an office, it’s a lot easier because you’ve got co-workers who want to go for a walk with you, or go to the break room for a quick snack and daily gossip, or a quick trip to the coffee shop / stand to get a coffee. But when you’re working from home, you’re alone. You have no one to remind you, so you have to be cognizant of the need to, periodically, just stand up and walk away. Go make yourself a coffee. Go stand outside in the sunshine and breathe in the fresh air. Go for a short walk (keeping in mind the social distancing, of course). But the important thing is to remember that you NEED to take small breaks and avoid sitting in front of your computer for a full 8 – 10 hours or more.

Get a Good Keyboard

This is more a Gear suggestion, but while laptops are nice, in my opinion, working from one long term is not so great. I hate the keyboards. I find them clumsy, hard to use accurately for long periods, and not as comfortable for my wrists. Get a good, quality, external keyboard if you’re using a laptop. My favorites are those with solid, mechanical switches. The ones with the Cherry MX switches, and similar, that are sold to Gamers are nice. They have a good tactile feel, satisfying mechanical click with each key press, and feel solid and much better than the cheap membrane keyboards you can get.

My personal daily keyboard, however, is a vintage IBM Model M that was built in 1994. This is a beast of a keyboard. It’s got a solid metal frame, heavy duty buckling spring keys that make a melodic and satisfying sound when pressed, and they’re well up to the challenge of heavy typing. My first Model M was a daily driver for me for nearly 15 years before it finally died, and that was AFTER I had bought it used at the company used equipment surplus shop when I worked at IBM in RTP.

There are also Model Ms made by Unicomp which bought the designs from Lexmark who made the keyboards in the late 80s to 90s. The Unicomp Ms are serviceable, but not as well constructed, so be aware of that.

Used IBM M’s can be found on eBay. Mine was a 1994 vintage Lexmark Model M that was New Old Stock (had never been used). I purchased that, and a custom USB cable for it (they are old enough to only come with PS/2 or AT plugs) and this keyboard will likely last until well after I retire.


Your company likely already has set up means for you to stay in touch with colleagues, but if they do not, then I’ll stress that you need to be vigilant about staying in touch with the people you work with. Since they’re no longer just down the hall, or just on the other side of the cubical, staying in constant contact is key. If your employer doesn’t have anything in place, perhaps you can organize some real-time communications means for your co-workers, or team.

We use IRC (Internet Relay Chat) for communications heavily. My company, however, runs their own IRC server for the company to use. I do not suggest using public IRC like Freenode for work conversations if you’re discussing things that cannot be shared publicly. There is no encryption, no privacy and no protection on IRC.

Telegram is, however, pretty good (though there are others that may provide better protection from a privacy standpoint). Telegram provides encrypted communications and you can set up group chats as well. Telegram also provides a way to do voice calls.

We also use Google Meet / Hangouts for video conferences. These are pretty much free to use, and I’d suggest using something like this and doing periodic video chats with your team. It’s great for keeping faces to names and for conducting meetings, but sometimes its a good replacement for the water cooler as well. Just spin up a hangout, everyone join in and you can have lunch together virutally, or after work drinks, even.

Of course there are more video conferencing tools out there than you can shake a stick at, and it’s very likely you already have one recommended or required by your company, so take advantage of that.

Don’t get lost in email, try to do your communication by voice, or video, unless it’s a complex discussion, or something you would normally handle via email anyway. But as you would when working from an office, don’t get lost in a sea of email.

Take a Lunch

When you’re working at home, it’s really easy to skip breaks (as mentioned above) and REALLY easy to keep working through lunch. Don’t do this. You NEED to take those breaks, and a good solid lunch break is crucial. It’s a great way to get some fresh air, eat (of course!) and more importantly, focus on something other than working for a while. This has the effect of also helping you not feel like you’re trapped at work for the next several weeks. I always try to take a full hour lunch, even if it doesn’t take me that long to make lunch and eat it. It breaks the day up nicely and helps me also recharge from my typical morning full of meetings and fires.

Tell Your Loved Ones to Leave You Alone

Sadly, this is probably the hardest, and most important, tip. You’ll find that being home means everyone will think it’s OK to come talk to you, show you cat videos on YouTube, try to get you to play with them, or do house work, or who knows what else. I know it took me a LONG time to get my wife to realize that when I’m working, I often do not have time to focus on things outside of work (except for during breaks). But we eventually worked it out and this many years on, we’re still going strong.

If you’re home with kids, who are ALSO now being forced to stay home, of course you shouldn’t neglect them, but you’ll also need to figure out how to keep them occupied and out of your hair, otherwise, you’ll never get any work done.

If you have pets, it’s a little easier. Except for cats. My dogs are happy to just curl up in their beds under my desk and sleep all day. They get up when I get up, and they come back to the office when I do after breaks and lunch. My cats, however, are another story. Those jerks just walk in whenever they feel like it, raise a ruckus, jump in my lap and walk all over my desk and keyboard, forcing me to constantly guard and keep them away from my workspace.

Eventually, you’ll be heading back to your office, but for now, this is probably the most difficult thing you’ll need to work out.

Wear Clothes

It sounds silly, but it’s very easy to fall into a trap of not dressing up each day. Keeping your routine will help you re-adjust to office life, and will also help you adjust to working at home. When you get up, and get dressed just as you would any normal day, you’re putting yourself into the mental state of preparing to enter “work mode”. Without this, productivity and motivation can take a real hit. Dressing as you normally would for a day in the office (whatever that would be) keeps you in the routine that you’re used to and keeps you mentally in that frame of mind of “I’m at work”.

But for full disclosure, after a decade of working from home, my typical work attire is very, very casual, but for the first few years, I still dressed up every day.

Final Thoughts

Working from home, for the uninitiated has a lot of challenges. The biggest of them, which I’ve not specifically mentioned, is the need for self-discipline. It takes a lot of self-discipline to not just screw around all day when you’re not actually in the office you’re used to being in. But each of the things I mentioned above can certainly help you achieve that self-discipline.

But beyond the self-discipline part, working from home, if you’re not used to it is a major shift in how you work and can be very difficult to acclimate to. But with patience, with my tips (and countless others you can find elsewhere) you will do just fine. So relax, it’s not as bad as it seems.

A mutt by any other name…

Jeff and Mutt in the SnowI’ve been thinking a bit about dogs lately, and that’s all been triggered by sorrow.  The passing of a beloved dog is a hard burden to bear, especially because that passing is usually at my own request.  But with each passing, I’m reminded anew of all the dogs I’ve loved in my life and how they’ve changed me, loved me in return and made my life richer for it.  That I am a dog person, there is no doubt.  And that goes way, way back to before I was born.  Several lifetimes ago now.

I still don’t exactly know where she came from.  Part of me always thought my dad found her in a sack on the side of the highway.  Part thinks she was a shelter dog that they adopted from the local animal shelter.  But regardless of how she came into my family, she was there before me.  She was a gorgeous Collie / German Shepherd mix, all long legs and long fur with GSD colors.  She was my dad’s dog, until she wasn’t any more.  That part came later, though.

At first, to say she and I got along would be an egregious lie.  Truth is, as a mewling, pink little pup, I had no idea at all, but she did.  I was an invader.  I was a new thing that her people had brought home.  I was not to be trusted.  I was coming between her and her people.  And so she’d give me looks.  She’d bare her teeth and threaten me with a low growl.  Eventually, as I grew, and became more mobile, she’d turn it up a bit until finally she was snarling and snapping at me.  She was the alpha dog and was going to put me in my place in the pecking order.  I was too young to really remember any of this, mind you, so this is based on what my parents have told me.  One day she snapped at me and slunk off when my dad turned towards her.

“Let me catch you again,” he warned, “and you’ll regret it.”

He caught her again, snarling and snapping at me, a dog far larger than I was at that age, capable of killing me should she have put her mind to it.  And she snapped and my dad kicked her hard in the side, launching her across the room with his big work boots that I remember so well.  And from that moment on, she was no longer my dad’s dog.  From that moment on, she was my dog.  In that moment, her place in the pecking order was solidified, beneath me, and she came to accept that, and became my dog.

Growing up, Mutt was my best friend.  When my parents were at work, or sleeping, she was there to keep me company.  When my grandmother was watching soaps and sipping coffee from that old brown mug she had, Mutt was there.  She lived mostly outdoors in an old kennel made of what seemed to be 50 foot high fencing wire attached to old T-Bar iron posts.  She had a dog house that both of us could easily fit inside, made of ply-board, two by fours and roofing shingles.  Every day I’d race out to free her from her confines and we’d be off.  Some days she’d hike with me in the woods where I grew up.  Some days we’d play in the creek together.  Sometimes we’d just lay in the grass, counting puffy white clouds in the Virginia sky, napping in the warmth of the sun.  But no matter what, we had each other.

Sometimes, she’d wander off to who knows where on her own and be gone for a couple days or so.  But she always came back to me, sometimes bringing back something she’d stolen from wherever it was she ventured.  Sometimes it was a carcass from a kill she’d made hunting.  But she always came back to me.

Eventually, I went off to Kindergarten.  I’m sure she missed me during those long days, but she was always there to greet me when I returned.  Tail wagging, ready for me to play, to run, to hike.  She was always there to greet me, rushing to the end of our drive to sit patiently when the bus dropped me off.  As I grew and made friends, sometimes I’d be late coming back and not get to see her that day.  But she’d always greet me with the same joy and enthusiasm every day I got off that bus.

I’m sure that this is why I’m a dog person to this day.  Because I had such a healthy life with a dog so early on, a creature that started out resenting me but then adopted me and became my most loyal and treasured friend.  Tens of thousands of years ago, this was made possible because someone in a camp, huddled next to a fire to ward off the frightening creatures in the dark, gave some food to a starving wolf that wandered in close.  That wolf returned the next night, and the next, always getting some food from the human.  Eventually that wolf had pups and the pups learned to stay near the humans and they too were fed.  And eventually the dog became domesticated and became the definition of “Man’s Best Friend.”  And Mutt was mine.

All those thousands of years of slowly growing a bond with dogs likely saved my life.  I came home from school one day, got off the bus and headed up the driveway as I always did.  It was a nice late spring day, the gravels of the drive nicely heated from the sun.  The kind of heat that snakes love to lay on to warm their bodies.  And a snake was doing just that as I headed up the drive to my home.  As I grew nearer, I didn’t even see it until it reared back into striking position, hissing at me angrily.  I could say I was terrified, but the truth is, I was too young to really grasp the danger represented by that snake.  All I knew was surprise.  But before that surprise could even register, Mutt flew between us like a blur all fangs and fur and intent to do harm.  Hackles raised, head lowered, growling and snarling, my best friend came between me and an angry, or more likely startled, snake.  The snake decided it was not a battle to be fought with this large descendent of the wolf and slithered off into the grass.  Mutt just looked at me, licked my hand and trotted to the house as I followed her.

The problem with young dogs is that they become old dogs.  Mutt grew old without me even realizing it.  I was still too young to really grasp the concept of growing old and death.  My grandmother was ancient and presumably had always been ancient.  My dad was a giant and would always be so.  Even though I’d been to the funerals of family members, including my Grandfather, I really didn’t understand.  That lesson came to me suddenly one evening.

I don’t even remember how I came to be standing there in the local Kroger’s.  Nor do I remember much at all about that time.  What I do remember is this.

We were grocery shopping one evening.  As we made our way from aisle to aisle, I insistently tried dragging my parents to the pet section.  Mutt needed food.  I know I had noticed that her bag of food was gone, so we must be out, and we must need more.  It was there, in the middle of Krogers, that I, a 7 year old little boy (maybe I was eight?), learned the weight of life.  That was where I learned that my best friend, my loyal companion, my protector was gone and was never coming back.  I don’t know why they waited to tell me.  I suppose the plan was to tell me later that night, so I could cry myself to sleep, but I called their bluff in my own ignorance by insisting that we needed more dog food.  I’m good at crashing plans like that.

But Mutt had, without me even noticing it, grown old and tired.  Her hips were sore and gone were the days of running tirelessly through the field or up in the hollow.  It was her time to go, and my dad had taken care of it.  All I knew was anger for taking my dog away.  I knew grief, I knew sorrow, and I blamed them for being so cold and heartless.  It wasn’t until much later in life, when our next dog, Brittany was at the end of hers, that I really understood.  It was then, as I snuggled Brittany for the last time, said my goodbyes and told her how great a dog she was that I finally understood the weight of it all.  It was even later than that before I finally understood just how difficult it is to make that decision, and years later than even that before I finally came to terms that while I could order up death with a phone call, doing so was the greatest act of love you can give someone who has given their entire life in devotion to you.

A piece of me dies each time I have to make that call myself, and every time I do, I’m that little boy standing in Krogers, and that twenty-something sitting in the floor with an old Brittany Spaniel, and I’m that thirty something holding my boy Jack tightly to me as the doc pushes the plunger on the syringe, and I’m that inconsolable mess as my heart dog, Patches, stops breathing, giving out that one last sigh as I whisper in her ear and I’m that crying, blubbering forty-something bearded biker carrying an empty collar out of the vet clinic having ended the incredible pain that Jazz was suffering, and I’m the gentle giant, crying into the cold, dark night, wrapped in a sleeping bag on the hard wooden deck to comfort and old Husky who was finally, after 16 years, ready to leave this world.  I’m all of those at once.

And it all started with a mutt named Mutt.

What grown man doesn’t want a sixteen year old girlfriend?

On the way home from a doctor’s appointment, I was rocking out to the 50s channel on SiriusXM. I grew up listening to 50s and 60s rock and developed a fondness for it early on. I can probably sing more 50’s songs than I can 90’s songs, truth be told. But one thing I also enjoyed about the “innocent days of rock and roll” was the amount of creepiness that pops up if you pay a bit of attention to the songs.

Case in point, “You’re Sixteen” originally sung by Johnny Burnette.  Right off the bat, we know he’s in love with a teenage girl who just turned sixteen, and we know he appreciates her… physical attributes:

You come on like a dream, peaches and cream
Lips like strawberry wine
You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine

So his now sixteen year old lover tastes like strawberry wine, and she’s all his, coming on like a dream, something about peaches and cream…  It sounds sweet.

You’re all ribbons and curls, ooh, what a girl
Eyes that sparkle and shine
You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine

This paints a slightly different picture, a young girl all “ribbons and curls”, but “ooh, what a girl”.  Does he prefer little girls all ribbons and curls, something traditionally attributed to children?

You’re my baby, you’re my pet,
We fell in love on the night we met.
You touched my hand, my heart went pop,
Ooh, when we kissed, I could not stop.

Now we see that she’s his pet, a bit of ownership there.  But they fell in love on the night we met.  The turn darker, because he’s singing about how she just turned sixteen, so presumably, they met and fell in love and there was a lot of kissing when she was much younger.  How much younger? We never really know, but certainly younger than sixteen.

thatsYou walked out of my dreams, into my arms,
Now you’re my angel divine.
You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.
You’re my baby, you’re my pet,
We fell in love on the night we met.
You touched my hand, my heart went pop,
Ooh, when we kissed, I could not stop.
You walked out of my dreams, into my car,
Now you’re my angel divine.

So at some point prior to her sixteenth birthday, she walked into his arms and she’s all his.  She’s his pet.  His baby.  Makes his heart go pop.  Again, lots of kissing with the 14 or 15 year old girl he’s in love with.  In his car… car.  She got into his car.  The plot thickens.  Given the innocence of the 50s, this sounds like a sweet tale of teenage love, two kids out for dates at the malt shop, seeing a movie, getting into her older boyfriend’s car and driving out to “Lover’s Lane” where I’m sure more than kissing was going on.  It’s sweet, and reflective of young love.  Until you realize that Johnny Burnette was 26 when he released this song.

Twenty.  Six.

Here’s a man of 26 years, singing of love for a girl who just turned 16, whom he’s been at least making out with since before she was sixteen.  And before you say that he’s just singing the song, someone else wrote it, that’s true.  It was written by the Sherman Brothers, who, if the song was written as late as possible, 1960, were even older than Johnny Burnette.  Johnny was 26 at the time he sang and released the song.  Robert Sherman would have been 35, and  Richard Sherman would have been 32.  So what exactly did two thirty year olds in the late 1950s know about kissing the strawberry wine lips of 14 and 15 year old girls?

(Note, the above is accurate, but meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek.  The world was a different place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and this was the equivalent of modern teenage pop songs).

Lets get dangerous…

Here I sit, spitting off this quick missive before I get into my car and drive possibly into the end. We shall see. There’s less than 2% chance that anything will go wrong, and even farther less than that that the thing going wrong will see me shuffle off this mortal coil.

(Hint: if I do kick off, some friends of mine are about to inherit some pretty awesome stuff).

My brother needs stem cells. I have those stem cells. It’s as simple as that. So some nice surgeons are going to DRILL, BABY, DRILL! into my rear parts, and literally suck out all the marrow of life, or at least a couple liters of the marrow of life. I guess I won’t be going to the woods to live deliberately for a while.

If successful, I wake up, get some killer pain meds, and a week at home resting up and healing from having so many holes drilled into my body while THEY. DRINK. MY. MILKSHAKE!. If successful, my brother gets a stem cell transplant tomorrow from me, and he inherits the moustache gene, gets better and goes home to his family.

I had a career at one time being a lifesaver, an ALS provider on both county and privately operated ambulances. This is just a natural extension of that, I guess. I, the guy who still carries a stocked trauma kit, who still stops to render aid to strangers. I, who have faced death and said “Not today.” Now I go forward once more so that others may live.

So here’s to hope. And here’s to being completely knocked the fuck out while my ass is being drilled.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

Also, check out James’ blog:


So it’s time to say Goodbye, yet again…

Faith at the BeachIt started innocently enough.  Faith had had decreased appetite when we were at the beach and at the time we attributed that to her not wanting to stand on a slick, hardwood floor to eat (she is old, and weak, and so keeping her legs under her on a slick surface is a chore).  But when that continued after getting home, we took her in after realizing some of her back teeth had rotted to the point of being painful.  It seemed simple enough, she’d go on antibiotics and pain meds for a week to clear up any tooth infection and then we’d take her in to be sedated and have several teeth removed.

This morning, I dropped her off at the vet.  The vet called me back a lot faster than I expected.  As part of the pre-op routine, they ran bloodwork and found that her liver enzymes were out of spec by a significant amount.  So that led to a full liver panel and an ultrasound.

I just got the call with an update and the news is as I had feared.  She has definitive tumors all over her Liver and Spleen.  This is exactly the same diagnosis that Jazz got when Jazz stopped eating.  Funny coincidence, since Jazz was one of Faith’s puppies.  Mother and Daughter, dying from the same cancer, but this one much more definitive.

That means there is only one option, so with a very heavy heart, as I listened in on a work meeting with one ear, the phone with the vet pressed to the other, I made the decision that it’s time to let her go.  We’ve scheduled it for Monday afternoon, here at home.  We took Jazz to the Vet office to have it done and that was a mistake.  Faith mourned her disappearance for a long while, and the other dogs seemed off as well, noticing that I took Jazz away and never brought her home.  Now, not even two months removed from that loss, it’s time to suffer loss once more.  It’s time to say goodbye again.

On Monday, Faith will end her suffering, here at the only real home she’s ever known while being surrounded by the love of our diminished pack, hopefully with Jazz, Patches, and Jack ready to guide her to the bridge on the other side.

Jazz and Faith

Jazz and Faith on the last day they were together. They’ll soon be together again.

They had named her Jazz…



Our last evening together

The trees rushed by the window in a blur of browns and greens topped with the myriad shades of grey that make up an overcast sky.  We sat in the car, my arm around her, holding her tightly to me as we both watched the cascade of colors racing by.  She barely had the strength to keep her head lifted, but she did.  The ride passed in silence, each passing tree trunk a marker counting down the minutes and seconds of life. The past paraded by amidst the dancing colors outside the glass and that’s where we journeyed: back to the beginning, over twelve years ago.

Faith was a good dog.  An Alaskan Husky, she weighed no more than thirty-five pounds with a soft, thick coat.  She came to us out of nowhere, one of those random, stray mutts that just shows up one day and refuses to leave.  In fact, her persistence is how she got her name, but that’s a story for a different day.  For today, all that matters is that Faith was here, and she was about to get spayed.  Unfortunately, she managed to slip her collar and get herself knocked up by our resident rogue, known only as “Brown Dog”, just days before her appointment.  So instead of being spayed, she carried several wriggly puppies to term and gave birth in our home in January of 2004, and that’s where our story begins.

It was cold outside, I remember that much.  A frigid winter afternoon and Faith, fat with a litter of pups, started yelping and bleeding and to be quite honest, it was terrifying until the first puppy popped out and we realized what was happening.  We quickly moved her into the utility room on an old blanket and set up an electric space heater to keep her warm on a floor that was easily mopped.  Out they came, one at a time, a hodgepodge of little, wiggly furballs.  Two were brownish but the rest were almost pure black with the exception of some stark white markings.  This particular one was solid black save for the very tip of her tail which was pure white.  For the time she was with us, her name was “White-Tipped Girl” and she was my favorite of the litter.

As the weeks passed by, the puppies grew and began to explore and found their legs and strength until it was time to find them forever homes of their own.  One-by-one, each puppy was taken in by a family we had found, including my little white tip girl, and our home was quiet again.



It was several months later when the family that took her called us and took us up on our standing offer.  As each one was adopted out, I told the adoptive families, “If, for any reason, this doesn’t work out, call me any time and I’ll come take them back with us.”  To this day, only one family asked us to take a pup back, we can only speculate and hope that the rest of the pups had long and fulfilling lives.  I rode into town the next afternoon and remember feeling so bad that I was taking the puppy back.  The kids weren’t supposed to be home, yet there was the son, greeting me as I got out of my vehicle, wondering why I was there.  I left it to his mom to explain why I was taking his new puppy away, along with the dog house she had been living in.  It was up to them to explain that they had failed to mention getting a dog to the landlord, who made them give her up.  It was up to them to convince their kids that the dog was going to somewhere safe.  I still felt like crap for doing it in front of him, but once loaded, I turned for home and never looked back.  My White-Tip Girl was sitting in my lap, licking me and nuzzling. They had named her Jazz.

I will admit that this is where I really failed her.  Since she’d been an outdoor dog thus far, I didn’t feel too bad for putting her back in the kennel where the puppies had stayed until they had been adopted out, but later on in life I would regret this time, because it was really more a matter of convenience for us than a practicality.  We already had four dogs and three cats in the house and there was just not enough room in the inn.  So for the next two years, Jazz lived in her kennel, in a warm dog house with fresh water and food.  We’d play with her, walk her, socialize her with our other dogs, but at the end of the day, she’d go back to her kennel and the rest would go inside.  I do hate myself for that time in her life, but she was never neglected, and to be honest, I think she enjoyed being out in the fresh air, with birds, rabbits, squirrel and deer for company.

Two years later, we lost Jack, our Border Collie / Lab mix and moved Jazzy into the house for good.

JazzThe rest of her life was fairly uneventful, and that’s good for a dog.  I finished fencing in an area out back for the dogs to run without risk of running off, so they could spend their days playing in the sun and chasing critters, barking at every noise and movement.  Then at night, we’d all huddle in our cave together, sheltering in the dark until the next morning.  Dana and I would work our jobs and on vacation, they would all head to the Doggy Day Camp where they’d spend a week socializing with several other vacationing dogs and we’d spend our week doing whatever it was we did on vacations back then.jazzy-yard

Jazzy grew into a beautiful dog.  Solid black and lean, she never weighed more than about 50 pounds.  Her father, the infamous “Brown Dog” looked like a German Shepherd mix of some sort, and she inherited that look from her dad.  As she grew, her white tip faded and she became a solid black GSD looking dog with a face shaped like a Husky.  She had the same soft, thick fur and twice a year like clockwork, her undercoat would fall out in giant clumps all over the house.  Her bark was fierce and her low, ominous growl at strangers was enough to give anyone pause as they approached our door, but the few who were invited in quickly realized that she was the classic case of all bark and no bite.  She was the sweetest, most gentle and tolerant dog I’d met.  She loved everyone and really wanted nothing more than to have that space behind her ears scratched, or her belly rubbed if she really liked you.

She was the only dog we’ve ever had that probably could have made a good guard dog, and she kept us safe from all threats, real or imagined.

I remember one night we took her for a walk out on Sunset beach.  We walked about half a mile or so along the shore and sat down in between dunes with Jazz and Patches.  We sat there in the dark enjoying the stars above and the sounds of waves crashing in the darkness ahead.  We drank daiquiris and joked while watching families walk up and down the waterline with flashlights and buckets trying to catch the crabs that would run around onshore feeding in the ebb and flow of the ocean.  At one point someone approached us a little too close, and Jazz let out a low, barely audible rumble.  At that point she was almost invisible from more than a few feet away as we were sequestered in the darkness on a moonless night.  The person approaching us let out a yelp and quickly went around us, despite our laughing and promising the strange shadow that Jazz was actually gentle and just startled by the movement.

When we’d take her to the big Flea Market out at the Raleigh Fairgrounds she was the delight of everyone who met her.  She was horrible on a leash, mind you, but eventually she’d settle in as best she could and was always ready for a scratch or a treat from some passing stranger and everyone wanted to feel her fur it seemed.  We didn’t do that too often though.  She was a solid black and thickly furred dog, so keeping her cool was not an easy job.


She was such a gentle soul, especially around our foster kittens

I like to think that she loved living with us.  We certainly loved her, soft and cuddly and easily the most huggable dog we’ve ever had.  She had a way of just laying her head on your knee and staring at you with her big brown eyes that just forced you to scratch her behind her ears, easily melting away any frustrations or anger or stress you had.  When she was excited, she’d wiggle and dance and hop around, even until just shortly before the end.  At the ripe old age of 12, she was still a bouncy, pouncy, roly-poly puppy.  She never really got into toys, and wasn’t even very food motivated.  She was stubborn but loyal, loving and kind.  She knew her pack and protected them the best way she knew how.

Just after her 12th birthday, in January of 2016, is when things started to fall apart.  She started vomiting after meals.  At first it was just every now and again, but soon became almost every meal.  Sometimes she could hold in the morning meal but would lose the evening meal, sometimes neither would stay down.  Thinking she was just making herself sick, she had a penchant for eating dirt in the garden, we altered her food amounts and she quickly started shedding weight.  When we took her to the vet, the inevitable happened.

After a consult and an ultrasound, we were told Jazzy had growths on her liver, her spleen and elsewhere in her abdomen and fluid was starting to collect there for some reason.  We came home with some nausea medicine and advice to consider taking her to N. C. State for a lengthy and expensive surgery that would simply biopsy whatever was in there.  We waited a week until the nausea pills ran out and then headed back for a follow-up and second opinion from the more seasoned vet at the practice, the one we’ve taken all our animals to for nearly 15 years.  After a second ultrasound, the second opinion was worse.  Things were bigger, there was more fluid.  She could have days, weeks or months.  We could still go to N. C. State, but even if we had the week before, there was really nothing that could be done beyond confirming what we were already 90% sure of.  She had cancer and was dying.

That week simply painful.  I knew what was coming, and I knew what I had to do no matter how much I didn’t want to do it.  We had more medicine for her and that helped to keep her food down until she finally decided she’d had enough.  The day she stopped eating was the day I made the call.

our-packI admit, I’m selfish.  I wanted nothing more than another month.  Another week.  Another weekend.  I just wanted to recreate that scene from Star Trek: Insurrection where Picard is shown how to take a moment in time and slow it down so it lasts forever.  I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around her and make that day last forever.  But wishes and wants are seldom really fulfilled.  I made the appointment for Monday, giving us one last weekend together.  But by Friday, it was evident that Jazzy was ready to go.  It broke my heart to make that call, asking them if the vet could come to the house Friday evening or Saturday morning to send her on her way.  But no, even that couldn’t happen.  The only thing we could do was take her to the vet’s office.  No house calls on that Saturday.

And this is where I felt the worst.  For Patches and Jack, we were able to have the vet come out to us so they could die at home, surrounded by familiar smells and faces, basking in the warm sunlight, lying in the soft green grass.  For Jazz, we’d have to drive her into town so they could do the job in a cold, clinical setting.  jazzy-bed

Her last full day was fairly uneventful.  She wanted to be outside more than in so I let her stay outside most of the day.  She’d lay in the sun snoring, or sit at attention, ears alert for sounds only a dog can hear.  She neither barked nor growled.  She just sat there mostly, taking it all in as though she knew the end was near and she wanted to see, smell, hear and feel as much of her world as possible in these last few hours of life.  At dinner time she ate a few bites of boiled chicken but the rest went to the other three dogs, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them.  I wanted that day to last for a month, but it had to come to a close.  Jazz laid down at the foot of our bed one last time, where she had guarded us for so long, protecting us from the bogeyman and shadows and cats.  I lay with her, across the foot of the bed, curled up so I could reach down to intertwine my fingers in her thick fur, to feel her warmth on my skin and her chest rise and fall in slumber.  And we slept like that the night through.

At 6am I awoke and she shot up, eyes bright, ears perked, alert and ready for whatever was to come.  Seeing it was just me stirring, she huffed a bit and laid back down until I got up and padded out into the kitchen.  She followed me out, passing me by and heading straight for the door.  I opened the door to the morning rays and crisp, moist air and she took up her place on the ramp leading off the deck, sitting at attention, listening to the birds sing their morning songs while the wind gently bent branches and rustled leaves.  I fixed a cup of coffee for myself and came out to sit with her on the deck and we sat there together in silence as the air warmed around us, listening to the cacophony of nature in all her beauty and glory.jazzy-hug


I sipped my coffee and Jazz just observed the world around her.  I got up and took some pictures and she watched the clouds move overhead.  I got dressed and the time passed by more quickly than before and she sat, alert to every buzz and bump and screech and chitter.  At 8:00 am I began feeding her valium hidden in lumps of peanut butter.  She greedily licked the gobs of peanut butter from my finger, never realizing that each one contained another dose of sedative. With each pill I felt as though I was betraying her anew, drugging her against her will.  With each pill it became harder and harder as my eyes filled with tears and the sobs started to come over me.  With the final pill delivered, I sat back down with my White Tipped Girl and whispered in her ear what a good dog she was.  I put my arm around her and hugged her tightly, crying into her soft warm fur, listening to her breathe.

jazzy-jeffThe drugs started to kick in.  She became dizzy.  Her head drooped now and again and she became weak.  It became harder and harder for her to stay upright.  Her strength waned and her feet slipped.  I leaned into her, propping her up with my weight, resting her head on my shoulder.  I held her tight and told her I’d hold her up.  I’d be her legs and I’d be her strength.  I told her I’d carry her the last mile, I’d be with her until the end.  I cried and I cried as she trusted me to keep her from falling and then it was time.

I picked my Jazzy girl up in my arms and carried her back into the house.  She was weak, but still alert, still observant.  The other dog still didn’t know what was happening as I carried her through the door and out to the car.  Dana had arranged a bed in the back of the car for her, but at the last minute I knew she needed to be next to me so I had Dana reset the rear seats and I gently sat into the back of the car with my girl and I held her close the whole way.

The trees rushed by the window in a blur of browns and greens topped with the myriad shades of grey that make up an overcast sky.  We sat in the car, my arm around her, holding her tightly to me as we both watched the cascade of colors racing by.  She barely had the strength to keep her head lifted, but she did.  The ride passed in silence, each passing tree trunk a marker counting down the minutes and seconds of life.  The trees gave way to light posts and buildings as country became town.  The smooth Rrrrrrrrr of tires on pavement became the crunch of gravel as we pulled into the parking lot.  The three of us sat there in the car watching the clock tick closer and closer to 9:00.  The appointed hour was on us and Dana went in to announce our arrival.

The vet techs had cleared a room for us and laid out a ratty old blanket for Jazz to lay on.  At least the floor would not be so hard and cold.  She stretched out weakly, the valium having put her into a stupor at this point, and we laid down with her on this blanket, tears in our eyes while just on the other side of the wall were the sounds of a busy vet practice, barks, growls, meows and howls.  People conducting business.  Laughter.  Life.  It made me angry, to be honest.  She deserved peace when she died.  She deserved a warm breeze and soft grass and close friends and family.  Instead she got a room in a clinic, cold, medicinal and methodical.

The staff was great, don’t mistake my anger at the situation for anger at them.  As always, they treated us with care and compassion.  It was just the part of me that rebelled against bringing her here that was lashing out.  The part that wanted her to have the perfect ending to a not always perfect life.  Jazz rallied her strength and fought through the druggy fog to turn her head to look first at Dana and then at me.  Her strength gone, she laid there using her reserves to be what she always was.  Alert.  Aware.  My Jazzy died staring into my eyes and I cried again.

It wasn’t until today, a perfect pre-spring afternoon, as I rode my motorcycle into town to collect her ashes from the vet’s office that it finally occurred to me.  I HAD given her the perfect ending.  She was with the two people who loved her most in this world, and the very last thing she saw was the love and pain in my eyes.


Jazzy is home…


And just like that, over a cup of coffee and an english muffin, I scheduled her death…

Jazz It’s funny how things happen.  One day you’re squatting next to your wife in a cramped laundry room doting over a neurotic Alaskan Husky who is in the process of squirting out wriggly little husky mutt puppies and the next day, it’s over 12 years later and you’ve just gotten off the phone with the vet, setting up the date and time of one puppy’s death.

“That’s not a puppy, thats an old dog,”

is what they say.  To me she’s still that same wriggly little puppy, solid black with the white tip on her tail differentiating her from several other squirming black balls of fur.


Of course, she’s not solid black these days.  Her muzzle long since turned grey with the white of age creeping in around her eyes.  Her chest covered in long wisps of silken white and even her tail trailing bits as well, though her signature white tip, once disappeared, has come back to mark her as that one pup I favored more than the others in that litter.  The one that I had the hardest time parting with when we initially found them homes.

She’s been the most gentle, sweetest dog I’ve known.  Hard headed, for sure, but smart and alert.  She’s been our protector, our cuddler and a big, soft, fuzzy presence her entire life, save the few months early on when we thought we had found a Forever Home for her.  Turns out, her Forever Home was actually here, so ignoring that brief interlude, I’ve raised her from the day she came into this world and seen her grow into a beautiful black husky mix with a low growl that makes her sound like a dog twice her size and infinitely more fierce, though she’s a lover at heart.

Soon she’ll no longer shed clumps of black undercoat all over the house during the biannual Husky Shedding.  She’ll no longer adorn the recliner, taking it for her own.  Soon she’ll no longer whine at the door or at the fence, alert and so unhappy that all those rabbits and squirrels dare taunt her from the outside world.  No more trips to K9 Kindercare to run and play with so many other dogs while we travel somewhere for a weekend or a week.  No more having to put up with Milo, all twelve pounds of him, jumping and nipping at her in a vain attempt to get her into the right place for “Dinner Time”.  No more bounding past everyone to get to her bowl, where she’d woof down her food and then start sniffing at other bowls, just in case.

These days, she’s not that interested in food and what she does eat, she has trouble keeping down.  She feels bad, and it’s getting worse.  She’s tired.  I can tell.  She finally looked at me and said, “It’s time to go, Dad.”

So I made the call after my spate of morning meetings.  Work.  Work always gets in the way of life.  There’s always meetings to be had.  I’ll have no meetings on Monday.  I’ve already cancelled my afternoon.  No work, nothing.  And this weekend I’ll do my best to give her the best weekend of her life.  Just as I was able to do for Patches… One Last Hurrah before we have to part ways.  One last hike together before she has to take that hike alone, across the bridge.


This morning I woke up and made a large cup of pour-over coffee.  I had a toasted english muffin with apple butter.  I had two meetings, and a phone call.  And just like that, I scheduled her death.

How do you decide when the choice is not obvious?

jazz-reclinerShe came into my life 12 years ago, a sticky wet mess of black fir along with her siblings.  She was part of a litter that never should have been, just days before we were going to have her mom spayed, mom got caught on her run by a bad boy who had been living in our woods.  So some months later, we had a litter of mostly black Husky mix puppies.

We found homes for each and every one, and for each we firmly insisted that should the adoptive family not be able to keep the pup for any reason, at any time, all they had to do was call.  One family, after a few months, were not able to keep this one, my little White Tip Girl, because of their landlord.  I can only assume they didn’t actually run it buy him first.  In any case, we took her back and she never left.

She was my White Tipped Girl because she was solid black except for a stark white bit at the end of her tail.  As she grew, that slowly disappeared too until she was solid black. Before long, she was a big, black Husky/Shepherd looking dog with a deep, rumbling growl and a loud bark, and she was about as timid as it gets when it really comes down to it.

puppiesShe’s hard headed, but listens well, loves to lay her head in my lap for scratches and just stares at me.  At night she gets huffy if you aren’t in bed on time (just like her mother did until she decided she’d rather sleep in the den).  At 12 she still bounces around like a puppy, chases squirrels and rabbits and barks at birds and noises that only she seems to be able to hear.

For all intents and purposes, she’s a healthy, happy, energetic dog who acts half her age.

But she’s not.  She started vomiting up dinner.  This would happen occasionally and we’d just chalk it up to her eating too fast, or maybe eating grass or other stuff out in the yard.  Occasionally became slightly more frequent, and she started vomiting at night or just before the evening meal time.  We took her to the vet and the ultrasound came back with a “mass” in her abdomen.  We opted to not go to a specialist to have it biopsied at a huge expense (northward of $2000 just for confirmation of what we were starting to suspect). Instead, we got her some anti-nausea meds and decided to wait a week or so.

So the meds helped.  No vomiting that I know of at all (except for a little bit of bile this morning on the way to her follow-up) until the meds ran out.  And since she was able to keep her food down, her weight increased by 2 pounds in a week, which is a good gain, all things considered.  However, her blood work hasn’t improved, and today a more experienced vet did the ultrasound and saw masses on her liver, pancreas and fluid building up where there shouldn’t be any.

Today’s visit was hard.  Even if we went the specialist route, there’s really nothing that can be done, other than re-confirming the inevitable.  So that is why today really sucks.  Now we have to make The Decision.  A decision that we’ve made before, only then it was not so hard.  For Patches and Jack, we knew, and they knew that they were ready to go.  Jazzy is not ready.  She’s still full of energy, bright, soft, loving.  She hasn’t slowed down a bit, even though she’s got a timebomb inside her.  The Vet says that when she crashes, it’ll be fast, and sudden.

So there’s the choice to make.  Do we end her life now, while she’s still vibrant, aware, not hurting, or do we wait, hoping that when the time comes it’s not on a weekend when the vet’s closed, or worse, that it doesn’t happen while we’re gone somewhere, coming home to find that she’d died alone while we were away.  Or do we wait, putting off what ultimately must happen, because we’re not ready.  It’s a gamble.  I am pretty sure that when the time comes, she won’t be tired.  She won’t look at me with that look that says “Daddy, it’s time for me to go.  I’m tired, and I don’t want to hurt anymore”.  She’ll look at me unsuspecting, not understanding why I’m in tears.  She’ll just drift off to sleep dreaming of whatever it is she dreams of until she’s no more.

jazz-kittenI’m not ready to let go.  But I need to be.  How do you make that choice when the choice is NOT obvious?