Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 25, 2012

Marta Drahos: Home. Alone. Not.

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, Record-Eagle features writer

---- — I'm standing at the refrigerator, checking the days off on the calendar with a mounting sense of excitement and dread. Five more days and then eight days off. Home. Alone. To do as I please.

Well, scratch that last.

I'm actually staying home to care for our small zoo while my husband visits our grandson in Colorado. With seven pets, including a three-legged cat, a dog that marks everything he can reach — which isn't much since he's a Chihuahua — and two older dogs with dementia and a degenerative spinal disease, "we" can only go away these days if one of us stays home.

The last time it happened was six months ago under the same circumstances. As my husband packed his suitcase for Denver, I daydreamed about catching up on my sleep, all the books I would read, the brisk walks the dogs and I would take, Saturday afternoons with Netflix.

The euphoria lasted two days. On the third, I got up early to take the shepherd to the vet. Placing the harness lift beneath his wobbly hips, I started out the front door onto the porch, looking back to make sure his dragging tail was completely clear. But before I could shut the door behind us, the schnauzer darted out from between his legs, jumped off the porch and raced down the road for the woods. Disaster.

Without thinking, I left the shepherd on the steps and began to run after the schnauzer, who could be in the next county by now. Before rounding the corner, I took a last glance back at the house — to see that now ALL the dogs had pushed outside and were heading in different directions.

I doubled back and herded them into the house with its doggie doors leading to a fenced-in backyard, finally having to carry the stubborn collie. Then I got the car and started back after the schnauzer, who, as luck would have it, had gotten distracted by a smell on the road before she could disappear into acres of woods.

After carrying her home and depositing her in the front hall, I started all over again with the shepherd, using the lift harness down the steps, then lifting him with my arms into the car. When I finally made it out to the main road, I stopped at the mailbox to catch my breath.

And felt something in my back give when I bent to retrieve the mail.

The next days were a sweaty, excruciating blur. Almost unable to move, I took an hour to get out of bed with the help of a cane from our antique collection. It also came in handy to pull the curtains around the circular shower rod and to lift bath towels from overhead shelves.

Once up and dressed, it took me half an hour just to shuffle from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Feeding the animals was a 2½-hour ordeal. I couldn't bend to lift their crockery bowls so I used a ladle, held by pick-up grippers someone once gave my mother, to dip food out of bins and dump it into the bowls, missing more often than not. For water, I filled a plant watering can and poured the stuff into their bowls from a standing position.

So while I'm proud of my inventiveness in the face of necessity, I'm not looking forward to another episode like the last. Just in case, though, I've assembled my adaptive tools where I can easily reach them.