Sensei Martha

Today is Georg’s birthday. He would have been 79. It is also the birthday of one of his favorite writers, Nikos Kakantzakis, who said, “What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.” Here is a little story about the sighs,dreams, and laughter of dogs, for you today, Dad. Happy birthday…

IMG_2386I did not grow up in a dog family, but we tried to have a dog when I was 11. Georg named him Pollo, after the Greek god, Apollo. We couldn’t train him and he barked all night. We gave him to a dog family. It made me sad to know we had failed at “dog,” but I was secretly relieved that he would get to spend his days with people who understood his language.

I am still not a dog person, but I do love one particular dog whose name is Martha. Martha came into our lives ten years ago. We got her at the Ozaukee Humane Society. She was a rescue dog from Indiana.  At first, she refused to go into our basement and cowered when trucks passed by on the street. Eventually, she overcame these fears. On her record, her name was listed as “Sensei,” which as you may know means “teacher.” It translates literally as “person born before another.” Martha is certainly that.

She has been quite a teacher for me. She has not completely taught me how not to be afraid of all dogs, but she has taught me not to be afraid of her. I have learned to communicate with her, walk her, feed her.  I did not learn how to bathe her or how to open her mouth and get pills down her throat when needed, but still. Those are Masters-level dog jobs, and I have left those to her dad, her main care giver.

Martha has taught me how important it is to sit on the couch sometimes and do nothing. She has taught me that when I am outside, it is important to breathe deeply and survey not only the ground, but also the air. Mostly, she has taught me that love does not come in words. It comes in subtle body language and in actions. She lives at her dad’s house, but I have walked her most every weekday morning since the divorce. Like her human boy counterpart, Owen, she has taught us to stay a family.

These last two weeks have been difficult as she is suddenly fading. She is 12 now, so theoretically, it could be time to go. The vet said her red blood cells are not functioning properly. She is getting a daily dose of steroids in cooked hamburger meat that Mike feeds her. The morning report from him today is that she is actually moving around, unlike yesterday when she lay all day on the couch like a spent rag. This morning, she ate, peed, and drank more water. We have an appointment at the vet at 1:00, and I hope we aren’t going to be putting Martha down, but I just don’t know.

My instructions are to try to get her to walk to the end of the block to move her bowels.  I will go over in a little while and do this. I will bring a book and sit with her on the couch and just be her student for a little while longer.

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