Monday, June 25, 2012

Of dogs and dementia: How I got stranded in an old, cold, leaky house all winter

Plato, tossed in a Kefalonia trash bin as an infant with his two brothers, now enjoys California dreamin'  / Photo: Gavin B

This Dozen Dogs Diary entry was written but not posted in February, when the brain of your Dozen Dogs Diarist was half-frozen, so she takes little or no responsibility for its content.

Here I’ve been on the Greek island of Kefalonia for a period of time that the British call donkey’s ears (as in long), eight thousand miles away from home and family, shivering through one of the worst winters on record while pursuing two goals.

Both of these goals were set as the result of getting mixed up with dogs, as well as with a couple of members of a certain other often-needy species that has fewer legs, less fur, and a ton more attitude.

The two goals:

1. Trying to rescue/foster/rehome (RFR) Princess Kali Amanda, a delightful but highly energetic (read: runs me ragged) teenage street dog.

2. Trying to stop an elderly house from crumbling. And I do mean crumbling. Crumble Exhibits A through C as follows:

Crumble Exhibit A

Crumble Exhibit B

Crumble Exhibit C

How I got mixed up with Kali will be obvious to anyone who loves dogs, and you can find more details here.

How did I get mixed up with this old mess of a house?

Behold the two reasons:

Aunt and uncle in happier--or at least healthier--times (photographer unknown)
Both of those reasons (a.k.a. my aunt and uncle) developed severe memory impairment almost simultaneously. For several years as it worsened they shared their old shambles house here in Kefalonia with an extensive and sprightly community of mice and their droppings, with no water heater, no house heater, and sometimes no electricity or food except what a few kind neighbors and friends donated.

Most other relatives cleverly avoided involvement—even the relatives who are as rich as King Croesus and who could have rescued our aunt and uncle without missing so much as a minute of their horse shows or their Antarctic expeditions. (Bitter? Who? Moi?)

In 2006 The Saint (a.k.a. my husband) and I, who live nowhere near the richness ballpark of Croesus, started supporting aforementioned aunt and uncle. (If the Croesus ballpark were Yankee Stadium, then we would be rolling grounders in a school playground somewhere in Idaho).

In 2007 we evacuated Aunt and Uncle to the U.S. (If rehoming rescued dogs overseas seems adventurous, picture hopping the Atlantic with a 97-year-old guy and an 86-year-old gal in tow). We’ve cared for them ever since.

In exchange for the staggering outlay of time and cash required to care for two invalids with dementia—staggering because if we let ourselves think about it for too long our knees buckle—we got this house. 

Thanks a bunch.

Why I whine

Stop your whining, you might mutter with an eye roll. For gosh sakes, the place sits amidst an organic fruit orchard and a cute little vineyard in a quaint Greek village, just a 20-minute stroll from three different spectacular beaches on one of the world’s most enchanting islands.

If you were to mutter any or all of the above, you’d be right. I mustn’t complain. But I do anyway. This place has kept me from writing. As did my aunt and uncle till we figured out how to care for them, and as have the 128 or so dogs and a few kitties for whom The Saint and I did RFR during the past decade.

This long-neglected, once-elegant grande dame of a house, built by my gracious aunt and her debonair ship captain husband in the early 1960s, stands adjacent to the remains of the property’s original, 130-year-old stone house. That older house was battered and broken by the deadly series of earthquakes that leveled the island in 1953.

During the past decade of decline, while my aunt and uncle steadily misplaced more and more of their marbles, the “new” house became almost as derelict as the old one. We would definitely need the fortune of Croesus to restore it.

So for now it’s a question of how many Band-Aids to apply. And I’m the nurse.

The good news

There’s always a silver lining, as they say. In this case, it’s a furry lining. If we hadn’t owned this house during the past five years, 20 thrown-away little souls would have met unpleasant and untimely ends.

It functioned nicely as the nursery for two litters of puppies—one bunch plucked off a busy road and the other set from the trash dumpster down the street—as well as one litter of kittens. All the puppies and kittens found homes in Greece and the United States, thanks to help from numerous friends and rescue groups.* 

The mama kitty, an orange and white confection of a cat, ultimately found her fur-ever home with one of my best friends in California. 

Tika, who showed up pregnant and hungry, now lives La Vida Rica in the San Francisco Bay area
This old mess of a house has also served as a way station for two senior dogs, Vivo (now named Zachie) and Ginger, who successfully emigrated to the Lone Star State and the Golden State respectively.

(More on the puppies, kittens, and Vivo and Ginger to follow in future DDD entries.)

This poor old house, the helpless victim of my loud and frequent cursing, currently serves as a foster home for Princess Kali Amanda, who will be seeking her own forever family once we make it home to California too. (Please note: since February when this entry was written, that plan changed drastically and delightfully, as partially described here.)

So, OK, yeah, I shouldn’t curse. I shouldn’t complain. This old mess of a house, the one that has wrenched my back and pulled my ligaments and smashed my toes and blistered my hands and blackened my fingernails, the one that has made me sob with exhaustion and frustration and anger and homesickness, this old mess of a house has saved lives.

Ain’t no richer ballpark than that.

*Some of the friends and rescue groups who helped with the 20 dogs and cats fostered in this house:

Mary Cox
Pat and Dave Dolman
Yianni Gnesouli
Zoe Gnesouli
Meera Lester
A. Bronwyn Llewellyn
Rita Martinez
Dr. Amanda Mikeleti
Gloria Moustakis
Barbara O’Connor
Keith and Julia Preston
Dr. Lefteris Psarros
Dr. Paul Richieri
Anna Maria Simpson
Jean and Julia Spooner
Linda and Eddie in Kefalonia who were heroic but whose last name I can't remember right now!


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