This past Friday morning, as per my usual routine, I sat down to read the Philadelphia Inquirer with my coffee and breakfast. And I came across an article that nearly made me vomit back all that delicious Toy Cow Farms blueberry yoghurt I had just spooned down. I refer, of course, to the piece on the “quaint Victorian home” shared by Darla, Chelsea, and Coco Puff.
Their dwelling has a cedar-shake roof, vaulted ceilings, and hardwood floors, heating and air-conditioning, moldings and casement windows, drapery with valences, and fanciful wallpapers.
At Christmas, music from the RCA Victor radio carried outside to a grassy yard surrounded by a white picket fence. A sign on the porch reads: “Three spoiled dogs live here.”
Yes. Darla, Chelsea, and Coco Puff are dogs. They live in a home that cost “$20,000 in construction, transport, and equipment, if [you include] the painting, landscaping, screened doors and windows, miniblinds, and ceiling fans, as well as the yard with artificial turf.” (Do follow the link and check out the photo.)
The doggie mansion, at 8 by 11 feet, has just slightly fewer square feet of living space than the room my mother now calls home at the assisted living facility. The dogs at least have their own yard to poop in. My mother has to go down the hall to a shared bathroom. This is the best facility we can afford for her on her monthly income, without spending down her investments. (We have been hanging on to her investments for the time we can see coming when she will need nursing care, which is much more expensive than assisted living. I don’t have to tell you what has happened to her investments over the last year.)
I traveled to western Pennsylvania today to be with mom for the next five days or so. On Monday, she is going to move into a new room, basically the same size as the old one. This room was once someone’s office, in a building that was once her high school. It is reasonably nice, with an attractive (though not fanciful) wallpaper and new carpet. Underneath the new carpet is extra padding, which bespeaks the reason for the move. Mom has begun having frequent falls. The staff at the AL facility felt it would be safer for her to live in the part of the facility with more intensive oversight of residents, rather than where she is now, in the section for residents who need somewhat less care.
This is no doubt the best thing for my mother, and there are even some benefits to the move beyond enhanced oversight and thus more safety. Her current room has one small window which looks out on an interior courtyard rooftop. Because of constraints presented by the room layout, the only place to put her recliner chair is with its back to the window – so she can’t even see out the small window with no view. The new room has two large windows with views of trees, hillsides, houses, a street. She’ll see more life and activity out of these windows – indeed, even being able to see out the windows at all is a major plus. She’ll be able to see out them from both her chair and her bed.
But it is hard to go through this move with her. She doesn’t want to move. It was hard enough to move from home to the AL facility. She lived in the house she was (literally) born in, for 79 years, before the move. Over the past year, she has managed to make her tiny room feel like a home to her. Many times, in recounting conversations she’s had with other residents, she has let me know that they refer to their rooms as their houses. So this isn’t really just a simple room change. It’s leaving home all over again. Even though she often complains about various aspects of her room, it is her house, and I am complicit with the staff in evicting her from it.
The move also signifies another step downhill to her, another small loss of autonomy. My mother does not like the idea of needing to go into the area for higher-care residents, and indeed, she doesn’t have much in common with many of them. She is more mobile than many of them, has much more of her mental faculties intact than many of them and, except for the weakness in her legs and balance problems, can handle more activities of daily living than many of them. Yet there are signs that some things are beginning to slip. She is at the top of the slippery slope, and does not like it, not one bit. It is my chore to help her through this move, soothe her and ease her transition, and try to start the process of making the new room feel like her “house” – and try to keep her spirits up through this.
So you see, when I look at this woman who used to run a household of nine people ranging in age and type from retired coal miner to toddler child; who used to run up and down the stairs from second to first floor, first to basement, basement out to back yard with laundry to hang, back into the house, back upstairs, over and over all day; who was a Girl Scout leader and Band Booster, a Civic Club member and a Rosary Altar Society member; who made sure we had books to read at home and access to the lending library in Carmichaels 14 miles away; who used to write me three letters a week when I was in college and talked me out of quitting engineering my freshman year when my advisor was no help at all; when I look at this woman reduced to life in a 9 by 11 foot former high school office room, and I see three dogs living in a custom-built $20,000 doggie mansion…
…well, I wanna do some serious shoe-pukin’.
You know, even if you don’t give a crap about my mother’s situation compared to the cushy life of these dogs – I mean, you could argue that my mother is living quite well compared to the situation of many a person on this planet – you should still be outraged. Because people like Tammy Kassis, with her “three spoiled dogs”, living in a $20,000 heated and air-conditioned, decorated doghouse, are the reason this planet has so little chance of surviving our presence on it. If you asked Tammy what we should do about starving children in Africa – hell, about starving children in our own U.S. cities – do you think she would just reply “let them eat cake”? After all,
She has her eye on a small plasma-screen TV for her pups. “They love to watch Animal Planet,” Kassis says. “It’s their favorite.”
Well, I suppose we ought to let the little pups enjoy it – while the planet is still able to support any animal life for us to film.