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For Majo:

I was happy downtown – but I’m way happier up here in the mountains!

And Panchita, aka Pancho:

For a Chihuahua, Panchita (at six years old) is really pretty chill. Great with people and 2/3 of all dogs (not ferocious with the other 1/3 – more “Go away kid, you bother me.”)

But she does a good job of alerting me when there’s somebody coming around – and somehow knows the difference if that somebody is genuinely dangerous (and is truly lion-hearted in that situation, bless her heart).

We have been staying with a friend in the mountains outside of Asheville – and I have gotten clear that this is the kind of situation that my heart is calling for now.

My target area – where my soul now feels most at home – is north of Asheville: Weaverville, Burnsville, Barnardsville, Mars Hill, Alexander, Marshall, Hot Springs, etc.

People know me from Jubilee!, the Asheville Movement Collective, and Earth Fare – where I was recently a cashier for four years, after three years before that at Greenlife.

I’m a fairly prolific (and sometimes kinda good) writer. People at Jubilee mostly know me from my performance poetry and stand-up comedy.

My R-rated personal blog is “Waking up” (majowakingup.com).

My G- (maybe some PG-) rated Earth Fare blog is “Real Life in the Checkout Line” (rlcol.com).

My most interesting, informal, candid bio is at https://majowakingup.com/who-he-was/. There is shit in there that even my best friends won’t know.

My target date for moving is May 1 – June 1.

Reach me at:

– 828-582-9822 (voice and text)

– heymajo@outlook.com

– Facebook: “majojohnmadden” (open profile)

Thank you. Stay well. Move your body as much as possible.

See my Easter poem/wish at https://www.icloud.com/photos/#0dzJx8KDO67eAqMDtbyR8IxcA

Pancho escapes the city

Our wonderful house sitting host, Monika Wen, comes back on Sunday from her two months in Mexico – and Pancho and me will very sadly move back into our Battery Park apartment on Saturday. Our really good friend Will does not know when he will be moving out of his Candler house – allowing us to move in there with our awesome friend Tom Kilby and very cool 19 year old son Ian – so we will be in our old apartment at Battery Park for some number of days or weeks.
My current plan is to give my 30 days notice to Janet, the Building Manager at Battery Park, on October 1. While I am believing that it is probably certain that we will be moving to Candler, it is not for sure that we will be able to move there in October. Giving our notice to be out by November 1 is a little risky, but I sure don’t want to be stuck with the November rent.

Today, inside of an hour visiting with our friends/dog sitters Diana and Angie at Battery Park, we had three very disturbing encounters with angry dogs and their clueless masters/sitters.

with diana

Diana and my last dog, Toni, who – as much as Pancho – adored her and vice-versa.

1)Diana and Julie and I were sitting on the rock wall in front of the building, enjoying cigarettes, each other’s company and the presence of a very peaceful Panchita. Our housemate Eileen was unloading her groceries from her car. Diana, knowing that Pancho does not like Eileen’s actually very sweet and submissive Fleur (a very recent adoption), warned me that Fleur would soon be getting out of the car. The last time Pancho encountered Fleur and Eileen – maybe two weeks ago – Pancho had barely wrinkled an eyebrow from our path towards our car.  But this time, for whatever reason I will never understand, she was upset with Fleur’s presence and started to growl, then bark.

On back

The obviously very aggressive and dangerous five year old chihuahua-mix Pancho, who I rescued from Rusty’s Rescue in Marion – after she had spent a full month in a smallish crate, being terrified of all the barking dogs in the other cages.

 

I will never understand why so many clueless dog owners don’t understand Principle #1 of managing dogs – don’t let your dog go close to a dog that doesn’t like them.  Eileen doesn’t seem to understand this basic principle and unconsciously let Fleur’s leash go slack – and Fleur, demonstrating a lack of basic doggie instincts, kept walking toward a dog that was already barking and growling at her.  “Get her away from us”, I said – not screaming or swearing (yet), but very, very stern.  Eileen obediently pulled her dog away, but apparently did not like my tone and yelled, “You need to learn how to control your dog!”

What?  My dog was sitting right by my side, still up on the rock wall, on a very short leash – and had made no gesture to move towards her stupid dog.  This was too much for me and I kind of snapped: I screamed “Fuck you Eileen!” – which really got her attention.  She muttered her upsetness, then warned us that she was about to walk our way.  “Thank you for warning us”, I said – genuinely appreciating her for this moment of clarity and responsibility.  I took Pancho in my arms – the ultimate act of control and comforting – and Pancho did not bark as they walked closely by.  When they had walked about 15 yards past, Eileen had apparently not had enough of the hostilities and turned to yell some more upsetness (none of which I really listened to).
I, clearly violating the building policy against threatening your neighbors, said – kind of quietly, no longer in any way out of control, but definitely menacing “Don’t make me come over there.” With that, I had absolutely had enough of her stupid ass and turned to talk with my soul friend Diana while Eileen continued to yell at me.  One of the things she yelled was “I will never talk to you again.”  You can imagine how devastating that threat was to me. I totally ignored her and let out a good laugh to Diana at how thrilling it had been to set such a clear boundary.
2) Diana and Pancho and I had gotten on the elevator to go to #6 for Diana to go home and #2 for me to use the bathroom.  Someone in the basement had called the elevator and we went down there first.  On the way back up, the elevator opened again on the main floor, and there was Roberta and one of Pancho’s arch-enemies, the extremely aggressive little Nyabi.  The two two dogs immediately started to growl and bark at each other.  Roberta, the queen of doggie unconsciousness, still moved to enter the elevator.  “Don’t you bring that dog in here.”  My tone was completely under control, but the power of my very clear boundary setting backed her right off.  This encounter had been an unqualified success, but still made me very tired.
3) Somewhere along the way, we encountered Cynthia – walking some stupid aggressive dog whose name I don’t remember.  Cynthia gets lots of dog-walking business in the building, but has lousy understanding of boundaries in her own relationships and clearly does not understand Principle #1 – that you don’t let your dog get close to another dog who clearly is angry at her.  She is forever letting the dog in her charge walk right up to another dog when they are already barking at each other.  One very strong “Stay away” backed her right off.  I felt satisfied – and got even more tired.

Pancho had done so well in our countrified temporary home.  I will walk her a lot in the nearby beautiful, tranquil neighborhood of Montford – sometimes visiting our really good friend Amanda Graves over there, and often returning to Monika’s place in Oteen to walk the nearby Mountain To Sea Trail, even setting up my laptop in Monika’s state park of a backyard, and when we are lucky enjoying Monika’s sweet company.

But it will be a long number of days or weeks ’til we can get out to Candler and the wonderful Tom and Ian Kilby.

Adopting Pancho

It took me about five years after Buddy’s death to be ready for another dog.

9-25-08 055

My Buddy, age 10

In that fifth year, I started showing signs that I was ready.  I was asking a lot of customers in my grocery store checkout line about their dogs – I was really curious about the dog, but especially about their relationship with the dog.  These sometimes extended conversations made my checkout line even slower than usual, but I often just ignored the signs of anxiety or even irritation in the person next in the line.  “Hey, we’re talking about dogs here – this is important!”

I started talking about dogs in my weekly psychotherapy sessions.  Lorrie, my psychotherapist, had recently lost her beloved dog Poppy and totally understood why this topic was important enough to use a therapy session for it.

After one of these sessions, I came home and told my roommate Marvin (who was crazy about animals, and I knew would be interested in this) “In my therapy session today, I got really clear – I’m ready for another dog.”  Marvin seemed totally unsurprised by this and said with great poise, “I’ve got your dog.”  Well, I was surprised.  “You’ve got my dog!?” Marvin explained to me that his good friend Lucy had told him that morning that her MS had progressed to the point that she could no longer pick up her tiny (5 lb.) dog Toni – and she decided that it was time to give her up.

Sherri Lynn cashier with Toni

Toni the junior cashier, at Earth Fare

Marvin – who always spent time with Toni on his frequent visits with Lucy and was very fond of the adorable little dog – had that morning promised Lucy that he would help her find a home for Toni.  So he was, in fact, completely unsurprised by my disclosure.  Toni was an extremely sweet, very special little dog and he was sure we would be a match.

When we went to visit Luci and Toni, I was immediately smitten with this adorable little yorkipoo.  Lucy was obviously having a hard time with Toni’s imminent departure, but said “We have been saying our goodbyes – our karma with each other is complete.” Lucy’s roommate said two very telling things during our half-hour visit.  Shortly after I got there, she said “Toni is really liking you already.”  And as I was leaving with Toni, she said, “She’s really happy to be going with you.”

with diana

Toni with Aunt Diana, in front of Battery Park Apartments

I adopted Toni at age 8.  We immediately became very close to each other.  People would frequently say, “She adores you.”  She was a rarified being – almost another species than a dog.  People on the street, who had never seen her before, would often say “She’s an angel” or “She’s an angelic little being.”

I had Toni for just two years.  A year into our life together, she was walking even less than usual and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.  The vet said, “Like people with heart disease, she may last a long time – or she could have a heart attack tomorrow.”
After a slow decline, she was diagnosed with liver disease and I knew her days were numbered.  Three days after the liver disease diagnosis, my friends Lisa and Karen punctured my denial: “She’s looking really terrible – it’s time to let her go.”  Three days later, I had the mobile euthanasia vet come to my apartment – and six of Toni’s best human friends joined us as we let her go.

I took Toni’s death hard.  People in our senior living facility almost immediately started asking me if I was going to get another dog.  I was very clear with them: “It’s way too soon to be asking me that – I’m not going to be ready for another dog for at least a year, maybe two.”

Toni died on October 1, 2018.  On December 22, I was at Petsmart – strictly to buy a “smart tag”.  I was doing professional dog sitting and was about to have a seven-day overnight pet sit with Freddie, a very cute 20 lb rat terrier.  I got the gig through Rover.com and Rover recommended that for an extended job like this you should get a smart tag with your information on it – and put that tag on their collar for the duration of your visit with them.

As I was looking at the tags at Petsmart, the overhead speaker announced that Rusty’s Rescue from Marion, NC, was having a dog adoption day.  Much to my surprise, I had just a few days earlier begun thinking about getting another dog.  On this particular Saturday, I was very clear with myself that no way was I yet going to get another dog – “but let’s go just look at them, to get some idea of what I’m looking for.” Famous last words, right?

The first two dogs I looked at were very cute, but didn’t stir my heart.  The third dog – sitting way back in her crate, was a chihuahua.  I have never liked chihuahuas.  But she looked at me.  She stared at me with her big brown eyes.  For what seemed like an eternity, she just would not break eye contact with me.  When I finally broke the eye contact, I think I said out loud “My doggie.”  I took her for a walk around the parking lot, but I knew that was just a formality – she was already mine, and maybe even more so I was hers.

in Susie's car

Pancho in one of her favorite places – in the car.

By the time I drove away with Pancho, we were already totally bonded.  Three days later I took her on a walk on my favorite stretch of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, where I had taken Buddy many times.  I knew that a leash was unnecessary.  She stayed right at my heal for the 30 minute walk.  We belonged to each other.

FB profile 4-19

Panchita and I bonded fast – like right away.

 

Pancho and the bears

About a half-hour after getting home this afternoon (maybe 20 minutes ago), Pancho – who had been periodically going to the back door and letting out a perfunctory woof, at the dog across the street I thought – started barking very insistently. I thought maybe that same dog had come across the street, but something made me put Pancho’s leash on her before went out to see.

As soon as we stepped out the door, there they were

cub

Again, no photo of our three bears – they disappeared into the woods too rapidly and I felt no urge to pursue them. But both times the smaller cub had shimmied up a tree.

– about 30 yards away, in the middle of the backyard. I think they probably are the same three bears we saw two days ago, maybe a half-mile down the Mountain-to-Sea Trail: mama, big cub and little cub. As soon as they saw us and Pancho’s barking – now coming from the patio – got much louder, they headed for the back of the property, but in no big hurry.

Pancho for a long while kept very attentively watching their exit point into the woods. Were they lingering just past the border of our yard? Probably not. It’s just that neither of us is really used to bears in the backyard.

in Susie's car

Panchita the canine bear alert system

Wait! Where is Pancho now, as I write this?! A moment of anxiety for me. As I stand up from my table to look for her, she also stands up from her resting place under the table.
Now, a few minutes later, as I write this, where has she gone? When we were out here in the backyard the other day, she stayed right by me. But now that she’s getting more comfortable here at Monica’s house, how far might she wander? I – who have never let her free outside, apartment dog that she has been – do not know. The street in front of the house is a very sleepy end of a dead end street. Monica says the only people who travel it are from the house across the street – and they are used to watching out for their and Monica’s cats.
Sure enough, that’s exactly where she had gone – out into the street and I don’t know how far down it. I’m simultaneously proud of her independence and thinking I want to keep an eye on her.
“Go Pancho! You’re a good little watchdog! Do keep letting me know when there are bears around!”

Soul friends

Last year I lived in seven houses in ten months.  Some of them were roommate squabbles – I hated them or they hated me.  One was a landlord issue: he hated us and we hated him. One of them hated my little five pound yorkipoo dog – the completely adorable Toni, who was clearly a menace.  This whole saga was as harrowing to my friends following my adventures as it was for me. They were afraid to read their Facebook for fear of what I might have posted now.

So when  my friends heard on Facebook that I was moving into the famous Battery Park Apartments, they did victory dances all over Asheville. Famous for the location – right downtown, directly across from the Grove Arcade. Famous for the amazing history of the old hotel.  Famous for the year to three years it took people to get in. (I was lucky and waited only a year.) Famous for nice large remodeled 1 bedroom apartments right down town rent controlled need-based senior living charging rents that all over town would get you a studio with free cockroaches.  Famous for the reputation that you could live there three months and not see anybody under sixty. Famous for the word that nobody ever moved out except on a gurney.

My friends were so relieved that I had landed there that a month later when in one of my bad moods I told one of them that I needed to move out, he said, “No you don’t.. No you fucking don’t.  If you so much as attempt to move one stick of furniture out of that fucking apartment I will come down there myself and rip that chair out of your feeble old hands and sit on your fucking chest until you get your head out of your fucking ass and agree to stay put.”  And then he told me what he really felt.

I have bipolar disorder that in 20 years my meds have never gotten under control.  I have no middle ground – I’m up or I’m down. In the interest of fairness, my raging biochemistry tends to give me roughly the same amount of time up as down. Lately I’ve been 2-3 weeks up and then 2-3 weeks down.

Some parts of my moods are relatively predictable.  When I’m moving – which has been every other week lately – I gear up for the move.  At four a.m. I’m throwing shit in boxes. After a move, within a week I am crashed flat on the floor.  As I was moving into the Battery Park Apartments and for the next week, I loved everything. I loved the layout of my apartment, I loved the views out my fifth floor windows.  

So for a week I liked most everything.  OK, except my neighbors. What am I doing living with all these old people?  Yeah, at 72 I cleared the bar for living there ten years ago, but I’m not like really old.  I’m a young person walking around disguised in an old suit. So I kinda, in that first week, stayed clear of my neighbors.

Then, after a week of being up and mostly liking everything, I crashed and hated everything – especially my neighbors.  Old – I’m not old. Or disabled, mostly crazy – I just have a little bipolar disorder. But the symbol of what I wanted to avoid in my neighbors – the woman I most wanted to avoid (she helped me to write this part – and insisted I use her real name) was the woman out in front of the building – all day every day, in overalls every day.  Chain smoking all day every day. Smoking is not allowed anywhere in the building. Like light the next cigarette off the last cigarette just before it burns your fingers – all day every day. After long hard struggles over a couple of years to get off of cigarettes, I had eight years ago gotten free. Her especially I wanted to stay clear of.

So I went three weeks down.  Then I had a stroke. It didn’t kill me. It didn’t leave me paralyzed – or with any long term symptoms except some balance issues, and the risk of having another.

Three days later, I checked out of the hospital a new man. I had had my brush with death and had come back from the brink.  I was more than happy to be alive. My depression had passed and I was again wonderfully up. I wanted life – all of it. I wanted to embrace my new apartment – including my neighbors.  So when the friend who had been caring for Toni picked me up at the hospital and dropped us off in front of Battery Park apartments with my little overnight bag there were no parking spots. “No I’ll be fine getting myself in, really”.  

In front of the building, the icon of Battery Park Apartments – the woman with the overalls and the cigarettes.  She looked too young to live there – and it turned out she was. She had gotten in for a disability ten years before.

“Ok, I’m gonna make friends with her first.”  “Hey, how ya doin?… Nice day, huh?… Can I bum a smoke?”

From there began one of the most amazing friendships of my life.  I discovered that – although her schooling, back in Mexico and here in Chicago was sparse and lousy – Diana was extremely smart – brilliant in some areas, interesting, a great communicator… able and willing to share deeply about herself as well as being a world-class listener.  Extraordinarily generous.

And adored my Toni.  Most everybody actually did – but Diana more than anybody.  And Toni, who mostly loved everybody, especially loved Diana.

And we smoked together.  What started as sharing a smoke, then a couple, became a full-fledged habit.  Two days after having that first cigarette, I went to the smoke shop to buy one pack so I wouldn’t be mooching off of Diana, who clearly was of modest means. (I had no idea.)  When it was my turn at the counter, I totally shocked myself by ordering three packs. “Who is that voice?” When I got outside, I talked to that voice.  “What are you doing? I just want a few cigarettes.” The voice said back, “Who are you trying to kid? You’re in it now.”

Soon Diana became Aunt Diana for Toni.  Diana sat for her when I went out. Toni, who for some reason had stopped sleeping in my bed, napped with Diana.  Toni, who never really cuddled with me, with Diana would sleep here – up against the side of her head.

Diana then went from Aunt Diana to christening herself “Mama”. It accurately reflected her relationship with Toni.  We became co-parents. Never a hint of romance on either side: We have checked in with each other a couple of times. We are blessedly clear of that. But we had become an ersatz family.  When I announced to our smoking posse – all spokes in the wheel to Diana’s hub, people love to be with her – in front of the building that I had to leave to take Toni to the vet, to find out why she was walking even less than usual, Diana asked “Can I go?”  She dropped everything and didn’t smoke until we got out of the vet’s office. After running a lot of expensive tests, the vet said, “She has congestive heart failure. Like people with heart disease, she could have a relatively long life or she could die of a heart attack tomorrow.’

Diana and I digested the news together, we grieved together.  Our baby might not make it. Our little angelic being – who had always seemed to inhabit a rarified atmosphere, above this earthly plane – now seemed more precious than ever.  

Then came the liver disease.

Diana: “I still have a good feeling.  I think she will live a long life.” Me: “Her liver is shot, Diana – she’s not going to be here much longer.”

I still thought we might have her a few weeks longer.  When two days later my friends Karen and Lisa convinced me that she was looking terrible, that it was time to let her go, i realized how much denial I also was living in.  As I grieved, I feared what this conversation with Diana would be like. Perhaps, finally, this would be our first big fight. When I told Diana it was time to let Toni go, she was amazing, astonishing.  “Hey, you’re the real parent. You know her better than I. You hear her labored breathing all night long. You’ve got to make the call.” And she really, truly, totally fell in behind the plan.

I arranged for the Four Paws mobile euthanasia group to come to my apartment the next morning, Monday morning at ten a.m. I called a few of Toni’s favorite people to come be with us.  Amazingly, four of five were free – and each loved Toni so much that there was no question of them coming.

At the releasing ceremony, Diana was as strong as I thought she would be.  She held her baby tenderly. At one point, one of my friends gently said to her, “Maybe you could let Majo hold her now.” I had not even noticed that she might be taking too long a turn. The next day, we wheeled Toni in the stroller she loved three blocks over to Montford, to bury her in Amanda’s back yard, which she also loved.  I dug the grave, we together laid Toni in it. We cried.

A week later, i shocked everyone by saying that – still clearly grieving over Toni – I was going to quit smoking.  I had tried several times lately and failed bitterly. “I’m going to do it the right way this time – get lots of support from the state ‘Quit Line’ help resources.”  Toni’s death made me want life more than ever. “These things are killing me. I can’t breathe right any more.”

Diana and I had the conversation.  We no longer had our baby to pull us together. Toni died on October 1. If i stop smoking on my quit date of October 29, what about us?  I was very clear that there would be no more children to pull us together. “I won’t be ready to let another dog into my life and my heart for a minimum of one to two years.” Diana said, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose you.”  And in some ways she has. We no longer start our days with that first smoke of the day at 7 a.m. I no longer make several trips a day out to the front stoop. If there are more than two smokers out there at a time, my sobriety feels threatened and I stay away.  I hate the cold, while – even with her Mexican blood – Diana endures it out there most of the day.

But we both crave and continue this friendship.  I will leave the building by the front door even when my car is in the parking lot out back.  I will endure the cold for a while to talk with her. Her smoking for some reason never threatens my sobriety.  We go down to World Coffee on a warm sunny day and sit outside and she has six cigarettes. We wrote this story together.  

We are soul friends and we know it.  We will never let each other go – until one of us goes out on a gurney.

I have been totally clean of cigarettes since October 26 and have not had a craving. The Quit Line counselor the other day asked me the two questions: “How much do you want to stay off of cigarettes – 1 to 10?”  “Ten, no question.” “How sure are you that you will stay off them?” “Eight.” I could weep.

Hey, if you have any time after the show, you could walk with me the three blocks back to Battery Park to meet Diana.  Diana hates crowds and knew this was not for her. She was my first audience for the finished story the other night and gave the whole thing her blessing.  She’s sitting for Panchita aka Pancho – a five year old adorable female chihuahua, my totally loyal Mexican sidekick that I adopted two months ago.

Kinship with All Life

Last night I was depressed.  Actually I have been depressed for a couple of weeks and last night it took a particular form.  The form it took last night was “My life has no meaning” – or more specifically “I’m doing nothing that has any meaning.”  As I examined this further, I realized it’s not true that my life has no meaning – rather, I’m not doing the things that give my life meaning.  Caring for animals gives my life meaning, but my dog has died and right now I have no active dog walking or pet sitting business.  I am a writer and writing gives my life meaning, but – for the last few days that I have not been writing – that source of meaning has not been there.  Funny how its absence for just a few days could have such a devastating impact on me.

Realizing all this is very helpful to me, but tonight there’s more.  Today, at church and at a memorial service downtown, has been all about the tragedy at the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.  When I tried to have my post tonight be all about dogs, I just couldn’t do it.  Dogs are a beautiful species.  I could picture a dog so noble that their death might even seem tragic. Yet for 11 innocent people to be killed because someone hates who they are – even my doggie’s death at a relatively young age, profoundly sad as it makes me, does not seem as important.

No, something in this is out of kilter.  I’m teetering awfully close to saying that dogs are not as important as people – and maybe they are not, I don’t know.  But I did feel profoundly sad when my dog died – and I’ve got a hunch that that grief opened my heart to the victims in Pittsburgh.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about parrots – and my next animal just might be a parrot.  In the meanwhile, I might volunteer with the local parrot rescue agency.  I can’t picture going through my life never having another dog, but I think there’s stuff I can learn about life from parrots.macaw

I think we need other species in our lives.  One of my favorite books is Kinship With All Life.  If we feel kinship with dogs and parrots and people of other races and religions – all of this stretches our heart, makes us more the person we were meant to be.  It can maybe even fill our life with meaning.

My adorable, amazing, hopelessly lovable five-pound yorkipoo Toni has died.

Toni ESA

Toni in better times, running through the park.

She had complications of heart disease (diagnosed three months ago), liver disease (one month ago) and kidney failure (diagnosed the day before we put her down).

On the Thursday before, September 27 – the day after what had for me been a happy birthday – two dear and solid friends, having just spent a half-hour with me and Toni, took the risk of saying it straight as they saw it:  “This dog is in very bad shape.  We think she is dying. You need to not make her linger.”

This threw me for a loop.  In the month since a substitute vet had told me that Toni’s liver was three times its normal size, I had been making my peace with the idea that she was not going to make it – would not get well.  But there were those moments that she seemed to really enjoy our little posse – people and dogs – who hang out in front of the building.  The times she would decide she needed a treat from the very kind staff of The Dog Door just next to our apartment building and would take off in her inimitable swollen-belly waddle.  I actually would attempt to imitate it, right on her heels, to everybody’s delight.  Good times, happy times with my doggie – she can’t be ready to die yet!

I talked with my friends, especially the very compassionate and perceptive Diana, a neighbor in the building who had in just a couple of months come to be like a co-parent to Toni. If it’s possible, she loved her as much as I did.

Aunt Diana.jpg

“Aunt Diana” got so close to Toni in her final weeks that she became “Mama”.  Toni would just go limp in her arms and stay there – totally content – for a long time.

 

I took my predicament to my Facebook friends – posted it on Thursday evening, just hours after my two wonderful friends had confronted me about Toni’s condition.  I have a lot of wonderful Facebook friends: perceptive, compassionate, good communicators, dog lovers.  Many of them are also real-life, face-to-face no-book friends – which increases my trust in them.  Their response was speedy (and it did seem like time was of the essence), compassionate, perceptive – and amazingly consistent.  They told me three things:

  1. The dog will tell you when it’s time to let them go.  This was the most consistent piece of feedback – probably eight different people said it.  At first this seemed especially woo-woo, but then it almost immediately got confirmed.  Marlisa had described how her little dog looked deep in her eyes and she knew she was being given permission to let her go.  Toni had not looked deep in my eyes for a long time, if ever – but in the next couple of days she did it a lot, for a long time each time, and I had no question that she was saying something like, “It’s OK, it’s time to let me go.  I’m suffering too much.”
  2. Don’t make them linger.  Be strong, do what you have to do.  This piece of advice poured in on Friday and Saturday.  By Saturday night I was out of denial – there was no question for me just how sick Toni was.  I knew what I needed to do.
  3. Do it at home, not at an animal hospital.  Five people said “Use 4 Paws Farewell in-home euthanasia vets – they’re the best.”

Four Paws office was listed as opening at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, which was amazing in itself.  By 8:05 I was on the phone with them and by 8:30 we had gone through the business and procedural steps (not “details” – all of them too important to be called details) and ascertained that they had a lot of availability for tomorrow, Monday.  I did not want to make Toni linger – suffer – for another extra day.  By nine a.m. I had called the five other people I wanted to be with Toni – and with me – people that Toni and I both loved.  Another miracle: by noon I had heard from all of them, 10:30 a.m. was available for all of them – including John, who took a day off of work to do it – and I had confirmed the time with the vet.

JOhn and Ralph 3

John lost his beloved dog Ralph just a few months ago (while Toni and I were living with him).  But that wasn’t the main reason he wanted to be with us on Monday (enough to take the day off of work).  He had fallen really in love with Toni – and she with him.  It was gorgeous to watch.

This post has run on long enough – let me write up the next couple of steps in another post (or more – there’s a lot here that could perhaps be helpful to others).

 

I sat for these two dogs for two weeks recently (with the company of my tiny white dog Toni) – and fell for them.  And they fell for me – because I fed them and I am a person and dogs love people.  

Adorable is wild and woolly – she loves me in a joyous way.  She jumps on me with her muddy paws and leaves muddy streaks down my helpless short pants.  It would be worse in the late fall with long pants. I barely protest. It so sweet and funny – she loves with such abandon.2 dogs and a foot.jpg

Mighty mopes in the corner of the yard – under the playground set, digging hard.  In the bushes. She comes closer only to hide under the chaise lounge with the red cushions.  She comes closer still to give her love/ask for love by rubbing her head against my legs (no jumping here), twisting her head to look at me upside down – do you love me now?

They are a perfect team, with all their difference.  They run up to the gate next to the back door to bark furiously – though in no way menacingly – at some imaginary person or dog next door.  Alternately, they race to the boards up on top of the hot tub to protect the perimeter from some other imaginary interloper.two dogs hunting.jpg

They both resisted food the first three days I sat for them, just to test my confidence in them.  They knew they would eat eventually, but I didn’t know it. Likewise, the only one occasion when they refused to come out of their crate, it was just to mess with me.  Go ahead, put us in this crate – we’re not afraid of no crate. We’ll stay in this crate longer than you can tolerate – you’ll break before we do.

When they came around and acted healthy again – ate normal, came out of their crate like any healthy dog would do – it was not for me, though they later (only later) came to love me.  It was because they love you, their people – Mary, Pat and Zelda. They love you with a passion. They love me only because I am a shadow of you.3 dogs closer.jpg

They love you because dogs are bred to love people and because you represent for them the best that people have to offer.  And part of the best that people have to offer is to love dogs the way you love them: Adorable Lover and Mighty Hunter.  Your wonderful dogs, who you loan briefly to me – the dog sitter – lucky dog that I am.

Saturday, September 29, 5:30-9:30.
Battery Park Apartments, 1 Battle Square, downtown Asheville 28801, out the north side of the Grove Arcade
reach me: heymajo@gmail.com, 828-582-9822.

Have you been in the elegant and historic Battery Park Apartments?front taller still.jpgLobby

The lobby?

Lobby 2

The glamorous 13th floor Roof Garden penthouse party room?roof garden

Out on the western facing balcony to see the mountains – including Mt. Pisgah to the left (out of sight from this photo, but very visible from the balcomy) – and sometimes a great sunset?west balcony.jpg

Or the eastern facing balcony to capture the art-deco City Hall or the much more mundane County Building?east balcony.jpg

Have you ever helped me to warm this house in my fifth floor western (Canton) and northern (Montford) facing apartment #503?  Most likely not – I’ve just been here for three months.  If you know anything about my gypsy ways over the last year, you will know what a big deal it is for me to warm this house.west from my apartment.jpg

Three big windows facing west.

Montford.jpg

One big window facing Montford to the north.

Help us to eat potluck (5:30-6:30 – extra points for not bringing hummus and crackers), dance the night away to the music of locally famous DJ Kutzu (two sets – 6:30-7:30 and 8:30-9:30), feast on my poetry (7:30-8:30, or go hang out on the balcony). Hang out in my cozy apartment #503. Sign the journal – leave a wish for me and my house.

Building rules say to vacate the party room by 9:30.  Stop by my apartment #503.  Let’s party late if we feel so inspired.

Don’t be intimidated by all the talk of no parking downtown on a Saturday night.  Allow 10 extra minutes for a little walk and park on a Montford neighborhood side street or there will be parking behind the Visitor Center on Montford Avenue no matter how many tourists or what country singer is playing at the Civic Center.

Children and partner friendly – as long as they are friendly.  This very festive evening will all be too much for my hyper-sensitive (and sick) little yorkipoo doggie Toni, so she will be playing elsewhere that night (aside from the poetry – she and her sitter Diana love my poetry).  Tony hello.jpg

No drinking in this church-affiliated building, except in private apartments like mine (leave me a beer as a souvenir if it’s an imperial stout or a Belgian ale, take any extras home if they are IPA’s).  Wine drinkers should not look for help from me – it would be a waste of good wine. No smoking even in private apartments, but you can go out by the sidewalk if you got ’em.

The building requires that the front door be locked at all times, so we need eight 30-minute greeters.  Do it with your partner or pair up with a friend – or just get off on meeting people. Greeting is a sacred act.  Let me know if you are interested.  heymajo@gmail.com.

RSVP if you would (so redundant), so I know who to get excited about seeing and who I will need to see another time.

 

Happy birthday Toni!

Wednesday I took Toni to a new vet, at a different veterinary practice, to get a second opinion about her congestive heart failure.  If you are going to get such a serious diagnosis, that will go with her through life, it seems necessary to get a second opinion. Here’s what, for me, came out of that meeting:

  1. Our current vet is doing all the right things, including giving all the right four meds.
  2. It doesn’t need to be a real expensive process, unless you go to a cardiologist for a second opinion.  That will cost a lot of money and almost certainly gain nothing.  The meds will be expensive.
  3. She’s not going to get better – you need to just keep her comfortable and happy.  This sounded suspicious.
  4. She will probably live another 1-3 years.  Sometimes a dog will live longer, but it’s not common.  I really knew this was bogus.  We don’t want to condemn a person to 1/2/3 years to live (although doctors do it) – why do it with a dog?
  5. The vet had all kinds impressive scientific-sounding things to say, but I mostly couldn’t understand him.kitchen carpet

Thursday, yesterday, we had our previously scheduled follow up with our vet.  Here’s what came out of that meeting with a very impressive vet filling in for our regular person:

  1. “I don’t think we are doing everything right: we’ve got her on eye drops for glaucoma and I think that was mis-diagnosed.  If you take her off of those, there’s one less hassle and a little less money.”  Big sigh of relief.  I’ve been finding it impossible to get those drops in her eyes and mostly quit already.
  2. “You are paying a lot to compound this one med in liquid form.  A pill would be a lot cheaper.  Can you get a pill down her?”  “Before we started her on this exact steroid medicine, she was such a picky eater that there was no reliable way to get a pill down. Now she eats like a hound.”
  3. “You described that over the last three days she actually did get better.  What’s different? Is there a change in her diet?  Is she getting less salt?” “In fact, yes, so many people have told me she needs less salt that in the last few days I’ve been reducing the salty foods.”  “OK, let’s keep it up – maybe she can get better.”
  4. “I wish that other doctor had not told you that 1-3 years business.  Lots of dogs live a long time with congestive heart failure.  We don’t know how long she’s going to last.”  This jibes with what lots of people have told me – that their dog lived a long time with heart disease.
  5. This vet, like our regular person, went out of her way to explain everything to me – and mostly I could understand her.  cookie

Today is Toni’s 10th birthday.  It has felt very festive.  For dinner she had beef eye of round from the Earth Fare deli – probably too salty, but a treat on a special day.  It’s her fourth day of being more perky – she seemed to have a happy day. She may not have another ten years in her, but who knows how many?  If she’s happy and well-loved, that may not only increase her quality of life in the present, but also give her more of a future.

 

 

A close friend said to me the other day, “When you were a cashier at Earth Fare supermarket those last four years, you did so much more than sell groceries.  You were always looking for ways to affirm your customer.  You were really a blessing for them.  Why would it be a surprise that your pet sitting should go way beyond what people think of in that work?”

I recognize that I do more, that I want to offer more.  I send a text message with a new photo every time I look in on a pet.  Because I’m a writer, these text messages have some significant content.  I shine a positive light on the pet – point out their beauty.  IMG_0140

IMG_20180821_104310574.jpgIMG_20180822_090958602.jpgWhen this is a regular customer or they give me a big job, I write a commissioned poem about their pet.  These commissioned poems retail for $100 and totally are a blessing on the animal – and the person’s relationship with the animal.

I love the house – take good care of it, bless it.

I bless the family – want for them to have enchanted relationships with their pets, want for them to have a happy household.  At Earth Fare, I was never content with swiping groceries.  A recent pet sitting customer said she wanted me for the job partly because she remembered having special conversations with me at Earth Fare.

I am grateful to have this work: to spend time with beautiful animals, in a beautiful house, for beautiful families.

Dogs Took Over the Internet. Our Souls Are at Stake.

It used to be that the cat was the big beast online. But lately, dogs are taking over.
In the first episode of the new season of her video series, “Internetting,” Amanda Hess investigates an adorable existential crisis for web culture.

Dogs are order. Cats are chaos. Dogs are loyal and compliant. Cats are … not. Why has the internet suddenly switched its allegiance? Episode 1 of our video series.

This 4 1/2 video from the New York Times is very funny  – and maybe even insightful.Internetting

Toni ESAMy little Toni is more resilient today – more her old self, handling many different situations with poise. On our first three errands, she just plopped herself down on the floor, patiently waiting for me to complete my business – no restlessness, no hard breathing. But after our third errand, when we got in the car she did start to hyperventilate. And i thought, “When I was planning this outing all of these errands seemed kind of urgent, but you know what? These last three errands could just as well be done another day – or maybe one a day over three days.”

She’s my little canary in the coal mine, letting me know when the situation is moving into a toxic zone – probably for me in addition to her.

For Buddy

It feels a little creepy, when my current dog is so sick, to post this poem that I wrote five years ago when my Buddy was dying.  But, I think, not really creepy.  It’s just about mortality, about impermanence.  Everything dies.  Everyone we love will eventually go away from us – by their death or ours or something else.  My very wise friend Arayah said after Toni’s heart disease diagnosis, “Toni will be with you exactly as long as she is meant to be with you – not one day more or less.”

When my Buddy was dying, my friend Johanna – a big fan of my poetry, said to me on the phone, “Write Buddy a poem – and read it to him right before you put him down tonight.”  It knew it was the best advice I could have gotten.  That afternoon I carried Buddy out to our back deck for us to sit in the glorious warm late-fall sunshine.  I sat next to him and very easily wrote the poem.  I read out loud to him and I – who had not yet found my way into my tears about his dying – cried like a baby.  It was healing.  I hope it is helpful to you.IMG_0140

For Buddy

Once you were afraid of me – and all men
When I stepped on your paw, you ran away –
You thought I was trying to hurt you
Now I am your safe space
You trust me
You have taught me about trust
You have taught me so many things

You have shown me what it’s like
To come totally awake to the night
To smell, hear, and sense it all
Like there is no tomorrow
Like there is nothing else
Just this night – here, now

You have shown me what it’s like to be content
This moment, this place, this life

You have shown me what it’s like to have no regrets
No second-guessing
Wishing we had done something different

I can’t take away your cancer
I can’t extend your life
I can’t keep you here with me
I can commit to you, before you go
Out of gratitude for all you have given me
Over all these years
That I will redouble my efforts
To sense the night
To be content
To have no regrets
And that sometimes
When I feel the night
Am content or
Have no regrets
I will think of you
And I will smile

My first donation!

About two hours ago I decided to start sending out my Go Send Me funds request now, even without my Rover.com registration complete.  An hour later I got my first donation!  And from my best man friend in Asheville, Tom Kilby.  I was at Earth Fare – where I still, for another week, am on the payroll and where he works.  He bopped me on the head, as he is prone to do, with a ten dollar bill – a first for that.  He said “Hey, I’m not going to do Pay Pal and I don’t use checks – here, this is for your fund.”  Wow, what a shot in the arm!  I got my first donation even before I sent out the request!  And from this person who is so special to me.  This is really good ju-ju…or luck…or divine blessing. Tom and Amanda

My mind went crazy.  I’ve gotta create a spreadsheet to keep track of the donations.  What was the perk for a $10 donation?  I’ve gotta look that up and send it off to him right away.  Actually, I mostly need to breathe and trust.  Exactly the right amount of money is going to come in at just the right time.  If it’s not enough to pay for my liability insurance, things will work out.  If it’s more, that would be awesome.

No Rover.com yet

One of the things that has been holding me back from sending out the blog post with my “Go Send Me” funds request is that I wanted to have my Rover.com profile and registration complete – providing all of you and other potential customers a cross-section of my customer comments/testimonials.  But I can’t complete that registration until I have my insurance and bonding in place – and I can’t pay the $360 for the insurance until I get some income from this appeal. It’s the rock and a hard place thing.

This afternoon it got clear to me that the time is right to send out that beautiful letter, without the Rover registration – and hopefully in the short term score the money for the insurance, my top funding priority right now.  You can always go into Rover a few days from now to see my completed profile.  It’s exciting that I am going to let the horse out of the barn – or something like that. Amanda and Katie

In an hour Toni and I go to our vet and two hours after that my dear friend Amanda comes over to picnic in our stunning 13th floor Roof Garden.  She and I have not managed to find a time to talk since before my stroke, much less Toni’s health crises – and I may even get interested in the recent events of her life.  That sounds really, really good actually.

Minding a sick little dog

Toni’s congestive heart failure diagnosis was last Wednesday, just six days ago – not time enough to fully wrap my head around it.  Her big-time breathing crisis (one hour of oxygen, 4 1/2 hours at the emergency animal hospital) was Monday – two weeks ago.  She is not in crisis at this time – and when she gets enough rest she looks almost normal, though she is overall pretty subdued and walks a minimal amount when I take her out.Toni ESA

But she is clearly not well.  All she really wants to do is to sleep/rest on the carpeted floor or on my queen sized bed.  (She sleeps rests in one place for maybe 20 minutes, then moves a few feet away and does it again.)  Today we ran two rfelatively compact little errands: to get an estimate on my car bumper, so I can detail the cost in my pitch letter – which is published in this blog but has not been really promoted yet, and to Earth Fare for a few groceries.  This was clearly too much for her – she looked distressed and her breathing got very fast.

I have been cancelling almost all of my social engagements, including the ones where I was going to take her – maybe especially those.  She doesn’t need the extra stimulation.  What otherwise could be a positive stress – interesting things to do/see/smell – today is all just too much for her.

Reachmural

Is she going to make it?  My intuition is yes, that she will get through this crisis and get better – maybe for a good long time. But I can’t totally control my morbid fears.

Send your prayers.  Picture her well.  Picture her charging full-speed in Montford Park, which she was doing just two weeks ago.  Picture her really happy in the arms of Aunt Diana, her new best friend at Battery Park Apartments – and in the arms of Aunt Sherrie Lynn at Earth Fare,  Picture me handling it all – actually growing more peaceful and content as I actively embrace mortality, Toni’s and mine.  My friend Arayah said, the day after the heart diagnosis, “Toni is going to be with you exactly as long as she is supposed to be with you – not a day less or more.”  I’ve been thinking/saying that a lot – it’s comforting to me.

Making my doggie fat

When Toni came to me a year and a half ago, she was skin and bones.  She was a famously picky eater and she tipped the scale at 4.7 ounces.  (I know, staggering numbers, right?)  Then six months later, after some successful experimentation with her food, she came up to 5.2 and looked great – that seemed like her fighting weight.  Then the last few months her belly has gotten pretty big and I have been lambasting myself for feeding her wrong, not giving her enough exercise – something.  At her vet visit last week, she had picked up another three ounces – a lot for her – and I felt even more guilty.  “I’m wrecking my dog – I’m making her unhealthy and less attractive.”  Even her sitter teased me for letting her get so big: “You better make sure she doesn’t put on more weight.”Toni.jpg

The vet on Monday squashed all that.  “She doesn’t have any fat on her.  Everywhere I feel she is solid. Her belly is distended. There has to be a cause – maybe it is the prednisone.  But it’s a medical issue, not a feeding issue.”  (What’s causing my distended belly?  If I ate as lean a diet as Toni does, I might not have it.”

Amazing how we can torment ourselves for something out of our control – and how easily that bubble can be burst.

Everyone wants a piece of my Toni. She is so tiny and so amazingly cute that they want to say hi, want to pet her, want to hold her, want a picture of them with her.  She is so docile that sometimes she has a hard time saying “No”.  (Sometimes she will back clearly away or, if picked up, will get so squirmy that all but the most determined/insensitive person will get the message and put her down or give her to me.)

Sherry Lynn at cash register.jpg

Sometimes it falls to me to take care of her boundaries, to keep her from being overextended or overstimulated.  Yesterday I said to a neighbor who was reaching for her in Diana’s arms, “Let her be – she’s content where she is. She’s overheated.  She’s had a busy afternoon. Let’s not be passing her around.”

Sometimes it’s really more a matter of protecting my boundaries.  Walking downtown (where we live) her cuteness can make it impossible to make any headway. One day I said to a woman, kind of nice but very clear, “No you may  not visit with my dog – I need to be somewhere.”

I do believe that Toni is a sacred trust I have been given and part of my work is to share her.  But I also have to pay attention to her boundaries.  Maybe this will help me to learn these lessons where I myself am concerned.

The Care Credit Card

The presence of the Care Credit Card on the desk of the Reach Animal Hospital was next to miraculous.  My new neighbor/friend Diana had just been telling me about how great it is, and she on the spot the other day pulled out of her phone the number for the Care Card and – given the heavy vet bills I am facing with Toni – encouraged me to get signed up soon.  Three days later I had still not signed up, but it turned out that nothing was lost by my procrastination.

As I was signing in at the REACH clinic Monday afternoon, a staff person  raved about the company. They do have an interest in getting paid. (“Way better than those two other insurance companies on the counter. Our customers who have used this have found it very helpful.”) She loaned me a tablet computer to go online and sign up while Toni was in the oxygen room, where we couldn’t go. (I tried to sign up from my phone, but hit a stubborn error message.)  If this sounds interesting to you sign up before you get into a situation like that.

“Poor little spud must be terrified going through this stuff without me there!”  Well, if at any point there she was terrified, she don’t show any signs of it when she came out.  She was just interested in exploring the facility.  Medically and physically she is very fragile, but in some ways this dainty little thing has a ferocious spirit.  You won’t keep her down.

I have no credit – not bad credit, just no credit.  I haven’t had a credit card or paid for anything over time for maybe 20 years. The people at the On Track credit counseling agency, who ran my score but didn’t find any, said that no credit is almost as bad as bad credit when you are trying to get a loan, finance a house, etc.  So I was really kind of astonished when, just moments after I pushed the “Submit” button, a message came up saying I had been approved for a $2000 line of credit! Care credit card

I used $400 at the REACH clinic on Monday, I have an appointment with my vet today.(Hopefully Toni will not need more tests – maybe I’ll get out of there under $100!  One can dream.)  The vet on Monday wanted me to see an ophthalmologist – soon – for the scratch on Toni’s cornea.  At their emergency clinic, that appointment was going to cost $120 right out of the chute (“for a specialist”) – before any tests or treatments.  Before this spate of Toni health issues has calmed down I may be up to that $2k limit.

The terms of payment on the card are both very convenient and also very treacherous.  You get six months interest-free, but on the first day after six months you come due for 26% interest going back to day 1. So there’s plenty of incentive to get it paid off. You can also use it for your own medical/dental/vision bills.  Just remember that six months number.

Care Credit Card
866-893-7864
carecredit.com
“How to earn your $30 statement credit:
1) open a new account
2) use your credit card (you just need the account number they give you when you are approved) to pay for a transaction of $200 or more
3) register at carecredit.com/promotions with promo code VET30
Offer ends 8/31/18.”

On Monday, five days after Toni’s diagnosis of congestive heart failure, she had a massive breathing crisis that scared the crap out of her and me – and may have been connected with her heart condition, or her collapsing trachea, or something else (the vet speculated maybe kidney problems). After 4 1/2 hours at the emergency animal hospital and many tests, they just had no clear statement about what had caused it.

Toni had had a fine, calm, happy morning. We were driving down the road around 2 p.m., her seeming very content – settled in on her princess pillow on the passenger seat, connected to the seat belt by a little clasp that keeps her from going anywhere or becoming a projectile with a sudden stop.  She’s usually fine with that arrangement – she just settles in and gets comfortable.

Suddenly she got super restless – started thrashing around, then panting really hard.  Then her breathing developed a harsh whistling sound.  She clearly was in very bad shape.  I pulled over and called our animal hospital, Haw Creek Animal Hospital in East Asheville.  Our regular vet, Heather Sinclair – the best, after two dogs in her care I’m devoted to her – was not in the office, so the desk person consulted with the vet on duty.

She came back on the line and gave two reasons for us to go elsewhere: their radiology was down and it sounded to the vet like she needed an oxygen tent – which is only available at the REACH emergency animal hospital, famous for high rates and excellent care.  I immediately turned the car around and went back in that direction.  For the moment I was not concerned about the expense – though there was no way I could pay a big bill today.  I was really scared about her and just wanted her to get good help.

Driving there with her not able to breathe, so soon after the heart diagnosis, I was terrified that I was going to lose her.  I thought “She is not going to come out of this clinic alive.” I fought these thoughts, but they were very strong.

In view of the nature of her crisis, one of the techs took her back to the oxygen room while I was checking in.  Everybody in the office was lovely – efficient, warm, compassionate.  As I was checking in, I saw on the counter a little stack of applications for the Care Credit Card, which my great new friend Diana had just been telling me about.  “It has helped me so much about my vet bills – it’s been a lifesaver.”  More about that card in my next post.

After an hour in the oxygen tent, Toni’s breathing had normalized and they brought her out to be with us while they analyzed her tests.  She seemed amazingly untraumatized and happily roamed up and down the halls of the very big clinic.  I had brought her in without a leash – I wasn’t thinking – but they had a little stash of simple leashes.  I little by little let go of my panic – I was the one who was more traumatized – and came back to myself, even playing and teasing with the staff.

When finally they gave us their last read-out, we didn’t get the lovely, sweet young woman vet who had consulted with us two hours earlier.  They had changed shifts and we got a 35ish man who was a little gruff and not empathetic, but seemed very knowledgeable and efficient.  But he contradicted almost everything the Haw Creek vet had said last Monday (again, not Heather – she was on a much needed vacation):

  1. swollen heart – “Her heart did not look enlarged.”
  2. fluid on the lungs – “Today there is no fluid on her lungs”.
  3. Glaucoma in the right eye – “Our test for the pressure of her eye was negative.  We did find a scratch on the cornea, which needs attention right away.  I’d like you to see our ophthalmologist or some other one as soon as possible

By that point, my friend Laura – my inveterate doctor’s office buddy, who had rushed over to be with us at the beginning of the appointment – had had to leave and, even with writing notes furiously, I missed or didn’t understand some stuff.  My head was swimming.  I bet this last vet, cold fish that he was, did not package the information into reasonable doses for easy consumption.

These health crises really bond us to our little ones – human and animal.  I think that’s part of their life purpose.

 

Toni O – or OMG

Toni came to me at age 8 with the name Toni.  The name seemed totally adequate, so I saw no need to change it – even though I knew I could.  It causes some confusion, with some people almost insisting that she is Tony – a little boy dog.  But lately that name Toni has started to seem just a little vanilla for such an amazing little being.Paula

But Toni O is much more interesting and has a wonderful derivation.  So many people – and I mean so many people – greet her for the first time by saying “Oh my goodness”.  She is so tiny (5 lbs.) and so beautiful and sweet and obviously special.  bathed 6-12-17

So her full name is Toni Ohmygoodness” – or Toni O for short.  Most people still just call her Toni, even after being corrected – so that is fine.  I never correct anybody more than once.  But the hip people call her Toni O.

My doggie, little 5-pound 9 year old female yorkipoo Toni (or Toni O – see this post) is the world’s best dog – or second best, right after yours of course.  Peaceful, sweet, loving, funny – and fragile.  Maybe it comes with the tiny little designer breed.  Boy with dog

She has coughed a lot since I adopted her a year and a half ago.  Her last owner told me that it was just something she does when she is excited.  And sure enough she did it when I came home or when she encountered someone she loves and hasn’t seen for a while.  But she also did it when she had run or first thing every morning.Close-up hoodie

A couple of months ago this coughing got worse and I took her to the vet.  They diagnosed “collapsing trachea”, the coughing representing an attempt to clear the trachea and breathe better.  It does kind of come with the territory with these tiny breeds, but can be dangerous and isn’t something you should not deal with.  The vet prescribed prednisone or prednilisone.  I had qualms about giving her a steroid and at first was not consistent in administering it.  But it got clear that when I waffled in its administration she coughed a lot and when I am consistent with it she doesn’t cough much.  So I bite the bullet and do it.

Last Tuesday she turned up with a swollen left eye – swollen almost shut.  I took her to the vet the next day.  She gave Toni a good examination in addition to checking the eye.  Thank God.  She said, “I hear some crackling in her chest – I’d like to take x-rays, in addition to doing a pressure test on the eye.”goat sniff Toni

When, 30 minutes later, the vet invited us into the back room – equipped for viewing x-rays – she started by saying, “She has glaucoma in that eye – we’re going to prescribe an eye drop.”  But that’s about all the attention she gave to the glaucoma as she moved into the more important findings.

She brought up the x-rays.  “Here’s her heart.  It’s way enlarged – about 30% larger than it’s supposed to be.  All this dark area is fluid on her lungs.  These arteries here are all swollen – they’re working real hard to get the blood through.”

When she paused after these results, I asked,”Is she in danger now?” “Probably not now, because we’re going to get her on some good meds that will help a lot – she should be significantly better in a couple of days. If we hadn’t found it she could have been in immediate danger.”looking out windowThe vet used the diagnosis “heart disease”, but a couple days later a friend said “that’s congestive heart failure” and another friend confirmed that terminology.  I’m going to confirm that with the vet when we see her tomorrow.  Somehow that languaging is more threatening for me to hear.

“What does this mean for her life expectancy?”  “We can’t say.  Some people with heart disease live a long time – some not.”

In telling this story to people, several have said something like, “My dog had heart disease and she lived to be 17.”  I don’t know why 17 is the magic number, but it has seemed to be.  Toni and two goats

Mortality is on my mind.  I had my own health crisis in the last couple of weeks.  Sunday nine days ago I had a mini-stroke.  Without going into a lot of details, it was very terrifying and felt like a little brush with death.  I find myself getting way more comfortable with my own mortality, but so far not as much comfortable with hers.

My friend Arayah wrote me and said, “Toni will be with you just as long as she’s meant to be with you – not one day more or less.”  I don’t totally know why that was so comforting, but it was.

I dreamed a dream…

I dreamed a dream that all beloved pets would feel safe, loved and attended to when their masters are away – for a week conference in Manhattan or a long day at work in Woodfin.

I dreamed a dream that all masters would feel happy and comfortable that Fido is in good hands while they are gone.business card

I dreamed a dream that I would get to do work for which I am uniquely qualified – the animal care, the exquisite communication with the masters – work that makes my heart sing and for which I get appropriate compensation to acknowledge just how much I bring to the table.

I dreamed a dream that my friends and associates enthusiastically came together to support me in making this work work – whether giving $100 to get a commissioned poem Poet is inor $10 for some photos if that’s what works or, if no money works, to share my appeal on their Facebook page or think about who in their network has deep pockets and a philanthropic orientation or love of animals and might like to get weekly text updates for $150.

I dreamed a dream of my friend Karen whose emotional support animal is a chameleon Karen and Yoda– and how seeing them together reminded me that we all need each other.  We need other species in our lives.  Dogs are a great species and they love people, most of them.  People are great, but if our lives are only about people we are missing big parts of the world.  Read Kinship with All Life about animal/human communication.

I dreamed a dream of all of us together the other day,
late afternoon outside of Earth Fare,
July sun, just hot enough to be summer and not spring –
high summer, just a couple weeks after the Solstice.

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Gorgeous amazing very tall 30 year old Tre – a goddess, an Amazon,
we used to be cashiers together,
now she is selling her jewelry outside of Earth Fare
Her adorable tow-headed two year old toddler Lucas
Her amazing 17 year old totally quiet parrot Yoda
My fabulous newly diagnosed heart patient nine year old puppy Toni

dog parrot Tre.jpg
My self, 71 year old guy Majo
Sometime Earth Fare cashier

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Today just observing all of this
Not wanting to be anyone else
Not wanting to have anyone else
All of us coexisting
All of us making space for each other
All of us letting all the other beings just be

Baba busker

I dreamed that I just let go,
Let life take me where it wants me
I dreamed that all of life conspired to support me
Serving God as I am uniquely meant to
Walking dogs, visiting lonely animals
Your dog will be happy to see me
And you will be happy to know that I am there
That your beloved pet is not alone
That they are in good, competent, compassionate hands

Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go Lord, where you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart

Sherri Lynn - no rotate

I dreamed a dream of a world that works for everyone
Every species, every being
And I won’t give up on it.
One animal at a time.
Baby steps.

at the womens march, by Arayah

“For a while I was travelling quite a bit and would rely on Majo to take care of the critters while I was away.    He was prompt and reliable and kept in touch with anything he felt I needed to know about.  I definitely would use him again!”  Susie Davis

I’m reviving my dog walking/pet sitting business and launching a “Go Send Me”appeal to support this launch (yes, “Go Send Me” not “Go Fund Me” – read on).   I tried nine years ago to make a living off of dog walking and pet sitting, but it was the worst part of the economic downturn and people were just not spending money on dog walking or pet sitters. Now I know several people in Asheville who are doing well with it – and they don’t have half the network I do! Here’s the blog I was writing during that period – anybody who loves dogs will love this blog. Read it!

You’re actually reading it right now, but read more!  Read it all!  Follow it – you can sign up by clicking the button in the right column. After eight years this blog really holds up – some of my best writing.  My Buddy’s Blog

Why a Go Send Me Drive?

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Let’s say it straight – I’m broke. I left my Earth Fare grocery store cashier job because, between Social Security and my job, I was making too much money to move into the subsidized Section 8 apartment building I have just moved into (Battery Park Apartments in downtown Asheville – it’s wonderful!). Having left my cashiering job a month ago, I then needed to augment my Social Security income and I tried to do it with busking poetry on the street. I crashed and burned. (My poet/performer friend Tebbe says “Busking is not an old man’s game!”) I haven’t given up on it – I’ll still do more of it.  (See that blog: “Write Me a Poem!”.) But when I’m depressed I just don’t get out of bed unless I am required to.  I need a schedule – I need commitments.  I need to have to show up somewhere.  I need a dog to be waiting at the door for me to take her out for a walk.  There are lots of reasons why I think that dog sitting is just the right step for me right now. Read on.

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There’s a glitch on this card – or maybe just my computer – which overlaps the front of the card with the tag line from the back side. Gotta get that straightened out before we print.

Why not Go Fund Me?

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Go Fund Me exerts a lot of control over the process and takes a cut.  And “Go Send Me” echoes a beautiful, inspiring spiritual song that feels like the anthem of this next stage in my work contribution.

I honestly think this whole letter is really beautiful – great photos, three inspiring songs, a killer original poem at the very end written just for this letter.  But if you don’t have time to read it all right now and want to just give already – or are coming back to the letter looking for the link, here it is:

Contribute to Majo’s Go Send Me appeal

Majo helped me out with my animals–two cats and 5 chickens–while I was on vacation. He was dependable and tidy and all was well when I got home. I feel so good having such a trustworthy person in my home caring for my beloved creatures. (PS: It’s not always easy finding chicken sitters!)  Amanda Graves

 Where’s the money going?

 

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  1. My computer is a tool of the trade.  Part of my writer/pet sitter trademark has been that when people are gone for a week or more (good customers) I provide them with a unique blog about their animal(s) which they can see from the road.  Another element is that I write poems about their pets.  Finally, I do billing and receipts.  My computer is a 12 year old rebuilt PC that sometimes takes 3-5 attempts to get it to boot up.  New Asus PC computer from Christopher Computer, a local shop: $800 and $120 to move my files over – $920.
    (When my dear friend Margaret saw this paragraph a few days ago, she wrote me “I have a used laptop that I think might be just fine for you.  The only thing wrong with it was that it wasn’t a Mac.”  She’s dropped it off at Christopher Computers to see if it might be right for me.  I’ll let you know if a computer still needs to be a line-item here.)
  2. With a portable, I-come-to-you business, my car represents my business. Especially since I will sometimes be transporting clients’ dogs in my car, I can’t afford to have it looking like I don’t take care of it. My car needs some body work (not a lot, but I can’t afford it) to look good.  Front bumper painted – $200, cracked windshield replaced: $256
  3. Auto insurance. $110 x 2 months: $220
  4. Gas to get to pet sitting jobs – $200 a month for two months: $400
  5. I need Vistaprint (inexpensive) marketing materials, all still on file with Vistaprint and ready to print out : adorable full-color business cards, stationery for billing and receipts, car magnets, hats and t-shirts.  Marketing materials: $100
  6. If I want to get serious about pet sitting, I will need (as I got nine years ago) liability insurance and bonding.  $340 per year
  7. Membership in national petsitters organization (Pet Sitters Associates) – required to qualify for above insurance and bonding:  $125
  8. Membership in local professional organization:  $75
  9. Total start-up expenses, needed right now: $2636

I really do believe that before very long at all this business (combined with my Social Security) can pay all my bills and maybe even allow a little discretionary cash.

But until I build my business to the level of paying my living expenses, I need an infusion of cash to get me through the next couple of months. 
– Toni medical bills. 
My doggie, little 5-pound 9 year old female yorkipoo Toni (or Toni O – see this post about her full name) is the world’s best dog – or second best, right after yours of course.  Peaceful, sweet, loving, funny – and fragile.  Maybe it comes with the tiny little designer breed.  I’m gonna go into detail about her medical issues in another post. What it makes sense to say here is that three vet visits (one last Monday for a genuine breathing crisis that required an hour in an oxygen tent) have cost me $1200 – and we’re not out of the woods yet.

Itemizing all this can get me discouraged.  If you can send even $10, seeing that my appeal is being responded to can really lift my spirits.  Or if you “Share” this on Facebook or are keeping your eyes open for deep pocket donors or people with a need for pet sitting, drop me a line and let me know you are doing this – all of this can be deeply encouraging.

(While I was writing this, I left YouTube running and it played this amazing song, also sung by Josh Groban. The video is awesome – it just gave me a good cry.  It’s just what I need to hear right now.  Maybe there are times when it could help you too.)

Why give?

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I am meant to do this work. I am magic with dogs. I adore my dog Toni (my last dog -Buddy is above and was the namesake of this blog.) This is the right work for me to to right now.
I’m offering perks:
  • all people who have received this letter have also received a link to this beautiful “My Buddy’s Blog”, which all dog owners owe it to themselves to read
  • You don’t have to give me money! One friend said to me, “Right now, $10 is not in my budget.” I get it – I’m pretty close to that right now myself, that’s why I’m sending out this letter.  But there are other wonderful ways to support me:
    • “Share” this link on your Facebook page – that gets me in front of your 14 Facebook friends (or 1400, but all it takes is one for me to get a donor or a great new client).
    • Send this link to friends who do have more money and might be moved to support a great startup by a guy with a big vision
    • Support the blog – mybuddysblog.com
      • Read it
      • “Follow” it – button in the right column
      • Cheerlead me – tell me when you read something you like
      • When you like a post, “Share” it on your Facebook page
    • Keep an ear to the ground for who might need a dog walker or pet sitter.  Talk me up to them.
      • Give them the link to this blog (my website – all the website I need): mybuddysblog.com
      • Or my phone number (828-582-9822)
      • Or email address (heymajo@gmail.com – catchy and easy to remember)
      • have me send you some business cards – they’re really cute, with the adorable cartoon dog waiting to go out and the business name: “U Wanna Go Out?”
  • All people who give $10 will receive online my “Call Me Majo” story from my gotta-eventually-be-published book Radical Integrity.  It tells the true story of the Majo name – which may be crushing if you are one of the many people to whom I have told one or another bullshit version of the story. (“Yes…Majo…I was born in Hungary…to gypsies…Majo is short for Majerewski…”  Sometimes this is as far as I can go with a straight face.)
  • people who give $25 will receive an email portfolio of photos of my dogs Buddy and now Toni, including the infamous “The 5 pound Toni tries to play with the goat” photo
  • people who give $50 will get their choice of the adorable “U Wanna Go Out” t-shirt or baseball cap
  • people who give $75 will get a t-shirt or cap and the very touching “For My Buddy” poem, written three hours before we put Buddy down – must reading for anybody who has lost a pet
  • people who give $100 will get a customized poem for your dog (or other pet)
    • I will interview you for 30-60 minutes about your dog
    • you will preferably send me a photo of your dog
    • I will write you a poem that will knock your socks off
  • people who give $150 will get weekly text message updates about the progress of my business
  • anybody who gives at any level will get periodic updates about the progress of the business and the funding to date – and a promise that I will never hit you up for money again
  • anybody who gives at any level in any format (Pay Pal, check, cash) by 7/30 (to get me through to my Social Security check on 8/3) will get an audio file of me creating a spontaneous poem about people and dogs. Giving by Pay Pal is secure and a piece of cake – click on a link.  It’s a good modern skill to have.

Thank you, thank you.  Share this blog post on your Facebook page or with your pet-loving friends – maybe especially those with deep pockets and maybe a philanthropic orientation (they like to give to good causes).

“My wife and I have known Majo John Madden for 10 years.  He has done pet sitting for us multiple times for our dogs, Sparky and Gypsy, and our cat Joey.  We were always very happy with his service.  He is a true animal lover and very reliable.   Each time we used him for pet sitting, we returned home with the pets happy and our home as we left it.  I highly recommend him for your pet sitter.” 
Sincerely,  Steve Swearingen

How to give

  • Pay Pal – best.  Click the button below.  Secure and speedy (yes!).
  • send me a check
    • made out to Majo Madden or John Madden – my bank knows both identities
    • send to 1 Battle Square, Apt. 503, Asheville NC 28801
  • or hand me cash at Jubilee or Earth Fare – where the plan is for me to spend a couple mornings a week selling poetry on demand outside, to see my peeps and keep getting my Earth Fare fix (after four years of cashiering, I’m the “mayor of Earth Fare”).

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Sherri Lynn - no rotate.jpgMy co-worker Sherri Lynn with Toni at the Earth Fare cash register – possibly less speedy, but more charming.

Love,

Majo John

Finally, a bonus – totally irrelevant but wonderful.  When I played the Josh Groban “Here Am I” song yesterday, YouTube automatically followed it with the Susan Boyle “Britain’s Got Talent” once-viral video. It’s so beautiful and inspiring, you can’t watch it too many times.  Enjoy.

Oh, watching it again just now, not irrelevant at all!  “I dreamed a dream“!  Isn’t that what it’s all about, for you and for me – dreaming a dream and following it?

P.P.S.  A poem for you!  My friend Maria, reviewing this letter last night, wrote me: “Where’s the poetry?  You’re a poet – give them a poem!”  I loved this idea and penciled in my calendar Saturday afternoon for writing a poem – knowing full-well that this poem would not wait until tomorrow afternoon to be born.  A half-hour after hearing from Maria it came tumbling out (12 midnight-12:30, supposed to be sleep time).  This morning I tweaked it and added some great photos. I will humbly offer that you will be missing something great if you don’t click here now.

 

 

For the three days earlier this week that I was in the hospital with my stroke scare (looks now like a TIA mini-stroke),  my little five-pound yorkipoo baby Toni was with her favorite other human, our digsitter Lori.

 

When Lori returned her to me at my Battery Park apartments downtown on Tuesday afternoon, she was very happy to see me but maybe even a little suspiciously subdued.

I spent the next couple of hours right where I rendezvoused with Lori and Toni, sitting out in the beautiful summer evening on the front stairs of our apartment building/ historical hotel – visiting with my neighbors in a way that I had not before done in my first three depressed weeks in my new home.  Some of the people already knew I had been in the hospital (juicy gossip travels fast in this senior center) and other neighbors were eager to hear about it – us seniors are all about illness and hospitals.  It was the most I had ever visited with my new neighbors and it felt good.  Toni was being very sweet and well-behaved and is already known and loved in the building.  Lots of my neighbors who may never know my name already know Toni.

My friend Paula Hanke Paulasaw us out there and came by to say hi to me and Toni.  She knows Toni from church and there is a connection between them.  Within a few minutes, she asked “What’s wrong with Toni?”  “What do you mean?”  “Her eye – what’s up with her eye?”  I had not noticed it, but her right eye was badly swollen – almost swollen shut. (What I observed over the next 24 hours was that her eye would swing pretty rapidly from almost swollen shut to mostly open – pretty normal-looking.)

As soon as Toni and I left the sweet group in front of the building, I called the vet.  “Dr. Sinclair is away on vacation and we are pretty backed up.  We have no actual appointments until the weekend, but if you come tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 we can try to work you in” (“try to work you in” means be prepared to sit in the waiting room for a while – maybe a long while.)  Toni had to get seen, so I took the 3:30 time.

I have learned that for doctor appointments, even vet appointments, I like to bring a friend – for moral support, to pass the time in the waiting room and for another set of ears and brain to process the information you get from the doctor.  I called my dear friend Laura, who just had played that role for me a lot at the hospital.  She is medically knowledgeable, smart and analytical, and an assertive good communicator.  And we like each other a lot and enjoy each other’s company.

When we arrived at Heather Sinclair’s Haw Creek Animal Hospital in East Asheville, the waiting room was miraculously empty and they took us right in.  Actually, I had taken a few minutes to pee the dog outside and Laura came out to claim us: “They’re ready for us right now!”

Dr. Klein, a new vet in this practice whom I had never before met, struck me first as kind of nervous and maybe not sure of herself – but proved herself to be astute, thorough, calm and kind with the dog and overall a really great vet.  And she discovered something that was unexpected and very important.  If she had been only focused on the swollen eye and had not performed a thorough exam, she would have missed it.

“There’s a crackling sound when I listen to her chest.  I want to take some x-rays.”  After she took the x-rays and measured the pressure in Toni’s eye, she took us back to show us the x-rays and give us the results.  Toni does have swelling and pressure in her right eye, diagnosed as glaucoma.  I need to do some reading about glaucoma, but it sounds treatable with some eye drops and was immediately overshadowed by the x-rays of Toni’s chest.Boy with dog

“See how swollen Toni’s heart is – it’s about 30% larger than it’s supposed to be.  This dark area all through here is fluid on her lungs.  These arteries are all swollen, working overtime to try to pump her blood.  She has heart disease.”

I expressed my first concern: “Is this life-threatening in the short-term?”  “Probably not, now that we have found it and are going to get her on some good medications.”

Which begged the question, “Is this going to affect her longevity?”  “Probably.  We can’t fully reverse this condition, more just manage it.  Some people with heart disease live a long time, others not so long.  We really just can’t predict.”

When people, so often, ask how old Toni is – partly cuz she kinda looks like a puppy but some people do see the signs of age – I routinely answer “She’s nine, but little breeds like this can live to 18 – so she’s middle aged.”  That little bit of denial is the way I have handled adopting an older dog, at 8 years old.  Well, it’s looking like probably I won’t have another 9 years with her and maybe well less – there’s just no telling.

This sweet little being, who has always struck me and others as fragile along with being adorable, is now presenting as even more fragile – and even more precious than ever.  I want to do everything I can to improve her quality of life – and to share this heart-opening little being with others.

 

“I don’t want to sleep!”

“I don’t want to sleep!  I want to keep soaking in all this love you’re giving me!”  I feel sure that was what Buddy was expressing about an hour ago.

It has been a day when i have been consumed by work – by tasks that feel, to me, too urgent to interrupt.  I was home for most of the day, and I did take Buddy and Lucy for several walks on this perfect fall day, but then immediately went back to my laptop on the front porch.  Then, around 5:30, i went into town to look in on, feed and spend some time with an elderly cat whom i am sitting for about 25 days, while her person vacations in Italy.  Then to a meeting and back home around 9:30 p.m.  Then i dove into returning the emails that had some timely need for replies.

When, around 10:30, i finally made some time to cuddle with my dog – the first time all day, which is unusual for us, he completely reveled in it.  We went out on the front porch, where i sat on the floor and invited him into his favorite place – between my spread-apart legs.  Buddy almost immediately threw himself against my chest.  (When he is less hungry for connection, he just settles in nested in the curve formed by my legs.)  Then he gradually slid down my torso to settle on the floor. He moaned with pleasure more than i have almost ever heard him do.

Then – as is typical – he would start drift off to sleep.  But he then displayed a behavior that i have hardly seen since the early days when he was so beside himself with actually getting a  lot of love.  After drifting towards sleep for just a minute or two, he would rouse himself and begin again the cycle of moaning with pleasure, periodically bringing his head up to me, asking for even more concentrated attention from me.  I feel sure that if he had words he would be saying, “No, i don’t want to sleep – i want to stay conscious, so i can really take in all this wonderfulness.”  We went through about three of these cycles before he finally surrendered to deep, peaceful sleep.

Then i did an almost similar cycle.  I myself would start to drift off to sleep.  But then – rather than surrender to my sleepiness and go to bed, as i usually do – i would rouse myself so that i would not have to end this so-sweet moment.

I want to feel and be this way with a lover.

“I’m a pup again!”

My ten year old Buddy, who has lately been acting so much like an old man that i’ve been concerned that his arthritic hip is hurting him (which i do think it is), decided yesterday afternoon that he was a pup again.  He chased the extraordinarily fast three year old, long-legged Lucy in big circles around the yard in a way that was obviously thrilling for both of them – and thrilling for me to watch.  It lasted probably no more than two minutes, but it was amazing.  Buddy was plenty out of breath when he finally stopped chasing Lucy.  (She was not – god knows how much longer she could have gone.)  But he seemed really happy and excited.

When i go out to visit him for our goodnight cuddle, he usually gets crazy-ecstatic.  Last night, from his spot back in the bushes, he rolled his eyes in my direction, but did not even lift his head.  I mostly rested easy in the assumption that he was just flat-out exhausted, but i honestly did have a moment of anxiety that maybe  his hip was now really in pain or that he was somehow paying a serious price from all this exertion.  Neurotic doggie daddy.  He was so relatively unresponsive to being petted that i also thought for a moment that he didn’t need, but then i thought that in his exhausted state he might need it more than ever, so i hung in until I was falling asleep.

I was reassured when he finally let out a big letting-down sigh – the way he does when he is really settling in.  And even more reassured when, a few minutes later, he popped his head and torso up, all alert, in response to some sound he had heard in the night.  I briefly considered that maybe this was a night when i really should make him come in the house.  But he so much loves being outside at night – and he seemed completely content in one of his favorite spots.  And i decided that a night of laying on mother earth might be just what the doctor ordered for recharging his spent batteries.  (I’m sure it would be so for me, except that my old bones react very poorly from sleeping on the hard earth.)

Today he was fine: not chasing around much, but obviously happy and really moving pretty well.  He’s a wonder.

Fleas!

I was venting to my neighbor this morning about some bites on my legs.  He asked me if Buddy’s flea medicine was up-to-date.  (He had found fleas on his dog, Buddy’s daily playmate.) Oops!

Now it’s the whole drill: bath and Frontline for Buddy, wash all his bedding – and mine.

“Spoiling” a dog…

What does it mean to “spoil” a dog?

The woman who had Buddy before me told me very strongly, as i was adopting him, “Don’t give him too much attention – he does better that way.”  I knew, pretty much as soon as the words were out of her mouth, that this was complete bullshit.  I nodded politely and thought “You’re crazy, woman.”

She also, equally strongly, said “Let him be a dog.”  I never quite knew what that one meant.  He pretty well knows that he’s a dog – was she afraid that i would make him feel like he was a human?  It was obvious to me within a few weeks that the more love I gave him, the more self-confident he became and the better he played with other dogs.

About a month after I got Buddy, he and I were in the waiting room at the vet’s office.  It was our second time there: the vet had put him on an anti-inflammatory drug for his hip dysplasia – which his person before me had never noticed or treated – and had asked me to bring him back in a month so they could do some blood work and make sure that the drug was not bothering his kidneys.

Buddy already hated coming to the vet: when he hopped out of the car and his feet hit pavement (there was none of this anywhere near our country home), he knew where he was and immediately tried to get back into the car.  Much as he hated the car (still does), the car suddenly seemed like a much better option than going into the vet’s office (where they had drawn blood on the last visit – he really hated that).

There was a sweet little old country guy also waiting there with his old hound dog.  As he watched me being sweet with Buddy, trying to reassure him, the old guy said, very warmly, “I bet you spoil him rotten.”  I said “Much as I can.”

I give Buddy a little (or larger, if they have them in the meat case) femur bone (the kind that won’t splinter) every night.  When I am giving him his evening meds (glucosamine, omega-3, multi-vit and the anti-inflammatory), I give him lots of good treats to keep him eating: the liquid glucosamine goes on top of good all natural whole grain bread, the cereal-like O-3 goes in peanut butter, the anti-inflammatory drug gets wrapped in peanut butter – and i also give him some no-additive lunch meat and some cheese, just as treats and also to keep him taking what i am giving him.  And once in a while we splurge with an Ingles roasted chicken.  These days it’s usually Earth Fare natural chicken.  He gets the white meat, which i find too dry, and i get the dark meat – just to save him from the fattiness :).

I get all natural little dog-biscuits: they seem to me about as nutritious as his Science Diet dog cereal (yeah, Science Diet is a little more expensive, but it tales him forever to go through a bag, because he is such a light eater – so paying a few extra bucks for a 20-lb. bag seems like a good investment.  I later got turned on to Call of the Wild cereal for him) – and he really loves those dog biscuits (Lassie brand – they’re really cheap).  I give him one almost every time he asks for one (which is every time I’m at the kitchen counter fixing my own food).

I want Buddy to believe and trust that life is good – that his environment responds positively to him (maybe especially because i think that was not so much his experience of the world before he came to me).

Do I spoil him?  I spoil him rotten.

Doggie vision

Tonight, when i went into the backyard to give Buddy his bedtime love, i decided – even though the hour was late and i wanted to get to bed – to first take him for a little walk, thinking this might help his old bones and arthritic hip not tighten up too much in the damp night air.

When we did come back and sit on the ground together, he indulged himself in an exceptional number of little moans – i think as expressions of just how good it felt to have me there beside him, giving him love and attention.

As we walked, i thought of a piece i recently read, saying that dogs really do not have great vision – and cannot actually see clearly beyond about 20 yards.  This had shocked me: i had assumed, i guess in part because Buddy seems to have much better night vision than i, that dogs had great vision.  It was a real comeuppance for me, reminding me of the ways that i do not really know and understand the world of my little Budster (or other dogs, for that matter).

We had a lot of rain here today.  After our last walk of the evening, Buddy wanted to stay outside, but i exercised my parental option and brought him in: “That ground is just too wet for your bad hip, bud.”

After drying his wet, muddy paws, i gave him a biscuit and he settled himself in one of his favorite spots, on the plush area rug under the kitchen table.  I settled myself in one of my favorite spots, working at my computer.

But after about five minutes, Buddy came over and presented himself to me for love.  He never did this for the first many months he was with me – and still does it only occasionally – and i want him to know that this works for him now.  (I think it maybe didn’t work so well in his previous home – and that he just basically got discouraged and stopped asking, if in fact he ever had after his first few abused months before being adopted out of a shelter.)

So i dropped everything to give him some rubs and some sweet talk.  But, after all of about 30 seconds, i felt the call of the email i was writing and went back to my work.  I told myself that this was at least enough positive response to encourage Buddy to keep doing this when he really wanted or needed some extra attention.  Buddy went and laid on his bed.

But about five minutes later he came back.  This persistence in asking for more love was completely unprecedented, so this time i truly dropped everything and sat with him on the floor.  I told him, “You’re more important than emails any day of the week.”  And i stayed there with him for about fifteen minutes, until he seemed very peacefully semi-asleep.

I bet part of Buddy’s extra need tonight came from still carrying some acute trauma from all the scary thunderstorms we had today.  He seldom seems to be as terrified by thunderstorms as he used to be – at least unless the thunder crashes are exceptionally loud and close by.  But he was scared enough to hide back in my bedroom instead of under the kitchen table.

I gave him intermittent, brief stints of attention and reassurance, but was at that point in the day feeling more driven to “get some things done” before going into town in the evening for choir rehearsal.  I did wrap a little “security blanket” around him – a technique i read about in a doggie magazine and which i think does help.  (I think it gives him a more solid boundary and helps him feel more protected.)  And i dragged my boom box into the bedroom and put on some sweet dance music.

I think it’s miraculous that Buddy is doing such a good job these days at telling me what he needs.  He obviously is feeling more confident – or at least hopeful – that life will respond positively to him.  I want to keep building that confidence.  And to keep learning from his good example.  (I should be this good at asking for love.)

“This is not OK!”

A guy about a quarter-mile down the road from us has several dogs chained to their doghouses on his little property (one of  the joys of country living).  They usually don’t make a lot of noise (a bunch of fairly discouraged dogs), but tonight they were all barking at once, sounding acutely unhappy.

Buddy, sitting next to me, all secure in our big back yard, was very disturbed by the sounds.  He leaned in hard against me.  I kept trying to reassure him – throwing my arms around him: “It’s OK, you’re nice and safe here.”

When we lived part-way up a mountain out in Haywood County, our landlord had built seven houses in a little neighborhood.  The five dogs (including Buddy) in the neighborhood all ran free – and mostly got along well with each other.  But one day – again, sitting all cozy next to each other in our yard – we heard the sound of a dogfight one house over, and it sounded like some little dog was getting hurt.  Buddy (not a fighter) immediately went charging off in the direction of the fight like a little policeman: “This is not OK – I’ve gotta try to do something about this.”  I raced after him, worried that he would get hurt, but the whole thing was over by the time we got there.

Would that we humans felt as much responsibility that no one get hurt on our watch.

Nurture him, nurture me

Giving Buddy love is one of my favorite things to do – when i’m in a funk and can’t seem to enjoy anything else, this still feels good.

Sometimes, when Buddy is curled up on the floor or the ground between my legs and i am just flooding him with love and reassurance, i like to picture that Life is behind me and all around me, similarly flooding me with love and reassurance.  Sometimes this feels like a very comforting thing to think – other times i absolutely feel it happening.

“You don’t look right…”

Buddy doesn’t like shapes that look strange to him.

Today, cutting through the horse pasture, he stopped, barked at and would not go near some horse bridles hanging off a fence post.  Even after I went over and played with them, he kept his distance.

I have seen him bark at a man carrying a shovel over his shoulder, our neighbor Tom (whom he dearly loves) carrying a sheet of wallboard (even though Tom was clearly visible on our side of the board) and our big brown leather chair (which he had sat and slept by dozens of times) when we were moving and i had left it out in the driveway.

He regards things that don’t look normal as clearly dangerous.

(On our way back down the hill, he went right up to the horse bridles, took a closer look at them and sniffed them.  “Brave doggie!”)

My new poetry book!

My new poetry book, Something Rises, has come out!

(Actually, what us poets call a “chapbook” – self published, xeroxed…but in this case beautifully bound, with a gorgeous full-color cover.  I know that some people kept my earlier, much more primitvely published, poetry book on their coffee tables – but this one i think would make a really nice coffee table book :).)

This book of poetry has nothing to do with this blog, other than i wrote it.  But i love it and i want people who happen to read this blog to know about it.  To learn more about or to even order it online, you can go to http://www.somethingrises.com.  I’ll also put a link to it in the right column.

Tail wags

I’ve identified several different tail wags on Buddy.

  • When Buddy is happy that I’ve come home, his tail strays straight out behind him and wags back and forth real fast.
  • When he’s happy to be going for a walk and is loping down the road or through a field, he tail goes almost straight up and makes big circles that i call “helicopter tail.”
  • When he’s lying on his side on the our wooden or tile floors and thinks i may be coming over to give him attention, his tail goes up to his side, kind of halfway between up and straight back and makes a drumbeat on the floor.
  • when i’m straddling him, standing back by his butt, his tail bangs back and forth against the inside of my legs – this always cracks me up.

Is it true of all dog owners that these signs of our dog being happy make us also happy?  I think so, for all of us who are paying attention.

Last night was only about the 5th time that i have gone to bed without “tucking Buddy in” (see post forJuly 21, https://mybuddysblog.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/tucking-buddy-in/).

I hate missing that little ritual, but it was the best I could do at the time.  I  had been immersed in work at my desk until late – then i literally fell asleep as i was working.  (The little cup of cereal i was holding as i pondered what to type next in an email i was writing slipped right out of my hands – and fortunately only pinned itself between my belly and the desk.  I knew there was a reason for not losing those extra pounds.)

So I basically staggered over to Buddy’s bed.  (I had made him come in for the night because it had rained hard all day and the ground was just too damp for his little arthritic hip.  He would have preferred to stay out, but i asserted my parental authority.)  He had recently been sleeping on his bed so hard that he was snoring loudly, but had a little bit ago woke up – and was laying there actually looking pretty contented, not moping and waiting/hoping for some attention.

I kissed him on his little snout (he loves that – sometimes he will repeatedly stick his nose up towards me so i can kiss it again), said “Nighty-night, sweetheart” – then literally staggered off to my own bed, just barely making it there before i went completely unconscious.  Even in my half-conscious state, as i walked towards my bedroom i could feel his little eyes following me, asking, “What, that’s it?”

But i didn’t feel really bad about it: he’s had lots of good love from me the last couple of days, has been playing very happily with Lucy and has seemed, overall, to be a very happy, content little dog.  His little emotional bank account is pretty full.  I love our little bedtime ritual and shall continue to make it happen almost every night, but sometimes it just ain’t happenin’.

What is he releasing?

Tonight, as I was giving buddy a little bedtime cuddle, he shifted into what i believe to be a deep stress release, of a kind that i have seen in him only a couple of other times.

The night had been a little strange already.  When i went out to give Buddy a last walk for the evening, around 10 p.m., he refused to come out of his doghouse.  He usually comes bounding out of his doghouse to head down the driveway and then up the other side (though i seldom have the energy to go very far up the hill on the other side this late and in the dark).

The only other time i have seen him refuse to come out of his doghouse like this at night (he often will not leave it in the heat of the day) was the last time our mama bear came calling, about 8 days ago.  She never seems to come out of the woods until after midnight – and it was only when she appeared again on our front porch about 1 a.m. that i finally put 2 and 2 together.  He somehow knew that she was out there in the woods, even though his keen-scented hound dog friend had never sounded her alarm bark.  (Maybe the breeze was blowing the other way.)  So i was concerned, tonight, that mama bear might be back,  and I brought Buddy in for the night.

So maybe it was a bear in the woods that had him scared (if, in fact, it was fear that had him hunkered down in his doghouse) – or maybe the Fedex truck (which terrifies him about as much as that bear) had come up the the driveway to our neighbor Tom’s house (though it was kind of late for a Fedex delivery).

But, as i sat next to Buddy caressing his head (he adores having his ears rubbed), he started to hyperventilate – and wouldn’t stop.  Though i was tired and had to get up early the next morning, i decided that i would not leave him until he had gotten through whatever this was and started to relax.  It took about an hour.  His heavy breathing would relent for a few seconds and i would hope that he was starting to relax, but then he would go right back into it.  After about 30 minutes, he started to have more violent physical release – his legs tremored and then his whole body started to shake.  About another 30 minutes and he finally did relax.

It was pretty clear that he was again ok when i went over to the kitchen counter for a little bedtime snack and he happily came over and presented himself for a dog biscuit.  (I only get ones that are all natural and seeem, from the ingredients, to be almost as healthy as his dog cereal, so i never refuse him.)

Then i decided that i needed one last cigarette and went out onto the front porch.  I set up my cushions on the floor and against the chair behind me and he eagerly followed me out, then snuggled between my straddled legs.  (Outside and getting love – his favorite thing.)

But just as we settled in, i started hearing a sound from the direction of the woods that i didn’t like.  Maybe it was just somebody’s stereo rumbling its woofer down the road, but i’ve never heard music from down there.  There’s a guy down there that likes to get his buzz saw going at all hours of the night, but this didn’t sound like that.  I became convinced (though i’m still not sure i was right) that our bear was down there in the woods, grumbling.

What was it that caused this deep release from Buddy?  Was it some very immediate trauma or something further back.  The first time the bear came calling, a couple of weeks ago, i was already asleep and slept through the whole thing.  She knocked over Tom’s garbage can, about 40 yards out from our back door: that woke Tom up and he got a couple of photos out his bedroom window, but i did not know that we had had an ursine visitor until the next morning, when Tom brought down his photos.  But poor Buddy spent the entire night out there, probably similarly hiding out in his doghouse, with that bear probably in his direct line of sight, about 40 yards away.  I’m sure he must have been one terrified little dog.  So maybe that was what he was releasing tonight, perhaps having been triggered by believing -correctly or not – that the bear was out in those woods again.

Or maybe he was releasing something from much earlier – maybe even the abuse that he almost certainly went through in his first few months of life, before his last person rescued him from the pound.  I do believe that those early traumas can stick with us for a long, long time – especially since Buddy’s person for the eight years before me did not believe in giving him too much attention, the kind of attention that might have helped him release much of that trauma before he came to me.

Holly Near, way back in the 60’s, used to sing a song that went, “Come sit with me through the night while i cry”.  I’ve never forgotten those lyrics.  Buddy doesn’t cry – he just hyperventilates and shakes.  And i by god am not going to miss a chance to sit with him through the night while he does it.

The hunter is back!

Buddy did something on our walk just now which completely reassured me that he is fine – even if he has, in general, been so lethargic lately.

First good sign was that he did deign to come with me on my walk back on the property, even in the heat of the afternoon.  (At first he refused, but then when i went out of sight around the curve in the road, decided that he did actually want to come.  At first i could only see his little wagging tail over the berm next to the horse pasture, which was very cute – then he trotted enough to catch up with me.)

On our way back down the hill from our little woods, he was doggin’ it, not showing a lot of pep.  Then he suddenly stopped absolutely still and went into full, hyper-alert hunter pose.  He stared at the grass a few feet in front of him, at something that i could not see.  He even did that classic doggie gesture that he almost never does, where he cocked his head to one side as he stared in front of him – so cute!  He stealthily took a few hunter steps – and then he pounced!  He started feverishly digging through the grass to the earth below, periodically shoving his nose down into the dirt in a way that gets his little face and beard so dirty, even as it reveals the little ratter that he is.  Then he would go back to his excited digging.

He periodically pulled his head out and looked vigilantly all around – as he always does when he is digging for prey like this – then back to the digging and the shoving his head down the little hole he was creating.  Finally – as usually is the case – he lost the scent and quit.  But, as he now happily trotted down the road, you could tell that the mighty hunter – whom i had not recently seen in action – was back.

For the next few days, at least, no amount of lethargy in him – on these dog days of summer – will concern me.  He’s still one mighty little dog!

Why isn’t he playing?

Buddy’s energy has been low for a few days now.

I’ve gotten used to him, on these hot/warm summer days, sleeping the afternoon away in his doghouse – and even demurring from walks.  But he has also seemed “not himself” sometimes in the mornings and evenings – and he did behave so oddly last night.

This morning we were taking our usual walk back up the hill behind our house. For the last few days, he has mostly been just walking – no happy trotting across Hal’s huge front yard.  This morning, as he was sniffing at some of Hal’s little pine trees, his little white friend from further up the hill came running up to him.  She went through her usual ritual of inviting him to chase: standing rigid, kind of nose-to-nose with him, then making a quick start back to the right or left.  Buddy usually loves playing these chase games with her and will immediately take off in hot pursuit.  (She’s faster than him, but she either slows down so he can keep up or doubles back to start the game again.)  Today Buddy just stood there.  He seemed happy to see her, but just not up to chasing.  After she tried a few times (with me standing and watching, so he knew that i was not leaving), he just walked away from her, towards me, and continued walking up the hill.  Very unusual.

When my son was growing up, i sometimes went through certain kinds of anxieties that i know are common among parents.  Although Terry was, all things considered (divorced parents and, after age 6, a dad who lived 300 miles away), a very well adjusted kid with great social skills, sometimes i would observe him have an awkward exchange with another kid or choose to play on his own when there were other great kids around to play with – and i would start to worry.  “Is he developing OK?  Are his social skills really what they need to be?  Are my limitations as a parent screwing him up?”  Sometimes i knew that these anxieties were pure neurosis on my part, and other times i tended to give them more stock.

Terry is 33 now, a very well adjusted young man with a terrific personality, wonderful friends and a fabulous wife.  There is more than enough evidence that my anxieties about his development were nothing more than standard parenting insecurities.  So why do i still get anxious almost every time my dog behaves strangely?

Trust comes hard for us humans – i know that.  We are chronically going in and out of various states that are all variations of “something is going wrong” – or “something has gone wrong”, “something is about to go wrong”…or past/present/future tense of  “I’m doing something wrong”.  As flawed, insecure humans, we go back and forth between love and fear.  We alternate between the “something wrong” states and then genuinely blessed states of, sometimes just a little and other times more strongly, trusting that all is well.

I’m trying to remember that when i think something is going wrong with Buddy, that usually is just a projection based on me being at that moment out of sorts with myself and with my place in the cosmos.  It’s not really him and his life that i’m worrying about, it’s me – and he then is a mirror, reflecting what’s up in me.  After all, he has frequently over the last days seemed absolutely fine: playing with Lucy (his best friend), cuddling happily with me, perching himself in various spots in the back yard and looking very content – at times almost regal.  He’s still doing his watchdog barking thing – one of his absolute favorite games – with great enthusiasm.

It really seems pretty useful that Buddy is so often a mirror for me of my inner states, somewhere on the continuum from fear to love.  Knowing my starting point at that particular moment is very useful.  I then get a chance to love that.

Why is Lucy so stuck on me?

Lucy, my neighbor Tom’s hound, just spent a week here with Buddy and I while Tom was away.  Buddy loves Lucy, and i thought this would work out fine – but it didn’t.  Buddy got all neurotic from having to share his space, even with a dog he likes as much as Lucy.  (A dog’s home is his castle, i guess.)  And i, who find Lucy intrusive and pesty at the best of times, got all stressed out from trying to give her some love and attention while continually needing to reassure Buddy that he was still my #1 dog.  I was in some ways not all that nice to Lucy.

Tom has been home for a few days now and Lucy is obviously thrilled to have him home.  With him, Lucy really is his #1 dog (though he is also crazy about Buddy).  So why is Lucy still so hungry to get time with me?  She whimpers at the back door, even when her playmate Buddy is already out in the backyard with him.  She paws at the screendoor (which always annoys me – Buddy always waits there patiently, even when that is not always such a great strategy, because I sometimes don’t notice him there).  She tries, even more insistently than before, to insert herself between me and Buddy.

Whereas she has always seemed to want attention from me, now – after a week of me often ignoring her or just plain pushing her away (and then sometimes, when Buddy wasn’t looking, also giving her some love and attention – partly because i felt guilty about not being nice to her, partly because i really believe in treating dogs lovingly, and partly because she is in many ways a sweet, lovable dog), she seems to have a real crush on me.

Is it because, like some behavioral psychologists claim to have proven in their research, intermittent reinforcement (giving the animal a pellet for a particular behavior some of the time but not all the time) is even more powerful in shaping behavior than consistent reinforcement?  Is it because, in the area of love, dogs sometimes behave like us stupid people and compulsively pursue a love object that apparently has no interest in us?  Or is it – even when i have not always been nice to Lucy – because dogs just love people so much that Lucy craves me, her closest human neighbor, just because i’m human – and even more so now that she knows me better?

Hey, if you figure it out, let me know.

Today i have a very different theory (different from my post from last night) as to why last night out in our back yard, after seeming to completely relish my bedtime attention, Buddy then abruptly broke it off and went into his doghouse.

He actually broke it off twice.  After the first few minutes of seeming totally happy to have me there, he stood up and moved a few feet away, to one of the other nice little holes he has dug for himself in the backyard.  Typically, if I follow him to his new spot, he seems to be really happy that i did.  I speculate sometimes that he is in some way testing to see how much i really am there for him, but i obviously am making all this stuff up.  But on most occasions, following him seems to work.

Last night, after i followed him, he seemed at first to be very happy that i had – he went back to leaning up against me, rolling around in pleasure, etc.  But – whereas usually with these goodnight visits he seems to not want them to end and, no matter how long i hang in, always looks mournfully at me when i finally quit and go back to the house to put me to bed – this time, after just a few minutes, he broke the cuddling off and went into his doghouse.

Last night i speculated that it was just too much intense pleasure for him to tolerate (cuz i behave this way sometimes).  This morning i have an alternate theory, which may a little bit connect with the first one but is really very different.

When i came out of the house into the backyard to sit with Buddy and say goodnight, he looked not just content sitting in one of his fav spots (“power points”, some folks might say), 15 yards up the hill by the huge oak tree – he looked majestic.  He radiated a kind of calm strength.

So, to have his human – whom he obviously loves completely – also sitting with him should be just one more plus, right?  Most times that would be true – but this time i think my presence just messed with him.  He didn’t need me there: he was completely happy communing with the earth, the gorgeous energy of that fabulous tree spilling all around him, intoxicated by the smell and sounds of a perfect summer night.  He not only didn’t need me, but focusing then on our relationship – much as he relishes it – broke the spell.  Paying attention to me took him out of his magical connection with the night and the natural world around him.

I kinda like this insight, even if I’m making it up.  I know that, when my son was growing up, what he somnetimes needed from me (and, obviously, more as he grew older) was to leave him the hell alone.  Let him have his play – with his friends or even just in his contented solitariness.

Sometimes it might even be great for me to let go for a while of being a compulsive giver – and explore my own relationship with the delicious night.

“I can’t stand it!”

Just now, when i went out to sit with Buddy and say goodnight to him, he got really excited to have me there, as he so often does.  He put his paw over my leg, which he does when he really wants to claim me.  He rolled over and moaned with pleasure.  He, for almost a full minute, looked deeply into my eyes.  Then he got up and walked away into his doghouse.

I at first was mystified by this unusual breaking-off of our connection, when he had moments before seemed ecstatic about it.  But i have a theory: it was just more than he could stand.  He was feeling more than he could deal with, so he broke off the contact and went off by himself.  At least i know that i have done that sometimes…

Our doggie visitor is gone!

Lucy has gone home and Buddy and i finally have our house back – and it is clearer than ever how disruptive it was for him to not have our house be his safe little refuge, even from his friend Lucy.  He chose to stay inside last night and seemed thrilled to have his little bed back.  (I had picked it up to prevent problems after Lucy started claiming it for herself.)

This experience prompted me to write a long piece (too long to be a simple post here) about Buddy’s journey towards feeling really at home in our house, called “Mi casa es su casa”.  I have added it under the “Not so fast” tab.  It’s recommended reading (by me), when you have about seven minutes.

Your Lucy and my dog

Your Lucy and My Dog  (Something Rises, 2009)

Lucy, our neighbor dog

Mine for this week you are away

Barks at the door when she wants in

Buddy stands outside and waits and hopes

That I will see him there

Which sometimes I do not

He stands alone in trust and hope

And sometimes in despair

As I go on my mindless way

When I’d wish to see him there

Buddy comes to me so soft and warm

And patient and so easy to let in

Lucy pushes through

Past my own dog’s water ways

Heedless, she knows her needs alone

Knows not how to share,

How to wait her turn

Pushy as a waterfall

She can wear away a stone

My water ways

Can melt your heart

Sometimes I’m, too, alone

When I push sometimes you let me in

Grateful to know I’m there

Sometimes you push me back from you

Like I’m some hungry bear

I wish sometimes that I knew more

My wants and needs – my hunger, too

How can I know which dog to be

Which one will speak to you

Teach me, please, my cherished love

When you want me to push

And when my sweetness you would hold

I promise I will learn from you

Except when I do not

I project that he is sad

Buddy and Lucy and i are walking up the hill behind our house.  The little white dog (looks kinda like an American Eskimo Dog I know) who lives just a little further up the hill has come down to greet them.  IMG_2007Buddy likes this little dog and loves to play chase games with her.  But today Lucy is there, too.

Either of these dogs somehow – wonerfully, instinctively – knows, when they play chase with Buddy, to slow down a little so that his old legs can keep up with them.  Otherwise there is no game.  But this morning wen the game begins, those two faster dogs take off and Buddy, unable to match their speed, quits and just watches them run.

I project that he is sad.

Closing my heart to Lucy

dorie 003Lucy is staying with us for the week.  Spending more time with her – and with her so pitiably lonesome and needy, with Tom gone and all her usualness interrupted – i am finding more ways that i like her.  This feels nice.  And she still can be very annoying – and even more so when she is so high maintenance and so underfoot.  It’s kinda touching that she is following me around, wanting to be near me.  And bloody irritating: she wants in and out, in and out – and she is always there.

And Buddy, even while he in some ways is enjoying having her around, has also once again – as happens whenever another dog is staying with us – has himself gotten hopelessly neurotic and needy.  He expresses his sense of loss in such a sweet, non-intrusive way – and i love him so much – that his neediness continually touches my heart, and it is relatively easy for me to give him the extra love he needs, even as it is not enough.

But i keep closing my heart to Lucy.  Partly because giving her the attention she is begging for, when Buddy is there to see it, just leaves him even more sunk.  And partly because I find her so annoying.

This closing of my heart to Lucy – even being a little mean to her – is nothing new.  I do it every time i come home and she persistently tries to insert herself between me and Buddy, as i give him my sweet coming home greeting.  Ditto when i’m sitting on the ground lovin’ on Buddy and she just keeps trying to get in between us.  I push her away.  I tell her to “go on” (Tom’s command for “leave me alone”).  All while she is watching me lavish love on Buddy.

I feel sorry for her.  I feel badly that she doesn’t get as much affection and attention as Buddy does.  I feel guilty that i am pushing her away.  I feel tense about the fact that she is so clumsy about asking for love – that she is, let me just say it – not as lovable as Buddy.

i just don’t know any other way to do it.  I am mean to her, even though i love dogs – and loving dogs is an important and cherished part of who i am.  I close my heart to her at the same moment that i am opening it to Buddy.  I know that this confuses my poor heart no end.  Sometimes i reach over Buddy, who i am petting, and pet her a little with my other hand – but this just encourages her and she again tries to push in.

Eventually, hopefully, Life will teach me a better way to handle this.  I hate closing my heart – to Lucy and just period.  Right now, however, i don’t know anything else to do.

Maybe opening my heart to me – having compassion for this difficult, confusing situation i am in – is the real lesson.  i was born to love – and sometimes i just don’t know how to.

Cohabiting with Lucy

Lucy is ours for the week, while tom takes his daughter off to college for her freshman year at college.  (Probably more exciting that scary for her – and 50-50 for him.)  Tom usually takes her to the kennel, but jumped at the chance to leave her at home, just 40 yards out our back door.  When Tom gone for the day or part of it, I let her in and out all day anyway (out when i come home, back in if i leave or at night – when it’s late enough that her baying could disturb even the neighbors 200 yards down the road and through a row of trees).

The notion was that i would again let her in Tom’s and her house at night and that she would be fine sleeping there.  Right.  There are several problems with this idea:

  • I think she’s too lonely.
  • probably because she’s lonely, she cries and howls unceasingly.  (Or at least i can’t bring myself – or sacrifice the sleep – to see if she ever ceases.)
  • We have had several bear visitations lately – a couple on my front porch, but mostly on Tom’s patio or out in his back yard.  For her to be home alone if a bear is right outside would, i think, just be too disturbing
  • It’s actually a little fun – or funny, at least – to have her stay at our house.

At first Buddy was not so sure it was fun – and i don’t think he ever actually finds things humorous, though i’m convinced that he enjoys making me laugh.  The couple of times i have tried boarding dogs at our house that Buddy does not know, he has become hopelessly neurotic: clingy, watching sadly if i give the other dog any attention, giving them the total cold shoulder like the intruder that for him they are.

I usually never allow Lucy in our house – and if she slips in when i’ve got the door open to bring in groceries, etc., Buddy’s food (which sits there all day because he only eats at night and lightly even then) is gone in about 30 seconds. Despite how much Buddy likes Lucy and how much fun they otherwise have, as soon as he realized – on Sunday evening – that she was staying in our house for the night, his neuroses set in.

Now Lucy is pushy at the best of times.  If she’s around when i am petting Buddy – or when he comes up to the car to greet me – she always tries to insert herself between us.  (If I were Buddy, this would get me very upset, but he pretty much rolls with it – partly because i, maybe a little unkindly, push Lucy away to give Buddy his rightful spot.  I would also reach out to pet her behind Buddy, but this only encourages her and she pushes in again.)

So, with Lucy in the house:

  • Buddy wants to be in the house, too – something he almost never wants in the warm weather.
  • He sticks to me like glue.  When he does come in the house, his usual fav spot is on the nice cushy area rug under the kitchen table.  With Dorie there, he wants to be right by me.  If i’m working at my desk, he wants to be right under the desk.  He almost never sleeps in my room, unless he has been scared by thunder, but now he only wants to sleep at the foot of my bed.

(Someone trained him never to get on furniture and he will not.  When if first got him and thought it might be nice for him to sleep on the bed with me, he got really uncomfortable and in a minute or so hoppped down.  When i tried to get him to sit on the sofa while i watched a video, he didn’t like that either.  Both were probably lousy ideas anyway, with a dog that spends so much time outside and tracks in mud and wet.)

But that same first night Lucy was here, i brought them both out on the darkened front porch to sit on the floor with me.  When i pushed Lucy away so that Buddy could have his usual spot between my legs, she flopped on the floor a few feet away.  But i think that Buddy was less threatened by Lucy being on our front porch than by her being in our house, because – after charging his love batteries for a few minutes on the floor close to me – when Lucy walked by, he started to playfully bite at her leg, like when he wants her to play.

Out on the porch, they did not get up for their outdoor wrestle and chase games, but just laid on the floor and rolled around, chewing on each other’s ears, necks and legs.  It was really very cute.  After that, Buddy seemed more relaxed about her being in our house.  i fantasize that some of the sweet side of having a sibling started to kick in.

Last night when i was working at my desk, Lucy immediately flopped down underneath me, under the desk.  I tried at first to get her to move, but she was obviously thinking “Down and heavy”, because she was almost immovable.  But then Buddy came over, managed to wedge himself beside her under the desk – and seemed completely content.

I think this might turn out to be good for Buddy.  And also good for me and Lucy: outside i mostly don’t give her any encouragement to push between me and Buddy.  With Tom gone, Lucy has imprinted herself on me like our last two missing-their-parents overnight guests.  She is wanting to come in and out during the day, which Buddy has no interest in doing.  Today, when at one point she was inside and Buddy outside, i actually felt free to give her some love.  She sucked it up hungrily – and naturally needed it, with Tom gone and her regular rhytms so thrown off.

And i liked it too.  Spending more time with her – and seeing her as genuinely needy, not just pushy and greedy – i’m starting to like her more, and even find her kinda sweet.

“Tied in”

There oughtta be a law.

Dog “tie-outs” are very popular in this part of the country: you just drive a big metal stake into the ground, chain your dog to it and you’re good to go.  The dog gets to enjoy the open air, you get to sit on the sofa and watch the TV – no problems, right?

Not much point here in belaboring the whole issue of chaining dogs up (I do support a local group seeking to end this practice), but i have a neighbor dog who is tied in.

The mother of a household whose home i walk by several times a day, on our way back up the hill behind our house, is disabled, in a wheel chair.  Over about 11 months, i have seen her about that many times – a few times on the front porch and the others being helped in or out of their van.

I have seen Nellie, their two year old Pit Bull, about that often.  I like Pit Bulls – Buddy’s two best doggie friends at our old house were two unfixed male Pit Bulls – so i was predisposed to liking Nellie, but i never got the chance: Nellie is one very aggressive dog.

And why not?  She is an extremely robust breed that wants and needs lots of exercise.  I have never seen Nellie out of their (unfenced) yard, only once off-leash (she attacked my dog), never seen her really getting a walk, much less a run.

The daughter tells me that Nellie is her mom’s “baby”, her cherished companion.  Bless her heart, she probably really needs a companion – how can i possibly begrudge this bit of comfort in her life?  But i will let myself take the judgmental stance that, if you want to own a dog, you need to find some way to meet their needs for exercise.  Get the right breed.  This poor woman needs a little lap dog, not a Pit Bull.

Tieing dogs in is almost as bad as tieing them out.

There oughtta be a law.

A “discouraged” dog

Several of us pet sitters were in a seminar with a local vet who practices acupuncture with dogs (Erin Husted at the Charlotte St. Animal Hospital).

I had mentioned a story on the radio where they described reserach showing that people respond better to acupuncture when they expect it to help.  They called this a “placebo effect”, but not to say that the positive response was all in the person’s mind – just that a positive physical reaction was more likely when you expected it.

One of the other sitters said, “Well at least dogs can’t be cynical about whether something will help.  I said (thinking about my Buddy), “No, but there is such a thing as a ‘discouraged’ dog.”  The others looked puzzled and I said, “When a dog has consistently not had their needs met – maybe for attention and affection – they can kind of give up on getting these needs met.  They get discouraged.”

The very experienced sitter who had just made the comment about “not cynical” ruefully nodded her head up and down: “I guess you do see this.”

I’ve seen it – plenty.  When Buddy first came to me, he was a discouraged dog.  He didn’t look for attention or affection, because he didn’t expect to get it.  Within the first couple of months of starting to share space with me, this started to shift – he began, tentatively, to believe that he might actually get love and attention in greater measure.

I would say that Buddy is no longer a discouraged dog – discouragement is no longer the baseline from which he comes.  But I also would say that he still is “easily discouraged”.  He still spends some significant time moping – seeming, as I see it, kind of sad from being left alone.  Lucy, our neighbor dog, even though she gets much less attention than Buddy – and even when she also seems a little mopey – still seems (as I imagine what is going on inside that little doggie brain of hers) more positively expectant that something good may at any moment happen.

I would call her more resilient – less likely to move into discouragement.

When I come out the back door to take the dogs for a walk, I often bring out  my walking shoes and flop them down on the back step, a sure cue that I am getting ready for a walk. (I’ve even taken to changing my shoes around the corner in the living room, out of sight, when I am getting ready to leave, not take them for a walk – so as to not to give them false hopes.)  Or, when I am taking them for a walk, I may even use the magic phrase, “Let’s go for a walk.”

But I’m often kind of scattered and untogether – and at these times I’m prone to forgetting things.  So I may go back into the house to get somethingIi have forgotten – my little spiral writing pad, which i carry with me everywhere, or my cell phone if i am expecting a call.  Lucy stays expectant – she doesn’t start to give up hope about the cherished walk.  Buddy easily gives up.  I’ve learned to keep calling to him, things like, “I’m coming…stay there, I’m coming.”  This may help him hang in, but usually not for more than a minute.  Then he is likely to go to one of his favorite moping places, like back behind the bushes next to the house, flop down and kind of give up.

So Buddy is no longer a discouraged dog, but still is kind of easily discouraged.  I see this still gradually shifting – and hope sometimes that his tendency towards discouragement will eventually go away, but I think it may not.  That wounding from his early years of not getting what he needed from the people in his life just runs too deep.

“Being with” the bear

OK, it’s the morning after.  The bear actually came back to my porch another time last night (see yesterday’s post), but i had already – after she left the first time – gotten brave enough to go out on the porch to bring inside the bird feeders that mama bear had not mangled on her first visit, so this second time she didn’t stay but a few moments.  She may come back tonight to make one last check, but i don’t expect her to linger then, either.

And, this morning, with the smoke (or the bear odor – i think i even smelled it and I’m sure that Buddy did) cleared, I’m realizing that i missed a real opportunity.

It was all so exciting.  And Tom had cool photos from mama bear’s visits to his patio early in the week (with cubs – they weren’t with her on my porch).  And i wanted to document this exciting event – and to be able to show the images to my friends, some of whom are familiar with this front porch.  So i understand why i spent the few minutes of mama bear’s visit to my porch madly snapping photos – i almost could not have done differently.  But i do have a lingering “what if?”

I take a lot of photos of Buddy.  He endures it.  He doesn’t pose well – he pretty specifically turns away when he sees the camera in my hand.  But it is, overall, a very small slice of our time together that i’m playing photographer.  I certainly realize that these photo shoots are not quality time between us.  So why didn’t i give myself some quality time with my bear visitor?

This was only the third time i have seen a bear outside of a zoo – and the other two sightings were relatively long distance: way off down a forest trail, many years ago, and crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway about a year ago (this sighting lasted just a few moments).  But this bear was about ten feet away from me (yes, on the other side of my windows) and she was taking her own sweet time, exploring all my different bird feeders.

And i realized this morning that i never let myself experience it.

I am very clear that connection with another species is a tremendous antidote to our human feelings of isolation.  This awareness largely drives my passion over my relationship with Buddy – and the joy i take from walking dogs, both at the local animal shelter and in my dog walking service.  Here i was in such close proximity to a magnificent being of a species i do not know – and i just stayed busy the whole time.  Not just busy, but also intrusive.  The flash from my camera finally pissed her off and she actually lunged at the camera, poking through the top of the window.  So my final moment of that bear visitation was spent with her angry at me – and me running like hell further into the house!

If i do ever again get a bear up so close, i think i will just pay attention: pay attention to her, pay attention to what gets evoked in me from being in her presence – including fear, which was certainly all mixed in with the excitement i felt last night.  I would like to just be with her.  To maybe think:

“Here we are: two very different species, but both sentient beings inhabiting the same planet.  Ms. Bear, i greet you – i honor your presence and am grateful that you have visited me.  I will treat you with respect – and hope that, when our visit has ended, i will carry within me some of  your great bear energy.”

Mama bear on our front porch

Buddy never goes back in my bedroom unless he’s really terrified of a thunderstorm.  But tonight, with a bear on our front porch, he decided that my room was the right place to be.

Later: before going to bed – an hour after the bear had left, with my excited, agitated energy just beginning to settle down – i spent some time just being with Buddy, still hiding back in my bedroom.  Pretty quickly he lay on his side and started to relax.  Then his legs and head, even his torso, began to shake.  And i realized, “Oh my god, this poor little doggie isn’t just scared – he’s terrified.”  In all my preoccupation with the bear’s visit, I had not really paid attention to just how scary all this was for my little doggie.

Many dogs would have been barking like crazy at the bear on the front porch.  Buddy just got very quiet – contracted, i now realize – hiding first under the kitchen table, then under my desk as i wrote, then back in my bedroom.  Usually our house is a sanctuary for him, but there she was so close – and with her odor, i’m sure, permeating the inside of our house.  Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.

So Buddy shook, then relaxed, then raised himself up with his nose working hard.  “Is she still there?  I still smell her.”  Then he would relax – and then shake some more.  Then relax.  Then his eyes popped wide open.  “Do you hear her, Buddy?  It’s ok, you’re safe.”  He may actually have been hearing her somewhere, as she did pay one last brief visit to our porch later that night – but i had brought in the remaining bird feeders and she didn’t stay.

In all my preoccupation with my various reactions to the bear, my doggie’s terror went way into background.  i knew that he was scared, but never even considered stopping everything to give him some reassurance.  I’ll learn.

Moping vs. resting

Sometimes, when Buddy is out in the yard (or even inside), he clearly is resting.  He looks content.  Other times he looks mopey.  I project on this look that he is a little sad, discouraged.  Maybe sad that he is alone, not getting attention from me.  I think that he has gone back into discouragement.

I see this also sometimes in Lucy, our neighbor dog, especially now that she comes down the hill from her yard all the time looking for me to take them for a walk.  She may see me moving around in the kitchen, or somehow know (as does Buddy sometimes) that i have roused myself from the bed and am up and about.  She gets all hopeful, but then – when i make no movement to come out the back door – gives up and mopes.

When Buddy first came to me, about 17 months ago, he moped all the time – almost literally all the time.  He does this a lot less these days – spends more time looking content, simply resting.  But he still goes there kind of a lot – and way less than Lucy.

Two shadows in the moonlight

Tonight, as I walked down our little lane, there were two distinct shadows moving side by side: one with two legs and one with four.  This sight gave me an exceptionally sweet, warm feeling – and i felt exquisitely not alone.

I knew it – I’ve known it since i first started getting to know Lucy.  But there is a part of me that doesn’t really like  it that i’m more like our speedy, intrusive, often slightly out of control neighbor hound dog than i am like my own sweet, laid back, mellow dog – so I’ve never paid attention to it.

Just about a half-hour ago, Buddy and i were walking back down the hill from Hal’s yard towards our house, and i was thinking about our bear encounters over the last couple of days.  (See my 8/11 post.)  Specifically i was thinking about how, two nights before, i had followed my usual late-night routine of sitting with Buddy out in our backyard (the last few nights in the beautiful moonlight) – even though bears had been in relatively close proximity to that very spot twice in the last 24 hours, the last time being just three hours earlier.

“Wasn’t that kind of reckless on my part?”, I asked myself.  That’s what caused the click.  i had, in that same post, described Lucy as “reckless-tending”.  “Oh shit, i thought – I’m Lucy, not Buddy.”  I’ve said many times over the last 17 months that Buddy is the perfect dog for me because his laid-back, mellow energy balances out my own more intense energy (different from my previous dog Bobbie, whose Border Collie intensity was just too much like my own intensity).

No wonder Lucy so often irritates me: she mirrors a part of me with which i have a love-hate relationship.  I guess i was more ready to recognize this fact at that particular moment because i had just been rehearsing/memorizing a poem which is about how my own headlong poor judgment has sometimes gotten me in trouble – a poem which itself, intentionally, has that same kind of risky, barely-under-control momentum.

(I very often, especially when i am preparing for a poetry performance, spend my walks with Buddy similarly rehearsing a poem – often out loud, when i think there are no neighbors in earshot.  Hey, so I suck at Zen – so sue me.)

I have often, over many years, described myself as counterphobic.  i see that i have reallybeen that way since childhood.  When something is scary to me, i am almost compelled to move towards it.  When, a few weeks ago, i thought i heard a bear in the woods, i just could not stop myself from (slowly, yes) moving in that direction.  I identify a lot with the movie character Poppie (in the wonderful recent movie Happy Go Lucky) who, in her commitment to helping people be happy, sometimes moves towards an unhappy person even when she knows that she placing herself at risk.  Moving towards the thing i fear somehow makes that fear more manageable.

So Lucy, i salute you.  You ain’t so much “goofy”, as i so often describe you, as you are intense and sometimes mindless of your own safety (and, ok, sometimes just kind of mindless – even, doggie that you are, more often so than me).  It’s not a bad way to be, nor even necessarily a good way to be – it’s just what we are.

Bears in our backyard…

When i moved into my little country cabin, out on Avery Creek Rd. in Arden, I was told that there had been a number of bear sightings on this property over the years – the most recent about two weeks before i moved in.  But there have been no sightings in the 11 months i have lived here.  I have eagerly awaited my first.  The last two nights i almost got it.

But i slept through both bear visitations!  Tom, my neighbor – 40 yards out my back door – has seen them both nights.  But the bears were on his deck, knocking over the garbage can in which he keeps his bird seed.  Each night they woke him up right around 1:30 in the morning.  Each night i had gone to bed about 1 a.m. and slept through all the excitement.

Before you lay some judgments on Tom for keeping his bird seed out on the deck, you’ve got to realize that Tom loves having bears come to visit.  Even after many such visits over about ten years, he still finds it thrilling to see these magnificent creatures so close up – and kind of magical to live in a location where they do come to visit.

So yesterday morning Tom hustled down to my place, all tingly excitement, to say that i had better keep Buddy – who almost always, on these warm nights, wants to sleep outside – inside tonight.  And then he showed me his two pictures of the bear that had come to visit the previous evening.  The photos were dark, but the shape of the bear was unmistakable.  I agreed that keeping my dog inside that night was a good idea.

When i have told people that our little property has had bear visits over the years, they have often asked if i didn’t worry for Buddy’s safety.  My standard answer has been that i feel pretty sure that Buddy would give a bear a wide berth.  That got confirmed last night.

About 8:30 p.m., when there was just a little bit of waning light, Buddy and Tom’s hound dog Lucy charged off from my backyard where i had been visiting with them towards the little strip of woods behind Tom’s house, barking their heads off.  I heard the sudden low, resonant grumble – and they heard it more close-up.  They each – my timid-tending Buddy and Tom’s reckless-tending Lucy – ran like hell back to their respective houses, only wanting to get inside.

Well, it was quite the bear watch last night – me periodically stepping out onto my back stoop to train my powerful mag flashight towards those woods and Tom aiming his newly-recharged super-lantern out his kitchen window, with his son Corey’s sophisticated digital camera at the ready.

About 9:30, Tom called me to say that he saw the bear, just up out of the woods and down a little slope behind his house – down where i had no angle to see him.  If i had walked a little further back in the yard, I could have had the right angle.  I considered this for about a microsecond.

On one of my checks outside, my flashlight – peering through the bushes on the side of my doorway – threw big shadows out in the yard.  I jumped about a foot.  Tom called later to say that, although it was garbage night, he had no plans to roll his big garbage can down to my house, where i weekly load in my garbage and then roll the big plastic container down to the road.

By about 11:45, i decided that the bear was gone for the night.  Buddy was wanting to go back out, which i took as confirmation that there were no bears around.  So i took Buddy for our usual walk down the driveway (away from Tom’s house) and then up the other fork in the drive toward Hal’s house way up the hill.

After our 15-minute walk, i decided to give Buddy a little more time outside before bringing him in for the night.  So we sat out in the backyard in the bright moonlight, having our usual late-night cuddle fest.  We came in the house about 12:30.  Then, about 1:30 a.m., the bear came back – back up on Tom’s deck, about thirty yards from where Buddy and i had an hour ago been sitting.   This morning Tom had a couple of pretty good-quality photos of the mama bear – and two cubs!

Bears (aug 11,09) 012Bears (aug 11,09) 011

Bears (aug 11,09) 010

Tom said that the cubs were so cute and their coat such a rich black that he wished he could just reach out and pet them, which he did not consider.

Once again, i had gone to bed about one o’clock and slept through the whole thing.  Tom told me earlier today that, if he has another sighting tonight, he’ll call me.  I’ll keep my phone close to the bed, but I’m so excited at just about midnight that i probably will still be up.  If there’s no action by about 2 a.m., I’ll probably give up and go to bed.

Bears!  Even if all i get was to hear her, it was a pretty amazing sound – and pretty wonder-full to live somewhere that bears come to visit.  We’re not in Chicago anymore.

“Look me in the eye.”

When i first got Buddy, it took a month for him to look me in the eye.  I was, at first, a complete stranger to him – he came to live with me about two hours after we first met.  He had been with his previous person for eight years – and she had a philosophy that Buddy did better if you didn’t give him too much attention.

Over the last 17 months, Buddy has progressively sought out my eyes more often and for longer duration.  I believe that he is trying to create a more intimate relationship with me: to know that i am really there for him, that i love him, that i am not going to go away.

And it only occurred to me today – goofball that I am – that at these times i need to take my glasses off, to let him better see my eyes.  When i did so today, Buddy went on a little binge of eye contact.  In between these bursts of looking deeply in my eyes, he didn’t just lean against me – he pushed himself against me.  He laid his head on my chest.  He gave my hand and leg little love bites.  He sighed deeply.  Sometimes it takes me forever to figure something out that is really kind of self-evident: if you’re gonna make eye contact, make your eyes available!  Goof.

A guy told me once that, as he was driving his 13 year old dog – riddled with cancer – to the animal hospital to be put to sleep, his beloved doggie friend sought out his eyes the entire drive.  He felt sure that it was his long-time companion’s way of saying goodbye.

For Buddy with me, it’s his way of saying hello.

“Be that way!”

This morning i spent an hour and a half on the phone with my good friend and pet sitting mentor Lauren, talking about the biz.  Lauren is so bright and creative and generous with her thoughts and ideas that by the time i got off the phone my head was swimming – awash with wonderful, interesting thoughts.  And my body was completely jangly and overstimulated.  I needed a walk.

When i am home for the day or for most of the day, Buddy and i walk up the pretty hill behind our house several times a day.  We both love it.  But sometimes lately, in the middle of a bright, sunny, warm summer day, my Buddy – nine year old dog that he is – prefers to just lay in the shade.  And today i just could not coax him out of one of his fav shady places, behind the bushes on the back side of the house.

i tried all manner of sweet talk, coaxing and upbeat cheerleading.  Nothing.

i was on the verge of punting on the walk and just going back onto my frnt porch to organize the dozens of notes i had scratched out while talking to Lauren.  But then i realized, “I need a walk.  i need, for a few minutes at least, to get out of my head and exercise my body – to help it chill back a little bit.  i need to ground all that energy by feeling my feet on the ground.”

And so i took myself for a walk.

Teaching us how to live?

Can dogs teach us how to live?

Uh-uh.  But they still can be great teachers.

For more on this conundrum, read the extended piece by this same name under the “Not so fast there” tab.

“Hey, you goofy dog…”

If i love and admire my dog so much – as I do – then why, when he’s barking at something, do i (lightly, affectionately) yell, “Be quiet, you goofy dog!”  Why, when his antics strike me as funny, do i say, “You’re a goof”, (or “goofball”), “You’re so silly”, “You’re crazy”, etc.

I think all of these ways i talk to my dog simply express the fact that i in no way understand what is actually going on inside of that goofy, other-species brain.   And that he is, well, funny.  My dog, i am positive, likes to make me laugh and goes out of his way to do so.  But, even when they are not trying to be funny, they still are (to us humans, who don’t understand them).

It’s a lot like this with humans: people’s oddities are a big part of what makes them funny.  The writers for Seinfeld and most sitcoms understand this.  And i frequently say “You goof” to some of my closest friends.  (This is trickier with new friends or with acquaintances or business colleagues.)

In the world of humans, i would almost always choose a friend or lover with a good sense of humor – someone who can crack me up.  Why not the same with dogs?  My dog can make me laugh on days when almost nothing or nobody else could.

Isn’t this part of why we like them around?

Over the moon…

Tonight (uh, this morning – it’s after 1 a.m.) Buddy did something i’ve never seen him do.

We were out in the back yard grokking the full moon.  I was so stimulated by it that i was in no hurry to go to bed.  Buddy does not howl at the full moon like our neighbor hound Dorie seems to almost need to do, but it is obviously very stimulating also to him.

We were cuddling together (“tucking him in for the night”, before i go to bed).  After a few minutes of just settling in – sitting between my legs, then shifting his weight to lean against me, then leaning more, with his head against my chest – he got all ecstatic, throwing his head repeatedly back in my direction, rolling around on his back, moaning, giving my leg and my hand little love bites.  Nothing new here – he does this almost every night.

He would alternate these little outbursts of ecstatic love with then sitting up, all senses alert, sniffing the night, perking up his ears to hear something i could not hear.  Then he voluntarily relinquished his cozy spot up against me to hop up and trotted off into the darkness to check out something he had heard or smelled.  (OK, two things he never does.)

But the real show-stopper was that when he got back, he went right up to the back door, obviously wanting to go in.  Go inside, which he so seldom wants to do on these warm summer nights, unless there is a thunder storm. Go inside, with me still outside.  I was truly amazed.  I was also really needing to go in, to give up the ravishing moon so that i could finally get to bed, before the sun came up.

And i do think that Buddy needed to go in.  I think the reason he needed to go in was not that there was anything outside that he didn’t like, but that he liked it too much.  Like me, he needed to get away from that overstimulating moon in order to get some real rest.

The fabulousness of that full moon was finally just too much.  He needed a breather.  Enough intoxication is enough.

“He’s a leaner!”

IMG_1987Shortly after Buddy came to live with me, a dog-savvy friend who was hanging out on our front porch with us exclaimed, “He’s a leaner!”  She was really happy for me – and for good reason.

Ya see, there’s this thing Buddy does (and has since very shortly after i got him) where he sits next to where i’m sitting – on the floor, top stair, ground, etc. – then shifts his weight in order to lean into me.

Not all dogs do this, but those of us with dogs who do it are lucky folk.

Born to hunt…

Lucy – our neighbor dog and Buddy’s best doggie friend – was born to hunt.  She’s a hunting machine.

Nobody knows any details of Lucy’s breeding – they just call her a hound.  Her long legs make her fast like a bullet – not always well aimed (she’s likely to crash full speed into me or Buddy), but fast.  Her sense of smell is extraordinary: Buddy can pretty well follow a scent on the ground, but Lucy can follow a scent in the air like a clothesline.  And she wants to hunt.

Oh, Lord, does that dog want to hunt.

I told Tom a few weeks ago that i thought Lucy (who loves to walk up the hill behind the house with Buddy and I) might have gotten injured back in the woods, based on the yelps she suddenly let out back in there.  I couldn’t find any particular wounds on her – nor could Tom later.  I imagined that i saw her favoring one hind leg – but then i am a hypochondriac with myself and with dogs, and i’m sure now that i was making this up.  I’ve realized since that Lucy yelps like that when she’s hot on a scent.  It sounds like pain – and maybe it is, along with excitement, if not being able to find the source of that fresh scent is maybe somehow painful for her.

Tom is not a hunter – and I’m not a big fan of hunting – but i almost wish for Lucy’s sake that he was.  It would just be so thrilling for her.

Buddy loves to bark at potential intruders.  He thinks it’s part of his job.

And I’m totally fine with it – not because I am particularly concerned about potential intruders, but because it makes him so happy.

When I lived way out in the mountains, my neighbors out there genuinely were worried about intruders – about bad people coming around to hurt them.  It was always amazing to me that folks way out in the country – where this was extremely unlikely to happen (not many burglaries out there) – were so much more paranoid about this supposed danger than the average city person.  I’ve got some theories – and have heard some others – but none of them completely satisfy me, and aren’t the point of this posting.  But this was my neighbors’ rationale for letting their dogs bark or howl all night, which was tremendously annoying to me and often disruptive of my sleep.  (“Doesn’t this also wake them up at night?” I would wonder – and sometimes spitefully wish.  But I think they were just used to it.)

The hound who lives next door to me now would gladly howl all night, most nights – at barking dogs way down the road or at all manner of things that I think she mostly imagines.  Fortunately her owner brings her in at night, eventually – or any time I call him to say, “Hey Tom, I’m going to bed now.”  And Buddy, who stays out most nights –  free, in our little spot, as he always is – almost never barks at night.  And, when he does, I usually don’t even have to leave the comfort of my bed to yell (kind of sweetly, actually) “Hey, you be quiet now” – and he does.

And barking dogs can certainly be the bane of many city neighborhoods.  When Buddy, before me, lived in a city neighborhood, they tell me that he would bark at anybody who walked down the sidewalk next to his fenced-in yard – and, in the city, that was a lot of people.  That strikes me as bad news.  But out here in the country, very few people walk by.

But Buddy will happily bark at those few people – and at any of the cars that infrequently drive up our driveway (usually to Tom’s place, right behind me).  Not the FedEx trucks, though, that frequently visit Tom’s house (he runs his own business from home).  No, from the FedEx trucks – and he recognizes their sound from way down the road – he cowers in his doghouse.  I don’t know what the deal is with those big brown trucks (UPS, too): do they look like some big, terrifying animal?  Some friends have speculated that he must have had some bad experience with one, but I have other friends who say that there dog reacts the same way to those trucks.

But I’m glad to let Buddy bark at our infrequent “potential intruders” because it makes him happy.  His barks are usually in no way scary to people who do walk by, because he usually only takes a few steps towards them – way down on the road – and because anybody who knows almost anything about dogs can tell that this is not a genuinely menacing bark, but just a dog sounding the alert.

I think it makes him happy because this behavior is so instinctive – it charges up his instincts.  And in a dog like Buddy, who tends towards the timid side, charging up his instincts is, I think, mostly a good thing.  It makes him feel brave and confident.  When I do call him in when he’s barking, usually because it’s kind of late and i don’t want his barking to bother Tom, he comes in all excited, charged up – happy.

You go, Buddy, repel those intruders – keep me all nice and safe.  Knock yourself out.  Have a good time.

Obedience

For a long time, i used to say that Buddy was “well-behaved, if not obedient”.  I imagine that he has a little Airedale in him and i read in a book that they can be very strong-willed.  They said that if you want to train an Airedale, you had better catch them young – and Buddy came to me at age eight.

But i have been realizing that Buddy is actually very obedient in almost all respects.  If we are walking down the road and i see him headed for the road or towards roadkill or towards anything else i don’t want him to get into, it takes nothing more than a not-very-loud “Uh-uh-uh!” to immediately redirect him.  If Lucy is running with us and similarly heads for the road or other trouble, me calling her immediately brings Buddy towards me – even when he was doing nothing wrong and even when Lucy completely ignores me.  And in so many other ways, Buddy is tremendously and immediately responsive to my commands or even wishes.

He just won’t “come” if he really doesn’t want to or sees no point in it.

One day we were hiking near a deep river gorge.  Buddy is, in general, pretty careful about such hazards, but i couldn’t see him and started to get nervous – and when he didn’t reply to my progressively more insistent calls, i got significantly nervous.  At times i almost thought i heard him back in the 20 feet or so of bushes between me and the gorge, but when he didn’t come i figured i was imagining this.  I finally spotted him: about 15 feet from me, chilling back in the high weeds right next to the path, watching me and wondering what i was getting worked up over: “Hey, i can see you, i know where you are, so what’s the problem?”

This obstinacy around coming mostly manifests when i want him to come in the house.  He comes quickly in if he has some reason to: thunder (or other loud noises), heavy rain, cold, hunger – even sometimes, i think, loneliness…like he just wants to be with me more than he wants to be outside.  But, absent any of these factors, he is liable to just look at me like I’m cracked.IMG_2095

A lot of the time, i end up deciding that he knows better than i.  I may think that it’s just too damp or cold for him to spend the night outside, but there’s just no way that i can calculate just how much instinctive recharge he gets from spending the night outside – i think that probably i do err sometimes on the side of being overprotective.

Other times, i do trust my instincts (thoughts, really) more than his.  He doesn’t have a concept of “arthritic hip that needs some protection from damp nights outside”, nor access to radio forecasts of thunderstorms during the night.  But, short of grabbing him by the collar and dragging 45 pounds of inert dog out of the doghouse, what works is simply attaching the leash to his collar.  He knows at this point that he has no options and no longer resists.

(When he as new to me and had figured out that the sight of this collar meant that our walk in the woods was over, he would absolutely run away from me – i had to apply it earlier and earlier before we got near the car.  These days he would never defy me that way, anywhere but in our back yard.  And even this just doesn’t seem like defiance so much as simple non-agreement.)

buddy blanket 002IMG_1931“Thanks for the offer dad… but the thunder just isn’t scaring me that much yet.”

When Buddy first came to me, he was absolutely traumatized by any sound of thunder – he only wanted to hide back in my bedroom (where he otherwise never went).  He would hyperventilate and stare vacantly into space, completely unresponsive to my presence if i tried to comfort him.  These days he almost never gets that freaked by thunder.  (I do sometimes lay a little “security blanket” over him – a trick i got out of some dog magazine and fantasize to be helpful.  It’s one of those times that we sure wish our dogs or very young children had words, so we could know what actually helps and what doesn’t.)

But a really interesting thing these days about Buddy and thunder is how much thunder it takes to scare him.  Used to be that any amount was too much.  But these days Buddy is both braver and more confident in general – and he really loves his new doghouse that i got for him a few months ago.  When thunder starts, i will go to the back door and call, “You wanna come in?”  Sometimes he immediately presents himself and other times there is no response.  I may even go around to the door of his doghouse and ask, “Do you wanna come in now?”  He may look at me, completely unperturbed.  That little outside home of his is all the security he needs these days from relatively distant thunder or even for relatively heavy rain.

So i say, “OK” and trot back to the front porch, where i have my laptop and am happily writing – and from which vantage point i personally enjoy a good thunderstorm.  Then there is a sharp, close crack of thunder and i say, “That’ll do it” – and find him right at the back door, more than ready to come in.

I read a piece about dogs and thunder (I think maybe in the daily paper) where some “expert” advised that you not do anything special, or it would “make the dog think that something is going wrong”.  How about that one, huh?  Sounds like the old business about letting babies cry.  (Maybe that’s how that “expert” was raised.)  Basically, the advice is to abandon him to his terror – so then he gets to be terrified and alone.  It’s bogus advice.  It’s bad psychology, human or animal.

Today i was working on the front porch when the rain started, with thunder out in the distance.  Buddy was sleeping the afternoon away in his doghouse out back.  When the thunder got a little louder I went the back door and called him to see if he wanted to come in.  No response: he apparently was still fine in the cozy safety of his doghous.  He truly is less terrified of this stuff then he used to be.

Back at my desk on the front porch, a few minutes later there came a really loud crack.  “Oh, boy, he’s gonna want in now!”  Sure enough, by the time i reached the back door, he was there waiting.  But still braver than in the past: instead of hiding under the kitchen table (or back in my bedroom, where he goes when he’s really scared), he plopped down on his bed – pretty much in the middle of the room.

Then another really loud bang came.  I did what i do in this circumstance – and what really seems to work for Buddy.  i squeezed right up close to him, wrapped my arms around him, put my face right against his and – yes, in a light, playful, melodious tone – said, “Oh, man, that was a terrible sound.”  And so it went for a few more nasty cracks.

It is so obvious that this attention from me does not alarm him more, but comforts him.  When i first put my face against his, he even made the little lip-smacking he makes whenever he really likes being petted.  This loving attention doesn’t send any wrong signal – it helps him to keep breathing (if maybe fast and shallow), it keeps him from getting frozen up.  If he can ride it through without going too deeply into freeze mode, he comes out of it a lot easier and better.

There is one way that i make somewhat less of a deal of thunderstorms these days then when i first encountered Buddy’s thunder fears: I don’t expect of myself that i stay with him through the whole storm – or even, sometimes, for the whole loud part.  Today i had a couple of things i really had to get done before leaving for a meeting, so – after my initial comforting – i did allow myself to go off and do some other stuff.

Then i looked in on him a few minutes later.  He was still breathing, not frozen, not acutely terrified – moping, his head on the floor, having a lousy time, but still on his bed in the middle of the room, not hiding.  I gave him some more cuddles and some more sweet-talk.  He gave me some real good eye contact – not the vacant staring-off-into-space he does when he has gotten frozen – hyper-ventilated for about a minute, then let out a sigh and rolled over on his side, visibly more relaxed.

I got up to go back to my work and a minute later saw that he had curled up in a tight little ball again – so i gave him another dose of love.  This time he opened his eyes really wide – not in terror, just really looking at me.  Then he sighed again and relaxed.

And i again got up and went back to my work.  Part of me wanted to just stay with him, but the fact was that i really did have a deadline to meet on a project.  If i coulda cloned myself, one of me would have stayed there, but there was only one of me.  And that one knew that he was in a lot better shape because i did give him so much love – that he would unfreeze faster and be more ok afterwards than he would have been otherwise.

And he would know that he was not alone.

I think he was kicked.

Tonight, after having treats – nice stuff I feed him to get him to take his meds (for hip dyplasia – Omega-3, glucosamine, and an inti-inflammatory drug that i hope eventually to get him off of) – Buddy, as usual when treats are done, wanted to go back outside.  He went to the back door like usual when he wants to go out, but when i slid the screen door open, he just stood there.  Usually he does that if it’s raining or cold and he’s not really sure if he actually wants to go out after all.

But there was no reason like that for him to just be standing there.  I was tired and wanted to get through the dishes and stuff to get my butt to bed, so i guess my patience wasn’t all that great.  So i did something i have never done with Buddy – I gave him just the lightest tap on the butt with my shoe.  Oh boy, he tucked his butt under and almost jumped through the door – then turned around and looked at me, i think shocked and a little scared.  Well you can guess how totally crappy i felt.  I immediately ran out the door and gave him lots of reassurance, incuding rubbing his butt – and he said, “Apology accepted”.

Buddy’s last person got him from the pound at about six months, and feels sure that he had been physically mistreated before that – and probably by a man, based on how scared of them he was (and still was eight years later, when i got him).  And this extraordinary, totally unexpected reaction caused me to believe that he must have been kicked in the rear end.

How is it that this trauma, if my hypothesis is correct, is still lingering after nine years now in which i feel sure that he not been physically mistreated (slightly neglected by his last person, i think, but never harmed), still lingering?  They say that people who have been physically abused at early ages never completely heal.  I guess it is the same for dogs.  Lots of love and safety over the last 15 months have tremendously built up Buddy’s confidence and reduced his skittishness, though that scared startle reaction still shows up in a variety of ways, like his running away if i drop anything on the hard kitchen floor – and, if it’s something loud, really running away.

I’m prepared for him to always display some fearfulness at times, and to still need lots of reassurance when this happens.

A friend was telling me the other day that she learns how to live from her dog.  I, as much as anybody, view my dog as a fabulous teacher – but i think that’s only half the story.

I said, “You know, dogs learn a lot about life from us, too.”  She looked puzzled.  “Yeah, dogs are a domesticated animal – that means that a lot of their potential can only be tapped through their relationship with a human.  Your dog learns richer, more satisfying ways to be a dog from her close relationship with you.”

“Wow, I never thought about it that way.”

Love moans

After i first got Buddy, a little over a year ago, when i would sit with him and give him love he seemed to have trouble relaxing into it.  I think he didn’t quite trust it.  Over the months, he has seemed to surrender to it more and more.  These days, when he especially likes me lovin’ on him, he lets out little moans of pleasure.

Running the dog #2

(See “Running the dog #1” under the Not so fast... tab.)

This week, morning and evening, i have been looking in on and walking Joey.

Joey is an American Eskimo Dog.  His little legs are about as long as my shoe – not really cross-country runner legs.  The first few days that we walked, Joey was happy doing a quick walk (the AKC says “trot”) – which is about as fast as my regular walk.

Maybe today he was feeling the gorgeous summer morning – bright, still a little cool in the shade but warm in the sun – two different climate zones that we would go in and out of.  Whatever it was, I think i was feeling it too.

Joey wanted to go a little faster.  I haven’t been a runner in a lot of years, since my longer legs decided that they didn’t really like running anymore (long before the rest of me – especially my mind and feelings – had decided it was time to hang up the running shoes).  My idea of a good workout these days is walking uphill (easy to find in these Appalachian Mountains – actually, hard to find anything else) at three different speeds – moderate, slow and stopped.

But this morning, picking up the pace a little felt great to me, too.  Now i was doing a fast walk (not a trot, which is harder for me).  Joey looked at me and said, “I can go even faster than this” – and picked up the pace a little more.  At this point, he was flat-out running and i was running too, at something a little this side of flat-out.

At this point, a very cool thing happened: Joey looked at me and i looked at him – and he winked at me.  Oh, OK, not exactly a wink, but i could hear him saying, “Hey, man, look at us – this is cool!”  OK, maybe not exactly “heard” – but kinda did.  You know.  You dog lovers who also hallucinate words emanating from your dogs know exactly what i mean.

When my son Terry was about eight, he and i learned to roller skate together.  My competency on skates progressed just slightly faster than did his, but he still wanted to hold my hand as we skated – thus opening a new window into the concept of false sense of security.  Sweet, i really did like it, but i couldn’t resist the thought, “Sorry kid, but if i go down I’m taking you down with me.”

But one Saturday afternoon at the roller rink, right at the end of the session, Terry started to feel more confident.  They always played a ballad at the end of the session – not exactly a waltz, but sweet and kind of dreamy late 70’s/early 80’s pop.  Maybe it was the relatively lyrical nature of the music, but Terry found his groove and voluntarily dropped my hand.  And he kinda started to fly.

He would focus intently on his skating, even as he was starting to let it flow – then he would look over at me.  Then back to the skating and then back at me.  And he winked at me.  OK, not literally winked – i don’t know that this is a behavior he has ever picked up.  But energetically, something in him winked.  And I could hear that part of him say, “Look at us – isn’t this cool?!”

And it was – very cool.

Take back the night…

My dog loves a summer night.

His flat, black-button nose twitches overtime.  His head swivels from side to side, peering into the darkness.  He smells things that i don’t smell, hears things that i cant hear, sees things that i don’t see.  He is so alive!

I remember a period in my late teens and very early 20’s, when i was so flush with new freedom from the limits of my family and full of my new capacities that a summer nights could be for me a wonderland – spreading in all directions with space and possiblity.

These days i often feel very turned-on to be alive, but summer nights seldom affect me the same way – there is not often the kind of magic that seems to be available to Buddy almost every night.

Once again Buddy points, for me, the way.

Deciding i’m ok…

I’m sitting this week for a sweet little dog named Joey.  Only he was not at first very sweet in my direction.

Little Joey the American Eskimo didn’t think he liked me when i first came to visit his house.  His mom said, “He wants to reject you as an intruder, but – look – his tail is wagging, even as he is barking at you.”  Part of him thought i might be an enemy, while another part of him really did want to trust and like me – wanted me to be a good part of his world, rather than a threat.  But – as his mom was giving me the tour of the house and instructions for the care of Joey, three cats and some outdoor plants – Joey kept going back and forth between warming up to me and then going back into alarm-barking mode.

The second time i came, the morning after his person had left town for a week, he barked as i came in and for maybe a minute after i got there, then settled down and enjoyed my presence.  When i came back that evening, he barked as i was working the key in the lock, then quickly adopted me.  Since then he gets happy from the sound of my voice as i come up the walk, calling to him.  He follows me around the house like a puppy: if i use the bathroom, he patiently waits just outside the door – or follows me in, rude little thing.  Outside, it takes the merest call to him as i walk him on his leash – more a suggestion than a command – for him to come back in my direction.

What, for a dog, is the process of deciding that a new person is friend rather than foe?  Part of him wanted to like  me from the start, even as another part felt threatened.  How do they let go of their exclusion of the other, their instinctive need to sound the alert against an intruder – to then include me, to decide that they want me to belong.  How did he decide that he liked me?  Sure, i was giving him some good things, but it feels like its gotta be something more than that.  His little doggie brain decided that i was good, not bad.  How?

How do we make that shift with regards to other people?  Why is it sometimes so hard?

Tucking Buddy in…

Every night, before i go to bed, i tuck Buddy in: i sit next to him and give him a big dose of love, usually for about 10-15 minutes, sometimes longer (especially if he is tense, traumatized by thunder – or, on a couple of horrible occasions, by having been attacked and terrorized by an aggressive dog – or otherwise seems to need it more than usual).

I started this practice shortly after he came to me, about 15 months ago.  He was, back then, so scared and depressed that i wanted him to feel especially safe and loved before he slept all night.  These days, he doesn’t “need” it as much as he did back in those early, traumatized days – but he still gets so ecstatically happy, and then so wonderfully peaceful, that i continue the practice.  I do it no matter how late i come in or how early i have to get up.  In 15 months, i have only missed a few nights.

Frequently, as Buddy gets very peaceful and relaxed, he will let out a big, loud, deep sigh – a sure sign that he has really let go.  Sometimes he will fall peacefully asleep – and i usually continue to stroke him for a few more minutes, believing that when he is sleeping the love and reassurance goes straight into his unconscious, creating a deep foundation of security and contentment.  Sometimes i sing to him.

Many months ago, i got it that this little ritual is as good for me as it is for Buddy.  i get peaceful, i feel wrapped in love.  You can’t give love without it moving through you first.  Sometimes i picture that Life is stroking, reassuring, loving me the same way that i am giving these things to Buddy.

I think I’ll keep it up.

Spooning

A couple of months after i got into the practice of “tucking Buddy in” before i went to bed, i experimented with a new wrinkle.  I thought, why do i always sit up above Buddy?  What might happen if i lay right down with him?  So i tried lying behind him, facing the same way he is lying, and spooning: I cuddle in real tight, like i imagine puppies doing – or dogs that are very tight – and throw my arm over him.

The first couple of weeks i tried this, Buddy just couldn’t believe how wonderful this felt: I imagined his little doggie brain thinking, “It can’t be possible – after all those years of getting just stingy little bits of love – that this is really happening to me.”  One night, he rolled over in my direction, looked deep into my eyes, and then gently placed both of his paws on my chest.  (Now who was melting?)  Another time, he placed one paw on my chest and the other up over my shoulder, like he was giving me a big doggie hug.

These days Buddy doesn’t respond so dramatically to spooning.  I think that it no longer feels to him so unbelievably wonderful. I think that for him, now, it just feels normal.

Buddy hasn’t always liked Lucy – fact is, she can be irritating as hell.

Lucy is a three year old hound, full of boundless energy – fast as the wind and light on her feet like a ballerina.  But that’s where the similarity to a ballerina ends.  More aware of her own enthusiasm than she is of her environment, she doesn’t know her own speed and athletic power.  She crashes into Buddy and me, sits on us and frequently plays too rough for Buddy, precipitating yelps from him and profanity from me.

Buddy has learned, over the last 15 months, to enjoy rough play with other dogs – but he is essentially more delicate.  He will never step on your toes, much less crash into you.  For the first few months we lived here, he clearly found Lucy a pain in the ass and woud not give her the time of day.

But Buddy loves the company of other dogs and these days (not in earlier days) loves to play doggie wrestling and chasing games.  And, since moving to our new area, for doggie play Lucy is the only game in town.  So, a few months ago he began to soften to her – and now he flat-out loves her.

But Lucy is gone with her family for several days of vacation – and Buddy is like bereft: there’s no zest, no spring in his step, when we go for walks he hardly does more than mope along with me.  When Lucy goes back up the hill with us, the two sniff everything.  They go crashing back into the woods at full throttle: even though Buddy’s nine year old full throttle is nothing like Lucy’s three year old, long-legged, game-chasing hunting dog’s full throttle, he chases gamely after her.

Even on his own, Buddy will happily chase a squirrel any day of the week – even when he is having a bad day, even in the dog days of summer, even when the Lucy thrill is gone, he’ll always chase a squirrel when he sees one.  But Lucy sees them a lot further away than Buddy does, so that’s a lot more squirrels to chase – and from a lot longer distance.

So the last couple of days my old Buddy is acting a lot less like his pup self and more like his old man self.  I, for my part, have been intentionally activating my pup self: cuddling him a lot more enthusiastically and wrestling with him a lot more robustly.

That’s really good for me: after a long day at work, it brings me back alive – I feel some zest, get the spring back in my step.

And I see the light come back in Buddy’s eyes.

Cleo and me

Cleo did not like men.

A three year old Golden Retriever, Cleo lived with Jo and her 7 year old daughter Phoebe – each of them awesome people.  But smart people sometimes make stupid choices, and Phoebe’s dad had not been a nice man.  He at least terrorized all three of them – and i think also sometimes hit them – for years, until about a year before Jo had finally split with him and this time made it stick.  But all three of them carried scars from those bad years.

At this point, Cleo actually hated men: partly, I’m sure, because of what this guy had done to her – but also, I believe, because of what he had done to Jo and Phoebe.  And I’m a man.  My wife Sandy had a very strong friendship with Jo and i would occasionally try also coming over to Jo and Phoebe’s apartment.  Cleo always reacted the same way to my entrance into the apartment, the same way she responded to any man’s presence: she barked ferociously at me and would not stop until i left.  So i finally stopped going.

But at some point Jo and Phoebe needed to move in with friends – and Cleo was just too much for that family and home to accommodate.  Cleo had to go.  Jo and Phoebe were extraordinarily conflicted: the move was something that they really needed to make, but they both loved Cleo tremendously.  They would let other families take Cleo for trial visits, but again and again it either did not work out for that family or Jo came up with some reason why she thought it wouldn’t work.  She needed to let Cleo go, but couldn’t.

All this instability was causing a lot of stress for Cleo.  She became skittish and withdrawn and developed a bad case of mange.  Sandy also loved Cleo – and Cleo loved her.  So Sandy convinced me that we should give Cleo a try, to see if it could possibly work for her to live with us.  We were moving to the country, our dog Darby seemed lonely – it seemed like a great idea, except that Cleo hated men and seemed to hate me.  But we decided to take her for the weekend and give it a try anyway.

Friday came: Jo and Phoebe were leaving town and Sandy was at work (I had a flexible grad student schedule), so i needed to be the one to pick Cleo up.  This seemed not very strategic, but we couldn’t come up with another plan.  Sandy and i figured that it might be a good, direct test: if this didn’t work, then Cleo probably would not work for our little family.

When i arrived at their door, I felt some real trepidation: what might make this encounter any different from every previous encounter i had had with Cleo?  Why ever would she be willing to leave with me?  And if this trial visit did not work, like all the previous ones had not worked – and moving day was drawing close – then what was going to happen to her?

I knocked on the door of their apartment and after a few moments Jo opened it.  And Cleo – who was following right after Jo – came out the door, swiveled to face the same way i was facing, and sat down, right next to me.  No barking, no trying to scare me away.  She planted herself and quietly sat right there – and did not move.  She barely left my side all weekend – and thus began a long, wonderful friendship.

I will never quite understand how Cleo knew that i was her best shot and finding a good home.  But she did.

Suddenly older…

Why do dogs age so much faster than us?

If, as they so easily and completely do, they wangle and waggle and wiggle into our lives, minds (I think about Buddy a lot and – look! – write about him a lot) and hearts, seems like they ought to stick around, should be life companions.

But they don’t.  Unless we are very old or die prematurely, our dogs live a lot shorter than we do and eventually ditch us for the great doggie beyond.  It doesn’t seem fair.

When i adopted Buddy, about 15 months ago, he was – in dog years – roughly the same age as my 61 years.  (One dog-age chart i saw at the vet’s showed different dog years as correlating with from 6-8 of our years – different by the different years.  What’s that about?  Do the dog experts really know this?  I don’t get it.)  I didn’t know, when i got him, that Buddy was this old.  The woman who gave him to me actually thought he was 4 1/2, even though – when i pushed her to get his old vet records – she discovered that he had actually been with her for eight years.  How she could have lost track of four years i really don’t get.

When i finally, a few weeks after getting him, was informed of Buddy’s true – relatively advanced – age, my first response was panic about him leaving me relatively soon (unless, of course, the grim reaper comes for me before the doggie reaper comes for him – there’s no way of knowing about these things).  But right after that reaction, the poignancy of his aging process came home to me.  He was then, like i already said, roughly my age in doggie years (actually a couple years younger), but was going to age a lot faster than me.  Already has: in a little over a year of my human aging, he has picked up seven (or six or eight) years.  Really doesn’t seem fair – i really don’t get it.

So, if i’m now 62 (which i guess i am), he’s now 66.  And it’s just gonna keep going that way.

What to do about all this?  Not much i can do, I guess.  Except be aware of it all, witness it all.  He will be, for me, a study in aging – a kind of role model.  At this point, he – like me – acts sometimes like a pup and sometimes like an old man.  But it will progressively be less that way: he will spend more days acting like an old man and fewer acting like a pup.  Just like i will do, only slower.  But still doing it – progressively, inexorably.  Even if i start going to the gym a lot, give up smoking, eat right, think good thoughts, etc., the fountain of youth will still evade me.

There are things i can do – even beyond exercise and diet regimens – to help myself myself age more gracefully. Some of them i am doing (like more and more making peace with being older, even practicing using the term older to describe myself.  (“No”, some of my younger friends say, “you’re not old – you’re really young.”  I say, “You don’t know buster” – or hon -“Youthful, sure, but not young.  No matter how young at heart i may stay, this old body keeps aging.”  Or I’ll introduce a sentence by saying, “These old bones…”.  Claiming it, not avoiding it.

I can stop cringing and start enjoying it when i get my senior discount at the movies or the health food store – even when the young cashier gives it to me without asking.  I can get over the sense of loss that i am no longer even on the screen sexually for young women.  I can enjoy being a father-figure for young women – and a mentor, a wise old man for young men.  I can feel happy when a beautiful young woman acquaintance says she likes that we are getting to know each other because she doesn’t have any older men in her life.  I can appreciate the joys of being less testosterone-driven around attractive women and less wanting to compete with younger men. I can relish that i am finding a much wider of women beautiful – of all ages, figures and facial constellations.

I can embrace the phenomenon that i actually am becoming kind of wise, even when the core of that wisdom is to get it how little i actually know – and becoming more comfortable with being confused.

Some of these graceful-age-inducing developments just happen to me.  I was chatting on-line one evening with a young woman with whom i share a lot of mutual chemistry – stuff that had often confused me. (“What, am i supposed to date her or something?  That’s for Woody Allen or somebody.”)  Even this chat medium was from her age cadre, not mine.  She initiated it – she was in a city far from Asheville, our mutual home, with her sick kid who needs a top-notch cancer center – and was spending several weeks in her child’s hospital room, agonizing some of the time and flat-out bored a lot of the time.  So she rang my chat bell on Facebook (not just for young folks anymore) and we chatted.  I love her a lot and was delighted to spend the time with her, even in a medium that still feels strange to me.

About a half-hour into our digital conversation, i got it: “She feels like a daughter to me!”  My daughter in law, with whom i am very close, has taken – since she married my son just a few months ago – to calling me FIL, which is wonderfully silly and fun.  She – an attractive young woman who just a few years ago came into my life, no kin to me – absolutely feels to me like a daughter.  The daughter i always wanted but never had.  Even though i have not had the life experience and have no idea how to relate to one, Alma definitely feels like a daughter.

Alma opened up the space for me to relate to  – and feel towards – a young woman, even a very attractive one, as a daughter.  And here the same thing was happening with this previously-distractingly-attractive non-familial young woman.  Being able to shift from awkward, odd chemistry with an attractive young woman to a very peaceful connection – this is, for me, a form of graceful aging.  i didn’t create it – wouldn’t have known how to.  I didn’t visualize it, didn’t magnetize it into my life.  Life gave it to me, like a juicy fresh peach.  Peachy-keen.

I can also help Buddy age gracefully: i can give him lots of exercise, good nutritious chemical-free food, move next-door to a three year old hound who loves to play with him and gets him charging after squirrels and stuff – and, of course, give him lots of love.

I can help him and me to age gracefully, but i can’t stop either of us from aging – and he’s gonna age faster than me and probably die well before me.  Doesn’t seem fair – it just is.

And i will suck the juice out of every year we have together.

“Back atcha later…”

Sometimes my needs and Buddy’s are very much in sync.

When i woke this morning, i had a piece of writing formulating itself in my head.  If i don’t catch this stuff when it’s fresh, it can get all kinds of fuzzy before i get back to it.  And the muse can get cranky if i don’t honor what she is giving me: she can get stingy about sending me more.

But i also realized, having just gotten up this morning, that my head was pretty much still full of cotton.  So, instead of going straight to my laptop on my front porch, i took Buddy – and me – for a walk.  i knew that my writing would go better if i first got my energy moving around and my head more clear.  So i bargained with the muse that i would take my little spiral notebook with me and jot notes as Buddy and i walked – not the best arrangement with the writer in me, but good enough.  And fortunately our little walk up the hill does not require me to put my physical body at risk by crossing streets with my nose down in my notebook.

But, when Buddy and i come back from a walk, i also like to plop on the ground in the backyard and give him some love – especially when he’s been outside and me inside all night.  And he loves and wants it.  And it’s good for me to take this time out, this cuddle time (especially as a break, when i have been working).  And Buddy’s doggie neighbor-friend Dorie is out of town and Buddy’s lonely.  And i knew i would have to face (or at least feel in the back of my head) those big mournful brown eyes as he watched me disappear back into the house.

But at this point my needs trumped Buddy’s.  This piece of writing was now getting clearer and more insistent.  So i went and gave Buddy a kiss on the nose (he loves those) and said, “Back atcha later, Bud”.  And trusted that he would be just fine not getting this extra love that he wanted (and, i could make a case, needed) – and that our relationship would be just as solid when i did get back to him, maybe even in some ways stronger from his heightened longing for me.

Hey, the reality is that much of the time (seems to be all the time for me), we don’t have time for everything we want to do.  Our most important intimate relationships cope with that reality all the time.  My best human friend Lynn had left a voice mail yesterday afternoon that said, “Nothing big, I’m just looking forward to catching up” – and i have been so immersed in this same writing project that i have not yet called her back.  I have, consciously, bargained with that relationship.  Did i not bargain with the muse this morning when i told her that i would get back to her later?

It’s good for me to not only be willing to bargain with buddy – even though he doesn’t know jack about bargaining, and only knows what he wants/needs in the moment.  But at least as important is to keep my perspective – to remember that this is actually no big deal.  Not, “Hey, he’s just a dog” (it’s amazing to me how deeply that societal maxim is still implanted even in my brain – i had heard it rolling around on this very walk), but simply “I’m choosing for me this time – and it’s no big deal, it’s just how reality, how all relationships work sometimes.”

Sometimes my needs trump Buddy’s.

Charging his batteries

When i am spending quiet “quality” time with my dog – sitting with him in the back yard or on the floor in the house, “lovin’ on him” as they like to say in these Appalachian mountains or “making out with him” as my friend Lynn likes to say – i believe that i am doing more than simply giving him love and attention.

I really believe that i am helping him to “recharge his batteries” or even to “make a deposit in his emotional/energetic bank account”.  In my way of seeing it, it goes beyond even making him a happier dog – which i have no question that this cuddle time definitely does.  It sure looks to me (I see the evidence in how he then behaves) that this doggie/daddy time leaves him more confident, more resourceful and more resilient.  Rather than becoming a whoosy little lap dog from all this love, i see him sometimes immediately becoming stronger, more inquisitive and exploratory, more enthusiastic in his play with the neighbor dog – just bolder all around.

This process of “charging his batteries” – or even more if you think of it as “deposits in his emotional/energetic bank account” – may be more significant or clearly impactful with a traumatized, shy, skittish, insecure dog like my Buddy.  It may be particularly less important with a dog that is more strongly instinct-driven and less relationally oriented (less focused on close bonding with humans – which is clearly a very big driver for Buddy.)  He may just need it more than some other dogs.

But i think it is a useful way to think about our connecting with all of our dogs: giving them love is more than giving them love – it is, in a real and direct way, making them more healthy, more functional, maybe even more intelligent.

My dog Buddy – almost certainly abused during his first months of life, before being adopted out of the pound around age 6 months, and then subtly neglected for another 8 years – has tremendous needs for love and attention, needs for which he only recently has gotten confident enough to directly ask.  And it has been completely clear that there is huge payoff from giving him this love and attention, some of this payoff totally self-serving for me: a happier, more lively, more contented dog is a helluva lot better companion than the mopey, depressed dog i adopted over a year ago.

But how much love and attention is enough?  Buddy is not actually a bottomless pit in this area.  Even as he has, over the last 15 months, learned to drink this love in deeper and deeper – to revel in it, to sink into it – he also has developed more capacity to be filled up: to decide that he has enough and now wants to just go lie in the sun or explore the yard or go back to one of his other favorite spots.

But sometimes he’s still not done with cuddle time when I am.  So how do i decide when to stop?  Unless there is some unusual circumstance (he has been traumatized by thunder or an aggressive dog or a trip to the vet or groomer), I usually choose for me.  I first notice a shift in me from being totally present to him – immersed in the sweetness of our connection, the beautiful afternoon in our backyard, etc. – to being more distracted or restless.  I know at this point that my time on the meter has almost expired.  I usually will hang in some moments longer – and on those special occasions when i realize he has even more need for reassurance, maybe significantly longer.

But finally something shifts in me and i know that i am done.  Frequently the key indicator is that my attention has shifted elsewhere: to a call i need to make or a task that is sitting on my desk or a need to feed myself.  I virtually never try to push myself beyond this point: it’s not good for me and it’s not good for my relationship with Buddy.  It won’t serve either of us if i lay guilty expectations on myself to take care of him when i need to be taking care of me.  It definitely won’t serve either of us if i start to resent his demands on me.

On rare occasions, he will make such a melodramatic attempt to keep me – throwing a paw up over me or even crying a little, stuff that this unassertive dog almost never does – that i will stay a few extra moments.  But finally i know that this just isn’t working for me any more: he has needs, but i do, too.  I may give him a few extra kisses as i leave, but leave i do.

And often i will actually say out loud, “I got other stuff to do, man.”

Eating dirt…

Why do they?  Yuchh!

I once commented to the Buddy’s vet that the O-3 supplement Buddy gobbles up enthusiastically when i spread it on bread is, to me, really foul-tasting stuff.  The vet said, “Hey, they like to eat cowpies and dead carcasses – they’re wired different.”

So true.

Unfreezing

My counselor likes to say that much of the process of healing involves “unfreezing”.  The organism’s response to overwhelming trauma – when there is no possibility of fight or flight – is to freeze.  The deer in the headlights, the rabbit frozen in the field.  Some animal behaviorists speculate that there is a kind of grim adaptive value in the ability of animal that has been caught by the predator to go semi-unconscious, to kind of black out.

When my little Buddy came to live with me about 15 months ago, he was in many ways a fairly frozen ( 8 1/2 year old) pup.  The course of our time together has in many ways been a process of him gradually melting.

There had never seemed to be much question that he had been abused in his first six months of life, before his previous person adopted him from a shelter.  And that person for some reason had a belief that he did better if you didn’t give him too much attention.  So, after probably experiencing the overwhelming trauma of abuse as a pup, he then dealt for many years with the insidious trauma of marginal neglect.  No chance to really heal there.  Thinking of his development this way helped make sense of the fact that – with no actual abuse since he was first adopted – he was still absolutely terrified of men.

If the melting of early trauma is thought of a process of awakening from a bad dream, there are still going to be times when we go back into the dream.  If the path Buddy has followed over these last many months has been one of learning to accept and even, finally, ask for love, it seems that sometimes the old dream of love scarcity takes over.

Buddy more and more luxuriates in my loving attention – sometimes even seeming, in the moment, to get kind of filled up…enough that he seems happy and content to then move off to explore, lie in the sun or just do whatever.  But other times it seems that the bad dream has more taken over, that he momentarily is just not able to let love in.

Tonight was a classic example.  He asked to come in the house – something he rarely does in this nice summer weather, when he wants to be outside almost 24/7.  This usually is a signal that he is wanting to be with me even more than he wants to be out in the back yard.  But when i plopped on the floor next to his bed in order to give him some attention, he came over to let me pet him for only a minute or so before moving a few feet away, plopping on the floor in his classic moping pose – looking away from me.

I knew right away that this was not his contented form of separation.  He was clearly mopy (dare i say sad, or even depressed?  he was definitely depressed when he first came to me.)  It sure seemed to me that some frozenness had taken him over.  So i pursued him: i slid across the floor to sit right up next to him and resume petting him.  For maybe three minutes he completely ignored me.  Then he let out one of those deep sighs that indicate that he is relaxing.  In just another minute or two he was completely engaged with me – repeatedly throwing his head up towards me as he does when he is excited about connecting with me, and giving me huge eye contact.  He then deeply received my petting attention, occasionally letting out little moans of pleasure.  When, ten minutes later, i started to disengage, he kept throwing a paw on me in the classic doggie gesture of “No, don’t stop yet!”

It’s hard to watch Buddy go back and forth, heal and then regress, come out into the light and then go back in the deep weeds.  But then it’s hard to watch myself go through this process, too.

Having his cake…

In the early months of being with me, Buddy was so protective of his reunion time with me (I had just gotten home and we were cuddling on the porch or in the yard) that he would chase his doggie friends right out of the yard.  !0 minutes before they were playing together happily, they come over to play again and surprise!  “Get out of my yard – I want my dad all to myself.”

So much has changed.  These days – same situation, we’re sitting in the grass with Buddy lying between my legs, lapping up the love – if his hound dog neighbor friend Dorie comes over to sniff him, he gives her little kisses.  I think he’s just way more secure these days.

And there’s a new wrinkle.  When Dorie is nuzzling him, he tries to initiate the “Lets chew on each other’s faces, ears and necks” game – without leaving the comfort of my lap!  He focuses on the chewing, but makes no attempt to get up and play the game the way it’s meant to be played (either both up or the two of them alternately flopping over on their back – but not stationary) – then throws his head back towards me: “Don’t go away, now – I want you, too.” And so it goes – back and forth – until he either decides to get up and really play the game or Dorie breaks the game off because he’s not playing it right.

It’s all pretty funny.

When i first got Buddy, 16 months ago, he was not ready to trust – or to fully let pleasure in.  These days, he sinks deeper and deeper into the joy of being loved.  One way i can tell that he is really, really happy from being petted – as he lies there very quiet, just taking it in – is that he licks his chops!  He especially likes to have his floppy ears rubbed – and this almost always elicits this chop licking.  Such a supposedly classic doggie behavior, but i’ve never seen him respond this way to food or treats.

I’ve mentioned this behavior to vets and other dog owners, and they don’t recognize it.  Hey, us humans each find our own pathways into pleasure, into peace, into contentment – I guess this is true of dogs, too.

Darby was a 40-pound mutt that Sandy and i had adopted as a pup from the pound.  He looked a little like the Springer Spaniel that had been my family’s beloved pet when i was a kid, so Sandy let me give him the same name, Darby.

(In Ireland, a darb is a charmer, a ladies’ man.  One day, while Darby was still a pup, i was walking him down the street and an older lady – still with a little brogue about her – reached down to pet him and said, “What a little darb you are!”  That was very cool.)

The vet told us that Darby – different from my childhood Springer, who was really pretty smart – was “one of those lovable black and white mutts who will never learn anything.”  The doc got it pretty right, but Darby was lovable – and he loved everybody, dogs and people, and was a lot of fun to play with or hike in the woods with…overall really a great dog, even though he could sometimes be very stubborn and he never learned anything.

And Darby was always up for adventure.  One day, when Sandy or I were coming through the door, Darby bolted and went running down the sidewalk.  i can’t believe that he wanted to escape – he just wanted to run free, as he got to do when we hiked in the woods.  About half-way down the block, he started to run across our little side street – and was hit by a car.  Not hard, praise god – the guy had seen him and hit the brakes.  (The “I break for animals” bumper stickers had not even been invented yet.)  Darby was not badly hurt – some bumps and bruises and pretty shaken up.  The adventure had gone right out of him and he was glad to come home – where he retreated behind our big heavy old thrift shop leather chair and spent the rest of the day there.

For the next two weeks, every time Darby and i walked down the sidewalk past the site of his encounter with the car, he barked at the spot on the street where he had been hit.  It was if he believed that it was that little section of pavement that had hurt him.

I wonder if a smarter dog would have reacted the same way….

Diogi's mom

Diogi was Anita’s dog.

I’m embarassed to admit that, 10 years later, I remember absolutely nothing about Diogi – but then Anita’s beauty upstaged Diogi’s whateverness in a walk.  Anita was second generation Chinese-American.  I for a long time never got around to asking Anita just what “Diogi” meant in Chinese, though i assumed it had to be something interesting.  But, like I said, with Anita around I was never all that interested in this dog, about whom I do actually remember that he was medium-sized.  (But all the dogs in our little posse were medium-sized to large – little dogs just did not make it in this group of “big dogs”.)  When i finally did get around to asking where the name came from, Anita played real cagey: “Think about it.” “Huh?” “No, really, think about it.” “Think about what?  I don’t know any Chinese.”  “No, think about ‘d'”.  I was still completely clueless.  “Think about ‘d’ and ‘o'”.  I don’t remember if she had to get to, “Think about ‘d’ and ‘o’ and ‘g'”, but she might as well have, for how completely, hilariously, put on i realized i had been.

Even the writer and word-lover in me had not seen the furry for the Chinese.

This little Zen maxim is one of my favorite sentences – it proves true time and time again.

We live in the country: Buddy gets to run free pretty much as much as he wants.  It’s in many ways an ideal life for a dog – and for a dog’s person.

In the winter, Buddy seems quite content to come in most nights.  But in the summer it’s a different story: he wants to be outside basically 24/7.  On occasion, he does want to come in at night, even in good weather.  Sometimes i think he wants to be close to me more than he wants to be outside.

But other times the protective dad in me thinks he ought to be inside: “It’s been raining today, it’s damp outside – and he does have that arthritic hip…”  But who am i, really, to make this call for him?  What do i know about the real trade-offs for him, about the price he pays from sleeping inside?

One summer, my wife and i spent 7 weeks camping and backpacking out west.  Our first night home, sleeping inside a building felt very weird.  When i lived up in the mountains, there were very few mosquitoes and i left my front and back doors open wide all day and sometimes into the warm summer night.  I loved the sense of a very porous boundary between outdoors and indoors.  When it started getting colder and i needed to start closing my doors, i felt a loss.  And then i moved down lower in the country, where there are mosquitoes, and i need to keep my screen doors closed.  They let in good air, but it’s still more of a boundary.  I feel a loss.  On these summer days, i often spend really the whole day outside – some of it sitting at my laptop on my lovely front porch, facing only woods and sky.  When, in the evening, i bring my laptop inside for better light, i feel a loss.  It actually feels strange being inside, after being outside all day.

What do i know of Buddy’s genuine need to be out in the night air, smelling the night smells and listening to the night sounds, sleeping on the earth?  How powerfully does all this charge his batteries?  Is all this more healthy for him than coming in out of the damp?  He may be “domesticated”, but he still lives in the world of animal instincts to an extent that i can not estimate or understand.

I know that sometimes it is the responsible thing to make choices for your pet that they do not know how to make for themselves.  Sometimes our rational big picture does actually trump their instincts.  But when?  And how do we know?

I know that outdoors forgives indoors – but i think that Buddy knows this better than i ever will.

Welcome to the pack

My dog Buddy is a medium-sized dog – 45 pounds at his fighting weight – but in relationship to tiny dogs he is definitely a big dog.  And he basically has no use for little dogs.  He grew up with big, much older dogs – and I think that little dogs are just not on the screen for him.

When a neighbor pup would jump all over him, frantically trying to get Buddy to play, but really in the most annoying fashion, Buddy would just keep walking as if he was not there.  When my friends Lynn and Fred stayed with us for five days, their little dog Attie tried in every way he knew to seduce Buddy into playing with him, but Buddy absolutely would not give him the time of day.

But Lucy, the three year old hound who lives next door, maybe a few pounds heavier and much stronger – now she’s another “big dog”.  Over the last few months she and Buddy have gotten very tight.  They wrestle together, play chase games all around our big yard together.  And they both adore it when the three of us go for walks back up the hill together.  They smell the same things and pee in the same places.  If one of them goes charging back into the woods, the other is right behind.

Buddy and Lucy playing.

Buddy and Lucy playing.

And they love to run next to each other – fast, haunch to haunch – as dogs who love each other sometimes do.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Lucy’s long, strong hound dog’s legs are way faster than Buddy’s: I think she must intentionally slow her pace a bit so that they can stay in unison.

When Max, my friends Bob and Annie’s little Bichon, came to stay with us for a few days – well, he was a little dog.  Buddy completely ignored him.  Max immediately loved Buddy: Buddy’s sweet, laid-back energy never threatened him, and he never felt a need to play tough.   When we went for walks, Max – like a little brother – tried to follow him everywhere, even if he couldn’t always keep up.  Buddy ignored him.

And my neurotic  Buddy took it very hard that another dog was in his space.  He didn’t just ignore – he moped.  He became clingy and needy and – when I couldn’t give him my 100% of my attention or couldn’t hide from him that I was also giving love to Max – went off to a corner and sulked.  Never any aggression – just woundedness.

Tough little Max did not like Lucy.  Her wild energy was just too in-your-face for Max.  (Laid-back Buddy had for many months also ignored Lucy: I don’t think her randiness threatened Buddy, just annoyed him.)  Max would bark at Lucy if he even saw her about 100 yards across our two yards.  Non-aggressive Lucy kept trying to sniff Max or even to get him to play, but Max would have none of it.  But the three dogs would often walk up the hill with me and sometimes Max was so involved in exploring the terrain or following Buddy that he forgot to be mean to Lucy.

One night Lucy was inside her house and it was just me and Buddy and Max walking up the hill in the darkness.

There’s another “big dog” from down the road that sometimes comes to visit, and he and Buddy like each other a lot.  They chase each other around and have a good old time.  When this down-the-road dog (I don’t know is name – let’s call him Midnight, because he is solid black) appeared suddenly in front of us – hard at first to make out in the matching darkness – he and Buddy greeted each other happily, all wagging tails.  But Max the Magnificent was not pleased: he tried to attack this new dog.  With me holding Max’s leash, he never got closer than about ten feet from Midnight – who, not an aggressive animal, just jumped back.

Then Buddy did an extraordinary thing: he charged Midnight, growling ferociously – and basically chased him right off the property.  He then came running back and ran right up to Max in a completely unprecedented friendly way.  The only way I could make sense out of this whole scenario was that Buddy had gotten protective of this little visiting runt who was trying to mix it up with a much larger dog.  When – after chasing Midnight for a couple hundred yards, until he was well off our property – Buddy came running directly back up to Max, I read his behavior as saying, “You OK?”

Why the switch?  Why did Buddy, after a couple of days of completely ignoring – and obviously resenting – Max, apparently come to his defense?

I think that – annoying and disruptive and threatening and generally useless as Buddy regarded Max to be – Max had still become part of the pack.  And, when there was any possibility that Midnight might mix it up with little Max, Buddy – who liked Midnight much more than he liked Max – showed  very clear loyalty to the pack: Midnight had to go.

Once that amazing little scenario had finished playing out, Buddy went completely back to ignoring Max.  “I’ll protect you if I have to: even if you are a totally annoying, uselessly small-dog part of the pack, you still have become part of the pack – one of us.  Now go away, kid, you bother me.”