Friday, October 29, 2010


Frost stretched across the clearing behind our home this morning, and true mist hovered just above the stream.  The mist stretched across the clearing, obscuring the far side.  I imagined coyotes stealing away a few more undetected minutes before the sun rose, watching us, watching for them.

Fall is brief in northern Texas, but it's my favorite season.  There's a feeling, an essence to each season that sets the tone for the days ahead.  Winter is a time of rest, of survival.  We dig deep and layer, holding close to those we love.  Spring reminds us that life weathers on, regardless of winter, regardless of pale legs.  Summer days and nights have an air of electricity, of life, of having reached a pinnacle of sorts.  Our weary, sunburned shoulders testament to how hard and long we played in the sun.  When we lived in Maine, spring was like an oasis in the drought of winter.  We were moles, ascending from our caves into the bright sunlight.  Pale skin and sunglasses on, we ventured out to see the neighbors that we scurried past all winter, back and forth into our respective warm homes.

The seasons define the cycle of growth, life, death and rebirth.  We lose sight of this fundamental cycle in a world of iPads, highways, and work schedules.  There's a disconnect there.  Sadly, I think we all feel it, and to get us back on track, we need holidays.  I'm not referring to the commercialized urge to shop, to decorate and to guilt ourselves out of our honest-earned income.  I'm referring to the essence of the holidays themselves.  Each one, starting with Halloween, gives us the opportunity to stop and think, to catch our collective breath and think about the greater picture.

Halloween is the direct descendant of the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).  Samhain marked "summer's end", and was the time the ancient Celts believed ushered out the "light half" and ushered in the "dark half" of the year.  Also referred to as the Celtic New Year, this was a time when the veil between the world of the living and the dead was thin.  Both good and bad spirits could pass through more easily.  Family and friends now deceased were honored, while bad entities were warded off with masks and costumes.

There are many people that get sucked into the chaos of each holiday, but like all life's lessons, dogs seem to have it sorted out long before we've considered it.  When a member of a pack dies, the survivors mourn.  When the pack is reunited, they celebrate.  Dogs don't need a certain time of the year to be reminded of the gift of life.  When they wake, they bound about, licking faces, rejoicing in seeing it through to a new day.  They don't set aside a day to be thankful for their life as we do.  They thank us continually with muzzle licks, cuddles and tail wags.

Why am I posting this today?  Two nights ago, I had an awful scare from Arwen.  She ate her chicken and Honest Kitchen blend and promptly began vomiting.  Arwen never gets sick- not really, at least.  She's got an iron stomach and a tough girl's attitude.  She horked up three times in 30 min, driving me to panic.   As many of you know, we feed raw, and with raw there are certain risks.  I suspected that a bone had become lodged in her throat, or further along, and she was in dire straits.  I started imagining myself calling her Dr, my boss and friend at home, then rushing her to the emergency clinic.  I imagined her deteriorating and losing consciousness.  I imagined the enormous vet bill and racked my brain devising financially creative schemes to cover the expenses.

During a break in the vomiting, I saw she still looked uncomfortable so I did the one thing I knew would change her demeanor if at all possible.  I leashed her up, and along with Matt (not leashed), took her for a walk.  Slow at first, gaining momentum and speed, she finally raised her enormous plume flag of a tail and dove headlong into the walk.  She would be OK.  No more vomit.  No more panic.  I put my cell phone away and realized how thankful I was of having this amazing animal in my life.  I was thankful for my Matt, who indulges me through thick and thin.  We should never wait to celebrate life.  It's fleeting and precious.  Remember those that are gone and celebrate the sweetness of each moment.  Dogs do it with or without pumpkins or costumes.  In fact, they strongly discourage costumes!

Friday, October 22, 2010


A few nights ago, I felt overwhelmed and frustrated with our two legged child, T.  Just over a year ago, came to us from her mother's neglectful home and has struggled with relationships, school, friends.  Trust and honesty are daily struggles, and understandably so.  Her 12 years of life have been difficult to say the least, the past 3 years in her mother's home away from us, even more so.

T's on the cusp of becoming a "poor me" girl or of choosing a path of strength and positivity.  I can't make this choice for her, though.  And as a parent, stepping back and allowing learning to occur is tough.  I'm certainly not giving up on her, but she needs to learn some things the hard way, through experience.  Natural consequences and outcomes from action.  I suppose that's just allowing her to grow up.  How do parents learn when to do this?  Is there a manual, a guide, a website?  I keep trying to reference my own childhood, but then I get smacked with the realization that this young woman is not me and needs to navigate the world through her own lens.  

So after a long day of work, and then struggling with T, I still had to find dinner for myself.  I knew one of the only places open was that horrible, evil mecca of grease and sugar - McDonald's.  I try to avoid eating this kind of "food" as much as possible, as I know it's akin to rat poison.  Matt knew how frustrated and upset I was and suggested that I go get my "food" with Arwen.  Now why hadn't I thought of that?  I don't normally take the dogs on quick trips like that, but there was no reason not to.  Arwen's  mostly well-behaved in the car, and I knew she'd appreciate the ride and the olfactory hits off the drive-through window to laying about in front of the TV.  

She loves getting into cars so very much.  On our walks, we sometimes run into a parked and open Jeep Wrangler down the street which is almost irresistible for her - clearly an open invitation!  She gets into spring mode by the door and I have to tug her away to avoid breaking and entering!   So off we went. Arwen sat in the backseat of my car, the night air revitalizing her nostrils and my soul.  It was a joy to get away.  I felt the pressures of parenthood slip away and lowered the window some more.  I'll definitely take her on mini-trips more often.  Arwen pressed her head on my shoulder, drool dripping down my arm.  And with that, she reminded me to take the good with the bad.  What's bit of drool, anyway?

Monday, October 18, 2010


This morning's walk was uneventful until I fell flat onto my knees on the median strip of a busy road.  I had Nyxie in tow and she was doing beautifully.  I saw a man walking towards us on the sidewalk so I decided to hop over to the median strip to avoid direct confrontation and work on her calm reaction to strangers.  No sooner had I made it onto the grassy median strip, but I lost my footing in the uneven grass and landed on all fours.  I don't know why the grass in Texas is like this, but it's not the first time I've face-planted here.  From above, you see a lovely expanse of grass that has been evenly mowed and groomed.  Below the surface, however, lie crags and holes large enough to lose a Honda in.  There's nothing more graceful than walking along what appears to be even footing and suddenly collapse.

Nyxie was unfazed.  She's seen me do it before.  I was dreading that the man might run over to help me and get barked at by Nyxie and all out training would be set back.  I had no need to worry.  The man walked past, never even looking my way.  He couldn't have missed my fall, I was in his line of sight and there were no cars zooming past us at the time.  Alas, chivalry is dying.

After regaining my composure and walking on, I felt a sharp pain in my left, lower back.  It was a shooting pain - harsh enough to slow me down and think about stopping altogether.  This was a dangerous idea, though.  What if after I rested it, I couldn't get back up to walk home?  I had to get home as fast as possible.  Without much instruction, Nyxie stayed at my side.  She slowed her pace to match mine and seemed somehow to know that something was wrong.

How do dogs know this?  Aside from a few pathetic whines, she could not have understood that I was hurt.  Whatever it was, she changed her pace to match mine and seemed to shield me bodily from the cars zooming past us and later from another walker on the opposite side of the street.  Twice she pulled me into the grass to sniff something fascinating, but with less enthusiasm, cautious.

We made it home after what seemed like an eternity of steps.  I stretched my back out and I'm feeling better, but Nyxie still keeps checking in on me.  Attentive, watchful.  It's what she does best.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In a Moment

There are a few secret moments in my day to day life with my girls that I want to be selfish with, but they're too good not to share.  Everyone has their favorite moments.  Maybe for you it's when you're on a walk with your pup and you're in step with one another and your breathing relaxes.  Maybe it's that "Aha!" moment when your dog learns a new trick and you find all your patience and hard work coming to fruition.  Maybe it's that moment when you hear a crack of a branch in the woods and you stop breathing to listen alongside your dog, the two of you ready as one being, to face any impending challenge.  Maybe it's just that moment when your pooch figures out that diarrhea on your bathroom floor is a better option than just inches away on your bedroom carpet.

My moment happens twice a week.  These are the mornings when I get out of bed after Matt, my loving partner of 10 years.  I hear his alarm going off (eight trillion times, or so it seems in the sleepy haze of morning) and he finally drags himself out of bed.  No sooner is he off the bed, but I feel Nyxie's paws land on the bed beside me.  I get a customary greeting lick on the cheek or elbow, and then she snuggles in against Matt's still-warm pillow.  She faces me and tucks her long nose into the blanket.  If I'm tucked in tight, she'll slide her head against mine but on the outside of the blankets.  If I've left space around my head, she'll burrow her snout into the space between my skin and the warm blankets.  The warmth of her breathing lulls me back to sleep.  We'll snuggle like this until one of us gets hot, or my own alarm sounds off.  

There is no feeling sweeter than this, no moment more tender.  Along with those other moments I mentioned, all of which are on my Top Trillion Things I Love About Dogs list, this is the one that brings it all home.

It's these moments strung together that define Love.

Friday, October 8, 2010


As my last post was a bit, er,'s will be sunnier.  Halloween is fast approaching and I haven't decided what the girls should go as.  I say "go as" as though they will be going somewhere.  The reality is, if we buy them costumes, it will simply be for our own pleasure.  They will not be seen as they really aren't the "going to the pet costume contest" type of dogs.

Although we have had further improvements!  This morning Nyxie battled walkers (not the kind with the tennis balls on the ends of the legs, but the strolling kind), a whole herd of club-swinging golfers, a dead squirrel, and a biker.  The walkers we simply avoided but at closer range than before, treats given, no problem.  The golfers stirred a bit of anxiety as she heard the metallic "clack!" of the club sending the ball into orbit.  There was a whole bunch of them milling about admiring themselves very close to where we were waling, and the sheer number of them was a tad overwhelming.  She's never seen that many crew neck shirts in one location.  And all of them "armed"?  How very odd it must have seemed to her.  A few looks back at them, a few extra treats given, no problem.  As for the biker, I saw a bit too late to get off the sidewalk, so I pushed her back towards the golf course perimeter fence and made myself and the treats her total focus.  One longing stare after him, extra treats given, no problem.  The squirrel?  She didn't even notice it and we had to step right over it.  On our last walk I saw his poor lifeless body, so robust, that I had to be sure he was really deceased.  Today, he'd been moved and all that was left was hair and skin.  I suspect the coyotes had a midnight snack of him.  Even the scent of another predator I figured would trigger some reaction.  She didn't even attempt to smell it.  Hmm...interesting.  Well, to me it was.

Neither girl is ready for a public venue, though.  Arwen could handle people beautifully - she's a total ham.  Eats up all the adoring attention.  But dogs are a different story.  As for Nyxie, no way.  A few select people, maybe, but no crowd of strangers.  So the costumes would really only please me and T.  She's already discussed how to pose them for pictures, etc.  Matt will roll his eyes, but secretly enjoy the whole thing.

So what should they be?  Clowns?  Devils?  Witches?  All of these are fitting....I've also considered the rider costume where a Headless Horseman or cowboy is straddling the dog's harness so it looks as though they're riding the dog.  Too cute, but the Cowboy would end up headless if Arwen managed to slide him around for a bite.  And the Headless Horseman?  Well, I think Nyxie might look like the perfect black steed of death until her tongue comes lolling out of her big, goofy grin.  I just can't decide...

Whatever we choose, the girls will enjoy it all.  They'll love the big smiles, the photo shoot, the attention and the adoration.  One more arduous sacrifice for pack life.  Will anyone else be torturing their dogs this Halloween?    

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I recently had an experience that's been on my mind for several days.  I was playing with a Rottie puppy at my clinic who's been boarding with us, when a young man approached us.  As puppies will do, he nipped joyfully at the newcomers hands, play-bowing and hopping about happily.  After we exchanged a few pleasantries, the young man tells me that although the pup's cute now, "all these breeds - Rotties, Pitties and German Shepherds - they can turn on you when they're older".

I was floored and once I'd regained my composure enough to contradict him with LOGIC, I shared with him my personal experiences.  I explained to him that as an owner of 2 of the 3 breeds he mentioned, I'd had nothing but unswerving loyalty and devotion from each.  What  followed was the usual chatter about breeds, media hype and bad owners and then the young man went on his way.  I don't know that I was able to change his mind, but surely his beliefs weren't based on scientific research or personal experience with vast numbers of dogs of these breeds.  They were conjecture.

So now you're thinking that I'll discuss more about breeds, predispositions, temperaments and misconceptions...


In mulling all this over for the past week or so, I've come to the conclusion that we expect too much from dogs.  They are expected to be unflappable in the face of pain, loyal when faced with neglect and utterly submissive when bullied.  How much would you take if someone were hitting you, teasing you, or otherwise mistreating you?  The healthy answer would be that you would stop that treatment as quickly as possible.  Either by discussing it, pushing back or simply walking away.  What is considered "turning on you"?  What's the context?  You're walking through your house and Sadie your German Shepherd of 5 years suddenly decided the Kibbles 'N Bits are unacceptable (I can't say I'd blame her) and hauls off and goes for your jugular?!  I find this hard to believe.  A more conceivable, yet troubling scenario is that Sadie is under- socialized, lives in the backyard, is tied to a chain and when you smack her around a bit, or take food from her bowl, she snaps at your hand.

So how much do we expect our dogs to take from us?  If your friend lied to you once, slapped you once, ignored and neglected you, you'd probably stop returning their phone calls.  Stop going to their house, stop the relationship once and for all.  A dog doesn't have that option.  Her first line of defense is the growl, then snap.  Forget about breed propensities - I've seen many a 3 lb chihuahua turn into a piranha pooch at the sight of a nail trimmer.  But wouldn't you react if you were hurt or scared?

So the next time you hear someone talking about a dog "turning" on its owner, conduct your own little experiment.  Raise your arm and bring it really far back, and slap them across the face.  Slap them really hard.  I'm pretty sure they'll act just like a dog.