Saturday, August 29, 2015

Eli. Lesson Three.


The 7 Teachings of Eli
Lesson Three

Suggested Pre-Reading:
Lesson One
Lesson Two

"Whoa, Dude!" I said to Eli (which I now realize wasn't the most respectful way to address a guru). "Watchoo got on?"

He was wearing a baggy sweater on a day hot enough to fry an EggMcGreasy on the sidewalk. Why would someone do this to poor Eli? It wasn't dangerous enough to let him fend for himself among moving traffic; he had to do it while fighting off heatstroke.

But closer inspection revealed a kinder truth. Eli wasn't wearing a sweater. It was a ThunderShirt--a garment made to swaddle a pup, easing his fear of things that go boom in the night. 

Welcome to my epiphany:

Someone out there cared about Eli--and had wanted him to feel safe during last night's storm. 

Aaaand, now I have to confess to something I don't much like about myself. When I see a dog on the loose, my first thoughts toward his human caretaker can be less than charitable. This person: isn't watchful enough... must not love this dog very much.... maybe shouldn't even have a dog. 

The thinking is ridiculously hypocritical, since my beloved Madeline had once been homeless for an entire week--as a result of my gross misbehavior.


Allow me a quick non-Eli story.

Madeline had reached the ripe old age of six months without the mildest interest in leaving the yard. So, in my haze of false security (read: stupidity), I put her outside all by herself, just long enough for me to clean up a mess she'd made in the house. Surprise! She wandered away. She did what dogs do--because I had done what no human should ever do. 

I spent the next seven days searching and weeping, weeping and searching, until the Universe figured I'd learned my lesson. I located my girl at an animal shelter some 10 miles away. 

Okay, but how does this relate to Eli? Y'see... I don't consider myself a terrible custodian of animals. I'm an attentive custodian who blundered terribly one day. Yet here I was, assuming the very worst of Eli's person. 

The ThunderShirt made me wonder if I'd been judging the guy unfairly--and the next 20 minutes of our journey would prove that I had been. 

Until that part of the story unfolds, allow me to share what Eli had just shown me in the third of his seven teachings: "You can judge a person's character by his greatest mistake, only if you're comfortable being judged by yours."

Today I'm going to think about someone in my life who made a bad first impression on me. And then I'll take a moment to feel grateful I gave that person a second chance.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Eli. Lesson Two.


The 7 Teachings of Eli
Lesson Two

Suggested Pre-Reading:
Lesson One

So there I stood, out in the fast food parking lot, Eli tucked under one arm. The diminutive doggie had given himself over to me, peaceably putting his fate into my cod-scented hands. 

I took a moment, as I always do in these situations, to appreciate the trustful nature of dogs. If a stranger seven times my own height were to try to pick me up, I assure you I would not be as obliging.

Okay, it was time to plan our next move. If we'd been in a residential area, I would have canvassed nearby homes to see if anyone recognized him. But this was the heart of Industrialville--making Eli's plight seem all the scarier. Was the little guy miles from home?

I needed a moment to think, so I opened the back door of my car and set Eli onto the seat. And though the dear boy was nearly blind, he had no problem finding his way to the front of the car before I could get there myself.

In a less accurate telling of the story, I might say he climbed onto the front passenger seat... But in truth, he climbed onto the remainder of my fish sandwich. I opened the front car door and saw one of his legs up to the wrist in Wonder Bun. By the looks of things, his foot had passed through the deep-fried patty and the bottom layer of bread, coming to rest on the cardboard pod below.

I giggled and he wiggled, plunging his other front foot deep into my lunch. I had to free the poor pup before I lost him to the LaBrea Tartar Sauce Pits. 

I lifted him with one hand, using the other to grope for a wet wipe from the glove compartment. When we were both properly bathed, I fed him the sandwich in genteel bites that he had to locate by sense of smell.

Once the food was gone he licked his lips and offered me a big ol' fish-eating grin.

Which brings us to the second of his seven teachings for me: "Revel in your missteps. They pave the road to good fortune."

I knew Eli had to get home, but our journey together was not yet over. I still had much to learn.

Today I'm going to recall a time when I felt mortified by a mistake I made. Then I'm going to figure out what good came from that blunder.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Eli. Lesson One.


The 7 Teachings of Eli
Lesson One

Meet my new guru. Eli the Boston terrier.

Almost blind, Eli is a seer of many things. Thus begins my series of blog posts based on his sage teachings. Like any good life lesson, this one starts with a parable.

A few weeks ago, on my hour-long drive into town, I decided to stop at a fast food joint. (Don't get judgey--it turned out to be good for my health.) As I was leaving the drive-through lane, I noticed a tiny dog wandering among the cars in the parking lot--cars driven by starving people focusing more on Big Macs than tiny dogs. 

I pulled over, parked, and opened up my fish sandwich. Ahhh... that nauseating bait-like scent. It was time to put it to the test. 

Eli was nowhere to be seen, so I dodged among the automobiles, bent from the waist, waving the world's whitest bun in front of me calling, "Heeeere ya go, baby. Here ya go. Come and get it." 

I'm only now realizing that other patrons of the establishment have probably written their own blog posts about the kooky lady out in the parking lot. But I digress.

I finally located the pup--or he located me--and we came together in one of those beautiful special-sauce-laden moments you only read about. Once he finished eating he snuffled around in the palm of my hand, snorted, and turned to leave. 

My heartbeat quickened with that familiar wariness of the instant before touching a strange dog. Was he frightened enough to bite me? This is especially good thinking with a dog that doesn't see well; he's likely to be easily startled. I reached out like you're supposed to--under his chest, not over his head. He didn't bite, but he wasn't that interested in being petted by a stranger, either. He wanted to get on his way, walking under moving cars where he might find a french fry box or an abandoned ChickyNugget.

I reminded my nervous stomach that in all my years of helping dogs on the loose, I have never, ever been nipped. And today was no exception. The wise, gentle Eli allowed me to pick him up.

And this was the first of his 7 teachings for me: "Even if you're feeling troubled and alone, try not to react by lashing out. Stay peaceful, and good things will befall you."

Did Eli ever find his way home? All shall be revealed in future posts, Grasshopper. (Spoiler Alert: How else would I know his name was Eli?)

I'm going to take a few minutes today to remember an instance where I bit someone who was stressing me out, when a more peaceful response might have served me better.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Become a Professional Cuddler

                   Your challenge: Watch this video without saying, "Awwwww."

Want a puppy?

Okay, but beware--this is more than just a puppy. Whatcha got here is an 8- week old bundle of pure potential. And how she turns out is mostly up to you. I mean, look at her. Her whole face is saying, "Sooo... whaddaya want from me?"

And you're about to answer that question over and over--with your voice, your touch, and however many quarts of patience you've got on hand. She has no idea how to feel about this big, loud, weird world and the people who run it. You're the one who is going to define those things for her.

How can you help her become confident, trusting and resourceful?

Those are the thoughts that stream through the mind of a "Puppy Raiser" for Can Do Canines. They're the selfless volunteers who bring a sweet young thang of a puppy home for her first year of life. They love her up and teach her lots of skills she'll need as an adult.

Because this pup has been chosen to lead a very special existence. She's destined to partner up with a person who has at least two things: a disability-- and a desire for a better life that only an expert dog can fulfill.

They need each other, these two creatures. This dog and this person. Each
one helps the other to get out and see more of the world--and care for each other like family along the way.

I've been lucky enough to volunteer for Can Do Canines for many years now, and count some of their graduates among my friends. And though I might enjoy the writing exercise of trying to put words to the depth of the emotional connection between an assistance dog and her forever person... I'm not sure it can be done.

I can tell you that the bond between a dog and the person who relies on her is tangible. It has heft. You can feel it in the room with you as a separate "presence." And now I sound like some kind of kook.

But some things I know. 

When a dog springs into action to pick up your toothbrush--because you can't pick it up for yourself... or when she licks your hands and face to help bring you out of your seizure... or when she wakes you up in the middle of the night-- maybe saving your life--because she can tell your blood sugar is dropping... it's not because she was trained to do these things. It's because she is driven to do them.

There is a connection between these two individuals that I've already said I can't explain--so I guess I'll stop trying.

Besides, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to the puppy stage of this noble animal.

If you have one-and-a-half minutes to spare… and you need the kind of emotional boost that only oodles of darling puppies can serve up... then check out the above video.

If you have a year of your life to share… and want to fill your heart to overflowing... please become a Puppy Raiser. Or pass this on to someone you know who might love to raise a puppy.

No experience necessary.

Today I think I'll take a few moments to remember that I have a wide variety of skills that can be useful to others.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Eel and the Octopus

Gracie pretending to be a good girl.

Are you sitting down? Because I'd hate for you to fall over as you lunge to delete your Morning Dog Devotions bookmark (with an eye roll, a slow head shake, and a mumbled, "I gave her plenty of chances..." on your pursed lips).

I realize how incredulous this post will sound. But I assure you, though my mother once quipped, "Carol Jean, I swear you exaggerate a thousand times a day," this is not one of those times.

My story is about Gracie--a dog whose every decision is skeletoned by the strictest of moral codes. If she shouldn't do it, she doesn't. If she can make you happy, she will.

At least that's how I'd been thinking of her for the past 10 years. Until a couple of months ago. I now know that Gracie lives her life by two wholly distinct and separate moral codes: One for her interactions with humans... and another for her relationship with Rose.

A little background. Y' see... Rose has always dominated Gracie. 

She pushes her way out the door first; once outside she pees on top of Gracie's pee (sorry for the indecorous image); and if Gracie gets a bone or a toy, Rose takes it. 

Those are among the criteria we humans use to assess dominance between dogs. But we are fools. I know this now.

A little more background. Y' see... Gracie is a thinker.

She studies the landscape, weighs options, tests hypotheses, and calculates risks before acting. This I've known forever. What I hadn't considered was that the same mental powers she uses to navigate her way though a world where smarter creatures rule, she also wields against the beings she can outwit. Namely, Rose. 

It turns out that our dear darling Gracie is submissive like a moray eel is submissive. 

The ocean denizen spends a great deal of time hiding timidly in a crevice. But pity the poor octopus who happens past that particular crevice unawares. A moray gets what a moray wants.

Just like Gracie. 

One last bit of background. Y' see... when either dog wants to go outside, she rings the bell hanging from the doorknob. 

Rose does most of the ringing, since she goes out about 20 times a day to patrol the perimeter. On the rare occasion that Gracie has business to conduct outside, she takes advantage of one of those 20 opened doors.

But lately Gracie has been ringing the bell herself. Hearing the jingle, Rose bolts to the foyer because, by cracky, ain't no one getting out that door ahead of her!

And surprisingly often now, when we open the door, Rose plows through Gracie out onto the snowy porch--as Gracie recedes silently, back into the warm kitchen. Poor Gracie. Has Rose's enthusiasm intimidated her? 

Um... no.

It finally dawned on us that Gracie has noticed a pattern in our lifestyle we were barely aware of. She's run the numbers, and about 33.3% of the time when Rose and/or Gracie comes in from outside, both dogs get a small welcome home treat. (And there are few things in life Gracie relishes more than treats.) 

So our furry little Alan Turing computed a complicated sequence that would up her daily treat intake--while appeasing her aversion to cold weather. 

Gracie rings the bell to get Rose to go outside. We know this to be true, because Mr. Turing waits in alert mode until Rose barks to come back in. This is the signal for Gracie to slip into position by the pantry, waiting for the reward she so richly deserves.

So now I know. There's dominance... and there's dominance. 

Today I think I'll take a few moments to look at the biggest obstacles standing between me and what I want. Could a little creative thinking get me there?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Woofer Experiment

You don't need a Canine-Human dictionary to understand your dog's native tongue. Once you've lived with him for awhile, you may not be able to speak his language, but you easily comprehend it. 

For instance...

The choppy barks spaced about one second apart mean, "Uh-oh! I think I hear somebody out there. You'd better open the door so I can go check." 

The angrier, deep-chested barks coming twice as fast mean, "Holy crap! There's DEFINITELY somebody out there! I hear footsteps. And voices! I'll put a stop to all that laughing if you just pleeeeeease open the door!!"

And there's no mistaking the insane wailing mixed with high-pitched yaps, loosely translated as, "A DOG-A DOG-A DOG! GET-UP-GET-UP-GET-UP-GET-UP!! I CAN'T TURN THE DOOR KNOB!! THERE'S A DOG OUT THERE! GOOD GAWD, CAN'T YOU HEAR HIM?? HE'S GONNA PEE IN OUR YARD!! HE'S GONNA PEE IN OUR YARD!!!"

But lately I've been wondering. Obsessing, really. Could there be more nuance to what Gracie and Rose are trying to tell us? And then it dawned on me. There's an app for that.

So yesterday I activated the Dictation feature on my computer. (The application that turns spoken words into text on screen.) 

And then we encouraged the girls to bark.

I'll never be able to "unsee" the ghostly words typing themselves out on my computer last night. Let me just say this: Gary Larson was wrong. So very wrong.

(Sigh.) Oh, would that the message of Dog were so trivial and unknowing.

Stop reading right now if you hope to sleep tonight--their words haunt me still.

Gracie and Rose chanted the chorus over and over: 

"Are! Are! Are! Or? Or? Or?"

Clearly the girls are trying to shed light on the slowly-evolving legal rights of animals in this country. Our dogs are crying out for recognition.
"We ARE! We ARE! We ARE actual living, sentient, sometimes-stinky beings, who deserve a few rights of our own. OR...?? Do you still consider us your sole property, with no more inherent value than your floor lamp or your broken weed whacker?
And I see where they're coming from. 

Human progress toward recognizing other creatures as animal citizens is only inching along. It's held back by all sorts of people--like biomedical researchers who fear that they will no longer be able to use monkeys in their labs. (I can't think about this too long without shuddering.) 

And even veterinarians worry, because if an animal is worth more than its mere economic value, malpractice suits will skyrocket. I feel their pain, because vets are paid frighteningly poorly. How will they absorb the cost of the insurance to protect themselves? But our humanity is at stake here, and maybe we'll have to overhaul the way in which our vets get paid. 

These are the problems that Gracie and Rose are begging us to wrestle with, and to pretty-please hurry up about it.

They're right of course. But I long for the days when it didn't feel so wrong to ask them to stop barking.

How can I tell Norma Rae to lie down and hush up?

Today I'm going to make more of an effort to listen to what people are really trying to tell me--even if they're having trouble finding the right words.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Matter of Taste

For the past several moments I've been sitting here contemplating the many wonders of a dog's tongue. (Okay, so I'm in weekend mode.)

It's a crafty tool, that tongue. Think of everything it does for the system: It manages temperature control, brings food and water onboard, gives full-body baths, decides that blue cheese should be swallowed and strawberries should be spit out, applies first aid to wounds, and offers other creatures a nice wet handshake.

While we humans are bragging about our opposable thumbs, our dogs are using their tongues to "tsk-tsk" at us in pity. 

Only recently, though, have I realized how dogs rely on their tongues to experience texture as well. And moreover, they harbor opinions about the textures they perceive.

Awhile back, I began to notice that after eating peanut butter, our dogs would feel the need to wash up--to lick their legs for awhile. Until one day when my lightbulb came on. They weren't using their tongues to wash their legs; they were using their fur to scrub their tongues! My best guess is that when offered a bit of peanut butter, the doggie tongue finds itself in all-out turmoil. The taste buds go crazy for the flavor, while texture-sensors recoil at the feel of it. 

If you haven't already, you may want to take a moment to watch the above video--our documentation of The Great Peanut Butter Experiment. Take special note of Rose's face and body language after she's eaten her peanut butter. Her conflict is visible. Though she would never refuse another tasty scoop from the jar... another part of her brain is hoping she will have no more peanut butter thrust upon her.

I'm not yet sure of the offending property. Is peanut butter too greasy? Too sticky? Too gritty? Further testing is called for (and anxiously awaited by half of both dogs). I did, however, read a comment online by a woman whose dog "always licks his leg after eating peanut butter or squirt cheese." I hope no one ever tells me what squirt cheese is; the question is delightful.

Anyway, here's the only scientific conclusion I've reached so far: I'm quite certain I'd rather have peanut butter residue coating the inside of my mouth than a thick sheath of dog hair. That said, I rarely look for treats at the bottom of the garbage can or try to lick the dirty spoons in the dishwasher. Vive la difference!

Today I'll take some time to appreciate the body I've been given and its many wonders. The senses that stimulate my brain, the strength and mobility I enjoy, and how much I could accomplish in this world by maximizing its full potential.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oh Dear, Oh Deer

NOT a deer.

It's deer hunting season in Wisconsin again. I dread it all year long and shrink about two inches (living in a perpetual cringe) when it finally arrives. Every gunshot I hear--and I will hear several while writing this brief post--forces me to imagine a tragic scene for a lovely, serene creature I cannot protect. 

I can, however, protect our own dogs. Brown-colored Rose leaping through the brush on our land does a fairly believable impersonation of a deer. Which explains the school patrol guard uniform she dons from sunrise to sunset. As you can see, the girl knows how to rock an outfit.

But why should a dog on her own land need protection? We live in a rural area with lots of deer and plenty of neighbors who delight in killing them. In Wisconsin, you only need to be 100 yards from a person's home when you fire. And the average deer rifle shoots about 300 yards. I'm no mathematician, but I do know when the most prudent choice is to quake in fear.

Here's wishing all of us (especially Bambi) a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving. 

I actually have a few deer hunters in my life. So today I'm going to spend some time remembering that they are as impassioned about their opinions as I am about mine. And we are unlikely to ever change each other. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Get the Point?

Fiver on the Lookout

It may interest you to know that dogs are one of only three animals on the planet who can follow your finger to see what you're pointing at. They get it. They see you point, and they understand you want them to look in that direction.

Latest studies show that elephants are probably hip to the game; but only one out of hundreds of house cats can do it. And nobody else. Even chimpanzees, who share our exact genetic make-up (except for about a teaspoon of DNA) couldn't follow your point, even if their lives depended on it. "Look over there! A guy with a big tranquilizer gun! I'm not kidding! Please, look!" 

They won't look. Which is how so many of them end up in frilly skirts, riding bikes in the circus. (Actually, that's not why. It has more to do with hugely flawed human beings, but that's another kind of blog entirely.)

Dogs, however, are freakin' brilliant at following your gesture. 

In fact, a six week old puppy will look to see where you're pointing--because years of domestication have programmed his tiny brain cells to grasp the concept. After all, you might be showing him something expensive to chew on, or some new place in the house he hasn't peed yet.

Forgive the boast, but our dog Rose is an expert at The Art of Point. Actually, you needn't bother yourself to raise a finger. You simply look out the window, and Rose appears at the sill to see what she must be missing: 

"Is it Fatty Blue Jay eating all the suet again?"

"Is there a feral cat out there? Huh? Is there?"
"Do not tell me that guy is back to fill the propane tank."

And by the bye, it's not a sometimes-yes-sometimes-no proposition at our house. If you look... Rose will come. So it took about 30 seconds to plan, "pose," and snap the above photo this morning. 

Today I think I'll keep a better eye on what's happening out in the yard. The cold and snow can make me burrow in too deeply if I'm not careful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Joie de Vivre

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. 

Well, our Rose, anyway. She is nothing if not consistent. Her role in the family has always been Class Clown. The ol' girl just turned eleven--and look! Four days later, she's still celebrating.

I went online to find a dog years calculator--it's not a straight "seven per," you understand. According to this one, Rose is somewhere between 65 and 72 on the human timeline. Then again... what does that actually mean? 

My mom, who lived her whole life in moderation, shrugged out of her mortal coil at a mere 63 years of age. While my father, a recovering alcoholic / smoker, is still planting and harvesting his own lunch at 85.

Even Dad, however, has never been spotted rolling around on his back, in a swirl of his own hair, chewing on a bone. Has Rose discovered the fountain of youth? Wait. It's not that muddy puddle out in the driveway, is it?

Anyway, Happy Birthday, sweet Rose. 

I'm going to conduct an experiment today. I will try to make "happy" my reaction to whatever the next 24 hours bring.