Nothing’s aMUTTer with me

I admit that being an INFJ, or perhaps just a jerk, I don’t excel at small talk. Picture this: Josie Junebug and I are walking the neighborhood, socializing in a crowd, or visiting the vet’s office, and some friendly soul inquires about our beautiful girl, “what kind of dog is that?”

To which I reply, “Well, we’re not really sure, but we think she’s a Ridgeback mix.”

Then they inevitably respond, “Oh, I think she’s…”

Well, good for you. I mean, you’ve never seen her ridge rise like the spines of a porcupine when she spots a squirrel invading her yard. You have only a superficial view of her temperament, but please, tell me what you think.

I know it sounds harsh. (Refer to previous disclaimer about inadequacies with small talk, and you’re probably now starting to lean towards the jerk option.) First of all, if we cared what kind of dog we had, we wouldn’t have adopted a mutt. Secondly, I think it’s a strange conversation to have with someone you don’t know. You start off talking about how sweet my dog is; by your third sentence, I’m getting an unsolicited opinion about how I’m wrong.

Let’s imagine a similar conversation with a different topic:

Stranger: “Hey, what are you listening to on your headphones?”

Me: “Showtunes.”

Stranger: “Huh, I think showtunes are stupid.”

My former clinic friends and I had a favorite game. First, you have to understand that, whatever kind of breed an owner says they have, you go with it. For some people, I guess it is a matter of pride, and if Mr. Jones is in love with his twenty pound “mastiff mix,” who are you to challenge that bond by telling him it’s not?

So, the game goes like this: I bring a dog back to the treatment area for a nail trim, blood draw, or whatever, clearly having a wild sixty pound yellow lab on a leash. My friend would say, “Whatcha got there?” If you’re playing the game, the answer would be something outrageous like, “this is an imported mammoth Chihuahua.” To keep it going, she’d reply, “That’s the best looking Mammoth Chihuahua I’ve ever seen.”

It great way to enliven work, much like performing lip sync concerts while mopping. However, this is never something we’d say in front of the owner. Why? Because bonds are personal and special. It served no one for us to be “right.”

As a society, we seem to project so much of our external image that even our loved-ones are evaluated. Smartest kid, biggest dog, fastest car, newest phone….

bobdylan-meWhile this may be as ancient as neighbors having green grass, now we market it instantly to a wider audience: Facebook, Snapchat, hell–even our own blog. 🙂

Rather than hide our “flaws,” why not embrace them–contemplate why they are there.

There is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy I have long admired called wabi-sabi. In the simplest of terms, it’s an appreciation that flaws are made by an item’s story through time. In a world of airbrushing and screen-captures of the perfect moment, I’ll let you see behind the curtains.

I leave papers and books scattered around the house like autumn leaves upon the lawn. The shredded corner of my love seat testifies to 15 years of living with my cat, whom I have often referred to as my best friend. My husband’s grey hairs remind me of a lifetime spent together, just as we’d dared to hope 21 years ago. I’m fairly smart, but say and do dumb things. Often. Like posting about my spouses’s grey hairs on the world wide web. My daughter struggles with dyslexia, and my son is so stubborn he has literally argued with us about whether it’s day or night.

We have had it helpfully suggested to us that Josie Junebug is a vizsla, doberman, lab, and boxer. I think I’ll start telling people she’s a bedhog/antelope mix. If she was descended from unicorns or the most common breed on the planet is meaningless to us. We love her because she is ours: big, beautiful, mess-maker, insistent cuddler, and eager part of the family.

Time for you to play along. Leave a comment with an absurdly silly suggestion as what mix Josie Junebug could be. Or, embrace wabi-sabi and confess to something beautifully flawed in your own life.

To read more on wabi-sabi, check out this great article: Wabi-sabi https://www.tofugu.com/japan/wabi-sabi/

You’re an idiot, but we can work through this

I sometimes project the illusion that life is perfect since Josie Junebug came to live with us. The truth, however, is that two members of the household are immune to her charms and remain resentful to this day. Those two individuals are our teenage cats.

Before her, they were the adored pets of the house. Now, they are forced to cohabitate with a giant slobbering beast. She tries to play with them, which is as tempting as as a freshman playing tackle football with a senior. She drinks their water with all the grace of a blender-weilding toddler. She lurks as they eat, has a resounding bark, and is gassy. She hoards the comfy furniture.

Our more outgoing cat smacks her as she walks by, for the mere crime of being annoyingly alive. The other, more reserved yet also vengeful, likes to plant himself passively in Josie’s path, a living blockade.

Yet, there are two particular occasions where tolerance is practiced.  One such case is in the prewashing of dishes. As we load them in after supper,  Josie works from one side while one of our cats stands on the door and works another angle. There is a complete lack of drama.

Nearly every day in our house concludes with a bit of calm, found only when the kids are in bed. My husband and I usually sit and watch an hour of television. Having emptied our laps and hands of the louder offspring, our fur babies all find their way into the living room, settling in as close as possible for cuddles and petting. This also, apparently, is a tolerable neutral zone.

With presidential campaigns coming to a close, I find myself hoping, after all the months of ever-more-bitter vitriol, that we can also find a tolerable neutral zone in this country.  Every time I opened Facebook the last couple of months, I found myself slammed with each side’s newest “how could you vote for Major Party Candidate after reading this” post. On the upside, the nastiness was enough to help me cut way back on my mindless Facebook habit.

ellen

I’m not naive enough to hope, or even ask, that after the election, we all put aside our differences. I do have concerns, for the first time in my privileged life, about our transfer of power being less than democratic or peaceful.

I do hope we can remember, though, that whatever the outcome, we share many goals for ourselves, each other, and this country. Even though our country has been fighting like (you know it’s coming…) cats and dogs, even those two famed enemies can put aside their differences to accomplish some common goals.

Everyone deserves peaceful homes and loving cuddles. So, please, let’s find a way to work through this.

It’s Kong O’clock Somewhere

At best, it looks like a beehive toddler toy. At worst, it appears to be some bizarre contraption best kept hidden in the bedroom.

Introduced in the late 1970’s, the Kong is a toy (or as we professionals call it, “enrichment device”) that has nearly become a staple in dog-owning homes. The founder, Joe Markham, designed it after his canine companion finally found gnawing satisfaction with a rubber suspension part from a VW Bus.

The patented one-of-a-kind plastic is safe on teeth, yet strong enough to withstand determined chewers. Its hollow “snowman” design allows for treats to be stuffed inside, prolonging the challenge and fun for users. Is the cost worth it? Yes! Even rat fanciers and zookeepers appreciate its value. (See video links at bottom.) To find the perfect Kong “fit,” more on its history, and recipes, visit the official Kong website.

My Josie Junebug is an energetic young dog who spends her workdays in the kennel. In addition to her walks and indoor play sessions, her dinnertime Kong serves as great mental exercise. I fill it in the morning, when I’m packing lunches, and stow it in the freezer (for extra challenge). When the family congregates for dinner, her Kong keeps her too occupied to even consider begging at the table.

I invested in a second Kong so one can be rotated through the dishwasher each night while the other remains available for her enjoyment. (That is assuming she doesn’t hide it from me.) Even after it’s emptied of edible surprises, it still provides hours of squeaky chewing enjoyment.

How difficult is it to fill? My husband was clueless when I texted him a request to prep Josie Junebug’s Kong after I had forgotten one morning. How easy is it? He asked my seven year old for directions!

Step One: Plug the smaller bottom hole with peanut butter (non-chunky), or cream cheese. I invest in a separate doggie PB jar, so I don’t have to worry about double-dipping.

Step Two: Set Kong upright in a cup for filling convenience.

Step Three: Fill with something yummy and exciting. My basic “recipe” is kibble soaked in a bit of meat broth or dinner drippings, but feel free to allow your doggie chef creativity to run wild. The hippie in me abhors food waste, so I often use food scraps (yogurt, pizza crust, rice, etc). The daily Kong is an especially good use for “ugly produce,” those slightly wrinkly blueberries, bruised tomatoes, and old carrots that human family members scorn.

Step Four: Fill to top with water.

Step Five: Freeze until dinnertime

That’s it! That two minute investment in the morning buys dinnertime peace for us all.

Family, friends, co-workers, pets: I think it’s worth a little extra time to set each other up for success and harmonious living. Don’t you?

Obligatory notes about safety and other resources for Kong recipes:

Like diets for all species, do what works for you. If you feel it’s best for your dog to only eat store bought food (or perhaps he medically needs to do so), use a Kong stuffed with dog food and water.

If your dog is getting fat, cut back on calorie intake. You can feed dinner in the Kong as a way of slowing down eating and providing some amount of exercise.

If your dog has a sensitive stomach, of course, don’t go pouring bacon grease or some other craziness into a Kong.

Some human foods are toxic to pets. Chocolate is the most infamous; however, you should also not feed grapes/raisins or onion. Also, check labels. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, is toxic to pets and now also used in some peanut butters and yogurts! The ASPCA has a good starting list, or check the Pet Poison Helpline for a more exhaustive list.

Still, there is some solid evidence that veggies are good for dogs too: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/want-your-dog-to-live-to-30-add-this-to-their-bowl.html 

Here are other videos links where you can watch other species enjoying Kongs:

More Kong Recipes: http://www.k9instinct.com/blog/frozen-kong-dog-treat-recipes

Go to Fern Dog Training to download a nice Kong recipe book, and while you’re there, check out his informative and entertaining dogcasts.

Sanctimonious Blabber

At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do?

First was the incident with Harambe the gorilla in Cincinnati. Everyone was quick to judge: parents’ fault, zoo’s fault, kid’s fault. The only thing internet trolls seemed to agree on is that the only life worth saving was the gorilla’s. Everyone knew just what should have been done, despite not being there and having no working knowledge of the use of tranquilizers in a grown, 450#, amped up ape.

The next witch hunt was local. The Indianapolis zoo announced that they were sending our polar bear to Detroit. The Inquisition tried them on their Facebook page with accusations of discarding her in her old age in an effort to save money. Every time I visited, people were most often overheard remarking on the small size of her enclosure. Yet “fans” were furious she was being sent to live (no longer in isolation) to a four acre modern habitat.

With rising temperatures, local officials posted civic ordinances on how to respond to a animal in a hot car. Step one: if you’re at a business, ask for the owner to be paged. Step two: call animal control or non-emergency  police. Posters waxed sanctimonious. “If I find a dog trapped in a hot car, I’m breaking the glass. I don’t care. I’ll go to jail to save a life.” I recently had to stop by a gas station on the way back from an awesome hike with Josie Junebug; paranoia racked me the whole three minutes I was inside the building. I could just see the headlines “Local vet tech arrested for abandoning dog in car.”

ac on

 

I love animals. I’ve dedicated a career to them. I’ve worked at a zoo, with feral cats, in a clinic, and with laboratory animals. No one knows better than me how adorable they can be. Majestic, fascinating, noble.

But you know what, people, you’ve got to stop! Stop criticizing the zoo keepers, the park rangers, Disney World, and shelter workers. Stop picking up every animal you see on the sidewalk, under a bush, in the National Park. Your good intentions often make things worse. Caring for animals is a tough job that requires education, foists much responsibility, and rewards little pay. Your derision is unnecessary; we’re hard enough on ourselves.

In his awesome commencement speech to graduates of the Harvard School of Education, Dean James Ryan warns against the Savior Complex, a common trap where your desire to help misleads you to believe that you are an expert. He advises, How we help matters as much that we do help.”

The same person proudly proclaiming no hesitancy in rescuing an animal from a situation they know little of, would just as vocally own up to ignoring someone on the street asking (begging, even) for help. Can we really wonder about the violence in our streets when we value human life so little?

This hit home for me a few weeks ago. I met a girl on track to be Valedictorian for a large high school. In one breath, she proclaimed me her hero. She would love to work with animals. In the next, however, she said she planned to go into human medicine. She could never make life and death decisions about animals; someone’s grandma, however, she could handle. I’d like to attribute this position to the immaturity of a teenager. Yet, as I sat and absorbed this at the tables of the Ronald McDonald House, where families stay while their children fight for their lives at Riley Hospital, I was overwhelmed with sadness.

At the end of the day, what good does your outrage do? The next time something happens that stirs your heart, instead of declaring who was at fault, or finding a villain, do something useful. Ask “how can I help?” Channel your empahty to the bigger problem.

Thousands of gorillas  and other extremely endangered species are being wiped out worldwide. Donate to a wildlife fund in this gorilla’s honor, not once, but every month.

Volunteer at an animal shelter or donate much needed supplies.

If you love cute bunnies and songbirds, plant some life-sustaining natives in your yard, and think twice about pesticides. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or park ranger before you pick up an animal that you think is abandoned. Trust the experts.

Animals are adorable and amazing. But you know what?

Josie Junebug would argue that humans are pretty terrific too.

Use your head along with your heart.

Come on, already, Spring!

Spring in Indiana is slow to commit. We’ve turned the heat off, the A/C on, the heat on, the A/C on, everything off, and sought shelter from hail and tornadoes. I think the weather angels have been forgetting to take their Ritalin. I appreciate a few rainy days curled up with a good book, or watching Lord of the Rings again. Yet I’m a heliophile at the core, and this chilly grey spring is wearing on me.

We were teased with some beautiful weather a couple of months ago. The family enjoyed long walks, started weeding flower beds, and cooked out. Lately, the only yard time I get is rushing home to mow in between stormy days. I’m not enjoying my lawn, I’m just maintaining it.

The kids are grumpy, and I’m stuck in a routine of ennui. Poor Josie Junebug hasn’t had a proper walk in two weeks! We’ve scheduled a couple of days at the local doggie daycare to tire her out, and I’ve attempted to entertain her with some riveting games of tug-of-war and fetch. Overall, though, our seventy pound baby is also bored. She’s tried to help us with some spring decluttering by destroying a toy or two each night, but the kids are not appreciative.

As we all stare at each other with tired anticipation of sunnier days to come, I realize that there are some things I had forgotten about life with a dog. My friends kept encouraging me to adopt a canine companion, regaling all the fun things dogs bring. You can hike together, cuddle her, she’ll make the kids feel safe, bah, blah, blah.

Here’s what those “friends” forgot to mention:

  1. Muddy Paws: she’s a year old. How many times does she want to go out and play? Approximately 6,340 times/day. And she must dig in the mud each and every doggone time.
  2. Seasonal Shedding: what the hell just happened?! I wanted to greet my dog when I came home, not summon a mob of tribbles to invade the den.
  3. Gas: our dog is beautiful. One friend calls her the “Brazilian supermodel of dogs.” The smells that come out of her, however, are neither dainty nor lovely.
  4. Rolling in smelly dead things: I don’t know if I really forgot about this one; I think the dogs I had growing up just didn’t do this. Josie Junebug, however, seems to have unearthed a stink bug nest in our back yard that is terrific to roll in. She comes in with a cloud of STANK on her that does not wash away.
  5. Vacuum furniture? Yeah, right: All those cute little attachments for your vacuum? They are as helpful removing dog fur off car seats and sofas as my four year old is at sweeping. Which is to say—not helpful.

 

In the long run, I’m the first to admit that all these complaints are minor, and nothing compared to the years of joy a dog brings. With a foul mood reflective of the weather, I could add more petty whining, but I’ll stop there. I’m sure Josie Junebug has her own list of grievances about her human mom:

  1. Hasn’t taken me on a walk in about 100 years.
  2. Sometimes steals my side of the couch.
  3. Closes the dishwasher before I’m done cleaning the dishes.
  4. Tries to drown me in the tub after I’ve just gotten all interesting-smelling outside.
  5. Forgot to freeze a Kong for me that one day.

Keep heart, friends. The sun will shine on us again. There will be flowers and Frisbee golf, hiking and hot dogs.  In the mean time, take care of yourself and each other.

Also, feel free to add in the comments something  people “forgot” to warn you about living with a dog (or humans).

Worst Day Ever

Disappointment hurts. It’s raw and personal. Why weren’t you good enough? Why do good things pass you by? Why did you feel like the Universe was pointing you in a direction that included an emotional spiked-pit trap? 

Too often, we’re encouraged to “brush it off,” and our instant-fix society would certainly rather you self-medicate rather than be unhappy. Anyone remember Soma pills from Brave New World?

So, why would one ever choose to be discontent? Pain is part of living. A yoga practice usually starts by “checking in” with your body. Where does it hurt? How do you feel? Don’t judge or push away any discomfort. Breathe it in and know: this is what it feels like to be _____.”

Disappointed.

Pain
Princess Bride, 1987

I was working in the kitchen last week when my four year old trudges through mumbling “worst day ever.” Wow, what happened to him? I went to the living room to find out. He had to stop playing video games. Seems like a bit of an extreme reaction to an adult. We learn to modulate and reason out our emotions. But maybe there’s something to be said for just embracing how you feel for a few minutes. I think it does help us experience life and move on. 

The mirror of my son’s grumbling is that anytime he gets good news–going to grandma’s, pizza for dinner, new library books–that is the BEST day ever. How great that must feel. Learning to embrace the moment and drink it in means cultivating gratitude for small victories.

Toddlers and dogs really excel at living in the moment. Every now and then, Josie Junebug spends more time than usual in her crate because we have somewhere to go for the evening. Clearly, those occasional long days are her “worst day evers.” More often, though are good days: being with her family, exploring her yard, savoring a Kong, meeting new people to tell her how beautiful she is. As my husband and I sit in the quiet of a day’s end, we look over at her smile or her exhausted sleep and proclaim it for her: TODAY was the BEST day ever.

Feel your heartaches. Don’t judge or be hasty to push yourself into how society wants you to feel. Rest, pray, learn your lessons, nurture yourself through them. Then do anything in your power to make tomorrow the Best Day Ever.

 

A Punxsutawney Miracle

Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be.

When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success.

Trainers’ guides to introducing a puppy to a crate go something like this: crate training should be a gradual and positive experience so that your puppy learns to accept the crate as her happy den of comfort. Start by leaving the door open and littering the floor of the crate with treats so your puppy willing enters…

Josie Junebug’s crate introduction at our house went more like this: Welcome home, adorable girl, here’s your crate, go in it.

I admit, it was abrupt. In our defense, we had not raised a puppy before and were told when we adopted her that she had been crate trained at her foster home. So, I guess we just assumed she would take to it with the grace we expected.

She spent the first night whining and barking at the top of her lungs for forty minutes, every hour. I cowered under my pillow thinking “oh, what have I done? Dogs are smelly, loud, and trouble.” I was convinced I had forfeited all domestic tranquility for the next decade and a half. (Note that this is the kind of thinking that stems from anxiety and exhaustion.) Though it was a long, frustrating, worrisome night, I felt it was important not cave to her whining.

The second night, we moved her crate into the kids’ room so she wouldn’t be all alone. She whined for twenty minutes, sans barking, after which she slept through the night without incident. From that rebound, she quickly adapted to keeping quiet and not eliminating in kennel.

When it was time to return to work (after Thanksgiving break), I was very anxious about leaving her in a crate all day. My husband was surprised: “I thought you were all pro-crate.” The funny thing was, professionally, I had no problems putting other people’s dogs in kennels all day. Turns out, as a [dog] mom, I’m a total sap. Still, though, she could not be trusted to hold her bladder or avoid the temptations of destroying all we possessed.

I knew from counseling clients that it was important from the beginning to avoid  nuisance barking and separation anxiety. So, we were consistent and no-nonsense about putting her in her crate at night and while out of the house. Though she accepted her fate with slumped shoulders and pleading big brown eyes, she had to be carried to the kennel every time. The optimist in me thought “thanks for the sixty pound deadlift, Junebug.”

I’m sure her crate would be more comfortable (and quieter) with a mat or blanket. We bought a cheap rug at Aldi (my husband pointed out that, at $8, it cost the same as every toy we tried on her). She left it alone the first night, but chewed it so thoroughly the second that I felt it was safer to trash it. So, until we save up enough for a chew-resistant pad, kennel time means cold, hard, nail-tapping drudgery on the plastic.

Then, on Groundhog’s day, I get a surprising text from my husband. Josie Junebug voluntarily crated herself! Recognizing the signs of their morning exit routine, she slinked in of her own volition! Now resigned to her lonely schedule, she “kennels” on her own.

I certainly would not claim she has embraced her kennel as a comforting wolf den. We could have handled the whole situation better by working systematically on crate acclimation. A few days, I fed her in her crate so she’d have positive, short duration exposure while the cats ate in peace, but I forgot to do this consistently. Working full time, managing a house, and caring for two kids and three pets keeps me busy. Though I’m quite organized, consistent training (of dogs and kids) is not one of my strong points.

 

Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be.  What lesson did I ultimately glean from all this? Follow your own path. When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success. After all, it’s not about me asserting my will over her, but about us all discovering how to live together. To that end, I have just as much learning to do as anyone else.