Puppy Love

When my first child was born, I remember being surprised by how I instantly fell in love with her.  From the very second the doctor put my daughter in my arms, I was completely and totally in love.  The same thing happened two years later when I had my son, and then again many years later when I first laid eyes on my newborn grandson.  It surprised me because that’s not how I usually operate.  I may decide that I like someone very quickly, but it usually takes a while to actually fall in love.   For me, falling in love is a process that has to unfold in its own good time.

That was certainly the case with Finn, the dog we adopted from the animal shelter last February.  When I first saw him sitting in his run, looking at me with friendly interest, I was immediately attracted.  After spending some time with him at the shelter where he had to stay until he was neutered, I grew to like him very much.  And when we first brought him home, I liked him even more.  But I didn’t really love him, and he didn’t really feel like “my” dog.

It didn’t particularly worry me, because I know there’s always an adjustment period when we bring a new dog into our homes and that it takes time for us to get to know one another.  We learned that Finn is a sweet soul who is very affectionate, energetic and just a little bit more stubborn that we’d prefer.  (In Finn’s opinion, just because I’ve told him “no” forty-nine times when he tries to join me on the couch is no reason not to try for the fiftieth time.  He is the eternal optimist.)

Finn’s persistence can be annoying, especially on the days when I’m babysitting my grandson and Finn insists on trying to share his toys and lick his face.  I know that Finn would never intentionally hurt my grandson, but his attentions are sometimes overwhelming for a toddler and so I have to separate them a lot.  And remind my grandson that Finn’s toys are not for children and remind Finn that my grandson’s toys are not for dogs.  Over and over.  Those are the times when I wonder just exactly why I selected a young terrier as our next family dog, rather than say, a fourteen-year old Basset Hound.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter why I picked out Finn, or how many annoying habits he happens to have.  Because sometime in the past few months, it happened.  I fell in love with Finn and his pushy little self.  I still get annoyed with him from time to time, but he has definitely wormed his way into my heart and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of his life.  He’s my dog now, absolutely and completely.

As an animal shelter volunteer, I see so many dogs that are returned by their new owners just a few days after their adoption.  I’m sure a few of those people have legitimate reasons for doing that, but I firmly believe that most of them are making a big mistake.  “Just give it time,” I want to tell them.  Because none of us are perfect, whether we walk on two legs or four paws.  And all worthwhile relationships require a certain amount of effort and patience.

But if you trust and believe, the love will come…..

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This Too Shall Pass

Accepting change has never been my strong point.  I have a strong tendency to stick with  familiar things, and to cling to my long-established routines.  People usually seemed surprised (and a little impressed) when they ask me how long I’ve been volunteering at the local animal shelter and I answer, “almost seventeen years.”  A big part of the reason I’ve stayed so long is that I’m passionate about helping shelter dogs.  But if I’m being entirely honest, I have to admit that walking shelter dogs three days a week has also become a habit, and I don’t break habits easily.

But the problem with being resistant to change is that far too many things in my life are changing, and not always for the better.  In my darker moments, I strongly suspect that most of the things I enjoy and a most of the ways I prefer to do things are fast becoming obsolete.

For instance, I love taking photos, which is easier than ever now, thanks to digital cameras and smart phones.  But I also like to print them off and display them in photo albums, and it’s getting harder and harder to find any place that makes good-quality prints, much less actually sells photo albums to store them in.  I’ve been using the website of a local camera shop, but they recently replaced their edit feature with one that isn’t compatible with my computer, which is not a change for the better.

My husband and I are also apparently among the few people who prefer not to bank online, and actually pay our bills the old-fashioned way, by mailing checks.  Yet we know we are living on borrowed time, as our bank keeps making it harder to order checks, and also sends fewer checks with each order.  (Even though the fee for ordering checks keeps getting higher.)  I suspect they’re trying to see just how much they can charge their customers per check before we give up and switch to on-line banking.  Which, of course, makes it so much easier for hackers to access our accounts, so you can see what an improvement that’s going to be.

I love to read books, and by that I mean actual books…the kind that are kept on a book shelf.  But book stores are closing all over the country and some new “books” are being published only on-line.  I know that saves paper, but I also know that staring at screens for hours on end isn’t good for our eyes.  Plus, all those devices that we read from operate on batteries and/or electricity, which isn’t exactly good for the environment.  But mostly, I just love books and truly hate the thought of a world without them.

Sometimes I’m afraid the time is approaching when even writing, which is one of my greatest joys, will be obsolete.  Who needs to actually know how to write when we can have all our needs met by simply talking to our computers, virtual assistants and assorted other gizmos?

Still, I know that change has always been a part of life, and that since we’re living in what can only be described as a “technological revolution,” it’s simply coming at us a little faster than I’d prefer.  And I like to think that just as our ancestors lived through eras of great change (such as the industrial revolution), I will get through this as well.

Perhaps the time has simply come for me to worry a bit less about the changes around me and have a little more faith in my ability to adapt and cope.  And to remember that not all change is bad, and that some change is actually very, very good.  All I can say is that I’ll try.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep walking the shelter dogs, and possibly start stockpiling photo albums for future use.  Because some change is simply unacceptable…..

A Word From Finn

IMG_4873Mom and Dad recently came home from a long trip, and they’re still busy trying  catch up on all little chores that piled up in their absence.  That means I get another chance to write a post for Mom’s blog, and bring everyone up to date on how I’m settling into my new home.

I want to say up front that I love my new home and I love my new parents.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have some funny ideas that I still don’t understand.  For instance, they are very big on something they call “house rules,” and they have a ton of them.  No climbing on the furniture, no chewing on shoes, no begging for food at the table, no jumping on visitors, and so on and so on.  I do my best, but sometimes I just can’t remember them all.  Especially since some of them seem so silly!  I mean, if they don’t want me to chew on shoes, why do they leave them unattended on the floor, where they are so darned tempting?  Because let’s face it, leather shoes are the best chew toys ever!

They even have rules for the yard.  I’m not supposed to bark at the big chocolate lab that lives behind us, even though she barks at me all the time.  And Dad is always telling me to “Get rid of those *#*# chipmunks and voles,” but I still get in trouble whenever I  go after them, just because it involves digging some rather large holes.  But chipmunks and voles live underground for goodness sake, so how am I supposed to catch them if I can’t dig?  Sometimes Mom and Dad just don’t think things through…..

I’m also learning that even though I was adopted from the animal shelter to be a part of the family, I don’t automatically get included in family vacations.  They may go gallivanting off to fun places, but I get shipped off to the nearest boarding kennel.  Still, it was a nice kennel, and Mom packed my favorite blanket and toys.  She also signed me up for a few hours of group play time each day, which meant I got to run around in a big yard and play with all kinds of other dogs.

That went really well, until the very last day when a new dog came into the yard and said some really mean things to me.  (I won’t repeat it word for word, because I’m way too classy to say such things.)  Still, I’m not the sort of dog to take an insult lying down, so I let that dog know he had better not mess with me.  Which explains why they told Mom that I’m still welcome to board at that kennel, but I don’t get to go to group play time anymore.  But Mom told me that’s okay, not all dogs do well in big groups and that I’m a good dog even so.  My parents may be awfully strict, but sometimes they say just the right things.

I’ve lived at two different animal shelters, so I know I’m lucky to have found a real home with people who love me.  And I love them too, so I’ll keep trying to follow the rules (at least the ones I can remember), because that makes them happy.  I’ve heard them brag about how well I’m doing adjusting to my new home, and that makes me very proud.  Because we’re a family now and nothing is more important than that.

Love,  Finn

Getting Over It

I’m done with Winter.  I’m ready for the cold, grey days followed by the frigid, dark nights to go away.  I don’t want to shovel any more snow or slide across any more icy sidewalks and parking lots.  I’m tired of dry skin, frozen nose hair, and chapped lips.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s time for Winter to be over.  Right this very minute.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been feeling a little crabby lately.  And it’s not just Winter I’m tired of, either.  I’m so sick of all those robo-calls that constantly bombard both my cell phone and my land-line that I’m seriously thinking of living a phone-free life.  (No matter how hard they try, no one can call you if you don’t actually have a phone.)  I’m tired of the way my dog insists on trying to lick his stitches, because it means we have to keep that silly “cone of shame” on him for another few days.  That thing hurts when he slams it into my legs, which he does on a regular basis.  When you live with a dog wearing a cone, sometimes love hurts.

I’m tired of all the nasty, petty meanness that I see every time I log onto my Facebook account, and really wish that more people would live by that old adage, “If you can’t say (or post) anything nice, then don’t say (or post) anything at all.”  I’m even more disgusted with the hatred and violence I see all too often on the news, and wish it would all just stop, immediately.

But the problem is, I can’t make any of it go away.  Not even my cell phone, because I really need that little device to stay in touch with my family and friends.  And I don’t really want to live my life as a crabby person.  So that means I have to figure out another way to cope with it all.

Today I think I took a step in the right direction.  I woke up in a particularly foul mood, probably because I went to sleep last night to the sound of sleet hitting the bedroom window.  It didn’t help that the morning dawned cold, slushy and very foggy, and I was due down at the animal shelter to walk dogs for several hours.   I thought, seriously if briefly, of not going in, but then my sense of responsibility kicked in and I got dressed and drove to the shelter.

IMG_4539And you know what?  The longer I walked the dogs, the less crabby I felt.  The dogs were just so darned happy to be getting out for a walk that it was kind of hard to keep that nasty mood of mine going.  And afterwards, when I came home for lunch, my own dog was so ecstatic to see me that I was willing to overlook a few painful jabs to my shins.

The lesson here isn’t just to spend more time with dogs (although I do recommend it).  It’s that when we’re feeling overwhelmed and crabby, sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t going to help.  But what will help is making the effort to do something for someone else (two or four-footed).  I honestly don’t know if it’s just the realization that we really can make a difference in the world, or if it’s the happiness that we give others reflecting back on us that lifts our spirits.  I only know that it works, and that’s good enough for me.

No Guarantees

I just got back from a follow-up visit with the endodontist who did a minor surgical procedure on one of my upper molars.   I’d been dreading the visit, because with the way my luck has been running lately, I figured the news wasn’t going to be good.  I fully expected her to say something along the lines of,  “The surgery didn’t work, so that tooth needs to be pulled.  Plus you need two more root canals, five new crowns and possibly another oral surgery just to be safe.  This is going to be expensive, so we’re going to need your debit card and PIN number so we can just access your bank account directly.”

Luckily, she didn’t say anything of the kind.  Instead, she told me that the tooth seems to be healing nicely, and that occasional discomfort I feel around it is most likely caused by scar tissue and the pressure from my sinuses. (Which makes sense, since I’ve just gotten over a particularly nasty cold.)  Her verdict may not have been what I was expecting, but it did make me very happy and relieved.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a world where things were more predictable.  I wish that I could guarantee that my life would go well if I just did all the right things:  working hard, obeying the rules, being kind to other people, etc.  I honestly think that I could even handle the bad stuff so much better if I could just see it coming and brace myself for it, just a little bit.

But the world doesn’t work that way.  No matter what we do, only a portion of our lives will ever be predictable.  Life is a journey full of unexpected twists and turns, with many surprises along the way.  And not all of them are good.

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to foster one of the dogs from the animal shelter where I volunteer.  Stanley was suffering from kennel cough, and my plan was to adopt him as soon as he was healed and the shelter made him available for adoption.  He lived with us for over a week, gradually recovering his health and his spirits.  My husband and I began to think of him as “our” dog and we were sure it was just a matter of time before we would be able to officially adopt him.

But we were wrong.  Stanley began displaying some serious resource guarding, which can be a dangerous behavior in any home, but it’s especially a problem in a home that has small children in it.  We have a ten-month old grandson who is just beginning to be mobile, and he’s a fast little guy.  He’s also years away from being old enough to understand that when a dog growls, it’s time to back away slowly.  As much as we wanted to keep Stanley, we absolutely weren’t willing to put our grandson at risk.  And so we made the very hard decision to take Stanley back to the shelter.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned at all, and sometimes that hurts.  A lot.  All we can do is move forward, confident in the knowledge that not all of the surprises in store for us will be bad ones, and remembering that sometimes things turn out much better than we had dared to hope.  Life is unpredictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

The Time Between

IMG_3559 2For the past few weeks, our house has been far too quiet.  No one is barking at the back door, letting me know that she has waited exactly five seconds for someone to let her in and she’s deeply unhappy about the delay.  When I’m working at my computer, no one is laying by my feet, snoring loudly.  I don’t hear the repetitive squeak of dog toys, or the click of canine toenails on the hardwood floors.  Our house has been peaceful, quiet, and almost entirely free of dog hair…..and I don’t like it one bit.

Lots of people have asked me if we’re going to get another dog.  That question always surprises me a little, because I would think that anyone who knew me at all would realize that of course I’m going to get another dog.   If I should spend my final years bed-ridden in a nursing home, I’ll most likely have a chihuahua hidden under the blankets and be bribing the staff to bring it food and take it for bathroom breaks.  I’m not the sort of person who wants to live a dog-free life.

But I also know that it’s too soon to bring another dog home.  My husband and I are still grieving for Lucy.  It’s still hard to remember to walk in the house and not call out, “Lucy, I’m home!” (One of the best things about having a dog named Lucy was being able to say that.)  When I’m away from the house for several hours, I still think I need to go home and let her out.  And just last night, we realized that we still had her dog food stashed in our pantry, right below the box of dog treats.  The simple truth is that we aren’t quite ready to open our hearts and our home to another dog just yet.

IMG_3983So these days, I get my “dog fix” when I walk the shelter dogs, who are always very happy to get the attention.  My son and daughter-in-law’s dogs also come visit, making themselves instantly at home at “Grandma’s” house, as they explore every nook and cranny and scope out the furniture for the best napping spots.  And they don’t seem to mind too much when we make it clear that their sleeping choices are limited to the floors and the dog beds.

One way or another, we are getting used to our life without Lucy, and coming to terms with not having a dog of our own anymore.  I know that this particular phase of our life is temporary, and that the time is coming when we’ll begin to look for another dog to join our family.  Until then, I’m really grateful for the shelter dogs and my “grand-dogs” for making this time of transition just a little bit easier.  And for reminding me of just why I love dogs so much in the first place.

There Comes A Time

The only thing wrong with dogs is that they don’t live long enough.  Lucy would have been seventeen next month, but she still didn’t live long enough.  Because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the wonderful dog who had shared my life and my home for over sixteen years, even though the time finally came when I no longer had a choice.

IMG_3829 2I have written many times about Lucy, so my regular readers know something about her history.  They know that when we adopted her from the humane society, we thought we were getting a calm, easy-going dog.  Which she was, until the sedative they had given her when she’d been spayed wore off.  And then we realized that we had actually adopted a very energetic and almost scary-smart dog who liked her own way best.  Lucy was very loving and had huge brown eyes that could melt just about any heart, and those traits served her well.  Especially since she was a firm believer that most household rules were nothing more than suggestions, and tended to live life very much on her own terms.

She loved being outside and took her self-appointed job of keeping our yard free of vermin very seriously.  The squirrels quickly learned the only safe way they could cross our yard was via the power lines strung above our back fence, and even then, Lucy would be directly underneath them, hopping sideways along the fence on her back legs as she barked madly at the squirrel above her.  Rabbits, voles, and chipmunks didn’t dare set paw in our yard when Lucy was around.

Inside, Lucy spent most of her time playing with her toys, and the squeaky ones were her favorite.  She also kept a constant watch out for unattended food, which she clearly believed she was entitled to, even if she had to climb up on the dining room table to get it.  To her credit, she left the table alone while we were eating, but once we finished and walked away, anything we were foolish enough to leave behind us was fair game.  Once she even helped herself to the gingerbread house we were using as a Christmas table centerpiece.

Still, age catches up with all of us sooner or later, and Lucy was no exception.   The dog who had always been so independent began to follow me around the house so that she could always be in the same room.  There were times when she didn’t seem to notice that rabbits had taken up residence in our back yard, and even if she did happen to spot one, she just trotted briskly after it while the rabbit hopped casually away.  The toys in her toy box were usually left untouched and she spent most of her time sleeping.

Inevitably, the time came when her body could no longer keep up with her spirit.  Her hearing and eyesight faded, her sense of balance began to desert her, and medicines could no longer ease the pain of her arthritis or help her keep control of her back legs.  And so we made the heart-breaking decision to say goodbye to our beloved, sweet and sassy little Lucy.

img_0034Rest in peace, baby girl.  May you spend your days in a heaven filled with all your doggie friends, slow-moving squirrels and low tables loaded with all your favorite foods.  And never forget just how very much you were loved.

An Unexpected Gift

IMG_0448When I became a volunteer dog walker at a local humane society, all I wanted to do was help shelter dogs.  My daily schedule was rather busy at the time, so I only signed up for a two-hour walking shift, one day a week.  That was over fifteen years ago, and I’m still walking dogs there, although now I do it three days a week.  And my “shift” rarely ends before all the adoptable dogs get out, no matter how long that happens to take.

Honestly, walking shelter dogs turned out to be a lot harder than I expected.  Dogs that spend their days alone in a cage are very excited when you leash them up for a walk, and many of them are also rather large.  And strong.  Sadly, I am no longer young and I’ve never been particularly athletic.  But no matter how many times I point out to the dogs that they have an old lady on the other end of the leash, they rarely modify their behavior to accommodate my aging (and often aching) body.

Humane societies do good work and save countless numbers of homeless animals.  But they are also stressful places, both for the animals that live there and for the people who work and volunteer there.  Some of the animals living at the shelter have been rescued from awful situations, and seeing the results of so much neglect and abuse is hard on people who love animals.  Personally, I know I could not have lasted fifteen years at the shelter if it wasn’t for the friendships I have formed with some of the other volunteers and staff at the shelter.

It’s really hard to explain just how close I feel to my humane society friends.  True, we have a common bond in our love for shelter dogs, but there’s more to it than that.  As one friend recently said, “We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst, so there’s no point in pretending to be anyone other than who we really are.”  And she’s right.

I have been blessed with many friends in my life, but the friends who see me at my most vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, are my humane society friends.  They are the ones who have seen me ugly cry and will hug me if I need it, even when I’m sweaty and beyond gross.  (When I’m at the shelter and find brown stuff smeared on my clothes, I just pray that it’s mud.  It usually isn’t.)  When you volunteer at an animal shelter, you shower after your shift, not before.

Not surprisingly, our friendship extends beyond the shelter.  We get together for social occasions, and often know each other’s families.  But mostly, when tragedy strikes in our personal lives, we know we can turn to each other for the same kind of support that we show each other at the shelter.  We cry for each other’s pain, and celebrate each other’s joy.  We are not perfect people by any means,  but we know that we can count on each other to be there in both the good times and the bad.

I signed up to walk shelter dogs all those years ago because I felt sorry for dogs that lived at animal shelters.  I wasn’t expecting to make new friends, close or otherwise.  Which just goes to show that some of the biggest gifts we get in this life are the ones we weren’t even looking for……

Strong Enough

IMG_0448This morning I was down at the animal shelter where I volunteer, getting ready to take a dog on its walk, when another volunteer turned to me and said, “That dog is kind of hard to get leashed up.  Do you want me to help you?”  I didn’t say it out loud, but my first reaction was, “Seriously?  You want to help me?

I’ve been walking dogs at this shelter for over fifteen years, and the volunteer who was offering to help me was still fairly new.  Plus, I am one of the volunteers who is authorized to handle even the most difficult-to-walk dogs, and I have always sort of pictured myself as someone other volunteers can turn to for help.  Having someone else offer to help me with a dog almost seemed like an insult to my dog-walking skills, and I even opened my mouth to tell her, “No thanks, I’ve got this.”  But then, thankfully, my ego checked out and my common sense checked in.

The volunteer who was offering to help me was probably thirty years younger than I am, and judging by her muscle tone, also much stronger.  And she wasn’t offering to help me because she thought I was incompetent, she was offering because the dog in question was very big, and often so excited to go for his walks that he almost pulls the person trying to walk him down.  And, as long as I’m being so honest, I’ll admit that she was probably offering because she could plainly see that I am no longer young or particularly strong.  Accepting her help just made sense, and so I did.

I have come to believe that the most difficult aspect of aging is the steadily widening gap between who I think I am, and who I actually am, physically speaking.   Accepting the wrinkles, grey hair and sagging skin that come with aging is only part of the struggle.  For me, the more difficult thing to accept is that I no longer have anywhere near the strength and stamina that I did when I was young, which means I’m still a bit shocked every time I try to do something I used to do so easily and find that it’s just a bit too much for me now.  The woman who once regularly carried fifty-pound bags of grain for her horse is now asking for help carrying in some of the heavy bags from the grocery store. And sometimes that smarts a bit.

IMG_4349Still, there is nothing I can do but accept the changes that are happening in, and to, my body.  I may still be young in spirit….and hope that I always will be….but I am no longer quite so young in body, and that means that I have to remember to cut myself some slack.  I need to pay attention to my physical limits these days, and be willing to ask for help when I need it.  I also need to be strong enough to graciously accept help when it’s offered, even those times when I didn’t ask for it.  Because the time is coming, slowly but inevitably, when the only shelter dogs I’ll be walking are the chihuahuas.

Twilight Years

This morning I noticed a rather strong and disgusting smell in our basement.  It’s not unusual for us to spot the occasional mouse down there once Fall arrives, which my husband promptly dispatches.  (One of perks of being married is having someone else deal with unwanted house guests.)  Judging from the smell, we assumed that one of our mouse visitors must have died down there, so we called in our dog Lucy to help us find it.

Lucy has always been known for her keen sense of smell and her willingness to chase any small furry animal that dares to cross her path.  She came downstairs and obeyed our command to “find it” by sniffing eagerly around the basement walls.  Then she froze in front of the recliner on the family room side of the basement, staring intently underneath it.  “Good dog,” I told her, getting down to peer underneath the chair.  Only to find out that what had caught her attention wasn’t a mouse at all, but her favorite red ball.   I pulled it out and handed it to her, and she trotted off with the satisfied air of a dog who had done her job well.  And just so you know, after she left my husband and I found not one but two dead mice down there, and one of them was very, very, ripe.

img_0034I supposed I should be annoyed with Lucy, or at least disappointed that the dog who used to be able to sniff out a rawhide toy stored on the upper shelf of my closet in two seconds flat seemed to be unable to locate a very pungent rodent carcass.  But Lucy turned fifteen this month and this is just another reminder that she is aging, far more quickly than I would like.

When she first came to live with us, Lucy was eleven-months old and had been turned into the animal shelter as a stray.  Although she seemed quite calm when we picked her out, we quickly discovered that was only because she was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia from her recent spaying.  Lucy was actually a bundle of energy, almost scary-smart, and had very little inclination to follow the household rules.  I suspect most families would have promptly returned her to the shelter from whence she came, but instead we fell in love with her and learned to live with her eccentricities.  For her part, she did learn what “sit,” “stay,” “leave it” and “come” meant, and sometimes she even obeyed those commands.  Later, I added such useful phrases as  “Get off the dining room table!” and “Get your furry butt back in bed!” (spoken at five a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Lucy decided she needed breakfast) to her vocabulary as well.

But for some reason, I didn’t believe that a dog as energetic and smart as Lucy would ever age.  I couldn’t picture her no longer being able to hear anything but the loudest noises, and not even waking up when someone knocks at our door.  I couldn’t fathom a time when she would be willing to substitute a short walk around the block for her usual forty-five minute treks through the neighborhood.  I didn’t envision a time when she would hesitate before climbing a flight of stairs, as if debating whether the effort was worth it.  But all those things, and more, have come true in the past of year or so.

img_0992I know we are now living in Lucy’s twilight years, and that her time with us is drawing to an end.  To my mind, the only thing truly wrong with dogs is that their life spans are far too short.  We may have another year with Lucy, or we may only have another few weeks; we have reached the stage where either is possible.  All that we can do is enjoy the time we have left with our loving, neurotic, and smart little Lucy.  And if that means we have to sniff out our own dead mice, then so be it.