Beyond Words

One of the first things I learned when I began volunteering at a local animal shelter was the importance of communicating without words.  Because dogs can’t talk, and a rescue dog who has lived its whole life without much human contact can’t understand what my words mean.  The dog can only “read” my body language and respond to the tone of my voice, which means I have to be intentional about the wordless messages I’m sending.  And really, that applies with my human interactions as well.

I was in a deli one day and the man who took my order made a little small talk while he was preparing my sandwich.  When he handed it over to me he paused, and then said, “I’m sorry if I offended you, ma’am.”  Surprised, I assured him that he hadn’t.  It wasn’t till much later that I realized that I was probably scowling at him the whole time he was talking, not because of what he was saying, but because I had a horrible sinus headache at the time.   If anything, I was the one who was being offensive.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been had my feelings hurt when I’m feeling down because it seemed as if my friends and family were avoiding me like the plague just when I needed them most.  It took me years to realize that was likely because when I’m feeling that way, I’m usually sending off a distinct “leave me alone” vibe.  I may have been thinking, “Please come cheer me up,” but the message people were getting was “Stay away from me!”

It’s not easy for me to pay attention to, much less control, all the non-verbal ways I communicate with others.  It’s hard not to scowl when my head is pounding, or to be friendly and engaging when I’m feeling worried or depressed.  Sadly, I have a face that others can “read like a book,” which means that if I’m thinking about something that is upsetting me, I’m going to look angry.  Even when I’m not the slightest bit angry at the person who happens to be standing right in front of me.

But if I can manage to control the “vibes” I’m sending off when I deal with the shelter dogs, surely I can figure out a way to do that with people, too.  Especially since most of the people I interact with do understand my words, and I don’t need to rely on body language and tone of voice to get my message across.  I need to remember to speak up and actually tell people what I’m feeling, which is so much better than, say, trying to smile when I’m feeling badly, either physically or emotionally.

IMG_0448It’s so easy to misunderstand each other, especially when we’re preoccupied or upset, and to be disappointed when others aren’t responding to us the way we want them to respond.  And those are the times when I’m grateful for the lessons that the shelter dogs have taught me, which is that I need to be very intentional about what kind of message I’m sending out, either with or without my words.  Because I’ve found that once others understand what I really mean, their response is often just exactly what I need.

A Dog’s Life

1V5A5533Sometimes it’s not easy being a dog.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love my family.  I really do.  And after living for months in an animal shelter, I’m really grateful to be in a house with my own dog bed, dog toys, and best of all, my own supper dish.  My human parents treat me very well most of the time.  They take me for walks, play with me, and give me lots of attention.  Plus, I’ve got them trained to be very generous with the dog treats.

But there are still times when it’s hard to be a dog living in a house that is run by humans.  Because sometimes humans say and do things that don’t make any sense at all.

For instance, our house has two beds, three couches, and five upholstered chairs.  Every single piece of that furniture is absolutely perfect for curling up and sleeping on.  I know, because I’ve done it.  They’re incredibly soft and comfortable, and obviously designed for a good nap.  But what happens whenever Mom or Dad finds me sleeping on them?  I get told to get down, that’s what.  And not too nicely, either.  Sometimes they even call me a bad dog.

Thunderstorms are another example.  Whenever I hear the rumble of thunder, or even sense the change in atmosphere that tells me a storm is coming, I do the only sensible thing and hide.  Everyone knows that when the end of the world is so obviously imminent, your only chance is to find a safe spot to ride it out.  But do my parents join me?  Nope.  They just go on about their business, acting as if nothing is wrong.  Sometimes (and I swear I’m not making this up), they even put on their raincoats and leave the house.  I can hear them driving off, leaving me all alone to face the danger.

But the weirdest stuff started a couple of months ago, when the vet told my Mom that I had tested positive for heart worm.  I didn’t think it was such a big deal, since worms are rather common in the dog world, but my parents freaked out.  No more walks for me, or games of fetch.  Dad even fenced off most of the yard so I didn’t have much room to run around.  Worst of all, they switched me to a low-calorie dog food.  It doesn’t taste nearly as good as my regular food, but I had to eat it anyway.

They made me go to the vet twice to get some injections, and I can tell you that dogs don’t like to get shots any more than people do.  The second time I even had to spend the night at the vet’s office.  Whatever was in that shot made me feel sore and tired for a long time, but gradually I began to feel better.  Still, I wondered if I’d ever get my normal life back.

Thankfully, my vet has decided that the heart worms are gone, and my parents have calmed down.  Dad even took down that ugly temporary fence, so now I can go behind the garage and hunt for varmits.  The rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks have gotten really bold during the time I’ve been on restrictions, but I’ll soon put an end to that.

So, I guess there’s hope for my parents after all.  If they can figure out that dogs are supposed to be able to go for walks and play in the back yard, they might figure out the other stuff too.  Maybe they’ll even join me under the chair the next time there’s a thunderstorm.  And if we don’t all fit under there, I’ve got some diet dog food I’d gladly share….

Love, Finn

Something Good

Just a few weeks ago, I was stressed about my upcoming implant (no matter how you try to sugar-coat it, an implant means someone is screwing a metal post into your jaw), my dog’s heart-worm diagnosis, and managing a Spring calendar that was overcrowded with events and trips.  I found myself wishing that somehow my life could become less complicated.  Today, my social calendar is completely empty, my dentist’s office closed after completing only the first part of the procedure, and Finn’s much-needed heart worm treatment may be postponed.   Which I guess supports that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Lots of people are pointing the finger of blame and even more are trying to dictate exactly how we should be feeling right now, and I have very little patience with any of them.  But there are also many people who are spreading messages of hope, who are encouraging us to be kind and tolerant, and who are reminding us that no matter how bad things become, we will get through this.  I don’t know about you, but I find those messages very comforting and reassuring.  And I thought maybe I could help others by sharing the coping mechanisms that work best for me.

First, I’m limiting my exposure to the news media and to the negative aspects of social media as much as possible.  I turn on the news in the morning just long enough to stay abreast of current events, and then I switch the channel.  There’s something comforting about watching people on television shows go about their normal lives, and doing the things we used to do before anyone knew what “social distancing” meant.  As for Facebook, I’ve found that the “unfollow” button is my new best friend.  It allows me to stay friends with those who are constantly publishing angry posts without having the vitriol spread all over my news-feed.

I’m using the extra time I now have to do the chores around my house that I’ve been ignoring for so long, and that feels good.  I take my dog for (sedate) walks when the weather permits, and still go to the shelter to help with the dogs that are living there because animals in cages always need someone to care for them.  And now that my grandson’s daycare is closing, I’m going to be babysitting for him while his parents work from home.  I’m eager to spend more time with him, even though I’m sure there will also be times when I remember why I had my own kids when I was young.

u69gwAJcQXfDEE8WD6QI’m trying to indulge in small pleasures whenever I can, including taking the time to read a little bit every day.  When I spotted flowers while stocking up on food at the grocery store, I hesitated.  Should I really be spending money on something so unnecessary?  But then I realized that now is exactly the time to surround myself with anything that cheers me up, and added them to my cart.

Most importantly, I’m trying to stay in touch with family and friends, particularly those who are hurting the most, through calls, texts and emails.  I’ve found that each time I do something that helps someone else, I feel a little less stressed and worried, and a little bit more empowered.  It reminds me that I can still make a positive impact on our troubled world, in my own small way.  And that lesson will serve me well long after this horrible virus has left finally left town.

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…..

1V5A5402

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.