Culture: Stories & Lit
One lick at a time, a reformed Terrier helps the unemployed find reassurance.
Einstein greets my clients with an enthusiasm no paid receptionist could match. I mean, even if I paid a receptionist $100,000 a year, he or she wouldn’t give each client a big sloppy kiss. He then escorts the client to the sofa, sitting right next to him (if not on his lap) and bestowing another round of kisses. An occasional client prefers career counseling without a face-washing and eases Einstein off the sofa. Undeterred, Einstein assumes the position: head on the client’s shoes.
Sometimes, a client gets anxious during a session. After all, it’s not easy to discuss having been unemployed for eons and trying to land a good job at a time when they’re harder to find than a perfect (and cheap) dog-sitter who’ll stay at your house 24/7. When clients feel stressed, they often pet Einstein; if they were already petting him, they tend to speed up—a useful anxiety detector for me.
Einstein is also my stress management consultant; I’ll often snuggle up to him on the floor, nose to nose, and rub his belly. Thirty seconds of that makes anxiety a physical impossibility. He’s my fitness trainer as well. Without him, it would be too tempting to stay on my butt, but Einstein needs his exercise, so we take walks four times a day.
Lest you think Einstein is the perfect dog, let me tell you what he was like before he matured into a multitasking professional.
When I walked into the shelter’s adoption area, I was greeted in the first cage by a Pit Bull, who sort of snarled. I sped up. In the next cage, a Rottweiler retreated in fear. I walked on by. But in the third cage, a little white Terrier with a Poodle-y face stood on his back legs and pawed the cage, squealing: “Please take me out. Puh-leeze!” The attendant told me this sweet dog had been thrown over the fence into the pound’s parking lot in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, the shelter policy required My Doggie to stay there for seven days lest the owner decided to reclaim him. The nanosecond the pound opened on the seventh day, I phoned: “Is that white Terrier/ Poodle mix still available?” Yup. I jumped in the car and retrieved him. He jumped happily on me, then equally happily into the car. He didn’t, however, like our next stop—the vet, for neutering—quite so much. But he handled it without a hint of a growl.
Alas, while his trials were over, mine were just beginning. Although he was almost a year old, he still had a bad case of puppy hyperactivity on top of new-home anxiety. Within the first week, Einstein had eaten the only pair of eyeglasses I’ve ever felt looked good on me, and chewed a hole in three, yes, three, carpets.
And those weren’t the worst things. He decided to make a meal of my medication. The fact that it was in a sealed pill bottle didn’t stop my goal-oriented boy. He treated it like a chew toy. Alas, his reward was 20 pills. Off to the vet to get his stomach pumped.
But the scariest episode of all happened one morning when I opened the door to get the newspaper. Einstein escaped and tore down the street. I—in T-shirt, shorts and slippers—raced after him. While there are many turns he could have chosen, he picked the one that put him on the freeway on-ramp. I chased him up the ramp and, for the first time in my life, was grateful for traffic. Cars on the freeway were at a dead stop. Knowing Einstein likes being in the car, I yelled, “Someone open your car door!” Miraculously, someone did, whereupon Einstein jumped in and was saved.
Believe me, it’s all been worth it. Einstein is a beloved family member. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I care more for him than I do for most people. (I love him almost as much as my wife.) He’s a true member of the family, not to mention the world’s best receptionist, co-counselor, stress reducer and fitness trainer
Dog's Life: Humane
Many of us have experienced this conundrum: We love animals and want to help them— especially our local shelter animals, many of whom experience trauma, confusion, pain and fear. And yet, the very thing that drives us to help—their suffering—can also be the thing that prevents us from actually going into the shelters to help. It’s hard to witness suffering, plain and simple. It’s hard to stand in the midst of such need and fear and sorrow and not fall apart. Suffering can make us feel helpless, which in turn makes us feel that we cannot help other helpless beings. And ’round and ’round it goes.
Two years ago, Pamela Fisher, DVM—a holistic veterinarian and founder of the Rescue Animal Mp3 Project, a nonprofit organization that distributes free music-loaded Mp3 players to animal shelters across the country— found herself in a similar situation. As she says, “I, along with many people, had trouble going into animal shelters. I wanted to help the animals [with Reiki and energy healing], but it tore at my heartstrings to see all those animals shaking at the back of their cages. And the barking can be deafening. I thought, there’s got to be a way I could help the animals feel better and be calmer. All I could think of was music.”
Dr. Fisher has used vibrationalhealing music—music specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions, but also, to help regulate the immune system—for years at her Ohio-based holistic veterinary practice. Thus, she has witnessed its benefits firsthand. These days, most of us are aware that science has proven that listening to specially calibrated music can help lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, stabilize emotions and reduce anxiety. This applies to animals as well as humans; the animals who visit Dr. Fisher’s practice, even the vet-phobic ones, always become significantly more calm in the presence of the healing music.
One of the first vibrational healing CDs Dr. Fisher discovered was Healing Touch for Animals (Volume I). Composed by Carol Komitor and Inner Sound (Arden Wilken), this music is specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions; but to help regulate the immune system as well. “Of all the CDs I play at my office,” says Dr. Fisher, “I probably play this one the most. In fact, this is the one that helped inspire me to create the Mp3 project for shelters. At first, I figured I could donate some of this [Healing Touch for Animals] music to my local shelter. Then I found out that I was required to get permission to distribute all this copyrighted music. I figured if I was going to do all that work, I might as well try to find a way to distribute the music to all the shelters in the United States.”
Thus, the remarkable Rescue Animal Mp3 Project was born. Dr. Fisher began contacting musicians, sound healers and producers, asking them if they would be willing to donate the use of their music to this project. She focused animal-specific, sound-healing CDs. Most of the musicians Dr. Fisher contacted were thrilled at the idea of being able to help shelter animals. Eventually, she secured the rights to reproduce and distribute almost 30 hours of music.
The current Rescue Animal Mp3 is a “best of” compilation in animal sound healing therapy. Selections include tracks from Pet Calm and Pet Healing by Rick Collingwood, Canine Lullabies by Terry Woodford, Harp Music to Soothe the Savage Beast (gotta love that title) by Alianna Boone, Animal Angels and Connecting with Animals by Stuart Jones and Margrit Coates, Animal Healing and Music for Pets by Perry Wood and Margrit Coates, and the Healing Music for Animals and Their People (Healing Touch for Animals®) series mentioned above. (For a full list of music included on the Rescue Animal Mp3).
It took Dr. Fisher almost eight months to acquire the music and complete the necessary paperwork. Once that was accomplished, she went on to raise funds for the project and apply for grants so that she could purchase the Mp3 players and other necessary equipment. Finally, she loaded the players with the music and begin distributing them to shelters. When asked how many hours she put into the project in its preliminary stages, she says, “I won’t even venture to think about it. I work on it nonstop. My mission was to make it easy for the shelters. They don’t have the time or resources to acquire this music, so I did it for them.”
And when Dr. Fisher says easy, she means easy. All the shelters need to do is fill out an application. Project volunteers ship the pre-loaded Mp3 player at no cost, and provide easy installation instructions along with an FAQ page on their website. Typically, the shelter is required to provide its own amplification system (dock, CD player, speakers or computer), which most institutions already have in place. Sometimes, Fisher says, she donates speakers to shelters in need.
The response has been nothing short of remarkable. Survey responders consistently report that the music’s effect is overwhelmingly positive. Dogs have shown signs of reduced anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors such as barking, scratching, pacing and whining. Aggressive animals have mellowed out, traumatized dogs seem less fearful and storm-phobic dogs are noticeably calmer. Shelter workers have even noticed physical improvements in the form of increased appetites and more speedy recoveries from injuries and illness.
“Overall,” says Dr. Fisher, “the animals are better able to cope with the stress of shelter environments, and in turn, this improves their quality of life and increases their chance of acquiring forever homes. It’s part of a whole program. The Mp3 project is helping the animals get adopted.”
Currently, Rescue Animal Mp3s have been distributed to more than 800 shelters in 50 states, calming more than 87,000 animals. The Humane Society has endorsed the project, and the players are in use at such highprofile shelters as the New York CACC and the ASPCA. The project’s calming music can now be heard in animal sanctuaries as well; as of this writing, lions in Zimbabwe are listening to and benefiting from the music.
These statistics are remarkable, considering that the project—conceived and founded by one woman acting with one mission: to help animals— has been up and running for less than two years.
“The whole process of designing this project, starting a nonprofit, raising funds and applying for grants has been an interesting and difficult challenge for me,” Fisher admits. “But so rewarding for the animals’ sake.”
I hope you are as inspired by this woman and her project as I am. To find out more, donate or volunteer, visit rescueanimalmp3.org.
Dog's Life: Travel
Woman and dog sail the Atlantic Ocean.
Zach didn’t want to go. I was about to embark on the sailing adventure I’d dreamed of for 20 years when the first mate jumped ship.
It was 1991 and we were going from Key West to the Mediterranean by way of Bermuda and the Azores. Departure day was the culmination of weeks of preparation. I had made lists of the lists that had to be finished and things that had to be crossed off. Supplies, new equipment, bottom painted, sails double-stitched, on and on. Finally, it was all done. Friends were on the dock wishing fair winds and bon voyage, but we couldn’t sail because the ship’s dog was on the other side of the marina, dodging the captain’s every effort at capture.
There have been few times in my life that I have been madder at another creature than I was that day at him. This was so unlike Zach—he loved to go sailing, would go into a barking, wiggling, tail-wagging frenzy when the lines were being untied and we were pulling out of the slip. Throughout his whole seven years with me, I had run a charter boat business; he’d been going sailing many times a week since he was a pup.
Finally, he surrendered. I think he finally realized how much trouble he was in. I carried him back to the boat, put him below (not in irons) and closed the hatch. Saying my good-byes, we got underway. It wasn’t until later, when the sails were up, course was set and I had calmed down, that it dawned on me that my crew was saying in the only way he could, “I don’t want to go.”
I’m sure he wasn’t objecting to sailing the Atlantic Ocean. After all, he didn’t know exactly where we were going; he sat on charts, he didn’t read them. It was going offshore—which always happened after this kind of preparation—that he didn’t like. Offshore meant leaving trees, dock pilings and a host of vertical things he could heist his leg on. Zachary did not believe in peeing where he lived. It was, I think, a moral issue with him: You don’t soil your nest. He would hold it into the next day and finally, when he couldn’t stand it any longer, would go stiff and let urine run down his leg. After that, it wasn’t okay, but he was resigned.
This would, of course, make me frantic, since I worried about bladder infections. There are no vets offshore. I would offer an example, squatting myself and peeing all over the deck. “Look, honey,Mommy does it.”He would cut me a look and go below. It was truly no big deal. A bucket of saltwater—god knows we had plenty —one whoosh, and it was out the scuppers. Tell him that.
We also went round and round about his pooping. All sailboats have extra sails tied down at the bow, ready to go up if a change is needed. And this is where he’d choose to poop. To raise one of these sails, you turn into the wind, and the sail flaps wildly going up. Which also sent the poop flying and caused me to swear like a sailor at top volume. I learned to keep my potty mouth shut when, one day, some of Zach’s “offerings” flew into it!
A Close Call
One beautiful afternoon, about 400 miles out from the Azores, things were perfect—the wind was just right and the skies were blue, with puffy tradewind clouds.We were rocking along making good time, right on course. I decided this called for fixing my favorite lunch—yellow food. Eating out of cans is monotonous even when, like me, you can’t cook, but I never got tired of macaroni, tuna and peas.
As I was fooling around down below, waiting for the water to boil, Zachary, who was in the cockpit, started a low, mean-sounding growl. I glanced up at him and saw the hair raised along his spine. He was always on watch for dolphins, gulls and great big imaginations. I said, “Take it easy, big guy, there’s nothing around here for hundreds of miles.” But he kept it up, so, to please him, I popped my head up to see what he was looking at. There was a gigantic sea monster! It was headed right for us.
There are sea monsters in the world, and for small sailboats, they’re called freighters. I dived for the engine switch, pushed the throttle down hard, threw the tiller over and got the hell out of there at a 90 degree angle. I watched the freighter’s wake and saw that it never changed course or speed. The big ships are run by computers, and the lookout, if there is one, is watching for something big enough to hurt the ship. This one wouldn’t even have noticed running us down. The thing was huge; it was like a city going by. The flag of registry—red with a hammer and sickle—flying off the back was as big as a house. She was a Russian ship bound for the Americas. I could’ve used a jolt of vodka myself about then.
When my heart rate returned to something compatible with life, I was able to fix and eat my yellow food, but the crew dined on a large can of chicken breast, a meal befitting the best lookout and first mate in the whole Atlantic Ocean.
Zach wore a bandanna (regular collars stayed wet too long) and it was a measure of his charm that someone was always adding to his collection. He had all colors and designs. As we started to motor out of the Horta, Azores, marina, someone I didn’t know came running down the dock behind us, yelling in a heavy accent, “Come back, come back!” Now, sailboats are not made for backing up, there wasn’t room to turn, and we were surrounded by multimillion-dollar yachts, but this guy was excited. I slowed, shifted into reverse, and made a wobbly, nervewracking retreat to the dock.He wanted to give Zach a bandanna and have one last chance to pet him! I didn’t remember the guy, and don’t think I made much of an impression on him either. He barely spoke to me, but he was sure sorry to see Zach go.
Something similar happened later when we were in Spain. An older English couple on holiday had heard about us and knocked on the boat late one night after we had gone to bed. I sleepily went on deck to see what they wanted; Zach, for once in his life, stayed below. They chatted me up briefly about the Atlantic trip, and then there was a long, awkward pause. Finally, the woman said, “Really, luv, we came to see the dog.”
The dog and I had many more adventures; he was always up for anything new, always in a good mood, never borrowed money, never got drunk. Zach was truly the best first mate on any ocean.
Dog's Life: Travel
Care and boarding alternatives.
If chartering a private plane so your dog can see the world with you seems reasonable, you’re either very wealthy or really love traveling with your pup. Since most of us don’t have a Learjet at our disposal, eventually there will come a time when we’ll have to leave our dogs behind while we embark on extended travel (a week or longer).
The best way to ensure that your time away is fun and stress-free for both you and your dog is to have a good game plan in advance of departure. Though dogs have very different personalities, maintaining a sense of normalcy and routine during owner absences is beneficial for every type of dog.
Also, a confident, happy dog will have a much easier time with an extended absence than one who has had little socialization—one of the many reasons training and socialization are beneficial for dogs and humans alike. A visit to a familiar dog park will reconnect your dog with well-known scents, activities and other canine friends.
Recently, we spoke with Abbie Mood, Canine Behavior Science and Technology diplomate/owner of Communicate with Your Dog in Westminster, Colo., who offered some useful insights.
Mood stresses the importance of maintaining a routine with your dog. “Anyone who has a dog likely wonders how the dog knows when it’s time for dinner, for a walk, to go to sleep. It’s because your dog has a routine. Keeping this sense of normalcy is a good way to help your dog stay on schedule and feel a bit more comfortable in your absence. For some dogs, especially those with separation anxiety, the preparation and the leaving ritual themselves can induce anxiety, so varying your [pre-trip] routine can be helpful. The best thing you can do to prepare your dog is to set up the logistics ahead of time so you aren’t rushing around at the last minute, and staying relaxed yourself.”
When it comes to care, the best-case scenario is one in which the dog remains at home with a trusted friend or family member; second-best is a pet sitter. As Mood notes, “Being able to be in the home environment is the best situation. That being said, a dog who is distressed or shows anxiety while you are gone (tearing things up, urinating or defecating indoors), will probably do better staying with a friend or family member who is home more often, or even at a doggie day care, where [he or she] will be around other dogs and people all the time.”
Clearly, having an established network of trusted, responsible pet sitters can make your absence much easier on your dog. Familiar human and canine friends can greatly reduce a dog’s anxiety, especially if the dogs already share a bond. For this reason alone, it’s worth volunteering to watch your friends’ dogs to help establish your own dog’s sense of comfort with being part of another “pack” for a time.
Whether your dog is staying at your home or a friend’s house, making a list of detailed instructions is very important. “If a pet sitter is coming to your house, make a list of phone numbers— the vet, poison control, closest friend or family member (think about the list you would create for a babysitter). Also, write out instructions for feeding, exercise, special requests/requirements, or any reminders that might be important (don’t let the dog meet other dogs, the location of the closest dog park and so forth),” suggests Mood.
Dogs have incredible scent memory, so it also can be helpful to provide a shirt, blanket or other article of clothing with your scent. Some people even leave a “fresh” used shirt to be introduced at some point through their time away. Boarding at a kennel is another option, and for some dogs, the chance to play with other pups all day is as fun as it gets. However, it’s best to give your dog a few nights at a trusted kennel before your trip so the change isn’t as abrupt.
Whether your choice is pet sitter, day care or kennel, do your due diligence before making a decision. Mood says that while she asks candidates “tons” of questions, the most important relate to discipline and training policies. “If they are going to be walking your dog, how do they practice looseleash walking? What happens if two dogs get in a scuffle? Can you handle my dog with anxiety/dog-dog aggression/door dashing? Other questions might include, can you administer my dog’s medicine or accommodate a special diet? For a doggie day care (or kennel), always tour the entire facility—they shouldn’t have anything to hide.”
A trusted friend, family member, pet sitter or kennel staff member, or other friendly face will keep your dog in good spirits, as will mingling with canine friends. While your dog will, of course, notice your absence, extra attention or longer walks can help. And once you’ve found reliable and trustworthy pet sitters or other services, stick with them.
Sometimes being apart is tougher on the human than on the dog. Luckily, technology gives us ways to deal with this. “Regular check-ins with the pet sitter, getting photos from family or friends, or even Skyping or Facetiming with your dog can help the person,” says Mood. “Some doggie day cares have [real-time] video, or at least post pictures throughout the day, which can put your mind at ease. It is important to find someone you trust so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s safety and well-being. If you are trying a new sitter/day care/kennel, do your research ahead of time, and trust your instincts. If there’s anything you don’t like, find a new source!”
Finally, establish a budget in advance, not only to pay for care but also to provide cash on hand for emergencies or if supplies run low (though you’ll be stocking up on food, treats and pick-up bags before you leave).
While parting with your dog can be such sweet sorrow, having a system to keep him or her happy and healthy in your absence will make your travels much easier. Yes, it’s quite normal to miss your dog, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Plan ahead and look forward to a joyous reunion upon your return—oh, and be sure to bring home treats!
Dog's Life: Travel
Dogtrekking through the Indian Garhwal
India. Our dream had finally come true.
We did not hesitate for a moment. The dream had just come true, and this was our call. The only obstacle had four paws and a wet nose. But was it a real obstacle? Leaving our dog was not an option. When we’d made the decision to have a dog, we knew she would accompany us everywhere. Even when we heard questions like, “India with a dog? You cannot do it.” Of course we could. After several months of preparation, in mid-January 2013, we landed at the international airport in New Delhi.
We climbed a few times during our stay in Delhi: First, at an outdoor artificial wall in the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Later, outside Gurgaon and New Delhi, at the rocks in Dhauj, a desert area with an old, dried-up lake and 10- to 30-meter-high rocks. Climbers from abroad look like aliens among the women in saris passing by with brushwood on their heads, children herding goats, and “city people” who come to Dhauj to speed up and burn rubber (the flat sandy area is perfect for the motorcycle sports so popular nowadays in India). In the middle of this madness were two Polish climbers and a dog.
Apart from those short climbs outside Delhi, it soon became clear that life in the big Indian city with a dog would be difficult. After three months, we’d had enough. We wanted to go back to Warsaw, a city that seemed gray and dull at our departure. Now, Warsaw shone again in our dreams. We missed the European lifestyle of Poland and Warsaw, but most often, our thoughts turned to the Tatra Mountains, our idyllic place. The decision was made: we would go back. But then it turned out that our “fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights” was more like Shrek.
How’s that? In the European Union, companion-animal travel is subject to strict laws and regulations in order to avoid spreading or reintroducing rabies. Conditions for the non-commercial movement of pet animals have been harmonized under the rules laid down in Regulation 998/2003 of the European Parliament. Pets should be identified by an electronic identification system (transponder) or by a clearly readable tattoo applied before July 3, 2011. For all travel, the animal needs to be have a passport and have a valid rabies vaccination. Pets coming from third-world countries should have a positive serologic test, a blood sample taken at least 30 days after vaccination and three months before movement. This can be certified only by an approved EU lab. We had all the papers but not the blood test. Nobody told us in Poland that it’s required to reenter the European Union.
So we had to spend another three months in India.
“What shall we do?” we asked each other. Going back and risking quarantine for Diuna was not an option. Easiest solutions are always hardest to find. We thought, Let’s spend those three months in the Himalayas. Let’s go dogtrekking! After all, Garhwal is only 500 kilometers from Delhi.
We bought a tent; packed our backpacks with basic and essential gear; and headed to Munsiari, a town in the border triangle of India, China and Nepal. From there, we headed west on foot, living as nomads on the roof of the world. Most nights we spent in the “many-stars hotel” in our tent; sometimes we sought refuge in Hindu temples, village huts made of clay and stone (which often lack toilets, though a satellite dish is a must) and, rarely, cheap hostels for backpackers. We tried to avoid major hiking trails. All the food for us and our dog we carried in our backpacks, then cooked over a campfire. We did not use porters and guides, traveling on our own.
Every morning, we wake up to a view of the 5-, 6- and 7,000-meter-high peaks of Maiktoli, Bhagirathi, Trisul, Nanda Devi, Shivling. We performbasic duties: pitch a tent, set a campfire, cook, feed Diuna, pack our gear and walk through the mountains with our dog. Clear the mind and follow the sun, forget about our problems and live with nature. Walking up and down, through villages, meadows and high passes, heading west of Garhwal. After 55 days, we have trekked through a Himalayan range (from Munsiari toward Gangotri), walking 500 kilometers (the other 500 kilometers were spent in buses and jeeps). During those two months, we visited 12 Himalayan valleys suspended between 6- and 7,000-meter-high mountain peaks, occasionally losing the trail and surviving moments of true horror at being lost. We have climbed 63 kilometers vertically—it’s like summiting Mount Everest seven times, starting from sea level—accompanied by Diuna, our brave Czechoslovakian Vlcak, the first Polish dog in the Garhwal Himalayas.
One day, on the way to Pindari Valley, an unleashed Diuna (we had to go down a very steep, slippery slope) chased a herd of goats grazing nearby. She was gone for a half-hour. When she finally came back, her jaws and front legs were full of blood. Fear paralyzed us. Had anything happened to her? Maybe she was attacked by another dog defending its goats? Or maybe … no, she could not have hunted. But it turned out to be true. For the first time in her life, Diuna unleashed her wolf ancestors’ instinct to hunt and kill a fleeing animal.
In a short time, we were surrounded by a dozen residents of a nearby village, Lahur. An elderly woman, the owner of the herd of goats, wailed on a mountain slope. After several hours of negotiations conducted in Hindi (a language we did not know), English (known by one inhabitant of the village) and international body language, we were able to come to an agreement: we paid for the damage, and the goat would be eaten by the people of Lahur.
From now on, we promised ourselves not to unleash Diuna below 3,500 meters. Even on the steepest slopes, we walked with Diuna strapped to our backpack hip belt. It worked well provided there was no wild animal nearby.
After two months of trekking, we reached the holy place for the Hindu religion: Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges, which comes from the melting glacier of Bhagirathi. On June 1, Diuna scented the presence of a herd of Himalayan tahrs (rare animals resembling mountain goats). Suddenly, she dragged Agata so hard that Agata fell and hit her shoulder; the collarbone was broken. This was the end of our adventure; now was the time for rescue. The nearest town of Gangotri was 16 kilometers. There was nobody in this pilgrimage area, no cell phone coverage, no help available. We managed to go down to the village and went the next day to Uttarkashi for emergency medical help.
It’s been five months since the accident. The collarbone was eventually operated on in Poland. We cannot be angry with Diuna; we believe fate rescued us from Garhwal. The day we left Gangotri, the Himalayas experienced an early monsoon (usually it arrives a month later), bringing heavy rain and causing flooding. Thousands of people were trapped in the place we had been a few days earlier. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from the mountains by military helicopters. A month later, in Poland, we learned that 5,000 people missing in the “Himalayan tsunami” were considered dead. We live, thanks to Diuna.
Trekking with a dog might not be easy. But we cannot imagine doing it without Diuna. She is a part of our family and we are responsible for her. Our 500-kilometer dog “walk” gave us a lot of experience and taught us a lot too, so now we know that you can follow your adventure dreams with a dog at your side.
This year, we’re planning a 1,000-kilometer trek over the Mongolian Altai—with Diuna of course. Please help us inspire more people: igg.me/at/dogtrekking
For more photos of this incredible adventure, see The Bark Issue 77, Spring 2014.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Leash
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed with a majestic natural setting. Thanks to forwardthinking citizen activists and environmentalists, generations have been able to enjoy the scenic beauty and open spaces of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
In 1972, Congress established Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a unit of the National Park Service—to, among other things, create an area that “concentrate[s] on serving the outdoor recreational needs of the people of the metropolitan area.”
For decades, these traditional “outdoor recreational needs” have included off-leash dog walking. In GGNRA’s San Francisco-based sites alone, off-leash areas (OLAs) from Crissy Field to Fort Funston occupy prime spots along the bay’s shoreline. Currently, a little less than 1 percent of all of GGNRA’s approximately 80,000 acres of protected lands are accessible for any kind of dog walking, and now even this small amount is in jeopardy.
In 1979, GGNRA adopted a Pet Policy that outlined off-leash rules and defined OLAs in its San Francisco and Marin County sites. However, over time, GGNRA began closing some of these off-leash areas and, in 2001, rescinded the 1979 policy. During this period, and throughout several subsequent legal challenges, howls of protest were heard across the region. Consequently, GGNRA stopped enforcing leash laws and began the long process of creating a special rule to manage dogs in its parklands.
In 2010, GGNRA released its draft dog-management plan, in which they proposed restricted alternatives in 22 areas. After roughly 4,700 people submitted comments regarding this deeply flawed document, GGNRA went back to the drawing board and recently released a supplemental plan.
Unfortunately, the new plan is just as restrictive, proposing extremely limited off-leash and on-leash areas, as well as no-dog areas, for historically dog-friendly Crissy Field, Muir Beach, Baker Beach, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra, among others.
In its attempts to balance off-leash dog recreation with other park uses, it appears that GGNRA is abusing its discretion by curtailing this use without adequate scientific support for the impacts they claim, and ignoring or discounting the demonstrated impact on existing recreational uses. The outcome of this final plan could have repercussions nationwide as policymakers watch to see what kinds of restrictions to dog-walking access the public will accept.
Crissy Field Dog Group supports a modified alternative to the 1979 Pet Policy that includes responsible offleash dog-walking in GGNRA lands (including those in San Mateo County), provides clear and concise signage and continuing-education opportunities such as fee-based off-leash training classes, allows each permitted professional dog walker to handle up to six dogs, and creates a monthly recreation roundtable so that different user groups can address visitor concerns.
We need you to become involved in this process. Please write to your elected officials and let them know what you want. The current deadline for public comment is December 4, but we have requested an extension.
If dogs are this severely restricted in GGNRA, city dog parks and neighborhoods bordering the parklands will be inundated with dog walkers, and there will likely be more conflict. Let’s create a dog-management plan that protects these scenic areas and allows everyone to enjoy them.
Details on the current proposal can be found at parkplanning.nps.gov/ dogplan. Go to crissyfielddog.org, eco-dog.org and saveoffleash.org for more information on the commenting process.
Culture: Stories & Lit
A surprise acceptance for a new arrival.
“He’s worse than a baby,” my husband liked to say about our dog Nigel when the Hairy Son was acting particularly needy and pining for our attention. Of course, this was before we had our actual (human) baby this past summer and learned that Nigel—our 11-year-old Lhasa Apso— is indeed not worse than a baby.
In fact, there’s no comparing Nigel to our daughter Mirabelle. Nigel doesn’t cry inconsolably. He doesn’t wake us up throughout the night. He doesn’t suffer from gas pains. He doesn’t require a car seat or diaper changes or burping or the application of diaper cream.
In other words, Nigel’s a dog—and a fairly self-sufficient one—but it took having a baby for me to realize it. I was so focused on how he would react to a baby interloper invading his house that I didn’t once consider how the birth of my daughter would change our relationship.
Before Mirabelle burst onto the scene in June, Nigel was my one-and-only baby. He came into my life when I was in my 20s and childless. So I did the natural thing: I infantilized and coddled my 16-pound pup beyond measure. He was my entertainment. For a good laugh, I’d put my glasses on him or make up silly songs and dance him around the house. I wasn’t particularly good at setting boundaries.
Nigel’s been with me throughout eight apartments, four jobs and grad school. I’ve known him significantly longer than my husband. Nigel and I pose together on my Facebook profile photo. And before we replaced them with pictures of our daughter, there were photos of him throughout our house. A custom-built set of stairs leads up to our bed so Nigel has easy access to a comfortable night’s rest.
Before Baby, I never thought of Nigel as a dog. That label sounded too ordinary for my adorable, grumpy, Ewok-like creature. It was no coincidence that my preferred nickname for him was “the Son.” But in the chaotic weeks immediately following the birth of our daughter, Nigel became a burden. As I tried to care for the many needs of my vulnerable five-pound baby, even something as simple as putting kibble in his bowl seemed like a chore.
Nigel’s heft (in comparison to Mirabelle’s delicate, light-as-a-feather form) and the longevity of our relationship let me take advantage of him. I felt I didn’t have the time, wherewithal and emotional capacity to shower him with the love he was accustomed to. Yet it may have been the sturdiness of our Before-Baby relationship that gave Nigel canine insight into my suddenly strange, distant behavior. He knew I’d return to him. I just needed time, which he was kind enough to grant me.
To understand why I’m so grateful to Nigel for his patience during this turbulent newborn period, you have to understand his personality. While I love him to pieces, I could not objectively describe him as a compassionate, outgoing creature. Rather, he’s stubborn, bossy, insistent, inward-focused and a bit obtuse … or, “worse than a baby” (but not really). Part of Nigel’s personality originates with his breed, and part is due to the way I’d babied him for so long. I did not have faith that he could generously share my attention with another creature.
Nigel’s vet, JoAnn Levy of Canfield Vet, Dog and Cat Hospital, had more hope than I did. Nine months pregnant at Nigel’s well-dog checkup, I mentioned that I was concerned about how Nigel would receive an infant into the fold. When she asked how he acted with other newborns, I told her that he was actually quite curious about them, an eager sniffer when friends’ babies come to visit. Dr. Levy concluded that Nigel would be fine with a baby in the house.
I doubted it could be that simple. After all, our baby would be a permanent fixture, not just an entertaining visitor available for an exploratory sniff or two.
When I adopted Nigel almost a decade ago, his original owner made me promise two things: First, that I would never let Nigel roam off-leash. Second, that if I were to have children one day, I would not exclude Nigel from our growing clan. The previous owner knew that a newborn demands an extraordinary amount of attention at the cost of nearly everything else, even a beloved pet. While the previous owner was looking out for Nigel’s best interests, even she couldn’t imagine that this finicky dog would in fact have more patience than all of us—would in fact turn out to be a full-fledged comrade in Operation Baby.
We were not short on advice on how to introduce Nigel and the baby. My sister-in-law suggested we leave her in her car seat (on the floor) and let Nigel “find” her so that she’d be his little charge. A friend suggested that I shower Nigel with affection when my husband brought the baby into the house for the first time. To familiarize him with “eau de Mirabelle,” we even brought Mirabelle’s first hat with her scent all over it home from the hospital. We implemented none of these plans.
Instead, we were already home with Mirabelle when our friend, who was looking after Nigel during my hospital stay, returned him to our abode. I was carrying Mirabelle in my arms. Nigel was happy to come home and I made an overly enthusiastic scene to welcome him.
That was probably the most attention I paid him for about two weeks.
Something surprising happened during those two weeks. Nigel did not sulk at the lack of attention or act jealous of the baby. It’s unlikely he was thrilled with his new circumstances, but he quickly took his place on the couch, head between his paws, observing it all. At night, Nigel remained on our bed as time and again, I leaned into the baby’s crib to pick her up, feed her, soothe her, rock her.
He appeared to have resigned himself to the situation and did not act out. He did not attempt to leave our bedroom, where he’s always slept. This was his family and he was staying put.
A few times in the middle of the night when the baby’s cries grew in volume, I took her into the living room, where we retired to the rocking chair. The Hairy Son, who was accustomed to lounging on our king-sized bed, plush sofas, lush blankets and down pillows, took his place on the hardwood floor by my feet as I rocked the baby. He did it to keep me company.
One night a couple of weeks after Mirabelle’s introduction to our household, Nigel returned to my radar. It was 9 pm. I was exhausted, but Mirabelle, in the throes of the “witching hour,” was alternating between two states: fervent eating and fervent crying. Bedtime was nowhere in sight.
Except for Nigel. As he does every night, he went into our bedroom to retire for the evening. This simple act gave me hope that one day (with luck, sooner rather than later) my daughter would learn a nighttime routine as well. I thought to myself that if my Hairy Son is smart enough to know when it’s bedtime, then surely our Hairless Daughter will grasp this one day, too.
That night, for the first time, I viewed Nigel as an independent being and developed a sense of respect for him. He was not a creature to be coddled and infantilized. He knew the ropes. He gave me hope that from chaos can come order. It just takes time.
Yet even though I appreciated Nigel’s patience with me and our new situation, I didn’t understand it. How could a dog who would ordinarily growl at anyone trying to move him from his spot on the couch be so docile with a vociferous baby invading his space?
I called Dr. Levy, his vet, for some answers.
“Once a new baby comes into the family, they see that baby as part of the pack because that baby is so attached to you, his beloved human,” said Dr. Levy.
“They often become better behaved because they have a younger member of the pack to protect and include.”
But I still didn’t understand why Nigel wasn’t acting jealous.
“They have a job now,” said Dr. Levy. “They kind of get that you’re taking care of the newest member of the pack.”
I’m happy if Mirabelle gives Nigel a renewed sense of purpose. But I’m truly grateful for the sacrifice he’s made.
Mirabelle’s in daycare now. Mornings are quiet; I work at my computer on the couch with Nigel by my side. When I take a break and glance up from the screen, I often find myself looking at Nigel and thinking, Thank you.
Calm’s returned to our house. Though the pecking order is different, Nigel remains his strong self. But it took having a baby for me to realize that.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
When the snow flies, it’s time to dust off your skis or snowshoes, pack your dog’s cold-weather gear and make tracks for wintertime fun.
The air is crystal-clear, the snow is fresh and white and the opportunities for fun are abundant. Don’t let the season’s colder temps keep you and your dog at home. With a little preparation and appropriate protective gear, both of you can enjoy the pleasures of the season at some very hot cool spots. For example …
It’s hard to beat the dog-friendliness of Telluride, Colo., where canine residents may outnumber the humans. The free transportation alone is a solid argument for making Telluride the number-one winter destination for dog-accompanied adventures. Most gondola lifts allow dogs only in the summer (if at all), but the Telluride/ Mountain Village Gondola provides year-round canine access to ski slopes and hiking trails as well as spectacular aerial views. The town’s shuttle service, the Galloping Goose, also welcomes leashed dogs.
Poop-bag stations can be found on many street corners and in Telluride Town Park, which allows off-leash play. In addition, three pet-friendly trails—River, Jud Wiebe and Bear Creek—start right from town. The latter is an easy hike that rewards those who make it with a view of an amazing waterfall.
While you can’t take dogs on the official ski slopes, at Lake Tahoe, Calif., they’re a common sight in backcountry ski and snowboard areas. If you’re not into off-piste (skiing on snow that hasn’t been compacted into tracks), Northstar offers moonlight snowshoe hikes after the lifts close for the day, and dogs are welcome. For Nordic ski fans, the Hope Valley Outdoors Cross-Country Ski Center and Tahoe XC both have dog-friendly trails. Less active pups and their people can head over to Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides in South Lake Tahoe, which allows dogs on their equine jaunts.
More than a decade ago, the North Valley Trail System at Sun Valley, Idaho, was one of the first Nordic ski centers in the country to allow dogs on their groomed trails. Today, more than 50 percent of North Valley’s skiers take their pups with them. Passes provide access to North Valley and two other systems with more than 60 miles of dog-friendly trails. If you’d rather skip the trail pass, check out the Wood River Trail, a 20-mile paved path that connects Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. Runners, bikers, equestrians, dog-walkers and Nordic skiers share this multi-use gem. Though it may be too brisk to take advantage of eateries with dog-friendly patios, be sure to stop by Rico’s Italian Restaurant in Ketchum, where you can trade a picture of your pup for a discount on your meal.
The slopes at Mount Bachelor near Bend, Ore., are off-limits to canines, but the ski mountain teamed up with Ruffwear to create a dog park with a groomed play area and toys next to the West Village parking lot. Downtown Bend also features many dog-friendly places to walk, such as the Deschutes River Trail, complete with poop-bag stations. Volunteers with DogPAC, the local off-leash advocacy group that helped open seven OLAs in 2009, also groom and maintain the dog-friendly cross-country ski and snowshoe trails at Wanoga Sno-Park in nearby Sunriver.
If you get tired of the snow, head 16 miles east of Bend to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness area, where 50 miles of trails wind through prickly juniper plants and dry volcanic ridges. Winter is a good time to visit—during the summer months, the sand is too hot for paws.
In northern Vermont, many hotels will arrange pet-sitting while you’re on the slopes, but the Phineas Swann Bed and Breakfast Inn at the base of Jay Peak Resort makes it easy with its “Pet Perfect Ski Package,” which includes lodging, breakfast (complete with a doggy bag, of course), lift tickets and dog-walking services.
Down the road from Stowe Mountain, Topnotch Resort not only has dog-friendly cross-country ski trails but is also right across the road from the 5.5-mile Stowe Recreation Path, which is groomed in the winter for walking, jogging, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and on-leash dogs are welcome. For off-leash fun, look for the Quiet Path, a low-impact extension on which dogs can run free as long as they’re under voice control.
If your pup is feeling particularly athletic, visit Eden Mountain Lodge in Eden Mills. The lodge’s rental cabins sit on 140 acres, and skijor lessons for you and your dog, taught by two-time national skijor champion Jim Blair, are on offer.
In Whistler, British Columbia, Whistler Olympic Park has opened about four miles of trails to off-leash snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Last year, nearby Callaghan Country opened nearly all of its cross-country and snowshoe trails to dogs. If you’re visiting without your furry pal and need a little dog therapy, stop by WAG, the local shelter (whistlerwag.com); they have a drop-in dog-walking program and will let you “borrow” a shelter dog for an outdoor adventure.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
A tired dog is a good dog. No matter the size of the dog, every pup needs a physical outlet to expend extra energy and maintain health and fitness. Regular exercise can improve your dog’s mental health and reduce some behaviors done out of anxiety or boredom. It is important to note that each animal is an individual and you need to modify your program. We must make adjustments for age, injury and be mindful of environmental conditions too, such as extreme weather.
For a general guideline to exercise, dogs can be divided up by their breeds, or breed mixes, and what they were originally bred to do. However, remember to tailor your program to your dog’s needs.
Herding and Sporting Dogs
Both groups have very high exercise needs and should get at least 60-90 minutes of higher intensity exercise daily, twice daily is even better. These are working dogs so are easily bored, so make them work their brains! Intersperse training sessions with physical workouts to keep the routine fresh and interesting for both you and your dog.
From the little Cairn to the larger Airedale, these dogs are generally bouncy and charismatic pooches. Although they have significant exercise requirements, these dogs are smaller than the herding and sporting members, and can get a fair amount of daily exercise around the yard. But they should get a minimum of 60-minutes exercise daily.
This is a very diverse group that encompasses the sight hounds and scent hounds. Sight hounds like Greyhounds may have lower exercise needs, they are sprinters that release energy in quick bursts. Allow them a couple of harder sprint workouts per week. Scent hounds have higher exercise needs, similar to the herding and sporting dogs.
Toy Breeds and Brachycephalic Dogs
Many breeds fit into this category, including Poodles, Chihuahuas and Maltese. Even though these cuties are smaller than the rest, they still need exercise! They have a propensity toward obesity and often do not get the level of daily activity that they require. They can, however, get a significant amount of exercise in a much smaller area.
These squash-faced dogs, like the Pug and Bulldogs, were not created for marathon running. A shortened muzzle and wrinkly face might be irresistible, but they impede airflow and put these dogs at risk for overheating and oxygen deprivation.
Weather conditions are an important consideration for all dogs, not just the Brachycephalics. Dogs too can be victims of frostbite or heat stroke. If you live in the snowy areas make sure you clean your dogs’ paws after an outing to remove snow and salt buildup. Dogs with thin hair coats may benefit from a nice dog coat or hoodie in the colder months. In the summertime, paws can also be damaged on hot asphalt or abrasive surfaces like the sandy shore. During any weather, it’s important to keep your dog hydrated. Bring along a compact dog travel bowl and fill it from your own water bottle.
Physical activities: There are a variety of different ways to wear out the over-energized dog. Fetch is a fabulous way to exhaust a dog with minimal output of your own energy and using a tennis racket gets even greater canine wear down. Swimming is a fantastic way to reap the benefits of exercise without the dangers of repetitive impact. You may also want to start out with a dog life vest, especially if you are far from shore, it is important to always use a vest when boating with your dog.
Mental exercises: A good brain game can be almost as tiring as a long hike. Some dogs enjoy a food toy. These toys require the dog to knock the toy around to make food fall out of small holes. They can be filled with small, low calorie treats or even pieces of kibble. If your dog is scent driven, she may enjoy searching for bits of food or treats hidden throughout the house.
Exercising with your pooch helps control her weight and maintain a healthy body and mind. Remember to tailor your program to your pet, to meet her needs and maintain safety. Keep her engaged, body and mind, and you will find that you share your home with a fulfilled best friend.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie
For the past few years, my dog Chloe and I have been going south for the winter, staying in rentals ranging from cottages at artists’ colonies in Florida to cabins at spiritual retreat centers in South Carolina. I don’t pack lightly for these annual trips. Thus, I always hire someone to help me load my van.
“Just how many dogs do you have?” asked my most recent moving man as he maneuvered yet another large dog bed into the already overstuffed van.
“Just one,” I said.
“And how many dog beds do you have?” the man asked.
He took off his hat and scratched his head as though my answer made his mind itch.
“Creature comforts,” I said.
Yes, it’s true that my dog-to-dog-bed ratio is quite high.
But my girl is getting old. Although I don’t know her age for certain, nine years have passed since I adopted her, so she’s at least 10. Only recently has she started showing signs of old age. The clearest sign is that her new favorite thing in the world is sleep. And I believe that an old, arthritic dog who spent her early days lying on a concrete floor in a shelter deserves a comfortable place to sleep. The more the merrier.
Most of Chloe’s beds were freebies, by the way. One was a gift from a friend in the city who can’t resist buying things in bulk at Costco. (“A $12 dog bed! Can you believe it?” she exclaimed.) Two were hand-me-downs from another friend whose beloved Vizsla passed. The enormous thermopedic mattress came via Freecyle.com from a woman who couldn’t bear to throw it away. The final two were thrift-store scores. It’s easy to find a good dog bed if you know where to look.
At our New York house, I keep one bed in the master bedroom, one in the main living area, one on the deck (for optimal deer-viewing), one in the van (I took out all the seats, so it’s like a studio apartment in there), one in the office (where I spend the majority of my time) and one at our favorite English Setter Rainbow’s house (where Chloe frequently stays).
When we drive south for the winter, I take four of these beds, stacking them on top of one another next to the back passenger door, creating a rather precarious travel throne. Perched up there, Chloe looks like the princess in the “princess and the pea” story. I actually don’t mind dogs on the furniture, in case you were wondering. In fact, I welcome it. There’s something about a sleepy dog curled up on a chair or sofa that makes the house feel more cozy. More down-toearth. (“That’s because you have actual earth on your furniture,” my stepmother used to say.)
In my defense, I do like to keep some pieces of furniture dirt-free, so when I first adopted Chloe, I taught her which pieces were available for her use and which were forbidden. She has her own special corner of a very soft couch, and she is welcome to sleep on my bed at any time. I was dismayed, however, to realize that she only wanted to sleep on my bed when I wasn’t in it. Chloe, it turns out, is not a snuggler. This saddens me to a certain extent—I don’t know what happened to Chloe in her previous life that led her to keep her distance from humans; I don’t know what private sorrows she holds, or how her trust was violated. But I accept her needs. So if she prefers to sleep on the sofa in the living room, that’s fine.
The point is moot now, because Chloe is too arthritic to jump onto furniture. I see her approach “her” sofa, looking longingly at those comfy cushions. I watch the way she seems to ponder the situation, analyzing the amount of strength it would take to leap up and whether her current level of stiffness allows this. More often than not, she turns away and opts for one of her beds.
Yes, my girl is slowing down.
In the past, Chloe was always the first to wake in the morning. She’d trot into my bedroom and stare at me, tense with anticipation, waiting for me to wake up, too. The moment I opened my eyes she’d start her “happy dance,” running around in circles, leaping joyfully, trying to herd me toward the front door so we could take our morning walk. There, she’d press her nose to the crack, wag her tail and wriggle her whole body in barely contained excitement, as if saying Seize the day, seize the day! It was like this for nine years. In her feisty-dog opinion, I slept too much.
Things are different these days. Chloe now sleeps in the bedroom on that glorious thermopedic mattress she loves so much. We call it the Master Bed. I like having another being in the room—another beating heart asserting the continuity of life. Also, I’m now the first to rise in the morning. What surprises me is that Chloe no longer leaps to her feet when I get out of bed; instead, she remains on her Master Bed, stretching a little and wagging her tail, waiting for me to come to her to say good morning and give her a quick belly rub. It surprises me further that she remains on her bed even as I head into the bathroom or walk downstairs to the kitchen.
Chloe used to follow me everywhere in the mornings— from the bathroom to the kitchen to the refrigerator (for the French Roast), to the coffeemaker, back to the refrigerator (for the cream), back to the kitchen drawer (for the spoon). She didn’t relent until I finally finished my morning routine and followed her out the door. Now, instead of trying to herd me, she lies in bed and observes me from the loft—watching, listening, sniffing—alert, but still. She seems to have concluded that she’s not going to walk all the way down those stairs until it’s worth her while.
After nine years of cohabitation, Chloe has figured out my morning routine. She knows I can be slow to get out the door. She has come to expect that first there will be the sound of the refrigerator being opened, then the sound of a kettle being placed on the stove, then a bubbling of water, followed by the slight hiss of the French press and the smell of coffee. Then this liquid is poured into a travel mug. And so forth. With her keen ears and sensitive nose, she can predict things down to the minute. Once she hears the lid being sealed on the travel mug, she knows what will come next: the sound once again of an opening refrigerator door, that Pandora’s box of cold food smells, the scraping of a stew-pot being removed from the top shelf, and then me calling her name and saying that most special of words: “Breakfast!”
Only then will she spring from her bed, showing signs of the formerly spry Chloe as she scrambles—panting with excitement, down the stairs. While she gobbles her food, I finish my pre-walk tasks: pulling on boots or sneakers, grabbing a hat, searching for keys, opening the front door. Once she hears that sound, Chloe—with another burst of youthful enthusiasm—launches herself through the door.
But our morning walks are different these days. Chloe used to charge down to the river or to the beach (depending where we were), and I would follow briskly, trying to keep up. Now, in deference to Chloe’s arthritic pace, we walk more slowly. We amble, meander, mosey. There is a whole new set of verbs for what we do. Although I miss the aerobic factor of our previous morning walks, these slow ambles allow me to focus on the journey rather than on the destination. On the intricate beauty of a new day. Or the way the birds sound their individual sunrise calls. Or the way the mists rise off the river— as if all the elements of water, sun and air are conspiring to whisper ancient secrets, which one might come to understand if one listens. Or even the distant hum of traffic, which, in the morning, sounds peaceful and hopeful, as the human race tries once again to redeem itself through daily tasks.
Chloe, a water dog, used to spend hours in the water, chasing fish, harassing frogs, observing the ducks and herons in the distance. Now she wades around for 20 minutes or so— sometimes less—then comes and sits next to me on the shore. I like to meditate while she plays in the water. Now, we meditate together: two silent companions harmonizing ourselves with the motherly rhythms of nature and breathing in the water-scented air. It’s nice. It’s peaceful.
Recently, however, Chloe decided that this shoreline was not comfortable enough for her stiff old body, and actually started to head home by herself. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about having to cut short my morning meditation, but still. No matter how safe it is (the trails lead straight to the house), I couldn’t let her walk home unaccompanied.
As soon as we return from our morning walk, Chloe goes straight to her bed. This is another new pattern. I’m accustomed to a dog who runs in circles around the house, sustaining the outdoor sensation of a body in motion. I’m accustomed to a dog who grabs the nearest toy and tosses it into the air, clinging to the joy of having been outside. I’m used to a dog who then dashes into the kitchen to see if any food has materialized since her last investigation. So this new going-straight-to-bed thing is almost alarming. Especially when I haven’t even had the opportunity to give her a “thanks-for-coming-home” treat. Chloe’s former favoritething- in-the-world used to be food. Then swimming. Then her boyfriend Rainbow. Then me. Then sleep.
The bed Chloe chooses post-morning walk is the Office Bed, because she knows this is where I’ll be spending the remainder of the day. It’s one of those Snuggle Nests, plush with big bumpers so that I don’t accidentally roll into her with my office chair.
In Chloe’s younger days, my writing seemed to bore her; it was something she had to endure until our next walk. Sure, she would nap while I wrote, but it was a vigilant sort of sleep. If I so much as moved—stretched or yawned or shifted in my chair—she would spring to her feet in one swift, athletic motion and rush to the door, smiling at me with joy, ready for our next great adventure. In her mind, I was always on the verge of doing something fascinating. (This is a dog’s approach to life. We would do well to emulate it.) Most of my daily office gestures, however, are mundane. I might rise to make another cup of tea. I might pause to check my email. I might moan out loud, saying something to the effect of, “I should just give up on this novel and become a street busker.”
Eventually, Chloe figured out the signals. Rising from the office chair with a glazed look on face meant more coffee, not walk. Moaning about the uselessness of writing meant I was going to check Facebook, not walk. The real moment— the true and absolute sign of an impending walk—was (and still is) the moment I shut down the computer, snap the lid shut and click off the wireless mouse. That one tiny click was like a starting gun for her: she’d push herself up and hurry toward the door.
Now, Chloe sleeps so soundly that sometimes, she doesn’t even hear the click. It’s hard not to smile. A dog in repose conjures up everything sleep should be: restful, peaceful, soothing, safe, warm, comfy. She sleeps so deeply that she snores—a soft, regular snore that sounds like contentment. She often seems to dream as well. I like to watch the way her eyelids twitch and her paws flex. I like to hear her sweet, muffled woofs, which are always sounded in patterns of three. Like a metered poem.
I often wonder what she dreams. Most people assume that dogs dream of chasing rabbits, of leaping over streams, of flushing grouse. But perhaps dog dreams go beyond these mundane visions we humans ascribe to them. Perhaps in her dreams, Chloe visits other realms, alternate universes where all beings exist in harmony, where there is no violence, no suffering, no animal abuse. Perhaps this is the paradise she’s chasing—not some mundane rabbit. Perhaps this is why she used to do that happy-dance in the morning. She’s trying to tell me that such worlds do exist. I hate to wake her. But soon, it is time for our afternoon walk. I lean over and whisper her name. She opens her eyes slowly, unfocused. Then she looks at me, surprised to find herself once again back inside a dog’s body. Surprised, but not disappointed. This has been a good life for her.
Our afternoon walks used to be long, but now—by Chloe’s choice—they are short, especially if the weather is not to her liking. Sometimes she walks a few yards onto the grass, makes a quick pee, then immediately returns to the house and heads straight back to her bed. She’ll circle a few times, then settle down into the foam with a satisfied “oof.” Mission accomplished.
I, however, require more of a head-clearing walk at this time of day, so—iPod in hand—I go back out without her for a brisk power walk along the beach or through the dunes. It’s glorious. Spectacular. Rejuvenating. Refreshing. And yet it feels so strange to walk without my dog. It feels wrong. But I simply adapt to this new phase in my life.
Another new phase: it used to be that when I came home, Chloe was there to greet me at the door. We all know the drill—the happy dance, the joyful barks, the whines of relief. Chloe’s specialty was to grab a toy or a shoe and carry it around in her mouth, enticing me to chase her. These days, Chloe isn’t always there to greet me. She sleeps so soundly that she doesn’t hear me come home.
I must confess I have moments of panic when this happens. I rush through the house, searching for her (because I never know which bed she’ll choose). Seconds might go by, minutes, in which my heart beats more rapidly and I imagine the worst. But then I hear her footsteps and the clicking toenails and there she will be, at the top of the steps, wagging her tail slowly, her lips askew and her face all puffy from sleep, too lazy to come downstairs to say hello.
I rush up the steps to hug her. Her body is warm with safety and trust and comfort; mine is flush with relief. She licks my face and wags her tail, and I get the sense that she is trying to reassure me somehow. Don’t worry so much, she says to me telepathically. But I do worry. My dog is aging. That’s a fact. Her health might very well decline. Maybe someday, she won’t be able to walk at all. And I won’t be able to lift her. But you are here with me, now, Chloe says. We are together now. That’s all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me. And I will be with you.
Then she goes back to sleep. And I go back to my work. Each is its own cure.
One of my favorite parts of my day is the end of it. (I don’t mean that sarcastically, despite my fluency in sarcasm.) What I mean is, I love to read in bed and I love my own thermopedic mattress. Late in the evening, after our final short peewalk, I’ll say to Chloe: “Time to go up to the Master Bed!” At that, she leaps up from her living-room bed and runs up the stairs as enthusiastically as she used to splash through rivers and tide pools. She’ll go straight to her bed, circling a few times and settling herself down with a contented sigh.
Before I get into bed myself, I lie on the floor next to her to say goodnight. I place my face right in front of hers, nose to nose, and whisper some endearment about how pretty she is. She sighs, not really liking such close proximity but tolerating it for my sake. I breathe in her breath. Sometimes she’ll thump her tail a few times, the sound muffled by the bed. Sometimes she’ll hook one paw over my arm and just hold it there. It feels like reassurance. And solidarity. We’ll stay like that for a long while, until I feel her pulse and she feels mine. Until the two of us are aligned.
Thank you, I say. Even though my life is chaotic and rushed and very often unsatisfying—even though it sometimes feels like a puzzle I can’t quite solve—I look at Chloe resting so contentedly and know that here is something I am doing right. Something about me gives this dog comfort. “If you want to feel safe,” the Dalai Lama once said, “help another being feel safe.” She falls asleep within minutes.
I personally don’t know any humans who sleep so well. There she is, snoring lightly, her chest rising and falling and her brown snout smooshed against a pillow. There she is, smelling faintly of sunshine and earth, with a mind uncomplicated by thoughts. Dogs don’t agonize over what they have or have not accomplished on any given day; they don’t worry about the additional tasks, hopes or goals they will not accomplish during the day that follows. No, they simply sleep, breathing in the oneness, breathing it out.
Chloe starts to dream, woofing and flexing her paws. I watch her with such love and tenderness I feel I might burst. Sometimes I wonder if she remembers her life at the shelter and all the nights she slept on a concrete floor. I wonder if those memories help her appreciate the marvelous fact that she now has six beds. But maybe it’s not about remembering or forgetting. We can forget and move on, or we can remember and move on. The trick is to not let those things plague us. We need only keep leaping through the meadows, running forever forward toward the next great thing.
Yes, my old girl is slowing down. So I will just try to slow down with her.
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