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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Decisions, decisions

   I don't know how obvious I've been about this, but this winter has kicked my a**. I like to be all glib and stealthy about the internal workings of my psychiatric shenanigans, but I think that sometimes the truth seeps out in some weird, osmosis-like process. I say "I'm fine, I'm great; all is going swimmingly" (I'm staring to feel a bit like Big Gay Al in The South Park Movie) even though I'm right on the edge internally. I do my best to do what I need to do in a day, to fulfill my obligations and live a 'normal' life with the help of Murphy the Magnificent and some benzos when necessary, and I think I do okay for the most part. But my social life? Hehe, we don't need no stinkin' social life. I can't really afford one anyway, either energetically or financially. I know there are at least a few of my readers who can relate. So why don't I 'share' more (other than publicly in this blog, lol)? It's not like there's really anything anyone can do about it. Many people (including myself) want to help a person in distress. Dragging other people into a situation they can do nothing about seems kinda mean. Also, I suspect once spring comes things will get much better.

   Better, yes. But I know that moving into a human cluster-**** has not been easy on my psyche. I made the choice, and it was the right one, but not easy. I was out in the boonies with space and acreage and horses. The financial pressure was off the charts and the place was not exactly lovely (or really even 'nice'), but I had the right idea. It just wasn't the right time and it definitely wasn't the right place. So here I am in the center of town feeling pretty close to my saturation point much of the time. But I'm dealing with it successfully and learning to adapt; horses and space are in my future for sure, but next time I will be in a position to do it right. All the reasons I moved to town still apply (expenses, convenience, etc) and are especially relevant with Goldie the Car needing so much love these days. The vertigo that comes with panic has become a bit alarming at times, but I can whine about it or make a plan. I plan to buy a harness for Murphy so I can stay on my feet. Problem solved, I feel really good about the decision and I get to remain an unstoppable force (well, except for the part about paying for the harness; I haven't quite worked that one out yet;-).

I said I wasn't going to focus on disability-related stuff, and I still feel that way. But sometimes I need to process, ya know? I don't know about you, but I prefer to reach deeply into the dark corners, shine a light on all the dusty crap hidden there, then dispose of what's useless. Then I can see what's left to clean up and utilize. It's helpful on many levels. I said every "I can't" statement would be followed by the question "what can I do?" and I still feel like that's a great policy, even if I annoy myself sometimes. There are times I would  like to just throw myself to the floor like a toddler and cry until it stops and I get what I want, but we all know that's not the way to go. Onward and upward!

   So here's the part about choices: I have this 'thing' that I have to deal with (Actually, when I think of it it looks more like "THING" ), no choice there, but what I do with it is up to me. I choose to channel the spirit of Big Gay Al (even though I'm not a man, or gay, or a cartoon). Or at least I try. YES, this winter has kicked my ass, but I have learned how to make things work sometimes in what appear to be impossible situations. I have adapted, and though my life is not yet "full", it is certainly engaging. I have some of the best friends in the world, my family rocks and financially I am doing a little better than basic survival-mode. I have hopes and dreams, and the tenacity to see them through. So much of life is great and validating and just plain ol' AWESOME that I can choose to be overwhelmed by that energy instead. But in order to get Trojan Vibrations hair from positive experiences, I need be able to identify them and focus on them. Sometimes it's work, but it's worth it.

   Finding plenty to laugh at is also an important key to my survival. When I laugh I can feel that knot of tension and anxiety at my core starting to loosen and eventually dissipate. Even in moments when laughing is the last thing I feel like doing, if I actively seek out humorous experiences, sometimes they are an excellent substitute when I find myself unable to generate my own.

   So what's it going to be? Toddler, or laughter? Well, since I only have to choose for now, today I choose to laugh:-)


Monday, February 27, 2012

Internal Buttress

       I love that I have a sense of humor most of the time. My friends are some of the most awesomely-witty folks that I know too:-) I like to think of humor as a flexible, internal buttress. It can simultaneously shore us up and stretch to accommodate direct hits and curve-balls, effectively lessening the blow. I love that life is so full of opportunities to practice and hone our mad humor-skills. Most of the time.

   So I'm going to try to look at my current situation from an objective and humorous place. It's like cheating if I only laugh when things are easy right? It's in the ability to find humor in potentially personally tragic situations where we really cut our teeth and develop. For starters, I would like to point out that what I consider 'personally tragic' may be construed  as nothing more than 'white girl problems' by some. For that, I should be grateful. Even so, I am seriously freaking out.

   I drive an eighteen year old car. That alone is pretty funny. It's like a game I play with myself: How many miles can this car go? (so far it's about 234,000. Not bad, eh?) I've had it most of it's eighteen years, and have come to take it somewhat for granted. It's a Toyota Corolla wagon. My daughter thinks it's the dorkiest car on the road, what with it not just being old and a wagon, but also beige. I say it's 'champagne', but whatever. The car's name is "Goldie" (all good cars should have a name) and she has been reliable to an almost unheard of degree. The last couple of years or so though, I've been getting this pinched feeling in my gut right around inspection time. It is like some cruel twist of fate:  Vermont is not just really tough on cars, but also requires them to pass a yearly inspection. NOT nice. Failure to sport the appropriate sticker number and color in your windshield means hefty fines. Here is where I get the most tangled up in the process: I lack resources, so my car needs repairs that I can't afford. Ergo, it doesn't pass inspection, then I get a fine rendering me even LESS able to fix the car, etc. Round and round she goes. Oh, and I do need a car. In this whole equation, it is probably the only certainty.

   Last year the process finally came to a good (and legal!) end after a circus-like series of events involving friends, quite a bit more money than I could afford to spend, a few random and oddly-specific auto parts, and a can of spray-foam insulation. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say it was touch-and-go-there for awhile, and it wasn't pretty. I mean literally, not pretty. But LEGAL. If I could put all kinds of smileys, moons, rainbows and stars around that elusive and ephemeral word, I would do it. For an old car in Vermont, LEGAL is where it's at; the Holy Grail, if you will. 'LEGAL' means at least another year of service.

   This year I sent Goldie off for inspection, confident that all of the craziness of last year would carry her through at least a year or two. I even wrote it on my calendar like it was no big deal; nothing more than another easy appointment: INSPECT CAR. Two solid, imperative words implying that it would be a straight-forward exercise in doing my civic duty as a car-owning person in Vermont. *Sigh*.

   Why do I always think 'easy' is possible? Is it some strange need to cling to a Universal idea of fairness? Or (if I want to get even more melodramatic) is it an unwavering faith in the notion that we wont be faced with problems beyond our coping abilities? I've notice, being a person of limited resources, how frequently problems seem to hit me in the wallet. There are worse places to be hit (and I know this because I've been hit there a few times too), but can't the Universe see clearly from it's omniscient perch that there is just a smoking scorch-mark where my wallet used to be? You can't get blood from stone, and you can't get money from a smoking scorch mark. It's like some immutable law, or something.

   Anyway, Goldie is very close to looking like the car pictured above, I think. I don't know the details, I just know that the description of her tragic state involved words like 'unibody frame' and 'strut assembly', and something about it being really dangerous if I hit a pot hole. Unfortunately, pot holes are another 'thing' that's popular in Vermont. Yeah, baby; I hit the trifecta! Needless to say, unless I come up with some cash, I'm in deep doodoo. And I have like, two days.

I guess sometimes life's just funny like that:-)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Poop Faerie

   The crazier this gets, the more fun it is. I have to get with my friend Autumn for some of her awesome artwork:-)

   I have yet another character for you guys:  The ever-elusive Poop Faerie. She has actually been around for a long time, but only in fantasy and lore. Even so, it would seem there are plenty of folks who maintain an unwavering faith in her existence. She is the one that cleans up all the dog poop left behind by owners who can't be bothered. More recently, she has been enlisted to clean up the many piles of bagged poop left behind as well. As this is a relatively new development, she has had to develop new strategies, but as a magical creature she's catching up fast.

   She's a godsend, really, to everyone who has always felt that they were too good to clean up after their dog. She cleans up the piles left on the sides of paths (because if the dog doesn't actually poop on the path, it's like it doesn't count, right?), and she cleans up that hard to reach poop too (though I suspect if it were a 20-spot and not dog poop, owners would find a way to reach it;-). The Poop Faery is the one who most often cleans up after small dogs too. For some reason that I can't quite understand, they seem to be her most frequent customers in my area. Maybe it doesn't count because it's so small? Or because the same folks who like small, fuzzy dogs are too delicate to clean poop? Who knows. It doesn't matter, because fortunately, the Poop Faerie has got your back;-)

   I go out for my morning walk and see colorful bags filled with poop lining the path. I smile knowingly to myself, because I have faith that the Poop Faerie will soon be along to collect the bags. How nice that dog-owners thought to at least bag it up. Why do more when there's a Poop Faerie to do the rest, after all. And we all know it's MUCH better to step in small-dog poop than big-dog poop. That's just a big 'duh'! And if it's hard to reach or you happen to be looking in the opposite direction when your dog 'does it's business', well, you can't be held responsible for that, right? If you didn't see it happen, it doesn't end up in the groundwater. EVERYBODY knows that. And if you go through the trouble of bagging it up and throwing it in the general direction of a dumpster, it doesn't really matter if it ends up inside it or not. Near it is close enough; why take the extra five steps to make sure the bag gets put into the trash? And what does it matter when the Poop Faery is out doing such an efficient job cleaning up after dogs everywhere? It's not like it's the owner's responsibility to clean up after their dog. That would just be ridiculous.

   It would seem the Poop Faerie is the most active in the spring when the snow melts. It's as though the dog-owning public collectively decided that if it can be buried in snow, it doesn't need to be picked up. Snow is forever, after all, and if nobody saw you bury it, it never really happened. So many rules to remember! But as always, the Poop Faerie swoops in to save the day from what could have been a really nasty mess. Phew!

   What would the world be like without the Poop Faerie? What a mess that would be! All those bags of poo left by the side of the path would just stay there indefinitely; piles of dog poop would create mine fields and end up on the bottoms of shoes. We would all have to smell it on a warm day. Conscientious dog-owners who pick up after their own dogs (crazy!) would have to deal with the consequences of an angry community fed up with the folks who won't clean up. What a horrible scene that would be!

Thank goodness for the Poop Faerie!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shillelagh of Doom

   In my last post, I invited you to fantasize with me. I introduced 'Karma Girl' and her Shillelagh of Doom; a new superhero of the sidewalk. I don't know if you actually did any fantasizing about the exciting possibilities for Karma Girl, but I know I sure did. In fact, since I've written that post I've had a new experience that introduced me to yet another possible application for Karma Girl. Considering my (possibly unhealthy) obsession with this issue, I'm surprised that I didn't think of it sooner: Revenge on the irresponsible dog-walker. I don't mean Karma Girl should actually go around thunking people on the head (not as a rule, anyway, but let's leave the possibility open just in case), but in my fantasy world she could at least make a lasting impression.  Or maybe, if I'm feeling especially charitable, she could at least offer them an education they can't refuse. Maybe the Shillelagh of Doom has special powers to combat the evils of willful ignorance, or something.

  Like most ideas, this one came to me while I was out walking. It was sort of a strange situation because I didn't have my dog with me. That is almost unheard of, but I wasn't in a place amenable to his well-being. Let me clarify: I was walking on my old favorite walking route. I haven't been there in awhile, because there are far too many people ignoring the leash laws or walking their dogs on Flexis. It is the path where Murphy was attacked, as a matter of fact. But it's really the only convenient place to walk, and I really need to walk. My logic flows like this: I need exercise, I want a treadmill. I can't afford a treadmill. What can I do then? (it's always the follow-up question to an "I can't" response). I can walk outside on the path. But Murphy can't handle the path yet. So I walk by myself. Or something like that. SO I walk the path trying to be all Zen and peaceful, and trying not to be too aware of not having my dog with me. I need my dog, and I need to walk. It's too bad that I can't do both simultaneously, isn't it? Instead, I go for a walk and then take my dog to the park for his exercise. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it is. Enter: Karma Girl. See how this works?

  So I was out being Zen by myself when I was accosted by a large group of children accompanied by two adults. I'm thinking 'daycare'. I clearly and obviously tried to avoid the onslaught, but the adults seemed entertained by my annoyance and obvious lack of desire to interact. Consequently, every time I moved away they would all follow. I finally just started running for all I was worth (it must have looked really funny. I'm Weeble-shaped, but I can move;-) until I couldn't hear them anymore. I heard them picking up the pace behind me as well, but fortunately I'm (marginally) faster than a group of preschoolers so I eventually got away. If I had had Murphy with me he would have handled it kindly enough, but it would have really irritated and upset him. And that was only the beginning.

  I pulled off the main path into a more wooded area. There is still a path here and it's frequented by joggers. It also moves along the edge of a golf course so it's not really remote, but not next to the road, either. It seemed nice and quiet, anyway. Then I encountered a woman with two large, off-leash dogs wearing harnesses. When she saw me coming she at least had the good sense to leash the beasts, but alas...the leashes were Flexis. A Flexi lead on a harness for a large, active dog in a public place is just ridiculous. She had TWO. As I passed by her, BOTH of her dogs darted out to the end of the leash and jumped on me (!?). When I expressed annoyance, the woman said in her best passive-aggressive voice "it's okay babies, not everyone wants to pet a friendly dog". I was seriously non-verbal at that moment. Seriously. In my head it looked just like this: (!?) Not very imaginative perhaps, but you get the point. I took a moment to fantasize: Karma Girl arrives out of nowhere and jumps between the dogs and the pedestrian, saving the latter from a pantleg full of muddy pawprints. She then wields the Shillelagh threateningly while snapping a new, six-foot lead on the collar of each dog. She then removes the Flexis and grinds them into dust with her weapon while lecturing the dog-owner about responsible dog-ownership. At that point in my mind, a random auditorium of people stands and cheers as a newly-converted, responsible dog owner comes into being, and Karma Girl has saved the day yet again.

I think too many thoughts.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sidewalk Superhero

   Sometimes I wish I was a superhero. Not the real kind of course, with all the overwhelming sense of responsibility and angst, but the intermittent kind that's oddly specific and fits in easily with my schedule. I could come over all stealthy and incognito, and put a hurt on the rude, the inconsiderate, and maybe those with consistently bad grammar. You know what I mean; I could figuratively 'take a chunk' out of those who irritate me. Or hey, those who irritate you! I suppose that's really what the whole 'superhero' gig is about; assisting the underdog. I don't generally consider myself an underdog, but every once in awhile something happens that leaves me feeling...ineffective. Yesterday was one of those days when I felt simultaneously sorry and grateful that I don't walk with a baseball bat. Sorry, because I had no defense. Grateful because I would have used it and bought myself a world of problems. But if I was a superhero....

   Maybe if I was a superhero I could have legally and effectively wielded my 'Shillelagh of Doom' and it would have just been like, part of my superhero provisions. Totally acceptable. Let me explain: Yesterday I was walking my dog at my usual time down my usual sidewalk. Suddenly, I felt something hit the back of my leg and my right butt-cheek, and just like that I found myself down on the ground wondering what the hell happened. Poor Murphy, unaccustomed to seeing me on the ground, just jumped around and looked at me. I could almost hear him thinking anxiously "...but I never learned about what to do when this happens..." I looked up and saw the a**hole who just hit me with his bike continuing on down the sidewalk like he was the only one who mattered or existed. Emphasis here on sideWALK. I live in a very bike-friendly community, so a bike-lane was provided about ten feet to my left. Not only provided, but clearly marked with big pictures of bicycles and signs with arrows. You would have to be blind or very, very stupid to miss the bike lanes. Perhaps folks in either of those categories should avoid cycling, anyway. I suspect they do. So this means that A**hole-on-a-bike is just a jerk, and therefor has no excuse. Who better to suffer the wrath of my Shillelagh of Doom? I'm going to pause a moment here to fantasize about it...

   I could have said something clever, I suppose. Maybe I could have even played THE card. I could have said something like "Hey, a**hole, way to go! You just ran down a disabled woman and her service dog!" Or anything really. I think all I managed was "Hey!" and I can't even take credit for it. It was kind of surprised out of me. I've learned (sadly enough) that I don't do my bestest, most cleverest thinking just after being knocked off my feet. I shouldn't know that perhaps, but there it is. Even so, I would think that anyone with half a brain or who isn't a psychopath should have felt something about running down a pedestrian. Not this most special of cyclists. He just went on his way unencumbered and unconcerned by such minor things as other people. The saddest part? This is the second time I've been knocked over by a cyclist coming silently up behind me. On the sideWALK.

   And this is where the superhero fantasy comes into play. What if there was a real and immediate consequence for this behavior? And I don't just mean the crappy behavior affecting me; I have no doubt that the guys that ran me down have done it before. I don't want to wait for Karma to fix it, I want to BE Karma. Enter: Karma Girl (insert dramatic, musical fanfare here). The scariest part wouldn't be the masked, Weeble-shaped woman in brightly-colored Spandex (perhaps something in a lovely green? It would go so well with my coloring...) coming out of nowhere either, it would be the gleeful giggle just before the mighty thunk that finds the unwitting a**hole on the same ground he has knocked other people into. And not just once. EVERY time, there Karma Girl would be to dole out justice with her world-famous Shillelagh of Doom. She will be the superhero of the sidewalk, protecting pedestrians everywhere from rude cyclists and traffic that won't stop at the crosswalks (okay, that last could be tricky but I'll work it out). Then she slinks off mysteriously, back into the obscurity of her 'real' life as an overweight, middle-aged woman who spends most of her time at her keyboard. Ah...the satisfaction it would bring!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Helping the Helper

Okay, I never do this. I'm not great at soliciting money for anything, but sometimes it's the right thing to do. This is one of those situation where I think "...but for the grace of God...". This is one of my biggest fears: Something scary and unexpected happens to my service dog. I hate emergencies on a good day, but when it's a service dog, there are several factors to consider: This dog is necessary for daily functionality for one; but a service dog is more than medical equipment. These animals are our constant companions and best friends too. They help us every day, so when they need our help, everything inside us wants to give them the best care possible. When it's their turn, we are more than happy to reciprocate. Unfortunately, sometimes the financial resources just aren't there, and as difficult as it may be, we ask for help because it's for them. If you can, please help Book. He is a friend's loyal service dog and a Doberman, so he's a special kind of awesome:-)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bone of Contention

   I have an obscene amount of dog-related reference material. Not only have I read/watched it all at least twice, but I mentally sucked the info off the pages/off the screen with an obsessive voracity to rival any, well, obsessively voracious thing. While I'm super psyched that we've learned so much since the "Kholer" method, I've noticed things going WAY over in the other direction. Not only have I noticed it in print, but on the streets of my town and in dog-culture in general. Nobody believes in consequences any more, and it's not a good thing. I suspect there would be far fewer dogs in shelters and less euthanization if more trainers were willing to take a more balanced approach. All positive all the time doesn't work for all dogs. It doesn't mean the dogs are hopeless cases, not by a long-shot; but it does mean they need something more than an absence of a reward to make an impression.

   Before I go too far down this road, I want to make damn sure that I'm clear about something: I believe in TRAINING. With both my horses and my dogs, nothing has improved my relationships with my animals more, or brought me nearly as much satisfaction as watching them enjoy something that I was teaching them, and both of us learning something about the other in the process. My most clear memories, of course, are with Murphy. He's so incredibly beyond intelligent that it blows my mind sometimes. When I began to open the communication channels during puppyhood via clicker-training, I was astounded by how fast he progressed. If you've ever had the pleasure of shaping an intelligent dog you know how incredible the feeling is when you get to see how their mind works. I can't imagine doing things any other way. BUT....

   There is a big 'but' there for a reason (and it's not the one on the back of my front); what about the other side of a dog's education? I've read, so many times, that consequences are mean and horrible. Huh? Are any of these folks parents? Or have any of them had the "pleasure" of being around a child who's never had to deal with a consequence? I think (or hope) it is common knowledge that part of a child's induction into the world of adulthood is a solid upbringing primarily focused on unconditional love and positive reinforcement, but also includes consistent discipline and consequences for undesirable behaviors. Anyone disagree? And by 'consequences' I don't mean spanking. I'm not a spanker. But I DO mean whatever consequence is appropriate and meaningful to the specific child. So why can't dogs experience consequences? I guess I don't get it. I know there are trainers who feel that lack of a reward or a 'time-out' is appropriate for a dog, but dogs aren't children and they don't reason the way children do. My dog wouldn't consider a lack of a reward for a self-rewarding negative behavior (like squirrel chasing) any consequence at all, and as smart as he is a 'time out' would be meaningless to him. So, huh?

   I know the arguments: "Whales and dolphins are trained with positive-only training. You can't correct them so you have no choice". Yeah, I can see that. On the other hand, I've never had to walk a whale or a dolphin down a city street, or through security at the Orlando airport prior to subjecting them to the full TSA-treatment before boarding a plane where they are expected to lay quietly for the flight (whew...that sentence was long!). I also never had to share my home with a whale or dolphin, or get one to ride quietly in an elevator with children, wheelchairs, walkers, etc. Anyway, you get the point.

   The other argument that I've heard (and this one speaks to me more about inexperience than anything else) "If the dog knows what you want, they will do it." I don't know about you, but my dogs have all had their own opinions about things. Where are they finding all these compliant dogs? Don't get me wrong, I've known a few that really were saints, but they have been few and far between. I will concede that a dog that you have a good relationship with will want to work with you and want to learn from you. They will also respect you (this is two ways, in my opinion) but not fear you (if you have to bully your dog into minding you it's because you don't have their respect.). I also believe in clarity and minimizing my impact on the physicality of a dog. So, what the hell does that mean?

   It means that I prefer to use whatever has the least amount of negative effect (or force) on a dog's body. I'm going to pick on Victoria Stillwell for a minute, but I don't really mean to. I actually love the way she advocates for dogs and calls the owners on their (often lazy) s***, but I disagree with some of the things she says and I'll tell you why: On one show (Greatest American Dog maybe?) she gives a contestant crap for using a 'snarl band' and proclaims "I don't like anything that effects the physicality of a dog" (not verbatim), but then on HER show she puts one of those 'no pull' harnesses on a dog. The kind with the cords that dig into the dog's pits. I don't care if the cords are covered with fleece, they are still digging the dog's pits. She also like to say "The neck is a very sensitive area on a dog." Um, no, it's not. Dogs do things to each others necks just while playing that would send you or me to the emergency room in a heartbeat, but they don't seem too flummoxed about it. What IS sensitive though, is a dog's pits and certainly their faces. But that doesn't stop people from self-righteously tossing out their 'cruel' prong collar in favor of a pit-digging harness or a headcollar. To me, a headcollar is the very definition of 'interfering with a dog's physicality'. While it's true that these devices offer consequences of a sort, are the consequences anything that makes sense to the recipient? Well, they certainly appear to be uncomfortable, but in a constant way and not in a way that communicates anything meaningful.

   Isn't it better to teach the dog, very clearly and in an unmistakable and fun way, but let them know that misbehavior has a consequence? Example: Murphy knows how to walk on a leash. walking doesn't stress him or his body because he was taught what was expected of him in a clear, enjoyable manner. He also loves to go after squirrels. If he does, he will hit the end of his leash and be reminded (via his prong collar) in exactly the most appropriate instant, that it's not allowed. Crisis averted. While it's 100% true that the more training you do the less force you need, if you think you are going to train an 'incompatible behavior' to squirrel chasing and it's going to be enough, all on it's own, to stop it? Well, good luck with that. I have no doubt that some dogs would respond favorably, mine won't. If you want to try it with my dog and prove me wrong, I invite you to go for it;-) To me though, from a strictly structural perspective, isn't this the least forceful manner to walk the dog? I see people getting dragged down the sidewalk with dogs in harnesses all the time because they don't want to hurt the dogs body, but can you  imagine the amount of force on a dog in this situation?

   I don't understand how otherwise perfectly rational, reasonable folks who raise lovely, well-behaved children suddenly go over the edge at the very thought of their dog experiencing a real consequence (one that makes sense to the DOG). It certainly explains a lot of what I see every day though. Unfortunately, while an undisciplined child may spend time in prison, it may mean a death sentence for a dog. Unruly behavior certainly doesn't make dog-people more popular in the world either, or make the world a more accepting place. Balance is AWESOME.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Failure with Finesse

Equipment failure SUCKS
   I learned a long time ago to laugh at myself. And thank GOD for that. I can't imagine what a humorless existence must be like. A friend pointed out recently (and I've found it to be true, too) that almost no matter what a person does or says, SOMEBODY is going to be offended. When did we get so insecure that we have to take things so damned seriously? I'll concede that some things aren't funny for sure; I can't stand racial/political/religious intolerance. None of that is cool. But man, how serious do we need to be? Are we like, waiting around for someone to screw up so we can jump on them for it? I have no doubt there are folks like that. I've seen them in action. I don't get it?

   Some of the most painful, funny things that have happened to me were the result of equipment failure (or failure to use equipment properly). When I became involved with Dobes, I knew that I would have to power up and step up my game. My earliest involvement was with Greyhounds (I LOVE Greyhounds!), but even the wildest of my hounds only kinda sorta prepared me for the needs of my Dobers. I worked in a Doberman kennel which is how I became hooked on them. It is also how I started to learn how powerful these guys are. I prepared by buying heavy-duty stainless steel bowls (the standard-weight stainless steel bowls in the kennel had tooth-holes in them) and what I thought was sturdy equipment. Well, it's stuff that would have lasted a long time with a Greyhound. I learned two things fairly quickly: No plastic snap-buckle collars, and if I have a dog on a 50' line for a game of fetch, I probably shouldn't be hanging on to the other end. The former will only leave you with an empty, broken collar, but the latter...well, I've caught air.

   If you know me, you know that I am about as aerodynamic as a 5'2" Weeble, and flight isn't a likely or natural state for me. Still, I've been there, and once I got my air back, I laughed until I almost wet myself. It wasn't just the unlikely flight that had me in stitches, or even the fact that other people were there wearing horrified expressions; but the look on Murphy's face that did it. He turned around after catching his toy and saw me sitting on the ground. He cocked his head quizzically, and just let the toy fall out of his mouth; a doggie version of "WTF?" as clearly expressed as though it was spoken aloud. That look, THAT is why I lost it. I could have been all ouchie and 'poor me' (that plus Advil came later) but it was far more fun to try to see the situation from the outside. It was like a cartoon.

   My Mom often says she 'lives in cartoon'. Consequently, I often felt like I was raised in one. It has it's drawbacks, believe me, but it definitely helped me to take myself far less seriously. And I learned something valuable from it too: You can take what you do seriously, you can have respect for other people, for yourself and circumstances, but you can do these things without having to take yourself seriously. My Mom wrote her master's thesis on the effects of humor on health. It was a serious piece written on humor! The cool thing is, it showed that folks who can laugh live longer healthier lives. It pays not to be a humorless dolt:-) Which is a good thing, because I screw up a lot.

   It's really hard to laugh at somebody who is already laughing at themselves. I love giving people permission to laugh at me when I do something especially dorky. There used to be a fellow who lived in the building next to mine who had a yellow Lab that Murphy just ADORED. I was walking Murphy on a VERY icy morning, completely unprepared for the slippery conditions. Not only was I wearing the wrong shoes, but I thought I was just going out for a moment and had neglected to put Murph's prong collar on. Murphy saw his friend and gave a pull in his direction. Normally, I would have stayed on my feet and the prong would have prevented a strong pull and the whole thing would have been a non-event. Instead, the slight pull was enough to send my feet shooting out from under me, causing me to fall forward on to my stomach, which freaked Murphy out, which caused him to run down the sidewalk, dragging me behind. I had two choices: I could let go, regain a bit of my dignity but risk Murphy heading toward the road, or I could hang on. It's funny, but for some reason that still isn't clear to me, I failed to give Murphy a single one of the many commands he knows that could have prevented my wild ride. My thinking wasn't the most clear in that moment.

   I saw the Lab's owner watching helplessly as I slid gradually toward him. From my awkward place on the walk, hanging on tightly to the handle of my leash, I looked up and told him it was perfectly okay to laugh. His relief was palpable as he started to giggle. I laughed so hard that I could barely get myself upright again. Some would say I didn't have the good sense to be embarrassed by any number of things in that scenario. I say that none of us is perfect, that we all screw up sometimes and that it can lead to varying and often hilarious results. Some people won't admit to failure. I'm perfectly happy with knowing that so many of my fails are EPIC:-)

Friday, February 3, 2012


Murphy in his cool shades
   "The older I get, the less I know" That's what my mother always says, anyway. When I was a teenager I thought she meant that she was getting feeble in her 'old age' (she was the age I am now) and was losing brain cells, or that she was so old her memory was slipping. Nope; she's still sharp as a tack. I do get it now though.

   When I was in my twenty's I thought I knew everything. On the rare occasion that I would concede to NOT knowing everything, I would still insist that I knew most of what I was talking about. By the time I reached my thirty's I understood that only a little information could be a dangerous thing indeed. Now that I'm in my forty's I'm much more receptive to the idea that sometimes, there are things that I know nothing about that are worth further investigation. Sometimes there are things that I know well that STILL are worthy of an informational update. Some folks don't need to get this old before their open-minded-ness allows them to have a solid, well-rounded perspective, but I'm kind of stubborn so I did. It's still a work in progress. My biggest incentive has been my interest in providing the best care for my animals (even if I only have one 'animal' right now).

   There is a huge push forward in the world of holistic animal care. It's really very cool, even if I resisted it a bit at first. The irony here is that the more things progress, the more we go back to basics. I remember reading about raw diets for dogs and all the grumbling I did about it. "I don't need to do that, I feed a great dog food, what about salmonella, I don't want the mess....blah blah blah...." But I was surrounded by people who fed raw; successful, professional people who's dogs looked great and never (or rarely) ever got sick. Often their vibrant health led to an extended life-span that long-time raw-feeders almost seemed to take for granted. I had just lost a 10 year-old dog to cancer so I felt some motivation to at least look into it. I read some more. I didn't just read about the arguments 'for',  but also the arguments 'against'. No matter what your point of view on almost anything, you are likely to find information that supports it. (Google anything you want, I dare you). I think it makes much more sense to look at ALL the valid info out there and then make your decision (about anything) and consider the source. It took two years of research and thought, and then I switched to raw. I've never been sorry. The downside is that I will never be able to feed dog food again (unless there is a pressing health concern that disallows raw) without feeling guilty. But it was REALLY HARD for me to change, and to open my mind to the possibility that I might be wrong, or might not be doing something as well as I could be. It requires an open mind and a degree of flexibility; something I still struggle with (really hard sometimes) but becomes more accessible with age and experience.

   But this isn't about raw feeding, it's about perspective. When do you know you have it and how do you handle people who don't? Within my tiny little bubble of knowledge, it would seem perspective comes with experience.  Take my views on prong-collar use for example: I don't just advocate use of them arbitrarily on principal. I used them years ago because that's what there was. Then I disliked them because they were 'mean', then I REALLY learned how to train, and train a wide variety of different dogs with varying needs, including working dogs, and I learned proper and conscientious use of the prong-collar so I liked them again. It took years and a wide variety of experiences to give me enough perspective to come full-circle and be open-minded on the subject. So how do you deal with it when Joe-blow with an unruly, out-of-control lab mix (or someone with similar and obviously inadequate dog-handling skills) tries to lecture you on your choices? Or someone who is 'certified', but has never trained anything but soft pets (or has no problem with 'managing' a dog into social isolation) tries to tell you your choices are cruel? Isn't relegating a dog to a life of management a cruel thing to do, especially when having an open mind would mean better options? And isn't it cruel to use a piece of equipment that drives the dog nuts? It seems rude to be as dismissive as I feel, but really? And on the flipside, If you see something you disagree with, when is it okay to step in? I recently saw someone correcting the hell out of their reactive dog, and it took everything I had not to grab the leash out of their hands. Who am I to say my way is better (even if I suspect their dog would agree)?

   I will admit to being FAR MORE concerned about the needs and opinions of the dogs in our care than in the needs of the humans involved. Maybe that makes me a horrible person, but I know more than a few that feel similarly and I like them just fine. But I get tired of both the Disney-esque anthropomorphism ( I let him do it because he wanted to) AND the brutish "Show 'em who's boss" mentality. Dogs don't want to be people and they don't need to be bullied. I don't think it requires a great deal of experience or perspective to come to that conclusion, just a bit of common sense. But you know what they say about that.

   The older I get the less I know. While that is true, the few things that I do know something about (because I've taken the time to learn, heard all of the arguments and put things into practice for myself), I REALLY know. Even so, I continue to work exceptionally hard (because for me it's exceptionally hard) at keeping an open mind and hearing the opinions of other people. Maybe I'll continue to get better at it with age.