The Evolution of Doghood

Scraps & Matilda

Scraps & Matilda

The Ex is allergic to cats. Violently. He once ended up in the ER (on Martha’s Vineyard, no less) from a reaction to his sister’s cats. I gave up my Charlie when we got serious; we had a cat for five weeks in Israel, which ended up at the Jerusalem SPCA. (Breathe easy, everyone, it’s a no-kill shelter, I made sure, and when I called to check on him, he’d been adopted.) And in 2008, the girls and I cried when we had to bring two lost kitties to a rescue because my garage wasn’t exactly a suitable foster environment.

“You can get a cat now,” he said, when the marriage ended. (He was trying to console me. Honest.)

I laughed. “Right. Our Best Friend would be WONDERFUL with cats. And I can barely afford his vet bills and food.”

Now here I am, two years post-break-up, with three cats.

When Momma and her kittens first arrived last June, we kept the basement door closed so Momma could nurse her babies in peace and security. I knew Our Best Friend wouldn’t eat them or anything, but he’s loud and rambunctious, and I thought he might present a mental health challenge for the felines.

We started bringing the kittens upstairs for short periods when they were about 10 weeks old. Polo was terrified, Draq less so. Around September we started to leave the basement door open again. The kittens were old enough to come up and down on their own, and had started meowing at the door. Momma stayed safely ensconced in the basement, and hid under the couch when OBF would come down with me.

Is this a tail I see before me, wagging toward my hand?

Is this a tail I see before me, wagging toward my paw?

Meanwhile, the kittens were getting braver. And Our Best Friend’s good nature shone through. The kittens batted his kibble across the floor and occasionally tried to eat it. They drank from his water bowl. And last week, while Our Best Friend slept curled up next to me on my bed, Draq walked across the pillow and tried to lick his ears. His ears twitched in his sleep, out of her reach. After a few attempts she gave up and curled up on me, right next to him.

Someone's been displaced

Someone’s been displaced

If you had told me five years ago that our neurotic, reactive dog would go nose-to-nose with a kitten, tail wagging gently, I would not have believed it. If you told me they could drink from his bowl and sleep on his bed with impunity, I would have laughed. But for Our Best Friend, the kittens have become two more lambs in his flock. It’s routine now for Draq to brush against his leg as she walks by. For a dog who hates to be touched by other dogs, this is nothing short of a miracle to me.

And Momma Cat? Well, I got up at 2:30 a.m. a few weeks ago, and found Momma and both kittens curled up on the dog bed. I don’t know where Our Best Friend was sleeping, but wherever it was he was unconcerned about defending his territory. Momma now comes to the top of the stairs every morning to remind me about breakfast. Sometimes she gets bold and ventures into the living room or kitchen. If Our Best Friend ends up between her and the basement stairs, she will sidle past as far away as possible, spitting once in his direction before haring downstairs and vanishing under the guest room bed.

Momma and Draq hangin' in the living room

Momma and Draq hangin’ in the living room

I suspect the day will come when I will find everyone piled up asleep in a heap. Even Momma might come around fully one day. After all, if Our Best Friend could go from nutjob to gentleman, there must be hope for her too.

 

Posted in cats, Dog behaviour, Dogs, pet ownership, pets | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Learning Helplessness

A few weeks ago at the park, I met a dog named JJ, an adorable mutt with floppy ears and a lean, boxer-ish body. I noticed he was a bit rambunctious, and always being called on it by his owner, but he seemed pretty happy and goofy to me. The next time I saw JJ, I realized his “owner” was actually his trainer. His owner was a middle-aged woman, who explained that JJ had been “wonderful” for the first year and a half, then went “a little bonkers.” The trainer was there to help re-socialize him. As I went after my own dog, I heard her say something about learning how to deal with JJ’s behaviour, and the trainer reply, “That’s why I gave you the control.”

Clicker training,” I thought, and turned to see. I’ve always wanted to try clicker training with Our Best Friend, but haven’t gotten to that point yet. Then I realized; he said “control,” not “clicker.” I looked back at JJ, and there it was. Above the chest harness, high up on his neck: a shock collar.

* * * * *

In the late 1960s, Dr. Martin Selgiman, later to become president of the American Psychological Association, was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. In a behavioural experiment with dogs who were exposed to electric shocks, Seligman made an unexpected discovery. Dogs who could terminate the shocks by use of a lever would attempt to escape shocks in later parts of the experiment. Dogs who could not escape the shocks in the first part of the experiment made no attempt to escape the shocks in later parts of the experiment, even though escape was possible. They would merely lie down and whimper rather than attempt escape by jumping over a low partition. Having learned that they had no control over the pain in one situation, the dogs believed they had no control in any situation. Seligman called this response “learned helplessness.”

Since then, learned helplessness has been correlated to pessimism and depression in humans. Those dogs were pretty depressed, too. (In an interesting side note, today these experiments would most likely not pass an ethics committee and would not be authorized. Back then, there were no ethics committees. Psychology was the Wild West.)

* * * * *

Our yard is not fenced, and I was very used to Blackie, who is extremely well-trained, has a docile nature and no prey drive. I could let Blackie out in the morning, she would trot off to do her business, then return to the back porch. If I got distracted (or fell back asleep), she would curl up on the porch and wait for me to come back. We couldn’t do that with Our Best Friend– he ran after every squirrel he saw. One time he took off through the back yard of the neighbour behind us. After 20 minutes of frantic searching, we found him back on our block, just standing a few doors away from our house, looking puzzled and not sure how to find home. We have only taken him out back on a leash ever since.

Given this behaviour, and the nuisance factor of bundling up in winter for a two-minute pee, an electric fence seemed like an excellent idea, but the cost was out of our reach. Instead, I considered a shock collar. But there was something about the idea of shocking my dog that I couldn’t stomach. I don’t know why the collar bothered me more than the idea of a underground electric fence; it was probably just the personal nature of actually administering the shock myself. I kept thinking of Seligman’s experiments and learned helplessness. I didn’t have the heart to press that button.

* * * * *

My Dearest Friend has a friend named Leslie, who owns a large Rhodesian Ridgeback. For some reason I don’t remember, this dog became reactive to chocolate labs. Yes, chocolate labs. She would go nuts if one crossed her path. Apparently Leslie tried everything, until she finally resorted to a shock collar.  That, MDF told me, solved the problem. As MDF uses a pinch collar on Duke, I kept my opinions to myself.

Then one October morning in 2011, I got up bleary-eyed to let Our Best Friend out to pee. I intended to go straight back to bed, so I decided to let him out in front on the extenda-leash while I hid in the house. When I opened the door, the first thing he saw was a squirrel. Dashing into the street in pursuit of the stupid rodent, he pulled the leash right out of my hand, yanking me forward, and smashing my face into the wall beside the door.

I screamed. My nose was dripping blood all over the stairs.  The kids fell out of bed, the Ex came running. He went after the dog, brought him back inside, and we put him in “stay” on his bed. Our Best Friend had shame and guilt written all over his face, the Ex was livid, and I was scared out of my wits. It was stupid dumb luck that he hadn’t been hit by a car, and I wasn’t seriously injured (my nose wasn’t broken, but it was badly bruised and sore for several weeks).

“Leslie is right,” I thought. “I am getting a goddamn shock collar. And I’m going to write a post called ‘In Praise of Shock Collars.’ And too damn bad if people don’t like it.”

The post is in my drafts folder. The collar was never bought.

* * * * *

My Middle Child slept through the first six weeks of her life. Then she woke up. And she continued to wake up every 45 minutes all night long until she was 16 months old. As you can imagine, it was quite exhausting. I was chasing a toddler and nursing a baby all night long. “Ferberize her,” Everyone said. (That capital E is not a typo.)”Ferberizing” comes from Dr. Richard Ferber, author of Cure Your Child’s Sleep Problems. Dr. Ferber believes that babies who wake frequently have not learned to self-soothe; if you let them “cry it out” for increasingly longer periods each night, within 2-4 week, baby will be sleeping on her own through the night.

The first night she cried for two solid hours. Then she started sleeping longer periods. But she still woke up at 2:00 a.m. and screamed relentlessly until I went in. I gave up after 5 days. That’s when I realized I wasn’t teaching her to “soothe” herself. I was teaching her, “It’s dark, there is no one here, and no one comes when I call.” Even if she had eventually slept through the night, she wouldn’t have learned to self-soothe. She would have learned she was helpless. And that she couldn’t count on me in times of distress.

* * * * *

So back to JJ.

I don’t know what made JJ go “a little bonkers,” but I don’t believe that a shock collar is the answer to off-kilter social skills. It’s like swatting a fly with an elephant gun.

I don’t know what methods Leslie tried before resorting to a shock collar. Maybe she needed the problem solved fast, before her dog badly injured another dog. After all, you can’t live in a chocolate-lab-free-zone.

And maybe I’m a soft-hearted fool. Maybe my dog would be less in danger of injury or even death if he was too terrified of pain to chase squirrels. Or maybe a few good shocks would bring back that fear aggression that five years of of love and patience have all but eradicated. I don’t know.

I just feel in my gut that hurting animals is not the way to train them, any more than letting babies cry for hours on end teaches them to self-soothe. The Middle Child is now 14 and waking her has become the challenge. It has taken five years, but Our Best Friend’s anxiety and fears are lightyears from where they were in March of 2009. Instinct– and I stress that it’s instinct, not knowledge, not education, not experience– tells me that shocking my dog would have made things worse, not better. He responds to love, not fear tactics.

Babies and dogs can’t tell you what they’re thinking. You can’t know what a dog is thinking when that shock goes through his body, any more than Dr. Ferber really knows what’s going through an infant’s head in the dark of night. I don’t believe a baby is thinking, “I’m a spoiled brat, and I’m going to cry until I get my own way!” or “No one’s there? Guess I’ll go back to sleep.” I know a dog isn’t thinking, “Gosh, I deserved that. I won’t leave the yard anymore.” Instead, they learn that no one is there when you need them, that pain comes when you react to fear, or worse, when you’re only trying to have fun. 

We aren’t teaching obedience. We are teaching helplessness. We’ve known since 1967 that this a bad thing to do. Why haven’t we learned the lesson?

Posted in children, Dog behaviour, Dog training, Dogs, pet ownership | Tagged | 14 Comments

The Pet Blogger Challenge – 2014 Edition

It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on our blogs, where it’s been, and where it might go. Excuse me while I clean out the lint prior to navel-gazing.

PBC

1. How long have you been blogging? Please tell us why you started blogging, and, for anyone stopping by for the first time, give us a quick description of what your blog is about.

I started blogging in June 2010. We’d had Our Best Friend just over a year, and decided that if I was unemployed and bored, I might as well write about my dog.

2. Name one thing about your blog, or one blogging goal that you accomplished during 2013, that made you most proud.

I managed to keep up with my minimum one post per month. Given the insanity I call life, not just letting the blog die is a huge accomplishment.

3. When you look at the post you wrote for last year’s Pet Blogger Challenge, or just think back over the past year, what about blogging has changed the most for you?

I didn’t put participate in last year’s Pet Blogger Challenge. I think the fact that I’m back this year (and was part of the recent Meet the Bloggers blog hop) shows a re-commitment to my blog and the blogging community. And I hit over 100 subscribers, some of whom aren’t even relatives. I had pretty much given up on that, so that was cool.

4. What lessons have you learned this year – from other blogs, or through your own experience – that could help us all with our own sites?

So many blogs are professionally-run with a purpose and plan. GoPetFriendly and Will My Dog Hate Me, who are hosting this hop, are great examples; Amy has turned her passion for pet travel into a business, and Edie is a professional writer. The only way my blog could have been anything like theirs would have been if the Internet had existed when I was 16 and still had time and ambition. If you have a blog like mine– infrequent posts, a lot personal rambling and no particular agenda– you’re not going to gather thousands of followers any time soon. A successful blog requires time and effort, inspiration and investment. I’m content with what I have; it’s a hobby, not a business. If you’re a hobby blogger, but yearn for just a few more readers, there are two things you can do: 1) join blog hops and 2) follow other bloggers, and comment frequently. The pet-blogging community is pretty awesome. You can even make a friend or two (or twenty :) ).

Isn't he a "love?"

Isn’t he a “love?”

5. If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one challenge you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

How to make my blog more visually appealing without a lot of expensive design. I’m still using the old “Twenty-Ten” WordPress theme I started with almost 4 years ago. Pictures of the dog help, but I should be doing more.

6. What have you found to be the best ways to bring more traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?

Following other blogs, and commenting back and forth. That includes following facebook pages.

7. How much time to do you spend publicizing your blog, and do you think you should spend more or less in the coming year?

The only publicity this blog sees is when I put the link on facebook, and when the automatic tweet goes out with a new post. Some of my friends are truly kind and re-post or re-tweet. Of course I should spend more time publicizing, but I doubt that’s going to change in 2014.

8. How do you gauge whether or not what you’re writing is appealing to your audience?

Errr… Am I supposed to do that? I write what I like; I’m thrilled if other people like it too. Obviously more appealing posts get more comments, but I can only gauge that after the fact, and have no idea how to repeat it.

9. How do you know when it’s time to let go of a feature or theme that you’ve been writing about for a while?

As I never have a theme or feature– next question. (But maybe I should shut up about school and how crazy my life has become.)

10. When you’re visiting other blogs, what inspires you to comment on a post rather than just reading and moving on?

Something that touches my heart– honesty, integrity, humour. A really, really beautiful photo. Smart bloggers end their blogs with a question to promote comments; I never remember to do that.

11. Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways? If so, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all? If not, is this something you’d like to do more of? What hurdle is getting in your way?

BWAH HA HA. Oh… it’s a serious question.

Two things stand in my way for contests, reviews, give-aways, and the like: my size and my nationality. I have too few readers to attract sponsors, and many American companies won’t ship to a Canadian address. And honestly, I don’t have the time (right now– call me in April) for book reviews.

A new blog called "The Cat Park"? Nah....

A new blog called “The Cat Park”? Nah….

12. When writer’s block strikes and you’re feeling dog-tired, how do you recharge?

Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes the only thing that gets my ass in gear is the calendar telling me I have one day to post, or I’ll miss my every-month goal.

12. Have you ever taken a break from your blog? How did that go?

As my blog is on life-support, a true break would be the kiss of death. I don’t dare.

13. Have you ever thought about quitting your blog altogether? What makes you stay?

Ummm… every other minute? My initial purpose was to look at human relations through the lens of pet ownership. I’ve strayed from that focus; it’s all become more personal. I stay because the only way I can still define myself as a writer is by having a blog.

14. What goals do you have for your blog in 2014?

Two posts per month? I’m heading for another huge life-change this year: graduation, followed by work OR unemployment. If I’m lucky enough to find a job, I won’t have much time for blog goals. If I’m unemployed, I’ll probably be too stressed. So, dear reader, you tell me: What would you like to see in this space in 2014?

(See? I ended with a question! I’m finally learning!)

This is a blog hop; hop on here!

Posted in Blogging, cats, Dogs, pets | Tagged | 38 Comments

In With The New

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Mostly because I tend to break them. And right now, with my final term looming, I’m not adding any commitments.

I did the reflection thing a few weeks ago, so no need to go there, either. So maybe I need to look forward, with a wish list for the coming year.

I hope this insane weather lets up, and I’m able to travel back and forth for this last semester in safety. And some more vacations like this year’s would be nice.

Less this...... More this

Less this…… More this

I hope I do a good job with the clients and agency I serve.

I hope I find a job when it’s all over. I hope it’s a job I can love.

I hope my kids continue to flourish in school, stay healthy, and stay safe (both emotionally and physically).

I hope my friends and family have a year of good health, prosperity, and good times.

No more water fights!

No more water fights!

I hope my pets stay healthy, and that the kittens mature into contented, cuddly cats.

I hope when school ends, I’ll have more time to walk the dog, exercise, and generally take better care of myself

I hope the dog park continues to be a place of safety and an oasis of peace for me. And I hope all my dog park friends have good times there as well.

Seriously. I mean, isn't she beautiful?

Seriously. I mean, isn’t she beautiful?

I hope I find a home for Momma Cat.

I could go on and on. There are so many things to hope for. Financial stability. Nice clothing on sale. Political and economic stability, both home and abroad. Hell, world peace would be great, but I think only Pamela could achieve that.

This year the kids are with their father for New Year’s. I’m planning on an evening with friends. We might do dinner first. I’ve laid in some wine, cheesecake, and other snacks. There are great movies on the PVR, or we can rent a few. I plan to relax and enjoy it. And of course, this dude will be right by my side:

There's a reason I call him Our Best Friend

There’s a reason I call him Our Best Friend

He’s the best company there is. Happy New Year to all!

Posted in cats, Dogs, Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Meet the Blogger

My apologies to those of you who got this two days ago. Meant to hit the “publish later” button, but hit “publish now” instead. Add that to the list below– I’m not *quite* perfect. This version has pictures and edited text, so read it again. Please?

So a whole raft of pet bloggers (Amy from Go Pet Friendly, A.J. from I still Want More PuppiesDawn from NEPA Pets, Jennifer from My Brown Newfies, Jodi from Kol’s Notes, Jodi from Heart Like a Dog, Julie from The Daily Dog Blog, Kim from Cindy Lu’s Muse, Kristine from Rescued Insanity, Lauren from Life With Desmond, Leslie from Bringing up Bella, Mel from No Dog About It, and Peggy from Peggy’s Pet Place – whew!) decided, “Enough about the animals. What about the people they own?” And thus the “Meet the Bloggers” blog hop was born.

petcrazy-300x300

And those listed above are just the hosts– other people added their two cents here and there. So below please find my contribution to their efforts.

1. A current photo of the blogger. (This is a “must have”.)

Okay. Here it is. (Please remember, I blog anonymously.)

At least you know what colour hair I have.

At least you know what colour hair I have.

2. Answers to at least five, (but more if you’d like!) of the following questions:

  • What’s your favorite non-animal related book?

To Kill A Mockingbird. (The animal is purely metaphoric.) 2nd favourite, and I want everyone to read it, is Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

  • What’s your favorite non-animal related movie?
Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird

Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird

“Good” movie? To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck. Movie that makes me cry every time? Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly & Matthew MacFayden. I have it on my PVR. I watch the final scene often.

  • Who’s your favourite actor?

I don’t have one anymore, now that Gregory Peck is gone. (I’m sensing a theme here.)

Fine. Scott Bakula. Don’t judge me.

  • What do you wish you were more skilled at?

I wish I could play the piano. Like, at all.

  • What’s your favorite holiday?

Purim. Or Shavuot. One of the two.

  • Favorite meal?

Onion soup, vegetarian lasagne, Caesar’s salad, and garlic bread. With sparkling wine. And a poached salmon appetizer. Chocolate cheesecake for dessert (but will settle for chocolate anything.)

  • What do you like to do in your free time?

I don’t have any. Sleep. Read a book. Waste time on Facebook. Play with the cat. Go to the dog park, but I only *like* doing that in good weather.

  • What one word would people who know you use to describe you?

Opinionated.

  • If your pets could talk, what one word would THEY use to describe you? 

Negligent… but good with affection. So negligent or affectionate. Depends on how bad the dog needs to pee.

  • What is one thing you’ve done that you’re most proud of?

I have a lot of degrees from fancy universities. I think I’m most proud of my undergraduate research study, which was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Oh. I was supposed to say “my kids,” wasn’t I?

  • How is your pet most like you?

Barks too much, has too many opinions.

  • Other than blogging, what are three things you do that bring you joy?

bostonTravel. Hang out with friends (on-line or IRL). Chocolate. Hmmm… not sure about the order.

(I watched the entire World Series while Facebook-messaging with someone 400 miles away– so baseball only gives me true joy when shared with a friend. While eating chocolate.)

 

  • What’s one thing you could do to be more kind to yourself?

Take more “me” time. Go to more movies. Eat more sushi.

  • What drives you nuts about your pets? What melts your heart?

P1090626Did I mention the barking? One of the cats sleeps on my keyboard all the time (that kind of falls into both categories).

The cats cuddle each other. And when I come back from out of town, the dog leaps into bed beside me and won’t leave my side for hours.

  • If you didn’t have your current pets, what pets would you choose to have?

My next dog will be small, non-shedding, and female. ‘Cause male dogs pee too much. As for the cats… I can’t imagine having different cats. I raised these from 10 days old, so they’re very much mine.

I wouldn’t mind a parrot. Then someone might agree with my opinions.

P1090637

One big happy family

This is a blog hop! Hop on here! (Or any other blog listed above!)

Posted in Blogging, cats, Dogs, pet ownership, pets | Tagged | 48 Comments

What I’m Grateful For

Last week was American Thanksgiving. My fellow bloggers to the south put up gratitude- themed posts. (This one, from Tails and Tales, is especially poignant, given the author’s narrow escape from a tornado.) And even though I’m as Canadian as beaver tails, I found myself reflecting too.

What could have happened to my car-- but didn't

What could have happened to my car– but didn’t

There is so much to be grateful for. In 2½ years of commuting to school, I have never had to sleep in a motel. There has always been someone to take of the kids (and the pets). My profs have been awesome. I’ve made some great friends. And my internship site is amazing; I’m gaining confidence, experience, and having a good time while doing it.

My kids, in spite of a new school and new life circumstances, are doing okay. The Oldest is thinking about law school one day. The Middle Child is ready to decamp for another province, which kind of suits me. The Youngest’s teacher told me that she is a wonderful child– never behaves inappropriately, never raises her voice, never fights with with other kids, and, in the teacher’s words, “is a role model for other children… and adults too!” (We’ll gloss over their lack of table-clearing and laundry skills.) My brother and sisters are doing great; my sisters are both grandmothers now, which makes me a great-aunt, and everyone seems to be flourishing. My mom, in spite of some fragile bones, is still with us at almost 90. We’re all healthy, too, which is the most important thing of all.

I can’t even complain about the Ex. He pays every penny he promised, on time andwithout complaint. He supports me in all issues relating to discipline and other parenting matters. He spends lots of time with his girls, and if he has a flaw, it’s that he spoils them too much. Most importantly, he is amiable about everything pertaining to the divorce, and gave me my get (religious divorce) without any conditions. (To understand what a big deal that is, read this article from Newsweek; my friend Hadassah is quoted!) And my excellent relationship with his family has not changed at all. 

Our Best Friend with... er... friends

Our Best Friend with… er… friends

And then there’s the park. I am finally back in my beloved dog park, and it feels so good. I am reconnecting with old friends; a few weeks ago I saw Denise, whom I hadn’t seen in at least two years. I’ve had some wonderful chats with Blanche, who lost Princess last year, but now has Katie and Kiwi, as well as three cats at home. And I’ve spend time in deep conversation with Marilyn, who was the first dog park friend to learn of my life status change. She’s been a wonderful support, and of all my dog park friends, the one I’d most like to connect with on the outside.

And, of course, there’s Ronnie. I hadn’t seen Ronnie in at least two years either, which is odd. Even if you go infrequently, you should run into Ronnie; he basically lives there. First time he saw me, back in October, he asked, “Where have you been for two years?” Trust Ronnie to know the comings and goings of everyone.

We caught up. I told him about school, the commuting, the stress. As we chatted, my marital status made its way into the conversation.

“You’re kidding,” he said, shocked.

Ronnie is not an academic or an intellectual. He’s a blue-collar, down-to-earth type of guy. He didn’t ask about causes or consequences. He just asked, “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine,” I told him. “The kids are fine. The Ex is being a mentsch. It is what it is.” I told him the various arrangements I have for the kids, which includes nights with their dad.

“If you’re out of town,” he asked, “and the kids are with their father, who looks after the dog?”

He’s the only friend in town who’s asked me that.

I told him Glory comes to stay, that it’s all taken care of, and he said, “If she’s ever out of town, or can’t make it for some reason, you call me. I’ll take Our Best Friend. Don’t worry. Just call me if you need me.”

I have never seen this man outside the gates of the park (unless you count the parking lot). I don’t really know what he does for a living, and I suspect it’s not entirely known to the government either. I don’t even know his last name. But I know a good heart when I see one. And Ronnie has the heart of a dog lover. It expands to encompass anyone in need.

The new loves of my life

The new loves of my life

So I’m grateful for a lot of things these days. And as I reflect on it, so many blessing flow just from having my dog. Ronnie. The park. And, most of all, my fellow bloggers. Just as the dog park has provided me with a little community outside my everyday commitments, the bloggers I have met (in real life or just on-line) have provided me with a virtual community that I treasure. It spans the entire continental U.S. and Canada, with Australia thrown in for good measure. I won’t mention names because there just too many, but they should know I get joy from them every day.

So as I finish up my second-last term before graduation, and as 2013 winds down, I am looking forward to what’s ahead, hand in hand, (and hand in paw), with everyone I love.

Posted in dog parks, Dogs, friendship, Holidays, pet ownership, pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

One Month Later

I typed most of this from a chair in a friend’s apartment, so tired I could cry.

I didn’t bring the camera with the pictures. Hence I am posting this from home a day after writing it.

My head hurts. It hurt yesterday too.

I have been working three days, going to classes at night, watching the ALCS and the World Series in between, and generally burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.

I have at least four blog posts in my head that never got written.

But something good did happen this month.

Doesn't he look happy?

Doesn’t he look happy?

Every Thursday and every Sunday, for four weeks straight, I have taken Our Best Friend to the dog park.

Last Sunday was the hardest. It’s getting colder, I needed a jacket, the Youngest had a friend over doing a project, I have an assignment due November 5, but I left them for 45 minutes so I could keep the promise.

Thursday I have a meeting, lunch with a friend, and I still have the assignment due on Tuesday. I’m still going to make sure I go.

P1090581I saw old friends I haven’t seen in over a year. I’ve gathered blog fodder (not that I’ve used it). And I usually go home feeling better.

We’ve been invited to spend the weekend with family, so I don’t have to cook Friday. I can do my VIP (very important paper) then. I can finish it on Sunday. I’ve got all day Sunday–except for the hour I’ll be at the dog park.

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Enter Real Life

So September is doneRosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah finished. My kids haven’t had a single five-day school week yet.

Until now.

And while I’ve been back-and-forthing to school and internship, I was home with my kids for holidays/weekends Wednesday through Sunday three out of the four weeks, doing Jewish holiday things and a lot of cooking. So even though balancing travel, school, homework, and holiday prep has been challenging (just heard my Jewish friends snort at “challenging,” which doesn’t begin to cover it), it hasn’t felt like real life.

Today it begins.

Today I start spending Monday-Wednesday out-of-town. I have to start thinking about what food I will bring with me each week (kosher meals not being readily available); sodium-laden cup-a-soups won’t do three days a week. I can’t help the kids with homework (I’m in school 5:30-8:30 Monday and Tuesday). And unless the kids start picking up the slack, my house will look like a bomb went off at a laundromat.  

Poor boy.

Poor boy.

And who will suffer most from this absenteeism? That’s right– the dog. 

I can’t chastise myself anymore for not walking him– we’re 200 km (120 miles) apart three days a week. If I had my own apartment here, I’d bring him with me– but as I rely on the kindness of friends and family, that’s not really an option.

But I can make a pledge.

Here is my pledge: Every Thursday and Sunday, we will make it to the dog park, even if only for half an hour.

I miss the park. Every time I think I can’t go because I have too much to do (the dishes won’t be washed, the laundry won’t get finished, the chapter won’t be read), but I go anyway, I’m always glad I did. I feel refreshed. My dog is calmer. If I’m lucky, I run into someone I know, and have some great conversation that doesn’t revolve around laundry, dishes, or homework.

They say it takes three months to create a habit. I have this crazy schedule until April. I’m hoping that by the time January rolls around, that little bit of self-care will be part of the routine. That the way runners always make time for running, I will make time for the park, no matter how tired or overwhelmed (notice I’m not promising anything about weather).

And of my readers, I ask– keep reminding me. Send me a comment, an email, or something, reminding me that I promised, and one should never break a promise.

Especially one you make right after New Year’s.

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Hiatus

The summer is over.

This is my final chance to blog in the month of August. I kept meaning to put up a post, but I was on vacation mode, and this is why.

The Liberty Bell– unviolated

I was away for three weeks in August. During this trip, I managed to stalk and capture the most wonderful and engaging Pup Fan from I Still Want More Puppies. Two bloggers captured, at least three more to go. The girls and I went to Pennsylvania and Manitoba to visit friends and family. We were tempted to lick the Liberty Bell, but refrained. I didn’t want to embarrass my tour guide, another friend I had only known on-line until we met up in Philly. (To my amusement, The Eldest spent much time explaining to me how any or all of these on-line friends I insisted on meeting could turn out to be Psycho Derek from One Tree Hill.)

While we were away, Glory moved in to care for Our Best Friend and our adopted kittens. (What adopted kittens, you ask? That post has been in the draft folder for months.) Our Best Friend adores Glory, but she reported that he refused food while we were gone, unless she kept him company while he ate. Further confirmation of what the vet said; if we asked him if he’d rather have me, his caretaker of four years, or the best of homes where he gets frequent exercise, he would choose me.

Dinner time

Back at the beginning

And I never put up a post about the kittens. In June we took in a family of feral kittens. As I said, that post has been in my drafts folder for months. Things change so quickly, the post keeps getting outdated before I can put it up.

So here I am, on the eve of September, and my hiatus is over. This Tuesday I start what I pray will be my final year of school, along with a new internship. The internship is not here; it is in the same town as school, and thus I will staying two nights a week away from my kids. (And my pets– not sure which I’ll miss more. I know which will miss me more.) I’m not happy about this– I will be gone Monday-Wednesday, with classes Monday and Tuesday nights, and the internship Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I won’t be home until Wednesday night. Housework and homework will have to be squeezed in Thursday and Sunday. I don’t expect to have a social life at all. And let’s not forget that all of September will be eaten up with Jewish holidays that stretch from Wednesday night to Saturday night three of the four weeks. Panicking? Just a little.

So my goals for the new year are simple. Continue the one post/month I’ve managed to write for the last number of years. Try to maintain my connection to humankind outside school and work. Not kill and eat my young when I come home to shambles on Wednesday night. And try, try, try, to find time to relax. I think that will be the hardest goal of all. At home I will be in a constant frenzy of homework/shopping/laundry/cooking/exhaustion. I can’t even enjoy the Labour Day long weekend– I have to cook for Rosh Hashana and do laundry and tomorrow I hope to take Our Best Friend to the dog park. I have no idea when I’ll have time to do that again.

If I survive until April, I will be a Canadian Certified Counsellor, and the job hunt will begin. Most of the friends I started with are done; some have jobs, some are still looking, but their post-school lives have begun. On the cusp of a new academic year as well as the Jewish New Year, I hope to be where they are one year from now. And still blogging.

This post is part of the Saturday Pet-Blogger Hop, hosted by Lifewithdogs.tv. Hop on here!

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Glutton for Punishment

For someone who does nothing but bitch, moan, and whine about too much responsibility and not enough time or money, I do awfully stupid things. For one, I’ve got this family of feral cats in my basement. (That’s the next post). Second, I agreed to dog-sit Blackie and Duke for My Dearest Friend yet again.

I wrote about this two years ago (twice). This year we’ve had some interesting developments.

Just like this.

Just like this.

Duke, as previously noted, has a knack of lying exactly where he’ll be most in the way. Sometimes that’s in front of the fridge or dishwasher, sometimes it’s in a doorway, sometimes you simply turn around and trip over him.

We have a very narrow passage from the front entrance hall into the kitchen. When Duke lies down there, if Our Best Friend wants to get past him into the kitchen, Duke growls.  Poor OBF just stands there, looking confused. I have to drag Duke out of the way so OBF can make it to the water bowl.

Really, is this worth fighting over?

Really, is this worth fighting over?

Meanwhile, Our Best Friend has always shown the greatest deference to Blackie. But last Saturday, she tried to join in on a little romp he was having with Glory and his toy tire. Suddenly, there was a flash of snapping and snarling. Blackie leaped backwards, and scurried to my side, making the most G-d-awful sounds I’ve ever heard. (Remember, this is a dog who never barks.) She sounded more like a yowling cat than a dog. I checked her over, sure I’d find her intestines ripped out, or at least a punctured ear. Nope. Not a mark on her. Our Best Friend has a way of getting in other dogs’ faces, without touching them, that FREAKS THEM OUT COMPLETELY .

That was then... this is now.

That was then… this is now.

And then there’s the matter of the bowels. A few years ago, Blackie took to pooping in My Dearest Friend’s basement. Then she started doing the same here. This summer they’ve been confined to the upstairs, partly because of the cats, but also because I don’t want Blackie pooping on my brand-new carpet. So someone (and I have to confess we never caught her in the act) started showing her discontent by pooping in The Eldest’s bedroom. The Eldest was not amused; we solved that issue by keeping her bedroom door shut. 

So this visit was a little more fraught than past ones, and to top it off, My Dearest Friend shaved Blackie; we can barely recognize her. But she still demands my attention by sticking her nose under my wrist and flipping my hand off the keyboard to scratch her ears, so I know it’s really her. (And she doesn’t take no for an answer. Try typing job application e-mails without your right hand.)

King of the Kitchen

King of the Kitchen

Still, they’re the same love-sluts they’ve always been. At the dog park, Blackie is always at my side. I look around, and there’s Duke, cuddling a perfect stranger. Our Best Friend is perfectly content to sleep in the other room; Blackie and Duke are always in whatever room I’m in. Call OBF or Duke, and Blackie immediately follows. Even now, as I type, Duke is lying right beside me, close as he can get. Our Best Friend finds sleeping with the humans too hot; I find sleeping with Blackie and Duke a bit crowded.

And then there’s the matter of time. Blackie is 11; I don’t know how many more chance I’ll have to bask in her unconditional love. Blackie is my  dog. Other than the basement pooping, she’s never caused me a second of stress or concern. I can let her out back without a leash. I have zero worries of her biting anyone. There will never, ever, be another Blackie. And summer is my only time to be with her.

They go home today, but I can have them back for a bit at the end of the month if I want. We’ll see. I may be out of town. The barking *is* driving me mad. They frighten the kitties in the basement. With the humidex at 39° (102° F), even the dog park is out of the question. And someone keeps barfing on the dog bed.

It’s like that old parable. A man complains his home is to small, so the rabbi advises him to bring in the goat, and then the chickens, then the cow, and finally the horse. He cries to the rabbi he can no longer move, and the rabbi tells him to take the animals back out out. Suddenly the house is a palace, with plenty of space. One dog barking is more tolerable than two, one dog shedding is more tolerable than three. Time to reclaim my home… and to try not to miss Blackie too much.

This post is part of the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop. Hop on here!

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Posted in Dog behaviour, dog parks, Dogs, friendship, pet ownership | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments