Tag Archives: Dog

Lessons Relearned

Today my dog Hooper decided to wake me up at 8:30am. For most of the working world this would be considered “sleeping in”, but since I’m not currently working I just call it obnoxious. I like to sleep. I love to sleep. It’s a time when my brain shuts off and stops worrying about the “didn‘t dos”, “should have dones”, or “what ifs“. So at 8:30am when Hooper started barking like a banshee, I defiantly pulled the covers over my head and willed him to go back to sleep for a couple more hours. Unfortunately, my telepathic doggie snooze button didn’t work.

I grumpily stepped into my already laced tennis shoes and with Phyllis Diller-styled bed head accentuating my braless pajama attire, I headed out to the living room to let Hooper out of his crate. Normally he wouldn’t even be in a crate but since he is still recovering from ACL surgery, we have to keep him in there at nights and on a leash at all other times. This means I get to personally escort him via his leash to Pooh Corner in the backyard so he can fertilize our dying grass. “What a way to start the day!”

Now you probably just read that last line as being sarcastic, and while I was still inside my house, stumbling around with sleepy eyes, looking for Hooper’s leash, it was quite the cranky sarcastic internal thought. But once I got outside, and saw the fresh dew on the grass, the way the sun was shining through the trees and the neighbor’s magnolia tree in full bloom, I genuinely meant it in the most positive of ways, “What a way to start the day!”

I had forgotten how pretty mornings are when the world is just starting to wake up to a day full of new possibilities and promise. As I heard the birds chirping and felt the breeze go by I found myself taking in a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh air and mentally thanking God for a day well made. “Good job, God. You made a good day this morning. The weather is beautiful. Thank you.“

I figure we all want to be acknowledged for our efforts, and told that we’ve done a good job. Why would God be any different?

As I left the house to run my errands for the day, I thought about how so often I forget things that I already knew—like how beautiful mornings are and how peaceful it is to just take a few moments to appreciate the natural beauty around us. Or how it’s important to mix up the daily routine to keep life interesting—taking the scenic route, getting lost on purpose, trying a different coffee shop, etc.

Sometimes I think that I am just sleeping through life even when I’m fully awake. Just running on autopilot, and not living fully in the present moment. Maybe that’s the reason I like zombie movies so much—they’re not too far off from most people’s daily reality. World War Z may be real (metaphorically speaking of course) and we have to consciously fight it every day.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

It’s now 11:08am and I am sitting alone at a table in the upstairs outside eating area of my neighborhood grocery store sipping coffee and enjoying the cool weather. I’ve been visited by two birds hoping for a bite to eat and a tiny albino spider who upon further inspection appears to be a master web designer.

Maybe one of the points of me doing this blog is so that I don’t forget lessons when I learn them the first time. And if I do, I can always reread my posts to remember.

“What a way to start the day.“

942098_3165393750754_442461924_n

View from outside my local Marketstreet grocery.

 

 

A Tale of Three Mats

Photo Credit: someecards.com

Photo Credit: someecards.com

When our dog, Hooper, had knee surgery, we were told to keep him off of slick surfaces like hardwood floors to avoid him slipping and re-injuring his knee. Since our entire downstairs flooring is hardwood, sans two small rugs, this presented a significant problem. I started searching within our home for an inexpensive solution. SCORE! I found not 1, not 2 but 3 yoga mats in the process. We created a slip-free walkway leading from the back door to Hooper’s crate and to his “recovery” bed that we set up on the living room area rug. It was a perfect and economical solution albeit not a very attractive one.

My happiness at solving this dilemma was short-lived when I realized that having 3 yoga mats meant that I had the very good intention of developing a yoga practice at least 3 different times and never saw it through. Why?

I remember 10 years ago buying a yoga mat because my office was going to offer yoga classes during lunch once a week. I gladly signed up because I was interested in the practice and I desperately wanted to get in better shape for my wedding which was a year away. My instructor was amazing! She was patient, kind and taught yoga from both a physical and spiritual perspective. I enthusiastically looked forward to her classes each week. And then, unexpectedly, she moved away and my office never hired a replacement.

Several years later I saw an ad for yoga classes being held at my local recreation center. The price was inexpensive so I decided to give it a try. (I’m sure that’s when I bought the second mat, having long since forgotten where my first one was stored.) I wasn’t impressed with the instructors. It was a husband and wife team that would take turns teaching the classes. It was supposed to be a class for beginners but they moved so quickly from one position to the next that I got quickly frustrated. Their class was also missing the spiritual aspect that I desired. My beloved previous instructor would always begin class with a poignant story and end class with a beautiful meditation. This class just seemed cold and a little pretentious. Not what I was looking for.

I truly believe that “outer reflects inner”, and this situation was no exception. Even my clothes seemed to be repelled by this class. My shirt and glasses kept falling down while I was in the “Downward Dog” pose, my pants didn’t seem to fit right, and my hair kept slipping out of its pony tail. I was uncomfortable physically and emotionally—just all-around not a happy camper, so I quit after only a few classes. And I stayed away from yoga for years.

In the past year or two I have been thinking about yoga again. My intuitive mother-in-law gave me a yoga mat for Christmas to encourage me to take up the practice. In her mid 60s she is in much better physical shape than I am! I have seen her spring into a “Sun Salutation”, rapidly transitioning from one pose to another before comfortably resting with her legs in a pretzel and her back perfectly straight. She’s pretty amazing.

Two weeks ago I was ready to start trying my hand at yoga again. The mats spread across my living room floor are a daily reminder of this unfulfilled promise to myself. Unfortunately, I had an attack of vertigo that prevented me from starting. It’s a symptom of my Meniere’s Disease—an inner ear disorder that manifests itself with unannounced episodes of extreme vertigo, dizziness, nausea and exhaustion. The attack can lasts minutes or hours but the after effects lasts for days or weeks. There would definitely be no “Sun Salutations” for several days.

Photo Credit: The Big C

Photo Credit: The Big C

Last night I was watching an episode of “The Big C: Hereafter”. The main character, Cathy (Laura Linney) has been battling cancer for several seasons. Now, she is off chemotherapy and has moved into a hospice. He husband, Paul (Oliver Platt) has slipped into a deep depression causing him to stay in bed for days at a time eating nothing but Funyuns. When he finally makes it out of bed to visit his wife in hospice, she chastises him saying, “I can’t get out of bed, but you can, so you have to!” That one sentence struck a chord with me.

Now that I am feeling better and I can get out of bed, I have an obligation to do so. I may not be ready just yet to contort myself into crazy yoga positions but I can certainly stretch, walk and meditate. As they say, “it’s the journey not the destination”, and this journey starts with a single step and maybe a “Downward Dog” for Hooper’s amusement.

The Universe is as Subtle as A Dog

Picture 6

To the casual observer, my 75-pound Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab/Border Collie mix mutt is anything but subtle. He bangs on the blinds covering the back door when he wants to go outside. He carries his metal food bowl and drops it in front of you on the hardwood floor when he’s hungry, rattling your skull in the process. If he’s feeling mischievous, you better guard your socks and underwear because they are bound to go missing in hopes that you will soon be in hot pursuit to retrieve them. He definitely knows how to get his point across.

With my background in marketing and advertising, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in communications. But recently it has come to my attention that the loud, über fast-paced, deadline-driven, visually, audibly and chemically over-stimulated world that we live in has actually deadened our communication skills as a society. (Or at least mine.) Subtlety and innuendo are a lost art. If you want to be heard you better shout and it better be in 140 characters or less because we don’t have time or the attention span for anything else.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n, and in doing so I discovered something amazing. My dog is a master of the art of subtlety, but I’ve been too distracted to notice. He gives a series of nonverbal cues as to what he wants and only escalates them to an annoyingly loud level when I don’t acknowledge his previous attempts. For example, when he wants to play fetch he will look in the direction of his toy bin and then look back at me with inquisitive eyebrows, a big smile and a wagging tail. Then, he will bring a ball to me. If I don’t get the hint he will drop it at my feet and stare at it in hopes I will follow his line of sight and engage in playing. If that still doesn’t get my attention he will demonstrate “throwing” the ball by standing on the back of the sofa and dropping it. If I haven’t started playing by now he assumes I must not like his initial toy selection, so he will get a different ball and go through the motions again. It is only as a last resort that he will drop the ball in my lap and start barking incessantly and at an eardrum-piercing level, because by this point it has become apparent to him that I will only respond to the most obvious and painful of tactics. The universe, it seems, uses the same playbook as my dog.

More often than not, I’ve had to learn my life lessons the hard way. In looking back though, there were always numerous opportunities to learn the same lesson through a less painful method. The trick is to slow down, be quiet and observant, and listen. The universe speaks to us in whispers all the time, giving us the advice we seek and steering us toward the right path and helpful people. If we don’t listen to the whispers we can eventually expect a shout or worse.

Don’t wait for life to bite you in the butt. Quiet down, observe the subtle cues, throw the ball and get into the game. Life is a lot more fun that way.

The Earl of Dogdom

Picture 5

Upon the urging of my esthetician and several of my Facebook friends, I bought the first three seasons of Downton Abbey and obsessively watched them all within a week. This British period costume drama series depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early twentieth century. Like all soap operas, it’s filled with love affairs, betrayal, intrigue and scandal. But what makes Downton appeal to such a diverse audience (husbands included) are the historical references. The sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of WWI and the Spanish influenza epidemic, combined with the elaborate sets, costumes and always intelligent-sounding British accents make you think you are watching a documentary instead of a soap opera. You’re not rotting brain cells, you are studying history on PBS. Mom would be proud.

Today at the dog park, I observed a Downton Abbey-esque drama unfolding before my very eyes.

Much like the servants on Downton Abbey who spend most of their day downstairs, only coming upstairs to serve the Crawley family, the little dogs will sometimes visit the big dog side, but it is completely gauche for the big dogs to socialize on the little dog side. It’s just unheard of for the classes to mix in this way.

The little dogs, also like to yap—a lot. They huddle together and bark incessantly at each other, the humans and the occasional squirrel. I often imagine that they are prattling on about their lot in life and plotting new ways for advancement. The big dogs don’t have time to waste with idle gossip because they have important work to do like chasing tennis balls, marking their territory and sniffing out opportunities to ensure their position as top dog.

There is also an ample amount of conspiring, bickering, and sexual play being acted out on both sides of the fence, but unlike Downton, it’s not being done in secret behind close doors. These are American dogs of course and therefore not nearly as refined. Proper decorum is not their forte.

As for my dog, Hooper, he would most definitely be cast as The Earl of Grantham on the dog park version of Downton Abbey. He definitely believes the world revolves around him and sees no reason for his good life to ever change despite the circumstances in the world outside his humble estate. He has two dedicated human servants that wait on him hand and paw, making sure his every need is met. His only job is to keep up appearances which he does dutifully by making trips to the dog park and lake and running errands around town where the commoners bestow upon him praise and dog biscuits.

It’s good to be the Earl of Dogdom. It’s even better to be his human.