Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

Bob Pen Abbey 7-23-13

I’m once again up way too early to do anything but write.

Sadly this time it was not instigated by a dog who needed to be let outside, but a dog I must let go.

Sometimes death comes excruciatingly slow and other times painfully swift.  In the case of our gentle lab Abbey, it was some surreal mixture of both.

Abbey was my sister’s dog originally, a Christmas gift for her girls a dozen years ago, who were just babes themselves.  Abbey spent her early years in New Hampshire, Missouri, and North Carolina before coming home to live with me and my dog Malcolm in Illinois and finally Iowa.

I think everyone in my family would claim her at theirs since she spent some time with all of us when one of us had to travel without her.  She found comfort in laying at my dad’s feet, riding in my mom’s car, being reunited with her girls when they came to visit, playing dress up with my youngest niece and helping my brother convince my cat loving sister-in-law that dogs can indeed make incredible companions.

She also had a way with the boys and spent her last couple of hours surrounded by her favorite fellas – Jake, Scooter, Rosco, Gavin, and her all time favorite, Bob.  She was an equal opportunity lover and rallied at the opportunity to take one last walk by the river with her pack, herding us all and making sure no one was left behind.

The decision to end a pet’s life is wracked with doubt.  I’ve had to make that decision twice in the last two years. When they are suffering through their worst moments, I am convinced it is the most humane thing to do. It becomes the most agonizing thing to do when the appointed time draws near.

I can barely breathe through it, stay in the moment, and not distract myself from the onslaught of memories mixed with fear of a future without my canine companion.  A part of me dies with my dog.

Fortunately my vet makes house calls and has allowed both Malcolm and Abbey to pass in the peace of familiar surroundings with their favorite toys, treats, and companions right next to them.  And incredibly lucky for me, I have Bob,  who bears this burden with me and lets me cling to him even as his heart breaks.

To deal with the aching absence of Abbey, I alternate between listening to gut wrenching songs about grief to reading poetry about passing to drinking rain forest tea to collapsing on the couch.  Eventually I reach for my pen and journal, open up a vein and let the following bleed out.

Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

No one ever tells you when you get a dog

that they will heal your heart every time it breaks

only to shatter it beyond recognition when they leave.

They forget to mention

you will continue to offer table scraps to the ghost of a good dog

and listen intensely for the pattering of paws across the kitchen floor

or wait for the delirious wagging of a tail to welcome you home.

You never suspect you will miss the insistence on a Busy Bone from the kitchen

once you’ve settled snugly into the couch.

You can’t fathom wishing you would wake

once more to the movement of dreaming feet, muffled barks,

and snores that rival your husband’s.

No one tells you that coming across a favorite toy, food dish, eye drops, ear wipes,

multiple dog beds and blankets will remind you that your life was blessed by a dog.

No one wants to spoil the ending at the beginning.

No one wants to tell you the grief will go as deep as the love

and come in waves at odd moments long after your dog is gone.

They will only ask you when you’re going to get another

and you will say never…

Until one day you remember that dog is just god spelled backward

and the closest thing to heaven on earth.

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Could You Be Part of a 4am Conspiracy?

Digitally generated roman numeral clock

It’s 4am on a Saturday. I think about the TED talk by poet Rives detailing his theory about four in the morning and all the references to it in films, songs, and other works of art. Clearly this is the bewitching hour, the time when downloads from the divine are most likely to occur, the time we walk between the worlds of waking and dreaming.

If I’m lucky, I’m sleeping at 4am. Not because I’m opposed to the particular gifts that 4am bestows, but because I desperately need the sleep.

So much depends on a good night’s sleep. From my attitude to the way my body metabolizes nutrients and burns calories to the way my brain processes thoughts to the amount of energy at my disposal, sleep is a biggie in my book.

The unbearable lightness of being a light sleeper is that anything and everything can jolt me out of dreamland and into full on monkey mind chatter that requires more than a few brain bananas to pacify.

If my noise cancelling headphones are near my bed and miraculously attached to my iPod which is geared up to my sleep paraliminal meditation and happens to be next to my Rescue Sleep Bach Flower Remedy, I have a chance of falling back to sleep.

Otherwise, the best thing to do is get up and blog.

I think about my friend Gillian from the UK who I met in Los Angeles in January. She is back in Los Angeles this weekend and most likely awake at 4am due to serious jet lag mixed with excitement and information overload from three days of brainstorming with her Mastermind group.

I am filled with excitement as well. I’m teaching the material I’m learning in my coaching program and meeting incredible people along the way. From the participants to the guest speakers, people are opening their hearts and minds to me. Consequently, I’m brimming with purpose and consumed with creating meaningful change and immense value.

I’m also apprehensive. My dog Abbey, the instigator of this 4am wake up call, has grown old and uncomfortable almost overnight.  Suddenly she has something going on with her eyes that is serious enough to warrant an 8am vet visit. My heart is heavy with sadness for this sweet dog who waits on the step for me every night and wags her tail profusely as soon as I return from work. Her unconditional love, loyalty, and companionship have healed my heart more times than I can count. Now I need to do whatever I can to help her heal and bring her ease and comfort.

This morning that meant letting her out to sit under a tree and sniff the air. When I went out to retrieve my retriever, the grass and trees glistened like an enchanted forest. No wonder she wanted out.  She wanted to play her part in the 4am conspiracy.

She’s now sleeping blissfully, having accomplished her mission of getting me up and at the keyboard. She knows a writer needs solitude and silence, the precise conditions present at 4am.

At some point today, after my words have found their way into the blogosphere and Abbey’s eyes have been examined and soothed, perhaps I’ll curl up next to her and nap. Until then, I have to assume sleeping in on Saturday or Sunday is a covert  attempt to conceal the 4am conspiracy theory.

What about you? Is there a time when you are perpetually perplexed, vexed, or called to create? Are there certain times during the day or night that compel you to act?  Share in the comments below.

Live and Learn

When asked why I write, my answer is always the same.  I cannot not write.  Like eating or breathing, writing is essential to the way I metabolize life, the best way I know how to make sense of it.

I also love to read.  Reading has taken me places I could never get to on my own.  Reading makes me feel less alone, less quirky, less peculiar and more compassionate, more human, more adventurous.

Sometimes I read a line or passage so beautiful or eloquent it stays with me and shapes my entire day, month, even years.  Knowing that the right words at the right time have so much power, I couldn’t think of a better super power to have than wielding words.  Okay, an invisibility cloak would come in handy.  Especially after wielding the wrong words. 

Many years ago I read  Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.  I was also reading The Artist Way by Julia Cameron.  These books became my bibles, turning my life upside down and setting my writing mission on fire.  Because both of these authors lived in or around Santa Fe and Taos, I decided I must live there as well.  Clearly, the muses gathered there.

Santa Fe is a creative mecca.  My love affair with the landscape and the culture and the people who find their way there makes it the home of my heart.  I did some major healing there and often pine after it the way one pines after the great love that got away.

But I also agonized over every aspect of my life there.  I struggled financially, I had my heart broken more times than I care to recount, and my career floundered.  I was determined to make my living as a writer but I was drawn more to the mountains than the blank page. Housesitting gave me a place to stay, but it didn’t provide a paycheck, insurance, or a benefits package beyond being young, healthy, single, and free to pursue whatever dream of happiness I could mortgage my future on.

But bills have a way of coming due and even detours eventually lead us back to the beaten path. I returned to the Midwest  and reinvented my writer’s life around a “real job” and a solid foundation that has allowed me the freedom to attend blogger conferences, pursue coaching certifications and online business schools, and occasionally take a trip back to my old stomping grounds or discover new ones.  

Last week Bob and I took a day trip to Madison and made a stop in Mt. Horeb, home of one of my favorite eating establishments, The Grumpy Troll and a one of a kind shopping experience at  The Duluth Trading Company.  We happened to walk by a bookstore and in the window was a new book by Natalie Goldberg called The True Secret of Writing.

As you might imagine, I love bookstores.  Quaint, locally owned corner bookstores are especially dear to my heart because they are so rare now.  So I made a beeline into the store, snatched the book out of the window, and told the owner how this writer changed my life and prompted a move to The Land of Enchantment.

He then shared with me how he moved from New England to Wisconsin and how content he has been living in the land of happy cows and cheese and trolls.  Mt. Horeb is overrun with trolls. As their website claims, it’s the troll capital of the world, right off the troll way.

Books create instant relationships, a safe gathering space for ideas to mingle.  The same can be said for movies, music, video games, weekly television series, or fantasy football leagues.  We’re all looking for a connection, a way to relate to each other on some common ground that might eventually lead us to the uncommon ground where we really get to know ourselves.

So this morning I was reading from The True Secret of Writing and just like when I read Writing Down the Bones, I was so moved by the words that I jumped out of bed and started writing.

This morning’s topic was determination and how we all hunger for certain things and how that hunger, that heat, that disturbance continues to pull us forward to become more of ourselves.  Honestly, the need for continuous quality improvement in my life often gets on my own nerves.  Enough, already.  I’m tired.

Then I got a glimpse of  Jake, our throw-the-ball, throw-the-ball, throw-the-baaaalllll brown lab, who relentlessly pursues whatever ball has not managed to end up in the Maquoketa River.  He is my determination role model.  I refuse to roll over and play dead.

As long as I’m here, I have work to do, words to write, universes to explore.  So I get up, get over myself, show up on the page, and practice writing.

 Writing allows me to make ideas real, dynamic, interesting.  It amazes me that I have lived this long and can still discover something mind blowing every day.  I just have to stay curious and open and engaged. Easier said than done.

So I’ll leave you with this excerpt from The True Secret of Writing.  May this help you stay connected with your desire to initiate whatever change you are longing to make whether it be sustaining a twelve pound weight loss or communicating honestly with your spouse or children or coworkers or completing a degree, a 5k race, or a good book.

First we admit in our heart of hearts it’s something we sincerely want.  And then we move toward it.  Sometimes we fail for a week, a month, a year, a decade.  And then we come back, circle the fire.  Our lives are not linear.  We get lost, then we get found.  Patience is important, and a large tolerance for our mistakes.  We don’t become anything overnight.” – Natalie Goldberg, The True Secret of Writing

I’d love to hear what you hunger for.  Share if you dare in the comments below.

 

Good Dog, Stay

There is nothing quite like the excruciating pain of losing an animal companion.  Whether that be canine, feline, equine, or bovine, when we have to say goodbye to a being that loves us like no other, the grief seems unbearable.

When a person dies, people understand that it will take a considerable amount of time to process the loss.  Yet when a pet dies, the expectation is not so magnanimous.  Some suggest “replacing” the pet as soon as possible.

But as anyone who has ever been loved by an animal will tell you, these creatures leave paw prints on our hearts that refuse to be replaced.  Their mischievous shenanigans, annoyingly cute little tricks, and insistence on undivided attention will be the things we miss the most.

A year ago I had to put my dog Malcolm down after 17 years.  Ours was a very intricately woven bond.  His loyalty was so fierce, I knew he would not leave me even though he was in intense pain.  He not only changed my life the day I walked into Operation Kindness, he saved it.  He more than lived up to his side of the deal and stuck with me through thick and thin.  I needed to live up to mine and be brave enough to let him go.

We had traveled the country together and met more dogs in more places than most people and dogs do.  We’d regularly go out for a walk and return with 3-6 neighbor dogs in tow, making me Penny the Pied Piper of Puppies.

There is something so comforting to me about the company of dogs.  Maybe it’s that my dogs and I can communicate without speaking.  Or it could be that they think I’m a good cook, hilarious, beautiful, brilliant, generous, and have great taste in leashes.  They know when I need to exercise, eat, sleep, or shower.  They know when someone or something is threatening me.  And vice versa.

They allow me to pretend I’m the boss of them, but we all know the truth.  And even though I scold them for dropping the best, most durable balls in the Maquoketa River within 10 minutes of taking them out of the package and other bad behavior, they refuse to point out my mistakes or bad behavior.

My friend Susan and her dog Sophie gave me a pillow that says, “To error is human, to forgive canine.”  That pretty much sums up it up.

For these and a hundred other reasons, I offer the most heartfelt condolences to those who lose their animals companions.  Animals complete us.  They make our families fuller.  They make our lives richer.  They provide unconditional love and acceptance.  Not to mention unlimited writing material and photo opportunities.

My good friend Karen lost her sweet Callie last weekend.  There are no words to ease her pain and talking of Callie will continue to bring tears to both of our eyes for quite some time.

So in honor of our four-legged furry friends everywhere, let’s offer up a prayer or two of gratitude that these amazing creatures choose to spend their limited time among us and teach us how to sit, roll over, and fetch our farthest reaching dreams.

If only they could stay longer.

Share your favorite pet story, trick, photo, memory, etc. below.

This is a picture of me and Abbey, the beautiful, gentle yellow lab who joined Malcolm and me and made the last two years of his life so much spunkier.

Photo by Lucas Mitchell.