Tag Archives: dogs

Learning to Love Chaos (or) Yes, I Adopted A Dog

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“In a world that constantly throws big, unexpected events our way, we must learn to benefit from disorder.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This quote is from “Learning to Love Volatility,” a fascinating Wall Street Journal article I read last month. The basic premise of the piece is that huge, unanticipated events, like stock market crashes, wars, and Al Gore’s invention of the World Wide Web teach us to subconsciously learn and advance through placement in an unexpected position of volatility, variability, and tension. Think “Survivor” without that huge stash of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff hidden in a hollowed-out tree or the anniversary sale at Nordstrom after the bank’s just put a $300 limit on your credit card.

Major stress.

This is an incredibly candid picture that my eight year-old freak of nature, canine fanatic took when we first brought our dog home, and the beer can is not a prop.

This is an alarmingly candid, non-ego driven, somewhat blurry picture that my eight year-old freak of nature, canine fanatic took when we first brought our dog home. The beer can is not a prop.

Building on Taleb’s “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or at least less of a loser” philosophy, I recently entered, via free will and completely by choice, the fragile, deep, dark forest of the unknown.

I adopted a dog.

For anyone reading this who happens to be an animal lover, rabbit hoarder, or somehow ended up owning forty-three gerbils, please stop. You won’t understand me or my people. We’re of the Rent-A-Pet variety, not the hearty portion of the populace whose sole mission in life is to rescue stray lorikeets (or steal them from the zoo). We Rent-A-Petters offer to babysit your awesome, perfectly trained dog for the weekend simply because we know we can give him back. We do this not to help you, but to help ourselves by placating our eight-year-old canine fanatic offspring until the next Apple product rolls off an assembly line in China.

This is not my house.

Rent-A-Pet people don’t have time to bring a real canis lupus familiaris into our lives because we’re too consumed with alphabetizing our spice racks and color-coding the origami paper in our craft closets. We are busy, buried three feet deep in the nuance of separating paper clips from rubber bands in the junk drawer so that when we’re in search of our handheld hole punch to string together a quick homemade anniversary card for our parents? We know exactly where to find it. We are orderly, organized, and uncluttered. We are a band of cleaners, our solidarity purpose sealed by a true commitment to shoe bin organization, and our group doesn’t include anything that sticks to us like hairy glue.

This is my alphabatized Lazy Susan full of spices, made all the more efficient because I never use it.

This is my alphabatized Lazy Susan full of spices, made all the more efficient because I never use it.

Until, that is, as Taleb explains, life is upended, chaos ensues, and everything we know to be true in the depths of our solid core stone hearts is called into question.

After several fly by field trips to the local animal shelter with my eight year-old canine fanatic offspring where I was in and out in less than an hour, promising my daughter that she could do anything she wanted with these cute, friendly stray dogs except bring one home, I got a little tripped up. We spent time with one I actually liked, and not in the pet-and-flip, smile-and-wave (goodbye) manner I’d handled every other four-legged creature that had come my way in the past.

Ummmm, that’s not cute.

This one was different, so unique and personally appealing that I put him on hold (yes, there’s a layaway plan for adoptive pets), went home to get my other two freak-of-nature canine fanatic offspring to meet him, and pulled my husband off the river on a fly fishing trip in New York to discuss something I swore I’d never consider: inviting a living, breathing, hair-coat creating canine into our house to stay.

Within the first few hours of bringing our new family member home, I realized that shelters kind of lie, but in a nice way. When they say the dog you’re adopting is “kennel trained, leash trained and potty trained,” what they really mean is “hates his kennel, will pull your arm off if, while on a walk, he sees one of the 1,000,000 mangy jackrabbits that cross the street on a daily basis, and will immediately take a dump on your favorite rug when he enters his new house for the first time.” I think it’s just a matter of semantics or messed up hand signals, but still. I thought I was getting a Rent-A-Pet.

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This is what happened when I tried to run with my dog who isn’t really leash trained after he saw, and subsequently cut in front of me to chase, one of the 1,000,000 mangy jackrabbits that cross the street on a daily basis.

Right when I least expected it, life threw me a curveball, putting me in an unanticipated and uncomfortable position that has actually (I think) precipitated growth. On our shelter visits, my plan was to someday (as in probably never) adopt a non-shedding, small dog in the summer. Instead I ended up with a shedding, seventy pound, greyhound/lab/pointer mix who is both smarter and faster than me. And it’s the start of ski season.

It turns out that Nassim Taleb was right after all, and anything that doesn’t kill you actually can make you stronger, or kinder, or better, or less inclined to worry about personal hygiene, or something like that.

That’s me, selling my soul for some obedience training. Just ignore all the hair growing from my hand. I can no longer afford my monthly dermaplane appointments.

I once thought that people who swore their dogs chose them were suckers. But I love mine, he absolutely chose me, and by that definition, I’m a full-on sucker too. He’s been with our family for a month now, and although in some ways life is harder, in many others it’s better; slower, messier, and full.

Sometimes, early in the morning and long before the sun comes up, when I can’t sleep and the entire world seems dark and still, I take him for a walk. Just me and my dog. With a patchwork quilt of snow on the ground and a tiny flashlight to guide our way, he matches my pace as we move through the night in silent step, tuned to one another and all of the elements that would scare me if I were out on my own. Yesterday, I saw a shooting star (or a rapidly disintegrating plane engine, I’m not sure which). Imagine witnessing an unexpected meteoroid rip through atmosphere as it burns a path through the clear, pre-dawn sky, with the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, you’re the only one lucky enough to watch its fall. That would never have happened in my previous life as a Rent-A-Pet person. It was pretty amazing to see.

Wrigley.

Wrigley and my  canine fanatic offspring.

A big shout-out to Calahan, who was kind enough to ask where I’ve been for the last month. The answer? Walking my dog.

For someone who never really cared for man’s best friend before adopting one, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about him.

If you want to see where my whole dog journey started, read this: Have You Seen Goldie?

If you want to see how far I’ve come, read this: My New Dog Hates Me.

If you want to cry, read this: My New Dog Is Gone

If you want to see what I do with stuffed animals when I’m bored, read this: Have You Seen Goldie? Part II

If you want to read something that might actually be of benefit to you in life, here’s the Wall Street Journal article I quoted above: Learning to Love Volatility.

My New Dog Hates Me

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Anyone who’s read my blog for the past couple of months knows how I feel about dogs.  It’s not that I don’t like them.  As a species I think they’re generally fine and great to have around as long as they’re across the street, next door, or tearing their way through someone else’s underground sprinkler system (in case you didn’t know, dogs love to dig up anything that’s supposed to be firmly embedded beneath the earth…especially if it costs about $1,000 to repair).

Image from squidoo.com.

We all have our personal boundaries, and I like to maintain a huge wake when a Canis lupis familiaris comes sniffing around my brand new knee-high, chocolate brown, super-soft suede boots that I siphoned unmarked bills from our vacation fund to buy.  I just love expensive footwear, so in other words?  Back the hell off.

Français : escarpins ouverts en Élaphe de marq...

All things considered, when it comes to canines, I’m a “smile and wave” kind of girl.  The smile serves as a decoy.  It says “Hey!  You’re cool.  I’m cool.  Now please don’t attack me and dig your cuspate, frothing, serrated mandibles into my left calf as I sprint past your driveway on my morning run because your awesome owner never turns on the electric fence anymore due to your deceivingly docile nature when you’re laying at his feet eating nasty dog biscuits.”  The wave is meant to establish authority, so you know that when I’m bounding by your house, I’m the one in charge.  Alternately, if you happen to be a two hundred pound Bullmastiff and I’m on the ground pinned underneath you?  It becomes a fairly effective cry for help.

I don't like this dog. Image via topnews.in.

I don’t know about you, but I process pretty much everything through my pseudo-bionic senses, and I don’t particularly care for dog smell.  Or dog breath.  Or copious amounts of dog saliva.  Or wearing a dog hair fleece when I run to the grocery store to pick up a $6.99 rotisserie chicken to feed my family for dinner (everyone is so over the new Taco Bell located inside the gas station where you can get a twelve-pack of chalupas, Captain and Tennille CD, ginormous can of WD-40, and a bag of pork rinds all at once).

Super-masculine man stare. Image from 991.com.

All the people sleeping under our roof understand that Man’s Best Friend is not mine, and as the primary dog chaser, puke cleaner, hair remover, and everything disgusting scooper in the house, my vote far outweighs yours.  If you know me, you’ll begrudgingly acknowledges that the most direct route to my heart is straight through the front door, on two feet and upright, shoes off at the entry, and please pick your coat up off the floor while you hang your backpack on that cute little hook I installed in the laundry room.  My fuse is pretty freaking short at the moment and I’m not your maid.

My fuse. Image via thepave.net

But as I’ve learned, a carefully plotted life often has plans of its own.

As I mentioned on Monday, my husband’s grandfather/best friend/coolest person on the planet passed away last weekend at the age of eighty-nine.  In addition to amazing memories and enough love from all of us who knew him to fill an ocean, Gumps left another very important thing behind.  Brandy.

Brandy is a rescue dog, physically abused by her original owner and adopted by Gumps when she was just a pup.  Understandably skittish and now thirteen years old, she’s bonded with nobody.  No one, that is, except the person she searches for every day and can no longer find.

Against her every wish, she’s been with our family since Sunday, pacing back and forth while she explores each room with her cataract-clouded eyes.  Restless, she spins in circles trying to find a place in our house that feels like home.  First one spot.  Then another.  Switching rooms.  In the middle of the floor.  Back in a corner.  Out of sight.  On her blanket.  In everyone’s way.  She tests countless options, but nothing feels right.

As of the past couple of days, she’s shifted from a state of mild annoyance to outright resignation.  When I walk into the room she lifts her head, cocks it to the left, looks me in the eye, and immediately turns away.  I’m not anywhere close to someone she wants to see.  Grief-stricken, she lays listlessly on the floor, refusing to eat unless I bribe her with bacon, bologna, or sausage; a desperate attempt on my part to communicate in a language that every dog speaks.

Brandy perks up a little when it’s time to go outside, but her arthritic hind legs make it hard for her to go up and down stairs.  Our youngest, Essa, wants nothing more than to wrap her up in a huge cloak of love, but the kids have to keep their distance.  She’s already snipped at me, our neighbor, and even my husband, Scot, who’s a natural magnet to any mammal with four legs and my absolute opposite when it comes to short words containing the letters d-o-g.

She’s a mess, so much so, that some well-intentioned people have recommended giving her to a no kill shelter or putting her down.

But I can’t bring myself to seriously consider those options.  Unless the vet tells me she’s in unbearable physical pain, I’m not letting her go.  I can’t.  If I do, I’ll be giving up on myself.  And that’s not how I roll.

Before the unspeakable spoke last weekend, we hadn’t planned to adopt a dog, much less one that on a surface level appears broken past the point of repair.

But maybe, if I can find a way to open my heart to her, she’ll return the favor.  Just a little.  I don’t expect a miracle, but if we can walk together, if she’ll let someone stroke her back, whisper in her ear or at least lie next to her and be still, our family will be able to give her something worth holding onto until the end.

Our love can’t fill her void, but it can serve as a buffer.  Her presence can’t bring Gumps back, but she can remind us, every day, of someone we never want to forget.

Perhaps, in some inexplicable twist of fate, we were all meant for each other in ways I don’t yet understand.  I have got to get her teeth cleaned before Brandy and I release a flock of doves in the back yard, sing Kumbaya, and intertwine our souls, though.  I can smell her breath from across the room and her halitosis majoritis seriously bums me out.

At the end of the day, maybe life’s not about getting what you want after all, but getting what you need instead.

Me and Gumps

Have You Seen Goldie? Part II

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About a month ago, I posted a silly and somewhat irreverent blog (“Have You Seen Goldie?”) about the disappearance of my daughter’s alter ego/better half/can’t-go-to-the-bathroom-without-her, perfect puppy.

As time passed, however, Essa’s sense of devastation as she accepted that her bestie had vanished became immeasurable. Hard to quantify, that is, unless you compared it to mine.

After Goldie disappeared, I began to experience increasingly alarming symptoms of an unnamed, yet if you know me, fairly predictable cause.  Daily anxiety attacks, searing potential-freedom-deprivation pain, recurring, sweat-drenched dreams involving a subzero, 2:00 a.m. training trek into the snow, nasty coyoteitis (jackals love puppies around here), and hairball heart palpitations were just the beginning of my woes.

In short, I’ve been a complete mess since Goldie dissolved into our thin Colorado air, never to be seen or heard from again.

Why, you ask, would Goldie’s disappearance affect me so profoundly, other than the obvious fact that she was my daughter’s best friend?

Because Goldie wasn’t real, and for Essa, the only thing that will ever come close to replacing her is a living, breathing, slobbering, canis lupus familiaris.

Hence my total freak out.

Goldie, wrapped in Essa's blanket the night before she disappeared.

But yesterday morning, up before the ankle biters and sipping a cup of tea, I heard a tiny tap-tap-tap at the base of our back door.  Still bleary-eyed from my perspiration-soaked, sleepless night, I wrenched myself away from the Demi Moore meltdown articles I’d been carelessly trolling, to see what was going on.

And this is who I found:

Our puppy!

Goldie.  With tears of joy in her eyes.  Shivering from the cold.

Without a second thought, I threw the door open and scooped her into my arms.  After a month of being who-knows-where, she was back, wagging her sweet little tail, running circles around the kitchen, and covering my face with her signature Goldie kisses for minutes, and maybe hours, on-end.

Once I recovered from my shock, I immediately whipped up a chai tea latte, served it in her favorite Tim Tebow mug, and settled down to find out where she’d been for the past thirty days.  I had about a million questions racing through my mind that only she could answer.

Goldie believes in Tim Tebow.

But before she even took a sip, Goldie was at the back door again, jumping, whining, and pawing at the glass to get out.  Confused, I slid it open as she bolted for the bushes, and turned around to face me with a “Duh.  What are you waiting for?” kind of look.

“Spring,” I muttered to myself as I threw on some boots, tucked in my super-comfy sweats, and chased her outside.

Following her to a tiny, ice-covered tree, I found two adorable, frightened little friends huddled together to stay warm.

Brownie and Spotz.

Reunited as if they were long-lost littermates, the three immediately began to bound around the yard…jumping, flipping, flying through the air, and playing Duck, Duck, Goose (which is harder than you’d think on four feet and a sizable amount of snow).

One by one, my husband, Scot, and our two eldest children ambled outside to see what was going on, each more surprised and elated than the other.

As usual, Essa was the last to rouse herself from her cozy, stuffed animal-strewn sleep.  When she rounded the corner of the patio dressed in puppy pajamas, eyes filled with tendrils of drowsy hair, and no shoes to fight the biting cold, a yelp, no, a full-on bark of excitement exploded from her mouth.  Before I could turn around, Goldie leapt from the snow, flew eons and eons through the air, and expertly landed in my daughter’s open arms.  The two stood together and slowly twirled in a soft circle, eyes locked on the other with a look of love so profound it was impossible not to stare.  Or cry.

And now?  Goldie’s back.  Our family is complete again, and with the addition of Spotz and Brownie, even better than before.

I’m still not sure why Goldie ran away.  Perhaps she needed to venture out into the world to realize what she had, or maybe it was because she knew I wouldn’t understand her value until she was gone.  In life, you don’t always get a second chance to make things right, but when you do?  Hold on tight and don’t let go.

Either way, what matters is that we’re a unit again.  Solid.  Impenetrable.  Strong.  Goldie and her friends are as real as our imagination allows them to be.  And for the moment?  My coyoteitis is completely under control.

The Three Amigos in Goldie’s Winter Wonderland

Making snow angels.

Deep powder snowshoeing.

Sledding down the mountain.

Tree hopping.

Tubing over a ginormous crevasse.

Building a snowman.

Catching some serious air.