Morning Trek with Tanner

This morning, I decided to mix up my routine. I needed to take my van to be doctored and instead of accepting the usual courtesy ride home, I brought along Tanner, my beloved German Shepherd Dog, so he and I could enjoy a summer morning walk. My motives were multiple. The beautiful morning air lured me outside. I figured I could use some exercise and natural Vitamin D. And, most importantly, in a household with multiple dogs, I was craving some Tanner time. Alone, just the two of us, a girl and her dog. I figured that the leash and experiences that connected us during this outing would help us forge an even closer bond.

With the van checked in, Tanner and I set out. The route back home is straight and busy, a concrete jungle of commercial buildings, roadways, and traffic. But with Tanner by my side, I chose the road less traveled and found myself meandering through the neighborhoods of South Chico, an area bordered by the main road I travel daily, but with an interior I had never fully explored. Initially, I had planned to walk at a power pace, but when I left the busy corridor, I entered a world of quiet and calm; my pace slowed. As Tanner and I walked along, we both absorbed the new surroundings.

Our journey took us to the back side of a senior-living complex; the front side faces the busy commercial corridor I’d avoided. I had always felt a bit sorry for those who lived within since their neighborhood seemed so cold. But beyond the main street facade I discovered a complex of lovely little units. Instead of an impersonal, multi-resident dwelling, I found a colorful, happy place where individuality was evident in porches adorned with flowers and decorated doors. Tanner was enthralled by the smells of one small tree outside one unit’s porch, a signal, I believe, that a small, cherished dog was living large inside. Behind each porch, each door, I knew was a story of love, loss, and labor-core life elements arranged in ways uniquely personal for those who dwelled inside.

Further down we were startled by a din of cooing from beyond a sturdy wooden fence. Tanner stopped, mesmerized, perplexed, and I joined him in his wonder. He sniffed the air and cocked his head as he cautiously approached the fence. What strange beings could create such a gentle roar? Mourning doves? A flock, I supposed, cooing out their morning greetings as this summer day unfolded.

We passed two houses similar in architecture and color, but there the sameness stopped. In the driveway of one was a set of vintage, dusty cars, a likely product of a poorly attended hobby; perhaps the hobbyist’s life had changed so that he or she no longer had the time. Along the driveway of the other was an arrangement of beautiful potted plants, clear evidence of a labor of flowery love. How interesting to see these contrasts in handicraft and hearth.

And so we wove our way home, Tanner and I. Past the artifacts of people’s lives, along the public corridors that allowed us to journey by their private spaces. I felt part explorer, part voyeur, part proud citizen of my little town, filled with ordinary people doing simple yet extraordinary things to translate bricks and mortar, flora and fauna, into meaningful expressions of person and place.

But for Tanner, I would not have made that trek. But for that trek, I would not have gotten off the beaten path. A girl, her dog, and a morning voyage with an unexpected vantage point on a Chico summer morning.

Advertisements

A Dog Named Kobe Wan

Jenny and Kobe, therapy dog "Pet Partners", on a Christmas visit to Windchime of Chico.

There has been a dog in my life named Kobe Wan. I first met him several years ago when he came to one of my dog classes with his guardian, Jenny. Jenny and Kobe were an impressive sight – both tall, composed, and dignified in appearance and demeanor. They made for a striking pair. The teamwork between them was remarkable. Jenny taught Kobe an array of behaviors and he responded to her cues as if anything but utmost perfection was beneath him. Jenny and Kobe moved together as if they were seasoned dance partners and together they progressed through advanced training and became a certified therapy team.

But beyond Kobe’s steady demeanor was a serious health problem and anxiety about being alone. Perhaps it was these characteristics that landed Kobe in an animal shelter before Jenny found him and made him hers – and she became  his. She adopted him, provided him with the best of care, and set about to develop his mind, sooth his anxieties, and heal his body. To help with his anxiety, Kobe was enrolled in our day care program and over the months he flourished. Initially he would pace and fret about Jenny’s absence and the antics of other dogs. But over time he came to play with his canine friends, relax on our couch, and snooze at our feet while he waited for Jenny at the end of the day. We at the Canine Connection loved him. He was one of our family and we shared Jenny’s sense of privilege for his presence in our lives.

Today we learned the unthinkable. This weekend, Kobe died. It hurts just to write these words. Kobe Wan was larger than life. His presence filled the room. His connection with Jenny seemed almost tangible. Their life together was woven of a common cloth and surrounded by a cloak of love.

Our hearts hurt because we have lost our dear friend, Kobe. And they hurt even more because we know the grief Jenny feels. In this privilege of sharing our lives with dogs, so too is there pain. But there is comfort in knowing that our lives have been forever blessed by Kobe Wan and that his spirit will linger in our hearts forever more.

Of Dogs and Friends

My friends, Kate and Roger, moved to Mexico, taking their wonderful standard poodle, Tux, with them. As they organized their belongings, they decided what would go and what would stay, what they’d keep and what they’d give away. They presented me with a beautiful gift – four hand blown glass dogs that I know Kate dearly loved and she knew I admired. These small creatures, conceived of glass, talent, and love, convey so much to me – the beauty of dogs, art, and most importantly a longtime friendship born of a common love of dogs.

My friendship with Kate and Roger goes back almost a decade. I remember so vividly the day we met. I was sitting outside at a local coffee house, enjoying sunny fall weather with my foster greyhound, Deveron. Kate and Roger, who were sitting next to me, bounded up and surrounded Deveron, showering him with pets and hugs. “What’s his name?” they asked, “What’s his story?” they inquired, “Can we adopt him?” they mused. And so started a friendship that has grown over the years, a friendship rooted in a deep fascination and respect for dogs and nurtured by a deep caring for one another.

Kate and Roger did not end up adopting Deveron (I did!), but they did adopt me as their friend, and I them. Over the years, as our lives progressed, we have shared much, reflecting on changing relationships, considering jobs and retirement, discussing the balance between reality and dreams, and, most importantly, sharing our endless love of dogs. When Tux came into their lives I felt as if I had a nephew of sorts. My family grew and my life was enriched. When Kate and I lost beloved dogs we knew that the other understood our grief in the ways only a true dog friend can. When Kate and Roger embarked on a new life in Mexico, and asked me to care for their canine glass pack, I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude for my beloved dog friends.

Dog people see the world in ways that only other dog lovers truly understand. To the uninformed, our priorities may seem odd, our clothes hairy, and our conversations absurd. Yet, our friendships are rooted in a feeling of truth – that beyond the fur and flesh there is a common core to all beings – a need to love and be loved, nurture and be nurtured, and connect with other living beings who understand us on our own true terms.

My New Pup

Roadie 2Meet Rhodie. He’s a 12 week old Australian Shepherd. He’s sweet, soft, and silly and he’s the newest member of our pack. I really didn’t want another dog, let alone a puppy – they are just so much work! But Rhodie appeared in my life and, like all pups, he needed a human to step in to provide him a home. “I’ll test drive him for the weekend,” I said, and as this weekend comes to an end it is clear this pup is here to stay.

My years of experience with puppies and their parents have made me alert to the antics and quirks that indicate which puppies will be relatively easy and which will send the frustration index off the charts. Rhodie is everything I could want in a pup. He’s a quick study and is eager to learn. He’s respectful of other dogs, plays gently, and understands dog body language as if he wrote the book. He’s naturally curious, appropriately cautious and is adapting to novelty with ease. His mouthing is soft and his jumping (his only real vice) is rapidly being replaced with sitting as he learns this is the ticket to all good things in life. He hasn’t pottied in the house or chewed a single valued item – yet. Rhodie is a diamond in the rough (or is it “ruff”) and I am pleased that I am his, he is mine, and we are ours.

As I look at Rhodie sleeping at my feet I wonder what adventures are ahead. Will his life be long and healthy? Will his presence be a comfort in Lenny, my soul dog’s, final days? What will my animal family be like when Rhodie, not Lenny, is the senior member of the pack? What will my own life be like? Will he live up to my hopes that he can be my new sidekick, my roadie? What joys, frustrations, sorrows, and celebrations will this new puppy be part of and bring?

And as he sleeps, here at my feet, Rhodie twitches, yips, and yaps, clearly caught in his own dreamstate of images, perhaps anticipations, I can only imagine.

Dreams and life unfolding as our journey together begins.

To return to Sarah Richardson’s Canine Connection web site go to:
www.thecanineconnection.com

The Mystery of Cats

Simba

Simba

I have a pair of dangling, dancing cat earrings. Someone once looked at me quizzically. “A dog trainer,” she laughed. “wearing cat earrings? It must be your day off!”

Truth be known, I am a closet cat person. Oh yes, I live and breathe dogs. But when I need some real peace and quiet, I tiptoe out to my garage and snuggle with Simba, my beloved cat. Simba introduced me to the mysterious world of cats. He walked up the driveway one day, skinny and flea ridden, bellowing out his meows, and indicated with all he had that he was going to stay. I strongly advised him against it, imploring him to think about the dogs (not all of which are cat friendly) and my allergies to cats. But he was persistent in indicating that our house was his new home, we were his new people, and he was our new cat. We are family. All my furry critters and me.

That was three years ago, and since that time I have grown increasingly intrigued by cats. Dogs, I know well. I can usually anticipate their next move by the slightest muscle twitch, or lack thereof. But cats, they mystify me. They keep so much to themselves. Or maybe its just that they’ve reduced their concerns to the simple basics: a safe place to snooze, some satisfying food and, for those cats like Simba who thrive on human contact, a daily chin scratch and lots of gentle petting. Maybe it’s not so mysterious at all. Maybe cats have just gotten to the core truths.

Cleo. Please come home!
Cleo. Please come home!

What I have learned about cats, since that fateful day when Simba walked into my life, is that a cat chooses you. You do not choose a cat. Nothing has made this clearer to me than my recent experience with Cleo, a feline that I tried to adopt into my animal family. Cleo’s family was moving out of state and could not take her along. I, thinking it would be wonderful to expand my cat contingency, agreed to take her in. I brought Cleo home and assured her that I would do all I could to help her feel at home. And then, after several days, Cleo left me. No, she didn’t just casually walk out an open door. She sought out, found and used an escape route leaving me frantic and worried, pondering the endless mysteries of cats.

My search for Cleo is now in its third week. I have posted fliers and hand-delivered nearly 300 more of them by going door-to-door. I have created a Cleo page on my web site, listed her on Craigslist, and run endless newspaper ads, including display ads that show her big green eyes peering out. I have even spoken to an animal communicator and asked her to convey to Cleo that her place is at my home. Here, she’ll find a safe place to snooze, some satisfying food, a daily chin scratch and lots of gentle petting.

But as Simba and Cleo have taught me, you don’t choose a cat, a cat chooses you.

Update – 5/24: A miracle occurred. Yesterday, over a month after Cleo disappeared, my neighbor walked across the street with her in her arms. She told me that Cleo had shown up that morning at the home of her other neighbor, a lovely, older man. Cleo had awakened him the night before wailing at his bedroom window – not meowing but wailing as if to say “I am here. I am home!”. Cleo clearly wants to live with this kind-hearted gentleman and he has indicated she can stay. As I wrote some weeks ago – you don’t choose a cat, a cat chooses you.

To return to Sarah Richardson’s Canine Connection web site, go to:

www.thecanineconnection.com.

My Dogs’ (Former) Dad

mike-and-zorro-sleepy-heads1

Note: Since writing this, Mike and I have gone our separate ways but I will always appreciate his connection with our dog family.

________________

My dogs are lucky dogs. They have an amazing dad. He is their chief caretaker, feeding them, playing with them, and vigorously petting them all every day. They line up for these vigorous rub downs from the “Master Petter” as I like to call him.

He talks to them as if he is absolutely sure they understand, and when they talk to him, using various vocalizations, he seems to always understand. “What does he want?”, I recently asked when Tanner, our teenage German Shepherd, began to whine and dance. “He wants me to go out and watch him play,” Mike explained. “You mean he wants you to play with him?” I asked. “No” Mike responded, “he just wants me to watch him run around.” They make the trek outside together and sure enough, Tanner begins to do laps around the backyard. “Look at me, Dad!” his antics seem to say. Mike watches with amusement and Tanner is happy for the audience. Yes, my dogs have a great dad.

Perhaps the best thing about my dogs’ dad is that he understands that dogs are not machines. They sometimes steal his food, the remote (God forbid!), or his place on the couch. Occasionally, they chew up things they shouldn’t (our 8-year old greyhound has suddenly developed a mid-life penchant for pillows), dig in inconvenient places, and one of them eats poop. But my dogs’ dad is patient, forgiving, and kind. “Human error” he says, when his socks end up in the backyard, recognizing he should have put them in the hamper. Yes, my dogs and I are thankful for their dad.

My dogs’ dad has never met a dog he didn’t like. I sometimes ask him to help me with clients’ dogs who have a fear of men. These dogs will sometimes bark and lunge and look very scary as their adrenaline throws them into “fight or flight”. My dogs’ dad helps them understand that he is friend, not foe, but the process can take time, patience, and sometimes courage. “What do you think of Beau?” I ask after a session with a big, burly, scary looking dog who barked and lunged at him in a ferocious way. “I like Beau.” he says, “I feel bad that he’s so stressed. Beau’s a good dog.” To Mike, every dog is a good dog, even when they do bad things.

As I write this blog, my dogs’ dad is in the ICU, not terribly conscious of all that is going on around him as the tubes and machines maintain and monitor his life. While he can not talk, I have discovered that if I can ask the right question, he can nod to indicate a “yes”. “Do you want me to sneak in Quaid (our large, drapey, greyhound) to snuggle at your feet?” I ask, knowing this is not possible, but wanting to suggest some comfort. Just as my dogs love and need their dad, so their dad loves and needs them. With a clear, deliberate nod, my dogs’ dad says “yes”.

To return to Sarah Richardson’s Canine Connection web site, go to:
www.thecanineconnection.com

Ode to Old Dogs

lenny3A year or so ago I had a moment of truth. I looked at my beloved Lenny and realized his eyebrows had turned a distinguished shade of silver grey – or had they – weren’t they always this color? After all, he is a grey dog! I rushed to find a photo of Lenny from his younger days to compare with his current features, hoping it would confirm that Lenny’s blue merle fur was not showing signs of age. I found a photo and a youthful Lenny looked out from it. No silver eyebrows there. I realized his once boldly mottled coat had become muted as time had floated by.

Lenny has always been an “old soul” – one of those dogs who seems to intuitively understand what’s going on and has an air of calmness about him. He has been my number one sidekick for almost twelve years. He showed up as a spindly, teenage stray, so thin and lithe that at first glance I thought he was a little doe, not a dog. As I look back on his adolescence, a time when many dogs are abandoned or rehomed because of unruly behavior, I remember Lenny as being near perfect. Of course, the chewed corner of my coffee table attests to a few transgressions here and there, but those are long past, and are a small price to pay for the privilege of having my now old dog.

Old dogs are treasures. Their soft eyes are windows to their gentle souls. Their graying muzzles are testaments to their success in learning how to navigate the human world. Their slower gait allows them, and us, to relax and breathe just a bit more deeply. I believe it is our greatest privilege to be able to care for old dogs in the special, senior years.

I have often said that if I win the lottery or inherit riches from a long lost relative, I would build a sanctuary for homeless, older dogs. It is a tragedy that our world is full of senior dogs who are left to complete their lives alone. So many people bypass older dogs when looking for a furry friend, yet older dogs are the most faithful, gentle, and calm. Old dogs are champions.

As I look at my beloved Lenny, his silver eyebrows remind me how quickly time flies and how precious each and every day is with my loving, loved, and loyal friend. The past is full of wonderful moments defined by more youthful zest, but today – this day with my old dog – is the best gift of all.

_________________

Postsript: Lenny died on January 13, 2011. He was with me almost 13 years. He was about 14 years old when he died. I miss him every day. I always will. Thank you, Lenny, for being my dog. See you later. I love you.

_________________

To return to Sarah Richardson’s Canine Connection web site, go to:
www.thecanineconnection.com