Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dog & God

It has occurred to me, months after Rocket’s arrival, that he was a gift from God. He was sent to transition me from my adolescent views about life (where I only dreamt of what would be) into an adult view in which I see the happiness in the now.

Today, I finished Marianne Willamson’s book A Return to Love. In her chapter about Heaven, she quotes another text, A Course in Miracles, stating: “Only infinite patience produces immediate results.”

This has never rang more true for me than with dog training. The moment my temper flared or impatience began oozing through my veins, all communication with Rocket dissipated. Clarity of hand signals, clarity of my intentions behind the hand signals (what was I trying to get him to do?), and clarity about our relationship would blur in my fits of furry. Why wasn’t this ‘working?’ Why won’t he listen? I’m doing it just the way the book said, why is he too stupid to do it? It’s been hours, days, months—why isn’t it easier? In hindsight, how could any of those thoughts have lead us into a better relationship or support clear communication? Even more elementary than that, how were those thoughts serving either of us in the moment? They were simply zapping all of our joy and wasting time for both of us.

But who could fault him for his incompliance? Rocket wouldn’t look at an angry, ill-communicating person--who could blame him? I mean, what human would want to give their attention to a self-serving, impatient person? I know I wouldn’t . How unfair of me to expect a dog to do something that I wouldn’t do. Rocket was sent for me to see the hypocrisy in my day to day thoughts and actions. I thought I brought him into my life to start working toward my dreams (which included a dog). It turns out that’s what he was, but for the first few months, I didn’t see him as that. I kept looking at him wondering when my dreams were going to begin. But Rocket was unflappable. He stayed beside me during the challenge of the transition. In fact, some moments he stayed so close he was either underfoot, behind me, in front of me, to my left, to my right, even above me at times—just like God is if we take a silent moment to see and feel and live this truth. I am now completely on board with the notion that it is no accident that “Dog” is simply “God” spelled backwards.

Unconditional love. Moment to moment happiness. Surrender and faith. All of these are elements of our relationship with God…and with our dogs. The love part has been the biggest eye opener for me. Marianne Williamson goes on to say in her book: “Love takes more than crystals and rainbows, it takes discipline and practice.” This kind of love—my love for a dog—has catapulted me from my ‘rainbows and sunshine and puppies’ idea about dreams into a new ‘day to day, moment to moment, true joy’ outlook on life and love. It’s a lot more work, but it includes a lot more gratitude and genuine love.

Thanks be to Rocket. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter 2011

For Easter, Rocket gave me a big goose egg...on my shin. He used his block head. He gets points for presentation. It is huge.

I got him a nice, soft, camel chew toy. There are different gift giving styles, I suppose.

Happy Easter from our house to yours!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Extreme Bedding

Bedding. It’s like an extreme sport for dogs and their guilt-ridden owners: I buy the beds, Rocket does what he wants with them—chew them, pee on them, tear, gnaw, and mutilate them. I buy more beds without correcting the chewing or the ‘dragging them around the house’ behaviors, he takes comfortable naps on his oversized chew toys anywhere he desires. This was our vicious cycle. I felt too exhausted to constantly correct him every single behavior. While it made for funny photos, it had to end.

I started by stopping. I stopped ignoring his chewing on the beds, and started correcting him gently. I stopped letting him nibble the corners (which he would try to sneak by hiding his face in the folds of the bed while gnawing at the zippers), and started giving him proper chew toys filled with food. Slowly, ever so slowly, one or two of the tattered beds remained in decent shape without further abuse. Those beds were going to have to be in dire straights before a fresh, new one appeared. My higher self and bank account said so.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Dedication to Dedication

This post goes out to my friend in Michigan, whom I will refer to from this day forward as “Ten Dog Kerri.” This past week she called to let me know she was considering fostering a bulldog mix mama and her 9 three-week-old puppies that were scheduled to be euthanized at a high kill shelter near her home. Kerri felt so compelled to do something that she was willing to turn her no dog house into a foster home for at least a month just to provide the dogs with their last chance. 0 to 10 in a matter of moments is a big leap.

“Do it,” I told her. “The mom will take care of the puppies and you can take care of the mom. “

Please understand that this support was not offered lightly. When someone feels compelled to act out of love and compassion, and has the time, means, and desire to give their best to help another animal or person, I say, by all means, YES! My “but” in this situation is: try to be as prepared as possible. Before you bring (even one) dog home, or shortly after you bring them home (within a few days), seek out the supplies you’ll need to make the new situation as easy as possible on all involved. There will be a moment of panic with a change of that scale. There can also be enlightenment.

Here is my “grocery list” of new dog preparedness I wish had been given to me:

General Supplies
* Crate – big enough for them to stand up in and turn around, this is as important as food and water. Your dog will thank you. Your furniture and floors will thank you.
* Two leashes, two collars, two tags for each dog.
* Dog Bed – please note this will probably get chewed to some degree.
* Dog Blanket (to go over the bed so you can wash it instead of the dog bed). This is sort of an “extra," but I found it helpful and necessary for my stinky puppy. An old towel works, too.
* A Kong – or similar chew toy.
* A vet – at the very least, the name, number, and personal reference for a friendly, open-minded vet clinic.
* A Potty Zone – dedicate an outside area as the potty spot.
* A camera – you’re going to want to document the cute moments (so you can remember them during the challenging ones). Plus it is a good idea to have a photo to refer to in case the new dog takes off through the neighborhood & for a moment you think you might need to make a poster before they come running back. (Ahem, Rocket).
* A trainer – the name & contact information of a certified, positive-reinforcement trainer whom you can email, take classes from, or contact for answers. There is no shame in asking for help.

* Food – wet, dry, or both, have some ready to go.
* One dish for food, one dish for water.
* Treats – may I humbly suggest freeze-dried liver?

Cleaning your dog
* Shampoo – next to the bathtub with a bag of treats, a towel, and a cup for rinsing. Baths happen without warning, it is better to have supplies ready and waiting for you when you have to throw a poopy, muddy puppy into the tub and pull a dripping wet one out.
* Old Towels – for baths, the back seat of your car, inside the crate, as a cover for the crate or a washable throw for over the dog bed.
* Baby Wipes -- for the small wipey baths your dog will surely need from time to time. Good for wiping paws.

Cleaning your house
* Paper Towels – more than you ever think you’ll use in a lifetime. No, seriously.
* Disinfecting wipes – of any brand, in bulk.
* Plastic bags – there will be poo, and soaked paper towels that will need odor-control.
* A Bissell compact carpet-cleaning machine for pets – this will save your sanity (in my case, up to 6 times per day) while saving your rugs.

For the record, I had little to none of these items when Rocket came home. I panicked before realizing there was no need to. I just needed a moment to think about what would make our everyday life easier (for Rocket, my roommate, and I).

Ten cheers for Ten Dog Kerri for her serious dedication to helping animals in need! The puppies and their mama ended up going to a rescue on the same day she was going to bring them home. Instead, Kerri is welcoming an 8-year-old chocolate lab into her home as a foster dog. It all worked out…probably for the best. There’s no question that it is easier to shift gears when you’re going from 0 to 1. Even then, one can be a lot.

(Me & Rocket, Day one).

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Rocket has three feline sisters—Charlie, Cataway, and Tiki.

Charlie is mine…a sassy young inside/outside I-do-what-I-want calico. Cataway (aka “Fataway”) is the big-boned grey & white cat; Tiki is the bob-tail calico. Cataway and Tiki “came with the house” and live happily outside--with the occasional inside pillow lounging visits. Rocket’s arrival was easier for them than Charlie on many levels; they didn’t have to defend the house from a hopping, smelly dragon of a dog that had invaded the princess’ castle. A dramatic war had begun for Charlie. In Rocket’s mind, he was simply trying to make a friend. His methods were novice and messy. He pounced on her like Tigger on Rabbit, he followed her under the bed, tunneling after her like a gopher, and pillaged her toys like a determined pirate.

The word torture comes to mind when I think about Rocket and Charlie. If I could be permitted to anthropomorphize for just a moment, the looks of disgust and betrayal on Charlie’s face were clear and constant. She swatted at him, screeched at Amanda and I to please do something about “that beast,” and started heading outside early and often just to avoid him. Rocket was desperate for acceptance. He was not aggressive toward her, though his interest was pressing and obvious. He didn’t want to harm her, he was just looking for fun. His play bows couldn’t get low enough to impress her and would quickly get him a slash across the nose for even trying. (He has a scar to prove it). Occasionally, upon receiving yet another rejection, Rocket would hang his head with what appeared to be sadness at the refusal, but as soon as Charlie showed herself again, he would perk right up and trot across the floor after her.

Rocket didn’t give up, and eventually Charlie began to tolerate his presence. She will never admit this, but I’ve seen them rub faces when they think no one is looking.

Charlie has her own way of making is easy to see where Rocket could have learned the "pounce & run" technique.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Things That Go Squish in the Night

Rocket spent his first few weeks sleeping in a crate outside the front door. It was a high quality crate with a cover, bedding, and toys. From one person’s perspective, he had everything he needed…and wasn’t it better than being on the street? From another point of view, someone easily could have thought he needed to be inside the house (in the crate). From yet another outsider, perhaps he should have been in the house, not in a crate. At the end of the night, he was safe, that was the bottom line. He was also constantly covered in poo. Crate training—designed to housetrain a dog, provide him with a comfortable den, and keep the dog safe—was not working for a puppy so heavily medicated that he could not control his bowels. Rocket whined. All. Night. Long.

It wasn’t long before Rocket came inside to sleep. The crate stayed out. I was tired of not knowing why he was whining. Was he lonely? Was it separation anxiety? Did he really need to go that much? Had I spent the week conditioning him to whine all night by letting him out each time? Ironically, I was trying to avoid a mess in the morning by letting him out over and over. But all of the up/down/up/down with no poops only left me exhausted to the point I would sleep through his real “I have to go now” whine, and still wake up to a white dog turned brown from extreme amounts of feces. “Where is this shit coming from?” came out of my mouth every day. I wonder if Rocket thought that was a command.

So I bought him a bed. Then two, then three. And piled them up on the floor next to my bed. (The beds weren’t for him, they were for me. I was trying to purchase away the guilt I felt for having left him outside in the crate for two long weeks. Rocket chewed them up and spit them out. I found this very symbolic. And expensive).

There was no guarantee that this poo-fest would end until Rocket was off of his medicine. Lucky human I am, if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, all I had to do is stand up (without whining) and walk to the toilet. Puppies don’t have that luxury. Soon after moving inside for the night, Rocket followed my example of going to the bathroom without whining. He just started going. All. Over the Place. And when I got up to use the bathroom, I had to step in that same “all over the place” area to get there. I started whining. And taking mini-showers twice a night. Yes, the whining had transferred to me, and there was no guarantee I would stop whining until Rocket was off his medication.

I should have re-written the old “prayer” about things that go bump in the night, perhaps then I would have taken fewer foot showers at midnight…

“From ghoulies and ghosties, and four-legged beasties, and things that go squish in the night, good Lord deliver us. Amen.”

I also should have consulted a trainer. And started wearing slippers. Rocket no longer goes poo in the night; but I use a nightlight, just in case.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dog or Descriptor?

A 10-year-old told me yesterday (as he was describing the personality of a different dog), that: "Rocket is amazing."

"Thank you," I replied, happy to receive any compliment about my No No Bad Dog. "What made you say that?"

"Because he's an adjective," he said. "That's amazing!"

I burst out laughing. "No, I'm serious," he continued. "I was trying to think of a way to describe that other dog and I kept thinking about Rocket and if she was like Rocket or not. Then it hit me--Rocket is an adjective. Not every dog or person can be an adjective."

"I always thought maybe he was more of a verb," I smiled.

"No, everyone already knows about the verb form," he replied straight-faced. "The adjective form didn't exist before your dog. He's one of a kind, but other dogs can be like him, which makes them a little bit or a lot Rocket."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day, Maui 2011

Happy Valentine's Day! Love, Rocket

Special aloha to everyone in Rocket's dog training class
who support him and his efforts to party, I mean, behave.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Vet Visit #1

The first vet trip of many happened the Monday morning after I returned from Australia. The long flight had my body orbiting itself while I was sleeping, awake, trying to stand, sit, or simply think. Nothing made sense physically or mentally. My emotions didn’t stand a chance. I woke up and almost forgot there was a sick puppy in a crate right outside the door, except I’d been up all night taking him out when he cried because his bowels were still so sensitive and his urges frequent.

We drove thirty minutes to the other side of the island to the same clinic as Charlie. For a moment I was thrilled to have a dog in the car with me. It is what I always dreamed of having…a furry co-pilot who doesn’t offer out direction corrections or demands, but rather just sits there, high on life, happy to be going for a drive with their human best friend. Only Rocket and I didn’t know each other. And we were going to the v-e-t…who knew how sick he still was, how he’d behave, or how much it was going to cost.

We got there. We checked in. We went into the room. A militant looking veterinarian came in and started asking questions about Rocket. “I don’t know. “ was my every response. “It’s hard to say not knowing.” So he began telling me about my dog. Here are what his medical charts say from when he first came in. These are the medicines he needs to be on. Skin scrapes. Anti-yeast baths. Diet. Training. All the while Rocket just waltzed around the room, sniffing, paying no mind to the people having a one-way conversation. “Training,” he kept saying, “training is important.” And just like that, jet lag took over. I felt like I’d been drugged heavily and suddenly. If I could have passed out right then and there from exhaustion, I would have. Somewhere deep down I knew better. The vet’s mouth was still moving. I needed something to grasp on to, something to focus on to keep me from just giving in to the thickening pool of fatigue. I rolled my eyes around the room, letting them fall onto Rocket’s open chart. Animal Clinic. Rocket. Canine. Male. Pit Bull.

“Pit Bull?” I shouted, fully alert, eyes popping. “Why did you write ‘pit bull’ on his chart?”

“Because that’s what he is,” came the simple response.

“But, why? Why did you write it down like that? Why did you write that?”

“Because that’s what he is.”

He had my full attention now. And Rocket’s attention, too. The puppy was sitting up, looking right at each of us with his big cow eyes. He looked like he had something he wanted to add to the disjointed banter.

My thoughts began to race and then swirl with the exhaustion just as rapidly. I looked down at the white puppy, my jaw open. I had adopted a pit bull? What on Earth does that mean? He doesn’t even look like a pit bull to me. He’s just cute. What was I thinking? What will I think of next? All of the media-saturated false information about “pit bulls” flooded my increasingly numbing brain. How did I get here? What have I done…

An ear splitting bark filled the room. I jumped out of my skin. I went from confused to scared in two seconds flat. I’d never heard him bark like that. It was loud and powerful and piercing.

“Why did he do that?” I gaped at the veterinarian.

“He’s training you,” the vet said flatly.


He did it again while staring right at me, unflinching. I jumped again, clutching my purse to my chest, staring at this dog that was becoming more of a stranger to me by the second.

“What does he want?” I asked.

“He’s testing you. This is what I’ve been saying. Training is very important. You need to train him before he trains you.”


This time, I burst into tears. The sheer volume of his yelp and the magnitude of the “new arrangement” mixed with the weariness cracked me. I broke down in public in front of the non-emotional, matter of fact vet. The vet and the dog just stared at me. I can’t do it, I thought to myself. I just need to go home and go to sleep and then wake up and deal with this later. I don’t even want to do this.

“I’m just so tired,” I managed to squeak out. “I just got off a plane and this is just a lot.”

The vet ended our visit with written down instructions (bless him), seven medications, and directions to get some rest and think about training.

I grabbed the bag of medications, the jaw-dropping receipt, the medical instructions, and the pit bull and climbed into the car. I cried the whole way home while Rocket slept in the back seat. I don’t remember anything else about that day—“pit bull” was enough.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Ounce of Prevention

It is amazing how every little thing changes when a new dog comes home. Every routine gets altered, you have to redecorate room by room in order to “puppy proof,” you no longer get to shower or use the bathroom in peace (in my case, its because there was always a party underfoot, wanting to play and know exactly what was going on. He just looked at me with those big cow eyes and huge grin as if to say “Could this get any more fun? I think we should try…” ). Rugs that you thought were safe get chewed. Chairs that you didn’t realize had a nice, almost velvet finish to them suddenly take on a new look with scratches down the side. Curtains obviously belong on the floor and not on the windows (why else would he take them down everyday?)

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” isn’t just true for face creams…it applies to dogs, too. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had even loosely considered puppy proofing or simply remembered that dogs have nails and teeth…and that they barf and poop and pee just like other living things. I knew Rocket needed to be trained not to be underfoot, not to chew, and not to take the curtains down…but my motto was “one lesson at a time.” My intention was to focus on one “problem” and “fix” it before moving on to the next—I just forgot to choose the first lesson, or couldn’t decide on what was the most important one to begin with, or something! I didn’t begin training at all, just maintaining a constant frustration as I was “deciding” to begin. I wish I’d just jumped in with a smile instead of a furrowed brow. A clear plan would have been helpful. But regardless of my lack of “prevention,” and growing frustration, Rocket was having one hell of a good time…maybe he was trying to prevent me from going off the deep end with exasperation, because every time I looked down at the new mess we had just made, he’d gaze back at me beaming: “Could this get any more fun? I think we should try…”

"Maybe there's more fun under here?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The View from 2011

One of the things I realized over the past year is that I needed to change. Not because that’s what any magazine article or helpful friend told me to do, but because I could feel the need to evolve in my body, mind, and soul. The ‘three against one’ push to move forward was getting intense, and showed me just how detached I had become from “me.” There were so many elements to consider—the house needed to be cleaner, my overflowing desk needed to be organized, my body needed to be healthier, my weight needed to go down, my patience level needed to go up, and my dreams needed to be pulled out from under the bed, dusted off and, at the very least, acknowledged.

I struggled in private, attempting to make all the changes happen at once. I wish, knowing what I know now, that someone had encouraged me to change publically. Not complain about my struggles, but rather acknowledge that I was attempting change—get it out in the open. Change happens all the time. I still question myself today—by attempting change openly, am I more afraid of success or failure? People would see my mistakes and comment on them, (or worse), try to help or question them. Why put myself, successful or failing, out there for judgment of any kind?

And then along came Rocket. The ultimate learn how to struggle in public life coach. You have to train and/or correct your dog in front of other people…and if they are a puppy named Rocket, this is a constant. People shared their opinions about his sick nature, his hyper energy, his spastic behavior, his constant need to party. Everyone had advice for me. Everyone, for the first time in a long time, watched me break decorum and give in to my boiling frustration—in public. This was a big “no-no” for me on a personal level and it sent my cheeks flaring with embarrassment on many occasions. All self-induced, of course.

My thoughts on change today?

Seek support. I wish I had done that first. I was out there on my own, listening to all the naysayers, both strangers and acquaintances, who gave their advice and opinions away constantly. I placed too much emphasis on other people’s beliefs about something that had to do with me (not them). I forgot all of my formal school training that reminded me to go to a knowledgeable source…like a dog trainer.

Educate yourself. Be responsible for gathering the information you need to be successful. Life isn’t just a bunch of opinions, gossip, and here say. There are facts and informed conclusions still out there in this world. If I wanted to know more about a specific book in my field of study (Children’s Literature), I’d go to my professor or an author, not just anyone who had read or heard about the book. It’s okay to take things to a deeper level and find what makes it personal and important to you. And yes, it turns out I still need to gather information about subjects I feel like I “should” already know about…like dogs (you mean you don’t just love on them & put food in a bowl once a day?), and running (isn’t it just one foot in front of the other?). I don’t have all the answers. Neither does anyone else. But there are those who do possess educated information that I need. It turns out I wasn’t born knowing everything…even some of the simple stuff. (Whew! What a relief to acknowledge that out-loud!)

I’m a 30 year old novice at life (and a novice at blogging). But that just means that I’m a newbie navigating new situations everyday. Isn’t that what all of us really are anyway?