Why Dogs Stopped Flying.

Before humans, dogs flew everywhere.
Their wings of silky fur wrapped hollow bones.
Their tails wagged like rudders through wind,
their stomachs bare to the sullen earth.
Out of sorrow for the first humans—
stumbling, crawling, helpless and cold—
dogs folded their great wings into paws
soft enough to walk beside us forever.
They still weep for us, pity our small noses,
our unfortunate eyes, our dull teeth.
They lick our faces clean,
keep us warm at night.
Sometimes they remember flying
and bite our ugly hands.

—-Kenneth W. Brewer

Lois in June.

Almost 10 months ago, my dog Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since we think she’s almost 12 years old (a rescue, so we’re not sure) we opted to not have her endure treatment, but to make her “last days” comfortable.

I put last days in quotes because here it is, almost 10 months later, and she’s doing so well she may outlive us all. I’ve learned over the past 10 months to take each day as it comes. I wake up, gauge how she’s feeling, and go from there. Some days she’s bounding out of bed before me, a big grin on her face, tail wagging, giving me body slams to get me up, licking my face. Other days I’m up first and she looks at me forlornly, her chin on the ground, big eyes gazing up as if to say, “Sigh. . . Mommy I sure wish I felt better. I feel like shit today. Why do I feel so bad?” On those days I take it easy with her and stay home if I can, giving her extra pets and love, extra treats if she’ll take them, walking a little more slowly with her around the yard. Hoping that she’ll feel better tomorrow and that this isn’t indeed the beginning of the end.

But seriously, the “bad” days (also in quotes because every day with Miss Lois is a good day) are few and far between. Sometimes I forget she’s sick. Sometimes I look to the sky at whatever god may be there (take your pick) and ask, “Are you granting me a reprieve? May we have her just a little bit longer than we thought? Is this all really just a bad dream or a misdiagnosis?” Then another bad day happens and I’m reminded of how precious every day is, every moment is really. Every second with her that she feels okay I’m eternally grateful for. I’ve learned through her to not just be grateful for the big stuff, a house, a car, a loving husband, but the little stuff. The moments, the seconds, the minutes when she’s lying beside me in the early morning and I can hear her breathing. Every second.

On her bad days I’m reminded of the fluidness of time. Nothing stands still, we’re all moving, changing, flowing, getting older. I’ve noticed little changes in her during this time beyond the diagnosis. She moves slower, has a cloudy blueness to her eyes, has a calmness, a resignation that wasn’t there before. She doesn’t react as psychotically to thunderstorms and fireworks, but resignedly goes to a closet or the shower. “Not again. . . sigh,” she seems to say, her paws padding on the wood floor clicking away from me. “Not again.”

I have days, weeks even where I think it might always be this way. She will always be okay, we’ll always be together, everything will always be fine. Time stands still. Then something happens to remind me that nothing stands still. Everything moves and changes. Her salivary gland blocked up a month ago and I knew this was the end. I prepped myself for it, steeled myself to feel the pain. But after overnight minor surgery? She’s a new dog and again I’m looking at the sky in gratitude.

This past week, my good friend lost her beloved horse to cancer. Blue had been diagnosed almost the same month as my Lois and over the past 10 months my friend and I had consoled each other and talked with one another about our fears and our hopes for our loved ones. In a weird way every time Lois did better I thought maybe Blue was going to do better too. Sometimes this was the case, sometimes not. When he passed suddenly I was reminded like a savage blow to the head that nothing stays. People and pets pass. Time passes. Hope isn’t always enough to keep the ones you love with you for as long as you’d like. The anger and frustration I felt, the sadness I felt for my friend was overwhelming. I felt hopeless to help, was at a loss for words when I called her, just felt damn mad that someone I cared about had to go through this. The hopelessness was a like a tight collar around my neck, choking the hope out of me. It made me hold Lois a little closer every time she walked near, gripping her around the belly in a tight hug, smelling the beautiful doggy smell of the fur on her neck, vainly trying like hell to just hold onto one damn moment of good against all that pain.

Not too sound too “guru” or anything, but because I’ve been meditating a year now, in a weird, strange way I’ve been able to relay all of this shit into my practice, which has been struggling as of late. Since Lois’s diagnosis my distraction has reached new levels of hilarity, getting so bad that I was actually reaching for my phone to check email during my 20-minute sessions. It was weeks before it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t the way to go about things. I put the phone on a high shelf, backed my minutes up to 5, and started again.

Now I’m up to 12 minutes as of today and am slowly building up to where it was before Lois got sick. It’s okay I did that, obviously I needed to. No beating up of the self allowed. And it’s okay I get frustrated I can’t hold onto anything. Everyone does. You’re not supposed to be able to hold onto anything in this life. And you’re supposed to go through frustration after frustration until it hits you like a Tyson blow that maybe this is the point. There is no holding on. You have to let go. Of everything. Every minute. Every minute of life is a free fall. Loosen that gut you’re holding in during meditation. Loosen the grip on your doggie’s neck. Loosen your breathing. Loosen your thinking. Breathe. Loosen the criticism in your head about how you can’t help your friend. Let go of it all. Every minute. Every second. Instead of holding onto the moments with your beloved doggie daughter, practice just BEING in the moment with her. Lightly. And when it’s time (and yes, in my head I’m thinking, please don’t let it be time anytime soon), breathe. Then let her go.

Gratitude 9/25/12

I’m grateful for music which can lift me when nothing else on Earth can even come close. I let it take me away and for just a moment I surrender and am no longer groundless but am clinging to the notes, and not beating myself up for clinging, just enjoying, laughing, floating, and reveling in the happiness it brings me. Whether it’s STAX, Leonard Cohen, Francis Dunnery, bad House Music, ’80’s New Wave, ’70’s Soul, ’90’s Quiet Storm, or any of the other thousands of kinds of notes I let sink in my ears, it’s all good. All of it heals. It makes the groundlessness easier.

I’m grateful for another good Lois day, her laughing face giving me kisses, urging me outside, reminding me that there’s much to be learned…..outside.
I’m grateful for friends calling from afar, just to say hi and remind me I’m not alone in this unpredictable, crazy atmosphere and existence. We’ve all got our life to breathe through and even when I feel alone, I’m really not.
I’m grateful for unexpected kindness. You brace yourself for a lashing and instead receive goodness and generosity and kindness. So grateful and so much more valuable because you guessed wrong.
I’m grateful for birdsong. Just that. Trilling, rolling, lilting birdsong. Precious and beautiful. I want to hold onto it for the days in our winter woods when it’s completely silent. Too damn silent. For when I long for the song of birds. I take it in and hold it, before letting it float back onto the fall breeze. Surrendering it for someone else’s ears to cherish.

My Girl.

On August 27th, my doggie daughter Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer.

I savor every quiet moment with my girl, the good as well as the not so good. She roams our woods searching for a good place to do her business, walking through our forest floor, ferns brushing our legs, mushrooms of every size and shape and color dotting the leaves. Brown tiny-tree like stalks peeping out, and huge white mounds the size of bread loaves or flat like dinner plates. Tiny red umbrellas, and lacy orange fluttering down the side of a stump. Once a tiny pink elfin mushroom, and once, even a magical blue too bright to be real.

She hunts for the perfect spot and I breathe through the fact this might be one of our last days together. I hope we get to roll in the snow one more time. She so loves the snow. My beautiful girl.

My favorite moments of all are when she sleeps by my side early in the morning after The Hubby has gone to work. On her back with her legs splayed out snoring softly. I lie there and listen to the birds and breathe and try to hold onto it, to remember what it feels like to hear crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance, their echoes calling for my girl to come play, to actually hear the sun rising and to hold onto and remember what it feels like to be loved by Lois. Her gentle eyes telling you everything will be okay Mommy, I’m here, everything will be okay.

Her koala smile tucked into her closed mouth, turned up ever so slightly at the corners, such a small grin conveying such huge happiness. Her soft snore, the way she softly barks in her sleep, her paws tap-tap-tapping on the sides of her crate in the night as she chases rabbits or deer or runs with the direwolves chasing shadowcats. I read, listening to her and The Hubby snore in tandem, each one on either side of me and I am content.

When I first read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” many years ago and Tereza described to Tomas her love for the dog Karenin, how she might just love Karenin more than she loved him, I rolled my eyes and wrote her off. She’s just a dog. Tomas is your husband.

Then I fell for Lois and my whole world changed. I understand how a dog can make you see the world differently, can make you see yourself differently and teach you things about yourself you never knew. They look at you in such a simple, pure way, with such a clean love and never, ever do they expect anything back. What little you have to give them they will take gratefully and never begrudge you a single thing in return. They never resent you or feel threatened by you. You can hate them and even beat them and they will still crave your love.

It is such a purity of spirit, such a generosity, love at its essence. It makes all other forms pale in comparison. You give them love and they give you the world.

You have so many things in your life, your family, your job, vacations, cars, hopes, dreams, goals, anxieties, fears. All they have is you. And that’s all they need.

You never see a dog with self esteem problems. Sure they might be afraid or shy, but a dog never goes around hating herself. Lois just smiles, wags her tail, and looks at you with those big dark eyes as if to say, “Aren’t I cute? Aren’t I just the greatest? Don’t you love me? I sure love me. I sure do. You do too, right? I can see it. You’re DYING to give me a pet. And a treat. And a belly rub. You loooooooove me. You really do. I can tell. Who wouldn’t love me?”

Lois has taught me more about life than any person ever did or will. Dogs have the uncanny ability to act as a mirror. We look into their eyes and they reflect back onto us that which we love most about ourselves. And for most of us, it’s a shocking sight, one we’ve never seen before. For many, including me, it’s the first time we haven’t felt indelible self hatred from reflected images.

Instead of walking around this planet beating ourselves up, dogs remind us why we should love ourselves and each other. I feel better about myself knowing Lois. And by being her Mom, she has taught me to finally get rid of the self-hatred I’ve been carrying around since I was a child.

Taking care of her has been my greatest honor. Loving her my finest gift. And each day I have left with her will be my best.

A Dog’s Life.

…a must for any dog lover, Charlie Chaplin’s “A Dog’s Life”. It figures prominently in Glen David Gold’s book, Sunnyside, and besides, it’s just a damn adorable little movie. Why was Rin Tin Tin a major movie star and not Scraps? What a sweeter! I just want to rub his ears in both hands while saying, “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? WHO’S a good boy? (except that Scraps is a girl, lol!) And yes, I’m still on my Chaplin kick. Which should subside in a few weeks, and then it’ll be an obsession about something else – that’s just how I roll…


Snow Dog.

Lois is a snow dog. You can see the change come over her with every flake floating to the ground. Lois sleeps on a gray day, barely getting up to get a drink of water or to change positions on the sofa. But when the snow starts she changes. Her ears perk up first. Then she lifts her head and starts looking around. Looking out the window. Pacing. Looking at me. Pacing some more. Like a child home from school due to bad weather, this child wants to go build herself a snowman.

Today I was gratefully home from work because of ice and snow. I say gratefully because work has been especially nerve-wracking lately – but that’s a subject for another post. So I was grateful for this gift of a whole snowy day for just me and my dog. Hubby went to work. Being from Buffalo and owning a car with built-in traction control, this was business as usual for him.

But today I was free. Free all morning to write, listen to the radio, drink coffee, and watch the sleet fall down like needles then the snow float down like feathers. Lois was fine all morning, but as the ground grew covered, she grew restless. It’s like she knows now there is enough snow on the ground to be worthwhile. Enough to go play.

And so we walked. And as we climbed a small hill in the road, I looked ahead to a strange sight. About 30 robins sat in the middle of the road, dipping their heads forward to sip the melted ice which lay in puddles before them. A few would fly up and swoop down and around so they looked like bats. And yes, they were all robin red-breast birds. You see one as a prelude to Spring. What does seeing 30 mean? It was magical. Lois took off chasing them, determined to make one of them her lunch. Straining against her leash, threatening to pull my arm out of its socket.

But the birds would just alight awhile and then come to rest again, a little further down the road. Sipping the melted ice. Flitting about in the gray steel-colored air, their breasts as red against the snow as a Beefeater’s coat. Red and gray. They would never touch down behind us, always in front, so it was like we were chasing them. I crunched along in the snow, the only sound except for the birds calling out to one another with playful voices. It has been so silent this winter. Hearing the sound of birds now again reminded me of Spring’s approach.

And Lois played. Rolling in the snow on her back, tongue hanging out, the top half of her going one way, the bottom half the other. Like she’s doing the twist lying down. Then she jumps up, shakes herself off, gives me a sparkling grin and wags her tail as if to say, “Can I go again Mommy?” Her favorite thing is to roll on her back down a hill. She’ll start at the top then twist herself all the way down. Then run up and do it all over again. Like 10 times in a row. Sliding down the playground slide in reverse.

In her eyes I see nothing but pure happiness as she chases the birds, follows a scent trail, slides down the hill. Leaping and bounding through the snow. She has a look in her eyes like she’s remembering something. Like she has Alzheimer’s, but for one brief shining moment she remembers everything. The dawning crosses her face and I see it. “I remember this,” she seems to say. And it makes me melancholy because I wonder what her dog memories are. She has happy memories of chasing birds, running through the snow, rolling on her back. Was it while she was alone? With no home? Or did she run with a pack and it was ruined when that dog attacked her but now she’s remembering her younger, better days. When all dogs were nice to one another and everything was free for the taking and the only important thing you had to do that day was roll in the snow? Did she have another family? Did they play with her in the snow too? Does she miss them sometimes?

Or maybe dogs don’t have memories. Maybe they just live for the moment and the expression I’m seeing is one of pure unadulterated joy at this moment, right here, right now. Who knows? But I do know I hope we get to do it all again tomorrow…

My Doggy Guru, Lois.

Originally published elsewhere, October 2, 2007

My dog Lois is teaching me to be a better, stronger, more at peace person. For years I have been looking for a guru, someone to show me what it is I’m doing wrong, why I am always stressed out and worry too much, why my stomach is always tight, and I’ve found my Buddhist teacher in my dog’s eyes and in her smile.

You see, dogs pick up on every emotion we feel. If we feel stressed, so do they. If we worry, the worry emerges in their eyes and they are worried too. There’s no other way to explain it. When we first got Lois, she was, and still is, terribly afraid of thunderstorms. At the first rumble of thunder, she will begin pacing the house, running up and down the stairs, then hide for a while in the shower stall before ripping up our bedsheets, our mattress, and our couch.

The first time this happened, I was in such a panic, I didn’t know what to do. I chased her around the house, my heart racing, not because she was tearing up the house, but because I thought she might hurt herself. Even on anti-anxiety medication, Lois acted as if the world were coming to an end. My eyes were wild with worry, and so were hers. It was a stressful couple of hours.

Then, my dog sitter, who has high-functioning autism, meaning she has autism but still functions reasonably well in normal circumstances, suggested that my husband and I just sit quietly during the thunderstorm and act as if nothing was happening. We tried it, not really convinced. During the first thunderstorm, Lois still paced, but didn’t tear up anything. During the second, the same. Then something changed. This was during a week when there were thunderstorms, literally, every day. I was going nuts, thinking I would never get through this, but I kept trying, kept breathing through it.

During the third thunderstorm, Lois paced for a while, then went to hide in “her spot” at the top of the back stairwell. She was quiet and stayed there until the coast was clear. The fourth time, it was during the middle of the night. She jumped on the bed, shaking, but after five minutes, she settled down, and eventually jumped off the bed to hide in her spot. I couldn’t believe it. And it made me wonder about autism, and if this is what Dena does when she’s faced with a fearful situation – where it feels as if everything is coming at you at once.

By being quiet and relaxed during a thunderstorm (even though much of the time I was faking it), we created a quietness and sense of relaxation in her.

Lois is teaching me to be at peace. Every time I feel stressed or freaked out, especially when we go for walks, she immediately picks up on it and acts out. But if I’m confident, strong, my stomach isn’t tight with stress, and I’m remembering to just breathe, I look at her face, she smiles at me, and all is well. I just pretend I’m a YaYa, strong and fearless, and eventually I believe it, and it happens. I am YaYa.

It’s a challenging process, but one I really want to succeed in. Not because I don’t want her to rip up the house, but because it feels so much better. In the past, I used to force myself to peace because I felt it was the right thing to do, but now with Lois, I kind of have to be at peace whether I want to be or not – if I’m not, it’s a difficult day for both of us. If I am, we both do well. By her forcing me into this state, I’m learning to go there myself all the time, and damn does that feel incredible.

She’s teaching me to be fearless, something I’ve never been able to do without faking it. What’s that saying? Fake it ’til you make it? There’s something to that. Thank you Lois, for being my mirror, and my guru. I love you.