Saturday, December 19, 2015

Face Book Choices

Every so often I feel embarrassed that my Face Book photos dwell almost entirely on my dogs. I periodically change course, put up a photo I like – what I call an artsy picture – trees, candles, snow scenes – and get practically no response. A few stalwart “likes” dribble in, but when I switch back to Niko (or previously, Dover), people show up again, hitting the “like” button with wild abandon and even leaving a note or two.

 I post pictures of Niko and his friends and predecessors because I am devoted to these friends and I am gladdened by their devotion to me. I find the pictures I post funny, touching, and above all else, I believe that our relationships with our dogs provide mirrors for our own lives and behaviors, our joys, our needs, our desires, our meaning. I suspect that many of Niko’s Face Book human pals feel the same way, and photos of Niko and other dogs stir deep and possible unnamed recognition of moments they have known. Or wish for.

I just finished a reading a book called Two Dogs and a Parrot by the well-known and highly-respected spiritual writer Joan Chittister. She is a writer with a sharp eye for justice and a deft writing style that makes her one of my heroes. The chapters are devoted to Danny, a rambunctious, playful Irish setter; Duffy, a golden retriever who had been groomed for the show ring, but he grew too tall and he was relegated to an unloved section of the kennel and destined for oblivion unless he was adopted; and Lady, a colorful and jaunty bird who showed more human characteristics than I ever thought possible for a bird.

And there it is – each chapter divided into a few of the dog’s or bird’s characteristic quirks, adventures, and misadventures with reflections on a few implied human counterpart behaviors, followed by a page or two riff of related spiritual and psychological insights. Some chapter subheadings are 


  materialism,                                                         play,


  and love.

So remember this: Dogs R us. Dogs are everywhere. Love me love my dog. 

And, of course, everyone knows that dog spelled backwards is . . . .

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A walk on my birthday

"What will you do on your birthday?" she asked.

To start the day, Niko and I went on a three-and-a half mile saunter around the streets of the town. I love walking Niko; he makes stops for each person or dog we meet along the way. If he sees a likely human, he will stand his ground and stare, until she or he, dog optional, stops to greet him. Should they not pick up the signal, he watches the poor benighted suspect recede into the distance and then returns his mind and feet to our journey.

There are many sights and, for Niko, scents along the way. We amble and consider different aspects of the landscape. He prefers rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks, but he was mightily confused by this rabbit tucked away under a hedge. He backed away, extended his snout to top inquiry mode, bristled, and finally responded to my commanding summons to "Leave it!" and to "Let's go!"

As he was happily sniffing away and responding to the invisible call of the wild things, we passed a small stand of mayapple in a struggling, drought-struck garden; mayapple is a poisonous plant, but a delicate one when it is in flower. There were many different kinds of hydrangea in bloom; one I thought was particularly lovely, one just plain confusing, and several others in between.

We passed idiosyncratic front-yard art, stopped to check out a Scottie, a yellow lab, a recently-shorn golden retriever, and a miniature chihuahua. 

At one point one of Niko's beloved boys from down the street drove by and called out the window of the car to us; a friend calls this boy and his brother "Niko's empire." I thought I would never get Niko past that spot, but the car turned into the schoolyard and he eventually decided he would accompany me onward.

Hostas are the national plant of our town, and we passed lots and lots of hostas in various states of decline. Hosta can be quite beautiful, and that may be why it is so widely planted, but mostly, people plant with hopes of this (see left), but in fact, what they get, is this (see right).

We turn a last corner and are reminded that life  emerges even in the most untoward places.

We arrive home to discover that the second morning glory of the season has come into bloom by the back gate. It is time for breakfast – poached egg on toast or kibble.

And that is how the day started. It was followed by BLTs for lunch and lobster rolls for supper, friends, a new squeaky toy for Niko, and much pleasure in between and all around.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Free Gifts: Part III*

When Dover died in January, unexpectedly and way too young,  I was devastated. I had always thought he would be our last dog, perfect as he was and ready to accompany us in the older lane we were already traveling; we would all grow old gracefully together. We decided we would not have another dog, and – I lived with that very rational conviction for two months. No longer did I roam the streets with a dog at the end of the leash, stopping to exchange dog lore with others out for a stroll. No more nursing home visits; no more dog classes. In fact, I didn't even go out for walks - the few times I did go out to see what it was like walking without a dog I found myself imaging my arm outstretched, with an imaginary dog setting the pace, thinking of good names for dogs. I was very lonely.

One day we woke up! Tom and I looked at each other and said almost simultaneously – maybe we should think about another dog. Within the week, I mentioned it to a friend who has corgis, who talked with others in the corgi world, who knew people in the golden retriever world, who had heard that there was a year and a half dog in lower right Massachusetts in need of a new home. I emailed, talked on the telephone, and emailed some more. We arranged a visit to meet and greet, but – only to look. A friend said to himself. "Yeah - I bet. You are going to drive two hours and just LOOK at a golden retriever? I bet!"

So, Niko joined our household that day.  Golden retriever #5 for us. And what a dog. His first job on arrival home was to greet two small and curious children who came into the yard to check him out; he took one look, lay down, belly up – and lay his head in their laps; whenever he sees them, in the yard, on the sidewalk, even the middle of the not-too-busy street around the corner, he sinks to his knees, rolls over, and tells them how glad he is to see them and asks - "Where have you been all day?" When we meet other dogs on the street, he is friendly and eager to exchange dog-ID scents, even with the ones who want to shred him to bits as their owners cross the street, leading them by at top snarl but a safe distance.
Niko in visiting mode.

He is a natural visiting dog.

An unsuspecting cat asleep in the flower box.
Does he have drawbacks, things to learn? Definitely. The unguarded peanut butter and honey sandwich on the all-too-low table is mine, not his. (Too late on that one! But – he and I are both learning.) On walks, he is much too interested in stalking chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and cats (in increasing order of perceived desirability). And we have to remember, he is still an adolescent, and we need to stay out of his way when he goes into one of his maniac moments, circling the yard at top speed and with deep pleasure.

But - he is our new perfect dog. At first I felt unloyal thinking this way, but a friend pointed out – we don't get stuck in the past. Niko is our perfect dog, no apologies. In reverse order, so were Dover, Mungo II, Jonah, and Mungo I. I am so thankful that such an abundance of canine perfection has graced my life.

Where did that sudden turnaround in our mindsets come from? The swift move from a call of the head that we were too old for a new dog, to a call of the heart that there was a definite dog space in our household needing occupancy.  And - that there were people who knew people who knew people who knew people - all at the ready to help when we needed them? Chance? Coincidence? Free gift? Grace? Even . . .  amazing grace? 

Do they all mean the same thing and we just choose different words, depending on our beliefs and views? I think so. My choice is free gift, and for that, to whoever offered the gift of enlightenment, the gift of changing minds, the gift of new life, the gift of friends, the gift of taking chances, I say "Thanks."
Niko invents a new game. His entertainment value is huge.
* Free Gifts, Parts II and I:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Free Gifts: Part II

It was snowing, of course, and snowing fast and furiously, but when a torrent of snow flying by the window caught the corner of my eye because of its beyond-belief abundance, I stopped to cast a closer look. I saw two small children, neighborhood boys, working their way up our as-yet-unplowed drive. They heaved shovels full of snow to the side, into the air, onto each other, up onto the wall of accumulated snow that was taller than they were, and they were having a great time. I laughed out loud at their exuberance, their enjoyment of an often bemoaned task, and their gift to us as they rearranged the snow.

About two weeks prior, two snowstorms back, when my dog Dover was in his final illness and keeping very close to the house, I had urged him (to no avail) up the path to his old haunt by the back walk, for a change of scene for him and a hope of evidence of higher energy and a possible road to recovery for me; thus he would gladden my heart. Minutes afterwards, these same boys appeared at the back gate and asked to come in and play with Dover. Dover saw them and and immediately bounded up the path in top greeting mode, his unbridled joy overpowering any reluctance he had shown just minutes before. The boys had no idea he was ailing; they loved him and threw tennis balls for him, and he responded. 

The gift of their presence and Dover's response did indeed gladden my heart.  

Free gifts come in many guises, unbidden, and always as surprises. They reach deep down into places we sometimes forget we have and remind us that – in spite of many indications to the contrary – this is the way the world works. 

Life is short, and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who travel the journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.*      

*Henry Frederic Amiel