Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dogs Go Camping

Dogs go into complete decline when they see their person fiddling with clothes and suitcases, rattling keys, or, worst scenario from the dog's point of view, closing up the back room and heading for the treat supply while continuing to the door. "I'll be right back!" I always tell Niko, whether I am headed downtown for a brief errand or going to Minnesota for two weeks.  That makes me feel better, but I have no idea what he makes of it other than to know that I am going somewhere that he isn't and the floor is falling from his life.

Yesterday, I went through the first stage of this process, but then I boxed up some of Niko's food. There is no hiding the sound of kibble being transferred – and it got his attention in a twinkling. I put it into his sack, along with a few bones and tennis balls. He knew in that instant that he was going on an adventure, his mood did a u-turn, and, when the RV camper pulled up to the back gate and his friend and protege Sunny emerged to greet him, he knew life was good and he embraced it with wild abandon. The four of us got into the truck, and off we went to the sort-of-local state forest and camp grounds.

The park is only 45 minutes away, and when we got there, Deb secured the camper and Niko surveyed his new world from the top of the picnic table. Things smelled wonderfully to him, We ate (kibble and yogurt for the dogs, lobster rolls for us), and went for a walk. We had forgotten towels, so Niko and Sunny could only look longingly at the water. On our return to the site, the sun was setting and boding well for the next day. Deb made a campfire, and together we four felt happy and secure in the dark and silent forest.

Sleeping was interesting. Niko, a prodigious sleeper, took over 75% of my bunk, and promptly conked out; I did what I could. In fact, I did sleep. I heard three owls – a screech owl, a barred owl, and one that I am still trying to identify. No coyotes. No bears came knocking at our door. At 3 AM, the dogs traded bunks. I know this because I lay directly in the path of the exchange: first, I felt Niko climb over me to attain the next level up, and then Sunny took a flying leap down to my level. At 4 AM they exchanged places again, this time for the rest of the night.

The coffee was fantastic! We packed up, went for a walk, let the dogs enjoy the lake (we had found some towels), got into the truck, and set off for home.

A Celtic Blessing, adapted

Be the eye of the creator dwelling with you, 
The foot of a friend in guidance with you, 
The shower of company pouring on you,
Richly and generously,
  Each day and each night
  Of your portion of the world.

Friday, April 7, 2017

An Easter Dog

Today marks the second anniversary of our visit to Niko at his place of birth. We went to visit him on his home turf, just to take a look. As a friend said, “Yeah, Nancy and Tom are driving two hours to “just look at” a golden retriever! When we rang the bell and he ran to greet us at the door I knew in an instant that he was meant to be mine. I was worried that Tom wouldn’t be so sure, as he had favored looking for a puppy rather than adopting a full-grown dog. I encouraged Niko to hang out with Tom, and it did the trick, even though I already knew he was the dog of my life and there was no way I would leave without this beautiful dog at my side. 
So we popped him into the car and discussed new names on the two-hour drive back. He came with the name Knox, but I needed a two-syllable name to call him out the back door when it was time for supper. I was partial to the biblical J names, but Tom – not so much.  And I couldn’t quite let go of Izzie, even though the name was already claimed by a sweet boy two doors down the block. But somewhere the name Niko popped out of my memory, and that was that.

Niko adapted quickly to our household. The neighborhood kids came to greet him and helped him feel welcomed, loved, and at home.

The transition was not all smooth sailing. Later on that day Niko looked around and began to wonder when he was going home. He went on a hunger strike for a few weeks, he would not get back into the car on his own, and he showed other behaviors that I thought were due to separation anxiety. But his good nature, his idyllic puppyhood and adolescence, and our patience, tricks, and subterfuges paid off. He went back on his feed, entered the car again (but only from the left side, never the right, even to this day), and began to see our house and yard as his kingdom. He passed his canine good citizen and his therapy dog tests in short order.

Here is how Niko changes my life:

  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t be visiting people in nursing homes, some who had had vibrant lives once, and some who are alone and forgotten. People whose eyes brighten when Niko rounds the doorway to their rooms.
  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t know the kids on our block, and our neighbors would have fewer errant tennis balls in their yards.
  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t be walking 2-4 miles a day, greeting other people and their dogs.
  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t be offering students the chance to remember the dogs they left behind and taste a little bit of home as they stop and make eye and hand contact.
  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t laugh nearly as much. Studies show that the very act of smiling and laughing leads to a happier sense of the moment.
  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t have a raft of dog friends, old and new, who know exactly what I am talking about.
  • Without Niko, I would have fewer Facebook friends, different Facebook friends, fewer funny photos and videos posted by Facebook friends.
  • Without Niko, I wouldn’t be dog bait to every passing dog on the street because they know my pockets conceal (or so I thought) dog treats.
      So April 7 is Niko Adoption Day. It was two days after Easter, and he is my Easter dog.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Where is Mr. Rogers When You Need Him?

Walking downtown today to meet a friend for breakfast, I passed one of those signs that are springing up all over our town. I can read one third of the sign, and envy those who can read double or triple that.

No matter where you are from, 
          we are glad you're our neighbor.

An image of Mr. Rogers immediately sprang into my mind’s eye, Mr. Rogers, that gentle soul who brought up many generations of children with his TV show and introductory song – “Won’t you be my neighbor.”

We need Mr. Rogers now. We need gentleness, welcoming, kindness, generosity, honesty. Are these values still treasured, sought after, in this country? Today’s newspapers note that in a neighboring town, the neighbor signs are being stolen.  They also report that while the process of rounding up and deporting immigrants is escalating, the official word is that the process will be more humane than a previous plan. How so? There is an oxymoron in there somewhere.

My father’s father and mother immigrated to this country from Belgium during the time of famine and economic hardship. In fact, emigration from Belgium was even encouraged t
o ease hunger and hardship. In this country, they worked as bartenders and loom repairers and thus were able to establish themselves and their seven children comfortably into a lower economic class life style. There is very little to know about their early history, because records were not kept for poor immigrant families. Yet, to my surprise, I stumbled upon some letters, written by some of my father’s older sisters in their later, more comfortable years, deploring the fact that the neighborhood where they lived was being settled by a new wave of immigrants, possibly from the south of the US, and referring to their new neighbors in pejorative and denigrating terms; they wondered if they should move to avoid the taint of these new arrivals in their neighborhood.

How quickly we forget our previous hardships, our humble beginnings, how people already in residence mistreated our own immigrant predecessors.

I’m with the neighborhood signs. And Mr. Rogers. And my dog Niko. who is an icon for the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.* He and his friend Sunny delight in each others’ company, and, when resources are tight, find it in themselves to share the bone.

* Self-control when the plate is unguarded is, I admit, a bit of a stretch.

Lacking a better alternative, Niko and Sunny decide to share.