The Heart is a Muscle

22 May

Whenever we lose a family member, we feel that our heart is breaking. And sometimes we worry that it will never heal and feel whole again.

32169277_10215763537419721_8685729456670638080_n32154403_10215763536499698_5670039142109544448_n32257532_10215771701383815_7240894916333666304_n

That’s when we need to remind ourselves that our heart is a muscle and muscles need to stretch and flex and work to stay strong.

In the past six weeks, my heart has been through a workout that would put even Richard Simmons and Jillian Michaels to shame. And I did it all without putting on a pair of cross-trainers or strapping on a Fitbit.

These three adorable faces belong to the three dachshunds (although Murray, top left, reminds me that he’s a dachshund/kangaroo/Tasmanian Devil mix) who are making sure that I don’t let my heart sit around on the sofa, crying and eating popcorn — not when there are walks to take, squirrels to chase, bellies to rub, and love to spread.

Sanders (the strawberry blonde at the top) and Katja (the brindle who believes she is the reincarnation of Amelia Earhart) found me just when I needed them. Good thing they have excellent senses of smell because I was buried under some covers, hiding from the world, and perhaps desperately in need of a shower.

Murray, Sanders and Katja understand better than I do that they will not replace Watson and Penny, just as Watson and Penny did not replace Justin and Maddy Lou or Copper and Slate. What they are doing is replacing pain with joy, tears with laughter, self-focus with time spent trying to come up with something other than broccoli that Katja will eat or talk Sanders out of barking at everything that moves or throwing a half-eaten toy bear for Murray to fetch for the 8,713th time today.

Unlike the other muscles of the body, making a heart bigger and stronger simply requires opening it up to more love. And that’s my favorite kind of exercise.

Advertisements

Happy Dog Mother’s Day

13 May

32294133_10215773645712422_5169550051965403136_n

Photo credit: Mary Cruse

When you’re a dog mom, you know there are some things moms of humans have to deal with that will never be an issue for you — your dog will never get a tattoo or call for bail money or tell you she’s dropping out of college to form the Blue Woman Group, for example.

We mothers of canines — those of us who can’t see through our glasses because someone licked them and who consider a 3-pack of lint rollers the perfect Mother’s Day gift — we can expect constant love and devotion, a cold snout in warm places, welcome homes that surpass all others… and that our children will probably not outlive us, at least not in years on this earth.

Now that I am in my 34th year of dog momdom, the ebb and flow of life is clearer than ever to me. At this point, I have lost Copper, Slate, Maddy Lou, Justin, Penny and Watson, the last two sweethearts in the past six weeks. And I have adopted Sanders (right in photo above) and Katje (center) to join Murray (on the left). Katje has only been here two days and has just finished doggy orientation.

This Mother’s Day is bittersweet. I’m still mourning the loss of Penny, the world’s best garden helper and Watson, the dog who made me laugh out loud so many times that now the silence is deafening. But I’m also celebrating the three kids who are here with me on this warm and sunny day. All of us have been out pulling weeds, with Murray and Katje spending time exploring every bug and scent, while Sanders naps in a sunny spot in the dirt.

I thought I’d offer a few thoughts to all the dog moms out there on this, our special day:

  1.  As much as possible, live like your dog, fully present in the moment. Notice the world. Honor the fact that you are here another day. Run across the field with your tongue out.
  2. Enjoy everything. If your pup can fully celebrate the words “park” and “ride,” you can find the joy in everyday moments. If you have to use Cirque du Soleil skills to cook a meal without tripping over dogs underfoot, focus on the beauty of that, rather than the frustration.
  3. When it is time for your kids to leave, know that you will survive the heart break, the tears, and the “what ifs.” Your heart will forever carry scars shaped like paw prints, but love and laughter will get you through the first day and then all the rest. And the best place to find love and laughter is by adopting a new dog and making sure someone else who needs a mother has one.
  4. Even if no one else celebrates your momdom, you know that you’re a mother, even you’ve never birthed or raised human children. You know that there are no lengths to which you would not go to make sure your canine children have their best lives. And if you have a spouse, they probably know deep down that in an emergency, you’re saving the dog. Especially if said spouse did not get you a Happy Mother’s Day from the Dog card today.

 

Leigh Anne Jasheway is the author of 25 books, including her latest, The Dogs’ Guide to Human(Kind), available on her website, accidentalcomic.com.

 

What Doggone Grief Looks Like

8 May

iphone 017

It’s been five weeks since Penny passed and one week since I lost Watson.

I do not spend my days lying in bed weeping. I have tried that with previous losses and it just makes me feel sadder and fatter from lack of exercise. Not to mention, I have two silly, sweet, hungry hounds who need my attention and would not tolerate my refusal to change out of my PJs and take them for walks and throw the ball and open and close the door 400 times a day.

Humans have this weird idea that everyone grieves in the same way, but it’s just not true. Some people can’t eat, while others eat everything in sight (“I fall into the latter category,” she says while finishing up a piece of vegan dark chocolate). Some people cry so much they really should drag around a saline drip to make sure they’re hydrated while others can’t make the tears come (I cry at dog food commercials, so that should tell you what category I’m in). Some people wear black and drag themselves through their days like Goth teenagers while other wear Hawaiian shirts hoping the bright colors will cheer them up (Aloha!).

One thing I do to process grief is write a lot of jokes. I’m a comedy writer and teacher. Processing negative emotions with humor is not only what I do, it’s what I teach others to do to help maintain their sanity. This week, I’ve written more than 100 jokes – not many of them about my dogs, but all of them fueled by their departure. Laughter works as a form of tension release and if you can create the laughter yourself, it’s even better.

There are other ways I’ve been grieving that some might consider odd:

  • I refuse to vacuum because what if I remove the last of Penny or Watson’s hair from the rug? (I know I’ll have to end this moratorium at some time, like when the dirt and dog hair gets so high my other short-legged pups have to wade through it. )
  • I wear Watson’s dog collar around my neck sometimes. And Penny’s occasionally as an ankle bracelet. Just around the house. Not out in public – although never say never.
  • When I’m feeling really down, I sprinkle some of my babies’ ashes in the back yard and sit with them.
  • I now have a co-pilot when I drive. It’s a worn-out koala hand puppet named “Koality Bear.” This bear has been in the back seat of the car for five years. It was Watson’s “humping bear.” Every time we went for a ride, he got so happy, he had to hump something, so Koality Bear, it was. Now Koality rides up front, strapped in with a seatbelt. Don’t worry, I won’t try to use the carpool lane.

What I’m saying is that as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, when it comes to processing grief, you do you. And if I see you wearing a dog collar in the store, we’ll give each other a knowing nod.

Moment to Moment

26 Apr

IMG_E3971

Early last month, I had three dogs sharing my heart, sofa, and most of my snack foods.

Late last month, there were only two, as Penny’s dementia and cancer became too hard for her and I made that decision no pet parent wants to make, but we all have to because that’s the contract we write in exchange for wagging tails, slobbery kisses, and being pulled down the street after yet another squirrel who dared dart in front of us.

Watson, at 15 and 3/4 and Murray at 4 had to take on extra duties. Fortunately, they were up to the task, as even in his advanced age, Watson could still hear, see, think, and walk (in his very slow manner). And Murray is always ready for extra kisses and definitely all the popcorn he can find by diving into my cleavage.

Five days ago, while doing landscaping as a volunteer at my local humane society, I met a 12-year-old dachshund named Beamer who had just come in and was looking for a new home. I started thinking seriously about it. Well, to be honest, I’d already been thinking about adding a new dog to the family, one who was older and who’d be willing to snuggle on the sofa while Murray and I played endless games of fetch at the nearby school.

Four days ago, while doing a training at the humane society, I sat down with Beamer and we discussed the advantages to both of us of his becoming one of my pack. I told him that I had floor heat (which cold doxies love), a south-facing bay window with a ramp up to it for him to use, and that I was easily trained. He told me that he was a good boy, a good kisser, and was not easily trained. I decided to start the adoption paperwork and bring Watson and Murray to meet him when he was done recovering from his dental extractions.

Three days ago,  like a freight train hitting the side of our house and shaking all of us to the core, Watson suddenly started exhibiting signs of dementia (getting lost, getting stuck, wandering), of losing his vision, and not wanting to walk. My big, handsome goofy man who just last week was flirting with a friend of mine (he’s always had a thing for the ladies) and humping his koala bear in the car before going to the park, got lost inside himself.

This boy has been the man in my life for six years and no human man could ever compare. He’s had cancer twice and is body is covered with very large lipomas, but when I look at him, I see my own heart beating steadily and happily. But now it’s skipping beats and the edges are ripping.

Yesterday, we went to the vet and then I headed towards the natural dog food store for supplements to help with cognitive function. If only they had an herb for a heart that knows what lies ahead.

Tomorrow is the day we are supposed to meet Beamer and see if he fits into our family. And I will put Watson in the stroller and try to contain Murray’s enthusiasm because love is love and as much as I know it will hurt in the end, living without it is not an option I ever want to explore.

Goodbye Penny: On Losing A Dog with Dementia

21 Mar

I helped my sweet girl Penny leave this life on Saturday. She had dementia and rapidly growing mammary tumors and things were getting worse quickly. I wanted to make sure her passage was peaceful, not panicked. A veterinarian came to the house and Penny lay on her sofa with her brothers and me at her side. Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart played as she left us.

IMG_3443.JPG

But the truth is, like her brother Justin before her, Penny had been leaving for a long time. Dementia does that. The loss you feel for your beloved pet happens every day for months or years as you watch them lose their joy. The last time I saw Penny roll in the grass was last summer. Rolling in the grass had been one of her favorite past times. And instead of enjoying sitting in the sun as she always had, the brightness confused her and she would react as if startled and frightened. Just last week, we had a warm sunny day and I took her outside to sit in the grass, careful to point her away from the sun’s rays, but still she was not comfortable there. I carried her back into the house.

I’d been carrying Penny around for six months because she forgot how to go outside, where her water dish was (and how to drink – she would often drink the air above the bowl, which I kept raising up in hopes she would find it), and how to back out of places she got stuck in. With Justin, whose dementia lasted longer, I had to put boxes in every corner and crevice where he might get stuck and he still managed find his way into spots he couldn’t escape from.

There is no easy way to experience grief. It is awful to lose a pet unexpectedly. I’ve done that several times and it feels like someone has physically ripped the heart out of your chest. It is equally awful, but completely different, when the loss is spread out over a long period of time. Death feels like a relief, but you feel angry at yourself that you are not as torn apart as you believe you should be. You forget that tiny pieces of your heart have been ripped out for a long time. The sadness creeps up on you, but it seems familiar instead of surprising. You still glance around the room, looking for your sweet furry friend, but when you remember, pain is balanced with the calm of knowing they are not lost, afraid, or confused. Only you are.

Will You be My Dog Friend?

2 Mar

11149345_10207244333684952_6856155403459373991_n

When it comes to small talk with strange dogs, does the cat have your tongue?

Let’s face it, not every human knows how to make a good impression on canines and their humans in social situations such as neighborhood walks, treks to the dog park, and Sweet 16 birthday parties with squirrel-shaped piñatas. It’s hard to get past first base (tail wagging) to second (invitation to scratch between the ears) if you’re drooling like a Mastiff who has just had a root canal. And forget about third base (sloppy kisses all over your face and ears), if you’re hemming and hawing more than an astronomy professor at a Flat Earth Society meeting.

Fortunately, we, the Jasheway dogs, are here to offer our best advice gleaned in our combined 31 human-years of experience with people who were clearly not socialized well at a young age. We bark and bark at those people and still they don’t learn. In order to make our tips easier for you humans to understand, we’ve granted our mother permission to type them out on her computer. This activity will also keep her off Facebook, where she spends way too much time lately signing petitions and yelling at the screen.

Before we get started, make sure you are sitting. Sit. Now stay. Good human.

Phrases to avoid because they make you look sad and desperate – We’ve been around the block a few thousand times and there are certain cliched dog pick-up lines that never work with us. You should exclude all of these from your playbook:

  • Who’s walking who? This one makes us bite our tongues to not correct your grammar.
  • Don’t look know but there’s a pack of dogs following you. This one is used on our human and it impresses her even less than muddy pawprints on the bedspread.
  • Oh, look! A parade! Yes, there are four of us and a stroller, but what kind of pitiful parades do you attend? When we hear this, we feel that you’re judging us for not having put on costumes and hired a marching band before heading outside.
  • I’d better guard my ankles! This line may only be used with those of us who are low-riders, but whenever we hear it, we start imagining what your ankles taste like. We’re guessing sesame-garlic tofu.

Avoiding gender confusion – Sure, you can walk up to a Golden Retriever, a Pibble or  Pookimo (American Eskimo + Poodle) and stumble over your words as you try to guess whether you’re talking to a good girl or a good boy, all the while trying to take a sneak peak down under. Or you can call every dog you meet “it” in an attempt to not offend us.

            Here’s the thing: We’re not hung up on gender or gender labels. We’re fluid, like the water coming from a sprinkler on a hot summer’s day, especially those of us who have been fixed. So, just call us “good dog” and be done with it. However, we will not abide by being called “it.” How would you like it if we called your human child “it”? Are we a table, a ball, or jar of peanut butter that was left too close to the edge of the table that we accidentally knocked it to the floor and not only cleaned all the yummy spread out but then proceeded to chew through the plastic? We are not! Either call us by our name or use the singular “they” pronoun, which is great because it works for dogs AND humans!

Speaking of which, ask us our name – Sure, it’s right there on our collar, but if you’re socially inept, chances are we’ll run circles around you, tying you in knots and bringing you to your knees on the dog path before we’ll let you take a gander at our ID tag. The polite thing to do is ask the human. After all, they are probably profoundly proud of the moniker they’ve created for us, despite the fact that some of us are definitely not a “Penny” or a “Watson” – we’re clearly a “Princess” and a “Sherlock,” but we go along to get along. That’s what makes us good dogs. Even though one of us is a princess and the other solves crimes.

By the way, you may also want to ask the human their name. This is not entirely necessary, but the extra work is appreciated and can improve your chances of creating a lasting connection.

Last, prepare some lines in advance – We’ve already established that you’re not that quick on your paws, so it would help to be prepared, like those Boy Scouts we always bark at when they show up at the front door asking for our cans and bottles. For the last time, our garbage is ours!

Here are some lines you might try (although we encourage you to come up with your own too):

  • What’s a good dog like you doing in a park like this?
  • Do you come to this fire hydrant often?
  • I don’t have to ask what your sign is. It’s Beware of falling in love with dog.
  • Want to know a secret? Cats freak me out too.
  • Your eyes are the color of a really fine kibble, the kind that comes in a box, not a bag.

Keep in mind that we dogs are all unique individuals and not every line will work on all of us, but it certainly will help you to have something up your sleeve (which at least you have. We can’t keep anything up our sleeves). That way, the next time your mouth gets dry and you shift from foot-to-foot trying to think of just the right thing to say, you won’t be at a total loss.

Well, that’s our best advice to you. Good luck and may dogs be with you.

 

Things That Go Boom

3 Jul

I haven’t gone out to a fireworks show in 91 dog-years. I wouldn’t have gone that last time a decade ago, but my ex whined and pleaded, like men do. But I rushed home as soon as I could to comfort my dogs and promise them never to do that again. They forgave me after I covered my face in peanut butter and let them lick it off.

The fact is, I don’t like fireworks either. Sure, they’re pretty to look at, but all that noise freaks me out. Possibly because I grew up in a house with drive-by shootings from the inside. Or maybe because when I was even younger, I lived on an Air Force base that had “war games” and we lived in buildings painted to match the forest in case someone wanted to bomb the place. That’s a lot of comfort when you’re a 10-year-old. You try explaining to Barbie that she can only go outside if she wears a camo bikini.

Or maybe both my dogs and I don’t like things that go boom in the night because those things are inherently scary. And not only to us. It hurts me to thin about the poor wildlife having to deal with the testosterone rush that requires everyone blow something up to celebrate freedom. How free are you if you’re holed up in a tree stump quaking?

I’ve had dogs for 34 years, so I’ve survived a lot of fireworks ordeals. Three of my dogs barked or bark every time a rockets-red-glare takes to the sky. Two quivered under blankets as I turned the white noise machine to “loud ocean waves crashing on the California coast, with occasional seagull cries” in a futile attempt to drown out the noise. Two didn’t seem to care as long as there were plenty of treats on hand.

I foolishly believed that eventually we’d find a better way to celebrate Independence Day. Like with flash-mob dancing or mimes acting out things we love about our country. “Oh, I get it – it’s gender equity!” But noooooooooo.

In the past ten years, I have lost part of a fence because kids launched a bottle rocket into it and set it on fire; I have seen young kids make their own IED by putting a cherry bomb into a mayonnaise jar; and who could forget the time a stray firework set a neighbor’s shed on fire – a shed in which he stored gasoline for his mower and extra ammo? Yeah, that was a night the dogs and I will never forget.

For the past several years, I’ve attempted to find a quieter spot than my neighborhood to take the dogs for the night, but everything in a 50-mile radius goes boom all through the night. We once took a walk around our local hospital, which a) is kind of out in the boonies and b) is a hospital for dog’s sake and if you have to be quiet inside, the same should be true for the outside. But noooooooo. Everyone in the neighborhood did their best to keep Chinese fireworks companies profitable.

So now we stay home and try our best to keep calm. We have a Thundershirt and Rescue Remedy on hand. We have noise-cancelling headphones, which by the way, tend to freak my dogs out as much as the fireworks themselves. I’m thinking about befriending a harpist so she can come over and play soothing music between June 30 and July 7, which is what we call, “Louddependence Day.”

Oh, and I’d better stock up on treats. Cookies for the dogs and vegan ice cream for me.

 

 

Eat-travel-live

All the things I love to do

rachelmankowitz

The Cricket Pages

Search Blogs

Just another WordPress.com weblog