Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Frosty Pumpkins

Genni's owners are so adept at depicting the changing seasons that I'm seriously considering letting her be the model for each blog entry. Not a taxing job, considering I've deteriorated to less-than-monthly postings of late! October came and went with nary a mention, consumed as it was with preparations for the North American Sieger Show, harvest, raising Ella's pups, and the goings-on around Hollow Hills. What goings-on? Well, now that you ask...

I've come to realize that when folks ask "what have you been up to?" there really is no way to answer the question. When I answer literally, replying with what I feel is a succinct summary, the facial expression of the listener often spurs my inclination to add "you shouldn't ask if you're going to let your eyes glaze over like that." Granted, detailed descriptions of poopy puppy papers or repetitious tales of exercising the dogs, digging potatoes, or gathering eggs, regardless of the subtle joy of simple work well done, doesn't mean much to those not familiar with such activities. But if I accept the inquiry as social custom generally intends it and say simply, "oh, not much" I always feel I've copped out by condoning meaningless, hypocritical, superficiality. Does the question ever really imply a sincere desire to know what's going on in another person's life? Couldn't we better translate it as "do you have anything juicy to tell me?" or even more narcissistically "hurry up and ask me what's going on in my life."

I thought that would segue into the contrasting experience with dogs and how very different that relationship is. They do seem genuinely more attentive than the average human listener. But my thoughts snagged on countless images of being pawed, pushed, herded, manipulated and generally bamboozled into doing precisely what my furry buddies want. Frankly, dogs are just about as self-centered as people. In fact, when training, that's the very principle that I utilize to get them to comply with my own wishes. I have what they want, be it food or toys, and I convey to them through body language that I'm willing to trade that desired-object for certain behaviors on their part. I'm catering to their obsessive self-interest, if you want to look at it that way, in a sort of reverse-psychology trade-off. Their perspective flips it around, though; from their vantage, they've figured out how to manipulate me into giving them what they want!

With dogs, at least, there are occasions when their focus on me seems to extend beyond self-interest, at least I like to believe the gaze directed at me is, sometimes, one of affection, devoid of ulterior motives. Can the same be said of people? The clarity and unguarded directness of my dogs' eyes convey a depth and wisdom that seems largely absent from most human encounters. We all know the story of Hachi, the Akita who returned to look for his deceased master every day for the rest of his life. Yet when a person is "crazy about" another person, how very rarely does that devotion continue when the object of that devotion no longer stokes the fire?

I'm convinced that humans give only to get. And maybe that's not such a terrible thing - maybe it's not as gratuitous as it sounds. Sure, I'm a soon-to-be-divorcee, a daughter and granddaughter of divorced couples, so admittedly my thoughts on the matter may be a tad cynical. I ask myself, as I've asked myself innumerable previous times, whether this dog/animal-centric life I've orchestrated for myself is the cop-out; have I chickened out of the more difficult, complex, heart-breaking but potentially enriching prospect of meaningful relationships with my own kind? And when a friendship fades or a romance withers, I ask myself whether I will ever know if my relationships with animals are, for me, the path of least resistance, or guides to a deeper, truer connection? Am I waiting for someone to be as open-hearted, as honest as my dogs? As unfailingly direct as my horse? As charming as my cat? Is the bar too high?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

another cycle

The summer came and went, as summers always seem to, in a blur of perfect days. My walking partner and I comment on what a perfect day it is for a walk...every day. Rain. Shine. Wind. Heat. In summer, of course it's perfect. But now the golden rod is coming into its glory and the doves, what few of them there seem to be left, are gathering on the phone wires to converse about their upcoming trip. The faintest blush is creeping into the hilltops, foretelling the changes to come. In some respects I welcome it...being relieved from garden duty will return many daily hours back to the hopper for redistribution to other activities.

Just in time, since the turning of the season brings an onslaught of fall dog activities. Looking at the calendar this morning I realized there is only one weekend left between now and the end of October that doesn't have a commitment to a dog show or trial. I'm tired just thinking about it. It's not only the shows themselves, although running for hours around a ring can be exhausting. It's what it takes to turn a well-bred dog into a winner, a true show dog. Show potential is what a promising pup is born with; actual show dogs are made, not born.

People who see and appreciate the quality of my dogs can't truly grasp what goes into those radiant, glowingly healthy animals...the hours spent "road-working" the dog (which can mean biking him, running her over hill and dale, putting the dog on a treadmill, or literally plodding miles on the road) to develop the muscling and endurance required for a true canine athlete. The hours grinding and preparing meat, or for that matter raising that meat, to give the dogs the nutrition and energy needed to perform at that peak level, not to mention providing them with a brilliant coat, flashy white smile, and the "look of eagles" described in the standard. The hours driving to trainers, stud dogs, seminars, airports, training fields, tracking fields, socialization opportunities, vet visits. And that's every day of the year...so when show season hits and the competition is fierce, the effort gets ramped up several notches. The dogs owners have to become top athletes, as well, so I find myself running hills and doing wind sprints just to have any hope of keeping up with my dogs.

Sure, I just got back from the wilderness in Colorado, struggling along under the weight of a backpack at 13,000 feet, so "walking the doggies" (which conjures a WHOLE other image for most people, versus what I actually do with mine!) and running around a show ring ought to be a cakewalk, right? In response I'd say backpacking up the Continental Divide is a good start, but had I just finished up a show season before the backpacking trip, I'd have been buff enough to have skipped up those mountains!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Neglect of, well... everything

So what's become of my summer? And whither the energy for blogging? Plenty of ideas, plenty of inspiration, just zero, absolutely NIL, in the time department. I used to (only semi-jokingly) refer to the dogs as the hobby that stole my life. Now I've added chickens, rabbits, horses, and a garden that resembles the jungles we saw in Costa Rica. Maybe a tad *too* much horse manure this spring???? The squash plants are almost scary-big! And the produce...one single squash is large enough to feed me for a week, so what am I supposed to do with the rest? I so enjoyed them last year that I planted about twice as much this year. And about four times as much corn and at least four times more beans...which means now, only about halfway through harvest, I've filled all my freezers and don't know how to can, so what to do with Nature's largess? Does *anyone* out there need fresh, organic produce?

Other than weeding, picking, processing, freezing, eating, picking...summer has been a blur of puppies. The rat terriers proliferated in my absence last spring so I had a wondrous array of little tuxedo and piebald cuties to contend with, followed by Ember's litter of eight and Godiva's singleton. Some will head to new homes this week prior to my departure for Colorado (!). Now Elatha's litter is three weeks old and starting to eat solid food, so the fun will continue well into the fall. I haven't yet been able to determine whether Vixen conceived three weeks ago (a repeat of the lovely "V" litter of earlier this year) and then there's the possibility of the Champion-to-Champion breeding of Beemer to Giddy. With so many dog shows & trials this fall and a houseful of visitors in October, all these puppies will make for some challenging logistics.

The Edgar Sawtelle discussion is still uppermost in my mind, and as I walk dogs or play with puppies there are countless observations that relate to various ideas in the book. Or, from my perspective the book gives me reference points for discussion of concepts I've been mulling from my observations.

Those observations together with other research I've come across catalyzed some theories I've been pondering. Dogs and people have co-evolved for many tens of thousands of years. In so doing we've synchronized our evolution in ways that almost imply a conjoined species...dogs have lost their ability to live independently of us, and we've lost much of the strength of our physical senses that we had earlier in our development. We count on their superior scenting ability and they depend on our superior technological ability...dogs eat better than their comrades in the wild, at least dogs whose owners are savvy to the crap marketed as "dog food." So it makes sense that dogs recognize, correctly interpret, and respond to our facial expressions, gestures, and other body cues better than our primate relatives or their own wild canid brethren. They need to understand their packmates in order to have efficient function within the pack, and we are that pack whether we know it or not.

One interesting factoid I came across recently referenced a study that demonstrated dogs' mimicking human behavior. For example, if a person used their hand to reach under furniture to retrieve a lost item, the dog would take its paw to reach. If the human used their nose to open a door then the dog used its nose(this was a controlled experiment...not that people would normally open doors with their noses!). At first glance this may not seem all that profound, because living with dogs provides so many daily examples that we take it for granted. But to me this suggests that dogs have mirror-neurons, as we do, that enable them to empathize and make inferences of our internal states and intentions based on the "lighting up" of comparable regions of their own brains when they watch us do something. One could infer that any strongly social animal has mirror neurons. I also read about a study proving that people's minds really do "meld" (a la the Vulcan mind-meld, minus Spock's hand-to-forehead grip) when they're involved in a mutually gratifying conversation...research subjects referred to the feeling of "clicking" at times when their brain waves had synchronized.

So now I'm wondering how much our minds might "meld" with our canine companions...is this really what's happening when we "train"...I, like David Wroblewski (the author of Edgar Sawtelle) think that training is really just a means by which the dog and the trainer can come to agree upon a vocabulary to convey ideas. We can use whatever words we want and eventually, if our body language and voice tone are consistent, the dog will catch on to our meaning. If it's a cooperative dog, it'll agree with us about the meaning. If we are observant trainers, we'll catch on to signals (non-verbal "words") that he dog offers to us, and then we have the chance for instructive two-way communication. Hunters, search & rescue personnel, police k-9 handlers, drug-detection handlers and anyone who has walked a dog alone at night down a dark, scary street knows that dogs communicate a legion of information...it's usually our own inattentiveness that leaves us clueless. I, for one, want to learn to live with better, preferably constant, openness to the information our co-evolutionary partners have to offer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Edgar Sawtelle

A discussion with a client revealed that I'd somehow missed one of the Books of the Year a couple of years back. Not just any book, but *the* dog novel. How can that be, don't you know *I* am writing the Great American Dog Novel? my ego raged, even while I smiled and nodded and voiced wonder and interest. So, the client being a generous sort, a copy of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski, arrived in the mail. I read it with a great deal of interest, for not only does it serve up a feast of sumptuous prose, raise intriguing questions about cognition and communication, delve into motive and intent vis-a-vis instinct and consciousness, it is the only book I've ever read that was so obviously written by someone who himself lived the life I lead, or one very near to it.

All of those topics are primary foci of this blog. Certainly the life I've lead is in large measure an experience of total immersion in a world of dogs and various critters both domestic and wild. Without doubt it's my work with non-verbal animals, far more than my human interactions, that forced me to dig deeper into layers of communication than most people require or even want. In that regard I'm reminded of eighth grade Latin class, when I learned far more about grammar and the English language than I had understood from all those previous years of exposure to my native tongue; the contrast helps delineate what's going on, what's really being conveyed.

Animals reveal and reflect truth. Yes, they are capable of subterfuge, particularly among our primate cousins who have been shown to engage in some pretty impressive Machiavellian behavior. But I know of no non-human animals who will enter into a game of pretense with me...just imagine a dog trying to pretend they trust you when they don't. They can't; if you're looking, truly receptive to what they're saying, the message is clear. You have a problem that creates distrust in others; fix it if you want to be trustworthy, or at least be aware that while people may be willing to pretend you're a peach of a person, the dog's not capable of pretense. It may love you anyway, but the effect of distrust and fear will be loud and clear in body language. I am of the opinion that Zen can be taught by dogs, if the pupil is sensitive and receptive.

I didn't check any reviews prior to reading the book, other than a quick perusal of the dust jacket blurbs, but was disgruntled enough over various aspects of the writing that I was motivated to scan through some of the major media opinions. It has received almost universal accolades. Only on Amazon did I find a couple of reviewers who shared some of the feelings of consternation that arose in my own mind. I'll leave the specifics of the critiques, theirs and mine, for other venues because overall I do recommend it as a worthy read and one of the only ways to see inside a wholly doggy life. At least, until the publication of my own! So, I hope to generate a bit more discussion than usual in the next few entries because I'd love to address many of the threads that comprise the fabric of Edgar Sawtelle.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Minor victories

Anyone who has followed these postings back a few months knows that around here the concept of "natural birth" had attained a reputation much like the mythical unicorn; people said it was possible but I hadn't seen one. Well I must have slipped into fairytale country, because, wonder of wonders, Ember delivered her eight puppies the old-fashioned, non-surgical way! Of course, to keep the universe in balance, Godiva had her single puppy by the (now) tradition of Caesarian, but both mom and pup are well. I'm almost afraid to state that publicly for fear of jinxing the next delivery (Elatha's) but on the other hand it's a welcome bit of happy news.

On other happy news fronts, a few days ago I was contacted by officers of the National Rat Terrier Association (NRTA) and asked if I wouldn't like to have Animal Planet tape my dogs to be featured on "Dogs.101" Well....why not? So, Wednesday evening a very nice fellow followed the Rat Terriers around with a camera. Being somewhat clownish anyway and having a captive audience, they put on some particularly good shows for him. The pups pounced and leaped and cavorted and somersaulted for all they were worth, and the adults did stunts and chased frisbees and did their ever-lovin' best to charm the socks off anyone who sees that footage. Unfortunately, three hours of taping gets reduced to about six minutes of actual air time, so the majority of the dog's antics will end up on the cutting room floor. Watch for the rat terrier feature this fall; the cameraman figured sometime in October but couldn't be more specific.

So we head into a holiday weekend, feet tapping to Sousa marches, flags waving, sparklers illuminating kids' faces under starry skies, our sound-sensitive dogs tucked into bedrooms or crates. Have a Happy National Birthday!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

chow time

I'm frequently asked what I feed my dogs
, and at least half the time the primary question is whether or not I recommend a BARF (Bones And Raw Food)diet. The current trend towards BARF diets isn't quite as new as it appears to the general public, since breeders (and many private owners) have been preparing their own food for their dogs forever. I support the trend in general, but when it comes to advising my own puppy buyers I tend to recommend good quality kibble (currently recommending Solid Gold "Wolf Cub" for my shepherd pups, maintaining them on it for at least one year; recommending Canidae ALS or Taste of the Wild for the adults and rat terriers) because most people won't be painstaking about ensuring a balanced diet if they prepare food for their dogs.

However, if you're willing to be meticulous and are dedicated to the task, a BARF diet is great for adults. I'm leery about using it as the exclusive nutrient source for puppies since their skeletal and organ systems need a careful balance of vitamins and minerals, but adults seem to flourish on it.

When I last ordered in a pallet of kibbled food, the cost just bowled me over. So much so that it drove me to lug home 150 pounds of chicken while muttering about second mortgages on the house. The jury is still out in my mind as to which is cheaper, homemade or store bought. With some persistence you can locate chicken at 39 cents a pound, beef liver similarly, and the occasional beef chuck or roast for around $1.99.

As one might guess given the price differential, my dogs eat a lot of chicken. A LOT of chicken. Now, I'm fine with feeding raw chicken if I raised the bird myself and know how it was processed (a delicate word for rendering my pretty birds that sit on my shoulder and peck my boots into dead carcasses). But store bought chicken evokes scenes of bacteria-rife processing plants so I haven't yet convinced myself to go for the "R" in BARF with any real commitment. BAF food doesn't have the same ring, but the dogs don't mind.

Thus, I cook my chicken. This used to involve every enormous pot on every burner, hours of stink from the bubbling over that such large batches invariably did, and then more hours of waiting for it cool enough to debone, followed by the bagging and freezing of the finished product. It was exhausting and often spilled over into a sleepless night getting all that meat safely stored away. This meant I didn't do it often and the dogs weren't getting as much "real food" as I like to provide.

A fellow breeder encouraged me to get a meat/bone grinder, and finally she wore me down until I did. I recently had my first stint. Oh glorious time-saver! Like anything else, there are pros and cons. But overall, it does seem that it'll cut the processing time to a fraction, not to mention making all that nutrition from the bones available to the dogs. I still cook it but it is so much faster when ground. Speaking of which, time to feed the dogs and put them (and me) to bed!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hangin' with dogs

An owner of a pup from one of my spring litters posed an interesting question that represents good insights and appreciation of dog psychology: "How do you separate training sessions (which should be short, right?) from walks and things where you’re not actively training? It seems like different rules for different situations could be counterproductive." I recall having had similar thoughts early in my dog-training life, so I'm sure that most dog owners find themselves faced with what appears to be a dilemma. I say "appears to be" because the question needs reformulating; difficulty begins when people think in terms of training versus non-training interactions with their dogs.

Wrapping our brains around the reality that there is no such thing as a non-training interaction would go a long way towards clearing up the miscues and negative learning that takes place in most households. Every moment we are present with our dogs they are learning...they learn that a nudge of your elbow with a nose gets a pet, or gets a rebuke...are you consistent? Have you even thought whether you do or don't want the dog to do that? What about the joyous leap-to-greet? Great for the ego, bad for dress suits. Dogs don't necessarily "get" the difference between weekend sweat pants and workday slacks, and will be understandably confused if you hug him back one time and swat him off the next. You can think of gazillions of similar examples.

So, how to un-muddy the waters? First, to break down the questions asked, beginning with the last: "It seems like different rules for different situations could be counterproductive." Agreed, it does seem so. However I give dogs tremendous credit for understanding context and being able to apply different behavioral rules to different situations. For example, indoor versus outdoor play. I don't think I've ever had to "explain" to my dogs that you don't race around my living room shaking a stick - the same dog that out in the yard would knock me down in her attempt to grab a ball from my hand will upon coming indoors immediately seek a patch of floor to hold in place and will do so for hours. Different situation, different rules; how does the dog understand that outdoors is for rough housing, indoors for self-restraint?

Furthermore, if one defines the rules from a broader perspective, then there really isn't any discrepancy, there's only one Rule to follow. The Prime Directive for dogs is Do Master's bidding. If Master bids you walk by her side, do so. If Master bids you walk hither and thither at will within the range of the leash, then feel free.

My contention is that dogs are so attuned to our body language that their ability to infer our wishes is virtually like mind-reading. So, in order for our dogs to follow the Prime Directive, someone has to actually be the Master at all times. If we are certain that a behavior is or isn't ok, the dog will know our opinion on the matter by observing the tiniest muscle tension or intake of breath. If we are uncertain or ambivalent, be assured the dog will know that, too.

Once you stop thinking "now I'm training my dog" and "now I'm done training my dog" you can begin utilizing the Prime Directive. The puppy owner asked the question in the context of walking, so let's look at that. I'm guessing she wants to give the pup freedom to just be a puppy out for a walk without having to formally heel, yet doesn't want to be yanked from pine tree to pond. So, take a few moments to determine for yourself what's allowed and what isn't? In my case, for my dogs pull on the leash is acceptable so long as the force isn't enough to pull me off balance; if I can restrain the dog with just two fingers on the leash, that's allowable. They must always be attentive to me...if their enthusiasm escalates and they "forget" that they're answerable to me, they'll be "reminded" that there are rules to be followed...that they have crossed a line that I drew in the sand. I use conversational cues, commands if you will, to let them know that something specific is expected of them. If they're pulling too hard, "easy" combined with a purposeful slowing of my speed will convey the message. They settle down, I'll speed back up to reward them for compliance. They choose to continue to act up, I might stop or turn around. This isn't "formal training" in the way people tend to think of it, but it is absolutely effective in conveying a concept to the dog.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Workin' Dawgs

I'm frequently asked whether my dogs are from "working lines" or "show lines." The answer differs subject to the point of view of the questioner. I have to establish some commonality of definition before I can begin to answer. Are these pet people who have seen the terms somewhere and been told that "show dogs" are genetically inferior to "working dogs"? Are they folk who have done schutzhund and want a pup to compete for regional or national placements? Have they owned a GSD before, and if so what was its bloodline?

Generally speaking, from the perspective of the competitive schutzhund folks, my dogs are "show dogs." From the perspective of AKC show competitors, my dogs are "working dogs." And from the perspective of the German and international organizations that establish the Standard for the breed, my dogs are from the "High Lines" that epitomize the versatility and functionality of the true German Shepherd Dog. With such disparity, where's the consensus?

I once belonged to a few online communities of GSD folk, and discussions would arise that reminded me of the old Kennel Ration commercials (who out there is old enough to remember the brand, let alone the commercial?). The jingle went like this:
"My dog's better'n your dog. My dog's better'n yours. My dog's better cuz he eats Kennel Ration - my dog's better'n yours." If you substitute "bites harder" or "has way more prey drive" for "eats Kennel Ration" you'd have the gist of the argument. The focus in these exchanges wasn't so much an honest discussion of what constitutes true working character in a dog, it was a building-up-by-putting-down process of comparing single elements of the dogs' vast array of capabilities.

For instance, biting. Now, the word tends to conjure a picture of inappropriate aggression, but in the venue of these discussions it referred to the Schutzhund "grip" or the drive to grip sheep, bad guys, or other "prey" ("grip" being the sanitized equivalent of "bite"). Grip is utilized to stop a sheep from escaping the flock, or just as effectively to stop a thief from escaping arrest. It's a useful and desirable trait that should be inherent in the breed. But if the grip is applied without provocation or is so hair-trigger that the dog is dangerous to the general public, or the dog has so much drive that it is useless for anything other than grip work, or its structure and type are so far off standard that it doesn't have the stamina to trot for hours, is it still a true GSD?

Another single element of judgment often applied by tunnel-vision fanciers: sidegait. The movement of the GSD is crucial from a practical standpoint in that the breed is designed to trot effortlessly for hours on end. The application was originally in huge, fence-less mountain meadows where the dogs would circle the herds of sheep all day, every day, throughout the grazing season. To keep that up, the dogs' conformation needed to allow easy, energy-conserving movement. Dog shows are intended to evaluate that movement. But dog shows don't usually evaluate the "sheep sense" at the same time.

Enter the High Lines. These dogs are evaluated as a package...their tracking ability, response to threat, and reliability in real-life situations are assessed together with a nose-to-tail physical critique that spells out their faults and strengths. Outstanding capabilities in one or a few aspects will not buy admission to the end goal of recommendations for breeding --- each dog must possess the full spectrum of qualities or it is not given the KoerMeister's highest rating.

So, are my dogs "working dogs"? Absolutely. Are they show dogs? Definitely. My working dogs rip into the "bad guy", carry their own backpacks on hiking trips, help locate narcotics and lost persons, and allow me to sleep safe and secure at night. My show dogs bring home trophies, cause people to literally lean out of their cars to gush over their beauty, and can stop your heart with their exquisite form when racing through the pasture. Are these dogs one and the same animals? You betcha!!!

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Having been home a week now, I should be caught up, back in the saddle, in the swing...pick your metaphor. If only that were so. Many have asked me about the trip, and I've intended to synopsize the experience before the details are lost but my Grandma had a saying about good intentions and the pavement along the Road to Hell.

Still, the cold winds, fitful rainstorms and generally moody/glowering skies we had today brought Scottish memories back to the fore. Tonight what comes to mind most strongly are the sheep...everywhere. Sheep far outnumber the humans in Scotland. In New Zealand it seemed to be a point of pride that there are sheep an order of magnitude more than the humans. I didn't hear any Scots bragging about their woolly citizenry, but it appeared that if you live in northern Scotland you're either a sheep farmer or a Bed & Breakfast owner. Or Royal. Other options weren't readily apparent.

The rusted heather hillsides were dotted with the grayish shapes of unshorn sheep, followed by the bright white, unstained new lambs. April is the thick of lambing season, and everywhere we hiked we could scarcely avoid treading on Scottish black faced and Lleyn lambs curled together or dashing out of our way, bleating and baaing their fright to complacent ewes. The Lleyn lambs looked for all the world, when lying down, like Easter bunnies...their fleece is short which gives their erectly-held ears a disproportionately large and bunnyish silhouette.

Fences seem only a means of delineating property lines not of actual livestock containment. Sheep run the roadways and ditches and public lands and highlands, yards and even woodlands. Almost anyplace we stopped to take in the scenery we could watch shepherds working the flocks together with the ubiquitous Border Collies. There might have been a Lab or a mutt here or there, but Border Collies ruled the countryside. What a treat it was to watch true working farm dogs doing what their ancestors have done since the dawn of domestication. Found myself wishing I had tried harder to bring one of the GSDs along...they would have learned a thing or two from watching.

Everything in that land was rugged, from the topography of ancient basalt bedrock to the hardy breeds of livestock and dogs, to the people themselves. We learned quickly that they count on their tourists being rather rugged and capable as well...hiking trails were, shall we say, less than well marked. Blazes like one expects to see here in the States must be unthinkable to these hardy souls. And I've got the bog-stained boots to prove it!

Monday, April 19, 2010


One's sense of time is a subjective thing, at least I've noticed my own being stretched like a telescope of compressed like a slinky under various circumstances. Many a poet has waxed on about a lover's sense of time versus a condemned man's, a young child's versus an octogenarian's. In my current situation, my removal from things familiar, from the routine of farm chores and obligations to the animals, plus the need to contend with unfamiliar stresses, has turned my perceptions of the past four days into a slurry of images without definitive edges. That is what I had hoped...but I had hoped it would be occurring because of the miles that I had expected to have logged on Scotland's moors and highlands. Unfortunately, Eyjafjallajokul (the volcano in Iceland) had other plans for me...and millions of others.

So, a much-anticipated wilderness adventure has morphed into an education in acceptance and flexibility. As I've stood in lines, lines, and more lines these past four days (nope, I still don't have my luggage, and the Wal-Mart blouse I bought on Friday is developing an interesting "musk") I've struck up conversations with folks from Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, England, Ireland and quite a number of Germans. Their stories vary, but all tend to remind me that my situation is far from dire.

Many are like me, frustrated and inconvenienced and racking up hotel/living expenses. They express concerns over their inability to get back to work/family/home and I can relate to the see-saw of emotions inevitable in situations where conflicting information contributes to repeatedly dashed hopes. Some folks' stories are heart-rending, like the woman who had cut short her vacation with the husband she rarely sees to attend a funeral in England, only to find herself unable to be with her grieving family or to rejoin her bound-for-Greece husband. A grandma who was so agitated she literally was bouncing on tiptoe, hoping against hope she'd make it to Italy to see her grandson's first communion. One couple couldn't even make it to their own wedding! Of course the news has been full of more high-profile consequences, like the cancelation of many dignitaries' attendance at the Polish president's funeral, or Angela Merkel's inability to get back to Germany.

But the individual, Common Man stories I'm hearing day after day have reminded me of my experience flying home from Germany on 9/11. The Canadians housed everyone on my flight and several other planeloads of stranded travelers in military barracks a couple of hours outside of Halifax. The thousands of passengers that found their fate linked by those events formed a camaraderie of need. People relaxed their usual facade, forging bonds of a deeper and more acute intimacy than society normally supports. The stories that were shared with me, then and now, were under circumstances that compel unvarnished emotional honesty.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gardens and Grooming

The pups have had the use of my garden area as a play yard for the past couple of months, but today's play sessions were cut somewhat short. Mom, they soon learned, hasn't much patience for all their "help" when actual work needs to get done. It was funny at first; I marveled at the intelligence expressed by the twelve-week old Rio daughter who started digging every time I wielded a shovel and who grabbed and shook the clumps of grass and weeds as I hoed. I watched her sidelong...she was looking at me, looking at the task, then copying. She didn't know why, she didn't know the purpose, but she wanted to participate. I had to lean on my hoe and laugh. But about the fourth time she gamboled up and down the furrows as I kicked dirt over the corn seed, I had to scoop her up and send her packing. The howling that wafted from the kennel was quite mournful...she's going to be quite a character. The pup pictured is a son of Vixen & Ieuan.

Besides getting the corn planted and the potatoes cut and the manure spread, I raked out several garbage bags full of hair from the two molting horses and a half dozen of the shepherds before my arm gave out. Since the birds are already nesting, I like to leave some of the softest undercoat clinging to shrubs and bushes so their nestlings have a nice warm, soft start in life. From there I took to the mower and managed to cut about a third of the pastures and property before running out of gas; that's gasoline, but it pretty accurately portrays my overall state -- out of gas. Regardless of what the calendar says, Mother Nature has committed to bringing forth spring. And just as She sends squirrels spiraling barber-pole patterns on the oaks and maples and cardinals bashing against the windows, She dictates my steps. The warmth and sunshine pushes me into an unwinnable race to get my garden planted, all the dogs and horses groomed out, perennials that proved their fitness by surviving winter in their pots still beg to be planted, and, oh yeah, maybe I should pack?

Pack, as in prepare for two weeks of hiking the Highlands of Scotland. I leave Thursday, but even if I had every minute between now and then with nothing to do but prepare, I don't see how I'd manage. And I find myself coming up with multitudes of essential projects(it's not procrastinating if you're doing something truly useful and necessary, right?) as it becomes apparent that I've managed to schedule myself to be away during some of the best of what PA has to offer. The wisteria will bloom while I'm gone...I curse that vine all year long just so for one brief, glorious week (or so) I can breathe the cool grape-scented midnight air under those magnificent pendulous purple blossoms. And the lilacs, those delicate reminders of the bouquets my mother always placed in each room every spring...no wonder I'm ambivalent about leaving.

So, Scotland, what do you have for me to compensate for a two-year gap between filling my nose with the scent of lilacs and wisteria, and not being here to watch as these pups expand their world?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April going on July

Little did I know how completely ludicrous that photo of the dogs playing in snow would look just a couple of weeks later. Here I am with the windows open to try to entice a breeze to sweep the heat of the day out of the house. My skin is itchy from dried salt-- my evening walk had me sweating like a work horse. Everyone's commenting on the lovely weather, and sure, I'm loving it. But at the same time, it terrifies me...it's been hovering in the high 70's and even over 80 a time or two...this is APRIL(!?!) The apple trees have opened their leaf buds and are quickly developing flower buds. The quince (japonica) will open by the weekend, the jonquils are in full glory, even the lilac looks like it'll bloom while I'm gone.

When we moved here from New Jersey, on Memorial Day weekend 1984, at first glance I thought there had been a horrible insect blight because the trees had no leaves. So, a quarter century ago, trees were at approximately the stage at the end of May that they are now at the beginning of April. That's nearly two-months' difference over the course of a geological nano-second! I've been reading the stats as spring arrives earlier and earlier, but I don't think the official proclamations match the on-the-ground reality of the abrupt climate change being wrought. I wish I could stop thinking of implications and just enjoy the rapturous wonder that is spring.

And spring on my hilltop truly is rapturous. Even in a normal spring, one dominated by Mud Season, one can't help joining the rabbits in their maddened "March Hare" dances...squirrels spiral up oaks, the horses donate their winter cloaks to the birds who frantically weave it into their nests, and Beth and the dogs go gamboling through the woods. OK, the dogs gambol. I trudge, but with much lighter step than usual. Tonight I counted seventeen turkeys, four kingfishers, two wood ducks, as-yet unidentified geese that made intriguing whistling sounds, and myriad cardinals, robins, wood thrush, chickadees, juncos, blue jays...and their calls were capped by the ear-drum piercing, brain-mush-inducing shrill of spring peepers calling from every wetland.

Tomorrow, back to hauling manure to my garden. The sprouts are ready to transplant, and I have potatoes to set.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good intentions

Another lesson in doing what I intend to do when I originally intend to do it. Because now it looks like spring outside, with cardinals singing and Canada geese winging north overhead. But back in the initial days of the Big Snow Dump of 2010 I witnessed something I wanted to share. Diva and Xico (daughter and father) had "entertained" me with antics that reminded me of how children vie for their parents' attention.

Now that the Big Snow has become The Big Melt, the story is still pertinent but less timely. A mere two weeks ago we were still in serious winter here. Snowy, cold days seem to bring out the child in all of us, and this deep snowfall elicited a frenzied joy from the dogs. In particular, Diva's exuberance reached almost physically dangerous levels...dangerous, that is, to her poor dad. Normally I do not feel even slightly sorry for Xico, who can be domineering and rather bullying to his kennel mates. But since his daughter has grown up she can hang out with him; astoundingly the tables have been turned. One could say it's a reverse of the old Parents' Curse ("one day may you have a child just like you"), or perhaps it's an example of the type of behavior that warrants the Parents' Curse in the first place.

On this particular day Diva was relentless, haranguing papa Xico with lightning-like strikes of her teeth, latching onto his mane, his cheeks, his ears, bashing him forcefully with her chest, rearing up like a stallion to crash into him, pursuing him when he would like to have avoided her, all accompanied by sound effects that (were I not there to see for myself) would have brought me bolting from the house...it sounded like a battle to the death.

Interestingly enough, this all ceased if I wasn't present. While I was in their exercise paddock, Diva would ratchet her behavior to a level that I thought intolerable - I was actually encouraging Xico to give some back. If I walked to another area in the exercise yard, the bedlam followed me. They steered the antics specifically near me, in front of me where I couldn't help but see them. It finally occurred to me that this wasn't just an interaction between the two of them, this was a performance of sorts with me as audience. I was reminded of a summer evening a decade or so ago when I sat on the back porch feeling rather blue, watching my son Kyle shooting hoops. He recognized my mood and started shooting crazy shots, leaping and twisting and attempting the most impossible moves. It worked; I couldn't help but grin and I even eventually got off my duff and joined in. Diva and Xico certainly had me grinning and shaking my head. Then again, the dogs' behavior also had a similarity to much-earlier days when my two kids would huddle near my legs when I was trying to cook, even though far more entertaining games and toys were all over the family room and the great outdoors beckoned with endless possibilities...they wanted to pinch each other and fight over nothing in my presence.

So what was happening this wintry day? Were Diva & Xico really picking up on my sadness or despondency and trying to intervene? Was it as simple as vying for attention, like my kids' trying to get me to focus on them rather than the work I was involved in? Was it a display of strength, in effect saying hey, I am worthy - pick me as your next in command, your Right Hand, your Main Partner? When I left their exercise yard and moved to the next, the rambunctiousness subsided; when I returned, it escalated again. Clearly the message was aimed at me.

The canine mind is endlessly astonishing
, and the more time I spend in their presence, the more fully I appreciate not just their behavior but comparable human gestures. I get glimpses of the complexity of feelings, thoughts, and motivations underlying behavior and attachment. What a privilege.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


So how does an entire month go by between blogs? In a blur, that's how. The puppies from the litters already posted in previous blogs are now eight and ten weeks old, romping and wrestling and making finger paintings on my kitchen tile. Since their arrival, Vixen presented her litter of five (Caesarian...I've run out of any expectation of a normal birth occurring ever again) who are now five weeks old, and Saga was relieved of her one big, gorgeous, dead male puppy (also via Caesarian...I am beyond being able to talk about it) and then had to be spayed on the table due to blood loss.

Anyone out there thinking of becoming a breeder? Please re-read the last four or five posts and think *hard* before going down this road.

After doing this for three decades it's impossible to count how many times I've heard some variation of the phrase "oh, I'd love to do what you do...I've dreamed of living in the country, surrounded by animals. You must love it!"

Well, yes. I love the dogs. I love the horses. I even love the chickens.

And --- no. Because so much of the "it" that I do is just plain drudgery. The sheer volume of feces I pick up, bag, and then haul to the road to be picked up by the garbage men (bless them) weekly is enough to dim the most devoted dog lover's enthusiasm. The hundreds of pounds of dog food I haul from car to kennel weekly (to account for all that feces) is back-breaking, although I keep reminding myself that it's my cheap gym substitute (bend, lift, twist, hoist, repeat twenty times). Just keeping up with the feeding, cleaning, grooming, bathing, socializing, exercising, client inquiries, paperwork, vaccinations, entry deadlines, pedigree research, tracking, training, conditioning, breeding, whelping, LAUNDRY, and the aforementioned schlepping is impossible. That's the bare minimum, before I've gone to my "real work." Heaven forbid the dogs get sick; not really sick like worried-over-them-at-the-vet's, just sick like couldn't-wait-for-me-to-get-home-to-let-them-out-of-the-crate sick. Days end when I can't keep my eyes open. They begin when the dogs say they begin. A day when I can stop to hug or hang out with one of them is a very good day indeed. Days when visitors are scheduled to come meet the dogs are days I can stop the clock and experience the joy of puppy breath and gnawed fingers, untied shoelaces and exuberant kisses.

So, yes, I love what I do. When I'm particularly centered, grounded, whatever you want to call it I can even say I love chipping poop from the packed-solid ice on a day when the north wind sucks all life from my fingers in the first moments of exposure. There's an art to it, a sort of Zen in just doing what needs to be done, even if I've done it ten bazillion times before and there is no end to the number of times I'll need to do it again. Because puppies, every single one, are worth it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Minding Dogs/dogs minds

I've been mulling something. Two somethings, actually. And since the latest blizzard has me housebound, I figured this was as good a time as any to try to put those thoughts into some sort of order.

I notice my dogs making assumptions quite often, in ways that mirror behavior I've observed in my children or my friends, or, if I look in the mirror, myself. There are two concepts on my mind, both of which seem to hold some much deeper implications about the nature of self-concepts. Let me try to sketch it out.

My thoughts started down this path as I've been comparing Elatha's versus Brianne's versus Star's behavior in the morning. The bedroom was always Star's exclusive domain but since his passing the other dogs take turns (my allergist insists that I only have one dog in the bedroom at a time...he would actually prefer zero dogs, but we compromise...I tell him there's only one at a time because that's what he wants to hear and I don't think the Pomeranian on my pillow counts...he's not a "real" dog anyhow). Star always knew when I was actually leaving the bedroom in the morning and after an initial "good morning" greeting he'd curl up until I was ready to head out; nothing moved but his eyes, which were always on me. I could make the bed or not make the bed, I could brush my teeth with the electric or manual toothbrush, I could put my shoes on or run downstairs barefoot, I could move towards the door to get something but he didn't cue on anything but my eventual opening of the door.

Brianne parks herself in front of the door, and if I pass near her she flips to expose her belly. That's her morning greeting..."rub me!" Star wanted a face rub, Brianne wants a belly rub. Other than the rolling over, she, too, stays relatively quiet while I go through my morning rituals. Neither she nor Star ever presumed to suggest I should get out of bed before I was good and ready.

Elatha, on the other hand, is the only one of my shepherds who has taken the liberty of enthroning herself on the settee in window tower of my room, the better to survey her kingdom below. When she is rested and ready to begin her day, she begins pacing. Even as deeply as I sleep it's hard not to be awakened by the click-click-click of her nails on the hardwood. If by chance I still don't stir, she unceremoniously shoves her snoot into my face. Repeatedly. Whine, shove, pace, repeat. Once I'm on my feet, she by now has had it with confinement and has no patience for my routine. I'm barely vertical and she's herding me to the door. Ignoring her only ensures that she'll position herself immediately in front of me no matter which way I turn. Banishing her back to the settee gets a sigh and an eye-roll (reminiscent of my daughter as a teenager) but at least gains me a couple of undisturbed minutes. Let me even lean in the direction of the door and Ella bridges the distance from the settee to the foyer in a flash, clocking me with her hard head as she zips by. We were leaving, right Mom? You finally are heeding my instructions, arentcha?

Brianne and Star seemed to have a mature outlook on life; things happen that you can ignore, and it's wiser to save your energy until you're called upon for action. Ella is a classic "type A" who never quite got over the sense that the world evolves around her.

Ella's behavior appears to be presumptive, whereas many of my other dogs seem more assumptive. That's where it gets really interesting insofar as what it reveals about what's happening in their heads. Similar to the situation with Ella in the morning, I often find that when I've engaged in a stationary project, anything that keeps me still and requires the dogs to chill awhile, the instant I even ease my concentration on my work the dogs pop up as if someone passed a current of electricity through the floor. And no matter what direction I might head (maybe the bathroom, maybe the fridge) they all assume that I'm going wherever it is they've been wishing I was going. The outdoors, usually. This I know because once again my knees are bruised by their heads and rib-cages as our conflicting intentions collide. And then they look at me, from the door or the cupboard or partway to their hoped-for destination, with eyes that reveal their thoughts. This is where you meant to go, right?

As opposed to Ella, who tries to control my behavior to suit herself, I believe these other instances reflect situations where the dogs assume that what they want is what I want...that since I'm getting up I must surely be headed to the place/thing/event they want to go/eat/do. This happens with people all the time, why not dogs? We assume that others think or feel as we do, that they want and desire the same things we do, that they would be happy having what we want.

Illustrative side note: my ex never did understand that I do not like pepper, that it burns my tongue. Absolutely did not matter how many Sunday brunches I reminded him, please don't pepper my eggs...salt only! He'd serve 'em up peppered and get mad and hurt when I put them on his plate and wouldn't eat them. Surely I was just being contrary? Surely I just wanted to make his life difficult? Surely I was mistaken about my likes or dislikes and would see it his way if I wasn't so doggone bitchy and stubborn? I'll spare you any more significant scenarios, but I would imagine you can all think of examples in your own lives.

Back to the dogs.
I know I'm painting with too broad a brush, and that some of the anticipatory behavior I've described could just as well be indicative of doggy hope, or suggestion, or request (or demand), or (ahem, Miss Elatha) just plain old fashioned domineering, control-freak-iness. But the intrigue lies in the possibility that dogs might consciously think they know what we have in mind, that they might assume that because they want something we also want that thing. If they do...what does that say about their fundamental psychology? How much self-awareness might they actually possess?

And, what about an unconscious mind? Might dogs be motivated and driven by their unconscious much as we are; or to flip the question, might we be driven by our unconscious just as they are? I'm not talking instincts or hard-wired behaviors here, but the unconscious mind that in reality dictates much of what we human beings think and feel and do, whether we care to admit it or not. I just googled and don't find much reference to scientific inquiry into the concept of conscious versus pre- or unconscious thought processes in dogs. But I'm betting it would be enlightening.

The assumptions we make about our experiences throughout life influence what sort of person we become. We assume we understand something, and our next learning opportunity is limited by and predicated on a set of parameters that we regard as "facts" that may in actuality be somewhat or even totally wrong...we build constructs from faulty templates and ultimately might get so off-base we begin re-drawing Reality to fit our inner fantasy. Some folks are more in tune with What Is than others, but we all have our backlog of misperceptions that affect our capacity to appropriately respond to people and events. I think dogs are less subject to that problem, more in touch with Reality, probably because their conscious minds don't interfere or override what their unconscious minds tell them. My dogs may try to dictate my actions, may occasionally succeed; nonetheless, I find in them an antidote to the insanity so rampant in the human world.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dog People

Some days I can’t help wondering what it is about dogs that entrances us so…why do some of us weave the strands of our lives inextricably with theirs? Why are some so obsessively in love with our four-legged pals as to virtually eat-sleep-breathe dogs? And, perhaps more illuminating, there’s the completely incomprehensible (to dog lovers) question of why some folks do not.

Dog lovers and non-dog folk come in every stripe; you’re not going to differentiate dog-centric versus non-dog people through easily categorized distinctions like athletes versus sedentary types, country versus city dwellers, extroverts versus hermits. Sub-categories further complicate the picture - dog owners who profess to love their dogs may provide well for their physical needs but have no meaningful relationship with them (which opens up parallel inquiries into similar human conundrums); vet clinics are full of doting dog owners who literally kill their dogs with kindness; people on street corners gush over every dog they meet but don’t own one, believing they couldn’t do right by them (maybe correctly, maybe not); and the list goes on. Since my curiosity is directed towards those of us whose lives are modified dramatically by dogs versus the opposite leg of the bell curve, I’d really love to get a discussion going as to what drives some of us “to the dogs.” Is this obsession a sign that we dog-folk are a tad off-kilter, or can we claim to be the enlightened ones?

I’ve wondered if it has to do with whether or not we’re raised with dogs, conjecturing that lack of exposure early in life might atrophy some crucial psychological process, some developmental milestone when mirror neurons need stimulation to allow toddlers to develop healthy empathy for other beings. If parents or caregivers weren’t particularly good at providing those opportunities, or even if they were, those of us with canine pack-mates learned early-on, likely when pre- or barely-verbal, to read the real-time emotional reactions that dogs give. Humans say one thing but mean another; dogs give it to you straight. Children who don’t have the opportunity to see the cause and effect of pulling a dog’s whisker might never develop quite the same capacity for simpatico as those of us who grew up with dog hair pasted to our sticky fingers.

Taking it further back in the dog/human symbiotic evolutionary process, perhaps proto-dogs originally gravitated to human encampments because children snuck a few mammoth bones away from the hearth to lure in a puppy to play with. If proto-dogs had to choose between (A) accepting the sure thing (the bone) versus (B) snatching the more succulent but riskier (because of adult retribution) toddler, I’m betting that both child and proto-dog learned to read each other’s every gesture and expression quite accurately. Only those dogs that made choice (A) survived to produce pups to come back for a mammoth bone another day. Fast-forward a few million years and today’s dogs still provide children with non-verbal but very communicative pack-mates which may help prepare them to navigate the complex, broader human network. I’m thinking there is far more to this human-dog symbiotic exchange than we usually wonder about.

But ok, what about the adults…what about those of us who openly admit we prefer the company of dogs to that of people. What gives? Surely that’s not a “normal” or healthy position? Is it? (please tell me it is). While it may be true that we can trust our dogs whereas our fellow hominids are suspect, is our preference for dogs symptomatic of something gone awry in our psychological development? Yes, our dogs love us unconditionally while our kids/spouses/bosses expect us to minister to their needs in one form or another. But still, have we failed to navigate some essential transition from our childhood canine connections to evolutionarily essential human ones? Or should we just be grateful that we’re among the ones who have the benefit of the rich, funny, infuriating, blissful pleasure of being loved by dogs and loving them back?

I do know that there seems to be a longing for understanding that dogs satisfy, maybe one stemming from those long-ago fireside exchanges when eyes at the fringe of darkness reflected the firelight back and two intelligent, social beings really saw one another. Dogs meet a need for direct, raw, unfiltered connection that doesn’t happen often or easily with other humans. I suspect that the modern world alienates us from the immediacy of living, and our domestic wolves let us tap into what is still real and wild and alive in ourselves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


One of my favorite TV channels has the slogan "characters welcome." I guess it resonates with me because I would like to believe it...as one who has always heard a different drummer, I have wasted a lot of imaginative energy wishing our society and culture truly welcomed characters. For the most part that just isn't so. Characters, or persons of character, stand out from the crowd. They turn heads, create a stir. But in this country, for the most part, conformity garners likability, convictions generate division. Originality is unrecognized or ridiculed. Pretense is tolerated; honesty is reviled and sometimes downright dangerous.

One thing dogs are, it's honest. They're pissed, you know it. They're sad, their entire being radiates dejection. They adore you, you bask in an aura of love. And if they don't like you, well, pretending is not in a dog's repertoire. I've probably spent more time in the company of dogs than among my fellow humans. Some of their attributes have informed the way I interact with the world; sometimes that's good, sometimes not so much. I tend to call it like I see it, as they do. That's not generally well-received.

Our expectations for our dogs far outstrip equivalent human capacity to measure up. We expect our dogs to never be irritable, or if they are, to not show that in any obvious way. We expect a dog to tolerate whatever comes their way, whatever is dished out. Inappropriate discipline, inadequate socialization, minimal mental stimulation, social isolation, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, all of these and more are heaped on our dogs and we expect them to keep on wagging their tails, keep on licking our hands, keep on wearing stupid costumes and tolerating the baby's fingers in their ears and our tread on their tails. A dog that growls is seen as bad, even dangerous. A dog that snaps is "disloyal" or has "turned." A dog that actually does bite is condemned, sometimes to a life in a cage and muzzle, sometimes to death.

How many times have we lost our temper, said or done something we'd like to take back, something hurtful, something vile, something bruising to relationships or even bodies? I know I don't measure up. I've snapped at my daughter, ducked a call from an old friend, been snide to another friend, forgotten my brother's anniversary, my sister-in-law's birthday, ripped a few folks a new asshole. And that's just in the past week...I couldn't begin to document the faults and failings of this particular character over my half-century in this world. I'm just glad I'm not a dog, I'd have been given the long sleep a long time ago. The world prefers its characters in a format controllable with a remote.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

More trauma

"So how's she doing?" I'd fielded the question many times in the past two weeks, but now I needed an antecedent for the pronoun.

"Which one?" I figured I knew, given that the person asking was my (almost) ex who had performed both Caesarians but who was fairly transparently fishing for compliments.

His expression told me he'd forgotten there was another; no surprise there, he can't keep my dogs straight. He covered with "The one that nearly died" hoping, I'm sure, that distinguished the one he was thinking of, and also confirming my suspicion that he wanted a little ego-stroking. He had, afterall, saved her life.

"Her" being Rio. I blogged about Cymri two weeks ago when she had to have a Caesarian to deliver her three pups. In the meantime Rio blossomed to a size that was painful just to look at. I knew she was carrying a huge litter, and the potential complications of overly large litters are scarier than unusually small ones. So I'd been on pins'n'needles for the last couple of weeks, especially when Rio stopped eating. That in itself is not terribly unusual; a female carrying so many puppies has trouble finding room for food. But she just didn't seem....right.

She went into labor a day early, again not surprising with her body under such stress. Two pups were born readily then nothing more happened for five hours. A little calcium coaxed two more, but once again she shut down for several hours. More calcium brought forth another three, but she was exhausted and depleted...more ominously, she was pasty, wan, and frightened. I pressed her gums...they stayed white. Minimal capillary refill...she was going into shock. Given the size of her uterus and the struggle, I worried the uterus had ruptured and she might be bleeding internally. I pulled out my little Doppler and couldn't find any fetal heartbeats; there was no more time for midwifery no matter how skilled-- she needed immediate veterinary intervention. I called the clinic, gathered up the five living puppies into a box with a hot water bottle, grabbed Brianne in case a blood donor was needed, helped Rio into the backseat and wished I could teleport to town.

An X-ray revealed three more puppies. Surgery was commenced quickly, and once again I found myself receiving three soggy, limp bodies warm from their mother's belly. Unfortunately one was long dead and though we got gasps from the other two, only one of those progressed to steady breathing in spite of our best efforts.

Puppy resuscitation attempts took place in a treatment room so I wasn't present to watch the struggle going on in the surgery ward. But the techs' comings and goings back and forth past the doorway had a hushed urgency and finally I had to go check, carrying the puppy whose heart I was still massaging. The heart monitor was beeping, the O2 stats looked fine, but several saturated towels on the floor attested to the amount of blood that had overflowed the surgery table, and the intensity with which the two techs were struggling to get a blood pressure reading dropped my heart into my gut.

"No pulse?" My question was sharper than I'd intended. "Oh, she has a pulse, we just can't find it." I couldn't tell if Keith's answer was meant to be reassuring, glib, or if if I should take it at face value. I opted for the latter and retreated for the puppy room, but snagged the next tech as she raced back by. PCV (packed cell volume) was through the floor. My hope went right with it.

But I knew Brianne was there, I knew we had blood available, we just lacked a trauma team to be able to work several procedures at once, and this was a situation that required a multi-pronged effort. The office manager had run to another clinic to get a blood-collection bottle, but everyone else already had a role to play in the process. And our surgeon was also our clinician so we couldn't collect the blood that Rio so desperately needed while he was still in the middle of surgery. He had her on a hyper-tonic (?) IV to help stabilize her blood vessels but that was only a stop-gap.

Finally he got her closed, I abandoned my fruitless efforts with the second pup, put the surviving one with the five from home, and brought Brianne into an exam room. Her face revealed her thoughts, thoughts which astounded me...the wrinkles on her forehead might have been concern, might have been fear, might have been foreknowledge. All I know is that she walked onto the exam table, looked me in the eye, licked my chin, and held completely still with her nose pointed skyward for ten minutes while a needle in her jugular pulled deep rich, platelet- and red cell-laden blood into a bottle.

Then the wait began while Rio lay inert on a blanket, babies tucked in beside her to nurse, an IV pumping fluids into one foreleg while the other, the beautiful crimson one, dripped life back into her other foreleg one pulse at a time.

Today as I watched her race towards me through the snow, grinning and beautiful, I marvel. I marvel that she doesn't waste a moment of today thinking about how she almost died last Tuesday. She doesn't regret, she doesn't bemoan, she doesn't fear. She lives.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Meditation for 2010

Nothing need be said: