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 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.