Sunday, December 9, 2012


"Doctor would like to remove the external fixator today, with your permission. Or, we could schedule her for next week." Next week? Hell's bells, get that thing off the pup already! "Yes, please, if she's ready, by all means do it today." Four weeks and five days since the pup was kicked by the horse, but who's counting? It's done! Over! She's healed!

Well, not quite. Puppy still has to convalesce, gradually rebuilding her strength with short walks several times a day. The pins that held the fragments of bone in place had to pass through healthy bone, leaving holes that now have to heal. And until those holes are closed in with solid bone, the leg is still fragile.

That's what can't be seen - the internal effects. Looking at her you see a happy, active, inquisitive, beautiful puppy. She doesn't realize she's "full of holes", as it were, and she wants desperately to race and bounce and wrestle and chew (especially chew! don't get me going on the damages those teeth have wrought!). An observer would have to look hard to realize anything is amiss, because she sure doesn't look like an invalid. The only indications of her ordeal now that the apparatus was removed can be seen only if you're looking for them - externally her leg shows lumps and bumps where the skin, muscle, and other living tissue reacted angrily to cold steel having being thrust through it.

That cold steel that held the fragments of her tibia and fibula in place was crucial. Without those steel pins locked firmly onto her leg, drawing the splintered pieces together, her body's attempts to heal would have resulted in deformation and probably lifelong pain. Fortunately for Purple Girl, friends, clients, and complete strangers were generous in their assistance, helping me defray a portion of the cost of complex orthopedic surgery that provided her the opportunity to heal.

The people who helped pay for the surgery were crucial, the expertise of the surgical team was crucial,the apparatus of pins and plates was crucial. The apparatus itself represents the work of countless others who ultimately were crucial to Purple Girl's second chance...the apparatus was designed by bioengineers, manufactured under exacting engineering standards, installed and maintained and tweaked by a specialized surgeon with an entire team of medical professionals.

Yet, it was the pup's own body that healed itself. Everything else just supported that process. Without the support, the healing couldn't have happened. All of that assistance, expertise, and nurturance provided the framework within which Mother Nature could work another miracle. Life sustains itself, given a chance.

When something breaks, it's not always possible to fix it...whether that something is a glass or a toy or a bone or a heart. As I should know by now, healing is an ongoing process. Appearances are deceiving, and since individuals - puppies or people - generally don't recognize, let alone advertise, their own internal dents and scrapes and bruises and holes, those around them may interact with them more roughly than their stage of healing warrants. Looking at Purple Girl's liquid chocolate eyes, imploring me to please, oh please, just let me run! I instead have to engage in compassionate tyranny...lock her up in a hug and give her a massage until she relaxes, allowing herself to enjoy what she has, rather than what she thinks she wants. What she thinks she wants would in reality cause her harm, set her healing process back, perhaps even be the death of her.

Sometimes, for healing to occur, we can't engage with life as we once did. Perhaps not ever again. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. When trauma has wrought changes, to body or soul, the trajectory of the life is changed, the life that proceeds from that point is altered. Not necessarily limited, and often the healing process results in an augmentation of the original. Purple Girl is one very lucky puppy. Because of her age, the healing process was in hyper-drive, and though it is not yet complete, she will soon run again.

Ultimately, we heal ourselves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


At left, Ieuan vom hohlen Huegel, AD, BH, IPO 1, 'a'

He's home!

Ella (V Elatha vom hohlen Huegel, SchH 2, Kkl 1 'a') has been my almost-exclusive hiking partner for the past year and a half, and during that time has become nearly as necessary to me as oxygen. But prior to that time my usual partner was Ieuan. So why was he not there by my side, as was Ella, during the walkabout last year and indeed every other trail mile I've been logging? Ieuan was with trainers, working on his titles. That is, until six weeks ago when I picked him up as Jess (my daughter) and I were on our way to the Monongahela wilderness area of West Virginia for a long weekend of backpacking.

Ieuan had just gone High in Trial and High Scoring Tracking Dog while earning his IPO 1 under Nikki Banfield, and it was time for him to come home. Perfect timing for him to take some well-deserved R&R, so for once Ella stayed home to make room in the car to pick up Ieuan as we drove south to the mountains.

The necessity of titling my dogs, in combination with the fact that being a breeder means there is always a steady stream of young dogs growing up and moving into adulthood, has dictated that for the past fifteen years or so I've raised my pups to a certain age, brought them to a base level of training, and shipped them off to Germany to achieve the titles that the German system requires for a breeding program. I was fortunate enough to work with friends and trainers in Germany who ensured that the dogs have come home just as happy as when they left, and it was a system I'd hoped to follow throughout my breeding career. Unfortunately, post-divorce financial realities have instilled hurdles that I haven't yet found a way to overcome, but one step towards reducing the cost of titling has been to work with trainers in this country (eliminating the shipping expenses). Tim & Carol Karchnak of Muddy River K-9 have been marvelous to work with and their methods ensure that the dogs work because they love it, not because they're forced to.

So, Ieuan achieved his titles, had a lovely vacation, and is home and has been logging many a mile as my hiking buddy alongside Ella. They make quite an impressive team, red coats flashing bright against the bronze and brown landscapes of late-fall woodlands. I relish the wildness that lights their eyes as develop pack hunting strategies, feeding off each others' instinctive reactions to musky deer scent of the autumn rut. I'm never more blissful than when spending days in their company, their unadulterated joy calling forth my own Paleolithic inheritance as our trail-hardened muscles carry us tirelessly, mile after mile. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the further we go, the stronger and fiercer I feel. I wonder if they feel that, too.

Where once I felt my responsibility as dog owner was to control and modify my dogs' natural behaviors, I now see myself as more of a supervisor, a witness, providing opportunities for them to discover their own capacities while maintaining some degree of boundaries for their own protection. There really is nothing I can teach them, other than to try to establish a mutually-understood language that allows us to function as a team. They are complete and more than sufficient unto themselves, yet they chose to partner with me, and that fact gives me more than enough to ponder on our rambles. The choosing to share a life with an Other, the struggle to understand and to be understood, to communicate and to share...isn't that what all relationships are about?

As the years have gone by, my idea of a "long walk" has evolved numerically and then geometrically (four miles became six became ten became thirty), dissolving boundaries both physical and mental. As these once solid-seeming barriers were surmounted, the very idea of limitations has nearly evaporated.

Though I've always been athletic and outdoorsy, without these canine companions I know I would never have ventured into the wilderness as extensively as I have, nor grappled with the barriers that hemmed me in. Granted, I'd warrant that most of those barriers were self-constructed. Nonetheless, the experiences I've shared with these dogs never fail to remind me of the limitless possibilities of a life lived unleashed.

And isn't that a Homecoming of the best sort?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Healing Machine

"A Healing Machine"

That's what the surgeon called her at her first checkup. A Healing Machine. I know it was a generic comment, directed at the natural capacity for baby puppies to heal quickly, rather than being an assessment of her specific capacity for preternatural deposition of new bone. Still, it was reassuring to hear it. I'd taken her back to the ER for an evaluation just eight days post-surgery because she was turning her leg oddly, walking with a twist and roll to her step that I thought was indicative of trouble. She placed her weight on the inside edge of her paw, turning her knee outward and rolling off the inside toe rather than the middle toe.

The surgeon took her in for additional X-rays, and confirmed that her external fixator apparatus needed to be adjusted. A few twists and tweaks to the screws and pins later, and the surgeon reported that Purple Girl's tibia and fibula were lined up nicely. She came home groggy but was soon wide awake and back to being bored and frustrated. The first week had been tough for both of us...she wasn't allowed any freedom whatsoever, just potty breaks on a short leash, and otherwise crated. To help her tolerate the enforced confinement, she'd been on Acepromazine and pain killers, but now, ten days later, she'd been weaned off the pain meds, and I hated keeping her medicated. She had now earned some freedom in a small enclosure, but had to have careful supervision of her time outside the crate, and she wore a "cone" at all times.

For anyone who's ever had a dog in a cone, you know that they just don't "get" that their head takes up more space than usual, and they seem to revel in one of the only games available in their restricted state - how many objects (or people) they can wipe out with each move they make. Purple Girl really only wanted attention, wanted entertainment, wanted above all to have that itchy spot just under the edge of the cone to be scratched and scratched and scratched!

In the days following the adjustment to her apparatus, the pup has used the leg far more normally, her limp is hardly noticeable, and she's becoming a dynamo impossible to keep quiet. The crate is too confining, the leash too restrictive, the play area too bland and austere. She explodes out of the crate, blasts full-bore into my shins with the sharp edge of that cone, and ricochets around like a flea in a can until I can grab her and tuck her under my arm, where she squirms and writhes and groans in protest. She can't wait to get back to living a normal puppy existence, which, thankfully, the surgeon assures me won't be too much longer. The Healing Machine will go for her next X-ray on Tuesday, and I'm hoping we'll have more good news to report.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Purple Girl a couple of weeks before her accident.

Just a quick update in the saga of Ember's Purple Girl. The outpouring of support from friends, clients, and complete strangers has been phenomenal and utterly humbling. I'm overwhelmed by the selflessness and generosity of the compassionate people who helped make it possible for "Purple Girl" to have the orthopedic surgery her injury required.

The response to my plea for help was immediate, so I felt confident that giving the go-ahead for surgery was the right thing to do, and Purple Girl (she needs a name - this is the "J" litter so suggestions are welcome) was quickly scheduled for emergency surgery on Sunday. The staff at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (Clarks Summit, PA) are compassionate, caring, and above all, talented professionals who assessed the extent of the puppy's injuries and gave me the straight-scoop on the options. The fractures of her tibia and fibula weren't the nice clean type that could potentially heal with a splint, they ran lengthwise and spiral in such a way that only pinning would hold the leg together. As a result, only external fixation would give her bones the stability they need to heal. And thus, the reason for my unusual request.

The surgeon was more encouraging than the ER doctor who had taken the initial X-rays. She felt confident there's no damage to the growth plates and that there should be no complications, and that in short order Purple Girl will be out there playing with her siblings. "Short order" being defined as a month or two...which is no short order for an exuberant, intelligent, curious, energetic pup.

The good news is that her very young age should allow her to heal very quickly; the bad news is that her very young age makes it extremely difficult to keep her quiet enough to allow those bones to heal! Poor baby is confined to a crate for the first two weeks and only allowed potty breaks on-leash. After that she can begin to build up her strength again with very carefully controlled short walks. It's astonishing to me how this little girl shows no signs of pain and would have wanted to romp and rough house the day after her surgery if allowed to follow her own inclinations. Why are humans such wimps? This kid is an inspiration!

Special thanks to the surgeon, Dr. Rachael Currao, who is an accomplished surgical specialist and whose professional skills have given this puppy a bright future. Additional appreciation to the administrative staff at VREC for working with me to keep the costs to a minimum. And most especially, undying gratitude to those donors who have pledged contributions to the "give Purple Girl a chance" fund!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Emergency Surgery

The litter I so recently welcomed to this world and blogged about, the litter where every single pup has exquisite conformation, gorgeous pigmentation, and the most marvelous waggy tails and outgoing personalities, is now nine weeks old. Today I let them into the backyard to play while I cleaned up their poopy papers. I heard a yip. Didn't think much of it, figured one had taken swipe at another, and went on about my chores. Only when I went to bring them back in did I realize that only five had answered my call. After a frantic search I located a hole in the fence leading into the paddock where my horse had been running up and down the fence line, teasing the dogs. My heart sank.

Two laps around the paddock didn't reveal what I dreaded, allowing hope to rise. When I found her, at first I thought the worst, for she was plastered flat and unmoving into a crevice beside the barn, trying her best to be unseeable and unreachable. Cradling her, kissing her head, I promised never to be inattentive, never to leave anything to chance, never to ignore a cry of pain. Then she cried out in earnest, flailing and even biting. As I'd cuddled her to my face for kisses, I'd shifted my grip, obviously causing her distress; it occurred to me I hadn't done a once-over for injuries. A quick glance down showed me what in my relief I'd missed. One foot dangled at an unnatural angle, proclaiming a complete fracture. Thankfully it wasn't compound, but I cradled the foot carefully to avoid further damage, loaded her into the car and made for the emergency clinic.

The wait was interminable and the news grim. Both the tibia and fibula are broken, and in such a way that a cast or splint won't suffice. Only surgery will restore her leg, and the type of surgery (external fixation) is hideously expensive. Obscenely expensive. Way beyond my pathetic budget. She's young, the bones would heal quickly, but as it stands I could only pay for splinting and making her comfortable overnight. This pup deserves a life, deserves a chance to achieve her potential, but is going to need surgery ASAP. She's been stabilized with a splint and pain meds for now, and the surgeon will review her case in the morning, but without a lottery win or the sudden appearance of a money tree in my yard, I'm looking for miracles. I know people are strapped, and lots of us here in the northeast have just struggled through the effects of Hurricane Sandy (power was restored here at Hollow Hills just 48 hours ago), but if enough folks could find even a small amount, it could make the difference between euthanasia and a chance at a full recovery.

So I'm stepping outside my comfort zone, to do what goes utterly against my character, and that's to ask for assistance. I'm blatantly requesting contributions of any amount to help defray the costs of the surgery. Contact me privately of course. My email is

You have my eternal gratitude.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


What's with this obsession with hiking? Well, what's with anyone's obsession with anything? What gets us "hooked" and what keeps us coming back for more? Why did I arise at ungodly hours to load (alone) crates and dogs and equipment and often offspring into the van to drive (through blizzards or driving rain, darkness or road construction) to distant venues to run around a dog show ring, more often than not returning with nothing more than a satin ribbon for all that effort and expense? What drives others to hop on motorcycles and risk life and limb to travel cross-country for rallies? To sit in slips of plastic and play rodeo in raging rivers? Or for that matter, to sit atop actual bulls in actual rodeos?

What are we all after, with our obsessive quests? Are our modern lives so damn easy we have to artificially create the stresses that once were a daily occurrence for our ancestors? No doubt our bodies crave the endorphin rush, our brains lighting up with the "hit" of neuro-chemicals. I can readily attest to the addictive quality of my own pursuits, more noticeably so now with my hiking morphing into trail running...but I suspect there's more going on.

Some of it's escapism. Things are tough, life is messy, it's a relief to just delve into a hobby or activity than to address the worries or grapple with the uncertainties. Are we, perhaps, hoping to encounter something real, as if we can keep doing whatever we happen to have gotten hooked on and Presto!, by accident one day it'll hit us -- we've stumbled onto something deeper, encountered something of substantial Meaning, something akin to actual living?

Perhaps consciously we would never cop to that. Yet, underneath, is some aspect of ourselves pushing us into pursuits that could do precisely that? It occurs to me that it does not matter what one does, from digging ditches to painting murals to building particle accelerators... the opportunity for achieving your best and highest self exists in every moment, every activity, every breath we take. So, we push and persist while our subconscious screams at us to sit up and notice, whatever it is we're doing, just really be there, participate fully, not on auto pilot but actually in the now. To do it as if it's our only moment to do so, as indeed, each moment is.

Viewed this way, the point, the goal, is not the satin ribbons, the next speed record, conquering the class five river, or managing a 25 mile hike in a day's walking. It's every aspect of each of those things. Each step of the trail becomes a means of honoring the life that I'm granted. The cool mud soothes my feet, the jagged rocks energize my thighs, the tree canopy enfolds and protects. Each view is a wonderment, each breath a cornucopia of delight. I want for nothing.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


(PLEASE NOTE: The latest "new" post just precedes this one...I posted it the same day as this, but this is a post that I had discovered lying unfinished in the draft folder, so although it's old news, I'm publishing it belatedly. The NEW news is the next entry.)

Ella has not given me a lot of pups over the course of her reproductive career, but the ones she has given me have been consistent in their innate talent for tracking...they follow their noses from Day One and some have proven their particular talent for Search and Rescue. Ella's little girl who was featured in January's blog (see photo in last entry) is now a chunky little four-month-old named Elan who can hardly tear her nose from the ground. The snapshot above was taken when she was about ten weeks old...pretty typically showing her zipping around vacuuming scent.

Another of Ella's kids got himself in trouble recently, but ultimately (spoiler alert) independently resolved his dilemma on his own by using that family specialty - his nose. That, and an impressive measure of smarts!

Some of you who follow Facebook may have read of Zhen's travails. It started on a Friday night, when his new owners (who'd had him only a few weeks) went to visit friends in Clarks Summit. Zhen was new to it all, the "Big City" (he's a country bumpkin!), the friends, the new owners. When his new owners left to go pick something up, they thought he'd wait patiently for their return. Wrong-o! Zhen had PTSD flashbacks to his recent uprooting from Hollow Hills and decided he wasn't letting these new folks get away from him...he determined to go looking for them on his own. They returned a short while later to discover that Zhen had bolted past the host as he opened a door, and in that moment Zhen became a dog on the lam.

His new owners contacted me after their own initial efforts proved fruitless, and with unfounded confidence I joined the search. With Ella, Zhen's mom, along, we trudged miles through the neighborhoods, in the rain, calling and trying to deliberately leave a scent trail in a circumference that would capture Zhen's nose and guide him back to the place he had last seen his people. Optimism waned as one day became two, then three. Residents of Clarks Summit proved their affection for dogs, as calls came in at all hours, mostly with versions of "he was just here" that were torturous to us searchers. The sitings did establish a pattern, though, and it was obvious Zehn had set himself up a bivouac that revealed great instincts and/or thinking on his part. Woods in the middle of town provided shelter, ponds provided water, and nearby Baptist Bible provided lots of students which meant potential food sources. But he'd been spooked by too many pursuits, too many scary close calls with automobiles and other dogs, and he wasn't taking any chances, not even when familiar voices and smells were close at hand. Nothing we did convinced him to reveal himself.

But, eventually, it was his choice that brought him home. That, and the innate tracking abilities his family tree has given him. He decided he had to go back to find his way forward, and simply presented himself to his new folks right at their doorstep!

Changing Seasons

This is a birth announcement! Really, it is. I'll get to it. But because I see everything as being connected to everything else, I can't think about anything in isolation. I find myself prompted to want to draw you, my patient reader, into the labyrinth of connectivity.

The most recent birth was textbook. And thinking of texbooks make me consider the reality that "by the book" means nothing, really, except that certain events have been observed to occur a certain way with a greater degree of frequency than in other ways. Births, for example, even "by the book," are laborious by definition, and that's when everything goes "right." As any of my blog readers know, I've become all-too-familiar with the other kind, the kind that requires medical or surgical intervention, and that even with intervention sometimes has tragic outcomes.

Those past experiences of non-textbook births, the near-deaths of mamas and the actual deaths of puppies, have insidiously expanded beyond memory and into an internalized narrative of negative expectation that essentially dictates my responses in the present time and prevents me from accurately perceiving what's happening in front of my eyes, since my mind's DVR player is set to auto-replays of "tapes" from the past. I begin sleeping fitfully a couple of weeks before an impending due date. I fret when the mamas appear to me to be even slightly off-feed or listless or uncomfortable. If labor doesn't commence on schedule, I'm a a nervous wreck, imagining the worst-possible scenarios, from dystocia to a ruptured uterus. When labor does commence, I'm a basket case until every last pup is greedily suckling and mama dog is relaxed and attentive.

So much for the wonder of birth, huh? As a small child, I trusted Nature. I'd watch mama cats, dogs, pigs, or whatever other creature didn't mind my presence as they brought forth life, and it never occurred to me to imagine that anything I could do would be of any greater benefit than the immanent presence of the forces of selection that had perfected this process. I was a witness to miracles, and believed in them fully and worshipfully.

So, what accounts for the transformation from celebrant to a gargantuan worrywart? I could argue that I have good reason to be anxious, that past experiences have given me legitimate reason for my reactions. But there's the thing, the "reactions" are in response to situations that occurred in the past, not the present, and what possible good comes from being disconnected from the present? Events take place only in the present, and we have enough to do to process and comprehend even a fraction of what is actually happening in any given moment, let alone if we're not really tuned in, if we're living in a tape-loop inside our heads. I wonder how many mistakes I've made, how many possibilities I've sundered, because my current actions were responsive to the internal dictates of my fears of history, not present realities.

Granted, a heightened and informed awareness of indications of trouble can, and in my experience as a breeder certainly has, trigger interventions that can be literally life-saving. But what happens to trust, and patience, and wonder, and joyous participation in an event that is larger than my own life, is indeed the fundamental instauration of life?

I'm working on that...on acknowledging that I have no real power, no real control, that all things that I experience are created in my own head. The experience is my own. There may, or may not, be a capital-R reality "out there," but the only reality I can experience is that which I allow to reverberate inside my skull. So, henceforth, my aim is to reclaim that trusting, curious, celebratory, and altogether more wise awareness I seemed to possess during my childhood.

Thankfully, Ember gave me an opportunity to witness miracles again, as three weeks ago she delivered six pups "by the book." All I had to do was catch and towel-dry. At three weeks, they've devoured their first meals and are just as perfect as Mother Nature intended. My task is to be attentive now, to respond to the needs of the present, to enjoy the process as it unfolds, not exist in a limbo within the bars of my own fear.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


At left, Ella leading the way on a day when I was convinced we were going to be zapped by lightning any second. We didn't even get rained on.

I've been reading Pema Chodron's The Places that Scare You. The title is somewhat misleading, as it might conjure up images from childhood nightmares -- dark basements, ominous closets, that gateway to other worlds under your bed. But no, she's directing the reader to confront that most-scary of territories, our own minds.

The world we occupy lies between our ears, and the conditions we cultivate there will determine the degree to which we maximize, or disconnect from, this experience called life. If our thoughts follow trails through our minds that we've engineered so chaotically as to ensure that there's no easy way to get from here to there, if our thoughts veer off on tangents into uncharted mental wilderness, if we invent detours, circuitous and pointless wanderings, dead-ends or sheer drop-offs, how are we ever going to get on with the trip? Do we set out on a path that's geared to bring us to our destination, or do we see the obstacles and convince ourselves it's not worth the effort to overcome them?

The past couple of years in NEPA (NorthEastPA) we've seen more than our share of thunderstorms, a trend that seems to be intensifying of late. To work in the long hikes to which I've become addicted, I have to keep an eye on the weather and try to anticipate when I'm most likely to have a two to three hour window in which to venture forth with minimal likelihood of serving as a lightning rod. It'd be easy to look out the window, note the ominous presence of black thunderheads to the west, and decide that I just "wasn't meant" to walk today. Certainly it is foolhardy to step into a storm and expect not to get wet or windswept or worse. But to shy away from mere threat of a storm is to forgo the enlivening and invigorating effects of leaning into a stiff breeze (Scotland) or racing down from the Continental Divide to seek shelter below tree line (Colorado) or ducking into a sheep shed to shelter my skull from hail (Pyrenees).

And often the things we fear don't materialize at all -- one day recently I bolted out the door when the sun melted a lighter spot of gray into the gun-metal-colored sky, and was rewarded with the pleasure of walking in a perfect donut hole of sunlight for thirteen miles, encircled by a grand play of cumulonimbus clouds scudding along on gales that whipped my face with the fresh scent of rain visibly pounding the Susquehanna River valley four miles away to the south. Sure, this is a physical metaphor for an internal process, but it's all tied together; you can't succeed even in something so simple as persisting in a physical activity if you don't first develop mental clarity of purpose.

Fear exists only in our minds. It is useful, but only insofar as it serves to bring our attention to the present so that we can evaluate the situation and choose to act as we determine best suits our goals. Fear can be paralyzing if we abrogate our option of making that conscious choice.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Those of you who know me on Facebook knew of Zhen's (that's him in the photo) recent "walkabout". His experience differed dramatically from my and Ella's walkabout - Zehn's being unintended and not at all pleasant. But the two walkabouts shared at least one thing - the opportunity to learn.

Ella learned and grew during our journey because she's a dog, and dogs don't get lost in their own heads wondering whether they remembered to lock the house before they left...they pay attention to what's in front of their eyes (and nose, and paws) and they register and respond to real-time data, cause and effect, etc.

Nice system. Humans take note.

I learned because I deliberately took myself away from familiar settings and patterns in an effort to force myself to do what dogs do as a matter of see, feel, hear, observe the wilderness into which I took myself, and to be present with what was happening in my head in response to events in real time.

Zehn had to learn by necessity and in a big hurry. His life literally depended upon it. He'd taken off in a panic from his new owners' friends' house, in a town he didn't know (having been raised as a country bumpkin), and proceeded to get himself thoroughly lost. Even a small town harbors multitudes of dangers for a dog on the loose, and a panicked dog who has no savvy about cars is particularly vulnerable. Zhen had only recently left my place to live with his new people, he didn't know the owners of the home where they'd been visiting, didn't know where his new owners had gone, didn't understand they were coming right back...he just wanted to be reunited with them. When he bolted through an open door his original intention was quickly subsumed by the immediacy of the situation, as he found himself beset by terror. Well-meaning friends and neighbors joined in hot pursuit, which only served to drive him further afield, and cemented his conviction that his best option was to put as much distance as possible between himself and this strange and frightening place.

We're all lost, at times and places, all the more so when fear gains the upper hand. Sometimes, like Zehn, we've dashed without thought headlong into or away from something. Sometimes we've just put one foot in front of the other and kept our head in the clouds, or a fog, or focused on the ground...anything but attentive to our needs, our goals, our surroundings, our fellow travelers. When we're lost we may crave help, yet react to offers of help as if those outstretched hands might slap or bruise us, as Zehn seemed to think when so many in the community tried to assist in bringing him home.

But Zehn didn't stay lost. In spite of spending anxious hours slogging through swamps and combing neighborhoods and alleyways and woodlands, several sleepless nights, repeated calls to police and shelters, it wasn't human efforts that brought Zehn home. It was his realization of his own capabilities. He was hungry and forlorn, he probably felt abandoned and unloved, but he never lost his desire to be reunited with the people he loved. His fear was finally conquered by his love, commitment, and devotion. Maybe he made a decision to do things differently, since running and hiding hadn't gotten him where he wanted to be. Or if dogs don't "decide" in the way we humans do, at least he chose to stop running and hiding. And when he stopped, his mind quieted. In that quietude he found alternatives. In spite of his fear, he discovered that he had the ability to take himself back...his legs were strong, his nose was keen, his mind sharp. He had only to calm himself, follow love, and take himself home.

It's a little ironic that I named this dog Zhen. I thought he'd spend his life with me and calling his name would remind me of how I should live my life. Each moment, each breath, should be a quieting of the mind and a return to love. Zhen lives with other friends now, but Zen is still the process by which I can find my own way. Being lost can occur in a moment of inattention, and being found can take as long as a lifetime or as little as the epiphany of realizing we're already where we need to be, if only we wake up.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


My topics have bee-bopped back and forth in time, but such is the nature of my mind...I'll dive back into the linear version of Ella's and my "walkabout" journey soon enough (especially now that winter prompts me to escape in imagination to warmer days). My previous blog recounted my manner of celebrating that journey by capping it off with my first marathon. Ella needed her own recognition of accomplishment. Since they wouldn't allow me to take her on the marathon, she took a decidedly different approach when on December 6th, 2011, she welcomed a new litter of pups. OK, so it wasn't something she chose as celebration, but she was so radiantly healthy and fit after our two months of free-range rambling that when she came into heat shortly after our return (around the time of my marathon) I thought, what better way to memorialize this accomplishment than a legacy for Ella? And yeah, she did thoroughly enjoy the process...she and Ieuan were allowed the fun and games of natural conception in the back yard...none of that hold 'em still and slam/bam/thank you ma'am that constitutes the norm for arranged breedings.

Flash forward to early December and Ella was glowing. She had a magnificent belly, lustrous coat, and energy to spare. That, as it turns out, is where the trouble started. Her energy is innate (she demanded six mile daily walks from the time she was six months old) but enhanced by her new level of fitness. Sadly, being back here with all the other dogs means my walking time is split among many...she being pregnant, I'd begun letting her take her exercise in the large paddocks, while my walk time was given to Caron, Zeva and Ember, among others.

But that freedom in the paddock spelled trouble for a soon-to-be-mama with a big belly. When Ella refused food about five days prior to her due date, I knew what an ominous sign that was from a dog who will eat anything, anytime, anywhere. With ironic premonition, my own stomach did flips. Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, she worsened, not just refusing food but beginning to show signs of labor, far too early. Per my ex, there was nothing to do but monitor her for the time being...he wouldn't do an elective Cesarian since the likelihood of survival wanes with each day prior to their full gestation.

The little hand-held Doppler he'd given me for Christmas two or three years ago has been a literal lifesaver many times over. Using it, I could detect two heartbeats, but only from one horn of her uterus (dogs don't have one ovoid vessel like humans do, theirs is elongate and bifurcated). Nothing but the gurgles and gushes of Ella's own body sounds on the other side. Again, my stomach lurched.

Abbreviating the story somewhat, a Caesarian was what ultimately had to happen, two days early, and the discovery made during surgery was that during her hijinks in the exercise paddock, Ella's uterus had torsioned (twisted), which cut off the blood supply to the pups in that horn of her uterus. Their death had triggered a cascade of physiological processes so that there was ultimately no recourse but to bring the remaining two living pups into the world sooner than Mother Nature intended. (Spoiler alert: that's one of them looking at you from the crook of Kyle's girlfriend's arms.) Two utterly gorgeous girls, with deep black & red pigment and chunky little bodies. For the first three days I had to tube feed them, since Ella's milk hadn't yet come in and they weren't ready or strong enough to suckle on their own. But by the third day things picked up, and Ella took over completely. Now we could celebrate.

Ella herself barely showed signs of having had major surgery. More major than even the Caesarian, since the damage to her uterus from the loss of blood supply necessitated her being simultaneously spayed. My first-born was via Caesarian, and I can tell you that I was not doing stairs the day after, nor was I even particularly excited about sitting up in bed, and I dreaded coughs and sneezes like the devil. But I had the wonder of new life, my little Jessica.

Contrast that with Ella, who was wanting to bound up and down stairs as soon as the grogginess of anesthesia wore off. Once again she so ably demonstrated how to accept, how to be right exactly where she was without wasting a moment of her life. She didn't whine over her ordeal, that was in the past; she didn't bemoan the loss of future litters, for she had kids she loved to attend to in the here and now.

I try, Ella, I do; I want to live fully present, I want to feel joy for what is, not obsess over what was (or maybe never really was, only now imagined), or live in fear of what may be.

The high anxiety wasn't over, as it turns out. While Ella's kids grew, opened their eyes, began walking and eating, Luna's pregnancy became the in-your-face kind where you look at the dog and groan in sympathy. Her belly was so enormous she waddled. With an appetite sufficient for an entire pack, she was happy to hang out in the whelping room awaiting delivery day. Until she, too, stopped eating.

Deja vu, all over again. She hadn't been rampaging around in an exercise paddock, so I felt confident it wasn't another freak accident like Ella's. She was so huge it was easy to imagine there simply was no room for her stomach to expand, or that eating caused acid reflux or other disincentives for eating. Coaxed with chicken or steak or tripe, she ate a mouthful here and there, just enough to avoid utter starvation, while her insatiable unborn pups sucked the protein right out of her muscle tissue for their own growth needs.

Doppler readings showed normal heart rates, and nothing drastic seemed awry, but that did nothing to allay my growing anxiety. Once burned, twice shy, as they say, and over the course of thirty years of breeding I've been burned enough times to have an outright phobic response to anything other than perfect text-book births. And then...Caesarian number two for the month of December... resulting in eight lively little babies, two girls, six boys. Of course, having been semi-starved for a week or more, her body was too weak to produce enough milk, so I found myself tube-feeding the little pack every three hours 'round the clock. Now, a bit more than a week later, Luna's sufficiently recovered to (mostly) feed them herself, and in short order they'll be eating solid food and taking some of the burden off mama Luna. Neither pups nor mom will remember their rough start, they'll just be a happy family.

But wait, we're not done. Rio was due a week after Luna, was looking as radiant and active as Ella had been, and appeared to my eye to be carrying between four and six pups. She ate like a fiend until the day she went into labor, proceeded into labor with no fuss or hiccups, and summarily set out to bring pups into the world the way the book says they should. Or, so it first seemed. When three hours of hard labor had not brought forth the firstborn, I was on the phone with the emergency clinic at 4:00 AM. Bring her right down, they advised. Not so fast...I wanted suggestions, not surgical intervention. I'm a newbie to this side of the phone line...after thirty years of running a vet clinic, answering just this kind of question, conferring on cases with my husband, I can't seem to get it into my head I'm the one who stopped at a B.S. to support him while he got the medical degree means no authority to dictate medical procedures. Hang up from Emergency clinician, call ex-husband.

No go. He's got his new life, his new routine, his new priorities. He's been generous with his professional help, but any diminution of access to the acumen I helped him acquire is a painful reminder of the many losses of our union. As the jabs of yet another volley of sharp reality darts hit home, I'm literally on my knees, head bent to the floor to see what I'm doing, one latex-gloved hand compressing Rio's belly to aid contractions, the other desperately trying to hook what little of the pup I could contact as it breached, for the umpteenth time, the lip of the pelvic rim. With no hands free, the now-dead cell phone was still held scrunched to my shoulder by my badly-torqued neck.

No aid to be had, it was up to Rio and me. I got down to the business of getting that pup born. Rio was a wonder in patience and experience-based cooperative effort. She bore down, I pulled and wiggled and pushed and strained, trying to follow the medical maxim of "first, do no harm" but knowing full well once I'd gotten the pup's head past the pelvis that I had to get it out fast one way or another or it would suffocate. It seemed hopeless, and the poor thing's lips were blue as it gasped desperately for air that the compressions of birth wouldn't let it draw deeply into its lungs. Finally, against all odds and my own expectations, with expediency winning over caution, I applied more force than I thought wise and the shoulders and body emerged in one smooth rush. He gasped instantly, sending a warm flood of relief cascading the length of my body. Pragmatic Rio set about cleaning and acquainting herself with her newborn. His brother arrived three hours later in much the same fashion, previous success having lent Rio and I the dogged determination and cooperative teamwork to get through the tough stuff and celebrate the new arrival.

There is no formula. Worthwhile efforts can be as simple as (literally) pie, as challenging as scaling a mountain, or as potentially life-threatening as bringing new life into the world. The effort we put in does not guarantee a positive outcome, nor does an unwanted outcome have to be experienced as "bad." The more I watch these dogs, the less I like labels at all. What is, is. It's only good or bad if you assign a valence to it. Otherwise, it's just life, and embracing it is a joyful process.