End of life care for pets versus people

On Saturday, April 6, 2019, my Uncle Charlie passed away. The atmosphere around his death versus that of my dogs got me thinking about the ongoing debate over physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

The option to euthanize

I knew when my dogs were going to pass. That’s because I had the option to euthanize them rather than let them suffer.

Casey, my Pomeranian mix, had gone into renal failure. The vet simply put the drugs into his I.V. I stayed there, rubbing his ears, twirling his long hair around my fingers, and singing the little ditty I sang to him every night before we went to bed.

Both of my pitbull princesses had cancer.

Dalilah rested her head on my shoulder as the vet gave her the first shot of sedation. I then laid behind her, wrapping my arms around her, singing “Tracks of My Tears” softly into her ear. Though the vet warned us of a possible, frightening last gasp, Dalilah slipped away in total peace.

I can’t remember if I sang to Roxy or just talked to her. She might have gotten lucky.

The point is that for each of them, I had the chance to do anything I could think of to direct love and calmness to them. I like to think I helped make their transitions as smooth and comfortable as possible.

Compared to people

Though Uncle Charlie’s battle with cancer lasted years, his downward spiral took all of about a week. He got to be at home, just like he wanted. He was aware of the family helping take care of him. Most people don’t get such gifts.

Even so, at the time he crossed that threshold, all was quiet. Only my mom, his sister, was in the room, organizing his next round of medications.

No one held his hand or reassured him all was well and safe. No one had the opportunity to consciously create a loving presence through which to send him off.

How could we when no one had any idea when it would happen?

The option to plan

I’m not saying Uncle Charlie would have opted for physician assisted suicide. I doubt he would.

But some people would.

Wouldn’t it be a blessing for everyone involved if family and friends knew when to gather near their dying loved one and hold each other, comfort one another, laugh over some silly memories together, and send their loved one off with their collective light and positivity?

It’s not for everyone. But I think humans deserve that option as much as pets.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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Think you need to be perfect to deserve love? Try some Whiskey.

Dogs – like us, each has, let’s say, “unique quirks.” We love them anyway.

Sure, my Topper rolled in cow pies and the occasional dead animal. Casey spent most of his time behind the sofa. Rudy growled if I sat next to him. During temper tantrums, Dalilah would eat anything within reach. Rico barks at the slightest sound. And Roxy ate my underwear out of the dirty laundry.

I was crazy about each of them.

But now I have Whiskey.

She takes imperfection to a whole new, previously unheard of level. A gross level.

Whiskey rolling on her back, being silly

Who? Me?

Her farts smell like rotten eggs. Her breath can stink up a room just as easily. She knows when you ordered food – even if you ordered online! – and barks until it arrives. Once she starts barking, she can’t stop, echoing off the walls and the inside of my skull like a sledgehammer. I don’t know how she does it, but she makes me conform around her in my bed at night.

Whiskey under the covers in bed

Can you close those curtains for me? Thanks.

Worst of all, she eats Rico’s poop.

You can always go back to the shelter, I scream as we race to the morning pile in the yard.

An empty threat, of course.

Because even with all of her imperfections, I adore her. Like all my fur babies, there’s nothing I won’t sacrifice to keep her happy, healthy, and safe.

Whiskey peering out of the rear window of the car

Watching momma like a hawk

One day it really hit me how much I love her – those floppy ears, that snowman-like face, the way her grunts sound like a little kid mimicking an engine. It kind of blew my mind.

I know. Loving a dog is a pretty low bar. Yay goals, right?

But consider how perfectionism continues to be a multi-billion dollar business, whether promoting the unattainable ideal in the media or trying to recover from it with one of many thousands of self-help books. This stubborn belief deep in our collective psyche has made millionaires.

What if, instead, we consciously note the beloved-yet-imperfect things/ people/ places already in our lives and, equally important, acknowledge we love them anyway? Wouldn’t that make perfection a moot point?

If I can love turd-burglar Whiskey, for example, what else can I love that doesn’t fit my definition of perfect? The tree in my yard that only grows to one side? Yes! The multiplying lines around my eyes? Uh … yes! My brown-nosing colleague? OK, it’s a work in progress.

Even so, Whiskey makes a great case for how useless “perfection” is as a prerequisite for love and happiness.

I don’t have to be perfect to have value. You don’t have to be perfect to have value. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to love, appreciate, and enjoy it.

But a scented candle never hurt either.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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Close-up of Rico's snow covered white face with haiku: snow drifts/ white outline/ of the old dog's face

Happy birthday, Rico! I say he’s in the 10-12 year-old range. For a big guy, that’s … well, you know. That’s why this first snowstorm of 2019 was so special. It was his birthday present from Mother Nature. He’s always loved snow, especially bulldozing it with his face and eating it. That hasn’t changed, even as he has. Nothing could warm my heart more than watching him in the snow this time around. Despite the inconveniences snow causes, I also recognize this storm was a gift for me, too. Thank you, Mother Nature.

And thank you for stopping by today.

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Vacation!

Rico beyond a fire pit with lake in background

November is our annual family vacation.

In years past, I’ve come home with some bigger insight, courtesy of the dogs, of course. Things like being brave enough to let my mutts run free, getting out of my comfort zone, and how to enjoy life to the fullest.

Not so much this year. This time around, I was struck by the realization that Rico is old. Really old. Like, this might be our last vacation together. It would have been an emotional struggle had Rico not spent his whole life teaching me the importance of living in the moment.

I’d hoped to make this vacation the best one yet. We took him and Whiskey to see the ocean at Assateague Island National Seashore. Both of them love to splash around and wade through water.

Both dogs standing in the calm Chesapeake Bay

Ah, the Chesapeake Bay … the calm side of Assateague Island

I thought the few inches after a broken wave would be perfect for them.

Whiskey running from the waves

“It’s coming at me! That sh*t’s not natural!”

Turns out water is kinda freaky if it chases after you.

Rico in the sand, a safe distance from the water

“I’ll watch from here, thanks.”

But we also rented an RV, their first. (And ours.) Now THAT was a real hit.

WHiskey peering out of the RV's windshield

Backseat driver

Rico watching the passing scenery from the RV window

Window watching

It wasn’t how I envisioned it, but hey, few things ever do turn out how I plan, but, thanks to Whiskey, that’s OK. I don’t care as long as they had fun. And I think they did.

Whiskey using a sleeping Rico as a pillow

Tuckered out babies

Thanks for stopping by today.

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It’s Not You, It’s Me

Whiskey on an actual dog bed in the living room

“Can’t you be just a little more grateful? Don’t you remember where you were?”

I hadn’t even finished that second sentence when I flinched. Immediately I recognized my scathing remarks were more about myself than Whiskey. It felt like I just punched myself in the gut. Twice. Because I lashed out at her, and she didn’t deserve it.

Don’t get me wrong. She had been driving me nuts for hours, wanting in and out the back door, wanting me to follow her to the front door (presumably to then walk through the door), hopping from chair to sofa to sunny spot, staring at me as I pecked away on my computer.

Whiskey staring at me from beside my computer

Mom, mom, mom … mom, mom …

Roxy played the staring game, too, forcing me to practice concentrating, but Whiskey takes it to another level with bouncing around.

I felt frustrated and wanted her to settle down somewhere. I mean, seriously, she came from a small kennel at the shelter to this comfortable house where she can lounge wherever she pleases (and does!), has a huge yard, and gets two walks almost every day and she still can’t get comfortable?

Whiskey on a blanket on the recliner

Goldie Locks tries out the recliner

Therein lies the rub, of course.

I, too, have been bouncing around a lot lately, between health coaching, writing about health, writing two haiku collections, looking for copywriting jobs benefiting the environment, volunteering …

I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to focus on one project. Or even one less project.

And it gets worse. I’m frustrated with fate for not lending guidance in narrowing my focus.

Could I be less grateful for being in a position that allows me to pursue all of these things? The place I was before here? I don’t ever want to go back. *Sigh*

So, let’s see, that’s ADD plus victimization plus a convenient scapegoat. I believe that equals one donkey kick to the breadbasket.

This has been one of the toughest lessons to remember in a life shared with dogs:

Usually, things about them that annoy me are neon signs pointing to areas of myself needing attention.

And there are two ways it could go – maybe I’m just like them and need to change, like this time, or maybe I need to be more like them. Like how Rico’s poking along on walks showed me how I need to slow down and take in the beauty around me, too.

I’m not always successful at figuring out this puzzle. But I try. These, I believe, are the dogs’ gifts to me. To all of us. Wouldn’t it be a shame to refuse?

And my gift to them? Our gift to them? Our peace sets them at peace, too.

Whiskey lying at my feet while I work on the computer

Ah, finally!

Thanks for stopping by today.

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What To Do When Life Hands You Lemons (Besides Throw Them At Whoever Came Up With That Phrase)

I had a good run. I took a huge leap into the unknown in the name of growth. I planned to launch my own business. Live the American Dream. Be a risk-taking, adventure-seeking, go-it-alone maverick.

Except I’m not.

So that meant facing fears. I got honest about them. Called each one out – feeling self-doubt, fraudulent, overwhelmed by how much I don’t know about running a business, and sadness at replacing what I have on Dog and Dojo for the sake of digital marketing. Every day I wanted to tuck my tail and run.

But I didn’t.

I pushed ahead with the business plans, the accounting classes, the figuring out the legalities of contracts, the shopping for bookkeeping thingys, the researching different corporate structures and how to start one, then rewriting website copy, then endless work on designing a new logo, then business cards.

Green Health & Healing logo

Cute, right?

I scheduled several Nature Journaling workshops (see download on Free Resources page for description) to promote this new venture.

Before I could pull it together for my big debut, life launched that lemon. As you know, life has good aim.

To be fair, it could have been MUCH worse. But finding my senior dog, Rico, laying in our yard in the hot sun unable to stand left me struggling to breathe, I was so scared.

Close-up of Rico's face

I mean, that face!

Rico’s around 10-12 years-old. Every day is a gift. In that moment, I feared the gift-giver wanted him back.

Peeling a 75 pound, squealing, squirming dog off the ground to carry 60-plus feet across a yard, up eight steps, across a hot deck, and through the door was … interesting. Especially with two slipped discs. It’s crazy what one can do with focused determination.

The next day, our vet confirmed the doggie equivalent of a torn ACL. The perfect compliment to his rampant arthritis. At his age, we ruled out surgery. His prescription is caution.

Rico sleeping with his turtle pillow

Resting after a tough afternoon

For the next six months or so, I am his human stair lift. Thank God I workout regularly.

Seeing him struggle sucks, but, like I said, it could have been worse. This isn’t good-bye. Just an interruption.

Whiskey and Rico lounging in the front yard during a potty break

Potty breaks often take a while.

But with everything that goes into caring for a large, gimpy dog, it’s an interruption that brought my career plans to a screeching halt, including scrapping half of my workshops.

Since this happened, my entire body hurts either from sore muscles or my aching back. Juggling his health and well-being, keeping my other dog, Whiskey, from feeling left out, my floundering career plans, and endless volunteer activities felt impossible. The fear that Rico’s home stretch might be spent cooped up coupled with the sinking feeling I’ll never strike a balance in time made my heart ache.

Yet time marches on mercilessly, balanced or not.

Compounding this is the fact that I love spending time with Rico and Whiskey. At times, I questioned whether I was using his condition as an excuse to avoid scary business stuff. Other times, I blamed them for flushing my goals down the crapper.

Can you sense the looming meltdown?

Life saw its lemon didn’t get the point across. So it nailed me. Almost literally.

At the same time as the injury drama, contractors replaced our roof and gutters. They seemed to clean up, but nails and large staples kept appearing out of nowhere.

An assortment of nails and staples left behind

Jagged, little reminders

One morning, I carried Rico into the yard. I like to walk barefoot. Upon walking back up, I found a nail had been on our path. I had been lucky.

Being the picture of calm, peaceful, serenity that I am, I berated myself for not proceeding more carefully. Wouldn’t I know by now…? Watch what I’m doing … So stupid …

And that’s when I finally got it.

Slow down and take each step in life mindfully so that I don’t abandon what is good in an effort to make progress.

I’m so lucky Rico is still here for me to love and care for, injury and inconvenience be dammed. Likewise, Dog and Dojo better represents me than the slick marketing I crafted. There’s infinite benefits I hope to show you can gain by being mindful not just with your pets but with all of the natural world around you. That’s the premise behind Dog and Dojo. Why would I change that?

So I’m adding things now. Like an invitation for a free health coaching session and a free resource page. But I’m not getting rid of a single thing.

What do you do when life hands you lemons? Try paying attention. It could be that life is making you a glass of lemonade.

Thank you for stopping by today.

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A new way to make decisions

Recently, I took Rico and Whiskey to visit my elderly uncle, who lives on a farm. It’s smaller, with a quintessential red barn, a field that still carries hidden scents of cows long gone, a meandering creek, various old chicken coops now occupied by several ducks and geese, and, of course, a resident old person.

In other words, it’s dog heaven. (Rico LOVES old people.)

Because the ducks live next to the house, Rico and Whiskey headed straight there as soon as their feet hit the ground.

Rico and Whiskey checking out the ducks from the opposite side of their fence

Thankfully, as much as he love those duckies, Rico accepts the disappointing fact he cannot go near them. Ever.

I hoped the lure of the water would make up for it.

For weeks leading up to our visit, I kept thinking about how much fun Rico and Whiskey will have getting into that cool water, lapping it up, and splashing around. I knew Rico couldn’t handle the distance or the hill to get there, so my brother worked hard to create a dirt road we could use to drive a truck to creek side. He even cleared old brush so the dogs could more easily access the water’s edge.

Whiskey dove in. After some struggle with the descent, Rico got his front paws in for a drink. And then …

Rico barely seen as he lays in tall grass with the creek in the background

This was more fun in my imagination.

I tried to convince him to get back in. But, from atop the field, the enticing call of the ducks echoed off the various buildings of the farm, pinging right into his perked ears.

Suddenly, the limpy, gimpy, bunny-hopping Rico marched like a soldier up the hill to the duck yard. No stopping to sniff. No whining. No breaks for his achy paws. I knew he had to be uncomfortable. But he had a mission.

Moving mountains to help him enjoy the water – something he’s relished all of his life – seemed like the right decision for everyone. But I underestimated the emotional bond between dog and duck.

Rico staring down the ducks and geese again

That got me thinking about how humans learn the decision-making process. The weighing of pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, pluses and minuses. Where does the emotional, the subconscious, the right brain get to contribute? Is it any wonder why a decision right in so many ways can feel so wrong?

Recognizing this revolutionized the way I approach decision-making.

I had a big decision to make for myself – seek employment as a health coach or start my own health coaching business. Employment seemed like the obvious choice; self-employment scared the crap out of me. Nothing felt right.

Until I made my pro and con list for each option and then listed my knee-jerk reactions to the things in each of those lists. It became crystal clear that the choice that scared me the most was the right one.

The fear and doubt are still here, but because of this new decision-making process, I trust it’ll be worth it. Like Rico, I’m on a mission and I have to march up the hill until I get there.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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Roll with it

My neighbors’ grandkids think Whiskey is part human because she’s so well-behaved. I’m talking about this dog …

Whiskey on her back in grass

Like, this dog…

Whiskey on her back on the porch

Seriously. This dog

Whiskey lying in the street

We’ve come a long way since she came home not quite two years ago. Rolling on her back in the middle of the road, however, is the one thing I can’t seem to convince her to stop. Her back is itchy, the road is rough. Nuff said.

I have to give it to her – the girl has no give-a-shit about potential danger. I’m a tad jealous.

More so lately because I’ve been tip-toeing my way toward self-employment. I’ve earned a personal trainer certification and plan to add a health coach certification. I have a philosophy about health. Screw health charts and strict dieting. Find what lights up your soul and get healthy enough to enjoy it every day. End stop.

The only problem is I never saw myself as business person. Still don’t. The thought of running my own business terrifies me as much as walking the Capital Beltway at 5:30 p.m.

Whiskey, on the other hand, wouldn’t hesitate to throw herself down mid-lane for a back scratch if needed. She knows what fulfills her and she goes for it.

Of course, I look out for traffic to keep her safe. Maybe it’s that she has faith in me to do that. Who could I have similar faith in? is the question I’ve been asking.

The answer I’ve found is one I share with Whiskey – me. Somewhere deep inside is a meek voice telling me to proceed with this business venture, even as my mind screams bloody murder. I’ve made conscientious decisions before. I’ve tackled them methodically, with well-thought out action plans. None turned out the way I envisioned. Now that I think about it, they all turned out pretty crappy.

Maybe it is time to try a different method. Plunk down mid-road and scratch the hell outta my back, too.

Or maybe not. At the very least, I can give that meek voice the stage. I might still fail. Been there, done that, got a tee-shirt. But I might have fun doing it this time if I can convince myself to just roll with it. Whiskey agrees.

Whiskey with a huge smile

Thanks for stopping by today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 1 Comment

Whiskey’s revenge

This is a different kind of post for Dog and Dojo, but it was so funny, I have to share it. It’s a series of text messages I sent my boyfriend, beginning with an evening walk with Rico and Whiskey.

Now, Whiskey is unusual, in that she loves to scratch her back in inappropriate places. Like the middle of the road. Grassy gutters. Other people’s yards. That’s what she did this time, but since it’s late winter, she took most of the grass with her …

WHiskey covered in brown grass with text reading, "Hay ain't just for horses"… I followed that one up with …

Close up of her covered rump, with text reading, "In case you didn't get the full effect"

She LOVES rolling in dirt. I could feel her laughing at me.

There was no brushing all of that off, so when we got home, we got treats and Whiskey got thrown into the tub, which she HATES …

Wet Whiskey and text reading, "Who's laughing now, sucker!?"

Satisfied, I went for my evening meditation, about 30 minutes. afterward, I went to check on the dogs in the bedroom …

Rico with a pillow over him, and a look that says, "I didn't do it, Mom." Text reads "Hmm, this is unusual..."

Rico doesn’t like blankets, jackets, anything that could interfere with his dogness. So to see him underneath a pillow … well, I knew it wasn’t his doing.

I was right …

Wet Whiskey laying under the covers of my bed. Text reads, "...oh, THAT'S why. "You'll never get the last laugh. Who you callin sucker now, chump!"

Yeah, that’s a very wet Whiskey. She had kicked back all of the covers and pillows so she could lay directly on my sheet. The whole spot was soaked through.

Whiskey always wins.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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Intentions: the good, the bad, and the misunderstood

Lately I’ve felt like I have so many balls in the air, I fear an avalanche.

I just finished my first children’s book, with another started, and am working on a collection of dog-themed poems and essays. I have my second article coming out this spring in The Bark magazine (it was a little tricky because it’s about tai chi for an audience entirely new to tai chi), which makes a long-dormant book idea much more viable. There’s volunteer work for the Virginia Master Naturalists, my commitment as a committee chairperson, and the required advanced training, as well as my ongoing training in qigong and tai chi and now add energy healing. Rico requires special care as he ages. Whiskey requires special walks as she’s a ball of energy. And the house always needs cleaning.

Then there are the things that I haven’t been able to give much attention to but want to, like this blog, actually revisiting the proposal for my original book idea, and my hair. I need a cut.

Normally I’d go for a long walk. Sometimes I need to detoxify in nature, but I feel guilty leaving the dogs behind. Rico lumbers toward the door, his ears perky and eyes big and round with anticipation, even though a long walk for him is now measured in feet. Whiskey Velcros herself to the wall next to the door, head lowered, and looking at me from between her eyebrows.

I feel like a terrible person because I don’t always have the energy or enthusiasm to balance their energy. One wants to sit back and sip the day …

Rico lounging in tall grass

while the other wants to binge drink it.

Whiskey as far as the leash will let her go

Usually I stay home, miserable.

But the other day, I finally went for it. I ran for the car and squealed wheels out of the driveway before either of them could get down the stairs and headed straight for one of my favorite walking trails.

How could something so good start off feeling so bad? It wasn’t my intention to hurt the dogs. I just desperately needed some quality time outside when I didn’t have to think about what they might be eating, who’s coming toward us, what do I need to pick up, and will we make it back to the car.

I knew they saw it otherwise.

That made me think about the people who have hurt me – when I cursed so-and-so for doing or saying something so obviously hurtful. I’ve even looked at people with a lowered head, from between my eyebrows, as they continued on their stupid, thoughtless path. How could they be so oblivious?

Well, maybe their goal had nothing to do with me. (Shocking!) Maybe, like my intentions with the dogs, their goal wasn’t to hurt anyone but to be happy. Maybe the blinders that kept them focused on their own happiness and what they thought it would take to get them there kept them from seeing any negative impacts.

Mulling this over has had magical effects on me. It hasn’t justified anyone’s careless deeds or smart mouth, but it has made my old wounds seem narcissistic. And that realization has made letting go of bitterness far easier.

As for Rico and Whiskey, they never carry grudges anyway. We spent the afternoon lounging on our sunny deck like a family of walruses. Everyone was happy.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 2 Comments