Why We Should All Want To Be Like Pit Bulls

Animal rescue groups across the country will be celebrating National Pit Bull Awareness Day on October 22! It’s another flattering spotlight on these misunderstood dogs.

Isn’t it funny listening to people talk about pit bulls? To one camp, pit bulls are loving, mile-wide smiling, family-oriented goofballs. To the other, they’re freakishly strong, ferocious animals who know no fear or pain.

Contradicting stereotypes … or are they? Maybe both are right.

Two stereotypes in one

If you looked at recent posts or the welcome page, you know my pit bull passed away from cancer earlier this year.

Roxy sitting in the sunlight

My beautiful, regal pit bull

She was my therapy dog. Without being trained to do so, she would throw herself across my lap, licking at my face whenever I became upset. It didn’t matter how pissed I was, how loud I screamed. She dove in and wouldn’t stop until I calmed down.

Roxy giving me a kiss

Please don’t be mad I took your seat on the sofa, Mom.

During her final decline, one of her rear legs swelled up. Standing was a struggle. She mostly stayed down. Because pit bulls are stoic, we never knew if she was in pain though she couldn’t have been comfortable.

Reality hit me as I worked at my computer and she lay nearby. I lost it.

Hearing me cry, she used her front legs to pivot to face me. With her eyes locked on me, she rocked herself forward and backward, trying to get enough momentum to hoist herself onto her back legs. She couldn’t get up fast enough, so she started to belly crawl toward me.

I fell onto the floor next to her and held her while she licked away my tears.

Two days later she was gone.

A ferocious heart

So I say it’s true what the haters think. Pit bulls don’t care about pain when it comes to pleasing their people. They don’t care what danger they may be in or what danger they are ordered to face. They epitomize the saying about love moving mountains.

A pit bull’s ferocity lives in his or her capacity to love.

It’s a kind of love most humans can’t comprehend, which is why, I believe, pit bulls are so misunderstood by otherwise good people.

Their willingness to love with reckless abandon is why I want to be like a pit bull. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone did.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Stop, See, Breathe, Repeat

Rico sniffing weeds


Early morning walk

My dog wants only to be still

Breathing the dew

Can you believe I actually wrote that? I’ve been dabbling in poetry and feel especially drawn to haiku. There’s something about its simplicity. By not commentating, the poet allows the reader to visualize the image and its meaning for him- or herself.

It’s very personal. But since this is a blog, I’ll comment on it.

One morning, Rico and I visited a Civil War battlefield. A walking meditation somewhere like that inspires me to practice being aware of the beauty around me and he gets to absorb whatever he can get his nose into.

Rico literally moved from dew-covered grass blade to dew-covered grass blade. Since we weren’t going anywhere fast, I watched the sun peek over the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Its glow spread over both the hayfield and the sky toward us like a stroke of pink watercolor.

I’ve seen time-lapsed video of flowers blooming, etc., but something about watching beauty grow and change in slow-motion but in real time … there are no words.

Had my dogs not spent their lives teaching me how to slow down, I would have never witnessed it. Or been uplifted by the gratitude it instilled in me.

If your dog seems more interested in poking around than in walking, follow his lead. Stop and smell the roses. Or the morning dew. You might discover a whole new world.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Is That A Fact?

One lovely morning, Rico and I poked along the wooded trail next to our neighborhood. The insects’ stringed instruments and soprano songs of birds filled our ears. The scent of God knows what filled Rico’s nose. Nature encased us in a cocoon of greenery and shimmering morning sun. It was truly magical.

Rico enjoying the wooded trail

Enjoying the beautiful morning

Until a ruckus from the nearby cul-de-sac raised my hackles.

I heard a deep, throaty bark of a huge, powerful dog and a yike-yike ankle-biter. They gave each other hell. A young girl’s voice echoed out, “Hey! Where did that dog come from?”

Uh-oh. A loose dog? And right on the other side of the woods?

I panicked. In just minutes that dog could come through the woods. We no longer have Roxy to help intimidate strangers. It’s just me and a definitely not intimidating Rico. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on vet bills this year. I can’t afford any more.

So we hustled. Or, rather, I hustled, dragging Rico back to the car. We weren’t even a quarter of the way around the trail. But we needed safety.

What really happened?

Most of it happened. It was a stunning morning and we did hear barking from the nearby street. And the girl’s question.

Then it gets hairy.

I couldn’t verify the loose dog. Only that two were barking. I couldn’t prove they were fighting. The way the girl phrased her question and her lack of urgency probably should have been clues it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

And the notion the loose dog would jump out like the boogeyman? Embarrassing.

One clarifying question

Where I didn’t know the facts, my mind quickly filled in with fiction. Unfortunately, this is a very human trait. Our minds are wired for story. And for negativity. Scientists call it survival technique passed down from the caveman era. Our ancestors had to assume that rustling in the bushes was a predator to improve their odds of staying alive. Today, however, we get a little carried away with it.

Now when I have a negative emotional reaction, I try to pause, identify the thought process behind it, and for each sentence ask myself, “Do I know that for a fact?”

I hope admitting I don’t know if the trigger’s true will calm the waters. Or at least keep me from missing another glorious morning.

Thank you for stopping by.

Morning sun peeking through the trees

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Avoiding unpleasantness. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. The Dalai Lama has probably done it, so we shouldn’t feel bad.

I’ve been avoiding this blog like a doctor’s appointment. I know I need to update it. I need to allude to Roxy’s passing in the “welcome” and the “meet the family” pages. I need to change the header image. It feels like I’m editing her out of my life.

What’s worse is Rico and I have had great experiences together. He continues to teach me lovely and powerful life lessons amost every day. I want to share them.

Rico resting under trees

Captain Explorer takes a break

But I can’t shake the thought that I need to update Dog and Dojo first.

Roxy’s been gone for 61 days. I’ve flipped the days on my desk calendar and gotten rid of most of her old toys. But removing her picture and changing our story to reflect today’s reality … damn. That hurts.

Personifying doesn’t work

Avoiding something doesn’t make it go away. If someone ignored me the way I ignore unpleasantness, I would leave. I have better things to do.

But no. Not unpleasantness. It has all day and unlimited patience. Unpleasantness can sit a lifetime waiting for attention.

Ironically, my unpleasantness sits there like Roxy staring me down, a habit of hers that gave me lots of chances to practice mental focus and perseverance. Two things I really need to meet the blogging goal at hand.

Part of the legacy

Roxy owned the stare down game. Watch her work for an evening walk!

Roxy staring at me

I’m bored. Walk, please?

Me pointing at Roxy staring

Yep, I’m bored. Walk, please?


Me squishing Roxy's head as she stares

Funny, Mom. Walk, please?

Roxy between my "love" hand signal as she stares

Love you, too, Mom. Walk, please?

Roxy staring, framed by my OK sign

Walk, please? OK?


Roxy staring, framed by my "peace" sign

No peace until I walk. Please?

On that occasion I caved. We went for the walk. Who wouldn’t?

I practiced with her. I must continue to practice what she taught me without her. It’s the only real way I have to honor her life.

Epiphany: It’s all in the intention

So avoidance doesn’t help. Neither does staying focused on muscling through the pain. Because even now, the thought of actually making those changes to Dog and Dojo brings me to tears. Double damn.

Thankfully, a wonderful thought just popped in my head. I’m not editing her out of the blog. I’m editing to more accurately reflect her influence on our lives now. I’m also editing to honor Rico’s new role as my sole teacher. The (albeit unpleasant) task of editing stays the same, but a new intention feels like it dulls the pain a little.

Maybe the focus I learned from Roxy shouldn’t be directed on the task, but rather the intention. Maybe that’s the key to dealing with all of life’s unpleasantness.

I’ll let this absorb into my subconscious for a few days. If you notice a new header image with the next blog entry, you’ll know it’s helping.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Before Adopting A New Dog

Roxy passed away just over four weeks ago. So that’s four weeks and four days of agonizing over whether or not to adopt a new dog.

After lots of soul-crushing wrestling with reality — accepting that a new dog wouldn’t be the same as Roxy — I finally realized there’s really only one way to decide.

How does Rico feel about it?

I struggle with gauging if Rico feels lonely or content. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially with grief clouding my judgment. And especially with a dog who acts like he smokes too much weed. Roxy’s unmistakable excitement burst like popcorn at the thought of doing anything — laundry, going to work, checking the mail, whatever. Rico’s excitement, on the other hand, emerges like a turtle from his shell. Or, more accurately, like a slow drip drool.

Reading the signs

So how do you know when your dog needs a new friend? Here’s what I observed with Rico:

  1. He expresses more interest in car rides.

new dog 2

Before, it wasn’t unusual for him to stay home. Now if I tell him at night that we’re going for a ride tomorrow, he watches my every move the next morning. He doesn’t need a reminder.

2. He checks in with me on walks now. I’ve written about fixing our dysfunctional walks, with Roxy out front and Rico slumped behind. And I’ve written about slowing down and using our walks as a meditation. Now, as Rico and I meander side by side, he frequently looks up at me with tail a’ wagging.

3. He leans in more. I know some behaviorists would probably say this is dominance. But whenever I wanted to reach through my computer to strangle a colleague, Roxy would throw herself across my lap, licking my face. Rico isn’t quite as dramatic, but he quietly sits on my foot or leans against my leg with his own gentle reminder.

4. He’s friskier on outings. He explores more, even walking into water that’s — gasp! — chest-high.

new dog 4

I guess he feels more satisfied, too, because I don’t have to drag him across the parking lot to go home anymore.

5. He willingly took a bath. I walked out from my shower to find him laying on the hallway floor looking up at me. He waved with his tail once and again after I asked him if he wanted a bath. I thought for sure he’d disappear in a puff of smoke as I got his towels out, but he didn’t. He walked in and let me lift him into the tub. Who was this guy?

Before adopting another dog to fill the void in my heart, I have to admit Rico seems pretty happy right now. Love for his two-legged family fills his heart. And when I stop focusing on the gaping hole left by Roxy, I can feel his happiness filling my heart, too.

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A Sad Good-Bye

Our companion animals teach us the most important life lessons, which is why we should always revere them. Love and take care of them.

So it is with a heavy, grieving heart that I tell you I lost my most precious teacher of all. A week ago, we saw Roxy safely to the other side. Though she had an ultrasound just days before I left for 5-days, a new mass was discovered just a couple of days after I returned. Tests confirmed carcinoma. Then her left rear leg swelled up. She only moved to relieve herself. Sleep was fitful.

Her body looked uncomfortable. Yet her eyes still shone with love and joy, which made the decision that much more painful. My boyfriend and I stayed with her, talking to her, petting her and holding her through the end.

Just before I left, I wrote a blog about choosing to trust life’s course. I had been worried about leaving her for a week, but I had signed up for this camp before her diagnosis.

I wrote about the choice between using energy to fight the endless flow of fearful, negative thoughts — in my case, all of the things that could go wrong while I was away — or just going with the flow of life.

I went with the flow, thinking everything would be fine. I guess that depends on whose definition of “fine” we’re using. Clearly not mine.

Life doesn’t owe us a favor in return for trusting it. Putting our faith in life isn’t a quid pro quo to getting what we want. It is a way to ensure we get what we need, even if it’s a bitter pill.

Beyond this first hard lesson, I’ve started seeing more glimmers of wisdom in this experience. Roxy’s death will not be in vain. But the film of pain is still too sticky and thick. Her wise gifts haven’t come into clear focus yet, though Rico has been helping me see them. As they do, we will continue to share them here.

Thank you to everyone who has ever had a kind thought about Roxy. When looking to add a dog to your family, please do consider adopting a pit bull. Both that I have been lucky enough to call mine added immeasurable warmth, color, and hilarity to my life. The world is much grayer without them.

Sad good bye

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Remembreing To Play Every Day

If our nature is permitted to guide our life, we grow healthy, fruitful, and happy. - Abraham Maslow

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When The River Divides

Rico, Roxy, and I have rediscovered our rhythm, merrily rowing along the river of life. There have been no new medical crises since Roxy’s cancer diagnosis. Roxy still shows no ill effects from her ongoing chemotherapy.

Now, however, we’re coming up on an island in the middle of our course and we can’t take the same channel around it.

See, before Roxy’s diagnosis, I registered for a qigong camp. Simply defined, qigong means the study or training of life energy (qi) in which one invests a lot of time and effort (gong). It’s a component of Chinese martial arts, but also a practice in its own right.

The voice in my head reminds me for five days I’ll be 230-plus miles away while my family takes turns doggie-sitting Rico and Roxy. I could argue with that voice how it’ll all be OK until the cows come home. Or there might be an easier way to enjoy my time away as I learned on a recent kayaking trip.

Who Chose This Channel?

Over the weekend, I kayaked the Shenandoah River with friends. The water wasn’t high but had a nice current. It offered a smooth ride for little effort.

When we came upon an island in the river, the current carried us to one channel. With the shorelines closer together, the tree branches seemed to link together overhead like fingers, enveloping us in a serene, shaded tunnel of chirping birds and stunning, large trees. Quite lovely!

View of river from kayak

A view from the channel around the island

At least, until we rounded the bend near the end of the island. The roots of a fallen tree pulled up a huge chunk of earth blocking the majority of the channel. And no matter how hard I paddled toward the small opening, that current was carrying me straight to that wall of roots.

Riding The Current

I really didn’t want to bump that tree and risk capsizing or, worse, bruising my ego. My two options were to keep flailing my paddle in a futile attempt to fight the current. Or I could trust my efforts and the flow of the current to deliver me to safety.

They did.

As I thought about my upcoming qigong camp, I realized I had the same choices. I could furiously fight with the current of thoughts documenting everything that could go wrong while I’m away or prepare as best as I can and trust life to guide us through this pass.

Choosing To Go With The Flow

There’s an old saying about winning someone’s trust. Thing is, it isn’t that easy. Trust is a choice. A verb. It’s not something you can reason with or win an argument against and be done. There is always a reason not to trust; choosing not to almost always seems like the safer choice.

But choosing to trust life’s course can lead to great reward. It’s the one that saw me around that tree, dry and ego intact. It’s also the one giving me the chance to learn from one of the best martial arts instructors in the country.

Of course I’ll prepare. I’ll pre-package and label the dogs’ meals with medications already dispensed. Everyone will be given contact info for their regular vet as well as Roxy’s oncologist. And I’ll keep my cell phone handy at all times.

But then I’ll have to trust my prep work and life’s flow to steer us safely through this pass. It won’t be easy, but it will be done. And I’ll even try to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Turtle sunning herself in the middle of the river

A view from the channel around the island


Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs, Meditating with Dogs | 3 Comments

Learning To See Again


Canadian geese at water's edge

Something about the way the morning sun lit up the lake and the Canadian geese around it arrested my attention. Thankfully. Because something about the way the ground smelled arrested Rico and Roxy and I couldn’t get them moving again. The distraction snapped my irritation.

Since they’re both eight years-old now and with various issues and illnesses, I try to check my impatience and let them do their thing. About a year ago, I wrote about how to practice walking meditation with dogs. These days that usually becomes a standing meditation.

I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me. Not for the obvious reason that it’s another reminder — one I don’t need — that my babies aren’t babies anymore. They’re mortal. Every walk could, in fact, be our last as a pack.

I’ve been practicing grounding myself in the immediate moment. It helps redirect my attention away from that fear.

That practice, however, has been a double-edged sword. Because I’m so focused on the here and now, I want to get them moving, get them some exercise. They are still here with me and, by golly, we’re out for a walk. Albeit a shorter or slower one.

Perhaps it was the sharp sunlight blinding my eyes as I turned back toward them to plead for them to move. Or maybe it was yet another prod by the universe, a divine intervention to wake up. But the scene took my break away. I happened to be just receptive enough to receive the message.

That message? Take every opportunity to soak in the world surrounding me. Especially when doing so also makes Rico and Roxy happy. Don’t just see. Let my eye rest wherever it’s naturally drawn. Let myself feel what I see. Feel the awe. And most importantly, feel the gratitude for being here. Now.

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Life Unfolds To Reveal…What, Exactly?

Letting life unfold— you’ve probably heard this somewhere, from a self-help guru or an old sage. I imagine petals opening into a flower. Maybe a fresh bed sheet billowing in the breeze to reveal children joyfully playing hide-and-seek. Can you feel the cosmic waves washing away doubt and fear?

If so, I’ll have what you’re smoking. My dogs, Rico and Roxy, and I have been through a lot since we last posted on Dog and Dojo. And when Roxy, my little pit bull, developed an aggressive cancer after more than a year of physical therapy for an injury, life’s unfolding felt more like the unfolding of damp, smelly workout clothes that had been sitting for weeks.

I guess life doesn’t always elegantly unfurl to present its gifts. Sometimes it drops those gifts into a crumpled heap. A heap, mind you, that Roxy appears to enjoy snuggling in.


Roxy under blankets in bed

How can a person achieve her mindset?

Dirty Clothes Piling Up

I swear I’ve never let dirty clothes pile up for long, but since I started with the laundry theme, I’m sticking with it. Let’s go back to early 2014. That’s when Roxy tore one ACL. By mid-2014, she strained the other. That’s a big pile of unpleasant laundry. But wait, there’s more.

Since Roxy can’t tolerate beeping noises after I bullied her with a bark collar (biggest regret ever), a stay at the vet’s for surgery, with all its beeping machinery, wasn’t an option. Not unless it was to save her life.

Which it was when they discovered a hard mass in her lower belly. That brings us to this year.

When The Laundry Starts To Stink

I know that’s gross. But so was Roxy’s grade four carcinoma mass with its own system of blood vessels. She developed the kind of cancer that doubles in size in less than a month. And hers had evidence of metastasizing, or spreading already.

The good news, sort of, is that it isn’t painful for her. It steals energy from her body. Left unchecked, she would simply deteriorate and be gone in three months or so.

We’ve been checking it, though. With chemotherapy, homemade food, closely monitored fun, and a spoiling fit for a princess. (More on each of those topics in future posts.)

Still better news is that chemo doesn’t have the same devastating effects on dogs as it does on people — no weight or hair loss, normally no nausea. In fact, she’s handled it like a champ. She’s been in treatment for a few months now. And she’s still the same Roxy.


Roxy pulling her toy away from camera

Well, almost. Because she also suffers from a canine form of Bell’s Palsy (I’ll cover that later, too). The right side of her face became paralyzed—heartbreaking because it meant she couldn’t fully smile. She also can’t blink. Early on, she drooled a lot and had soggy food bits stuck in her cheek that she flung onto the walls or furniture. Or us.

A Little Laundry Everyday

Life is in a state of constant unfolding. It reveals all sorts of things along the way. Some good. Some like smelly gym shorts. We have to maintain its pace by working on ourselves, dealing with each thing as it comes, or else we suffer. Like laundry, you’re never actually done. As soon as you empty the hamper, someone throws in their socks. Life unfolds to reveal another challenge.

We all fall short at times and it hurts; that’s human. And pain can be deafening. But Roxy snores pretty loud, too. And she looks mighty comfy in that pile of blankets.


Roxy snuggled under blankets looking content

So maybe life unfolds to reveal that even in the midst of pain, joy beckons. Maybe challenges are designed to help us learn and practice hearing it over the fear and suffering?

What do you think?

Have you ever been lucky enough to recognize a blessing even while in pain’s grip? I’d love to hear about it, so please do share in the comments below.

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