Dog Poetry Sunday – Dog Music

I sing to Shiva constantly; she is my best audience. I started the habit by warbling old Disney tunes to her on walks. It was a recommendation from our trainer, back in the days when every outdoor stroll was a battle, when enemies lurked over each hill and beneath each bush. If I sang, I was told, I would feel more relaxed and thus, my grip on the leash would be less tense, enabling us to face our adversaries with more confidence. And fewer teeth being gnashed.

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The custom never went away. I still find myself humming or singing a few favoured lines as we creep through the forest in the morning. Not loud enough to be overheard, of course, just for the two of us. I like to think she enjoys it as much as I do.

Unlike the dogs in the poem below, Shiva never joins my caroling. Though my childhood dog loved to sing, especially when alone in the backyard, Shiva makes music in other ways. Through stomps and short huffs, whines and long sighs, she gets her message across. These sounds have a beauty all their own. Even her barks, while alarming for the unprepared, are akin to the crash of symbols. If Shiva was in a band, she would play percussion.

Do your dogs make music? Do you wish they didn’t?

Dog Music ~ Paul Zimmer

Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing not with me, but for the art of dogs.
We joined in many fine songs—”Stardust,”
“Naima,” “The Trout,” “My Rosary,” “Perdido.”
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known to only a few.

Now I have a small dog who does not sing,
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
I sing her name and words of love
andante, con brio, vivace, adagio.
Sometimes she is so moved she turns
to place a paw across her snout,
closes her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.

But I am a pretender to dog music.
The true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart,
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together or
apart, beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
ballads of long nights lifting
to starlight, songs of bones, turds,
conquests, hunts, smells, rankings,
things settled long before our birth.

Poem found via Poetry Foundation, original source: Poetry (August 1999).

Spam ate my blog

I’ve had a bit of a spam problem. You may have noticed. It’s been going on behind closed doors for about a year. Only now it is seeping under the floorboards, visible to all who wander by. It’s kind of embarrassing.

I have no idea what started it. I might have left out a dirty plate overnight. Maybe I forgot to put away the sugar bowl. I blame my PH. He’s the one who leaves sticky mugs in the sink rather than tucking them into the dishwasher. Either way, I have been invaded. Ignoring the problem has not made it better.

Spam is mote insidious than ants and bites harder than wasps. It is the reason I have turned off comments. It prevents me from removing dead plugins and gets in the way of all thoughts of redesign. My blog is being chewed from the inside. I have no idea what to do about it. I worry it is too late to do anything.

Spam sucks. Spam is more than evil. It is demoralising. Spam takes away one’s desire to create. It ruins the simplest of hobbies. Spam makes me sad.

I should have taken action sooner. Maybe my hosting company would have been more receptive a year ago. Now they see me for the lazy, spam-infested-hoarder I have become and want nothing to do with me. When the pest control companies want nothing to do with you, that’s when you are in real trouble.

It might be time to bail. The demons have already made a home of my cozy furniture. If I wait any longer, there won’t be anything left to save, not even my photo albums.

But how to make the move? How to say goodbye? How to turn away? This is my home. It has been my solace and my community for so long. It might be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Not ready to say goodbye

We had our last camping trip of 2014 last weekend. It was supposed to be a send off of summer, a sort of wake, Irish style. Whisky and all. The idea was, by the time we returned home, I would be able to move on.

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Reality never matches fantasy, does it? Rather than a final farewell to summer, it became a tearful denial. The entire time I kept insisting we could do this again, that it wasn’t over. The sun was warm on our folding chairs, the leaves still smelled spring fresh. It felt too early to let it all go.

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And then day became night. Smores demolished, campfire extinguished we scuttled into our sleeping bags and promptly froze to death. The only thing that prevented me from suggesting we drive home in the middle of the night  was Shiva’s warmth curled at my side. But even she was shivering. When morning came, I knew we probably couldn’t do it again.

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When you have to wear mittens to bed, it might be too cold to sleep outside.

Might be. Now that several days have gone by, my memory is a little fuzzy. Once more I am thinking one more weekend is possible. We’ll have a real send off this time. Sunday is the Solstice; what could be more perfect?

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My PH and my citified canine are less convinced. They think I should get over the loss and learn to love brief autumnal trips to the park. I think they are wuss bags. What’s a little below zero chill when you can wake up to this?

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Sigh. If I do have to put away the tent and the camp stove, at least I do so knowing we made a lot of memories this year. Summer was never enjoyed so much.

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I can’t wait to do it all again.

Another love letter to my dog

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Do you ever look at your dog and wonder how anyone ever gave you responsibility over such a vibrant creature? I suppose it might be different if you have children. No doubt one’s feelings of overwhelm at the sight of offspring supersede those that bubble up upon gazing at one’s dog.

I assume.

However, among us childless souls, am I alone in my awe? How am I, an imperfect, at times bewildered and unfinished, adult trusted with the life of a breathing animal? Who decided I was capable?

Sometimes, when I look at Shiva, I can’t help but be stunned that she is still here, still thriving, that I haven’t done anything to screw her up. Well, not too much.

I soak all of her in. Her rough foot pads, her muscled shoulders, her expectant eyes, her folded ears, her sugar-dipped muzzle, and her cold nose. Her teeth are as hard as they are gentle while they brush my fingers, her soft tongue seeking the last trace of peanut butter on my thumb. Our relationship is intimate and yet, I have no idea what goes on in her mind. Why does she trust me so? Why does she tolerate my restriction of her liberty?

These dogs, they are special. They are much wiser, much more enlightened than we will ever be. How did such lowly humans ever get so lucky?

Real Life Confession #81: Some dogs make me sad

I used to work in animal welfare. I know that a large number of dogs have it much, much worse than the ones I am about to describe. To be more accurate, the above title should read some people make me sad, as it is the humans for which I feel the most sorry.

But first things first. The confession I feel I should make today is this:

I let Shiva tug on the leash.

Yep. It’s bad. For someone who has walked the amazing number of hours I have walked with my dog, you’d think I’d have the walk-nicely-by-my-side thing down. What kind of trainer do I profess myself to be? Can’t even get my dog to stop from sniffing in the bushes. Sheesh.

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This is what I imagine people are saying, anyway, when they see us stop for the 57th time while Shiva stretches to read the scent on the side of a tree. And man, is she a slow reader. Sometimes I urge her to speed it up, especially when it is freezing. Other times, she is adamant and plants her feet. She is not moving until she has investigated every last punctuation mark. I am not about to argue.

Is this bad training? According to some people, hideously so. We do have some rules while on a walk. I won’t tolerate long-term pulling, for instance. If the leash gets so taught I am almost yanked off my feet, for instance, or if she is sniffing along and then swings back around to scarf rubbish, dislocating my shoulder. These things are out of bounds. But if she is walking with a loose-ish leash five feet ahead or to the side? If she indicates with a look that she would like to check something out on the other side of the path? If she stops to breathe in the scent of a post? Well, that’s being a dog and I am on board. We are out there for her benefit. If Shiva wants to spend her time inhaling a fire hydrant, that’s a choice she can make.

And this is why I feel sad for some dogs. Dogs who are dragged away from the temptations of scent. Dogs who are told to walk on the inside of the path or the part of the sidewalk away from the delicious, earthy grass. Dogs who have learned to only walk beside their people, at the same speed of their people. Dogs for whom the daily routine is more of an obligation, or a march, than it is a time of exploration and discovery.

It makes me sad to witness this. Not just for the sake of the yearning dogs, as I say, but for the people who are missing out on a richer experience.

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The dog walk, for me, is a time of relaxation. A time when I can let go of everything and embrace the moment. I don’t always achieve this but I always feel better afterward. On our twice-daily adventures, Shiva pushes me outside myself and shows me all the little things that are far more important than work deadlines or personal slights. On a walk with my dog, I can take my time, linger over flowers, gasp at sunrises, spot constellations. While she is taking in the scent of a log, I am gazing at the simple beauty of fluttering leaves.

People who walk in straight lines with their dogs don’t appear to any of this. To them, the dog walk is a duty or a ritual, another thing on their lists they have to get done. It isn’t a source of joy. It is one more chore. Their minds are anywhere but in the moment.

This makes me sad.

So I may be a lazy handler when walking with Shiva. We would probably fail any basic obedience test. I am okay with this. Shiva gets me outside my head. It is a daily gift. We are out there for her, but I am the biggest recipient.

The Only Edmonton Dog Park

Edmonton has a lot of dog parks. Over forty, in fact. 4-0. Yet, if anyone was to ask me for a recommendation, there is only one answer.

Terwilliegar.

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Yes, it is located near a pretentious south-end gated community. Sure, the parking lot is tiny and you can never be sure there isn’t a chihuahua about to dodge under your wheels. It is still the best place in the whole city to give your dog a taste of freedom.

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With over 5 kilometres of walking trails, both open and forested, an extensive dog beach along the river, numerous ponds perfect for cooling off, and a giant well-maintained field designed for a killer game of fetch, there is no better. Even Shubie Park in Halifax, what I used to consider the Cadillac of dog parks, can’t beat Terwillegar.

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It’s the kind of place where it doesn’t matter if the other owners are ignorant jerks. It’s just so big! No one remains in one place for long so there is no fear of too many dogs getting annoyed with each other in too small of a space. At the first sign of trouble, it is easy to just move on and get back to the fun.

Do you see how far away the other people are?

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There are many other dog parks in this city. Some of them might even be worth checking out if you are in the area. But if you are looking for something to do on a weekend afternoon? Terwillegar is a guaranteed good time.

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