It may be March for the rest of the world but in Edmonton Winter has stuck in its tent pegs and is refusing to leave. Lest it give even the appearance of moving, the unfriendly season has sent us one of the coldest weeks we’ve had this year so far. It has been so frozen, my eyeballs had frostbite.
Alas, there is nothing for it but to march on. And I mean this in the literal sense. The walks Shiva and I have embarked upon lately felt much more like patrols than our favoured leisurely adventures. We are soldiers, out there to get a job done and nothing more.
The only problem with this, other than numb thighs and brittle eyelashes, is that the Sheevs still needs to be tamed. Even if it is minus ridiculous outside, her brain demands entertainment and her body craves exhaustion. Unfortunately, this also happens to be my least creative and most unmotivated time of year. The span of weeks from February to April often see me weeping into my pillow and begging for mercy. If not for Shiva’s frenzied drive for the tug toy, I don’t know how we’d make it through with our sanity intact.
As it is, I am only just attached to reality by a wayward shoelace.
Okay, that’s not true. There is something else other than my footwear – which, frankly, doesn’t even have laces – enabling me to keep my brain from cracking. The more Shiva tugs, the more relaxed she gets, and the more relaxed she gets, the more she looks like this:
Shiva only rarely keeps her mouth open. I can tell she isn’t a fan of the feeling by how often she tries to correct herself when she pants. It feels strange to her, like she is leaving herself vulnerable. So when she is too tired from a frenetic game of tug to care? It is adorable. She looks like a completely different dog.
Sometimes, a little more manic than others, but this expression always makes me smile. Dogs, they remind us what is important in life. It sure as heck isn’t the weather.
What a goof. How did I ever live without her?
“Oh, you nutter! What are you doing in the road? Don’t ya ken you’ll get hurt? Get over here you silly arse!”
I am pretty sure this woman and I are meant to be best friends. If I see her again, I am inviting her out for a beer.
Okay, maybe not. But in my mind I totally will.
“I know that dog. I know it! It’s a jack! No, a whippet! No, it’s a something that looks like a Jack and a Whippet but is something else! I know it”
It’s a Shiva. Don’t feel bad. I don’t know what she is either.
“Them dogs are always sniffin’. What do you reckon they smell?”
They smell the earth and everything beneath it. Every beetle, every worm, every speck of life, alive or dead. If you were to sit and look at this spot all day, every day for a month, you would see hundreds, if not thousands, of people, broken toys, dogs, plastic bags, cats, rabbits, food wrappers, children, leaves float, walk, slide, and prance over this pile of snow. Everything you would see in those 30 days, a dog smells in one moment.
“I really like this sweater. It makes me look like a cougar with a wine problem but I don’t care. It’s my I-don’t-give-a-damn-if-I-look-like-a-crazy-cat-lady-because-I-am-awesome-anyway sweater.”
I should have asked her where she bought it. I could use some of that attitude.
“When I grow up, I wanna be a puppy!”
High ambitions, little girl. Don’t we all?
February 18, 2014 won’t be one for the memory books. I am okay with this. I have no insightful words for myself like last year. No life lessons to share, no vows to make for the coming year. I am all out of profundity. Beyond it, in a way. There is just me, my dog across the living room on the couch, and the glass of wine I am contemplating. This is life. This is 32.
There are worse things.
Because that wine is going to go bad if I don’t drink it, I will leave you with my favourite Taylor Swift parody video. I expect I will be singing this song all night.
When reading through the posts of last week’s #WOOF Support Blog Hop - an event hosted by and supporting owners of reactive dogs throughout the Petosphere – I was not surprised by how many of the stories sounded familiar. Roxy turns into a whirling dervish at the sight of other dogs, Ruby‘s anxieties are triggered by quick motion, and Felix was never taught solid social skills. These are all things Shiva and I have encountered together. And are still encountering.
Almost five years in, I wish I could say we have jumped down the other side of the reactivity mountain, like all her lunging is a distant memory and we walk down the street without a care. My former self liked to believe this was possible. If I was to go back and read posts from several years ago, I know I would find a cocky attitude and jokes about Shiva’s “reactive remission”. I saw every success as foreshadowing a cure.
I am now far too wise, too Shiva-savvy, to make these comments any more. Remission was never the right word to use. Reactivity (or assholerly, depending on the circumstance) isn’t behaviour that appears like a symptom of a disease and then remains until treatment pushes it into dormancy. Shiva’s barking and lunging and jarring is much more fitful and much more predictable. It is more like acne than cancer. It requires vigilance and practice. Sometimes old methods stop working and I need to try something new, a different topical cream to smooth out the skin. Shiva can be calm one second, jerky the next, and then calm for several months in a row. It’s just how it goes.
It would be a lie to say her eruptions are unexpected or that I never know how she is going to respond to a stimulus. Based on experience, I have an educated guess and I am almost always right. If I calculate twice per day for the past four and a half years, we have almost 3,500 walks in our tumultuous history. And counting. If I haven’t learned her common reactions by now, I haven’t been a very good partner.
However, just because I can predict her actions, doesn’t mean I always do something to prevent them. Sometimes I am too slow. Sometimes I am too lazy. Sometimes I am irritated with the situation and I don’t care if she freaks out. Sometimes I choose to be polite rather than put her first. Sometimes I like to take risks, see if I am wrong
I am usually not wrong.
The areas that differed between participating blogs in the hop were the posited reasons behind the reactive behaviour. Buster was injured by a larger dog, Forrest battles vet-diagnosed anxiety that affects multiple areas of his life, and Lucas has overcome a great deal of fear but needs help keeping his emotions in check. I have yet to come to any conclusion about the cause of Shiva’s dislike of other dogs, plastic grocery bags, and strange people – among other things.
I used to think it was fear based. Perhaps sometimes it is. But she is a very confident dog in many ways, if not a little over-confident. Is she just over-compensating?
The bulk of her problems lie in surprise. She doesn’t like it when something is there that wasn’t before. For instance, a few weeks ago someone had dumped an old leather chair at the entrance to the ravine. When we came out of the trees, Shiva saw the stocky black item and stiffened. The closer we got to the chair, the more she tensed. She started breathing in thick pants through her nose, always a warning sign. In her mind that chair didn’t belong there; it was an instant threat. The same thing happened on the weekend with a minivan parked on the trail. According to Shiva, minivans do not belong on trails, they belong on roads. When we turned the corner and she saw the large vehicle planted to the side of the path, she lost her mind.
If you have never seen a forty-five pound mutt take on a Dodge Caravan, I highly recommend it. Hi-lar-i-ous.
Strange men are also a common trigger. Not all men, though, just most. She instantly liked my PH’s older brothers but is still wary of my father. I can never be sure who she will accept and who she won’t so we avoid them all equally on our walks. This morning we took advantage of my day off and took a longer sniff through a part of the river valley we don’t get to visit often. It was early for a holiday and there weren’t many people. I made the mistake of assuming we were completely alone and forgot to pay attention.
Do you see the men in the above picture, to the right? Way off there in the distance? I didn’t either. Shiva did and she let them know it. I should probably have felt bad about her wild barking but, in truth, I appreciated the warning. I didn’t want to hang around in a quiet park with four strange men any more than she did.
This is why I am still conflicted about the reasons for Shiva’s reactions. They could be caused partly by fear and partly by a naturally territorial nature. They could also be a way of communicating with me when I forget to observe our surroundings. A “hey, there are people over there, just so you know, can we trust them?” Or, when it comes to her behaviour toward other dogs, she could just be kind of an ass.
At this point Shiva trusts me to handle most situations and the worst of her asshole, er, reactive, days are in the past. Most of the time I am able to prevent any episodes and we continue on our merry way with none the wiser. We’ve got the techniques down to an art and when in doubt, I don’t hesitate to cross the street or make use of someone’s driveway. But we both still make mistakes. Like an annoying pimple, there are some things that will always give us trouble. Shiva is reactive because she is reactive. That is just her personality. It is my job to help her deal with it.
I have always revelled in a well-told story. Many of my especial childhood memories are of burrowing under a comforter while my father or mother, most often the former, read aloud. The best books were those featuring characters I understood. Sure and I enjoyed fairy tales and books with animals doing people-like things, but the best ones illustrated young girls and boys in my own time, exploring a world to which I could relate. Dragons, talking geese, and princesses in castles could only be so interesting. It was much easier to tuck into a realm that resembled my own. Settings were important. Good, well-rounded characters were vital.
My reading choices haven’t changed very much. I still prefer reality to imaginary, biography to novel. The best writers, for me, are those who are capable of making me feel. It doesn’t matter if the location is fourteenth century Spain or modern day Toronto, if the characters don’t have honest flaws and tangible exertion, I am lost. I don’t have to relate. I do have to understand. In this way, science fiction and fantasy don’t make it to my night stand very often. Dystopia, travelogues, and history do.
Reading can be an escape. It is also a chance to learn and to challenge myself. There is great value in struggle. It took me a year to finish Ulysses and I am afraid it will take me longer to finish The Sound and the Fury. But I will feel so much better for having made the accomplishment. Some people want to climb mountains or run marathons, I want to work my way to Proust.
However, as much as I gain from toiling through books thicker than my thigh, when I read for pleasure, I mostly read memoir. I like to connect with other people who have experienced things I never will. Memoir is a glimpse into another life, another way of thinking. The stories are authentic, told by real people who felt compelled to share them. The first memoir I read was Amy Tan’s Opposite of Fate. I picked it up because I had enjoyed several of her novels and I’d always wanted to know how closely her terrifically flawed characters resembled her own life. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did the book help me enjoy Ms. Tan’s fictional work even more, but it introduced me to a genre that has provided me with much larger benefits than simple entertainment.
Memoir taught me that the best writers are those who make themselves vulnerable, who can show the reader, through the stories they reveal, what makes them cry.
Yesterday I picked up a book of poetry for the first time in many years. The poetry section in my personal library maxes out at three. I allow the works of Homer in this count. I assumed I didn’t like it. I don’t enjoy long descriptions of flowers or mountains or Grecian urns. I don’t want to waste the little time I have interpreting Milton when I could be snuggling with Zamyatin.
Spare me. Please.
Despite this lifelong horror of verse, when I found a volume entitled Dog Songs, I couldn’t resist. I guess it makes sense that the first poem I read in over a year has to do with canines – what else? It helped that Mary Oliver’s collection isn’t very long. Accompanying the poems are sunny sketches of the dogs she recollects. I don’t know if the pictures made all the difference, made the words more visible, however, once I began reading I couldn’t stop. Within too short a period I was finished and longing for more.
The poems didn’t feel like poems. They were written in poetic style and given the author’s impressive credentials, including a Pulitzer Prize, I am certain they are of brilliant poetic quality. To me, they read more like stories. Almost, like poetic memoir.
It is possible I have been wrong about poetry all this time. Though there are many poems that are just one long ramble about the beauty of the stars, I have been shown, by a fellow dog lover, that poetry can also tell intense personal stories. Bursts of real life in verse form. By the end, I felt I understood the author. I know she had a hound named Benjamin who ate field mice and she later formed a treasured bond with Percy of the curly white fur. Her grief was ripe when she shared his passing. Through her words, I gained a sense of personal struggles and drastic change. Though Mary Oliver has lead a life far different from mine, I related to her joy in dogs off-leash and her worries when her friends drifted far. I learned what made her cry.
I don’t see myself ever writing poetry, you can sigh in relief. I would have to spend years reading it to ever get up the nerve to try and, as we have learned, I still haven’t finished Faulkner. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs has inspired me in other ways, reminded me there is more than one way to be vulnerable.
I hope after all these years I have given you an idea of who I am, other than just Shiva’s exhausted owner. Not that this is a terrible way to define myself. I do hope you have been able to relate in some way, that I have made myself open and that I have helped you do the same.
Because I am not sure how to close, I am going to end with a quote from Oliver’s “Percy Wakes Me” because I think it is apt. It is my goal to one day describe this blog in a similar way.
This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.
Being a woman, it follows that I hate almost everything about my physical appearance.
Maybe that isn’t true. Hopefully it isn’t true for any of the women who might read this. But, we are told by every commercial, every magazine, and every soup label that who we are and how we look is wrong.* Societal disdain is a hard enemy to combat and most days, I don’t even try. I accept the fact that I don’t look like a Hollywood celebrity – noting that most Hollywood celebrities don’t even look like Hollywood celebrities – and try not to think about how others would rate my attractiveness.
Cat ears notwithstanding, I recall being happy with my hairstyle that day
Age has taught me that none of it counts. Manicures are for twenty-somethings in the midst of quarter-life crises. Me? I have a dog to wrangle.
Except in one area, that is. I may have given up on having clear skin, may not have weighed myself in at least five years, and may have embraced the classic t-shirt as my personal statement, but I spend a superfluous amount of time thinking about my hair. It is a vanity I cannot dethrone.
This is not to say that I think it always looks photo-worthy. Please. I am not the kind of woman who gets up at three in the morning to spend four hours making sure her tresses gleam. At least, I am not any more. (See aforementioned dog.) If it doesn’t look remotely decent, however, I have difficulty holding my head high when going to the grocery store. I don’t care about my tattered jeans or my dirty shoes when running out for cat food. I have to make sure my hair is clean and in place. In an ideal world, it would also be trimmed every six weeks.
Clearly, things often amble far from the ideal. Six or seven years ago I may have subsisted on ramen in order to pay for regular salon visits, which may be a part of the reason I am in a bit of a fiscal downturn, but this wasn’t sustainable. The biggest problem with this: when I let my hair situation slide too far, my confidence slithers right along with it. Basically, if my hair looks like crap, I feel like crap.
It is a bit ridiculous, I realize. No one else cares or even notices. I never judge anyone else for something as petty as the shape, length, or style of their locks, It is foolish to hinge so much of my personal pride on a pretty mane.
Logic has no place here. When my hair has split ends up to my eyebrows, I can’t help but reflect on past splendor. It seems like just yesterday I was walking around with this super-cute style:
If I remember correctly, the colour lasted about a week before it turned poop-red. It was lovely for the seven days it hung around, wasn’t it?
Spending money on something that does not benefit anyone else makes me feel guilty. The simple desire to spend this money makes me feel guilty. Thus, even though getting a hair cut is a positive experience that improves my self-esteem, it makes me feel bad about myself at the same time. Which is why before yesterday, I hadn’t had a trim since April of last year.
There was a whole lot of not cute going on.
The above picture is from September and the split ends are mortifying. The mind boggles at how long my hair had grown in the five months since this was taken. I will spare you the horror.
Self-care involves taking the time for actions that have that have positive impacts on our minds and bodies. Self-care makes me feel guilty. Well, nuts to that. It is a little thing, perhaps a selfish thing, but it makes me feel so much more like myself. It should not be a source of judgement and shame. If self-care is a feminist act then maybe getting a hair cut can be too.
Taken yesterday afternoon. So. Much. Better.
Or maybe I am just enabling an obsession I need to conquer. It is just head-covering, right? It might be time for an intervention.
Do you have any vanities you can’t abolish?
*Seriously, Progresso. I expect this kind of crap from yogurt, but soup? You have ruined what used to be a faultless comfort food.
When I got home from work today there was a happy surprise waiting for me. My birthday had come early and our awesome prize package from Planet Dog, won during Kol’s Notes’ wicked Advent Calendar for Dog Lovers event, had finally arrived! I had forgotten all about it until I saw the familiar brand label on the box.
Shiva was pretty excited herself.
Despite the fact that I have seen these toys in stores all over the country, I have never purchased one for Shiva. I love the concept behind them; treat-releasing toys are something I am always looking at for my starving puppy. They are perfect for working her mind and her body and often give me a chance to read a book for several minutes while she occupies herself with snarfing every last crumb. Nevertheless, when I felt the texture of the Orbee Tuff line offered by Planet Dog, they never seemed all that… Tough. I doubted their ability to stand up to Shiva’s gaping maw.
See those jaws? They are even bigger than they look on camera.
I am glad to say that I was wrong to doubt. Though the material is quite flexible, the rubber holds up well. After a few bouts of rough play, the ball is still without any noticeable teeth marks. Granted, they are not chew toys and are not meant for a full frontal assault. We are still going to be careful. But, so far, Planet Dog gets a Shiva lick of approval.
I am looking forward to testing out the Snoop this weekend when I have some time to put the Shivster’s brain to the test. For now, I am content to watch her run all over the house, knocking over wine glasses, in pursuit of a dog’s real best friend.
The rubber ball.
Thanks again to Kol’s Notes for offering such a cool prize!
There is something about an owl’s call that makes one stop and take stock. I am walking along, debating over how to tackle a problem at the office or ruminating on the blister forming at my heel, and the soft stuttering vocals - hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo - make me forget everything. My breath catches and I stand still, hoping to hear the sound again.
I am disappointed.
Shiva tugs at my side, shakes off the snow, and whines to keep moving. With much better ears than mine, I know she heard the owl, but it is a sound she deems unimportant. White noise. It signals neither food nor threat and she is anxious to reach the curved stick metres away on the path ahead. I am reluctant to move forward, scared my boots in the snow and Shiva’s jingling tags will startle the bird. But at last I give in and Shiva leaps forward in relief. As she pounces on the broken branch I hear the call again.
I stop again. My eyes search the trees to my left. I know the chances of me catching sight of the owl are limited. I have to try. Shiva chomps on her stick and tosses her head, the terrier-shake that always makes me grin. Giving up, I move forward once more.
The last time I heard a hoot like this was in Nova Scotia, fairly close to one year ago. Last winter, Shiva and I spent many early mornings walking on the off-leash trail near our home. Being February, we were almost always alone. Except for the wildlife.
Being susceptible to dense imaginings, I often frightened myself by wondering what creatures may have been watching us from behind the trees. The only light in the park was the moon bouncing off the snow. Though a major road lay only a kilometre away, in the forest the soundtrack of our strolls consisted of Shiva’s short pants and my crunching shoes. And, on special occasions, the call of an owl.
It made for a spooky experience, I can’t deny. The cry of an owl is not a comfort. At least, not back then. It served as a caution. When I heard the owl, the hair on the back of my neck did more than stand up, it danced, bounding on my nerves until I decided to recall Shiva and make my way home to safety.
Tonight, as I stand in the northern Alberta cold, cheeks burning from the acid wind, the experience is much different. As I gaze into the dark branches, straining to catch a flicker of a feather, I am reassured.
I may be far from that other place I used to call home. We may be walking at night on a busy trail with less quiet and sharper chill, but the owls are still around.
As our walk is close to an end – I can see the too-bright lights of houses up the hill – I give in to Shiva’s nagging and carry on. My feet leave the crunchy white path and slide on to pavement. The owl calls again. I keep walking but I have to look back. Maybe this time I will see.
Only darkness meets my scrutiny. I smile. Perhaps it is better not to see. We trudge up the icy road and my movements are careful so as not to slip. If the owl speaks again I am now too far to hear. But I decide to picture him leaving as we did, going on to harmonize someone else’s winter trek.
One of my favourite things about early morning walks in the snow are the signs of wild animals I spot everywhere. Before the bootprints of other humans, or the tell-tale marks of pet dogs, have trod all over the white canvas, it is easy to pick up the more unusual traces of more exotic species. It also shows me a little bit of the reason behind Shiva’s sniffing madness. No wonder she can’t resist the seduction of the hideaway under the branches, when so many animals call it home.
Most of the tracks are easy to decipher. Squirrels, mice, and birds make up the majority of pawprints in the snow. The rabbits are even simpler to detect, with their larger hind legs and their funny hop. That doesn’t make these smaller animals less fun to track. I take great joy in following a bunny trail, hoping if we can just go far enough, we will find a utopian burrow. Our own Watership Down.
There is a certain part of the forest in the river valley that I love to visit the most after a recent snow fall. It could be wishful thinking, but every time Shiva and I visit there – as long as we make it before everyone else – I see small, canine-like prints scattered along the side of the path and leading up a hill. There are no human tracks around these footfalls, so I know they can’t be made by an off-leash dog. I like to believe there is a fox den nearby and dream of catching sight of one eventually, if we are quiet enough.
Alas, I am sure whatever animal is creating these tracks would run off long before we entered the area. For all I know the prints are those of someone’s cat or a small dog that has strayed too far. But I like to believe in the secrets of a fox den. It makes me smile to think such special creatures could be living near my front yard.
Every once in a while I will come across prints that I can’t interpret. In all my years of dog walking, I have seen raccoon and porcupine and coyote, I know all of the above roam freely in the ravine of our city. But these tracks that Shiva found recently don’t match those of which I have become familiar. I can’t determine what they are or even make a solid guess. This is a northern city with northern animals, I assumed I had seen them all. But I still have yet to even come up with the possible perpetrator of the below prints.
I wish my photographs were better. They had to be snapped quickly as there were joggers on the path behind us and Shiva was giving them the evil eye. But the toes looked long and there weren’t the normal pad marks from dog paws.
Perhaps I am wrong and they are canine, maybe a dog with more fur which would not necessarily show in the snow. But I haven’t come across anything like these tracks before and I am curious. I haven’t seen anything like them again, either.
What do you think they could be? Do you enjoy following animal trails as much as we do?
It has been a muffled weekend, fitting for the temperatures. I have done more reading than writing. This is how it should be, for now, and perhaps for always. There is much more illumination to be found in the words of others than in the repeated quarrels of my brain. It is hard to use my time usefully, however. There are many distractions: a phone will buzz, a rant-filled article will pop into view, judgements will be argued, dogs will bark and make me forget what it is I set out to do. Despite it all, I have been moved by the words of others during my two-day hibernation. Grateful, I want to share them, with the hope they will touch you too.
“Cemented” is a perfect word. I encased that fear and anxiety and mistrust in a concrete block and froze it there in the center of my dog-sports mind, and every time someone asked if I would be at such-and-such event, I would shake my head sadly. No, I can’t do it. Cerb can’t do it. We’re not capable.” via Team Unruly
“This is still real life though and sometimes life is messy. Sometimes, change is thrust upon us and everyone, human and canine, just has to adjust.” via Kol’s Notes
“I often wonder what it is about language that works. I often think of how the simplest words are the loveliest words, about how much meaning rhythm carries, about how truth is the thing we crave the most.” via Beth Kephart
“While I do wish we could have normal walks where I am not scanning the horizon for other dogs, suddenly changing direction to avoid a jogger or ducking behind cars in hopes that she won’t notice the approaching cyclist, I’ve become more accepting of where we’re at right now, and where our comfort zone is.” via Rubicon Days
“In other words, the difference between a snapshot of, say, graffiti on a decaying wall, and a great photograph of the same graffiti on the decaying wall, is that in the second instance, you’ll not only see the graffiti, but you’ll get a sense of what the photographer was thinking when s/he shot it.” via Chookooloonks
“But every day we continue to learn and teach and try. And she’s such a willing partner in all of this. My little hero…” via Bringing Up Bella
“But the frustrating part is that most people who are afraid of dogs, upon seeing one, proceed to behave exactly in a way that would be interesting or exciting to a dog. It doesn’t help anyone; it doesn’t help them keep dogs away and it doesn’t help dogs learn to ignore some people.” via Back Alley Soapbox
“The message that I took from this lovely bit of serendipity was the metamorphosis — and indestructibility — of life’s infinite possibilities.” via Will My Dog Hate Me
What has inspired you this wintry weekend?