Sentimental Sunday: Remembering Lucy

I am not able to come up with the right words to acknowledge the life of one special, silly girl. Lucy, or Lu Lu, was a funny, nutty little dog whom I feel so lucky to have met. Certainly, I have never seen her match. A border collie/corgi mix, Lu Lu Bug was the best – and the worst – of both genealogies. She was all spirit and a mile wide.

Lucy

Lucy had the good fortune to live with the parents of my best friend. I wish I’d had a camera back then as her puppy years were some of the most ridiculous I have ever witnessed. From the beginning she was trouble, but it was impossible to scold. Energetic, opinionated, and OCD to the hilt, she had her family cracking up at every turn. Though I have not seen her for years, the stories my friend told me through email and in conversation always made me smile. Lucy’s tempestuous relationship with Gandalf, a gorgeous long-haired grey tabby with a Napoleon complex, was hilarious. They fit the precise stereotype of cat vs. dog. They were a viral video waiting to happen.

Lucy and bow

No matter how much time we have with our beloved friends, it is never enough. Lucy, despite her wilful nature, did not have it easy from the start. Health was never to be on her side. Not that you’d guess it by the way she encountered each day, always with a kick, always with a punch. Lu Lu held nothing back. It was with a tremendous sadness that her family said goodbye after ten entertaining and love-filled years. I learned of the news with sorrow all my own.

Lu Lu Bug

Shiva never got to meet Lucy and I am sure that was for the best. Shiva is too unfettered and Lucy needed to be the boss; the two would not have been friends. I knew her before I knew my maniac mutt. Her adventures in house-training and loose-leash walking taught me a lot. It was because of Lucy that I was attracted to the wildness I saw in Shiva’s eyes that rainy Saturday. It was because of Lucy I knew a puppy was too much for me to handle. If not for her, I may have brought home a baby border collie of my own. Or maybe I wouldn’t have brought home a dog at all.

We’ll never know.

She was an unusual girl, our Lu Lu. I wish I’d gotten to know her better. I wish I’d gotten to see her again. She will not be forgotten.

Edmonton: The City of Pet Lovers

Edmonton? You ask. Isn’t it in Canada? Isn’t it cold there for nine months of the year? Who wants to go there? The short answers to these questions are: yes, well… yes, and YOU want to go. Or you will, once you have finished reading this post. Once I am through with you, you will not only rush to cast your vote for the largest city north of the 53rd parallel in Go Pet Friendly’s Annual Tournament, you will also be rushing your dog to the car to make the drive up here.

Does this really look like the land of ice and snow?

Does this really look like the land of ice and snow?

Not too long ago, I would have shared your disbelief. Edmonton is in Alberta – despite spending 15 years of my life here, the prairie province is not my favourite place. I envisioned a lot of sky and a lot of brown grass and not much else. As you can see from the picture above, this vision was very wrong.

However, there was another, more serious reason to avoid the home of North America’s largest mall. Not too long ago, Edmonton’s by-laws contained a nasty little feature, anathema to all true dog-lovers: B.S.L.

Shiva and BenchYeah… Not good. Though pit bull type dogs were never disallowed within city limits, before October 17, 2012 they were considered a “restricted breed” and had to be muzzled in public, along with a whole bunch of other ridiculous regulations. When these laws were in place, there was no way I would have considered moving here with Shiva. It was just too big of a risk.

But all this changed in the fall of 2012. After years of campaigning by a supportive and dog-loving community, Edmonton City Council voted to abolish all legislation specific to certain breeds or appearance of breeds. The animal control by-laws are now much more reasonable and fair and welcome dogs of all shapes, sizes, and heads. I consider this a huge point in the city’s favour. After all, it was the community that made this happen. The people and organizations who made it clear they did not support such discriminatory laws. If the movement hadn’t been so strong and so logical, the council would never have voted to chuck the laws out. This tells me Edmonton is a city with its priorities straight.

Edmonton may be known as the City of Champions but I think it should be known as the City that Loves its Pets.

There are dogs everywhere in this city, you never know when you are going to see one

There are dogs everywhere in this city, you never know when you are going to see one

Here is an even better example of dog love:

Shiva is a bit of a bratface. She can be a bit obnoxious on a leash, especially when encountering strangers who stare her down or other dogs who do the same. Despite this, despite her trying to leap on the backs of neighbourhood joggers, I have yet to face a negative reaction to her behaviour. The people here seem to understand that dogs are dogs and sometimes they do rude things. No one has yelled at me for Shiva urinating on a bush on public property – which happened several times in Halifax  - and when Shiva loses her cool at the end of her leash, the other dog owners often apologize to me.

Now that is class.

Is that not enough to send you voting? It looks like I am going to have to get to the quick and the dirty.

Wild Earth1. Edmonton is home to many wonderful patios that welcome dogs with open arms. This local bakery several blocks up from our house is just one example. In warmer weather, just several days ago in fact, the brick path is covered in tables and chairs where dogs are invited to join their handlers in a freshly-baked lunch. The counter has a basket of dog cookies by the till and the staff members are so friendly, one of them even agreed to watch Shiva while my PH nipped inside for a coffee. She also didn’t hesitate to sneak our puppy a cinnamon twist while they waited. How is that for service?

2. Dog parks. Edmonton has 41 off leash spaces within city limits. 41! I mean, really, you’ll never run out of options, no matter where you are.

3. Edmonton’s Downtown Farmer’s Market moves outside from late spring to mid-fall and is completely pet friendly. One of my favourite things to do during the warmer months is browse for yummy local snacks while breed-spotting at the market.

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4. Edmonton is within driving distance of six – six! – of Canada’s gorgeous National Parks, all of which are pet friendly. From Jasper to Elk Island to Waterton Lakes, there is no shortage of extravagant scenery or mountain trails to explore with your canine pal.

So this photo was taken in the Crowsnest Pass, still in Alberta, still only a drive from Edmonton

So this photo was taken in the Crowsnest Pass, still in Alberta, still only a drive from Edmonton, still stunning

5. Sure, yeah, Edmonton gets snow. You know what it doesn’t get? Rain. Since we moved here in July, I think it has rained about five times. And I don’t mean five days, five times. This includes a light sprinkle overnight. Most dogs love rolling in the white stuff. Very few dogs love a drenching downpour.

Heck, I took this picture tonight at around 7:30 and the sun was only starting to decline

Heck, I took this picture tonight at around 7:30 and the sun was only starting to decline

6. Being further north than most other cities in North America, Edmonton benefits from extra hours of sunlight in the spring time. In mid-June, the sun rises before five am and starts to set long after ten o’clock at night. This is a whole lot of extra dog walking time. 

7. Edmonton is home to some very nice hotels. Many of them are pet friendly. When we first moved here, we had yet to arrange a permanent place to live. Though our current home was found in short order, the hotel staff at a very comfortable chain downtown were more than accommodating. It was just what my PH needed after his long drive across the country. They smiled every time we walked in the door and never batted an eye when Shiva barked at fellow guests. I am so grateful they gave us a place to rest while we got our bearings. Shiva and The Cat enjoyed it too.

Shiva in hotel

8. This one may seem vain, but can I just say, Whyte Avenue in Edmonton is a wicked ego boost. All I have to do is walk down this happening busy street with Shiva by my side for five minutes and my confidence glimmers. Edmontonian hipsters cannot resist a dog. Every single person we pass either smiles in her direction or stops to gush over how cute and well-behaved she is. They don’t even need to pet her, they are willing to love her from a distance.

Whyte Ave makes me feel better about my life

Whyte Ave makes me feel better about my life

9. Edmonton is also the city of festivals, many of which are dog friendly. My favourite so far is Ice on Whyte, an annual ice carving festival within walking distance of our home. This is one event worth braving the cold with your mutt.

10. Edmonton has all the feel and action of a big city without the expensive price tag. Alberta has no provincial sales tax and Edmonton’s hotel, food, and beverage rates are notably lower than other major Canadian cities. If you want a cool place to go that won’t cost a fortune, Alberta’s capital is a great choice.

11. I’ve said it before but I know I need to say it again: Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is the largest green space in North America, 22 times the size of Central Park in New York. All of this is dog friendly. I dare you to walk all 93 miles of trail space.

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If you aren’t convinced yet that Edmonton is an amazing place to be a dog, then I guess there is nothing more I can say. This city has surprised me in its openness and its greenery. Even when covered in ice it is pretty dang gorgeous. I hope you’ll come visit one day. But more, I hope you’ll vote for my city in Go Pet Friendly’s Best City For Pet Traveler’s Tournament. 

Shiva would lick you for it.

Shiva’s Random Recipe for Dehydrated Hermit Cookies

DSC_0212I’m assuming you’ve heard about this incredible giveaway going on at Kol’s Notes this week. And when I say amazing, I mean for real heavy duty, super duper MEGA crazy. The prize is every dog’s biggest fantasy wrapped in jerky and covered in liver dust.

That’s right, Kol’s Notes is giving away a brand new – too expensive for my wee budget – Excalibur Dehydrator.

This is serious stuff, pet lovers. We all know how lazy I am. Shiva has been complaining to her dog friends – or would if she had any – that it has been DECADES since I made her treats with my own two hands. Like, half her LIFE ago. Clearly I do not love her anymore. This dehydrator could change all that. Put me back on her top human list again, maybe even above the woman at the bakery who gave her a cinnamon twist. I need to enter this giveaway. My precarious relationship with the muttski demands it.

There is just one obstacle to this scheme. In order to enter, I need to come up with my own recipe.This is weave-pole level of trickiness because I do not cook. Ever. And the few times I have, that one weird afternoon several years ago in which I saw myself as the next Food Network star*, I required the use of several cookbooks. How am I supposed to come up with my own ingredients, my own techniques, and my own cooking methods when I have never even used a dehydrator before?

Instead of freaking out and giving up before I even started, I decided to get creative.

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Coconut and pineapple, this is about as creative as I get.

A quick browse for inspiration online showed me what I had already suspected. Most of the easy dog recipes involve beef and other red meats that my dog’s sensitive stomach does not tolerate. I know. She chows down garbage on a daily basis but one handful of lamb kibble has Shiva waking me up several times throughout the night. Building a recipe with cheap ingredients I already had at home was looking even more complicated if I was going to keep my dog’s guts intact.

So I did what I do best when research has failed me: made stuff up.

Looking through my cupboards, I couldn’t help but notice the gargantuan jar of peanut butter taking up the middle shelf. The peanut butter shelf. This stuff is practically a food group in our house. Though it may not be a traditional item in a dehydrated treat – based on what I found, anyway – I knew there had to be a way to incorporate it into my concoction.

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Tinfoil makes the mess go away

Cue to me throwing a whole bunch of crap into a bowl, rolling the mixture into balls, and shoving it in the oven for eleventy-seven hours. Yes, I ended up sticking with what I know, baking cookies. We can’t all be culinary geniuses.

To be honest, I also kind of cheated. Since I had to use the oven and since I did it at the last minute and since I have no idea how to make anything without a recipe and SINCE I gave myself less than an hour to pull this together… The treats didn’t turn out as dehydrated as I would have liked. They were also made with pre-dried packaged ingredients instead of the real deal. But in theory, I do believe this would work. No, I am convinced it would work given a more dedicated cook and the right equipment.

Whatever, the dog still likes them.

Tasting the "dough"

Tasting the “dough”

Prove me wrong?

Here is my beautiful, if impatient, recipe for dehydrated hermit dog cookies:

You will need:

1 healthy portion of coconut**
3 or 4 handfuls of dried fruit, can be a mix of different ones, pick your dog’s favourites!
Grated carrot. (This was my PH’s addition. I think as the resident chef, he felt left out.)
Lots of spoonfuls of peanut butter. I kind of just added as I went, enough to make everything stick together but not too much to make it extra goopy.

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Dump all of the ingredients into a bowl. Doesn’t matter what order, we’re not making brioche here. Mix them up. I like to use a wooden spoon. (My PH, the actual cook, said a metal one is better. Pshaw.) When the peanut butter looks like it has formed a cookie-like dough, or when your arm is tired, shape the mixture into small balls.

Dry in your oven or dehydrator at a low temperature for eleventy-seven hours or until they look crispy and like they won’t fall apart in your hands.

Makes about… Jeepers, I don’t know how many, a bowlful?

If you feel like something a little special, add a garnish of grated carrot and a spring of green leaf lettuce.

Voila!

Voila!

So… They may have turned out more crumbly than I anticipated. That doesn’t mean the recipe doesn’t work. It just means my oven isn’t a dehydrator. I challenge the winner of this competition to try this and I guarantee it will work. And if it doesn’t? I’ll owe you a signed picture of Shiva.***

This "treat" looks questionable. At least there is lettuce.

This “treat” looks questionable. At least there is lettuce.

Have you ever made your own treat recipe? Did your pets like it? I think I am going to stick to my usual method of hanging out in the living room reading blogs while my PH cooks. It seems safer and is far more successful.

*Yeah, I had this idea that me drunk on wine while baking cheesecake would make a brilliant show. This was after my idea for a travel show in which I drank wine while touring historical landmarks. Like “The Thirsty Traveler” only more nerdy.

**What? You expected proper measurements?

***Yes, I am still trying to give these away. 

Rules, What are They Good For?

IMG_20140315_135815Rules. Dogs need them. Every book I read before we adopted Shiva dictated this. Dogs require clear and consistent boundaries. Dogs need to know what is acceptable behaviour with no deviation. Rigid structure. All four on the floor. No affection without exercise and discipline first. Humans must state the law and never give in. No take-backsies. If we slide a little, dogs will think they own the place and turn into aggressive, drywall-munching monsters. Nom nom. Peaceful co-existence of dogs and humans is not possible unless the human is in control at all times. Rules keep everyone safe. Rules keep dogs from eating our houses. Rules keep dogs out of animal shelters.

These are things we all desire.

Once again, I find myself in a place of deep shame. Back when we lived in a world filled with obedience instructors and training regimens – in other words, the land that time forgot – our lives were bordered with decrees like “no dogs on the furniture” and “no dogs in the bedroom”. There was even everyone’s favourite canine statute: “no begging allowed.”Oh, how black and white Shiva’s realm was then. How absurd she must have thought us, we naive humans who imagined making her enter the house last meant we were in charge. As if the order in which one eats has anything to do with familial bonding. If the semi-parade we formed in each doorway made any significant difference in how she conducted herself, I don’t recall noticing anything.

On the other hand, my dog’s sit-stay continues to soothe my lazy trainer’s soul.

That's right, we win all the medals.

That’s right, we win all the medals.

I should be embarrassed by how many rules we no longer enforce. It connotes a sort of undress, an almost déshabillé quality to the way we run our household. Perhaps if we add a little more uniformity to the way we organize our lives our dreams would be less deluded. Alas, I kind of like our mess.

Certain dog trainers would be stunned by how lax we have become, and yet our dog has not run like a savage through the streets. The former me would be just as surprised by how accepting I am of Shiva’s libertine habits. For example, here are some of the rules we used to demand:

1. No dogs on the furniture.

Simple. Shouldn’t have been hard to uphold. Yet, this slid into, “dogs only on the furniture with express permission”. And then became “dogs on the furniture if they dog a cute trick first.” Which is now, “dogs on all the furniture whenever they please.”

This doesn't look very comfortable...

This doesn’t look very comfortable…

2. Dogs sleep in their crates.

This one took a bit longer to lose it’s significance but it eventually became “dogs sleep on the couch or the bed in the spare room.” And then “dogs can sleep in the bedroom but on their own bed.” And now, “dogs sleep on our bed every single night”

Ugh. I still don’t know how this one happened.

3. Dogs aren’t allowed in the kitchen.

This rule probably hit the garbage can the fastest. Don’t get me wrong, it is still technically in the law books. There is just no precedent for upholding it. The judge lets Shiva off with a warning every single time. In practice, the rule has now become more of a “dogs can be in the kitchen as long as they don’t steal things off the counters or get in the human’s way, but if they do get in the way, it’s okay as long as they look cute.” Or something. We are still working this out.

DSC_0188There are all sorts of other rules that I have forgotten about at this point. Decrees about no cat chasing (now acceptable, as long as one is quiet about it) and posted ordinances about no people food, ever, or how dogs must lay on their mats when people are eating. It is a vague memory, but I also recall something about dogs not being allowed to look out windows or run zoomies around the living room.

Huh.

No doubt my PH could remember many more than I. There is no disputing the fact that I am the softie of the lot. Though I maintain we are better off this way, Shiva’s wild nature, and our lack of interior decoration, might speak something a little different.

If rules are so important for a dog’s sanity, our laissez-faire attitude could be part of the problem. Maybe I should re-instill some of the order I’d intended five years ago. Remind Shiva who is Alpha. Teach her not to jump on me when I get home from. Let her cry it out and guide her back into her crate every night. In her own room, downstairs. Only pet her when she is lying calmly on the floor. Refuse to share my veggies and turn away from her adorable pleading face. Finally teach this mutt some household manners.

Life would be much more structured. I might even be able to own nice things. Shiva will know what is expected and I will be able to read my book without a tongue lapping at the pages. We will be nice and calm and predictable.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? On second thought, I am happy with my speckled canine tyrant. Maybe other people couldn’t live like we do, with everything left on the floor fair game for Shiva’s jaws, but I think of it as our own adventure. We may never achieve greatness, we may always remain le maison de rêveurs égarés, but we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. We revel in our mess.

Are there any rules you have tossed out after a several years of dog ownership? Or are you better at maintaining these than we are? Should we feel ashamed for letting Shiva get away with everything but murder? Is it possible to let Shiva be a dog while still creating a magazine-worthy home?

Dog Love: Why Does It Even Matter?

What the heck is love, anyway? Sure, we all think we know. We like to spout things about self-sacrifice, everlasting affection, and deep romantic attachment. Everyone has his or her own concept of what it feels like to love someone and of what this love should consist. We are eager to sneer at celebrities who marry one day and divorce the next, superior in our knowledge that it could not have been “real” love. Even I talk about it like it’s some defined thing, a concrete noun with assigned meaning.

Naturally, my opinion on this meaning is the only correct one.

Wanna hear it? Probably not. But I am going to tell you anyway.

The One True Definition of Love, as told by Kristine, shaming all other definitions of love because this is the one true definition and everyone else is wrong:

  • There is no such thing as love at first sight, love must grow over time to be real, otherwise it is just silly infatuation
  • Love means wanting to say you are sorry, over and over and over again
  • Love means putting those you love first. In fact, it means being grateful you can put them first, without a smidge of resentment.
  • That being said, love is not unconditional. I don’t care what crap your mom told you. Love can end.
  • There are no varying degrees of love. You either love someone or you don’t. You can’t “kind of” love somebody or only love them when they behave a certain way.
  • Love and need are two very different things.

I am going to stop now because I think I have made my point. I have no doubt ticked some of you off. If not, I have ticked myself off so I guess that’s good enough.

The thing is, I don’t believe anyone gets to tell us what love is. It’s too personal. It is such a profound word for some of us and an inscrutable one for others. Half the time, I don’t think I understand it at all. All I can tell you is how it feels for me based on my own experiences. Given that your experiences are – we hope – very different from mine I don’t get to tell you how you feel. As someone who was told throughout her childhood that her emotions were wrong, I believe in a person’s right to choose how she labels her feelings.

Or even whether she names them at all.

The author of Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote an insightful and wise blog post today about a – in my perspective – less than insightful study. Ever since I read the science article this morning I have been ruminating over the concept of defining how dogs feel love. Pamela has already done an excellent job of breaking down the methodology and pointing out the scientific flaws. I feel the need to push it further.

In my opinion it is an act of hubris to assume we can ever understand the way a dog feels about his human or anything else in his life. Science can help us predict his behaviour and even – maybe – help us understand the way a dog might view the world. But I do not believe it is possible to know if my dog loves anything, be it me, the Am Staff at the dog park, or a stuffed Kong. I just don’t feel comfortable labelling any of her emotions with certainty. I believe she feels them, I just don’t know if it is my place to determine what they are.

Love is too complex of an emotion, too intense. That doesn’t mean dogs don’t feel it – I believe they are capable of so much more than we will ever be able to prove in a lab. However, I don’t know if it is possible to interpret their actions as something so complicated without hearing from them first. It seems to be doing them a disservice.

No doubt you are narked again. If you are the kind of person who reads late night blog posts written by people who spend too much time pondering canine philosophy, you are the kind of person who puts her dog first. I know your dog appreciates it. I know your dog is happy when you are around. It is possible your dog loves you. It is just not my decision to make.

Nor is it a decision for scientists in a lab to make.

Do I think Shiva loves me? No idea. As I said in my comment this morning, it doesn’t matter to me if she does. In fact, based on my own definition above, I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want her to put my health and happiness before her own. If there is a threat, I want her to run away as fast as she can so I can handle it. It isn’t her job to protect me. What is more important to me, and what is easier to gauge by her behaviour, is that I do think she trusts me.

Trust is much less complicated than love, and – in many ways – is much easier to define. Shiva shows me she trusts me by letting me handle her, even when she is in pain. She never flinches from my touch, even when she doesn’t want to be pet. When she used to be terrified of water bottles, she now will drink from one as I pour it into her bowl. She lets me reach into her mouth, even when she scooped up something super yummy from the ground. Shiva looks to me when uncertain and dives forward when I say something is okay.

For Shiva, I am a means to getting what she wants. But I am also someone safe, someone she relies on to care for her when she is feeling unwell I don’t need to call it love in order to feel proud that I can provide her with what she needs. My love for her is more than enough for the two of us.

Sentimental Sunday: Off Leash Freedom

mms_20140308_123702The hardest part of living where we do is the lack of safe, off leash areas within walking distance. In Halifax, Shiva was accustomed to running without restraint six days out of seven. We took our isolated forests for granted, never thinking that one day we’d be relegated to paths – or worse – residential sidewalks, for the majority of our adventures. Edmonton is a city filled with dog parks of numerous sizes and the largest continuous green space in North America. Once the trail system is connected by all seven municipalities along the North Saskatchewan River, the resulting 88 kilometres of park will be the largest in the world.

Too bad designated off leash areas don’t make up very much of this space.

I don’t want to whine. Shiva and I have it pretty good. The ravine is a beautiful place to walk in all seasons and there are numerous leash free zones within driving distance.

Too bad driving is my greatest fear in all of fearland. Getting over that will take a lifetime.

No doubt there are dogs who have it much worse. Some dogs who live in the inner city, for instance, may never know what it is like to scrawl up a cliff side or chase a porcupine up a tree. Running without a leash is a privilege, not a right. Shiva can be just as satisfied without it.

Can’t she?

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I’d like to believe so. The part of me that is still grieving for the confidence I had before Shiva’s autumn injury, likes to think she can be just as happy if she never runs free again. However, the part of me that sees how much she has slowed down since our Halifax days worries just as much.

I have to face it. Shiva is not as fast as she used to be pre-injury and pre-Edmonton. She still looks good but I know her levels of physical fitness have declined. She grows tired much faster and she’d never be able to keep up with her old Vizsla agility pal any more. It makes me feel terrible, like I have failed her once again.

mms_20140308_123720A Shiva isn’t a Shiva unless she gets to run. Speed is something that has always defined her. She used to be the dog park fitness guru, the one who stirred all the other dogs into action. She is the instigator, the bratface, the tornado.

It isn’t that she isn’t still these things sometimes, her twister-like behaviour has not gone away even on our more relaxed strolls, but there is a noticeable change in her energy. It could be age, that’s true, but it isn’t that simple either.

Maybe it is okay if she isn’t the roadster she used to be. Our lifestyles have changed and she doesn’t seem to be suffering for it in any emotional sense. But I worry. I don’t miss the stress of handling a crazy demon but I do miss the fun. I can’t help but wonder if she misses it too.

Less Wordy Wednesday – All Tongue

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:

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Stinkin’ cute.

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.

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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.

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What a goof. How did I ever live without her?

Shiva tongue 1

Less Wordy Wednesday: Things Overheard

“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.

Shiva Stands in Snow

“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.

Shiva Digs in Snow

“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.

Digger

“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.

Shiva looks at snow

“When I grow up, I wanna be a puppy!”

High ambitions, little girl. Don’t we all?

Feeling 32

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.

Reactive Dog is Reactive, and Kind of an Ass

Shiva in snowWhen 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.

Sniffles

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.

Scary Men

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.

PosingAt 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.

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