Verse for a Certain Dog

Eric’s great great great Aunt Polly’s German Shepherd Dog — photo circa 1910. They lived in the Midwest. Pretty neat! 

German shepherd, circa 1910.

Verse for a Certain Dog
Dorothy Parker

Such glorious faith as fills your limpid eyes,
Dear little friend of mine, I never knew.
All-innocent are you, and yet all-wise.
(For Heaven’s sake, stop worrying that shoe!)
You look about, and all you see is fair;
This mighty globe was made for you alone.
Of all the thunderous ages, you’re the heir.
(Get off the pillow with that dirty bone!)

A skeptic world you face with steady gaze;
High in young pride you hold your noble head,
Gayly you meet the rush of roaring days.
(Must you eat puppy biscuit on the bed?)
Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong,
Yours the white rapture of a winged soul,
Yours is a spirit like a Mayday song.
(God help you, if you break the goldfish bowl!)

“Whatever is, is good” — your gracious creed.
You wear your joy of living like a crown.
Love lights your simplest act, your every deed.
(Drop it, I tell you — put that kitten down!)
You are God’s kindliest gift of all — a friend.
Your shining loyalty unflecked by doubt,
You ask but leave to follow to the end.
(Couldn’t you wait until I took you out?)

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Such a cute, charming poem, and such an apt summation of all the joys and frustrations of sharing one’s life with a dog!

Hope you have happy, peaceful weekends in store!

Dogs in the “good old days”

When I hear my parents and grandparents talk about how they lived with their dogs, I am sometimes filled with a sense of envy and even nostalgia for a lifestyle I never experienced.

Dogs back then, in the “good old days,” seemed to live in such freedom and off-leash harmony with human society.

Source: Boston Public Library.

Source: Boston Public Library.

According to all the stories and books and records I’ve heard, the common traits of dogs, back then were that:

  • Dogs never wear leashes. Unless these dogs are living in Manhattan, leashes are rarely, if ever, used. You take walks with your leashless dog at your side. (Sigh. This one makes me especially envious. Pyrrha could be such a different dog, I think, in a leashless world.)
  • Dogs usually run free throughout the neighborhoods, sometimes in friendly packs. I recall Temple Grandin describing this in her book Animals Make Us Human. Grandin recalls seeing packs of neighborhood dogs roam around daily, and she still longs for dogs to be able to live in this way.
  • Dogs often take on larger-than-life qualities, in the form of family fables, and are often very human-like in their abilities and powers of reasoning. Maybe everyone was watching too much “Lassie” or “Rin-Tin-Tin,” but we all know stories of dogs who played tricks on their humans, saved babies from drowning, rang doorbells, and begged for food at the neighborhood butcher. My dad regaled us with dozens of stories about his childhood dogs and their antics. I can’t imagine my dogs doing any of these things, and so I wonder if it’s because we don’t give them the opportunity to act in these ways, or if these dogs have acquired these mythic qualities as the stories get told and re-told, in the form of hyperbolic legend.
  • Training seemed to be more organic, rather than formal or structured. Dogs learned how to behave in households in a natural, unstructured way and often learned a repertoire of party tricks. But I get the sense that if a dog went to obedience school, it was much more rigid and discipline oriented than we are accustomed to today.
1934 - 1956: Dog drinking from water fountain

Source: Leslie Jones.

I wonder if reactivity was far less common in those days. Perhaps without much containment, dogs had less opportunity to practice reactivity. Pyrrha interacts with dogs in a totally different way when she’s off leash. One of my happiest days with her was this past Christmas, when we took her to a big farm/park. She was on a 30-ft. drag lead, and there were tons of off-leash dogs there. She was just delighted to see everyone, and all of the dogs interacted with each other in this beautiful, peaceful, harmonious way. There wasn’t a bit of anxiety or reactivity in her that day.

The downsides of the way dogs lived in the “good old days” are, of course, also rather considerable. Dogs died fairly frequently in traffic accidents or other suburban misfortunes, merely because they were rarely contained. Dogs probably rarely went to the vet and were infrequently spayed or neutered. Thus, if you had a bitch, she likely got pregnant a few times, and then you had to figure out what to do with those puppies (pawn them off on the neighbor kids). I also don’t know of any data, but I imagine that dog bites (especially to children) were much more frequent, also because dogs were not contained or monitored. Knowledge of dog behavior and canine psychology was scant, and dog behavior was often misunderstood and grossly misinterpreted (hence the old “rub their noses in their poo” strategy of house-training, among others).

Source: Boston Public Library.

Source: Boston Public Library.

I don’t think it’s possible anymore, of course, to return to this way of dog-rearing in urban or suburban America. We have leash laws, vaccination requirements, and the encouragement to spay and neuter for good reasons.

This is why I disliked Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s book so much. I felt like she was forcing her dogs into a “wild” lifestyle, which was not coherent with the fact that she lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The scenes of her following her off-leash husky weaving through Cambridge traffic and watching her spaniel get “raped” (her term) by a wayward dog were just awful to me. As much as I may love and yearn for the off-leash lifestyle, that is not a life I want for my dogs. I know it’s not possible (or even legal) in my town, and so the girls wear leashes and we have a sturdy fence.

Some rural dogs may still experience this “good old dog days” lifestyle, and I love that for them. For example, our former foster Laszlo has an idyllic existence; he goes to work every day with his human at a winery in the foothills and lives his whole life off-leash, running around the giant, gorgeous property.

So, here’s my question. Do you think we can incorporate the good aspects of the old way of dog-rearing into modern society? For most of us, our dogs can’t go out without leashes or travel with you by running behind your truck. But is there a way that we can reduce reactivity and promote freer, more harmonious interactions with our dogs and our communities? Is that even possible with modern legislation?

Source: Leslie Jones.

Source: Leslie Jones.

I don’t know. But it’s something I like to think about. I think about that day for Pyrrha at Fisher Farms, which might have been her happiest day ever, and I long to capture some part of that in our everyday life.

Curious to hear your thoughts!

That time Pyrrha met a baby and didn’t freak out

Like a cat

Basking in the sun like a cat.

I’ve been so consumed lately with Eden’s health issues that it’s been easy to neglect Pyrrha’s (behavioral and fear) issues. But I have a happy little story to tell.

Last Wednesday was beautiful, and so I took the dogs on a walk to the tiny nearby park on my lunch break. There were lots of small children milling about, so I walked the dogs in a broad loop. Little kids (especially toddlers) are one of Pyrrha’s fear triggers, so we tread with caution in child-heavy areas. I’ve been giving her lots of space around children and treating her for just observing children from a distance.

As we were leaving the park, without any incidents, I heard someone call my name. One of my friends, with her baby on her hip, came up to meet us. I kept both dogs on close leashes. Pyrrha was interested in the baby, who was a very quiet, dog-friendly baby (she has a big redbone coonhound “brother” at home), and the baby was interested in her. I was nervous and watching everything closely… but the baby just put her hand down, Pyrrha sniffed and licked her hand, and then her feet; the baby smiled; and Pyrrha turned back to watch the rest of the park activity.

I was beaming. The baby’s mom even said, “Wow, Pyrrha is so relaxed around kids.” Ha! Something that has never been said about my dog. This sounds like such a silly little story, but when you have a fearful dog, tiny moments like this feel like HUGE victories. Because they are signs of progress. Of course I don’t think this small encounter means that she is “cured” or even that she isn’t fearful anymore. Pyrrha is not going to be kid friendly in a few weeks, or maybe even in the rest of her life, but she is making progress. And I’m proud of her. (And thankful for calm, dog-savvy infants! I need to meet more of those…)

How have you seen your dog grow and change lately?

Pyrrha turns 3!

It’s hard to believe, but Pyrrha turns 3 today! 

Pyrrha

My serious 3-year-old.

Unlike many rescue dogs, we know Pyrrha’s actual birthday, because she came from her unscrupulous breeder (who was raided by the rescue, essentially) with AKC papers. On March 6, 2011, a shy puppy named “Katie” was born to a backyard breeder in rural North Carolina. We don’t know much about her life from birth until she turned a year old, but rescue reports were that she lived outside her whole life in a filthy pen with her relatives. She was neglected, painfully shy, and especially frightened of men.

We adopted her shortly after she’d turned 1, in mid-May 2012. The rescue had named her Lyndi, and she’d been recently returned to the rescue after a family with three young children learned that she wasn’t going to work out for them. (Understandable, because she is very anxious about small kids.)

Once we met her, in the parking lot of a PetCo, I was sold. In retrospect, it was a foolish decision. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, ha! Adopting my first dog, a dog with evident fear issues? Not the best decision I’ve ever made. But I don’t regret it. I was in love.

With Pyrrha at Blue Mountain Brewery

The first photo of me and Pyrrha together, May 2012.

She had a rough time at first. As I’ve recounted before, she hid from us in corners of the house. She never wanted to leave her crate. She spent every walk with her ears flat back and her tail completely tucked under her. But, gradually, she started to get comfortable, and she bonded intensely with me.

Pyrrha still has issues and always will, but she’s my special girl. (Exhibit A, below, her ambivalent ears.)

Feeling ambivalent today. #dogears #pyrrhagram

My heart thrills when I think back to those first few months with Pyrrha and then think about how she is now. Still fearful, but, wow, what a different dog!

Our adventures in fostering and now, having adopted a second dog, have worked wonders on soothing her nerves. Pyrrha is most at ease when she’s with me at home and when she’s in the presence of another dog. Having psycho Edie around has already made a tangible difference in reducing Pyrrha’s day-to-day anxiety level.

At 3, Pyrrha is a content, calm dog. Yes, she’s still leash reactive. Yes, she grumbles at Eden from time to time. Yes, Guion is still on her “don’t entirely trust” list. But the progress she’s made! It’s enough to make my eyes well up.

Happy birthday, Pyrrha Louise. You’re a good girl. And I’m glad you’re in my life.

Through the fence, view 1

Eternal winter

I know I can’t be the only one who feels like this has been the longest winter ever. Even the dogs seem tired of the snow:

Snow pups

I’m thankful that they still like to go out and romp in it, but they seem a bit bored with the white stuff and the constant bitter temperatures. I have poor circulation in my extremities, so I can’t go out much in the very cold, which makes our walks less frequent.

Eternal winter

Mercifully, Fiona is only a few blocks away, so she comes over to romp for a few hours, sun or snow.

Late winter in the southeast US is much like a bad boyfriend. One week, he’s so sweet and temperate, and you think everything is finally going to turn around with you two. And then the next week, he’s back to being a total jerk, ruining your life at every turn. It’s enough to give you whiplash. Saturday, for instance, we had sunshine and 60 degrees (F). It was beautiful. We played with the dogs, and Guion built our garden fence, to prepare us for spring gardening. And then… this morning… more terrible snow.

More snow

We’re hibernating, we’re enduring. How are you and  your pups making this long winter feel less long?

(And if you live in some warm place like Florida or Australia, just… hush.)

Winter forever

Update from our former foster Kira (fka Trina)

I always really appreciate it when the adopters of our former foster dogs stay in touch. Their e-mails and photos are so heartwarming!

We recently got this e-mail from the family who adopted Kira (fka Trina):

I wanted to give you guys and update on Kira. She gets more accustomed to her new home with every passing day; she is so smart. She loves the snow and is getting big. Attached are pictures of her.

Kira | Doggerel

Kira | Doggerel

Can’t believe how big she’s getting! She almost looks like a full-grown lady. And he is right: She is SO smart. One of the smartest dogs I’ve ever met. So happy that she has found her forever home. We were tempted to keep her ourselves, but I know she’s in just the right place. And that’s the best feeling of all!

Hope you all have great weekends ahead!

Happy adoption day, Eden!

Well, it’s official: this little monster is ours!

Playful puppy

The paperwork is in, and the rescue has confirmed. We foster failed, and now we’re responsible for the life of this crazy baby. After a host of foster dogs, I confess that it still feels kind of weird to think that we’re her family forever. But we’re excited about it!

Other Eden updates:

  • Her relationship with Pyrrha continues to go smoothly, although it does resemble the relationship of an older sister to a pesky younger one. Eden is learning to respect Pyrrha’s warnings, and Pyrrha is really doing an admirable job of showing tolerance and even handicapping herself in play (rolling on the ground with her belly up, something she rarely does for younger dogs).
  • My big concern, as of this morning, is that Eden threw up her last two meals. I think she’s just eating them too quickly all of the sudden, because she hasn’t done this in the three weeks that we’ve had her. And she’s only thrown up when she gets kibble in a bowl (not in the food toys). So I’m guessing there’s some correlation. Will split up her meals and/or solely feed from toys going forward, to see if that’s the issue.
  • Eden is doing amazingly well at showing self-restraint with greetings. We’ve been teaching her to sit (instead of leaping and clawing at a human’s face with overeager joy), and she’s been listening! I’m kind of amazed. Even though she can drive us crazy sometimes, she has a surprising amount of self-control for an adolescent.
  • She’s walking very nicely on the leash, and thanks to her new harness, I can now walk both girls together by myself. Post about this to come!
  • I’d like to get her out and playing with other dogs. Our yard has been so horrible with all of the rain that I feel loath to invite anyone over right now, because the visiting dogs would leave wearing lovely full-body shade of red clay.

Can’t believe we have two dogs! We’re excited.

My watchful girls

The girls.