#InternationalGuideDogDay: A Reblog

Happy International Guide Dog Day.

Image by C. L. Tangenberg – Our first family pet Elyse, an American Brittany (spaniel). Although not a certified guide dog, she taught us a lot and guided our hearts.

On the Blink

April 26 is International Guide Dog Day, a chance to celebrate the countless beautiful handler-guide dog teams around the world. It is a day to honor not only the hard work we do with our companions but the circle of loving support that makes this work possible. From the families that encourage us to go in for training to the trainers, volunteers, and administrators who get our pups ready to work with us, we are surrounded by a web of kindness and commitment.

No handler can reach for her guide dog’s harness without realizing the power of collaboration. None of us could do this alone.

So, to celebrate guide dogs, I’m sharing a few of my favorite posts about York. Some of these have only lived on the blog while others have gone far afield into literary journals. Each piece immortalizes the intense gratitude and love I have for my brown-eyed boy, and for everyone who helped bring him into my life.

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Five-Phrase Friday (33): Good Breeding

I’m missing my dog these days, now that the weather is warming and I can’t take her for a walk. I still like the Brittany breed, so we may try to get another when we decide to add a dog to the family again.

Mutts are just great in their blended gene health and unique blend of features. But for this post, I’m focusing on traits of a type, so I’ve selected my top five picks for ideal dog breed.

My choices are based on overall package–appearance (cute, elegant, leggy), intelligence (smart but not too smart), affection level (almost too affectionate is good), trainability (must be trainable), size (medium to medium-large), energy level (medium), character (unique, charismatic), maintenance level (low to medium–hair mainly), overall health trends (few or manageable genetic issues), and expense/availability from a breeder or rescue (why go halfway across the country when there are good dogs in need back home?).

See my previous post on dog shows and breed aesthetics.


Top Choices of Dog Breeds (includes mixes with one or more of these in them):

  1. Brittany
  2. Welsh Springer Spaniel or English Springer Spaniel
  3. Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever: similar to Brittany’s structure but more rare
  4. German Short-Haired Pointer
  5. Black and Tan Coonhound

Honorable mentions include:

Samoyed – great but just not in the top 5; maybe a bit too small

VizslaThumb

Image credit AKC website, Vizsla breed profile page

Vizsla – gorgeous and sweet; just a little too energetic, less commonly available

Flat-coated retriever – also less common and only found in black-colored coat

Belgian Tervuren or Belgian Malinois – like a German Shepherd in appearance; working dogs, equally energetic

Labrador retriever – a bit too stocky and shed too much; kinda boring (too common)

Kuvasz – too rare

Golden retriever – plentiful; I just don’t like them as much, even the pretty coat

Shetland sheepdog – perhaps a bit too small and feisty

Siberian husky – too energetic, too work driven for our lifestyle

Maltese – too small and fast (gotta be able to wrangle it!)


These would all be lovely pure breeds to have, but that doesn’t mean we’re averse to a good fit from a shelter. My husband’s list would probably include Pembroke Welsh Corgis and Dachshunds (he likes sausage-shaped dogs he can laugh at when they run), and if I were willing to go for smaller dogs, my choices would be more like West Highland White Terrier or Miniature Schnauzer.

Check out the side-by-side comparison tool at the AKC website. Pretty handy.

Really, though, at this point, I still just want my dog back. . . .

Elyse

Our dog Elyse passed away this week. I remember her now, based on revisiting the post Dog Blog: Don’t. Move.

I tried hard not to move, but she moved me more than I had thought possible after I survived movements that helped make my body attack itself. That is, after trying my best to teach high school English and journalism full time for two years and falling short while becoming ill, even after a break, caring for a dog proved much more difficult than I had anticipated.

And so much the better. She showed me I wasn’t all washed up. The challenges she continuously threw our way we met to the best of our abilities, and she became my new full-time occupation. I’d like to think I was good at the job.

In consequence, the bond we developed became close and deep, as we spent every day, most of the day, together while Daddy earned our daily bread. The greatest challenge, perhaps, was to keep trying, to renew my patience, forgive the challenges she could not help but pummel us with in her layered conditions of disease and neurosis. The serenity of the pack leader is the only surety for keeping the pack together, functioning, balanced.

Keep calm and lick. She would do that as long as I kept coming home, feeding her, maintaining her medications dosing schedule, going through our routines, showing affection, asserting my leadership, providing limitations and not just pity for the sweet, sickly little dog. She respected me to a degree, listened to me more than to Daddy, but she could be stubborn, too.

And there were certainly moments where she didn’t trust me. After all, it was primarily I who wielded the wipes, the ear cleaner, the comb, the towels, the dental hygiene products, and other instruments of regular torture. I would lose my temper, lose my patience, show my flawed humanity when she failed to stay put or stop prancing around in panic while I worked upstairs, or when she soiled the floor yet again.

With all the medication, and her neglected and abandoned past, I knew it wasn’t her fault, so I restrained myself. But she could still feel my negative vibes and would cower, hesitate, fail to come to me. I was hardly her North Star.

Still, she surrendered to my love, returning calm, and gentle hand. I became an expert of sorts in many aspects of canine care, not least of which was dog massage. Neither side had any choice, really. She was at our mercy. We coddled, spoiled, and humanized her with the best of them. We showered our only child with more affection than she thought strictly necessary, I’m sure. But love won out in both directions.

All things end, and now is her life ended. Dearest Elyse–our first family dog, adopted as a rescued American Brittany on June 29, 2012, laid to rest February 8, 2016–we will move on, eventually. As the snow finally seals winter in, and layers over your fresh grave, the temperature drops with my motivation.

Binding us so tightly to her with all that need for constant care–as much a source of stress as companionship, an amazingly tiny package experiencing and bringing such frequent struggle–Elyse has been my whole world for more than 3 and a half years. We certainly gave it our all. It’s time to re-invent myself yet again.

Irony comes calling again. Just when I’d get up the urge to write or read or improve my home or health, her own health would waver and pull me back from myself. Now that I’m “free” of her needs, I can scarcely think, choose, or move.

Is balance, after all, sheer impossibility? I threw myself into full-time teaching, hardly sleeping, barely keeping up with grading and lesson planning, making myself ill from the chronic strain and stress, not having been used to work in such a way at such a pace in such a place. Basically, not having been challenged enough before that point. Then, after nursing the wounds from dismissal, and intending to get a healthy, active dog that would help me become healthier, I found myself thrown into another nearly impossible project–taking care of an ailing dog.

I was partly manipulated into it by the rescue organization (they unmistakably lied about her age and misrepresented the severity of her health problems), largely smitten by the sweet little creature herself, partly pressured by my spouse’s falling as much in love as I had in a few short days, and partly led by my determination to get right whatever I undertook.

Am I finally to learn how not to go overboard? Or, at least how to do so gainfully? Am I discounting the gotten gains? Can I find balance at last?

Or, is it disingenuous to ask for this? Do I really just want fame and money, and only persist in denying my vanity and greed in the vain hope that I’m a better person than I seem to be? Either way, it will come down to balance, if no other kind but that between seeking ultimate “success” and seeking a balance between career and personal life. I take everything so personally, so seriously, do I even know the difference between work and life? Did I ever? Is there such a stark distinction at all?

Cesar Millan, best known as The Dog Whisperer, has said we don’t get the dog we want; we get the dog we need. I’m still trying to figure out how that was the case with Elyse and me. What am I supposed to have learned? What am I to take a way from all this? What about her did I need? And was the need fulfilled?

I don’t know. I think it may take a while to figure out. Everything with me does, but right now, grief clouds the issue. I’ll let you know if light dawns.

Of course, I’m assuming the verity of a pat aphorism that may be bull, even though the man may indeed know dogs better than anyone. As I established in my Five-Phrase Friday post last week, what’s true for some may not be true for all.

What I know to be true is this: I loved that dog. It was not all in vain. We do learn from experience. We have great, rich memories of our time with her.

What a sweet, gentle, affectionate, adorable, quirky, beautiful little girl. She only ever barked in her sleep and, in her immune-compromised isolation, energetically loved meeting any new canine friends.

I’ll miss . . .

  • the sound of her long toe nails tapping as she trotted along the floor
  • the jingling shake of her collar tags
  • the oh-so-cozy softness of her fur coat and leg feathers
  • her clumsy goofiness
  • her insistent invasion of personal space
  • those Dumbo-like ears of submission
  • an eagerness to walk, sniff and mark
  • her unabashed excitement and joy to see us come home
  • her playful groan of a signal to go outside
  • the thrashing of animal toys
  • an obsessed tooth-and-claw attack of her Kong toy full of treat bits
  • a thrasher hairstyle with head hanging, fast asleep, off her bed’s edge
  • running in her sleep
  • the frustrating way she’d wipe her face on your legs to get rid of the oozing eye goop
  • her strength and resilience amidst 3 heart conditions, chronic coughing, painful arthritis episodes, blocked tear ducts, bad teeth, chronic shivering and shuddering, occasional choking on food, low blood sugar, isolated mystery ailments including seizures, limping, lost appetite, and reverse sneezing that would clear up inexplicably, bleeding toenails from quicks so close to the tip, being stepped on repeatedly, swallowing a frothy toad, freezing her paws in harsh winter, and stepping on a bee
  • her huntress alertness, bird stalking, squirrel obsession
  • the way she’d open her front paws and legs while lying down so we’d rub her fluffy chest
  • her yawns of sleepiness and confusion
  • the drollness of her growing directional deafness–2 feet behind her, called her, and she perked and ran towards the sound in the opposite direction
  • her long, slender, elegant pointer legs
  • those eyes, that nose, that tongue, and that nubbin!
  • her love of peas and apple sauce and traces of flavored yogurt and peanut butter and
  • . . . oh, so much more

I’ll miss being so constantly needed. I’ll miss my irreplaceable fur-baby and friend.

Rest in peace, pain free and joyful, baby girl.

A world of possibilities opens up before me now, and it’s ready for my forward movement. At some point, you get sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time—and do something productive. All hope is not lost.

Although I feel a little like Zaphod Beeblebrox when he failed to find the ultimate question–“Good stuff. I’ll just go find something else for my whole life to be about.”–I’m still hopeful that the best is yet to come, yet to be made and discovered. I’ve been blessed repeatedly, given many chances to start over, and now, aided by my circumstances, I have yet another gift of choice.

I will do my best to embrace this new freedom, in keeping with my values, in honor of my loved ones–the living and the dead. I’ll take responsibility for my life and health, not only to do but to be.

Life goes on, and the search continues.

Book Review: Rose in a Storm

Rose in a Storm by Jon Katz

I’m ambivalent about this one.

The novel Rose in a Storm uses an omniscient third-person narrator to switch back and forth between the farmer Sam’s and his border collie Rose’s viewpoint, but most of the story is Rose’s. The novel is better than the few non-fiction books I’ve read that attempt to convey the canine perspective, and the descriptions of farm life and tasks ring true.

Taking a scientific outlook, though, I found it difficult to settle on what I thought of Katz’s portrayal of the dog’s thought processes and feelings. The depiction straddles anthropomorphism and restrained observational reporting of animal behavior, though still through her eyes. Although most of the book succeeds in avoiding implausible sentimentality in the dog, focusing instead on her straightforward efforts to adapt to and navigate her changing world, there are some sappy tropes involved. The notion of the dog’s spiritual vision is the most blatant of these.

BookCover_RoseInAStorm_Katz

As a story, this is a fine read–simple, fluid, plot driven. It’s suspenseful, interesting, descriptive, and engaging. The book also refrains from tying things up in a neat little bow, preserving some of the realism of imagined canine perceptions, if one can call such a thing realism.

I have read no other Katz books to compare it to, but I think I detect his non-fiction roots coming across in this try at a novel. His style lends both a dryness that bored me and a grounded feel that I appreciated. Katz seems to overextend his anthropomorphism with his portrayal of other farm animals’ viewpoints, and some explanations of Rose’s behavior become repetitious in the book’s latter half.

Where the author succeeds is in communicating the complex relationship between Sam and his working farm dog. Rose is not in any way a pet, as she shares no affection with him, though she did with Sam’s late wife Katie. Nor is she strictly a regular working dog. The reader comes to know Rose as extraordinary among herding dogs–obedient and focused on her specific management role when Sam’s in charge and able to take the initiative to care for the farm’s animals in a devastating blizzard when Sam is unable to guide her.

Yet, Rose does not ascend to superdog status and escapes being made ridiculous in the process. Katz portrays her limitations as fairly as he demonstrates the stretching of her giftedness into innovation when faced with new challenges. This is a difficult balance, and he struck it well.

Full of description, the novel uses little dialogue, which both limits its interest for the reader and seats it fittingly within the speechless realm of the dog. The simplicity of the book, however, leaves little room for other layers to admire. There’s no underlying symbolism, no literary boosts of irony or genre bending or a greater lesson, and I saw no transcendent merit in it. It’s just a largely plausible story of a great dog’s experiences, which dog lovers will likely enjoy.

Overall, I liked Rose in a Storm, loved some parts but not many, and was not sorry to have read it. It helped that the book was not very long at a little over 200 pages. It was a pleasant if underwhelming experience, good but not great. 3 stars.

Book Review: The Dog Bible

The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog
Wants You to Know

by Tracie HotchnerTheDogBible_TracieHotchner_bookcover

Updated from original 2012 review (opinion still current):

I received it as a Christmas gift from someone who knew I love dogs, but the book sat on my bookshelf for years. Then, I remembered to consult it when my husband and I started looking for a dog of our own. That was a wise decision. Now that I actually have a dog again, this comprehensive resource has far exceeded my expectations.

The text’s navigability, range of topics, reading ease, and quality of information and advice place it as my number one print reference on the subject. From selecting a pet to understanding your dog to training to health, safety, hygiene and nutrition to addressing emergencies, this 7-by-9-inch, 688-page tome routinely delivers something helpful for every stage of canine life.

As a 2005 publication, some of its information is out of date, such as the section about the latest developments in nutrition products. However, much of the material is current, some of it timeless. Everyone with a dog, or planning to get one, should read the parts about specific breed characteristics and genetic ailments, behavior management, communication, and dog psychology.

As someone who has read and followed Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan’s philosophy, I find the core of author Tracie Hotchner’s perspective to be quite similar and in agreement on key aspects of the human-dog relationship. Yet, the scope is wider as she offers alternative opinions worth considering for your unique situation.

Brimming with predominantly sound content, this reference is a worthy investment for dog lovers, pet owners, dog industry workers, people living or working around dogs, knowledge hounds, dog seekers, and even generalist veterinarians.

Just like my dog . . . 10 years old and already a classic. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

DSCN8848

Elyse, September 2014


For more thoughts on books, go to the Book Reviews page of my blog.

To see more adorable pictures of Elyse–you know you want to!–go here, here, here and especially here and here. The last two are the funniest.

Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 8 of 10

The second half of “Taking It,” a poem about my next-door neighbor’s Siberian husky competing with birds for its food. April 2000.

That’s when the starlings surged.
She returned to find the blue bowl bluer.
She blinked and looked toward the house for help.

The birds are still hungry. And they know her limits.

Standing her ground yesterday,
baffled as the birds amassed,
the dog nibbled neurotically on the leftovers
while the starlings crushed each kernel
on the hard, paved periphery
to make it small enough.

Today, she’s almost waiting for a hungry starling kiss.
Today the husky takes it lying down.

copyright C. L. Tangenberg

Image: AKC Siberian husky breed section

Image: Siberian husky on AKC website