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.
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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cutting flowers in sun a pinched caterwauling behind no sign of a child peek around the dogwood glimpse a grey cat passing in its mouth a small eastern cottontail now silent limp dangles by the neck the cat walks body beneath to the evergreen shade rips at its prize I am near trying to see cat disappears I go around fence's other side wide-eyed rabbit sees me begins to move from side lying to upright and staggering comes toward me toward the fence pokes nose through slats where a sale flyer rests it retracts stops in the sun I back away look over the fence see the bright red hanging out along its side toward the back muscle bone or organ I don't know second wound behind it stays put I curse the cat not finishing off am I to blame? not my place not my yard no one home and no gun only hammer shovel spade and would not reach I walk away the robins hop the sun shines the flowers beam I go inside write this
Without any encouragement besides the lush flower beds planted, and perhaps the weather, unusual creatures have come around recently. First, a tree frog on our siding above one of the ferns. Then, a HUGE moth in the middle of a spectacular thunderstorm, perched on our front door frame near the doorbell button.
We don’t live near many trees, and shade is scarce. Our neighborhood is young, and most of the trees are ornamental on individual properties. Across the street, behind the new house just built, where new neighbors just moved in, there are woods, albeit hacked away to make room for more clear land in their backyard.
We planted a serviceberry tree in the spring in honor of our beloved dog Elyse, buried near it in the backyard, and for our love of birds, and we have a pagoda dogwood on the other side of the backyard. Our weeping cherry rounds out the sum total of trees on our actual property. The devil strip on the other side of the front sidewalk by the street, of course, bears a line of chestnut or hazelnut (?) trees throughout much of the neighborhood.
So what on earth a tree frog was doing clinging to the side of the house at dusk last week I’m not sure. A cute little bugger, though.
The moth startled me by its presence, for I almost mistook it for a flying mammal, i.e., a bat. And certainly, I was unsure at first as to whether or not it was a moth. I called my husband to bear witness. The lightning warranted our seeking views of its performance, so I had moved from the back of the house to the front to look out the windows beside the front door.
The moth had very large black eyes and that alien-looking head shape to make it seem other-worldly. I wonder if it had been blown off course by the approaching storm, or due to its size, thought nothing of simply attaching itself to a wall to wait out the wind, lightning and thunder.
It stayed there through many flashes of my camera until finally its wings began to throttle and eventually carry it up the side of the house and away into the night. The picture below provides a nice sense of scale with the window frame and the doorbell fixture behind the alien creature.
Today, I was delighted to see a behavior among the sparrows I had not observed before. A female was taking pellets of seed from the newly replenished bird feeder and shooting it down for mouth-to-mouth feeding, first with one and, then, two of her brood. Normally, I can’t tell the difference between regular adult female sparrows and juveniles, but the size difference became apparent once I realized what she was doing.
The youth were still quite demanding, despite having learned to fly and acquired a full set of normal-looking plumage, especially the first, fluttering its wings against the grass and chirping incessantly for more grub. It could anticipate when Mama was about to descend and deliver, which triggered its opening and holding open its little beak while it continued to beat its wings to the ground.
The second juvenile was more industrious, seeking dropped seed on its own in the grass directly under the feeder. After a few more feedings for both, however, the mother flew off toward the front of the house, and her two young ones immediately followed. Other sparrows had arrived and were splitting their attentions between feeder perch and earth.
Yesterday, there was a ruckus as a dark brown, fluffy cat high-tailed it through the backyard of the neighbor directly behind us, pursued closely by the two nuisance chihuahuas from two doors down. They all disappeared behind the front of that neighbor’s house, and I smiled briefly as I continued dead-heading my flowers.
Then I thought, again, how ridiculous it is that the dog owners never use a leash, don’t have a fence, and don’t ever tie up the dogs in the yard. The pair had assaulted my dog on a walk last year, and I’ve seen them do it again at least twice with other people’s dogs since then.
Not so much biting, but barking and terrorizing. The larger dogs (most would be), taken aback, try to get away from the onslaught, and the ill-mannered dogs’ owners run after them as if they’re surprised each time by their quickness and propensity for trouble.
I only hope that when we get another dog, they’ll either have better control of those two or . . . the problem will somehow be . . . removed. In jest, in jest, but see my five ways to skin a cat; our fantasy could easily apply to the big trouble in tiny packaging.
Still, the majority of the vast number of dogs in the neighborhood are well behaved and well controlled, and so we must count ourselves lucky.
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):
- Welsh Springer Spaniel or English Springer Spaniel
- Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever: similar to Brittany’s structure but more rare
- German Short-Haired Pointer
- Black and Tan Coonhound
Honorable mentions include:
Samoyed – great but just not in the top 5; maybe a bit too small
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
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. . . .
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.