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Monday, November 23, 2015

I kicked my dogs out of their comfort zone.

Over the weekend, I rearranged the furniture in my living room. Several times. Into several different configurations. I usually do this every November, to make room for seasonal stuff, like my Christmas tree (decided to ditch the artificial over the summer and go with a real live tree this year. Stay tuned for the upcoming blog post about that inevitable disaster), my holiday village (does anyone ever have the "perfect" place to display one of those things?), and all the decorations I've accumulated over the years (and continue to accumulate, even now, despite the fact that, every Christmas, my house looks more and more like a freezer in need of defrosting, it's so packed with red things and green things and silver things and gold things and scented things and melodic things. And lights. Lots and lots of lights. ). 

In general, I love this time of year, and bright, shiny, musical decorations make me happy. Or at least give me the panicked jump start I need to get my shopping and wrapping and baking done, preferably in time to enjoy other things as Christmas gets closer. So this past Saturday morning, I started hauling my large leather sofa and love seat, several stands and tables, and my no-longer-play-it-but-had-it-since-childhood-and-refuse-to-part-with-it piano from wall to wall, trying to maximize the television viewing potential from every piece of furniture, and trying to put my piano somewhere it wouldn't be in the way but would remain in the actual living room. I still don't know that I'm in love with the final setup, but for now, I'm keeping things as-is, at least til after Christmas. Because even though my piano is relatively small, as far as pianos go, it's still a piano. It ain't light. And since both the couch and loveseat have recliners on both ends, they're not light either. Suffice it to say I had a lot of explaining to do to my chiropractor this morning. Well, actually, I didn't. All he said was: "Wow! What have you done to yourself since Friday?" To which I responded: "Um ... moved stuff. And a piano." And that was pretty much the extent of our conversation. Unless his non-verbal "Why the hell would you do that?!" expression could be interpreted as some kind of critical, scolding counter-response. I vote no on that, and, in fact, chose to interpret his follow-up expression as one of awe-struck admiration for my strength and perseverance. So let's move on.

I s'pose all this intro stuff is a sympathy-seeking ploy to get you to feel worse for me than you do (or will, in short order) for my traumatized canines. Because, you see, as is common with so many dogs, my boys dislike change, each for his own specific reasons.

Beckett simply can't handle anything out of the ordinary without winding himself into a frenzied "Danger, Will Robinson" moment. In fact, if Beckett could actually speak, he'd likely say just that, before insisting "Take cover because we're all going to die!" I don't even come home with different, exciting dog treats anymore, because I'm convinced that it's not the ingredients that give him diarrhea (since his special sensitive-stomach, grain-free diet guarantees him the same ingredients in all foods and treats, and it is only the shape or size or color of his ingestibles that actually change), but the fact that something new has landed in his very ordered world and disrupted the status quo. Truth be told, I deserve to suffer the consequences of his ICan'tCopeWithThis condition, since I adopted him before he was two months old and basically molded him in my own image. So I generally just cater to his sensitivities and honor his needs and eccentricities because, as I often say, he is my canine equivalent and I am pretty much who he would be if he were a 42 year old woman. Minus the tail.

Gatsby, on the other hand, simply travels through life on a nonstop power trip.  He is basically fourteen pug-eyed pounds of You'reNotTheBossOfMe. If he could actually speak, his reaction to the latest changes in our living room would be pretty much like his reaction to all other changes he doesn't demand, orchestrate, or approve, and it would go a little something like this: "What? The? Hell?"

Because Gatsby does not tolerate being one-upped. There's something so uber-irritating to him about having to charter a new path from kitchen to patio, or carve out a new spot from which to spy on the neighbor while taunting her sweet golden retriever through our dining room window. And as for my executive decision to drag his bigger-and-cushier-than-my-own bed from the sliding glass door area to the perfect spot of living room floor by the end table? Most. Egregious. Move. By. A. Human. Ever.

So, between Beckett's "Why are you ruining our lives forever with all this unnecessary moving and shifting and adjusting?" lament to Gatsby's "Who died and left you in charge?" inquisition, I am left with two very upset, very disoriented canines who can't seem to find a comfortable place to rest or chew their bones or watch the outside world pass by. And yet, resourceful little buggers that they are, they're weathering this, too.

"Please don't make me go back out there."
"I'm hungry. Again."
Beckett has, once again, taken to his favorite "I can't handle life anymore" spot in the downstairs bathroom (and I promise, this is today's picture and not a recycle job from several days ago, when he sought refuge in the same place after Gatsby turned my grey sock into a four-course dinner). Gatsby, on the other hand, has simply taken to sitting by the closet where the dog treats live, so that every time I pass by (which I have to do whenever I go into the bathroom to make sure Beckett hasn't decided to drown  himself in the toilet), Gatsby whines and paws at the closet door as if to say: "Food is love.  And you owe me that much."

I go back and forth, from thinking that I am doing something good and important here, by forcing both dogs out of their comfort zones, to wondering if I'm just on a little power trip of my own, as I attempt to take charge of the home I bought and paid for and maintain while these little free-loaders (adorable and essential to my life though they may be) constantly work together to stage a coup the likes of which no military has ever seen. But I keep pushing through it all, doing my best to assure Beckett that change is good and necessary and inevitable while simultaneously resisting the urge to give Gatsby apology cookies every time I turn around.

Last night, I did grant them both some quiet, limited time on the couch (which they are trained to stay off unless I put down a blanket and invite them up with me), and this morning, they both got a few extra "I don't know how else to say I'm sorry so here's a cookie" cookies. (Beckett let Gatsby take his cookie, both because Beckett is the gentlest, sweetest dog ever, and because he's got nervous stomach issues again, and probably couldn't think about food while our whole world was crumbling around us.  Or at least morphing into a rearranged living room with the potential to destroy everything in its path.)

For now, we all agree that the living room situation could be better, but that we'll get used to it.  Or we won't.  Good thing there is, it's just furniture - it moved once, and it can (and most certainly will) move again.  And we'll all live to tell about it (in another blog post, no doubt).

With that, the three of us wish you and your loved ones a happy week of Thanksgiving and gratitude, from our terrifying, completely out-of-control, insanely chaotic home to yours.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Love means frequently having to say you're sorry ...

The goal:  Determine whether last year's Christmas sweaters still fit.

The outcome: Fashion show for my own amusement.  Followed by a generous donation of teeny tiny Christmas dog sweaters to the doggie daycare collection bin and two humiliated canines with body image issues.

Dear guys,

Sorry. Again.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

My dogs have to pee ...

... and I won't let them.

Now, before you threaten to call PETA* (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) under the assumption that I am actually refusing to let my dogs empty their bladders or withholding regular walks and outdoor play time, let me explain.

I know you should never begin a confession with a defensive argument as to why your sin is justified in the first place.  But let me just say this:  My dogs would stop to lift their legs on every single plant, hydrant, car tire, and (as in one rather unfortunate case) small child, if I let them. (No children or dogs were harmed in the making of that scene, and, sad fact, both rather enjoyed it, which actually turned out to be more disturbing than the pee incident itself.)

The thing is, for every twenty-seven and a half times Beckett and Gatsby lift their legs, between twenty-three and twenty-four of those are false alarms, where nothing comes out of them except some hyper-alpha-dog urge to mark territory that is not, and never will be theirs. It's a strange - often annoying - little power trip they take me on when I let them, and it makes the neighbors chuckle -- probably because their dogs are "one and done" urinators, so they've never known the pain of a pulled rotator cuff caused by a way-too-hard leash pull toward yet another perfect pee spot.  Another perfect pee spot, might I add, that ends up being nothing more than another perfect place to point out just how much authority I don't have.

So, in the interest of time management and of exercising a reasonable amount of leash control, I've developed a pretty adequate, usually-successful method of working through this; Basically, I just keep walking.  As Beckett's trainer continually reminds me when I email her to lament some new DogMom failure that I know will make her laugh as hard as it makes me cry, "You are the Master.  You set the pace. And you Must. Not. Deviate."

(Aside:If I am the Master in this scenario, then why am I always the one carrying little rainbow-colored bags of dog poop around, as if I just scored the worst Halloween handout ever? I am Master of neither of these guys. Sure, I'm legally and financially responsible for their health and well-being, but I just want to make sure we're using accurate language to describe what's really going on here. That's all.)

Anyway, according to this trainer, who is a brilliant dog-whisperer type right in my own backyard (her assumptions about me as Master notwithstanding, of course), I'll know when they actually have to pee, and they'll get used to my assertive approach.

"They'll learn to pee when they have to and walk when they have to and play when they're allowed to, because you must distinguish between play walks and potty walks."

And she's right. Somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of allowing them to decide how our walks would go. The result: Two dogs who actually developed the ability to mime urination. They  got to the point of elevating their various leg-lifting poses and contortions to an art form akin to interpretative dance or performance yoga.  Which always makes me wonder why they can't seem to pee over or around  or at least to the side of their own leashes. Then again, why not pee on them ... if you can? 

And herein lies the struggle, because I'm nothing if not efficient.  And goal-driven. And determined to earn a big gold star from the universe no matter what I do.  In that regard, training my dogs to maintain a reasonable walking pace and pee a reasonable amount of times feels no different than writing my MFA thesis or applying for a million dollar grant or buying my first home alone.  It's all about this arbitrary points system of my own creation, and if I'm not careful, I risk turning my poor little guys into playing pieces in this crazy game of "Haskins vs.The Universe."

I realized all this yesterday, when I felt a tug on Gatsby's leash and looked behind me to see what he was doing.  I was ready to say "Leave it" or "Drop it" - still my constant refrain with him every time we leave the house - but instead, I saw my poor little Schnuggle hopping along behind me on three legs, his fourth raised to the side, peeing in mid-air as we marched down the road.  Beckett, as usual, seemed torn between his desire to have a full blown panic attack and his tendency to love what he thinks of as "favorite dog status" whenever Gatsby gets disciplined for misbehaving.  I was simultaneously horrified that I had forced my poor dogs to pee while walking, and impressed that Gatsby had accepted the challenge and was actually getting quite an impressive arc while maintaining his balance. Suddenly, I was that person who, in the interest of saving five seconds by not pulling into someone's driveway when dropping them off, contemplates asking "Would you mind just jumping out the door while I slow down the car a bit?"

They're both ridiculously pampered, these pooches of mine, but they're also tough, resourceful little buggers who figure stuff out and manage to get through life with what often look like smiles.  At least to me.  I guess it's possible they have gas.  In fact, given their combination of stomach problems and food hording issues, gas is the most likely cause of any and all canine facial expressions in this house.

Needless to say, this morning's walk was slower, and I was more attentive.  I took their cues, and made them take mine, too.  We stopped a reasonable amount of times to pee and a reasonable amount of times to smell things and lick things and greet other dogs, and then we moved on.  Sure, they tried to do the nonstop leg-lifting thing, but I urged them forward, and we actually made home earlier than usual.

It's pretty amazing what you notice when your dogs force you to slow down, pay attention, and respond in the moment.  

*Please call PETA's Animal Cruelty line, at 757-622-7382,  any time you witness or suspect that any animal is being abused or neglected.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parental Inconsistency Kills Socks

DogCondo Food Rule #1:
If I don't personally hand it to you, you don't eat it.

Exception to DogCondo Food Rule #1:
If , after a long, exhausting day, I am no longer in possession of the energy required to bend over and pick up the edibles that just fell off the kitchen counter, or the dining room table, or the couch, or pretty much any surface that is not your bowl, you may disregard DogCondo Food Rule #1.

When I first adopted these little canines, I researched various parenting theories, thinking that, aside from some obvious differences that the most fanatical pet parents often fail to recognize (thereby giving those of us who are only mildly fanatical about our pets a bad name in the process), pets and children share some remarkable similarities (the most important of which, I have learned over the years, is that you should bring neither puppy nor baby into your life simply because you want an effortless relationship with a cute, cuddly little being. Yes, they offer that loveliness, but only after so much lost sleep and lost money and lost sanity that by the end of the day, the only thing you're good for is hugging. And drooling. And muttering "Why must you seek to destroy me day after day after heart-wrenching day?").

During my beginner DogMom years, first to the highly anxious, familiarly phobic, at times a little depressed Beckett and then, three years later, to Gatsby, who blew into our family with his unique (read: demanding) personality and his interesting (read: terrifying) ability to sense the slightest crack in my determination to discipline him, I did manage to find some hope in all the books and experts and websites out there. I also noticed that they all agreed that consistency is the hallmark of raising healthy, well-adjusted little ones with good impulse control and calm, obedient personalities.

Bingo! It's all about setting boundaries and following through. Every. Single. Time. How great to have this kind of information! How helpful! 

Unless, of course, you're so wiped out and busy as heck and lulled into a false sense of "My dogs are over that whole chewing/misbehaving/destructive stage," that you once again forget to apply all your brainy book-learnin' to real life. 

And so, tonight for dinner, Gatsby ate his carefully measured Lamb and Brown Rice dog food, a "please leave me alone for 2 minutes so I can get a few things done" beef stick, the spoonful of chickpeas that fell off the kitchen counter (and that I couldn't scoop up in time) the two baby carrots that fell off the dining room table (and that I couldn't scoop up in time), the single pumpkin seed that fell out of my hand (and that I didn't even have the energy to pretend to pick up by then), and half of my grey sock (that likely beckoned to him "Bon appetit, Dude! She's way too out of it to care at this point!").

 Beckett simply watched the whole messy scene unravel, his anxiety disorder on high alert, til he finally ran and hid behind the downstairs toilet (his refuge during bad weather, town fireworks displays, and Gatsby episodes).

As for the sock - may it rest in peace after living such a short time on this Earth (and leaving behind its sad widowed mate, now destined for the cleaning rag bin). I s'pose, as with every other personal item I've lost over the years, this, too, will all come out in the end. I'll let you know in about 10 hours.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A DogMom's Vegan Irony

Each day opens with new hope: "Maybe today we'll land some juicy prime rib table scraps."

Each day ends with their slightly defeated willingness to settle for better-than-nothing roasted broccoli and green beans instead.

I fear this may be inhumane.


My dogs think I hate them

Because sometimes, Love shows up disguised as Punishment wrapped in matching Halloween bat costumes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Doggie Daycare: It's all about me.

Today I took my boys to doggie daycare ... so I could have a quiet evening to write. That they love doggie daycare and think it's the happiest place on Earth didn't even factor in to my decision.

I'm ashamed. Sorta.