Monday, December 29, 2014

Squaring My Shoulders

The tile sucks heat from the bottoms of my feet as I wander through the house. The contrast to my hot fuzzy head is pleasant, as is the six-pound ball of tangled hair and wheezing snores cuddled against my neck.

Snocone, our completely crazy mill dog, is slipping away from us. Neurological damage, caused from 8 years or so crammed into a cat carrier, is going to finally get her. She circles to the left for hours, falls and bangs into walls. Her little birdy bones jut under my hand, the muscles in her hindquarters are atrophied from the deadly progression of the damage, and sometimes she cries in pain and confusion.

 It's two in the morning and a lovely cocktail of flu and Parkinson's has made my chest tight and painful, my cough is skewed. My lungs lock at the exhale and refuse to give, a portent of the years to come. Scary, scary shit at the loneliest hour of the night. The trials of our dying dog are exhausting, and I haven't slept for days, but feeling  her relax against me, letting my heartbeat soothe her into sleep, this comforts me too.

After four years, it's time to put our lovely little girl down.

"She isn't going to make this easy," my vet warned.

Snocone has finally begun to open her senses to the world. She wants to run with the other dogs in the house. She has left her world of isolation and looks to Jim and I for comfort, companionship and to ease her pain. She has learned to beg, to demand, and trust us to provide. When she is held by the vet, or groomer, she searches the room to find me, then meets my eyes. She doesn't plead, she demands I bail her out of her predicament.

At twelve years old, she has finally learned to crave contact with us and trust us to be there, she wants with all her dogness to be our dog -- and her body is letting her down. She  has no intention of curling up in a corner and dying quietly. We're going to have to make the decision for her.

Every time we try to discuss it, tears cascade down Jim's face. His stroke keeps knocking down his walls of self-control. I know the flood of tears are a symptom of his current state of mind, he can't stop the wave of raw emotion.

It doesn't make it easier to watch him clutch his dog and cry. He has lost the ability to take care of others, instead he is cared for, a very hard place for him to be. He can and does care for Snocone. She has eased his way on the very rough road he's been dumped on.

I walk the floor. Brockle is at my hip, his head barely touching my thigh. Snocone shifts and sighs. The weight of our future digs its talons even farther into my shoulders. I think about the cold tile against my feet and the tiny dog, so relaxed, in my arms. Tomorrow, in the light, I'll pick it all up again, but for now, it's just this.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Remember When?

I am buried in dogs. Not just the four we live with, but books, trainer brain picking, videos, FB pages and websites.

My hyper-focus (some call it OCD, but hey, shut up) is in high drive, much as it was aimed at horses during my training years. It's a good thing. I have something to think about, a puzzle to piece together, a place for my mind to explore that takes me away from the tough stuff.

The information makes my head spin. Positive training, clickers, shock collars, treats, rally, good citizens, red zones, and breed bans. I'm researching and studying ALL of it. Concepts, tools and definitions I had never considered before I jumped into this morass of education, tradition and opinion.

When it comes to opinions, I spook like Madonna at a loose hay tarp blowing across the pasture. My time training horses taught me to watch, listen and keep my yap shut. I know for a fact that opinions shift as education progresses, and it's best to keep mine to myself for now. If I don't shout, write or assert myself publicly, I don't end up clinging to a wheelbarrow full of shit, just because I thought it was gold a month ago.

Horses still swirl through every step I take in my canine education. They have to, my moral code, thought process, and ability to learn and teach all come from horses. Even my personal relationships are based on what horses have taught me. Treat me fair, make things clear, be consistent, and I'll stick with you. If not, well, I'll buck you off, kick you in the face and trot off with my nose in the air.

I've been remembering back when I was a kid. I pay attention when these thoughts surface, because I learned through the horses, as a kid, some of my basic instincts were spot on. After I started to understand all the training folderol I realized I had some solid natural instincts, and some good basics pounded into me by the old-timers who helped me with Mort, my first horse. Same with the dogs.

So here we go. These aren't opinions... just thoughts.

I was a kid, oh, 47 years ago...yes, that would be the  1960's.

Dogs were dogs, not fur-kids, not "people too," and definitely not allowed on the furniture.
As a child, I was allowed to think our Samoyed, Linus, was my brother or my best friend, but that was kid stuff.

Children were not supposed to be bitten by dogs. If they were bitten once, they knew to stay away from that dog. If they didn't, and were bitten again, they were stupid and apt to get in trouble.

Owners with mean dogs kept them chained or behind fences. They were honest about the dog being mean. A BEWARE of DOG sign meant what it said. That way, everybody but the stupid kids, stayed away from them.

If we drove up to a property that had loose dogs, we waited in the car until someone called them. Not only was it polite to wait until invited out of our car, we knew that loose dogs would guard their property and we might get bit.

Dogs got in fights sometimes. If they did, the kids backed up and let them fight, because they knew that they could get bit and there was that "get in trouble for being stupid" deal. There were some horrific fights, but nobody died.

There were no dog parks.There were no leash laws, but dogs were all on leashes, because it kept them safe. If a dog was the kind who could be let loose to join in a game of kickball (we didn't play soccer) then it was, if it would wander or fight, it was tied to a tree. The tied dogs just sat there and hung out, because nobody cared if they barked or cried. They were dogs.

When a person got a dog, they got the breed of dog that would do the job they needed done. Because dogs weren't children, they were dogs. If you got the right kind of dog, it would do the job you needed. Dogs were way better than kids.

Setters, Pointers and Spaniels were used to field hunt. Retrievers went to water. Some breeds crossed over to both. Setters, Spaniels, Labs and Goldens were known to be good with kids. Pointers were high strung and could be iffy. Chesapeakes and Weimeraners were not good with kids. Nobody called them mean, but they were called tough, or all business.

Many hunters believed kids shouldn't play with their hunting dogs. Specific breeds could survive a crossover, but Cocker Spaniels and Irish Setters were held up as an example of a good dog ruined by becoming popular family dogs. My Dad go a Golden Retriever for that very reason. They were excellent family dogs, but could still be counted on in the field. He would, however, point out the ruined mess that is the modern Golden to back up the old-timers wisdom.

If you lived in an apartment you got a little dog. You still walked them.

I had a friend, Mary, who lived with her mom. They moved a lot and rented, so she had a Japanese Chin. It was my first intro to a small dog. She was sweet and loving and slept with Mary in her bed. I made fun of her dogs flat face because I was jealous. Sorry Mary, I was such a punk.

Dobermans and GSD were guard dogs. If you needed guarding you got one. Old people had Pugs, Bulldogs and Pekingese because they walked slow. Non-hunting families had poodles, cock-a-poos (they were a new thing), mutts, the occasional Dalmation and Dachshunds. There were huskies. They belonged to families with lots of kids who spent lots of time outside. They were yard dogs, not farm dogs, because they were runners and ate stuff.

Most families had one dog. Hunters often had multiples.

I never saw a Pitt Bull and rarely saw a hound. There was a cool Boxer, Rocky, on our street. When I asked my Dad if Boxers were good dogs, he said, "They're the gentlest of the bull dog kind of dogs. If you play with him he'll be rough, but he won't hurt you."

Dad was right, Rocky was fun, but I came home covered with red lines all over me, his frigging claws were like rakes.

It was pretty simple. People got the dog they thought they needed. Most of the time it worked out. I knew a lot of old dogs. I knew good ones and bad ones. People didn't automatically get "rid of," the bad ones. They did however hold themselves personally responsible for their dogs behavior. People didn't get turned into the police or the humane society unless a dog was truly a danger and was never contained. People didn't sue and paid for their own stitches.

We didn't understand how dogs thought, we didn't use clickers, we spanked them when they were bad. Of course children were spanked too.

Dad trained his dogs to hunt with hand signals and his voice. He didn't use shock collars or treats. He didn't want to make his dogs afraid of him, but he didn't want a dog to associate ducks with food either.

I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong, it's just how it was. I still think about it though.