Where There’s A Willow, There’s A Way

                                                                                 How Could You??

The puppy is now about a year and half old.  She has come a long way from berserk. four pound sheep hunter to wily, seventeen pound combination persistent nuisance to all things and loving, loyal member of our home pack.  She still has miles to go before we all sleep well, but the girl is on a good path.

I know a lot more now than I did “B.W.” (Before Willow).  My two other Jack Russells lulled me into a smug sense of security that time and training would produce a calm, stable, companionable dog in a year.  Willow has dispelled any notion I had that nurture can override nature, sort of like the false security you have that your software will protect you against Heartbleed or some other such insidious virus.  She has a prey drive second only to a hyena with the scream to match, and only another piece of prey can pull off one scent to another. There’s yet to be a cookie invented that can compete with a chattering chipmunk. Perhaps if I rolled myself in raw meat, I might have greater appeal to her, but I have this image in my mind of being taken down by coyotes or bears, or at least every other dog in the neighborhood save mine.

Her recall is spotty.  I don’t chase her any longer.  Long gone are the days when she would take off through out rural area, this mostly small white streak, with me in pursuit (usually in my bed slippers), through horse pastures, cow pastures, pig sties, and chicken coops.  If she leaves the farm perimeter (which is, admittedly, less often) for far-flung fields, that’s her choice.  It isn’t that I don’t care or that I don’t worry:  I’ve simply learned that the less I holler for her and simply take Martha and Gus inside or continue playing with them, the game is over.  She can’t stand not being the center of attention and comes back of her own accord out of curiosity about what she may be missing.  Like the new raw food treats.

She’s also taught me you can put everything you’ve got into a dog, but the dog has to want to meet you halfway.  A  dog makes choices, good and not so good.  Sometimes, you just have to wait until the brain is more mature and just hope the dog survives its less stellar choices.  Willow isn’t Gus, who walks at heel through the forest off leash, looks up for permission to chase a squirrel, and, now that he has the Tasmanian Devil as a little sister, has the patience of Job.  Martha, blissfully deaf and much less patient with Willow’s antics, snarls.  Any resemblance to my own human family life is purely coincidental.  Or maybe not.

I am hoping one day, in our dotage, to be glad after all that I brought her home.  I want to look back and, like labor, not really remember how the early days of our lives drove me to the brink of psychosis.  I want to be able to buy good sheets again without resigning myself to the holes that will be chewed in them.  And I would like to answer the front door like a normal person, not hiding behind the tiny crack like a hoarder, with dogs snapping at my heels to charge the unseen intruder.  I’m certain at this point, we’ve been removed from the Jehovah’s Witness visitors list, and I must admit, I miss having someone to talk to occasionally.

The Worst Dog Challenge

For all of my fellow dog bloggers, here’s a challenge for this month, inspired by one of my favorite dog sites, http://www.dogshaming.com (sorry, since I am not “techy”, I can’t get the “add a link” thingy to work in that cool way the rest of you can – pffft!):


Please post a photo (or two or three) and tag it “Dog Of Shame” (so we can find each other) of your dog’s worst crime against, say, your new love seat or roll of toilet paper or shoes. Even if you have the perfect pooch, perhaps that pooch has a past and evidence of that past will qualify you to join the challenge.

In this case, nobody wins or loses anything, but we can have some fun. And while you’re at it, have a look at Dog Shaming (especially on Fridays when they post adoptable dogs).

And let me know when you’ve posted. It will be so nice to know I’m not alone.

Rosemary’s Puppy

I am losing my mind.

Think Damien from “The Omen.” The head twisting horror of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”. I am living with Rosemary’s Puppy.

It's Alive It’s Alive

Don’t let this sleeping dog lie–she’s as alert as a highly caffeinated college junior during finals. We just returned from what can loosely be called a walk (she dragged Angus, poor Martha and me down our “practice” road, the one so boring it gives me a small chance of getting a tiny portion of her attention span) and while everyone else is knackered, she is merely cuddled next to Gus, pondering her next fiendish move.

We begin puppy school next week. In the interim, I’m supposed to be loading her with a Marker Word. And it can’t be “Nooooooooooo!” Damn. It’s actually “Yes”. I say “yes” and then shove tasty treats into her mouth.

The idea is any time she does anything that could remotely be construed as good behavior, I say “yes,” shove food, and she will magically make the connection between the word, the desired behavior and the food. Uh huh.

I’m meant to ignore all undesirable behavior. Digging up the plants in the garden. Chewing my sandals. Chewing the legs of my chairs. Chewing her crate. Jumping on Martha. Basically, ignore her at this point.

She does sit. She learned that the second day. So I reward that. “Yes,” I say, and shove food into her mouth.

I will either have the fattest, worst trained dog on the planet, who sits on command but tears my arm out of its socket when I walk her, chases cars, bikes, cows, horses and chickens, or I may have to start looking for a priest to perform an exorcism on a tiny puppy.

Sit. Stay. Love.

My husband is dead, and I am not.

If breathing qualifies as a vital sign, I am alive. I endure the ordeal of his cancer and death but didn’t anticipate the ordeal of survival.  After the caravan of condolences and casseroles, I still await the strength said to come to those who experience a tragedy that doesn’t kill them.

My husband is dead, and I am not.

Our bed is uncomfortably large, so I sleep on his side, then the middle, finally back on my side.  If there is no one on the other side, can there be a “my” side?  Isn’t the whole mattress now my side?

My husband is dead, and I am not.

I don’t know how to go to the damn grocery by myself, to shop for one, to cook for one, to sort laundry for one, to do everything for one.  I was good at being married; I don’t have the skill set for this un-married arrangement.

My husband is dead, and I am not.

I cry sitting among the clothes in his closet, taking in the smell of him.  I cry at the dry cleaners when I pick up his pressed shirts that will soon be worn by someone from Goodwill.  I cry at the mailbox when I see junk mail addressed to him.  I ‘m certain strangers see my red eyes and runny nose and assume I am on crack.

My husband is dead, and I am not.

I intimately know the stages of grief like I know the names of the Seven Dwarfs, and I want to press the fast forward button so that I might vault over the hugely unpleasant ones until I land like Mary Lou Retton on Acceptance.

My husband is dead, and I am not.

Dammit.  My heart still beats for him, pumping out love like a phone on automatic redial to a number no longer in service.

How can you hide, wrote Heraclitus, from what never goes away?


Stasis is wearing.

I clamber up a wrung on the Grief Ladder to Desperately Filling The Unfillable Void.

I sift through exotic travel brochures, paint the living room walls the warm golden brown my husband hated, haunt antique stores, cut four inches off my hair, sign up for a Spanish class.  I sigh.  A lot.

I join a grief support group for young widows and widowers.  Two intense hours each week re-living the trauma of death through the stories of others isn’t helpful.  It’s keeping me stuck.  I quit.

I go back to work.  I cry at my desk now.  My secretary tacks a sign on my door – “Enter At Your Own Risk.”  Apparently, along with my husband, my marriage, my world, I’ve lost the knack of “nice.”

One Saturday, my girlfriend, MB, talks me into walking dogs with her at the local no-kill shelter.  I tell her it is a one shot deal.  I’ve had dogs almost all my life; I love dogs.  I need to feel useful to someone.  They need volunteers.  This is a perilous combination for someone who has no intention of adding a dog to her life.  Did I mention I also have no willpower when it comes to puppy breath?

Then there’s this anxiety that shelter dogs will trigger more crying and sadness.  Who will be more depressed – me or the dogs behind bars?  An “aha” moment:  most of the dogs and puppies light up when they see me.  I know it isn’t me, per se; it happens when any human meanders into the kennel, especially those bearing food.

But there is at work that wonder of shelter dogs.  Somehow they retain the capacity to offer us another opportunity to discover the innate goodness they believe we possess.  Perhaps this is so because, to them, there is no God, no Universe, no Great Oz with whom to bargain and thus lose faith.  Despite every lousy thing they endure at our hands, they believe in us.  There is a Buddha at the other end of every leash.

I go back.  And keep going back.  In the morning before work.  In the evening after work.  Because something in me lights up when I enter the kennel.

I leash up different dogs each time.  That is my stipulation – I will not become emotionally attached to any one dog.  It will eliminate that sense of yet another personal loss when they, one by one, leave the shelter for their “forever” homes.

My mantra is:  “idon’tneedadog, idon’tneedadog, I.Don’t.Need.A.Dog.”

I don’t want to become one of those “dog people” I see in the park, who discuss the shape and consistency of poop, weigh the merits of various organic diets, speak of Cesar What’s-His-Name as if he is the Dog God.  I refuse to be that lame.

Naturally, I take Gus home.


He is a golden butterball of loose skin and gigantic paws, strange green eyes of delight and boundless energy for all things off-limits.  He eats his leather leash as it dangles from the hook by the door (I find only the clip end and a ragged bit of leather when I prepare to take him outside to potty 30 minutes later).  Pieces of it exit over the next few days via vomit and poop, and I’m not the least bit disgusted.

Rather, it’s intriguing, like watching a friendly space alien discover Earth.  Everything is fresh and cause for excitement.  Bugs, birds, curbs, grass, balls, bones, dust bunnies under the bed.  Me.  He eats the bed in his large crate.  I buy him another one with an unexpected élan.  I catch myself smiling and laughing.  He zooms everywhere then plops down on his bed in the living room in a coma until he awakens 15 minutes later for another adventure.

A puppy is not a substitute for a dead husband.  I know this.  He is a repository for a lot of unused love, and the act of loving is bringing much needed aliveness to my life. There’s empathy between us.  We’d both been discarded.  And, as the song goes, when something is lost, something else is found.  Sometimes it has a squeaker.

Gus goes to doggy daycare while I go to work.  His social life is richer than mine.  Although he is mingling with other puppies, he is not becoming trained, and he’s at the age at which he either is given free rein or boundaries within which his behavior must adapt.  I will not sacrifice another pair of Manolos as chew toys.

We sign up for puppy school.

The first lesson is walking on a leash.  I smugly think we’ve got this knocked; he’s been on leash since I brought him home.  The difference is that he hasn’t had to be attentive to me in a room with 10 other puppies, all as eager to play and wrestle.  Massive tangling of leashes, puppies and people ensues.  Unaccustomed to being told what to do, he demonstrates his disappointment by lying on the floor like a sandbag, content to make me drag him around the training circle.  He falls asleep.  I carry him to the car, and he gnaws on the seatbelt on the passenger side during the ride home.

Lesson Two begins with a short recap of Lesson One, and this time, Gus sighs, then trots gamely along my left side several times around the circle, making eye contact with me each time I say “Walk On.”  The bribe of desiccated liver in my hand doesn’t hurt.

I give the command for “Sit,” hold the leash up while pushing his growing butt down, and shove a tidbit in his mouth.  After a few repetitions, his green eyes watch for the cues, and the long, disgusting drool hanging from his lower lip waits for the liver.  It is a Pavlovian moment.  By the end of the night, he is walking on lead and coming to a halt/sit like the Best In Show at Westminster.

As the weeks progress, he adds about 20 pounds and a proportionate amount of inches to his frame along with “Look,” “Down,” “Up Sit,” and “Stay.”  Training is not just about discipline but bonding.  Teaching him “Stay” is surprisingly emotional for me.  He downs at one spot as I back away from him in incremental distances, motioning with my hand and repeating the “Stay” command.  I watch him quiver from a mix of separation anxiety and the anticipation of my returning to retrieve him, and I feel a similar anxiety and anticipation of reunion.  I also feel pride in him.  He is very, very good.

We sign up for the Advanced Class.  His proficiency and mine grow more refined.  If there were a ribbon for mutual trust and adoration, ours would be a blue one.

Gus graduates from his crate to sleeping on my husband’s side of the bed.  It’s good to feel the weight of his 75-pound body there.  We go out for ice cream cones together during our evening walks and talk about our day.  He’s making friends at the park.  So am I.  We discuss poop and diets, exchange training trips and telephone numbers.  God help me but I sometimes wear my “Dog Mom” t-shirt.  I have become one of “those” people.

My husband is dead, but I am not.


(c) 2011 Lisa Sennett Thomas