Archives for posts with tag: dogs

The weather was perfect. Waldo and I had a great walk. The Kid called me as I was driving to work, and we had a fine chat; she called me “the best mom ever.” I walked into the store with the sense that I was in charge; I could take it or leave it, and I liked my co-workers very much.

I had an excellent lunch- a beautiful soup made by Dr. T.  A friend from my last job sent me a message just to say hello.

I spent the afternoon off the sales floor, doing work in the office with my general manager (the big boss) at my side. We talked. I got everything I needed to do finished, and stayed a little late to handle a customer who was unhappy with somebody else. He and his wife were both satisfied by the time I left. My GM was happy too.

Dr. T fixed a nice dinner, we  watched some TV, and laughed at the dog and the cat.

Sometimes the smallest, most ordinary days are the best. I am very grateful to have noticed this one.

You’ve heard before how much I enjoy walking.  Last year, I logged at least 400 miles, right here in my neighborhood. I know this because of a cute little app on my phone. (I believe I have also mentioned that I am something of a dork, with mild OCD.) I say “at least” 400 miles because some of my walks did not conform to my standards for logging them (again with the OCD dorkitude) and sometimes I forgot to set the app.

This same app forces me to acknowledge that until today,  my last walk was on New Year’s Eve day, 2012.

I had not taken one walk this entire year.

A minor medical procedure on January 2nd left me with several stitches on my foot. I was instructed to stay off the foot as much as possible for three weeks. A dutiful patient, I complied.

The weather in January and February was largely awful: rainy and bitterly cold, and the sun set so early. My work schedule was unpredictable. My next door walking buddy continued to be unavailable. Other domestic issues arose, and that walk I was always going to take “tomorrow” failed to materialize. I can easily list the reasons I did not walk on any given day, but the big question remains:

Why is it so hard to do something that is free, simple, and enjoyable? I know that I feel better on every level when I make time for a walk, and yet somehow I  managed not to take one for months. Bad habits are hard to break, and good habits, once broken, seem hard to resume.

I suspect walking falls into the same category as some of my other, frequently neglected, favorite pastimes: reading, writing, drawing and sewing. They serve no one but me, and generate no income. I feel selfish when I indulge in them, and have an uneasy sense that I should be doing something more worthwhile.

Which is ridiculous, because I don’t necessarily do anything else.  I just deny myself the enjoyment of those activities, ending up flabby, sluggish and out of sorts. And Waldo suffers.

It’s also ridiculous because what I feel is antithetical to what I know;  I feel that I am being selfish and non-productive, but I know that exercise is critical to physical and mental health.

This morning, before anything else could interfere, I dressed for a walk, except for my shoes. There was no way I’d get a cup of coffee (or two) in before heading out if Waldo saw my sneakers.  Fortified by caffeine, I hooked up the dog and off we went.

Barely across the street, at Waldo’s first pit stop, I felt the comfort of a familiar routine. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been off it so long, and hard to understand why.

We got a little over 2 miles in today (thank you, app!) and I am shooting for 3 tomorrow.

Don’t ask  whether I’m a Dog Person or a Cat Person. I will steadfastly reply “Both.” In my view, a home is incomplete without (at minimum) one of each. For the first time in nearly nine long years, my home is complete, in that sense at least.

The yang of our big boy Waldo has been balanced by the yin of petite Willow.  He is all energy and action, and can’t for the life of him fathom why his bouncing invitations to play are being rejected. He does not see what Willow sees clearly: he is eight times her size.

Both of our pets came from the same shelter, where they received their coincidentally symmetrical names.  Adopted a little over a year apart, they have been adapting to one another for about three months.

I didn’t intend it, but they “match.” Both of them have white socks on their feet, and seem to be wearing white turtleneck “dickies” (some of  you will remember those. Weren’t they ridiculous?) Willow is a tortie/calico, and Waldo seems to be German Shepard based, in color and markings at least.

Waldo’s feet are long and narrow, with big webbed toes. Hound feet, although when he was a pup, they made him seem part wombat to me. He’s grown into them now, and they are just part of his general handsomeness.

Willow’s feet are another thing altogether. I love them. Her front paws are just slightly larger than my thumb, and she has little pink toes!  Those little toes pad after me down the hall along with Waldo’s clackety gallumphing. They swat at Waldo when he gets too frisky, and gently explore the space on the couch when she squeezes in between Waldo and me to curl up for a nap.

I dearly  love my dog, but I have longed for a cat. Willow does not disappoint. She is just friendly enough. At night, she happily sleeps in a basket in the laundry room, but will curl up with me for an afternoon nap. She purrs freely, and will rub her face against mine in greeting. She has an almost silent “meow,” which she rarely utters. She is lovely to look at, with an almost cartoonishly sweet face.

Fog is not the only thing that creeps in on little cat feet; happiness does too.

For as long as I can remember, I have been addicted to ephemera (more on this later, I warn you now) which means that I have an embarrassing number of boxes, baskets, and files of old photos, postcards, schoolwork (not just The Kid’s, but mine) and so forth.
Yes, I am sentimental, but I tell myself that I am also something of an historian, or social scientist, and I will make some meaningful use of this material “someday.” But mostly I am sentimental. I had a bulletin board at my last “real” job that was covered with work-related memorabilia: thank you notes from clients and interns, office photos, etc. Those went into my work tote when I left in June of ’11, and stayed there until recently. (My little job is starting to become more “real” and the work tote is back in play.)

The contents of the tote ended up in an open cardboard box on the floor of the guest room/office/holding area.

Waldo and I like to hang out there; I cruise the internet play lexulous work at the computer or read. Waldo sprawls on the floor or keeps watch on the neighbors.
Waldo is growing up. He is much more in control of his behavior; the biting, jumping, and chewing are tapering off. He can be left unsupervised for longer times, and when he does commit a doggy crime, he seems remorseful. Mostly.

I was home alone with him this evening, and I let my guard down. We went outside a few times, I fed him and we spent some quality time on the couch. Then I got engrossed in a book. It was quiet. Too quiet. I checked on him. He was in the guest room, on the floor, happily engaged with his Kong. Back to my book I went.

We went out again, and I returned to my book. Time passed, and I told myself I was probably pressing my luck. Back to the book. (Bossypants by Tina Fey- yes, I am behind the curve, and yes, you MUST read this)

The next time I checked on my boy- think Mena Suvari and rose petals in American Beauty, only she is a shepard/hound/whatever mix dog, and the rose petals are paper shreds.

I found remnants of a paycheck from my last job, the return label from a card from my friend Teri, and pieces of a card signed by someone named Kate. That’s the one that baffled me. I knew two women with that name: a former co-worker, who never wrote me a card, to my best recollection, and the sister of the guy who dumped me on the day I met TMIM. I don’t remember getting any correspondence from her, either. It’s not like the card was simply signed- there were fragments of sentences all over the place.

I am curious, but not to the point of greeting card reconstruction. I scooped all of the soggy remnants up and into the trash they went.

To understand this story, you must understand a little about our backyard: It consists of two levels, the lower of  which includes a modest swimming pool. The lower level is mostly paved,  and is surrounded by a brick wall. The rear brick wall is interrupted by  steps leading to the upper part of the yard, which is mostly “wild,” covered in ivy and plant debris. There is a short wooden gate at the bottom of the steps.

This morning, as usual, I was taking Waldo to the upper portion of our backyard to conduct his personal business. Because he is a relentless digger, we keep him on a leash for these excursions. As we stepped outside, we both noticed our neighbors’ orange cat perched on the brick wall. I said hello, Waldo began to bark. I crouched to calm him down, and to remind him that We Like This Kitty. Before I could accomplish that, I caught something in my peripheral vision, headed our way. A squirrel? Vole? Mouse? Please, not a rat! A BABY BUNNY! How cute!  As I was attempting to register this surprising episode of adorableness, the bunny leapt into the pool.

I entreated Waldo to stay still and be calm, realizing as I did  that there was no chance of that happening. I kept one  eye on him and the other on the cat as I sat at the pool’s edge, attempting to grab the rabbit with my free hand.  As my feet hit the water I recognized the complete awkwardness of what I was doing. I was now close enough to see that the rabbit was injured, and finally made the connection between kitty and bunny. I also remembered the pool net.

Back on my feet, I reached for the net. With Waldo’s leash planted under one foot, I was able to scoop out the rabbit. I left him on the ground, wrapped in the net, while I made my way up the stairs with Waldo, who was deeply interested in all of this, but remarkably manageable.

I spoke firmly to the cat, took Waldo inside, and called for backup from TMIM.

Making plans to search for a  local wildlife rescue, I poured my first coffee of the morning and headed back outside. “He’s in the bushes,” said Dr. T, “he’s pretty chewed up.”

So much for the rescue plan: I was not about to crawl through the Nandina searching for this poor scared creature, but I could do one thing. Coffee in hand, I called to the cat. We are old friends, and he immediately followed me to the side yard.  I sat on the step; he hopped onto my lap. We chatted. I reminded him of my previous admonitions against killing and maiming the birds and critters in my yard. He might have pretended to agree with me, but I know he is still a stone cold killer. I just hoped to distract him long enough to allow the  bunny  to escape or die in peace.

I know nature is harsh. Rabbits are prey animals, and cats will kill. I know that dozens, if not hundreds, of life or death dramas play out in and around my yard. I’d just rather not participate.

My mom used to say, “Age is a state of mind,” which is of course, the companion phrase to “You are only as old as you feel.”

On Thursday, I took my usual walk with my next door neighbor (4.2 miles this time) before working a busy eight-hour shift at the store. I got home shortly after  8:00 p.m., visited with Dr. T and Waldo, and had a snack. Another neighbor, with whom I have occasionally started walking in the evenings, texted me. Would Waldo and I care to join her and her dog for a stroll? Sure.

I hooked up the dog and headed down the street. I enjoyed a pleasant visit with my neighbor on the deserted creek side path, smelling the honeysuckle and admiring the sky, laughing at the dogs losing their minds at the smell of the deer in the distance.

We talked about our days. “You must be exhausted,” my neighbor said when she heard about mine. “Not really,” said I, “I actually feel pretty good.”

I’m not sure how far the second walk was, but I was gone about an hour, and I know that the round trip from my house to the trailhead at the end of my neighbor’s street is one mile, so I am guessing roughly two or three miles total. Knowing I did not have to work the following day, I stayed up for a while.

Yesterday, I had an early appointment with the doctor. I came home, did some general straightening around the house and helped Dr. T with some pool-related chores in the backyard. I vacuumed the living room and family room carpets. I picked up the dry cleaning and dropped off a pair of pants for alterations. I got home around 2:30, and by 3:00 I was headed back to bed, completely flummoxed as to why I was so dang tired. Then I thought about Thursday.

Writing this, I am reminded of my 10th high school reunion, way back when. We danced and drank and carried on, and the next day there was an informal picnic at a neighborhood park. I still remember what  my classmate Joel said that afternoon: “It didn’t seem like ten years last night, but it sure does today.”

It’s always the next day that gets you, isn’t it?

…on the way to wherever it is I am trying to go. Those sneaky 10 pounds I mentioned have crept away, taking  a couple of their pals. I attribute that in large part to my little job, since it keeps me moving for hours at a time, and prevents me from freely accompanying TMIM out to lunch and breakfast in The Land of The Fried Potato (where I am helpless to resist.) I’ve also been able to walk regularly with my neighbor, new puppy (walks with him are “bonus” walks), and now, he and I are also walking another neighbor and her dog. Of course, I’ve also made a point of incorporating more of the foods I used to eat while I was living alone, so all of those things help. Because I was not actively “trying” to lose the weight, I can’t really say how long it took, but I did start to notice the drift somewhere around March.

The funnier thing that happened is that we have realized that my fundamental assumption about this move- that I would have to have a “real” full-time job or we’d be in trouble- has been blown to smithereens. Sure, we’d get things done around here a lot quicker if I had a bigger paycheck, but we are bumping up on a year soon, and I am guardedly optimistic.

Maybe it’s getting out from under the pressure of feeling solely responsible for my family’s financial existence, maybe it’s spring, maybe it is getting some distance from the emotional maelstrom attendant to my mom’s passing, but suddenly I am feeling a little more positive about finding that elusive “big girl job.”

This morning I spotted a posting for the job I used to do in California at an agency in a neighboring county. I applied, no longer in the spirit of desperation, but with the sense that getting an interview would be a win. (I would be happy to take the job if it were offered, but my dream job in the field is a step or two above it. I’d be thrilled just to have face to face conversations with my professional community at this point, considering the complete lack of response I got last summer.) If they don’t call me, I’ve lost nothing, and I have other interests to explore, don’t I?

I feel that I can capture that elusive future job in the same way I escaped from those sneaky pounds: by moving forward and doing what I know is right in furtherance of my larger goals.

(maybe) and German Shepard…(maybe.)

Waldo Zeller has been with us for about three weeks now, and we all still have our training wheels on. He is the first puppy I have had in 25 years. He is also twice as big as my last puppy grew up to be. His present and future size demand that I be a better doggie disciplinarian this time around.

He came to us with very good manners: in the car, with food, and on the leash. We have had very few in-house indiscretions. He is affectionate. I am pleased to report that he is not alarmed by thunderstorms or vacuum cleaners. He spends much of his time napping or watching “Waldo TV” (looking out the family room window) and has not yet been much of a barker. Passing trucks, school buses, and pedestrians with dogs do not incite him to riot. He has adapted to his crate with good grace.

After the first week, TMIM and I were congratulating ourselves on finding the perfect dog. And then Waldo got comfortable in his new digs.

While he still  happily trots out to the part of the backyard reserved for his personal business, and performs it, he has lost interest in trotting happily back inside in a timely fashion. Instead, he has chosen to make that a game of “Nanny nanny boo-boo- can’t catch me!”  He has begun to dig frantically and joyfully in random places, and not so random places: Dr. T’s little herb garden, for example.

Minor infractions.

Our bigger issue is “biting inhibition.” This boy is big, and has the teeth to go with it. The trainer at the shelter said, very reasonably, to ignore the bad behavior and reward the good. I agree in principle. I am having a slight problem ignoring the fact that fangs have broken my skin. My hands look very much as though I have been in a wicked bar brawl – various small scabs and bruised knuckles on both hands. (Clearly, I must have won- my face remains unscathed.) He is even more rambunctious with The Kid , and most respectful of TMIM- it clearly has to do with the way we interact with him.

I know he is playing, and that this is a phase. Sometimes I am happy with the way I deal with him; sometimes not. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to him, and to everyone else he comes into contact with- just the way I felt about The Kid.

We will get through his adolescence together, and mercifully, in less than human teen time. With any luck, this time all the scars  will be merely physical.

Maggie the Wonder Dog came to us a few short months after the death of my first child, a Cocker Spaniel named Ashley, who predated my whole marriage and family life.

When Ashley died, I decreed a year of mourning; there would be no dog to automatically “replace” her. It was a noble thought. I did not fully consider at the time of this pronouncement that my husband was deeply into the demands of his doctoral studies and my child was deeply into the demands of third grade social life. I got bored and lonely pretty quickly after Ashley’s passing in June of  1999.

In September, TMIM took  it upon himself to surprise us with Maggie. In response to his call,  I came home early  from work to find a shyly submissive big black Lab mix creeping toward me  when I walked in the front door .That first night, we heard Maggie barking relentlessly in the backyard. She had treed a possum. Through the years, Maggie continued to bark relentlessly, at visitors, trespassing cats, UPS trucks, and anyone else with the temerity to enter her field of vision.

The one page medical record that we got with Maggie told us that she was about two and a half years old, and  that she’d had one litter of puppies before she was spayed. We learned at our  first vet visit that she had heart worms. Several hundred dollars later, she was fine, and she settled into the family. She and I spent the most time together, ambling through the neighborhood or dozing  away Saturday afternoons on our big old couch in the family room. Despite the fact that I was the one who walked, fed and brushed her most of the time, Maggie considered TMIM as “alpha.” She clearly preferred him to me; it was kind of cute, really.

She was a nervous girl; lots of things spooked her. She was particularly bothered by men in ball caps and/or sunglasses. Sudden noises startled her. She calmed down over the years, but never became the social butterfly we had hoped. At The Kid’s soccer game, she would sit as far away from the group as her leash would allow, looking away from the action. When she and I walked on our neighboring cul de sac, where the other dogs played off leash, she would submit to inquisitive sniffs from them, and then wander off, nosing at random bushes.

She was an unrepentant food thief, enjoying among other things, a stick of butter, one of my very expensive Christmas chocolate bars, and countless bagels my trusting husband incautiously dangled at her nose level. In addition to these more traditional treats, she had a real fondness for Dove cleansing bars, box and all. She survived her dietary crimes, as well as two tumors.

Maggie rode with us from North Carolina to California in 2001, and blazed the return trail with TMIM in 2008.  She adjusted to our new bicoastal life with us, and seemed to thrive in her old environment. TMIM reported that one afternoon he had been unable to find her in the backyard, and finally realized that she had hopped the two foot high planter wall to find a cool spot to rest under the azaleas. When I visited, we happily resumed our meanderings.

“I’ve been trying to decide whether to tell you this,” said my husband during one of our daily phone calls.  Before I could complete my mental inventory of all of the things I would not want to hear, he went on to explain that Maggie had been diagnosed as having a degenerative  neurological condition that caused her back end to disconnect with her front end. She would eventually lose the use of her rear legs while remaining completely alert mentally. It sounded like the cruelest possible ailment for a dog who loved going for a walk second only to eating.

The diagnosis was made during the summer of 2010. Maggie became increasingly unsteady on her feet. Getting up and down took longer. It was nerve-wracking to walk her: we had no idea of how long this irreversible disease would take before its dreaded conclusion. Watching her stand sometimes was like looking at a particularly well worn card table- one set of legs stood at right angles, but the other pair stood at a tilt such that you expected it to collapse at any moment.

And yet she remained with us. I took to calling her “Wonder Dog” when I moved back in June. Really? A year after we were told to expect the worst, and you are here? I started taking her for more walks, far shorter than our old ones, but still. I can’t say that it was any less nerve-wracking, but she enjoyed it so much. (In the past, I’d lost several good sweaters after she snagged them with her toenails in her jumps for joy at the sight of the leash. I learned to step back about as soon as TMIM learned to stop thinking his bagels were safe when she was nearby.)

Just days ago, Maggie was running and jumping when I picked up the leash.( She could jump right to the end; she just couldn’t stick the landing anymore.) She went down for the last time Sunday night in the kitchen. It was appropriate, I guess; she’d spent so many hours there waiting for someone to drop something or toss something in her direction. (Have you ever peeled carrots at a dog? Fun for the whole family.) And now she is gone.

It’s a cliche to say that I learned things from my dog, but I have. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be much good at anything to leave a gaping hole when you leave the people who love you. I have also learned that you can’t let the fear of something bad happening stop you from taking the walk.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (

Greggory Miller

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wings and things