Thursday, March 28, 2013

Saying goodbye to our Bulldog. Change is bittersweet.

Over the past couple weeks, we wrestled a lot with what to do with our English bulldog Pops.  You've heard me gripe about him, but anyone with a dog will tell you dogs will sometimes drive you nuts.
But I love that goofy-looking guy.  Snoring and farting and all.  He possesses a certain charm. Really.

His torn ACL created a real problem for us, because even though he didn't seem to be suffering with it, he needed a lot more pampering and a lot less playing. 
"Less playing" is hard to accomplish in our house. 

My husband decided that Pops needed to have a "retirement home."  It was not an easy decision. 
Have I told you how much that man adores that bulldog?  
It's serious.  Like, total adoration, people.

We posted Pops' info on some rescue sites, and good grief, if we didn't get every wackadoo person (ok, some of them were probably nice) emailing and calling!  

Heaven help anyone using online dating if trying to find a normal-ish person for our bulldog is so ridiculous. That's all I can say.

Last week, in the midst of all this home-hunting for Pops, we very spontaneously welcomed a new member to our family:  Rigby Donkey Doodle Wheeler.  Rigs is a Goldendoodle puppy.  He is a hoot.

For a few days, we had all 3 dogs, and really truly they did great.  Pops is a natural with "kids."  He didn't care if Rigby was in his crate or pestering him.  I should learn to be more like Pops. 

Last week we found a really perfect home for Poppa through a couple friends.  Our kids said goodbye, and we took photos that no one can possibly see without choking up.  My hubby and I drove Pops to his new mama on Sunday.  

It's really hard to let go.  

In our hearts, we sometimes know it's time to make a change. 
To move through one season into the next. 
To let go of something or someone important. 
It's not easy stuff.  

My phone buzzes that a new text arrived.  
I click to open the message.
I see a bulldog lounging on a bean bag chair, snuggled up with baby blankets.  
He's in a barn, watching his mama work. 

I read the message. 
He sleeps in her bed (she is a saint to be willing to sleep within 45 feet of his snoring).
He loves going to work with her. 

I remember the things about Pops that make me smile.  His squinchy face.  His patience with puppies and children. His high maintenance emotions.  His trotting after my husband outside every summer, admiring him as he works.  

His bulldog smile. 

Pops climbing up the steps of the slide so he could slide down. Over and over. 
And over. 

Sometimes thinking about him makes me tearful.  (Ok, most of the time.)  
And Rigby can't fill Pops' shoes.  He isn't here to do that. 
No one can ever fill an empty space that someone else leaves. 
Our kids and ourselves, we just have to walk this out.

Silly 'doodle antics are fun, and we are enjoying all the good stuff going on here.  
Puppies will add sparkle to the day like nothing else. 

Goodbyes can live alongside hellos, and we just live with "both, and" not "either, or."

We have to feel our feelings, I think, in order to move forward. 
We're working on adapting to changes here.  

We're learning to think about what's best more than what's easy

Is there something YOU are working on letting go of?  Is there a change going on in your life?  What are some of the "goodbyes" and some of the "hello's" you have made?  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why my bulldog has spent his life wanting his butt scratched and what I'm doing about it.

Big Poppa, our bulldog and the most stubborn creature I've ever known in all my life, is like a totally new dog.  You remember his "issues"? 

My friend Jess, who I've referred to as a dog whisperer, because she is magically brilliant in understanding dogs' communication, is actually a doctor unlike any veterinarian I've ever met.  (If she ever sees patients, I'm taking my animals to her and so should you - but anyway)

She came to consult with me about Pops, whose peeing and barking had put him squarely on my "naughty list." It turns out he has some dominance issues, which surprised me for some reason.  He's kind of passive-aggressive (this is my non-professional assessment), so he is bossy but with a kind, innocent look on his face all the while.  I had thought 100% that Mabel, my tiny little Maltese-mix was the boss around here.

Pops likes his butt scratched.  This is the whole reason we bought Mabel.  Not to scratch his butt, but because my little dog Fifi died and I had doggie-snuggle withdrawal and all I could ever achieve for affection from Pops was the arse-end of him offered for a scratch.

Come to find out, this is dominance.

Jess showed me how to lean over his back when he offers me his "poppa" (this is Russian for "bum" - something we learned in Ukraine, when our friend asked what the dog's name meant, because in Russian Big Poppa means "big butt," which also is very appropriate for him).  So now, I pat his face, then when he turns back-to, I lean over him.  He dislikes this and licks his nose, and sometimes he'll just wiggle out and then turn his butt back to me again, so I do the all-fours walk to lean over him again.

But even the first day of our new "homework" routine, Pops changed.

The goal is for him to let me pat his face, to know that I will have conversations face to face.  And he's starting to get it.  The first evening, the very first one, he began to stay facing me for pats!!!

This, friends, is near miraculous.  For six years, I have only ever had the invitation to scratch his butt.  Do you even know how happy his foolish face makes me!?  I had tears in my eyes.  Truly I did.... This dog has aggravated me to no end with his peeing and barking and his big bulldog butt, and now he's showing me that he can change.  And that he's not hopeless and that we can work our relationship out in a new way.

It reminds me of something my dad used to say sometimes about relationships between people:  That people are always "responding to" us.  And we have this amazing ability to change dynamics in our relationships by changing what we do, which can create a new response.

It's really powerful stuff to consider that we can affect change in our relationships.  There is something very hopeful about dogs.  They live in the now, they want to please, they are so forgiving.  I think that loving a dog moves a part of our hearts that spills over a gentleness and a hopefulness into the rest of our lives.

Pops still may be wanting to pee on the sofa.  I don't know this for sure.  As much hopefulness as spills over from his behind not continually backing into me, I still am not ready to let him near the couch. I probably need to be the "pack leader" with my leaning-over-his-back exercise a bit longer before we go there.  I'm sentimental about Poppa, but it has limits.  We'll get a good week or so of face-to-face chats before we try opening up the den again.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bulldog Drama: The Notorious P.O.P.

(I couldn't resist the "Big Poppa" reference in the title.  If you were a 90's teen, you have that song stuck in your head.  If not, just never mind.)

We've had a week of bulldog-related drama here.  Good heavens, it's been crazy.

A week ago, I was about to lose my full mind (MY FULL MIND) because Big Poppa barked for almost an entire 4 hours.  If you need to break a person down mentally, just play a recording of a bulldog barking for 4 hours.  They will do ANYthing to make that stop.

If I had thought clearly enough to record him, I could have sold copies I'm sure.  For parents who've run out of constructive or effective discipline techniques, they could say, "Because you did such-and-such, you will now listen to 4 hours of bulldog barking," and I guarantee their child will never do said offense again.  It's torturous.

So, my hubby and I decided to try one of those electronic collars that zaps Pops a little every time he barks.  We had one years ago, because this in not a new problem.  I think Pops has so much neck-flab that he was able to shake it such that the zappy-thing was not on his voice box, rendering it useless.
(He's not as dumb as he looks.)

And because his neck is actually wider than his skull, I think he wrangled out of it and possibly chewed on it in an act of utter contempt.

Thus the new collar. The most expensive one they had at Petco.  I'm a frugal, penny-pinching girl.  But I was also desperate.

When Pops saw the collar he flattened himself out on the floor.
(I think he remembered the first one)

I put it on him, and not a single bark emerged from his mouth.  Not one.  He sat, jowls hanging, crooked underbite peeking out from below the tip of his tongue, which was sticking slightly out of his mouth.  This is the face he makes when he's not impressed.

The next day, I put the collar back on him, and he was very good all day.  Except at one point in the afternoon, Pops emerged from a nap in his crate unable to bear weight on his left hind leg.  He'd favored that leg at times but had always limbered up and walked normally again, but he's now been one week unable to put weight on his back leg.

Last Friday, after seeing his leg had been bothering him for a full day, we took him to the vet.  Taking a bulldog to the vet is not a one-woman job.  My husband came home to help, because bulldogs are not very agile creatures.  He's shaped a bit like a cinderblock (the dog, not my husband), so he's not so good at hoisting himself into the back seat in a pickup truck.

At the vet, Pops was admired by all. I've never seen a more mellow dog, really.  He has perfect behavior in public.  No one would guess that at home he is a chronic pee-er.  (This is a whole 'nother story.  Basically if it's fabric - ie. blankets, his bed, a bag of clothes for Goodwill, a throw pillow, even one certain cushion on the sofa which now needs to be taken to the cleaners - he will pee on it.) But at the vet's office he was a champ.  He politely introduced himself to all the other dogs, he lay with his floppy cheeks resting on the floor, tongue halfway out, eyes up toward my husband who is Pops' sweetheart.  Not a single man passed him who did not confess to always having wanted a bulldog.

In the exam room, he was fine.  But it was funny to hear all the staff just a few feet away, in the back of the office trying to get him up for a leg x-ray.  It took 3 people to get him to the machine.  And when he had to go back for shots, he walked just far enough that we could see him register that he was heading to the area of not-fun-stuff, and he turned abruptly toward my husband and screeched to a halt.  He is a stubborn guy (the dog, not my husband).

So Pops, as it turns out, has a torn ACL.  I don't know how that happened, but it seems pitiful enough that we returned the expensive bark collar, because we felt like maybe he was barking because his leg hurt.  We also suspect that if we just put a regular collar on him, he may think it's capable of zapping him for barking which might cure the problem for cheap (which is my preference).

Today, our friend and local dog whisperer is coming to give us a consultation on the peeing situation.  Because that is not cool, friends.  It is entirely not cool.  Jess is my ray of hope that Pops might not piddle on every blessed soft surface he can lift his leg on.

So I can't wait to know what my friend Jess will teach me about the peeing issues we're having at our house.  And she's one of the most fun, intelligent, interesting women I know, so I am really looking forward to spending some time with her.  We hung out and rode horses and chilled with her goose, Gertrude, and her sheep Daisy this summer.

Daisy must have just said something witty. 

Gertrude ("Gert-chert" as my 4yr old calls her)

Wish me luck, friends.  And keep Pops in your prayers, because he's a nutty old guy, but we love him to bits around here.  It's hard to see him not feeling like himself.

Friday, March 1, 2013

How to ditch the winter blues. (It's cheaper than therapy!)

Come on out of the cold, friend!  It's good to talk on the yellow couch again.  What a snowy, chilly day we're having here in Maine!

My post-Christmas sale-shopping shoe collection can't take much more winter.  Honestly.  I am ready for some un-sensible shoe weather.

It's so easy to get holed-up in the house on these blustery days.  At first (meaning for about one week, and only just prior to Christmas) it's cozy, but after a while I just feel like hibernating, which is not good for a girl's energy level.

This winter I have tried something new, which I am so encouraging you to consider.  It's super-easy and way cheaper than therapy for the late-winter-blues (or blahs).

It's called:
Plan A Coffee Date

Oh my word!  Can it really be that simple, you ask?
Why yes, yes it is.

As you know, I've had several years of this very annoying, style-cramping, energy-draining, sparkle-threatening physical aches and pains and occasional mental fog.  My doc says it's fibromyalgia, but I have had people with Lyme disease tell me that the symptoms are the same, so I'll have a screening for that. It seems there are also some food allergy things that cause similar feelings, so I'm exploring all the possibilities before I feel like tossing my hands up and saying, "ok, it's fibromyalgia."

I've fought against myself daily to just do normal things. But this winter something happened.
I became tired of waiting to feel "normal" to do FUN.

The FUN and the SPARKLE got yanked from the back of my priority list by the scruffs of their necks. They cannot hide anymore.  I am a girl on a mission to live FULLY right NOW.

You deserve that as well.  Your enjoyment of simple things needs to be given a valued space in your life.

Sometimes I have "Christian Woman Guilt."  You know.... I feel like if I'm doing something fun, it's not spiritual enough.  If I'm enjoying something beautiful, or giving myself time to be filled up or nurturing my creativity, I must not be emptying myself out enough and am therefore falling short in my faith.  God doesn't inflict this on me.  It's something I do to myself, and I have to be diligent to address it.  (There is probably more to talk about on this topic, but that's for another day.)

But that's not a full picture.
There are times to pour out, to be emptied, for sure.
But God made us with a spark of creativity that I believe is breathed into us by Him as a way to enjoy life.  And times of rest and nurture and FUN are precious.

This winter I have been making time for relationships.  We need each other, you know.
In my world, COFFEE WITH A FRIEND is the new black.

When was the last time you called a friend and set up a coffee date?
How many times have you said, "Let's do coffee?" and your friend says, "Yeah, call me." And you never call?  (Caught you!)  I have done that way too many times myself.

I've been building in coffee time with my girlfriends, and the benefit to my life is enormous.  While we sit, we laugh and we ponder and we share.  My heart is energized.  In a world of too-busy women, we need to slow down and set the busy stuff aside in order to enjoy the relationships.  We need to get away from the computer screens and the smart phones and sit across the table from each other and do life.

Is there someone you've been hoping to spend time with?  Grab your calendar and make a date.

Invest in a relationship.  
Linger over a second cup.  
Take time to breathe.  

It's good for you.  And it's way cheaper than therapy.