Category Archives for "Blog"

2 My Heroes! – the humans I look up to most

         We dogs tend to idolize our humans, so I of course see Handsome as the most wonderful being ever (which coincidentally is just the way he sees me!).  But he’s not my only hero.  I have a lot. 

         First of all, anyone who gives me food, ever, is my hero (or heroine – I’m using the word “hero” regardless of gender) at that moment, with all my heart.  Or anyone giving me a tummy rub for that matter.

         And secondly, I see a lot of dogs and people who do amazingly brave things.  Rescuers, crimefighters, firefighters, defenders of their country, all that.  We domestic dogs often get credited with being selfless, but those beings show a caring for others beyond themselves that makes even us gasp.

         But I find another group of humans particularly stunning. And I want to talk about them today:  Healthcare Workers.

         There are all sorts of healthcare workers out there.  Doctors, surgeons, nurses, chiropractors, acupuncturists – I love them all and owe my life to them.  And so does Handsome.  And so, I’m pretty sure, do you.  Even if you haven’t ever had a life-threatening illness or injury, have these people kept you alive through their care?  Or was one of your parents saved from something that endangered their life before you were born? Well, then if it weren’t for the devoted workers who saved them, you’d never have been here at all, right?!

         I don’t think there’s anything easy about working in medicine or health. For starters, even I know those required classes are hard!  Handsome often tells me he would have loved to become a veterinarian, if only he wouldn’t have had to pass Introductory Biology – and the study gets a lot harder after that.

         Then we all hear about how much work those professionals have to go through once they’ve finished their study (I know it’s very romanticized, but if you’ve ever watched Grey’s Anatomy, that shows some of the crazy work that medical interns are put through).  Long shifts, food we dogs might turn our noses up at, ungrateful or even mean patients, and lots of grotesque sights and smells.

         And then there’s what we know is the very worst part: the guarantee of failure. No human or animal lives forever, and those who try to keep us going face death in their patients all the time.  Or even failures that aren’t death – injuries that never fully heal, or diseases that permanently maim someone – all of it is heartbreaking.  We always hear people say they’re afraid to get a pet because it’s so sad when they die; imagine facing that every day at work.

         My best friend Aria died last year of a cruel cancer. The oncologists who worked with her lose dogs and cats to that disease constantly. Somehow they soldier on through it (and yes I use that word on purpose – these souls are soldiers in a war that never ends). Imagine being a heart surgeon, or a specialist in geriatric (a big word for old people) healthcare.  You’re fighting against time every day, and time will always win eventually.

         We saw probably the greatest example of the bravery of healthcare workers ever a few years ago, during the height of the COVID pandemic.  These incredible people went in to emergency rooms, intensive care units, or even just their regular offices every day, facing, fighting, and daring exposure to a disease people knew hardly anything about.  Then, as we all saw, a bunch of yahoos all over the world made it worse by spreading misinformation about the disease, encouraging people not to mask or distance, lying that vaccinations didn’t work (I hate shots and fully understand those who chose to not get vaccinated, but that does not mean those painful injections aren’t saving countless lives), and even attacking healthcare workers for doing those great noble deeds.

         And now we hear about people leaving the health industry, burned out by these exhausting years.  What a horrible awful disgusting fact that is – they should be honored and lionized, not struggling with finding a new career that doesn’t mean as much to them.

         But in the end, I have to stick with what’s personal to me (I know, that’s an odd word, but “dogal” doesn’t exist!):  I love every veterinarian and vet assistant in the world. 

I love the ones who have a natural gift that makes us love them, and those who don’t, and so have to work harder at it. 

I love the ones who make me feel good, and the ones who have to spray things up my nose and stick needles into me, and even cut me open. 

I love the ones who run clinics and the ones who only walk the dogs around or pet the cats, and the ones who just sign patients in at the front desk. 

I love the ones in cities and those who travel around to farms.

I love the ones who help horses, lions, gerbils, parakeets, elephants, donkeys, pigs, barramundis, and yes, even cats.  But you know I most most most most love the ones who help us dogs.

So I have two requests for you, dear reader.  First, if you’re young and thinking of what to do with your life, please think hard about going into healthcare. We don’t know the future of a lot of professions, but this one’s going to be around as long as any animal is still living.

And second, to all of you, please let your healthcare worker, of whatever sort, know how appreciative you are of them, of the work they put in just to get here, and of all they’re doing for you. 

They deserve it, and, who knows, today might be the day they most need to hear it from you.

The Boy – and Girl – Next Door: defining the undefinable

You know those words that you’ve known all your life but are really hard to define to someone?  What does Marriage mean?  How do you define Politics?  And while we’re at it, what is a Neighborhood?  It’s funny how much humans have these words, and use them constantly, without having them perfectly clear in their head.

Recently my friend Handsome was talking with his friend FiFi about how one area he’d seen felt like a neighborhood while another didn’t. And FiFi asked him why.  What was his definition of “neighborhood?”

He was stymied.  “Well, we all know what a neighborhood is, don’t we?  It’s where… well… you know, you’re close and friendly and do stuff together and…”

But I knew he was wrong instantly.  We’ve had neighbors who were unfriendly, some he wouldn’t want to do things with, and some who were completely awful.  So it’s not that. 

About a day later, he sat down with me and said “Shirelle, I figured out what a neighborhood is. It’s a place where children can go to each other’s homes and play.” 

But then he thought more.  “But can’t there be a neighborhood without kids?”

I can see where he’s struggling.  The street we live on now didn’t feel much like a neighborhood when we moved in.  Then a few years later, although most people kept to themselves, it did.  Now some of it was because Handsome had been nice, and lots of them were terrific people.  But I really think it was mostly my doing!  I’m way friendlier than he is, and… well… let’s admit it… cuter too!

But during the stupid virus, most of the people nearby who were friendly with us moved away, and now it doesn’t feel much like a neighborhood at all. 

This became especially clear a few weeks ago, when Americans celebrate Halloween.  For years, people had driven to our streets on that night, knowing our houses gave out good candy (I’d always get locked in a room so that I wouldn’t scare the children with my barking – even though they’re the ones in the scary outfits!).  But this year, although Handsome and some other people nearby decorated their houses invitingly, our doorbells only rang three times.  Not only aren’t there many children nearby, but others looked at our street and didn’t see enough places with pumpkins out, so they drove to better blocks.  I hardly got to bark at all.

Before this, we lived on a street across from a nursery.  Most of the area was apartments, with people moving in and out quickly, but the nursery was wonderful.  They always gave Handsome free plants, they would stop traffic so he could pull out of our driveway, and they even would run and catch me whenever I’d get out (I was a hyperactive and very curious puppy!) and bring me back to Handsome.  They made it a neighborhood.

But today, Handsome told me about his first neighborhood.  When he was very young, his family lived on a street full of neighborliness.  Everyone knew each other, the families played together, and – check this out: In the winter, the children would fill paper bags halfway with sand and put candles in them, and on Christmas Eve whole blocks would glow from these gorgeous warm lamps along the sidewalk – all made and put out there by the kids. 

But in recent years he’s learned more about it –

about neighbors there who were crazy, who had creepy political views, some who’ve even killed themselves.  So maybe it wasn’t quite as idyllic as he remembers.

So now it’s me asking, what is a neighborhood?

Handsome looked up the word “neighbor” in a dictionary.  It said it’s a noun that means:

  • 1. a person living near or next door to the speaker: “our garden was the envy of the neighbors”
  • 2. a person or place in relation to others near or next to it: “I chatted with my neighbor on the flight to New York”

Now those are all correct.  But you have a different sense of it, don’t you?  I sure do.

The more I think about it, neighborhood is the midpoint between family and community.  Your family is super-close (sometimes too close and everyone gets really annoyed!).  Then you have the people you know at work or such.  They might be nice, and you might be mutually supportive.  But neighbors are in between those two – you go to a neighbor for a cup of sugar or to take a shower when your plumbing’s out.  Not the person in the cubicle across the hall.

But there’s a third dictionary definition.

 Any person in need of one’s help or kindness: “love thy neighbor as thyself”

      I like that one.  Especially as, as we dogs know, EVERY person is in need of help and kindness.  In fact, that’s the way we pups tend to treat people (at least those we’re not scared of).

We hear friendly humans described as “He never met a stranger.”  But does that mean everyone he met he regarded as family?  No that’s too close.  Community?  No that’s too distant. 

While Handsome does want a street with trick-or-treaters, and where people bring one’s dog home, wouldn’t it also be great to just see everyone as your neighbor?  Everywhere?  Maybe it wouldn’t be as full of familiar smells as the block I walk every week, but then everywhere could be your neighborhood.

There used to be a popular children’s television show that I hear about, where the host always began by singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  And I’m thinking he’s right.  It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, today.

If you decide it is!

      But wait… What exactly does “beautiful” mean?!

4 Shut Up That Barking! – the epidemic of noise

Have you ever lived next door to a dog?  Even if you like the pooch, what’s the worst thing about living there?  I’m going to guess it’s the noise.  You’re trying to sleep in and out comes the yowling.  Screaming their head off at some nonsense, like, oh, another dog is being walked across the street, or someone’s delivering something to their door, or a burglar is approaching your window – but you never learn that because that dog scared him off!

Nothing gets me yelled at by Handsome as much as my barking.  There are things that concern him more (like my love of chasing some animal into the street), but barking happens so much more.  This could happen when I bark loudly right next to him while he’s working or sleeping (funny how that seems to affect him), or because I’m outdoors telling off a stranger and he knows his neighbors are going to get upset.  Or because we’re on a walk and I see another person and dog coming, and the dog and I go on a rant at each other of “If I weren’t on this leash, I’d rip you apart at the seams!” 

(Even though we both know that, if we weren’t on leashes, we’d probably just sniff and play together!)

But you know what animal makes a lot more noise than we do?  And doesn’t just drive us nuts but themselves as well? 

Yep.  You!

Now first there are the actual sounds you guys make just by doing things. Between your cars, planes, factories, shops, ships, rocketships… you are a very loud species.  And then there’s the noise you make on purpose – musical instruments, speakers, sound systems, headphones (yes we dogs can hear them), alarms, firecrackers, sirens, bombs…  My ancestors tell me this planet used to be really quiet except during thunder and volcanoes.  Today we kind of like the peace those bring, as nature focuses you folks on more important, less self-expressive, activities.

But today I want to talk about another kind of noise.  A sort that doesn’t hurt us dogs’ sensitive ears as much, but breaks our hearts to watch.  The noise of misinformation.

Long ago, certain people realized that creating noise is a great way to avoid responsibility for things.  When scientists discovered that smoking tobacco leads to cancer, the tobacco companies spent billions of dollars putting out stories that said that there were “two sides” to this, that not all scientists agreed.  Well this was a lie.  But they kept their yammering going, and so managed to keep selling their ‘cancer sticks’ for decades.

It’s not unnatural.  Two kids get taken to the school office for fighting at recess.  One says they fought because the other punched them and called their mother a name.  The other says that’s not true.  What’s the principal supposed to do?  One is lying, but there’s no way to know which one.  So whoever’s lying just did a great job of avoiding trouble by making that noise.  Hey if we dogs had the ability to get out of punishment by lying, we’d do it too.  No judgment there.

My problem is when adult humans do it on a large level.  I’m sure you heard about the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States in 2001.  The U.S. was upset and wanted to retaliate against the group that had done it. But the president wanted to go to war against Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with those attacks, and was even run by enemies of Al Qaeda.  So he and his administration started repeating the lie that Iraq was behind the attacks, and preparing to unleash nuclear war on the U.S. (something they were nowhere near capable of doing).  Many Americans and others spoke up about the lie, but they weren’t loud enough to beat the noise.  The U.S. attacked Iraq and started a war that killed maybe a million people.  (Why do I say “maybe?” Well, the noise machine has made sure that no one knows exactly how many deaths there were.)

But as awful as that, and so many similar cases, have been, maybe the worst case of noise ever has been the lies about what’s happened to the Earth’s climate over the last couple hundred years.  Scientists knew about greenhouse gases and man-made global warming in the 1950s.  Yes you read that right – the 1950s!  So what’s happened for the past seven decades?  Noise!  Tons of noise, billions of dollars worth of noise, all to just create doubt about this science.  For profit, for power, for… well, anything but care and love for the human race, for the animals of the earth, for even one’s own children.

And it’s too late.  This last year has shown that the effects of Global Warming are here, as I’m sure you all know.  And no matter how old you are, my reader, the rest of your life will be spent dealing with the effects of this.  Where you live, what you can eat, whether you can eat, what happens to your economy, what the population of your area is like, and of course what it’s like outdoors, will all be determined by this crime against all life.  It will be horrific, it will be incredibly expensive, and it will determine the future of all our species.

Now that’s just fact.  You can – and should – do whatever you can to help, but sadly no one person can reverse what’s happened (not even Greta Thunberg, and if anyone could, it would be that amazing soldier!).

But you know what you can do?  Stop encouraging the noise in your own life!

If you are wondering what’s going on in Gaza, and you click onto social media and see completely conflicting stories about who’s doing what, look somewhere else you trust for your information. 

If you’re voting in an election, look at what the candidates actually say and what they’ve actually done.  Don’t believe something someone says about them just because you hear it (Here’s a start: Volodymyr Zelensky is not a Nazi, and Hillary Clinton does not eat children!).

And even closer to home – if someone at your school posts online that someone else you’ve always found nice is doing something really bad, have some doubt about it.  This may just be noise.  And if rumors start flying where you work that make someone look bad, check that gossip  out before you repeat it.

And my biggest request of you – Don’t be the one to start a noisy lie.  It’s not worthy of you, and it only makes everyone else’s lives worse.

Let us dogs be the ones who annoy everyone with our dumb barking at the wrong times and in the wrong places.  You guys are way more powerful, and your noise causes way more harm.

But even better, let’s all aim for a bit more…

Peace.

2 When Facts Aren’t Facts … the absurdity of modern testing

         Handsome, my human friend, is sleeping at last.  For a few months, he was barely able to.  And even when he would fall asleep, he’d either be on top of his computer keyboard or holding his laptop in his arms.  He was just frantic.

         All this was about a test he had to take.  He wants to expand his professional license to other states than just our home.  That’s all fine.  And he had to relearn a bunch of stuff from school to do so.  That’s also fine.

         So why was he such a wreck?  Not because the test demanded a ton of knowledge.  No, it was because of how it asked for it.

         Shirelle is:

  1. A dog
  2. The Author of AskShirelle
  3. Handsome’s Best Friend
  4. A chair

This test doesn’t ask for straight-out knowledge.  Rather, it’s supposed to test how he thinks, to see if he’s qualified.  But for all Handsome’s flaws, thinking is something he’s always done well.  In fact, so well that he has a lot of problems with these tests!

they ask him to pick the Best of them, or to offer four bad answers, and have him pick the least-bad of them.

But does that make sense at all?

Everything Everywhere All at Once is about:

  1. The difficulty of running a laundry
  2. A lady getting in a bunch of fights
  3. A bunch of Chinese Americans
  4. Insanity

You see, I’m just a dog, I know, and I don’t have the brains you guys do.  But from what I’ve learned, there are facts and there are opinions.  And other than those two, there are only wrong things.

Are cats mammals?  That’s a fact.  Are cats annoying?  That’s my opinion.  Are cats likely to hunt birds?  That’s a fact.  Are cats likely to be hunted by dogs?  Depends on the dog!  But we’re still in the “fact” realm.  Are cats worth hunting?  That’s an opinion too.  But are cats reptiles?  No, that’s just untrue.

Suggesting that there’s anything else but facts, untruths, and opinions, gets into a realm that… well, causes lots of trouble!

Julius Caesar lived:

  1. In Rome
  2. In the first century B.C.
  3. In a Toga
  4. On a yacht in the Carribean

And when the people giving the test say their goal is to see how well you think, what they’re really testing is if you think just as they do; or rather, if you can read their minds and figure out how they’re thinking.

The best place for a dog to lie down is:

  1. In the doorway, where I can chase down a squirrel if it comes into my yard but I can also run to beg if Handsome starts to eat in the kitchen.
  2. On the couch, because it’s so comfortable.
  3. Anywhere other than the couch, because Handsome gets mad at me if I lie there.
  4. On top of a moving car’s hood.

So which is best, of the above answers?  The doorway is best for chasing and eating, the couch is the most comfortable, the “anywhere else” is good for keeping Handsome happy, and the car hood – well, it might be kind of exciting, but I think we can agree that it’s the worst of the choices.

But how is one expected to know what “best” means?  Again, it seems they’re asking you to assume something that they’re assuming.  To take this to its fullest degree…

4x + 38 =

  1. 42
  2. 59,327
  3. 24
  4. 38

Now sometimes the questions don’t ask for mind-reading.  Instead, very often, they test whether you catch their tricks or not.  A skill which shows that you are qualified to… take tests.  And nothing else.

For example:

Taylor Swift is:

  1. A 32-year-old singer
  2. The writer of the hit songs “Love Story,” “Blank Space,” and “Déjà Vu”
  3. The performer on the world-famous Eros tour
  4. A male photographer in Seattle

Did you get that one right?  Maybe not.  The world-famous singer is currently 33; the Olivia Rodrigo song “Déjà Vu” does credit her as a co-writer but only because it samples one of her songs; and her tour is called Eras, not Eros (though of course you had no idea if I might have made a typographical error).  But yes there IS a man, a photographer, living in Seattle, named Taylor Swift.  You can look it up.  D is the correct answer!

But unless you’re taking a test on Seattle photographers, this trick question ONLY serves to mess with you!

Now not every question on these tests is as awful as what I’ve shared here.  And Handsome actually thinks he might have passed, though he won’t know for a while (but they won’t tell him why it takes so long to grade a multiple-choice test he took on a computer!).

But while he sits there trembling in his crazy mood, I’ve been thinking about the whole mindset behind these tests.  What’s the point of them?  Do they help anything?  Or do they make things way worse. 

A few years ago, a spokesperson for the US President famously excused his lies by saying that they were “Alternative Facts.”  And while many people laughed at this, millions of others accepted it.  And I just wonder if that’s because they had been trained by this mindset!  Once someone accepts that there are “better” correct answers, or “less bad” wrong ones, then actual truth becomes meaningless. 

History has shown that people have often made up their own facts, but they were really spreading lies so well that everyone accepted them as facts (See the speeches of Nazi Germany about the dangers of Jews, for example).  But to me, this is a different version of the same problem.  At a time when you humans are achieving so much in science and technology, I see you also slipping into dumb and disproven mindsets of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism.  All because so many of you can’t agree on what truth is.

So I side with Handsome.  I’d love to see these tests go very far away.  And once that happens, to paraphrase Taylor Swift (the songwriter, not the photographer!), people should Never Ever Ever get back together with them!

Tests that expect the taker to read the mind of the writer of the test are:

  1. Stupid
  2. Invalid
  3. Useless
  4. Pickled Giraffe

Too Much of a Good Thing? … how to wish better

Ever heard the old saying “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” 

I have spent most of the past three weeks indoors.  Not because I’m sick or injured or in trouble (yes those do happen, but not in this case!).  But because it’s been raining here.  And I mean raining a LOT! 

I tend to not like the rain much anyway, and I especially don’t like hard rain.  I hate sprinklers and showers, anything where water comes down on top of me – though I’m happy to jump into creeks or the ocean anytime – so a heavy rainfall really irritates me.  But the main reason I’m kept inside so much at times like this is that Handsome doesn’t want me going out and playing in the mud and then tracking it all over our house. He’s happy to take me outdoors to walk and pee and all, but wants to be able to wipe my feet off with a towel when we come back in (which also really irritates me!).

And as I said, we’ve been getting a lot of rain in my state.  Enough that nearby there have been mudslides and landslides and even some people getting killed! 

And this is all after seven years of drought.   Between historic patterns in the western United States that are just returning, and the horrible effects of climate change, it’s been very rough here.  Record-breaking temperatures, lots of fires, and a frightening depletion of the water everyone is counting on for agriculture and just living.

In fact, the drought is one of the main reasons the rains have been so destructive.  When we had more trees, and more plants in general, they held the ground better.  But without them, soils that might otherwise stand up fine are avalanching all over the place!

So please understand – as a Husky-mix, I hate hot weather, and especially hate that we’re having more super-hot days than we did when I was younger.  And fires scare the daylights out of me.  So just like everyone else in California, I’ve been wishing for rain.  Wishing hard.

But wait – we didn’t wish for THIS!  Or did we?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit, we wished for rain.  We didn’t specify a particular amount.  We wanted our reservoirs filled, our groundwater replaced, and we wanted our juicy fruits, healthy vegetables, pretty green lawns, and flowery gardens back.  Of course we did!

Now sadly, our drought has been so drastic that even these crazy rains likely won’t give us all the water we need.  Too much of it’s just running off into the ocean – because we didn’t have any means to hold on to it. 

Which makes me question even more – what’s wrong with what we’re asking?  If prayers and wishes actually do come true (as religious leaders and believers in manifestation have been arguing for millennia), then do we need to get more specific? 

Or did we just need to believe more that they might come true, and do better preparation for it?

Imagine if we’d spent the last seven years building rivers and reservoirs and all sorts of water catchments – and when these rains showed up, we’d grabbed all that water, which could keep us going for maybe a decade of drought!  Great, huh?

But can you imagine how hard that would have been to do?  It would have cost billions of dollars, with people screaming all the time “We’re in a drought and you’re building reservoirs for rains that aren’t happening!  Stop now!”

So by now you’re probably asking, why in the world is a dog asking questions about civil engineering!

Well, that’s not really what I’m after here.  I’m just thinking that, like the people in a drought-ridden community, each and every one of you has things they want.  That they want very very much.  But I don’t know that you’re ready for them!

I’ve seen men go to great lengths to win over beautiful women, who then treated them badly in ways they had no way to handle.  I’ve heard stories of dogs at race tracks who are so fast or clever they actually catch the mechanical rabbit they’re chasing, which of course doesn’t turn out to be the soft pliable bunny they expected!  And haven’t we all heard of people becoming super successful, or even winning a lottery, and then blowing their fortune on self-destructive nonsense, ending up in worse shape than when they started?

So it’s a new year.  And lots of people use that as a time to put out wishes and make resolutions.  Well here’s my wish for you:  Wish big, wish hard, and work like crazy to achieve your goals.

But also think. 

Think even harder than you wish!  Think about what you’d do if you got that money, that job, that person, that rabbit!  Think about what you can do to keep what you’ve won, and also what you can do if you find that what you wanted isn’t something you want to keep.  How much of that money can you put into an intelligent investment instead of spending right away?  Can you change that person, or should you apologetically let them go?  And also ask are you a worthy mate for them if they are right for you – able to keep them wanting to stay in this life with you?  Or do you really want to improve yourself a bit more before you win them?!

For me, I’m very happy with my life just as it is.  So my job is to do what I can to keep it that way.  To stay healthy and not get hurt, to keep cuddling up with Handsome all I can, and to hold myself back from wandering when he accidentally leaves the gate open.  Pretty easy.

But then there are those other things – things we all wish for. 

Let’s wish for world peace – but also the wisdom to know how to handle a peaceful world in ways that make things better, and not just setting us up for more wars.  Let’s wish for a slowdown or stop to climate change, but which includes new technologies so people can continue to enjoy the use of energy that gives us progress. 

And of course, I wish for you that you keep moving forward in your lives – but that you also always remember that when things get difficult, there’s an eager friendly dog out here you can check in with.  Maybe I’ll be able to give you the advice you need, but even if not, I can always send you a big lick on your cheek.

And licks, and kisses, are something – unlike rain – that I don’t believe one can EVER have too much of!!

To Dance in Silence … the majesty of daring it all

            Handsome came home a couple of days ago, more excited than I’d seen him in months.  “You won’t believe what I just saw, Shirelle!  Remember I told you I was going to a ballet?”

            Now I have to admit, while I’m often jealous of Handsome’s ability to go to theaters, concerts, sport events, and such, ballet has never raised my envy.  Someone daintily dancing on their toes doesn’t move me the way, oh say, a bunch of folks excitedly chasing and kicking or throwing a ball does!  Now that’s exciting!

            I certainly see why it’s worth respect though.  I can barely hold the form of a “Sit!” and here are these humans – the clumsiest of all species – moving in perfect idealized form, and often performing with such strength anyone would be in awe (YOU try to stand perfectly still with one leg sticking straight out from your hip for a whole minute!  And then try it on your toes!!).  But to watch this for two or three hours?  Sorry but this pup will drop straight to sleep, dreaming of far more exciting squirrels.

            The ballet he went to is, I guess, the most popular of all, especially at this time of year.  It’s called The Nutcracker, and tells a weird story where a girl receives a gift from an eerie man, of a toy soldier who, if you put a walnut in his mouth, will crush it so you can eat the insides.  Then she starts dreaming, with visions of fairies and dancers from foreign lands, and – well here’s where it gets interesting to me for a while anyway – Giant Rats!  Handsome says it’s all about her first crush and dreams of romance and…  hey I get that kind of stuff in your letters all the time, Pack Members, and don’t have to sit quietly still watching it all play out!

            So although I do love the music to it (you all know this pup is a sucker for a good tune, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky created endless ones!), I saw no reason for him to be so excited about this show.

            “Well,” he explained, “the company that put this on used recorded music, not a live orchestra.” 

Oh, well there goes one more chance for excitement.  I do enjoy watching instruments get played, especially the loud fun ones like trumpets! 

“And many of the dancers were just amazing.  I can’t imagine how much work they’ve put in, for their whole lives, to do this so beautifully!” 

He looked at me with such an excited smile I felt a little bad for yawning.

            “It was all going fine, until this one song – I don’t even know what it’s called – where all these girls, I’m guessing around age 14 or so, were dancing very nicely.” 

My eyelids were drooping faster than I could control. 

“And then the music cut out!”

            Um… what?

            “It was complete silence.  Except for the footsteps of these girls – who kept dancing. In perfect time, following each other.”

            Well at last this was getting interesting.

            “Of course, no one can keep their timing exact, but they kept going, always with these lovely smiles, moving around the stage, watching whoever was in front at any time, since anyone up there couldn’t see the others behind her, and adjusting to that person or persons’ pace.”

            Okay, so I’ll admit, that sounds pretty difficult.  I have trouble concentrating on anything for more than a few seconds, unless there’s potential eating involved.

            “All of us in the audience were on the edges of our seats.  Could they make it through?  Would one of them break character and laugh or cry or give up?  Would the sound engineer make the terrible mistake of putting the music back on, with no chance of timing it exactly to the dancers’ steps?  Would some adult walk onto the stage and end it all?”

            So okay, what happened?

            “And when it finished, and they’d done it perfectly, everyone in the audience just ROARED in applause, and a bunch of us leapt to our feet.  It was  amazing!  Think of it, puppy!  The Nutcracker is danced all over the world, all the time.  But we saw something astounding, something none of us will likely ever see again!  And every one of those girls will never be the same.  They did something grand, that no one will ever take away from them.  They’re each like the kid who kicks the winning goal or shoots the winning basket.  Or you, Shirelle.  They amazed me the way you do every day!”

            He got onto the phone and must have yammered about this to different people for hours.  While I lay on the floor and thought more about it.  Was it really that big a deal?

            After all, we dogs dance without music every day.   If there aren’t any squirrels or birds to chase, especially when we’re young, we’ll just go nuts, running around, jumping, just to feel good and get our energy out. 

            And as far as that cool thing of them following the changing one in front?  I see birds do that all the time, especially when migrating.  And they’re doing it up in the air!

            But then I thought a bit more.  And had to admit – no dog has ever danced in perfect extended time to music.  And no bird has ever had to keep a perfect smile on its face while following alternating leaders.

            It’s true.  There are things that come naturally to dogs, to birds, and to humans.  And they’re not the same things.

            What those girls did was amazing.  And now I wish I’d been able to see them in their glory  (though it might have been more fun to watch backstage to see how they reacted after it was done!).

            And this led me to think about a quality you humans have, which you are better at than anyone else: making plans, and following your dreams. 

            You see, it’s easy to pursue goals when everything is directing you how to go (say, if you want to do well in a class, just pay attention and study hard!).  But what about when you aren’t getting any direction?  Like if you pick up a paintbrush and look at a blank canvas and wonder what to paint.  Or you see someone you’d like to get to know, but have no idea how to meet them.  Or you want to be successful in a career, but can’t think of anything you’d like to do.

            That’s dancing without music.  And just as those girls all worked as one unit to make their beautiful magic, the best way to meet your dreams is to get all of yourself working together.  So, to meet that person, can you manage to look your best, convince yourself you’re confident about yourself, and be as friendly and fun as possible – all at the same time?  Now that’s a ballet corps, all in you!

            Now 2022 is coming to an end.  For each of us, some things have gone well and some horribly.  I have some big wishes for 2023, like for some wars to end and for this stupid virus to go away.  But I can’t make them happen, and neither can you.

            What I can do is to do my best to be my best, and pursue what I want.  And you can do the same.

            And my biggest wish, for you, is not just that you pursue wonderful dreams, but that, at some point, the music gets cut off.  And you find yourself led only by your best instincts, trusting yourself, making creative choices.

            Because then, whether or not the dream comes true, you will have been as alive as you can ever be.  And just like those dancers, you will always know you had that moment of glory. 

            So maybe your painting isn’t a Rembrandt?  So that person you pursued already had a date to the dance?  So that career didn’t work out and you need to try something else?

            Still, you were your best, and did your best… with no Tchaikovsky to guide you.

            In other words, my wish for you for 2023 is that you get to be just as awesome and astounding to yourself as you are to me, every day.

            HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

The Discomfort Zone … choosing your life path

A few weeks ago, Handsome was talking with a friend about a tough situation they were in, and they said they knew they needed to get out of their “Comfort Zone” and fix it.  Then they took a pause, and said, “But wait, I’m not comfortable at all!” 

We often hear about “Comfort Zones.”  Situations that are easy to stay in, while we know we’d be better off if we made the difficult choice to get out of them.  For me, lots of my learning as a puppy fit this – it might be comfortable to lie on the forbidden couch or pee inside the house, but I was better off improving my behavior!  Humans might find a situation like staying in their parents’ home, staying in a go-nowhere job, or avoiding a difficult conversation to be Comfort Zones.

But what I see so often is what I’ll call DIScomfort Zones!  Situations one stays in that make them actively miserable. 

For example, if you have nice parents who treat you well, and it’s comfortable to live with them although you know you need to move out and start to live your own life, that’s a Comfort Zone.  But if you’re staying with parents who abuse, shame, and harass you… you’re in a Discomfort Zone. 

In dealing with my Pack members, where I see this most often is young relationships.  Whether friendships or romances, people will stay with others they might not think the best of or get the most out of, just because that’s the way things are.  And really, that’s fine, until something changes.  But it breaks my heart to see you guys stay with people who treat you badly.  Who ignore you, who put you down (not in fun ways), who cheat on you, who blame you, who make you feel horrible about yourself.

Either zone requires strength and hope to leave.  But with a Discomfort Zone, I also think it’s really important to look at the question of Why:  What has kept you there?  What do you get from it, and what’s so scary about being out of it that you’ve stayed?

In the relationship question, what is it that keeps you with those friends, or in that romance?  Is it love, or is it maybe a deep-seated fear that you’re not good enough for someone else?  That no one else is going to accept you?  That this crumminess is as good as you’ll ever get?

And if that’s the case, then I want to challenge you to do one thing for me.  I’m not telling you what decisions to make in your life, but I do just want you to look at that question anew.  Really ask yourself – Is This True?

If you’re thinking no one else could love you, ask yourself why you have that belief.  Who told you that?  What about you is so unlovable?

Now I need to take a little pause here:  If this is just that you’re feeling your relationship isn’t good enough because the other person doesn’t have a billion euros or look like Ana De Armas, that’s another story.  You might be correct to think you’re not that very rare individual who’ll land someone with gifts such as those.  But if you’re thinking no one worthy could love you, or even like you, please look over your past.  Have you had other friends?  Has someone else been interested in you?  And if so, doesn’t that prove that you don’t need to stay in your Discomfort?

You see, the superpower of Comfort Zones and Discomfort Zones is in their telling you “Don’t think too much about this!”  If you’re staying out of shape because it’s easier to sit around watching YouTube than to go for a run, that’ll work until the day you start wanting to be stronger and fitter so much you turn that iPad off.  And if you stay sedentary it so much that you start having back problems and can’t stand what you see in the mirror, then it’s even more so: Once you ask yourself about the choice you’re making, you’ll start making a different choice!

Now again, I’m never going to argue anyone out of a true, considered choice to stay in an uncomfortable situation.  The selflessness that leads one to a life of austere help to others, the nobility of defending your homeland against attackers, the deep love of taking care of ailing family members… these are virtues, not flaws.  I bow to you for them.

But even with those, it’s good to step back and look at your choices.  Because maybe doing so will help remind you of just how great you are!  (I’m happy to do it too, but can’t be there with you all the time!)

Life offers joys, comforts, discomforts, and horrors.  Everyone’s.  All I’m pushing on you this month is to do what I do when I’m sleeping somewhere and it gets a little too sunny – so I wake, get up, and move to a shadier spot and go back to sleep.

To get conscious just long enough to do what’s best for you.

And do it Often!

Shirelle

Sorry Not Sorry … the nature of regret

            Handsome recently told me about a fascinating movie he’d just seen.  Hard to describe, but in many ways, it was fundamentally about the nature of regret. 

            We dogs don’t deal a lot with regret.  Or rather, we don’t deal with it for long.  We’ll regret something we did because of its immediate consequences (whether that’s the punishment sort, like when I steal food off Handsome’s plate and he yells at me and makes me go outside, or the cause-effect sort, like where I stick my nose too far to sniff inside a hot oven and… OW!), but we don’t carry regrets on for days, or months, or years, the way you do.

            So I look on the whole concept in a different way than people would.  And what I see is… mixed.

            Okay, first let’s talk about the good.  A person does something thoughtless or awful, that has terrible consequences.  They drive drunk and cause an accident with permanent injuries, or they say something hurtful that someone never gets over.  And having realized the effects of their actions, they make a change.  They stop driving intoxicated (or maybe stop drinking altogether), and hold back on comments that might be taken in the worst ways. 

            Well that’s great!  They’ve grown, matured, learned… they make themselves into better people, more useful citizens of their community.  Regret has prodded them to self-improvement. Fantastic.

            And then there’s the bad.  A person does something they regret, and it damages them forever.  A breakup goes badly, and the instigator says “I hurt someone I cared about, and feel awful, so I never want to try romance again.  I’m too harmful.”  Or on a more general level, someone does something they regret and never feels good about themselves after that.  “I’m just not a good person.  I make mistakes that go bad.”  You know the type – the person who never stands up straight, only smiles with a nervousness, and can’t accept a compliment.  It’s not their breakup or mistake that’s ruined their life; it’s their regret that’s done it.

            But then there’s another sort.  Let’s call it “Dramatic Regret.”  The person who wears their regret, makes a show of it, lets it define them by choice.  You know them too.  The girl who is always telling her schoolmates she shouldn’t have broken up with that guy, the young man who’s always putting on a show about what a bad person he is for having punched his dad.  The regret might be real, but, again, these folk tend to make their regret into a new set of clothes for themselves! 

            Of course, what’s the very best is when regret leads one to simply act in a way that undoes it.  I know that’s not always possible, but when it can, I’m for it.  When Handsome accidentally steps on my toes, I yelp, and he collapses down, hugging me, apologizing, and kissing the tops of my feet to make them feel better… it works!  Sure I don’t want him stepping there again, but all the pain has gone away, and I’m fine!

            So, about this movie.  It was hard for Handsome to describe to me, and it’ll be even harder for me to relate, but it’s about a good woman with a bland husband, a rebellious daughter, and a distant father, trying to get through her difficult working day, while facing economic difficulties.  But suddenly she’s enabled to see all the different possibilities out there – of her past choices and her present.  It’s confusing, and surprisingly violent, as she confronts all these different realities.  But in doing so, she grows to learn more about who she is. 

            In other words, to grow, she is forced to face countless regrets.  Even for things she didn’t know were choices she’d made.

            If you’re able to see it, I recommend this movie.  It’s called Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while it’s being compared to superhero multiverse stories, it’s really more unique than that.

            But if you miss seeing it, or you think it’s not your type, that’s okay too.  It’s YOUR choice, and you don’t need to walk around in regret about it!

            What I want most is for you to look at yourself, at your own life, right now.  And see what regrets you have.  Are any of them fixable, like Handsome kissing my toes?  Or “growable,” like the driver changing their drinking habits?  Or if not, are any of them unfair, just pulling you down?  Maybe you can let those go.  (Or are any of them ones you choose to indulge, for attention-grabbing reason?  PLEASE let those go!)

            As a human, you have a huge brain that holds incredible amounts of memory and imagination.  You will never be able to live with no regrets.  But if you handle them right, and carry just the ones that you absolutely have to, then maybe, just maybe, you can live as happy and constantly-refreshingly-happy a life as a dog.

            And that’s something you will NEVER regret!

Because I Could … the danger of Entitlement

            A president, having lost an election, spreads lies about having actually won it, to the degree that hundreds of his supporters storm their own government in a failed attempt to take it over and undo the election – after which he denies any blame for it while many of them get arrested.

            A dictator bombards a neighboring country, arguing that they’re an urgent danger for having left his country and asking to join an opposing coalition – something they did a quarter-century ago.

            A popular successful actor, on the most honoring night of his life, hears a comedian make a dumb joke about his wife, storms onto the stage, strikes him, and yells obscenities at him before an international audience.

            What do these huge news stories have in common?

            I’ll answer in one word: Entitlement.  That’s the attitude one has when they think the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them, and, worse, that they deserve these special rights.

            You’ve likely known people like this, especially when you were growing up.  Some snotty kid in your school who thought they were “all that” and treated others with disdain or even cruelty.  (Maybe you were one of these yourself!)  But that’s childhood, when everyone’s supposed to go through bad phases and learn from them.  The problem is when we see these qualities in adults!

            But meanwhile, while it’s easy to despise spoiled brats, at any age, doesn’t our society also honor them?  That president and that dictator gained their powers by thrilling people with their senses of entitlement, creating a viewpoint of “If he can do it, and I’m on his side, I’ll be entitled too!  I won’t have to play by the boring rules I’ve had to before.  And even my country won’t have to!”

Now this brings up a question, though.  When a leader takes charge and directs their people through a difficult situation, making horribly risky decisions, is that also entitlement?

What about when someone sacrifices their own life for a cause, when none of their friends or family would have allowed them to do such a thing?

Or what about when a person walks up to a poor person on the street and insists on giving them their lunch?  Is that entitlement?

I will certainly argue that it’s not.  Rather, they show a viewpoint that they have the right to make choices for themselves, but each of these involves a thoughtfulness, a consideration of the greater good, that renders their action the opposite.

So let’s look at those examples I started with.  Imagine that president had said “I lost, but I think I can do a better job if they give me another chance.  I’ll run again, and spend the next four years giving people reasons to vote for me.”  Or if that dictator had said “I need to find ways to help that country, to encourage them to ally with us.”  Or if that actor had waited until later and publicly stated, “I thought that joke was stupid and even cruel.”

In each of those cases, the person would have still pursued their goal, but in a way that would have honored the rights and even lives of those around them.

            Now here’s another question: Is my writing this to you a sign of a sense entitlement?  I’m certainly believing my thoughts are worth your attention. 

But no, it’s not.  Because you have the right to click off this page, or shut down your computer, and walk away and grab a nice pastry any time you like.  If I barged into your home, jumped onto your bed, bared my fangs, growled while drooling onto your throat, and, keeping you terrified, demanded you listen to what I had to say about the Oscars Slap, then… yeah THAT would be Entitlement!

            So does that mean that nothing can undo the actions that these entitled men have done, or even some of the rotten things some people did as kids?  Maybe not.  But is there a way to undo entitlement itself?  To move on from it?

            I think so, and can think of one excellent example.  A couple of decades ago, another U.S. President was caught having had, and lied about, an extramarital affair.  He denied it for a long time, and confessed to it only when undeniable evidence proved him guilty.  Years later, he wrote an autobiography, and in it said some amazing words.  He said that he’d had the affair “for the worst reason in the world.  I did it because I could.”

            It was no big deal for him to confess to the cheating yet again.  But instead, he confessed to entitlement.  Something so rare as to be truly beautiful.

            Have you been guilty of acting entitled?  Do you have it in you to admit it? 

            If so, you will have redeemed yourself.  And you can move on into a world of bravery, humility, and strength.

            But if not, you’ll be stuck in it.  And even those who think you were right to… oh, to contest some election results, or attempt a takeover of your neighboring country, or stand up for your wife to a comedian…  even they will see you as less than they did before.  

            Because you have proved your truth.  And the truth isn’t just bad; it’s entitled, which might be the most disgusting quality a person can have.

            Look, if I climb onto a couch I’m not supposed to, I know I’m breaking the rules.  But nothing I or any other dog does comes from that entitled place (our brains just don’t work that way). 

So I’m not asking you to be better than us. 

Just… don’t be worse.

            All my love,

            Shirelle

PS: And just to repeat my last newsletter’s complete text:  ALL. DOGS. HATE. WAR.

2 The King’s Nightmare … finding power in what you don’t want

            Over the past couple of months, it’s been a bit different living with Handsome.  He got all excited about this pair of books, and hardly talked about anything else.  Not only that, but they led him to constantly play music by this one guy, and while it’s all good, and often great, I developed a craving for Bach, Beethoven, Billie Eilish – anything but…  Okay, it’s not true – this has really been fun!

            I mean, you have heard of Elvis Presley, right?!

            The basics of Presley’s life story ought to be familiar to you – born into poverty in the Southern U.S., a shy, awkward boy, he paid a local studio so he could record a song for his mother, and later went back there with a guitarist and bass player to jam, recording music that changed history: his talent, sexy charm, and mixture of multiple styles he loved creating something unique and original, exploding him into the most popular performer of this new thing called Rock and Roll.  Breaking the world’s teenage hearts when he signed up to join the Army for two years, he returned an even bigger star, though becoming more bland and ‘safe,’ till his music and movies got so boring it seemed he was through.  Then, shocking the world, he “came back” and became the top live act in Las Vegas, till that destructive lifestyle pushed him into depression and drugs, killing him at 42.

            A glorious and tragic story, one we’ve seen variations on too many times – Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda, Michael Jackson… always leaving the same sad question: What Could Have Saved Them?

            So these giant biographies that Handsome dived into, Last Train to Memphis (about the exciting early years) and Careless Love (about the more complex later ones), both by Peter Guralnick, told him pretty much everything anyone could want to know about the man often referred to now as The King.  The obsessive work it took to create his singing style, the conflict between his deep religious faith and the irresistible fun that stardom offered, the girls girls girls, the drugs (which started, not in Hollywood or Vegas, but in the army, where soldiers were given all the amphetamines they wanted, to keep them alert and active), and the miserable loneliness he battled always – but did they answer that big question?  Not really.

            However, I wonder if a key was hinted at, one I want to share with you because I think it’s important, not just to this grandiose life, but maybe for you as well.

            Shortly before he died, Elvis told a friend about a nightmare he had suffered over and over, since he’d first hit it big:  “All his money was gone, the fans had abandoned him… he was alone.”

            Think about that.  For twenty years, close to every night, this most popular and successful of performers would dream of his life being the opposite.  His greatest fear.

            But dreams are funny things.  When I dream of fighting off mountain lions, is that a bad or good dream?  It’s scary, but also way more exciting than anything I experience shut in Handsome’s yard.  And maybe that dream is telling me that I’d be living my truest and happiest life in the wild – or that I could even save lots of lives by reducing the fierce mountain lion population!

            And here’s what I’m wondering – if Elvis had lost all his popularity and riches, if he’d been alone with his thoughts and memories, if no one wanted to hear him sing or see his show…  might he have lived? 

            Sure, he’d have been miserable.  He’d feel like a failure.  He’d be lonelier than ever.  But he’d know that anyone who came around was a true friend, and not after him for his fame or money.  He’d be able to live a healthier lifestyle than one gets touring or performing.  And maybe he’d even be unable to afford those drugs! 

            And then, over time, maybe he’d have pulled himself together.  Become clean and sober, been more of a father to his daughter, maybe even gotten a hound dog like he’d sung about!  And then, of course, anything would have been possible.

            The reason I’m bringing all this up isn’t to depress you about a death some 45 years ago.  But to point out that so often, what people are most afraid of losing is just what they need to experience, to move forward into a new stage of life.  I get so many beautiful heartbreaking letters from you guys, so afraid about losing a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t want you anymore.  And every time, once I see you let go of them – you’re happier.  You realize that that person was keeping you down, keeping you feeling bad about yourself, keeping you from moving into where your life could go. 

A few years back, I watched Handsome hold on with terror to a career that wasn’t helping him; once he moved on to another life, he was so much cheerier (and I can’t tell you how much better company he was; Whew!). 

And for me, when I first moved in with Handsome, I was always trying to get away.  I liked him, but was annoyed by being locked up, so I’d try to dig under the fence, or climb over it.  Till I realized that this was exactly where I wanted to be most, to the point that if he accidentally leaves the gate unlocked, I don’t walk out.  I’d rather wait for him to come home and take me on a walk.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have dreams or ambitions.  Sure, pursue that romantic ideal, and if it works out, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.  After all, heaven knows the world is a better, happier place because Elvis worked so hard to be a success. 

But when things go wrong, I also urge you to take the chance that perhaps the Universe is telling you something.  That the fear that’s propelled you this far has done its job, and it’s time to let it go.  That you can be happier and more productive if you give up on that girl, or quit that job, or… leave Vegas, move back home to Memphis, and spend your days in the meditation garden you built at Graceland while letting some other singers enjoy the successes you once knew.

It’s funny how you humans constantly think that if you fail at something, no matter how well you’ve done with it before, that makes your life and you worthless.  But you’d never say that to one of us pups when we don’t catch a squirrel or get a trick right.  Maybe because we don’t see them that way; we’re really good at letting those failures go, and trying to learn from them so we can do better later on. 

I urge you to do the same.  Maybe it’ll make a few months better for you, or maybe it’ll give you decades more of life.

Either way, you’re all kings and queens to me.  And your lives, whether you’re succeeding or falling short of your goals, are my happiest dream.

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