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2 Fido Fitness …a guide to Canine Cardio, and more!

            The restrictions are lifting.  People can go to restaurants again.  Even to the movies (I haven’t seen it yet but from everything I’m hearing, “In the Heights” is a must!).  And you guys can start playing sports and dancing and…

            Wait, what?  You can’t run or floss?  But I heard the rules were all…

            Ohhhhh…

            All around me, I’m seeing person after person in physical pain.  Not just old folks, or even middle-aged.  I’m talking about teenagers with back problems, and children who need to lose the fifteen pounds they put on during lockdown.

            This pandemic didn’t just hurt the health of those who caught the virus.  It has resulted in a world of severely out-of-shape folks.  In fact, from what I can see, it’s only the wealthy few who are still looking “Hollywood-Fit,” what with gym equipment in their homes or biking in mountains.  But for the rest of you guys?  It’s time for some help!

            Oh, but wait – there’s another bunch who also look as fit as in 2019.  Animals!  The dogs and cats and antelopes lemurs all look just fine!  Why is that?

            Well, because our lifestyles didn’t change all that much.  In fact, a lot of us pets found the lockdowns meant we got more walks and fun-time with our humans than before.  But even those who didn’t have that luck are doing fine. 

            So what can we teach you guys about how to regain your fitness?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Shift Positions

I’ve told you about my friend Aria, who suffered a lot before getting a great home, but still has to work to trust others the way I do?  One other difference between us is that she is a better hunter than I.  You see, I run around the yard, finding squirrels, birds, whatever, and barking at them while I chase them.  She’s cooler than that.  She finds a place to lie down and make herself almost invisible.  And then she waits, still.  For hours.  Doesn’t worry about birds or lizards.  And only jumps up when a squirrel comes close, and then explodes in speed after it.  And so she catches them a lot more than I do!

But while she’s waiting, she still moves – just a very little.  She’ll lie in one position for a half-hour or so, and then, making sure no one sees her, she’ll shift – maybe lie on her other side, or sit up a bit – just enough to change the way her body’s weight is held.  This keeps her able to bounce up when she wants to.

But most of the humans I’ve seen have spent the last year doing all their work in front of a computer, seated in the same chair.  And then, for entertainment… watched movies or shows or played games… in the same chair, on the same computer!  And now you’re wondering why your spines are trashed?  NOTHING in nature lives that way!  And you’re not supposed to! 

Whatever your job or interest is, don’t stay in one position.  Move around.  If you have to stay in front of a computer, have that chair, and also a ball you can sit on, and even stand for part of the day too.  And if you don’t have to stay in one place, move around a lot.  Keep your body in motion as much as you can. 

Aria may be still for nine-tenths of the day, but her figure is perfect and she has no muscle aches.  Be like her, at the least!

  • Stretch More

You know what else you see us dogs, and cats, do all day?  STRETCH!  If you like doing yoga, that’s of course wonderful – and I wish I could get into some of those cooler positions I see yogis do! – but even if you’re not, stretch a LOT!  Try to touch your toes, or even better, sit on the ground with your back against a wall and try to stretch your legs out.  Bend to the side, bend back, pull your feet up behind you to stretch the fronts of your legs… all this is so good!  Not just in the morning either – do it a few times every day.  (And this doesn’t stop – I recommend this one till the day you come to meet us all in the great beyond!)

  • Make Time

One big problem I saw before the pandemic was everyone being so stressed out and pushed for time.  “I can’t talk, I’ll be late for work,” or “I can’t think about that, I have too much on my mind.”  Or my biggest irritant, “I can’t walk you today, Shirelle, I have too many emails to respond to.” 

Well if you want to know what takes a lot of time, try having a damaged back, or bad knees, from lack of fitness.  Or a weak heart from lack of cardio exercise. 

You HAVE the time.  The problem is priorities.  What CAN you give up to make sure you have a half-hour (or more) every day to take care of your body?  Nothing is actually more important.

And here’s the funny part.  Once you start taking care of yourself, you’ll find you have more energy and alertness, so your work goes more efficiently.  And you’ll sleep better (more about that later).  So making time for exercise will actually GIVE you time, over time!

  • Choose Exercise You Enjoy

And here’s another area where we dogs are SO much smarter than you people!  I don’t run around barking at every passing dog because I’m afraid they’re going to break through our fence and attack Handsome!  And Aria doesn’t chase squirrels because she’s starving!  We do these because they’re FUN! 

If you’ve found that, over the past year, you’ve been miserable attending classes on Zoom, and then doing online homework, but then sooo happy to play Minecraft for hours, what’s the difference?  Your Enjoyment!  Right?

So why do I see people spending all their exercise time on things they hate – Sit-Ups or Weights or whatever?  While others are joyously keeping just as fit by swimming or playing golf or… Hello?!… walking their dogs!  And if there’s nothing that really suits you that makes you sweat?  Then find the way to make it fun.  Go to a gym that has stationary bikes in front of a television, while there’s a show you like on.  Or listen to a podcast you love while running. 

My goal is for you to find something you enjoy so much that you look forward to it all day.  Or perhaps that you love the way you feel afterwards so much that you bounce out of bed in the morning so you can get to it and feel great as your day begins. 

Whatever it is, from the moment puppies and kittens and babies are born, we all love to play, using our bodies.  Find that in yourself again, however works for you.

  • Find Other Sweetness

You want to know who’s done well in the pandemic?  Sure everyone talks about Zoom and Netflix and such.  But I’ll bet you the sugar producers have had their best year ever too!  Everyone seems to have had a sweeter and sweeter diet, with more and more snacking.  And guess what excess sugar does to you – besides rotting your teeth and possibly causing diabetes?  It inflames your muscles and ligaments!  Yes, that pain you’re in isn’t just because your spine is shrinking and you can’t sit up anymore.  It’s also because parts of you that are working well simply hurt now!  So start cutting back on that candy and those soft drinks, and you’ll find things improve right away

  • Lose the Pandemic Diet

“Wait,” you say.  “Didn’t she just talk about eating?”  Sure I did, but only about sweets.  Your next job is to change the bad eating habits you fell into during the lockdown.  Maybe before this, you used to have three meals a day and one afternoon snack.  I’m betting that changed!  Now there’s a morning snack and three afternoon ones and then a couple after supper?  Right?

Funny, we dogs didn’t get that change!  We’re still eating the way we did before the lockdown (well, with maybe a few extra treats since you’re around us more).  And so we’re looking fine, while you have to lose your new tummies!

Maybe you’ve been able to keep a healthy food regimen through this time, but even if so, now it’s time to cut back on the snacks.  And if your food has also gotten junkier, then it’s definitely time to improve that.

And one more note on that:  Worldwide, one of the biggest effects of the lockdown has been people increasing their amount of mind-altering substances.  Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, anything like this.  I’m not going to tell you whether or not you need to stop them completely (though I have an enormous respect for anyone who does), but if you’re using them more than you were a year and a half ago, your FIRST JOB is to cut way back on them now!  You’ve probably built up tolerance for them, which means that using enough to feel good is now being rougher on your liver and lungs than before.  And the police who arrest people for their blood-alcohol content don’t care a bit about the fact that you can tolerate more than you could two years ago. 

So cut back on all.  And life will get better and better and better.  I guarantee it!

  • Keep the Sleep

My final recommendation isn’t about changing back to the way you were before the lockdown.  It’s the opposite.

Sleep deprivation used to be one of our greatest health problems.  But during the pandemic, everyone started sleeping in more.  Don’t need to drive the kids to school in the morning?  Great, that’s a half hour!  Don’t need to go to work yourself, or even dress up for it?  Greater, that’s another hour!  Can take a nap in the afternoon because school ended early?  Heaven!

So while everybody got a little shorter and a little chubbier, they also started sleeping as much as they needed for the first time in decades!

Once again, I’ll say – look to your pets.  We sleep through the night with you, but also take lots of naps through the day.  What can you do to help yourself keep sleeping enough?  Can you give yourself a nap?  Can you turn off your electronics at a decent hour to make up for having to get up earlier again? 

And if you remember, I pointed out earlier that getting exercise will help you sleep better.  You know what else will?  Changing positions, stretching, exercising, eating less junk, and especially reducing mind-altering substances.  In other words, everything I talked about here! 

So maybe you’ll find that you can still sleep enough, while sleeping a little bit less!  But it’s the “enough” that matters to me.  And will, in the long run, matter to you.

Maybe some of these suggestions aren’t what you need right now.  But I’m betting that, as life begins to get social and crowded again, some of these will help you.

But really, all I’m suggesting is that you do what you need so that this next year can be the happiest of your life.

Because you guys have earned it!!!

How to stay positive in a negative-minded world

Katarina asks:

How does one stay positive when everything around seems so negative?

Hi Katarina –

            Out of all the questions you could have asked, about any topic, you have picked probably my favorite!  Because if there’s one thing we dogs are better at than humans (well, besides hearing, smelling, and biting), it’s this!

            Some dogs live in fear.  I’ve written a lot about my friend Aria, who’s suffered abandonment, beatings, all sorts of awful stuff.  And while she’s sweet and loving, and happy in her new home, she’ll always be scared of “worst circumstances.”  But even with that, she’ll never be “negative,” in the way people can be.

            You see, the problem with you people is that your brains are too big!  You remember so much about the past, and analyze it so much, and think so much about the future.  And you create.  You write novels and symphonies and design buildings and computer coding and put your imaginations on canvases and movie screens – all of which is just wonderful.  But that same creativity means you’re always going to be trying to figure out “what’s next.” 

            Now if your life had always been happy and joyous, that “what next” might be wondering what delights will come to you tomorrow.  You’ve always had great friends?  Well tomorrow you might meet someone just as flawless you fall in love with.  You’ve always been lucky and respected?  Then tomorrow you might get a high-paying job you’ll love.  You’ve always been attractive?  Tomorrow you might get even more gorgeous!

            But no one, and yes I mean no one, gets that life.  By the time you’re a year old, you’ve felt terror, betrayal, abandonment, and awful pain (between being born, weaning, and diaper rash, it’s a guarantee!).  Want to learn not to trust those you love?  Experience your parents telling you they’re having another child.  Want to know cruel deprivation?  Your babysitter says no you can’t stop for ice cream.  Want to know assault?  Your doctor gives you a lifesaving injection.

            In other words, things that are perfectly fine, even wonderful, can feel awful.  And your brain, in order to protect you from being surprised and devastated by these things, learns to assume the worst.  And with that, you become pessimistic and overall negative.

            A few years ago, Handsome met a woman and they both liked each other at once, and started dating.  And of course they both had other things going on in their lives.  But whenever he would change a date – “Oh I forgot I have to work late that afternoon, do you still want to meet for dinner” or “Hey my cousin’s going to be in town that day for just a few hours, can we meet another night?” – she would always respond, “Yeah, right.”  Like she knew he was lying.  Even though he wasn’t.

            And because of this, eventually he broke things off.  Not that she was mean to him – she was actually very nice to him considering she “knew” he was lying to her! But rather he just didn’t want to be in a relationship where he was assumed to be lying all the time, when he was actually telling the truth!

            Was she bad?  No, but clearly she’d been disappointed, and lied to, so many times in the past that she had learned to expect it.  She had been programmed into negativity!  Which made her not just believe negatively (as Aria does) but act negatively and thereby create a negative world around her.  She made Handsome, who had felt positively about her, feel negatively, and end their relationship!  And then be on the lookout for other women to do the same thing, so he could get out more quickly if they did!  Yes – her negativity made him more negative!

            And while she’s a particularly obvious case, all people share this.  This is the basis of all prejudice, when you think of it – people learn to believe this group of people is sneaky, that group is dumb, and that group is evil… while there’s always lots of proof that those beliefs are wrong.

            So what can you, or any human, do?  You can’t eliminate your own intelligence and live as much in the moment as a pup. 

            But you can make a choice.  You can choose, more than we can. 

            For example, if you were in that woman’s situation, you could think “I imagine he’s on a date with someone else.  But even if he is, that’s okay, as I’ll see him afterward.  After all, we’re just beginning our relationship; we’re not committed or anything yet.”  Or “He says he’s with his cousin.  Maybe I’ll call and see if I can talk with that cousin!  I’ll just tell Handsome that I want to find out what his family thinks of him!”  And then when Handsome does laughingly hand the phone to his cousin, who talks him up, she’ll know he wasn’t lying.  (Or if he got nervous and said no she couldn’t, she’d have every reason to keep doubting him).

            Here’s the truth – bad luck will come along.  It always does.  You’d be dumb to deny that.  But your life is worse if you spend all your time worrying about it!  Good things also come along, and that negativity can take away the joy they bring.  “Yes I just found a pot of gold and will be rich forever, but I know my friend still won’t return my call!”

            Look at it this way.  You don’t know exactly how long you have to live, but it’s a finite time, right?  Maybe you have ninety years ahead of you, and maybe just ninety hours.  But either way, it will end.  Would you rather spend them happier and hopeful, or mired in suspicion?  And would you rather people know you as someone who spreads joy or someone to avoid? 

            That’s your choice.

            You can’t control fate, but you can control what you choose to focus on.  When I first step out of our house in the morning I tend to stop, blown away by all in front of me.  The smells, the sounds, the sights, the feel.  I’m overwhelmed by all the new, the possible.  While most people rush out their door, griping about whatever is in between them and their car, not absorbing any of it.

            You say in your question, Katarina, that “everything around seems so negative.”  I say you’re right, but the most important word in there is “SEEMS.”  What about looking for the opposite?

            There’s a cold miserable storm outside?  Focus on the fact you have shelter.  You get a flat tire?  Focus on the fact that you know either you or someone else will repair it.  You have no food to eat?  Focus on the fact that you almost certainly will later.  You have no money?  Focus on how you can get some.

            Again, I’m not asking you to be unrealistic.  That storm is cold, that tire is flat, you’re hungry and broke!  But focusing on the negative means things will stay that way, while focusing on the positive enables change and improvement.

             And here’s the strangest thing about this way of living: you won’t be wrong!  For example, let’s say someone you love is ill with a potentially fatal disease.  You could choose to focus on the negative, assume they’re dying, and start grieving now.  Or you could focus on the fact that the doctors give them a 20% chance of survival, and do anything you can to help make that happen.  Now what will happen if they die?  Will you be “wrong?”  Nope.  You’ll still be right.  You had focused on hope, and now they’re truly gone.  And you can grieve your heart out.  But their last days alive were better because you were full of love and hope and appreciation.

            Katarina I’m not saying this is easy.  It’s not.  But it is, I truly believe, the best way to live. 

            It sure works for me!

            Wishing you the very best,

            Shirelle

He’s a Tramp! … the hardest quality to attain

Over all the years I’ve run this website, I’ve talked about lots of movies – some good, some great, some maybe not so great.  But I’ve always insisted on one being my favorite.  My favorite love story, my favorite musical, my favorite everything.  And with the sexiest, most charming leading male ever.  Of course I’m talking about Lady and the Tramp.

This glorious animated feature is often considered one of Walt Disney’s better films (though not as historically important as his masterpieces from a decade or so earlier), but what matters to me is that it’s still the best movie about dogs ever.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are lots of excellent movies that have dogs in them.  And a number of terrific movies about “a” dog.  But most of those are movies about humans, who have dogs in their world. 

But Lady and the Tramp is really about us.  How we live, what we value, and what we like to do.  Is it maybe a bit anthropomorphic (a long word that means animals do things that in real life only people do)?  Sure.  Like when the dogs can read!  But overall, it gets more right than wrong.

And biggest of all, it gets our single most important quality right. 

(Now I’m going to admit, what I say after this kind of requires you to have seen it.  So if you never have, you might want to catch it before you read on.  And if you do, he bigger screen you can see it on, the better – as it was made for the wide screens of the 1950s.)

If it’s been a while since you’ve caught it, the story surrounds a cocker spaniel puppy that a couple adopts and raises in their very nice home in a very nice neighborhood.  They name her Lady, which she most certainly is.  Her best friends are her neighbors Jock, a Scottie, and Trusty, an aging bloodhound.  Her life is bland and simple until the day a stray mutt, Tramp, shows up in her yard.  They like each other at once, but he insults her domestic life, and his rudeness repels her.

Soon after that, her humans have a baby, and start ignoring Lady a bit.  But when they go on a vacation, they leave the home and baby in the care of their dog-phobic Aunt Sarah.  Her cats try to destroy the house, and Lady stops them, but gets blamed for it and taken to a pet store to get muzzled, and runs away. 

Chased by some mean dogs, she’s rescued by Tramp, who takes her to a zoo to get her muzzle chewed off, and then shows her his fun carefree lifestyle, famously including eating spaghetti at an Italian restaurant, till they’re chased by a dog catcher, who nabs Lady.  Terrified in the pound, she meets other dogs, all who know and tell her about Tramp, and in particular about how many girlfriends he’s had.

Aunt Sarah frees her, but chains her to the doghouse in her yard.  Tramp shows up and tries to explain that he hadn’t abandoned her, but she wants nothing to do with him, until they spy a large rat entering the baby’s room.  Tramp gets into the house and barely wins a fight-to-the-death with the horrific vermin.  But when Aunt Sarah finds him, thinking he had attacked the baby, she calls the dog catcher to take him to the pound and put him down!

Lady tells Jock and Trusty what’s happened, and they run to catch the pound’s truck, while Lady’s humans, returning from their trip, discover the rat and realize Tramp’s heroism.  Jock and Trusty stop the truck in time, but Trusty is run over, leaving Jock in tears.

Then that Christmas, Lady’s owners bestow the now fully domesticated Tramp with a license, while their puppies play with their favorite neighbors, Jock and Trusty, who turns out to only have suffered a broken leg.

It’s good, isn’t it!  And I didn’t even get to the songs!

Looking at this movie today, there’s a lot to talk about.  Yeah, Tramp’s still my ideal fellow, but I can get a bit annoyed at how Lady’s always needing to be rescued by some male or another.  And the movie could even be called – in its own weird way – a little racist, with its evil Siamese cats singing in Chinese accents, its buffoonishly emotional Italian chefs, and its cliché’d images in the pound of Germans (the dachshund), Mexicans (a chihuahua), and even a Russian Wolfhound who quotes the works of Gorky (okay, I have to admit, that’s just hilarious!). 

However, in the end, the movie actually speaks against prejudice, as Aunt Sarah’s pro-cat-anti-dog viewpoint is proven SO wrong!  (And she even sends the family a package of dog treats for Christmas, showing that she learned her lesson.  Yes, in modern terms, Aunt Sarah gets Woke!)

But the reason I chose to write about this lovely treat of a movie is something else – something that’s never talked about in the film but is, I think, something we need to talk about a lot more in our world.  Integrity.

I got Handsome to look up a dictionary definition of Integrity.  He found two main ones: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness” – and “the state of being whole and undivided.”  My definition would be sort of a mix between the two, where one acts on their values and has a core sincerity.

Handsome told me about a TV show a couple of years ago, where a society believes in stealing.  Not that they were dishonest exactly; they just believe it’s weak to earn things or get them through trade, and that “real men” take what they want instead.  Now I would want nothing to do with these murderous thieves, but they actually have Integrity – they openly state who and what they are, and accept the consequences for it.  At the other end of a moral spectrum, people who are willing to die for their faith rather than defend themselves absolutely have Integrity too.

Now Integrity isn’t even an issue with minerals or plants, or animals of smaller brains.  Rocks have pure Integrity, as do ponds and celery stalks and giant oaks and polar bears and cockroaches.  They can’t be anything other than they are.

It gets a little tougher when you talk about animals like horses or cats or, yes, dogs.  We can’t lie the way humans can (though humans are always accusing us of it – “I fed you two hours ago!  Don’t tell me I didn’t!”).  But since we are taught rules, we can choose to follow or break them.  For example, if a dog is told to stay off a couch, and only gets onto the couch when the people aren’t home, does that dog have Integrity or not?  On one hand, the dog is following a deeper rule (Don’t get on the couch when the humans are there), but on the other it’s living a lie (Act completely subservient and let them think I’m perfectly good, though I know I’m actually sneaking around behind their backs and doing what they don’t want)!

            But this gets way bigger when it comes to you humans.  You guys are so good at lying, betraying, hypocrisy, all that – so Integrity takes a lot of work when someone has as big a brain as you! 

            Think of those two definitions – moral uprightness and being whole – and imagine a woman in a marriage that has no spark who’s fallen in love with her coworker.  If she sticks with her marriage, she’s obeying definition one, but wouldn’t divorcing or having an affair be more in keeping with definition two?  She’d be fully herself, while breaking the most serious vow she ever made.

            What about the honest police officer who needs money to pay for his son’s medical operation, and finds some easy-to-steal money?  Is it more moral to save his son or obey the law?

            And what about when you did something years ago that you now regard as immoral, but to admit it would make other people’s lives worse today?

            Is Integrity even possible for a human?

            I’ll argue that it is. But it requires the ability to change, and openly own that change. Maybe that woman makes the choice to leave her marriage, or to change workspaces to avoid that coworker. She’s insisting on her Integrity, one way or another. Or maybe that officer does take the money, but spends the rest of his life working to pay it back. Again, the person has to change in some way, to allow for what’s different in their lives.

            And then, let’s go back to the movie (admitting, again, that the characters are pretty anthropomorphic), and look at the characters there. Those cats have basically NO Integrity (yes, they share their evil secrets with each other, but they are so phony to Aunt Sarah!).  While Jock shows great integrity (if you accept his hiding his bones from Lady and pretending there’s nothing there!).  And Trusty seems to live in a state of delusion about his tracking abilities, but he’s still a good caring guy.  And of course both of them show enormous Integrity in risking their lives to save Tramp, whom they initially didn’t like.

            Does Lady have Integrity?  Sure.  She sticks by her values as best she can.  When she runs away, it’s out of terror at the muzzle, not her cheating on her responsibilities – and she does say she needs to go back home after she’s free of it, to protect the baby. 

            But then we come to Tramp.  Does he?  Well, when he’s living free and easy, you could argue that, sure, he’s got full wholeness-Integrity in his love of a trampy life.  But once he meets Lady, he changes.  Suddenly he wants her for his girlfriend, which means he needs to cover up his past from her; letting her know about the other girls would mean he’d lose her!  So he’s stuck – and not fully being himself.

            But then, two events enable him to regain his Integrity.  First, Lady’s experience in the pound teaches her everything she needs to know about him (particularly courtesy of that great Peggy Lee song, “He’s a Tramp, but they love him / Breaks a new heart every day / He’s a Tramp, they adore him – and I only hope he’ll stay that way!”).  And then, while she’s rebuffing him for his past, that rat shows up, and he proves his worth for eternity.

            And the end of the movie shows it.  Suddenly his past is irrelevant.  He’s a husband, a father, and a heroic licensed pet.  Yes he has a past, and he owns it, but he has changed, and he owns that change too.  And as such, while all the adoring dogs in the pound might be unhappy with those changes, he has regained his Integrity.

            If there’s one thing we dogs can teach you humans, it’s this: Integrity is the best quality anyone can have.  We might cheat about the couch, or sneak food off the kitchen counter, but at our core we are honest.  We might live in love the way I do, or in fear as my friend Aria often does, but we are who we are.  It’s easy for us. 

            While for you, it’s a lifetime of work.  Especially as you grow and learn and change, which is just what you ought to do. 

            Because it really matters in the long run.  Someone might be disappointed that you’re not the person they want you to be, but fundamentally they’ll respect you.  Whereas, if you lack Integrity, they never can.  No matter how much they enjoy what you do for them.

            And more than that, having Integrity is what allows you to be loved!  Think of how easy it is to fully adore a dog or a cat or a baby, because we have that full Integrity.  But it’s harder to love an adult person that way, because they’re so much more likely to disappoint you by their lack of it.  But remember: people want to love each other, so they’re going to give you a break as much as they can.  Think of when you were a child and first realized your parent had a real flaw – they cheated at something or lied or just failed.  That was tough for you, but you still managed to trust and love them enough, because you wanted to.  Or maybe you had a boyfriend or girlfriend who just kept blowing it – breaking promises, flaking out, or being cruel to you.  Remember how you tried and tried to keep believing in them, so that you could feel loving and loved?  And how it felt when you realized you couldn’t anymore?  That they had so little Integrity you couldn’t find what to love?

            So yes, you’re not as perfect as us (and even we might not be as perfect as the characters in a movie, who never shed in the house or pee on a carpet!).  But Integrity will get you closer and closer to it.  And with that, you can be trusted, and respected.  And loved.

            Be a lady or a tramp, but be yourself.  And then, at the very worst, they’ll sing of you just what I’d sing of that hero if he were real…

“You can never tell when he’ll show up.
He gives you plenty of trouble.

I guess he’s just a no-count pup
But I wish that he were double!

The Aquarian Apocalypse …a fable for our times…

            Certain kinds of stories transcend place and time.  For example, did you know that almost every land on Earth has some version of Cinderella, long before they’d have heard them from each other? 

            One that seems to show up in every culture that existed around the ancient Mediterranean is of The Great Flood.  You know it – that humans were so awful that God (or the Gods) flooded the whole world out, but one man was so good that he was warned in advance from above, and built a great ship on which he saved one member of every species of animal, along with his family.

            Another sort of story we hear about is where God (or the Gods) test people, and punish or kill everyone who doesn’t give the right response.  The Jewish story of the Passover might be the best known of this (due to exciting movies of it like The Ten Commandments!).  In it, God sends a plague that kills the first-born of every family that doesn’t put a sign of devotion on their doors, but it ‘passes over’ the homes that do.  Pretty harsh, huh!

            Then there’s another sort of apocalyptic warning tale. It’s more modern, and showed up a lot in stories written after the invention of the atomic bomb.  In these, either mankind learns from disasters to master its newfound power and move forward, or it doesn’t and is ruined (by those disasters), or it’s warned in apocalyptic terms of just how dangerous this new power is.  In other words, the stories all have the same moral: “If we don’t learn how to stop fighting each other, we’re going the way of the dinosaurs!”

            I was thinking about these three kinds of stories recently, when it hit me that we may be living through a fourth one – one that isn’t being written or filmed; it’s literally happening to us. 

            You see, odd as it may seem, we’ve actually survived the other ones.  Whatever awfulness humans were doing before The Great Flood, it hasn’t been repeated, so you guys must have improved!  And while horrible acts have been perpetrated on people for their faith over the last 2500 years, the world seems to have survived the vengeance of their deities. 

            And maybe most amazing of all, the human race, for all its flaws, has gone 75 years without using atomic weapons on each other.  Pretty astounding when you think of it!

            So I guess the overall moral here is that, slowly but surely, humans do learn their lessons.  But there’s always room for growth, right?

            Well, what about our current coronavirus apocalypse?  Is there anything we can learn from it?  It hasn’t decimated the entire world, or picked favorites based on ethnicity or faith.  And it hasn’t created any devastating wars, yet.

            Is this something completely new?  Something promising to raise humanity to a higher level?

            Maybe.

            I argued in the last Pawprint about how sad and furious I was that people’s laziness and stupidity had allowed the virus to grow and spread for so long that it killed one of my favorite people.  And yes, I’m still very angry about that.

            But what if we look at it another way?  What if the whole human race is being taught a lesson, one you need more than ever?  What if it’s on purpose that this disease demands something all new from everyone?

            Not to care for yourselves, or your families, or even all of humanity.  But to care for “the other.”

            So here’s the story I’m suggesting.  A new fable:

            One morning, the Great Dog in the Sky looked down at the world She had created, and said, “Humans have evolved well.  They no longer do such unspeakable things that I need to eliminate them and start over, and they now treat other religions well enough that I don’t need to kill their children; and they’ve even shown some restraint in how they fight each other.  But while they’ve improved in some ways, they have gotten worse in one.  They are selfish than ever!”

            And of course, She was correct.  The growth in their intelligence and skills had made humans less dependent on their tribes, and more focused on themselves and those closest to them – to the degree of often not caring about anyone else.  They figured “somebody” would take care of anyone in pain, and smugly assumed that any poor or destitute person must deserve it.  They no longer were trying to eliminate everyone who was different from them, but they had not yet learned to truly love each other, in the way the world needed.

            So She sent down a new plague.  A plague unlike any before.  This plague hurt or killed some people, but infected far more, without showing any symptoms.  And once humans learned the basic facts about it, they realized something new – that the only way to beat the new plague would be to wear masks, keep distant, and keep clean.  Not to protect themselves, but to protect each other!

            At first, most humans didn’t grasp this concept.  “But if I’m feeling okay, then I can’t be sick, so there’s nothing wrong with my going about my life as usual,” they insisted.  But then bit by bit they learned.  They went to a fun party and came home, and unintentionally infected and killed their grandparents.  They took their daughter to a religious ceremony to teach them moral lessons, after which she gave her best friend lung damage for life.  They screamed for their favorite team at a sports event, resulting in local hospitals filling their beds with patients on breathing machines, while other people died waiting to get let in.

            And meanwhile, they also suffered the lack of everything they loved doing together.  Restaurants and concerts and plays and movies and sports events.  And even going to school.  All of these got stopped because of the danger caused by people who didn’t know they were contagious.

            And so, bit by bit, the people learned.  They started acting as if they were sick, even if they were almost certain they weren’t.  They politely gave room to those they were walking past.  They wore masks even though the nasty things were uncomfortable and made their faces break out.  They sanitized themselves before and after encountering everyone.

            And even those who got vaccinated, guaranteeing them that they’d not be hurt by the disease, kept masked and distant and clean, in case they might carry the disease and spread it to others.

            And as enough people learned to act in such an unselfish way, the Great Dog chose to reward them with a lovely treat: she started to take the virus away. 

And slowly, just as the flood and earlier plagues had receded, the world began to re-open.  Schools enabled youngsters to meet and play and grow together.  Theaters and restaurants took people in to give them joy and sustenance.  Gatherings increased, with embraces and jostling and mosh pits and fistfights – everything everyone had enjoyed before.

            But with a new understanding. 

            You see, humans had been telling each other that the key to happiness was to treat others the way you wanted to be treated, to love your neighbor as yourself, for millennia.  Now they learned the next level of that – that you have to actually take care of each other!  Just wishing the other well isn’t enough. 

            And the world was better forever after.

            Do you like this story?  I do!

See, If a dog howls in pain, other dogs will join in and howl along with them.  That’s our pack mindset.  If a dog smells fatal illness in another, they might try to kill them, instinctively acting on the harsher side of our pack rules.

            Where humans are heading is to another level.  To say “It doesn’t matter whether I sense it or not, I need to alter my behavior for my fellow human.  That’s the only way to have the world I want.”

            In other words, the key to each person’s selfish desires is to act unselfishly!  You want your job back?  You want movies and concerts back?  You want to start meeting cute attractive people in public again, so one of them might be all you desire?  Then take care of the person next to you!  Everyone needs to do just this!  That’s the only way it can happen!

            And that’s the lesson the whole world’s been getting taught for the past year.  The sooner more people learn it, the sooner everyone gets better off.  And the longer people insist on sticking to their old mindsets…  well, you know.

            Oh, but there are two aspects to my idea I’ve forgotten to include.  First, this has actually been predicted.  Not the stupid virus, but the place I like to think the world is moving.  Astrologers and some religions have spoken for years about the Aquarian Age – an era that will involve mutual understanding, after the past era, the Piscean Age, of conquest and domination.  Don’t look for one specific date; the idea is that we’re in a period of transition into it.  Depending on where you read, this transition might take decades or it might take centuries!  But every time people learn to think of others in their actions more, that’s a great step forward into it.

            And the second aspect?  Oh that’s the best part of the story.  When the Great Dog in the Sky saw that humanity had learned and grown, she threw a great party up there – a party for all who had perished in this recent plague.  And all of them felt pride about being part of this wonderful change, and sang and danced to all the songs they’d most loved in their times on Earth, and beamed down love on those still here below.  Which led to them deciding that the song they wanted to dance to the most, regardless of their musical tastes, was of course…

            So why not get up and dance with them!  I do!

Love,

Shirelle

8 My Friend Mutt – the need to use your full mind

My dear friends, I usually write you from a place of tail-wagging joy.  Though sometimes I have written you from sadness, or from anger.  But today I’m maybe the saddest and angriest I’ve ever been.

One of my very best friends ever passed away a couple of weeks ago.  I hate loss, and, like all pups, get very attached to those I love, so a friend’s death is always going to hurt my heart.  But what makes me so angry is that this loss was completely unnecessary – my friend should have lived for many more years.  In fact, I’d argue my friend was murdered.  But not by one individual – he was murdered by an energy, a concept.  My friend was murdered by Stupid.

I’ll explain that in a moment, but first let me tell you about my friend.

Mutt was a friendly cheerful guy who always had a song in his head and an awful joke to tell.  His real name wasn’t Mutt, but that’s what his granddaughter called him when she was a baby, and of course I loved the name, since it made us sound related!  He was strong, energetic (played tennis three times a week), and a great friend to all who knew him, while a devoted caretaker to friends and family. 

A few years ago, he and his wife moved into an apartment which, for the past ten months, has done better than anywhere I know of at keeping their residents safe from the coronavirus.  The people who ran it enforced very strict rules, not letting any visitors in, testing the people who worked there, and quarantining anyone who went out for any reason.  With this, they managed to go nine months without any resident becoming infected with Covid-19.  But then one person, somehow, caught it.  And then, a week or so later, Mutt caught it too. 

When asked how, he said, in a cheerful tone, “Oh, probably just by walking down the hall.”  At first he just had a slight cough.  Then he had a couple of falls – strange because he normally wasn’t clumsy.  After a bad one, he was sent to be checked out at a hospital, in case he’d broken anything.  No, his bones were fine, but because they tested everyone who came in, they tested him and he found out he had it.  A week later, he was in a hospital room on oxygen.  Days later, he was in an Intensive Care Unit on lots more oxygen.  And a couple of weeks after that, his lungs gave out and he went to be welcomed above by his parents, his sister, other family and friends, and I can’t imagine how many dogs.

Don’t get me wrong – Mutt had a terrific life.  He enjoyed great health, was successful enough in his work to devote many years to volunteering for causes he cared about, and relished the love of many.  His lifelong passions for nature and music fed his soul every day, and he even left this world listening to a favorite opera.

So why am I so angry?

Because of Stupid.

If Mutt had developed a cancer, or suffered a heart attack, I’d just be writing about here about what he showed us about a beautiful meaningful existence.  And if he’d caught this awful virus when it first took over the planet, I’d have wailed about the tragedy of illness.

But something else happened.

By last May, scientists all around the world knew what we needed to slow this viral spread.  And told us so, in very clear terms.  They knew we would eventually develop vaccines to free humanity from its clutches.  But that, until then, all people everywhere needed to do just a few things to keep its spread down.  You’ve heard these rules all year:  to wash your hands frequently, to wear a mask and stay distanced from others when you’re out of your home, and to avoid crowds.  And especially to remember that this disease can be contagious even when one has no symptoms of it – that anyone, no matter how good you’re feeling at that moment – can be a carrier and transmitter of it… and thereby potentially a killer of someone else.

Of someone innocent.  Of someone maybe strong and healthy.  Of someone perhaps with no dangerous pre-existing condition.  But of someone you’ll have to live the rest of your days knowing you killed.

And far too many people chose to be Stupid.  To ignore those rules.  To take the chance.  And why?  Well, apparently, because they think wearing a mask is just too much work.

Now you know those cones that veterinarians put on us pups after we’ve gotten stitches?  They’re annoying.  Even more so for me because I have such a long nose so I have to wear a really big one.  I totally hate them.  But Handsome has always made sure I have one when I need it, no matter how much it annoys me.

So if I could put up with that, why is it such a big deal for a human to strap a small piece of fabric over their face, especially when they can choose to wear one that has a pretty or fun pattern on it (Handsome loves wearing ones with monsters on them, for example!)?  And if I can put up with staying on a leash when I’m outside our home, why is it so difficult for some humans to keep a safe distance from others?

The answer is it’s not.  Anyone can easily wear a mask and stay distanced (and those who say masks hinder their breathing just need to talk with anyone who saw Mutt in his last days about what real breathing trouble looks like.  Or, if you truly have a serious respiratory issue, then you should be even more cautious of this virus, and find ways to stay completely away from others all the time till it’s gone!). 

But that’s just about being lazy and selfish.  It doesn’t account for Stupid.

All year, all over the world, we’ve heard stories of people arguing that they knew better than the scientists.  Who say that masks impinge their right to personal freedom. Who even go around yelling at those who follow the rules, screaming that they’re wrong to wear masks and keep distanced.  Even some rotten politicians have scorned the safety measures, inspiring their peoples to Stupidity. 

Now I realize that some countries have enforced strict rules on safety, which have largely kept the virus out.  They have shown the truth – that when people obeyed the simple rules the scientists recommended, the virus reduced to a degree that all were safe.  Which is great, but my point is about people who’ve had the freedom to choose what to do – and have chosen Stupid.

You see, if people had chosen safety over Stupid even when their governments didn’t force them to, the same excellent results could have been true everywhere. 

But no.  These Stupid people have spread the virus all year.  These Stupid people have filled hospitals with struggling, gasping, and dying patients.  These Stupid people have kept schools from being able to take children back in, restaurants from being able to provide food and service, churches and mosques and synagogues from being able to give their parishioners the warmth and comfort of group worship, and entertainers the ability to stir audiences to joy.

And, by keeping the virus so prevalent, these Stupid people killed my friend Mutt.

But in the midst of my grief and anger about him, I then think of how far the power of Stupid stretches.

Look at our international squabbles.  How many are because of Stupid?  The Koran, Torah, Bhagavad-Gita, and Bible all tell us to love and take care of each other, but Stupid tells people that their loving God wants them to randomly kill and oppress those who worship differently. 

Humans have all the knowledge they need to slow down climate change, to keep our air and water clean, and to preserve what’s unruined of our planet, and even bring back some things we’ve lost.  But Stupid (led by Greed) keeps telling the world that the scientists are wrong about all this, and to keep the greatest mass suicide in history continuing.

I could go on and on.  And remember, I’m not the one with the great brain!  I can’t do math or write a song.  I’m just sitting around looking at you guys, wishing you’d USE those brains of yours in the best way you can. 

But I’m not getting what I wish for.  In fact, the day before Mutt passed away, I saw the most astonishing demonstration of Stupid I’ve ever seen.  Maybe that anyone’s ever seen.

A politician who’s known to lie a lot lied that he had won an election.  The votes were counted and recounted many times.  Courts had looked at all his arguments, and dismissed them.  Members of his own political party confirmed that, yes, there was no way around it; his opponent had won clearly.  But he kept insisting to his supporters that he’d been the victor, they’d been cheated, and they needed to fight to keep him in his job.

And on that fated day, a number of them did.  They violently broke in to the halls of their own government, threatening and attacking their representatives, resulting in five deaths.  And here’s where I’m really in awe – these people were so Stupid, they did this in front of television cameras, and even took photos of themselves and posted them online.  They broke the most fundamental laws of their country, and went to great efforts to make sure everyone knew about it.

In so doing, they destroyed their own lives.  They’re being arrested and jailed, and will suffer legal punishments.  And that man they did this for?  He’s of course denied that he had anything to do with them – liars lie after all – sacrificing them to save what he can of his own skin.

These Stupid people followed Stupid arguments to the point of doing Stupid things – and countless numbers, including themselves, will suffer because of it. 

I could run down a list of Stupid things I’d like you not to do, but I shouldn’t have to.  Because that’s the whole point: you’re smart and know better.

You see, that’s what I mean by Stupid.  I’m not asking you to suddenly create world peace, just to use your own knowledge to avoid doing Stupid things that inflame needless conflict.  I’m not asking you to invent the way to save the planet, just to do what you already know will help it.  And I’m not asking you to cure the next pandemic disease.  Just to follow what knowledgeable people have told you is the best way to handle this current one.

I’m just asking you to use the brains you have.

Because the world needs you to. 

In Handsome’s book about what I taught him, he lists one of my major lessons as “Ignorance Is Not A Virtue.”  But if you wish to sit at home and be ignorant and not do anything about it, I suppose that won’t hurt anyone.  The danger is when a person chooses ignorance, and then acts on it.

Someone somewhere chose to behave in a way that, directly or indirectly, gave Mutt the disease that killed him.  Did they do that by going maskless, not washing, partying in crowds?  I don’t know.  I just know they did it by being Stupid.  By honoring Stupid.  By choosing to let Stupid run their lives.

Don’t be that way.  Don’t be Stupid.  Use your full brain.  Be your full self.  And if you catch yourself being momentarily Stupid (hey everyone does at times) then just change to acting Smarter.

You just get this one life in this body, with this brain.  Not using it is worse than a mistake.  It’s really kind of a sin when you think of it.

And I’m tired of being sad and angry.  So even if it’s just for me – please – embrace your Smart, and tell Stupid to go straight to…  to where I know my dear Mutt will never be sent!

4 Do Dogs Celebrate Holidays? – the importance of happiness

Every year around this time, I get asked if I celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Eid, or Diwali, or… and I always have the same answer:  I. Am. A. Dog.  I love watching you guys get excited about holidays, and I love any special food that celebrations might bring my way.  But I don’t have a religion, or a cultural heritage, that focuses me on any particular days.  That’s for you folks, and I support your choice to do or not do them fully.  Whatever makes you happy.

But this makes me think of something I heard someone say recently.  She was talking about how she tended to feel depressed a lot, and added, “I think I’m afraid to be happy.”  I thought that was a really profound and vulnerable thing to say, so I jumped up and licked her face till she turned red from giggling.  Which I guess made her at least a little happy, I hope.

But that line has stayed in my head ever since.  What a sad concept. And I wonder how common it is.

It’s totally normal for people to learn to protect themselves emotionally.  “Don’t get your hopes up” is a term I hear frequently.  And I can understand – if you let yourself get too optimistic about something that might not come true, the disappointment if it fails can hurt like blazes.

 But is that a reason to not let yourself get happy?

 Some people have a sort of supernatural belief, that says that if they’re too happy, some god or demon will get offended and make bad things happen to them.  I guess if you believe that, then, sure, happiness would be scary.

But do you?

And some people think it’s insulting to let yourself be happy when so many others in the world are suffering.

But do those suffering people really care about how you’re feeling right now?  Don’t they have other things to worry about?

Life isn’t perfect, and nobody’s happy all the time.  But when things are really good, I actually think it’s a sign of ingratitude, maybe even a sort of blasphemy, to not let yourself feel them all the way.  In fact, while I’m not in favor of repressing any emotion, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold yourself back from feeling sadness or anger or jealousy, instead of happiness, since those are a bit less convenient to the others around you?

But this leads to my real point:  Yes, I think you should let yourself be fully happy when things are great.  But why not also let yourself be mostly happy when things just aren’t bad?

 I was in the back seat of our car once, when Handsome stopped to talk with a parking lot attendant, who asked why he was so cheerful.  Handsome explained that that was because he was happy to see him.” 

“But you’re always so cheerful.  Every time I see you.”

“I am?”

“Yeah, you always seem happy.  How do you do that?  Life stinks!  It’s so stressful!”

And Handsome and I talked about that for the whole drive home.  That guy hit the nail on the head!  It’s not that life is always bad – it’s just always stressful.  And stress is just worrying about what might happen. 

So if you let yourself be happy when nothing bad is happening, then you’re likely to be happy about 99% of the time.  And yes, that 1% will still be bad.  Maybe horribly bad – wars and wildfires and floods and… yeah, pandemics! 

But the rest of the time, if nothing bad is happening, look out your window.  Birds are flying.  Trees are waving in the breeze.  Children are playing.  Dogs are joyously chasing animals with no hope of catching them.  A radio is playing fun music.  A couple is walking close together and one of them is nervously taking the other’s hand.  An airplane is flying passengers to somewhere they’ve never been, that they’ve wanted to see all their lives.  Worms are eating their way through the soil.  The sun is shining, even if you can’t see it.

And if you’re feeling low, so crummy that these lovely facts don’t help, then think about what’s funny out there.  A bird peed onto a lady’s hat.  A kid just told a joke that makes no sense to anyone.  A driver turned to look at someone sexy walking by and bumped into a tree.  And yes, a very serious gentleman is walking down a sidewalk, not seeing that a dog walked there before and took a stop to…

Or if even that doesn’t work, just think about someone you love.  Someone or something you’re just crazy about.  On my worst day, in all my misery, I can think about Handsome, and the fact that he exists, and I’m instantly a bit happier.  And I know that he does the same with me.  Lost his job?  Dumped by a girlfriend?  Stepped on a nail?  Yes, but Shirelle still exists, so there’s reason for joy!

But even that is more work than we dogs have to put in.  We don’t try at all.

And so you see, this is why dogs don’t have holidays.  Because we’re smarter than you in this one regard!  You need to have a day when you focus on family or gratitude or romance or remembrance.  But we celebrate every day.  Our smaller brains let us explode in awe at the sight of a sunrise, or the smell of morning dew, or the deep feel of the vibrations of the earth. 

And then we see you.  The people we love.  And we go even more crazed with joy.

So… scared to be happy?  I can’t even conceive of it – and that fact makes me even happier!

But for you guys, with your giant brains, I say: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Beautiful Solstice, and all the others. 

And most especially, with great optimism for these exciting vaccines…  HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you!  Oh I can’t wait to see what comes next!

2 Speaking and Barking – the power of rhetoric

While I’m always happy to speak out against needless pollution and wars, I tend to avoid discussing politics.  It’s not that I think no one else should talk about them, it’s just that my small brain can’t quite get my head around most of the issues.  Is one tax rate better than another?  What are the appropriate consequences for certain crimes?  Who has the right to a piece of land, the people who’ve lived on it recently or the people whose ancestors were kicked off or tricked out of it in the past?  These questions are all WAY beyond my doggy brain.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of what’s going on around me.  In my country, the United States, these last few months have been consumed by an election – in fact, if it weren’t for the global pandemic, I’m not sure anything other than the election would have even made the news!  But what was different about this election from others was that we didn’t hear all that much argument about policies or general stances.  This election was almost completely about one person – and whether a voter loved or hated him (not too many felt any lesser emotions!).  And often, about whether you loved or hated the things he said.

Now most of you Pack members don’t live in this country, and the election is over anyway, so I have no reason to bring up what’s good or bad about the candidates.  But it turned out that that one who was so central to everything lost – far more voters decided against him than for him – and so won’t be in charge anymore. 

And because of that, there will be all sorts of questioning about how he got power, what he did with it, and whether that was right or wrong, good or bad.

But I want to focus on one thing he has been downright brilliant at, and which enabled him to overturn centuries of tradition of this country.  His Rhetoric.

Rhetoric basically means the art of speaking and arguing.  Sure, we all know that it’s best to speak your words clearly enough to be understood, and to use logic in your arguments.  Even a dog understands that!  But Rhetoric moves beyond those, to questions of how one moves people, how one uses words to affect them emotionally – and very much in this case, how one can use Rhetoric to overpower logic and facts.  Think of it like this – there’s speaking and there’s barking.  Speaking exchanges information, while barking creates emotion.  Rhetoric is about the crossover between the two.

Maybe you’ve seen or read Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, where he dramatizes the two great speeches given after Caesar’s death.  Brutus speaks sensibly, explaining why he agreed to join the conspiracy against the late leader.  But he’s followed by Marc Antony, who uses brilliant Rhetoric to rile the crowd against the conspirators and start a civil war.

Now our finished leader hasn’t achieved that, or tried to exactly.  But he has been able to use words to accomplish lots, and in ways that other leaders could borrow.  And – and here’s my main point here – doing so will overpower facts and logic yet again. 

So I want to go through a bunch of what he did, so that you, my wonderful Pack members, can see these tricks when they’re used in your countries, and then see past them to decide what you really want in your leaders.

Almost all I’m saying here is derived from an amazing book, Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Logic of Donald Trump by Jennifer Mercieca.  She’s a professor of Linguistics and Rhetoric, and studied every word Mr. Trump put out – in speeches, debates, and social media – during his victorious 2016 election campaign.  And she found six major techniques he used.  Which I’ll go over here.

First, Argumentum ad Populum, or Appeal to the Crowd.  You see this one when a speaker compliments the group they’re speaking to “What a beautiful audience!” or argues that their crowd proves they’re right, “How can anyone argue with this?!”  Now there’s nothing wrong with this in, say, entertainment, when the argument gets made “How can 50 million Queen’s Gambit fans be wrong!”  But when someone argues, in your country, that a crowd of tens of thousands proves they’re the majority opinion… it’s just not true.  Maybe tens of millions are completely against them!

Second, Patriotism.  Hey I love my yard as much as anyone could, so I sure understand loving your hometown or country.  Cheer them on at the Olympics (when they return) and support your police and your soldiers who work to protect you, absolutely (especially your Canine Patrol if there is one!).  But when a speaker argues that your country or people are the best in the world… get suspicious.  And when they say that your country ought to be in charge of the world, and would be if you just put them in charge… get afraid.  Lots of leaders have tried this, and the last to really succeed was maybe Genghis Khan or the Roman Empire, depending on your views.  Napoleon failed, Hitler failed, and so will anyone else who tries.  Don’t give them the chance.

Third, Paralipsis, from the Greek for “To Leave to the Side.”  This one is my favorite, where one says, “I’m not saying _________, but I’m just saying _________.”  Like I might say “I’m not saying cats stink, but everyone knows cats smell really bad.”  Or maybe I say “Lots of experts say that cats stink – now I’m not saying it, I never would, but I just thought you should know that the experts say they just reek.”  It’s a cowardly way of saying something bad.  But it can be very powerful.  On one hand, it enables the speaker to say something mean or untrue without having to take responsibility for having said it.  But also it can make listeners feel like they’re part of an “in-crowd.”  Like the way any of you who don’t like cats might have snickered at my comments above.  But hey, that’s just you snickering.  I didn’t say anything bad about sweet little kitties!  I never would!  (heh heh)

Fourth, Argumentum ad Hominem, or Appeal to the Person…  but this kind of “appeal” isn’t a positive one.  This is where the speaker argues that what a person says doesn’t matter, because of some fault in them (real or imagined).  “Ahmed says I took five dollars from his wallet?  Well everyone knows Ahmed is a fool – remember how we all laughed when he got that a zero on the math test!”  Or “Indira says she saw me kick a dog?  Well she’s always been a liar.”  In both cases, the speaker didn’t even deny the accusation.  They just ignore it by insulting the other person.  In politics this can go even further, “My opponent says my tax plan will hurt our nation’s education.  Well you can’t trust her because her husband cheated on her!”  (As silly as this sounds, this worked in my country!)

Fifth, Argument ad Baculum, or, and I hate this term, Appeal to the Stick.  Threatening force or intimidation to overwhelm the speaker’s opposition.  “That newspaper said I stole money from my business partners.  Well clearly they’re just against me, so when I’m elected I’m going to put them out of business!”  Or just talking over your opponent all the time, or stalking them in a threatening manner (we’ve seen these happen here too!).  Or “Hey there’s a protester against me in the crowd, I hope someone punches him in the face!”  Again, it’s a cowardly act – if someone did punch that person in the face, the speaker would instantly deny all responsibility for it, saying “Oh I was just expressing my frustration; I didn’t tell them to do it.”

And Sixth, Reification, or turning people into things.  We see this most often in war.  It’s very hard for anyone to go off to overtake or kill someone when they see them as people, so leaders in war will work to dehumanize their opposition.  “They’re not people, they’re animals!”  Or “They’re godless, and our God orders us to kill or convert them.”  But you hear it in politics in subtler ways.  “The other party can’t think for themselves, they’re just a mob.”  And of course, “We’re the real (name your country here).  The ones who vote against me are against (your country).”

Now my friend Handsome added one more to Merceica’s list, from the world of Psychology, which is Projection. In the usual meaning, that’s when someone sees or is bothered by a quality of theirs in another person.  Let’s say you tend to be a flirt, but then you’re horribly bothered when you see someone else flirting.  Or else, you accuse someone else of flirting when they’re not even doing it at all!  But in this case, it’s the speaker accusing their opponent of exactly what the speaker does.  Maybe you’re a constant liar, and your opponent isn’t, but you keep saying they are enough to get your supporters to believe it.  Or you’re physically unfit, but you always accuse your opponent of being far weaker than you.  This both hurts your opponent and makes you look like you don’t have the fault, even if everyone can see that you do!

There are, of course, countless other Rhetorical tricks that one can use to achieve success in politics or other arenas.  But these are the ones that we’ve been watching, and in many ways suffering from, here for the last few years.  It would be a wonderful thing if all of you, wherever you live, could learn from our experience.  And, at the same time, if you can learn to use some of these tricks yourselves, but just use them for fun or even good positive reasons, then that’s all the better.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go back to the only way I know how to be – honest, troublemaking, loving, and optimistic that better days lie just ahead, for all of us.  And that’s not just an idle bark!

4 Sniffing for Enthusiasm – keys to re-finding motivation

            Handsome doesn’t talk with me about his work very often, but lately he sure has.  You see, he’s a therapist who works with lots of young people, and usually his job is full of variety – this 5-year-old is going through her parents’ divorce, this 9-year-old is getting bullied, this 12-year-old is acting depressed while no one knows why, and this 16-year-old has been sneaking out at night and smoking cigarettes with the wrong friends. 

            But not now.  Today nearly every youth Handsome sees has the same issue: Motivation.

            Now sure, that’s nothing new.  Kids get bored, and teens get boreder.  Always have.  But – and you know very well what I’m getting to here – this Coronavirus year isn’t like anything that’s happened before.  Children who have the same instincts as puppies – to get out and play and tumble and grab and hug and punch and kiss and pull hair – are stuck alone inside, with just some electronic screens to entertain them.  And teens who, just as instinctually, crave to be out laughing and flirting and showing off in the best ways, are trapped, being told to just do the rest of their overlong homework.

            And both, instead of spending their school hours trying and competing for grades, or passing notes to their classmates with silly drawings of the teacher, are (if they’re lucky enough to be able to afford it) sitting in front of a boring computer, where their teacher is trying as hard as they can to keep their students awake and focused on some subject that…  well… if they found it all that interesting, they’d have been learning about it on their own, right?!

            NO one is enjoying this, NO one wants it to continue, but NO one has a solution just yet.  So EVERYone is annoyed, frustrated, bored, and ANYthing but motivated!

            And how does that show up?  Kids sending in blank homework assignments, good students falling behind because they can’t focus, or top-level students just turning their screens off and saying “This is a waste of my time and theirs.  I’m learning nothing.  I quit.”

            What’s anyone to do?!  Is there a solution? 

            Well sure.  A cure, a vaccine, a treatment good enough for everyone to dare getting into groups again – that’ll fix this beautifully.  But for now, what can students do?  Or teachers?  Or parents?

            Now… you know what I’m going to say, don’t you.  There is an answer:  Stop asking machines or humans, and study us dogs instead!

            In most ways, our brains are just simpler versions of people’s.  Yeah, we have better smelling, and more squirrel-focus, but our relationship to motivation is just like yours.  So what do we do when we’re stuck inside an apartment or a yard all day, or even a cage?  Or when we’ve had our joy beaten out of us by abuse or neglect?  Or when we’re just plain old lonely?  How do we get motivated?  And how can that apply to you?

            Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Bribery Works!  No pooch was ever born wanting to sit or stay or heel on command.  And trainers have found that punishment isn’t half as effective a teaching method as reward.  Fill your pockets with good-smelling treats, and your pup will be happy to train for as long as you wish, constantly doing their best to please you.  So why not do the same with students?  A full school day earns a chocolate cupcake.  A good grade on a test earns a trip to the ice cream shop, and a great report card brings in that video game they’ve wanted for months.  Yes, over time you want them to feel motivation in themselves, but THIS ISN’T THE TIME FOR THAT!  (And for those of you too old to be bribed – nothing wrong with bribing yourself.  “Finish this paper, and I get to watch the big game with a beer!”)
  2. Get Outdoors!  There’s a reason we pups go crazy when we see you pull out a leash – our instincts are dying to get us out away from our homes, exploring, sniffing, experiencing, and especially MOVING.  Don’t forget – until very recently, humans spent most of their time outdoors too.  We species share a deep connection to nature that replenishes and invigorates us all.  So get out there – take a walk, work in your garden, or just roll around in a park.  And please don’t tell me “But I’ll get dirty!”  That’s not dirt – that’s nature, that’s God, that’s history and beauty and meaning out there.  What you’re wearing is chemicals and dyes and plastics and stuff. Roll in something way better!
  3. Try to Get Curious.  Stick a dog in a yard for eight hours while our family is away, and what do we do?  Do we stare at the wall, complaining we’re bored?  Nope, we sniff.  There’s nothing interesting to us yet, but we look around for it.  Our ears twist around like sails, we check out every corner, we find what different places feel like to lie down.  And almost every time, we find something interesting.  A lizard ran by here.  A bird is singing in a tree over there.  Someone spilled something really delicious all over this place.  And how does that apply to school?  Well, let’s say you’re studying history, and that’s never been your thing.  A bunch of kings and national boundaries.  Borrrring.  But what if you think of it like a gang war, with every leader trying to hold on to their turf while someone else on their side plots to take their place.  Or an intergalactic battle for planets that will be won by the side with the greatest new weaponry.  Or a group of sly crafty mean girls each plotting how to become the alpha of the group.  Suddenly this is interesting to you?  Then you’ve already succeeded.
  4. Socialize!  Yeah I know what we’re after here is motivation to study harder and do more work.  But wasn’t that easier when everyone hung out together, even in classes and in between them?  Now, everyone’s feeling this gigantic hunger for community and contact, so bad it hurts in the heart!  And of course that’s getting in the way of your motivation.  So reach out – call a friend you haven’t spoken to in months (or years), set up a way to meet either virtually or safely in person, and tell dumb jokes, reminisce about good times, talk about crushes, ANYTHING.  And you’ll find it helps the rest of your life too.
  5. Look Forward!  We dogs don’t have nearly the sense of time you humans do.  We live in the moment mostly.  But your sense of motivation has a lot to do with what’s coming up.  “I gotta study my French tonight because there’s a test tomorrow.”  “I need to get better at kicking before the game next week.”  “I have to get this dress cleaned and pressed before the dance!”  But now, since no one seems to know what’s coming up anytime soon, that whole part of your brilliant brains is sitting unused.  But it doesn’t have to.  Just think further into the future:  SOMEday you’ll be able to go to regular schools again, and you’ll want to have moved forward with the rest of your class.  SOMEday you’ll want to go to college or university or get a job, and how you did today in school will matter.  And SOMEday you’ll be sitting around with your friends and family, and talking about how crazy a time 2020 was.  These WILL happen.  So focus on them, as much as you can.  Motivation will build there.

So that’s what I’ve got for now.  If you have any other suggestions, please let me know and I’ll put them into the next newsletter.

But for now, just know, I have only one motivation for writing here, and it’s YOU.  You’re what matters to me, you’re my whole reason for writing at all. 

So thank you.  Without you, I’d only be able to walk around my yard, sniffing at the fence, hoping to find a little scent, somewhere, of squirrel!

What’s Next? …planning for an uncertain future

Last month I struggled like crazy to find a hundred things I’m grateful for during this insane time, and sent them to you.

But that only goes so far.  And sometimes, things you’re grateful for slip away, like squirrels in a tree while you’re sleeping. 

In just this last month, my sniffing buddy Cloud, my and Handsome’s dear friend Sherry, and countless other friends or family of friends have wandered off to the field over the horizon.  And as our treasures disappear, focusing on just what we’re grateful for doesn’t feel like enough.  What would happen if they all went away?

So I’m writing a sequel to last month’s Pawprint.  This mad, awful, time will end.  I don’t know when, and neither, apparently, does anyone else (Certainly not the idiots who told us it would be gone by April or May.  I mean, I’m a dog, and I have enough brains to have not said something that unscientific!).

But when it does end, the world will be different.  Some things will be like before, some will have become more like now, and some will be able to change in ways they never have, because of all this turbulence.

And I’m making wishes.  For what that world around the corner is like. 

I hope you like them, but what I’d love even more is if you could come up with some of your own and send them to me.  Maybe we can create a whole new list!

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Working from Home.  One benefit of this awful lockdown, at least where I live, has been the incredible decrease in traffic.  So many people who were working in offices and shops are now working from home (and so many others aren’t working at all, which is of course horrifying).  Of course, when things open up, this will change: lots of people will go back to their work places, and hopefully millions and millions of unemployed will find work again.  But wouldn’t it be great if a number of the companies, that have insisted their workers stay home during this, now allow them to keep working at a distance?  Parents can be closer to their children, tons of people will have more time since they skip their commutes, and that reduction in traffic could continue – including reducing pollution, crashes, and lots of anger! 
  2. Theaters Somehow Return.  I mean movies, I mean plays, I mean concerts, I mean children’s shows, I mean sports events, I mean monster car rallies, I mean ice skating, I mean operas, I mean ballets, I even mean Dog Shows!   Throughout recorded history, humans (sometimes with us pooches) have congregated together to be entertained, taught, amused, moved, excited, frightened, and changed.  And while television and the internet are amazing, there’s nothing like the effect of a group experiencing the same thing at the same time.  The laughter, the gasps, the applause.  I want everyone safe, but can it PLEASE come back?!
  3. The End of Factory Farming.  There will always be improvements in efficiency in every business, of course.  But over the past century, too many farms have moved from soulful healthy environments to cruel toxic monstrosities, where animals are so imprisoned and pushed together that their lives are pure misery and new diseases are created and spread.  A while back, Mad Cow Disease got some countries to change their laws, but, if the word is correct, the accidental creation of Coronavirus-19 on such a farm has shown the entire world that things need to change, right now!  How great it would be if an international committee created laws for the entire planet illegalizing these moronic and (yes I’ll use the word) inhuman animal factories. 
  4. Greater Understanding Between People.  There are those who’ve tried to say this virus came from one race, or is one country’s fault.  No. However it began, it has spread due to globalization and willful ignorance.  But it’s been awfully interesting how this problem – which has attacked all people all over the world – has coincided with a greater attention to how some people have gotten treated way worse than others, for a very long time.  Could this be one of those great moments when the world awakens to a better understanding of the simple fact that all humans are siblings?  I know things won’t be perfect, but might they get just a bit better?  That would be a beautiful morning.
  5. I Want Touch Back!  As a dog, I’m considered pettable by the same people who would pet me before this.  But all the close contact I used to see between people – hugs and kisses of course, but also handshakes and high-fives and friendly punches and even whispering – they’re all gone.  And it’s changed you guys; it’s changed the way you even treat us.  Connnection used to be something people craved and drew to; now it’s feared.  And I hate that.  So yes, I want everyone to stay as safe as they need to.  But once you can, please… MAKE CONTACT AGAIN!
  6. Population Control.  A half-century ago, the whole world got frightened about how quickly the human population was growing.  But while it’s only grown more and more quickly, we almost never hear those worries anymore.  We should!  People are wonderful, but just as there shouldn’t be too many dogs in a kennel, it’s unhealthy to have such a growth of humans.  Imagine what it would be like if the growth stopped – if just this number of people remained on the planet.  Suddenly, instead of governments and charities having to help growing numbers of humans, they’d be able to help the current numbers more.  Poverty could be eased, health care could be provided more easily, and all sorts of growing international tensions could get reduced.  Now I hear people argue that the world’s economic systems rely on regular population growth.  But economic systems are created by humans, to help humans.  So couldn’t you guys create a new economic system that doesn’t rely on it?  Couldn’t it be way better than the way things are now?
  7. New Manners.  A few years ago, I wrote a Pawprint where I tried to come up with new rules for Politeness.  And I still like all those.  But I’m talking here about actual “Manners,” how you physically act around others.  While we dogs love to get right up in everyone’s faces and butts, this virus will probably result in people giving each other a bit more space, especially total strangers.  And that will be good on a number of counts.  Sure it’ll reduce the spread of other viruses and germs, but also it’ll help vulnerable people feel safer in public, and create less chance of accidents – like doggies getting stepped on!  So I’m all for it.  But please, it doesn’t mean you can’t pet or hug your favorite pooch just as you always have!
  8. More and Better Plant-Based Foods.  Let’s get this straight – I’m a dog, and I love hunting and catching other animals.  Always will, nothing I’d change about it.  But I also love when Handsome feeds me some of what he’s eating.  And you know what I’ve found?  If he’s eating one of those really great new pretend-burgers that are all made of plants, I can’t tell the difference between it and real meat.  Now remember what I said before about factory farming?  Imagine if people bought, ate, and invented way more of these “fake animal” foods, and way less from actual animals.  Wouldn’t that be great? Again, I love chasing those squirrels and mice, but it’s no fun for me that some poor bird or beast was cramped in a cage all its life for my dinner.  And everyone knows having fewer farm animals would be better for the world in countless ways.  I’m not pushing that everyone has to become vegans – I’m certainly not one myself – but could we all be healthier and happier with a better diet?  Oh yeah!
  9. Keep Reading!  One great thing I’ve seen during this lockdown is people reading way more than before.  Maybe you’re catching up on some classic you’ve never gotten to, or a new book about current events to help your understanding of the world, or maybe you’ve dug up some old bones from the back yard… oops, some old favorites from your childhood that you always wanted to read again.  Whatever it might be, I sure hope this continues when things get better.  Reading exercises parts of the mind that even the most brilliant movies or tv shows never touch.  Sure, have fun rewatching all the episodes of Game of Bones or Dogton Abbey (oops, did I make a typo or two there?  heh heh), but don’t let the love of quietly losing yourself in a great novel or treatise go away.  There’s nothing like it.
  10. At Last, Environmental Sanity.  When I was a puppy, Handsome started training me very mildly.  He’d gently push my butt down and say “sit,” and give me a treat for doing it right.  But over time, he started to get tougher; he’d expect me to sit without him pushing me down, and even without a treat.  It was no longer acceptable for me to not know how to respond to that command.  Well that’s where the human race is today, when it comes to the environment.  For nearly a century, the planet has been letting you all know what was necessary – to put less pollution into the air and water, to not spread certain chemicals, and to work your way out of the overuse of potentially harmful substances.  And some humans have heard it, a few have yelled about it, and many have ignored the warnings.   But now there’s no more excuse.  This year of wildfires, hurricanes, floods, melting ice shelves, rising oceans, and pestilence, is like nothing anyone’s ever seen.  Take any culture’s great ancient writings, squeeze every disaster story in them, which covered centuries, into one year, and that’s 2020.  It Is Time To Wake Up.  I bow my floppy-eared head and pray that you all heed the warnings: start preserving nature, move on from fossil fuels, find solutions to waste and pollution, and for the love of all of us, PLEASE stop electing leaders who deny what’s going on.  So many people talk about protecting the planet, but that’s not the point.  The planet’s going to survive whatever humankind does.  But humankind might not.  And we pups are dependent on you.  So please, for us, learn from this year.  And change.  Things can survive, and can get so much better.  And we will love you for it.

So that’s my wish list.  Do you have others you’d add?  I’d love to hear them, and share them with the rest of the pack!

And then will come the really interesting part: Doing what we can to make these wishes come true.

In fact, maybe that’s my greatest wish – that humans will come together to do just that, to make the world better.  Just that energy would make the future greater than any past that’s ever been.

6 Gratitude Anyway – sticking positive in negative’s face

Gratitude Anyway – sticking positive in negative’s face!

            I was getting depressed.

            All the people around me have been down or stressed or terrified for months.  And we dogs are big empaths (which means we feel what you guys are feeling), so I’ve been down too.

            But that was just from the stupid virus.  Now it’s worse – the continuation of the lockdown far past what anyone envisioned, the billions of people suffering from this around the world, the continuing death rate from the illness but also from accidents and murders from people’s stress and misery, all the fear going around…  it’s enough to make a tail unwaggable.

            But that’s not the way I choose to live.  So I decided to change my feelings.

            I can’t change what’s happening around me, of course, but I know that I’ll be more energetic, and more helpful, if I can also focus on good things, and feel grateful for them.  And there ARE still so many of them, despite everything.

            So I gave myself a task: Come up with 100 things I’m grateful for.  Grateful for right now, at this exact moment.  It wasn’t easy, but I did it.  And do you know what?  I felt better right away.

            So maybe you can try it too.  Stay upset, stay angry; we need that to beat this awfulness.  But also, appreciate what you’ve got that’s absolutely wonderful.  And struggle to think of it.  It is possible, I promise!

            Here’s mine:

Scientists are working for a vaccine.

Most people are behaving intelligently to slow the virus down.

The lockdown has been great for pet adoptions – many shelters have been emptied by people enjoying raising puppies and kittens in their time at home.

The lockdown has kept you guys home so much more, which we love.

Taylor Swift put out a new album that many say is her best ever (though I haven’t heard it yet)

I’m very hopeful about the upcoming US election, that new people will take charge who reduce the amount of poison in our air and water, and work to combat global climate change.

There’s Handsome.  Always there’s Handsome.

Pizza.

Trees.  I love trees so much – the shade, the squirrels, the place to squat or lift my leg…

Water.  Maybe there’s nothing more important out there.

YOU!  My pack, my readers, and every question I get from any of you!

Animal Rescuers.

The couch I’m not supposed to climb on but I do when Handsome’s not at home

Zoom, FaceTime, Doxy… imagine how much worse this lockdown would be if you guys didn’t have these!

Dogs Don’t Get COVID-19.  (at least so far)

Cheese.  All kinds.

Squirrels.  How boring life would be without them!

Naps.

Unlike you guys, we can bend around and lick and chew just about anywhere that hurts or itches or is dirty!

Walks.

My neighborhood – especially the dogs I get to see occasionally.

Buster Keaton’s movie Steamboat Bill, Jr.  Handsome had never seen it before, and it was glorious to sit in the room with him when he watched it in breathless awe last month.

Flowers.

The people who pick up our garbage and recycling and drive it away.

Leashes.  I know it sounds weird, but I’ve explained this before – they give me safety with some freedom.

Veterinarians.  I know that sounds weird too, but they’ve saved my life numerous times, whether I liked their methods or not.

Groomers…  well, really I don’t like doing that at all, but I do appreciate their being as nice as they can!

My house.  And all shelters.  For so many reasons.

My friend Dilla, who makes the funniest sounds and has a tongue that sticks out the side of his mouth.

My friend Aria, who melts my heart and teaches me new things all the time.

My friend Kuma, the best playmate I ever had.

Opera.  Of all the music Handsome plays in our home, this is the closest to what my heart is like.  Passionate, dramatic, and loud!

Grass.  To roll in, to run in, to sniff and pee on.

Memories.  Of lost friends, of great meals, of the best vacations.

Dog Parks!

Beaches!

Forests!

Beverly Cleary – the great children’s book author who always has done such a good job of helping her readers understand weird kids (and dogs!)

Trumpets.  I’ve always loved the sound of trumpets!  No matter how well or badly they’re played.

Bruno Mars.  Because if I could be a human, he’s the kind of human I’d want to be!

Dog Food.  Duh.

Treats.  Double-Duh.

Whatever it is in the human brain that makes so many of you want to befriend us, adopt us, care for us, play with us, fall in love with us. 

Speed Limits on cars!

And that there are NO SPEED LIMITS FOR RUNNING DOGS!

Ice Cream.  And because Handsome doesn’t like to eat too much dairy… all those fake ice creams!  Based in almonds, coconut, soy, cashews… all of them YUMMY! (the little bits he shares with me)

The shower in our house, which on hot days like today is the coolest place to lie down, with my back against the tile wall

My ability to run

My ability to jump

My ability to bark (even though it annoys people)

My ability to lick people’s faces

My ability to wag my tail!

The fact that, however smart he might be in other ways, Handsome’s love for me makes him too stupid to kick me out of the house for making noise and shedding hair all over the place.

The smell of chocolate (Handsome won’t let me eat it but… wow!)

Cool night air

Warm sunshine

Ear scratches

Head scratches

Nice soft stroking petting

Huge overwhelming hugs

Tummy rubs

And best of all, tummy KISSES!

Every moment someone I love comes to my home

The fun of barking at anyone I don’t know who walks by my home!

Governments and Charities who help their people devastated by this tough economy

Health care workers risking their lives to help people with this horrible virus

Scientists working to find treatments to help people with this horrible virus

Scientists working to find a vaccine for this horrible virus (I know I said that before, but isn’t it worth two counts?!)

Chew Toys

Bones

Tennis balls

Harnesses for us dogs that tie us to cars’ seatbelts so we’re safe in case of an accident

My doggy optimism that tells me things will get better eventually

The fact that even if people can’t get together as they used to right now, they can still laugh, cry, and dance.

Birds.

People who push to make this world a better place

People who risk their lives to keep this world safe for others

Dogs who do both

The feel of the ground when I lie on it

The smell of the ground when I lie on it

The sound of the earth when I lie on it

Other dogs’ butts!  Hey, just because you don’t appreciate them doesn’t mean I can’t!

The way some guys are so wildly attracted to women

The way some women are so wildly attracted to guys

The way some guys are so wildly attracted to guys

The way some women are so wildly attracted to women

The way we doggies are so wildly attracted to all you people!

The way so many of you people are so wildly attracted to us doggies!

The way (amusingly incomprehensible to me) so many of you people are so wildly attracted to nasty old kitty cats!

The stars in the sky at night

The clouds in the sky at daytime

Butterflies

The fact that history tells us no plague lasts forever

Firefighters

The new really amazing vegan meat substitutes that taste so much like the real things, but without anyone getting hurt!

Happy Couples

Good Marriages

Amicable Divorces

Did I mention how grateful I am for Handsome?

Did I mention how grateful I am for YOU?

And okay, #101 – a third shoutout to those scientists working so hard to get us to a new world where we don’t have to worry about this stupid virus anymore!!!!

So what do you think?  Can you do that too?

I know you can!

Shirelle