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4 A Prayer for Jessie -The Importance of Importance

A Prayer for Jessie – The Importance of Importance

            I hate it when Handsome’s out of town, even for just a day or two.  But I do love it when he comes back – our reunions are fun even if he’s only been gone an hour, but if he’s been gone overnight, we explode!  I sniff him all over, while he tries his best to hold me tight (and can’t).  And eventually we just stop and look into each other’s eyes, and feast on the fact – all is okay, we’re together again.

            The problem, of course, is that I’m not the only being he ever cares about seeing.  If I were, he’d never leave!  For example, he tries to visit his parents every month or so.  And because he’s afraid to put me in an airplane’s cargo hold (and I’m too big and excitable to qualify as a Therapy Dog and sit in the passenger section), the only times I’ve ever been able to join him on those trips are when he drives there, which takes a couple of weeks at least.  I love it, but he can’t do it very often.

            And, just as with me, he worries about his family a lot – some say too much.  So when he hasn’t seen them in a while, he gets anxious.  So it’s good that he visits, and he always feels so much better when he comes back home.

            Well, except this last time.

            A few days ago, he showed up, and we gave each other our usual crazy greeting, but I could tell something was off.  Was something wrong with his parents, or his niece (who, I’m very proud to say, gave me a new human cousin a couple of days later… WELCOME TO LIFE, JACKSON!) or his nephew, or…?

            No, it wasn’t any of them. 

            “Knucklehead,” he explained to me, “I just spent a half hour on a plane, the longest flight of my life.” 

            Now you know, we pooches aren’t all that good at math, so I struggled with this, not coming up with any answer.  Till he explained, “I spent the flight next to the sweetest woman, who explained to me that she was flying here because her son had just been killed.  And not out of anger, or even a robbery.  He was killed, the police believe, by mistake.  He had just dropped his girlfriend off at her house, the girl who seemed like she might be The One for him, and on his way home, he was shot.  Apparently by someone who thought he was someone else.”

            My heart sank.  We always hear about these things happening, but here it was, right in front of him, and now me.  “He was her only son.  And he was a really great guy, whose life and career were just taking off.  And somehow this woman had to go through this – for no explicable reason.  And she’ll never get over it, not for a second.”

            We are all programmed to believe that we will outlive our young.  That’s why it’s so hard for a dog when one of our puppies doesn’t make it through birth.  But to raise a child, and raise him well, and then have him snuffed out just as life begins to bloom into accomplishment and romance?  This is too much for anyone to take.

            Handsome asked her how she was able to be so together at this point.  “I’m completely numb,” she smiled kindly.

            Then something happened kind of beautiful.  The flight attendant asked them for drink orders, and Handsome wished to himself “I’d love it if she’d order something alcoholic, because I’d love to buy it for her – and she could sure use some help today!”  (He’s not normally a big one for using alcohol as self-medication, but since she’d be greeted at the airport by her grieving daughter, this could prove an exception)  But she just ordered a cola, and the attendant moved on. 

            Till about five minutes later, when she leaned into him and whispered, “Could I ask you a favor?  Could you wave that nice man down and ask if he could slip a little whiskey into my Coke?”  Handsome exploded in joy, “I was WISHING you would ask that!  Yes, and I’ll buy it for you!  It’s the only thing I can do to help!”  He ran up and ordered the drink – and do you know what?  They gave it to her for free!

            As the plane landed, he took her hand and wished her all the strength humanly possible, to get through this.  And she looked him in the eye and said “Please pray for me.”  And they disembarked, probably never to see each other again.

            Well as you can guess, by now, he had me whining on the floor.  No wonder he’d felt distant.

            Especially as he was feeling so… fortunate!  Here he’d just spent a fun day with his parents, and was about to welcome a new baby into the family.  And coming home to the friendliest pup in the world.  It wasn’t fair – everyone should be having the time he was having, and not suffering this horror.

            So he asked me to write this.  To tell this story, and to think about what it means to me.  And I’ve thought a lot, and here’s what I came up with:

            I get letters from you guys, all the time, often very full of love, but complaining about your parents, or siblings, or your kids.  I know deep down you love them more than anything in the world, but just as I can take Handsome for granted at times, or he can forget how important I am to him for moments, all of us can detach a bit from how much we love, and are devoted to, our closest companions.

            So take just a second, and put aside how annoying they might be, and think about how you’d feel if your mother, or father, or brother or sister, or uncle or aunt, or your child, were suddenly taken away from you.  And how they’d feel if you were robbed from them forever.  (And if you’ve already lost one of these people, let that feeling come through – how you miss them, and what it would be like to talk with them, laugh with them, hug them, or maybe sneak that drink to them!)

            I’m not trying to guilt-trip you, not at all.  I just want you to feel the love that life and stresses can make us forget. 

            You see, there’s one other thing about that woman.  Her name is Jessie.  That’s the name of my favorite cousin, a great great dog owned by the family that just had the new baby.  And Jessie died a few years ago – a loss they, and I, can never replace. 

            Coincidence?  Maybe.  You’ll just have to decide for yourself.

            But if you can do what I asked, just take that moment and feel all that love in your heart – with its joy and its pain and its frustration – then I think you and I, and everyone reading this, will have fulfilled that woman’s request to Handsome.  Our love will come together to become a beautiful prayer.

            And maybe, just maybe, all that love will give her the strength she needs, to get through what she has to.  Till the day she can join her son again, and maybe, just maybe, find out why things like this have to happen.          

            Because this doggy has no idea.

6 What to look for in a partner

Marcy’s Love Story… what to look for in a partner

This pup is far from the first to say that we all are the authors of our own life stories.  That while we’re always affected by the world around us in infinite ways, we still make the decisions that define our journeys.  How we react to events, to people, to things, and what we pursue – all these make us the writer (as well as director and lead actor) of our personal, or canine, epics.

I bring this up because I want to tell you a story, of a dear friend of mine.  A woman, very bright, and almost as cute as me, who had everything in life but love.  And how she managed to turn that around.

Marcy grew up in an intellectual home – her father was a noted psychologist, and her mother equally sophisticated, surrounded by wonderful minds.  But what she loved most was great writing, especially in the theater.  As she grew up, she became an expert on hundreds of plays, enough to work for playhouses to help them pick out what works they’d choose to perform.  And after a while, her own writing took off as well, to the point where she had stories and articles published, and was hired as a writer on big TV shows.

But with all this going on, her love life was… not so great.  She’d have relationships with interesting guys, but nothing lasted (You’ve maybe noticed, interesting good-looking guys are often difficult to keep in relationships!  Even my beloved Handsome can, at times, be no picnic.  In fact, picnics are one of those times – he never  lets me have the chicken bones, and then throws them out!  Sure I know they’re bad for me, possibly fatal, but come on… they smell SO GOOD!).  She even got married, but that proved wrong very quickly.

You see, as a writer, Marcy lived in her own head a lot.  She was friendly (and a big dog-lover, a great sign of character!), but at times her mind might be somewhere else than totally present. 

Can you relate?

For example, she would come home, throw her things down when she walked in the door, leave her shoes wherever she took them off, and rush to write down what was on her mind.  Then her boyfriend, or husband, would walk in, and get annoyed – how inconsiderate of her to make a mess of their place! 

And “inconsiderate” is the right word.  She wasn’t being purposely sloppy, she was just not… considering… about him at that moment!

So after her divorce, which was inevitable (Aren’t you impressed with my big words?  Just writing about a writer makes me so literary!), she did what lots of people did then – she tried personal ads. 

(For those who don’t know that term, before internet dating sites and meetup apps, newspapers and magazines would publish short personal classified advertisements, where a person would describe themselves and what they were looking for in a few lines.  No photos or Instagram accounts, just words!  Imagine!)

She wrote something clever and flirtatious, knowing that she’d get a lot of responses that wouldn’t work for her, but hoping maybe one or two guys would catch on and respond in a fun way too.  And one did.

This guy was maybe more of an oddball than she was.  He’d worked as an actor, as a writer, as a limousine driver… and I’m forgetting a lot of things.  He’d lived many lifetimes in his years.  But what mattered more was that his letters were funny, and open, and sweet, and showed real interest in her. 

They wrote each other for so long that it almost didn’t matter what the other looked like – when he finally showed up at her door, they’d been in love for weeks.  Then the fact that each found the other attractive too… oh this was just too good!  At last, she wasn’t just a terrific writer of articles and TV shows – she’d written her life to right where she wanted.

Sure enough, they married soon.  And while of course they had their squabbles, both had reached a point where their appreciation and gratitude shone over every moment they shared.  They raised, and loved, and grieved over the losses of, pet dogs; they moved across the country; they began new careers… all together and with mutual support.

I met her when she was working in an office with Handsome.  Both of them would bring their dogs in for their therapy clients, and she was so nice I only got a little jealous of how friendly Handsome would be to her aging pups.  And her husband, Jon, was as nice as she was.  And a great teacher to kids, and a good enough tennis player to whip Handsome’s butt any time they played (pssst… don’t tell Handsome I said this, but that didn’t mean Jon was all that great – LOTS of people can whip his…  oops here he comes, gotta get back to the story). 

In fact, everything was kind of perfect about Jon.  Except that one cruelty that shows up too often in people, and in dogs and even cats:  One day his doctor told him he had a bad cancer.

They did their best, with every treatment they had, but it wasn’t enough.  With Marcy having stayed by his side every moment, he eventually slipped away.  Far too young, far too soon. 

A mutual friend called Handsome that morning and told him the news.  He phoned Marcy right away and left a message about how sorry he was.  And then, surprisingly, he didn’t hear back from her for a few weeks.  Till one day, he got a call from her – angry and hurt, wondering why he’d never called!  He explained that he had, and she quieted down – the reason was clear.  She had been in such shock over the loss of her great love, she hadn’t been able to remember the message.

The three of us went to an outdoor restaurant that day, where I was able to lay my head in her sad lap until the food showed up.  She was weak and pale still, but able to talk calmly, until a subject came up – that thing about her being sloppy at home.

“You see,” she explained, “All my life, anyone I lived with complained about my leaving my clothes and stuff around.  But one day, Jon walked into our bedroom and said, ‘You know, when I’m on my way home, I never know if you’ll be here.  And then I walk in, and I see your shoes on the floor, and your papers and your coat spread out, and they make me so happy.  Because then I know you’re here, and I’m going to get to see you.’” 

And with that, she started sobbing so hard she couldn’t finish her food.  (Though  while it was a heartbreakingly beautiful story, I won’t pretend it kept me from helping her out with the job!)

Marcy and Handsome and I have been even better friends ever since.  Maybe at another age, they would have become a couple (living with all my shedding certainly would make him tolerant of a shoe or two!).  But it wouldn’t have lasted;  although they shared a lot of interests, they wanted different things in their lives. (And besides, one of her two newer dogs HATES him!  Frankly, I think he’s still so in love with Jon he can’t stand any other man to be near her!) 

But they’d hang out, go to (and criticize) movies and plays, and be there to help each other when they could.  Like, as she worked to write a funny and heartbreaking book about her and Jon, which Handsome wants the whole world to read someday.

And as, horrifyingly, Marcy came down with a cancer too.  And went through the same treatments Jon had, and came through them fine – only to come down with another one, a worse one, that couldn’t be treated in the same way.  That she battled for years.

Till a couple of weeks ago, when what we’d all known would happen finally did.  When Jon came down to take Marcy away from us.  And while she’d battled fiercely to stay alive, I have no doubt she was so happy to see him, she easily flew into his waiting arms.

So Handsome and I have spent a few quiet nights at home.  He’s told me funny stories about her, and said a lot of bad words about cancer, and given me some really big hugs.  But then he suggested I write this story to all of you.

For a couple of reasons.

First, because, out of all the relationship advice I’ve given, I don’t think any has been better than this: that you should look for someone whose flaws make you happy, or who is thrilled by your flaws.  What could ever make a better relationship?!

And second, to suggest that, sometime, you look up into the sky, and see if, in the clouds or the stars, you can make out some sloppy scattered shoes or papers.  Because, just past them, just out of our sight… one of the most perfect loves ever is glowing in eternal joy.

2 A Life of Time – how time awareness makes life better

A Life of Time – how time awareness makes life better

So let me begin this one with what they call a Disclaimer. 

            Imagine that you were asked to write about the great historic landing of humans on the moon that took place 50 years ago this year.  You might write about the history behind it, the international “Space Race” to get there first, some of the personalities involved, and almost certainly the famous words “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Great.

            But would you also write about the minute details of the physics and astronomy and engineering that enabled this miracle to happen?  Probably not.  Probably you don’t have nearly the knowledge to do so.  But that’s fine; you can still appreciate the historical majesty of the moment.

            Well that’s what it’s like for me to talk about Time.

            We dogs have NO sense of time, in the way you humans do.  Or maybe it’s better to say that we have the sense of time you do when you’re around one year old.  You know how babies go through that stage where they freak out the moment their mother leaves their sight?  That’s us!  “She’s gone forever!  I’ll never see her again!”  And that’s why we go so bonkers when you come home to us after a day… or an hour!  You’re back, and our lives begin again.

            Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about exactly this.  About Time.

            Humans develop a profound awareness of time by adulthood.  That childhood mindset of “Why isn’t it Christmas yet” turns into an innate calendar that – most of the time – keeps a huge number of facts in great order.  For example, to those of you who are fans of it, answer quickly: how many hours are left till the series finale of that TV show about dragons and kingdoms?  (I’ll bet you can answer that in under a minute!).  And to the rest of you, how long till you owe your next tax payment?  Or till your next big test at school?  Or, better, till vacation starts?!  Or how long has it been since you first met that perfect someone?!

            Now we animals are so connected to the Earth and Skies that we might pick up on things you don’t.  Maybe your cat starts meowing right at the time you usually feed her – though of course she has no clock.  Or your dog wakes you up if you’re not out of bed by 6:30, even though the sun is at different places at that hour throughout the year.  And if you ever read the book or see the movie Lassie Come Home, it tells of a dog who always meets her boy right when school gets out, to such a perfect degree that people in their town set their clocks by when they see her walking to the schoolhouse.

            But we are no good at all with long-term time.  That way you can tell when your holiday will begin or you’ll learn who wins the Iron Throne.  We can’t think that way at all.

            Now as I said, babies have our sense of time, and it improves as you humans get older.  But lots of people make the mistake of thinking that just because a person isn’t a baby anymore, they have a fully-developed time sense.  Actually, a human’s conception of time keeps developing all the way into their late teens or early twenties! 

            For example, here’s something funny I see a lot.  When kids are about thirteen years old, in the first week of the school year, they’re assigned some big project that’s due in four months.  Now the super-motivated students (or okay, I’ll call you guys Nerds – it’s not an insult in my book!) will do the assignment right away.  Good for you.  And everyone else will mean to do it, but suddenly they’ll find that three months and three weeks and three days have passed and that thing is due in FOUR DAYS and it’s all a crazy crisis with tears and yelling and angry families and… 

            And it’s completely ridiculous.

            Whether you’re that top student or the bottom of your class, NO one at that age has the time sense to plan out and do that assignment the way it ought to be done.  I blame the teacher, not the kids.  They should know better.  (Unless the teacher consciously used it as a teaching tool, to help the students develop their time sense better.  But I don’t usually see that happening).

            Now you’ll hear about university students “pulling an all-nighter” to finish a project in time, but that’s usually because they should have planned out a week or two better, not four months.  Their brains are further along.

            What I’m beginning to realize, though, is that hitting that ability at age 19 or 22, where you can finally make long-term plans, is great – but it’s still not everything.  There are actually MANY senses of time one can have.  And the more you do, the better.

            So there’s the sense we dogs have, through connection to the Earth and Skies, of time on a deep feeling level.

            Then there’s the sense humans get by about age ten – “I’m bored, isn’t it time for school to get out yet?”

            Then there’s the long-term sense one gets a decade later – “That’s great that I finished what I needed to do today.  Now I should put an hour or two in on that long-term project, and maybe think a bit about what to get my girlfriend for her birthday, which is only two months away.”

            Oh and then there’s a true sense of timing – like what a great musician has, keeping a perfect beat no matter how complicated an arrangement is.  Now that one… I’m not sure that can be learned.  It might be just a gift!

            But I recently discovered another.  One that can make an enormous difference in a person’s life, if they’re willing and able to take it on. 

            Sit where you are, reading this, and try to keep reading, while remaining completely aware of time passing.

            Can you feel it?  You might even feel something physically, like a breeze passing through you as you focus on it.

            And now, if you can do that, try to also sense your body in its space.  As you feel time passing, do you feel how your back, your butt, your legs and arms, your feet and hands, your toes and fingers, your nose and ears are all existing – in time, and in space.  And every movement you do is just affecting where you are in both. 

            It’s a weird feeling, isn’t it?

            Now imagine you lived that way all the time.  Or at least tried to. 

            It wouldn’t be that anxious place I see you humans in all the time, “Oh I’m gonna be late!”  “Oh we’re going to miss the movie!”  Or “Oh I’m going to turn eighteen without ever having had a boyfriend!”  That’s a pretty awful place to live.

            But instead, you’d be aware of time… within the moment.  And doing that, you’d probably make a lot fewer mistakes.  You wouldn’t be late as often, because you’d know at the time  that you were getting dressed too slowly or just right.  You wouldn’t get distracted as often; or rather, distractions wouldn’t be such a problem, because you’d be aware of what you were being distracted from, and able to pop right back into it.

            I think great dancers and athletes have a lot of this quality.  An unending awareness of where they are in time and space.  And butterflies – who are just the most awesome things that exist.  Even if I try to eat them when they get close to me!

            I envy you guys, having these abilities to experience and measure time, and to plan and show up on time, or even late!  Yes, we dogs can’t “show up late” because we can’t conceive of when “on time” is!

            But even more I envy those few of you who can really experience time as it’s happening.  You ballerinas and goalies.  You trapeze artists.  You magicians.

            Although, that’s what you all are to me.  Magicians.  And every bit of awareness of time you gain, the more magic you do, and the more you are.

            Maybe, if reincarnation is real, I’ll have that ability in my next life. 

            But I have no idea when that’ll be!  Hey I don’t even know when that show’s going to come on!

4 My Green Name Tag – the joy of celebrating cultures

My Green Name Tag – the joy of celebrating cultures

I have a green name tag that hangs off my purple collar.  Not by accident – Handsome loves the way those colors look against my orange and white fur.

This usually doesn’t mean a thing to me (remember we dogs are color-blind!), but there’s one day a year I’m really glad I wear something  green.  That’s St. Patrick’s Day.

On this holiday, at least here in the United States, there’s a tradition that everyone is supposed to “wear the green.”  And if you don’t, people have the right to pinch you.

Well I DON’T LIKE GETTING PINCHED!  It hurts, and I’m not allowed to bite anyone back if they do it!  So I’m glad my name tag keeps this problem away.

 

But just recently, I started wondering, what’s the big deal about this color?  And why should St. Patrick, not a super-important saint in the history of Christianity, get a holiday, when… oh, say, Peter, Paul, and Mary don’t.  (Hey, look what I just did!  If you’re old enough, or a fan of 1960’s folk music, you’ll see I just made a sort of joke.  And if you don’t get it, do a search for “Peter Paul and Mary” and listen to some of the most gorgeous popular singing ever recorded!)

 

So anyway, I did some research about this day.  And I found that it’s on the day St. Patrick is said to have died.  And the green is because it’s a color associated with Ireland, where he brought his religion. And the holiday is to honor the Irish people and their culture.

But wait.  I live in a country known as a “melting pot,” where almost every culture of the world exists.  Why is this day such a big deal?

Well, it seems that centuries ago, tons of Irish fled their homeland in the face of famine and oppression, and came to America.  And they wanted to honor their heritage, so over time, it became a holiday for everyone here – and now over most of the world.

So in other words, even if you’re a Moroccan-Serbian-Singaporean Sikh, you’re still supposed to wear green on the 17th of March, to show pride in your Irishness.  Because they were desperate refugees.  And dance to Irish music, and eat and drink their food, and just have the best time you can – all to honor something you’re not!

Silly?  Yeah, kinda.

And, I think, also kind of fantastic.

 

Most of the horrors of human history have been perpetrated because one group of people sees another as “different” or “the other.”  How great to have a day where everyone’s Irish.  Wouldn’t it also be great to have a day where everyone is Nigerian?  Pakistani?  How about a day when everyone’s some other refugee from a starving oppressed nation their country happens to be welcoming?  Hey how about if one day everyone was Israeli and the next day Palestinian?  Might people find it a little harder to blow each other up if they’d just had a party where they danced to those people’s music, ate their traditional foods, and – yes – drank their drinks too?!

I’ll make you a deal.  If you humans start doing this, I’ll agree to dress as a CAT one day a year; I’ll even eat tuna, scratch on a couch, and poop in a litter box!  All for the cause of world peace!

But till that day, I do hope you all get a chance to enjoy at least a little of St. Pat’s this year.  Dance an Irish jig.  Eat some cabbage and potatoes.  Drink some beer (if you can and should).  And raise a toast to your favorite Irishpeople ever (James Joyce?  John Wayne?  Enya?  Hey this pup is a total sucker for the voice of Bing Crosby!)!  And may the road rise to meet ya!

 

 

So my dear dear friends, I wrote all that earlier this week.  Then this morning I awoke to the sound of Handsome’s clock radio, to as heartbreaking a story as I’ve ever heard.  You’ve probably heard it already: In the beautiful town of Christchurch, New Zealand (yes, the town has THAT name!), some people took it on themselves to bring guns into some mosques where holy prayers were in session, and kill as many Muslims as they could.  This wasn’t out of a personal resentment; they were openly acting in this insanity called White Nationalism, trying to get rid of as many people who didn’t look like them as possible.  (And to clear their country of refugees – as though white people were the original inhabitants of those gorgeous islands, and not immigrants into Maori land themselves)

So on the same weekend people worldwide join each other in playing at “We’re All Irish,” we’re hearing yet once more the vicious scream of “You’re different, so we hate you!”

(And I promise you, it brings nothing but sadness and shame to America that one of the shooters hailed our President as a symbol of their movement)

 

Think of it this way.  On a purely biological level, every human is more like every other human than any of you is like any dog or cat or cow or bird.  And yet nearly every one of you I’ve met has loved an animal to the furthest limits of your heart.  This talk about difference, superiority, inferiority?  It’s all just… just what I’ll leave in a litter box when that cat holiday gets going.

 

Please, it’s just so simple:  Love everyone you can.  And those you can’t love, just like.  And those you can’t like, tolerate.  And if we all can do that, it’ll all be okay.

 

In fact, remember when I accidentally mentioned that singing trio earlier?  I’ll end this with a quote from I guess their most famous recording, which happened to be written by a man who as an adult changed his surname to one more… Irish!

“How many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky

How many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry

How many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

 

LOVE,

Shirelle

2 Twenty Questions – how to avoid dating problems

Twenty Questions – how to avoid dating problems

Over the last few years, I’ve gotten thousands of letters from you wonderful people.  And while the topics have covered everything from pets to parenting and music to morals, the vast majority have been about romance.  Dating, Crushes, Marriage, even Divorce.

And so often, I find you guys in relationships you probably shouldn’t be in.  The sorts you could have avoided by asking the right questions (or at least have gotten out sooner if you had).  Which then keep you from the wonderful love stories you deserve.

 

So I’ve put together a list.  Twenty Questions to ask yourself before you date.  Some of these are probably easy, some are likely very hard, and definitely many of your answers will change as you grow older.

And while I can’t guarantee that doing this questionnaire will bring you the fairy tale romance of your dreams, it should help you avoid most of the problems I’ve seen in your letters.

So take a shot at it, and see what you think!

 

The first two are simple and shallow – before you consider dating anyone:

 

  1. WHAT ARE YOUR TYPES? No one is attracted to everyone – or even to everyone considered “attractive.”  Some people have extremely specific attractions (only tall blonde altos, or only muscle-bound nerds), but even when you’re very young, you’ll know there are certain qualities that attract you.  Height, skin color, hair or eye color, thin or curvy, hairy or not; I know a woman who refused to date any man whose feet were smaller than hers.  And you might even find looks aren’t as important to you as scent, or the sound of someone’s voice.  Whatever your criteria are, it’s great to be aware of what matters to you – and what doesn’t.

 

  1. HOW MUCH TOGETHERNESS DO YOU WANT/NEED? Oh I see this one all the time.  One partner texts ten times an hour, the other wants to check in once a day.  Both are fine, but maybe not good for each other.  Or one person wants to be touching all the time, while the other needs more space and just wants occasional physical contact.  Or one loves touching but not in public, which makes the other feel rejected.  And then of course issues arise where one partner wants “to go further” than the other, at least at that particular stage of the relationship.  Know what you want and need in these areas, and speak up about it.  You’d be amazed how many problems that’ll solve.

 

 

Then this next bunch matter when you actually become a couple – even if just for a short time.

 

  1. HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE TREATED? I know, that sounds vague.  But look at the couples around you.  Some are so kind and gentle with each other, and never say anything sarcastic.  Some tease a lot.  Some are always talking about each other or referring to each other, while others feel better not doing that, and just knowing the other is there for them.  Some like to fight and then make up, while others only complain in very careful soft language.  All are fine.  But who are you?  I see so many – just as an example – young women who say they want to be treated with chivalrous kindness, and then choose Bad Boys every time.  So be honest about yourself – for example, I don’t like dogs attacking me, but a little playful biting is fun!

 

  1. WHAT’S THE WORST FEELING FOR YOU? I’m not asking about your greatest fear necessarily, but rather something you actually experience.  For example, I hate being left alone, I hate baths, and I hate feeling I’ve hurt someone I love.  Now all those do happen at times, but I’m sure glad I don’t live with a person who’ll leave me alone for a week at a time, or give me a bath every day, or scream at me that I’ve ruined his life!  So if what feels worst to you is being ignored, you probably shouldn’t date the super-ambitious student working 20 hour days to get perfect grades, while on a top sports team, and working three jobs to pay bills.  They’re a great person, but likely not what you need.

 

  1. WHAT’S THE BEST FEELING FOR YOU? How often do I see someone who loves, oh, for example, singing on stage.  And they pair up with someone who finds that dumb or cheap, and wants them to stop doing it.  WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT?!  Don’t choose someone who won’t tolerate what you love most, or you’ll have to make an awful decision, choosing between them.

 

  1. HOW DO YOU DEFINE FAITHFULNESS? Do you feel cheated on if your boyfriend or girlfriend is talking to someone else?  What about if they hug them?  Kiss them?  Date them?  There’s no right answer to this – what matters is what you feel.  Be sure to date someone with a definition similar to yours.  Otherwise it’s just guaranteed to be a mess.

 

  1. WHAT DO YOU NEED RESPECTED? Imagine if a great athlete met someone she was fully attracted to, they had great times together, all was fine… but that person felt that a career of playing sports was really pathetic and childish.  Imagine if you cared a lot about great art, and your partner considered that stupid.  There’s nothing wrong with having different interests – it’s really fun – but there are things you need respected in your life.  Maybe your family, or your job, or your hobby.  Don’t fill your life up with someone who doesn’t respect what you care most about.

 

  1. HOW LONG DO YOU WANT YOUR NEXT RELATIONSHIP TO LAST? Are you looking for a fun weekend?  A summer fling?  A full commitment?  You are begging for heartbreak and frustration if you haven’t thought about this, and aren’t expressing it to someone you date.  Make sure you’re on the same page.

 

Now if you’re after a short-term thing, maybe that’s all the questions you’ll need.  But if you’re looking at a longer haul…

 

  1. WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST? This might be different from the “respect” question I asked before.  Maybe you care a lot about the environment, or about culture, or life, or honesty, or God.  A long-term relationship is doomed  if the two people don’t share the same basic values.  This is different from having the same Opinions though.  For example, if you think all dog-kickers should be executed, you could have a happy relationship with someone who thinks they should only be jailed.  But you’re going to have a rotten time with someone who thinks they should be given medals.

 

  1. WHAT PLACE DOES RELIGION HAVE IN YOUR LIFE? This should be an obvious one.  Especially if you’re considering raising children.  If you are deeply devout, you should be with someone who is as well.  And if you’re a casual thinker about deep topics, it’s best you pair up with someone who feels that way too.  And definitely, if you’re an adamant Atheist, insisting there can’t be anything more than what we see, you’ll have a horrible time with a true believer.  You might find you’re able to enjoy someone whose religion is different from yours (though that’s not very recommended), but at least have the same attitude about it, and you’ve got a chance.

 

  1. WHAT PLACE DOES POLITICS OR PHILOSOPHY HAVE IN YOUR LIFE? Similarly, if you are planning on devoting a year to volunteering for a political campaign, life will be easier if you’re with someone who feels the same.  But if you don’t care much about social issues, then life will be easiest if you aren’t awakened every day with questions about how you feel about some argument you’ve never heard of!

 

  1. WHAT DO YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR? Remember my earlier question about how important it is that your partner respects what matters to you?  Well, what about the other way around?  Don’t bother dating someone who spends four hours a night playing video games if you think those games are idiotic.  Don’t date someone who writes romance novels if you find them boring, or beneath you.  Find someone you respect, whose interests you respect, and happiness is a lot more possible.

 

  1. WHAT TASTES MATTER? We all have tastes that matter to us.  So you’ve found someone who loves music, just as you do, but they find the rap you’re an expert on “just noise!”  Or they hear nothing in the classical music you treasure but “bedtime.”  Do you really want to live the rest of your life not blasting your favorite tunes out?  Or sharing your favorite books with your spouse?  Or crying at that favorite movie every year?

 

  1. WHAT LIFESTYLE MATTERS? Are you a vegetarian?  Do you like to keep the temperature in your home a little colder or warmer?  Do you like to spend a lot of time outdoors?  Do you love watching sports?  Do you like to play music loud?  Do your ears get hurt easily?  Again, the more you can determine of what matters to you, the better?

 

  1. HOW CLEAN AND ORGANIZED DO YOU NEED YOUR WORLD TO BE? It is hard  to live with someone who is either way more clean and organized or way less than you.  Sure you can disagree on some details (“I’ll keep the books in alphabetical order, if you do the daily dusting”) but overall it’s really a big deal that you’re happy and comfortable in the same sort of home.

 

  1. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? Do you want to retreat to a cabin in the woods and avoid civilization?  Do you want to work hard and get rich and live in high society?  Do you want to write a book or a symphony?  Do you want to become famous?  TALK about these things with that person.  Even if you never succeed at your goal, your trying it will either make your lives together heaven or hell.

 

  1. DO YOU WANT MARRIAGE? WHEN?  This one ought to be pretty self-explanatory.  If one of you wants it and the other doesn’t, we have a problem.

 

  1. DO YOU WANT CHILDREN? WHEN?  Same exact thing:  This one ought to be pretty self-explanatory.  If one of you wants it and the other doesn’t, we have a problem.

 

  1. DO YOU WANT PETS? WHEN?  This one ought to be as obvious as those last two, but I find couples getting together without ever discussing whether their family should include a wonderful dog or a stinky cat or some pretty goldfish, or…  Come on, talk about it!

 

  1. WHEN DO THESE THINGS NOT MATTER? And in the end, it’s impossible to meet someone who’s ‘perfect’ for you in every way.  You’re going to have to compromise on some things.  What are the items here that aren’t really dealbreakers for you?  How would a person need to be in order for you to give up on those?  Really, they have  to want to watch that rom-com with you every Christmas?  You can’t  tolerate their goldfish?

This last one is hard, and you won’t know it till you’re in it.  But it is maybe the most important question here.  Because, when you know exactly what it is that you want and need, but have found someone so wonderful that you’re willing to give up on some of those… there’s a really good chance you’ve found The Right One.

 

When Handsome was looking in the pound for a new dog, he wanted someone younger than me, smaller than me, and with shorter hair.  But I won him over, and that was that.

So find someone that great, and start compromising.  There’s nothing better.  As that beautiful old song sings, “Then go to her side, and make her your own, or all through your life you will live all alone.  Once you have found her, never let her go.”

(Or him, or them, or it, or…!)

 

 

Nothing to Sneeze At … all sorts of allergies

Nothing to Sneeze at … all sorts of allergies

Have you ever taken Antihistamines?

 

See, I’ve been thinking about Histamines lately.  We all know Antihistamines, but their job is to fight Histamines – a natural compound, released by the body to increase inflammation so tissues will bring in defensive substances  (mucous, white blood cells) when it feels attacked.  (Can you believe  a dog came up with that line!  Sometimes I even impress myself!)

 

Histamines are very useful when poisoned.  And very annoying when dealing with allergies.

 

I’m lucky.  I have never suffered any allergies.  But my human friend Handsome was a sensitive child: nervous, a worrier, and got sick often too.  Nothing huge or chronic, he just caught everything that went around.  And each time, what he’d feel was Histamines.  Like millions of microscopic mosquitoes, flying around inside him, stinging him constantly!

 

And I knew a dog who got awful allergies, to fleas!  He was bitten so many times, and scratched so much, that his immune system went haywire and he lost his fur and a bunch of weight… and eventually his life!  A wonderful dog, too, it was a horrible horrible thing to watch.

 

So it made sense for Handsome to take Antihistamines: drugs that blocked the production of Histamine in his body.  Working against his body’s incorrect actions.  But perhaps against his body’s defenses when they were right as well?  Maybe, but it did enable him to survive his childhood!  (They tried giving that dog some too, but I think it was just too late)

 

Now as we know, many of us have physical allergies.  But I think all  of us have emotional ones.  Oversensitivities, fears, based on deep-seated beliefs about ourselves and others and the world.

 

My biggest emotional allergy is to water coming down onto me!  I have no trouble jumping into a creek or the ocean, but I hate rain, sprinklers, and especially getting bathed.  Oh what I’ve put Handsome through, jumping out of tubs, shaking water all over him all the time!  The trick he eventually learned was to use a big cup, and slowly pour water over me while holding the back of my neck.  I still hate it, but that makes it tolerable.

 

Some of us wear our emotional allergies with pride – dogs who snap at anyone who reminds them of an abuser, “Hey you’re a tall man with long hair!  I’m gonna bite you before you kick me!”  Or people who gleefully reject romantic advances, “I know what you’re about!  You just want to hurt me!  I’ll never speak to you again, now that you just asked for my phone number!!”

 

While others find emotional Antihistamine.  Some adults drink when they go to parties, so they can be social.  Maybe you need to overeat when you do poorly on a test.  I haven’t found the way to avoid the feelings of water, but I sure know what to do afterward to get rid of the feeling: I shake it all onto Handsome and then run like crazy around the yard!

 

So is there a solution?  A motivational speaker might say that the key is to just walk through the allergies, suffer all the Histamines, to get strong and make it to the other side of them.  Right?

 

Wrong.

 

Let me tell you, I’ve had years of water coming down onto me, and I’ll never like it.  And I’ve seen sneezing fits in others – they don’ t end, and there’s no other side to it.

 

So does that mean we should just avoid anything that feels uncomfortable?  Or numb ourselves constantly?

 

It’s a hard one, isn’t it!  Just this week I met a woman, very interesting, funny, passionate, who said that she never wanted to see another play as long as she lived.  She found them all torture.

 

Now I don’t know what caused this in her, but I know there are all kinds of plays – dramas, classics, comedies, thrillers, musicals – and it’s crazy to think a human, with a human brain, would reject them all.  (Now let me be clear – I’ve never seen Cats and there’s no way I ever would sit through that filth.  But for a person to never experience My Fair Lady?!  What’s the point of having that great brain then?!)

 

Fundamentally it all comes down to one question.  Is it possible for anyone to live at such a state of awareness that their Histamines – physical and  emotional – only release when they really need to?

 

I don’t know.  If so, I’m not there yet.  And my friend Handsome definitely isn’t.

 

From all I can see, he’ll remain the same dorky man I’ve always loved – scratching, coughing, sneezing…  just as when he was that sensitive child, and for as long as his imperfect two-legged furless body carries him.

And calling me in that very friendly tone… to have a dreaded bath!

 

 

 

 

The Mattering of Matter – how to make yourself and others happier

The Mattering of Matter – how to make yourself and others happier

In the letters I’ve gotten over the years, I’ve seen you pack members happy, furious, sad – and occasionally really depressed.  Sometimes that’s been for big reasons: a boyfriend broke up with you, a dear friend passed away, you failed at something you’d devoted yourself to.  But sometimes it’s been for something much less.

Maybe you went to a party and felt that no one really cared about having you there.

Maybe you got into an argument with a friend who simply didn’t listen to your side of things.

Maybe someone who’d been hiring you just stopped calling, without explaining why.

 

Now those might not seem enough to freak out about.  But I’ve seen you get just as blue about those as you do for those bigger reasons.

 

Why?

 

After all, those other guests at the party may have had very good reasons to focus on other people, and maybe your friend was so scared or angry or obsessed that they just couldn’t listen to your viewpoint at that time, and maybe you’d done such a good job for those people that they didn’t need your services anymore, and think you’re great.  But still, you feel crummy.

 

I think there’s one quality that every one of these, the big and the small, have in common.  Each gave you a message that You Don’t Matter.

 

And it can even be a smaller cause.  Have you ever dated someone who said they loved you like crazy, but paid no attention to what you wore, or told them about?  Leaving you to feel, “They don’t care so much about me; they’d just like being treated well – by anyone.”

 

 

This tiny issue means SO MUCH to so many of you!  Maybe it’s, emotionally, the most important thing of all.

Is that crazy of me to say?  I don’t think so.

 

A baby is devastated when left alone, and then ecstatic when their caregiver returns.  A child will misbehave to the point of punishment, just to get attention.  And teenagers will do things they really don’t want to (such as sex, drugs, or crime) to feel “in” with the other kids.  Because if you’re not in, you simply don’t Matter.

Then with adults, we hear every day about someone hurting or even killing the person they love, out of feeling they don’t matter.  A popular movie told of a woman going crazy from that feeling, attacking the family of the man she loved, swearing out “I will not be ignored!”

And today we hear of people all over the world voting against their interests, or even risking their lives to rebel against their governments, not necessarily because they want more money or rights, but because they feel no attention from them.

It’s that painful.

 

Now I don’t imagine a whole lot of my pack members are setting fires or attacking families.  But I know a lot of you feel these feelings.  Especially about Mattering to someone who Matters a lot to you!  Even if they tell you you’re great, but don’t seem to really value you, you’ll feel crummy, “I guess I have no actual personal value.”

 

But what about when you feel you do Matter?  Then you feel like you’re on top of the world!  And how do you get to feeling that way?  Well, usually, it’s because someone who you think Matters says that you do too.  How many teenage girls have fainted when their musical idol looked at them and pointed!  It’s just too much ecstasy to take, that Frankie or Elvis or Paul or Prince or Sting or Usher or Justin noticed me!!!

 

So just think about it – how much power this gives other people over you.  Especially manipulative people.  If someone you’re dating ignores you, making you feel you don’t Matter, and then adores you, making you feel like the center of the universe, they absolutely have you in their control.  And probably will get you to fall in love with them – for telling you you don’t Matter!  Which creates SUCH a mess!

 

I’ve talked here before about the wonderful bestseller The Five Love Languages. But maybe we should talk about Mattering messages instead – how different people can feel they Matter, and what activities fail at doing that.

 

For example, you know how, when you’re first dating someone,  you don’t want to alienate them by overwhelming them with all your insecurities, but you also don’t want to ignore them?

Well, think about it – both of these tell that other person they don’t Matter!

Ignoring, of course, makes them believe you never think about them.  But sending them a hundred anxious texts an hour just shows you’re thinking about your own worries, and not about them.

While making someone feel they Matter is just about the kindest thing you can do.

 

Here’s what I see: If you feel like you Matter, being stuck in a two-hour traffic jam is bearable.  If you don’t, red lights make you angry.

 

 

 

Now we dogs don’t have this issue.  For the same reasons we don’t have shame or write symphonies – we don’t have the self-reflecting brains you guys do.  If a person or a dog tells us they don’t want us around, we just feel rejected.  We don’t make the connection “I don’t Matter” the way you do.  We don’t like it, but it’s not the same amount of pain.

But we sure love Mattering, and we sure love telling others that they Matter.  Which is why I love doing what I do – you do Matter to me!  But I’ll get more to that later.

For now, I want to offer you a couple of suggestions on how not to be controlled by this!

 

First, think of a dog or a cat you like.  Imagine it’s playing – chasing a ball, or whatever that animal likes to do.  You feel a joy at watching it play, right?  And the more passionately it tries, the more it enjoys the playing, and the more fun it is to watch.   So does it matter that it’s trying?  Sure.

But in the big picture, in the grand scheme of what’s important in the world, or the universe, does it Matter whether that dog or cat catches that ball?  Not at all.

 

Now think of a professional athlete.  If they don’t try their hardest to catch that ball or make that basket or jump over that pole, it’s disappointing, right?  You want them to do their best.  It matters that they do.  But does the result of the game, or whether they break that pole-vault record, really Matter in the world?  Not really.

 

So do you see what I’m describing?  On the most personal level, there’s a kind of mattering (do your best, try to succeed).  And on the grand universal level, there’s another (it’s only a game).  And both of those are absolutely true and real.

But most humans spend their time thinking in an in-between level.  “I didn’t win the game, so I don’t Matter to anyone now.”  “I didn’t make the track team, so I’m a failure and don’t count at all.”

And that in-between level?  It’s NONSENSE!  It’s simply not true!  You Matter exactly as much, whether you win or lose, whether you succeed or fail.

And… believe it or not… you Matter exactly as much whether or not that person you’re crazy about even notices you!

 

You see, it’s all about judgment.  You’re giving other people too much power to judge you, or you’re judging yourself too harshly.  Yes, admit that you failed at what you were trying to do.  That’s the only way you can ever improve.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t Matter.  Not at ALL!

 

And how do I know this?  Because – remember I told you I’d get back to how we dogs see this issue?

Because, think about the word: Matter.

Matter is substance.  Matter is something that exists.  Matter is something that’s there.

We dogs are always interested in matter.  We sniff everywhere.  We lick everything.  We say that if it’s matter, it Matters!

We don’t care if a tree managed some incredible feat or not, or if it lost a branch when it was struck by lightning.  It’s Matter.  It smells interesting.  It has possibilities – that there might be animals in it, that it might be fun to chew on, or it just might be a good place for us to pee!  Regardless, it Matters!

 

Now my second suggestion.  I work so hard to convince you guys you Matter, because you do!  All dogs work to do this.

In fact, those of you who’ve been around a long time might remember a couple of years ago when my website was hacked, and I found out that a number of letters had been sent to me without my seeing them?  Which meant those members didn’t get responses from me?

I have never  felt so awful.  Because I had, without intending to, given them the message that they didn’t Matter to me!  Which was completely untrue!

And I know that hurt many of them, a great deal.  Which just makes me howl at the moon in pain when I think about it.

So next time you get told you don’t Matter, or you just feel it, please try to remember us dogs.  We’ll always tell you that’s not true.  And we’re right.

 

But wait… Even beyond letting our love for you in, can you be more like us?  Can you do a better job of telling others that they Matter?

 

Imagine the following conversation over text, between Person A and Person B:

A: Hey.  Yeah I’m free tonight.

B: I texted you about that three hours ago.

A:  Don’t worry about it.  See you at six.

B: You always do this.  I know you were hoping Chris would ask you out instead!

 

Now what’s being said here?  First of all, it’s taken a while for person A to respond, right?  And by not mentioning that, they’re implying that Person B’s having to wait for a response doesn’t Matter to them, right?

Then Person B’s response doesn’t take into account that Person A might have had good reason not to respond earlier.  In other words, it’s saying Person A doesn’t Matter either.

 

So what if the conversation went like this instead:

A: Hey sorry that took so long.  Yeah I’d love to see you tonight.

B: Oh good.  What was the holdup?

A: My parents are jerks and made me do all my homework before I could use the phone.

B: Oh man.  Will they still let you out tonight?

A: Yeah, I mowed the lawn too, to make sure they’d be cool with it.  I didn’t want to miss out on seeing you.

B: That is so sweet.  Thanks!  You’re the best!

 

See the difference?  In the first scenario, those two are going to meet up at six feeling defensive and angry.  In the second, they’re going to have trouble keeping themselves from covering each other in kisses.

ALL because they told the other one they Mattered.

 

So this is my big double-wish for you.  Tell yourself you Matter, always.  And tell others they Matter too.  And your life will get so much better.

 

And then, if you can do that for a while…  Whoa, think of what your life could be, if you stopped listening to these stupid voices in your head altogether!  The ones that say you don’t Matter.

How would it be to Matter a lot more than you believe?

 

You can.  Because you do.

 

I promise it’s true.  Dogs never ever lie!

 

No Matter What!

 

 

All my love,

Shirelle

 

Well They Began It! …the hope and despair of intolerance…

Well They Began It! …the hope and despair of intolerance…

I don’t pay much attention to politics.  Most of it is far too confusing for me.  How is a dog, who can’t master basic arithmetic, supposed to figure the costs and benefits of different tax plans?  What’s the best policy on drug legalization?  How much is the right amount to spend on defense, or education, or infrastructure?  (And I’m just using that last word because I hear it occasionally – the closest I can come to understanding infrastructure is when I was play-fighting with my friend Kuma and we bashed into an old pipe so hard we cracked it open and water sprayed all over us and the yard for a couple of hours before Handsome saw it and shut it off!)

I’ve written before that I only care about two things in politics:  I’m against anyone starting an unnecessary war, and I’m against unnecessary pollution.  My reason is simple: I care a lot about kids, and I’m a dog, and those two things cruelly and horribly devastate kids and dogs.  Please, defend your lives and property, and use the bounty of the Earth to better your lives; but if you’re killing children and pups for greed or power, I’m not going to support you.

 

But recently, I’m noticing something else, something that worries me.  All over the world.  People actually becoming less tolerant of others different from them.  And treating them in ways they wouldn’t treat a dog (and I mean the ways people who don’t like dogs would treat dogs!).

I hear about how some countries are refusing to let people in, people there because they’re trying to escape murderers, and letting them drown in the ocean instead.  Others are literally kicking people out because of where they were born, or where their grandparents were born.

And I’m ashamed to admit (and dogs normally don’t feel shame) that the government of my country recently started a policy of kidnapping  children of families trying to get in, separating them from their parents, and then losing track of them, so they might never meet again – even keeping these children in cages in the meantime.  It’s not like that isn’t against the law here; the problem is that the government is ordering the law-enforcers to break our own laws.  It’s horrific.

 

One nice thing about being a dog is that we don’t remotely grasp or understand the reasons you humans treat each other this way.  We’ll hear you guys say “Well they don’t speak our language,” or “they worship a different god,” or “they have different values.”  Not one bit of which means a thing to us.  People of every race and nationality and religion have treated dogs badly, and members of each of those groups have treated us well.  The idea of saying everyone of a certain race or religion is good or bad is ridiculous to us.

 

And the craziest thing is, it’s ridiculous to you too!  Every day, I see you people breaking through those boundaries, learning from each other, helping each other, loving each other.  You know you can do it, and you know the world’s a better place when you do.  So why in the world do you still accept this nonsense?!

 

Now don’t get me wrong.  We dogs are just as guilty of prejudice as you guys.  Maybe more so.  I was attacked by a big dog with long black fur when I was a puppy, so I’m still scared any time I see a pooch that looks like that.  And I have a real issue with men in uniforms, ever since I was picked up by a dog catcher and kept in a pound for days.

But would I say that big black furry dogs should be killed?  Or that the guys who check our water and power meters should be kicked out of the state?  Of course not!  I just get scared or bark at them all – and that’s perfectly enough for me to feel good about myself!

 

The issue I’m getting at is called Intolerance.  No one’s going to like everyone, and no one’s going to want to be besties with everyone.  But we can tolerate the differences we don’t like in each other – and benefit from them.  We HAVE to.  (If I didn’t allow those meter-readers into our yard, we’d lose all our water.  Even without Kuma and me smashing pipes!)

Now humans have been writing books and songs and plays and all about Intolerance forever (In fact, one of the first really big important movies ever was titled Intolerance, an amazing epic that shows examples of it being played out through history).  But to me, the most beautiful and powerful statement anyone ever made on it was a stage musical that came out about sixty years ago, and the movie they made of it a few years later.

Most of you probably know the classic play Romeo and Juliet.  Where a boy and a girl from rival families fall in love, and everything goes tragic?  Well this tells kind of the same story, but set on the streets of New York city, in a gang war between boys whose families have lived there for years, and new immigrants from Puerto Rico.  It’s called West Side Story, and if you haven’t seen it, or heard the music from it, you are in for a TREAT!

 

Handsome saw a production of it a couple of weeks ago, and came back and told me all about it.  Oh sure, he was excited by a bunch of things I couldn’t relate to – the cool dancing, how good this person’s voice was, how they moved the set around.  But then he played me the music, and I just swooned.  It’s SOOO good!  Exciting, fun, scary, and, when it gets romantic, just crazy-beautiful.

What hit him mainly was two things.  First, that it’s really all about teenagers, and teen passions.  You have probably noticed how most adults just don’t have the same intensity of feelings about things that teens have.  That’s for a lot of reasons, including some biological ones.  But you’ve probably also noticed that those passions can be both really great and really awful.  You get more excited, pretty people are more beautiful, music is just amazing… but also your feelings get so hurt, you feel so alone, and you might lose control of your temper a bit more…  And you might hate more.  And love more.

Maybe there’s something other than West Side Story that does as good a job of expressing ALL those teen emotions, but I don’t know what it is.  The excitement, the energy, the fury, the desire… You see, this is why I relate to you guys so well… We dogs live in the same glorious madness!

And just like dogs, teens can cause some trouble when there’s no control over those feelings.  I like a fight as much as any dog, but I’m awfully glad no other pups have knives or guns – and I’m not crazy about the idea of teens carrying those around either (nor am I about anyone else having them, but I understand why they might be necessary in some cases).

But I sure am crazy about the way you guys love each other, and joke each other, and dance and get so excited about romance.  It’s why I have such fun with your letters!

 

The other thing that Handsome pointed out was one tiny bit of one song.  One gang sings “Well they began it!”  And the other gang sings “Well they began it!”  And then they both sing “And we’re the ones to end it once and for all!”

Have you studied enough history to get the irony of this?  It NEVER WORKS.   The Germans thought they’d “end it once and for all” in the 1940s, and nearly ended everyone everywhere.  Today, on so many borders, we see countries arguing “Well they began it” about other people – about arguments that “they began” so many centuries ago that NO ONE knows who began what when!

This might be the stupidest thing about the human race, this “Well they began it” idea.  When I see five-year-olds screaming it on a playground, it at least makes sense for their age.  When I see adults do it, I bury my head in my paws and whine at how pathetic it sounds.

 

The point of the show, just like Romeo and every other story along these lines, is that in all the despair, there’s always hope.  And the hope comes from Love.

Not just the romantic, sexy love two teenagers might have for each other.  But love for humanity.  Love for a person you haven’t met yet.  And love for every person you might not like now, but you know they have qualities you’d love if you got to know them better.  Yes that’s EVERY person.

 

When I meet a human, I usually go up to them and lick their hand.  That does two things.  First it tells them I’m a loving dog, and they don’t need to fear me.  But also it lets me taste them, and that tells me a lot – about their mood, about where they’ve been… and about whether they have any pizza!

 

I wish you guys could learn to do that.  Even if you don’t literally lick each other, just to consider each of you astounding seven billion as someone interesting and valuable.  As someone you could love, who could love you.  Because that’s the truth.

If that could happen, the world could become, in the words of one of the show’s prettiest songs, “One Hand, One Heart.”  But till then, I will live in hope that it’s possible.  To quote another tune, it’s possible that “Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great.”

“The air is humming.  And something great is coming.”

 

If we all let it.

 

Love,

Shirelle

2 Dollar in the Road – the worth of love

Dollar in the Road – the worth of love

I was riding in the back seat of Handsome’s car yesterday.  We were on a freeway, so I was hunkering down (let me tell you it is NO FUN to be standing on all fours when some dummy cuts in front and Handsome has to hit the brakes!  Dogs were meant to do lots of things, but flying isn’t one of them!), till I saw him signal to pull down an offramp.  I sat up and looked out the windows.

Handsome won’t let me stick my head out and sniff, the way other dogs will, unless he’s going very slowly, like on a country road.  He says it’s because tiny rocks and such can fly into my eyes, and I might go deaf from the wind blowing my ears around, but I know there’s a worse reason – he just hardly ever can bring himself to say it.  Sometimes drivers don’t look where they’re going, and drive too closely to the cars alongside them, and Handsome shivers in horror whenever he thinks of what might happen with my head out there.  “Shirelle, I’ve lost a couple of rear-view mirrors in my life.  I don’t care a bit about them, but they were right where your head would be!

So I’m sitting up in the back seat, on the offramp from the freeway, and there are a couple of cars ahead of us, waiting for a light to change.  A man is standing on the sidewalk.  From looking at him we suspect that he’s got mental problems – jittery movements, talking to himself, dirty clothes.  I don’t know if he was born that way or it’s from drugs or battle trauma (We get a lot of all of them here in California, because the weather is so pleasant to live in if you can’t have a home).  He’s not holding up a sign or a cup, but we naturally think he’s hoping someone will give him some money or food.

And sure enough, the car in front rolls its window down, and the driver calls the man over to him, handing out a dollar bill.  The man smiles, walks up to the driver, but then grabs the bill, curses the driver, tears the bill up and throws it onto the street, and stomps away, talking to himself more.

The driver, of course, is shocked and a little hurt.

The light changes, and that driver goes through and turns.  Handsome drives through too, and pulls up alongside the driver at the next light and rolls down our windows.  The driver rolls his down as well.

“I saw what you did.  That was really kind.”

“That man – he’s crazy!”

“Sure, but what you did was still great.  What he did doesn’t change that.”

The man smiled, and turned to me.  “Is he friendly?”

“She is!  The friendliest pup I’ve ever known!”

The man reached out to me, and I licked his hand.  He looked at me with great affection.

The light changed and both cars drove off to their different destinations.

 

And this whole incident really struck me.  Every day I get letters from my Pack members, asking about relationships.  A is trying so hard with B, but B cheats and insults A.  C tells D how deep their love is, and D doesn’t even hear it.  Or the most common one of all, where E loves F and F loves E, but they want different lifestyles, or follow different religions, or want to live in places thousands of miles apart.

And, so often, the person who writes me does so because this problem has made them feel so awful about themselves.  Thinking that, because this other person didn’t love them back, they’re not good enough to ever be loved.  Or that, because the other person wants different things in life, they’re wrong to want what they’ve always wanted.

And this is so wrong!  One has nothing to do with the other!

 

Your love for someone is the greatest gift you can offer them, whether they see it, or want it, or not.  Or if it just doesn’t fit with their life.  Your love is every bit as wonderful as it would be if they accepted it in every way for the rest of their days.  Your desire to be someone’s friend is, similarly, a beautiful thing, no matter how it’s answered.

Most of you know, I was in a dog pound when Handsome found and rescued me.  My little brain can’t even do the math on this, but most cages there had three or four dogs in them, and there had to be a couple hundred cages.  Most of those dogs never got saved, and were put down.  Now I’m sure a few of them had had such awful lives that their emotional damage rendered them unable to love in a healthy way, but all the others – all the hundreds of others – had love and loyalty and goofiness and friendship to give someone, just as worthy as what I’ve given Handsome.

And each of you has intelligence and experience and charms that no dog ever had.

 

So I’m not necessarily saying that anyone who rejects your love is mentally ill (though perhaps…!).  But I am asking you to never forget, although we all need training on how to reach out to others and win them over (It took me a while to learn that biting people’s ankles was not the best way to make friends!),  that beneath those acts, what’s in your heart is just as valuable as anyone’s.

 

Do you know what a dollar (or Euro, or Rupee, or Peso, or Naira) is worth that buys dinner for a hungry needy person or dog?

And do you know what a dollar torn up and thrown away is worth?

Exactly the same.

 

So the next time someone tears up your love and throws it into the street, offer them some pity.  They’re going to sleep on the street hungry tonight.  And they missed the chance of a lifetime, or at least of that day:

They missed out on you.

They’re the unlucky ones.

 

Love,

Shirelle

 

2 The Wrong-Turn Lizard …how to live life in the moment…

The Wrong-Turn Lizard …how to live life in the moment…

Just today, just a few minutes ago, my human friend Handsome went outside his house, to check if the mail had arrived.  I walked out with him, as I usually do.  And as we were walking back in, a very small lizard stepped inside, through the doorway.  Handsome pulled me back and held the door open, to encourage the little creature to go outside.  But, frightened by the two of us, it instead ran behind some heavy boxes in a closet.  So there was no way for Handsome to get the lizard to come out and through the door – moving the boxes would just scare it further in.

Now I don’t know a whole lot about lizards.  I don’t know what species this one is, or how long they usually live.

But I am sure that this was the most interesting event yet in this little creature’s new life.

Anyway, now, Handsome’s got the door open, in hopes it figures out to go back outdoors.  But it might stay hidden, and lose its life back there.  Or one of us might find this little beastie crawling over our face one night as we sleep!  There’s no way of knowing.

But this does make me think about these events that change our lives.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, everything shifts.  If that lizard had just run out the door instead of into the closet, the whole incident would have been just a mildly interesting moment for it.  Instead, this might well determine its entire future.

Sometimes we get those events in predictable ways: you’re born, you start school, you leave home, you start a job, you marry.  Or in my case, I got bought at the dog pound… and that’s about it.

But I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who’s not had other life-changing moments, ones they didn’t expect.  As big as a horrible accident that severs a limb (and unlike lizards’, ours don’t grow back!), or the sudden loss of a loved one.  Or the good kind – being picked as a random winner, receiving a wonderful gift, or getting struck by the lightning that is love at first sight.

And then, there are also the little ones.  Whether bad (failing a test at school you hadn’t realized was today; getting sick right before a date you’re excited about), or good (meeting a friend when you didn’t expect to; switching on a TV and seeing what becomes your favorite movie ever).

And then there are the super-tiny ones.  “I didn’t think the sunset would be so beautiful tonight.” “I didn’t expect this much traffic.”  “I thought I’d like that soup more than I did.”

The truth is, life is so full of surprises, you might argue that life is only a collection of them.  At least if you look at it the right way.

You do know that one day, you won’t breathe anymore, right?  So what if you let yourself be pleasantly surprised every time you take a breath.  Any time you wake up.  Any time you hear the sound of someone you love.

One thing we dogs are WAY better at than you people is living in this mindset of gratitude.  When you come home to us at the end of a nothing-special average boring day, we are THRILLED to see you.  When you feed us the same food we’ve gotten every night, we jump around and dance for it.  And when you pull out that leash…  watch out world!

You see, because our brains are smaller than yours, we can’t have the sorts of conceptions you can about time and plans.  When you leave in the morning, you’re gone, and we don’t know where you are or if you’re ever coming home.  So we get sad and worried over things you never would, but we also leap into joy so much more than you.

Now here’s the giant truth – your next breath is every bit as important to the rest of your life as that lizard’s choice to run behind those boxes was to its.  Your next meal could be good, nasty, incredible, or poisonous.  The next person you meet could become the love of your life, your best friend forever… or your murderer.  You have no idea.

So while I do hope the little reptile (or are they amphibians, I can never remember) has managed to sneak out the doorway without my seeing it, and will live a full, happy life (which will include getting chased by me another day), I also want to give you this gift, of surprise. Of seeing every moment as new, frightening, invigorating, exciting, and magical.

If you can look at your experiences, while you’re living them, in that way, your life will be fuller and far more beautiful. It won’t be easy – it requires bravery and a willingness to feel failure often – something a lot of people will try to talk you out of.  But it means you will feel every moment fully, and experience a level of gratitude few people achieve.

Or, I guess, you could sit behind a box, in a dark closet, waiting to starve.

But unlike any of the “surprises” I’ve listed, that would be purely a choice.  Your choice.

And last I looked, you guys were supposed to be … let’s see … how much smarter than a lizard?!