Category Archives for "Dogs"

The Pain Worse than Pain – the struggle against stress

            I lost my best friend.

            I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to come up with a way to sugarcoat that, but I can’t find one.  Aria’s cancer got better, then worse, then better, and then lots worse, and finally her human friends had to kindly help her go, so that she wouldn’t suffer more. 

            I’ve told you many times that all dogs hate war.  Well we’re not too fond of cancer either, let me tell you!

            You all know about how much I loved her (and still do), and how much her life was dominated by fear and pain from things she suffered in her early years.  If there’s one blessing to her not being here, it’s that I do believe she’s free of those completely at last, and living in pure fearless joy.  Just what I’m always wishing for you.

            So I don’t know that I have a lot else to tell you.  I’ve told you about her life story – and anyone who wants to know more can always check out the book A Dog of Many Names which tells about those first years, before she was named Aria.  And anyone who’s ever lost anyone they loved knows the pain of grief.  Nothing for me to teach you there.

            But I do want to share something her human friend Ugmo wrote to me.  It’s not something he’s proud of, but he’s okay with me sharing it as he thinks it’s pretty universal, and might help somebody get through a tough time in a better way. 

            So I’m going to go do what I’ve been doing a lot lately – and just lie in my yard and feel the ground, and miss my friend horribly.  It’s the only way I know to truly get through sadness like this – to feel it fully and connect as deeply as I can with the earth that gives and takes all her beings.

            And let Ugmo talk with you about what he learned, in this most painful time of his life.

Hi Shirelle –

I know you miss Aria like blazes.  So do I.  It’s hard to wake in the morning and expect her lying on the bedroom floor, or to open the front door and look to see where she’s hiding from the squirrels – and in each case, to be reminded that she’s not there, and never will be again.  It’s just been a couple of weeks, but my eyes are already tired of crying.

But I have a strange confession to make to you.  It’s not as bad for me now as it was before.

Grief is pure.  Missing is awful but simple.  Crying is searing but relieving to my whole body.

What I’m not experiencing now is stress.  Stress that was mixed with grief and terror, so much that I almost couldn’t take it.

As you know, Aria got diagnosed with her cancer about five months ago.  And no one has ever found a cure for this specific one, Hemangiosarcoma.  Other cancers might be eradicated by operations or chemotherapy, or even improving a diet and exercise.  But not this.  Medication and good energy work can slow it down, but it shows back up eventually.  And once it gets to an essential organ, it’s just a matter of time.

That’s what happened with Aria.  She made it about four months, but then, on one awful day, she got very tired and lost her appetite, and I took her to a veterinarian who found that her liver was bleeding, and told me it was hopeless, that we needed to let her go that night.

You hear about the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  Well I guess I’d had all my denial and anger and bargaining already, so I went straight into depression and acceptance.  I sat in the lobby weeping, waiting for her friend Fifi to show up, as she’d want to be there for the end.  She arrived, and we took Aria into a small room and covered her in kisses and hugs and telling her all the lovely things we could. 

And she… got better!

Seriously, she improved.  Her strength came back a little, she seemed happier, and when the veterinarian came in to get her, she looked down and said “That is not the same dog!”

So after seven hours in the Emergency Room, which I’d expected to include putting her down, we took her home.  It was hard to sleep, because anytime her breathing shifted, I’d wake to see if she was okay.  At one point that night, I was sure she was going down again and ready to take her back to the doctors, but again, she recovered.

In the next few days, this all continues, including my sleeplessness.  She’d seem better, but then refuse to eat, so she got weaker and weaker.  I’d annoy or anger her by trying to get pills down her throat or putting food in front of her nose that she used to love but now found disgusting.  I got to where I was more scared that she’d starve herself to death than that the cancer would get her.  And I could feel that she was feeling my frustration, and afraid of it.

And so I found myself wishing she’d just be done.

Shirelle, this is why I’m writing you.  Because I couldn’t believe that that thought was able to come into my mind.  I loved – and love – Aria more than anything on this earth.  And I wanted every second I could get with my pup.  Nothing in me wanted her gone.  Except that something in me… did!  I could feel it.

What in the world was that?

            It was the voice of my stress, screaming so loud inside me that it overshouted my heart.  For moments, I’d forget what I wanted most – to keep Aria around as long as I could, and give her as much love as I could, and help her get through this as much as I could – and feel, instead, only how much I hated feeling all this worry, this helplessness, this confusion, this stress.

            Now, once I realized this, I was fine.  I still had all those awful feelings, but I never once again experienced wishing for it all to end.  In fact, I realized that I only had one full wish – I wished she had never gotten this cancer!  But since she already had it, I had to live with just partial wishes – that she’d get through the next day without pain, that she’d get a burst of puppy energy, that she’d eat, that she’d be happy a little bit more. 

            And those smaller wishes came true, many times.

            I’ve found, since realizing this about myself, so many others experiencing the same things.  Sure, everyone hates stress, but I mean people doing stupid, self-destructive things just to avoid feeling it.  Getting so uptight in a close game they make mistakes and make themselves lose.  Worrying about their teeth being bad so skipping going to the dentist for years.  Fearing they’re not attractive enough to compete with the best-looking person at school, so overeating and quitting exercise. 

            The only reason stress has all this power is because we let it.  The moment we see it for what it is, it becomes much weaker.  And when it does, we can begin again to live our full lives, with our full hearts. 

            Aria died, but I’m so glad I’m not looking back on my soul dying on her first.  Our last weeks were beautiful and joyous and sad and very close.  Stress had tried to take that away from me, but I’m so glad it failed.

            And today?  Well I’m the sad mess I described to you, but I know I’ll get stronger over time.  And Aria is… do you remember a song I played you once, Shirelle, called “Beyond the Horizon?”  That’s her now, I have no doubt.  Loving, feeling love, fearless, and knowing more than you and me put together!  And absolutely free from all the stupid stresses we suffer down here!

            I’ll see her there again, and I know you will too.  Wagging her tail in that circular way, lunging at us with those quick side-shot kisses of hers, and cuddling up for hours on end. 

            But here, for better and for worse, are just memories.  As Shakespeare wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow.  And that sweet sorrowful dog left so much sweetness and sorrow in my heart, and yours, and those of all who loved her.

            We’re the lucky ones, Shirelle.  We’re the ones with the beautiful pain.  I hope it never goes away.

            Love Always,


Beauty and The Best … remembering my friend Dilla

            I hate loss.  All dogs do.  We don’t even like it when our humans leave home for a few hours, locking us in.  But that’s because we’re so afraid you’re not going to come back!  Ever!

            And what we hate worst is when someone doesn’t come back.  When we lose someone we love, never to see them again.

            In some cases, that includes missing the music of their laughter, or even the charm and beauty of their face.  But not always.  Sometimes we can lose someone who made the worst sounds, and looked, well, kinda ugly.  And that loss can hurt just as much, if not more, because in those cases all we felt for them was love.  Pure love. 

            That was my wonderful friend Dilla.

            I met Dilla when he was left to stay “for just a little while” at my neighbors’ home.  Their son and his girlfriend had adopted this little pup, but then broke up, so neither had a place to keep him anymore.  The son knew his parents were great dog lovers (And oh they are!  Handsome sometimes worries I love them even more than him!  I don’t, but I am crazy about them, and just adore making him worry about it!), and figured they’d take good care of him till he was able to get a place of his own that would accept dogs.

            Well, you’ve probably heard that old line about “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it!”?

            That young man’s parents fell so hard in love with Dilla – and he with them – that, by the time he had an appropriate home, it was too late.  Dilla was theirs and they were his, and he would only be able to see his pup on visits from then on!

            Now all this sounds pretty normal, right?  We dogs attach easily, and our hearts are big enough to hold more than just one person or household inside. 

            What wasn’t normal was Dilla.

            This was a family that had always had, and loved, big beautiful dogs.  Labrador Retrievers and such – noble beasts who can protect you, hunt with you, and wrestle with you with joy and gusto.  Dilla was maybe a sixth their size, with tiny delicate feet at the end of his spindly legs, so everyone had to be extra-careful in petting him.  His body wasn’t a long lean runner’s figure like mine; his was more… well, his people usually referred to it as a “lima bean.”

            And his face?  Well, that’s where things get more serious.  To most people’s eyes, Dilla’s was as ugly a mug as exists.  Big eyes bugging diagonally, a shoved-in nose, and a mouth all full of fleshiness, with a tongue that stuck out the side.  Handsome described his look as “Like someone ripped the wings off of a bat!”  Could anyone love such a face?

            Everyone did.  At first sight.

            Why was that?  Sure he was a sweet, playful pup, but there was more to it.  Dilla’s homeliness brought out a squeeze in the hearts of everyone who met him.  While a Maltese or Pekinese might look more pretty, it was Dilla who everyone always wanted to pick up and hug.  As if, maybe, just the right hug could bring out the beauty in the beast.  (But no, none ever did!)

            Now, there’s a lot people can learn from Dilla.  Sure, all humans love beauty.  But they love the beautiful in a mixture of awe, respect, and desire.  Beauty isn’t endearing.  (You don’t look at a photo of Selena Gomez or the Hemsworths and feel “awwwwwww.”  But you might at a shriveled little old man with a walker!).  What made Dilla endear so much was how true he was to himself, and how much he accepted his appearance.  He didn’t pull back and ask if you thought he was good-looking enough; he ran to you, snorted, licked you out of the side of his mouth, and dropped a drooly toy into your lap, demanding you play with him.

            (Handsome says, in his book about me, that one of my strengths is that I know how to “Initiate Play.”  But Dilla demanded it!  An at-least equal strength!)

            A beautiful rose in a garden sits there, waiting for you to see and appreciate it.  A beautiful woman or man at a bar might do the same.  But Dilla’s energy didn’t allow for that – it exploded at you, taking you over, changing you, winning you into his world of growling pretend fury (he was not one to cheerfully fetch a ball and ask you to toss it again; he would roar at the ball, then tug-of-war with you before letting you have it, and then bark at you to throw it – everything gruff, everything adorable – and I have no words for the ways he would pretend-fight with his original best-human-friend.  Imagine raging violence with no actual harm done, all pure love – that’s about as well as I can describe it).  His fury was love, and his love was furious.  And when he was done with you, you were the same way!

            Dilla lived a full and joyous life, loved by all.  Unlike so many of us, he wasn’t felled by cancer or an accident; he kept snorting and growling and chasing till one day his body just gave out.  He’d gone blind and deaf, and was sleeping almost all day, but still his spirit never faltered.

            And soon after he went, it rained.  It rained in Southern California in August.  Please understand, it NEVER rains in Southern California in August!  In the middle of a drought, no less! 

            Some may say it was the angels weeping for Dilla.  But I say no – it was Dilla laughing, peeing on all the trees everywhere, making mud when no one expected it, maybe even making some people slip and mess up their clothes.

            With the message he always gave:  Be yourself so passionately that even your ugly is beautiful.  Love so strongly you make others love what you do.  And furiously grab life for all you can.

            Good night my beautiful friend.  And thank you.

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…


            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!!!

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!

2 Poop and Bad Breath: making sense of the new virus rules

Poop and Bad Breath: making sense of the new virus rules

Among the differences between us dogs and you humans, at least once you reach a certain age, is the way you guys are so squeamish!  Things that seem normal to us, or really terrific, nauseate you.  You never sniff each other’s butts hello, you never roll around on dead animals you find, and you insist on cleaning yourselves with soap and water, instead of using your tongues the way we do!

So you might say we pups live in the world of the gross.  The smells we seek out when you take us for walks are just the ones you go to great lengths to avoid.  And we’re fascinated by watching you work so hard to get rid of them.  Imagine how curious you’d find it if someone took good care of their garden but removed all the prettiest flowers and threw them into the trash.  Well that’s what it’s like for us when you cover up all the most interesting smells and treats!

Now in the past few weeks, I’ve been watching you guys struggle with a completely changed world, a new reality.  Where all the rules are unlike anything that was true two months ago:  DON’T go to school, DON’T shake hands when you meet someone, DON’T go visit your grandparents, just STAY on that couch and watch your iPad and phone!  HUH?!

Lots of you are extremely confused, especially about how best to stay safe: Wash your hands, social distance, wear a mask even though they won’t keep you safe, sanitize, moisturize…  of course you’re all going cuckoo! 

But I have a way, through my gross little brain, to help you out.  It’s all about us dogs (isn’t it always!).  Here goes:

First, if you’ve ever had a dog you take on walks, I hope you’re considerate enough of your neighbors to also bring along a bag or two, to clean up when we poop.  (Yes, I said POOP!  I told you, I’m pushing your nausea envelope today!)  So when we plop out something you guys find stinky and distasteful, you reach down and put it in the bag.  Right?

And you do it perfectly, right?  Only the bag touches our nasty turds, right?  No bit of your finger could possibly accidentally brush against it?  And nothing sticking to the bag could get  onto your hand when you tie the top into a knot, right?  You’re ABSOLUTELY SURE? 

Well, just to test your sureness, how about if a friend of yours offers you a handful of chocolate-covered peanuts.  But you need to hold them in your hand, before you put them in your mouth.

Do you?  I’ll bet you don’t!

In fact, I’ll bet you go, “That’s so nice of you.  Let me wash my hands to make sure there isn’t any dog-doo on them, and then I’ll gladly take those yummy treats and devour them!”  Or maybe it’s “Could you just put them into my mouth?  I’m worried about what’s on my hands.”  Or you even think, “Well I know nothing touched my left hand, so I can eat from that… I think!”

But as long as you don’t put your hands in your mouth, or touch your nose or eyes, or touch anyone else, you probably don’t worry about what might be on you, right?  You might even be on an hour-or-two-long hike with your pooch, and very happy to wait to wash up afterwards.  But you don’t put your poopy hands on your face!  And that’s all that matters!

Now imagine you walk into your home after that walk, and there’s a knock on the door, and without thinking you turn the knob and open it.  You chat with the person there, shut the door, and think, “… hmm… I shouldn’t have touched the knob, there might be some of that doggie’s poo on there.”  So you wash your hands and  the knob, right?  But what if you forgot to at the time, and it’s the next day, and you realize, “Wow I should have washed that doorknob yesterday, when I might have gotten something onto it.”  Do you feel you need to wash it now?  Probably not.  It’s been so long, anything nasty would have dried out or evaporated.

And this is exactly what the experts are saying to do about the coronavirus!  Keep your hands away from your face, wash or sanitize often, and be aware that it can last on other surfaces but just for a time.

In other words, when it comes to your hands, there’s really no mystery about Coronavirus – just TREAT IT LIKE DOG POOP!  Yes it’s potentially much more dangerous if you get it into your system, but the way to treat it is JUST THE SAME.

Okay, now, time for number two!  (Yes, that’s a little joke there for those who get it.  Clever pup, aren’t I!)   And this one’s about Breathing!

Now I think my breath smells just great, but I’m not a new puppy anymore and my mouth has had lots of things in it over the years, and so I have… well… dog breath.  And even it’s not as pungent as some other dogs I’ve known, like those with rotting teeth!  So what would you do if your breath smelled as bad as ours?  How would you keep your friends?!

Well, one thing you could do is to stay a little distance away from everyone.  After all, bad breath is just airborne molecules, that dissipate as it gets further from the nasty mouth.  Some say six feet (or two meters) and some say farther is better.  But either way, just stay far enough away that others can’t smell you.  But to be even safer, why not put a covering over your mouth, to keep all that stink inside, away from others?

Well that, my dear friends, is social distancing, and face masks!  One of the worst things about Covid-19 is that a person can be infected with it but not feel it for a few days.  So when it comes to dealing with others, act as if you know you have it!  And since it, like bad breath, is borne in droplets in air, the way to do that is to stay six feet or more away from others, and wear a mask to keep the nasty stuff in.  (Yes, there are fancier, more technological masks, that actually do help keep the person wearing them safe.  But you don’t need that if you’re following the other rules; leave those for the brave selfless health workers who are getting right up next to people with the disease for hours and days and weeks on end.  They need them; you don’t.)

Now there are those other rules to follow, of course.  Stay home if you can, wash instantly if anyone coughs or sneezes on you, keep healthy, take vitamins and zinc and… oh you don’t need me telling you these things!

But if you can remember the rules of Poop and Bad Breath, you ought to be safe.  Safe enough to get through this awful period, and move on to the sort of world we had and want to have again, a world where all your other problems, like about crushes and dating and anger and betrayal and embarrassment… those GREAT problems, become all we talk about again!

1 Wagging Your Tail – the best cheap gift you can give

Picture two different situations.  In the first, you walk into a room where you find a large dog.  You’re both startled, but the pooch stands up, tail wagging, and looks at you with wide eyes and an open mouth, its pink tongue slightly hanging out.  In the second you walk into the same room, and encounter the same dog, but the mutt stays on the ground, staring up at you, unblinking, tail still, mouth closed, eyes unexpressive.  Which situation would you rather be in?  And what would you do differently in one room or the other?

I’m going to guess that you’ll feel a lot more comfortable in the first room.  You might even walk up to the dog, or kneel down and call the pup over to you for a head-pat.  The second dog hasn’t done anything mean or threatening, but you’re just left unsure, and will probably give that pooch a lot of space.  No hugs, no pats, no ear-scratches, no tummy rubs.  And who could blame you?  After all, we have a lot of teeth!

I bring this up because of something I’m noticing about the people around me.  So many are sad, scared, lonely, or frightened in this hectic world, and the one thing that can most easily ease their nervousness comes in too short a supply: Smiles.

Smiles work in the human brain just like those doggy behaviors I described.  Babies learn when their eyes first focus that a smiling face means all sorts of good things – safety, warmth, food, and of course that most important one, diaper changes!  (Sorry, little bit of doggy humor there!  No, that most important thing for a baby, of course, is Love)

As children grow, smiles become, if anything, more important.  Remember going to school and being greeted by a sweet warm smile from your teacher?  And how that felt?  And remember being greeted by another teacher’s scowl, or a blank face looking you over to judge you?  And how that felt?  And if you ever had to go to the hospital, how much safer and more confident you felt if the doctor or nurse gave you a friendly beaming, instead of just sternly focusing on your wound or illness?

And then, yeah, you knew I’d get to this, there’s that point when you start wanting someone, maybe of the opposite sex, to like you.  Or let me rephrase that – when you care more about them liking you than ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD!  And a smile from that special person can make your whole day, and not getting it leaves you just crushed.

Now of course there are mean smiles, cruel smiles, hateful smiles.  We’ve all seen them.  A sneer at you when you fail at something.  A grin showing the glee someone feels over feeling better than you.  Or, maybe worst of all, a fake “say cheese” pretending kindness while hiding bad intent.

And because of these, it makes sense to sometimes distrust a smile.  Which is really sad.

Also, there’s the problem that giving smiles signals an openness, an availability.  After all, what if that tail-wagging dog I described didn’t want to be petted?  Its friendly “smile” pulled it into a situation it didn’t want at all, right?  So I’m certainly not saying you should smile all the time, at everyone.

(In fact, this brings up a good point. Some dogs are actually frightened by people giving them big toothy smiles – they look like snarling fangs to them. Just as some people who’ve been attacked by angry dogs are scared when I run up and jump on them. Best to, with new dogs, keep your lips together in your enchanted grin. But with people, you can show all the teeth you like!)

All I want is for you to realize the incredible power you have, right there in the corners of your mouth.  After all, with just the slightest use of those muscles, you can change lives.

Haven’t you had a time when you were really nervous, maybe before giving a report at school or playing a tough game in a sport, and someone’s smile gave you the confidence you needed to give it your best?

Or when you walked into a group of strangers, hoping to feel welcomed, and someone’s snarl or disinterested blank expression left you devastated, and unable to join the conversation?

And haven’t you come to someone at a time you felt full of remorse and guilt, praying they’d accept you.  And when you got their warm smile, your whole world opened up, knowing you had escaped a cold future of disdain?

You know that old song that goes “I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do,’ They’re really saying ‘I love you’?”  Well I’d argue that a handshake and a casual greeting are fine, but it’s really the smile that accompanies them that says those three beautiful words.  (Funny, since the guy who sang it arguably had the brightest smile in the history of your species!)

Yes, smiling is a way to say to a total stranger, “I don’t know you, but I give you love, to the degree I can.”  Just like a tail-wag and a sniff.

Now these days, where I live, there’s so much tension around.  The weather’s crazy, politics is just upended, and then there’s the issue of the holidays.  Everyone’s in a rush to get to parties, do their shopping, or make a little more money to get through this time.  And while all that should be happy, I just see angry drivers, impatient arguments, and general resentment all over. 

And what can change that?  Well nothing can completely fix it, but I do find that a friendly smile does more than just about anything else. 

Try it.  When walking down that cold rainy sidewalk, smile at the person walking toward you.  When stepping aside to let more people in that crowded elevator, give them all a grin.  And when you’re stuck in a gridlocked intersection, shine your best smile at the other drivers. 

I think you’ll find that, in many cases, they laugh.  Not at you, but with you.  You see, your smile says to them “I know this situation is ridiculous, my friend, so bad it’s funny.”  And that makes them see the humor in it too.

And while you both might be out spending a month’s salary on some special gift for some special someone, it might be that smile, and that laugh, that truly prove to be the best gifts you give all year.  At least the most needed.  At a very reasonable price!

Now again, sure, if you’re in a situation that doesn’t feel completely safe, and you think it might be best if you don’t smile, then that’s fine – there’s no need to.  But I know what I’d hope for then.  While you keep yourself more protected, and keep your face down, someone else there – someone more comfortable than you, more at ease – sees this, and gives you a big grin, telling you you’re safe and even liked.

And that, seeing that, you feel safe enough to give a nice small smile back.  Or, for that matter, a giant grin! 

After all, when we dogs wag our tails at you, we’re hoping for a reaction too.  Maybe even a treat. 

And smiling back is about as welcome as a slice of pizza!

Can one love dogs too much?

Aunii asks: It is not about me. I want to ask about you. Do you like Dogs too much? Because you have pictured dogs all over your webpage.

Hi Aunii –

         Do I like dogs too much?

         Is it possible to like dogs too much?!

         I don’t think so!  I don’t think it’s possible to love dogs ENOUGH! We are the most fun, loving, great-smelling, cuddly, protective, playful, funny… did I say loving?!  We’re just the best!

         Except that I love people even more!  At least some people.  Like especially my special human, the one I call Handsome.  Oh and I love my Pack Members – it’s like you guys are my family!

         And I know I can’t love Handsome or you guys enough!  That’s impossible!

         But I think you’re a little confused about something else.  Those pictures on the website, those aren’t just random dogs.  Those are ME!  Me at home, me with your letters, me with other dogs, me contemplating the world… 

         So if you’re asking if I love dogs too much, maybe a fairer question would be whether I love myself too much!  After all, I’ve put all those pictures up.

         But I don’t think so. I just want you guys to see what I look like, and how I smile at you.

         But does Handsome love me too much?!  If anyone ever loved anything to excess, that might be it.  What’s that Shakespeare line about loving not too wisely but too well? Handsome would argue he loves me very wisely and very well.  As well as is possible.

         And I sure hope you find someone, or many, in your life you can love too well too!  It’s the best way to live!

         Thanks again!


How to know when to try difficult tasks.

mina asks: Lately I’ve been struggling about making decisions. Why do people aim for something impossible? Is it always worth a try? Despite the fact that you clearly don’t have a chance to win? Are risks really worth doing, just to make yourself happy?

Hi mina –

What a great question!

I live in this question all the time.  You see, if I’m lying in wait for squirrels, and one shows up, I face a gamble.  If I run to it and catch it, then that’s great, I win.  But if I run and miss it, I’ve just notified it and every other squirrel around that I’m here and on the hunt.  I would have been way better off staying hidden and waiting till one comes closer to me.  But often, none does come close to me, so I’d have been better off trying to catch that first one, right?

Auugh!  It’s really confusing!

So my solution to your question, “Is it always worth a try,” is to… simply not ask it! 

Let me explain. 

If something’s easily achievable (like, say, my eating the dinner Handsome puts out for me every night), then there’s no reason not to go for it, of course.  

And if something’s absolutely impossible to achieve (say, my catching a bird that’s flying twenty feet above my head), then there’s no reason to try, except just for fun, the way puppies just love to run for no reason at all.

But if it’s in-between, like with those squirrels?  Then the question becomes, not “Is it always worth a try,” but rather one of

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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!

What is Crazy Love?

Jhalli asks: When you answered my last question, you mentioned CRAZY LOVE! Can you explain what crazy love is?

Hi Jhali –

You mean when I talked about the love Handsome and I have for each other?


Well, when I say “Crazy,” I mean that it’s love that’s so strong it takes us out of our usual minds.


For example, one time he left town and I had to stay at a doggy-day-care.  And this was a really nice one, where they let me stay in a fenced-in area with some other dogs, where we could sit on furniture and have a good time.  And it was fine.  But when he came back to get me, and I saw him, I lost control, and climbed up the chain-link fence, terrifying the staffers who thought I’d cut myself on the top.  I just couldn’t wait for them to let me out – I’d missed him so much!


And on his side?  Oh wow, he’s written a book about me, talks about me all the time… as he wrote once, I have “ruled and tickled” his heart since the day we met.  And has he had girlfriends who’ve gotten jealous?  Jealous of a DOG, mind you – not exactly someone he has romantic eyes for!  Heck YES they’ve gotten jealous!  Because they see his crazy love for me, and the love he gets back.


I’ll be honest with you, Jhalli.  If it’s not “Crazy Love,” then it’s just respect and affection.  (Which is a wonderful thing; don’t get me wrong!)


Love IS crazy, when it’s real.


I can’t wait till you get knocked off your feet by just that!


All my best,


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