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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s a third dictionary definition.

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

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

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

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

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

If you decide it is!

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

4 Shut Up That Barking! – the epidemic of noise

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

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

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

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

Yep.  You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.

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

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

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

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

         Shirelle is:

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

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

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

But does that make sense at all?

Everything Everywhere All at Once is about:

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

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

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

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

Julius Caesar lived:

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

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

The best place for a dog to lie down is:

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

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

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

4x + 38 =

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

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

For example:

Taylor Swift is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do when there’s no one to help you through something

Vidhi asks: I feel alone and am confused about what to do.  I feel alone even when I’m around family. I just completed school but didn’t earn any friends. I am sitting idly most of the time. Last year I dealt with the death of my childhood friend so I’m finding it hard to cope. And my parents want some different path for me for courses but I have no interest in that, due to which I’m having daily arguments with them. Along with all these, one of my sister’s married friends tried to assault me. He had kids and stuff and it made me more disturbed, and the fact that all of these things happened and I had no one to turn to or talk to it makes me feel isolated and lonely. I wanted to see a therapist, but I don’t have enough money, and I can’t ask my parents because they clearly won’t agree.

Oh Vidhi –

Everybody feels alone at times but you have three special issues that really make this tough.  Of course, losing a childhood friend is devastating (and I’m assuming your friend was very young too which makes it even more of a heartbreak).  Then this assault is of course wrong on every count, and not being able to talk about it makes it even worse.  And then the fact that you know you’d like a therapist but your parents won’t agree just cements things.  

So let me say it a different way.  OF COURSE you feel alone.  Anyone would after the death of a friend, but in addition you are being kept from expressing the things you need to say, so how could any healthy relationship possibly come along?

Now I can’t do anything about your parents, and of course I can’t bring your lost friend back.  But I do wonder about the other one.  Is there really no one you can tell about that?  I don’t know how old you are, but if you’re still in school, is there a teacher or administrator there you trust, who you could talk with about this (and not mention the name or any identifying information about the man so you don’t have to deal with the school person calling the cops on him or something — unless you want to!).  

My friend you’ve suffered two horrible traumas.  No one would be unaffected by them, or be able to easily move forward after them.  So I really want you to find someone you can talk with about these awful experiences.  And if that can’t be a therapist, I’d sure like it to be someone else.

In the meantime, you can always write me about any of this.  As a dog in, most likely, a different country from you, I’m completely safe, and I promise I won’t betray your trust in any way.  So please feel free to tell me anything you like about either or both of those experiences.

But I also urge you, if there’s a way, to also find a good intelligent boundaried adult.  Someone who won’t betray you in the way your sister’s friend’s husband did.

And know I’m sending you caring, protective light, for you to carry around wherever you go.

All my best,

Shirelle

Is it wrong to want your boyfriend to include you?

kiara123 asks:

I’ve been with this boy for almost 2 years now. We’re long distance and I feel like I’ve started to become toxic. I love him a lot but I don’t understand why I get jealous when he’s out partying or planning trips with his friends. I have no friends at all, so I don’t understand how life really is with friends. I know all these feelings are wrong and toxic but I just don’t know how to help it. I try really hard to make myself understand that it’s ok and I never tell him what to do. I don’t wanna be a controlling girlfriend and I want him to be happy, but I can’t seem to get rid of this miserable feeling. His friends drink and smoke a lot and are kind of cheap so that makes me a bit insecure. There are a couple of things that bother me besides this. He uses Snapchat a lot and that’s fine by me. He can snap anybody he wants but he doesn’t send me snaps. I think he sends snaps to everyone except me and that hurts. He does send me a snap separately but it’s just a black screen. It’s not like I wanna know what he’s doing or where he is, it’s just that I don’t want him sending snaps to people and not me.

Hi kiara123 –

I can really relate!  When Handsome goes out to work or to meet with friends, he almost always locks me in the yard.  Sure, he gives me a goodbye kiss and tells me how much he cares about me – but then he heads off and does whatever with all these other people, and sometimes with other dogs!  Do I think he’s purposely being mean to me?  No.  Do I think he’s doing anything out there that would upset me?  No.

But do I like it when he does it?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Now in my case, he often doesn’t have a choice.  There are laws about where he can and can’t take a dog.  But that’s not true for you.  So in your case, I have a question:

Why can’t you be there?

If he’s hanging out with all-male groups, especially if they’re doing things you don’t like, okay, I can see that.  But the rest of the time, why is he leaving you behind?  

And I’m asking sincerely.  It might be that he would like to have you around, but feels you would be unhappy there, or make him feel bad for having the fun he’s having.  And if that’s the case, maybe it’s something you could adjust.  For example, while you might not drink or smoke, if you’re with him when he’s doing that, you could be the designated driver, helping everyone get home safely and without any legal trouble.

Or is it that he’s excluding you?  Is he choosing to go out with others, and send pictures to others, keeping you out of it all, for some reason of his own?  If so, I think it would make a lot of sense for you to find out why!  It doesn’t make you a “controlling girlfriend” to ask him.  In fact, it could help your relationship along, by helping you understand him better.

And I’ll throw in another thought.  Maybe it’s time for you to get some friends of your own.  Not that they’d be against your relationship with him, but just friendships alongside it.  So you’d have people to talk with and go out with as well.  Just because you haven’t had such friendships doesn’t mean you couldn’t get some now!

But regardless of that, see if you can get to the bottom of why he’s doing these things.  Just because I’m locked in with no one to talk to but the squirrels and birds doesn’t mean you have to be!

All my best,

Shirelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But also think. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will I ever be able to love again?

pkt asks:

My boyfriend and I decided to completely break it off. Because of his family, he feels like there is no chance for us in the future and it will be good if we don’t stay friends because that will help him to move on. I still feel little hopeful about our future but obviously I can’t ask him to go against his family for me or even just lie to his family for now .And I also don’t want him to do something that feels wrong to him. But I feel very scared. We were together for 2 years and I have no idea how I’m going to move forward without him. What if I can’t find a connection like that again? I wanted this to work so badly but we just couldn’t. I don’t want to lose him. I was fine with being friends. I just wanted him to be there in my life. I know he’s right but I don’t know how to move on. Should I be still hopeful about this whole thing or just let it go?

Hi pkt –

I know that fear, and I’ve experienced it, and I see it all the time.  And my answer to you is… yes and no.

My human friend Handsome had a dog when he was 10 to 13 years old who he still idolizes, named Wolfgang.  No dog can ever mean to him what Wolf did.  When Wolf had to be given away, Handsome still says, it created the biggest wound his heart has ever suffered, and it’s never gone away.  Later he had a dog named Ygor who no one but him thought much of.  Ygor lived to be eighteen years old, and Handsome loved him more than anything else in the world.  And that whole part of his heart still loves Ygor as much as ever.  Then I came along.  And Handsome will gladly tell you he’s never loved anything the way he loves me.  But at the same time as he’s had me, he’s fallen in love with girlfriends, he’s loved friends enormously, and he’s been completely devoted to his family whom he adores.  

So are you right?  Will you find a connection like this guy again?  Probably you won’t – not exactly like you have with him.  And that’s partly because you’ll never be exactly the same person again, with the same needs, so you’ll connect differently.  But will you connect as strongly again?  I’ll bet you’ll connect with someone else more strongly than you ever did with this guy.  And will you love again?  Oh, only more so!  And will you forget this guy?  No chance.  

The way I see it, when we go off to whatever comes after this lifetime, our hearts are just loaded.  We have the love we felt for our parents and caretakers, the loves we had for our childhood friends, the loves we had for the teenagers we couldn’t stop laughing with (or in my case, couldn’t stop play-fighting with), the loves of our passionate romances, loves of beliefs and causes, loves of books and movies and songs, and if we’re so lucky, the biggest loves of all – for our children.  Does one make another go away?  Nope.  

But that’s our hearts.  Our brains do make room.  You’ll think about this guy all the time for a while, but there’ll be a day you realize you barely thought of him at all.  And then you’ll realize you went a week without thinking of him.  

And then you’ll bump into him on the street, and feel all the love you felt all over again.  But you’ll be strong enough to move on.

One of Handsome’s favorite songwriters said “He not busy being born is busy dying.”  Well you’re still being born, my friend.  And your newborn heart will love again like crazy.  

And here’s my big compliment to you and this guy – it’ll be easier for it to happen because you two have been so good with each other.  This relationship isn’t saddled with lies and betrayal.  No, you both have been honest and up-front and communicative.  Your trust has been rewarded.

So you’re going to be fine.  Not today, not tomorrow.  But you’re going to be okay.

You see, I know.  Because if Handsome was still only able to love Wolfgang and Ygor, I wouldn’t be here at all!

All my very best,

Shirelle

To Dance in Silence … the majesty of daring it all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My eyelids were drooping faster than I could control. 

“And then the music cut out!”

            Um… what?

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

            Well at last this was getting interesting.

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

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

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

            So okay, what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

How to deal with an inept parent

Soumyaguna asks:

I have always wanted a good father, at least a sensible one whom I could look up to.

Until now, I have been thinking maybe I have given less effort, or maybe I’m not understanding mine, but his ego is so big and it has overshadowed him as a father, a husband, and most importantly his humanity. 

He’s very good for others, very helpful, calm, understanding and every good thing possible, maybe because he feels they’re his family and we are nothing.

No matter what I do, he is never gonna appreciate or satisfy or even congratulate one of us.

Everyone I try making a step ahead towards him, he does something to push me back 10 steps away, but now I feel I have lost him for life.

Now maybe he’s just my biological father and nothing else.

He wanted me to learn scooty, he taught me how to, but then he wants me to drive only the way he says. The second I started driving he was screaming for no reason and kept on saying you are not driving, not driving, like this, like that, more than I could take. I got scared of such nonstop poking continuously, and in that nervousness, I got unbalanced and he had to take over. I started driving again after a year and today again it happened; he just started off with his babble. I was asking him not to, saying I’ll drive nicely, at least trust me once, but he again gave me an anxiety attack.

I don’t know how can someone be so egotistical that they can’t even understand a normal thing.

I now feel it would have been better if I didn’t have him in my life.

He’s the worst thing ever happened in my life

Hi Soumyaguna –

There’s an old saying, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives.”  I’d add “you can pick out puppies too!” but you get the idea.  And it’s true – everyone is stuck (and/or blessed) with the family they’re given.  

It’s also normal and true that every human goes through a time in their lives when they can’t stand their parents, and when their behavior makes them intolerable to their parents too.  With most people, there are more than one of those times!

And it sounds to me like you’re dealing with both of those issues right now.  An imperfect father, and a tough specific time.

Now of course I don’t know him at all, but from what you say, he sounds like a very good man to the world, who’s just inept at his relationship with his child or children.  That’s what I mean by “imperfect.”  I’d love to improve him, but unless he starts writing me too, I can’t do much on that count.

What I can do is to suggest to you that you try doing something extremely mature.  Many people don’t achieve this till their 40s or so, and lots don’t ever accomplish it.  And that’s to look at your father as a complex person, with strengths and faults, and accept him as he is.  

Why is that so hard?  Because you have ingrained in you a sense (every child is born with this) that your parents are perfect.  And as you get older, and see how imperfect they are (and everyone is highly imperfect!), that gets enormously frustrating!

There’s lots of filmed record of Adolf Hitler with children.  He seems very kind, supportive, and fun with them.  And most people consider him the greatest monster in the history of humanity.  Again – people have strengths and weaknesses; your dad isn’t as good with you as Adolf was with those kids, but your dad hasn’t murdered half the continent either!  

Your dad is a LOUSY driving instructor!  TERRIBLE!  But I’m sure he sees it a different way.

True story: a few years ago, my human friend Handsome needed to make some extra money, and found out that a friend of his had a daughter who was struggling in her learning to drive, so he took a job to tutor her at it.  He was surprised to find that she was actually quite good for a beginning driver, and just needed a few pointers to help her become that much better.  He and she talked about how odd this was – why had her parents thought she was so bad at it?  Then one day he went out to lunch with his friend, her mother.  And she was a HORRIBLE driver!  Distracted, even dangerous!  SO much worse than her daughter!  He found this hilarious – and, credit to her – so did his friend.  The fact is, your parents changed your diapers, they taught you to walk, they taught you to speak; and after all these years, they still see that completely helpless little child when they look at you.  How comfortable would you be seeing a 3-year-old driving?!  That’s probably what your dad sees in you now!

In other words, just like Handsome’s friend, your dad is condemned to being a really lousy and inept driving instructor – as well as failing at letting you know what he really feels about and toward you.  And this last one, I promise you, is a lack in him that causes him great pain.  The lack you feel is matched by so many others in his life.  Have you ever heard that beautiful song “To Make You Feel My Love?”  He can’t achieve that at all!

I’m not telling you to not be angry with him.  You get to.  You deserve to feel his love, and he fails at that.  

But this is who he is.  And you have the rest of your life ahead of you, and I hope will find the love you haven’t felt many times over.

So do your best, my friend.  You deserve better.  But Handsome deserves a dog who doesn’t shed everywhere and never pulled him down a hill so hard he nearly broke his arm and doesn’t bark super-loud right next to his ear — but he’s got me instead.  And loves me more than life.

Someday you might even feel that way about your dad.  But not now.  And that’s okay.

Just get through this.  (And find a better driving instructor!!!!)

Love,

Shirelle

1 2 3 146