Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

Bob Pen Abbey 7-23-13

I’m once again up way too early to do anything but write.

Sadly this time it was not instigated by a dog who needed to be let outside, but a dog I must let go.

Sometimes death comes excruciatingly slow and other times painfully swift.  In the case of our gentle lab Abbey, it was some surreal mixture of both.

Abbey was my sister’s dog originally, a Christmas gift for her girls a dozen years ago, who were just babes themselves.  Abbey spent her early years in New Hampshire, Missouri, and North Carolina before coming home to live with me and my dog Malcolm in Illinois and finally Iowa.

I think everyone in my family would claim her at theirs since she spent some time with all of us when one of us had to travel without her.  She found comfort in laying at my dad’s feet, riding in my mom’s car, being reunited with her girls when they came to visit, playing dress up with my youngest niece and helping my brother convince my cat loving sister-in-law that dogs can indeed make incredible companions.

She also had a way with the boys and spent her last couple of hours surrounded by her favorite fellas – Jake, Scooter, Rosco, Gavin, and her all time favorite, Bob.  She was an equal opportunity lover and rallied at the opportunity to take one last walk by the river with her pack, herding us all and making sure no one was left behind.

The decision to end a pet’s life is wracked with doubt.  I’ve had to make that decision twice in the last two years. When they are suffering through their worst moments, I am convinced it is the most humane thing to do. It becomes the most agonizing thing to do when the appointed time draws near.

I can barely breathe through it, stay in the moment, and not distract myself from the onslaught of memories mixed with fear of a future without my canine companion.  A part of me dies with my dog.

Fortunately my vet makes house calls and has allowed both Malcolm and Abbey to pass in the peace of familiar surroundings with their favorite toys, treats, and companions right next to them.  And incredibly lucky for me, I have Bob,  who bears this burden with me and lets me cling to him even as his heart breaks.

To deal with the aching absence of Abbey, I alternate between listening to gut wrenching songs about grief to reading poetry about passing to drinking rain forest tea to collapsing on the couch.  Eventually I reach for my pen and journal, open up a vein and let the following bleed out.

Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

No one ever tells you when you get a dog

that they will heal your heart every time it breaks

only to shatter it beyond recognition when they leave.

They forget to mention

you will continue to offer table scraps to the ghost of a good dog

and listen intensely for the pattering of paws across the kitchen floor

or wait for the delirious wagging of a tail to welcome you home.

You never suspect you will miss the insistence on a Busy Bone from the kitchen

once you’ve settled snugly into the couch.

You can’t fathom wishing you would wake

once more to the movement of dreaming feet, muffled barks,

and snores that rival your husband’s.

No one tells you that coming across a favorite toy, food dish, eye drops, ear wipes,

multiple dog beds and blankets will remind you that your life was blessed by a dog.

No one wants to spoil the ending at the beginning.

No one wants to tell you the grief will go as deep as the love

and come in waves at odd moments long after your dog is gone.

They will only ask you when you’re going to get another

and you will say never…

Until one day you remember that dog is just god spelled backward

and the closest thing to heaven on earth.

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Top Ten Tension Tackling Tunes to Keep You Humming Through The Holidays

Christmas card

It happens every year. We start out the season with visions of Christmases past when we were younger, things were easier, and our lives were manageable. This year we vow to re-create the magic. We’ll shop early, get organized, entertain lavishly without gaining an ounce, attend every school program and office party, and enjoy all the pleasures of the season.

This vow lasts until the reality of relentless schedules, impossible expectations, extra activities, and crowds at every corner bring this vision sharply into question. Then the question is no longer how will we celebrate but how will we survive?

The good news is we always survive. The bad news is we don’t always utilize the stress management techniques we perfected by the end of last holiday season. However, this year we have a new strategy.

It’s called tunes and tips. When you hear the tune, let it trigger the tension-tackling tip. And what better songs than Christmas carols to keep you humming through the holidays?

1. ‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly…

If you’ve lost your sense of humor, find it immediately!  Stuff happens and you need to keep your wits about you.

Create a stress relief kit that contains anything that conjures up calm for you. Suggestions include a foot massager, a packet of herbal tea, island getaway brochures, funny photos, your favorite music, or an emergency clown nose. Or find an app for your phone that helps you relax and is at your fingertips when you need it.

You are only one thought away from a different perspective.

2. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Go…

You don’t have to wish for that fluffy white stuff to perfect the holiday picture. But it is wise to acknowledge that there are certain things that are out of your control, like the weather. What is in your control is your reaction to events.

Letting go of your expectations of how events should unfold, how people should behave, and what should happen allows you to be present to what is actually going on.

3. Dashing Through the Snow…

Movement is essential to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Since Santa supposedly has your new exercise equipment, now may not be an opportune time for you to start a fitness program. But you can easily incorporate movement into your day.

Having to park three miles away from any place peopled with shoppers gives you an excellent opportunity to squeeze in a little aerobic activity. Carrying your purchases back to that same location might be considered strength training.

There are a myriad of ways to work in a workout.  Get creative and have some fun sprinkling your day with activity sprints.

4. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire…

Too many of those nuts, candies, and homemade delights can tip the scales out of your favor. Notice how you eat, drink, and be merry. If you are eating Christmas cookies to handle your woes or drinking Jack Daniels to prevent Jack Frost from nipping at your nose, the combination of indulgences could wreak havoc on your health.

People tend to put on an extra pound or two over the holidays, which isn’t a big deal if it comes off in the New Year. Unfortunately, for many it becomes the new set point that inches up year after year.

To guarantee that you don’t become one of those weight bearing statistics, plan for party temptations by eating a healthy snack before you go.  Once there, fill up on food for thought instead of food from the party platter.  Pay attention to the decorations, check out the entertainment, or visit with the bearded man and his little friends.

5.  Making a List and Checking It Twice…

Don’t expect your already overloaded mind to remember any more than your way home and the names of your immediate family members. Count on lists to remind you of those things you have determined you must do. Make as many lists as necessary and review them before taking action. Prioritize, organize, scrutinize, and compromise, if necessary.

Even if your superpower is finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list and you love to mix and mingle with the masses, make sure to shop when you are well-rested and well-fed. Shopping when fatigued, famished, or  frazzled can lead to costly buyer’s remorse.

6. Deck the Halls…

Surround yourself with things that bring you joy. Designate a room, corner, or cupboard as your own. Then decorate that space as only you know how. Bring a bean bag elf to the office or hang mistletoe in the cafeteria. Your spirit needs nourishment and encouragement. Be sure to give yourself the time and a place to celebrate what is sacred to you.

Many people use this time of year to reflect on the current year and make goals, set intentions, and strategically plan for the new year.  Be sure to schedule some down time amidst all the hustle and bustle to envision, dream, think, contemplate, relax, pray, or hang out in nature.

7. I’ll Be Home for Christmas…

Many families are spread out over the country. This can present not only logistical challenges, but financial and emotional ones as well when you attempt to make it “home” for the holidays.

Determine if the benefits of being home are worth the stresses you may encounter getting there – especially if you are organizing this pilgrimage for your household. If home is where your heart is, then may the force be with you in your travels! But if traveling makes your heart weary, know you can create the feeling of home wherever you are.

By volunteering your time at a shelter, visiting a nursing home, or helping serve meals at a community center, you might help create the feeling of home or family for someone who no longer has one.

8. All I Want for Christmas Is…

What do you really want? What will having this item do for you? How will it satisfy your soul? What about those on your list? What might they really want? Can you give it to them in a more authentic or direct way? Is it possible for you to make something or do something that brings them more joy than the buying an expensive gift that busts your budget?

Gifts of listening, laughter, and sincere compliments are always appreciated but not always afforded to others.  When you really listen and don’t interrupt, daydream, or plan your response, the gift of listening is priceless.

Same for the gift of laughter.  Clipping cartoons or sharing articles, blog posts (like this one!), tweets, or funny videos lets your recipient know how much you value the times you laugh together.

When a compliment is simple, sincere, and specific to the person such as, “You really worked hard on this project and it shows in your client’s feedback,” or “That was a hilarious interpretation of The 12 Days of Christmas,” it benefits the giver as well as the receiver.

However you say to another,  “I see who you are. I get you. I’m glad you exist in my universe,”  is a gift indeed.

9. Silent Night …

I know what I’m about to write is a radical suggestion, but for your own good, I’m going to write it anyway.  Unplug from your electronic devices for one night and plug in to the gifts of the season.

From the sound of carolers outside your window to the squeals of small children on Santa’s lap to the brightly colored lights decorating the streets where you live, sense the beauty that surrounds you. See, hear, taste, touch, and smell the sensations of the season.

Sometimes all you need to do this is a silent night.  Remember, you have the right to remain silent.

10. Joy to the World…

In the end, it all comes down to attitude. Maybe you harbor an inner Scrooge who threatens to declare, “Bah humbug!” on all this festive frenzy. Keeping him in check may require reframing your beliefs about what you “should” do, “must” do, or “have to” do as a choice, something you “choose to” do.

Although you may be a creature of habit, you are also an evolving creature.  What gives you meaning and brings you joy one year may not the next. You may decide some traditions are simply not worth the energy it takes to carry them out and invent new ones to suit your lifestyle.

When life becomes a choice instead of a chore, the world looks a lot brighterand you have more energy to spread that joy around!

BONUS CUT:

As much as I’d like to end this post on a Joy to the World note,  I do want to acknowledge that the holidays can be a very difficult time for many people.  For years, I dreaded them.  Here’s a tip for those of you who have a hard time with holidays for any number of reasons.

I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You…

Despite the festive feel of brightly colored lights and pretty packages under the tree, the holidays can bring up intense feeling of loss, longing, not belonging, depression, and wanting something other than what you have.

You may feel guilty for not enjoying the holidays or for being here when others are not and consequently overspend, overindulge, or over-schedule yourself to escape your feelings.

However, denying your feelings causes them to come back and bite you when you least expect it. Give your feelings the time and attention they deserve. Find someone to talk to or write in a journal. You don’t have to go through this alone.  Connect with others who share your struggles.

I wish you whatever you need or desire to feel loved and appreciated this holiday season.

Please share this with anyone who could use some stress reducing strategies to get through the holidays.  And feel free to share your tried and true tips in the comments below.

 Thank you for reading.   Happy, Healthy Holidays to YOU!

Good Dog, Stay

There is nothing quite like the excruciating pain of losing an animal companion.  Whether that be canine, feline, equine, or bovine, when we have to say goodbye to a being that loves us like no other, the grief seems unbearable.

When a person dies, people understand that it will take a considerable amount of time to process the loss.  Yet when a pet dies, the expectation is not so magnanimous.  Some suggest “replacing” the pet as soon as possible.

But as anyone who has ever been loved by an animal will tell you, these creatures leave paw prints on our hearts that refuse to be replaced.  Their mischievous shenanigans, annoyingly cute little tricks, and insistence on undivided attention will be the things we miss the most.

A year ago I had to put my dog Malcolm down after 17 years.  Ours was a very intricately woven bond.  His loyalty was so fierce, I knew he would not leave me even though he was in intense pain.  He not only changed my life the day I walked into Operation Kindness, he saved it.  He more than lived up to his side of the deal and stuck with me through thick and thin.  I needed to live up to mine and be brave enough to let him go.

We had traveled the country together and met more dogs in more places than most people and dogs do.  We’d regularly go out for a walk and return with 3-6 neighbor dogs in tow, making me Penny the Pied Piper of Puppies.

There is something so comforting to me about the company of dogs.  Maybe it’s that my dogs and I can communicate without speaking.  Or it could be that they think I’m a good cook, hilarious, beautiful, brilliant, generous, and have great taste in leashes.  They know when I need to exercise, eat, sleep, or shower.  They know when someone or something is threatening me.  And vice versa.

They allow me to pretend I’m the boss of them, but we all know the truth.  And even though I scold them for dropping the best, most durable balls in the Maquoketa River within 10 minutes of taking them out of the package and other bad behavior, they refuse to point out my mistakes or bad behavior.

My friend Susan and her dog Sophie gave me a pillow that says, “To error is human, to forgive canine.”  That pretty much sums up it up.

For these and a hundred other reasons, I offer the most heartfelt condolences to those who lose their animals companions.  Animals complete us.  They make our families fuller.  They make our lives richer.  They provide unconditional love and acceptance.  Not to mention unlimited writing material and photo opportunities.

My good friend Karen lost her sweet Callie last weekend.  There are no words to ease her pain and talking of Callie will continue to bring tears to both of our eyes for quite some time.

So in honor of our four-legged furry friends everywhere, let’s offer up a prayer or two of gratitude that these amazing creatures choose to spend their limited time among us and teach us how to sit, roll over, and fetch our farthest reaching dreams.

If only they could stay longer.

Share your favorite pet story, trick, photo, memory, etc. below.

This is a picture of me and Abbey, the beautiful, gentle yellow lab who joined Malcolm and me and made the last two years of his life so much spunkier.

Photo by Lucas Mitchell.