Where’s My Magic, Dammit?

Sometimes a day hands you a magical moment, the kind that friends tap you to write about in one of those many viral campaigns on Facebook this summer. This is not one of those days. This means that for the third day in a row I will be disappointing my daughter, who has agreed to post her own magic moments on Facebook and three days ago tapped me to do the same.

If you are reading this it means you have not deserted my blog, despite its inexcusably long absence. And here I am on your doorstep — feeling sheepish and apprehensive but hopeful you will show me to my old bedroom in your blogging home once more. Still, I wouldn’t blame you if you had assumed me dead (or worse still, a lightweight) or if you shut the door in my face.

But first let me explain. I have a long list of excuses reasons for not blogging. I got busy professionally. We were traveling. It’s been gardening season and I go into a zen-like, mindless trance while pulling weeds and drowning Japanese beetles with Dead-Bug. For the past few months I have even given up newspapers and most television to spend my limited free time binge-reading all five “Game of Thrones” novels. Most seriously, my mother has come to live with us and we have devoted ourselves to helping her get adjusted…a job we are honestly happy to do for a woman who gave so much to me when I was an angst-ridden 13-year-old. All of these have totally cut into the time I have for the introspection that a blog requires. But part of me still believes in magic, and hopes that by some miracle you have not un-followed me.

Still with me? Good, because I want to tell you the closest thing I had to a magical moment today. I’m sure many of you have been asked on Facebook this summer to sign up for a multi-week marathon of posting your blessings, reasons to be grateful, 25 things people don’t know about you, etc. These have been making the rounds on social media these days, and I frankly have found them tiresome. Usually I just read my friends’ postings while feeling a little smug that I’ve eluded the trap. I’ve even resisted the ever-growing conga line of people who’ve embraced the ALS ice bucket challenge, a group that now includes the New England Patriots, many celebrities, Ethel Kennedy and most surprisingly, even some of my most cynical friends. I think my sister and I have been the only ones who haven’t posted videos of ourselves dumping ice on our heads. We both agreed that writing a nice check to the ALS Foundation was far preferable than getting our naturally curly hair wet and having to spend an hour blowing it out all over again. (I know that many of those who donated also were game enough to ice themselves down, but I have no sense of fun. Just ask my kids.)

But as I mentioned earlier, three days ago my daughter Rachel asked me to look for magic in each day and write about it. I thought about it this morning but once again was too busy to slow down and look for any magic. We have been enjoying a visit from son Ryan and his friend, David, both visiting from England, and it has been wonderful but not magical. We also hosted our son Ben, his friend Tom, and some of my son John’s teenaged friends over the past two days for swimming and watching a wrestling pay-per-view. I’ve been frantically defrosting hotdogs, drying wet towels and blowing up air mattresses. Just as the last teens left today, my husband Bob hosted some business associates at our home, and lunch had to be made. Horror of horrors, for the first time in memory, we had no beer in the house.

And of course, there were our dogs Gus and Rita to attend to, and they have been work recently. We have had a few challenging weeks with Rita, who did not take it well when we left her in a kennel while on vacation (even though she looked happy on the kennel’s streaming video). We arranged for them to be bathed and groomed before we picked them up, and Rita arrived home with gleaming gold fur, a pink bow, an attitude and some bad habits we thought she had outgrown. She started having the occasional accident on the floor, and my olfactory sense developed a raging paranoia, smelling plots everywhere. And I smelled one in the house today, right after I had brought Rita outside to do her business in an “authorized” location, and just as Bob’s business associates were arriving for lunch.

Armed with paper towels and Nature’s Miracle, I went on the hunt. But where was it? I checked all the spots in the house where she had offended before, but could not find anything. I smelled it most strongly in our small laundry area, and crawled along the floor there without any luck. I was equally unlucky in the kitchen, with its dark floor that hid a multitude of dark deeds. I crouched down and eyeballed the surface of the floor like a golfer eyeing his shot at ground level. Luckily, Bob’s business guests had retreated to the open-air porch and its forgiving breezes.

Then I spied it. Not on the floor, but on the bottom of my shoe. I pulled off the shoe and brought it just close enough to my nose to confirm it. And then I laughed, so hard I was afraid I’d be the next offender. I shared the story with John and he laughed just as hard. And I realized that sometimes a day just hands you magic, but other days you step in it.

Advertisements

Hurricane Rita Blows In

IMG_3102Don’t let the cuteness fool you. Our second dog, who arrived on Friday, is at eight weeks already an alpha female. The trainer arrives today, and not a moment too soon.

After a delightful 10 months with the very laid-back Gus, our first dog, we made the decision a few months ago to get another dog as a companion for him. Miniature dachshunds are very social creatures and a few people had advised us to get two dogs from the get-go. But as first-time dog owners, we did not want to tax ourselves.

Gus was an easy dog, docile and easily housebroken, loyal and affectionate…all hallmarks of the dachshund breed. In recent months, however, Gus has seemed lonely at times despite getting plenty of love, attention and furtively delivered morsels of people food. He began seeing us as his buddies constantly, often looking up at us with a tennis ball clutched in his jaws and whining sorrowfully. This was starting to happen late at night when Bob and I lay on the couch in our usual “Law and Order”-induced stupor. We felt we were ready for another dog at this point, and luckily the same breeder who gave us Gus had another litter on the way. They were the spawn of Gus’s older brother Kommodore Schutzhund, or “Schutz” for short. The puppies were born on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, and we claimed and named the only girl: Margarita.

From the moment she arrived, her astounding cuteness inspired awe and ahs, and she melted our hearts when she snuggled on our laps, which she loves to do.  However, Rita has another side:  the feisty and combative second child who refuses to play second fiddle. Unlike most females, she has no problem leaning in.

We had been warned that Gus, who has been treated like a prince since we brought him home, might have some trouble sharing his castle with another dog. Their breeder, Tiffany, advised us beforehand to let them share sleeping arrangements and food dishes and work out their conflicts themselves, an essential part of the bonding experience. She assured us that Gus and Rita (who is Gus’s niece) would share a special and playful relationship.

Yet the relationship has been more Punch and Judy than George and Gracie. It has been painful to watch the ritualistic one-upsdogship – which started soon after the initial butt-sniffing ritual, the canine world’s equivalent of a polite handshake. Since Rita arrived she has been hogging the food bowl, chomping down heartily while the more patient Gus waits his turn. If Gus tries to claim a spot at the bowl she nudges him out of the way. Despite being a quarter his size, she has remarkably sharp elbows when it comes to asserting first dibs on the doggie bed. Gus, unused to having to fight for anything, seems to not know what to do.

Rita has also been getting in Gus’s face and picking fights with him. She bares her teeth, assaults Gus’s side with both paws, climbs onto him when he is lying on his back. Her teeth have come dangerously close to Gus’s private parts a few times. Gus, who shows remarkable restraint, tries to turn the tables with a swipe of his stronger paw. Sometimes he just lays on top of Rita, a tired “can’t we get this over with?” look on his face, as she barks like an angered chipmunk.

This is like watching a middle child gleefully taunt the oldest; or a midget wrester trying to take down a Sumo; or the killer bunny attacking the knights in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Yesterday, while our son John was watching the dogs as I ran errands, he called me to tell me he had to put each of them “in solitary” in their crates. He was concerned enough to take action and keep them separated. But advised to do nothing, I merely watch with the morbid fascination reserved for car wrecks along the highway.

Along the perimeter of our back yard is a fence and a three-foot-wide gravel path, where Gus has always enjoyed walking with us. Gus is visibly peeved when Rita accompanies us now. He runs ahead of her, then turns his long dachshund body perpendicular to the path, as if to block her. He body-slams her to the edge of the path before running ahead again. Then the process repeats.

I thought raising more than one dog would be more laid-back than childrearing, which often requires parents to mediate scuffles between their offspring. I was ready to be the coolheaded dog owner who rolled with their punches. Still, it’s hard to see my adorable new pup go right for Gus’s balls in the attack. I asked Tiffany if this was something to be concerned about.

Her answer: “Not at all…Ladies know where it hurts a man.”

Hey, Dog Whisperer: My Dog Begs for Meatballs, and Other Problems

Gus at rest, but not in his crate like he’s supposed to be. Perhaps he is dreaming of meatballs.

Dear Cesar Milan,
OK we bought your book. We know the importance of calm, authoritative attitudes when handling puppies, no matter how cute. We’ve practiced the art of going through the door first and letting the dog follow, of owning our space and of saying “tssst!” to show displeasure when our puppy whines or jumps too much.

So what can we do when the dog isn’t buying it?

We’ve had our new puppy Gus for just two days. It has been an adjustment. On the plus side, he is getting used to the crate. On the minus side, everything we’ve read in the Dog Whisperer book about being a calm and authoritative pack leader has gone out the window. Gus ignores the people who’ve best learned to be authoritative (thanks to your television shows and book) and lavishes all his attention on the weak link: me.

He’s already turning into a picky eater, even though we are using the same puppy chow as his breeder. He has hardly touched his food bowl, despite our cajoling. But he clung to my ankles last night as I stirred a pot of gravy and meatballs, and whimpered and begged while we ate dinner. Could it be that Gus, descended from a prestigious line of German miniature dachshunds, is really Italian?

Perhaps that would explain his attachment to his new “mama.” While my son has projected a more authoritative presence (thanks to you), Gus has me pegged for a softie. He ignores other family members and follows me around from room to room. When I tell him to “stay,” he must interpret it to mean, “within a two-foot radius.” As soon as I sit down he jumps into my lap – even though dachshunds supposedly should limit jumping because they are prone to bad backs — and starts licking my face. He cries pitifully if I put him into his crate so I can get something done. He is a mama’s dog through and through. If this continues, will he turn into Paulie Walnuts?

He certainly is capable of bonding with the guys in the family, at least if I am not around. Last night, ignoring his whimpers, I left to do some food shopping. When I returned Bob and Gus were peacefully curled up on the couch together watching the Red Sox. Gus was nearly asleep, but when he saw me he started wagging his tail furiously and immediately climbed into my lap. I should have told him “tsst” and pushed him away with a clawed hand, like you suggested.

Dog Whisperer, I am making the same mistakes with Gus that I made as a parent of small children. I have a hard time with the tough decisions and the “executive” part of parenting, whether it’s a two-legged or four-legged creature. I let my daughter live on Spaghetti-os for months at a time when it was the only thing she would eat. When my kids had problems going to bed I would sit in the hallway outside their bedrooms with a magazine and reassure them that I wasn’t going away, instead of locking their door as some childhood sleep experts would recommend. Now Gus is sleeping in his crate in our bedroom, something that really should not be happening.

House training has also been challenging at times, just as potty training was. I’ve brought Gus outside many times and waited, but nothing has happened except for a lot of sniffing, pointing, and digging up tuberous plants. I’ve brought him to a nice tree and encouraged him to take a whiz there, even modeled the correct technique. I prayed that no neighbors saw me when I lifted up one arm and one leg and said, “see Gus, this is how it’s done,” while he stared quizzically at me. Only later did I find out from his breeder that a dachshund’s legs are too short to pee like other dogs do; he just lets everything trickle down. He hasn’t pooped outside either, but that doesn’t surprise me since that the “number-two” part of potty training was challenging for my other boys as well. (My youngest pooped in my shoe once after I refused to let him put a diaper back on.)

So, Dog Whisperer, please help. My weiner dog is on his way to becoming an anal-retentive, meatball-loving, authority-resistant, Italian mama’s boy. Please bring over Blizzard, Mr. President and Junior and tell me what to do. I need to get over this problem before I have grandchildren.

It’s D-Day (for Dog) Today!

Gus, our new miniature dachshund puppy. Isn’t he cute???

In about an hour and a half I will be bringing home Augustus, AKA Gus, a very little, very cute miniature long-haired dachshund — our family’s first dog ever.

Gus is a friendly little guy with a face that melted our hearts. (Take a look and see for yourself). We have visited his breeder twice to play with him and help him become familiar with our scent. In the presence of his mother, father and pack-mates he is happy-go-lucky, playful yet laid-back…the perfect temperament. I know he will miss them and we are determined to make him feel loved and safe.

This morning I am humming that old Jackson Browne song, “Ready or Not,” composed when his girlfriend was expecting a baby. I keep thinking of the line, “take a look in my eyes, and tell me brother if you think that I am ready.”

Part of me thinks that we are ready. We’ve read the Dog Whisperer books and
watched dozens of the TV shows. We’ve learned the importance of having calm, assertive presence. We’ve learned about the proper interplay of love and limits, and how we should mirror the behavior of our pet’s mother for best results. We’ve scoped out the best places in the house for our pet’s new hangout, spent about $300 at the pet store on the right supplies and food; put electrical cords out of reach.

Gus with John (right) and John’s friends Carly and Greg

But yet I worry about not being ready. At age 58, I have never had a dog. My husband had several when he was growing up but hasn’t cared for a dog in decades. Growing up we had aquarium fish, including a red-tailed shark that nipped the tails of other fish. Most of our fish died pretty early, except for Andy, an angelfish that hung around for a few years. While my two grown children were small we had Jessie, our cat, who died in 2003. We now have Angel, a guinea pig, who is very low maintenance and happy staying in her cage and munching carrots.

So, with only our 14-year-old at home with us, we have had several years of things being easy. Our youngest child can dress himself, get his own food, go to bed without any pushing on our part. We haven’t changed a diaper, worried about potty accidents or used a baby gate in 11 years. We’ve spent many years helping our children become independent, to think for themselves and care for themselves. Without anybody else to really fret or fuss over, it’s been incredibly easy to just focus on our own needs. Am I ready to devote a lot of time now to putting our new pet’s needs first? To adjust to a new routine whenever we go outside or on errands?

Yesterday we were on a plane flying back from California when the in-flight entertainment included a documentary called “Why We Love our Cats and Dogs.” They interviewed people who said that their pets made them less focused on themselves. Even if they were tired, depressed or angry, the dog’s needs got them out of bed and into the world. Ultimately, that made them happier, better human beings.

I also re-read my brother-in-law Mike’s wonderful essay about his dog Molly, written just after she passed away. It gave me an appreciation for the joy that dogs can bring to our lives. Like us, Mike did not feel ready to take on a dog; it was something his children wanted before he accepted it. But over time he grew to love that dog like a child.

All of us are looking forward to experiencing that overwhelming love with our new pet, Gus. We are prepared for some adjustment problems, and despite being well-versed in Dog Whisperer techniques we know that we’ll be doing a lot of learning together with Gus while we adjust to each other. Yes, brother, I think that I am ready.