Sleep training.

I get a lot of questions about how I get the dogs to sleep in. I think Melvin trained me, to sleep train. Melvin’s foster dad was in the army and they both woke at 0500 to walk. I don’t even know what 0800 looks like, so 0500 was never going to fly. The first couple of weeks Melvin was mine, he slept during the day and paced on top of the bed (with me in it) all night. I tried putting him downstairs so that I could get sleep but he barked non-stop. He had run stray, his skin was on fire. It took him a while to learn to relax but once he did, that dog embraced sleep like no dog ever has.

It has been such an honor to give all the boys a life where they could embrace sleep, and without them really knowing I was a sleep pusher, I was also happy to get them addicted to it.

Here are some of my tricks:

  • Never, never, never get up when your alarm goes off. This gives them the go-ahead to rise and shine the moment they hear it. By not getting up when the alarm goes off, they basically stop hearing it. This step will take the longest. Jake wasn’t great at this so I had an alarm clock downstairs and while we were watching TV or I was working, it would go off and I would not change what I was doing. Eventually, he ignored it.
  • Vary the times you hit snooze. Dogs can count, trust me. If you vary the snooze hits, they will learn that each subsequent alarm noise is a non-day-starter also.
  • During training, if they get up and try to get you up, be a lifeless zombie. Melvin would lay on top of me and cut off my breathing and I never moved. I just kept thinking: ‘0500 is what happens if you move’. Doug would lay on my face. DO NOT GIVE IN.
  • Have a verbal get up signal – mine is OK. This is crucial if you have to pee, but plan to come back to bed. I always give a stay command for this. It does not always work but all dogs have learned to follow me back to bed until the office OK.
  • I need 8 hours of sleep and that was always enough for Melvin and Jake. Doug needs 10-12 hours so he has been pretty easy to train once he realized the alarm means nothing.
  • I have a gate at the top of our steps so Melvin could go out into the loft whenever he wanted. Doug sleeps with me about 50% of the time (he has to stay used to his little bed area for when I have migraines) so he can also venture out to the loft. But by keeping them upstairs, we avoid ‘starting the day’ or seeing food bowls. Jake always stayed in his ‘meatball factory’ zone so he was the easiest.
  • Have a water bowl near the bedroom. It’s not prison!

This is how I did it with Max (came to me used to getting up at 7am), Melvin (0500), Jake (I’m not sure anyone ever gave Jake a schedule so he was just happy to have love), and Doug (goes from 0 to 4,576 upon waking so waking rules are key).

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Come as you are.

During the early days with Melvin, I was all about making lists of all the things he needed to change. A list of all the things ‘he was doing wrong’. When we finally found a behaviorist that I liked, and after finding a way to secure him in the car so that he didn’t jump in my lap while I was driving and traveling 55 mph, we met with her.

In one 60 min session, she changed the way I think about dogs (and people) forever. That might be selling myself a little short, since I have worked really hard at this area of life, but she was the one that gave me an ‘ah ha’ moment to build on.

I brought my list to her. The Melvin-is-terrible list. The how-can-one-dog-do-so-much-wrong list. She asked me to pick one thing on the list that caused me the most frustration. The one thing I wish I could change about him.

He is missing out on playdates with other dogs because he seems to hate every dog we meet.  

In response to that she asked me three questions:

  1. Do you like and want to spend time with every person you meet? No. 
  2. What exactly do you feel he is ‘missing out on’? Fun?
  3. What if this is Melvin and he just doesn’t like other dogs? Is that ok? Wow. Of course. 

She took my list and asked, what are the things he does that makes you happy? Make a list of that. What are the areas he’s already improved on? Make that a list.

From her I learned to meet Melvin where he was. Not to wait for him to arrive where I was or where I wanted him to be.  I had to do the work to figure out who Melvin was, why he was where he was, and honestly assess what he (and I) should become. I couldn’t hand him a list and say ‘be this/do this’, I had to take each area of him and figure out how the two of us could be a team in him having a happy, successful life.

Obviously, he turned out to be perfect. 2014-03-31_0003

Melvin couldn’t bend for me. We had to learn a shared language. I let go of the demands, and embraced our journey.

In my life with Melvin, he never, not even once as a joke, play-bowed. He preferred me over other dogs, and he preferred me over all people, although he did love just about every human that he met. In Melvin’s first life, he didn’t know love. So once he came to me and felt crazy amounts of love, he became a love and joy junkie. He didn’t need a life with other dogs.

He had me. And then he had Jake. His life was complete.

I met Jake where he was. I’ve done the same for Doug.

She’s lying. I was perfect. IMG_6124

The number one thing I ask almost every day now is: why is Doug doing this? I don’t scream this at him, I don’t get upset about this question, I truly want to know why he’s doing what he’s doing so that he and I can figure out a better plan. What I have come to learn is that, Doug has a lot of fear about life. And the more comfortable he is with me and the more joy we find, the more he is willing to let his fear flag wave. He will run joyfully towards life and he will experience some form of fear in everything that is new. This list includes but is not limited to: bugs that crawl, bugs that fly, leaves, leaves that move with wind, mud, a clicking noise, a new car, a new food bowl, a sweater, a blanket with pom-poms, a new ring tone, shiny flooring, a purple koala bear on a cereal box.

He ran stray before he came to me. They don’t have purple koala bears on the not-shiny, rural streets of South Carolina. Every thing is new to him. It’s my job to make him feel safe but still encourage him to move in the direction of new things. In doing so, I have to step VERY FAR out of my comfort zone with bugs and mud and just this morning a slug, to meet Doug at Fear Avenue and get him on his way to the Joy Highway.

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Let there be light.

The days and weeks after Jake died, were absolutely the darkest of my moments. Jake was gone. Melvin was gone.

I was so lost.

I couldn’t solve anything. I’d gone from being Jake’s caretaker 24/7 to having no obvious purpose. The house had no dogs. That silence killed me a little each day. The days and weeks after Melvin died, were hard, but I felt him guiding me. Melvin is a part of me. I didn’t feel that connection to Jake after he died. He felt far and the void swallowed me.

I am not ashamed to say I had to take medication to get me through that period. It helped. It helped to give me space to breathe. Breathing is important.

Thirty nine days after Jake died (and exactly two years ago today). I saw this post:

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I had tried to meet dogs. They all made me cry. I scrolled past the post.

I had hyperventilated after meeting dogs. They weren’t Jake. I’m not ready. I scrolled back up to look at the post again.

I kept reaching for Jakey. I decided to just accept the emptiness in the house. It was too soon. I scrolled past the post again.

The dogs I had met were all wrong. A few hours later I checked that post to see how many likes it had. Scrolled back down again. Back up to count likes.

Next thing I know someone had commented. It was me. Well that’s strange, I didn’t remember doing that. Oh wait, now I’m sending them an email telling them the story of Jake and how I know without question this dog, whose name will never stay Hooty, this dog is part of my journey. Pleading with them to consider me, to let me give this dog a forever. I sent them a link to this blog to show my commitment to dogs.

Crazy grief filled dog lady, line 2.

At the same time, an angel of ours, who had adopted from this rescue group before, sent a message on our behalf. Likely negating some of the crazy, and pumping up some of the normal.

The rescue wrote back that they would not post him as adoptable until I was able to meet him.

We decided that Thursday, September 1st seemed like a good day to meet.

I slept better that night.  I felt Jakey inch a little closer to my heart.

To be continued…

Jake and Project Joy.

I don’t know how it is for others who have lost a pet, but for me, year one was just getting through all the firsts. After that, holidays come and go and I wish Melvin and Jake were here but I don’t necessarily count the number of moments they’ve missed.

Except the anniversary of when we said goodbye. I try not to think about it, but my brain does not always comply. My brain reminds me in March, that Melvin died in April.  And I try to think of other things but something more powerful than me forces  me to remember. And on that day in April, I have a day to myself. No social media, no blog. Doug and I take donations to shelters and pay Melvin’s love forward.  I may cry a little, but for the most part, Melvin is always with me.

It’s a little different with Jake’s anniversary. My mind starts reminding me much earlier. And I fight really hard to ignore it. There are many more tears. Losing Melvin was pure sadness. Losing Jake was more traumatic. Melvin was gone, Jake was gone. There were no dogs. Days felt infinite because I was no longer caring for Jake.

Grief is so confusing and hurtful.

Next week will be two years since I looked into Jake’s googly eyes, and I can still feel the spiral of emotion that I went through before and after he died. And at the same time, joy washes over me every time I see his face.

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So that is where you come in. The best way for me to combat those emotions, is to pay Jake love forward. So Melvin & Jake’s Project Joy would like to find a dog in need of wheelchair. The dog can be in their forever home or waiting to be rescued, but preferably in the US.

Please message us at ohmelvinyojake@gmail.com if you know of a dog that needs a cart. We will pick one on July 18th so that Jakey’s anniversary can be more joyful than sad!

#loveliveson

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Vacation.

We had our annual family vacation last week. The dogs have never gone because a few family members are allergic to dogs. Last year when I left Doug for this trip, he was still in recovery from his first leg surgery and was living life as an inmate in his pen. He was also on meds to keep him calm.  Just typing that makes me laugh, most days those drugs were no match for Doug.

Oh sure bitch, just leave me. IMG_4886

When I used to leave Melvin, he knew the moment the suitcase came out that I was abandoning leaving him. He’d have an extra sad face, he’d be an angel for the dog sitter and when I got home, he’d greet me with pure joy and delight and then ignore me for at least a week. Punishment hurts.

Please don’t leave me alone with him. I miss you already. 2 19 14

Jake didn’t care that I was leaving and he didn’t really notice when I came back. The only living creature that Jake reacted to them leaving, was Melvin. If I snuck Melvin out for a vet appointment, Jake would rally his digestive system and even if he had JUST GONE, he would start shooting meatballs out while also flailing his body around and doing some odd gurgle-howl. He is the reason we have so many cameras, so we could watch his crazy outbursts. When Melvin left us, Jake sat by the door and howl-cried for two weeks. I had to put him on Prozac just to help get him through.

Thank you for this new bed. It is mine now.  6 30a

I don’t think Doug sees the suitcase as anything but something new to chew or jump over. But once I’m gone and the sitter is here for a few days, he decides to retaliate. This last trip, retaliation was going from being fine left alone, to dragging every item not bolted down to the center of the room and trying to eat it all. IMG_0213IMG_0214

The first question I asked the dog sitter, after laughing hysterically, was if the basket still had all it’s pom-poms on it.  Priorities folks!

Doug did notice when I returned.  Which of course makes up for all the shit he destroyed while I was gone.

Doug is home.

There was a lot of debate about how old Doug was when I rescued him. The shelter that took him in and the rescue that brought him to DC put him at 2 years old (In August of 2016). When I adopted him, based on all this, I thought he was two. That made him the youngest dog I had ever rescued.

Once I got him to my vet, they were not feeling the two-years-old part. After a very thorough looking over, and a few vets weighing in, they felt he was more of the 8-months old.

Rescue photo of Doug.  HOW OLD ARE YOU 2016 Hooty (his rescue name)? IMG_0076

My first photo of Doug. img_0118

It took me a minute to realize what I’d done. I’d adopted a puppy.  (Insert record scratch noise here). Jake had just died six-weeks before, I’d adopted Doug in a desperate attempt to have dog life back in the house. I was grieving so hard, a puppy was the last thing I needed.

Oh, but I was wrong. Doug is exactly the disruption that would see me through.

The only thing that came even remotely close to how painful losing Jake was, was Doug mouthing my feet. It was like he’d see me cry over Jake and say, you want to cry, I’ll show you pain. That mouthing and his insane energy level screamed PUPPY. We trained, we walked, he ran zoomies, he mouthed my feet.

We celebrated his maybe first birthday on his made up birth date, December 1st (2016). Then we went on a not epic journey, to surgery town. Two surgeries and five months of lockdown, with a dog born to zoom.

We then celebrated his maybe 2nd birthday on December 1st (2017).

Over the last few months, Doug has started channeling an inner calm.  It’s not a consistent calm, consistent is not a word that really fits with Doug. Homeboy likes to mix it up. There are still moments when his face gets tight and he looks like he could implode from nuclear energy and running zoomies only exasperates the situation. But, in general, I would say that 75% of the time now, Doug is somewhat chill.

Some of it might be his legs. They are fixed in an as good as it gets way, but they are not perfect. They may be slowing down his body but I don’t think they could be fully responsible for slowing down his soul.

Our current estimate is that Doug is two-and-a-half. But maybe the rescue was right, maybe he’s four.  That would better explain some of his calmer nature.

Here is the thing, Doug is following the same trajectory that Melvin did.  Arrive crazy, be insane for about two  years, find some inner zen.

I think the main contributor to the calm, is that Doug knows he’s home. Both Melvin and Doug were outdoor wanderers before they came here. Melvin had a home but he was more of their outside dog. Doug ran legit stray. Maybe even in a gang.  Living life on high alert, adrenaline pumping. I guess it took about two years for them to know they were home. There is something really magical about a dog snuggling into their forever.

When I was trying to tame wild Melvin, we worked with a behaviorist on a few of his issues. I went in with a list of things that seemed ‘off’ about him. She and I worked through the list and for each item she’d say…what if this is just Melvin?  What if this is who he is? For example, while I wanted him to like other dogs and have playmates, she made me realize that Melvin did not want that. Melvin just wanted to be around me and other humans. What I wanted was what seemed normal, but dogs are anything but. Not all dogs like dogs. Some love cats. Others chew. Some don’t like thunder. I could go on and on but that behaviorist taught me to approach each dog as a unique individual.

I don’t think I’ve ever done that more than I have with Doug. Jakey probably comes closest.

She also taught me the most important approach to loving dogs. And that is…to meet the dog where they are at. Not where you want them to be, how can they meet you where you want them to be when they are clearly where they are at and they don’t speak english or understand your flailing arms. But if you meet a dog where they are at, and you explore the place they are comfortable in, you can slowly, get to the next chapter, together.

Where was Melvin at and what did he need? His body was on fire from allergies and mange and I doubt he’d ever felt true love. He needed me.

I just need you, woman. IMG_1088

Where was Jake and what did he need? Jake had spent five years waiting. Waiting for his owner to return from 12 hour shifts. Waiting for someone, anyone, to make him feel loved or wanted. What did Jake need? He needed a home where his life could begin. He needed love from me and Melvin.

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Where was Doug and what did he need? I have learned from watching Bob that stray animals are always on high alert. There is no rest. Doug had come from running stray (perhaps his whole life before me was him being stray), part of his crazy was probably him always having one eye open. He needed safety, and rest, and someone who could provide a lookout for him so that he could just be a dog.

Uh, when I asked you to protect me, jail was not what I meant. IMG_6244

Ahhhhhhhhh, this is more like it. IMG_2698

I love Doug’s calm.  In general, it’s just a way better day when he is not trying to be my back pack or climbing on me by using my hair as some sort of rope. But mostly, I see a soulfulness peeking through in him that is very reminiscent of Melvin. And that is good for the universe.

xoxo

The Decade of Melvin.

I rescued Melvin ten years ago. Of course he rescued me ten years, and one week ago (when I drove to Delaware to meet him). I don’t know how it is possible that it is only ten years, because I cannot really recall a time before, or without, Melvin.

Melvin made me believe in fate.  I believe the universe delivered a master plan in us.

Yes, Melvin won in his life with me. He got the vet care he needed. We waged an assault on his allergies. He had the healthiest life he could have, with me. I love him with my whole heart. But the winner of our union will always be, me.

He changed me. He taught me to chase joy. Jake came, because of Melvin. Because we were joy junkies and we needed that little peanut so we could all be more joyful together. I have so much patience for Doug, because Melvin taught me to be understanding of all dogs. To accept that it is not where we’ve been or where we are going, it’s where we are right now.

I worried when he died that he wasn’t able to impart his wisdom on more dogs. Had I know cancer would strike so quickly, I would have brought more dogs into our house so they could soak up Melvin vibes. But now with Doug, I realize that I am his link to all that. I am the connection from Doug to Melvin and Jake. And there are so many things about Doug that remind me of his brothers. My love is the link to them all.

There will be more decades of Melvin, because I carry him in my heart. His love, and life, and light, will always shine brightly in me. Melvin magic lives on.

A few years ago, I wrote a letter to Melvin’s first family. You can find it here.

I have said this before, I have hard time being anything but happy about Melvin. I didn’t spend a ton of time being angry at his life before me. I made a huge effort to not be angry when I was grieving his loss. Melvin personified (dogified?) joy every moment he was alive. I mean his tail got amputated and he came out of that surgery, on the stretcher, wagging his nubbin. He was ALL JOY, all the time. I worked really hard after he died, to not let anger become a part of our story.  There is a peace that has always washed over me when I see Melvin’s face. I hope that stays with me forever.

Ten years of Melvin in my heart. I’m blessed.

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