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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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.

Am I done waiting?photo[1]

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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Who runs the world? Moms.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms! To the hockey moms, the dog moms, the new moms, the grand-moms.  To the male moms, the single moms, the families with more than one mom moms. To the cheer moms, the carpool moms, the dance moms. To the moms that gave birth and to the moms who open their doors to children in need. To the working moms, the stay-at-home moms and the do-whatever-is-necessary moms. To the worry-they-have-no-idea-what-they-are-doing moms. To the moms of one and the moms of many. To the moms setting a better example for their kids, than what was set for them. To the moms preparing to become moms.

To the moms who have lost a child. I won’t pretend to have the words.

To those who have lost their moms. I wish you strength as memories sneak or flood in.

Moms rule this universe. A mom created your beating heart and then (hopefully) filled it with love and confidence and joy and understanding.

To my mom, you taught me the meaning of true, unconditional love. It’s the foundation of my beautiful life.

To Max, Melvin, Jake, Bob(s) and Doug, being your mom, is my everything. You are my joy.

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Joy.

I get asked a lot about choosing joy. How I choose it over grief, or anger, or uncertainty.  The answer to that is, it is not always easy, but it has become who I am.

I have human moments. I start crying in the car for no reason (ok, fine, when the boys send me songs) and I have to pull over for other’s safety. I get sad and even mad that Melvin and Jake are not here anymore. Work stresses me out. People annoy me. Sometimes, it seems like the day/week is against me.

Choosing joy is not always a done deal. Eventually though, Melvin pops into my mind and love and joy rush over me and well… I have no option but to do as he taught me.

  • Jake and Melvin are not here anymore. But they were here. And were here is way more incredible than never here. And I feel them and I see them in all the beautiful things.
    • My heartbeat, is joy.
  • Doug does things that frustrate me. He is absolutely not the yin to my yang. He sometimes manages to push all my buttons, at once. But the moment I feel the frustration creeping in, I start laughing. Because Doug is, quite literally, powered by joy. He was delivered to my life when I prayed to still be a joy seeker after Jake died. I said the words please help me to continue on this joy journey and the universe said: here you go. Joy powers this one, whenever you are running low on joy, just look at him.
    • Joy still lives here.
  • Sometimes the wrong memories get served up. A moment of frustration with Jake, me wondering if Melvin’s cancer could have been cured had we found out earlier. A day after Melvin died when I was broken and not the best mom for Jake. Life sometimes tries to come at me from all the wrong directions. I do not entertain any of those moments. I did my best, I refuse to be torn down, not after all we’ve been through. So when those moments try to sneak in, I say nope. I go towards the joy. I go towards the moments that mattered, the moments that we won.
    • Joy owns my past.
  • Work stresses me out. Some days I feel like I’m drowning. But there is never a moment that joy doesn’t remind me that this job, that I happen to LOVE, this job has allowed me to give the boys everything they have ever needed. When cancer struck, I didn’t have to worry about whether I could give them the best care possible.
    • Joy is always just around the corner.

Let’s be honest folks, joy does not win (right away) every time. That would be odd and impossible. Sometimes, the grief is way stronger than the joy. Sometimes, the transition from angry to joy filled takes a few days.  I choose joy when I can and I accept that some days it’s going to be harder than other days.

I just don’t see myself ever giving up on the chase. Joy for me, translates a lot of the time, to thankfulness.  I have yet to arrive at a day where I am not thankful for something.

This joy journey all started with Melvin. From day one, Melvin dragged me, forward. I kicked and screamed and he just kept dragging me. One day he stopped for a break, and I had a moment of reflection and I looked back and realized, he’d gotten me through. Where I might have been happier to linger in a sad or difficult situation, he had shown me how to persevere. He changed me. From that point on, every time I looked at him, I felt joy wash over me and I knew with all that I was, that he and I were meant to continue chasing that emotion. He was the original joy for me. The joy catalyst. The one creature in this life that absolutely, every time, no matter what – moved forward with joy in his heart.

I’m just another way that his love lives on. Even saying those words, is joy to me.

We are coming up on the third anniversary of his death. I get haunted by flashbacks of our life three  years ago. But our life is not defined by our end, in fact I’d argue, the end is separate. The end will always come, but the middle, the middle is all ours. What we make of the middle, is what defines who we are. We don’t get to choose our beginning or our end, but we can own the shit out of the time in-between.

Our middle, is joy.

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Melvin man.

Thirteen years ago today, at some point, my life was set on a path. I didn’t know it that day. It would be three years until I understood the magnitude of this date, one so great, as to change my life and my purpose, forever.

Today is Melvin’s birthday. He would have been 13.

There are parts of me so full of joy that he was born, that we found each other, that I got to love him. Oh man, that I got to be the one to love him is so much of everything that it is in fact, everything. Me. I was chosen. I’m infinitely grateful for everything about him.

I have never wanted to be by a dogs side as they grew older, more than I did with Melvin. Every year, he was more soulful, our connection more spiritual. I cannot imagine anything more delicious than Melvin being 13. I would have been honored to care for him, to linger longer on walks, to stare into his always loving eyes.

Melvin and I were not meant to grow older together. He is forever ten. Same goes for Jake, he is forever eight.

On Melvin’s birthday today, I will celebrate love. I will celebrate all the moments I had with him, and all the moments I’ve had becasue of him.

Today, I choose joy.

Maybe, just maybe, Melvin and Jake, were preperation for me guiding Doug as he grows older. Maybe Doug will be, my old dog.

Time will tell. Melvin will guide us. Love lives on.

This was my last birthday letter to Melvin, on his tenth birthday. The day after that birthday, he was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma.

We still won.

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