In the last few years, it seems that all the dogs I have met were medicine dogs. There's my friend's black poodle who often travels to sacred space with her mom. There are all the beautiful therapy dogs who regularly visited my brother's residence and were so calm and loving even when some of the residents hugged them a little too hard. And most importantly, there's been Eli, my friend's St. Bernard mix. My friend is an artist and wanted a calm dog to hang out with while he worked -- a studio dog. So he went to the dog pound and picked the one puppy that was not jumping up and down hysterically. Instead, Eli looked up with equanimity. A buddha dog. Eli is the definition of cool. And wherever he goes, his movements, breath, everything about him ooze tranquility. He has been known to occasionally feel the need to remind his human companions of his superiority. Don't expect Eli to come running when you call him; if he senses your urgency, he may come your way but only at his pace--the Eli shuffle. After watching Eli on various occasions, I fell in love with having him sleep at the side of my bed, his steady breathing bringing me a wonderful sense of peace and security. Eli loved my brother and perhaps sensing that Bruno was equally cool, would lie by Bruno's side and just watch him color, to my brother's endless delight. Eli is definitely an old soul. He might be a studio dog, but really, he's a medicine dog.
Eli was the primary impetus for my adopting Lola. I wanted my own medicine dog and was pretty confident (for reasons now not altogether clear) that whatever dog picked me would be a medicine dog. Ancient. Wise. A dog with gravitas. Surely, this is the kind of dog my energy would attract.
Ladies and gentleman, I have met a medicine dog. And Lola is no medicine dog. Nope. Nothing ancient, sober or gravitas about her.
It all started some time last January when I started having a sense of urgency that I needed to get a dog. After several shelters suggested that given my brother's special needs, a shelter dog might not be the best choice because I needed a dog whose temperament was well-established, I decided to put a down payment on a Labradoodle puppy that was due to be born in mid-march. I was told I had pick of the litter and so requested a female, which I thought might be a better match with Eli.
As it turned out, on March 11, my brother passed away and shortly thereafter, I learned some questionable things about the kennel. So I decided this was a sign I should look elsewhere for a puppy. I dreaded spending my weekends alone in my four season room where I had spent so many happy times with my brother. I went online a few days after he’d passed and found the neighborhood animal shelter had just gotten a litter of 9 boxer/cocker mix puppies and their parents that had been found huddled in a trash bin. In the bitter March cold. I saw a picture of a tiny 8 week old puppy and decided I had to meet her and her siblings.
It was not an extended first date. When I got to the shelter, there was Lola, jumping up and down, trampling the heads of her sleepy siblings to get my attention. The shelter volunteer opened the crate and Lola flew into my arms, licking me wildly with joy and trembling at the same time.
And that was pretty much the extent of the interview. She had me at “woof!” My application was approved and I was told I’d just have to wait a week or so until they could schedule her to be spayed. I went home and got ready for my little bundle of joy. I discovered there was a whole universe of stuff on which I could now spend my money. So many things to buy, so little time.
· Toys (and since I’m in education, with a strong emphasis on developmentally appropriate and stimulating toys).
· Stuffed animal to simulate the siblings she was trampling
· Puppy food
· Training treats
· Cute leashes and collars
· “What to expect when you’re expecting a puppy” books
· Registration to puppy kindergarten.
To name a few.
As it turned out, I did not have to wait a week. Instead, two days later, I got two calls one right after the other. The first call was from the Funeral Home to tell me my brother’s ashes were ready. Ten minutes later, I got a second call. There’d been a change in the surgery schedule. I could pick Lola up that very afternoon.
And so, after putting the box with my brother’s ashes on a family altar, I set out with a blanket and laundry basket to pick up my little Lola. I am pretty certain my brother had something to do with the timing. It would be just like him to want me to associate that day not with his ashes but with life reborn.
So I took my little seven pound puppy home and the first 24 hours were not very different from bringing home any other baby, She cried a lot. And pottied a lot, only rather than changing her diaper, I had to take her outside during the last snowstorm of the season. And ran round and round and round the four-season room that had now become Lola’s room.
I read a lot about crate training and potty training online. You know, how they say puppies won’t potty in their crates as long as the crates are properly sized? Lies. All lies.
I took her out every 30 minutes; praised wildy and gave her treats when she pottied. She definitely got it that it was REALLY good to potty outside. But it was OK to potty inside. There were bouts of separation anxiety and projectile diarrhea that scared the heck out of both of us. Lola would look at her cannon-butt as if to say, “what the heck was that?”
I was a goner. I had gone over to the bark side. Words that had never crossed my lips had now become a staple part of my vocabulary- words like “potty” and “poop.”
Despite the endless professional consultations (ostensibly for Lola) regarding the color, size, shape and frequency of her bodily functions, I began to feel such guilt that I was a terrible human. Maybe it had been a big mistake to get her so soon when I was grieving and emotionally exhausted. Maybe I would get potty training all wrong and she would never learn! And it would be all my fault. How could I have put her in such peril?
But then she would stop whatever puppy craziness she was doing, lick my face and snuggle by my side when I was overcome with grief. And I could not imagine getting through this big grief without her.
Over the last four months she has blossomed from a 7 pound baby with floppy ears and a big belly to a 30-pound beauty with flying nun ears and classic boxer mannerisms. In the meantime, there were visits to animal behaviorists about potty training and separation anxiety and walking nicely on a leash. But we quickly realized how smart she was and that some of the early issues were just Lola having to overcome so much in her little young life – the dumpster and whoever put her entire family there, the shelter and now the separation from her mamma and siblings. I ask you, who among us would not have developed projectile diarrhea?
We went to two different puppy kindergartens. I wanted her to have rich and diverse early socialization experiences. You are never 8 weeks old again! And besides, I needed the support. Lola quickly distinguished herself in her puppy classes. You know how when you see cute young puppies when they meet other puppies they are kind of shy, maybe sniff a little and then retreat? Yeah, that wasn’t Lola. Put her with a group of puppies and she was off sniffing butts, rolling over to be sniffed, and then back up to lick faces and play a good game of tag. Or wrestling. Anything that required running around. A lot. When she licked too much and irritated a playmate, though, she quickly backed off, lay down and made amends. Then she was on to the next game. And size was no object. At 8 lbs, she would have gladly played with the big 80 pound lab puppies if the humans would have let her.
I realized this is what I got for picking the puppy that was jumping up and down and barking, “Pick me!! Pick me!!!” I wondered where her confidence came from and she has plenty of it – in herself and other humans and dogs. My itty bit childhood traumas seemed meaningless in comparison to being left in a dumpster. But really, aside from a bit of anxiety around garbage trucks, she seemed no worse for the wear. She seems endlessly optimistic about humans and loves everyone she meets. Even though I see her struggling to stay seated and keep her butt on the ground when she’s greeting new people on walks (oh, you can see how hard she trying to be good!!!), she still just wants to lick and lick and lick anyone she meets. And then gets into the downward facing dog invitation-to-play position. Even as her vet microchipped her and inflicted the vaccine pains of puppydom, she kept right on licking him, all the while seeming to say, “thank you. I love you. Ouch. Thank you, I love you. Thank you, I love you.” And as much as she loves me and loves to go for walks and play ball, it is obvious that she needs her peeps. The first thing she does when she goes out to the yard, is run to the fence to see if my neighbor's dogs are out to play. If she has to potty really badly, she’ll do it looking in their direction. She licks them through the fence, holds her leg up so they can get a better sniff of her butt and runs and runs and runs with them. She runs and plays another sixt hours a day 3 days a week with her play group dog buddies (it was either that or get her a playmate). She is a beautiful runner. Even when she plays the bestest game ever: digging up the landscape fabric and running round and round the yard with 30 feet of it it in her mouth. Even when she discovered a strip of loose dirt where I had pulled a dead bush and ran in place as she dug and dug and dug a whole so deep she almost could not climb out. All you could see sticking out was her butt. My friend told me for a minute she thought I had a wild pig in my backyard.
As if to remind me she really is a gift from my brother, Lola’s favorite places have become Bruno’s recliner in the four season room. One of the purest pleasures was listening to Bruno breathe as we napped together on Sunday afternoons. Now I nap with Lola. Although she is till trying to win Eli over as a friend (at nine, really Eli is too dignified to play with a puppy), on two things they do agree: begging in the kitchen might be more successful if they do it together, and Bruno’s room—a room Eli never went into when Bruno was alive—is a really cool place to hang out.
No, Lola is not a medicine dog. She is not an old soul. I am beginning to wonder if this is her first go-round as a dog at all. It is not just that she is a puppy. She radiates the energy of a young, playful, enthusiastic spirit. She seems to think earth school is all about making friends and playing. And sleeping on really comfortable surfaces. She doesn’t let the haters get her down. She always tries to be friends and play, but if you don’t want to, she doesn’t hold it against you. Or against herself. She just goes off and seeks out another playmate.
And if I were Bruno trying to helping me find just the dog that I needed, I guess Lola would be just the ticket. I have lost so many loved ones in my life, there is a part of my heart that finds loving painful because I always imagine how much it will hurt when my loved one will eventually leave me. Lola is the first dog—the first being-- I have dared to let myself love fully in a long time. Lola forced me to not let the pain of loss keep me from letting new love in. She focused me on opening my heart when my heart was breaking with the loss of my brother. And if there’s one thing I have forgotten it’s how to play and make friends no matter what. Now that I think about it, that’s some pretty powerful medicine.
Note: I am currently on vacation in Hawaii. I am having a wonderful time but for the first time in my life I am feeling a bit homesick. It has made me grateful for my life and the beings (human and animal) I share it with. Among them is my dog Lola. Although I know she is fine, living at home with a friend who moved in to be with her, I miss her and her loving energy more than I could have imagined before she came into my life five months ago. When the shelter told me I might see signs of separation anxiety, I had no idea they were talking about me. I suppose the lesson she has taught me is that above all, it is important to keep loving. In her honor, a repost of one of my earliest OS entries. Aloha.