I Got A Dog

Gus' first day home2If I had a blog, today I would write about my extended hiatus from the blogging world. The cause for my absence can be summed up in a single phrase: I got a dog.

In March 2015, I bought a baby yellow Labrador I named Gus and since that time, every moment of every day has been about me and Gus. It seems as though I should have known getting a puppy would upend my world. My family has always had dogs: Labs, border collies, Great Pyrenees, a beagle, but what I didn’t realize is the difference between a family pet and a dog of my own.

Having a puppy was, for me, akin to having a baby. I am single and work from home, so Gus and I have had the opportunity to be together 24/7 since he came into my life and his joie de vie has turned my world inside out.

Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

I knew about the basic things like: Puppies don’t sleep at night, they make messes, they need constant supervision, and they need daily walks and training. No problem. But none of the books, nor my previous experience, prepared me for a Lab who lived full-throttle from dawn to dusk. Michael, our first Lab, was laid back from the start. He played with my brother and me, laid on the couch to watch TV, and just kind of melded in with family life. Not Gus. He was like a hyena on speed. He leaped, he bounded, he ran at the speed of sound through every event of my day. He ate reams of paper, shoes, shirts, socks, and dryer sheets. I spent most of my time removing some potential danger from his mouth: Rocks, wire, even a piece of broken glass. He seemed to have a knack for self-destruction and I was all that was standing between him and an early departure from this life.

Of course the biggest problem was: I was madly in love with this dog. By bedtime the first day I knew I’d die if anything were to happen to this gregarious pup. I was hooked and there was no turning back.

Consequently, along with the loss of any free-time, my creative muse took flight  upon Gus’ arrival and I began to think she would never return. There was a moment, late in the fall, when I thought we were making headway, then came November.

051115_0692In November 2015, Gus’ insane energy finally got the better of him and he broke his shoulder running into the corner of the greenhouse at the speed of light. Surgery looked imminent, but a wonderful orthopedic surgeon at the University of Missouri Vet Clinic said it could be avoided if I could commit Gus to 4 weeks of complete crate rest. The decision was clear, but no less challenging. Keeping the Tasmanian Devil still 23 hours a day for a month seemed impossible, but it had to be done.

Keeping Gus in his crate for 4 weeks was hard. Keeping Gus in his crate for 8 weeks just about broke my spirit. There was one setback after another and I thought if I saw him go downhill another time, I would need to be put in a crate – permanently.

To make a very long story short, the vet was right and Gus did heal, but by the time I’d gone through that trauma, I didn’t have a creative cell left in my body. It is only now, nineteen months after Gus’ arrival, that I find myself creating again. Today, as I write, Gus is finally sacked out beside me, giving me time to put my thoughts out into the ether once again.

So, at least for now, I’m back. Thoughts are flowing and hope is rising. As summer turns to fall, I look forward to sharing my blog with you once again.

 

Epiphany

If I had a blog, today I would write about an epiphany named Gus.

My Owain

My Owain

It has been a long year. In the fall of 2014, we said farewell to our beloved border collie, Owain, and his cousin, Hank the yellow lab. Both dogs were fourteen years old, but that only deepens the grief and sense of loss.

Emma

Emma

During the winter, we lost both of our Great Pyrenees: Bree and her sister Emma. They had been with us a decade and with their passing, our world was, for the first time in many, many years, empty of dogs.

Augustus the Wise

Augustus the Wise

With Mom and Dad now in their seventies, I decided it was my turn to step to the plate and keep our canine tradition going. To that end, I bought a yellow lab puppy in March of this year. I named him Augustus (Gus for short) and was suddenly in the midst of full-time parenting.

Gus is an amazing dog. He is handsome, kind, and loves everyone he meets, but little did I know that behind this Woman’s-Best-Friend facade lurked a great challenge: Facing off with an Alpha Dog.

A Dog With Attitude

A Dog With Attitude

I’ve known a lot of dogs in my time, but I have to say, I have never met a canine as completely self-confident as Gus. He fears nothing and bows to no one. Those are good qualities in a lot of ways, but they are a nightmare for the human who has to gear up and assert herself as the Alpha member of the pack.

I am good with animals. I can make friends with almost any creature, including snakes and box turtles, but it turns out, I am not the domineering kind. I want to be friends with my animals, not assert dominance. I tried this tack with Gus and in two months, he was running the show. No matter how loud I spoke, how firmly I asserted the word, “No!”, or how many times I scolded Gus for stealing (clothes, trash, pork chops), I was failing miserably. Gus was happy as a clam, but it was like sharing my home with a young hyena. Something had to give.

In desperation, I reached out to the breeder from whom I got Gus. She’s raised labs for years and I trusted her insights into my predicament. At first, I was totally on board with her suggestions: Loom over Gus, speak loudly and firmly, have him wear a leash in the house so I could catch him more easily. I was even ok with the idea of neutering him a little early. Some days I wanted to do it with my bare hands, so that was ok. Then the hammer dropped. “You also need to start using an electric collar on him,” the breeder said.

My heart stopped for a moment. Use a shock collar? How could I ever do that to an animal? I told the breeder I’d think about that one and though I ordered the collar the next day, it sat in its box for almost a month – until the day Gus tried to eat a baby rabbit.

Baby Rabbit

Baby Rabbit

It was sheer good luck that I stepped into the yard when I did. Gus and the baby bunny were both still as statues, waiting for someone to make a move. I crept up close then launched between the two of them and grabbed for the bunny. I missed, but Gus didn’t. The rabbit yelled and Gus dropped it in surprise. That gave me time to swoop in and gather the bunny to my chest. I got Gus inside the house, did a quick check of baby (thank goodness he wasn’t hurt), then stood in the yard and cried like an infant myself. The madness had to stop. I had to find a way to be in charge of the “Gus Situation” and the collar seemed to be the only bullet left in my gun.

The next day, I reluctantly strapped on the collar and took Gus into the yard. As luck would have it, the baby bunny appeared again and as Gus launched his attack, so did I. The collar was set on level 2 (out of a possible 100 levels), but even at that, one zap was all it took. Gus stopped in his tracks, ran to me for comfort, and started eyeing little critters with suspicion. Gus’ collar also vibrates and after the initial incident, I only had to use the shocker once more before I switched to vibrate and it has been all sunshine and roses from there. Miracles do exists and, boy, do they come in some unlikely packages.

Mom & Gus

Mom & Gus

The Collar has changed our lives. Within a week, Gus was no longer stealing anything, he quit jumping on guests, and has become the gentleman I knew was hiding behind Gus’ inner hyena. I’ve tested the vibration on myself and it isn’t the least bit painful, just annoying and distracting, so I can proceed with Gus’ training in a state of guilt-free bliss. It is Nirvana.

The real test of Gus’ progress came last weekend when my brother’s in-laws came for a visit. One vibe from the collar and Gus was the consummate host. He kept his feet on the ground, kissed liberally, but never nipped, and he spent his entire afternoon sitting by one guest, then another, as if making sure no one was left out. I was so happy I cried for a while after everyone left. My joy was complete.

My Boy Gus

My Boy Gus

Aside from the obvious, “Don’t make snap judgments” lesson, I have also learned that when dealing with animals, asserting dominance isn’t about being aggressive or, God forbid, abusive. It is about finding a way to be heard. As an introvert of epic proportions, it is hard for me to assert myself. I was afraid Gus would come to fear me if I made demands of him, but to my surprise, our bond is closer than ever. Now that Gus realizes he isn’t invincible, he sees me as his go-to person when he feels unsure and when he needs to feel safe, he knows I am there to stand beside him.

So as we enter a new autumn, an autumn of beginnings, I move forward renewed, with another dear friend at my side. Gus, this quote is for you:

He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion. – Author Unknown

His Name Shall Be Augustus

If I had a blog, today I would write about the little, golden ball of light that has just entered my life.

Little Loaves of Love

Little Loaves of Love

On January 15, 2015, my life changed forever. On January 15,  my new best friend was born: His name is Gus and he’s a yellow lab. For the first six weeks, all I knew was that Gus was one of three yellow males born to Christmas Holly at the home of Misty Woods Labradors. Right from the start I knew I’d chosen a good breeder. Gus and his siblings (both yellow and black) were the sweetest little “loaves of love” I’d ever seen.

Gus at two weeks

Gus at two weeks

Puppies are born with eyes closed and their early first weeks are spent nursing and sleeping. If I’d lived closer to the breeder, Tammy Johnston, I would have visited every day just to hold those precious new lives in my arms and soak in the love. As it was, Tammy posted weekly photos of the brood and it was thrilling to see the changes taking place.

 

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

I picked the name Gus in honor of Augustus McCray, a character in Larry McMurtry’s book, Lonesome Dove. Gus was a scalawag and a ladies’ man, but he had passion for life and a heart of gold – the things that make Labs such wonderful companions. I told Tammy I wanted a confident dog, one who would enjoy being my companion at home, in the car, and on our farm. Tammy told me the pups’ personalities would begin to develop at four to five weeks and she would find the right match.

Gus the Show Dog

Gus the Show Dog

Tammy took my requests to heart and on March 2nd, one of Holly’s boys traded his baby name (Maroon Boy, for the color of the ribbon tied around his neck) for the name of Augustus. According to Tammy, Gus was fearless and in love with life. She thought he would love life as farm dog as and make a great companion. It sounded like a match made in Heaven.

Augustus the Wise

Augustus the Wise

On Monday morning (March 16th), we met Tammy in Rolla, a pit-stop for her as she and one of her adult labs went to the St. Louis area for a show. As we pulled into the parking lot by Wal-Mart we saw her sitting on the grassy hillside, cuddling the most beautiful Labrador puppy I had ever seen. It was love at first sight!

 

Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

Now, as Day Four of my Life With Gus begins, I am still in awe that I was chosen to be his person. Every day he becomes more handsome, more intrepid, and more fun to be with. Like all little creatures, Gus requires a lot of attention – day and night – so I’m a little sleep deprived and I have some scrapes and bruises from his needle-teeth, but I have never been happier! Gus and I are Forever Friends.

A Keeper of Dogs

If I had a blog, today I would write about being a keeper of dogs.

As many of you know, I am a devoted cat-lover and I’ve shared quite a few stories about my feline friends in my blog. You may wonder why its taken me this long to profess my love of the canine clan and share some stories about that branch of the Fur Family, but the truth is, I don’t know where to start. Dogs have been my life-mates since I was old enough to say “puppy” and after forty-some-odd years its hard to carve out a tale that is shorter than War and Peace. However, because yesterday was National Dog Day, I’ve decided to give it a go and introduce  you to my wonderful world of dogs.

These days, my life with dogs revolves around caring for the needs of an aging pack. Owain, our border collie, and Hank, my nephew yellow lab, are thirteen years old and Bree, our Great Pyrenees, is ten. Caring for an old bunch of dogs is one of those situations where laughter is the best medicine, for both woman and beast. A sense of humor keeps at bay the frustration over irregular bathroom habits, food-fights, and a variety of somewhat neurotic behaviors. Getting old isn’t for sissies, whether  you are a human or a dog.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

First we have Owain, who, despite his innate intelligence, can’t hear at all. Our morning ritual, is a game of “herd the birds.” Owain comes to the window by the breakfast table and barks at me. Then I say, “Wow Owain! Get the birds!” and he bounds off in full cry, scattering cardinals, goldfinches, and chickadees as he goes. After a few minutes, he returns to the window and we play it again. It worked just fine when Owain was a sprightly youngster, but now he can’t hear my rah-rah’s unless I shout and exaggerate my facial features so Owain knows I am overwhelmed with his awesomeness. Add to that the fact that Owain has a bad hip and our game looks more like aerobics for the insane. I only hope no one outside the family sees us or we’d both be put in a padded room.

Do I Smell Burgers?

Do I Smell Burgers?

Then there’s Hank-A-Dog. I can’t make light of Hank’s issues because his health is in a steep decline. He has a type of neuropathy that has taken away all feeling in his hindquarters and impinges on his breathing. What keeps me going with Hank is his utter dedication to table treats. In his youth, Hank was a real-life Hamburgler. More than once we caught him with his feet on the counter, snarfing unclaimed hamburgers, hot dogs, or ham steaks like there was no tomorrow. Even now, on a day when we’ve had to support Hank’s back legs just to get him into the yard to do his business, one whiff of frying bacon or broiling steak and he’s up and at ’em. If my brother comes to get Hank before we’ve finished our dinner, Hank pops up and, instead of running to the door to greet his best friend, he affixes himself to the table, ears up and eyes bright, as if to say, “Hurry! Feed me the good stuff before I have to go!” Its comforting to know some things never change.

Go Team Bree!

Go Team Bree!

Last of all, there’s Bree. We got Bree and her sister, Emma (who passed away this spring) to guard our flock of sheep, but Bree retired early, after she developed epilepsy at age three. Since then, Bree has been a house-dog, protecting our family from villains like  the pest-control guy, UPS and FedEx deliverymen, and the garbage man. This summer she got a hot-spot on her front leg and became quite obsessed with licking it. We gave her antibiotic, used a number of topical agents to help with the itching, and even bandaged the area to keep her idee fixe under control, but Bree refused to leave well-enough alone, so we got an E-collar at the vet. That plan was abandoned after three days of leg-bashing by our walking satellite dish. We were at our wits-end when I spied Anna’s sweatshirt. My ten year-old niece, Anna, had stayed with us the week before and as I was putting away the farm-gear she’d outgrown, I saw a hot-pink sweatshirt, with sequins and glitter paint, that looked just the right size for Bree. After making a few adjustments, Bree was decked out in a get-up that would make any cheerleader proud. We’ve drawn a few stares from passers-by, but Bree has stopped licking her leg, so I say, “Go Team!”

I know hard days are coming. It is the price we pay for loving deeply and loving well. I dread the decisions we’ll have to make and the emptiness that will come after, but I will have my memories to keep me strong. One day, when my grief has abated, I will be walking to the barn and I will feel a presence beside me, a familiar face will come to mind, and I will know my friend is with me once more. Then I will tell their stories and we will laugh and remember and be glad for the days when I was a keeper of dogs.