BC’s Anonymous

Owain's FIrst Day at Home

Owain’s FIrst Day at Home

If I had a blog, today I would write about my secret addiction. They say the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting you have one, so here goes: I am addicted to border collies. When my fourteen year old BC, Owain, passed away a few weeks ago, I knew I would eventually get another dog, but I had no intention of getting another border collie. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that life with a BC was unfulfilling, its just that these are seriously high-maintenance dogs. They are brilliant, energetic, and demand entertainment from everyone around them. I thought one small consolation to losing my dear Owain would be a quieter, simpler life where I could do things like watch TV without also playing catch, sit at the river without my dog asking for a running commentary on the sheer awesomeness of the hold he’d dug in the sand, or have breakfast without shouting, “Wow! You’re the man!” every time my furry friend chased off a flock of songbirds. I thought life would be easier that way, but boy, was I wrong.

Finding the First Leaf

Finding the First Leaf

It appears that once a BC has installed himself in your life and become your best friend, workmate, and entertainer, you simply can’t live without that glorious energy humming around your life. I know I am grieving for the individual who was Owain and regardless of what kind of dog I get, it won’t be him, but even in studying other breeds (labs, corgis, golden retrievers), nothing but a BC can fill the empty place in my heart.

Ordinarily the solution to my problem would be: Get a border collie, but our farm has changed since Owain came along and I worry he (or she) wouldn’t have enough to do. At present, the only livestock we have are five horses, two old Jersey cows, one ancient sheep, and an assortment of poultry. We might get back into sheep in a few years, but would that be soon enough? Would I be able to provide enough stimulation to satisfy a border collie’s startling intellect. If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, then a border collie without a purpose is the inner ring of Dante’s Inferno.

Owain Working Sheep

Owain Working Sheep

So here’s the issue: Do I go with my feelings and look for the next BC of my dreams or do I wait? My thought is to approach this as I have all my animal friends: I will send out a request to the Universe and trust that when the time is right, a border collie will fall into my life. It has happened with all four of my cats and my horse, so there is a good precedent to work with. I will set my compass towards all things BC and follow the arrow as it flies from my heart.

Best Friends

If I had a blog, today I would tell you that, this morning, I lost my best friend, Owain, the border collie.

Owain was part of our lives for thirteen years and from the day Mom and I brought him home, Owain and I were buddies. He respected Mom as his trainer and companion, but Owain saw me as a littermate – someone to pal around with, someone who was always up for a game of catch or tug-of-war. I am thankful for every second Owain and I spent together and although the house has an empty place tonight, my heart is full. I can feel Owain’s presence everywhere I go and for that, I am so grateful. The days ahead will be a mixture of joy and tears; of funny stories and touching remembrances. The love of family and our other pets will help us find our way and I have no doubt that one day, Owain and I will be together again. Godspeed Mr. True. I’ll see you soon.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

Lighting the Way

If I had a blog, today I would share with you my synchronicity for the day.

The Lights of Home

The Lights of Home

As you know, my family is going through a very hard time right now, coping with the news that our border collie, Owain, has cancer. His prognosis isn’t good: Two or three months at best, and I find myself struggling not to fall into despair. The ever-present voice of the Ego whispers morbid, soul-wrenching thoughts about abandoned dog-toys and empty places by the dinner table and while I’m determined to not to fall for these destructive ploys, some days its just plain hard to keep going. In an effort to raise my spirits, I decided to blog about a very special book, one that I discovered almost thirty years ago, during another summer of duress. The book, called Light from Many Lamps, is a collection of essays, poems, and quotations – some well-known, some little-known – compiled and published by Lillian Eichler Watson in the early 1950’s. It was Ms. Watson’s intention that her book be a source of inspiration for anyone who is facing hard times and her hopes were certainly realized where I am concerned. In today’s blog, I intended to share my past experiences with you, but Light from Many Lamps had another agenda entirely.

As I prepared to write, I brought out my dog-eared, well-worn copy of the book and laid it on my desk. I noticed a Post-It note stuck to one of the pages, so, before I started my blog, I opened the book and read the essay I had marked some years ago. It this short piece, rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman writes:

“I often feel that death is not the enemy of life, but its friend, for it is the knowledge that our years are limited which makes them so precious. It is the truth that time is but lent to us which makes us, at our best, look upon our years as a trust handed into our temporary keeping. We are like children privileged to spend a day in a great park, a park filled with many gardens and playgrounds and azure tinted lakes with white boats sailing upon the tranquil waves. True, the day allotted to each one of us is not the same in length, in light, in beauty…but there is enough beauty and gaeity in the hours if we will but treasure them. Then, for each one of us the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes the man, the child, by the hand and quietly says, “It is time to go home…It is your bedtime child of the earth. Come; you’re tired. Lie down at last in the quiet nursery of nature and sleep. Sleep well. The day is gone. Stars shine in the canopy of eternity.” 

I laid the book down and reached for a Kleenex. Once again, Light from Many Lamps offered me not what I expected, but exactly what I needed. That is the way of synchronicities.

This afternoon I will sit down with my book and draw strength from those who have gone before. I will trust Marcus Aurelius when he writes, “Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear,”and I will take heart that Epicurus knew whereof he spoke when he encourages us that “…pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting – if thou bearest in mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination.”

I don’t want to face what lies ahead, but I have no choice. I can’t run from it, frighten it away, or deny its existence. My only alternative is to face it, without resistance, and rely on Light from Many Lamps to lead me safely home.

Take Joy

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the words of a 14th century monk named Fra Giovanni, that he wrote to a friend on Christmas 1513.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

Life is hard. Some days too hard. Earlier this week we learned that our beloved border collie, Owain, has cancer. He is fourteen years old, well beyond the normal lifespan of his breed, and it has been a joy to travel the road of life with him from the day he came to us as a pup. Owain is family and his passing will bring many, many days of tears, but I am lifted up by the words of Fra Giovanni, who assures me that behind every trial is the hand of an angel, outstretched to lift us up until we can stand on our own two feet again. All the wonderful things in life are before us, offered freely, for those who have the courage to believe in the light when all the world grows dark.

For the moment, Owain is as happy and energetic as ever. He’s outside this morning, barking at the songbirds, his voice drowning out our breakfast conversation. Such things might seem an annoyance, but under these circumstances, Owain’s eccentricities are a joy. A few days ago, it seemed as though happiness had slipped through away forever. Sitting at the vet’s office, hearing the awful news, I couldn’t fathom how I could face the days to come, but then I read Fra Giovanni’s letter and I began to look beneath the veneer of gloom for even the smallest glimmer of hope – and I found it. My time with Owain may be shorter than I had hoped, but they can be good days, days of richness and depth of feeling that I can store in my heart forever. They will be my touchstones on days that are more difficult to bear.

We live as mortal beings, our days numbered from the hour of our birth. Mortality can be a curse or it can be a blessing; the choice is ours to make. If we are have the courage to set aside our fear and grief, we will find moments of joy in even the darkest hours of our lives. Thank you Brother Giovanni for showing us the way.

I salute you.

I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
But there is much – very much – that, while I cannot give,
You can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take Heaven!

No peace lies in the future that is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace!

The gloom in the world is but a shadow;
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take Joy!

There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see;
And to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver.
But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor,
Woven of Love,
By Wisdom,
With Power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty. . .
Believe me, that angel’s hand is there;
The gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.
And our joys: be not content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
That you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage then, to claim it. . . .that is all!
But courage you have,
And the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
Wending our way through unknown country. . .
Home.

And so at this Christmastime, I greet you
Not quite as the world sends greetings,
But with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you,
Now and forever,
The day breaks and shadows flee away.

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.

The Dominion of Cats

Claudia Jean and her feather boa.

Claudia Jean and her feather boa.

If I had a blog, I would write about cats. I believe, if cats had opposable thumbs, they would have developed a civilization equal or superior to our own Why? Because there is no animal on the planet that ponders, “I wonder what would happen if I….?” more than the cat. I watch Claudia and Sawyer go about their daily rounds and nothing escapes them. The smallest change in orientation or location of a trinket immediately catches their eye and they must, at all costs, investigate the possibilities.

Sawyer's First Christmas

Sawyer’s First Christmas

In the world of cats, the most important questions to answer are: “What does it taste like?”; “Is there any way I can make myself choke on it?”; “Will it come apart if I claw it?”; “Does it make my owner use the word, ‘expensive!’?” and “What will happen if it falls to the floor?” Once these properties are tested, the cat will then decide if its worth further investigation or if, like most things, is it simply to be ignored. If time is short, the one test all new objects must pass is the “falling to the floor” test, thus proving that cats could, at the very least least, grasp the rudiments of Newtonian physics.

Miss Miranda

Miss Miranda

Personally, I think the real obstacles to feline world domination are cats themselves. If they rose to power, they would no longer be the pampered pet; fed, groomed, and appointed with riches such as cat trees, heated beds, and fleece-lined blankets. To rule the world takes energy and that would seriously erode the 18 hours of sleep cats require per day. The biggest problem, though, would be an organized military. Ever heard the phrase, “That was like trying to herd cats.” ? Yeah. unless they could recruit dogs to work as enlisted soldiers, I don’t think we’ll see a feline version of Patton’s 3rd Army marching into Japan to put down a tuna rebellion.

Those Gypsy Eyes

Those Gypsy Eyes

And yet…what can we say about a species that rose from lowly wild creature to domestic icon more than 9500 years ago? Ancient Egypt was quite a coup, and the Middle Ages a bit of a blot on cat history, but today cats are living large. They have personal-shoppers, personal-groomers, personal physicians, and a chauffeur to drive them hither and yon. They draw a bead on soft-touches like my myself and insinuate themselves into our lives with ease.  In addition to Claudia and Sawyer, who sought out my cat-allergic brother before coming to me, I have two barn cats: Miranda and Toby. I adopted Miranda from the vet clinic as an abandoned kitten and Toby just appeared at the barn a few years ago, looking for a nice place to call home. He found it, too. The barn cats have a heated “Cat Room” complete with cushy beds in winter and a cool fan in summer. No cat in my world lives life on the edge of anything but obesity.

Toby's Bedroom

Toby’s Bedroom

So who’s to say? Maybe the cat has accomplished with guile and beauty what man cannot attain: An endless sea of willing servants, loyal unto death to these marvelous, frustrating, curious creatures. Long may they reign.