My wife Molly and I LOVE to travel. She traveled extensively before we even met including an endless plane ride to Australia, a year in Italy studying Architecture and a few weeks on the Greek Island of Tinos where she studied sculpture. I, on the other hand, hadn’t been beyond the continental United States until I was in my 30′s…with the exception of a trip to the Bahamas which I do not count as travel. Feels more like Florida number 2. Anyway…my first time away was with Molly and my band when we toured the UK. We loved England! We had such an amazing time. Travel. I’ve been hooked like a fish ever since.
Molly, being an Architect for the rich and famous, was feeling a little unfulfilled one day and decided to take a trip with Habitat for Humanity to Guyana. She came back with stories about digging ditches in endless, torrential rain storms in sweltering heat. For recreation they would visit a local orphanage to have their hearts torn out. Not exactly Disneyland. “Let’s go together next year.” She said. So we did. The next trip found us in Cjurgo, Hungary. That first Habitat trip together is one of our fondest memories. The towns people thanked us by serving us goulash over an open fire on the hill top of a cherry orchard as the sun set behind us.
But it was our build in Braga, Portugal that I’m thinking about today. This trip had all the ingredients we have come to expect on Habitat trips. Meeting new friends…experiencing a new culture…feeling somehow more complete. It was the second day of work, I think, that we noticed a scruffy little dog with wiry hair trotting around the site as we carried water up hill…two buckets per person. Everyone stopped for a moment to laugh and play with the little fella and a few were brave enough to pet him. Brave because he was extremely dirty. Dogs in many other countries are not cared for as they are here in the US. It’s common to see packs of skinny, homeless dogs laying about. We have seen this in Thailand…Macedonia…Hungary… There are some house hold pets but the majority seem to be vagabonds.
For lunch we would take the long walk down hill on narrow, curvy streets to a small shop and the little dog followed us. We discovered he loved eggs the best so Molly named him “Omelette.” She had taken to him very much and he in turn seemed quite attached to her. One evening as we climbed into the small van that brought us to and from the work site…exhausted from a grueling day…”Omelette” tried to climb in the van too. “I’m sorry…you can’t come.” We all said. “We’ll be back tomorrow. Don’t worry.” He didn’t seem to understand why his new friends were leaving and as the van pulled away and picked up speed…the little dog ran after us. he ran as fast as his little legs would carry him and as Molly watched from the rear window…she was heartbroken and began to cry. Omelette could not keep up and grew smaller and smaller in the distance but he was obviously running at full speed none the less. We lost sight of him.
He waited at the work site until we returned the next day. He was obviously happy that his family had returned and did his best to help us as we continued our work. This happened every day of our build. We couldn’t bear to leave little Omelette behind but the local affiliates dissuaded us from bringing him back to the US with us so we had to leave him but not before making the locals promise to take good care of him. Molly cried for days for her little Omelette. We later learned that the locals had made good on their word and that Omelette had been sent to the United States and adopted by a grateful family. He now lives the pampered life. A far cry from the dirty streets he knew and he no longer begs for food. Well…I bet he still begs for eggs.
I write this story because Molly and I will be leading another Habitat trip in June of 2013 to Poland! We are very excited. There is still room on the team for anyone who would like to join us. These are experiences not soon forgotten and the friends you make last a lifetime. As you can see, Omelette even made it into our photo of the Habitat team. And why not? He did his part. These houses are made of more than brick and mortar. They are made of spirit and love.
We hope to hear from you!
My very first blog entry, “Finding the words” was about losing our Chihuahua “Miles.” I had been a Doggy Daycare expert for 15 years but even with all of my experience I was shocked at the level of grief my wife and I suffered. Only weeks after the event we had the opportunity to attend a reading with a well-known medium, John Edwards. He had a show for years called “Crossing over” where he would bring messages from the great beyond to an audience eager to hear from loved ones who have passed on. I have my own beliefs. My own philosophy about life as we know it and what lies ahead. I acquired this thought process by living life, paying attention and accumulating experiences which point, in my opinion, toward what appears to be the logical conclusion that there is, indeed, a continuation of the spirit in some capacity. My wife Molly, on the other hand, has had the belief system that once the lights go out…that’s it. I thought that going to see John Edwards with a small group of 15 people would be a good opportunity for Molly to either consider other possibilities or solidify the views she already had about the subject. It would at least be entertaining. Expensive…but entertaining.
On the day of the event we were getting ready to go when the mail arrived. There was a package for us. Upon inspection we realized that the package was from our Vet. The Vet where only weeks before we had the heart wrenching experience of saying goodbye to our little Miles. “Oh no,” Molly said. “They sent his ashes.” We were both surprised by this, as we didn’t ask for them and didn’t want them but when we opened the package we saw it was something else. They had made paw prints in plaster and wrote “Miles” underneath. We hadn’t expected or asked for such a thing but we thought it was a very nice thing for them to do. We were in a rush so Molly wrapped the paw prints in cloth and placed it in her purse as we left for the venue.
We were in a small convention room at a Hotel with 15 other strangers when John Edwards came in, sat down, and began doing his thing. After speaking to a few people and giving them messages with alarming accuracy he stopped and looked towards our area of the room. “This is crazy.” He said. “Does this make sense? Does someone here have paws on them? Like, they have this with them? A rabbit foot or a paw? Does someone have a paw or something like that with them right now?” Molly raised her hand. “Thank goodness.” He said. ” I thought I was crazy. Your dog is here.” Molly and I looked at each other in amazement and then she burst into tears. As our reading continued he relayed more information from passed relatives that amazed us…things that were so personal nobody could possibly know about them from guessing. Much of this information was confirmed by Molly’s Mother who accompanied us to the event. Molly left that day with an open mind to other possibilities.
I have heard some say that Dogs or Cats don’t have souls. People with beloved pets would vehemently argue that they do…but how do we know? After much thought I have come up with what I feel to be a reasonable argument “For” the idea that Dogs have souls.
Insects have a specific purpose. They do nothing that isn’t directly related to their primary objectives. Those objectives are to eat, reproduce and die. Even in the case of insect colonies like ants or bees, the communal behaviors they exhibit are directly related to the continued existence of the hive. In this way, insects are like robots. Specific behaviors are downloaded to the exclusion of all else and they then go about the business of attempting to complete that which they were programmed to do. There are other species on this planet that also do nothing that isn’t directly related to the continuation of the self or the group as well. On average, in order to survive, animals need food, water and oxygen. It is my belief that those animals that show a desire for another ingredient in life are those that have “souls”. It is the need for love and companionship. Food, water and oxygen feed the body…love feeds the soul. It is for that reason that I believe that, yes…all dogs DO go to heaven. What do YOU think?
Be in the moment. Stop and smell the roses. How many times have we heard this concept or one like it? This idea has been around a long time but we rarely heed the words. Unless, of course, we are reminded of it after an accident, a brush with our own mortality or perhaps the funeral of another. Then, for a moment, the truth becomes clear and we are able to live in the now for a short time. Living in the moment is not easy. Some people study the art of being “present” for years. Meditation is one way to accomplish this. It requires a reigning in of thought. The idea is to focus as much as possible on this moment we are experiencing now and quieting those thoughts of the past and our expectations of the future. Existing truly in the moment isn’t easy. We have such a desire to do the opposite when in fact our quality of life increases when we exist in the moment. Very few people, as Jonathan Swift points out, live at present but are providing to live another time. One intelligent fellow who has a lot to say on this subject is Eckhart Tolle, who penned a book titled The Power of Now. He has outlined, in a most compelling way, why it is to our great benefit to live as much as possible in the present moment. Many wise words can be found on the subject and, in fact, this is not new and unique information to the average person. We are all aware on some level that we should live for the moment, yes? And yet we choose, out of habit, to live other times. One might, in a day, think of where they want to be in 5 years…or next weekend…or tomorrow. They might also get hung up on events that occurred in childhood. So many things pop into our ungoverned minds that keep us from fully experiencing the moment we are in now. The only moment, in fact, we have any real control of. Why am I writing about this subject? What has this got to do with dogs?
Years ago, I worked in the worlds first Doggy Daycare, Yuppy Puppy, (Yes…Yuppy Puppy) in New York City. We had the pleasure of caring for many wonderful dogs over the years. Dogs we would get very attached to. One dog in particular was a sweet Chow Chow named Teddy who would come in for grooming about every 6 weeks. Teddy had a great disposition and was always happy. One of the few dogs who enjoyed coming to get groomed. (Dogs often dislike getting their nails trimmed or the bathing process.) One day we were pleased to see Teddy’s name in the grooming appointment book because we, in fact, hadn’t seen Teddy for a fairly long time. As Teddy trotted happily through the door our joy turned to sorrow as we noted that one of Teddy’s eyes had been removed. The owner told us that cancer had taken it. We were so sad. How could this happen to such a wonderful dog! We felt horrible for our sweet Chow Chow…until we noticed that Teddy didn’t seem to care at all. His personality was unchanged. His obvious joy was infectious and we weren’t sad for long.
Weeks later, Teddy returned for another appointment. This time we were really distraught. As Teddy Chow Chow came down the hallway of the shop he was a little slower. That’s when we saw that both eyes had been removed. Poor Teddy was now completely blind. We were so sad. This was just too much. It wasn’t fair. And then we noticed that he was happily wagging his tail. He was the same sweet Teddy. We watched in amazement as he used his other senses to navigate his way around but he wasn’t depressed. It was though he was simply adapting to this new scenario. It was inspiring to see.
I have witnessed many such instances over the years working with dogs. Missing limbs…deafness…nothing stops these dogs and now I know why. They live in the moment. They are not hung up on mourning their loss. They don’t focus on who they used to be…they know only who they are now. Dogs do have memories. They know people they haven’t seen in a long time…they memorize words and actions…they learn. No doubt about it. But their average mental projection into the past or the future is significantly shorter than ours. We are, in fact, too smart for our own good. Their ability to live in the moment enables them to move on. There will be bumps on the road of life and, in some cases, massive potholes. That is a virtual guarantee. It’s how we handle that terrain that makes all the difference. The events of the past can be a heavy burden. A burden that can slow or stop our progress if we let it. We all could learn a valuable lesson from our canine companions. Live for today. It’s not just about smelling the roses.
You’ve had “Pickles”, you’re fluffy, sweet, little Pomeranian for 3 years now. He’s so smart. Look at him. Look at him! Look at widdle pickews!
You potty trained him in just a week, that’s how smart he is! He’s always been the perfect dog. He thinks he’s a person! Pickews!
And then Pickles takes a big dump right on your pillow. “What?? He’s never done that before”! Or he suddenly begins chewing the furniture or pissing on your favorite rug. “What is he doing”? Many times over the years I’ve heard similar stories from people. It seems like a complete mystery. Why would a dog ‘s behavior suddenly change from nice to naughty? When people come to me for advice, because their previously perfect pooch has begun redecorating their home with his bowels, I always ask this question first. What has changed in your life? What’s new? Often, the answer is “a new baby” or “we just moved”.
Almost any significant change in a dog’s regular life routine can result in behaviors that are stress related. Undergoing renovations? Dog gets hot-spots.
Got a new roommate? “Pickles” craps on your couch. Dogs react to what’s going on but not always in the way we would like. If you are about to bring changes into your life like the ones listed above, you can help your dog adjust by making him feel protected. you do this by subtly tightening the reigns. Walk him close to you. Have him sit more often. Ask him to work a little more. This takes him out of his own thought process, which may be confused by current events, and into your thought process. You are essentially distracting him with structure. You are letting him know that when he feels he can’t count on the life he is used to…he can still count on you to guide him through it. Dogs are very smart but don’t overestimate their ability to reason or apply logic. By guiding them with structure you are telling them “I have your back. There is no need to fear”. This is a great time, in fact, to institute new rules if there are behaviors you would like to change. With this thought process in mind, I have a theory. You have heard the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Sure you can. It’s just harder, normally, to change behavior because it requires deprogramming. That’s more difficult than instituting rules from the onset. Here is my thought. Want to change already established behaviors? Alter the life your dog knows in small ways like re-arranging your furniture. Re arranging the furniture may throw them off just enough for you to institute new rules and their reception to it will increase. They will have less routine to hold on to and will desire reassurance which can be in the form of new rules. Be sweet and kind but solid and repetitive. Also be sure to make it fun. Positive reinforcement and solid, consistent leadership will create a happy life for your dog and your family, not to mention a crap-free pillow!
Have you ever seen a dog have a negative reaction to a person for no apparent reason? Have you, yourself, ever had a bad feeling about someone you just met? Some of these feelings occur as a result of visual cues like body language, facial expression and personal style…but not always. Sometimes it’s just a feeling.
Just a feeling? What does that mean? Here’s a thought…The body is run by electrical energy. We use electricity in our every day lives because it is a fast and reliable source of power. Mother Nature had a few options to choose from in regards to our physical power source but electricity was the wisest choice. That meant that when we needed to we could react properly to outward stimuli because the information was traveling at the speed of electricity. I step on a nail…I feel it instantly. Another option Mother Nature could have chosen… chemical reactions. But they are slower and we would have become extinct early on. We see a Saber toothed tiger. Our reactions are not instantaneous. We are cat food.
Some animals can feel the charge in the air during a lightning storm. We are effected as well, in subtle ways, when we are near large sources of electrical energy. There are some dogs who know to warn people who are prone to grand mal seizures. They give a nudge or a sign to their owner who then recognizes the need to lie down and prepare so they don’t hurt themselves. Seizures are an electrical issue in the brain. Scientists have not concluded without a shadow of a doubt how these dogs know a seizure is imminent. Some believe they detect a change in odor…some claim a subtle change in body language. Both are absolutely valid possibilities but in my 15 years of experience I have witnessed enough evidence to support my theory that I base my philosophy upon it. I believe we read energy and, like their keen sense of smell, dogs read energy better. Much better. They read energy so well that they trust their sense of “feel” as much, if not more, than their other senses. You can say things that are not true…You can act in a way that belies the truth but it is much more difficult to falsify your “energy”.
That being said…If you are aware that your personal energy, or what I call “Intent”, is an important aspect of complete and accurate communication then it behooves one to utilize that knowledge. It serves to persuade. Your energy is best exercised as “Character”. Who you are. Who you really are. One of my favorite quotes from Aristotle : “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”
This is a fairly complicated subject with far reaching possibilities so It is difficult to jot down in completion here but I will say this. If you have ever needed to persuade anyone for any reason…or if you think you might in the future…a raise at work…a new idea…a bicycle…a fundraiser…or asking your dog to sit…anything…then be sure your energy or “intent” is aligned with your “ask”. Most folks believe we convey information only audibly and visually. If you omit the power of “Intent” then you are using only 2/3 of your communicative ability. That extra 3rd comes in handy when it really counts. Be aware of your personal energy…be aware of the power of “intent” and its practical application and you have a persuasive advantage. A super power! Practice on your dog. They’ll let you know if you got it down right.
So, Molly and I have this new Chihuahua puppy we adorned with the name “Fergus”. It was a toss up when we met him between the names ”Dobby”, “Fergus”, “Pickles” and “Pinhead”. Molly’s first choice was “Fergus” but, it being the most dignified of our options, I wanted to ensure he was, indeed, a dignified dog before we gave him such a moniker. He isn’t. But we named him “Fergus” anyway. A more appropriate name might be “Beelzepup” and I’m not convinced he is pure Chihuahua anyway. He must have some piranha in his lineage somewhere, I think. He has his cute moments though. Lots of them. And after a particularly silly leap in the air or during a rollicking game of “Steal my sock” Molly will look at him lovingly and say “He’s a good puppy” to which I ask…”Is he?” ..and she’ll say “…well…he’s a puppy.” We do love him though. Needle teeth and all. After noticing just before bedtime that Fergus had used my side of our white blanket as toilet paper I pondered the question..”Why do we have dogs?” The question was rhetorical this time but I have asked the question in earnest before.
Sometimes, I am asked to train others to handle dogs professionally. Dog walkers, Dog Handlers, Boarders and Transporters… People who are in the business of caring for Dogs who do not belong to them. Before I begin to talk about safety measures, the appropriate collars and leashes, how to walk a dog properly…before I talk about anything, really…I have a discussion about “Why do we have dogs?” What do dogs mean to people? I’m not talking about historically or their practical purpose as guard dogs or bomb sniffers…just what they mean to the average person. Nobody adopts a King Charles Spaniel or a 5 lb. Maltese for personal protection. So why do we adopt them? They cost us money. Lots of money in food and vet bills over time. We pick up their poop too! Nice. As Fergus lay across my face the other night, waking me from sleep as I struggled to breath I thought to myself…”If this was a rat I would be quite upset right now.” But instead I let him stay and eventually drifted off again…probably as much from a lack of oxygen as from exhaustion.
There are many reasons why we have dogs but there are two reasons that I think are most important to remember if you are in the business of caring for others pets.
- Dogs are a source of unconditional love. Many people know this…but I think it runs deeper. Think of how important the concept of “Love” is to all of us. It’s one of the primary focuses of our existence. We suffer without it. We don’t even develop fully if, as children, it is withheld in large part. Our lives are more complete when love is generously given and openly received. How many stories, songs and poems have been written about Love? Unconditional love is not impossible but it is difficult for us at times because we judge one another based upon our own beliefs or desires…our own skewed view of the world. But dogs do not judge. Their pure spirits are not sullied by the world we live in. They care not if they have been passed over for promotion or if they got stuck in traffic. We complain to each other because misery loves company but dogs don’t complain. They just wait for you no matter how long you take and are happy to see you no matter how bad your day was. Pure love. Dogs are the living embodiment of purity and innocence we rarely get to see in our every day lives. They are clean. By this description dogs reach almost religious status. They are representatives of heaven. Am I laying it on a little heavy? Perhaps…Perhaps not.
- We bring dogs into our lives because of our desire to care for them. We want to be responsible for their happiness. For one thing…the recipe for our own happiness is complex and ever changing. How to attain happiness for ourselves on a consistant basis is a philosophical question and a source of struggle for which many never find complete satisfaction. A dog is much easier to please. Love them…play with them…feed them…engage them. Many a human relationship fails from the following model. One person wishes to be the sole provider of joy for the other. That they are responsible for every sound of laughter and every smile from the one they love. These relationships usually fail as love and care begin to more closely resemble smothering, control and jealousy. How strong is our desire to be responsible for another. Dogs fulfill our need to care.
The reason I begin with this thought process when training people to handle others animals is to show how important those in their care really are. If you have a full understanding of their importance to the people who love them… then you will be ever vigilant in your duties and responsibilities. There is too much at stake.
My name is Brewster Smith. I have been working with dogs, clients and doggy day cares for about 15 years and during that time I formed my own philosophy about dogs and people…. our relationship to each other…what it all means…our behaviors, dogs and people alike, and the effect we have on one another. I figured that with this much experience I might have something to say and, with the coaxing of friends and family, I should start a “Blog”. So a few months ago a friend came by to set it up for me as I am less computer savvy than a chimp would be and after tutoring me on how to make available my inner most thoughts to the planet, I was ready to begin. I meant to start right away…I did…but something happened that threw me for a loop.
My wife Molly and I had a chihuahua named Miles. Before we met I was pet free. I felt no need to have a pet as I took care of other peoples pets for a living. I was working at the worlds first doggy daycare, Yuppie Puppy, and I got my dog fix regularly. Even before that I had always had big dogs. Big Mutts. But when I met Molly, she had this Chihuahua and I had never had a small dog before. It was the beginning of an amazing relationship between all three of us. Miles went with us everywhere. We were a family. He was so smart. I never saw the need to teach him to sit or roll over…none of the usual tricks. But there were things he did for us…because he wanted to…because he knew we liked it. Not for food. (though he was quite a foody!) If we asked him to run…he ran. Just for our joy because we laughed as his body ran a little sideways with a kick. We could make sounds…not like a bark or a howl…but like those trick dogs on “You Tube” that sound like they are saying “Mama”…and he would imitate us exactly…just because we laughed. After a while he would use that sound to ask for things. If he made it in the car we knew to pull over so he could use the Loo. When his appetite became ravenous he would make the sound on my side of the bed at 4 in the morning. His appetite grew as a result of Cushing’s disease. They have medication for that but Miles was allergic to it. So they tried a myriad of other meds to keep the cushing’s in check but it wasn’t long before his liver grew to twice it’s size…which pressed up against his lungs, eventually, making it so hard to breath that he spent a number of nights, off and on, in an oxygen tank at the vet. He did well in the oxygen tent but over time he couldn’t breath without it. One night at 4am we were sitting with our sweet Miles the same day we had just retrieved him from another visit to the oxygen tent… watching him struggle to breath …and we knew it was time. I won’t go into very much detail about that last vet visit. I see it enough in my mind. He died as we held him in our arms together, as a family, swaddled in a blanket. It was our decision. I can’t believe we made that decision…and at the same time… I know it was absolutely the right one to make. Molly and I have had an extremely difficult time adjusting. We went from being a family to being a couple in one night and the hole that was left in our hearts was/is enormous. I don’t think I could find the words to accurately describe how much pain we feel at the loss. It’s just crazy. We renew our vows every two years to remain eternal newlyweds and we had planned a trip to Niagara Falls to do it again only 2 days after our personal tragedy. We very nearly cancelled it. It was Molly’s brother who pointed out the importance of the “for better or worse” part of the vows and so we went through with it. We’re glad we did.
I don’t know what I expected but having worked with dogs as a behaviorist for so long I was/am a little surprised by the depth of the sorrow we feel. We did decide to get another chihuahua…a puppy named “Fergus” which we hoped would serve as a distraction from our grief and he is doing a fine job. He’s no “Miles”…but he never will be. He’s Fergus…and that’s enough.