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The Trust of a Dog

January 16, 2013 21 comments

IMG_7097There’s something to be said when a writer can move you emotionally, or leave you thinking long after you have read his words. Tom Ryan from Following Atticus is one of those writers. I always love to begin my day by seeing what words of wisdom or insight he has to share for the day. Almost always I find myself inspired, but just as often I am left with much to ponder. Today was no different.

Today, Tom wrote about his dog Will, a neglected and abandoned 15-year-old dog he rescued last year. I couldn’t help but be moved. I also couldn’t help but take in the importance of his words and see how closely they resembled the key component in my relationship with my dog Daisy.

An author learns something new whenever he’s in the process of writing a book. I don’t think anyone will be all that surprised to read that my epiphany in writing my next one comes from Will, who has already taught me much. Then again there’s a reason so many relate so easily to Will. For he, like many of us, has been broken, battered, and mistreated by life.

For the longest time I considered the state he was in when he came into our lives and I talked about the lessons he teaches us are threefold:

It’s never too late to live.
It’s never too late to love.
And it’s never too late to be loved.

I believed that his greatest accomplishment was the third one – he allowed himself to be loved again because that’s not an easy thing to do. Many can give but they have a hard time receiving…especially when it comes to love.

But as I’ve been writing the last few days I realize there’s more to it than just letting love in. Will wouldn’t have come so far, wouldn’t be thriving as he is today, and accomplished so much without trust. That’s the key component for letting love in again. Will teaches us that you have to take a chance again, risk being hurt once again, be willing to let down the walls, unlock the doors, and be vulnerable to receive the greatest gifts.

When I carried him down the stairs out into the falling snow this morning, I thought of how he was that first week whenever I tried to pick him up, the way he’d lash out at me, trying to bite me (and succeeding quite often). That’s why you used to see photographs of him wearing that blue harness. It gave me something to grab hold off where I wouldn’t be close to his teeth. But there we were this morning walking down the stairs, no harness, not even a collar, his relaxed body cradled in the crook of my elbow, his cheek pressed next to my cheek. Trust.

He allowed love in because he was willing to trust. One is not possible without the other.

So I need to amend my earlier thoughts.

It’s never too late to live.
It’s never too late to love.
It’s never too late to be loved.
And it’s never too late to trust.

Thanks, Will. (Following Atticus on Facebook, January 16, 2013)

Trust.

The one thing which you do not have when you take in a fearful or emotionally and physically damaged dog is trust. It’s also the one thing you must work so hard to build. I learned that from Daisy.

Emotionally haunted, unsocialized and extremely fearful, Daisy had anything but trust for me when I first brought her home as a foster dog. Earning her trust took time and patience. It took recognizing that even the simplest things could make all the difference between building it up or taking it down. Giving her the spatial distance she so badly needed early on in our relationship showed her that not all humans would manhandle and mistreat her. It also showed her that I was willing to let her set the boundaries of our relationship based on how comfortable she felt, not how I felt. Keeping my voice low and unexpressive allowed her a chance to get to know me without a lot of overstimulation. She could learn to read my movements and the sounds I made moving from room to room without feeling threatened or anxious. I gave her the time she needed to learn about me before she got to actually “know” me, and eventually, to trust me.

Tom’s words resonated so much with me today because they made me realize how much trust has played a role in who Daisy is today. It also made me realize how much I value the trust she places in me. We worked so very hard to get to this place of trust. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen in the first year – or at least not all in that first year. But, it did happen.

Earning a dog’s trust is not something one should ever take lightly, but when that trust comes from a fearful or emotionally damaged dog, it should be all the more treasured because it was not so easily won.

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The Top 12 Dog Blog Posts of 2012

December 30, 2012 29 comments

FD004740Here we are, looking at the last day of the year, December 31st, 2012. It’s hard to believe it is almost over isn’t it?

What will the new year bring? Only time will tell. I guess if you believe in numerology, then maybe there is some good news to be found in numerologist, Glynnis McCants’,  prediction for the new year. According to her, 2013 is a “6” year (2+0+1+3 = 6) which means a focus on family and business – “I see it as a good cycle for everybody who felt this year they couldn’t get it together…they have another chance.”  Pretty good news if you felt a little out of sorts (like me) in 2012. We shall have to see if it really comes true.

In the meantime, I thought I would use this last day of the year to share my annual list of favorite blog posts.

As with every year,  I had a hard time whittling my list down to just 12, but I think I did it.

Please note: These are blog posts I selected myself because they had an impact on me. I also thought they might be of interest to you. If you have others you think qualify, please do share them in the comment section below. I love finding new ones to read. I would love to know what blog post(s) touched you most this year.

So, without further ado, here are My Top 12 Blog Posts for 2012…

1.  Pondering Poppies In January – My friend Jenny Pavlovic is probably the most fearless person I know. She tackles the biggest problems as if they were merely a pebble in her path. She helps animals and humans, and tries to make a difference in all that she does. To be honest, I am a little in awe of her ability to just barrel ahead – fearless, dedicated, committed and kind. Earlier this year she wrote a blog post that pretty much summed up her philosophy on life. I admit I have a personal connection to this blog post, but it wasn’t why I chose it.

2.  A Perfect Storm – This blog post made the rounds in February after a news reporter was bitten in the face by a dog that had been rescued from a reservoir the day before. I am sure many of you recall the discussions that went on at that time – who was to blame, what people could learn from it, how to prevent a dog bite like this in the future, etc. What struck me most about Kari Bastyr’s words were both the measured way she discussed the issue and how she highlighted the need for us humans to better understand our dogs. In her own words, “Going forward, I would like everyone to take a step back and think about all the things your dog is trying to tell you. Do away with everything you ‘think’ you know about dogs, everything you have learned from your dogs growing up, and everything you try to do to ‘make’ your dogs listen. Watch and learn because your dog is trying to tell you things every single second.” Powerful stuff. I hope you will give it a read. It is well worth your time.

3.  Tread lightly – My friend Debbie Jacobs is probably one of the smartest people I know, and that doesn’t just apply to her knowledge of dogs. Her wisdom about fearful dogs, however is quite amazing (and helpful!). I thought this particular post was quite powerful. I could not agree with her more. As she says in the post, “When interacting with a fearful, shy or anxious dog, tread lightly, you may not be able to see the cracks in the ice.”

4. A Dog Park is No Place for a DuckKristine Tonks from Rescued Insanity is a thoughtful and thought-provoking type of blogger. I always know that she will leave me thinking (and in this case, laughing). This post had me not only laughing out loud, but doing so while riding on the train, during rush hour. I even made a point and going back to read it when I got home that evening. I knew then it just had to be on my 2012 list of favorite blog posts. Need a laugh? Read on!

5.  How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary – This post from Notes From a Dog Walker is pretty powerful stuff. The number of comments (629) should tell you enough about it’s impact. I think it’s a good example of what we as dog bloggers do best – share the raw emotional truth of our experiences with our pets, and the pets we care for, whether in rescue or a shelter. I guarantee it will leave you thinking.

6.  Chix-A-Lot Friday: Let’s be gentle, not judgmental – I have to admit, I love Aleksandra’s blog, Love and a Six-Foot Leash, for two reasons: 1) She is a fantastic photographer and I love looking at her pictures of her dogs and the dogs she has fostered, and 2) she is another blogger who is wise, thoughtful and thought-provoking. This post is one of her more thought-provoking posts and one that I think every dog trainer, dog blogger and dog “expert” should read. I know that I am still learning the lessons shared in this post.

7.  Exploding Dog Butts and Ill-Fitting Clothes – An Experiment in Looking on the Bright Side – If you haven’t been following Elizabeth’s dog blog, The Chronicles of Cardigan, you really should. She is about as funny as any standup comedian. I love her humor and I love her Corgiis. How could I not? They’re adorable and they provide fodder for Elizabeth’s humor. This one in particular had me in stitches. The title says it all. 🙂

8.  There’s A Sucker Born Every Minute and Things Dogs Brag About – I appreciate a lot of things about my friend Kevin Myers, among them are his knowledge of dogs and his love of coffee, but perhaps it is his sense of humor about us and our dogs that I love the most. These two posts are perfect examples of how well Kevin knows us and our dogs. See if you don’t agree. I guarantee you will at least laugh.

9.  Will in December – I highlighted Tom Ryan and his dog, Atticus, back in September, but what I didn’t know then was that he had since taken in another dog, one that very much-needed his loving care. To say that Will is a special needs dog would not be that far off. Neglected, unwanted, and in pain, Will was the older dog that everyone passes by. Thankfully, Tom was not everyone. This loving tribute to Will is so worth reading, although I warn you, you may need a tissue by the time you are through.

10.  An apology to Jehan and Farouk – Georgia Little Pea is normally a quite funny person. In fact, she is more than funny. She is talented. This past year she has been sharing all sorts of interesting stories about her life as she cleans house and considers moving to new locales. This particular post has stuck with me since she wrote it. If you have ever had a dog and felt the guilt of not being the dog owner you had once envisioned yourself being, then this post will resonate with you. I hope Georgia won’t mind me sharing it, but I thought it was worthy of sharing. Maybe read this one first and then read Aleksandra’s (#6).

11.  The Puppiness Project – Trust the Universe; Trust Yourself – Pamela often uses her dog, Honey, to help her, and her readers, better understand our complicated human emotions. It might seem a bit cliché to say that we should be more like our dogs, but I think Pamela has demonstrated that we can certainly learn a lot about ourselves through them. I think this particular post resonated with me because, like Pamela, I’m not much on trusting the universe either. That’s where Honey comes in. See what Pamela has to say on learning trust from her dog Honey.

12.  #20 ~ saved from a life of doglessness – This post just might be one of my favorites for the year. Maybe it’s the beauty of Eleanore MacDonald’s words or maybe it’s the fact that she has had the chance to watch as “the dark shroud of trauma began to wear away” from her dog Lovie (like I did with Daisy), but either way, I found her post powerful and touching enough to want to share it with all of you. There is something about Lovie’s story that hit me at my core. Maybe Eleanore’s talent with music has woven its way into her blog? She certainly has a beautiful voice, and after listening to her music, I already know that she is one amazing woman. I hope you will check out her blog post AND her music.

A Following Atticus follow up – What fills your soul?

September 11, 2012 18 comments

Reading Tom Ryan’s book Following Atticus was just supposed to be a book review. I would read it, review it, and be done. Instead, I have found myself thinking about it a lot these past two weeks.

Why? What was it about this book that resonated so with me?

The answer came to me slowly, but when it did I was left thinking about it and my life and what I was missing.

When I was a pet sitter there were two things I loved most – the dogs and cats I cared for AND being outside with the animals and nature. While most people were at work, I was outside walking a dog. When people were heading to bed, I was heading out into the still of the night to care for a pet. When people were driving to work and stuck in the mindlessly frustrating gridlock, I was enjoying the sun rise, or the rise of a flock of birds from the Minnesota river, or taking in the beauty of the newly fallen snow. When I was a pet sitter my soul was fulfilled by the beauty that surrounded me. I was in awe and wonder most of the time.

The woman who hated winters in Minnesota grew to love them. The sparkling snowflakes falling on my nose, the crunch of my boots on the packed snow and the sound of my own breath as I walked in the quiet mornings were all that I needed. They fulfilled me more than any desk job could.

I got to see and experience so many things as a pet sitter, but above all the ones I treasure most are the quiet moments with just me, a dog, and mother nature. That’s why Tom Ryan’s book resonated with me. He got it. For me, and for him, it is being in nature that fills our souls. It’s a sense of connectedness and completeness.

In Following Atticus, Ryan wrote: “For the first time that day, all the clouds shifted and completely lifted out of the way, revealing a vibrant blue sky that stretched over the mountains, which were now a brilliant white, glowing under the sun. It was so stunningly astonishing, so striking, I was left speechless. It was so beyond definition or description that my heart ached and tears welled up in my eyes. Man and dog, connected in adventure and solitude, stood together, gazing at the world few had ever seen before. Something changed when those clouds lifted. Not ‘out there,’ but inside us. Our lives would never be the same again.” (Following Atticus, Pp. 138-139)

This one moment stuck with me long after I had closed the book. It reawakened something in me that had been lost when I went back to the corporate world – a realization that I am happiest when I am in nature. I am most fulfilled when I take in all that surrounds me with all 5 of my senses – a sunset, a light breeze, a snowflake on my tongue, a cardinal singing, the essence of lilacs. Those are the things that fill my soul.

So what about you? What fills your soul? What rejuvenates you? What inspires you?

 

 

Following Atticus – A man, a dog and a call to nature

September 2, 2012 57 comments

Today I am doing a review of the book, Following Atticus. It is a book my friend Edie Jarolim, first reviewed on her blog, Will My Dog Hate Me? I had always intended to read it, but as is often the case, life got in the way. That’s why I was so very happy when I was offered the chance to review this book on my own blog. I received a copy of Following Atticus as part of the review request, but I will be sharing it with friends and family as soon as I can. I loved it. I hope you will check it out.

I think I fell in love with Tom Ryan and his dog, Atticus M. Finch, from the first moment I opened their book, Following Atticus. It’s pretty hard not to fall in love with a book that speaks to your soul in so many different ways.

I should have known I would love it when I read in the prologue – “I have come to judge a good story as one that makes me feel as if I’m losing a friend when I read the final page, close the book, and put it down for the last time.” Indeed. For that is exactly how I felt when I read the last page of Following Atticus.

The story begins in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where Tom Ryan is the sole owner, editor and publisher of his own newspaper, The Undertoad, a paper that follows in the muckraker tradition of truth-telling and investigative journalism. He is knowledgeable, respected, hated, and admired by all in this small town, and as a result he lives a busy and somewhat dangerous life.

Then one day, he agrees to take a dog into his life, Max. Max is an abandoned dog that nobody wants. Tom takes him in and gives him a home. It changes his life. Max becomes his inseparable companion and the town mascot. Sadly, Max is only with him for a year and half before he is gone, but the relationship they shared was to lead to an even greater one.

When Tom meets Atticus Finch he is a tiny little thing. A gray miniature schnauzer puppy with white eyebrows, chest and paws. He is also something else. Unusual. From the beginning, he seems to have a wisdom and understanding that is almost human-like. Maybe it was Tom’s determination to let Atticus be himself, even his name was chosen to give him his own identity, or maybe Atticus was simply born with an independence could not be contained. Either way, he is unique and different and special, and he changes Tom’s life.

He changes it in subtle ways at first –  long walks through town to visit its patrons, bike rides together, and weekends spent away from the city in a little cabin in the woods. It is there that Tom and Atticus begin to explore and to discover a new and shared passion – hiking the White mountains of New Hampshire. Soon they are off on adventure that can only be described as transformative. They start on a journey to hike all 48 of the “4000-footers” – the mountains above 4000 feet, and then to hike them twice in one winter season. All along the way is Atticus, the “Little Buddha,” guiding Tom on his journey, battling the elements right alongside Tom. He is smart, wise and inspiring.

Reading about Atticus’ meditative moments atop each mountaintop made me feel a sense of longing. I wanted to feel his sense of peace, his connectedness to his environment. I wanted to feel Tom’s sense of awe and wonder at every mountain peak. his jubilation at each goal met. I wanted to feel his sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. But more than that, I wanted to feel what he and Atticus so clearly felt with each hike – a communion with each other and with the natural world around them. There is something that happens to the soul when you connect with nature. Tom described it as such, “It’s the natural world that heals the soul.” I believe that wholeheartedly.

Many might describe Following Atticus as just a story about a man and his little dog, but it is so much more than that. It is the story of reawakening and the healing of one man’s soul. It is also the story of renewal and transformation. At it’s core, it is a reminder of who we are when we are one with nature. I have no doubt this book will inspire many to take to the mountains, the woods and the forests. In the words of John Muir (quoted often by Tom Ryan)…

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” [John Muir (1838 – 1914), Our National Parks, 1901]

Following Atticus certainly did that for me.

You can learn more about Tom and Atticus:

On their blog – The Adventures of Tom & Atticus

On their Facebook page – Following Atticus.

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