Things that Make Me Happy

In no particular order.

Yesterday we walked with Violet to the Albany Pride Parade.  The Pride Parade always makes me happy.  If you know us, you know we were early.  We invested our time in a side trip to Berben and Wolff’s for a breakfast sandwich to share.  So good!  We’d had breakfast and it wasn’t lunch time, but since I’ve been walking Violet roughly ten miles a day, I don’t hew too closely to the three meals a day rule.  If I am near delicious vegan food, I have some.  Like Saturday.  Again Lacey, Violet and I walked to Lark street, where an art fair was happening.  Berben and Wolff made me a banh mi slider with a crispy, porky ball in the middle.  A special for the fair.  Man.  I’d order that every day for a between meal snack.  They’re getting really creative with their specials.  If you’ve worked through the menu, don’t hesitate to keep going for the off menu items.  B&W makes me so happy!

Back to the parade.  The pre-party is the best part.  The marching is joyous and fun, but walking around saying hi to everyone before that gets underway is when I get the most happy.  I still struggle with the facade of unfriendly that so may here present.  I continue to say hi to most people I pass and the response rate is low.  About one in five responds.  Wears a fellow down.  Attendees and participants in the Pride Parade, on the other hand, are almost all in a terrific mood.  Everyone says hello with bonus small talk thrown in.  Violet gets lots of love, too.  I should pass out the lens cleaning wipes I carry to those whose lenses Violet kisses.  She loves to give kisses and her kisses tend to travel the full length of the face, glasses included.  No one seems to mind.  

My friend’s kid marched with her school band and we watched with another kind of pride as she passed by with her alto sax.  The Hannaford’s grocery group was huge!  Looks like it is a very good place to work.  One marcher shouted just that as he passed.  That doesn’t happen often enough!  I also really liked a soccer league float that included a locker room complete with showers.  Good clean fun.

Violet continues to delight.  Still bumps in the road, but they are decreasing in frequency and intensity.  She’s rock solid reliably sweet when meeting people, kids and dogs, but she’s still hot for squirrels and even hotter for rabbits. Not much of an issue when walking, but when she spots them from inside the house she can get a little intense.  No harm comes of it, but it is the opposite of relaxing to be around.  We are still training sometimes and managing others.  

Beers in the driveway can be tough, though.  If I tie her out with us, she has a lot of territory to scan and it doesn’t take long for her to spot prey.  I need to try keeping her on a short leash.  It will be a bit of a hassle, but it may limit the number of sightings.  P.S. Violet isn’t a junior officer. I just found the sticker on the ground.  They need to be more careful with their badges, don’t you think?

The community garden is going well.  We have a real rabbit problem there, but I haven’t lost everything of any one variety, so I am not sweating it.  Thanks to the rabbits, I won’t have an over abundance anything this season.  People are erecting short fences around their gardens.  I’ve had luck placing two feet high wire surrounds around particular rows, so maybe their short fences will help.  I hope so.  Some have had gardens eaten to the ground more than once.  Not sure why I haven’t been similarly wiped out.  Maybe it is all the volunteer dill and tomatillo plants amongst which the seedlings I plant are hidden.  My garden is really wooly this year.  I am sure to garner a weed warning, but none are weeds.  Just a lot of volunteer fruits and herbs.  I hope the administrators can tell the difference.  

I saved the best for last.  Lacey makes me happiest of all.  She is working too many hours so I don’t see enough of her, but we do our best to soak up the love in the evenings and all weekend long.  She’s making an effort to keep her schedule in check, but it is hard to say no to requests for appointments from people who are hurting.  I hope her clients appreciate the sacrifices she makes for them and, as a result, the sacrifices I make for them!  Violet is good company, but I need my Lacey even more.  At least I have Lacey when I do.  So thankful for that.

I’m going to prepare for a call to close a deal.  It’s been a good year.  A few more deals and I will hit my average yearly revenues.  I wish I could take the rest of the year off, but I have to help with everything my client brings and he isn’t likely to take a sabbatical.  If the year ends up above average, we’ll save a bit more for the future.  It’s all good.

I’ll leave you with a short story that also made me smile.  Leaving the garden today, I spoke with a woman who helps a family from Afghanistan.  They live in a small apartment with mice and roaches, have signficant health problems and barely have enough to eat.  Still, they are the happiest people she knows.  When this woman’s 16 year old son gets on her nerves, she visits the refuge family for a dose of happy.  Why so happy?  No bullets.  No bombs.  That is enough for them.

What makes you happy?

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A Month

A month has passed since I last wrote.  I’ve started to forget the challenges we faced as we integrated Violet into our family.  I look at her and wonder how I ever doubted we could be a family.  She is a really terrific dog.  A few minor quirks remain, but even if we never sorted them out, we’d be fine.  Happy.  Ecstatic.

Still walking like crazy.  I’ve been keeping records for 84 days during which time we’ve walked 529 miles.  That’s an average of 6.3 miles a day.  The prong collar is still magic.  She can be within a few feet of a squirrel and not freak out.  She’ll stare at it without pulling for as long as I’ll let her and then I can walk her away when I’m ready.  Maybe she’ll then pull a bit to try to get closer, but not always and if she does it is nothing remarkable.  I’m so happy.

I’ve started a few hearty plants at the community garden.  Unless it rains, I go there every day to water.  I’ve tried leaving Violet at the picnic table while I water but she barks and barks until I come back.  That is a quirk I will try to sort out.  I want to be able to walk her there to water, then play at the dog run in the same park.  But leaving her at home means I get to pedal to the garden, which is nice.

I feel pretty strong on the bike.  All this walking must have helped.  I tire a bit on longer pulls, but that’ll go away as I keep at it.  We’ll see how much I bike this summer.  In the same way the long walks leave Violet with little interest in being wild, they leave me with less need to get out and pedal.  A trip to the garden or the store may be enough.  Having walked outside for three to four hours, I am content to work, do chores, lawn care, cook, read books and watch TV.

I just started watching Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan on Netflix.  It is an Indian show covering Indian cuisine, region by region.  Subtitles and all.  Up until now, I only had a rough, and probably confused, understanding of the differences between the food of northern and southern India.  I am ready to learn.  The first episode covered Rajasthan.  Desert country, so families rely on khejri trees, the leaves of which feed goats milked by the families to get milk.  They also grow millet which tolerates the heat and needs little water.  It’s tough living but the people don’t just survive, they thrive thanks to the cuisines they’ve developed and adopted.  Inspiring.  Next up is Tamil Nadu.  I can’t wait!

I am reading Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel.  My friend teaches at St. Rose and was having her students read Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.  That book isn’t in our library system, but I Hotel was.  It covers the Asian American experience in San Francisco during the late 60s and early 70s.  A turbulent time in which Asian Americans were fighting for their civil rights.  A good review is here.  I am enjoying it very much, but I am a little bit distracted since I received Haruki Murakami’s latest short story collection, Men Without Women.  You may recall that I spent much of 2016 devouring everything he wrote and I am ready to dive back in, but I am 100 pages from finishing I Hotel.  Patience!

I’m still making food from all over the world.  Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian and US dishes top the charts, but I’ve added a few dishes from Russia and Egypt, too.  Having never had many of these foods prepared for me, I have no idea if I am hitting the mark or any mark, but the dishes delight me.  Isn’t that enough?  Might be because I love cooking and eating and have a huge sense of gratitude for the variety of wonderful ingredients I can get, but I may also be getting a little better with practice.  It’s slow going, but fun along the way.

Speaking of food, I’ve typed my way past eleven so I am going to cook something for lunch.  Take care of yourselves.  Have a walk and make some yummy food.  Cheers!

The Right Direction

We’ve been with Violet nearly ten weeks now.  Positive change is happening every day.  I can cry happy tears when I think about how far she was come.

Because she jumped our four foot fence, we’ve had a six foot fence installed.  We don’t know whether she can jump a six footer.  We briefly considered an eight foot fence, but the dog runs I’ve seen have six footers, so that is where we ended up.  We still take her out on a leash to make sure there are no critters inside the fence.  Once the coast is clear (anything there leaves straight away), she runs free while we play fetch and practice recalls and the like.

We also bought a Whistle 3.  It’s that little grey box on her collar–a GPS tracker.  It wasn’t expensive, but it requires a cellular plan (about $7 a month).  If Violet leaves home without us, I would open the app on my phone and track her in real time.

When it arrived, I went to the App Store to download the app.  I noticed a fair number of poor reviews.  Things like it was slow to alert people that their dog had left home or the app wasn’t refreshing fast enough when tracking a lost pet.  Disconcerting, but I ended up keeping the Whistle 3.  Even if it isn’t perfect, it gives me hope.  Violet has twice gone on walkabouts.  Even an imperfect tracking device might be the help I need if she goes  further next time.  And we sometimes open the app when we’re out.  Seems like it does a good job in that context.  We’ll see.

Since we’re hoping we never need to use the tracking device, the built in activity monitor gives us something to play with.  Something for the money, if you will.  Of course she is crushing the suggested one hour a day of activity.  We’re still walking an average of 5.5 miles a day, which typically includes 0.7 miles of running by my bike, as well as playing in the yard and trips to the dog run.  Generally about three hours of activity.  If anything, I need to ease up a bit and give her more time to sleep, but then the activity monitor tells me she is sleeping about 15 hours a day, which is about right for her age and size.  So it is all good.

Except for the walking.  Despite months of very careful work to help her stop pulling, Violet was too distracted to make fast enough progress.  Her prey drive has her moving fast while looking for prey and, once spotting it, trying very hard to get near it.  Even when squirrels weren’t in sight, the constant corrections, stopping, direction and speed changes were taking their toll on my body.  My whole left side–arm, hip and knee–were getting really sore.  Much more and I’d probably be injured and unable to walk her.  Couldn’t let that happen.

Then we remembered the prong collar.  Scary looking things, but we used one on our first dog, Speed.  She pulled like crazy and the prong collar fixed it in an instant.  So fast that I put her prong collar around my neck to see what we were doing to her.  Nothing too bad.  As I recall, sharp pulls resulted in uncomfortable pinching but not pain.  In fact, she seemed considerably more comfortable than when we were using a flat nylon collar (against which she pulled so hard she’d labor to breathe).

So I ordered a prong collar for Violet–a black stainless steel Herm Sprenger from Germany.  It is very well made, should last her lifetime, and I like that the tips are rounded rather than blunt.  We ordered a smaller link size (2.25 mm) on the advice of this fellow and are happy we did.  It works very well and doesn’t look as ominous as the collars with 3.00 or 3.25 mm links.

As was the case with Speed, Violet stopped pulling immediately.  Without any corrections.  It was just short of miraculous.  Granted, I had been working very hard with Violet to help her learn to walk by me and that pulling would result in stopping, so that when the prong collar was put on she already had a clear understanding of what was expected.  She always did, but with a martingale collar she would repeatedly opt to pull the entire walk.  Pull, stop.  Pull, stop.  Pull, change directions.  Repeat for two or three hours a day.  And that was before she saw a squirrel.   When she saw a squirrel, she’d put on a real show.  She’d pull and choke herself terribly.  With the prong collar, she now often will ignore squirrels altogether.  If the squirrel is too close, she’ll still pull for it, but with much less intensity and for much shorter time.  No choking at all.  No yelping in pain.  She seems comfortable, yet fairly quickly opts to stop the pulling and come back to my side.  Life changing for the both of us.

We got away with using a prong collar with Speed without training her first.  We were young and didn’t know much about training.  We used a retractable lead and the prong collar, so Speed never learned to walk by us.  She’d walk about six feet in front of us but we didn’t care.  She wasn’t scary to passersby.  Violet is more intimidating.  Even though she walks calmly and has little interest in people we pass, its clear that some people feel better when I keep her by my side and in control.

It occurred to me I should repeat the prong collar test.  I’ve told people about the test I did twenty three years ago, but I started to wonder if I’d still find the collar reasonable.  Here we go.

Pinches sharply, but no material pain.  And I’m pulling much harder than I do with Violet.   So, pass!  If you have a dog that pulls, and training with a training collar, martingale collar or training harness isn’t working, consider a prong collar.  Before you buy one and use it, watch some training videos.  The one I liked is linked above, but here it is again.  Watch both parts.  Fitting, placement and use are not obvious.  Learning is fun and your dog will thank you.  So thumbs up for prong collars.

That’s enough of that.  It just started raining.  Time for a nap.  That’s what I say, but Violet wants to play some.  So we’ll play some.

Bye!

Backing into It

Violet came with her name, but we’ve recently discovered Violet Oakley.  Ms. Oakley was an American muralist and stained glass artist.  Not as well know as Frida’s namesake artist, but we’ve got a match and we’ll stick with it.

Violet’s bike tow leash arrived!  It is very well made, easy to install and Violet took to it from the first try.

I wish I had a better video of her running on it, one that showed her in relation to the bike, but I shouldn’t be making videos while piloting a bike to which my beloved dog is attached, so I’ll let the one indiscretion below serve as a placeholder (until I affix the bike tow leash to our tandem so I can safely pilot while Lacey makes video aplenty from the stoker’s seat).

So far we’ve been sticking to a 0.7 mile loop in our neighborhood.  All small streets with almost no traffic.  Violet keeps an eye on the bike to know when to turn, slow and stop.  I was concerned about her spotting squirrels while underway but so far the activity has held her attention.   She’s looked at squirrels, but hasn’t made an effort to do anything more.  Knocking on wood before every ride and keeping my hands hovering over both brakes, mind you.

Except for uphill sections, I don’t pedal much.  Violet pulls us both along very easily and, with a little distance to spin up her motor, she runs fast.  Despite the short distance, she is very well exercised by the end.  Probably helps that we often tack the biking loop onto the end of a long walk.  Maybe someday we’ll put the bike on the car and head to a rail trail, or even for a spin through the woods at Thatcher, but we’re good for now.  If you have a dog who needs more exercise than you can share while walking, this tool may be just what you need.

Food?  Why sure!  Before Passover comes and steals our bread, I’ve been enjoying what I call toast bowls.  I didn’t grow up with bowls (the meal format, that is), and I’ve only in the last couple of years warmed up to them.  I’m fully on board now.  As much as I enjoy eating them, prep isn’t easy.  Making each of a starch, veg, protein and sauce takes a fair amount of time and yields a breathtaking pile of cookware to wash.  What to do?

Toast bowl to the rescue–using toast as the starch all but eliminates one of the four steps and the related cookware.  25% easier!  I love my rice cooker, but clean up is a little much.  Quinoa is easier, but I fret about the shortage I am causing for native eaters in Bolivia and Peru (until I read this, so maybe I can enjoy the quinoa I eat once a week?).   But toast!  A nice whole grain sour dough (another plug for my exclusive bread supplier) toasted up is always a comfort.  More comfort?  I have been brushing on melted butter before I chop the toast into bite sized pieces.  I’m still making Miyoko’s butter.  Last batch I used yogurt instead of milk and the resulting cultured taste is a real winner.

Recent toast bowl?  Buttered toast bites formed the foundation, which was topped with chopped Field Roast chorizo sausage and roasted Brussels sprouts, and then a yellow gravy (from Julie Hasson’s casserole cookbook) was generously ladled on top.  Gobs of gravy!  Many of the gravy recipes I enjoy are completely fat free but are still, thanks to salt, peppers and spices, delicious.  No reason, then, unless I develop high blood pressure, to go easy on gravy.  Just another perk of the plant eating lifestyle.  Toast bowls!  Hit one today!  Before Passover!  Wait!  Buttered then busted matzo!  Ca-ching!  This is just too easy.

So Friday then.  Do with it what you will, so long as no one gets hurt.

Exhaling

Violet watches Lacey pull out of the drive.

A day long delivery of wintery mix should keep Violet and me inside, but if I had to bet, I’d bet on us putting in a few miles.

We’re addicted to walking.  We’ve averaged five miles a day over the last thirty days.  Eight and a quarter yesterday spread across three walks.  Seven the day before all in one go.  I’m tightening up my loose leash game and it is starting to yield benefits.  Don’t know the game?  That’s when Violet gets to make forward motion only when her leash is loose.  No pulling.  Zero.  When the leash loses slack, or even just before, I stop.  We rarely get in more than ten steps before I stop.  It is slow going but important work.  Violet is so strong that having her pull for more than a moment over walks that span hours is hard on arms, knees, back, etc.

Even the act of stopping every five or ten steps is hard on me.  Physically and mentally.  I finally took the advice of the monks and Yin and tethered Violet to me.  Both suggested I buy a leash designed to be clipped around my waist and I never got around to it.  I was hoping it wasn’t necessary.  One more piece of equipment!  But two days ago, on the seven miler, I had had enough and realized I could thread any leash through the handle and put my waist in the resulting loop.  It works well.  A revelation, really.  No more sore arms and Violet got immediate feedback when she trotted ahead.  When holding a leash in my hand, I tend to be forgiving.  I make slack when I can.  With the leash on my waist, the tension is there or not.  Binary.  Violet is benefiting from the direct and consistent feedback.

We’ve even done a few minutes of tethered walking around the house this morning.  I moved around to tidy and Violet had to pay attention and stay right by me.  I was feeding her treats all the while, too.  She did great.  It required her to pay attention to me–her biggest challenge on walks.  She is a very intense girl, always scanning for birds and squirrels.  The training books I’ve read stress the importance of getting your dog to pay attention to you, to look at your face.  Despite considerable effort, this is a rare occurrence when we are walking outside.  Most I can get is a glance.  Things improve when I unpredictably change speed and direction, which I do when I’m loosing her to hunter mind, but probably not often enough.  She ignores even high value treats.  So I’m recommending to you tethered walking.  Worth a try.

Two days ago, when we arrived at the muni golf course dog run, a caregiver related a story of dogs escaping the run earlier in the day.  All were collected safely, but no one wants that.  The run has two doors, creating a foyer, but the tines on the latch for the outside door were pinched close together requiring considerable hand strength to get the latch fully closed.  More often than not, the  latch would be only half closed.  Open the inside door and many dogs in the run come into the foyer to say hi.  One of these dogs nudged open the latch to the outside door and the dogs got out.  Oops!

I had myself struggled with the latch for days, but the story was the motivation I needed to fix the problem.  I needed two pipes to place over the tines.  The leverage would allow me to spread the tines open enough to allow the latch to fully close.  The community garden adjacent to the run surely had a couple of pieces of pipe, and a gardener was there to let me in.  The only two pieces I found were both about six feet long.  Comically long.  Oh well.  I carried them to the gate, placed one on each tine and spread them apart.  Done.  I also tossed back into the run all the balls that had accidentally ended up in the garden over the winter.

After I returned the pipes to the garden, the gardener asked if that was Violet and if I was Randy.  She recognized us from this blog!  She even gave condolences for Frida.  She also shared kind words for my last post.  The one in which I shared our struggles with Violet.  She said she’s shared it with friends who have lost dogs.  Thought it may help them as they decide when it is time to invite a new friend into their family.  She said it helped her, too.  Wasn’t that a nice thing to hear!  That’s been my secret wish for this blog–to help people in small, quiet ways.  I thought the help would would probably relate to biking or food, but I’ve written a fair amount about dogs, too.

She wasn’t done giving gifts.  Right then and there she split her rhubarb plant in two and gave me half.  If I remember correctly, she got it from her father who had grown rhubarb for fifty years.  Not sure about the longevity of rhubarb.  Could this be part of the same fifty year old plant, or does it eventually die?  No matter.  She shared it with me and I will cherish it.  The same way I cherish my grandmother’s geraniums.  A good second definition for the phrase heirloom plants.  A very special kind of plant, don’t you think?  

Not wanting to leave the rhubarb above-ground, Violet and I went straight to our community garden.  She didn’t even know we had one!  I tied her to the picnic table (no dogs allowed in the gardens) while I planted the rhubarb.  It was nice to get my hands muddy.  Violet barked for me to hurry up so I did.  To say sorry for leaving her I unclipped her from the table and walked her on the path to see our garden.  Sorry, rules, but I didn’t let her step in gardens or poop or pee on the path.  And I won’t make a habit of it.  I just wanted her once to see our plot close up.  To know what I was up to over there.  Hopefully she’ll become comfortable being clipped to the table.  If not, she’ll stay at home when I garden, but I’m hopeful with practice she’ll relax.  Tis nearly the season for trying!

I’ve been tracking a package from The Dog Outdoors.  Should arrive today.  We’re getting the Bike Tow Leash and a Ruffwear Front Range Harness.  In purple, naturally.  I’ve always been leery of these things, but Violet’s need for speed has inspired me to give it a go.  That and the information and videos on the site.  It is a really good site.  You can tell they love dogs and are committed to helping them safely get the exercise they need.  I’ll have to practice extraordinary patience since the package is arriving in the middle of two days of messy weather.  Monday, then, before we get to give it a try.  Two weeks ago I pedaled slowly with Violet on a standard leash held in my hand for fifty yards.  She did fine.  Her hunter mind seems to be redirected to straight line running when given the chance.  Here’s hoping!

I’ve also been practicing running with Violet on leash.  My hope is that Lacey can eventually take her running.  Two challenges there.  First, the transition from walking to running needs to be smooth or Violet’ll turn playful, thrash about and bite the leash.  We’re getting that sorted but Lacey will probably have to do the work again for herself with Violet.  Should be easy.  Lacey is a very smooth runner.  No bouncing.  All forward energy.  Second, I need to communicate to Violet my wish, no need, that she dial back her speed.  My jogging speed is roughly a quarter of Violet’s preferred running speed.  I can sprint for a short distance, but even that seems to well short of Violet’s top speed.  This is where the bike leash, if we can make it work, should help.  I should be able to pedal fast enough.  I’ll report how it goes.  Fingers crossed!

Last thing.  A caregiver at the dog run told me the following story.  Six months ago, at a public park with adjacent private land, her dog was killed in a steel trap.  Probably on the private land, but there was no fence.  She couldn’t open it.  Three officers could, but her dog was dead.  She struggles with grief.  Telling the story even now is difficult, but she is telling the story and more.  She is committed to passage of a bill in the NY state legislature requiring land owners to post signs announcing the use of traps.  She knows she can’t ban the traps and doesn’t want to tell landowners what to do.  But signs may help.  She’s passing around a petition.  Next time I see her I’ll ask if she has a social media presence.  A way to advance the ball digitally.  An easy one to get behind, I’d say.

Friday, then!  Isn’t it special?  No plans?  I recommend Netflix–Chef’s Table–Episode 13–Jeong Kwan.  Jeong is a Korean Buddhist monk who some say is one of the best chefs in the world.  Seeing her work, her practice, brought tears to my eyes.  A real treasure.  Check it out.  As the temple set writes, hands palm to palm.

Seis Semanas

Four weeks have passed since I have written.  Not long after, things nearly came undone.  While enjoying a warm and sunny day in our backyard, Violet placed her paws atop the fence rail to get a better view of a squirrel.  She had done so before so I wasn’t alarmed.hands

Next thing I knew, Violet climbed the fence to get a closer look at that squirrel.  I hustled  into our neighbor’s unfenced yard.  Violet had her paws on the trunk of the tree where the squirrel now was.  I placed a finger under her collar and led her to our yard and inside.  Scary, but it ended well enough.

Fast forward four hours.  Time to take Violet out to pee.  It was about 6:30 and dark.  I opened the back door to let her into the yard.  She didn’t blink–she bolted to the same place she climbed the fence and this time jumped it cleanly.  My heart sank.  I moved more quickly than last time into my neighbor’s yard.  Violet was at the base of the same tree, but I didn’t catch her collar in time.  She turned and ran along the back property line away from me and out of sight.  My mouth lost all moisture.

I jogged through my neighbors’ back yards, along the property line, but she was quickly out of sight.  I walked through yards to the next street over and called.  To the end of the block, left, a block, then left and back to our house.  Violet appeared and I called her.  She turned and left.  That’s bad.  Would I get another chance?  I retraced the path from before and again no luck.  I stood in front of our house and she appeared a second time.  Panting like crazy, but fine.  I called her and she came right to me.  I looped a finger through her collar and brought her inside.  Gone for 45 minutes.  She laid on her bed and I gave her a careful once over.  All was well.

That wasn’t the whole of the day.  We’d been having other issues and they all seemed to come up that fateful day.  I won’t go into specifics.  It was, in short, a rough day.  More than I could handle after two weeks of 24-7 training, care and loving.  For what?  Not only did I feel like I was unable to help Violet integrate fully into our life, with the fence jumping I now felt I couldn’t keep her safe.

I called the rescue and turned the adoption into a foster.  I invited them to find a new forever home for Violet.  They were great about it, but they needed a couple of days, or as much as a couple of weeks to find a suitable foster home.  I was happy to keep Violet while they looked.  It was the least I could do.

I was sick to my stomach.  I had never given up on a dog, and I knew Violet was a terrific dog with only a couple of rough edges that someone other than me, someone more skilled than me, would be able to sand down.  How could I let her go?  Having recently euthanized Frida, giving up Violet was like losing a second dog in a six month period.  I was blue as hell.  port

But it turned out to be a wonderful decision.  The next day I decided to stop worrying about training Violet to walk well on a leash and instead just walk with her.  Get her the exercise she so clearly needed.  Big mileage.  We walked nearly ten miles in four walks that first day.  She was so tired in the evening she had no energy to misbehave.  It was a great day and a great night.  Not bad.

As much as she became a better dog, seemingly overnight, I had also reset my mind.  Instead of worrying about whether we’d sort all of her issues, and how quickly, I was determined to do the best I could in the next couple of days or weeks to get Violet ready for her next home.  I was no longer working to make her perfect, I wanted only to make her better.  That was something I could do.

The next day we walked seven.  A training book from Sophia Yin arrived and I devoured it.  Focused on positive reinforcement, Violet really enjoyed learning to say please.  That’s when you simply stand near your dog and wait for them to sit on their own.  No words or cues.  When they do, and she did, you give them a treat.  Repeat often, and we did.  She is a fast learner.  We worked on leave it, too.  Also redoubled our efforts to remind Violet that Lacey and I are in charge.  She had to sit before we’d feed her, throw her a ball, go out a door, and so on.  Every time.

We formulated new approaches to addressing other problems, too.  Violet was starting to bite and tug on her leash at times of stress.  She’d really put on a show and it was embarrassing.  We were used to having a model dog and Violet was a model dog–except when she turned into a maniac and attacked her leash.  It’d happen, say, in a crosswalk at  a busy intersection.  I’d fight to get her safely to the curb and then try “leave it,” bribe her with a treat, have her sit or eventually forcibly remove the leash from her mouth.  Each approach would work sometimes, but all were falling short.  All a bit too much drama for my taste.  I changed tactics.  I thought about what Violet values most of all.  Tennis balls!  And that has been my get out of jail card ever since.  If Violet grabs the leash, I produce a ball and she drops the leash immediately.  I hand her the ball and she chews it like so much gum for blocks on end.  And things are improving still.  I’ve since been able to get her to drop it simply by asking.  I then have her sit and calm down.  Then she gets a treat and we walk on.  In time, I expect the habit fall away.  As she settles and bonds more.

And the fence!  She hasn’t been in our yard without a leash for a month now.  I won’t risk it.  Bruce Fence Company should be here in a few weeks to install a six footer.  I’ll still stay with her while she is in the yard until I can be sure she won’t try to climb the higher fence or dig under.  Maybe she will never be able to be left alone, but at least we can play ball and do other business without a leash.  In the meantime, we’ve been making almost daily trips to the dog run at muni golf course.  A girl needs wild off leash fun.  They have a six foot fence.  I toss tennis balls to her and she plays well with all the dogs.  Responds well to aggression by hopping back and leaving the situation.  If she wasn’t well socialized before we got her, she is now.

We’ve kept up with the walking.  Didn’t skip it even during the great snowstorm.  One day we walked to the Hudson river and back–nearly eight miles in one go, but we’re averaging about five a day.  Most often at a clip that is just short of jogging.  I’ve dropped eight pounds!van

Five point five miles today, but no dog run.  We used up our spare time with work and a trip to return a van to the rental company.  Violet loved the van.  We rented it to pick up office furniture for Lacey and bring home some pieces that turned out to be too fancy for her practice.  Low slung Scandinavian numbers that older clients had trouble getting out of.  I laid out blankets on the metal floor of the cargo area.  She’d walk to the back to look out the windows, walk to the front between the seats to look out the front, or curl up and sleep behind the passenger seat.  Tried to sit in the passenger seat and made it work for a few minutes, but it was too small.  She was more comfortable standing.

Violet has come so far that we’ve even invited her onto the bed.  Something dogs have to earn in our house with consistent beta dog behavior.  Hadn’t been invited until about five weeks in and even now she only gets to come up while we watch tv.  When it is time to sleep, she goes back to her bed on the floor.bed

The end of the story for now is that while preparing Violet for her next home, we fell back in love with her.  This time for good.  I’ve been able to sand off the rough edges.  Still working every day.  I’ve also secured a spot on the waiting list for training at the Monks of New Skete.  My expectation is that she won’t need it after the roughly four month wait, but it helps to know we can fall back on their able care if need be.

It has been a heck of a journey.  I’ve been steeping in little else for six weeks!  I wasn’t sure I should even share the story, even in the general form I’ve offered, but Lacey encouraged me.  It is good for people to know that not every adoption is a cakewalk.  That not all matches work.

Violet it our third adoption.  Our first was a handful and we never sorted her out.  Didn’t yet have it in us.  We just managed her behaviors for ten years and it ended well.  We loved her so much, but it was tough.  Then we got Frida.  She came nearly perfect and all we did was our best to not mess her up.  Now dear Violet.  In her forever home with us.  I’m confident we’ll work out her form of perfect and have a dozen fabulous years together.  But now I know what it feels like to say yes to a dog, then no.  At the point of no, we felt like it was the best thing to do.  It hurt like heck, but we had to take care of ourselves.  If Lacey and I weren’t strong and onboard, we couldn’t help Violet be her best.  Better to share her with someone with the right stuff.  Or so we thought for awhile.

If you find yourself at the end of your rope with a new rescue, get the help you need.  In addition to the head of our rescue organization, our trainer, and Lacey, random conversations on the street also made a big difference.  Tell your story.  It isn’t shameful.  The day after I made the hard decision, I had two terrific conversations with dog owners while walking Violet.  These folks listened to our story and gave tips and encouragement.  One guy said he loves his dog’s Whistle.  It’s a GPS device on his dog’s collar which allows him to track his escape artist on his cell phone.  I haven’t bought one yet, but I probably will.  A second person turned out to be a foster for dogs.  She encouraged me to bike with Violet.  She said the devices they make to tether dog to bike really work and that dogs, with proper training, love it.  I haven’t purchased a device, but when I do it will be one of the two offered here.  At the end of both conversations, I nearly cried.  Short talks, only a minute or so, but they helped so much.  Express therapy sessions, really.

We still have trying moments, but I see them with different eyes.  Hopeful eyes.  We are going to have some swell adventures together and some very comforting quiet times, too.  Dogs!  Gosh I love them!

 

Dos Semanas

Two weeks ago today we met Violet.  A short time to know someone, but how often do you meet someone and be with them almost 24-7 for two weeks?  This we’ve done.  We’re learning so much.

Her coat is short and it is cold.  We have a jacket we bought for our first dog (which was ridiculous since Speed had a coat of which yaks would be jealous), and it worked well on Violet, but we mentioned something about coats to our friends and less than a week later a custom made coat showed up in our mailbox.

violet-jacketed

It is a heck of a coat.  Smart, as in dashing and as in well thought out, beautifully made, perfectly fitted and snuggly warm.  Importantly, Violet likes it.

On the subject of acquisitions, I ordered three large memory foam beds.  Made in Los Angeles, obviously.  They have easy to clean covers and liquid proof inner covers, both of which zip off for easy cleaning.  None required yet–a joy of a young dog.  Violet enjoys them tremendously.  Note her tongue!

violets-bed

How about a trip to the vet!  Our friend picked up urine and stool samples to test before the visit and those checked out fine.  We still went to the office for a check, lyme vaccine and chipping.  The visit was great.  She weighs 63, then same as she weighed at the vet in San Antonio on January 18, 2017.  About five pounds light, says our vet.   That should be easy to fix.  Violet tolerated the examination beautifully.  There isn’t a spot on her that she won’t let you inspect.  Good girl.  We scanned her for a chip and one was already in place.  Terrific.  I’ve sent a form to the company to have our contact info associated with the chip number.

violet-cared-for

She’s a guardian.  She barks at approaching folks.  I was able to train Frida to more or less stop barking, and I will work with Violet.  So far, though, Violet’s barking isn’t a problem.  I keep the phone muted during conference calls, opening the mic only when I need to speak.  She will be heard on a call at some point, but most people know I work from home.

violet-on-guard

She’s soaking up the sun as I write.  It will be in the high 40s today.  We’ll take a long walk.  Made it 2.75 miles yesterday.  She could have gone three times that distance, easy, but I had to get home.  Today we’ll break a record.  She needs work on the leash.  She pulls mightily on a traditional fixed collar.  We’ve been using a Gentle Leader to good effect.  She’s wearing it in two of the pictures above.  I am mixing the walks with periods of walking at my side and periods of giving her more leash to sniff and explore.  She’d surely learn faster if I made all walks all business, but I’m not there yet.  She gets out ahead of me when I allow her.  I recall her and keep her by my side near busy streets, at intersections and when meeting people and dogs.  The mixed approach is working well enough for now.  We’ll see how it goes.

violet-at-rest

It is 99.9% dog here, but there is still the 0.1% of the time I fit in other activities.  Allow me to share one dish I whipped up last week–a bacon mushroom cheese burger bowl!  OMG.  The foundation was a massaged kale salad dressed with a mustard orange zest vinaigrette and tossed with raisins, toasted almonds and orange segments.  Atop that was laid a burger–a Beast Burger with Herbivorous Butcher’s bacon, sautéed mushrooms and Follow Your Heart cheese.  Spread around the edges were roasted potato wedges and avocado and then the whole delightful pile was drizzled with Sriracha.  One of the most satisfying dishes I’ve dreamed up and subbing kale for a bun is a great way to get your greens on.  Give it a go!

I have an unglazed clay cooker in the oven now.  The cooker gets soaked in water for 15 minutes, loaded with chopped veg, a cup of broth and a very few spices (spices have a big impact in clay cookers so go easy) and placed in a cold oven.  Oven gets set at 400 and you wait 1.25 hours.  I’ll make some pink rice, blop the clay roasted veg on top and spoon room temperature thin hummus all over it.  Lunch!

Nearly time to walk Violet.  Wish us well.  I wish you the same.