PUPPIES

I just realized I never republished my article “Puppies” that I wrote for The Crafts Report. And I already have a P.S. to add to the article! So….here it is.

PUPPIES

It’s been a typical wild and crazy month, craft biz-wise. Someone filmed a video of me and my work; I was artist of the month at a local gallery; I had my first trunk show, I had some great sales off my web site.

All exciting stuff. But not funny.

“Write about the puppies,” my husband said.

The last few weeks we were foster parents for two rescue puppies—street dogs, or “Potcakes” from the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, where we got our own puppy, our first dog, last year. Tuck adored the wee visitors and played with them constantly.

Yesterday we found the puppies’ forever home, a little family that is the perfect fit. We said goodbye to our little wards last evening. We woke up today to our first morning sans puppies. We all feel a little sad. Tuck sits with his head in my lap, gazing woefully at me. A line from the song “Puppies” by the Incredible String Band wanders through my head….”Hey, hey, the puppies, they are gone. Left me here, holding this song….”

“I can’t write about puppies!” I exclaimed. “They have nothing to do with my craft biz.

Jon just smiled and said again, “Write about the puppies.”

I’ve always resisted doing “any old animal” in my art, despite many customer requests. And I get requests all the time. “Do you do dolphins?” “Can you make a turtle?” Resulting in my favorite cheerful yet gentle response to one inquiry, “Sorry, there were no kitties in the Lascaux cave.” (Interestingly, this remark also appeared in the video, as a shot of a page from one of my countless journals…)

But having a dog has changed my life, no doubt about it. And the presence of this intelligent, highly intuitive, mischievous creature in our home has me wondering…. What is the “Ancient Contract”? And just how long have dogs been with us humans??

The old answer, 10,000 to 11,000 years, was based on actual dog remains in burial mounds. So, after Lascaux. But DNA studies now suggest the break of dogs from wolves started earlier, up to 100,000 years ago, perhaps the result of changes in behavior and diet. Marks of a human hand? Perhaps. And new evidence found in older European caves indicate the dog domestication process surely began as long ago as 30,000 years.

And to clinch it, here are the words that grabbed my heart today:
“…ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog (discovered) at Chauvet Cave, France…(Evidence from) torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.”

The words of my own artist statement echoing back to me: “Born by the flickering light of torches….”

So I’m writing about the puppies today.

After all, just as I can’t live my life without making room for my art, I cannot make my art without my life spilling into it, either. Just as my art informs my life, my life—with children, with silly pets, with the lessons I’ve learned from climbing, and martial arts, with chickens and yes, puppies, informs my art.

I suspect there is a dog artifact wending its way in the days ahead into my art. I know I will use my art in some way to support the Potcake rescue foundation: A fundraiser with my jewelry, perhaps some artwork to sell in their shop.

And here I am, writing about the puppies.

How did Jon get so smart?

And if he’s so smart, how come he can’t remember to wash the outside of the coffee mugs?

I know something of the puppies will remain with me, always. I know because I just found a last memento of our time with these little creatures….

A big pile of puppy poop in my studio.

Tuck, Mike and Molly

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EXPENSIVE PUPPY LESSON

Where NOT to let your dog ride in a car.

We just learned a very expensive lesson today.

When we go in the car, our puppy Tuck rides in the back seat, preferably on the floor. He immediately would scrunch under the driver’s seat, which we thought was cute. “Oh, look!” I’d say, “He’s trying to get closer to us without actually getting in front!” (Which isn’t allowed.)

Two days ago, my “air bag” warning light came on. I took it in to the Subaru dealer today.

The service manager called me back a few minutes ago with an odd questions.

“Do you have a dog?” he asked.

“Yep”, I replied. How did he know??

“Is it a small dog?” he asked.

Wow, I thought, this guy is amazing! “Yes, he’s a puppy.”

Then I thought, did Tuck poop in the car??

Nope. Much worse. And much more expensive.

Turns out our little Tuck chewed through the air bag harness which is located…..under the driver’s seat. It will take at least four days for a new one to be sent, and it will cost $545 for the harness and it will take 2-3 hours of labor.

Oh my.

So here is my public service announcement: Do not let your darling little puppy-or-small-dog crawl under the car seats.

Because in addition to the candy wrappers/empty pop cans/gas receipts/other assorted trash, there is evidently a pricey little part under there that dogs just love to chew.

That, or Tuck is actually a gold-digging puppy who hoped to inherit our estate after we were killed in a car crash.

Naughty Tuck! But he’s in good company, as you can see from our other pets who create havoc with their chewing.

DOG OWNER, HEEL THEYSELF!

Living with intention makes for better dogs, and makes us better artists.

Our new puppy Tuck (he’s the stylin’ dude in the blue bandana) is a delight. Tuck is our first dog ever. He’s a little too smart, but funny, sweet and eager to please. He has already added a lot to our lives. Including a few little puddles and stinky poo piles. (He’s getting much better with housebreaking, though.)

Actually, we’re getting much better with housebreaking. Which is the point of today’s post.

We’re learning that training our dog means retraining ourselves.

This weekend we hired our local “dog whisperer”, Perry Davis, for a one-hour intensive puppy training class. Perry is amazing with dogs. He doesn’t have a website (yet) but if you are interested in his services, please email me privately and I will send you his phone number.

We found we were doing some things right. But there were quite a few things we could do better. And the time to start doing better is right now, in this stage of deep learning, before Tuck hits the human equivalent of adolescence. (Parents of teens know this is when you seem to become invisible and mute to your child.)

This is the time to take advantage of natural tendencies in a puppy (eager to please, follow the leader) to lay down a good foundation for all future training.

Our dog sees us as either a leader, or a follower. We need to establish ourselves as the leaders in every situation.

For example, we’ve been using “come” to get Tuck to go along with us. And already it was not working as well as it should. He was beginning to resist going for walks on his leash, and would end up sitting in defiance while we tugged and lugged on his collar. He loves to go home, though. So I would drive Jon and Tuck downtown, and then they would walk home from there. Not something we want to become a habit.

Perry showed us that we were giving Tuck mixed messages, and not taking advantage of a built-in tendency: A dog his age (four months) wants to follow.

In order to encourage him to do what he naturally would do, we should not face him and ask him to “come”. (“Come” should ask a dog to return to you, not go with you.) We were to turn around, face away from the dog, and go, with the firm command, “This way!”.

We tried it. Sure enough, his compulsion kicked in, and he hurried to catch up. It was amazing! It worked every time. Soon Tuck was walking downtown and back with us again.

My husband Jon, as always, was quick to see the subtle structure beneath the advice and suggestions Perry offered. It was Jon who noted that the sequence also trained us.

Changing the command and the posture also changed the whole balance of energy in the interaction.

“Come” asks for something to come to you–in this case, our dog. It hopes the “something” will come.

“This way!” is you taking charge, you going your way. And expecting that “something” to go along with you.

What an intriguing metaphor….

Of course, there are many times when it’s nice to ask.

And hope is a good thing. It’s always good to have hope.

But there are also times when you need to just get going. “This way!” This is what I want. This is where I want to go. Making our intention clear to the universe.

When we know what we want, when we take responsibility for our journey, all our energy will go into supporting that. Naturally, without fuss, with enthusiasm.

Not without obstacles, of course. There are busy streets and high hills to cross on our walk. There may be setbacks and issues.

But knowing we want to go there will give us the good energy and zest we need to make our way.

Such a useful management tool for dogs. And for us.

P.S. The title comes from an old joke about a guy who named his dog “Physician.” When they went out for walks, he could say, “Physician, heel thyself!”

KITTEN THERAPY

I’m slowly returning to normal activities, and my spirit continues to mend, too.

It was a shock to learn that the spirit can take longer than the body to recover from a long year of injuries and setbacks. It was a good lesson to learn, though. I think I’ve gained more compassion for others in the same boat. You can handle one setback, another and another. But at some point, your soul just wants to hunker down and run.

We’ve always heard that when we are down in the dumps, it can help to reach out and help others. It’s a good way to get us outside our own heads, a way to move and act without being totally self-referential.

But if even that seems like too much, here’s a lower-threshold spiritual treatment I can almost guarantee will provide the same benefit:

Kittens.

There’s something about kitten antics that makes everything else weighing on your heart just fly away.

Everything is wildly interesting to them–the hem of your jeans, the tie on your robe, the cord on your window shades, the dryer lint in the waste basket, the bug crawling on the floor.

They jump, bounce, flounce, roll, and cry piteously when their tail is, in turn, mistaken for a toy by a sibling.

And if you get tired of dealing with a hamburger-sized ball of fuzz that sees everything in the world as attackable, there’s always an exhausted yet hugely grateful mom-cat who’s happy to simply sit and be petted.

Now, you don’t have to rush out and buy kittens. In fact, there’s a great way to have an (almost) everlasting supply of kittens on hand.

You can be a kitten foster care provider.

One of our favorite family volunteer projects is to act as a foster home for our local humane society. When they receive a pregnant cat or a mom-cat with young kittens, they quickly place them in homes for temporary care–about one to three months, or until the kittens are old enough to be safely adopted.

This gives the mothers a calm, loving environment outside the shelter. It gives the new family a haven from all the diseases that course through a shelter. It ensures the kittens get maximum socialization with humans, critical to their emotional development as family pets.

And as a side effect, our family gets to enjoy kittens in all their glory for two months.

Just when they reach those teenage years (in kitten time), they are all ready to go back to the humane society. The mom cats, unfortunately, may have to wait for new homes. But at least the kittens are adopted quickly, usually within a week. Although I confess, our current pair of cats, our clown-cat Chai and our nervous-nelly cat Moxie, were both former mom-cats in our home.

The layout of our home allows us to set up a foster cat station apart from the other critters. Our two regulars know something is going on, of course. Suddenly, interesting food is delivered to a room that’s now off-limits to them, and they aren’t allowed to drink out of the bathtub faucet anymore. Their bewilderment is palpable, and their attempts to convince us that they need that extra nice cat food, too are amusing.

Our latest batch came to us last week. The mom-cat has been christened “Juno”, after the movie with the young pregnant teen heroine of the same name, because she is so outrageously young herself. (A visitor, on seeing her emerge from the “nesting box”, exclaimed, “That’s the mother??

The kittens are tiny, and just now starting to open their eyes. Three golden mackerel tabbies (probably male), two black torties (probably female.)

They’re really too young to play with yet, and Juno waits anxiously nearby when we handle them, ready to snatch them back at the least little peep out of them.

But already, everything is delightfully right in the world.

P.S. This works with puppies and bunnies, too.

GOODBYE LITTLE RAT

Yesterday was a hard day. I had to take my daughter’s pet rat to the vet to be put down.

I cried and cried as she fell asleep in my hands and then died peacefully. She was the sweetest animal that has ever been in my care.

I know, I know. I know EXACTLY what you’re thinking. “Rat” and “sweet” do not belong in the same sentence, unless it’s something like, “We killed the rat, SWEET!”

I’ve never been fond of rats, and a year living in downtown Baltimore almost 25 years ago sealed the deal. Even looking at them made me nervous. Movies like “Willard” and “The Bone Collector” merely confirmed my harsh opinion. And no one ever disagreed with me.

Oh, from time to time, I’d hear people say, “Oh, but pet rats are so SWEET!” My response was, “Yeah. Right!” A stint as a rat handler at our local human society changed my mind substantially, but I still got nipped a lot. I grew to see their charms, and I could see how desperately they sought affection. But never really thought I’d grow to see one as an uber-pet.

Until this particular little rat came into our home.

My daughter bought her as a baby at a local pet store, and snuck her into the house. She hid her inside a large box in her bedroom for months before I discovered her. (Waist-high piles of clothes and books and girl trash were very effective at keeping me out of the room.)

When I discovered the rat, Robin thought it was funny her parents were so “dumb” they hadn’t known she’d had a rat for months. I pointed out it wasn’t exactly cool to have a room so messy, you could hide rats in it.

As Robin’s friends and boyfriends dominated her life more, and she spent less time at home, I felt guilty about the rat. I did a little research and learned they are intensely social animals. So social, one source admonished, that having a single rat was tantamount to….well, rat abuse. I resolved to spend an hour every evening handling the rat while I watched TV with my family.

And I ended up falling in love with that silly little thing.

Robin called her Mavra (MAHV-rah) after some Welsh thing, and we never did learn what it meant or how it’s really spelled.

Mavra slept most of the day, and when the TV came on, she knew it was social time.

She’d scrabble out of her house, a little cardboard box we’d cut doors in. Inside that box was her her nest. I now understand where the term “rat’s nest” comes from. It’s a large, carefully constructed bird’s nest made with everything they can get their paws and teeth on. Every time we cleaned her cage, we gave her a new supply of newspaper strips, toilet paper, a rag or sock. She would carefully pull each piece inside her box and trim them down to bite-size pieces. Then each piece would be carefully stuffed into the next. This would keep her busy for hours. They were amazing to look at.

I’d pick her up and let her run around my lap and legs a little, before settling in for a cuddle. Sometimes I’d stick her in a pouch or an old cloth purse, and actually “wear” her into my studio. I’d do some work or read e-mail while she scrabbled around happily, eating tortilla chips, occasionally sticking her nose out for a peek.

She was very much like a dog in her behavior–happy, affable, curious. She never once bit me or anyone else while being handled, not even when she was given food. She even learned not to pee on us, once she realized we didn’t like it. We didn’t have to do much–we would just say, “Oh, Mavra!” sadly and put her back in the cage and go clean ourselves up. She figured out what was up with that, and rarely peed on us after that.

Mostly, she loved to lie happily in my lap and have her head stroked, just like a dog. Long strokes from her nose over her eyes and deeply rubbing her ears. She would chatter her teeth, rat behavior that means, “YES!! I LIKE that!” Often she would fall asleep.

Robin took Mavra with her last fall to her first internship. I’m so glad she did! The internship fell through, but not before Robin had spent months alone in a tiny studio apartment, in a tiny town hours away, so isolated her only social contacts were at the restaurant she worked lunches at. Mavra kept her company during the long, long hours of solitude.

I owed Mavra one for that.

I guess what broke my heart as she died is I know very few people would ever look further than her ratty head and her snake-ish tail, and see deeper to the loving and gentle heart inside. Even my husband never looked at her without shuddering, and most people’s initial reaction was “eeeuw!”

But rat lovers know.

Many folks are not who they seem on the outside. Some are pretty pretty, but shallow and cruel inside. Some are ugly or unassuming, but they are loving and kind.

Give me the rats of the world any day.

I found an old soft t-shirt of Robin’s to bury her in. I tucked her in the pocket, and tucked her tail in around her. Doug and I buried her in our backyard with our other beloved pets. I found a stone from a beach in Rhode Island that amazingly, looked like a rat–gray and long, with one pointed end and a rounded end, and flat on the bottom. I put it on her grave.

Goodbye, sweet Mavra. I hope you find a warm little nest and a pile of tortilla chips in heaven. And someone to soothe you to sleep each night.

I will not forget you soon.