LESSONS FROM MY PETS: Nick the Problem Dog

by Luann Udell on 9/23/2017 4:34:27 AM
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Nick has taught me to get better at asking for what I want…

Sometimes it’s hard to know what we really want.

Oh, we may think we know! But do we really? When we say, “I want to be a successful artist!” just what do we mean by that?

Successful like Thomas Kinkade successful? Yes, he is one of the best-known artists of our time. But his work was kitsch, (and he knew it) and he died of an overdose of alcohol and Valium. Successful like Vincent Van Gogh successful? He never actually sold a painting (okay, well, maybe one), but now his work is worth millions, millions of people know who he is, and his work is considered stellar. Unfortunately, he’s also been dead for over a hundred years, so he never knew what success felt like.

 How about the Piss Christ artist? Everyone knows his work, too.

“Okay, so not that kind of successful. I just want to sell more work!”

How much more work? Enough to buy a house? Put food on the table? Or enough to break even with your expenses?

What’s in-between??

When I try to say, or write, exactly what I want for my art, it gets tricky. Am I being too vague? Too specific? What would really give me joy?

I’ve noticed it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve asked other people. They have difficulty asking for what they want, let alone  knowing  what they want. And like me, they ask for the moon (“I want to make a jillion dollars!” or not much (“I just want to pay for my expenses!”)

I’m now thinking that in order to KNOW what we want, we have to get better at ASKING for it. Because this is what happened with my dog, Nick.

 So, a little backstory here. Nick was one of our rescue pups, puppies from the Turks and Caicoes we fostered and placed in wonderful homes over five years in New Hampshire. (Long story for another time. Or maybe a new series…?? Hmmmm.) I would meet tourists returning from vacations to these beautiful islands, at the airport, where they had brought back a puppy or two, courtesy of the TCSPCA. The pups were in excellent health, with all their vaccinations, and allowed in the cabin in a carry-on bag. There are too many dogs in the Caribbean isles with no homes, while New England, thanks to successful spay-and-neuter programs, have a dearth of puppies.

Nick wasn’t one of our rescues. He was a ‘failed adoption’ from another volunteer in Boston who did the same work. The new owner said her older dog ‘had issues’ with the pup, and so the volunteer asked if I could help. I said I would, and picked him up.

Nick was 5 months when he came to us, and we quickly realized there were other issues with HIM. Of all our fosters, Nick had ALL of the difficult growing pains most puppies have: Not housebroken, a chewer, a barfy pup, nudgy (constantly poking for attention) and a submissive pee-er. We weren’t able to place him for several months. Then I had surgery, and was unable to look for another home for him.

Nick, 5 months, trying very, very hard to be good. Succeeding only intermittently.

By the time I’d recovered, he’d been with us five months, and was officially ‘our dog’.

 Nick is seven years old now, and is still a little problematic. A year ago, I realized my husband and I were part of the problem. We were both constantly annoyed at his bad habits, and Jon still does not consider him ‘our’ dog. We didn’t choose him. We were left holding the bag.

 That’s not a good attitude with any parenting/foster situation, kids or critters. How does a dog fare in such an atmosphere?? They certainly know our hearts—they’ve been with us since the dawn of time: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/tag/potcake/

 I finally realized Nick knew he was not loved fully, and I vowed to change that. I looked for the good things about him, and opened my heart to him. He’s much better now!

The biggest change came with the new house we moved into last spring. We live on one floor now. It’s extremely easy to let the dogs in and out to the backyard.

Soon I realized NICK lets me know when he has to go outside. That’s what the wet nose nudging was about!

So whenever Nick started to nudge me, I would ask, “Do you want to go outside?” His entire body, from ears to tale, goes full attention mode. “Yes! Yes! I do ever so want to go outside!!”

 Within a few weeks of this, this paying attention to his signals, I noticed something amazing: Nick would ‘ask’ to go outside when our other, older dog, Tuck, wanted to go outside! (Tuck never asks, he just suffers in silence until we remember to let him out.) Nick is asking on behalf of TUCK!

 Nick continues to get better at asking. In the last few months, he’s evolved from a) asking to go outside; to b) asking if TUCK can go outside; to c) asking if he can have dinner early (sitting by the dog food container with wistful eyes; d) asking if he can lick the bacon grease from the frying pan (sitting by the stove with wistful glances at the pan); and now e) asking for an ear scratch.

 

Nick asking for bacon grease.

In fact, now when Nick nudges me, I stand up and say, “What do you want?” And then he shows me. Every. Single. Time.

What’s the difference? Nick has discovered he can ask—and get an answer. A response. A gasp of amazement—“You’re asking for Tuck’s sake?! Cool!” A chuckle—“Nope, no bacon grease for you.” And an ear scratch.

Within a few months, Nick has gotten very, very good at asking for what he wants. And in doing so, he’s reminded me that I can do the same.

When we are encouraged at asking for what we want, we get better at it. And we get better at knowing what we really want. 

We get better at knowing if we get it, too. 

I’m going to think deeply for the next few days: “What is it that I want?”

I’m going to write about it, too. Because for me, writing lets unexpected insights pop up out of nowhere. Let’s see what comes of that.

How do YOU figure out what YOU want? Let me know your process.

And if you’re vaguely unhappy, or disappointed, or even just temporarily at loose ends about your personal, professional, emotional, and spiritual goals right now, pretend there’s someone or something out there that cares, no matter what your spiritual beliefs or practices.

 Go big. Get small. Be precise. It doesn’t matter.

Just practice, and see what happens. It worked for Nick!

Er…Would you like me to scratch your ears?

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BIG PUPS

When your life is full of poop, it’s time to stop and smell the roses.

We had a rough week. Nothing serious, nothing even very exciting. Just one of those times where you feel out of it and out of synch. You feel your battery draining instead of charging, and your feet drag for no good reason.

We also picked up two more Potcake puppies from Logan Airport in Boston. And for the next two days, I was frantically thinking, “What have I done??!!”

The pups seemed overly shy and anxious. To make it worse, they’re BIG. Much bigger than any pups we’ve fostered. And heavy. It’s hard to keep up with two puppies to begin with, let alone two you have to chase, and hoist with a big ‘oof!’ and even then, I could only hold one at a time. Twice as hard to manage.

I complained loudly to anyone who would listen. The woman at the rescue operation on the islands they came from; the shelter contact we’ll be delivering the pups to soon; my husband. And myself, in a running chattering dialog of “What-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-do-this-these-pups-are-awful-who-knew-such-a-small-critter-could-hold-so-much-poop-dammit-get-back-here-oh-my-back-OMG-he’s-peeing-AGAIN-help-help-HELP!!!!”

Having kids was like this. And starting my art career. And doing my first show. Come to think of it, doing all my shows. Learning how to shoot my own photos for my online shop. Teaching my first workshop for artists. Teaching my first grief writing workshop.

Get it?

Everything that’s worth doing comes with some dog doo.

Two days later, the pups have calmed down. They’re on a schedule of eating/outside to eliminate/play/sleep. Rinse and repeat.

My sanity returned. Time for damage control!

I wrote a contrite letter of apology to my island contact and another to my local shelter contact for my overreaction. I eased up with the pups. I made peace with my husband.

I realized the gift these puppies are to me.

They’ve traveled a long way from home, through scary airports with complete strangers, without food, in tiny carry-on bags. They arrive to a place with snow (yes, we had snow on Easter Sunday!) and a suspicious older dog and a houseful of grumpy teens and adults.

If that were me I’m not sure I would have been on my best behavior, either.

Marriage, kids, puppies, and yes, art, come into our lives with much romance and excitement. Eventually this is overshadowed by the sheer drudgery and weight of custodial care. You and your spouse have to agree on who’s turn it is to do dishes, and who gets to go into their office and shut the door for a few hours. Kids need custodial care the first few years, and emotional care forever. Pups and kittens sometimes seem to be a conduit of poop from another dimension. (Well. Human infants, too.) With art and career and writing come days of discouragement, missed deadlines, disgruntled gallery owners, difficult customers, sagging sales.

When everything goes wrong, we’re very quick to complain. We want to bail. We wonder if we made the right choices. And is a quickie Mexican divorce really that simple and inexpensive?

When I feel this way, I know it’s time to stop. Breathe. And think about what has to change.

Sometimes we really have barked up the wrong tree. (Dog pun. Sorry!) If everything about what we’re doing is draining our battery and never recharges, then maybe it’s time to consider a new direction.

Maybe we need to change our way of doing things. What’s worked for us in the past may need to be tweaked now. With teens, we learn to choose our battles. At shows, we find ways to streamline our set-up. With big puppies, more structure and containment is necessary.

Sometimes we just need to see beyond the poop for a moment. We need to stop and smell the roses. We must remember that the most fragrant and beautiful roses–antique roses–come with plenty of thorns. When the thorns prick us, that’s the time to slow down. And sniff.

Caring for these puppies transports me to the days when my children were young. It was a lot of work, but there was even more joy. Like children, these pups come into this world with a powerful need to be loved, and the desire to love in return. Both of these young ones will do almost anything to get that love. They learn to control their bowels and bladders (though it can feel like an eternity, as my teacher sister says, “They’re always potty trained by kindergarten.”) They learn not to chew on your favorite shoes, or use them for a Barbie bathtub.

In return, they teach you that it’s never a waste of time to sit quietly in the sun on a warm spring day, watching young things gambol and cavort in the new green grass.

They teach you that there is nothing quite so wonderful as a good belly laugh–from them, or from you. (And I swear those pups are laughing.)

They teach you that when you hold them in your arms, and they gaze at your with perfect knowledge they are safe and sound, and profoundly loved, there is no better balm in the world for a troubled heart.

So I’m grateful for the gift of these puppies today. They’re beautiful dogs, full of joy and hope, ready for their forever homes. They’ve given me peace in my heart. They’ve reminded me of what it means to be alive, to be in the world, with all its joy and beauty.

And all the poo that comes with it, of course.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t say you had to learn to love the smell of poo?

P.S. Jack and Gillie will soon be on their way to the Monadnock Humane Society in Swanzey, NH soon. Help spread the word!

Run, baby, run!

Jack and Gillie.

Jack, in perfect Potcake tail mode.