Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Perfect Dog

At one point, Nicky and I considered what we wanted if we were ever to adopt a dog. Because we have physical disabilities, we wanted a dog that was not large and would not pull excessively. We weren't sure if our cats would take to a dog, so we considered getting a dog that could spend time outdoors. (This is something we would no longer consider after what we now know about dogs that spend too little time socializing with their people!)

I liked the long haired dogs, just as I prefer the long-haired cats -- and so, of course, we have three short-haired, one medium-haired and one long-haired cat. I had fallen in love with Kirby (Loteki's Supernatural Being) the diminutive Papillion who won Westminster Best in Show in the late 1990s. Nicky had had a Cocker Spaniel when she was growing up.

Then we found Eve. We didn't choose her. We didn't spend hours agonizing over whether she would be the right dog for us or temperamentally suited to us. We didn't know if she would get along with cats -- and she was the ugliest dog we had ever seen! She was also dying of starvation and was too weak to walk very far on her own.

She needed us -- and that, for us, became our definition of the "perfect dog." She learned to get along with the cats -- she still lives in fear of Mu Mu, but Yin Yang is her "puppy." She pulls way too much for us but she has tracked down and eaten three gentle leader collars -- to the point of finding them in drawers and getting them out and destroying them.

For goodness' sake, she's a HOUND! A big, galumphy, 60 pound brindle lady with a bawl, chop and bay that sound like a set of mezzo-soprano bells ringing out in the valley (if she's outside) or echoing in my head, if she's in my face and wants me to get out of bed and either feed her or let her out!


Honestly, though, there are fewer prettier sounds than her howl. She is alive and healthy and confident. She loves sitting or lying on the couch with us to watch television. She sleeps in the bed with me or lies at my feet. When Nicky is not feeling well, Eve is there to put her chin on Nicky's leg as they lie on the couch.

She is recovering from her fear of thunderstorms -- instead of making her "go away" in her head and shake like she has a fever, she now either lies on the bed with me and goes to sleep during thunderstorms or she goes into my closet, where she almost fits, and lies down to sleep in the dark.

In other words, she is the perfect dog -- and we had nothing to do with choosing her. All we had to do was say yes to her when we found her.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Cesar Millan Helped Me Help Dogs!

A lot of people have a lot to say about Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. Many people criticize him, saying his methods are out-dated and that he uses punitive techniques to change the behavior of an animal. I want to say from the beginning that I think Cesar Millan is the best thing that has happened to dogs in a long time -- maybe since Barbara Woodhouse told us that there were "no bad dogs" or since the Monks of New Skeet taught us "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend."

This is the first of many posts talking about Cesar. Right now it is very very late at night -- early morning -- and I have not been to bed. An upper respiratory cold/infection has kept me out of it most days and I have been spending a lot of time sleeping and just feeling miserable. Thankfully, I have one large Plott Hound sharing the bed on one side of me and a large (for his species) black long-haired cat lying between me and the edge of the bed! Now, Eve and Mu Mu don't really get along -- Mu Mu is so bonded to me and so jealous of any other critter that comes between me and him that he automatically gets his alpha up and running! (and, yes, Virginia, cats DO form bonds with people!)

The thing I like most about Cesar has nothing to do with techniques -- and everything to do with his encouragement of calm assertiveness. It's this attitude that allows me to become like the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China while I lie between Eve and Mu Mu without fearing that something fur-flying will erupt on top of me! I cultivate a calm attitude, trying to project my peaceful energy to both animals so they will mimic my calmness.

Cesar says that animals are our mirrors. They pick up on our energy and reflect it back to us. I have seen this in action. My high stress and anxiety attacks have made Mu Mu, who is my emotional sponge, sick -- requiring valium (diazepam) to de-stress him so that he wouldn't have urinary blockages!

There are so many aspects of Cesar's philosophy and techniques that I like. Some of his methods I simply can't use -- either because I don't possess the physical strength or because I can't do something as simple as snap my fingers convincingly (arthritis)! But I can let my animals know that I am their pack leader and that they don't have to shoulder that burden -- and yes, cats want to be pack leaders too, sometimes -- at least my Mu Mu does. I can try to live in the now and not worry about whether or not Eve is hanging on to the baggage of her suffering before we found her. I know that she's simply basking in the comfort of couches with warm blankees when she's cold, good food twice a day, treats when she comes indoors and praise for learning new tricks.

In short, Cesar has given me the confidence to believe that I can bring stability to the lives of my animals -- and that goes a long way to answering any negatives people who don't "get" him may express.

So, I hope I can post again sooner than my last post. Maybe someone will even read me sometime! :)

Jackie, Eve, and the Cat Pack