Dogs Are Almost Perfect, But…

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Dogs, like people, can be difficult to love sometimes. Every dog family has its dysfunction. It’s not nearly as bad as it can be in families that are all human, but, it can still be a trial.

I love all the dogs I dog-sit, but they are not without their quirks. One has a bark that, inside, is painful to the ears and I worry a little about damage to my hearing. There are too many FedEx trucks in the world! And why don’t mail delivery people just toss the mail from their vehicles as they pass the house. Why in the world do they need to storm the house like invading armies, the dog wonders.

All of them tend to scratch my arms because it seems I do not notice that it is time for someone to get an ear scratch. My skin is thin and  the blood blisters on my arms are not so attractive!  Usually a long sleeve sweater helps, but not always.

Another dog has terrible separation anxiety, maybe because his parents travel a lot and leave him or maybe he was born with that trait. Either way it can be heartbreaking to leave him even to go to the store for a little while. The panic in his eyes is painful to see. It’s worse when he freaks out and jumps like a whirling dervish—he is a big, strong boy and his nails on my back hurt.

Sometimes I can’t tell what my pups want. This must be what it is like with an infant who cries no matter how the parent tries to soothe them.

I take out the leash and say “Out?” He lies down and looks at me. Okay, not out. ”

“Chew thing?” Another blank look; it’s not that he doesn’t like chew things, he seems to be saying, but not this chew thing. He looks at me like I should know this by now. And actually I do, so why do I keep trying with that chew thing. Some of us never learn.

“Cookie?” That always get a positive reaction and all is right with the world. For about an hour. Then it’s time for ball tossing. This guy is very smart and has me trained. He looks up at the drawer in the bureau where the balls are kept and gives a slight bark. I get the ball. He is a talented ball player. I especially admire how when I throw the ball and he hits it back to me with his nose.

So I am trained by my dogs to be patient, to pay attention, to go out, to sit, and that’s just the truth!

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Meeko’s Tree

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Live Oaks are ubiquitous in Florida. Most people think of palm trees when they think of Florida, but the oaks are just as plentiful. I certainly didn’t expect to see such trees in here when I arrived from New England. Now that I’m a Floridian, I’ve fallen in love with them because of their grandeur and the yards of shade they provide. Only foolish developers reject the gift of cooling the trees offer. There are two in Meeko’s yard. It’s clear they have been here for many decades judging from their girth. Naturally, I try to hug them as any old hippie would, but  I cannot reach my arms around either one.

What I find interesting about Meeko’s trees  is how much they have stretched and bended to fit their environment. These two are remarkable in the way, over the years, they took on such  yoga-like postures. They have extended themselves six feet or more from their dense core, their branches–like small trees themselves–reaching over the roof. Yet they have not toppled and remain firmly rooted. How  is it they can stretch so deeply without crashing to the ground from the burden of their weight?

They reach for the sun of course, so here is more proof that the longing for life is powerful; a tree that is meant to stand upright decides, in this situation, it cannot. Here is intelligence embedded in bark. Here is proof that even these beings who seem so massive and rigid are not static. Here is the genius of adaptation. We are the only creatures that believe to be strong we must remain rigid when instead, we ought to bow in surrender to our conditions and grow in new directions.

Meeko

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If you came to this earth as thousands of cells that want the experience of  being an American Eskimo dog, you are snow-white and have a fan-like tail. In this form, you are alert to the smallest gnat that might fly by. Your ears stick straight up and open so no sound can get past you. You zoom around your big yard on dainty, thin legs and feet, but you are not a dainty soul. You are harsh with passers-by, especially other dogs, and bark in short bursts of passion.

Your favorite activity is watching. Your ears twitch, small black eyes search and scan the air, the ground. So, you love the outdoors where everything is happening, almost too much to take in. You love the outdoors so much that you leap into the air at the closed kitchen door until I open it.

I am dog sitting Meeko at the west end of St. Pete, near the beaches. I’ve been here once before, but not for long and this time I am here for another nine days. Meeko and I share the love of being outside and watching. Just watching. There is so much to see from the single spots we occupy, I on a beach chair in the yard, he in his favorite corner close to the street. Each moment has its own quality. Meeko and I know this. I feel the breeze move, cool and weightless at this time of year, refreshing. In a couple more months, the air will be heavier and damp. Then the breeze builds into a hefty wind that shakes the trees which make a swooshing sound while while the palm fronds sound like dry brooms along the floor. Three old-growth, twenty feet tall pines stand on one side of the yard, and an equally tall cypress, filled out with soft green needles, stands at another. In Meeko’s corner is an eight foot sawgrass palm that offers shade on his spot. The sunlight moves with the minutes to create new shadowy shapes  of tree branches and palm fronds on the surface of a round cement patio .

It’s a quiet street, barely a car passes. The minimal sounds of a plane passing overhead or an occasional car door closing do not disturb the meditative peace. . However, when school is out, the passing school boy will get an ear-full. Meeko chases him along the fence shouting frantically at him for taking this route. During my stay I will find out if this is a daily occurrence or if the boy took the hint.

It’s no surprise to me, but I do notice that I am not much of a house sitter because I do not want to be inside. When I return to the houses I dog sit  in after an errand or outing , I immediately head out the door. If I was unable to open it and someone was nearby, I would jump up and down like Meeko to be let out. That I’m sure of.

Snickers

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Snicker’s owner is one of the friends I dog sit for, other people I sit for are mostly acquaintances. My friend lives in a comfortable ranch-type house and there are many pictures on walls and tables of her grown children, her recently passed husband, their extended group of friends from up north where she lived a few years ago. She has been widowed for a year now and admirable for her acceptance of the loss and her grief. I feel the grief as well when I look at a picture of her husband. He was a warm, kind person and I miss him. His being is both palpably absent and at the same time present in some way. He was a couple of years younger than I am and now that I’m nearly 70, mortality has taken on a new, sharper reality.

Snickers and I meditate on the patio when I dog sit her. I sit in the chair opposite her and set the timer for half an hour. She is more enlightened than I so she gets up after two minutes and investigates the geckos, the grass, bugs that fly overhead.

My own meditation includes noticing that she brought me the red rubber kong to toss. First we must tug at it for a while. She is very strong and I let go soon, then let it fly.We do this a number of times. This is mindfulness of rubber tongs and tossing them. In between, I notice the scent of honeysuckle from the vine that climbs a trellis along the back of the patio. I listen to the mockingbird who is here every morning singing an aria of all bird calls. Next the sunlight on the treetops at the front of the house, and the Stop sign.

The Stop sign is a good message for me. I should make one to carry with me and pull it out every time I start worrying about old age and my poor finances. Stop. Breathe.

Breathe. I have to train myself to breathe. Buddhists stress it for good reason—most of us don’t notice how shallow our breath is, how often we hold our breath.  Stop and breath is a good mantra. Simplicity is always best. Simplicity is the doorway to the profound and I miss what is profound in the rush of my crowded, complex thoughts. Thoughts that tumble over each other, over and over until there is a huge tumbleweed of fear or doubt or illusion of some kind.

Snickers noses my knee to get my attention. She wants to climb into my lap, but she weights somewhere around 70 lbs, so I veto that. Later we will sit on the couch while I watch something on TV and she will lie half of her body on my lap. I will stroke her short, bristly fur and she will breath and then let out a long breath. And in this way we will stop for a sweet while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#2 Brutus at His Water Place

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Brutus lies under the table as I write. His front paws are crossed. I check his back legs and, sure enough they are crossed as well almost yoga-style.He is big and bulky but graceful.

Brutus is a slow, slow walker unless we are heading for the water.Then, he trots before me, pulling me along versus how I usually have to pull him along behind me.  Down the street, across a small bridge and through the neighborhood is a street that ends at the water’s edge. I sit on the cement wall or on the large broken pieces of concrete, avoiding the pile of dark green, soaked seaweed–unless he finds a ball–and then I sink in, figuring I can dry my “walking” shoes in the sun on the patio.

He climbs down the crumbled pavement into the water and walks out until  water covers his belly, then he stops.  And  stands there… That’s the whole of his activity during our stay. He stands in the water gazing out into the bay, occasionally turning his big eyes back to check on me.  I imagine he stands there because he enjoys cooling his belly–this is Florida, after all and cold days are possible in January, but rare. Probably he loves all the scents of the bay. I know how seaweed smells, akin to rotting spinach, but I wonder how salt water smells. Does salt have a scent? Likely, Brutus would say it absolutely does and why would I even ask such a thing?

Sometimes, before he enters the bay to stand, he finds a tennis ball sitting in the seaweed bed, enjoys chewing for a while and then glance at me to tell me I should throw it. Now, I “hear ” him tell me he is ready for me to throw the ball. And, of course I do. He moves quickly– for Brutus–and charges into the water swimming for the ball.Here is one of those times I am sure of our communication. He speaks to me through his eyes. How does that work, I wonder? Why can we hear so much without using words? Certainly we do this with people also. We hear this way always with animals. I realize that another reason for my love of animals is the silence between us. It is companionable and void of all agendas. We can also experience this with people, but it is likely only in the most special relationships, and not a matter of course. Presence. Pure presence we offer to each other at those times with animal or human. Precious, rare presence.

Our culture is starting to acknowledge the communication abilities and intelligence of c of animals. I feel the shift  of attitude personally as I pay more attention to signals the dogs and cats send me via body language or eye contact, by barks or by mews. Even I, the animal lover all my life, followed the old school ignorance about animals before–‘he or she is just a dog, bird, cat, elephant…” Ugh. I am grateful we are waking up to understanding our fellow sentiment beings. St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, had it right, Buddhism has it right in its plea to not kill any living being.

 

 

 

 

 

Poem by Pablo Neruda

KEEPING QUIET
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.