|My sister and mom made this photo set of my beloved Finn and my sweetheart Gavin. I see it every morning when I wake. It’s my reminder of why I do what I do. I love walks, specifically with my dog.|
My lug, my Finn, created that love. His endless energy, adventurous spirit, and into-everything-naughtiness inspired me to walk him, A LOT. It was bonding time, great exercise, and I noticed my mind was clearer and calmer after our strolls. One night, we were attacked by two dogs who pulled their person across the street to fight Finn. It was noisy, scary, and heartbreaking. Fortunately, we were both physically unscathed, but our walks changed. Finn was scared (for a good reason) and began barking and lunging at every dog we saw, even from blocks away.
I wanted to help him, to ease his stress, so I began calling trainers. One trainer told me that he could completely fix Finn’s reactivity with a shock collar. I knew absolutely nothing about training, but I knew I didn’t want to shock my dog so, I continued searching. After finding the trainer who helped me rebuild Finn’s confidence, my love also grew for my mischievous, brilliant dog. That’s when I fell into dog training.
After Finn peacefully passed, it took me a few months to feel ready to love another dog. When I rescued Gavin, my only two requirements were that he liked walks and was older than two years. Well, Gavin’s insatiable love for humans fooled me during our meet-and-greet into thinking that he loved walks. He loved meeting me and was happy to accompany me because I was new and novel. However, I learned quickly that Gavin was easily frustrated on walks, wasn’t food motivated at all, and was only six months old.
I tried every smelly dog treat I could find. I spent countless hours cutting up various cheeses, hot dogs, meatballs, deli meat, and more. My hands were always greasy. I ruined clothes. And, still, Gavin refused to eat treats when we were outside.
That’s when I began concocting Bark Pouch blends. I wanted Gavin to feel confident on walks, despite his sound sensitivity. And, for his safety, I wanted him to learn to walk on a loose leash happily and as easily as possible.
My walks with Gavin look very different from Finn’s walks, but looking down at his beautiful chocolate brown eyes while he smiles up at me, trotting along, brings me so much joy and peace.
And, my wish for you is that your walks with your dogs—no matter what stage your training—delight you in some way.
My heart hurts when I read about violence, natural disasters, and strife affecting too many people worldwide. I feel frivolous. I want to do more, give more, and be more to this world than what I’m doing now. I’m sad for so many people who abruptly and brutally lose their lives. And I’m sorry for those mourning their loved ones and those attempting to recover from destruction and deprivation.
I’m not a news or political expert. I’m just a dog trainer turned treat maker. But, when I close my laptop for the umpteenth time in a day because the hatred overwhelms me, I think about dogs and why we love them—their presence, loyalty, and unconditional love. I can’t help but wonder if dogs might be able to teach us to be better humans.
Approach every moment with zeal
When Gavin plays fetch, he’s not thinking about what he’s eating for dinner, worrying about his next veterinary check-up, or wondering what time we’re leaving the park so he can wiggle and jiggle for my brother. Not much interrupts Gavin’s beauty rest, except when he hears the click of UNCLE CHRIS’s key in the door. No matter how deep he’s sleeping or loud he’s snore-humming, under the covers, Lil’ Big Head jumps into the air like a rocket and races down the stairs as his tail whip-whaps the walls before he grabs a shoe and dances a circle around one of his most favorite humans.
Our dogs approach everything they love with all their heart, energy, and attention. Gavin exudes joy as he eagerly waits for me to throw his ball and sprints towards it with laser focus, then clumsily tries to grab the ball as it bounces off the swingset and catapults in the opposite direction. He’s incapable of reminiscing about a park we visited when he was a puppy and planning for his future. Gavin’s smiling, running, and totally into his fetch game—that’s it.
If I watch the sunset without checking my phone, it won’t change the world. However, mentally oohing and ahhing about the beautiful horizon as it shifts from bursts of peach and turquoise to a watercolor masterpiece of deep lavender and magenta will bring me more peace if I spent the same time scanning volatile debates on social media.
Be a shoulder
Dogs are always there—like a good friend who doesn’t just say “let me know if you need anything” but shows up on your doorstep, with a knowing look and a box of tissues. If I’m happy, confused, tired, or overwhelmed, Gavin, is ready to lean on or be the leaner. Lil’ Big Head will soothe the world’s worries by lean-laying all 60 pounds of himself against any willing snuggler.
Gavin listens, without agenda, comment, opinion, answers, or judgment. As a dog, he can’t tell me I’m ludicrous when I’m babbling about who knows what. However, maybe I’m meant to learn a lesson from his silence—to be a better listener—without chiming in, without waiting my turn to speak, and without fixing (oh, we retired trainers love fixing stuff.)
Lil’ Big Head inspires me to be the person who exudes Oprah Winfrey‘s famous phrase, “I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.”
When dogs scuffle, they’re quickly (usually) over their strife and onto more important matters like napping, eating, or playing. It’s easy to become preoccupied with the troubles of the world. However, if worry and stress consume us, we miss real opportunities to connect with our fellow humans in real-life.
Holding the door open at the drugstore for a stranger or waving another driver in front of me while I wait in traffic certainly doesn’t undo catastrophic events or horrible tragedy but reminds me that we’re all in this together. When I have to decide whether to run to the grocery or put it off another day and donate blood—I hope I make the right choice (however small).
Gavin and I were out for our morning walk. And, across the street, I caught a glimpse of a gentleman I have schlepped past almost every morning since I moved to my neighborhood. He was standing stoic and confused on the sidewalk. I watched as my neighbor unsuccessfully tried to take the leash out of the projectile puppy’s mouth. We usually waved and offered a “good morning” to one another. But, this morning, he did not see me to exchange our normal pleasantries. And, I could see the disconnect. This was a new relationship for the man, not the big, golden dog I watched swagger next to him for six years. However, for the I-love-everyone puppy, the formidable connection was already flourishing as the black-four-legged-wiggle-machine merrily bounced off the sidewalk like the pavement was a trampoline.
And, I felt the anchor of loss mow down my heart. I stood in that very spot three and a half years ago, bewildered by Gavin. We know we can never, nor would we try, replace our first love. We never fell. We were just instantly head-over-heels for our first dog. There was never a question that the perfect combination of adorable and cantankerous in canine form was meant to be with us. And, unlike loving a human, we had no fear of rejection. There was no anxiety that we would not live up to their expectations.
But, we worried. Our first love coughed, we ran to the vet. Our first love broke out of our friend’s backyard while we were away, and though, thankfully, he was safe—we never asked that friend to care for our pup again. Our first love split a toenail. We ran to the vet again. And, oh, the things our first love taught us. Responsibility, real, true accountability for another creature’s life, well being, comfort, and joy. We learned patience. The kind of fortitude we always admired in mothers who seemed so serene and relaxed while tending to their screaming children at the grocery store. And, most of all, our first love taught us about unconditional infatuation, simple joys, and why it is imperative to our mental and physical health to play EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
We know in our heads we are ready to love another dog, for who they are. But, our hearts take some time. No one told me.
When I brought Gavin home, I liked him. I wanted to make sure Lil’ Big Head never hurt, that he felt safe and loved in his new home. I felt I was as ready as I could be to live with a dog who was not my Finn. But, when my sister kept asking me, “are you in love with Gavin?” I felt the weight. I was not in love yet. It took time, experiences, and a lot of moments where one of us stumbled and I had to figure out what was best for Lil’ Big Head. And, for me. Together.
As much as I still and will always miss Finn, I can’t imagine my life without my Gavin. I tell him how lucky he is that Finn was so wonderful at teaching me patience. And, when I see someone stuck on the street, not sure what to do with a ricocheting fur ball. I’ll have compassion. Maybe the person is mourning a tremendous loss while trying to figure out new routines and how to give the best life to a dog he has yet to fall for, yet.
Finn gave me this glorious gift, an appreciation for the sweet, twittering conversations of birds fluttering from limb to limb. I glance down to see Lil’ Big Head’s glistening amber-hazelnut eyes before his nose tugs him to investigate the myriad of smells left behind from squirrels, school children, and other dogs on one blade of grass, over there. Gavin must get to that particular stalk.
And, my attention is drawn to the understated beauty of nature waking up from winter, stark, ashen tree limbs punctuated by cashmere puffs lazily rolling across the crystal blue sky.
As I look back to Gavin, I think of how amazing it would be to watch, listen, and observe our dogs without the need to change anything. If we’re open, there may be a valuable lesson that our dogs can teach us when we stop putting pressure on our pups to be better, better, and better.
Slow down. An all too familiar scene in my house is Gavin stretched out on the daybed in my sunroom, occasionally drifting out of sleep to watch me stumble off my yoga mat from an attempted headstand or slay the heinous dragon, the vacuum cleaner. The latter, a job Gavin took very seriously when he first came home. Sometimes, Lil’ Big Head just looks at me with his eternal-puppy-face and copper-bedroom-eyes. I’m a sucker. I can’t resist my dog.
I often stop what I am doing to snuggle with him for just a minute. Then, an hour later, my arm’s asleep because Gavin’s giant head has been resting there while I rubbed his belly and indulged in a good book. I always resume my day with a clearer head, restored attitude, and deeper compassion when I stop and hang out with my dog, rather than racing around to complete chores that will inevitably need repeated tomorrow.
Let them be. When we focus on training our dogs, especially in distracting environments, we’re constantly talking and flailing about. Our dogs are already on sensory overload with the sights, smells, and sounds that we’re constantly competing with as we utter over and over, “leave it, leave it, leave it.” So, adding to the noise can be particularly overwhelming to our pups. And exhausting for us.
In a safe space, watch your dog.
Does sniffing every blade of grass on the parkway make his tail wag with such enthusiasm that his butt wiggles too? Does a glance, even a few feet away, of a person walking past make him smile so bright that you’re reminded those big teeth could bite and hurt you, but they don’t. And, you’re grateful. Does walking faster, a little bit ahead of you, but safely and not on a tight leash, make your pup prance so gleefully that you feel a giant smile growing across your face?
Breaks are good and incredibly valuable for training and to your relationship.
One of Gavin’s greatest joys is to sit on my lap at the park with both of his Chuck-It balls in his mouth and watch the world go. With Finn, I learned to appreciate the walk, walk, walk. But, those moments in the park where I’m doing absolutely nothing, Gavin, rejuvenate me. And, when I need to help Lil’ Big Head through a moment of worry, I’m ready because I stopped for a moment to rest.
We all want our dogs to be well-behaved. Teaching them what to do is extremely important for their safety and ensuring we all enjoy an amazing quality of life together.
But, sometimes, if we listen to them, we might find a new greatest joy in life. My cuddly, lazy dog has certainly taught me to slow down. And, I’m thankful.
It’s no secret. We have a soft spot for senior dogs. And, puppies. Well, and any dog in between.
Anyone who’s blessed to share their life with a senior dog knows there’s a language, a secret code, that you develop with each other over the years—a vernacular that no one else in the world understands.
And, the fantastic four-legged soul who’s rested their beautiful head on your lap during so many of life’s ups and downs has taught you important life lessons like compassion, patient, and responsibility.
Senior dogs are special. They’ve seen your worst bad hair days and still love you.
Some distinguished dogs would love sharing their homes zippy puppies. However, for some aging animals, it can be the worst decision for you and your dog. Read on for necessary do’s and don’ts to assure you give your salt ‘n’ pepper pooch precisely what he deserves during his precious twilight years.
Do’s of Doing Right By Your Senior Dog
Sometimes folks consider a puppy because their senior dog is mourning the loss of his canine companion.
Please accept our sincerest empathy tears. The infinite gorge left in our hearts when our revered dog leaves this world is a wound many of us know too well. And, we’d not wish that anguish on our dear, sweet dogs who often display grief by becoming despondent and disengaged.
Only consider introducing a new furry friend if your dog has had other doggie friends besides the darling dog he’s grieving. Some dogs have one or two canine pals in their entire life, and that’s it. So, be kind to yourself and your sad sweetie, really think about whether a dog with a completely different personality and energy level would be a welcome addition to your home.
Consider adopting an older dog.
Not only are many rescue dogs VERY dog friendly, but adult dogs have very different ideas of how rough and how long a play session should last than a five-month-old-pup does. And, while we absolutely respect responsible breeders, many are too far away to allow your resident canine a chance to meet his new roommate until the day the puppy comes home.
All the rescue organizations we work with require a meet ‘n’ greet to assure it’s a canine match made in heaven for BOTH dogs. And, who knows, you might even meet a mutt who makes you fall in love with a different breed or mix of breeds, even if you’ve always been drawn to one type of dog.
Give the puppy lots of crate time so your older dog can rest.
Even if both dogs are grinning, play bowing, and continually pressing the start button on spirited play sessions, your older dog will be very happy with some down time. To prevent the puppy from fussing because he’d prefer to play 24 hours a day, give him a Kong with a super scrumptious filling, in his crate. Just be sure your senior dog gets a brimming Kong too, in another space, to prevent scuffles over resources.
Set up training sessions to teach the puppy to respect the older dog’s space and to give both dogs the opportunity to learn that it’s FUN to share attention.
Relying on everyday situations and habits to create the relationship you want between your two best friends can easily backfire. Teaching ‘wait’ and ‘gentle’ with LOW-VALUE TREATS, practicing attention, and rewarding for not bombarding each others’ space, is vital and will pay off for years to come.
Spend one on one time with your senior dog.
Puppies are so stinkin’ cute. But, don’t let the shiny new whirling dervish steal every second of your attention. We don’t mean to sound drippy. But, every day with your senior dog should be considered a blessing. Make time for an activity that he LOVES. And, enjoy it sans puppy. Your grey-faced love bug will smile from ear to ear to have you all to himself and not be pummeled by a puppy while you massage tender muscles.
Keep up with your senior dog’s feeding and pottying routines.
Yes, it’s hard to adhere to an exhausting puppy potty training schedule. But, your dear senior’s behavior and good habits can go completely awry if you also try to change his schedule to meet the puppy’s needs. Older dogs can develop new anxieties due to loss of senses and other bodily changes. And, change can exacerbate stress. Adding a puppy is a HUGE transition for your distinguished dog and tossing other alterations at him can wreak havoc on his comfort and sense of security.
Hire a trainer.
There are complex hierarchies that develop between two dogs and can rapidly change as the puppy matures. A qualified, positive training and behavior consultant can observe the relationship and coach you through the nuances of the dogs’ interactions to help prevent nasty fights that can have serious detrimental effects on both dogs’ behavior and well being.
Don’t Let Down Your Senior Dog, Here’s How:
You can’t expect an older dog to correct your new puppy for naughty behaviors.
Your adorable puppy will learn loads of information, good and bad, from your cherished senior dog. But, many elderly animals don’t have the personality nor the desire to show a puppy the ropes, let alone be interested in defending themselves against raging puppy teeth for hours on end. We’ve met many sweet senior dogs who gently avoid the puppy’s NEVER ENDING need to PLAY PLAY PLAY. But, the instant the human intervenes and gives the puppy some downtime, the senior dog flops onto the floor into doggie dreamland. Just because your dog isn’t growling at your puppy doesn’t mean he’s having fun.
If the sole reason to bring home another dog is to make your senior dog’s impending passing more comfortable for you, please reconsider.
The thought of making the tough choice to give our senior dog a peaceful passing can suck the life out of us mere humans. And, the dread and anguish are often almost unbearable. But, if you’re preparing yourself for this day, it’s likely your senior dog is coping with major medical issues or struggling to get around. Please, don’t take your attention away from your senior dog is his last days. Your elderly dog deserves to sleep without feeling puppy teeth gnawing on his ear and to mosey along as slow as he needs to on walks, without enduring a four-legged throttle machine every two steps.
Never let your puppy torture your senior dog.
We’ve mentioned this before but, puppies have an endless desire to play, and when your ankles are not beet red due to relentless, razor-sharp-puppy teeth, it’s way too easy to miss that your resident canine is miserable. Remember, your treasured, grey-faced buttercup has had many moments, if not years, without a puppy stealing their food or grabbing their neck 23 hours a day. Please give the new puppy LOTS of downtime.
If your senior dog is dog-aggressive, please rethink bringing home a puppy. Or engage a positive trainer ASAP.
Sometimes, very well-meaning folks decide that a young puppy would be best for dogs who’ve never really liked other dogs. Super young puppies can be VERY appealing to introduce to a less-than-social-older dog. They ooze and melt where ever they go—so sweet and hard to resist. But, one quick growl (or worse) can behaviorally wound a puppy for the remainder of his life. And, as the puppy grows older and becomes more independent and curious, he may decide that stealing a toy is more important than heeding to a snarl. Things can get very scary, very quickly. It’s well worth the investment to hire a trainer BEFORE even considering bringing home a puppy to ensure you make a peaceful pairing.
Ixnay on the “sit” for your senior dog.
Most folks like to start obedience or tricks with new puppies, and we highly encourage positive training. But, sitting over and over again can make a senior dog’s nagging knees and creaky joints super painful. Encourage both dogs to join in training. But, have your elderly dog do something kinder to his joints like “touch” or simple attention. Then, be very clear when saying “sit” that you’re asking the puppy, not both dogs. This will help your sweet senior know he’s still doing right by you and not adding pressure to comply with behavior his aging body just can’t handle any longer.
We hope these tips were helpful to keep your senior dog sane and help your puppy learn boundaries, so everyone in the house enjoys each other as much as possible. We’ve met many amazing senior and puppy pairs over the years who adore each other. Please consider the above advice to assure a new puppy or dog is the right fit for you, your home, and your spectacular senior dog.
Two days before Christmas, I felt every jagged rock under my boot as I tried catching my breath.
My nephew, Isaac, was racing ahead. His long legs moved effortlessly up the steep incline. Gavin was captivated by fluttering leaves, squirrels springing from limb to limb and trees, glorious trees. My brother, Chris, and I chatted about dating and marveled at the unseasonably warm weather. It was 60 degrees in December, and my sweet Lil’ Big Head was the only one in our foursome sporting a sweatshirt.
When we reached the peak, the sight of downtown Lancaster stretched out before us. We all stopped to take in our togetherness.
Then, I joined Isaac while he searched through rocks—glittery pastel pink clumps, deep grey, slate discs with white marble-like streaks running through them, and large pebbles sandy and gritty on one side, smooth as window glass on the other side. The rush of finding treasure in the dirt was an exhilarating endeavor I’d not enjoyed since I was a kid. I unconsciously smiled while I waited, with anticipation to see if each archaeological discovery ranked high enough for Isaac to place in his pocket,
As always, Gavin was attached to my hip, sniffing every speck that Isaac or I grabbed with our growing-more-grimy hands.
Isaac bounced up from his crouched, mining position and charged over the mossy slopes to show Chris all of our gems. I watched my nephew’s eyes radiate with joy and pride when his father, my brother, inspected every stone like each was the most precious item he’d ever touched.
Us humans took turns, pointing out hearts. They were everywhere as we descended the Midwest’s version of a mountain. At the same time, Gavin showed off his best scrunchie-face, wiggle-jiggle, tail-whack-in-the-butt dance for every other two-legged creature who chose fresh air over the mall music that day.
As we all often do when another year passes, I’m reflecting on the past 365 days. I’m thinking about who I want to be and how I want to spend my time in the next twelve months. For me, spending a day immersed in and absorbing nature with my tree-climbing perfect pittie Gavin and two of my favorite dudes in the world is definitely on the calendar.
Laughing so hard I was snorting and spitting at my mother’s crass but, obliviously innocent drawing of a cactus during a game of Pictionary, yep, family game nights, high on the list for next year.
And, looking into the eyes of my beautiful group of friends who surrounded me on my birthday—some sniffling and sneezing through the toast, some who rolled into town for the sole purpose of celebrating my special day, all of them by my side for more than 15 years—I can’t wait to do the same for them.
That’s my resolution, to be there, REALLY there, the way my nephew, my Finn, my Gavin, and dear, grey-faced, chocolate Buddy instinctively have always known how to be.
I’m blessed to know Buddy because of my family’s dearest friend, Lynn. She’s a selfless, big-hearted nurse who lived with and helped care for my stepfather in his final months.
Lynn’s a gem, an inspiration, and one of those people who reminds me of the importance of listening with my ears, eyes, and whole heart when someone I love is speaking. May we all reach out to the Lynns in our world more often. May we be moved to pick up a phone rather than comment online when a friend needs it.
And, may we all learn from our dogs, who stop to smell the flowers whenever the mood strikes them.
Closure. I was not sure there was going to be an official end and even less convinced it would give me the warm fuzzy, sky seems brighter, birds chirping louder and more joyous feeling that I was hoping would wash over me. But, I drove 400 miles, my GPS guiding me through small towns and gorgeous landscapes that trumped the straight shot of dingy highway; filled with speeding semi trucks that I had taken for the past 15 years from Ohio. And, I needed it. I yearned not to be on auto pilot and experience the thrill of a road trip; like I did so many times as a little girl, next to my Nanny who always stopped for smiley face pancakes. She knew they were my favorite. I was craving the time to cry and reflect on my amazing grandmother’s life, to mourn for myself and who she was to me; even if I was a bit grumpy about the fact that I came home to Chicago a day earlier than I had planned to attend court for the dogs who attacked Gavin and I.
As I stood in line, waiting for my bag to be scanned; I knew the last place I wanted to be was standing behind someone who could very likely have been the guardian of the dogs who attacked us. The intense security system gave me no sense of relief; the Chicago court house is a dismal, weird place to be on a Monday afternoon. It was almost time. I was about to see the man who neglected to keep his dogs in the yard and who changed what walks were to me, meditation with my dog. Hopefully, not forever. I envisioned a Judge Judy episode, I was not ready. My heart had so much fight in it, for my Gavin. But, I was tired, sad, and certain I shared the same misplaced look that I saw in the faces surrounding me. Everyone turned their head, then immediately went back to staring into space or tapping their heel when my name was called.
The prosecutor seemed surprised when I told her one of the dogs bit both Gavin and I, many times. And, that the whole experience was frighteningly brutal. I could feel the fury stirring in every ounce of my body when she pronounced that the police officer who took our report neglected to put the word “bite” ANYWHERE on the citations. How was that possible? She saw Gavin’s battered body, she remarked on the growing purple bulge on my left hand. And, rather than standing at a podium pleading my case, the lawyers in the tiny room who seemed overwhelmed and extremely overworked had no more to say, but, for me to take a seat again. And, wait.
Then, I watched him, the man, walk in to meet the same trying-to-be pleasant, young woman I just spoke to. I could barely look at him; I thought I would want to berate him. But, instead, I was afraid of him and could not bring myself to look into his eyes; and I am not sure why he scared me so much. He seemed young, nervous, and his head hung repentantly low. The prosecutor sent him back to standby on the long, bulky wooden benches and called me in. It was like some of sort of ping pong game. Though, without the fun. She said the attacker’s guardian did not mention anything about inflicted bites. Well, duh, a button down shirt and dress slacks are not the sole ingredients for a person to be painfully honest. She further shared, that the situation was more complex because the tall, dark haired man who cared enough to attend the hearing was guardian to only one of the dogs, his sister was a no show. And, because I still had no idea which dog ferociously charged and wounded us; I would need to take yet another day off the following week to assure her citation was not tossed out.
After more waiting and more watching and more wishing that I was anywhere but sitting in that court room; I was called in one last time. The prosecutor told me she was going to enforce the $340 ticket to the gentleman. But, she was not going to pursue any financial reimbursement for my medical bills, Gavin’s veterinary care nor any of my lost wages. I thought for a second about looking into the bills on my own. But, decided that the risk of giving my address and phone number to the people who I reported to the police and pursued dangerous dog labels for their barbarians was not worth it to me. Despite the pain of it all, I was so touched that all my clients who I had to reschedule their sessions during the whole ordeal were so lovely and supportive; true dog lovers are the best!
A few days later, remarkably jittery, I dialed the number of the inspector who came to the house to take our Dangerous Dog Report after me stalking Animal Care and Control for days; to the point I was sure I was on a “Do Not Pick Up” list posted in everyone’s work space. I could not imagine what his job is like nor the horrors he sees every day but he kindly informed me that due to the severity of Gavin’s attack, he did deem both dogs as dangerous. And, five days later, I received copies of the letters with detailed regulations requiring both brother and sister to comply so those dogs NEVER get out of their yard again.
And, I felt peace, for the first time in over a month.
It has now been five months since we were attacked and I was pulling onto my street on the most amazing 70 degree Monday in November; beaming with excitement that a couple of hours unexpectedly freed up in my day and I was going to enjoy a long walk with Gavin. The sun was shining so beautifully through the rustling leaves, just like the morning we were attacked when I saw HIM. THE GUY. His unconcerned face is etched in my mind forever and even at a distance; the breed, the gait, the size of the dog was undeniably recognizable. As I rounded the corner, I was certain it was them and the muzzle on the dog’s face did not ease the nausea bubbling in my belly as I watched the leash dangle, so casually from his hand. The human was not looking over his shoulder, overtly aware of any dogs within blocks of where he was walking; he looked so mellow that I was nervous to take Gavin outside. So, we waited.
When I finally mustered the courage to enjoy the gorgeous day, I took Gavin to Gompers Park; our pictesque walk that happened to also be as far as possible from where I knew the attacker and his person were headed. Though my heart was racing like a sleek sports car and I was chanting to myself, “don’t let him ruin your walk”; I was heading to my sanctuary. I had re-fueled my spirit for five years along the winding paved path that surrounded the Chicago River; marveling at the trees, chuckling at squirrels and listening to birds chirp in unison and with such harmony that it always stripped the tension of traffic, technology and sometimes, the very emotional situations that I am brought in to help make better. Exiting the park, I have always felt taller, my heart lighter, and my compassion and intuition restored for those who need me most. We sat in our typical spot, Gavin acting like less of a twirp about not being able to chase trees anymore. And me, thinking of the church bells that I heard once, and only once, when Finn whispered his last breath in the very place I was sitting upon a mound of leaves I hand raked into a makeshift seat cushion so my pants would stay dry.
As I sat next to Lil’ Big Head, feeling his tail whack my spine with delight whenever he spotted a person; wiggling and play growling and bowing as they laughed at the ridiculous way he holds both Chuck-It balls sideways in his mouth, at all times. I was so at peace. Though worry propelled me in the direction I chose to walk Lil’ Big Head; I was overcome with appreciation for the time I was given that afternoon and the calm that enveloped me knowing there was nowhere else I would have rather been than listening to the sun-bleached leaves crunch under Gavin’s paws as he dove for his balls, over and over again. And, I looked around at the marvelous color cornucopia of leaves: honey-crisp apple, chartreuse, deep maroon dipped in neon green that punctuated the lone, almost naked tree; with one leaf flickering, holding tightly onto a branch that has obviously been beaten, battered and survived many storms over the years. The sun’s rays toasted my sunscreened cheeks so much that I felt tears begin to gush down my face. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me that I could not help but think of my Finn, Jim, Nanny; three spectacular beings who have shaped my life and will always matter so much to me. Three enormous losses, three years in a row. I was not sure if I was crying because I missed them terribly or if I was grateful that they were in my life, or both. But, I needed the release as much as my soul was thirsty to drink in the fresh air. And, when Gavin and I started the lingering road home, I felt safe again. Hopefully, for a long time.
It was 63 degrees and the sun’s rays were peeking through the emerald green leaves like sparkly bands. The breeze was just a whisper and my sweet little Gavin was attached to my hip; trotting along on a perfect Tuesday morning. The first weeks of summer are oddly quiet; usually Lil’ Big Head wiggles, jiggles and squirms with his best “I don’t know you, but, I love you” dance just HOPING one of the school children will stop to pet him. I remember thinking how grateful I was that I gave myself a little extra time that morning to enjoy our walk.
Then, I heard or I felt from behind; a half block away, something. I turned around. And, I saw two dogs racing out of the alley. Every angle of their bodies and the intense glare on their faces told me that the GIANT dogs were gunning for Gavin, not me. I stood as tall as I possibly could while silently begging, “please, don’t kill him”. I leaned forward and shouted “Go! Go! Go!” Then, bam! One of the dogs bit Gavin on his left shoulder. I was able to pull him off of my helpless Pit Bull who was laying on the ground, like a threatless pancake. And again, chomp! I could see the dog’s teeth sinking into Gavin’s left hip. Every time I pulled the dog away, he came back at Gavin, and harder. No one was around as I heard words come out of my mouth that I would never normally utter. Again and again, one dog kept biting Gavin while the other dog stood back and barked, seemingly like he was egging on the assailant. I was terror-stricken and had an atrocious, powerless feeling that my dog was going to get severely hurt, or worse. And, my entire body burned with rage and despair.
Finally, a woman came to our rescue after I’d been yelling, “SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME!” She kicked the dog to attempt to get him away and still, the dog kept coming back to bite Gavin. The nice stranger tripped as she tried her best to help us and fell to ground, knocking me down with her. At that point, I was in better position to try again myself to get the dog off of Gavin. So I pryed his teeth off my boy’s shiny black coat and the dog chomped down on my hand. A man ran up to our hapless group who was no match for this one dog and he successfully yanked the dog away and held his collar. But, the dog was not giving up and broke free to again, brutalize Gavin. It took yet another man to finally restrain the dog who, with every bite, was sinking his teeth deeper into Gavin’s defenseless body and at that point, starting to shake his head when he clamped down. I thought the dog was going to kill Gavin if we did not get him away from us. The two gentlemen held onto the dog and we hobbled away as fast as we could while I apologized to the kind woman who also got hurt trying to save Lil’ Big Head.
The whole walk back to our house, my hands were shaking; I was crying and I was looking down at Gavin to see how badly he was hurt. But, I wanted to get him to the safety of our house as quickly as possible. I felt so vulnerable and exposed while we were still outside; mere blocks from a dog who relentlessly kept biting my dog. When we arrived home, I looked Gavin over and based on the number of welts, scratches and punctures on his muscly frame; I would estimate the dog bit him at least 30 times. I took a deep breath before I called our veterinarian, knowing, that for as long and as many times as that dog attacked my dog, the physical damage could have been so much worse. The vet was opening in 30 minutes which I knew we could wait. And, it gave me time to call 311 to report the blitz of teeth and growls. I needed to know those dogs were not still terrorizing the neighborhood before I opened my front door to get my battered boy to the car. And, I sat on hold, for 30 minutes while I kept checking Gavin’s wounds. Then, after another 15 minutes, waited again with no success to speak to someone at 911. After I knocked on my neighbor’s door to see if they could sit with Gavin, I left him at home; where I knew he was safe and walked down the street. My coffee cup was laying on the ground; and there were dirty paw prints smeared on the sidewalk, punctuated with little drops of blood.
I walked to the alley where I thought the dogs had come from and saw one of them in a backyard; and was relieved to see a police officer standing in the front yard when I circled to investigate more. If I had been in the offending dog guardian’s shoes; I would have apologized profusely, asked what happened and pretty much offered anything they needed to help. But, no. The people responsible for those dogs just stood there blankly staring at me so I guess the fact that they were nowhere to be found when one of their dogs was hurting Gavin should have been no surprise. The police woman asked me if I knew which dog attacked Gavin and I said I didn’t; the young girl said “Loki is the lighter one”. Seriously, I was trying to fend off two dogs who outweigh Gavin by at least 100 pounds and the only thing she said to me is that I should have noticed the subtle shade differences in their fur?
The rest of the day was a blur. I noticed a brief sense of relief when I filed the police report; overwhelming comfort when our veterinarian told me that all of Gavin’s wounds were superficial as he nestled under my arms and I collected his medications; then a little more tension trickled down my shoulders when the doctor at Urgent Care confirmed I had no internal or long-term damage to contend with outside of my swollen, bruised, painful left hand. I kept thinking as I sat in traffic, waiting to pick up my antibiotics and attempting to find a store that sold Spray Shield (which will be an absolute last resort that I hope I never have to use, I plan to toss treats away from us first if we EVER have any scares again), what a gorgeous day it was outside and how amazing it would have been to be exploring our neighborhood parks with my cutie, four-legged sidekick.
Then, we had to take a walk. When I stepped outside of the fence of our courtyard building, my heart began thrashing inside my chest and the deep breaths I took to calm myself down seemed to be filled with muck. What was once a relaxing, shed-the-busyness-and-noise-of-the-city time for me had turned into a tense, looking over my shoulder, jumpy excursion. Of course, I chose a path as far as possible from the home of those two dogs and the scene of the crime. But, their abode is a mere two blocks from my home so it was impossible to not see their faces gunning for Gavin, even though no threat was there. My boy, on the other hand, seemed completely un-phased as he pranced along on the sidewalk and cooly sniffed every pee-covered blade of grass like our last stroll ended in our usual game of fetch or a few greetings from the neighborhood kids or his canine buddies. If any good has come from this horrific ordeal, Gavin and I now have a regular early morning walk date with a dear friend of mine and her dog. I am continually grateful for Gavin’s endearingly strong spirit as I watch him wiggle for his buddies so emphatically that I can hear his tale whipping his hips while he shimmies back and forth for every doggie date I have set up since that nightmare Tuesday morning.
If there’s any wisdom I can pass along, it’s this. Please, pay attention to your surroundings. I, like everyone else, have been guilty in the past of “just one glance at my email or a quick text” while out walking my dog and I cringe thinking of how much worse the attack might have been had I not been fully aware they were behind us when I did. I had a few seconds to brace myself. And, I don’t know if Gavin instinctively positioned his head behind my leg or if I did, but, dear Lil’ Big Head had absolutely no injuries on his head or neck. My vet said we were so lucky. And, do not give up if you can not reach the powers that be in Chicago. I could not reach anyone to report the incident, even at 911 and it took days of stalking Animal Care and Control then finally pulling a few strings to find out where the dogs were and what I can do to keep my Gavin safe. We have begun the very long, arduous process to officially have one of the dogs charged as a dangerous dog; legally requiring the guardians to put extra restrictions in place to assure the dog never gets out and injures anyone else ever again. For me, it is not business as usual. I feel a much stronger resolve to keep the dogs and people I adore safe and to educate those who cross my path on how important it is to be responsible pet parents so we can prevent bites and attacks. And, one day, I hope I can feel as light-hearted while traipsing through my neighborhood as Gavin does. Until then, we are finding lots of new places to explore and the eyes in the back of my head will have acute awareness for a very long time to come while I watch for any potential danger and the three amazing people who came to our rescue. I have yet to find them to give my thanks.
I jumped on Facebook for my usual three minute cruise. I liked one of my best friend’s newborn photos and was feeling grateful that I was privately informed of her child entering the world before it was announced on social media. Then, I stumbled upon an article about people taking selfies with a baby shark who died on the beach because, from what the writer shared, folks were so focused on their snapshot; they ignored his pleas to get it back into the ocean. It’s home. Whether it was true or not, I cried; as I often do when I click on any depiction of cruelty, sadness or despair; man or beast. And, the barrage of comments: “people suck”, “I hate people”, “I wish I was there, I would kill them” caused me to do what I often do after 180 seconds, close Facebook.
Yes, there are people who are mean, downright awful to other living creatures; but adding hatred on top of hideous acts does not make them any better. Let’s for a second, imagine a different course of action when anger and rage overcome us upon seeing examples of people doing sucky things.
Maybe, send a thank you note to the person who you know walks dogs at the local shelter, religously. Because, if she or he gives up on the world; we are all in trouble. Or, donate. If every person donated $1, just one, instead of typing hateful banter and egging each other on; think of how many downtrodden beings could be saved. Perhaps, even volunteer. The process to volunteer can sometimes be a bit lengthy and time-consuming but once it is done, it is DONE. And, I would much rather know that the people by my side when I am wrangling a dog out of a kennel are as committed to safety and have signed off on the same rules I did.
I hear folks say it would be too hard to see sad faces behind the bars and I have had to excuse myself into the ladies’ room more than a couple times to dry my eyes. But, truthfully, if I EVER walk out of the shelter not having tears roll down my cheeks, I am DONE. Because, it means I have stopped caring and I am no good for the dogs I volunteer with if I am bitter, calloused and believe that people suck. The last trek I made down to Animal Care and Control; I caught up with my expecting friend on the phone, or the gadget in my ceiling that prevents me from getting pulled over. When I shared with her my overwhelming feelings of fear about the skin I had removed the day prior for cancer testing ; she asked if I would consider giving up volunteering in any of my hodgepodge ways, and I said no. I absolutely adore taking Gavin to schools so children can learn kindness that I hope helps them navigate life, inspire others and stays with them throughout adulthood; and I love giving a percentage of my income to local non-profit organizations, rather than a bank.
The spot turned out to be melanoma; and I had a 2″ x 4″ section removed from my right shoulder blade. A few days after my procedure, I realized Gavin was out of his 30 lb. bag of dog food. So, we walked across the street to the pet store where I inquired about delivery service. They said no, so I thanked them and planned to grab the smallest bag I could carry up three flights of stairs with one arm and my cutie little Pit Bull by my side. The young gentleman looked at his watch and told me he was off work soon, and asked if I lived close-by. Twenty minutes later, he carried the food into my condo and refused the little bit of cash I had on hand. People don’t suck.
I can count at least 20 people who rescued, assessed, fed, vetted, transported, fostered, trained, played, shared and cared for Gavin before he and I ever met eyes. People who skip brunch; donate dog food, toys and bedding instead of buying clothes or a newer car for themselves; open their homes, and make peace with the loss of a favorite rug or skip replacing a couch because another foster will surely eat the other end and leave the comfort of those homes and their own pets to love, save and help animals not just make it through the system, but thrive and find a happy home to call their own. Thank those people, share their story, comment on their posts because they are truly awesome! And, guess what? They do not suck.