Just Being

Earlier this year I wrote about taking a therapy dog class with Cay, and how far she’s come since she first arrived here as a practically-feral adolescent 8 years ago. I had decided to enter Cay in the class because of the response she’d shown to my niece’s children, fetching the ball over and over for a 3 year old boy, when she had never fetched the ball for me. She came alive while playing with those kids, and I thought she might like to become a library dog, like Chase, and have kids read to her.

In the therapy dog class, Cay made many friends and learned to do all of the exercises required to pass the Pet Partners therapy dog test. She sat on command, came when called, walked nicely by my side, and walked through a crowd. She let a stranger brush her and touch her. She even learned to be calm around wheelchairs and funny noises and people who move differently. She did very well, considering she was afraid of practically everything when I first met her.

After graduating from the class, we were scheduled to take the Pet Partners test the following week. Cay seemed to be ready for the real test since she had passed all of the exercises in class. But she had hurt her leg and was limping, so she was unable to take the test. We rescheduled at a later date and Cay and I continued to practice.

When the big day came, we started out well enough. But when I told Cay to sit, she just looked at me. She knows the word and knows how to sit, but for some reason she didn’t want to. We tried again and she just didn’t do it. Isn’t it odd that she didn’t do the exercise that most dogs know, the one that was supposed to be the easiest?

I wasn’t particularly nervous since I’d easily passed the test with both Chase and Bandit in the past. I just wanted Cay and me to give it our best shot. Still, I could tell she was stressed by the test environment, with everyone in the room focusing on her. When we were in the class, with other teams in the room the attention was divided.

I thought about the test and what was different and how I might have helped Cay better. I tried to stay relaxed, perform my part consistently and do my best to support her. I even gave her calming signals. The message I got from her is that she really wasn’t that interested in doing the exercises. After working with Bandit, a dog who competed in multiple types of performance events for many years and always did what I asked, and then with Chase, who is a natural therapy dog who has always done what I asked, I had to pause and think about what was happening with Cay. Although she had done very well in the class, she wasn’t comfortable in the test environment. I had to listen to what she was telling me.

Cay doesn’t want added stress in her life. She doesn’t want to work to become anything, she just wants to be herself. She wants to hang out together, go for walks on the hill and by the river, and not strive for anything in particular. She wants to enjoy one another’s company, enjoy the day, and celebrate life. We can all learn from her.


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Cay and Chase on Trail-2   

Each dog has lessons to teach us. I thought Cay wasn’t hearing me when I told her to sit, but maybe I wasn’t listening to her. And she’s right. We could all use more time to just enjoy the day.

Cay and Chase in River-2

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You could say we failed the therapy dog test. But I learned to listen better. Take it from Cay: Don’t let the whole summer get away from you without taking time to relax and enjoy the day with your pups. Cay has come a very long way over the years and I think she would be a great therapy dog. I may consider taking the test with her again in the future, but that will be up to her. I’ll keep listening and we’ll see. For now, we’re taking time to celebrate life.

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With all that’s happening here this summer, Cay has taught me a valuable lesson. In August the kids will visit and Cay will get to play ball with them. Who knows, maybe they’ll even read to her. :-)

 

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8 Things I Learned from 8 State Hurricane Kate, and Kindness for Kate Day

With hurricane and summer storm season beginning, I was recently invited to be on a radio show called ‘Heroes of Katrina: Ten Years After – Hurricane Preparedness for Pets’. To get ready for the show, I reviewed my classic post, ‘8 Things I learned from 8 State Kate’, the cattle dog who was rescued after Hurricane Katrina and who later came to live with me as she recovered and I looked for her original family. I found the information to be useful still, and added updates from what I’ve learned in the past few years.

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While you may not live in hurricane country, your area is vulnerable to some type of severe storm and natural disaster. We live in Minnesota, where storms can cause flash flooding and knock out power, the river can rise rapidly and overtop its banks, and tornadoes blow through every summer. In the winter we get blizzards, which can also knock out power. The point is that everyone needs to be prepared for the type of disaster that can occur in their area. Being prepared means having a plan for your family, including your animals.

Here are eight things I learned from 8 State Hurricane Kate.

1. Microchip your pet. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we learned how easily pets can lose their collars and IDs. A microchip implanted under the pet’s skin is the best permanent identification. I recommend a microchip even if your pet never leaves the house. A flood, tornado, hurricane, or even a surprise bolt out the door can separate you. A microchip is a small electronic chip with a unique ID number, in a capsule the size of a grain of rice. When a pet is found, the ID number is read by a hand-held scanner and the microchip company is notified. The company looks up the ID number in their database to find the owner. A microchip will only reunite you with your pet if you’ve registered your current contact information. Microchip technology has improved over the past ten years. A universal scanner is now available that can read the microchip number from any manufacturer.

2. Keep good pet records, including a current photo of you with your pet (to verify ownership) and photos of your pet’s unique identifying characteristics. Store your pet’s vet, food, and medication records in one place (like The Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book – Click here for more information). Include information on the pet’s daily routine, words the pet knows, and other useful tips for anyone taking care of your pet in an emergency situation. Make sure a designated person knows where your pet’s information is stored, in case something happens to you. Print the photos of you and your pet; don’t rely on photos stored on your phone. If power is lost, you may lose power to your phone too.

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3. Make a disaster plan for your family and pets. Know the most likely natural disasters in your area. If you must stay home in a disaster situation, be prepared to survive without assistance. Assemble a kit to meet your family’s basic needs for at least three days. Store it in easily accessible waterproof containers. If you must evacuate, do not leave your pets behind. Have carriers, leashes, and harnesses for your pets. Know the local evacuation routes, how you’ll transport your pets, and where you’ll take them. Plan alternate destinations because emergency shelters for people often don’t allow pets, and pet-friendly hotels fill quickly.

4. Make a family communication plan in case a disaster occurs while you’re separated. Know where your family will meet if you can’t reach each other by phone. Identify a neighbor or pet sitter who will get to your pets quickly when they need help and your family is away from home.

5. Make sure your pets get good nutrition (including Omega Nuggets and Canine Shine) and are properly vaccinated, treated for fleas and ticks, on heartworm preventative, and spayed or neutered. Healthy pets are better prepared to survive anything, including displacement and housing with other animals. Accepted vaccination protocols are changing, and some flea and tick treatments are not approved by veterinarians. Do your research and decide what’s best for your pet.

6. Socialize and train your pets. Help your pets learn to be confident in different situations. Positively trained pets are less likely to get lost. Make sure they know how to walk on a leash/harness and are comfortable riding in their carriers in the car. Teach them to wait before exiting the car by pausing, then giving them a reward. I feed my cat in her carrier twice each day. Since she’s used to going in the carrier and doesn’t think twice about it, I could easily load her into the carrier on short notice if needed. We also have a harness for her and put it on her regularly, so she’s used to it and I can remember how to put it on.

7. Tune in to your pets. They’re tuned in to you. Give them opportunities to do what they were bred to do. Help them relax and be confident. Appreciate them for who they are. The more connected you are to your pets, the better you will weather anything together.

8. Be flexible and resilient. An old girl who has lost everything can recover with dignity and grace, and be happy. Kate taught me this too.

This article includes information from Noah’s Wish, www.NoahsWish.org.

The Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book is available at www.8StateKate.net.

Every year on June 2nd, in memory and honor of Katrina cattle dog Kate, we celebrate Kindness for Kate Day. On June 2nd, please perform a new act of kindness for a person or animal. We hope these new acts of kindness will become habits and make the world a better place. Thank you.

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Heroes of Katrina: Ten Years After – Hurricane Preparedness for Pets, Blog Talk Radio – Tuesday, May 5th at 7:00 pm CST

7:00 pm CST on Tuesday, May 5th

Call into (347) 637-3939 or listen in via the Internet at https://www.facebook.com/events/1042253162470212/

Please join us this very special evening as we welcome our returning guest, Award Winning Author Jenny Pavlovic, Ph.D., and discuss an extremely important topic….preparing our beloved pets for a hurricane. Jenny will share very valuable advice and insight regarding the necessary precautionary measures needed to safeguard our furry friends and all animal creatures BEFORE a hurricane strikes. Hurricane season is fast approaching – June 1 through November 30, 2015. It’s not too early to listen and learn what to do in advance. Please don’t wait until it’s too late. Feel free to call in and share, comment, question, discuss with Jenny.

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New Beginnings

The arrival of spring brought a wonderful message about a new beginning that brightened my day. Remember my 2012 story about the spirit dogs of Bimini (https://www.omegafields.com/blog/spirit-dogs-of-bimini/)? In March I received a message from Johanna, who rescued the yellow dog in the story that reminded me of my dog Cay. Johanna founded a rescue organization to help the dogs of Bimini. She wrote:

Dear Jenny, I am the founder of Island Paws Rescue, a nonprofit dog rescue with a mission to save the dogs in Bimini. I recently came across your story of the Spirit of the Bimini dogs and realized that my dog Luca, is in the photo, known as yellow dog. We rescued him 2 years ago and then started the nonprofit. He’s our love! What a small world… Please check out our fb page: https://www.facebook.com/IslandPawsRescue

Johanna’s note reminded me that one person really can make a difference. I was elated to learn that Luca has such a wonderful home. The photo below shows Luca with another rescued dog he’s helping to foster.
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I felt the depth of Luca’s spirit back in 2012, and hoped he would find a wonderful home. Now he’s helping rescue other dogs. How cool is that?

Speaking of new beginnings… Have you ever experienced a moment when told someone your dog’s background and they responded that they never would have known that your dog was abused, or that your dog was a feral pup when you got her? And you paused for a moment, and realized just how far your dog has come, and how proud you are?

Cay and I recently completed a therapy dog class. She learned all of the exercises, including walking through a crowd, accepting a physical exam by a stranger, and navigating around wheelchairs and other assistive devices. I remembered when Cay first came to live with us and it took two people to pull her out of the travel crate. Cay and her puppy littermates had been rescued in the wilderness in Tennessee. She was so afraid of everything, including being touched (http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?p=2375). After she’d had some time to settle in at home, I enrolled her in an obedience class. The first time we went to school she was so concerned about the activity in the room and anything happening behind her that she spent much of the night spinning around in a circle. Most of the first few weeks of class were spent helping her adjust to being there.

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Over the months and years, Cay rode along with Bandit and Chase and me to herding activities and other dog events. She met new people, saw different animals, and got used to hanging out. Over time, Cay did the growing mostly on her own. We simply provided love, healthful food, a safe environment and good experiences. I hadn’t really noticed just how far Cay had come until her wiggly butt greeted strangers in the therapy dog class, and she decided that the wheelchair was her best friend once she discovered a treat on it. When I told people in the class she had come to us as a practically feral pup, they were surprised. And I experienced that moment…

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In February, Chase and I visited the local elementary school for “I Love to Read” day. I read them the true story of Chase the Library Dog (share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=2Ics3LlsxYsl2). About halfway through the book, I realized that while the kids were interested in Chase’s story, they were pretty well preoccupied with snuggling and petting him. I thought for a moment that if I stopped reading the book and just faded into the background, Chase and the kids would continue to enjoy being together and might not even miss me. And that was ok with me.

In March, Chase and I had a fun day at the library. We visited with the librarian and adult library patrons, including an older woman who petted Chase as she reminisced about her dog. Three super kids read fun books to us, and we got to visit with their younger siblings too. And I had one of those moments when someone asked me about Chase’s background. I told them that we think he’s a smooth coated collie-Australian cattle dog mix, and that my friend Sarah, who I met in Louisiana helping care for rescued animals after Hurricane Katrina, rescued Chase in Virginia. I remembered how Sarah saved Chase from a violent man who had stuffed him in a tiny chicken crate and was going to shoot him for chasing sheep. That Chase shook in fear on her lap for a couple of hours until he realized he was safe. And I thought about how amazed people are when I tell them that Chase loves everybody now and that he led me into volunteering at the library. I was reminded of the many miracles that brought Sarah and me and then Chase and me together. God must have been winking all along the way.

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March 15th marked one year since Bandit’s passing. We miss him, as we’ve been finding our way without him. We’ve had several visits from bald eagles that indicate his spirit is still with us. Several times per week a bald eagle flies over the highway in front of my truck, timing it just right. The week of March 15th, a bald eagle flew over our front yard when the dogsitter was outside with Chase and Cay. She texted me that “Chase was so funny today. We were playing catch for a long time and then an eagle flew over and Chase spent the rest of the time cry-barking trying to herd him in hahaha.” This new dogsitter hadn’t known Bandit (our other dogsitter was on vacation). I replied that Chase talks to the eagles and that bald eagles were around a lot just before and after Bandit passed, and now I see them everywhere. She said, “It’s a sign that Bandit is saying hi to his siblings!” It was a long week, but this made my day.

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As Bandit would say: “Be, Play, Love. Enjoy this day!”

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Happy Spring!

 

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Life and Death and Cancer

Thoughts swirled in my head as I watched the PBS special on cancer for the second night. I thought of the people in my family who have survived and have been taken by cancer. And the dogs in my family who have survived and have been taken by cancer. And even though we don’t know enough about the cancer that’s killing people, I wish we knew as much about the cancers that are killing our dogs as we know about those that are killing our people. And I wish we knew as much about the canine genome as we do about the human genome.

As I watched, Chase sat by my side and I heard about how cancers that are caught in early stages are often curable, and if caught early enough, surgery alone may be enough. And I’m thankful that we caught Chase’s colon cancer in stage 1 and that (apparently) surgery and radiation therapy have cured him (so far). And I heard about how cancer can destroy people economically as well as physically. And I nodded my head and felt fortunate that we had the resources to treat Chase’s cancer (thank you to those who helped), although I’m still paying the bills. While I was trying to hear the program, Chase barked at the thunderstorm that was moving in on us, the first thunderstorm of the season. And although I wanted to hear the show, I realized that I wanted to hear Chase bark even more and that I’m lucky he’s still here with me, disrupting the show.

Chase and Bandit

Chase and Bandit

As the show continued, I thought about how multiple myeloma took Bandit from us, even though he was on chemotherapy pills. And how there are treatments for people (like bone marrow transplants) that aren’t widely available for dogs, and probably most people couldn’t afford them for their dogs anyway. And I pondered how Bandit lived life so joyfully every single day. Even on his last day here, he played ball and charged up the hill, leading me on our last walk together. I don’t know how he did it, maybe with the will of a cattle dog. He was in so much pain that he couldn’t sleep that last night, and he had so few white blood cells that there weren’t enough to measure. I think dogs are better than most people at getting the most out of life and enjoying it to the fullest, and don’t deny or fear death the way many people do. Maybe that’s why people sometimes decide to quit treatments at the end and try to feel as well as they can and focus on what’s most important to them. Dogs do that more naturally, don’t they? Still, I wish we knew more about the cancers that are killing our dogs, and our people, so we could help them better. I also think of my amazing friend Lynn Cameron and how she has so remarkably lived with cancer for so long. I know it hasn’t been easy. <3

 

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This Place We Call Home

We’ve all heard the saying, “Home is where the heart is.” I’ve lived in the same home for over 25 years. It’s a small house on 5 acres, with a beautiful state park in the back yard. If you’ve been reading along, you’ve read about my adventures with the dogs here, and about the deer, eagles, and other creatures that share this space. We have well over an acre fenced in for the dogs to run, and can walk from our back yard right into a park with trails and access to the St. Croix River. There’s plenty of space to run, and to set up an agility course or a track for the dogs.

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Recently life threw me a curve that has me thinking about moving. My job has been going well. I was promoted recently, received a significant raise, and have a new manager who is helping me define my new role. Everything was going in the right direction, when the company announced that it’s moving 15 miles farther west. This may not sound like a lot, but would mean a commute of over 45 miles each way, partly in city traffic, and would likely mean that I’d spend 3 hours or more commuting every day. Over the years I’ve resisted moving for a job and have been able to stay employed. But now there are fewer and fewer jobs on this side of town. My other employment options are mostly also farther west.

So I‘ve been faced with the idea of possibly moving. I probably wouldn’t consider it except it’s getting more difficult for me to take care of this place and have time for the dogs and friends and any kind of leisure activities. We’re all getting older. When I began thinking about the tradeoffs of moving, my biggest considerations related to the dogs. We’re used to open space, and quiet and seeing the stars at night. We would be overstimulated by the noises and lights of the city.

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Much of my daily life is spent playing with the dogs in the yard, walking/running them in a huge fenced area on our property, and exploring nearby parks and trails. I want my dogs to be able to bark once in a while without bothering a hundred neighbors. I don’t want my herding dogs to be overstimulated by too much activity in the neighborhood (which may require some re-training). Chase and Cay have both lived here for most of their lives and would have to adjust to a change.

I wonder how dogs adapt to living in the city. I suppose it’s all that some dogs have ever known. If they get enough exercise and time outside and love and good food, they’re probably fine. But how do dogs who’ve only ever lived in the country adapt to living in the city, or even the suburbs? Mine would need retraining to know that they had a much smaller area to protect.

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As I’ve driven around suburbs where I might like to live, I’ve noticed that my chest tightens up when I see houses that are close together. House photos online never accurately show how close together the houses are. In one neighborhood, I found a very nice house, not too big, with a 0.62 acre yard. I think it would have been ok, except that the houses around it all had bright Christmas lights and the house behind had a rather gaudy display of brightly blinking lights. It felt a bit too much like Las Vegas. Maybe in the day time, with the lights off, it would have been ok. I guess I’ve been spoiled, especially by not having another house directly behind.

Most of the newer neighborhoods in this area have bigger houses and smaller yards. We don’t need a big house, so I’ve mostly been looking in older established neighborhoods, with smaller houses that are farther apart. Some even have half acre, or larger, lots. What about the dogs that live in those big houses with tiny yards? I hope they get out for a good walk every day. Although a good walk can stimulate their senses and make them breathe hard, even at 7 ½ and 9 ½ years old, my dogs do not wear out easily while on leash.

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One of my biggest considerations is having open space to exercise the dogs every evening after work. This means a safe place to walk year-round, whether it’s light or dark, hot or cold, rainy or icy. We have enough space on our own property now that I can run the dogs inside the fence in the dark on a cold winter night. I can walk laps around the field, which requires walking up and down hill, and we all get enough exercise and time outside. What if we only had a half acre or less of our own property? A friend suggested that I look for a place with less land to take care of, with a park behind where we can walk.

In going through this process of deciding what’s most important, I realized that it’s not just about keeping the dogs happy. For the past 25 years, through all the things that have happened in my life, I’ve had this peaceful place to come home to. What has kept me grounded is that walk on the hill with the dogs. Every night, they get out and run and unwind, using their noses to learn what happened in the neighborhood that day. Every night, I follow them up the hill, discarding the frustrations of the day and grounding myself in nature. In the summer we watch the sun set. In the winter, we look at the stars. I wouldn’t do it faithfully every day by myself. It’s the dogs that get me out.

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We may stay here or we may move. I don’t have the answer yet. For now, the dogs and I will take our walk up the hill every evening to leave the cares of the day behind and ground ourselves.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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The Things We Miss

Several friends have lost 2-legged and 4-legged loved ones during this past year. The holidays are a busy time when these losses can be especially painful. So I invite you to focus on your loved ones this season, to give them your undivided attention and really see and enjoy them.

One friend lost her Australian Cattle Dog to cancer. She told me that he used to sit by her chair in the evening. She would drop her arm over the side and pet him, unconsciously much of the time. Now when she drops her arm over the side of the chair, it is painfully obvious that he’s no longer there. So I invite you to be aware of and consciously enjoy those small interactions with your animals.

When I say “the things we miss” I mean the things we miss once our loved ones are gone. I also mean the things we miss while our loved ones are here and things are happening, but we don’t sense them or understand them, or aren’t paying attention.

When I watch my dog Chase interact with the kids at the library, I’m amazed at his intuition. Like the time he met a little 5-year old girl for the first time and went into a play bow. She said, “Look Mommy, he’s bowing!” I later learned that the girl was afraid of dogs. After reading to Chase, she told me that he was the first dog she hadn’t been afraid of. I think he went into a bow upon meeting her because having his eyes at her eye level would have been too scary for her. So he bowed to make himself shorter, and of course to invite play.

I’ve learned a lot from Gingersnap, our cat. Last winter she often sat by the north wall of the living room, near a heat duct. I wondered if there was a critter in the duct. But during the summer, I found out that mice were getting in under the siding on the outside of the wall by where she’d been sitting. Ginger was like a pointer for mice. While the mice were out, I filled the hole with foil to keep them out and she stopped sitting there.

Gingersnap the Cat

Gingersnap the Cat

In September, Ginger hopped up on the stove in the kitchen. She knows she’s not supposed to be up there. But she was obsessing about something in the range hood. She took a swipe at the filter/guard above the stove, her toenail got caught and she pulled the whole thing off. The next thing I knew she was presenting me with a little mouse.

A month or two ago, Ginger sat in the middle of the kitchen floor at night. There was no evidence of mice in the kitchen, and I couldn’t figure out what was drawing her there. Then I discovered little bits of insulation on the floor in the basement below and learned that mice were running along the pipes on the basement ceiling, just below where Ginger sat in the kitchen at night. I’m sure animals sense a lot that we don’t get, and I’m learning more and more from Ginger. Winter came early here this year, and it seems like a lot of mice found their way in.

On November 9th, while walking the dogs by the St. Croix River, I spotted a pileated woodpecker drumming on a pole. I was able to take several pictures before it flew off. In the 25 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve often heard pileated woodpeckers, but can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen one. A couple of weeks later, I learned that a friend’s fiancé had passed away in a car accident on November 8th.  Pileated woodpeckers had appeared to his family and his fiancé that weekend, and she had remarked that it would be just like Carl, a logger, to visit as a pileated woodpecker. So was it merely a coincidence that I saw the woodpecker that weekend?

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Those of you who have been reading along know that we lost our Australian Cattle Dog Bandit to multiple myeloma in March. On the day that he crossed over and countless times since, bald eagles have flown over our yard and the field where we walk every day. Chase usually spots the eagle first and runs along with it, barking up to it. Often I’ve seen a bald eagle crossing over the highway just in front of my truck as I’m driving 50 mph or more. I don’t know how they do it.

November 13th would have been Bandit’s 11th birthday. There wasn’t much opportunity for me to see an eagle here that day since I had to walk the dogs in the dark that evening. Knowing Bandit’s playful spirit, I figured he’d do something different anyway. When I arrived home from work that day, his stuffed basketball, which had been in the same place on his bed since March, was on the other side of the room, right in my path as I walked through the house. Chase and Cay had been kenneled while I was gone and hadn’t moved that ball since Bandit left us. The ball is too big for Ginger the cat to move. So it felt like a ‘hello’ from Bandit.

On Bandit’s birthday, Chase brought me the jolly ball like Bandit used to, and Cay brought me Bandit’s rubber chicken. They must have sensed his presence too.

Cay and Chase

Cay and Chase

A few days later I was walking the dogs up on the hill, thinking that I should tell a friend the story about the stuffed basketball. Suddenly, Chase took off full speed across the field, looking up at the sky, and let out a bark. I looked up and there was the bald eagle, making a pass across the field. He just made that one pass and then was gone. If Chase hadn’t pointed him out, I would have missed him. Chase continued to look for the eagle in the sky, and barked every once in a while. I think Chase and the eagle were communicating. I wonder if Chase felt Bandit’s spirit in the eagle as I did. I don’t completely understand these interactions, but I’m intrigued by them. Most of us miss so much and understand so little about our natural world.

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Which brings me back to my original thought. This holiday season, take time to slow down and tune in to the natural world around you. Live in the present moment with your 4-legged friends. Take in and enjoy their essence and the little ways they keep you company. Ponder what you learn from them, or would if you were paying more attention.

The holiday season can get way too busy. So I invite you to sit still with your loved ones and really notice what you’ve been missing, and what you’ll miss some day when they’re gone. I promise you won’t regret it. Happy Holidays!

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My new book, There’s a Chicken in My Kitchen: Bandit’s Big Birthday Blizzard, is about a blizzard that ‘unplugs’ us and gives us the chance to really see and appreciate our loved ones. Watch for it next year.

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Finding Our Way

Fall is here already. Where did the summer go? I had vowed that this summer would be different from last year, when Chase was diagnosed with colon cancer just after the 4th of July. The rest of that summer revolved around his care and cancer treatments. Then we discovered in September that Bandit had multiple myeloma, and life revolved around his care and treatments too. One season blurred into another, until Chase’s CT scan in February showed no evidence of disease, and we lost Bandit to multiple myeloma in March.

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This summer was different.  Our mellower little pack was still grieving, and finding its way without Bandit. Chase took on the role of pack leader for the dogs. Sometimes Gingersnap the cat seemed to want this role too, but Cay was always content to follow. When Bandit’s health was failing early this year, Chase clearly wanted the pack leader position. Now that he has it, he sometimes seems a bit overwhelmed realizing the responsibility that Bandit had.

Getting out and about is easier with two dogs than with three dogs, at least when they have to be on leash. We’ve found new places to walk and explore, including a trail by the river near home, and the levy going out to an island in the middle of the river in a nearby town. When out in public walking, Chase had become more protective when other dogs approached. He seemed to have learned this from Bandit and was taking other dogs too seriously for me. Chase loves people and wants to meet everyone, but this thing about other dogs had to change. My herding dogs get upset when a dog on a leash is dragging the person along or lunging out at the end of the leash. Clearly this is out-of-order rude behavior and the person should be in control, so some herding dogs want to fix the situation by correcting the other dog. I’ve told Chase that it’s not his business and I’ll manage the situation. I protect his space and, when necessary, I put my body between Chase and the other dog. I tell Chase to ‘leave it’ and reward him for complying. We’ve been working on this and he’s getting better, even though dogs who look out of control still concern him sometimes.

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Over the summer we took several trips to Wisconsin to visit my family. Both dogs rode along and enjoyed visiting. Cay hadn’t traveled much before, so this was new for her. She has become more outgoing with people and eagerly solicits petting. She takes up more space than before, when Bandit sometimes herded her into the corner.

When Cay had the opportunity to play with my niece’s children, she amazed me. While the 5 year old girl threw the ball for Chase, the 2 ½ year old little boy threw the ball for Cay. Cay is seven years old and has never retrieved a ball for me. So I was astounded to see her retrieve the ball over and over and over for the little boy. She took it back to him and set it down on the ground in front of him. Something magical was happening with Cay and this little boy. She was so good with the kids that I think she may have potential to join the R.E.A.D. program at the library. I plan to enroll her in the class this winter to prepare for the test. To this day, she has never retrieved a ball for me. She runs around with the ball and plays keep away!

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Over the summer, we tended to Bandit’s memorial garden and spread his ashes in many of the places we had enjoyed together. Grief can be a long process, especially grief for a being who taught us so much and was an important part of our daily life. Last week I finished making a digital photo book of my last walk with Bandit and included the story of the bald eagles who visited frequently to lend strength and comfort before and after his passing. The following morning as I drove Chase and Cay to a routine vet appointment, a bald eagle touched down on the grass on my right and then flew across the road in front of my truck. This was in the middle of town, just a block from the vet clinic where Bandit crossed over. I was stunned.

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I’m still catching up on things that I didn’t get to last year, like staining the deck. I bought the stain before July 4th last year and then… well you know what happened. The time with family and friends this year has been wonderful. And of course the time with the dogs is precious as it always has been. The nightly mouth joust between Cay and Chase is comforting.

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When I run into people I haven’t seen for a while, I tell them why I ‘dropped out’ of regular activity for a while, and that we’re slowly getting back on track. I think about the decisions I made last year and how sometimes you just have to go for it, not knowing whether your best effort can bridge the gap between where you are (the disease) and where you need to be (the remission or cure). I took my best shot for both Bandit and Chase, knowing that my best shot might swish through the net or might just fall short of the goal.

I’m working on a new book in memory of Bandit, based on a true story about my three dogs. The story will remind children to appreciate and pay attention to their pets and will highlight the gifts that we bring to each other. This is an important message for adults too.

As we move into fall, our little pack is still finding our way, knowing that we’re no longer ready for a three dog night*. We are ready for a two dog, one cat night though. For now, that’ll do.

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* On cold nights, Indigenous Australians slept in a hole in the ground while embracing a dingo, a native species of wild dog. A very cold night was considered to be a “three dog night”.

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Kids at the local library improve their reading abilities by reading out loud to Chase. When people pet Chase’s soft coat and ask me how it gets to be so soft, I tell them about Omega Fields Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets.

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Still Saying Goodbye

We lost our beloved dog Bandit to multiple myeloma in March. I had a beautiful pendant made with some of his ashes inside, and I wear it on a chain around my neck, or on a bracelet. I mentioned before that I had a hard time deciding where to release Bandit’s ashes, so I’ve been releasing smidgens of them in many of the places we had good times together. I had released some of his ashes up on our hill where we walk and play every day, and earlier in July I released some under the orange ‘Moose that Wouldn’t Move’ (http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?p=2778) and in my parents’ yard in Wisconsin where we used to play ball when we visited.

One Saturday morning in July I took some ashes along on errands. I released some at the Washington County Fairgrounds where Bandit and I spent many hours doing tracking training. Last summer Bandit and I often went there on Saturday mornings while Chase was resting at home (in Cay’s company) from a week of radiation therapy. I’m very grateful that Bandit and I had this time alone together, even while Chase required special care for his cancer treatments. As I released Bandit’s ashes there, a red-tailed hawk circled and called out. When I looked up I saw a rainbow sun dog, a colorful ring around the sun. I thought about the time Bandit and I had spent there together, not just tracking, but sitting on the tailgate under a large tree waiting for the tracks to age, enjoying the morning. And I realized that I still have many tears left, some that I let go of that morning.

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Chase, Cayenne, and Bandit, Summer 2013

It’s funny how life often turns out differently than you plan and expect. I thought all that time Bandit and I spent tracking would lead us to tracking and versatility titles, but really that time together was the gift in itself. The dedication and determination to spend that time together, driven by goals that we ran out of time to complete, gave us the gift of that time. The real purpose of it all was a surprise because I never thought I’d lose Bandit so soon. I’m left with these memories of precious time alone with Bandit, time we might not have had if I’d only been able to focus on taking care of Chase.

Later that Saturday morning in July, Chase and Cay and I went for a walk by the St. Croix River in our home town of Afton, Minnesota. I released more of Bandit’s ashes to the wind in this one more place where Bandit and I had shared good times. We had taken one of our last walks away from home there, when the river was iced over, long after Bandit had revealed that he could no longer track.

Then on the way home Chase and Cay and I stopped at Afton State Park in the St. Croix River Valley, up on the hill behind our house, where Bandit and I did much of our tracking training. There I released more ashes to the wind. While I was turning the truck around to head home, a spotted fawn cantered out from behind a tree. I was emotionally drained and hungry and wanted to go home, but I paused to watch and enjoy the moment. The fawn’s twin leapt out from behind the other side of the tree. They cavorted together for a moment right in front of the truck, then galloped off into the woods. What an amazing gift, something I might have missed before.

Bandit never fit into a box any better than I do. He led me to all of these places, taught me so many things on our remarkable journey together. Yes, I feel very sad missing Bandit. But I also feel thankful for the time we had together, because I know the deep well of sadness is directly related to how remarkable our bond and our love for each other were.

On a Sunday in July, we visited Bandit’s mama Sparkee at his birthplace near Lake City, Minnesota. Bandit’s formal name was ‘Hillhaven Bolt out of the Blue’, and Sparkee is the blue! Spark, still beautiful at age 15, has lost much of the function in her back end and may not be with us much longer. I gave her my love and thanked her for giving us such a special boy. I scattered some of Bandit’s ashes in a wildflower prairie on this farm where he was born, while Chase and Cay enjoyed running in the field.

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Bandit’s Mama Sparkee

How do I even know all the ways Bandit changed my life? How do I let go of a dog who so profoundly taught me things I needed to know? One thing I hope I never forget is that we only have this present moment and we’d best enjoy it. Yes, the lawn mower won’t start, the light switch isn’t working right, and things seem to go wrong all of the time. But we can still play ball and enjoy this beautiful day and not wait for everything to be perfect in order to be happy. Things are seldom going to be perfect, but if we enjoy this present moment, they might just feel perfect right now. Bandit would whack me on the leg with the rubber chicken, or poke me with the jolly ball, to remind me of this. He was always much wiser than I.

While in hindsight Bandit showed signs of being ill as early as February or March of 2013, his tests came back normal and he held it together until September. Sometimes I wonder how he ran tracks at all last summer, and I hope I didn’t work him too hard. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he didn’t quit tracking until the September morning after Chase successfully completed his daily radiation therapy treatments. I think that Bandit held it together until he knew that Chase would survive colon cancer. Bandit knew that I couldn’t bear to lose both of them at the same time. He was that wise and intrepid, and I’m sure he took care of us in many ways that I’m not even aware of.

I’m still saying goodbye, while yet noticing the many ways Bandit stays with us as we make our way without his physical presence. I haven’t been able to track with the other dogs yet this year, even though I know they would enjoy it and benefit from it. Visiting the fields to release Bandit’s ashes is a step toward being able to function that way again. Maybe now I can think of it as going to the tracking fields to visit him and create new memories with Chase and Cay. We’ll see, as somehow we carry on.

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The garden I built in Bandit’s memory is growing and blooming like crazy, a reminder that life goes on. Somehow we do too.

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At the end of June a friend emailed me about a senior red Australian Cattle Dog in jeopardy in Illinois. An unclaimed stray, he was running out of time and urgently needed rescue. Oh, what a tug at my heartstrings. This old guy, called ‘Pops’, reminded me so much of Bandit. His spirit seemed to bust right out of the photo. He was described as being very friendly. He gets along with other dogs and sounds like a very sweet old guy.

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Pops

The folks at Homeward Bound Waggin’, Inc. in Quincy, Illinois (http://www.homewardboundwaggin.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/HomewardBoundWagginInc) were looking out for Pops and could pull him, get vet care, and transport him to Minnesota. I checked around for a rescue group to take him in. The Top Dog Foundation in Minnesota (http://www.topdogfoundation.org/), known to be a friend to older dogs, agreed to take him into one of their foster homes.

Once Pops arrived in Minnesota, he was found to have a broken or dislocated jaw. On July 23rd, he had surgery to repair his jaw and remove three painful teeth. Pops is doing well. You can follow his progress on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TopDogFDN. If you’re interested in meeting and possibly adopting Pops, please contact the Top Dog Foundation. If you would like to donate toward his veterinary care, please go to http://www.razoo.com/story/Help-Pops-The-Cattle-Dog. Homeward Bound Waggin’ would appreciate your support too. If not for them, Pops probably wouldn’t still be here! Thank you!

Update August 15, 2014: I recently met Pops and he is doing well. He is a very sweet dog and a great companion. Once he has had his second surgery and his jaw is fully healed, he will be available for adoption.

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A Decade of Devotion

We lost Bandit to multiple myeloma in March, and our little pack continues to find its way. When Bandit’s body was failing and I realized he was in pain, it became apparent that he was ready to go. But I could tell he was concerned about how we would manage without him. So we spent time with him doing things he wanted to do for one last time, and cherished our last hours together. I reassured him that we didn’t want him to be in pain any longer, and that somehow we would get along without him. Bandit wanted us to be happy and celebrate life.

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Australian Cattle Dogs usually live longer than ten years, so whenever I begin to wish that we’d had more time, I remember that a miracle brought us together in the first place. One step this way or that and our life together would not have happened at all. I’m grateful we had that ‘chance’ meeting.

Over the past ten years, I think Bandit has influenced my life more than any other being. We lived together day in and day out. He leapt out of bed every morning ready to face the day. He was a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy who always brought me the ball, and whacked me on the leg with the rubber chicken when I sat at the computer for too long. I called him my ‘recreation director’.

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Bandit was so smart, so intrepid, and so good at everything that I had to learn a lot just to keep up with him. As a team, we had many accomplishments in versatility, herding, agility, obedience, rally and tracking (to name a few). But most of all, he was a loyal and wonderful companion whose energy filled our house with love. He took care of me in many ways that I’m still just beginning to realize. Our love was pure.

Those of us whose dogs are part of our families know that they influence us in many ways. When I look back over my time with Bandit, I see how he changed me. Better than Eckhart Tolle or anyone else, Bandit taught me that all we really have is this present moment, and we’d best enjoy it and not postpone being happy. He taught me that I don’t have to be completely serious; I can laugh and enjoy the journey and still get my work done. Bandit turned me into a positive person, a glass-half-full person. He was a lead-or-get-out-of-the-way kind of guy. I had to step up just to stay ahead of him, and that helped me in other areas of my life too.

Bandit accepted me completely and loved me completely for who I am, thus he helped me accept and love myself. He helped me understand that I have what I need inside of me. Bandit never fit into anyone’s box any better than I do. He taught me that it’s best to be myself even when I don’t fit in, that sometimes I’m meant to be different for a good reason. Uniqueness is a gift, and others can learn from me.

Who would have thought that a little red ball of fuzz could do so much to change my life for the better?

Puppy Bandit & Rubber Chicken

My spiritual journey with Bandit began with the miracle that brought him to me as a bolt out of the blue in 2004 (http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?p=2448), and continued all the way to the bald eagles who visited me several times in several places before and after his passing in 2014. I learned to believe in miracles and to understand amazing spiritual connections between animals and people, connections that are made among animals too.

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Bandit was always the pack leader and hall monitor among the animals in our family, a solid protector and friend. As Bandit’s health declined, Chase wanted to take over and I had to manage the pack very carefully. Once Bandit was gone, our house seemed way too quiet. Nobody brought me the ball every time I stepped outside. Nobody hit me on the leg with the rubber chicken while I was working at the computer. I felt like I couldn’t be whole without him, until a friend pointed out that I’m so much more because of him.

People told me that Bandit will send me another dog, just as my dying dog Rusty sent Bandit to me. Maybe he will. But for now we’re finding our balance without a third dog. Three dogs was always a lot for me, and I have thousands of dollars of vet bills to pay, for Chase’s and Bandit’s cancer treatments. I’m looking forward to working more with Chase and especially with Cay, who was always the third dog with two very busy older ‘brothers’.

Bandit’s absence from our household has shifted the pack balance. Chase and Cayenne and Gingersnap the cat are working it out. I’m enjoying seeing different parts of their personalities emerge. Chase is the pack leader now, yet Ginger has taken over some of Bandit’s ‘watchdog’ duties. Cay, who always followed Bandit, is learning to manage without him. You may recall that Chase goes into the bathroom and puts his front feet up on a stool when he wants a gentle hug from me (or when he thinks I need a hug). Cay has been watching, and with the hall monitor gone, she now comes into the bathroom seeking a hug too. The other day, I also found Gingersnap the cat with her front feet up on the stool, waiting for me to give her some lovin’. The pack is mellower, enabling Ginger to integrate more easily than before.

Although Chase and Cay would love to go tracking, I haven’t been able to do that yet. Bandit and I spent so much time last year training for a tracking test that I can’t bear to go without him. I’m thinking about taking Chase and Cay out to herd ducks though, something Bandit was too powerful for even at age ten. And I’m wondering if Cay is ready to start practicing for the therapy dog test, so she might volunteer at the library as Chase does.

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Over Mother’s Day weekend, Chase and Cay had fun playing ball with a 5 year old girl and a 2½ year old boy. I was supervising closely as the girl threw the ball for Chase and he retrieved it again and again. I was astounded to see the boy throw the ball for Cay and watch her retrieve it and set it on the ground in front of him, over and over. Cay doesn’t usually retrieve for me; she fetches the ball and runs all around the yard with it. So I was amazed to see her watching the girl play ball with Chase, and then copying the pattern with the little boy. Both dogs were very gentle with the kids, dropping the balls for them. They didn’t jump on or bump the kids at all. I was surprised because Cay never seems to know where her back end is. She bumps me all the time. It was fun to see how well both dogs did with the kids, and I was encouraged about Cay’s potential to work with kids as a therapy dog.

Our dog sitter, who has known Bandit since he was a pup, gave us a beautiful garden stone in his memory. Now that the spring weather has finally arrived, I’m building him a memorial garden. Hauling dirt and making a garden can be a lot of work. But not too much work for the guru in the red dog suit who jumped out of bed every morning full of joy, ready to greet the day, eager to work and play.

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We miss Bandit terribly, yet still feel his presence on our walks, and in the amazing lessons he taught us that help us find our way. Rest in Peace sweet boy. We look for you in the sky with the eagles, and we celebrate life in this present moment, just as you taught us.

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What have you learned from your animals? What more can you learn by paying closer attention?

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