Tag Archives: Dogs

Mutual admiration society

Someone was telling me about a friend who had died, sharing the admirable characteristics this person had, which made me think of my own friends and what I admire about them.

One of my friends, someone I have known for almost fifty years, endured a debilitating disease when she was in her fifties. She recovered, but she was left financially depleted, and so she took a job overseas where she could make enough money to restore her retirement nest egg. I am not sure I could have uprooted myself and lived in the different places she lived, and I admire her courage and determination.

Another friend has incredible clarity about her values. When I think about standing up for what one believes, I think of her. She is unwavering in her commitment and untiring in deepening her knowledge about the issues that shape her life. I admire her clarity and commitment.

My dog died two years ago and rather than get another dog, I started dog sitting—inspired by the woman who had been my dog-sitter. Her love of dogs is pure, and the joy she gets from them is delightful to see. She helped shape me into the dog-lover I have become and she inspires me by her willingness to tell the world how much she loves dogs. I admire her childlike love of dogs and her freedom to express that love.

Several friends have lived in non-traditional communities—such as Catholic Worker Houses and l’Arche—and I admire their ability to successfully navigate community living.

Several friends inspire me by their generosity. One friend loves to cook and to share what she cooks, and another loves to garden and has helped me in my garden. I admire people who find their passion and are generous in sharing it.

I could go on and on, but I will stop there and invite you to think of your friends and what you admire in them. And once you have a good list going, start telling your friends what you admire about them. Perhaps they, in return, will share what they admire about you, and you can start you own mutual admiration society.

All that positive energy has the potential to transform us and our world.

A week at the lake

Last week, I dog-sat for a sweet Brittany Spaniel named Dolly who lives at the lake. Two of my favorites–a dog and water.

Gorgeous sunrises greeted me most every morning.

Six swans (2 are behind the tree) swam by every morning.

Some days, the water was calm; on other days, there were whitecaps.


Sunflower seedlings were to

grow five feet tall

along the back of my garden.

Seeds planted indoors in early spring and

carefully transplanted when the ground warmed,

took root and

grew stronger and taller every day.

And then my dog died.

She, who was part terrier and

very good at patrolling the perimeter of our yard,

keeping at bay any animals who might think of

taking up residence or even stopping by for a visit.

She, who chased away every squirrel, cat, rabbit and bird.

She, who barked at the occasional opossum.

In the days after her death,

squirrels were the first to take tentative steps across the lawn.

They were soon joined by birds digging for worms, and

then a baby rabbit appeared.

Every morning, she peeked out from under the salvia,

nibbling on the dried grass attached to overturned clods of dirt.

And then, sitting on her haunches,

she nibbled the leaves of my young sunflowers.

How well she looks after herself,

finding what she needs to be nourished,

showing me the way.


On our daily walks, my dog Detroit and I usually pass by Lucy, a small, brown dog who lives a few blocks away. Lucy always greets Detroit the same way— racing back and forth along the fence, barking, baring her teeth and growling. Friday morning was no exception.

“She looks how I feel,” I thought, all agitated and angry.

Then I remembered the Native American story of the two wolves that live within me. One is good and does no harm. She lives in harmony with everyone around her and takes no offense when none was intended. She is joy, peace, serenity, hope, love, kindness and compassion.

The other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set her off in a fit of rage. She fights anyone, any time, for no reason. She is full of envy, greed, anger, regret, self-pity, false pride and resentment.

The two wolves vie for my attention and energy; whichever one I feed will dominate. Seeing Lucy reminded me that last week I had been feeding the angry wolf.

A series of unexpected events marked the week; each day brought new challenges—schedule changes, phone calls and emails to communicate among family members, and lots of uncertainty. I was frustrated, angry, concerned and scared. It was a week where I was reminded of how little control I actually have.

Unanticipated events are not new for me; I have had lots of them over the course of my life—opportunities to practice adjusting my expectations and letting go. I would say I am better at it now than when I was young, but I still have a long way to go.

One thing I have learned about unanticipated events is that I can make a choice in how I react. I can resist the change and hold onto how I think things should have been—and become an angry, resentful pile of self-pity. Or I can let go and accept that things have changed and I need to adjust my expectations.

A downside of choosing the former is that while I am focused on what I cannot change, I can I miss the good things that are happening right in front of me.

For example, on Friday evening, my mother invited me for dinner and gave me some things I need for my house. And when I got home from dinner, a package greeted me—a gift from my friend Michele who is living in Japan. Gratitude triumphed over self-pity. Agitation and snarling were replaced by appreciation and delight.

In the midst of upheaval, gifts continue to be offered. I need to let go of my expectations, live in the moment and be grateful—or else I may end up like Lucy.

The Uninvited Visitor

As I was coming home yesterday, a cat greeted me in the driveway. It started to walk with me toward the house, as if it planned to enter, and it occurred to me that this cat may have visited the previous owner of the house. I shooed it away and closed the gate.

A few minutes later, I let Detroit out, noticing too late that the cat was sitting on top of the gate, ready to re-enter the yard. Detroit took care of that, running toward the gate, barking like a banshee. The cat ran and Detroit entered her yard, sniffing for telltale signs of the cat’s visit.

A few hours later, I let Detroit out again to play in the yard, not thinking that the cat may have returned. But it had, and it was hiding under the hedge that runs along the fence between my next-door neighbor’s house and mine.

Detroit ran straight to it, and she and the cat engaged in battle. The cat had strategically situated itself against the trunk of a shrub so that Detroit could not reach it from behind. Undeterred, Detroit approached from the front.

Each time Detroit advanced, the cat took a swipe and Detroit momentarily retreated, only to regroup and jump back into the fray—a regular Rocky Balboa. She and the cat sparred for a while, neither willing to give up.

I was frantically trying to get Detroit to come out from under the bushes and get her into the house. I feared that the cat might get the better of Detroit—it was the bigger of the two and its gimpy hind leg told me this was not its first fight.

Unsuccessful at separating them, I finally cried to the heavens in exasperation, “I can’t take this!”

Just then, my neighbor came home, and I explained what was happening. “It’s probably here for the birds,” he speculated.

Ah, yes, the birds.

A robin was sitting in a nest under the eaves of my garage. I had noticed the nest when I moved in last summer, and had intended to take it down, but never got around to it. Before the snow had completely melted this spring, the robin had taken up residence; the cat was keeping vigil, waiting for baby birds to fly.

As I pondered the situation, I wondered if this cat had claimed this territory last year (and maybe for many prior years), unaware that this year, there was a new sheriff in town named Detroit who now claimed this yard as her own. Detroit intended to defend her property against all intruders and had been practicing on squirrels and birds. This was her first cat intruder. She was ready and undaunted.

I finally got Detroit into the house and am not letting her roam freely, just in case the cat is lurking in the hedge. I know that once the baby birds are gone, the cat will leave, and I will take down the nest—and Detroit can once again patrol her property.




Shortly after we got Detroit, someone gave me a book about dogs. The author suggested that dogs reveal their owners phobias and quirks, all those things we try to keep hidden from the world. It sounded far-fetched, and I did not believe him.

Then one day as I was walking Detroit, I noticed how curious she was, going from thing to thing, sniffing and tasting everything along the sidewalk. She only stayed with each thing a few seconds before something else caught her eye. “Oh no,” I thought, “She is just like me.” I tend to move from thing to thing, the quintessential multitasker, or the most easily distracted person around, depending on your perspective.

A friend once described her husband as “incapable of closing a door.” “That’s me,” I blurted out. I don’t even notice when I leave doors open.  I am easily distracted, and I tend to move on to the next thing before I have finished the last. 

Then we took Detroit to puppy training classes and she learned basic commands:  sit, stay, leave it and drop it.  We practiced “sit” and “stay” at street corners, “drop it” when she picked up something she shouldn’t and “leave it” when she got too focused on something and would not move on. “Leave it” became my “go-to” command because as much as Detroit flitted from thing to thing, once something caught her attention, she could be relentless in pursuing it.

Usually, it was something just beyond her reach, something on the other side of a fence that she could not get to.

One day as we walked and I was ruminating on some issue, I realized my “leave it” command to her was also what I needed to hear; I needed to let go, to loosen my grip.

I started a new practice: when I told Detroit to “drop it” or “leave it,” I also thought of something I needed to drop or leave, something I was holding onto, some grudge I was nursing or some little thing I was blowing out of proportion.

Our walks became more and more reflective as Detroit pointed out to me areas I needed to work on and changes I needed to make.

Maybe the author was right and Detroit was showing the world my quirks, but she was also showing them to me, and that is a good thing.

Living Our Dreams, Part Two

I heard a song on a Christian radio station the other day about being the person God created me to be, and the idea keeps running through my mind. If I were being my true self, the self God created me to be, I would be….

As I walked Detroit the other morning, the words to that song came back to me. She is part Terrier, part Chihuahua, heavy on the Terrier. She was bred to sniff out vermin, and she is good at it.

One day in PA, she had her nose stuck under the radiator, a low growl coming from deep in her belly. I told her to “leave it,” but she would not; she was unyielding. Finally, I got a broom and while saying to her, “There is nothing under there,” I pushed the broom handle under the radiator—and out ran a little mouse. I had never had mice in my house, so I was startled, but Detroit was not. She knew a mouse was under there, and she was on the job of flushing it out.

Recently, I heard that Detroit (the city) once had a tree canopy so dense a squirrel could go from the east side to the west side of the city without ever touching the ground. That is no longer true, and to Detroit (my dog) this is a happy fault. Squirrels have to come down out of the trees, and Detroit is ready for them.

When we are walking and she sees a squirrel, she focuses all her attention on it. She crouches down and approaches slowly, creeping along until she is within five feet or so. Sometimes she freezes and watches, every muscle in her body tense as she prepares to pounce. I allow her to follow her instincts, sometimes standing still for a minute or two, because I love watching her be her true self.

Thankfully, she has never caught a squirrel, not even in the yard when she is off leash, but when I watch her stalking them, I know that this is her true self, this is what she was created to do, and it comes absolutely naturally to her. She will chase a rabbit or run toward birds, but squirrels are her true passion.

How wonderful to be so clear about one’s passion and so faithful to one’s true calling. If I were being my true self, the self God created me to be, I would be….

The Visit

DSCN1617My niece Kelsey has been taking care of my dog Detroit when I am at work. One day last week, she suggested that she take Detroit to her house for the day. “Are you sure?” I asked skeptically. She was sure.

Kelsey grew up with dogs and is what I call a “dog person.” She contemplates becoming a veterinarian. She is comfortable with dogs in a way I envy. I did not grow up with dogs and I am terribly insecure about Detroit and if I am doing a good job with her. Mostly, I worry about her interactions with other dogs.

Kelsey’s house is also home to two dogs—Maggie and Lily. I thought Detroit would be fine with Maggie, who is older and gentler, but I worried about Lily. Like Detroit, she is a rescue dog, and like Detroit, she has issues.

My imagination took over and I could see Detroit and Lily snarling and snipping at one another—or worse. Of course, in my version, Lily won all the battles and poor Detroit was battered—or worse.

But, I reminded myself that fear is useless and what is needed is trust (Luke 8:50). I said “yes” to Kelsey’s suggestion.

All that day at work, I had to rein in my imagination. I tried to replace my negative images of dog fights with images of the dogs either playing well together or at least keeping their distance from one another.

At the end of the day, Kelsey said the dogs did okay. She said they did not particularly like one another and they kept their distance.

I am deeply grateful for Kelsey’s help with Detroit this summer.

School starts today and Kelsey’s time with Detroit will be limited. I hope, though, that she will continue to make time for Detroit—and for teaching me more about dogs and about trust.