Defining the Word Peaceful

Twin Mounds Pioneer CemetaryThroughout the month of October I have been participating in a photo of the day challenge that was presented in one of my Facebook groups. Each day there is a random word that participants must find a way to portray in a photograph. I’m not a trained photographer, beyond taking one semester of photography in college, so my photos are a bit hit and miss, but I always try to paint a picture with words to accompany my images. Today, day 27, proved to be one of my favorites. We were given the word “peaceful.”

This photo may seem an odd choice for today’s word. After all, I live on a beautiful piece of property in the country, surrounded by panoramic views and animals, both domestic and wild. Why not shoot a photo right out my own backdoor? But this place jumped right into my mind when I thought of peaceful.

This is a photo taken at the Twin Mounds Pioneer Cemetery, just a few miles from my home. This is a very historic little cemetery. It was established on five acres of land in the 1880’s when the area was known as Indian Territory, prior to Oklahoma statehood. The graves here are quite old and each seems to tell a little story. There are many children buried here, a testament to the hard times and lives into which they were born. The graves are not arranged in neat rows. There are clusters of family plots and then random single markers. Some are fairly ornate, many are very primitive–obviously the handiwork of a family member determined to somehow leave a permanent reminder of a loved one lost.

This little place that has seen more than a century come and go, is still well tended and always has an air of tranquility about it. I love to wander this place, reading all of the markers, thinking about the people buried here, wondering who they were, how they lived, how they came to rest here. There is a lot of sorrow and loss represented at Twin Mounds Pioneer Cemetery, but the overriding emotions I feel when I’m there are born of love and of devotion. This is truly a serene, peaceful place straight out of the pages of history. I think those who committed the remains of their loved ones here so very long ago would be comforted by that legacy.

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Dog Trainer, Heal Thyself. Or Should That be Heel?

ImageSaturday morning got off to a smooth start. Or as smooth a start as a multi-dog household can expect. I’m going to remain vague on the exact number of dogs lest representatives from Animal Planet Hoarders happen to be stalking the internet looking for new intervention prospects.

Let’s be clear, there are huge differences between my home and that of an animal hoarder. The primary difference—beyond the fact that our dogs, personal and foster alike, receive the best of care—is that I will happily place any of my foster dogs in wonderful new homes. The line forms to the left.

Ah, but I defensively digress. Back to Saturday morning. The dogs had all finished their breakfast. I had managed a shower, found clean clothes to wear, and was having an acceptable hair day. Things were going so well. Just as I was about to head out the door to attend a much anticipated conference for writers, I noticed Chip, one of our young foster dogs, doing a funny little dance across my kitchen floor. Break dancing? No. Trying to dislodge something disgusting that was protruding from his backside? Oh yeah.

Ok, it happens. You dog people out there—don’t you dare turn your backs on me. You know you’ve at least had to help your dog free itself of a long blade of grass or something similar. This however, was no blade of grass. I’m a tough gal, though, so I grabbed some paper towels and rushed to Chip’s rescue.

My rule of thumb is that if something protruding from that tender region of a dog’s anatomy comes forth easily, with just a little pulling assistance on my part, then all is well. Resistance is not necessarily futile, but it’s not a good thing.

So, I gave a gentle pull and voila! An impressive length of some sort of material came right out. Hooray! Now, run out the door, still on schedule. But no. Out of the corner of my eye I see Chip doing the south-of-the-border cha-cha once again. Damn it.

You guessed it. There was another length of foreign object exiting Chip’s nether region. Sigh. Dog ownership is oh-so glamorous. Another handful of paper towels, another gentle tug. Yelp! Foreign object not budging. Chip not amused. Damn it again. I yelled to my partner Jim, “Hey! Chip has something stuck in his butt,” which somehow did translate into, “One of the dogs has a potential medical condition and I need your assistance.” Oh how that man just gets me.

After Jim’s extraction luck proved to be no better than mine, we decided to call in reinforcements. It was time to admit that the “certified professional dog trainer” had not observed her young charge quite as closely as she should have. Oh how I longed for that now elusive ounce of prevention.

Fortunately, our veterinarian is also a close friend. After a rather hysterical exchange of text messages that were later chronicled on Facebook by said friend/veterinarian, I learned that there was not much sense in trying to get Chip in to see her at this delicate point. I believe the sage advice was, “If whatever it is has made it all the way through his intestines to his colon, then you just have to wait it out. Feed him some fiber.” Alrighty then.

I glanced at the clock. I glanced at Jim. I put on my best pleading face as I looked between the two once again. “Yeah,” he said, “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Did I mention that I love that man? I was out the door in a flash and off to my conference, knowing that our little goat in Dalmatian clothing was in very good hands. Hopefully, nature, aided by a Metamucil wafer or two, would do the trick.

A bit later, as I was enjoying a wonderful panel discussion featuring some very respected and successful authors, I felt my phone shudder and quickly checked the text message. “Got it.” And then a photo. There was a pair of rubber gloves, a wad of paper towels, and a pile of blue…blue something.

“What was it?” I query, innocently.

“Your underwear.”

Oh.

Rule number one in raising a puppy is to maintain a safe environment in which you keep things put away and out of reach. My laundry basket apparently runneth over. Chip apparently consumeth. Baaaaad dog trainer. Baaaaaad.

The next morning, as I’m finally putting my laundry away where it belongs I let my mind reflect on Chip’s close brush with Victoria’s Secret. Well, that which doesn’t kill my dogs makes me a better teacher, right?  I will make a note to review the importance of puppy proofing your home with my students. Yes. I will do that. Right after I find…find…DAMN IT! Where is my bra?

CHIIIIIIIIIP!

Please note…while we are all laughing at this little episode, the reality is that it is very dangerous for dogs to ingest foreign objects. The most common problem with this is foreign body obstruction, a potentially life-threatening condition. Foreign body obstruction occurs when an object ingested by your dog is unable to make it successfully through the intestinal tract.  If you know your dog has ingested something he or she shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian immediately.  Foreign objects that become impacted in the intestinal tract may require surgery to clear the blockage.

If your dog is sneaky, like Mr. Chip, supervision is key. If you notice your dog is unable to hold food down, if you see your dog straining to poop and not succeeding, if you notice your dog is distressed in any fashion, don’t “wait and see.” Seek immediate treatment from your vet or emergency vet. If an object is small like a bit of grass, it will likely pass on its own or with a little gentle help. If it is something like fabric or string, it is best not to try to remove it yourself. In our case, The object was material and was not passing easily on the second pass. We did immediately seek advice from our veterinarian and stayed in touch with her until we felt certain that Chip was in the clear. That included watching him carefully for the next 24 hours to be sure that all systems were functioning normally. It’s ok to laugh about it when you know the outcome was good, but don’t take it lightly in the moment!

One Last Special Gift

Clyde My morning was easy today. That’s a seemingly good thing, but today it was quite bittersweet. For months now, the morning routine around our house has centered around the race to get Clyde and Ladybug, our geriatric Dalmatians, outside to go potty. Most days, despite our best efforts, there would be a little mess to clean up, another dog bed to wash, and perhaps a quick bath for one or both dogs. But it was ok. They were sweet dogs doing the best they could while dealing with bodies falling victim to advancing teenage years.

Jim and I had been talking about “it” for a couple of weeks. If you have companion animals, you know the conversation. You bring it up gently, you discuss quality of life. You talk about options, but then it becomes clear that there are no options. We can’t turn back time. We can’t make old legs work again. We can’t wave a magic wand to restore vigor to arthritic joints. We can’t erase the quiet frustration so clearly visible in precious old eyes.

Clyde came to us from the Tulsa Animal Welfare Shelter. I would guess that he was around 11 years old when we got him. Scarring indicated that he had extensive surgery on a back leg at some point in his past. Someone had once cared enough to do this for him. Clyde stayed with us for about three years.

LadybugLadybug was found walking along a busy street in Tulsa by some friends of mine. She was a quiet, gentle girl. Truly a lady in every sense of the word, she was an easy fit into our home and hearts. Ladybug was likely 12 or 13 when she came to us. We had her for nearly two years.

Clyde was a joyful boy…silly at times. Ladybug was dignified and sweet. Neither dog appeared to suffer from any past abuse or neglect, as many people seem to immediately assume of a homeless dog. Both were extremely pleasant dogs.

How these dogs and others like them find themselves in need of a new home in their golden years is something completely beyond my understanding. I cannot for one moment imagine any reason that would cause me to abandon a sweet old companion, but I also know that I can’t criticize when I don’t know the circumstances. Life can take some pretty profound turns at times. We all eventually learn that lesson in one way or another.

Perhaps their owners passed away. Perhaps an owner had to move to a healthcare facility and relatives could not/would not accept responsibility for the dog left behind. I could guess all day. I do feel in my heart, however, that each of these dogs had known loving owners, and in the end, I think I got proof to support that notion.

Both dogs had been in a steady decline for a couple of months. Jim and I made “the decision” and set the appointment. After a couple more days of serious spoiling, we would let the two go together. It seemed fitting really; they had been our little old couple all along.

We have played this scene out more times than I can count. It’s part of the territory when you have taken in homeless dogs as long as we have—especially when you have an affinity for the old guys. This time, however, there was something different. Something so very beautifully different.

Ladybug, who was so riddled with arthritis, slipped out of this life very easily and quietly. She nibbled on a hot dog that I held for her, listened to me and Jim as we told her what a wonderful girl she was, and then, seemingly with a sigh of relief, she was gone.

Clyde too enjoyed a hot dog as our wonderful veterinarian skillfully inserted the needle. At first, as the drug entered his vein, Clyde seemed a bit surprised. Then, as he started to slip away, the most amazing thing happened. He started wagging his tail. Not just a reflex, or a dog showing good-nature to the end. He started vigorously wagging his tail. The kind of wag you see when your own dog is beyond happy to see you. Clyde’s tail wagged with pure joy until his heart beat its last beat.

Jim and I have never seen that happen. My veterinarian has never seen that happen. I am still touched and amazed by that wildly wagging tail. Whatever your belief about what comes next after this life, I am here to tell you that I believe Clyde received a great welcome to the other side. In my heart, I believe that the person who once cared for this funny, spotted boy, came to reclaim a best friend.

We will miss Clyde and Ladybug. Their departure leaves a conspicuous hole in our daily routine, as well as in our hearts and minds. But we won’t dwell on their passing. We loved them dearly, and then it was their time to go. We should all be so lucky to leave this life surrounded by love with a little turkey dog still stuck in your teeth, and with a wagging tail to assure those who remain behind that there is something very grand beyond this existence.

We have people tell us all the time how great we are to take in senior dogs. Trust me when I tell you, we really aren’t that great. We get far more from these dear old souls than we could ever possibly give back in kibble and dog beds. In honor of their memory this morning, I will use my new-found spare time to smile and imagine sweet Ladybug and dear Clyde safe in the arms of those who loved them before.

Who’s to say…?

To post or not to post…that should be the question.

Run Brooke (2)

This is just a photo of my dog. It doesn’t really support this blog post, but darn it, she’s cute.

Facebook.  It can be a crazy little world out there. For the most part, I enjoy Facebook as a place where I can stay connected to people I love and enjoy, where I can meet new friends, and where I can have a little fun along the way. I have rules for my participation on Facebook. I steer clear of discussions surrounding politics and religion. There are times and places for discussing those topics, and my Facebook page is never that time or place.

I also don’t argue with people on my page or take things too personally. It is far too easy to misinterpret comments. If I question something, I take the conversation private. My wall is not a place for debate–unless it’s a funny debate or one that focuses on proper grammar. In either of those cases, I’m in. By the way, “it’s” is always it is. Really.  Ask my high school English teacher.

Ok, so yesterday I got a phone call about a dog that someone didn’t want any longer. I have fielded calls for a local rescue group for a couple of decades now, so you’d think I would have heard it all, but I still get calls that shock and upset me. This was one of those calls. Basically, someone wanted to get rid of their dog because it just wasn’t convenient for them to care for him any longer.

After the call, I was pretty mad. I took that anger straight to Facebook and posted a fine little rant. I even labeled it as a rant so my friends would know what they were getting themselves drawn into. It’s (see…it is!) no small surprise that a good majority of my friends love animals. As I expected, my rant drew a number of immediate comments sharing my outrage.

People said my post made them angry…made them sad…made them feel terrible for the dog. Then one comment popped up that agreed I had written quite a rant. The poster asked what the purpose was…what were the readers supposed to draw from my post?

Good question. Admittedly, at first I was a bit put off by this comment. It’s my Facebook page and if I need to rant, well, I can rant. It’s a rare thing coming from me. I think I generally try to be a pretty positive person, so if I feel the need to vent, I should go for it. Right? Right? Well…maybe not.

After I mulled it over for a bit, I realized some very important things. First, the person who posted the question was not being rude or even, I believe, trying to challenge me. He was just asking a valid question. What did I want people to take away from this post? I hadn’t really made a point or used the situation to educate. I just shared pure anger.

In re-reading the comments that followed my rant, and there were a lot of them, I had only succeeded in making people feel sad…feel bad…feel upset. Well aren’t I just a little merry ray of sunshine? So why did I rant? Did I need to have my feelings validated? No. I was angry and I had every right to be. Sharing my anger did not make things better for the dog or for me. Sharing my anger just threw fuel on already bad feelings.

You know what? I’m sorry. I don’t want to be that person. I handled the phone call by educating the caller to the best of my ability. It really didn’t need to go any further than that. Ranting didn’t solve anything, it certainly didn’t make me feel better, and it caused my bad feelings to multiply.

You know that saying, “you learn something new every day?” Well, I think in my case it should read, “you have the ability to learn something new about yourself every day, you just have to be open to it.” What I finally figured out today was that the comment questioning my reason for ranting ticked me off not because it was rude or inappropriate. It irritated me because it made me think…and it made me see a really good point. Sometimes the truth is hard to face.

To the person who made that simple, yet thought-provoking comment…well, I don’t know that you’ll ever read this, but I hope that you do. I really want to say thank you. After just a bit of self-righteous pouting (such a pretty trait, really), I came away with a very good revelation and I am grateful to you. If I need to rant again someday—and I will, I am far from perfect after all—I’ll find a friend with a good ear and I will ask permission to talk through whatever frustration is weighing me down. I won’t just toss it out there like a big, soggy blanket to drag everyone else down.

Now, I’m going to get back to my favorite things about Facebook—connecting with people, sharing humor/sarcasm, posting gratuitous adorable photos of my animals, and sharing bizarre photos of some of the people I see at Wal-Mart. Ok, some of those things are probably not exactly on the moral high road, but did I mention I’m far from perfect? I’m working on me, though. I’m working on me.

Afterthought…

I want to make it clear that I do believe Facebook has more value than just a place to laugh, be silly and post photos. For me, Facebook has also been a forum for some incredibly meaningful conversations, learning opportunities, and great connections. I belong to some groups that have inspired me to pick up creative pursuits that were long neglected. I have learned so much about so many topics through social media. Facebook and other forums are fun, yes, but also valuable tools when used properly. I wish I had let my anger over the phone call that inspired my rant subside before I posted about it. I wonder how much I might have learned if instead of posting about being mad, I had posted seeking input on the situation. Next time. See…I am working on me!