I took the whole everlovin' weekend off this week—didn't do a lick of work for two days. And in the middle of it managed to sleep for ten straight hours, which is a rarity of rarities for me. It left me feeling like I'd found what Ponce de León was looking for. I needed the downtime.
In the Dog News Dept., I'm happy to report that our newest family member, Monsieur le Beurre, is progressing very well. You might recall Butters came to us with some problems. He had a gut parasite, a bad scavenging habit from his time as a stray, and pronounced issues with separation anxiety whenever we tried to leave him alone. And he wasn't, uh, housetrained.
But Xander and I—and Butters—have been working hard every since. And with excellent post-adoption support from the Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) in Waukesha, we've been working smart too. He's healthy and getting happier every day. After a brief regression he seems to have gotten the hang of house training. I'm learning a lot about dogs and about the latest and most advanced positive training techniques. I think his understandable fears are diminishing—he's learning to trust that he's safe and has a permanent secure home here.
Butters and I met our favorite dog behaviorist at the park on Friday for his first off-leash experience since we got him. It was great to watch. Leann had told me from the first that Butters is "socially aware" with other dogs—and she's right (well, naturally). A pent-up desire to meet-and-greet with other dogs, and the frustration it causes when they can't, can contribute to "leash reactivity," and it was obvious that Butters was enjoying mingling freely with his own species. He was like the cool kid in school who can adapt to any situation and fit right in with the crowd. Made friends with both humans and dogs. For me it was just nice to see the easy and natural way he fell into enjoying himself. And he got to stretch out and really run, which he doesn't get to do here except when he and Lulu are scrambling through every room in the house chasing each other.
Of course Butters was tired out after all that unaccustomed exercise. He collapsed in the car on the way home and slept for a fair amount of the rest of the day. But he's young, and his energy was restored quickly. The remarkable thing to me is how much more relaxed he's been all weekend. The effect has lasted. It's as if the experience opened up a spigot under his pent-up anxiousness and drained it out of him. He's been calmer, and less reactive on his walks. Seems like his afteroon at the park was exactly what he needed...
...Which I'm sure is why Leann planned it, of course. She has a lot of knowledge of dogs in general, but she's also perceptive about animals as individuals, and in the moment. HAWS seems to be a very well-run organization—our experience with them has been nothing but great, at every step.
As with children, it's not always easy knowing what dogs need and when. It's worth the effort to figure it out. What we've been seeing with Butters is what happens when animals are given love and good treatment and have their needs met consistently—he's gaining more confidence, assurance, and reinforcement almost with every day that passes. It's gratifying to see.
We lucked out big-time with Butters-boy. He's a very affectionate, smart, personable guy. He seems to love being with me at all times. He curls up at my feet when I write.
(He's back in the same position right now.) No question about it: dogs improve life!
(Thanks to Leann)
"Open Mike," which usually appears on Sundays and is often off-topic, is when Yr. Hmbl. Ed. is allowed off-leash.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dogman: "Butters is a beauty. And obviously well loved. I'm convinced the best thing a human can ever do in their lifetime is to make a dog's lifetime a happy one.
"Right now my wife and I are agonizing over our almost 16-year old Wheaten Terrier, Kiri. It's likely that this week we will have to have her put down. Prolonging her life would be cruel at this stage of the game but it's painful and depressing for us to take the final step.
"When I question whether or not to eventually get another dog, I remind myself of Kiri's better days. Our vet has remarked on more than one occasion that she has been one of the happiest dogs he has ever seen. And she has been. Her happiness has been contagious as well. Over the years, more than one person has commented on how just watching her go through her routines made them smile. So it is very likely we will adopt another dog some time in the future and work to make it happy. It's the best thing we can ever do."
Chris Beloin: "Dogs are great companions—we have adopted several with the Humane Society. Keep up the great work with your blog. I read it most days and enjoy the combination of photography and personal thoughts on life."
Mike replies: Thanks Chris! Glad you enjoy it.
Robert Billings: "Many thanks for this article. You are right, dogs do improve life."
Ailsa: "When I came across our current greyhound, Walt, on a rescue's website, my first thought was, 'That's our greyhound.'
"Our first greyhound, Archie, had died a number of weeks earlier. He developed bone cancer, and having to say goodbye to him was pure agony. In the days leading up to this, I lost count of the number of times I said to myself that I was never going to have another dog. I couldn't imagine going through that pain again.
"I am not a spiritual person, but when the vet did what he had to do, and I saw the light go out in Archie's eyes, the first thought to go through my mind—as powerfully as a thunderbolt—was, 'I'd do all this for another dog in a heartbeat.'
"The greyhound-shaped hole in our lives didn't last long, and nearly every day, my husband and I say how lucky we are to have Walt. He is a wonderful, daft, loving addition to our home. Some people have tried to suggest that he is the lucky one, but we definitely got the better part of the deal."
Mike replies: I remember when you got Archie and how over the moon you were with him. I'm so happy another greyhound gets to have the same great home Archie did.
Bill: "To be brief I have a disastrous spinal injury from Nam, ongoing spinal surgeries...enough.
"The relevance is that my Murphy, a tiny Scottie, would climb on the bed during long recoveries, walk up my chest and look in my eyes. Satisfied I was okay, she would lie at the foot of the bed and guard me for weeks. She passed unexpectedly and although not at all cleared to travel, my wife saw me so depressed she put me in a car and drove me from Connecticut to South Carolina and got me two Scottie puppies. Both of whom now do their own similar behaviors and on my dark days make life better.
"I am happy for you and Butters and have found much joy in your Butters columns."