Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dealing with Dogs

When I was young, my grandparents had a beautiful female dalmatian named "Buttons". She loved living by the lake, playing with us (including letting me play solitaire on her side as she slept), and was cutely afraid of thunder (she would always hide underneath my grandfather's desk - her safe place). Oh, and she was easy - or so I thought at the time. In retrospect, I'm sure I didn't have an understanding of how much work my grandfather had gone through to train her properly.

Fast forward several years... My wife and I found out that our first son had allergies to dust, cats and yes, dogs. I had to deal with the fact that we might not ever have a dog until my son went away to college. This was sad for me because of my found memories of Buttons. After some years, though, we thought we'd see if he might have more of a resistance, so we tried adopting a dog from a shelter. This didn't work out so well - not only was the (long haired) dog causing my son allergy issues, but the dog had emotional issues, and was very destructive to the house if we ever left. Probably separation anxiety. We had to return the dog, and everyone cried.

More time passed, and we felt the itch to try again. This time we decided long in advance to start giving my son allergy shots, which really seemed to help overall. We also did our research on dog breeds, and decided on a Hungarian Vizsla. They have very short hair, hardly shed at all, and only one coat (most dogs have both an under-coat and an outer-coat; Vizslas don't have under-coats). They are not hypoallergenic like Poodles (who have hair not fur), but they are low allergy dogs, and great with families. They do require lots of exercise and mental stimulation, though. No problem, right? We've got a big yard...

So one day we found an ad in the newspaper for Vizslas. Not very common, so we called the family (who lived in a town not too far from us), and quickly made a trip to pick one up. His name was Franklin (after Benjamin Franklin). He was so adorable, and everyone loved him very much. We spent lots of money on him - including building a really nice kennel attached to our garage - and dealt with lots, and lots, and lots of pee accidents. That was difficult for us, but we rolled with it. Unfortunately, his life would not last long - he died while recuperating from his neutering operation. I know that sounds strange, but it happens. The problem was that one of his testicles didn't "drop", so the vet had to perform surgery to remove one of his testicles. Franklin did actually make it through the surgery, and came to afterward, but then died. His heart stopped. The vet worked on him for 45 minutes including heart massage, etc. - but to no avail. We were absolutely devastated. It seemed that we just weren't meant to have a dog. For long anyway...

We decided to do an online search, and this time found a professional Vizsla breeder. Expensive, but we wanted a replacement for the hole in our hearts, so we put down a big chunk of cash. We had to wait several months for the mother to have her litter, then for the puppies to be old enough to leave her. During this time, something unexpected happened... the family where we got Franklin from called us. One of Franklin's litter brothers was returned, and needed a home! Now what were we going to do? We already had money down on the breeder puppy, but here was a chance to get Franklin back - sort of - by adopting his litter brother. So, we did that, and the family didn't ask for any money. We named the new dog "Benjamin" (to go with "Franklin"). Ben was a bit older by that point of course, so he was already potty-trained. Phew! Time to spend more money, including a property-encompassing invisible fence, and, of course, a slew of vet bills.

After not too long, though, it was time to pick up the breeder puppy. We never planned on having two dogs, but after a family vote we decided to pay the rest of the money and go for it. We thought it would be great for Ben to have a playmate, so we made the trip to the breeder to pick up our new Vizsla, "Alexander" (after Alexander the Great; we now call him "Zander"). Time yet again to spend more money, including an indoor garage kennel that connects via doggy-door to the outdoor kennel we already had, buying another invisible fence collar and, of course, a slew of new vet bills. (There's a pattern here someplace; I'm trying to put my finger on it...) Ben has had obedience training, and Zander will also in due time.

Not to be void of his own scary vet story, one day Zander decides to pull apart and eat a large amount of carpet we had for him to lay on. It gets stuck in his intestines, he gets lethargic, his pupils are all wacky, his gums are discolored, he's dehydrated, and he throws up whenever he tried to eat. My wife brings him to the vet, and to add insult to injury, my wife is made to feel that we are irresponsible dog owners. In the end, after some (thankfully) non-invasive vet work, a special diet and $600 spent, he pulls through. The hard lesson learned here is that we don't leave the dogs alone with anything but hard-rubber toys. Everything else is candidate for destruction and ingestion: like the dogs' bed, and the corner of the armchair, and the top of the ottoman, and the holes all over the yard, and the pond where I used to have such beautiful thick cattails, and our carpets before Zander (who is "almost" potty-trained... any day now... we hope...). The list goes on and on.

One last story will bring us up to today. In fact, it happened just today. I was just starting this very blog post, when I hear my wife scream downstairs. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that we have chickens, and today being so warm we decided to let the roosters run free. Turns out that the dogs were out at the same time, which wasn't such a great idea. They are usually good about leaving the chickens alone, but today was different. My wife found both dogs biting at one of the roosters, who was just sitting on the ground frozen. It seems like she caught them in time, and the rooster is okay, but it was frustrating to say the least.

Now, after several paragraphs, I will finally get to the point...

Believe it or not, we love our Vizslas - even after all the horror stories I recounted above. There is a saying, "a tired dog is a good dog," and so we try to make sure that they get lots of stimulation and activity, through walks, playing, etc. We have to keep reminding ourselves that they are still puppies (Ben is not quite 1 year old and Zander is just about 6 months). Hopefully they will calm some as they get older, or at least curb their destructive tendencies. Thankfully, they have many cute and funny moments - and just like newborn human babies who cry and poop and are so much work - they are like little angels when they sleep. All snuggled up, it is their time of forgiveness, when you look at them snoring and "just can't be angry at them any more".

What I am trying to learn through all of this is patience. Ben and Zander have indeed added much more responsibility - and some stress - to our lives, but they are pure beings, and there is something to be learned there. Humans are complex: they hide their true feelings, they lie, they can be subversive, etc. Dogs, on the other hand, are much simpler to understand (although not always simple to care for). If they are happy, you know it. If they are sad, you know it. If they want something, they either beg for it or just try to take it. There is no deep interpretation necessary with dogs. Unlike cats - who tend to be a bit more mysterious - dogs wear their hearts on their sleeves. Maybe we should be more like dogs. Not the part about peeing on or eating the carpet, or the part about attacking the chicken, but about being true to - and about - ourselves. It's about living our lives without guises. As frustrating as they can be sometimes, I love them, and am certainly learning more about myself through their presence.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Errant Epiphany"?

Why have I decided to start a blog? Let me tell you it is something that I've put off (and it has "put me off") for quite some time. I never really understood why people did it. To brag maybe, to share their goings ons with their friends and family (although the advent of myspace, facebook and twitter have eclipsed that), delusions of grandeur ("Lots of people will read this! I'm gonna change the world!"), etc., etc... Well okay, I've had my guesses why people did it, but none of them seemed like good reasons. At the end of the day, the truth for 99% of bloggers is that they're doing it for themselves. Some sort of self-gratification. I'll be honest here: for me, it's no different.

To understand my blog's purpose, let's first disect the title of this blog, "Errant Epiphany". According to Merriam Webster:

1: traveling or given to traveling errant
2 a: straying outside the proper path or bounds b: moving about aimlessly or irregularly c: behaving wrongly d: fallible

1 capitalized : January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ
2: an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
3 a (1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b: a revealing scene or moment

I'm going to go with errant's definition 2a or 2b (although 2c or 2d might work as well at times), and with any of epiphany's permutations under definition 3. The idea is that this blog is really about making some sense out of what I encounter in this life. Maybe, as part of the process of writing down my thoughts, I can untangle them. Sort of like meditation-while-writing. A "pensieve" for you Harry Potter fans.

Now, I'm not a writer - nor do I play one on TV - so if you decide to get your vouyeristic fix by reading my blog, you will have to be prepared for the occasional grammatical error and punctuation mistake. Proceed at your own risk. Which reminds me, I'm not just a hard-working professional who loves his wife, children and pets - I'm also a guy who has no problem admitting that swearing, drinking, enjoying sex, watching horror movies and listening to "the devil's music" are all part of his life too. For those that know me well, I can be quite blunt - sometimes to a fault - so consider yourself warned.

If you do continue on, I do sincerely hope that my musings might be of some benefit, that they might get you to think outside your normal comfort space a bit. But again, you are not the reason for this blog, and I make no promises that every entry is going to be life-changing. On the contrary, there might very well be seemingly insignificant posts like how mad I was at the store the other day. But hey, I can promise you that it will all be real.

Let's give this thing a shot.