Belonging to the Heart of a Dog: The Story of a (Humane) Society Girl

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This is a story about a dog.  It’s a story about rescuing a dog, and it’s a story about how it feels to love someone of another species, and how it feels to be loved in return.  It’s mostly a story about what it means to belong to the heart of a dog.

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The heart of a dog is no small thing.  In fact, it may be the biggest thing on earth.  How you get to belong to the heart of a dog can happen in many different ways, but to truly see how important it is, you have to start with one dog, and one dog’s heart.  For Tracey and Bill, it started with Sophie.

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Bill and Tracey met, fell in love, and got engaged.  They were happy together, and there was nothing missing.  But their love was big enough to spill out of their own hearts, big enough to share with someone else, and one day, Tracey said, “Let’s go see the dogs at the Humane Society.”

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There were so many dogs there, and most of them were jumping up and begging for attention, and they all needed homes. It might have been too hard to choose, except that Tracey and Bill saw a dog sitting quietly, her head tilted.  She was behind the begging dogs, with a dignity and grace all her own.  “I like that one,” Tracey heard herself say.  And Sophie found a home.

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Sophie was ten months old, when they adopted her, in October of 1997.  At first, she was afraid of being outside alone, and unsure of her new surroundings, but Tracey and Bill worked hard to reassure her that she was staying with them, that the bad times were over, that she finally had a home.  They referred to her as their “society girl”–Humane Society, that is.

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Luckily for Sophie, Tracey and Bill are the kind of people who know what it means to take care of someone. They brushed Sophie’s teeth, and cleaned her ears.  Because of her Shar Pei heritage, Sophie had a bath once a month with antibacterial soap.  Tracey and Bill watched Sophie’s signals; they looked into her eyes.  Understanding the needs of pack animals, Tracey and Bill made room for Sophie in their bed.  She slept with them until she couldn’t, and then, Tracey slept with her.  “I would get in bed with her, Tracey says.  “She was so gentle, and it was all kisses.”

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“Sophie always looked at me as if she was grateful,” says Tracey.  Being a grateful sort of dog, Sophie was watchful and patient, and always by Tracey’s side.  Sophie knew what it was to take care of someone, too.

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This story ends like the stories of all good dogs, with saying goodbye.  “She was one loved dog,” say Tracey and Bill.

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Here are some of Tracey’s rules for loving a dog.  Perhaps they will help you love your dog, just a little bit better:

On rescuing a shelter dog:

“Sophie came from the wrong side of the tracks.  She had mange; we had to cure that.  She was terrified of going outside by herself–I think she must have been left alone outside.  You have to be patient with a dog from the pound.  They’re grateful, but they’re fragile, until they figure out you’re not just another temporary space.

On the importance of routine: 

“People think dogs don’t wear a watch,” says Tracey, “but they know how to tell time. Routine is so important.  Sophie learned to set her internal clock by Bill, who made sure she had breakfast at eight a.m. and dinner at five p.m.  She knew someone would walk her between three thirty and four. She slept her in our room.  We watched her signals really closely. 

As dogs get older:

“It’s important as your dog gets older to see they have a different set of needs, and you need to help them stay a part of the family.  When Sophie lost her hearing, we googled and read books on deaf dogs.”

On what they learned from Sophie:

“We never walked in the door that Sophie didn’t get up to greet us,” explain Tracey and Bill.  “All she knew was unconditional love.  Her legacy to us is the question, ‘Why have a bad day?  God is good, life is good. Why have a bad day?'”

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So, in the end, this is a story about a dog, and how it feels to belong to a dog’s heart, and all the big and little things that entails.  It starts with falling in love, and it ends with staying in love, even when you say goodbye.  But every cloud has a silver lining, and there can be a happy ending.

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, the dog who’s passed sends a new companion your way: maybe a puppy, or a dog from the shelter, or an elderly dog who needs a home, or a dog of an entirely new breed.  They know how much humans need company.

Trudy and GG, meeting for the first time.

Trudy and GG, meeting for the first time.

GG thinking about sleeping alone.

GG thinking about sleeping alone.

GG, right before going upstairs to sleep with Trudy and Frank. "She healed my heart," says Trudy.

GG, right before going upstairs to sleep with Trudy and Frank. “She healed my heart,” says Trudy.

You’ll know when it’s time.  And somewhere, a dog will be waiting for you.

Jack Russell Terrier Dog Enjoying a Car Ride.

 

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them.  And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as loving and generous as they are.’–Unknown

With Gratitude for Our Animal Companions

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“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” –Anatole France

My love and passion for the earth extends to all her creatures, especially our beloved animal companions! I am a decidedly better person for having dogs in my life. Loving and living with dogs (first Labrador Retrievers, now Bichon Frises G.G., Tuffy and Ellie) has taught me so many things. One thing I’m sure of is that they deserve the best care we can provide, throughout their too-short lives. The photo above is me with my beloved Bichon B.B., who passed in November several years ago, and who is always in my heart. In this month of gratitude, I am so grateful for the unconditional love and companionship our pets give to us so freely.

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There are good people doing important work in caring better for our companion animals. One of my favorites is Ted Kerasote, author of the book Merle’s Door, Pukka, and Pukka’s Promise. In Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, he tackles the way we feed, vaccinate, train and live with our dogs. How many vaccines are too many? Should we rethink spaying and neutering? Is raw food really healthier than kibble? He interviewed hundreds of breeders, veterinarians and animal welfare experts to help us rethink the everyday choices we make for our companion animals.

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Ted Kerasote with Puppy Pukka

Ted believes, as I do, that the best place to begin is with nutrition. One of the most commonly used pet food ingredients is corn. Not only is corn rich in carbohydrates, raising blood sugar levels in dogs quickly, it’s also one of the most heavily sprayed crops, receiving 30% of all agricultural herbicides used in the U.S. We’ve seen massive pet food recalls for products containing tainted rice and wheat proteins from China. Dogs and cats have suffered kidney and liver failure after eating food from China contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers.

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We must be informed about what we give to our pets. They depend on us to safeguard their health, and their small bodies are quickly impacted by poisons. Like children, they are more sensitive to environmental pollutants because of their small size. It’s important to avoid carpets finished with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Use glass or stainless steel bowls for feeding, instead of plastic, which may contain endocrine disrupting phthalates. Pukka’s Promise is filled with the latest research and best choices. Learn more about Ted Kerasote here.

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I’ve written before about alternatives to toxic flea and tick remedies: read more here. Our dogs certainly shouldn’t be exposed to environmental pollutants, especially the herbicides and pesticides that many people unthinkingly apply to lawns. Too many people have lost pets at a young age to cancer. One of my favorite holistic pet stores is Earth Animal, in Westport, Connecticut. Founded by Dr. Bob Goldstein, and his wife, Susan, the stores carries products as green, natural and pure as possible.

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I encourage everyone who is concerned with the health of their animals to visit Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein’s Healing Center for Animals online. Founded in 1995, their focus integrates science, nutrition, emotional support and your own involvement in helping your companion animals recover from illness, or remain healthy as long as possible. They work with you and your own vet by phone, email or fax, conferring about the benefits of integrative medicine.

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November is the National Humane Society’s Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Older animals are often calmer, already trained, and happy to spend time on the couch with you. Puppies are adorable, but they’re also a ton of work. At shelters, older dogs are the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. And, as you can see in the photo below, they’re beautiful!

Devotion of the dog

Finally, when it is time to say goodbye to our beloved companions, it is natural to mourn them, and to seek comfort. Here are some books that I’ve found helpful for myself, and for friends when their dogs have passed away.

When Your Pet Dies, by Alan Wolfelt, PhD

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Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant

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Good Dog. Stay., by Anna Quindlen

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“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.  For the animal shall not be measured by man. They are not brethren.  They are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in a net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of earth.”–Henry Beston

Unplugged

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I’ve recently made a promise to myself to unplug more often from the internet, social media and my i-phone.  While I value the ability to stay in touch with my business, clients, family and friends, it’s too easy to spend a day emailing and texting and not have any thing accomplished at the end of it. I was encouraged in my resolve when I watched an episode of Bill Moyers on PBS that aired October 18, 2013, with MIT professor, author and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle.

In her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other,  Sherry Turkle says, “As we instant-message, text and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude…We discovered the network–the world of connectivity, to be uniquely suited to the overworked and overscheduled life it makes possible.  And now we look to the network to defend us against loneliness, even as we use it to control the intensity of connections.”

She describes groups of people in classrooms, meetings and social gatherings, all on their phones, as “there but not there.”  Where people used to speak to each other when they had down time, now they use it to catch up on e-mails.  Time to read, time to talk, time to see the world around us, has been replaced with a screen.  With our attention elsewhere, we don’t interact with the people who are next to us.

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Watch the Bill Moyers interview with Sherry Turkle here, where she discusses the problem of constant interruptions.  She says that technology promises us that we never have to be alone, never have to be bored, and that we can always be heard by someone, somewhere.

For an opposite approach to life, that of mindfulness and being present,  Pema Chodron talks to Bill Moyers about the value of not only powering down our electronic devices, but also quieting our minds. According to Chodron, spending time in solitude each day through meditation makes room for new experiences. It’s an excellent antidote to our fast-paced, constantly connected lives.  She says that even when her mind won’t stop its chatter during meditation, she still thinks more clearly when she is through.

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Comedian Louis C.K. has refused to buy cell phones for his children, which he considers especially toxic for young people:  “You need to build an ability to just be yourself, and not be doing something.  That’s what the phones have taken away–the ability to just there like this.  That’s being a person, right?”  Watch him talk about it with Conan O’Brien here.

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Turkle refers to the seduction of being constantly connected and endlessly entertained as “moments of more, and lives of less.” She asks us if technology is offering us the lives we want to lead?  And if not, what can we do about it?

Ironically, Bill Moyers turned to his Facebook audience for advice on how to unplug.  Here’s what they had to say:

Create Sacred Spaces:  Make the kitchen and dining room a device-free zone.  Turkle espouses this idea, but warns parents that it will be impossible to do if you wait until the children are teenagers to institute it.  Start when they’re young, and set a good example.

Collect the Phones:  Some people have had success with putting a basket on the table by the front door, and collecting phones as people come in.  If you like, you can add a sign that says, “Place your devices here so we can socialize while we visit with each other.”

Develop Self-Discipline:  People are becoming more conscious of their constant cell phone use, and are making it a rule for themselves not to text or email when they’re with friends and family.

Embrace your partner: Turn off the phone and kiss, says Bradley Harper.  And repeat.

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A writer I admire is Richard Louv, author of the international bestseller Last Child in the Woods.  In that book, he warned of the dangers of children growing up with what he called “nature-deficit disorder,” and inspired an international movement to reconnect kids and nature.  In his next book, the Nature Principle:  Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, ” he speaks this time to nature-deprived adults.  He says that our society has developed an outsize faith in technology, and that we are leaving behind the power of the natural world.

He encourages all of us to find our “one true place” in the world, a piece of land or water that calls to us.  For me, Nantucket has always been my “one true place;” my home on Long Island Sound is another.  Not all of us are blessed with living in the region of our choice, but Louv says we can make our home our “one true place” by discovering and becoming fully immersed in our own bioregion, bringing more nature to our homes and gardens

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I’m reminded of a remark  I heard from Chris Luebkeman, an educator and director for Global Foresight and Innovation at Arup, a professional services firm.  At the Design Futures Council meeting I attended this fall, he spoke about email overload, and said, “My inbox is full.  If you need to be in touch–call me.”

Chris Luebkeman

Let’s all see if we can’t empty our inboxes, and unplug for the holiday season.  I’m looking forward to quality time with the people I love.