A manipulative little …

Kevin and I are in agreement when it comes to our parenting philosophy—we occupy that middle ground between helicopter parenting and free range parenting. But the rules differ when it comes to Galen. I spoil her, and Kevin, well, he grudgingly lets me, even when doing so leaves him lacking one of humankind’s most basic needs: a good night’s sleep.

You see, Kevin claims there is a causal relationship between his lack of sleep and our four-year-old pup’s presence on our bed. Perhaps, but for as long as I’ve known Kevin—almost two decades—he’s been a poor sleeper. I will concede, however, that having fifty-eight pounds of sacked-out dog inhibiting him from tossing and turning doesn’t serve his cause—though I gather all that tossing and turning doesn’t either. (I, on the other hand, rather enjoy when Galen presses her furry self up against me as if I were one of her littermates.)

I keep a sheet on the bed to keep fur off the comforter. Galen beat the sheet onto the bed.

I keep a sheet on the bed to keep fur off the comforter. This night, Galen beat the sheet onto the bed.

The irony of our situation is that Galen is only on the bed because one night, when she was a puppy, Kevin got lazy. Initially, Galen would hang with us, on the bed, until lights out. Then we would put her in what we called her “jail”—a metal pen at the foot of the bed that surrounded a large, comfortable dog bed. (I’m confident in its creature comfort because Gryffin slept on it for years—by choice.)

One night, when Galen was about a year old and I was out of town, Kevin was so exhausted he didn’t jail her.

You know what happened next.

No amount of American cheese could lure Galen back into her pen, and if we picked her up and placed her in it, she whined … and whined. So we did what we’d never done when our daughters cried in their cribs—we gave in.

Of course, we’re not alone in our habit of canine co-sleeping—several recent studies have found that nearly 50 percent of dog owners sleep with their four-legged friend–and Kevin isn’t alone in bemoaning its negative effects. Indeed, according to a study presented at last year’s annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, 30 percent of co-sleepers reported being awakened by their dog at least once a night, 63 percent reported their sleep quality suffered, and 5 percent said they had trouble falling back to sleep once awake.

Still, as Bill Barol writes in Why It’s So Wrong—But So Right—To Sleep With Your Pets, many sleep-deprived dog owners, like himself, choose deprivation over kicking their pet out of bed. His take on why: “Dogs are the greatest human-manipulators on the planet.”

The great manipulator.

The great manipulator.

I’d agree, as would Kevin. Many times I’ve heard him refer to Galen—lovingly, mind you, perhaps even admiringly—as a “manipulative little b*tch.” It’s his term of endearment for the girl who curls up beside him, and between us, each and every night.

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Autumn Book News

I’ve always loved the way autumn ushers itself into the northeastern United States: Leaves turn orange and amber and yellow; the sky, devoid of clouds, shines the brightest lightest blue; and summer’s heat and humidity retreat, leaving the air brisk and invigorating. This is also the time of year that the Jewish people celebrate the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are days of reflection, when we contemplate the year behind us and welcome the new one stretching before us.

Four years ago, Rosh Hashanah fell on a gorgeous fall day. My family had yet to go to synagogue, had yet to read the passage about this being the time of year when God makes his plans for how each of us will experience the year ahead. But apparently God had already made his plans for our dog, Gryffin, because that Rosh Hashanah morning, in the car with my husband and our eldest daughter, en route to the Sourland Mountains for an hour-long hike, a tumor that we hadn’t known was tucked behind Gryffin’s ribcage ruptured. Several hours later, our boy was dead, and we were sitting in a pew in our synagogue wrestling with our grief and our shock.

I didn’t know then that I would look back at that day as the start of a new journey – a journey that would begin with my family adopting Galen, a rescue dog from a North Carolina animal shelter, and that would culminate with the publication of my first book.

That book, Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem will be released by Ashland Creek Press next autumn. (Despite living in the digital age, book publishing moves at a pace seemingly closer to that of the Gutenberg press than that of the Internet.)

Dogland is Galen’s story, and it is the story of the South, where, more than in any other region of the country, healthy, adoptable dogs in overcrowded animal shelters are euthanized to make room for the next ones that will inevitably come through their doors. And it is the story of humble visionaries who believe there is a home for every shelter dog, that spay/neuter rates can rise in the even the poorest communities, and that the South’s children – the next generation of dog owners – can transform a culture. What’s more, they believe that their ideas and their passion can transcend the South to the many communities throughout the United States where euthanasia is used to remedy the problems of shelter overpopulation.

In the coming months I will be moving this blog to a new website built to herald the release of Dogland. I hope you will come with me, that you will continue to support this blog, and that you will consider purchasing (and reading) Dogland. All the proceeds from the book will be funneled back to the people and programs working to end shelter euthanasia, which remains the leading cause of canine death in the United States.

-Jacki

The many faces of fetch

“Dog, you get dumber by the day.”

I lift my head from my book. Kevin is standing in the middle of our backyard talking to Galen. She is several yards away on a small island of black mulch that circles a tree near where our yard ends and our neighbor’s begins. Galen’s purple ball – it looks like an oversized kettle bell – rests on the ground in front of her. She picks it up by its handle, shakes it furiously, and then returns it to the earth.

“Bring the ball,” Kevin says for the third, maybe fourth, time. I watch the scene unfold from our deck – my husband and my dog are infinitely more interesting than the story I am reading.

Galen stands her ground. At this, Kevin turns and walks toward the back of our property, which stretches for two acres. Galen darts after him.

Kevin and Galen are engaged in a tug-of-war of sorts over the rules by which the game of fetch should be played. Kevin would prefer the traditional rules: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves. Dog returns ball to human. Galen prefers a more complex version of the game: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves ball and runs to the mulch (or to a mound of wood chips, remnants of a tree that once shaded the deck). Human approaches dog and repeatedly tries to kick ball out of dog’s mouth as dog raises her hips in the iconic downward-facing dog posture, all the while refusing to release the ball until the human says, “Drop it.”

Interestingly, Galen isn’t our first dog to refuse to play fetch the way the game was intended. Gryffin, too, established his own rules, which called for a stick in addition to a ball. In Gryffin’s version: Human throws stick. Dog retrieves it and waits for human to throw ball. Then, with stick in mouth, dog chases and then pounces on ball. Human walks to dog, grabs stick, then ball. In neither Galen’s nor Gryffin’s fetch does the dog return the ball to the human.

I often wonder how it is that Kevin and I raised two dogs who can’t play a traditional game of fetch. Sometimes I like to think it’s that we raised our dogs much like we are bringing up our daughters – to be creative, independent thinkers for whom we provide the parameters within which they are permitted a large percentage of freedom.

Other times, I concede that our dogs trained us better than we trained them.

Back from their walk, Galen grabs her purple ball by the handle and runs to Kevin. He pets her, heaps praise upon her. This is how the game is played, he tells her. Then he hurls the ball across the yard. Galen retrieves it and runs… back to the mulch. She shakes the ball and looks at Kevin expectantly. This time it is Kevin who stands his ground.

I smile inwardly. It will only be a few seconds before Kevin walks toward Galen. You see, she is the more stubborn of the two. And she’s no dummy. She knows she’s trained him well.

Galen

Galen and her favorite fetch-worthy ball.

I want my sleep back

When my younger daughter was an infant, she didn’t sleep. Not at night. Not at nap time. What she did was cry, especially in the evening, so I took it upon myself to diagnose her with colic. Thus, I had an explanation for why she cried and why there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The colic eventually passed, as did her habit of rising before the sun. She never took to napping, at least not until she went to daycare and was under somebody else’s watch. It took several years, but now she sleeps like a champ.

Over that long haul, I came to savor a good night’s sleep. And I’ve become adept at getting one.

But recently, Galen has started messing with my beauty rest.

When Galen was a puppy, Kevin and I let her hang out on our bed while we watched TV or read, but she slept in a pen in the corner of the bedroom. As she got older, she became less interested in the pen, so we took to bribing her with American cheese. One night, she refused the bribe. She looked at me, looked at the cheese, and didn’t move. I put the cheese under her nose so she could get a good whiff. Nothing. I picked her up, put her in the pen, gave her the cheese, and turned out the light.

Almost immediately, whining. Kevin and I ignored it. More whining. More ignoring. The whining got louder. Is a dog like a baby, we wondered? Should we let her whine it out? If we did, would she wake our daughters? How many nights would it take? Because we each had work the next day, we let Galen back onto the bed. We agreed to take a hard line over the weekend.

The weekend came and went.

Once Galen sensed she was on the bed to stay, she left the no-man’s land at the foot of the bed to nestle her fifty-eight pound frame up against Kevin. That proved problematic, because Kevin doesn’t sleep well. He tosses and turns and wakes during the night. Having nearly sixty pounds of dead weight inhibiting all that movement made his pursuit of zzz’s all the more challenging. He started threatening to put Galen back in the pen; she would whine, he said, but she would get over it.

I cringed. When we wanted our daughters to sleep through the night, we let them cry. But for some reason, I couldn’t do that to Galen.

Perhaps I should have.

A few weeks ago, Galen settled into a new night-time routine. She jumps off our bed at lights out and retreats to the family room to curl up in her crate. Then, around 4:40 a.m. – I think the delivery of our newspaper must wake her – she returns, lies next to me, and because I’m a side sleeper, she whacks me on the back with her paw. I give her head or belly a quick rub. When I stop, she whacks me again. And again. Until I pet her. If I stop, whack. This goes on until my alarm goes off.

If Galen persists, I may be inclined to do something I’ve repeatedly said I do not want to do: I might have to cancel the newspaper.

iVacuum

Some people remember their dreams; some don’t. I only remember my anxiety dreams, and I’ve come to believe that that’s because they’re the dreams I have most often. (That should tell you something about me.) Also, nine out of ten times, I have the same dream I’ve been having since the early 1990s, when I went to work for CNN. It unfolds like this:

I am in the Headline News newsroom, at a computer, writing a story – the story itself is never clear. A clock on the wall ticks down the minutes to show time. As it ticks, I type. The show starts; I type. The show ends; I’m still typing. Never do I morph into the Holly Hunter character in “Broadcast News,” who darts through the newsroom, videotape in hand, making her deadline. No, my deadline passes, and still, I type.

So I was surprised by the dream I had the other night. In it, my vacuum breaks, and I am left to pick up Galen’s hair, strand by strand. I’d clear a small section of the living room’s hardwood floor, only to find it fully covered moments later. This sequence repeats over and over and over…

In truth, a broken vacuum cleaner would be my nightmare. Galen sheds a lot, so I vacuum at least once a day. As much as I love my dog – and I love her a lot – I hate the sight of dog hair.  Kevin knows this about me, so he pointed out a story in Sunday’s New York Times, “Robot Vacuum Makes War on Cat Hair.” According to the article, the newest Roomba by iRobot “not only cleans floors as well as an upright or canister vacuum cleaner, it may actually do a superior job on pet hair.” Sold!

Galen She eats, sleeps, plays, and sheds.

Galen
She eats, sleeps, plays, and sheds.

Or so I thought, until I got to this little bit of information: It sells for $700. The reporter said he’d have to go through “considerable financial contortions to justify the purchase.” So would I. And I would also have to consider Galen – she already hates the vacuum. Would she hate the Roomba – a flying saucer-shaped contraption that scoots across the floor in search of dust, dirt, and pet hair? Then again, should I even consider her feelings, when she is the reason I vacuum as often as I do?

By the end of the article, the reporter seemed to have financially contorted himself enough to make the purchase. I’m not there yet – though a few more of those dreams or a broken vacuum cleaner, and I just may be. But for now, I’ll pass on the Roomba by iRobot and stick with what I know best: iVacuum.

Indulge the dog

On a recent Sunday morning, Galen threw her version of a hissy fit.

It was about seven o’clock, and Kevin wanted to take her for a walk, but Galen didn’t want to go. She stood in the driveway, immobile. Kevin yanked her leash; she stood her ground. He came inside, grabbed a slice of American cheese, and bribe in hand, returned outside. I was sitting at our kitchen island reading the newspaper. I looked out the window expecting to see my husband and our dog round the corner of our driveway into the street. I saw nothing.

Moments later, there was Galen in the backyard, darting after her purple ball, pouncing on it, shaking it, romping with it, exuding pure joy. She’d gotten her way: She was playing ball with her daddy.

Studies show that dogs have the mental acumen of a two-year-old. Both know about 165 words, understand numbers up to four or five, and can show basic emotions like happiness and anger. I would add (anecdotally) that both can be stubborn, especially when demanding their way.

When my now-eleven-year-old was two, she threw a tantrum because she didn’t like an outfit I picked for her. She was intent on choosing her own clothing, which would have been fine if what she chose matched. But it didn’t. So I yelled, she screamed, and we got nowhere. In that moment, I believed that what she wore reflected my competency and ability as a mother, not to mention my sense of style. Kevin stepped into the room and said, “Pick your battles.” I swallowed my pride and empowered my daughter, and from that day forward her clothing clashed – until one day it didn’t. (Of course, by then our younger daughter was either mismatching clothes or leaving the house in full princess regalia.)

As many parents learn, not every battle is worth fighting. But I’ve begun to see that when it comes to Galen, we pick fewer fights. She demands to eat her meals outside. Fine. She refuses to go for a walk. Fine. She wants to walk, but without a leash. Fine, but not on main roads. She sleeps on our bed. Fine –we half-heartedly fought this battle, but caved to her crying. We are suckers for our dog. We are far more strict with our daughters.

Perhaps that’s how it should be. Galen will always live under our roof, a toddler for all time; our girls will grow up, move out, live life on their own. The battles we pick — and choose not to pick — will shape the adults they become. So we indulge our dog, but we battle our daughters. Because we are madly in love with them both.  

***

As Kevin was persuading Galen to go for a walk, I was reading this in the New York Times: “A few months after we took him in, Harley began conducting sit-down strikes during our walks, sprawling as flat as he could in the road in sort of a canine version of planking.”  I had to laugh. I’ve stood in this reporter’s shoes, as Galen, too, sat then sprawled mid-walk. It’s nice to know there are other canines as quirky as mine.  

Superdogs

Police accuse a New Jersey woman of suffocating to death four five-week-old American Bulldogs by stuffing them in a cooler.

Puppy Doe Photo from the Animal Rescue Leage

Puppy Doe
Photo from the Animal Rescue Leage

A Massachusetts resident finds a lifeless young Pit Bull near a Quincy park. “Puppy Doe,” as she is called, has so many broken bones and stab wounds, is so malnourished and weak, that veterinarians can’t save her.

A night-time break-in at a Georgia shelter leaves three dogs dead and fifteen injured. Police say it’s possible that the shelter’s dogs were attacked by dogs brought in by people involved in dog fighting, who wanted to prep their dogs for future fights.

I read about each of the above heartrending cases in the past several weeks. The stories are hard to stomach. I’d love to write that they are unique, aberrations. But they are not. Dogs are the victims of abuse and cruelty more often than any other animal, according to Pet-Abuse.com.

They deserve so much better.

These stories got me thinking about a foundation started in September by Leigh Ann Errico, a friend of a friend. The kidkind foundation and its companion website, www.wearthecapekids.com, are committed to making our communities better places to live, by “restoring the power of kindness and good character.” Errico, the mother of four, writes she’s been disheartened by “the seemingly never-ending string of jaw-dropping news stories,” of incivility, of cyber-bullying, of people treating others in ways they would never want to be treated themselves.

The idea behind “Wear the Cape” is that “we are all everyday heroes, or at least capable of being heroes by doing the right thing, the kind thing, the helping and inclusive thing.” Dogs wear the cape every day: They love us, protect us, are our most loyal friends and trusted teachers. And they do all of this unconditionally.

Perhaps one of their greatest gifts is that dogs help parents raise children in ways that benefit all of society. Here’s how: Researchers investigating the human-animal bond routinely find that children who grow up with a dog have greater compassion, tolerance, and empathy for others.

sisters

sisters

Like so many parents, my husband and I are trying to instill empathy in our daughters. We are fortunate to have Galen to help us in this endeavor. She is there every morning to wake our girls with a cold wet nose to the face. She is there every afternoon, the first to greet them when they get off the school bus. (I remain in the house and watch from the window as their backpacks fall to the ground, smiles brighten their faces, and they drop to their knees to say hello to their tail-wagging sister who’s as thrilled to see them as they are to see her.) I see their love for Galen grow every time they pet her, kiss her, talk to her. And she never fails to return the affection.

Just as dogs are our heroes, we need to be theirs. And that leads me to one other story I read this past week: A two-year-old Pit Bull riddled with bullets was left to die on an Arizona mountain trail. A female hiker found the dog and carried its limp, 47-pound body down the mountain, saving its life. She named the dog Elijah, and her family is now fostering him.