This dog, I swear

We’re getting to the point where we have more good days than bad with Stella, but she still tries my patience more often than not. She had been eating both meals a day consistently for a while, but then this morning she decided she didn’t want to eat breakfast. Granted, we got home late last night and it was around 11 p.m. when she ate dinner, so it was probably our fault.

But then she was a complete chore to walk this morning and I had to cut our walk short after only a block and a half. She lept so forcefully after a car driving by that I thought my arm was going to come out of its socket, and she whined and pulled in every direction down the block, so after she did her business I turned around and took her right back home. I tried stopping and saying “No pull,” changing direction, making her sit and calm down each time she pulled really hard, but none of it worked today so I just gave up. Hopefully she’ll be better tonight.

Everyone keeps telling me to enjoy her puppyhood, but I’ll be honest: I can’t wait for her to grow out of it and calm the hell down. I’d love to be able to start reading/playing video games/sitting still again.

Currently

This weekend Ian’s uncle came to visit, and since it rained for almost three days straight we spent much of our time eating and drinking our way around town—indoors, of course.

In what turned out to be a grave a miscalculation of value due to the weather, I had rented two lenses from LensRentals.com to try out on the new 70d I just got last month. Despite all the rain I still needed to get out and see what they could do, but Ian and his uncle were good sports and let me drag them around whenever we had a break in the rain. (Stopping at several bars along the way probably helped my cause, I’m sure.)

Ian’s uncle is a cool dude—a former prison guard at a medium security prison, he’s now retired and stopped here on his way to Cherokee, N.C., where he was going to gamble on the house for a few days. He regaled us with stories of his time in the Air Force and as a lieutenant in a correctional facility, and as a boy growing up in very, very rural West Virginia, and we introduced him to more craft beer than he knew could exist in one town. I figured out early on that in order to not spend the entire next week hung over I needed to act as the designated driver while we were out on the town, and I think that was probably the smartest decision I could have made. Those boys can really drink.

Stella gets some scratchin'

The upside to the rain, though, was that when it cleared for a bit yesterday we had some nice afternoon weather for back porch-sitting. I used the opportunity to conduct a little photoshoot with Stella, who was happy to finally be able to spend some time outdoors without getting soaked.

But now it’s Monday and it’s about to rain again. Last year when we moved to Chattanooga in July, it rained almost every day for a month. Everyone kept telling us that it was so strange for this time of year, but it looks as though the strange might have become the norm and the non-stop July rain is repeating itself.

Our dreams betray our fears

I had a dream last night that I was dying of cancer. I had just been diagnosed and was given a year to live, maybe. There was a 10 percent survival rate for the kind of cancer I had. I stressed that to everyone who said maybe I’d make it through. “Ten percent,” I said. It was inevitable. I was going to die.

I think I remember telling people the cancer was in the back of my mouth and spread to my lungs, like the squamous cell carcinoma my cousin had, but it wasn’t the same thing. She was in the dream, too, along with her husband, kids and my aunt (her mother). They played a part, but I think eventually that morphed into another dream. Can you have two dreams simultaneously?

Most of all, I remember the overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness. I was distraught about knowing that I was going to leave Ian all alone. Alone to deal with the dog, the cats and the house. To deal with the world alone. I hugged him, crying, and told him he should find somebody else after I died so he wouldn’t be alone forever. I was so concerned about him being left alone and I felt the weight of that crushing me. I didn’t know you could feel lonely for someone else, but I did and it was gut-wrenching.

I also remember being scared of the pain that would come with dying. With getting sick from chemo. How my hair would fall out, and I’d be nauseated all the time and lose my strength and my bones would show through my skin. I would waste away to nothing and then disappear.

Our neighbor was in the dream, too. I walked to her house with Stella to tell her about what was going to happen to me. At one point, I think she morphed into Red from Orange Is the New Black. We watched the episode last night that dealt with Rosa’s cancer and treatment, so I guess that’s where this all came from.

Everything in the dream felt so rushed. I was visiting people and making plans because I was getting ready to start chemo, but really I was preparing for my death. It was inevitable. The dream was the last of my days before I started chemo. The last of my days before I had to accept that I was dying. Before I really started the dying.

I always thought that my greatest fear was death because of the ceasing to exist. But last night I was more scared of the pain and process of dying and leaving my loved ones behind. I woke up feeling sad, but not crying. I was uncomfortable. I still am.

Stella celebrates the Fourth of July

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On Friday, Ian and I packed up and headed to Murfreesboro to celebrate the Fourth of July with family and friends—and Stella, of course. This was the first time in the three months we’ve had her that I actually felt like I understood why people think having dogs is fun. Wait, that sounds worse than I meant it. It’s just that she’s been so much work and we really haven’t taken her out to do much fun stuff for more than an hour or so.

She was so good at Ian’s mom’s house, though. We grilled out and everyone hung out in the back yard talking, drinking beer and playing badminton and cornhole. We tied Stella’s 30-foot lead around a tree, and she hung out there with us. She got tangled in the chairs and table some, but everyone who was mingling around would just pick up a chair or call her to walk around the other side of the table to get her untangled. For once I actually felt that she was an easy dog. She wasn’t scared of anything or anyone and was happy to just be part of the crowd. Ian’s sister’s dog, Dom (an old Chihuahua), was there and so was our friend Alex’s Shih Tzu, Chloe. Chloe was happy to play with Stella, but Dom didn’t want anything to do with either of them. He’s a cranky old man, though, so he gets a pass.

We weren’t sure how she would react to fireworks that night and had brought along several treats and an unwashed shirt that smelled like me to put in her crate and hopefully keep her calm. It turned out we didn’t need any of that, as she wasn’t scared of the fireworks at all. She was pretty tired after an exciting day, and ended up laying down under my lawn chair to watch with the rest of the crowd. Our last firework was this huge (really awesome) mortar that had about 20 shots in it, and I think that might have made her a little nervous. She got out from the chair and started pacing around a bit, so I took her inside and put her to bed and she didn’t make a peep. Of course, she was ready to go the next morning at 6:30 and didn’t care that we were all hungover and exhausted.

After I took her for a walk around Ian’s mom’s neighborhood, though, she was like a different dog than she is at home. She was content to lay around on the floor or the couch with us and watch TV as we convalesced. I’ve literally never seen her stop moving for more than 30 seconds unless she’s sleeping, so this was an encouraging development. We left her at Ian’s mom’s that night and headed up to his dad’s house in Mt. Juliet (where I ate ribs for the first time in years!), and Sunday when we came back to pick her up she hugged me. Arms on shoulders, licking my face, burrowing her head in my hair. It felt a little like what I imagine picking a real child up from grandma’s house would feel like. Go ahead and barf at the sweetness.

Now that we’re back home, though, it’s been a struggle to get her eating her food again. I don’t know if she’s sick or if she just doesn’t like her food, but it’s starting to worry me a bit. Last week I bought her Natural Balance dry food (Sweet Potato and Bison flavor—a grain-free, limited ingredient food that is regarded as a high-quality dog food) and started transitioning her over last Wednesday. She was doing good, but I think eating scraps on July 4th spoiled her because when we got home she refused to eat. This morning I realized that she just picked out the new food from the mixture and left the old, so I think tonight I’m going to try just giving her the new. There isn’t too much left of the Nutro, and I’m sure I can donate it to a local shelter if she won’t eat the rest of it. I just hope her issue is that she got tired of it and wanted something new, not that she’s sick. Or that she’s going to refuse to eat dry food at all. Canned decent dog food is expensive and really not something I want to have to budget for (we’re talking $120/month minimum, and she’s still growing).

Updates!

I took an accidental hiatus from blogging. I guess that’s what happens when I’m out living life bigger than I normally do. A bunch of shit has happened recently and while some of it warrants individual posts I don’t have time for that right now. So, a list!

1. Apparently eating fish really was a slippery slope, because I fell completely off the no-meat bandwagon. I can’t remember exactly when it happened—late March, maybe? You’d think I’d note something like that, but I guess I wasn’t really sure that it was going to stick. Ian was sitting there one morning during brunch eating some local breakfast sausage from Enzo’s (a market that sells local/organic meat and fish) and it smelled so good. I tried a little piece, and then later in the week I decided I wanted to eat some chicken. So I went and got some local free-range chicken breasts, Ian cooked them, and it was all over.

So, yeah. I am not eating meat too often—maybe once a week or so? And I am trying really hard to eat only local, organic meat. I don’t really eat a lot of red meat—I have tried steak and ground beef and it just tastes weird to me now. For the most part, I eat chicken and some pork. I have had a couple of McDonald’s hamburgers but damn, I just feel like shit afterward. Both mentally and physically. So I’m definitely going to stick to the quality meats if I keep this up.

People have asked me why I started meat again, but I really don’t have any exciting reason. I just did. Boring, I know.

2. I went to Ireland with my mom for 10 days. This definitely deserves its own post, which I plan on writing as soon as I’m done editing the bajillion pictures I took while we were over there. This is taking longer than expected because all of the skies in the pictures are grey and blah-looking. Which I guess was to be expected considering the climate and weather there.

3. Stella is doing well. When I got back from Ireland she was pretty much housebroken—she’s had two accidents in the past month, which I suppose is pretty good. We got our backyard fully fenced-in right before I left for my trip, and I think that made all the difference. Of course, now we have to go out regularly and comb the grass for dog-bombs. But that’s nothing compared to having to take her out on a leash numerous times a day, and she can zoom around back there to her heart’s content.

She graduated puppy school and got a certificate and a medal; it’s pretty cute. She also completed a three-week course called Really Reliable Recall that helped us work on getting her to return to us when she is off-leash. She’s not super great about it, but we have to keep practicing with her three times a day for a year. Yikes. I’m trying to get her into a leash-training course now, but I guess there’s so little interest that they don’t hold it regularly. That just seems ridiculous to me—surely there are a bunch of other dogs who suck at walking on leashes. But besides that class, I’m going to let her have the summer off and we’ll just practice around the house with what we’ve learned so far. I’ll probably enroll her in an advanced obedience course in the fall, though, because I can definitely tell that the classes help her (and us).

The biggest issue we’re having right now is that she doesn’t want to eat her food. When I was in Nashville last week for work Ian noticed that she wouldn’t eat in her crate but when he put the food down on her mat in the dining room she’d eat it. I thought that meant she was ready to transition into eating in the dining room, but when we tried to do it regularly she was uninterested. I think what she wants is to graze throughout the day, which I am not going to let her do since I need to have a good idea of when she needs to go to the bathroom. So I’ve cut down on her treats during the day (which in turn means cutting back on training, which kind of sucks) and am feeding her back in her crate again, and she’s eating a bit more. According to the bag of food she should be eating a cup of food twice a day, but she’s really only eating about a half a cup twice a day. She’s gained weight so I’m not too worried, but it does seem kind of weird to have to try to convince an otherwise food-motivated dog to eat.

She might just not like her food too much, so I am considering switching her again. She’s been eating Nutro Natural Choice since right after we got her, but she’s never really been in love with it. She loves the Natural Balance food logs we use for training treats, but that stuff is ridiculously expensive and it works so well as a training treat that I’d rather reserve it for that. I might try switching her to their dry food, even though it’s twice the cost of the Nutro. She’d probably love any brand of wet food, but that’s crazy expensive too. Even the cheaper “good” brands like Nutro would end up costing us about $120/month if we did canned food. I keep telling her a shelter dog shouldn’t be so picky, but she just looks at me with these sad eyes and then I feel guilty.

Oh! King Boo is starting to like her, I think. They’re starting to try to play with each other, and although they haven’t really gotten the hang of it he doesn’t kick her ass every day like he used to. She still respects and fears him, but I can tell she really likes him, too. And I think he is starting to like her more. He just doesn’t fully trust her.

So, yeah. That’s pretty much been my life the last month and a half. New diet, traveling a lot and dealing with the dog. I’m looking forward to what’s hopefully a quiet summer.

Solo parenting is hard

Ian left for Hangout Fest with some friends on Thursday morning and won’t be back until Monday night, so I’m solo-parenting* this crazy dog and let me tell you—this shit ain’t easy. I’m used to doing the morning and day routines, but usually Ian is home in the evenings and will entertain her for a bit to give me a break. But for five days, it’s just me. And the cats are no help, the little bastards.

My plan was to take Stella out to the park today and then walk around the North Shore (and make a stop at the dog bakery over there), but it’s cold and has been raining since 9 a.m. so we’re stuck indoors. I did take her for a mile walk this morning—in the rain, mind you—and I hope it quits raining later so I can get her evening walk in, too. I can definitely tell a difference in her attention span when she hasn’t gotten her walks in.

She has a million toys, but she’s a puppy so keeping her attention isn’t exactly easy. Even when I’m engaging her with toys or little training sessions, she loses focus very easily and it wears on me—especially at night when I’m tired and just want to chill out for a bit.

Ian and I decided back when we adopted her to go ahead and have our backyard fenced in, since the fence that was here when we moved in was purely decoration. Our yard has a slope to it and the fence is vinyl, so there were a ton of gaps where the bottom of the fence didn’t meet the ground due to the slope. It’s less than six months old, but it has no value as a fence. Besides the giant gaps (two of them I could have crawled under), it wasn’t closed at the driveway so she could have just walked right out. And since we live off a fairly busy road, we decided we didn’t want to take any chances. After getting a few estimates, we hired a company to build us a wood fence that will be flush with the ground and have a gate at the driveway. I’m losing the ability to pull my car up partly into the backyard, but I’m glad to trade that for being able to exercise Stella off-leash.

Old fence

Seriously, look at those gaps.

Unfortunately all the rain lately put the fence company behind schedule, so they didn’t get started until yesterday. It took all day to get the old fence taken down and set the posts for the new fence that’s going up. The posts have to set in the concrete, so they’ll be back Monday to finish up. Originally I thought it would have been nice to have the fence for this weekend, but it’s all muddy and gross outside so I probably wouldn’t have had Stella out there much anyway.

I was impressed with the guys’ care in taking down the old fence, though. I told them we were going to be selling it on Craigslist, so they saved every single screw that came out of it for me. I also told them not to worry about the posts since those were concreted in and I knew it would be a pain in the ass to deal with them, but they actually took great care in removing all of them—they even knocked the concrete off the bottoms instead of just shaving the post off at the ground. Hopefully they are just as careful with the new fence they put in Monday. We might end up with the best-looking fence on the block.

*Obviously this isn’t the same as being a real single parent, but give me a break here. I’m exhausted.

More adventures in puppy obedience class

Last night was the fourth class in our six-class obedience program, and Stella did so-so. I’d give her a B for the first part of class and a C for the second half, but I think she just gets bored. An hour seems like a long time to expect a puppy to pay attention when there are all these other puppies that she could be playing with instead! And treats left all over the floor. And weird and intriguing smells.

She still lacks more focus than most of the other dogs in class, but I was able to get her to sit and lay down on cue so that was cool. Last night a boxer took the prize for worst dog in class, as he literally would do nothing but lay on the ground and bite his leash. I felt bad for his parents; the woman was mortified and obviously exasperated, and eventually the teacher asked the husband to come up to the circle and try to help but this dog was just over it all. The teacher even applied bitter apple spray to his leash and that didn’t really make a difference. He just lay there on the ground rubbing his face on the floor and eating his leash. Eventually he got his act together and would sit/lie down when asked away from the group, but he really didn’t participate much in any of the activities.

As unruly as Stella can be and as much focus as she lacks, I want to kind of pat us both on the back for not collectively losing our shit—in public or in our house—like this boxer and his parents did last night. They were yelling at him as quietly as they could without making a (bigger) scene across the entire building, yanking on his leash and grabbing at his face. I mean, I get it. Dogs can be really freaking stubborn and annoying. I will holler after Stella when I catch her going to grab some cat poop and I have yelled at her a time or two when she has chased Gordo (ok, and I might have yelled “Get your fucking leash on!” the other day after a particularly challenging morning where all she wanted to do was jump at my face). But I have never spent several minutes in her face screaming at her, and I definitely have never yanked on her leash or grabbed at her as a punishment.

Sitting there watching this scene, I remembered how my dad used to yank and hit our border collie, Mollie, and it made me really sad. I started petting Stella’s ears and telling her she was a good dog, and who knows, maybe she sensed my discomfort because she started paying better attention to me and sitting/laying much more quickly when told. It was probably just the treats I was giving her, but I’d like to think she realized for a minute that we were in this together. I’m lucky to have a dog who doesn’t completely lose her shit during training exercises, and she’s lucky to have an owner who doesn’t teeter on the edge of abuse when she doesn’t do what I ask of her.

One month

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As of yesterday, we’ve had Stella in our family for one month. It really is amazing how much can change in a month’s time.

We’re falling more and more into a routine that’s working for all of us, and we’re finally starting to see some payoff for all of the training we’ve been doing. Stella is getting really good at “sit” and “down” (for a while she was confusing the two), and I learned the other day that she understands “drop it,” too, and will do it sometimes even when we’re outside—where she’s super-easily distracted.

She’s started sleeping through the night more, but she is still having some accidents in the house when she’s been out playing. The Sunday before last she was great about scratching at the door when she had to go out, but then she peed on the floor twice within a couple hours. I’ve been told this is just a symptom of “puppy bladder,” though, and she should grow out of it eventually.

On the advice of our trainer, last week I bought her a small prong collar and the Gentle Leader to aid in our leash training. The prong collar did nothing for her—she saw a squirrel or a car or just decided she wanted to pull me down the block and it was like she was just wearing a regular old collar. I guess she’s so fluffy she couldn’t feel it poking into her skin.

She absolutely hated the Gentle Leader the first couple of times I put it on her—well, when Ian and I put it on her, since it’s a two-person job. One has to hold her still and the other has to get it connected around her nose and head. I didn’t think we’d even make it down the block with that thing on—she head-banged her way down the block, only stopping to paw at her nose to get it off.

We’ve been using it now for almost a week, and while she still hates it she doesn’t fight me quite as hard. She’ll paw at it the first block or so, but then she kind of just gives up and starts walking like a normal, not insane dog. I am training her to walk on my left side so there’s a lot of me pushing her to the side with my left leg, and every time she starts pulling forward I’ll stop and say “No pull.” After about three or four blocks she seems to get tired enough to stop pulling, and we get a couple more blocks of good walking in before she sees another dog or person and takes off again. Another plus of this collar is that since I have control of her nose it’s really easy to stop her from eating things on the ground that she shouldn’t—cigarette butts, chicken bones, food containers with random foods left in them, other dogs’ poop… yeah, some of our neighbors aren’t the tidiest bunch.

Anyway, I was really skeptical of using the Gentle Leader because of her strength and stubbornness, and after the first day I thought it’d never work. But I’m glad we’ve stuck with it, because this morning she had a really good walk. There was still a lot of “no pull” and “get back on your side” talk, but she is getting better. And I think having to behave wears her out more than going wild on her own, because whenever we get back to the house she is ready for an ice cube and a nap.

The real test will be seeing if she can wear this thing during obedience class tonight. I have a feeling she’ll have peeled it off her face within the first five minutes, but we’ll see what happens.

Class clown

Last night was our second puppy obedience session, and once again Stella was the second worst dog in the class. Well, when I say worst I mean she was pretty bad at walking on a leash and paying attention to me. When it comes to friendliness, she’s the best. She has such a sweet disposition that it’s hard to stay mad at her, even when she’s embarrassing me in front of a room of people with puppies half her age who are obeying their owners like a bunch of goddamn show dogs.

One of the lessons yesterday was learning how to have dogs safely greet each other. Stella and I were paired with another owner and we were supposed to let our dogs touch noses, say “Good dog one, good dog two” and then call our dog back to us with food. Except the puppy Stella was paired with kept jumping on her head and pushing her to the floor, so when I tried to call Stella back she was pinned down and couldn’t come back to me. She was trying to get the damn dog off her head. I feel like that was the fault of the other puppy and not Stella, but we both were told our dogs didn’t do it right. Boo.

A week before classes started we booked a private session with a trainer to get help with crate-training and house-breaking her, and during that session we were told to get her a martingale collar to help with her leash-pulling issues during walks. So I got her one, but it hasn’t been helping. I brought it to class last night to make sure it was fitted properly (it needed to be tightened a bit), but after seeing how bad she was on a leash the instructor told me that we’re going to have to get her a small-pronged training collar or the head-halter version of the Gentle Leader. So I guess tonight I’m off to PetSmart to buy her the fourth and fifth version of a collar that will hopefully help her learn how to walk on a leash without pulling. I really hate to put a prong collar on her since they look so mean, but we tried one on her at the end of class last night and she didn’t pull nearly as bad. She wasn’t too excited about it being on her, but she didn’t act like it hurt. Hopefully all that fur is acting as a buffer.

It’s funny how much I took for granted about dogs before I had one. I knew getting a puppy was going to be hard work, but I guess I assumed she would learn to walk on a leash somewhat naturally and house-breaking would come pretty easily since she was supposedly already house-broken when we got her. I saw all these people walking and playing with their dogs in public and assumed it was easy to get there. Who knows, maybe it was for some people. I can’t imagine the entire population of dog owners are these genius trainers who spend hours a day teaching their dog how to be perfect, but maybe they are.

She did learn the cue “down” the other day, which was cool. Although we had to do it in class last night and the trainer told me I shouldn’t have to say it more than once, so I guess we still need to practice that since she doesn’t get it until I’ve said it about 20 times. But at least she’s learning!

“You have brought shame upon our family”

That phrase was uttered several times last week during our first puppy obedience class with Stella. It’s not that she’s a bad dog, she’s just easily excited by other dogs. And people. And the smell of treats. And bugs. And her tail.

To say she’s unfocused would be an understatement.

The class she’s in teaches basic obedience but also allows you to socialize your puppy with other dogs. Well, before and after class. You’re not supposed to let your dog play with other dogs during class, and Stella does NOT get that at all. If she were a kid, she’d be getting sent to the principal’s office for talking too much.

Tomorrow is our second class, and I hope she does better. I’m not sure how long it takes dogs to recognize they’re not in a brand new environment, but I kept telling myself she was losing her mind last week because everything was so new. We’ll see, I guess. At least she wasn’t the worst dog in the class. That honor goes to the black lab who had to be given a chew toy because he kept crying/barking/chewing his owner during the introduction portion. Oh, and there was a cattle dog who looked to be a senior in there. I’m not sure what that dog’s deal was, since this class is supposed to be for puppies who are between 5 and 10 months old.

There are things she is really good at that are important to us, though, like riding in the car and how she acts toward the cats. She is such a good car-rider—she’s learned how to jump into the back seat and doesn’t fight us when it’s time to get in or out, and she isn’t nervous or jumpy when we’re riding around town. She’ll usually sit up and look out the windows for a while, but after a few minutes she’s content to lay down and take a quick nap.

She’s also better than I could have ever expected with the cats. I’m almost afraid I’m jinxing myself by admitting this out loud, but she is very respectful of them. She has gotten good at not chasing Gordo anymore, which I am pretty sure we owe to King Boo and can’t take any credit for ourselves. She still tries to play with them, but as soon as they hiss at her she’ll back off. Most of the time, though, she ignores them in favor of her toys or Ian and I. Considering that was my No. 1 fear about getting a shelter dog, I feel very lucky and relieved.

We took her to a local growler shop on Saturday (they’re dog-friendly, like many places in Chattanooga), and she did really well there, too. She did want to jump on anyone who walked in the door and said hi to her, but I kept her on a short leash and she eventually laid on the floor at my feet. (Giving her treats to stay in her “down” position helped, too.)

Even if she never learns how to walk on a leash properly, if we can end up with a cat-friendly dog who behaves at bars, I’m going to feel like we hit the jackpot.