Stella turns one

Last Friday we celebrated Stella’s one-year birthday, since that’s the date listed on her shelter paperwork and we really didn’t have anything else to go on. October 17 seemed like as good a day as any, so that afternoon I went to the dog bakery and got her a bunch of treats and a big cookie that said “Happy Birthday!” on it.

We decided to spoil her for the day (like she’s not spoiled every other day of her life), so all afternoon I gave her treats and then that night after she ate her dinner (I can’t believe she still ate “real” food after all the bakery treats) we went outside and gave her the gigantic cookie.

Stella is having the best night ever.

She LOVED it.

She took it over into the grass where we couldn’t steal it from her and ate the whole damn thing in about five minutes. She was so excited.

She had a pretty big Saturday, too—some friends of ours were in town and they brought their Shih Tzu, Chloe. She’s eight and wasn’t a big fan of crazy Stella jumping all over her, but eventually they played a bit and Stella was just glad to have another dog around in this house full of cats. Even if it was just for a day.

We used to call her a shark because it seemed like she thought if she stopped moving for more than 30 seconds she would die, but she has been calming down some lately and there are many nights she’ll just chill on the couch with us. Luckily, Sunday was one of those times and she hung out pretty much all day either on the floor or on the couch. I was sick with a stupid cold that won’t go away, and Ian and I were both pretty hungover, so it was the best possible time for Stella to start acting like an older dog instead of the crazy puppy she’s been for the past six months.

Don’t get me wrong—she still has a ton of energy and zooms around the yard (and the house) on a regular basis. We’re enrolling her in a once-a-week day camp program this week to try to help her expend some of that energy and to continue her socialization since we don’t have too many local friends with dogs she can play with regularly. Her spunky personality is one of the things I love most about her, and I don’t want it to go to waste sitting around all day with a bunch of lazy cats and me while I work.

But seriously, you guys. The fact that she’s starting to calm down a bit has me almost as excited as I was when she finally stopped peeing in the house.

Stella totally pwned the first night of her new obedience class

Stella is back in obedience class, this time taking one for dogs 10-24 months old called Manners Matter. It builds on the skills we learned in STAR Puppy and teaches different ways to get our dogs to focus on us and to stop pulling on their leashes, barking, jumping, etc.

The first class was Tuesday, and after the introduction we were told to make a large circle with our dogs and get ready to practice having them focus only on us for 10 seconds. I immediately got nervous and expected Stella to make a fool out of me, since in past classes most of the other dogs completed their tasks effortlessly while Stella’s tried to run around the room like a crazy asshole.

But I’ll be damned, I got her attention and said “Watch me!” and that little turd looked me dead in the eyes for 10 seconds! So I gave her the treat, and we did it again. I was afraid the first time was a fluke, but no—she focused on me again! We tried a few more times and occasionally another dog would bark and break her gaze, but for the most part she focused on me for as long as I’d ask her to (as long as it wasn’t more than 10 seconds or so).

The second skill we practiced was teaching our dogs that patience rewards you and demanding what you want means you get nothing (so basically the opposite of real life). I had to hold a treat in my hand and let her smell it, but she couldn’t have it until she moved her head back away from my hand and the treat. She could nudge and lick my hand, but as soon as she tried to use her teeth or if she touched my hand with her paw I had to put my hand behind my back and say “Nope!”

Knowing how impatient Stella is I figured she would not be on board with this patience exercise, but she surprised me again. She put her paw on my hand twice, but that’s it—the third time, and every subsequent time, she moved her head back after only a few seconds and waited for me to give her the treat.

I was so excited I yelled “Holy shit, Stella, you are so smart!” and the couple with two young kids and a German Shepherd glared at me. Their dog was whining and barking the whole time and had to have a barrier between it and the other dogs so I think they were already in a bad mood. Sorry guys, I was just celebrating how smart my shelter dog is.

No joke, after nine weeks of classes where Stella was always one of the worst-behaved dogs, this time she was the best. She got a little restless in the last five minutes of class, but otherwise she was completely on-point. If I could have high-fived her furry little paw and yelled “SUCK IT HATERS!” I totally would have. Actually, that might be a trick I try to teach her.

Things are getting better all the time

Stella has been calming down some, at least during the day, which means that she isn’t having to be crated all day long while I’m working. (For those not familiar with my situation: I work from home, but I had been crating her because it is impossible to work and monitor a puppy’s every move.)

Lately she’s been putting herself in her crate after our morning walks, but since she puts herself in there I leave the door open and she mostly just naps until around lunchtime. In the afternoon she gets a bit restless, but I only put her back in her crate now if she does the whole inside/outside/inside/outside thing too frequently. She doesn’t quite understand yet that mama has to work and can’t be interrupted every five minutes to let her out or in.

But while she had been crated the whole time I was working with a break every couple hours, she’s now only being crated maybe half the day, if even that. She loves her crate, though, which makes me feel like we’ve done the crate-training thing right.

Last weekend my mom came to visit, and as soon as she left (like, within hours) we noticed BK hanging out on the dining room table while Stella was out in the living room. And then later she sat on the coffee table in the living room and the two of them touched noses.

This doesn’t sound like much, but ever since we adopted Stella, BK has confined herself to her 7-foot-tall cat tree or one of the spare bedrooms upstairs. Up until last weekend she made sure that the only time she was on the main floor of the house and out of her cat tree was when Stella was safely contained in her crate.

BK and Stella

But ever since last weekend, BK has been spending more and more time out and about while Stella’s roamed free. There have been several instances where BK has been sitting on the coffee table in the living room and Stella has walked up, smelled her face and then walked away without incident. Every once in a while BK will meow when she sees Stella walking near her, but Stella hasn’t chased or provoked her and BK hasn’t swatted at her. And that actually surprises me, since Gordo punches her in the face every time she’s within arm’s reach of him.

I have no idea what changed. It’s like all of a sudden BK remembered she’s this giant, majestic cat who rules the house. And without any fanfare, she returned to us.

I’m not going to question it, though I do continue to marvel at how each cat interacts differently with Stella.

m4s0n501

Joy

There’s this thing Stella does when she gets really excited. She jumps in the air, all four paws coming off the ground, and spins. She runs in front of me to do it, and looks back to make sure I’m watching. To make sure I see how happy she is.

When we first got her she used to do this at mealtime. But I guess now she’s figured out that she’s going to get fed twice a day no matter what, so it’s not that exciting anymore. At least not enough to warrant a goat jump.

But she does it for walks. She knows now in the morning that when I walk past her crate to grab my glasses, it’s almost time. She knows when I’ve put my glasses on and let her out of her crate we’re about to go for a walk. She’ll wiggle her butt when I ask her to sit before leaving the crate; it’s almost too much for her to handle. And then she’ll goat-hop out of the bedroom in front of me, looking back and smiling, making sure I see how excited and happy she is.

She’ll lead me to her leash, in case I forget where it is, and if I walk past it into the kitchen she’ll follow me, hopping some more. She smiles so much that we’ve started calling her Smiley Cyrus. With her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth, the nickname fits. I hope the butt-wiggling isn’t her version of twerking, though.

She’s such a happy dog. I ask Ian a lot if he thinks that she loves me, since I’m always the one enforcing the rules and laying down the law. But every morning when it’s time for a walk and she looks at me with pure joy in her eyes, hopping and spinning and smiling at me, I’m pretty sure she does.

I fell in love with New York City

A couple weeks ago I took my first trip to New York City. I was going for a work conference in the middle of the week, but since I’d never been before I decided to take some time to explore the city on my own before I had to get down to business. Despite having grown up in a big city, I was nervous about going alone. New York sounded daunting, and while I like spending time by myself I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d feel spending three days alone in a city I’d never visited before.

NYC

As it turns out, I was fine. I was better than fine. The thing that struck me most about New York was that it’s an amazingly large city, but it was so easy to be and feel anonymous there. Every day I was surrounded by a sea of people, but I felt more invisible than I’d felt in years.

I loved that.

Once I figured out the subway system, I felt like I could do anything. Unfortunately, I only had a few days to myself, so I hit some highlights. I went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; had brunch on Bleecker Street; walked the High Line; had some drinks at a cool bar called Brass Monkey where a guy bought me a drink because I was “nice” (and didn’t try to harass me!); visited Grand Central Station—specifically for the Apple Store but I also had a Magnolia cupcake while I was there; almost had a panic attack walking through the throngs of people in Times Square; visited the American Museum of Natural History; walked miles and miles through Central Park; and did a ton of walking around the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village and SoHo. I ate some great pizza, awesome bagels and one really amazing corned beef sandwich.

Grand Central Station was crazy

I can’t believe I waited so long to visit, and I definitely want to go back. There is something about that city… I can’t put my finger on it, but now I know why everyone is so enamored with it. I was surrounded by so many people, but I was completely in my own world. It was so freeing. I was alone, but I never felt lonely.

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

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.