Friday, April 30, 2010

Butterflies Everywhere

Butterfly; butterfly fly away,
teach me how to be as free as free can be.

Butterfly; butterfly I see you there, its beautiful the way your wings caress the air.

Butterfly; butterfly go as high as you can go, show me the things that I don't yet know.

Butterfly; butterfly fly into the sky,
drop down and land yourself by my side.

Butterfly; butterfly I see you kiss a flower,
my eyes fill and I begin to ponder.

Butterfly; butterfly your beauty soars,
I see the beauty in you and I see the beauty within me.

Butterfly; butterfly show me the way,
For beauty is beautiful but there's more to me.

Butterfly; butterfly show yourself,
I see your colors and I see your shimmer, is there anything else?

Butterfly; butterfly what is the matter?
can't you give me an answer for the questions I desire?

Butterfly; butterfly I see you dying,
life is far too short to sit around crying.

Butterfly; butterfly don't you go,
for your goal has not yet been accomplished.

Butterfly; butterfly let me lift you,
I peer into your eyes and see that there's a secret inside.

Butterfly; butterfly let it out,
your secret could hold great things, give me the secret to life.

Butterfly; butterfly let me know,
before you take your last breath; show me what you hold.

Butterfly; butterfly there you go...
You twitch away letting me that the secret to life is having the courage...
to just let go.

--Ashley Landry

Of course, if in doubt, or you aren't so interested in learning anything profound from butterflies or poetry, you can try out my new therapy dog move and just stick out your tongue. I think that works pretty well, don't you?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Work of a Therapy Dog

Now many of you might think that I spend my whole life frolicking around fields and galavanting around town. That's partly true. I am a lucky puppy. I live near a reservoir where there is enough space that I can romp and play. It's a real neighborhood place. People are there nearly every day tending to the grounds. During the spring the place really comes alive with flowers. Last Columbus Day there was a party at the reservoir where people drank hot cider, ate donuts, and planted daffodils and tulips. Regular readers of my blog have seen pictures of me sniffing the flowers.

I was out walking this morning hoping to sniff a few more flowers. The very warm days last week in combination with the very cold night last night took most of the life out of the flowers. I'll have to wait a spell to smell flowers now: once summer comes the gardens will be filled with flowers for me to smell again. Here is one last picture--caught the image right as the evening sun lit the tulip from behind.

Now where was I? I got distracted with thinking about frolicking in field. So yes, that's true. Part of my life is spent doing that. I also get to do a lot of galavanting around town. There are trips to the garden shop, weekly dog school, assorted drives to parks and trails, and of course I got to work every day in Cambridge.

It's that last part where I engage in my work as a therapy dog. Back in December I wrote about my friend Jerry. He's the homeless guy who I make a point of visiting every night on my way back to the car. It doesn't really matter what Jason wants to do--I pull and tug and otherwise insist that we walk to the spot on the sidewalk where he usually sits.

Jerry is a great guy: he also has a friend that I'm rather fond of too. She's convinced that I have special healing powers. A while back I did something that I hadn't done before: I went up on my back paws and put my front paws around her shoulders. The next day she found out she had a fever of 104 and was in the hospital being treated for a very serious condition. She attributes my attention as being what reminded her that she wasn't feeling well and needed to take care of herself. She is getting better but isn't out of the woods yet. I'm rooting for her.

Last night I played with Jerry and his friend for nearly an hour. It was so much fun for the three of us. I don't make judgments, don't have expectations, and don't ask for anything. I meet people where they are (in this case, literally right on the ground) with a wagging tail and open heart.

Jerry and his friend talked a lot about different observations they have made while sitting on the sidewalk. For example, they are convinced there is a shoe demon who lives under the bricks where they sit. All day long they watch the demon take women's shoes (heels fall off, ankles twist, and other such shoe travails) They also were talking a lot about animals last night. They asked if I was a rescue dog (yes, I am), and talked about different things they've heard about how people take care of animals in need. What was remarkable was this: two people with very little, living on the streets, struggling to survive, applauded the efforts of people who rescue abandoned and abused animals. Despite being people who many might say need rescuing themselves, my two friends found the wisdom to say that the measure of any person is how they care for those creatures most in need. I think my two friends are more wise than they can ever begin to know.

Jerry continues to remind me of the importance of slowing down, noticing my surroundings, and looking at things that many would rather not attend to. Are you willing to do the same?

Wednesday Smile

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dance When There Is Music/Eat When There Is Food

I had no idea that picture taking could become a training exercise. Jason grabbed his camera this morning and thought he'd take some pictures of me while we went for our morning walk. I of course had other ideas. There were three other dogs walking around. They needed to be played with. There was a family going for a run around the reservoir. They needed to be chased after.There were the squirrels. Yum. They needed to be eaten as I find them irresistible. Lastly, with spring here, there are birds galore. They are the most interesting, distracting, and amusing creatures I've ever met. They flutter around and always seem to be just out of reach. I sure do like trying for them.

Anyway, can you see the dilemma? Jason expected me to sit still. I most clearly had other plans. Who do you think won out? We both did, of course. How'd we manage that? I thought you might ask.

When Jason had a good night sleep, is well fed, and generally not crabby, he seems to subscribe to the notion of dancing when there is music and eating when there is food. He goes with what is rather than what he thinks he wants. He tells me this is radical acceptance. I've got no idea what that means, but I know when he is doing it things go smoothly. He doesn't lose patience with me. We have fun. Everything in the world seems right. When he isn't radically accepting things as they are he gets upset, I get scared, and we generally don't seem to have a very good time.

This doesn't mean Jason gives up and does whatever I want. He's not a push over, and I don't rule the roost. Take his photo shoot this morning as an example. The spring flowers are up and he wanted to take some pictures. Aren't they lovely? Do you have any idea what he went through to get this one rather average image? Let me tell you: a lot.

You see, I kept walking into the shot. For every single shot of flowers Jason took there were about ten that were either sideways because he was trying to hold me out of the picture or had a blurred image f my ear or tail off to the edge. Why? Flowers after all aren't just interesting to people. Dogs like them too. I'm particularly fond of biting the flowers of daffodils (much to Jason's horror as he is told they are poisonous to animals). I also like sniffing them. Sometimes I find exciting things like butterflies or bumblebees on the blossom. This is my first springtime so this is all new and exciting. It's natural that I want to sniff and explore. That and since I have no idea what a camera is I don't know that I'm supposed to stay out of the image.

So what do you do? Do you get mad and yell at your dog? Have you tried that? Doesn't work very well does it? When people yell at us dogs we understand there is a problem but have no idea about the nature of the problem. If I got yelled at during the photo shoot I'd be just as likely to think that I get yelled at every time there is a camera in view, or that sniffing flowers is bad and I shouldn't ever sniff. That wouldn't be very good.

Here is where radical acceptance comes into play. Dogs sniff. Dogs get in the way. Dogs get distracted by all sorts of things and want to explore. Jason eventually got around to accepting this. Once he did, he had a choice: get mad at me, leave me at home and go take pictures, take me for a walk and take pictures, or accept that he won't be able to take the pictures he wants and instead take pictures that he can take when I am around. He selected the last option.

Now I'm sure you all have encountered these sorts of dilemmas all the time. Maybe you even feel bad because you can't "control" your dog. Maybe you even yell at your dog, or hit your dog in an attempt to exert some sort of control of the situation. It happens to all of us. It's not pretty, and it exposes cruel parts that we all have. It also provides a precious opportunity to discover a deep sense of playful and peaceful compassion toward ourselves and others.

Dance when there is music. Eat when there is food. That's what I say (yeah yeah yeah, I don't actually speak, but you know what I mean). So many wonderful part of life pass us by while we are busy complaining about not being able to do the things we want to do. So many opportunities to change our experiences pass us because we are too occupied denying what is happening in the moment.

Take a moment, find your feet, find your breath, and most importantly find the moment. It is in that exact second when you truly become alive, become powerful, and become able to change.

By the way, birds and squirrels turn out to be great training tools. I quickly discovered that if I stared at them without moving, they didn't run away from me. As a bonus, when I sat and stared intently at them for a period of time, Jason rewarded me by letting me run after them and chase them around the field. Jason got rewarded by taking this head shot of me, staring longingly off into to the distance at a robin. I was totally in the moment and he was too.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No Flexi-Leash

So I nearly gave Jason a heart attack a couple of days ago. He got the bright idea to bring the flexi-leash to work. You know the kind of leash that rewinds itself and maybe has 15 or 20 feet of lead? They are great most of the time--but maybe not for hearding geese.

I was having a great time until Dr. Butterfingers (that's Jason) lost hold of the leash. It was so scary! The thing came flying after me! No matter where I ran, the handle of the leash chased after me. I tried so hard to get away from it but nothing worked. I ran faster as my panic increased and started for Memorial Drive. If you dont know it, Mem Drive has a 35mph speed limit. Most people go 60mph.

Dr. Butterfinger's got scared and no matter what he said, he couldnt get me to listen. He finally got some sense: he ran in the direction he wanted me to go, faked that he was happy excited, and started waving his arms around in a playful way. I was still scared, but I followed him.  This took me away from the street. When I got close he stepped on the leash and grabed me.

This was a close call. I really could have been seriously injured or even killed. Jason learned a few lessons. First, he needs to practice my emergency recall more. Do you have a good emergency recall with your dog? It's a good thing to practice. Regardless, even if I was an expert at it, I probably would not have come right to Jason when he called. I was just too scared. Second, Jason learned that the flexi-leash isn't a wise idea in crowded or other areas that have a good deal of distractions in them. I'm a hound and am designed to chase after things that look like they need to be caught. The flexi-leash just doesn't offer enough control like a regular leash. As I pointed out to Jason, he never has dropped my regular leash--even the big ten foot one. Third, Jason was reminded that in an emergency situation he needs to become a larger than life stimulus to me. When he became very big, very exciting, and ran away from me I am much more likely to run toward him--even when terrified of that terribly frightening flexi-leash chasing after me.

Pay attention to all of this--it could save the life of your dog someday.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dogs Can Help Children Become Better Readers

A recently released study demonstrates what has already been known anecdotally: children can become better readers when they regularly read aloud to dogs. One study found that children's reading fluency improved by 12 percent while a second demonstrated a 30 percent improvement.

Curious and want to know more? Check out the R.E.A.D. program which is offered through the Intermountain Therapy Animals. Live in New England and interested in bringing a pet partner team to your classroom or library? Check out New England Pet Partners. If you're the patient sort you can wait until I am old enough to take my therapy dog test: than you can schedule some time with me, Magnolia Wigglesworth.

Here are a few clips about dogs used in reading programs. If you have some spare time check the box on the lower right hand side of your screen entitled Therapy Dogs in Action. There are nearly 30 clips there about therapy dogs in all sorts of different situations.

Wednesday Smile

While this isn't an activity I'd recommend you try at home, it sure is awfully cute. I bet you all wish you could fall asleep this easily.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My First Birthday Approaches: Want to Join Me?

By my best estimation, I'll be turning one year old on June 16th. It is hard to believe the journey that I have taken. One of nine puppies, I was born in Kentucky. My mother had heartworm and was unwanted. When we were just one day old her owner dropped all of us off at a shelter. He didn't want to care for any of us: doctors say that my mom showed signs of being neglected for awhile. Because we were so young and our mother was ill, we were destined to be euthanized.

We were lucky. Someone noticed us and took us to their home. We were again noticed and taken to a foster family that works with an organization in New Hampshire. Peace and Paws safely transported me all the way to Bedford New Hampshire where we all stayed together as a family. My mom nursed us all until we were old enough for new homes: she was then nursed back to health and is enjoying a very nice life on a farm.

I was adopted by Jason when I was 12 weeks old. Here I am a few days before I was adopted. Aren't I just cute? Shortly after I came to my new house I started my new job as a therapy dog. It's been a journey for both of us: I've learned all the tools of the trade (sit, stay, down, roll over, leave it, snuggle, relentlessly kiss faces, etc.).

Since those first days coming into the office, I've had a mind of my own. I've made it a point to interact with people on the street that most don't normally pay attention to. Ask anyone that knows me: I demand that Jason stop and love each and every person on the street that appears in need. I've befriended scores of homeless people, said hello to every child that is crying, and kiss every lonely person.

Sure, it's exhausting. It's also what I like to do. As my teacher Maureen has said, something great happened to me when I was a puppy, my life was saved, and I was adopted into a home that cared for me. When I put my paws up on a homeless person's shoulders, sit gently on the lap of someone in a wheelchair, nuzzle against the leg of an intoxicated person, or roll over and let a college student who misses their pet at home I share one consistent message:
"hang in there, something good will happen to you too. In the meantime, I can offer the unconditional playful and peaceful compassion of a dogs love."
What does this all have to do with my first birthday? I'm glad you asked. Jason and I are going to be spending two hours on Wednesday June 17th doing what I like to do: walking around Harvard Square spreading my message of playful and peaceful compassion. I'm going to have two whole hours where I can lead Jason around, say hello to whomever I wish, and love whomever seems to need my love.

I'd like to invite you to join me--not in person--but in your own way in your own communities. If you have a dog that is well behaved, and you know how your dog interacts in novel situations, perhaps you'd like to find a safe time to walk around your community and share some peaceful and playful compassion with those you wouldn't ordinarily notice? If you don't have a dog--or your dog is a little shy--perhaps you and a friend might like to find a safe time to walk around your community and do the same thing? Perhaps you'd like to visit a nursing home or hospital? Read books to children in a public library? Maybe you'd perhaps just like to celebrate my birthday by showing playful and peaceful compassion by helping someone with the door, a heavy package, or something else?

If you'd care to join in--and I hope you do--let me know what your plans are. Send in pictures of what you did (always ask permission first!). I'll post them here on my blog as well as on my Facebook fan page.

Let's help spread the news of my message of playful and peaceful compassion. Let's make a change.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Invisible Dirt

Some things never grow tiring. Here is one of my favorite things to do: hiding treats and covering them with invisible dirt.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wednesday Smile

So now this is an interesting one. Did you all know that elephants can paint? While it's not clear whether or not elephants know that they are painting and actively making choices or if this is just operant conditioning in action, it's still pretty amazing. Don't you think?

Irene Pepperberg has shown again and again through very rigorous research that African Grey parrots are capable of things such as understanding the concept of zero and other interesting types of cognition. I wouldn't be totally surprised if studies indicated that elephants--painting or not--have the capacity for cognitive tasks that are usually associated with humans.

As an FYI, the painting elephants are legit. Check out Snopes for more information.

In the absence of this research, perhaps this video will just amuse you. Maybe it will amaze you. I'd be a happy puppy if it also stopped you for just a second to think outside of yourself and discover some of the amazing things that are hidden from our experiences inside the animal mind.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seeing Cruelty

There are two stories that I come across frequently. They always grab my attention. I think they will grab your attention too.

Story One:

Vicky grows frustrated that Salty the dog is digging up holes in the lawn. She has a great idea--she grabs a shovel and enlarges the hole. She dances in delight with Salty and while still dancing she fills the hole up with water from the garden hose. She reaches for Salty and holds her head under the water. Surprised, Salty tries to free herself. Vicki remarks, "I thought you loved digging holes?" Every day for the next three weeks Vicki continues this: redigging old holes or improving new ones,  filling them with water, and holding her head under water. Vicki later remarks that Salty "has this crazy, incurable response to the sight of a hole." Salty no longer digs and is even avoident of holes she didn't dig.

Who is Vicki? She is Vicki Hearne, author of the 1986 book Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name. She was a dog trainer who encouraged people to discover the "poetry in obedience." Her work was highly acclaimed for its beautiful exploration of our relationship  with animals.

Story Two:

"How hard do you hit the dog? A good general rule is that if you did not get a response, a yelp or other sign, after the first hit, it wasn' hard enough."

This one comes from "How to be your dog's best friend" by the monks of New Skete. Any bookstore or library has this on its shelves. It's considered a classic by many.

Suzanne Clothier, author of "Bones Would Rain from the Sky" encourges us all to narrow our focus and see the dog. What is  the experience from the perspective of the dog? What must the yelping dog be feeling? What effect does beating have on the dog/human relationship? How about Salty? What about her perspective going from playing to being drowned?

Clothier further writes in her book that "those who can weave a cloak of beautiful thoughts about ugly actions may not only be allowed to proceed without fear of protest, but embraced as a shining light of wisdom."

We need not look to far to see this happening today. Some celibrity dog trainers are filling up concert halls. With conviction and carisma they dispense advice that amounts to little more than ugly actions. Pinch or choke collars, electric (invisible) fences, citronella spraying collars or those that dispense a shock. Some even will "string a dog up" and cut off their air supply until they turn blue and learn to be "obedient." See the dog. What is the dog's experience?

For many, sadly, these are all appropriate training techniques for dogs. It is the same in human childrearing: many find spanking appropriate.

In both cases, I find these tools to limit the possibilities of what it can mean to be human or dog. Violence, in whatever form, can bring comformity to behaviors through fear. Violence, however, extinguishes our shared ability to relate, connect, grow, love, and be more than what we think possible.

One last thought from Clothier's book: "Uncomfortable though it may be, our growth as human beings requires that we examine the ways in which we justify our sometimes inhumane actions and our very human tendencies to accept an authority beyond our own hearts. Unless we are willing to learn to see cruelty in all its many disguises, we cannot create a philosophy that protects against it."

Are you willing to see?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wednesday Smile: Bonus Edition

These pictures got e-mailed to me last night. Just too cute to not share.

Wednesday Smile

One of my favorite activities is being belly-up to the dishwasher. All sorts of wonderful treats can be found in this location on a nightly basis. When I was a puppy, it was terribly cute to stand on the door of the dishwasher. Jason thought this was a particularly bad idea as he thought when I grew up I might knock the whole door off. I've now learned that if I am very quiet and do no more than quietly and gently place my paw on the dishwasher rack, I can wash off a few plates before anyone notices.

I'm wondering if I could get away with standing inside the dishwasher.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Out Playing

Hey everyone--the spring weather has come and I'm spending my time outside playing. I'm lucky enough to have a house guest for almost two weeks. We are out doing all sorts of fun things like frolicking in the sunshine, hiking, and visiting new places. I'll be back to regular posting next week. In the meantime I might have time to blog some sporadic puppy-thoughts.