A Lesson in Tolerance

My friend Norman stopped by the other day to spend some quality time together. We played and hung out but he started getting on my last nerve when he was trying to get Doc’s attention every time she came into the room. After all, she is my human mother and he has his own family that will pay attention to him. I noticed he was using his cuteness to get Doc’s attention. I don’t want to accuse him of being manipulative but you know how the saying goes “If it quacks like a duck…”

After Norman left I decided to have a conversation with Doc about how I was feeling. She sat quietly and listened as I went on and on about how I wasn’t happy about Norman’s behavior.  When I was finished Doc  looked at me and said, ” psychiatrist Carl Jung once opined that everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ” What are you saying? ‘ I asked Doc. ” When some other human or dog’s behavior irritates you, use it as a mirror. Maybe you are judging Norman so you don’t have to look at your own insecurities, anxiety or whatever it is that you are really feeling. Only you can figure that out by being honest with yourself” she said as she walked out of the room.

Doc may be right, but I hate it when she points things out and then I have to go and think about it. After some reflection I realized that I was jealous of poor little Norman and the attention Doc was giving him. It just stirred up my insecurities and fear that Doc would end up loving another dog and replace me. I know that’s not even close to true because I know Doc has enough love for many animals and that I am always her #1 but that’s what fears often are, irrational thoughts.

Later in the day I went back to Doc and told her I had figured it all out. “When I learn to understand and accept myself including all my flaws and feelings it will also help me to tolerate and allow others to be themselves too” I told her with a smile. “Grover, she said, you are one smart puppy!”

Learning to Draw a Line in the Sand

Photo by Angela Kirk

Isn’t it always easier to complain about how others treat you instead of looking at why you allow it? From this dog’s observation I do believe that we need to own our lack of boundaries in certain situations and how it contributes to the problem. We really do teach other what we will tolerate by how we respond.

I have to admit that even I don’t confront things directly at times. For example, there is a dog in the back alley where I work that tries to act like a tough guy by barking and growling at me from behind a six-foot chain link fence. Now I don’t really have anything against this poor beagle mix, but for years he’s raised a big stink every time Doc and I walk by.  Well lets just say he’s annoying. And how do I respond? I pick up my hind leg and pee on the corner of the fence as high as I can. Marking my territory is equivalent to a human’s nasty hand gesture if you know what I mean. Doc tells me in her psychobabble language that I am acting passive aggressive and that I should just tell the poor dog how I feel and be done with it, but I have yet to evolve to that emotional level.

In spite of my lack of maturity I am lucky to have Doc to consult with to help you. So here are some helpful hints she passed along: First you need to start being aware of the people in your life that are vampires ( those that suck the life out of you) and figure out what boundaries you are allowing them to cross. If someone in your life is very toxic it may be time to move on from that relationship. Second, whenever someone asks you to do something, before responding really examine if this is something you want to do. If you don’t say no. The world won’t end if you decline and you will be honoring how you really feel. 3. Communicate in a calm and respectful manner how you are feeling when a person crosses one of your boundaries. The other person may not even realize that you don’t like their behavior because you never said anything. Doc also wanted me to add that it is important to stay safe by trusting your judgement. If you think someone could become abusive toward you, ask for help from a professional.

As an adult you get to decide how you allow others to treat you. Have enough respect for yourself that you learn to protect your time and emotions.

The Butterfly Effect

Photo by Angela Kirk

The other day when Doc and I were out at the horse farm, one of the patients found a butterfly in the corner of the barn that was lifeless. The patient was taken by how the beauty of the butterfly and carefully brought it to Doc to watch over until it was time to leave. Gazing upon this beautiful creation made me think about how the butterfly symbolizes change and self-transformation. It is such a metaphor for our own lives if we look closely enough.

Often I hear people say that they don’t like change, but like it or not it is part of our personal evolution. Some change is forced on us and some we choose. We can fight against it or see it as a way of letting go of the old to make way for the new. When struggling with change I often ask myself what the change truly represents in my life and how I can use the experience to grow stronger.

Like the butterfly as we move through our cycles of life, we must trust in our ability to weather anything that we encounter, knowing that with courage and patience we will once again emerge with beautiful wings and fly.

Field of Heroes

Photo by Angela Kirk

Every Memorial Day weekend in the town where Doc and I live, 3,000 8-foot tall flags are displayed in perfect row’s to honor our heroes.  It’s a visual reminder of what Memorial Day is all about. This years theme was Welcome Home, commemorating the time when soldiers are reunited with their families.

Doc and I went during the peace of the early morning to take in the grand display. There was still dew on the grass as we made our way across the field between the rows of flags gently blowing in the breeze.  There was a respectful silence among those we encountered as everyone processed the event. Walking among the flags I felt a sense of gratitude to all the men and women that have and continue to protect our freedom’s. Along with the flags, there was also a display that honored the first responders that have died in the line of duty.

Some of the soldiers we honored happen to be in our family. Doc’s father served in the Army and most recently her nephew served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Luckily both of them came back home and their experiences left them and our family looking at the world and life in a different way.

At times it’s easy to forget that no one gets through this world alone. There are many people who help and support us along the way. Some of them we know like family, teachers and mentors.  Some we will never meet like those that serve to keep us safe, enabling us to pursue our dreams. Memorial Day helps us to take the time to pause and remember those that sacrifice for others.

 

Snake!

Photo by Angela Kirk

Nothing too exciting had happened since last week, until my fiend Norman came over to hang out yesterday afternoon. Since it was a nice spring day, Doc said we should all go outside and enjoy the weather. Norman and I went over to the fence to continue working on the hole we have been digging while Doc worked in the flower bed. All of us were happily communing with nature when Doc called over to us and said ” Come over here and look at this snake!”

Now I don’t have any personal experience with snakes, but my observation of most humans is that they run the other way. That was not the case with Doc, she gingerly moved back the leaves so she could get closer and take a picture.  ” Look how pretty it is, she said, it’s just a small Garter snake, they are quite timid and won’t bother you if you leave them alone”.  Norman and I looked at each other with concern and then I asked her,  “Then why are most people afraid of snakes? ” “Well there are many reasons, Doc responded. Some psychologists say the fear is hard-wired into the brain, but I think there are other reasons as well.” Like what?” Norman and I asked. ” You two ever hear that term snake in the grass or the tales of snakes being connected to Satan? And there is also the fact that many snakes are venomous.  They bite their prey, it dies and they eat it.” she said in a very matter of fact way. Norman and I looked at each other in horror as we slowly moved away from the slithery reptile.

After that explanation Norman and I asked to go back inside the house away from the snake that was still sunning itself like it was at the beach. Doc followed in right behind us still yakking about those darn snakes. ” You know, snakes are an important part of the environment, without them we would be completely overrun by rodents and pests. They help to keep nature in balance.

When Doc had finally finished her diatribe , I looked over at Norman and quietly said to him ” Why can’t they balance nature in someone else’s yard?”

 

The Haves and the Have Nots

When Doc returned from a short weekend trip to New Orleans she looked rested, but I could sense something was amiss. I had been happy to hold down the fort while she was away. After we were alone in the house and I was cuddled up beside her with my head in her lap she told me what was bothering her and asked me to tell this story to all of you.

Doc had not been back to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005 and she told me after 14 years she was shocked at how the city had changed. She saw parts of the city that had not been rebuilt since the hurricane because the people who had fled their homes and businesses came back to devastation. They could not afford to rebuild and left. This occurred because people in certain parts of the city were not required to buy flood insurance as they were told they were not in a flood zone. No flood insurance no money to rebuild. There were also instances when some home owners returned to find that someone came in while they were gone, paid the back taxes on the property when the property owner was unable to. Because the place they worked had also been destroyed they had no income and as a result, they lost ownership of their home.

Mass casualties occurred as a result of Katrina. This can still be seen represented in spray paint with an X on the front of those structures that show the number of how many people died, how many pets were found dead and how many were still alive inside the house.

Although there is homelessness everywhere in the United States, Doc noticed it had increased in New Orleans since her last visit. People living openly on the streets in most areas of town, sleeping on the side walks, their only possessions being what they were wearing, searching through the trash for anything the tourists had casually thrown away. She wondered if these were some of the people who had lost their homes and were never able to come back from all the devastation and lost hope. ” Grover, she said, it felt overwhelming to see all of the suffering and not know how to help.”  One of the residents she talked to told her it helps when tourists come and spend money as the economy grow stronger, helps the businesses and the people who work in those businesses. The city is rebounding, and continues to improve, the citizens are determined to move forward, but the scars still exist.

For Doc and I it is a reminder of how fragile life can be and how Mother Nature can destroy anything in her path, altering the course of your life in an instant. It’s easy to get caught up in our daily lives and not realize others are still struggling from the devastation of a single life changing event.

 

 

Scary Creatures in the Neighborhood

Photo by Angela Kirk

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Well I would bet you money that he wouldn’t have said that if he had to encounter all the strange objects in my neighborhood.  It can be a very scary place for both man or beast sometimes.

Now I admit that I don’t like change. If it ain’t broke why fix it? Just because something is new, you don’t need to run out and get it. As I dog I am happy doing the same thing day in and day out. I like the structure and the security of knowing what, when, where and how things are going to happen. As humans, you are constantly coming up with something new that you buy for no other darn reason than you think it will improve your life. But I digress.

The daily walk started out like any other. It was a beautiful spring day and I was having fun sniffing around and greeting the neighbors that were out working in their yards. At first it was the humming sound that got my attention, then the movement. I stopped right in my tracks and started growling and barking at the strange thing moving around on the front lawn. Doc hadn’t seen it yet and asked me what I was growling at. I pulled her cautiously toward the beast as it continued to move in circles like it was lost. I finally got the nerve to go up and sniff it to see if it smelled like anything I was familiar with. By this point I had gotten a few of the neighbor’s attention and they walked over to see what was going on. ” Oh, said neighbor #1, Grover, that’s a robotic lawn mower. It cuts the grass by itself, but don’t try to mess with it, it has a built-in alarm”. Who would want to mess with that I thought to myself, that thing is scary. If it can cut the lawn it could chop me up and spit me out. I tugged a little on the leash so Doc would know I wanted to leave. After we got a safe distance down the street I asked Doc if she was going to get one of those strange robot mowing beasts. ” Don’t worry about that Grover, those robots cost well over $2,200. That calmed me down, knowing how cheap Doc is.

Fear can be exhausting, so when we got back to the house I fell sound asleep. I soon started dreaming about that stupid robot coming down the street, getting into the house and chasing me around. I soon slayed it in my dream by grabbing the battery out with my teeth until it died in its tracks. I was feeling quite proud of myself when I work up. Noticing Doc had been sitting beside me I looked over to her and said, ” Change can be both scary or exciting sometimes.” “That’s true it can be, she responded, that’s why it’s always important to decide if you’re avoiding change because of fear or whether the change is a quick fix to try and make you feel better.” Well I pondered, those are words to live by.

 

Just Relax

Photo by Angela Kirk

Sunday started out as one of those cold and drizzly spring mornings.  It was the kind of day that all I wanted to do was to curl up on the couch under a warm soft blanket with Doc and drift in and out of dreamland. The house was blissfully quiet except for the sound of two robins singing just outside the window. I should have been in heaven, but that gnawing feeling in my brain that I should be doing something rather than lying around started growing more intense. What was happening? I am usually the poster child for chill. Could Doc and her obsession with chores be rubbing off on me?

I looked over at Doc who was quietly sipping coffee and reading the Sunday paper like she didn’t have a care in the world.  Sensing my unease she said ” What’s wrong Grover, you seem a little out of sorts this morning?” ” Shouldn’t we be doing something?” I asked. “Like what?” she inquired. “Woman, we have chores to get done today. For starters you need to take me for a walk, then you need to paint the porch furniture and I have to finish that hole I am digging under the fence. Time to get busy, chop, chop!”  ” Grover, for Pete’s sake, calm down and please stop trying to boss me around.” Doc said as she gave me a gentle pat on the head. ” It’s Sunday morning and our time to relax. Taking time for ourselves is just as important as chores and let me tell you why. People that relax benefit by having decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, decreased anxiety and depression, relaxed muscles, reduced pain and it also increases feelings of self-worth. Caring about yourself means taking the time to slow down and enjoy the moment. All that other stuff can wait until later, the world won’t end if we don’t get all our chores done today.”

Who was this new Zen person I was living with? She was changing her view on life and I have to say she was right. Following her lead I went over to the window where I could watch the squirrels in the back yard running around patching their squirrel condos with leaves and stopping to dine an occasional nut. After a while I got so tired I fell right to sleep, the ultimate way to relax.

Choosing a Different Path

Often in life we find ourselves standing at a fork in the road trying to decide whether to go right, left or stay just where we are. Change can be scary, but it might be more frightening to stay stuck doing the same old thing, especially if it’s hurting us. Sometimes what scares us the most is that we do have a choice. What if we make the wrong decision? We all face making a change at different times in our lives, even me.

When Doc brought up the topic of making life choices in group this week, every one was all ears. It’s a topic everyone can relate to. For the most part everyone said they hate change.  Doc challenged them to tell her the times in their lives that their choices led to positive things happening. like accepting a promotion or a better job, facing and working through their problems, or going back to school. So how did they decide to move forward and take the risk? Many of them were stumped by how they came to their decisions so we talked about some ways to help when faced with a choice.

First of all its good to weigh the pros and cons of a situation. Write them down so you can see them in front of you and then you can make a logical decision. If you’re still not sure, talk to someone that supports you and will give you some good advice.  I often ask Doc when I need some advice and even Doc has people that she talks to. Sometimes she even talks to me because I am an excellent listener.  It’s good to weigh other’s opinions but ultimately do what’s best for you.

Never underestimate your gut instinct. Remember that time you second guessed yourself? You were sorry weren’t you? There is a quote by an unknown author that says ” When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin because in that brief moment when that coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you were hoping for.”

Doc often says that our fears can keep us from moving forward if we let them. The funny thing is that most of the time it’s never as bad as we imagine. What if the Wright brother’s had made the choice to stay on the ground instead of trying to fly? We’d all still be driving or taking boats everywhere.

Every change in life comes with a choice, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the risk. Once you’ve made the choice, never look back. Trust in yourself and know that you made the best choice you could at the time. You will learn from your experience no matter what happens and isn’t life all about the experiences?

Re Training the Humans in My Life

Photo by Angela Kirk

Many people think that New Years day is a time for new beginnings, but I think that spring is the time to take stock and start anew. Flowers are blooming, the grass is growing and bunnies are hopping down the trail. After a long dark winter, the spring temperatures and the sun motivates me to think about what I need to change in my life and the first thing that comes to mind is that I need to retrain some of the humans in my life as they have been slacking off in their duties. When I say slacking off I mean they are getting a little lazy when in comes to meeting my needs.

Why just the other day at work my co-worker Kim, that brings me a plate of steamed vegetables every day forgot to put that little dash of salt on them I like for added flavor. I complained by looking at her and whining until she understood and corrected the problem immediately. I don’t think that I should have to spend my time telling humans over and over what I like, so in order to save everyone time I have come up with a plan.

The vision came to me when I became exasperated with Doc because I have to remind her almost every day when my dinner time is. Really now, the woman is bright enough to tell time. So I came up with an idea that I think is probably the smartest idea ever. Why not just  open a school much like the one Doc took me to when I was a puppy to train me how to sit and stay? You know what I mean, basic obedience for humans where they learn certain commands. Of course only positive reinforcement will be used like earning more time to binge watch favorite shows or more screen time on Facebook or Instagram.

Thinking I was a genius, I told my puppy friend Norman that lives next door. I didn’t realize Doc was out working in the flower bed and over heard the whole thing and walked toward me. The look on her face was enough to scare a wild coyote away. Norman was wise enough to run back in into his yard and hide before the wrath came down on me. Doc summed it all up in one statement; ” Grover, you are one pampered pooch and you need to learn not only to appreciate all that you have but also all of the humans that love you. No one likes an ingrate.” And with that my goal of controlling the humans in my life vanished. As usual Doc was right so right then and there I vowed to be more appreciative.