Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo

It’s November and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month.  For those of you not insane enough to write, it’s the month that we writers stick our butts in our chairs and don’t move until we’ve churned out 50,000 words.  If you listen closely right before midnight on November 30th, you’ll hear a sound much like that one when you rip a bandage off a skinned knee.  That’s our butts as we collectively remove ourselves from our chairs and go back to a normal life.  Or at least what could be considered normal for someone who stares at a computer screen talking to invisible people most of the time.

Dogs don’t understand that, and that’s one of the reasons Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo.

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When I talk to the screen, he thinks I’m telling him we need to go outside or play with the ball or eat dinner or — the most exciting–go get a treat.  He comes to my side, sits his little self down on the floor, cocks his head and barks once.  If I don’t quite get it and don’t move immediately, his tush comes off the floor and he goes into a puppy bow.  Heaven forbid I continue talking to that invisible person on screen, because then it’s a full-blown insistence for my attention — and an immediate walk.  Do not pause, mama, do not talk to that person in the screen, do not tell me to wait ten minutes.  Now.  Walk.  Pee.  Poop.

Fifty thousand words in one month.  1667 per day.  5.5 pages a day.  Or maybe 3000 words on a weekend day.  7-10 pages on a Sunday.  2-3 every other day during the week.  And if you write by hand, a cramped fist.  If working on a computer, stiff shoulders and a crick in your neck.

One good thing about NaNoWriMo when you have a dog is that you are forced to get up before the sun rises to take the little bugger for a walk.  Izzy forces me up before the sun stripes the sky with fuschia, pumpkin and robin’s egg blue.  Bleary-eyed with my brain still out of gear, I negotiate the dark streets with him running before me, determined to examine every telephone pole and pee on every bush.  While he explores, I kick the novel-writing mind into gear and think about the next scene I will write, consider what the character will do and how those actions will affect other characters, what the actions will impact further into the novel, and whether I should wait that scene for a time that’s more apropos of the story.  As Izzy paces back and forth dozens of times looking for the perfect place to poop, I’m considering whether to flesh out the description of a scene I wrote the previous day and whether to take time from creating the requisite 50K words to mine back over the pages already developed to see whether they should be shifted around or rewritten.  But the point is to move forward like the boats that split icebergs.  Constantly forward.  Nothing to do but to forge ahead.

Dogs never move straight ahead.  Their traffic patterns run in swirls and squiggles and include squeezing out pee drops so they can let others know they’ve been there.  A NaNoWriMo for dogs would start on November 1 and end in July (the previous July).

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What Izzy DOES understand about NaNoWriMo is that occasionally I get stuck.  When that happens, he does his job quite well.  He moves into my lap, lifting my hand with his nose so that I know my job is now to pat his head or rub his stomach.  Taking a break is most important in NaNoWriMo for it is in those moments that the creativity creeps in and the mind is refreshed.

I guess Izzy knows more about writing novels than I give him credit for.

Dogs and Death

One of the things that has always struck me as ironic is that we give our animals more dignity in death (usually) than we do our fellow human beings.  Whenever one of my animals has neared the end or contracted a deadly disease, I’ve had him/her “put down.”  I distinctly remember when my German Shepherd, Jessie, could no longer hold on at the old age of 19, and we made the decision to take her to the vet.

She couldn’t lift her head when I went out to the yard that morning to feed her.  For at least three years, her eyesight and hearing had been failing, but she still swung her tail, and she still knew that she was the one responsible for herding our other dog, a massive British Mastiff, whenever he was doing something wrong.  Though she couldn’t see me, nor hear me, when I touched her head, her tail wagged weakly, yet she couldn’t eat or drink.  I called my husband and told him to come home. Together, we went to the vet and held hands while he inserted the needle with the tranquilizers that would put her out of her misery.  Together, we cried like babies over the dog who’d been with us most of our adult lives.  Together, we buried her in the back yard where we would bury our Mastiff a scant three months later.  Leaving that house and their graves was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

During this season when all the leaves fall off the trees, the ground goes brown, and everything appears dead, Izzy is only excited.  He can see further, there are new smells, and somehow he seems to know that nothing is ever truly dead.  It’s just gone temporarily.  When we were walking this morning, it dawned on me that every day is new to him.  Ooh, what’s that over there?  Did I smell that yesterday?  I did?  Well, let me smell it again.  And that mean dog . . . there he is today.  Maybe he’ll be nice to me now.  Nope, he won’t.  Okay, let’s go the other way.  Even if he has done the same thing a hundred times, every time he does it again, it’s exciting.  He has no memory for the sadness of a dead rose bush or the crispiness of dead leaves on the ground.  A dormant rose bush is something new to investigate.  Those dead leaves?  Let’s scuff through them and throw them up in the air.

This season reminds me of all the people and things that no longer exist in my life:  those dogs I mentioned, my parents and grandparents, some friends.  I just lost my former mother-in-law last week, and the sadness that I have felt is one that deepens when I think about the fact that she is the last adult in my life.  There are no other generations before me.  I — and my siblings, my cousins, my friends — am the “older generation” now.  It dawns on me that every day brings me closer to the day that I, too, will no longer be part of this earth.

As with so many other life lessons, I learned this morning from Izzy that age simply doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t recognize dogs because they are puppies or because they are senior.  He recognizes simply that they are friends (or, in some cases, animals he needs to avoid).  He has no idea where he ranks on the scale of age, nor does he care.  He simply does.  He simply lives.  He simply explores every day as if it’s the first one.

By the time we arrived back at the house from our morning walk today, my eyes were no longer wet with the grief I felt for my mother-in-law.  Instead, I thought about the last photo she took:  nestled in a wheelchair, she weighed about 50 pounds, her cheeks sunken and unable to hold her teeth.  She wore a knitted hat over her kinky gray hair and her church friends and pastor clustered around her chair, all grinning as if enjoying a party.  In her lap, a tiny chihuahua.  I can hear her voice as if I were there myself:  “How cute!  Look at him wigglin’ all ’round.”

This week, I watched a brief video with Oprah interviewing Eckhert Tolle about what happens to us after death.  He explained that our body is a shell, animated by atoms that are pure energy.  When that energy dissipates, it leaves the shell that is our body inert.  The energy simply rejoins the other energy that powers our earth and every living being on it.  We are everything.  Everything is us.

I think animals know that.

A Dog’s Vacation is Never Done

The past two weeks have been inhumanly difficult.  Not a dog’s life. Impossible, really.  And Izzy has known it.  Every night, he crawls up on my lap and lays his head on my hand.  If I try to work at night, he insists of being beside me, paw pulling my hand away from my laptop.  He stares at me with his dark, round eyes as if begging me to pay attention to him.  He knows that I don’t normally stay in anxiety mode when I get home.  I know yoga.  I know how to breathe.  I know how to relax.  But this past two weeks have required working non-stop and anxiety is my middle name.

It’s the perfect time for a stay-cation.

And Izzy knows that, too.

This morning, he crawled up on my lap while I was still in bed (doing my checkbook — yup, I know.  Enough with the nonstop work.) and insisted I pay attention to him.  You’ve been in another place for weeks, his gaze seemed to say.  You owe me.

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Last night, his eyes drooped as I stayed up until 1 AM reading.  This morning, he pulled me determinedly as we walked up Main Street, and he understood when we had to make a u-turn because I heard the old guy’s cane tapping as he walked his pittie mix a block ahead of us.  I didn’t want to deal with the dog’s growling and barking and pulling at the leash to get at Izzy.  I think Izzy understands when we have to make detours.  He knows who his friends are and who aren’t.  The black pug and the girlie boxer and the raggedy Shihtzu and the little Maltese are his friends.  He understands their names when I speak them, and he loves being able to say hello to them when we’re on walks, but he doesn’t mind at all when we don’t say hello to the pittie mix that hates us. Izzy’s smart that way.  He realizes that not everyone has to be your friend.  I need to learn that lesson.

This morning, Izzy kept close until I finished eating a late breakfast and took out the laptop again.  Then he looked at me, gave a little nod and moved into the other room to wait for the mail delivery.  This is our weekend routine, even though it’s not the weekend.  He knows our weekend pattern:  breakfast in bed, catching up on TV, some reading, then I go out for a while:  visit my grandson, see friends, come back every four hours or so to check up on Izzy, more relaxed, not stressed like during the week.

By the end of this little stay-cation we’re about to start, I will have let loose of the anxiety. I will write and read.  I will see friends and family.  Izzy and I will have walked long walks at least twice a day.  He will have visited the groomer and will have shed at least five pounds of fur.  He will have cuddled with me on the couch for hours.  He will have greeted some of my friends who will visit.  He will have taught me the meaning of vacationing.  He will have simply enjoyed being with me.  Living.

Izzy’s Issues with Acorns

It’s 6:15 AM and my little street in Roxboro, North  Carolina sounds like Saigon during the height of the Vietnamese War.  Pop-pop-bang.  Bangbangbangbang.  Pow!

Izzy jumps.  I look to see where the sound is coming from.  Is it a car backfiring?  Someone firing a rifle at a squirrel or a raccoon?

I’m awake now, and the sound keeps going.  Ba-bang-bang.  Pop-pop-pop.  Still looking upwards, I trip and in catching myself, I look down.  The street is littered with acorns.  Hundreds of them on the sidewalk.  Little piles of them in the gutters.  Way too many scattered everywhere.  So that’s what the sound is.  There must be angry squirrels up in the trees loading up their little arms and filling their cheeks, then dropping the stash of acorns before they get to their nests.

Poppoppoppop!  The acorn machine-gun starts again, and Izzy whimpers as one hits him atop his head.  He does a little dance, glancing up at the tree we’re passing under, looking for those damn gray monsters he regularly chases when we’re walking down Main Street before the sun rises.  He stops and plants his feet, gives an angry growl, as if shaking a virtual fist at the squirrels he’s sure are sending small brown bombs from above.

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This is what is called a “mast year,” a year when ridiculously large amounts of acorns end up in piles beneath the trees.  Some scientists think it’s because the fruit of the nut is not eaten by birds and other animals (such as those pesky squirrels), while others believe it’s the weather (too much/too little rain) that results in either no acorns or the opposite — way too many.   Last year, there were complaints that there were few acorns (and in some places, none), but this year is just the opposite.  Some people in North Carolina state that there were a number of bear sightings in unusual places last year because they were searching for non-existent acorns.  Izzy and I are hoping that this year’s bumper crop means the bears will stay where they should.  I’m sure that the deer, who also eat the little brown nuts, will find themselves full and happy and that they are less likely to roam out in the open during hunting season.

Whatever the case, Izzy and I will be happy when the nasty, hard nuts disappear from the streets and sidewalks and from the angry squirrels who are probably laughing their fool heads off when they bop one of us with their tiny torpedoes.

Downward Dog with Izzy

Yoga has been part of my life for the past . . . ahem, let’s just say a long time.  I’ve taken various classes in hatha yoga and in Bikram yoga (was even lucky enough to be “adjusted” by Baron Baptiste, one of the masters of Bikram or “hot” yoga).  I’ve gone to yoga conferences and one of my favorite times was a week at a silent retreat at Yogaville in Virginia.  I’ve taught yoga for a group of my high school colleagues, substituted for my yoga instructor in Florida, and am now teaching a mini class in hatha yoga at the college where I work.  But never have I done yoga with my dog . . . until I moved into this little house and Izzy decided he could do Downward Dog better than I can.

When I do my hour-long yoga session a couple of times a week (I do at least fifteen minutes to half an hour every day, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter), Izzy starts off being a bit itchy.  Sometimes he runs from one room to the other.  Sometimes he brings me his bone.  Sometimes he’ll come right over into my face and gives a soft bark, as if to say, “You go, girl!”  But about halfway through my longer session, when I’m doing a sun salutation or knee-deep in a series of warriors, he’ll sidle up next to me and go into a Downward Dog of his own.  Butt wiggling, tail flagging back and forth, he looks at me with his tongue out, smiling, doggie fashion.  Am I doing this right, he seems to say.

We move through the practice, side by side, him doing his doggie thing — all four feet in different directions, head flat on the floor, eyebrows lifting and twitching as he watches me.  He stays within a couple of inches of me, as if he knows this is a quiet time and just wants to be close.

Once I start meditation, his eyes lower, his breathing slows, and it’s like he’s feeling the calmness and peace that I do.

I had a cat for nineteen years.  She died right before I brought Izzy into my life.  She did yoga with me, too, and it’s almost like she’s still with me when Izzy does his Downward Dog.  Jojo was with me during the toughest times of my life, as well as the happiest, and when she passed, I thought I’d be fine since she had lived a long and full life, had gone blind and deaf and really needed to have a quiet passing.  Little did I know that I’d be broken-hearted.  It wasn’t until I found Izzy that the hole she left was filled.  It took a lot of work on my part to make Izzy comfortable and to help him become part of my world, but he did.  And now he’s as much a part of my yoga routine as she was.

This one is for Jojo.  She was the best yoga cat who ever lived.

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Izzy’s New “Job” and New Friend

He wants to be a rug. No kidding. He flattens himself out, all four legs in different directions, head flat against the floor, and he looks up at me. “See, Ma? I’m a rug!” No matter what I say, which treats I wave in the air, where I move, all that he does is move his eyebrows. He’s a rug. See, Ma? The eyebrows go up and down, the eyes move left to right, but nothing else does.

I wonder what he’s thinking.

As I watch him, I think about an old skit George Carlin used to do (and my ex husband mimicked whenever he had the chance) about dogs and cats and how they communicate through their eyebrows (or lack thereof).   Carlin’s Routine

We always had both dogs and cats, and without a doubt, Carlin was right on the money. Cats are aloof. They are disdainful. They have no eyebrows. But dogs . . . they can be guilty (Izzy knows as soon as I walk in the door and see my slippers on the floor that he’d better scoot to the other room because I don’t like chewed up slippers), and they can be persuasive. (Who hasn’t seen the “woe is me, I’m starving” look when a dog sees you move toward where the treats are kept? The skittering little move they make as they try to contain their excitement when they know they might just get that Milk Bone or Pupperoni.)

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I try to ignore him as he watches me with those round brown eyes of his, his eyebrows alternately jiggling up and down, then popping from side to side. He wants me to understand something and is doing his best to talk to me via dog telepathy, but I’m being human-stupid. Then I give up talking to him, gather my dinner dishes and head for the sink. Suddenly, my dog-rug isn’t a rug anymore. He runs in front of me, shivering with excitement as he waits for me to deposit the dishes in the sink, then feints a dash for the door.

Oh, that’s what it is! It’s the “I really want to go out but I have to be patient for her to finish” dog-rug routine.

So there we go. Walk time.

This morning’s walk was a bit more exciting than the usual. Izzy met a new friend, a chocolate-colored Pug who has just moved in down the street. They’re the same size, the same energy level, and both wanted to play, but the Pug’s mom was in her housecoat, and their leashes became tangled — not something I wanted to deal with at 6:30 AM. More on the new friend as the story unfolds.

Hope your day is shared with a telepathic animal :-)

Izzy’s Summer Vacation

Why haven’t I written lately?  Because Izzy and I went to the beach with our good friends Ron and Alfie.

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Unfortunately it rained almost the whole time we were there! We spent time in the little house we rented.  The dogs cuddled while I wrote.  Ron took his writing to the local coffee shop.

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I definitely want to get to the ocean again, particularly because Izzy seemed to enjoy it much more so this year than he did when we went over my birthday last year. It’s also great for me to get there because it frees up my mind. The salt air clears out cobwebs and inspires me to write what I haven’t been able to write at home. I have the philosophy that breathing deeply of air that is not perfumed with car exhaust and not hindered by the sounds of industry and humans helps me access the creative genes I know exist deep inside of me.

Izzy and Alfie had many walks along the coast, and I think the air worked on them, too, but all it did was make them sleep more soundly.

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Now that summer’s over, more time to keep up with my blogs!

The One I Didn’t Want to Write: Izzy Gets Attacked

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve put off writing this post because it was my worst nightmare. Thankfully, the nightmare didn’t complete itself.

During the past couple of years, Izzy and I have walked the streets of my neighborhood and others, exploring the world around us and often coming face to face with things, animals, people that threatened us. Other dogs (remember Nasty Dog? Haven’t seen him lately), skunks, people who didn’t like dogs. But we’ve either fled from them or were able to deal with the situation. That wasn’t the case a couple of weeks ago.

I was walking down the driveway talking to my friend/next door neighbor when a large German Shepherd wandered up the driveway. I watched the stray near Deb and so did Izzy. For the first time since I’ve had my little buddy, he barked at another dog. Usually, his tail wags and he pulls at the leash so he can go say hello to the dogs we see on our walks. This one was threatening, and the only thing I can surmise now is that the dog was nearing Deb, one of Izzy’s best human friends.

I had the retractable leash and before I could stop him, Izzy was at the end of it, and he and the Shepherd were checking each other out, both tails wagging. They did the usual sniffing routine, and I watched attentively, looking for signs that the other dog posed a threat. She seemed okay.

Then she headed down the lawn toward me, and within a heartbeat, Izzy’s leash tangled around the Shepherd’s legs and they were on top of each other. Right in front of me. Biting. Snarling. Growling.

Izzy’s 16 pounds. The Shepherd was at least 90. And Izzy was under the Shepherd.

I screamed. Deb screamed. My mind flashed back to the nightmares I’ve had about losing Izzy to an attack. My own memories of being attacked by a Chow surfaced.

I pulled Izzy’s leash. That made it worse. Now the Shepherd had Izzy’s head in her mouth.

I knew I had to get the dog off my boy. Digging my hands into the ruff of her neck, I yelled for Deb. I kicked the leash handle between the Shepherd’s legs.

“Take Izzy! Run! Now!”

Deb took the leash and pulled Izzy while I held the struggling Shepherd.

It seemed to take forever for Deb and Izzy to flee but when I knew they were gone, I let the other dog go, fully expecting the dog to go for me. Instead, the Shepherd raced up the driveway where Deb and Izzy had gone.

I followed as quickly as my legs would carry me, screaming at the dog. Screaming for anyone. Screaming.

The dog circled the house, leaving me an opening to dash in through Deb’s back door. She was standing there, with Izzy on a blanket in the middle of the floor. Deb’s face, white as a sheet of paper, reflected my own. I started shaking uncontrollably and sank to my knees beside Izzy.

Deb’s husband Danny took a fireplace poker and went back outside while Deb and I checked Izzy for bites. His entire body was wet, his black eyes wide, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. But he was okay. No blood.

For an hour afterward, we waited for the dog officer to arrive to take care of the Shepherd, who was still roaming the neighborhood. We watched the dog follow the mailman from house to house and now that we had time to look at her, I could see the fur matted on her hind end, the obvious hunger and thirst in her eyes and evident by her lolling tongue. Still, she had no collar. No tags. And I was terrified to go back outside, even without Izzy.

Finally, the dog officer arrived and when I told him Izzy had been attacked, he said, “That’s not an attack.”

Excuse me? I was watching my dog being overpowered by a much larger one and that wasn’t an attack? Needless to say, the Boston in me came out and I gave the guy a piece of my mind. We have a leash law. This dog was definitely not on a leash, not with a person, and posing a danger to other dogs and humans.

They found the Shepherd and took her to the pound. I hate to think what happened to her afterward. But even more so, I hate to think what would have happened to my Izzy if I hadn’t been able to control the Shepherd.

More than anything else, I realized how important it is to have animals under control. And I’m now going to fight for a stronger leash law in this town.

Funny, the attack happened more than two weeks ago, and I’m still trembling as I write this. The PTSD I suffered for years after the dog attack that left me with partially disabled hands came back full force, but I’m kind of glad it did because it gave me the adrenaline rush I needed to save Izzy.

Now, the work begins.