Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adapting the RItual

I have a new partner in my morning routine. Stella is now waking up at 6 am, having slept through the night in her crate like a good little puppy. I actually get up first at 5:30, sneak stealthly downstairs , avoiding the step that squeaks, since Stella sleeps in my daughter’s room. After some quality snuggle time with Velcro, who is still playing the role of the disgruntled cat, I make coffee and go back to wake up the pup.

First, we tumble down the stairs and out the front door to take care of business. I don’t use the back door because it will alert Siete and Silk. They will both dig holes to China in their stalls if they have to wait too long for breakfast, so sshh! don’t tell them . Then, back in the kitchen, I feed both Stella and Velcro and pound down some coffee. Fortified, we’re ready to greet the horses, which I regard as the official start of every day.

At first, Stella was afraid of the tack room and the garage door that growls as it opens to reveal all those bales of hay stored there. I really didn’t want to make this feeding ritual turn into a frantic battle of wills, so I tied her leash to one of the cross-ties. This seems to be a satisfying grounding post for both of us. Siete and Silk stick their heads out of their stalls and begin talking to me from across the yard. I can answer them, fill the feed buckets and grab a couple of flakes of hay without a whirling dervish of puppy tangling the leash around my legs. Stella finds the “stick of the day”, usually the largest branch she can fit in her mouth, and settles down to gnaw on it.

When I’ve got all the essentials together, we cross the yard to the barn. Stella proudly marches with her oversized prize in tow, leaving me to carry the buckets and hay. I tie her to the pasture gate while Silk complains that I’ve got that crazy black creature with me again and that I need to hurry up because can’t I see that there are horses that are starving here? Stella sits like a puppy poster child observing everything I do as I feed horses and fill water buckets and open stall doors. When I’m done and it’s time to go back to the house, Stella carefully places her prized stick through the metal pipes just on the other side of the gate inside the pasture like an offering. Siete wanders out and sniffs it but chooses the hay that I’ve left next to the water bucket.

Recently, I realized that I had stopped taking the extra moment to appreciate the angle of the sun rising over the trees and the sounds of horses munching hay and the Canadian geese honking as they fly by over our heads. So, this morning, I made Stella wait a few more minutes while we just soaked up the glories of the beginning of a late summer day.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What I Wish For

Daughter: “Mom! Stella nipped me.”
Silk: “Nmmm, nmmm!”
Daughter: “Can’t you make her stop? Stella, quit! Why is she doing this?”
Velcro (disgruntled feline): “Meow! Meow!” and “Meow!”

For two years, I have really missed not having a dog. It was the first time in over 20 years that we hadn’t had one. Now, the reality of living with a puppy and training her is fully eclipsing our lives. Stella is a 16th birthday present for my daughter, who wants to train her to be a therapy dog. The puppy has already been going to the nursing home with us to visit my mom and the other residents, and she obviously loves it. She has a natural attraction to people, whether they are old and in a wheelchair or little and sitting in a stroller. I am very grateful that she has such a sweet and gentle way with everyone.

That said, she is also a puppy. When Stella arrived, she got sick with a parasite called coccidia that probably came from her mother. It’s been a big challenge, involving medication and vomiting in the crate in the middle of the night. Fortunately, she appears to have gotten over it. She has also become more comfortable and settled in as a member of our family. Now, Stella is trying to figure out her place in the pecking order of the pack. She’s testing us, along with teething, and we’ve nicknamed her “piranha pup”.

Meanwhile, out in the barn, some of us are feeling very neglected, with good reason. Each time I come out the back door, instead of heading to fill water buckets or dispense flakes of hay, I now have a little black creature in tow and I’m focused on whether she is peeing or pooping. “Good dog, good job!” doesn’t sound anything like “Good horse!” to my girls, who are standing at the fence, heads hanging over forlornly. Silk is mastering the art of the guilty stare. My husband even came into the family room yesterday and said, “Silk needs you right now.” I rushed out to reassure her that she is still number one in my heart and that this puppy fussing will stop eventually.

Just like when Siete was a foal, we are at a critical stage with this little dog. How we treat her every moment will shape the kind of responses that she will have to everything in the world as she grows up. Doing it now, while she is only fifteen pounds is much easier than when she is 50 or 80 pounds. If I can convince two 1200 pound horses to trust me and respect me and love to spend time with me, I can teach this puppy what she needs to know to navigate through this world happily and successfully.

What I am reminded over and over, even in the middle of the night when Stella wakes us up and has to go out, is that the key to getting along with anyone is your energy. If I am grumpy and resentful about having to stagger outside in the pitch black in my pyjamas at 2 am, the puppy won’t want to “do a good job” and will start getting all revved up and nip at my ankles. When I am as Zen calm as I can possibly be, she will curl up on my foot and sleep while I drink my coffee at 5:30 am.

But just like it felt when I was waking up several times each night and nursing my human baby sixteen years ago, I also remember how exhausted, cranky and fragile I am when I’m sleep deprived. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

So, let me go on record that I wish for a harmonious, relaxed home with calm, satisfied people and animals who love each other.