The look

Life can be hard, we are slowly emerging from Covid, which has, if anything, made us ‘harder’ people. Harder on ourselves, harder on others, harder on those who have given their hard-earned time in public service at all levels and mostly harder on those we care for most!

You see this every day in the supermarket, I have the shopping cart bruises to prove it, on the highway, even walking down the street. And it all makes sense, we were forced into our seperate spaces for two years, unable to touch, feel, smell, see the vitally linked places and people that ensure our collective sanity.

It has been said that it takes three weeks to create a good habit – and a bad one! As a smoker-non-smoker-then-smoker-again I can attest to the first three weeks without my therapist Philip Morris (original kings please!) were hell, then for the next 11 years no cravings until I spent three weeks with smokers. Guess what? I am a smoker again, looking for that three week space to toss Dr. Phil in the wastebasket.

So how does this relate to Miss Frieda you wonder?

My dog Baxter happily eating leaves on the back deck.

In the middle of Covid we lost our dog, beautiful boy that he was. Baxter was definitely my wife’s dog, all 130 lbs of love that could not bear being more than about 10 feet from her. For the rest of us Baxter gave due attention, wagging his tail when we came in the front door, patiently lying on the rug in front of the couch to get a head scratch during breaks in Hockey Night In Canada. But never quite as big a smile as when my wife called his name.

Soon after Baxter passed over the rainbow bridge, against my better judgement, my wife acquired another dog, a wee redheaded fireball my son named Frieda. For the first three weeks Frieda lived with us, she did the puppy things, chewing, barking (with a huge voice even then!) or curling up and snoozing on the couch. The way that she treated my wife and son was different from Baxter. In many ways she was indifferent, unless there were beef cookies or dinner involved. I just continued on my way, aware that she was there mostly, stopping to give her a pet if I happened to be in the room.

For about three weeks this continued until one exhausted Saturday (I have a job which is like a combination of neurosurgeon, psychologist and air traffic controller most of the time!) I crashed on the couch for an afternoon nap. As I snoozed I could feel Frieda climb up on the couch, then onto my stomach, with the warm puff of her breath under my chin. I opened one eye. There she lay, half asleep with a huge puppy smile on her face. And that, as they say, was the start of one of my favourite habits. After sizing up the situation Frieda had decided who to bond with. For me this was a new experience after 12 years of Baxter.

Since then Frieda and I have learned a lot of new things – spin, one paw, two paws, ‘Stay’, crawl from my wife (Frieda, silly, I already had been taught those things!), me a lot more.

I am not sure Frieda taught me anything new about love, more re-introduced me to the things that had slipped off my radar over the years, things like:

If you love someone, show it, everyday in every way! It doesn’t have to be a big production, it can be as simple as making your partner toasted cheese bread at 11pm cuz they have a wee hunger pang, just being aware so you can do that small task without being asked. Frieda is very aware; when she wants to play ball she will bring her ball to the couch and watch if i am sitting up or lying down. Sitting up she will bark once – Let’s Play – lying down she will drop the ball and pick up a toy more suitable to play with Daddy with while he is lying on the couch. And she will wag her tail and smile everytime I enter the room, even if it was just 5 minutes in the kitchen checking on dinner!

Nothing kills love faster than a grudge! Dogs live in the now, very Buddhist of them. If you forgot to give them a cookie after their morning pee they will have forgotten 5 minutes later, accepting the cookie you forgot to snag on the way through the kitchen like some new and special treat! Let’s face it, whether we want to admit it or not humans carry grudges. Maybe not huge ones, but those little things that annoy you about someone (other than puns of course which EVERYONE loves!) that over time make you begrudgingly assist that person or tend to avoid unless necessary. Dogs on the other hand only hold grudges when they are mistreated, for very good reason! Kick a dog and it will remember forever, begrudgingly biting you on the ankle the next time they see you, even if it is years later. And you deserved it, every pint of lost blood and torn trouser leg!

People need and love being with people! I am a bit of a hermit these days I admit, mostly out of a fear that I will get Covid again, and in many ways I would be quite happy on my own (with no disrespect to my family intended!). Frieda on the other hand is at her best when there are one or two people close at hand. During the week when my wife is working out and my son is at school she will often snooze on the couch until one or the other comes home. But in that snoozing there are at least hourly trips down the hall to my office to make sure I am still there, often to snooze outside my doorway and definitely always available if I want to get up from my desk and give her snuggle or pet. Which brings me to…

If you love people the most important thing is to give them your time! We are all busy people and sometimes the hours just flow by. My wife and I tend to work opposite type shifts, her’s starting at the crack of dawn and mine often ending in the early to mid evening (or 3am if all hell breaks loose!). With Sam to take care of it is rare for us to have a whole evening alone. But there is always that wee period between 9 and 11pm where we can share ‘Escape To the Country’ or ‘The Great British Baking Show’! If I get busy or unattentive, Frieda will let me know! She has several barks reserved for me – the small bark (Let’s Play Daddy!), the medium one with one growl (It’s dinner time Daddy!) and the louder extended bark (Daddy, I have to go outside now or I will make a mess on the floor!). She even has a sleepy yip-bark for when she needs a bedtime snack. All of this to turn my attention to her and give her the time she deserves.

Living in the now makes dogs very aware of their surroundings, something the rest of us need to be more ‘aware’ of! Twenty years ago my mentor (and dear friend) Proud Woman started off my ‘training’ by reminding me to be aware and observe the world around me in order to learn. Sage advice then as now. Being aware of your surroundings and space in time builds a sense of gratitude and joy, things Frieda gives me on a daily basis.

If you don’t have a pet I am not advocating rushing right out and buying a dog (or better yet rescuing a dog!). For some folks having a pet, even a goldfish, does not work and better not to have a pet than have a pet that is not a full member of your family. Pets are a lifelong commitment, whether it is a few months to decades. And they, and you, deserve the richest life together possible.

But if you do, there is as much to learn from them as them from you! The simple things, like gratitude and joy, and the bigger things like loving each other and being aware of opportunities to care.

Peace and Woof!

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