How to love a dog

I took the Von Schnauzer Krauts to the vet this morning for some blood work and exams ahead of their biannual teeth cleaning later this week. Rudy just needed a distemper booster and a blood draw, but because it has been more than 90 days since he last saw the vet, he had to get an exam from the doctor as well per hospital policy. I mentioned that both Rudy’s eyes have been weepy and crusty this spring, and further examination revealed a condition that, since we caught it early, can be treated before it progresses to the point of damaging his corneas and potentially causing him pain and discomfort for the rest of his life. I paid a $39 exam fee for that information, in addition to the tests and medications. Worth it? I certainly thought so.

While I was waiting for the staff to retrieve Reggie from her all-day annual liver function tests, I observed a couple who had two enormous German Shepherds in hand argue with the receptionist about that 90-day exam policy because all their dogs needed was a Bordetella booster. “That’s absurd!” the man ranted. “It’s just a damn revenue scam! You guys space these shots just far enough apart so that you can make more money off us.” The receptionist excused herself to consult the doctor, and I made a point of catching the guy’s eye. “I have complained about that policy myself,” I told him, “but you know, the exam gives them a chance to maybe catch something early and…” He didn’t let me finish. “It’s a dog,” he said curtly. “I love my dogs, but if they find cancer or something, it’s a dog.” He jerked his dogs along with him as he moved to the other side of the lobby from me. I guess those shepherds are just so out of luck if they ever get sick.

Well, it seems to me that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say they love their pets and those who actually do.

As for me, I am willing to do everything I can do to give my dogs the best quality of life possible while they are in my care. If that means instilling drops and ointment in Rudy’s eyes for the rest of his life, I’ll gladly do it. I hope I won’t have to, of course, for his sake, but for sure that’s what I will be doing for the next 10 days. He wouldn’t eat his breakfast out of his dish this morning, but he would eat it bite by bite from my hand, so I fed it to him that way because he is too skinny to be skipping any meals. If that were the only way he would ever eat, I’d be scooping up wet kibble by hand twice a day every day. How could I not? I am his guardian, his caretaker, his whole world. He is indeed a dog, but he’s my dog, and he deserves good care and a good life. That’s in my power to give him, and it’s my pleasure to do so.

So here are the basics of loving a dog, in my opinion. Just the bare minimum, mind you.

charlie-brown-hugging-snoopy How to Love a Dog

  1. Spay/neuter as soon as the dog comes into your care or as early as your veterinarian advises.
  2. Microchip as soon as the dog comes into your care, and keep the registration information current.
  3. Keep all vaccinations current, and spring for that full examination by a vet a couple of times a year.
  4. Put a collar and tag with your address and phone number on the dog any time it is away from your house or yard (on walks, in the car, at the dog park, etc.). Always obey leash laws.
  5. Provide a secure area for the dog to eliminate, and keep it clean. Always keep a baggie or two in your pocket to pick up after the dog when you’re away from home.
  6. Feed the best-quality food you can afford. Consult your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight for your dog and read the label on the can or bag to determine how much to feed it to maintain that weight.
  7. Exercise your dog as often as you can: run, walk, swim, play fetch. If you can do this around other people and/or other dogs, so much the better.
  8. Teach your dog basic manners, such as not to jump up on people. A well-mannered dog is a joy forever.
  9. Keep your dog clean, which includes checking it often for foxtails, ticks and fleas, and regular bathing and grooming. This is good for its health and makes it more enjoyable to be around.
  10. Provide plenty of safe chew toys so that your dog has something entertaining to do when you’re away, and so it will leave your stuff alone. Rawhide is non-staining, not too smelly, and fully digestible.

Of course, we go well beyond the minimum in our house. I’d add, let your dog sleep beside you on your bed so you can rub his belly until he falls asleep and starts snoring like a bumblebee. Let him live in the house so he can be with you as much as possible. Arrange your furniture so that he can look out the front window and keep an eye on things in the ‘hood. Make sure he’s warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer. Get his teeth cleaned as needed. Play the games he likes to play. Cuddle with him. Give him the last bite of every piece of toast. And tell him he’s a good dog, every single day.


I am a good dog! You gonna eat that?


Food overload

The trash gets picked up on Wednesdays in my neighborhood, so this morning I wheeled my big tote to the curb loaded down with heavy, dripping bags of rotting food from my own refrigerator. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and may Demeter have mercy on my soul. It was a very bad week for wasting food in my house.

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

I let my Bountiful Baskets get away from me, faithfully picking one up every week for three weeks in a row even though I still had produce piled all over my counters from the weeks before. I gave some of it to my neighbors and I did prep a lot of it into usable ingredients so I would have them available for cooking … but somehow the cooking part just didn’t come together before things started turning slimy and spotty. Which reminds me why I’ve always been leery of fresh food: It just doesn’t last that long. Not long enough, anyway, for me to 1) figure out how to use it and 2) get motivated to do so.

When I told a friend once that I like to cook, her first question was, “don’t you end up wasting a lot of food because you live alone?” I thought it was an odd query because why would my living alone make any difference? No, I told her, I am pretty good about using what I buy. And I always have been, for the most part. But every so often, my ambitions get ahead of my appetite, and much waste results.

I recently learned that food waste decomposing in landfills is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is a likely contributor to climate change. I don’t want to participate in that slow-motion catastrophe any more than I absolutely have to (and unfortunately, we all have to), so I’m thinking about getting a composter for my kitchen scraps. Maybe one like this, which is off the ground to keep the dogs from scrounging through it.


Tumbling Composter from Home Depot.

For all the peels, pits, rinds, seeds, soft spots, and other food scraps that I put in the garbage every week, this just might make a difference.

My fridge is now cleared of all but a few hardy veggies with long shelf lives, and my counters are mostly visible again—although I do still have a big jicama bulb and several pounds of blue potatoes from my basket that I am not sure yet what to do with. I didn’t get a basket this week, and won’t get one next week. I’m waiting to go grocery shopping until the last egg, the last carrot, the last drop of milk, and the last piece of bread are all gone. And then I’m going to be more careful about how I stock my kitchen.


This World War II-era propaganda poster is still good advice today.


Follow the leader

When I was out with the dogs last night, we passed my neighbor Tony’s house and they both started their usual routine of wildly lunging toward and yapping at him as he stood out in his driveway. I tried to pull them away quickly, but Tony was already heading toward us.

“Oh, now, hold on!” he said with a grin. “That won’t work. Lemme show ya.” And show me he did, taking the dogs’ leashes and snapping them gently to attention, one on either side of him. He strode off down the sidewalk without a word to the dogs or a backward glance to me, with my indefatigable puller and my insistent sniffer both trotting along neatly just off his heels with their ears forward and their heads up. He went about half a block, turned around sharply, and returned them to me in the same fashion. As a family of cyclists approached and the dogs’ heads turned, he again gently snapped their attention back to him and they made not a peep. He even managed to get them to completely ignore a cat walking through his yard with just repeated quick tugs on their leashes.

He didn’t hit them or yell at them or haul them around or do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. He did consistently require them to keep their attention on him, and they seemed remarkably willing to oblige. At one point he squatted down and put Reggie by his side but slightly behind him. She sat down calmly and quietly gazed around her. Then he moved her to slightly in front of him, and she became instantly alert and distracted by activity on the street, completely oblivious to both of us. I was flabbergasted at what a difference 12 inches one way or the other made in her demeanor. He explained that when the dog is in front, she sees herself as the leader and therefore the protector of her pack, and that brings out her guarding and challenging behaviors. When I am in front of her, she no longer feels herself to be “on duty” and can simply relax. This is why it is so essential to walk the dogs at heel and not allow them to run out the length of the leash.

As I stood there watching this display of what Tony repeatedly called “calm, assertive leadership,” I think my jaw fell on the ground. I could not believe that my own two incorrigible little dogs were happily following this man, whom they’ve met only once or twice, and were so quick to do every single thing he directed them to do. Astonishing.

Tony’s dog-training rap is lifted straight from Cesar Millan, of course, and I’ve heard it hundreds of times: you have to be the leader of the pack if you expect your dog(s) to follow you. I understood this perfectly with my Rottweiler and practiced it well, so training her was a breeze. But with the little dogs, especially headstrong and independent Reggie, I’ve given up trying to control them on the walk because I just don’t want to put the time and energy into managing them every step of the way. It’s been easier for me to zone out, let them go where they want to go, stop where they want to stop, and act however they please toward the people and animals they encounter along the way. I know their bad behaviors are my own fault. But I really didn’t know until yesterday how to correct it. Tony not only corrected it completely but also made it look so easy that I felt acutely embarrassed by what I’ve been tolerating for so long.

Rudy has always been an easy dog to live with and to walk, so being a calm, assertive leader with him has always been easy, too. When I tell him to do something, he responds quickly, and he remembers when he’s been corrected. Reggie, on the other hand, has been a challenge from day one, and she has never responded to any of the training tricks I know. After months of trying and failing to curb her pulling on the leash, I just abdicated control of the walk to her. My contributions heretofore have been limited to perfectly useless asking, pleading, whining, admonishing and berating with many curses. Even when I’m telling her for the 50th time to “slow down” or “stop pulling,” I know she doesn’t understand a word I say apart from her own name and I feel stupid for doing it but I don’t know what else to do!


It is useless to ask a dog to do something and inadequate to tell her to do something. One must actually make the dog do it, one way or another. And it’s also high time I admitted that not yelling or swearing or visibly freaking out is not the same thing as being calm, or assertive. They deserve better leadership from me, and I know I can do better for them.

I resolved to be that better leader and put an end to the arm-stretching pulling contest with Reggie on this evening’s walk. I put a leash in each hand and positioned the dogs beside and slightly behind me, and away we went at a brisk clip. Rudy fell right into line, of course, and although I had to gently correct Reggie most of the way, let me tell you: It was a miracle. They didn’t pull my arms off, they didn’t stop to sniff at every tree and fence post, and they didn’t make much more than a cursory yap at any of the people or animals we passed. Astonishing.

This video demonstrates how to walk a dog “the Cesar way,” and covers all the points that Tony made to me about redirecting the dogs’ attention to keep them calmly moving forward.

I am ready and willing to reclaim my position as pack leader so that my dogs can retire from that role and simply enjoy their exercise without having always to be on guard and ready to rumble. Reggie’s shrieking, squealing challenges to all comers are audible for blocks around and we walk nearly every day, so I think every single one of my neighbors will (silently) thank me for finally getting my dogs under control.


Lying to myself

I am an accountable, honest, accuracy-obsessed individual in most aspects of my life. As a general rule, I don’t lie, I don’t cheat and I don’t steal, even when nobody is watching me. I’m a bit of a law-and-order buff. I take my integrity seriously.


But I’m here to tell you right now: When it comes to tracking what I eat every day, I am a sneaky little liar and I always have been as far back as I can remember first struggling with my weight (which has been since about fourth grade).


Even with the cool online eTools that Weight Watchers has to track food, activity, weight, and a variety of other metrics daily and weekly, I cannot seem to make myself record everything I actually eat in a day. That handful of Fritos in the afternoon? The bites and nibbles while cooking? Those Hershey’s kisses I keep in the freezer for after-dinner treats? None of that stuff ever sees the tracker. I record my “official” meals (more or less accurately), of course, but I get squirrely around the snacks and treats that I feel I “shouldn’t” be eating.

The fact is, Weight Watchers and I have a completely open relationship, so “cheating,” per se, is not possible. I can eat any food I want, in any quantity I want. The choices I make and the results I get from those choices are mine alone. Nobody sees my tracker, nobody knows what I eat or don’t eat. So why am I still lying to myself about the Fritos?

I’ve been really struggling with this for the past few weeks. I’ve also been struggling with my obsessive need to weigh myself multiple times a day, first thing when I hop out of bed in the morning and last thing before I hop into bed for the night with many, many stops in between “just to check.” I had to move my scale to the guest bathroom, then to a closet, then to the garage, and finally had to take the batteries out of it. Seriously, getting off the scale at home was like quitting crack cold-turkey.


I have asked my WW leader to stand between me and the official scale for the past couple of weigh-ins and not to say a word to me about my weight either way. She’s also holding onto my personal weight tracker for another week or two so that I don’t know how much I weigh right now or whether I’m losing, gaining or staying the same.

The point of this little exercise, I thought, was to remove the fear of the scale and my unfortunate tendency to let the number it shows determine whether my week (and by extension, I myself) was “good” or “bad.” It had become more of a stick than a carrot, so to speak, and I wanted to see if I could make good choices for the sake of making good choices and promoting my good health without the “punishment” or “reward” of the weigh-in. (I know, it sounds so dramatic, but every dieter knows how tweaky it can get with the scale and the games we play with it in real life and in our minds.)


What I realized after the first very difficult week with no weight feedback at all was that I didn’t need the scale to motivate me nor to validate that my efforts were “good” or “working.” I know what healthy choices are and I know when I am making them (as well as when I am not making them). What I really wanted it to tell me was whether I was getting away with my sneaky little subterfuges. That’s what it came down to: I wanted to know, can I “cheat” on my diet (i.e., make poor choices that I lie about or refuse to acknowledge) and still lose weight?


This prompted one of those dark nights of the soul in which I really had to examine my whole relationship with food, weight and dieting from the very beginning. It’s too long of a story to detail here, stretching back nearly 40 years now to a kid who went from being perfectly normal height and weight to suddenly rather pudgy at about age 10 for reasons that are lost in the sands of time. From that point on, I was always “stocky,” “sturdy,” “plump,” “curvy,” and eventually just plain fat. I first joined Weight Watchers with my mother in the ’70s, and have tried many other diets and programs since then, with short-lived results at best. My only substantial weight loss as an adult was before my cross-country bicycle trip in 2001. Otherwise, I’ve been stuck on that yo-yo swinging about 30 pounds from high to low every couple of years.

Everybody says it gets harder to lose weight as you get older, especially for women. So this might be my last chance to get my body down to a healthy weight before everything goes flooey with my hormones and whatnot. The potential rewards that motivated me to lose weight in my youth—hope of being more attractive to potential partners, wearing cute clothes—don’t interest me at all anymore. I have more pragmatic concerns now, such as avoiding diabetes and stroke. And the cold, hard fact is that nobody in the world cares whether I weigh 150 or 250, or if I wear a size 2 or a size 22. Nobody cares whether I smear butter on my toast or eat it dry. Nobody is watching me, judging me, criticizing me. There’s nobody here but me.

Which means that I am the only one who gets to decide what my worth in the world is. My scale can’t and won’t tell me that. My mirror won’t tell me that. My clothes won’t tell me that. Nobody in my life can tell me that, regardless of whether they love me or loathe me. So I need to stop lying to myself about that, too.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

~ Marianne Williamson


The sticking point

If you have ever weighed yourself regularly on one of the old doctor’s office scales, you know that the bottom weight on the balance arm, the one that marks 50-lb. increments, rarely moves. Mostly it is the 1-lb. marker on the top that goes back and forth.


I have reached the point in my weight loss where I’m just ounces away from bumping that bottom weight down a notch, and it’s gotten my jimmies all rustled to the point where I am making some rather poor choices in my eating program (which, my Weight Watchers leader reminds me every week, IS NOT A DIET).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a weight range within which I am comfortable, and I have now lost 10% of my starting weight and reached the bottom of that range. I can fit comfortably in all my “small” clothes, and the rest of my clothes are gloriously baggy. Another 10 pounds down and I am going to have to buy some even smaller clothes, which is a nice problem to have unless, you know, you’re on a budget.


The budget is the least of it, though. The real issue is, will I stick where I’m comfortable or keep reducing my weight while increasing my anxiety? Because the lower I go, the harder it gets not only to lose but to maintain the loss. One must either eat very little or exercise a whole lot, and I’m not really good with either one. At a higher weight, I have more flexibility in what I can do and eat while still making progress (or at least holding steady). At a lower weight, every bite counts and the consequences of indulging are quick and pitiless.

The least I’ve weighed in my adult life is approximately 30 pounds less than I do now, and I got to that weight after eight months of strict dieting (sorry, I mean following the WW eating plan), five months of relentless daily workouts in preparation to make a cross-country bicycle trip, and 52 days on that trip riding an average of more than 70 miles per day from Oregon to New Hampshire. When the trip was over and I put my bicycle away pretty much for good, the weight held off for a few months before slowly creeping back again. That was 12 years ago. I’ve lost some, gained it back, lost it again. And again. It always finds me.

What I remember from that brief period of being really quite fit and nearly height-weight proportionate was that it required all my attention and an enormous effort every single day. I felt that I could never splurge on a big meal, never miss a workout, never let down my guard for a moment and just enjoy myself or be lazy. And I am not sure whether I have the desire or discipline to live that way again.

So I baked some cookies for Halloween instead of buying candy (most of which I shared with the neighbors but several of which I happily ate), and I made that Bangers & Mash recipe I mentioned last week (which was absolutely delicious and I highly recommend it). As a result I budged up a tad on the scale tonight. Just enough to keep me from dropping below that clear bright line that represents, to me, the difference between Enjoying Life While Losing Weight and Dieting All The Time and Hating It.


My WW group has a terrific leader who recommends that I just “take it slow” and try to focus on practicing healthy habits rather than simply losing weight, and that is good advice wherever you go. But I also need to decide what I’m going to do with this eating plan and choose to either commit to continue losing toward a new goal or maintain where I am (which is, at least, a healthier place than I was three months ago).


The universal fix for electronics

This picture, ahem, cracks me up more than it probably should today.


Okay, so that particular unit is obviously beyond help, but nevertheless, it is true that if a device contains a circuit board, it’s electronic, and if it’s electronic, the very first fix you should try if it malfunctions is powering it off and on again. I do this with my cell phone, my computers, my cameras, my Blu-Ray player, even my microwave. It has become a habit because, you know, electronics can be sketchy. And it nearly always fixes the problem.

But silly me, I thought a 20-year-old Genie garage door opener was merely electric and not electronic. In fact, I have now learned, it has two circuit boards in it: one to read the signal from the remote and the other to control the relay that turns the light on and off (it is too old to have any motion sensors to read, however).

The day before I left town a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the opener light was still on hours after I closed the garage door for the night, which was worrisome because two 60-watt incandescent bulbs less than two inches from a drywalled ceiling can create a lot of heat. I don’t know much about much when it comes to electrical household things and I don’t want to fool with them, so I just took out the bulbs so the garage wouldn’t burn down while I was out of town and finally got around to calling the garage door repairman today.

The first thing he did after taking the cover off and reinstalling the bulbs was unplug the opener. He waited 10 seconds, plugged it back in, and set the timer on his watch for 4.5 minutes. Exactly 270 seconds later, the light clicked off just as it is supposed to.

And for that skillful service, dear readers, I paid the man $55 and sent him laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt. He did tell me he was sorry to have to charge me, but he still had to charge me for having made the call. Business owners like him don’t stay in business if they give their services away, so I didn’t mind making out the check.

I did feel kind of silly for having paid so much to learn this valuable lesson, though, because I did research the issue online first, but couldn’t find anything about resetting the opener—the only suggested fixes I found in the forums talked about bad relay boards and faulty wiring. So I hope somebody out there who has this same problem will Google “genie garage door opener light stays on” and find this post and save themselves some money and maybe some embarrassment, too.


100 Things I’ve Learned About Photography

Despite the large number of grammatical and spelling errors in this list (which you know, gentle reader, I cannot ignore or condone), there is some terrific wisdom here. I have found that #5, “Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions while you are shooting,” is the most important one for me. Your emotions while shooting will show through in even the most ordinary snapshots.


“100 Things I’ve Learned About Photography” by Martin Gommel for the Digital Photography Scool:

Since I found photography two and a half years ago I have learned different things which I would like to share with you today. These lessons have made me richer and I hope that you will find them refreshing and inspiring on your journey with the camera, too.

1. Never do photography to become a rock-star.
2. Enjoy what you are shooting.
3. Prepare well for your shooting, realizing that your battery isn’t charge when you’re setting up for that sunrise shoot is too late!
4. Always take one warm garment more than you actually need with you.
5. Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions while you are shooting.
6. Set goals you can achieve.
7. Write tips about photography, because writing is also learning.
8. Never go shooting without a tripod.
9. Be…

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