Learning to Wait: Walking the Dog as Contemplative Practice

Norval takes a rest.

This is pretty much how our outings go. I move, Norval doesn’t. If he’s not sniffing, relieving himself, eating sticks, or barking at Gus the Goldendoodle, he’s most likely defying me. He knows he gets rewarded for “good walking,” so when he loses the mood, and he doesn’t see me reaching for the treats in my pocket, he simply plants himself. Dog as immovable object.

“No peanut butter crunchies, no walkie-walkie, Lady Who Thinks She’s in Control,” he seems to say.

“Spoiled,” offers a friend.

“Stubborn,” declares Precious.

Just as with some other concerns in my life, I need to adjust my thinking about this daily routine. For if I continue to focus on my frustration, we’ll never make any headway, the dog or me. If I see only what’s going wrong—dog not training as fast as I would like—I won’t notice what’s going just fine—dog making some progress and spring on its way.

Lately I’ve been feeling put upon, what with Precious being sick, and my books not being published. Granted, I haven’t written them yet, but several authors just had readings in town and I’m hooked on the acclaim and the accomplishment, not the hard work and the hustle.

So this morning, while Norval splayed himself on the pavement, I listened to the birds and admired the trees about to burst. I gave thanks to God for the progress Precious is making with his cancer treatments, and for my writing that has been published. I waved at the new neighbor, and wandered down memory lane upon seeing the forsythia on the corner, as that particular yellow always takes me straight back to Grandmother Lyles’ house on South Ninth Street in Oxford, Mississippi.

These are simple things, and they may sound hokey to you. But such small shifts led to my looking heavenward and saying a prayer, instead of cursing under my breath. They reminded me how adorable Norval is most of the time, and what he means to Precious and me. They convinced me that pulling on the leash was not the answer. Waiting was the answer. And so I did.

Eventually, Norval deigned to move, and we made it back home at our own pace, one paw in front of the other, with our behavior, and our gratitude, intact.

Dog Love {On Losing a Pet}

Sloopy copy
Sloopy: The Beginning of MayBelle’s Dog Love

Sloopy was the dog of MayBelle’s young childhood, a sweet, block-headed lab who was her constant companion. When MayBelle looks at old pictures now she wonders if she had any friends at all, so often does she appear with the dog.

Then there was Savoy, and Rasta, and F. Scott. And, in her thirties and forties, Quay, who was the dog of MayBelle’s adulthood, by her side as they made their way in Nashville, just two. When Precious came along he was warned that he had to pass muster with Quay Girl or the dating deal was off. At their first meeting, Precious got down on his knees and rubbed Quay under her chin, resulting in two smitten gals instead of one.

Quay Girl was MayBelle’s heart. She was scared of thunderstorms, wary of screaming children, and shed her mixed-breed hair like tumbleweeds. She was also fiercely protective, a great traveler who never threw up in the car, and prone to trying to curl up on MayBelle’s chest long after she had grown too big for such. Her fatty tumors came, as they do sometimes in older dogs, and then it became clear she also had cancer throughout her system. MayBelle and Precious knew it was the humane thing to do to let her go at age fourteen. MayBelle cried for days.

Then came Hiram, a West Highland Terrier chosen for his low shedding properties, as Precious is allergic. Hiram was the smartest dog they’ve ever had the pleasure of tending to. Stubborn, funny, endearing, and dead at only seven and a half. MayBelle and Precious are bereft.

If you are a pet person, what is it about these creatures that crawl on our laps and steal into our hearts? Chew our furniture, demand our attention, and calm us like nothing else can?

Recently a piece about people who refer to their dogs as their children made the rounds on social media. The writer was outraged that anyone would presume to compare a pet to a child. MayBelle gets it, really she does, that dogs are not people. And as cute as she thought Hiram was, he didn’t hold a candle to her great- nephews and nieces. But seriously, people, dog love is its own thing, and if it brings someone joy to spoil his or her pooch, what’s the harm? Sure, it sort of creeps MayBelle out when she sees dogs dressed up in human clothes, but she doesn’t feel moved to criticize their owners for it (not out loud, anyway).

As for MayBelle, she’ll spend her time on articles such as this one that proclaims the health benefits of pet ownership. That said, she understands that not everyone loves dogs like she does; even some of her own family members back away at the mere mention of slobber. (MayBelle is sometimes tempted to bring up “expressing anal glands” when around these relatives but so far she has resisted the impulse.) MayBelle, on the other hand, relishes the time with her canine companions and knows she will need one with her until the end of her days. There have been times in her life, after all, when a dog was the only living, breathing creature she’d see for days. It’s hard to let go of a bond like that.

So dress up your dogs, saddle them with family names (MayBelle’s personal proclivity), spoil them with treats and toys, post their pictures on Instagram. MayBelle, for one, doesn’t mind.

Rest in Peace, Sweet Quay Girl: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Says Goodbye to Her Mutt

So I sat on the floor at the Animal Hospital of West Nashville on a rainy Thursday afternoon in February and rested my right hand on my dog’s shaved belly as she drew her last breath. I sang to her, yes I did. And I cried like a baby.

The vet had reported that Quay had cancer in her liver, spleen, and adrenal glands. Big words were used, with scary sounding illness names. Such phrases as “palliative care” and “quality of life” were uttered. Hanging on to her, I think, would have been selfish, and unfair to that precious mutt. But my how I miss her already, a mere 15 hours later, this dog who kept me company on many a lonely night when I was single; who traveled with my husband and me to our honeymoon at the beach; who curled herself up tight on my friend Sheri’s chest the night I was 400 miles away at the bedside of my dying father.

“She knew,” said Sheri, when I called to say my father was gone.

Quay shed sitting still, and I suspect we will be vacuuming up remnants of her dog hair for months to come. Part of me will be glad for the remembrance, I suppose, but most of me will just be sad. She was known to lick anything that stood still, her spotted tongue flicking out with reckless abandon. She was a fine example of unabashed canine love, and I had forgotten how much it hurts to lose a four-legged friend. A lot.

Quay’s heritage was unknown, the best guess being a mix of Lab, German Shepherd, and Chow. But her heart was never a mystery.

The doorbell has just rung, and for the first time in 15 years, there is no barking, no mad dash of clicking nails across the hardwoods.

“Canine Compatriots” from HerNashville.com

From Her NashvilleJuly 2010

First there was Sloopy. It was the 1960s, after all, and my high school-aged sisters chose the name from one of their favorite songs. He was the almost-white Labrador retriever who played with me every afternoon when I got home from elementary school. For a while Sloopy was my only friend when we moved across town and I hadn’t yet met any of the kids in our new neighborhood. He lived long and well, and when he died, my mother and my sisters and I cried for what seemed like hours. Daddy was in England at the time, staying at the Savoy Hotel. When we called to tell him that Sloopy had died, he said we would eventually get another dog, and maybe we could name him Savoy. We did.

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