“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~Philip Pullman
My dog, Phin, is adjusting to our new apartment. Sometimes he gets some anxiety that manifests in barking as he’s adjusting to new circumstances so we have a whole routine we’ve used many times to help him adjusted as quickly as possible. (Luckily that’s the only way it manifests!) Brandon McMillan, the host of the show Lucky Dog, recently did an episode about a dog who had severe separation anxiety and he suggested a layering technique that included recording his voice and playing it back in a loop when he left the dog home alone. I decided to give it a try.
I recorded some stories to play for Phin as I left him in our new place for the first time yesterday. I recorded Anne Lamott essays, J.K. Rowling’s speech when she was the graduation speaker at Harvard a few years ago, and a few of my own pieces. When I turned on the loop, Phin curled up in a blanket in front of my laptop, put his head down, and went to sleep. Amazing!
Stories are always a comfort to me. To read them, to write them, to revisit them when I need their encouragement and inspiration the most is a privilege I never take for granted. I never realized that reading them out loud could be so comforting for Phin, too. Philip Pullman was absolutely right—we all need a good story. Dogs included.
As Phin became stronger this past week, I exercised the right (with his doctor’s permission) to put him on a blanket on the floor next to me to let him stretch out a bit more. The trouble is that now he’s getting so much better (though not totally back to normal) that he wants to take a stroll around the living room. He’s even slyly snuck away a few times to venture (slowly and wobbly) into the kitchen.
I understand his impatience—like mother, like dog. So now we’re back to strict crate rest despite his energy rebound. He’s not happy about this. He gives me his best Bette Davis eyes. One time, I think he actually winked at me. I can’t blame him the little guy for trying to turn on the charm in an attempt to secure a get-out-of-jail-free card. I’m not happy about it either and I’m not even the one stuck in the crate.
Healing, any kind of healing for anyone, takes time and rest and dedication. Healing is a lot of work. Let’s face it – the whole process of healing is a pain in the rear. And if we rush it, if we do too much too soon because we want so much to just get back to normal, then we risk robbing ourselves of all the potential that waits for us on the other side of healing.
I want Phin to make a full and complete recovery. I’m looking forward to the days when he and I can take our walks together again in the sunshine and fresh air. And they’ll happen; I know that. Come spring, we’ll take our spin around the Tidal Basin and he’ll roll around on that precious little healed back in the cherry blossoms. It’s just going to take some time and patience on both our parts – him in a crate and me sitting next to his crate as I write – marching toward our common goal to be well and whole.
Becoming a Jedi takes patience, puzzling, waiting, and a lot of slow learning. So does healing. What I hate most about the healing process is the waiting. I can’t do anything to speed it up, and I like to do things. I like to contribute. Healing is on its own watch, and I want it to be on mine. I’d like to snap my fingers, and have Phineas’s spinal column immediately knit itself back together so that he can walk again without a shred of difficulty or discomfort. Is that so much to ask?
I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress next to Phin’s crate since he came home on Friday. (Don’t feel bad for me—it’s a nice, comfy air mattress.) I spend a lot of time watching over him, and a lot of time waiting for the magic of healing which is taking its sweet time when I want it to use a magic wand. Healing, stop holding out on me. I’ve never been known for my patience. Quite the contrary. If something can be done today, right this minute, I’m doin’ it. Why can’t healing have that same work ethic? Why is it so damn lazy?
The body’s magic; life is magic. I get it. The surgeon drilled a hole into one of Phin’s vertebrae, cleaned out the ruptured disc area, and now the bone and disc are going to magically regenerate themselves in about 4-6 weeks. Okay, okay. We (humans and animals) are all tiny miracles of growth and progress and evolution. I know it’s a miracle that we have these soft squishy bodies that heal themselves through no effort on our part save for sleeping, eating, and, occasionally, taking some meds. Awesome. Now hurry up!
My pleas and prayers for an overnight recovery have thus far gone unanswered. The universe is making us sit, and wait, and watch, and learn. And I’ll do all those things because healing isn’t giving me a choice. It’s the boss, the teacher, the wise old sage, rocking in the corner, who’s earned the right to do things when it’s good and ready and satisfied that we’ve earned and learned everything it meant for us to earn and learn in the process. I’m thick-headed; I always have been. Lessons take a long time to seep into this skull of mine and make themselves at home in the deep recesses of my brain.
I’m inflating the air mattress. I’m giving Phin his meds wrapped in cheese (he’s crazy for Havarti), and tucking a soft blanket around him. He closes his eyes and drifts away into conversation with the sage, away from any pain, into a dream world where he walks and runs and is by all accounts perfectly healthy in every way. For him, for now, that’s enough. He’s content to give his body all the time it needs. I smile, and wait.
We are what we think, and what I wanted to think about were the blessings of life, large and small. I wanted to be wowed; I wanted to laugh; I wanted to stay positive and send that positive energy to my dog, Phineas, as I waited for the results of his tests by the neurologists.
So I meditated, helped my nieces get ready for school, and watched CBS This Morning. I wrote some articles about the trend of curation in education, jobs that won’t be lost to advancing technology, the wine industry in Northern California, and personal finance lessons learned by women in their 30s. I read about the restoration of wild Amur tigers in Russia, a 200-year-old mummy found meditating in lotus position, astronomers’ discovery of a planet that has a ring system 200 times the size of Saturn’s ring system, and Nerdgirl’s blog contest to celebrate her 39th birthday at Noma Tokyo with a blind date.
And you know what? It helped. It helped a lot. Of course I was still nervous for Phin. Back surgery, especially for a dachshund, is a very serious procedure. Phin isn’t like family to me; he is family. His rehabilitation could be long and tedious. With proper care, his recovery is highly likely but not guaranteed. So the best I can do now is keep my head up, my ears open, and my thoughts as optimistic and as realistic as possible. Writing, reading, and laughing helps.
My dachshund looked drunk. And for a dachshund, a breed prone to spinal issues, a collapsing of the back legs can be a death sentence. I rushed him to the ER, and he was immediately admitted to ICU. I got in my car, alone, and sobbed loud angry cries of “No! Not yet, not yet. I’m not ready yet.”
It really forces you to draw your own character into question when a 5-year-old 16-pound weiner dog who was abused and abandoned as a defenseless puppy is braver, stronger, and more courageous than you are. He was disoriented and uncomfortable, likely in deep pain that he refused to show anyone, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He soldiered on. He believed. I would have been ashamed of myself upon realizing this, but I was too bogged down in my grief. Thankfully Phineas just smooched my face before the nurses took him back, and got down to the business of healing.
The sad and subconscious deal you make with the devil when you adopt a dog is that you are very likely to outlive him or her. At some point, they will cross over and your life will go on in this plane without them. I try never to think about this fact. When I do, it overwhelms me like a mammoth wave of brackish water. I feel sick, lonely, and afraid. I’m usually able to pull myself back from the ledge, but with Phineas facing a grim prognosis in ICU two days ago I was helpless against the wave. It batted me around good and hard until it coughed me up, face first on the scratchy sand. Just stab a knife through my heart and turn it. It hurt that badly.
I was preparing myself for the worst. And in his typical stubborn style, Phineas refused to follow my lead. He wasn’t going down that dark path I set for myself, and for him. No, he was going to carve his own path. He went his own way. Screw the odds. That little guy is fighting, to be well, to live, to be whole and happy, and to be with me. The thought of giving up never crossed his mind.
I woke up several times in the middle of the following night sobbing. I’m glad it was dark because I’m sure I looked hideous. I’ve never been a pretty crier. I don’t trust anyone who is. I’m quite certain my guts were on the outside of my body after each crying fit. I buried my face into one of Phineas’s blankets and somehow fell back into a shallow sleep. Around 7am I phoned the hospital to see how he did overnight. He’d done it; he had begun to respond, very slowly but steadily, to medication and rest and the prayers that friends and family have been saying nonstop since I took him to the hospital. He took all of that goodness in and used it to his advantage. I was shocked. The doctor was shocked. Phineas was not.
Throughout the following day, he continued to climb out of the abyss I had relegated him to. He walked a few feet, slowly and with some difficulty, but all on his own. He took oral pain medication without getting ill. The door to the kennel where he’s staying has a sign that says “will bolt”, meaning that if a nurse isn’t careful when he or she opens the kennel door Phin will dive right out of the kennel with the IV flapping behind him so that someone will play with him. Just call him The Unsinkable Phineas Brown. He’s not ready yet, either. That’s one thing we both agree on.
Hi everyone. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for all the love, good vibes, and prayers that so many of you are sending to sweet Phineas. They’re working!
I just came back from the animal hospital and got to see and hold Phin. He’s still in ICU, but miraculously he’s making very slow and steady progress on meds and bed rest. He is waddling very slowly, but is eating, drinking water, going outside when he needs to, and is alert and affectionate.
Best of all, his x-ray doesn’t show any breaks or fractures in his spine and he’s not paralyzed in his back legs. He could have swelling in his spinal cord or discs. We would only be able to see that swelling on an MRI which is a very serious procedure for a dog that they don’t do unless they have to.
We are going to re-evaluate tomorrow morning when I go back to visit him. If he continues to improve, we’ll keep him in the hospital and on meds and rest until he is well enough to come home on crate rest and oral meds. We may be able to completely avoid an MRI and surgery if he continues to get better.
THANK YOU again for sending him your thoughts and love. We’re sending you our love back! Thinking of all our friends and family up north. Stay safe!
I can’t believe I adopted Phin 4 years ago today and that he’s a whopping 5 years old, a whole pawful. I’m convinced that loving an animal and taking him into our home alters our humanity. Happy 5th birthday to the best little fuzzy pal I’ll ever have.
I woke up at 3:30am. Phineas was crying in his sleep so I got up and sat with him for a bit. He calmed down quickly. It’s impossible for us to hide who we really are in those hours between dusk and dawn. There are no secrets then. No facades. No brave faces. We have all our fears, insecurities, and joys right there on the surface. We’re just being; no doing. I hope someday the person I am at 3:30am is the person I am at every hour. I’m getting there but I’ve got some more work to do. Thanks for teaching me that, Phin.
When I grow up, I hope I’m as mature as my dog, Phineas. His resilience never fails to amaze me. As a dog who was mistreated and abandoned as a puppy, he still found a way to love and trust people without hesitation. Two weeks ago, he was bit on the ear by another dog in the park. After some veterinary TLC, he marched outside for his walk the next morning with gusto to greet his neighbors, human and canine alike, in that same park without a trace of fear nor anxiety. Yesterday, we saw the dog who bit him and though he didn’t go bounding over to say hello, he also didn’t let that dog phase him one bit.
I think of all the times I stopped trusting people and held onto fear because of past hurt and betrayal. Despite the size and complexity of the human brain, dogs have us beat in matters of the heart. They figure out, in very short order, how to heal, forgive, and love again. They don’t admonish others nor themselves for mistakes and injustices. They recognize that something happened, they learn, and then they move on without the malice, anger, and disappointment that often emotionally cripples people for years. If we could follow their lead, this world would be a happier, healthier place.
Yesterday, CNN reported that Russian authorities are poisoning stray dogs in Sochi, Russia leading up to the Olympics. My friend, Amanda Hirsch, sent me the link asking me to speak out about it and of course I did. As an animal lover and proud pet parent to Phin, I couldn’t let that story pass without saying something. There’s been a lot of coverage on the horrific human rights violations in Russia and now we know that same violence and injustice extends to innocent animals, too.
Phin and I decided to record an open letter to Mr. Putin asking him to help, not hurt, the stray dogs of Sochi and uploaded it to YouTube. Phin sat on my lap and is the narrator of the letter. He shares some of his personal background as a former stray dog and directly asks Mr. Putin to put an end to this heinous behavior. Here is the text of the letter and the video is below:
Dear Mr. Putin,
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If that’s true Mr. Putin, you and your nation are stuck in the moral dark ages and I want to help you evolve.
I love everyone. People, canines, felines, and just about every animal there is. But you’re making it really hard for me to love you. I heard about what you’re doing to stray dogs in Sochi. I was reading CNN.com and I saw that you’re rounding them up and poisoning them before the Olympics begin. This issue is personal for me because I used to be a stray dog. A policeman found me alone, scared, and starving in the woods. He rescued me, brought me to the local animal shelter, and that’s where my mom adopted me. We’ve been together for 3 and a half years. She rescued me, and I rescued her right back.
The Olympics is a sacred event, one you should be honored and humbled to host. It’s an event where the very best athletes driven only by talent, passion, and raw determination come together to compete and celebrate. This is a time to rally your people, to rally people all over the world in support of Russia, as a spotlight shines on your nation and its rich heritage.
It’s no secret that the Olympic games bring a wealth of funds to the host nation, especially to the host city. You’ve built beautiful new resorts. You’ve constructed incredible venues to host these games. This is a time to use that money and attention to fix things in the community that need fixing. You’re wasting it by putting a veneer on the stray dog issue in Sochi rather than using it to actually fix the problem.
You can do better than this. You have to do better than this. Establish shelters, educate people on how to treat and care for their animals, and create spay / neuter programs as well as affordable veterinary care. Pass laws that make animal abuse a crime.
We can’t speak up for ourselves. We need people, people like you, to stand up for us, to protect us, and to take care for us. Please, Mr. Putin. Poison’s not the answer. Love and compassion and concern. Those are the answers. Those are always the answers. We’re remarkably forgiving, grateful, and loyal creatures. I promise you, once you show a dog love, compassion, and care, he or she will give it all back to you, and then some. I know you’ll do the right thing and help all the dogs of Sochi so thanks in advance for your cooperation and your future efforts to give all of them a chance at a long, happy, and healthy life. This issue is worth your time and attention, and so are we. You’ll see. Just give us a chance. We won’t let you down.