Mixed Emotions

When I received the voicemail from CCI about Jambi, it didn’t even cross my mind that something was amiss. By contrast, it was wholly shocking a year and a half ago when we got a call only eleven days (!!) after Langston had been turned in. We’d been sure he was going to do well in Advanced Training – he was such a pleaser, so smart, so loving. We hadn’t anticipated that it would be the loving part of his personality that would get him dismissed; indeed, he adored and missed us so much, he became crazily anxious not being with us (and, um, got into a fight with another dog and then bit the trainer who stepped in to intervene – oopsies!). It was clear that Lang was meant to be our forever dog and we welcomed him home with open arms.

With Jambi, it was different. We felt in our bones that she was a good egg, that she was cut out for the life of a service dog. Her exceedingly calm demeanor and unflappable nature, her cuddliness and sweetness, her intelligence and desire to please; this dog was going places, damn it! And so when the call came yesterday, it never occurred to me that Jambi had been released – it was far too early for her to have been placed (she wasn’t slated for graduation until February), but surely nothing was wrong.

As I reached the part in the voicemail where our puppy program manager said she had “great news” to tell us immediately, I turned to the girls and told them that I was all but certain that I knew what the news was: Jambi had been selected as a breeder. An hour later, my suspicions were confirmed.

Up until now, I’ve only mentioned that CCI puppies face one of two possibilities: to be released from the program (which the vast majority are because perfection is a very difficult standard) and become someone’s pet, or to graduate and become a working dog in some capacity – a hearing dog, a service dog, an assistance dog, a therapy dog, etc. There is, however, a third possibility. A very small number of pups are selected as CCI breeders, taken out of Advanced Training, and sent off to California, near CCI’s headquarters, to begin a life of leisure (and humping) with a volunteer breeder/caretaker family.

In order to ensure that the dogs are properly and safely bred, that they’re well cared for, and that certain genetic characteristics are passed on from dog to dog, CCI breeds all of its own puppies – Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, or crosses of the two. I’ve been saying for over a year now to anyone who would listen (or at least who I thought might be even mildly interested) that I thought it was highly likely that our Beast would be chosen as a breeder. Not only did she have a terrific personality, one I thought CCI might like to, you know, pass along, she was also small for a Lab – something helpful when you’re navigating tight spaces, trying to fit under airplane seats, squeezing onto subway cars, etc. Plus, she’s gorgeous.

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Jambi’s most recent progress report reiterated what a fantastic dog she is – attentive, quick, calm, super smart, not easily distractible, not fearful, highly motivated. She was doing incredibly well in Advanced Training, easily well enough to have gone on and graduated… so well, in fact, that they decided that there should be more dogs like Jambi.

Having suspected that this would be her fate long ago, I wasn’t shocked to hear the news. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel conflicted. See, we really really wanted her to become a service dog. That’s what makes it all worth it – the training, the pooping in the middle of stores, the heartbreak of growing close to her only to return her. The idea that Jambi could someday change someone’s life makes it all worthwhile.

If she can’t, however – if she’s just not cut out for it – then flunking out didn’t seem to be the end of the world, especially since we’d planned on her going to live with my sister-in-law (and new brother-in-law; more on that soon). She would be in a loving home! She would be with people who would continue with her solid training foundation! We could still see her! These did not seem like such bad options.

To have neither feels a bit… hard. Jambi didn’t quite make it. She’s not coming back. We’ll probably never see her again, ever. Sure, she’ll be with a new, doting family – but will they appreciate her adorable grunting noises the way we did? Will they love the velvety feel of her perfectly cold, wet nose? Will they know that she lives for ice cubes and will come running the moment she hears one jostling about in the freezer?

And then there’s the whole breeding thing; it just seems so impersonal. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am with a guy she’s never even met, whose butt she’s only just begun to sniff – what if she doesn’t like it, this mating thing? And then when she’s pregnant (but she’s so young!) and uncomfortable and has squalling puppies all around her, pawing at her and nipping – what if she doesn’t really enjoy being a mom?

It’s not easy when your babies grow up and fly the coop and get knocked up all within the space of a few months!

With our first CCI dog, Diamond, I actively hoped against her becoming a breeder; it wasn’t helping enough; it felt like all of the time and effort and love we’d put in would go to waste. I preferred that she flunk out than become a breeder. This time around, I no longer held those views. Maybe it was having worked with CCI longer and seeing how important all of the dogs are, maybe it was seeing two of our pups get released, or perhaps it was because I’ve had the feeling for so long that Jambi would be selected as a breeder. Whatever it was, I wasn’t hoping she wouldn’t be bred, so receiving the news wasn’t the punch in the gut it would have been a few years ago.

And, when you think about it, being chosen as a breeder is actually a pretty fantastic thing. CCI hopes that Jambi will have 5 or so litters, which amounts to 40 or so puppies. It is essentially impossible that none of those puppies will go on to become service dogs, and far more likely that several – maybe even a dozen – of them will. That means a whole lot more people’s lives will be forever changed for the better than if Jambi had become a service dog herself. (And they’ll be damned cute, too.)

playground pup

If changing lives is why we raise CCI pups, it seems that we’ve hit the jackpot with this one.

Nevertheless, it’s still hard. Even though we know that this is a wonderful thing, a true honor, it’s still not what we’d originally hoped would happen, and changing emotions on a dime isn’t really my strong suit. (Unless I happen to be watching a good Budweiser commercial, in which case I can go from smiling to sobbing in a matter of seconds.) Knowing that we won’t get to see her again hurts. Wondering how she’ll take to being an incubator is tough.

But I’m going to look on the bright side. With luck, her new breeder/caretaker family will be amenable to connecting with us through digital media so we can watch her grow, be a part of her pregnancies, and ooooh and ahhhh over her new puppies. My mother-in-law pointed out that Jambi’s exceedingly sweet and adoring nature means she’ll probably be a tremendous mama. And, if we play our cards right, down the road we should be able to raise one of Jambi’s puppies as our next CCI dog — which is pretty freakin’ incredible.

And so, to Jambi… We knew you were destined for great things, Beast! We miss you so much, but this is such awesome news; you’ll be amazing and will bring such joy into so many other lives. And if we ever make it out near you in California, I expect an uncontrollable full-body wiggle as a greeting, deal? Deal.

jambi and the girls

 

Settling In

It’s now been three weeks since we got Fenwick, our fourth CCI puppy, and I daresay things feel distinctly different than when I last posted about him. He’s becoming a true member of our household and raising him is turning out to be relatively easy*.

* I realized I just jinxed myself. Universe, please have pity on me.

Upon further reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several reasons why the adjustment to having another puppy around has gone more smoothly this time. To wit, in no particular order:

1) I’m no longer feeling detached, nor keeping my distance. Once I realized that’s what I’d been doing, I decided to knock it off. He’s not Jambi and that’s okay; he’s his own self and that self is pretty fantastic.

2) This face. All day, every day.
fenwick at the vet

3) He still has puppy breath. (And very sharp teeth.)

4) He lets us know when he needs to do his business and then almost always waits until he’s outside to actually do it. THIS IS HUGE, people. Langston had a habit of asking to be let out, peeing like crazy, and then peeing again the instant he got back into the house or was put in his kennel. (Our CCI program manager actually had to ask us not to bathe him so often because it was bad for his skin, so we resorted to hosing him off a couple of times a day.) Jambi went through a lovely stage where she would poop in her kennel at night and not let us know; I’d “discover” it when I’d awaken to use the bathroom and would be overpowered by the stench. So, Fenwick asking to go out and then doing his business outside? GENIUS.

5) Speaking of genius… he’s smart. He totally knows his name, responds to the “sit” and “here!” and “Let’s go!” commands, and has mastered the art of sitting, waiting, and then being given the “okay” command before he eats his meals. He also walks on a leash quite nicely now; we’ve managed to make it a whole ten minutes up the street before he gives up and needs to be carried.

6) He’s a total imp. He knows the “here” command but will purposely dart away from me if he’d rather play outside. He pulls the girls’ swim towels off of their drying spots, drags them around the kitchen, and then lies down in the middle of them. If you’re not watching very closely, he’ll slip out of any open gate or door to follow you. He’s a twerp.
fenwick and the stick Dragging a stick that’s three times his size because he is a COMPLETE GOOFBALL.

7) He talks. I don’t mean that he barks or is just plain noisy (although both of those are true), but that he vocalizes often and it sounds just like a human being – but not in a creepy, disembodied way. More in an adorable, “OMG, he sounds like a cross between an Ewok and a Wookiee!” kind of way. (Yeah, yeah, I know that those are technically not human… but they were voiced by humans. Point for me.)

8) I’ll deny I ever said this, but he just might be sleeping through the night. You didn’t hear it here. Nope.

9) Langston has changed his tune and has decided that Fenwick is a pretty fabulous playmate. Lang brings toys over to play with him, gets all dog-mouthy with him, and gleefully flings him across the floor when enough is enough. He’s even willingly sharing his bed and not trying to curl into a tight ball in the corner so he doesn’t have to touch Fenwick. OH HAPPY DAY.
fenwick and lang are buddies

And perhaps the biggest reason why raising this puppy is easier (so far) than the previous three puppies…

10) Ella and Annie help. THIS IS A GAME CHANGER, Y’ALL. With our first CCI pup, Diamond, they were really too young to do anything besides avoid becoming chew toys. With Langston and Jambi, they wanted to help, but were either too little to be too effective (the pups were too heavy to carry, they couldn’t reach the food) or got bored ten seconds into working on “down” and would walk away, leaving the puppies chewing on couch cushions in the living room.

This time, not only are they capable of pitching in, they actually want to participate. Feeding the puppy? Not a problem. Letting him out, even on short notice (“He’s about to have an accident! Go go GO!”), and then watching him so he doesn’t get into trouble? Done. Patiently working with him on learning his name? Okay, so maybe they weren’t patient, but they definitely offered assistance. Knowing how to handle it without falling apart when Fenwick nips at their toes or chews on the hems of their bathrobes? You bet.

The other day, Ella decided that the puppy was getting a bit stinky, so she gave him a bath – in the shower, by herself – and then toweled him off and brought him back downstairs. Yeah, she mixed his dirty, hairy towel in with hers, but she hung them both up so I consider it a total win. Heck, one time, Annie even cleaned up after Fenwick when he peed inside… and then sprayed the floor with disinfectant. As you can see, this is all kinds of awesome.

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So, to sum up, if you want to raise a puppy and have the experience be particularly excellent, I highly recommend that you a) get a really cute dog, b) get a smart dog that makes you feel like a super-competent trainer, c) get a dog with personality so you can laugh it off when they try to chew through the handle of your new rake, and d) above all else, have a seven and nine year-old on hand to assist you with all of your puppy-raising needs.

Except for getting up in the middle of the night and picking up poop. Those are still on you. At least this adorable face will make it more bearable.fenwick 11 weeks
Oh. Mah. Gah.

Make Room For Puppy

Four days ago, our family grew by one: we welcomed Fenwick, our fourth CCI puppy, to the fold.
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Don’t mind the green around his ear; that’s just a little extra ink from his uber-cool tattoo.

We’d been planning to get another CCI pup since before we turned Jambi in for Advanced Training, but a puppy wasn’t available to us until last week. We met him at the airport, a howling bundle of fuzz that couldn’t wait to get out of the kennel where he’d been cooped up for more than twelve hours. Annie had stayed home sick that day, so she ventured with us to get Fenwick; on our way home, we drove by their elementary school right at Ella’s lunchtime… so an impromptu meet-and-greet was held in the school parking lot.

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What? Don’t all the sick kids wear magician star skirts on their days home from school?

Half Golden Retriever and half Labrador Retriever, Fenwick (we don’t name them, btw, but I think his name is very dignified – in a Brit-lit kind of way – and pretty rad all-around) has a very clear Golden look. He’s absurdly fluffy and soft, not at all wiry like Labs tend to be, and by far the smallest puppy we’ve had. He is also crazy loud when he’s left alone and prefers not to be, screaming in a freakish way that is almost human. Aww, puppies!

The girls took to him immediately, declaring him “The cutest dog ever!” and cuddling with him and carrying him around in that way that children do with puppies and cats that makes you question whether small humans and small animals should ever share the same space. Then they torture play with him and help wash him and any Hey, you dropped me on the tile floor and could’ve killed me memories are all but forgotten.
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See the leaf? You can’t eat it! But you can look at it! See it? Don’t eat it! Look – a leaf! Leaves aren’t for dogs! I CAN DO THIS ALL DAY.

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Okay, okay… so maybe peeing in my kennel wasn’t such a good idea…

Nick seems to think that Fenwick is just dandy, but he went out of town less than twenty-four hours after picking him up, so his opinion doesn’t fully count. Which leaves me as the lone hold-out who isn’t completely smitten with this adorable little furball.

I’m not sure why, exactly. I knew it would be difficult – eight week-old puppies almost always are. They wake you up at night to go to the bathroom, they whine when they’re displeased, they pee and poop in the house indiscriminately and sometimes wind up soaked in their own urine. (This is eerily similar to most two year-old humans.) They nip at your fingers and hemlines and shoes, they put everything in their mouths – especially the things that shouldn’t go there – and they are utterly unpredictable. (This is exactly like most two year-old humans, except it’s legal to lock them in cages.)

I knew all of this going in, and I was prepared. Cleaning up the umpteenth mess of the day (five minutes after I let him out and with absolutely zero warning or preamble) is exhausting – but that’s not really why I’m not crazy for this boy yet. I don’t dislike him – he’s got that delightful puppy breath and is and full of zany puppy energy and makes little grunting noises when you hold him and likes to drag a stick around the backyard that’s six times longer than he is, which cracks me up to no end. I’m just not all in quite yet.

I know – I know! – how can I not be completely taken in? I mean, look at this guy.
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Seriously? SERIOUSLY.

I think part of it is that we’re going out of town next weekend, so I’m almost afraid to put too much into it because I’m half-worried that he’ll forget us entirely in our absence. I’m also worried that he’ll still be up in the night and will be soiling the floors at regular intervals when our petsitter is here and, well, I’m just nervous, so I’m not jumping in fully to enjoy him. I think part of it is that I miss Jambi – not just any old puppy, but Jambi specifically – and when Fenwick’s personality diverges from hers, it’s a reminder that she’s gone, and that’s hard.

But I think the biggest reason I’m not totally head over heels for this puppy is that Langston isn’t head over heels, which is not at all what I expected. He and Jambi were ridiculously good pals, playing and lounging and napping together from day one. He’s also been really friendly with other dogs, though, so we assumed that he would love having a puppy around again – especially since he’d been practically bouncing off the walls with boredom since we turned Jambi in. When we brought Fencick home and introduced them, I actually said to Lang, “We brought you a present!” (Yes, I talk to my dogs as though they’re human. Preach it.)

To my dismay (and surprise), Langston doesn’t care. In some ways, he’s even annoyed by Fenwick – which, upon closer inspection, I guess I can understand. Fenwick bites at Langston’s wagging tail, causing him to yelp with pain; he attempts to gnaw on his hind legs as though they were teething toys; he jumps up on him in a never-ending game of Notice Me! Notice Me! Notice Me!

I’d been so convinced that Langston would be thrilled that we were bringing home another puppy, I didn’t even consider how it would feel if he wasn’t completely taken with the new dog. Turns out, I’d been putting a lot of stock into the two of them getting along, to being buddies, and now that it hasn’t played out that way (yet), I’m really bummed.

I say “yet” because I know that it’s only been four days… four days out of the sixteen months that Fenwick will be with us. He’s only a baby. We’re all still adjusting. Hell, he’s still on west coast time – jet leg will do strange things to a dog. I know that there’s plenty of time for Langston to come around – or not. Maybe they’ll never be the best of pals. But there’s plenty of time to adjust to that, too, and for me to fall in love with this smooshy little buddy simply because he’s him, rather than because he’s Langston’s companion.

And yet… Last night, I’d invited Langston up on the couch to chew the new favorite bear we’d gotten him, keeping it safe from Fenwick’s shark puppy teeth. A moment later, however, Langston had gotten off the couch – bear in hand mouth – and walked over to Fenwick… to play. With his bear. Langston wanted to play with Fenwick by sharing his bear. Oh, be still my heart!

They played longer than this, but I was so busy watching like a giddy buffoon for the first minute or so, I didn’t even think about grabbing my phone until Ella said, “Mom! Don’t you want to record this??” She is so my daughter.

You guys, my heart soared. So yeah, they only played together for about five minutes today, and that was only because Langston grew so tired of Fenwick trying to nip him to death, he decided to nip back and some dog-mouth-play ensued, but still. It’s a start! And a good reminder to me that, like people, no two dogs are alike – and it’s pretty unfair to judge one based on the other. Today, Fenwick ate all of his dinner (woo hoo) and let me know each time he needed to go out to poop, so overall, it feels like a win. He’s responding to his name and walking better on a leash and feels just absolutely perfect in my arms.

We’ll get there. I’m not worried. Neither is Fenwick. It’s all good – doggone it.

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Dog tired.

This Part Sucks

Today, we returned our third CCI puppy for Advanced Training. After seventeen months with us, we’ve given her back with the tremendous hope that she eventually graduates and changes someone’s life. We know that what we’re doing is good and worthy and helpful and all that jazz… but right now? It hurts a helluva lot.

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Jambi in her hilariously adorable matriculation cape – see the yellow tassels?

Everywhere we go with our CCI pups, someone we meet says the same thing: “I could never do that because I could never give a dog away.” Everywhere we go, someone asks the same question: “Isn’t it hard to give the dogs back?”

The answer is yes. Yes, it is hard. It’s enormously hard. You grow more than a little attached to a dog that has been a part of your family for almost a year and a half, a puppy you got at 8 weeks old, a pal and sidekick who went absolutely everyplace with you. It isn’t quite the same as when a pet dies, but yes – saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy.

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One last hug before she was on her way…

Today at matriculation/graduation, I noticed that another puppy raiser was wearing a homemade pin/button made out of Scrabble tiles. It read: This Part Sucks. I teared up and laughed at the same time, turning to her with an emphatic, “Damn straight”

So, therefore, we come to the other question that someone asks us everywhere we bring our dogs: “How can you do this?” That answer to that is easy.

We do this because of the little girl today – eight years old, maybe – who received her dog at graduation. When the Lab who would change her life walked across the stage to greet her, the girl’s face lit up brightly enough to be seen in the very back row, and she threw her arms in the air with ecstatic jubilation.

We do this because of the woman today – in her sixties, maybe – who received her dog, the one that will help her now that she’s had a stroke. But before this? The woman raised FIFTEEN puppies for CCI. Now, she has finally received her own assistance dog. Funny, how the world turns, isn’t it?

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Poor, long-suffering Jambi…

We do this because of the man today – in his forties, maybe – who proudly walked across the stage to greet his dog using his cane instead of his wheelchair. His wife said that even though he and his dog had only been together for a few days, already her husband was more confident, more secure, stronger.

We do this because of the parents today who said that their hope – now that their children had assistance dogs – was that people would approach their previously isolated sons and daughters more readily and they could make new friends. We do this because of the dog who will be working in a crisis shelter, providing comfort and much-needed joy to victims of domestic violence.

We do this because we get to have an adorable bundle of puppyness live with us for over a year. We get to snuggle with this bundle, receive kisses from this bundle, and scratch this bundle behind its ridiculously soft ears. We get to bring this bundle with us absolutely everywhere – to restaurants, on airplanes, to movies, to the grocery store, to the girls’ classrooms – and spread the word about what an incredible organization s/he’s training for.

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Chillin’ with her best bud, Langston, and our other dog, Joey, the night before we left.

We do this because we get to bone up on our obedience training skills. With each dog, we learn more about how to be good dog owners and caretakers and – we hope – to become better each time around. We do this because we get to work with all sorts of teachers and dog sitters, and to introduce them to the world of service dog training.

We do this because we want Ella and Annie to grow up learning what it means to be responsible for raising a pet – feeding, walking, training, keeping healthy. They get to experience the unconditional love that only a dog can give. We do this because they get to learn how to give back to others, even when it’s difficult. We do this so that they can understand that the world is bigger than what they see around them and that they are so very fortunate to have the lives that we live. We do this to show them how important it is to help those in need. We do this to show them that this is what life’s really all about.

We do this because it makes us feel incredibly good. No matter how our days have gone, no matter what mistakes we’ve made, no matter what we haven’t yet accomplished, at the end of the day when we’re raising a service dog puppy, we can know that at least we have done something right. Some good has come out of each and every day that our pups are with us, because there is the chance that these little furballs will change someone’s life for the better, forever.

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Proudly wearing their Jambi the Zombie t-shirts immediately before turn-in.

We do this because, when all is said and done, that’s really why we’re on this planet in the first place: to love, to laugh, to learn, to find joy, to spread joy, and to help out whenever we can. Sometimes, doing so is easy. Other times, helping those in need is really, really hard. Giving back a dog that we’ve grown to love is miserable – but that doesn’t make it not worth doing. On the contrary, sometimes, the more difficult something is, the greater the return.

Jambi (which rhymes with zombie; this is important) was an absolute delight to raise. She was playful, gentle, loving, and unusually calm. She had patience beyond her years, a wonderfully sweet disposition, and was unflappable even when faced with the loudest, craziest situations (often involving our own children). She was so overjoyed to see us after we returned from being away – even if only for an hour – that her entire body wriggled with elation; we called her Wiggle Butt. She also earned the nickname of Miss Piggy because she had a habit of snuffling like a pig whenever something interested her. Jambi had the best cold, wet nose of any dog I’ve ever met. I really miss that cold, wet nose tonight.

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My constant companion for seventeen months…

We have no idea how she’ll do in Advanced Training (which is typically six months long); most pups do not make it all the way through to become service dogs because they need to be perfect, and perfection is a difficult standard for any of us to attain (even me). Jambi is pretty damn near perfect, but you just never know. For now, we’ll cross our fingers and hope like crazy – that she isn’t lonely or homesick, that she makes fast friends with her new kennel-mates, that her trainers adore her as much as we do, that we’ll get another puppy to raise soon, that Langston isn’t too depressed over her departure (this is a real fear for us – no, seriously), and that the rest of our hearts heal soon so that we can focus again on why we do this in the first place.

(Hint: it isn’t the abundance of dog fur all over our house.)

Most of all, we’re crossing our fingers and hoping like crazy that she makes it – that she’s just the right material to be a service dog and that she’s able to change someone’s life forever.

Well, someone else’s life, that is. She’s already changed ours.

We love you, Beast! Go on and wiggle your way into someone’s heart – and also learn to turn on lights and pick things up from the ground, too, while you’re at it. You were the very best; thank you so much for being our girl and for teaching us all that you did.
xoxo

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Note: We are always looking for people who would like to become CCI puppy raisers, especially in the Rochester area (we’re the only ones! Come on now!!). I know, I know… you think you can’t do it. You could never give up a dog. I’m here to tell you that, yeah. This part sucks. It really, really sucks. But when you see that graduate cross the stage with the dog that is finally allowing her to feel human, to be confident, to be independent… You know you could give up a dozen more pups to help other people lead happier, more fulfilling lives. This is the good stuff – why we’re here on this planet in the first place – I promise you. Won’t you consider it?

Dog Days

So. For a moment there, we thought we might have killed our black Lab, Langston. This dog loves, loves to run and fetch a ball, but we avoid doing so when the temps get too high because he seems to become overheated really quickly. This morning, I knew the front lawn needed to be mowed and, seeing that it was already warm and humid, wanted to get it done as early as possible. As such, I decided to skip my daily dog walk, but didn’t want Lang to get zero exercise, so I asked Nick if he’d throw the ball for our boy. He agreed.

At 9 a.m., it was hazily sunny and 77 degrees (“real feel” 82) with 60% humidity — warm, for sure, but not what either of us considered even remotely dangerous in terms of a short ball-throw. Still, they came inside less than five minutes later — which is not atypical, given, you know, that our pup is covered in a thick layer of black fur. Langston, as usual after a fetch session, was panting like a maniac, tongue lolling from his mouth, and he slurped up water like he’d never been hydrated before. All typical. We even joked – “Sorry that run was so short, dude, but we don’t want you to get heatstroke, hahaha.”

We started to go about our business – Nick on an errand, me to the front lawn – when Nick’s voice took on a different pitch as he said, “Uhhh, Em… It looks like Langston’s legs are shaking. I think he’s having trouble standing.” Indeed, he was, so we watched him more closely and saw, without question, that he was in some major distress: completely disoriented, walking into walls, staggering and stumbling, falling down to the ground. He didn’t seem to recognize his name and responded to none of our attempts to calm or communicate with him.

It didn’t take long to put two and two together to realize that, joking aside, Langston suffering from very real heatstroke — or, at the very least, he was so overheated, he couldn’t think (or stand) straight. We knew we had to cool him off, fast, and decided to guide him back outside so we could thoroughly wet him with the hose. The moment we helped him out the door, he began to wander through the lawn, with me running after him – and him becoming both confused and freaked out that a strange person (he really didn’t recognize me) was freakin’ chasing him – while he circled aimlessly (but fast; that boy can move) until I finally caught up with him and took a hold of his collar.

Worst game of tag ever.

At last, I led Lang to our front walk (cooler than the grass), where Nick soaked him with the hose… and then he collapsed in a heap. Still panting, still awake, but having no strength to hold himself up anymore. For the next twenty minutes, we ran the hose in a trickle under him, creating a cool puddle in which he could lounge, and drink, until gradually he seemed to be out of the danger zone: perking up when he heard his name, looking at us with brighter eyes (Hey – when did you guys get here?!), and thumping his tail in the puddle behind him, happily splashing us all.

When he finally reached “fine” — still hot and panting, but otherwise okay — we turned off the hose and brought him back inside; this time, he was able to walk in entirely on his own. After another half hour or so of resting, his breathing slowed to normal, his strength had returned, and he seems to be no worse for wear.

Nick and I, however – and our girls, who watched, terrified, from inside while we helped our boy get back to good – will not forget.

All of this is my long-winded way of saying:
Dog owners: please, please be super careful with your pups out in the heat. This may seem like a no-brainer – it certainly was for us (or so we thought) – but, as we learned, heat can cause trouble faster than you may realize.

It did not appear to be too hot. Langston did not run for any longer than he usually does. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary… and yet, it was too much for our boy.

Will we run him again this summer? Of course. He loves it, and we love watching him love it. But we will be more cautious. With that heavy fur coat, what seems “warm” to us can obviously be “omg sweltering” to dogs, and so even walking him – and our other pups –  around the neighborhood is going to be a careful, slow, water-filled endeavor.

I started to post this on my Facebook page, but decided to put it out here publicly hoping that if even one other person reads it and is a wee bit more careful with their dogs in these sticky, sunny days, it will be worth it. Or, heck, if even one person who has gone through a similar experience reads it and feels less alone, it will be worth it. ‘Cause it can happen to anyone, to any dog. Even ours. Even yours.

Dog Days of Summer, indeed.
Phew.

(Note: We did consider taking Lang to the vet, but knew it was most important to cool him down as quickly as possible, so we didn’t want to load him into a hot car for a 20 minute ride when he was already in obvious distress. As he began to cool down, we researched heatstroke in dogs and noticed that he was no longer exhibiting any of the danger signs, so it then seemed unnecessary to bring him in. We will, of course, keep an eye on him, and if anything changes, you can bet your ass he’ll be off… but for now, all is well.)

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Taken just ten minutes ago, with his happy tail wagging so quickly, it’s a blur beside him.

Puzzles and rabbits and cookies. OH MY.

Yesterday, the girls had a dentist appointment. When they both checked out clean and cavity-free, I (naturally) decided that we should all go to Starbucks to celebrate. Annie chose a vanilla milk and Ella a kiddie Frappuccino, to be consumed immediately, but I told them that they’d have to wait until after dinner to eat their Rice Krispie Treat (Ella) and fancy flower sugar cookie (Annie). Both agreed, spiriting away their treats to enjoy them for dessert.

While they ran amok and did homework, I tidied up around the house, most notably after Langston, who seems to be having problems again. I’m still not sure if he’s angry with us (we were out of town last week, so maybe he’s pissed?) or if he just can’t handle any kind of change (see again: out of town), but he’s been a bit of a pill lately. The Friday before we left for Kiawah, I came home to discover that he’d eaten a mango and an entire cantaloupe off of the counter; I knew, because the pulpy cantaloupe guts were littered all over his dog bed, soaking it so thoroughly with juice and grossness that cleaning it up seemed hopeless. Eventually, I gave up and just tossed the entire bed.

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Yesterday, I’d come home to a pile of puzzle pieces strewn all over the kitchen floor. See, they’d been in a plastic ziploc bag on the counter (they’d come in a box too large to be stored in the living room) – a bag that just might have contained something edible rather than crappy pieces of decorated cardboard. But, one never can tell simply by looking (or sniffing), so a thorough tear-through of the bag is necessary to confirm.
And the winner?

Bag: 0
Puzzle: 0
Langston: 0
Me: 0

WE ALL LOSE HERE.

I hadn’t had an opportunity to clean up the puzzle before taking the girls to the dentist, so I put Lang in the kennel while we were gone. When we returned, I decided to have a go at the picking-up whilst the girls ran amok and did homework (see above), so I sent the dogs outside to roam and not make an even bigger mess. After putting away the last piece (back into another plastic bag that will be stored elsewhere, thank you very much), I had just started to make dinner when I glanced out the windows into the yard and noticed that Langston was… eating?… something.

At the very least, he was chewing on something – a stray sock or a mitten were the most likely contenders – and I knew that I had to get outside quickly to haul him in before he ingested it and it got stuck in his intestines and he needed to be rushed to the vet and to have a million x-rays and then to have emergency surgery and, shit, we have a really busy weekend weekend, we do not have time for nonsense. I’ve learned from past ingestions, however, that if I startle or shame Lang, he will try to hide the evidence by scarfing it down even more quickly. Nope, not consuming a knee sock. *gulp* Empty mouth. Nothing to see here.

So I walked casually out the back door, letting the dogs know I was approaching, and called them to me in a breezy voice that definitely did not betray that I wanted Langston to drop whatever was in his mouth rightthisinstant. Normally, this works well, but this time Lang did not come. Instead, he dropped whatever was in his mouth, looked at it intensely, and then picked it up again. I caught a brief glimpse when it hit the ground and knew that this was no mitten; this was alive. I took long, determined strides toward him, panic creeping into my voice as I told him to DROP IT. LEAVE IT. DROP IT RIGHT NOW YOU JERK.

This, of course, prompted him to try to hide the evidence, and he did his damnedest to swallow the creature whole as fast as he could. I reached him just as his snout closed shut, so I had to literally pry it open with my fingers, with the… whatever it was… still resting between his jaws, un-swallowed, as I held his mouth open and shook the thing loose. After a moment or so, out slid a baby bunny, wet and slimy and horribly man doghandled, onto the new spring grass. The poor thing was still breathing slightly, but I knew there was no hope.

Lang had gone effing Watership Down right in the middle of the backyard, the a-hole.

Dumbfounded, I hustled him back inside as he threw furtive glances back toward the mangled bunny. I have to leave? But this was just getting fun! Not trusting him even one little bit with the dinner food on the counters, I made sure to usher him out of the kitchen and to close the gate behind me. After tending to the bunny (RIP, little hare), I made my way back inside to continue the dinner prep when I heard… something… crinkling?… in the living room.

As I swung open the gate and walked up the stairs, there stood Langston – barricaded from the kitchen, but quite happy – crinkling up a pink paper sack as he scarfed down the last remnants of Annie’s prized Starbucks fancy flower sugar cookie, which she had nestled on the living room chair.

Three for three, buddy. Way to go.

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New bed. Feeling shame. At least, he’d better be.

I didn’t touch him (save to guide him right back into the kennel), but I think I blew out my voice yelling at him. Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have a choir concert coming up. Or a speaking engagement. His misbehavior put me in a foul mood for the rest of the night, with even the girls apologizing to me for his indiscretions (I’m sorry that Langston was such a pain, mama! Do you think maybe you could smile a bit?).

Returning to work this week after preparing to be done has been hard for me. I still love the teaching part – I’m thrilled to be with the students for a longer period of time, and while I’m at school, I feel like I can accomplish anything – but I’m finding it more difficult to balance the rest of things when I’m not in school. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s just been hard for me.

And, apparently, for Langston too.

It was hard for Annie for a little while last night as well – after learning that Lang had eaten her special dessert – but it all worked out fine for her in the end. Because we also had brought home a flourless double chocolate chip cookie (for one gluten-free chocoholic mama), and after realizing that I had essentially ruined her dessert by foolishly placing Langston in the living room, I offered her my cookie. She tried to defer (“No, really Mama, it’s yours, you should eat it!”), but I insisted. She said it was delicious.

So, I got to clean up a 100 piece puzzle, bury a broken bunny, tend to a crumby mess in the living room, comfort my heartbroken child, AND THEN I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO EAT MY OWN DESSERT.

THAT’S FOUR FOR FOUR, JACKASS.

Sometime soon, maybe I’ll get some sleep and then maybe this dog nonsense won’t bother me so much. In the meantime, at least the girls have good teeth!

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I’m a good boy! Say I’m a good boy!
Wait, is that food?

 

 

 

Lightweight

I love my job – today, the periods were shortened to thirty minutes each (from the usual forty) because of the talent show, and when I reminded my seventh graders of this, one kiddo burst out, “Why is it that the best classes are shortened??” – and it’s been going really well. The logistics have been tricky, and I’m behind in basically every other area of my life, but it’s all been good and worth it.

With that said… great googly moogly, I am SO FREAKIN’ TIRED. There’s just too much to squeeze into each day, and, in order to actually spend a few moments with my children that don’t include screaming over hair-brushing or standing at the thresholds of their bedrooms and uttering some form of, “How is it possible to create such a huge mess in so little time?”,  I wind up doing the majority of the “extra” stuff after the girls go to bed. Which means that I, myself, routinely don’t manage to turn my own light off until at least 1:30 a.m.

I’m usually a morning person, but when that alarm goes off before 7:00 and it’s my fourth consecutive day getting only five hours of sleep, I’m do not have a wonderful feeling that everything is going my way, let me tell you.

I don’t nap. I don’t know why, but I just don’t. I realize that this is a foreign concept for many people (especially my husband), but, as appealing as the couch seems and as cozily as I nestle my head, napping simply doesn’t happen for me unless I’m coming down with some major illness. Or a man cold. Likewise, sleeping in a car or on a plane are out of reach for me, too, no matter how much green eggs and ham you throw in. And falling asleep while watching TV or reading a book? Fuggedaboudit. I am broken when it comes to sleeping anyplace other than my bed, or any time other than when I climb in for the night.

A few weeks ago, Nick asked if I’d like a glass of wine with dinner. I agreed, and then decided to throw caution to the wind and have a second with dessert. (I know, crazytown – but it was Friday night, so you’ll forgive me for really letting loose.) At bedtime, we decided to split up reading with the girls; Nick went to Ella’s room and I settled next to Annie as she opened up her latest Princess Posey tome. She began to read to me (thank God she now pronounces the heroine’s name correctly; she used to call her “Princess Pussy”), and I think I heard the first few words… but I’m not quite sure, because the next thing I remember, I was wiping drool off Annie’s pillow and trying to making up an excuse about how I’d been listening, I was just doing it with my eyes closed. When she finished the chapter and turned off the light, I kissed her goodnight as always… but then asked if she would mind if I just stayed put for awhile. I mean, I was already cozy and warm, and it’s been such a chilly winter…

I awoke around 9:30 p.m. and peeled myself out from underneath her covers. Instead of migrating to the living room to pull out my laptop, however (with hopes of editing some photos, or maybe laying out yearbook pages, or researching lessons, or writing plans, or answering emails, or any of the other myriad items on my To Do list), for the first time in… well, I honestly can’t remember, so it must have been forever… I trudged up to my own bedroom. Nick was already lounging on the bed – technically on my side – but, being so tired that I quite literally couldn’t keep my eyes open, I merely grunted a greeting his way and crawled into bed on his side, sound asleep the instant my head hit the pillow.

Good grief, two glasses of wine and I had passed out faster than free samples at Sam’s Club!

I awoke with a start – comically, like you see in the movies, practically sitting bolt upright from a dead sleep – when Nick (who had also nodded off) got up to use the bathroom, and it somehow registered inside that, Holy crap, I actually went to bed before midnight... and I accomplished NONE of what I needed to that night. Slightly panicked, I glanced at the clock – 1:30 a.m. (great balls of fire!, I’d been asleep for four hours?!) – as I realized that the dogs had not yet been let out for the night. In fact, if Nick and I both had dozed off (or, in my case, passed out cold), the dogs hadn’t been let out since… oh… 6 p.m. or so, and asking them to “hold it” until 9 a.m. was probably a bad idea.

It was then that it dawned on me that I was… damp...?… absolutely everywhere. Because, in my complete and utter exhaustion, I had gotten into bed wearing all of my clothes — including my thick socks, jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and a sweatshirt — and, after lying beneath the sheet, duvet, and comforter for four hours, I had basically sweated myself into oblivion. I managed to shake myself awake enough to remove my (damp) clothing, clean up a bit, and get into some pajamas, and then went downstairs to let the dogs out to do their business.

I did what I always do – open the sliding glass door in our playroom (which is otherwise closed all of the time) to let them romp straight into our backyard – and began to wake up slightly as the chilly night air snuck in. Joey came in almost immediately, as usual, and gobbled his treat as I tucked him into the kennel. Jambi returned shortly thereafter and wandered upstairs, but Langston… Sweet Jesus, y’all, that dog can pee. We are talking, I kid you not, three or four minutes straight and the stream still continues. It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever seen – where does he store all of this liquid? Is he a magician? A sorcerer? – and, quite frankly, sometimes I get bored and check back in with him later.

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Joey was all, Why the hell are you putting my in my kennel in the middle of the day? For a photograph?? Are you nuts? 

As Lang continued to pee… and pee… and pee... I remembered that the dishwasher needed to be run, so I went up to the kitchen and turned it on. While there, I was greeted by the many other things that I’d intended to do that night – tidying up the kitchen, going through the girls’ school folders, making juice for the morning – so I figured, hell, as long as I’m up, I might as well take care of this stuff, too!

Who knew that a four-hour nap can be so energizing?!

After about ten minutes, I heard Langston nosing around in the garage, so I let him in through the kitchen; he and Jambi went back upstairs to the bedroom to wait for me (and their treats). At last, my burst of energy faded, and – feeling satisfied that I’d finally checked off several To Dos – I settled into bed for good around 2:30 a.m. and slept straight through until the girls woke us at 8:30 the following morning.

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They don’t usually share a bed, but they’re cuter that way, no?

TEN, ladies and gentlemen. I got over TEN hours of sleep(!), which is almost double what I normally get, and, good grief, I felt like a new person. There was a spring in my step as I showered and got ready, then made my way downstairs around 9:00 to help the girls with breakfast.

Nick had already beat me down to let the dogs out, however, and was engaged in a lively… discussion… with Ella about some infraction that she, supposedly, had committed.

“Why would you have opened that door? You know you’re not supposed to use that door!”

“I didn’t open it, Daddy!”

“But it’s wide open! It’s freezing down here!”

“I didn’t open it, really. It must have been open when I came downstairs to play.”

“How on earth did it get open? Do you think Joey got out of his kennel and opened it?”

“No, that’s crazy. But I didn’t open it. I promise.”

“Well, if you didn’t open it, why didn’t you at least close it?”

“Because I didn’t know it was open.”

“You didn’t know it was open?? It’s ten degrees outside! This playroom is like ice! How did you think it got so cold down here?”

“I don’t know! I knew it was cold, but it’s always colder in the playroom because it’s near the basement, so I just thought it was regular cold.”

“IT’S TEN DEGREES OUTSIDE!! IT’S ABSOLUTELY FREEZING IN HERE!”

“I just thought it was normal!!”

And that is how I made a horrifying realization: my daughter’s sense of temperature is clearly warped.
And also… in my flurry of “accomplishments” the night before, while waiting for Langston to finish his epic pee, I had inadvertently left the sliding glass door open. All night. When it was ten degrees out.

Whoops.
On the bright side, at least no bugs got in!

I immediately ‘fessed up to my mistake, thereby clearing Ella of any wrongdoing (although, seriously, I don’t know why she didn’t think anything was amiss – it was cold!). I then apologized to Nick, both for leaving the door open (but I did take credit for extracting myself from our nice, warm OMG IT WAS SO WARM AND HOT AND WARM LIKE A DAMN SAUNA AND I NEARLY SWEATED TO DEATH bed in order to let the dogs out, thank you very much) and for drinking enough to knock myself out cold.
That finally got him chuckling.

“Uh, Em. You can’t be serious.”

What do you mean?

“You had two not-at-all-big glasses of wine last night. You drank them an hour apart AND you ate a full dinner and had dessert in between.”

Yes, and…

“And I know you’re the cheapest date in the world, but even you cannot get so drunk on one-and-a-half glasses of wine that you black out at 9 p.m.”

Well, it doesn’t really take a lot to…

“How do you feel this morning?”

What?

“How do you feel right now? Are you hung over?”

WHAT?! No. I’ve been hungover exactly once.* I feel just fine.

* true story. I’m sort of proud and sort of mortified by this at the same time.

“So, yeah. No. You did become even remotely drunk last night. You don’t need to apologize for passing out, are you crazy??”

But then how…?

“I believe it’s called tired. As in, you’ve been staying up SO DAMN LATE recently, your body absolutely couldn’t handle anymore. Sure, the wine may have mellowed things out a bit, but this wasn’t you drinking too much. This was you realizing, somewhere in the back of your mind, that you could let things slide for just one night, and your body finally giving out because you’re exhausted. Actually, I think it was one of the best things that could have happened to you.”

Oh. That might explain why I feel so good this morning after getting so much sleep.

“It might.”

And it might explain why I fell asleep in Annie’s bed. And why I fell asleep on your side of the bed with my clothes on. (GREAT SCOTT, THAT WAS DUMB.) And why I slept for FOREVER.

“Yeah.”

Which would also explain why I forgot to close the sliding glass door, which essentially lets me off the hook entirely…

“Not even remotely.”

Fair enough.

I’d like to say that, since my Friday night snoozefest, I’ve treated myself better and have gotten to sleep at a better hour each night. I’d like to, but that would be lying, so I won’t. I have made it to bed before 1:30 (several times), however, and I have proudly fallen asleep before 9:00 on more than one Friday night since then. DO I KNOW HOW TO HAVE A ROCKIN’ GOOD TIME ON A WEEKEND OR WHAT!

Maybe, someday, I’ll learn how to better balance all of this stuff and I’ll finally figure out how to get more sleep, but until then, at least I’m happy. Happy at my job, happy that the girls are happy, happy that my kids let us sleep in on Saturdays, happy that my husband knows I’m not a lush, happy for wine, and happy that no wild animals snuck into the house and made nests in the heating vents.

Silver lining, people. There’s always a silver lining.