Family Photos

I reached a new level of crazy dog mom. I did a breed reveal photoshoot with Belle.

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Photos courtesy of Elle Photography

And you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care if others think I’m crazy or laugh. I don’t really care if other people think I’m “obsessed” with her. Because they don’t know what this beautiful being has helped me through. They don’t know my story.

But now I know a bit more of Belle’s.IMG_3300

It doesn’t really matter what her breeds are. It doesn’t change how much I love her or her training. It doesn’t change that I knew she was the one for me the minute I sat in her kennel at that shelter.

But what it does do is remind me that our mixtures are what make us. Our pasts, our weaknesses, our stories don’t define us, but they do help to shape us. They are our background, for better or worse, and knowing how they have shaped us makes it easier for us to navigate our future.

I don’t know what my family photos will look like from here on out, and I hope that one day my family photos look a bit more like the ones of a few years ago. But this one is perfect for me and fills my heart with joy.

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Trust & Intuition

I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.

Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.

We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)

She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.

Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.

She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.

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Belle

. . . . . .

On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.

The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.

We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.

“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.

“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.

I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”

But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.

“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.

“Sure,” I told him, smiling.

Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.

As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.

. . . . . .

In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.

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Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.

 

Judgement (Isn’t) For The Dogs

I’ve expressed many times that Belle is my support. I honestly do not know what I would be like through all this if I did not have her by my side. Her affection, training her, hiking with her…it has all provided me with ways to either get out of my own head of transfer my anxiety or depression into a worthwhile and meaningful experience.

But I have seen a lot of comments on some social media sites–mainly the ones that happen to pop up on my news feed and are organizations that “help” people get ESAs (you know, the “registry” type sites)–that have upset me. Some people say that an excitable dog would not make for a good ESA, and they imply that those with that type of dog as an ESA is faking it. Other comments show judgment toward the dog, saying that an aggressive dog is not an ESA.

Who are you to say that my excitable dog does not provide me the emotional support I need from her? You don’t know me or what I struggle with. You have not worked with her. You do not know us.

Who are you to judge that someone’s dog is aggressive? Barking does not signify aggression. Jumping does not signify aggression. You don’t know her like I do.

I know judgement on dogs will (probably) always exist, but it is frustrating. So, like any writer, I took action by writing about it.

Have you ever judged a dog by its appearance? Or even by its breed?

An Easy Way to Help Dogs

Picture this: in a scene of utter chaos and a moment that seems to be suspended in time, you watch your beloved dog get hit by a car. You rush her to the emergency vet, who informs you she has lost a lot of blood and will need a blood transfusion.

A transfusion? You think. Dogs get transfusions? It had never occurred to you before this moment. But where does that blood come from?

. . . . . .

A month ago, I wrote an article on a blood transfusion program for dogs here on the east coast (the Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. area really). After interviewing the director of the program and doing research, I decided to take the leap and see if Belle would be a good candidate. I am all about helping animals, and this is a pretty easy and direct way to do that, especially when I know first hand the benefits of being a dog mom.

Going into our consultation appointment, I have to admit I was concerned about how she would do being snuggled by someone who is not me. The techs took a few minutes to coax her to befriend them using treats, which she loved. Eventually, after maybe 20 minutes, she let them pick her up and put her on the table to begin the snuggle session.

She did just fine.

While she didn’t donate this first time, they did take a sample so they could determine her blood type. The results of the sample will also be sent to me so I know her health status, which is pretty cool. It could provide some good information for her veterinarian should it ever be needed. (I, of course, pray she never needs a transfusion, though.)

Turns out, she’s a good candidate.

. . . . . .

Unfortunately, I was too busy feeding her treats to take photos. Her comfort and security were more important to me.

I was pleased she was so comfortable allowing the veterinarian technician snuggle her. In fact, she almost looked like she was going to fall asleep. I guess my moments of snuggling her when I have depressive episodes got her used to it.

What was neat to see, though, was the trust that has developed between us. I truly do not think she would have been so cool with it all if she did not trust me and know I would never let any harm come to her. It was really the first time I saw that trust and had the chance to truly acknowledge it. It warmed my heart.

When we were done, I, of course, called my mother and Nana to tell them all about how Belle did. Just like a proud mom. Because I am.

. . . . . .

If you’re an animal lover like me, I encourage you to look into these types of programs. You can find out more about the program Belle participates in here.

Think of all the puppers you and your dog could save and how many happy families that will make.

Depression and the Power of Faith and Animals

“You can’t do anything right,” the voice whispers. “Of course no one would want to be with you. You’re never happy with what you have.” 

“Stop,” I tell it.

“You’re lazy,” it continues. “You don’t ever want to do anything. You never want to be happy.”

“Stop.” 

“She hates you,” it tells me as my mother walks in the door after work, a sigh on her lips. “You never make her happy.” 

“Stop,” I cry. “Please.”

“You made the biggest mistake of your life.”

“I know,” I sniffle. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“There’s no coming back.” The voice gets angrier, harsher, more insistent. “You’ll never do anything right.”

“STOP!”

. . . . . .

This is my internal battle nearly every day. This is what depression looks like for me.

I stave it off each time by turning on Audible and listening to Harry Potter. Or I turn on Taylor Swift’s new song Look What You Made Me Do, P!nk’s So What or Funhouse, or Linkin Park on repeat. Or I read the book I just got, Escape from Cubicle Nation. Anything to serve as a distraction.

What I try to do every time though, regardless of what I choose to refocus my energy on eventually, is pray.

Father, help me.

That prayer grants me enough peace to move forward with refocusing my energy, and it helps shut up the depression. It reminds me that my God is bigger than my depression.

. . . . . .

I now see all the times I couldn’t sleep, or all I wanted to do was sleep, or couldn’t get up, or didn’t feel like showering, or didn’t feel like doing anything while my husband was working were symptoms of a deeper problem.

I was never happy because I felt lost, inadequate, useless. I sought the affirmation of worth through my husband. But people can’t give us that affirmation because it’s difficult to truly know what someone else is battling. And I never knew how to express what I was dealing with. I didn’t have the words; I could only cry.

. . . . . .

Belle has changed how I handle my depression. I think my husband’s intent in adopting her was to provide us a family animal, thereby providing me a companion. You see, I craved attention and affection, but my poor husband worked all the time, and I suspect he felt tired by this need.

Belle was the answer, and she has been ever since.

We struggled initially. Boy, did we struggle. I had never housetrained a dog; I had never had a dog that was just mine. For a few weeks, I kept threatening to return her if I didn’t get help. It’s not my proudest moment, and I still cry remembering I acted that way, both to her and my husband. I’m grateful that Belle will never remember those few weeks.

Those few weeks, though, showed me the value and importance in training her. That became how we bonded. She came to trust me, and I came to trust her.

It doesn’t matter how depression is affecting me any given day, because when I pick her up from daycamp, she is happy to see me. Her enthusiastic tail wag that makes her whole body wiggle makes me smile.

“Belle bear!” I greet her, using the nickname my husband gave her as a puppy (because she looked like a bear cub). I open my arms wide for her to come to me, and come she does, ready to give me kisses.

“Mama!” those kisses seem to say. And suddenly it doesn’t matter that I was mad my entire drive home or that I cried in the car because she’s there.

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Belle (she now resembles more of a wolf)
. . . . . .

Belle has certainly been instrumental in helping me work through my depression. Simply by being there and needing care, she provides a constant positive reminder.

But my faith has also been instrumental.

In those moments when I was so frustrated with her as a puppy, I prayed. In the moments I hug her now, whether through tears or just in joy at her company, I pray.

The same is true with my beloved cats, especially because they came first. Since Belle isn’t allowed to sleep with me, the cats’ gentle purring and snuggles help me relax at night, which is usually when the anxious thoughts set in.

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Raptor, the younger cat, enjoying a tool box.
. . . . . .

Some days are better than others. I suspect that’s how it will always be, or at least how it will be for some time. Each day, though, I thank God for the blessing of my animals, that he provided me the passion I have for animals.

I know that with Belle, the cats, and God, I will be okay. And sometimes that’s the most hopeful reminder there is.

Attention Dog Lovers: On the PUPPERS Act

Between the two sides of politics attacking each other, whatever craziness is occurring in the White House, and the seemingly apocalyptic stories that grace our media on a daily basis, it rarely seems anything remotely positive is on the table for politics. I usually casually peruse current events, just to keep myself knowledgeable and up-to-date. One thing I am undoubtedly passionate about, however, and what can get me involved in politics, are animal issues. In May of 2016, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation that voided laws in Phoenix and Tempe that pet stores sell only rescue animals, much to the dismay of animal advocates. Aside from the one-off stories, like Arizona’s, animal welfare rarely seems to make it to the light of day in anything political, and, when it does, it seems to serve as a “placeholder”. That may change, though, with the introduction of the PUPPERS Act of 2017.

Yes, dog lovers and Dog Rates fans, you read that right. The “Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species Act of 2017”, shortened to the PUPPERS Act of 2017, is an amendment to title 38 of United States Code “to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from conducting medical research causing significant pain or distress to dogs.” It was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 12 and referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs the same day.

Thus far, this bipartisan bill states that “in carrying out research, the Secretary may not purchase, breed, transport, house, feed, maintain, dispose of, or experiment on dogs as part of the conduct of any study that causes significant pain or distress.”

According to an article with Circa, the bill comes after animal rights group White Coat Waste Project, under a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained documents which seemed to detail “cruel medical tests on dogs at the McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond.”

In a statement, which can be found on his website, Representative Dave Brat (R-Va.) said: “The revelations regarding the dog laboratory testing at McGuire VAMC are disturbing and the descriptions are almost on the scale of torture…I believe there are alternative and more humane methods that can lead to similar medical breakthroughs…Our bill sets clearly defined expectations for medical research and will prohibit research at taxpayer-funded VA facilities that causes significant pain or distress for puppies.”

According to the bill, the phrase “significant pain and distress” refers to “any study classified to pain category D or E by the Department of Agriculture.”

In the same Circa article, medical researchers claim dogs are essential to developing the medical breakthroughs Rep. Brat mentioned in his statement. Scientists cite specific medical developments that canine research has assisted with, such as the pacemaker and discovery of insulin, and the Director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine feels the public and supporting lawmakers have been misled.

However, since its move to the House Committee on July 12, no further action on the bill has occurred. As of August 15, 2017, though, there are 37 cosponsors for the Act, and it remains a bipartisan bill.

It will be interesting to see how this bill progresses. Keep your ears perked.

 

[This article first appeared on Odyssey.]