Lucy – A Year in Review

1185822_10151983487546844_1659436086_nWhen our adult children came to town Labor Day weekend 2013—two weeks after our fifteen-year-old dog Wilson died—they despaired at our empty nest and gifted us with what they felt was the perfect “filling”—a puppy. My husband Gary was elated. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be taken to an asylum.

When Lucy was brought into the house, all I could think of—as I pasted a smile on my face and screamed with what I hoped sounded like excitement—was how much work she was going to create.

destructionOver the course of thirty-five years, we’ve raised four puppies. Gary might have forgotten, but I knew the drill. Even with obedience training and supervision, Lucy would learn about life mainly through the destruction of property—sofa pillows, socks, underwear, plants, holes dug so deeply in the yard that a visitor asked if we’d had trees removed. Given Gary’s disabilities, the majority of transforming her into a “good” dog would fall on me.

My obsession with wanting to skip the puppy stage of her development caused me two weeks of insomnia and vertigo.

559798_10152017172491844_2118415971_nThank God I found Puppy Kindergarten where every Saturday morning for ten weeks, Lucy had the chance to play with other puppies and sweet Elaine Miksak gave me direction on how to calm the hell down and enjoy my baby girl. For the first month, both Lucy and I returned home after class to take naps. After an hour, I’d awake to find my open mouth drooling on the pillow.

By January, Lucy had grown too large for the class (forty-five pounds), and we found Julie Apostolu, who convinced me Lucy was ready for AKC Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) training. I had no idea what that was, but hoped the eight-week course would help me continue to learn patience and understanding.

The CGC class was held in a clearing in the woods next to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The first day, Lucy kept tugging on the leash and gagging. She thought she was at a new Puppy Kindergarten and wanted to be free to play with other dogs. When that didn’t happen, she discovered the pine needles covering the ground hid buried cat poop that could be rooted out while pretending she was deaf to the command, “Leave it!” (She waited to come home to vomit on the carpet.)

CGC class is obedience training geared towards a test that certifies the dog is a bona fide good citizen of the canine community. She becomes licensed to do things like bring joy to hospital patients while having the good sense not to jump into bed with them.

The first few weeks of class were brutal. Lucy would not listen, jerked at her leash, and when she got tired, rolled onto her back and refused to move. Julie offered encouragement and direction, but I felt inept and humiliated.

dirt

After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

One afternoon, as Lucy headed off for the fiftieth time in one direction while I tried to coax her into another, Julie’s assistant, DeeDee, came to my rescue and took the leash. Her expert handling and swift corrections got Lucy’s attention. I watched in awe as my dog looked at her and obeyed commands. Tears filling my eyes, I wanted to get into my car and drive away.

Eight weeks after we started CGC training—Lucy was nine months old—came the test. The dogs had to do things like heel (yeah, right), sit and stay (maybe), down (Lucy liked to lie down because it put her closer to the cat poop), and remain calm when left with a stranger (this would be easy—she loves everyone). All of this had to happen without benefit of treat reinforcement.

We were doomed.

My anxiety grew as I watched others go through the course while Lucy jerked on her leash and gagged. While we were on deck, she calmed down to watch the dog being tested. I looked at her sitting with such dignity and my heart surged with love. I crouched and hugged her, petting her neck and chest, and whispered, “I don’t care if we pass. I love you and am so proud of you. Let’s have fun with this.”

Lucy rose to the occasion, messing up on only a couple of things. At the end of the course, I had to hide behind a crop of redwoods while she stayed with a stranger for a couple of minutes. When I was called back, Julie held out her hand—“Congratulations, she passed.”

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

“What? Really?” I grabbed Julie in a hug and howled with laughter.

I looked at Lucy who sat wearing her calm snowy fur like a halo. “Good girl! Good, good girl!”

I wish I could say from that moment on, Lucy sprang from puppyhood to maturity, but no. She’s a work in progress, a spirit we enjoy despite or maybe because of her quirks (pretending she’s deaf to commands, the ability to destroy any toy in less than twenty-four hours, and a need to prune fuchsia bushes).

Since CGC, we’ve taken at least 30 weeks of other classes (Rally Obedience, Jumps and Tunnels, Nose Work) where we learn, have fun, and meet wonderful people and dogs.

I’m happy that our empty nest has been filled with fresh, rambunctious life and grateful to our children who filled a need we didn’t know we had.

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interpreted the command "Sit!"

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interprets the command “Sit!”

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5 Tips to Make Your 10-year old Cat Happy that You Got a Puppy

482562_10152360259261844_6460807_nWhen our adult children bestowed a puppy on us over the 2013 Labor Day weekend, we couldn’t have been more traumatized delighted. In the years immediately preceding this arrival, we had said goodbye to two dogs and three cats. Our remaining cat—Little Mister—is 10 years old and understandably set in his—let’s be honest—spoiled, entitled, lazy, demanding and uncompromising ways.

LM3My distress elation on the first day of Lucy’s arrival caused me to forget about Little Mister until late evening when I opened the back door to coax the puppy outside for a potty. The cat stood on the stoop, ready to dart inside. He stopped and shouted, “What the hell is this?!?” Lucy froze and exclaimed, “Woo-wee, what’s this?” A high-speed chase ensued.

Little Mister didn’t reappear for three days.

The #1 Tip on how to make your elderly cat happy with the new puppy: Refrain from arranging their first meeting on opposite sides of an opened door.

Our previous cats had been introduced to our mature dogs as kittens and we rarely had a problem. I didn’t know how to get a puppy to leave a cat alone without a great deal of screaming and subsequent psychological damage to everyone. I was able to garner a couple of tips from the Internet.

Tip #2: Never leave the cat and the puppy unsupervised. Initially, you’ll find this easy if you fail to heed Tip #1 and your cat disappears for three days.

Tip #3: Whenever the cat enters the room, put the puppy on a leash and remain calm. This is super easy if (A) you always have a leash in your hand, (B) you know the exact moment the cat decides to wake for the night and enter the living room, and (C) you have not been lulled to sleep watching Nova.

Tip #4: Encourage the cat to live upstairs. This works well if you block the stairway with dining room chairs and the puppy does not discover she can take a flying leap over those chairs and race like a greyhound away from you.

Tip #5: Give up and let them work it out.

999784_10152228988656844_1512946115_nAfter five and a half months of Puppy Kindergarten, AKC Good Citizenship training and Little Mister puffing himself to twice his size, flattening his ears, and issuing long growls that would scare the dead, our puppy and 10-year old cat went through a brief period of detente.

However, a few nights ago, Lucy sensed the presence of the cat in the hallway and raced to confirm. Seconds later, Little Mister’s growls filled the air. Lucy barked. Sighing heavily, I extricated myself from the sofa, put on my Solution Architect hat and prepared to mediate.

Little Mister had taken up position near the front door. Lucy approached, wanting to play. Little Mister growled. Lucy barked. Little Mister lashed out with claws bared. Lucy made a hasty backwards retreat while leaving a river of pee.

At least this gave me the needed motivation to mop the hallway.

The following evening, Little Mister came into the living room and jumped on my chair to demand petting. Lucy maintained her cool and stayed on her bed. The cat left for a few minutes and came back. Lucy was highly aware of his movements, but didn’t chase after him. The cat again left the room.

Little Mister came into the living room once again. Apparently, the cat is allowed access to the living room one, even two times a night, but not a third. Definitely not a third time.

1601274_10152360261811844_1457279366_nLucy jumped up and ran at him. Little Mister stood his ground, puffed to the size of a cougar, growled and took a swipe in the air. Lucy backed off. Little Mister advanced, hissing and growling. Lucy backed away until she was under an end table. Little Mister continued to pursue.

Yes, I know that Tip #5 advises to let them work it out, but Little Mister looked poised to jump on Lucy’s face like the Salt Creature in Star Trek and suck the life out of her. I jumped from my chair and placed myself between them. Instead of telling Lucy to “leave it,” the command was leveled at Little Mister. He turned and sauntered across the room to claim my chair and meow for a pet. Lucy trembled beneath the end table.

I wish I could report that we are now living happily ever after. The good news is that I’m pretty well done trying to convince Lucy to listen to me. I realize her ears are better tuned to what the cat is saying. Whenever he says, “I’m going to kill you,” she either backs off peeing or hides under an end table. At this point, we’ll define it as success.