Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Search for the Perfect Pet

Ahhh. Finn.

What's not to like? He's a lover. He sticks close by. He loves to be petted and long walks. He refused the crate, but has slept in the bedroom on his doggy bed all night without interruption. He's not a barker. He doesn't "surf" the kitchen counters. He listens pretty well. In fact, he is very well behaved.

How did we get so lucky? Finding a good pet is a bit of a crap shoot.

Getting Finn through an on-line service called Petfinder.com reminded me of the stories I'd heard of adults finding each other through Match.com and eharmony.com.

There are photos posted with a fetching description of the great qualities and interests of the pet. There is the obvious attempts at capturing the best sides of an animal, trying to get the animal to smile or look cute with scarfs or a pretty collar.

I have to say I was totally smitten by those Great Pyrenees. Gorgeous, big-boned dogs with beautiful expressive eyes. I couldn't get enough of them.

But alas, meeting Pyr pups and their parents in a barn near Lancaster, PA and talking to the owner, I realized that these dogs were not a good fit. It was like going on a first date and meeting the family all at once - in their home environment. I got to see for myself what I was inviting into my life.

So back to the Petfinder.com lists of dogs. Somehow I found myself looking at a Bernese Mountain dog who was blind. I was captured by it's warm, friendly looks with a built in smile. Up until then, I hadn't considered a dog with different abilities.

There was a video on the website to see how this beauty got around. Basically, the rescue group wanted to make sure people saw how the dog handled taking a few steps in his foster home. It stumbled down a step, but caught itself, too. The dog had arthritis in the front legs - probably from knocking those front legs around so much.

This sensitized me to the challenges a blind dog might experience and of something Bill Thomas, a geratrician doctor, talks about -that aging isn't so much about a gradual, predictable loss as much as it is the inevitable dings (basic human level & cellular) in life we get that build up over time. The more dings that build up, the more damage occurs, the more chance we will hurt ourselves some more - and at the cellular level, the more likely we will get disease. These dogs were taking some dings!

Searching for a pet got me to thinking about lifespan. One animal on the Collie Rescue site was listed as outliving her owner and was rescued from an estate decision to put her in a shelter and possibly be euthanized. I'm guessing she wasn't young herself, but still. Thankfully, they were fostering her until she could find her "forever home" - a new term I was learning.

Now I was planning on what would I do if something happened to me and I didn't even have a dog yet. I'd like to think that I have family or friends who would take my pets in. Perhaps I need to make more specific plans. Just looking at the various photos and reading the bios got me to thinking about things I hadn't thought of.

I had put in applications for various rescue and foster dogs through organizations. Some called. I even considered getting an older female Pyr who was incontinent. We didn't have the fencing needed for an active Pyr with 5 or 6 foot fencing suggested, so I figured this was my way of getting a Pyrenees. I had this fantasy of having a dog assisted-living home briefly. Thankfully, my family reined me in on that one.

My daughter talked me into putting in an application for a rescued greyhound that she was interested in. She printed up the bio on the dog and almost had me. This dog was a black and lithe. But I knew in my heart of hearts that a greyhound wasn't my type. I needed some fluff. She could get her own dog.

And then Finn's bio showed up and I applied. This was the second dog I'd applied for through the Collie Rescue folks. After a telephone interviewed, we passed the initial stage, and moved to the in-home visit. Before bringing Finn home, I just had to meet him and see him eye-to-eye and get furr to skin hugs.

And, I am glad I did. He was everything his publicists said and is more. To see Finn's profile cut and paste into your browser http://www.savecollies.org/adopted.html Type in "Finn" to bring up his information.

I just hope I never have to go through this looking for a human. It makes me even more grateful for being in a relationship with Partner these past 30 years!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Welcome Home Finn MacCool

Bringing a new being - person or pet - into a household changes the atmosphere. How can it not?

There is an adjustment period for everyone. Rhythms of eating, playing, working, toileting and sleeping are all things to factor in when someone new becomes a part of the family. Just ask any new parent!

Bringing in Finn as a 7 year old dog with an unknown life history reminds me of my work as a social worker in the long-term care field. We can get some of the history from family, if they are available, and from medical records, if there has been much of one. We can get some history from the person, but if dementia or communication problems exist, it can be difficult if not impossible. Besides, the heart and soul of a person's life cannot be written down on forms.

That's how it is with Finn our newly adopted dog. All that we know is that he came from a shelter in WV and that they called the Collie Recue, Inc. The shelter folks said he was depressed and not going to be adopted because he wasn't happy enough. The foster mom with the rescue told us that he wasn't depressed; he probably didn't have enough stimulation.

He sure does love being petted, brushed, rubbed, and pretty much touched most anywhere. And that makes sense given what the rescue vet said. Basically, our guy has very low vision and may eventually lose it completely.

So what if he refuses do more than a step or two. He has been willing to get in and out of my little car now that he knows it is low to the ground.

He has bumped into things, but usually things higher than his head or branches at eye level. He already knows the main pathways in the house. He's pretty amazing on trails outside and even did great on the C&O Canal yesterday. He is fearless around tree stumps, hills, and rocky surfaces. He is curious and energetic outside.

There is always the question about how anyone could give up or let go of such a beautiful dog, one with such a sweet nature.

In the early morning, I heard Finn make sounds from his doggy bed - muffled - that sounded like yelping, like he had been stepped on. Then it seemed like he was trying to bark in his sleep, but again, was stifled.

I wondered if he was dreaming or if he was re-experiencing a trauma.

We haven't heard him bark and were told he's not a barker. I've heard him groan or have a low growl.

He won't take treats from anyone's hand and only eats them on the ground. Is this because he can't see them or because he was trained not to or this is his own little quirkiness?

Tiny little insights. So much we don't know.

I'm reminded of insight meditation and it's focus on the here and now. Observing what is. Dropping the storyline. Accepting the quirkiness of life.

The dance our family does from learning and growing and now aging with each other always offers more to practice with. Partner and I are in our 50's and watching our vision, hearing, and physical agility change. Our pace is a little slower than it once was.

If it is true that Finn is 7 or 49 in dog years, then we are about the same age. Finn's gentle nature and desire to be loved and love is a tremendous teaching in the face of the changes he has experienced.

As I am writing this, Finn is chewing out a beef bone with all of his might. My daughter and her friend dropped it off for him, knowing that he would love it.

Across from where I am sitting - on my refrigerator - I see a most vivid picture painted of a colorful sky, bright yellow sun, deep blue water and green trees. This picture was given to me by an elderly blind and deaf resident where I worked. Her work inspired me to have faith in adopting Finn.

Oh, Finn. I'm so glad you are sharing your life with our family.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finn MacCool

I'm not sure when the dog thing kicked into gear, but it has really taken a hold.

As the dog path has been unfolding, I started with an attraction to big dogs. I even visited a litter of Great Pyrenees puppies on a farm near Lancaster with my youngest daughter. The farmer tried to talk me out of them saying they were bred for guarding animals. My daughter discouraged me saying those are working dogs and I don't have the right kind of work for them at our house. She said they'd be miserable.

I submitted applications for Pyr Rescue adoption, but I don't have a good fence. Someone said that while a 5' fence was okay, a 6' fence for Pyr's was better.

I looked into XL Dog Rescue out of Baltimore as a foster mom. But wasn't sure I was ready for the unknowns of a large dog coming out of a shelter environment from unknown circumstances.

Then these cute pictures of collies kept showing up through Petfinder.com with a link to Collie Rescue, Inc. Growing up on a farm, my first exposure to a dog was a rough collie - like Lassie. Pooch was such a good natured dog. As kids we could do anything to that dog without upsetting it. Later on our own kids played with great collie mixes who were also gentle souls.

I applied for a collie through Collie Rescue. But again, the lack of a fence was the barrier.

Then this past week, I put in for a collie named Finn, who has Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). He's estimated to be 7 years old and described as sweet and affectionate. He'd been pulled from a shelter seemingly depressed. Foster mom says he just needed some attention.

He currently has some vision, but may eventually lose his sight completely. He doesn't like steps. The rescue folks were looking for a place with only one level... Hey wait, our home only has one floor. We bought the house with the idea of aging in place ourselves. As someone who works in geriatrics and has family members who are blind, I thought, he's our guy!

I'm not sure how much time I spent on phone interviews, but I am grateful the Collie Rescue, Inc. folks are so thorough.

The enthusiasm collie folks have is incredible and infectious. I would have rolled over and begged for a snack or pat of approval if they would have asked, and done it joyfully!

This past weekend, we had the home interview with everyone in the household there. We were told it would only take 30 minutes. The weather outside was bitterly cold with snow showers and gusty winds. Our friendly Collie volunteer Mary came and asked a few questions, which turned into a talk about life.

Why this dog? If I am really honest, I want a quiet, friendly, middle-aged dog. Someone to go on walks along the canal with me. Maybe one who will sit in on my counseling sessions, or go to eldercare facilities, or befriend with a dog's non-judgemental approach someone who needs a listening ear. I want a partner to play and work with me at home and out in the community. I want some doggy Buddha time, a teacher.

Four hours later, Mary knew who we were and we knew who she was.

I felt like we were now "in" a club I never knew existed before. The collie rescue lovers club. I already knew that if I could, that I would be at their annual collie rescue picnic. I also knew that if I needed help, she and a whole team of folks would be available to answer any questions.

Later in the day, Finn's foster mom called to say that we had been approved. Yippee!!!

With Foster Mom on the phone, I knew that while we wouldn't be bringing Finn MacCool home until next week, that I needed to meet him in person to help me and him have an easier transition. I just had to know if we had "chemistry." Partner and I changed our plans for the next day and arranged to visit Finn.

As everyone says who describes meeting Finn, what's not to love?

Whether it is because of low-vision or because it is his nature, Finn loves to love and be loved. He will crawl right up in your lap. He lays at your feet. He nudges for pats. He rolls over for belly rubs.

My heart opened so wide playing with him, I thought it would pop out. A physical feeling of his goodness was overwhelming as we played on the floor. It brought tears to my eyes.

Foster mom asked if it would be okay if she cried when he left. I said of course not. He's just that sweet.

When I got home with white dog hairs all over me, I spent some time on the couch with the family. My youngest daughter laid down on the couch looking at funny videos on the laptop and rest her head on my lap. It had been ages since she's done that. She's too ticklish for the rubs that I gave Finn, but it was sooo tempting.

So, I expect to lose the battle of keeping dog hairs cleaned up. We've already lost that one and he isn't even here, yet. I knew that bringing in another soul meant a whole lot more messiness in my life. But that is exactly what I need - a less orderly, predictable life in response to a one that has been growing ever smaller and tighter.

Yes, that is what I have been missing. The synergy of open-hearted love that creates even more love, where loves come pouring out of new cracks and creates a larger place to live from.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Facing addiction

Facebook has been an interesting way of keeping in touch with people. Lovely photos. Links to blogs or websites that I would never have known. Contacts with people who live across the country.

I gave in to Facebook in order to stay connected with my family. I wanted to see photos of my grandson and keep up with family members who lived out of state.

I've kept my settings on private. Only friends and family that I know are part of my social network.

In the midst of this forum, I am watching behaviors that validate what I've witnessed from this crowd of 20-35 year olds - and it worries me.

I've always been concerned about small children and how their parents care for them. This is particularly true when I see these parents in real life drink too much, thus impairing their attention as caregivers. And then, seeing references to how they live for drinking on their Facebook site.

It's not quite as obvious as that, but almost. I know the players and their families - who seem to have a propensity or perhaps the genetic markers for addiction. I see how alcohol drives their postings.

Comments are often like this:

Glad we did the kid thing, and now we are on to our favorite drinking place.

Or, we don't have money for much of anything, but will spend money on alcohol (and cigarettes). The kids don't need much when they are young anyway. We don't have any money for anything.

I am struck so often in these posting that the addiction is what the parents are using to cope with their lives. Yet, their postings seem relatively innocuous because it is so pervasive in our culture.

There are family members whom I can no longer look at their pages because I can't stand the craziness. To remain "friends" is too painful.

One time, I remember seeing an infant held by her drunk father and thinking to myself: she will fall in love with an alcoholic because she will link this parental care with romantic love. She won't have a clue about the connection because it has been deeply embedded into her consciousness from an early age. Of course, if things go poorly with this father, she may decide alcohol is a turn-off. But that is less likely.

I've spend decades in human services working with families across the lifespan. The problem is enormous. And, there isn't anything I can do that doesn't come across as reformist or judgemental.

So much of what happens to children in those formative years from infancy through four years of age sets the foundation for the rest of their lives. My limited ability to intervene around the fringe isn't enough.

The parents don't see the problem. It is my problem and it is breaking my heart.