25 May 2017

On Getting A Dog. My Process.

On Getting A Dog

We'll know tomorrow if we are getting Leroy, a two-week old Boston Terrier puppy for sale.I wrote about it earlier today.

We're going to the breeder's house before noon. This will  not be a long, drawn out affair, there is no drama to it, we've been talking about it for a long while.

We are interested in getting a third dog, I am especially interested in learning what a small dog is like (I've never had one) and we both believe animals are central to our lives and our work. Three dogs is a good number, for the dogs and for us. More than that becomes political, dogs are like people in that way.

The question is whether or not this is the dog for us, and we'll decide that almost certainly tomorrow. It is interesting that my daughter and granddaughter are here and they will have a say. Everything happens for a reason.

If it is meant to be, it will be. If not, there are many other good dogs in the world.

I've gotten many dogs, most of them quite wonderful, and written a dozen times about the process. So we are in it.

The first thing I do is ignore all of the people who tell me how to get a dog, or who tell me there is only one way to get a dog. They are not my friends, nor are they the friends of dogs, they are mostly the friends of themselves and their own egos, they know nothing about me and care less.

Dogs are  not a moral decision for me, but a practical one. I've gotten dogs from rescue groups, shelters and breeders and the questions for me are always the same.

No one can or should tell me how to get a dog, that is an intensely personal and individual decision, it is mind-boggling to think there is only one way to do it.

I want a small dog so I can learn from it, write about it, love it, photograph it, and learn from it. I am getting older, but doing new and challenging things is the healthiest and most valuable things I ever do. I am not about downsizing my life or spirit. I do not do old talk.

So moving forward:

First, I make sure that every living person in the household is on the same page, wants the same thing. When Maria and I get any animal for any reason, we each have an absolute veto over the process. If doesn't matter what the reason is, everyone in the house has to want the animal, dog, pony, cat, donkey, sheep or chicken. All she or I have to say is "no," and it's over. No argument.

I look everywhere for the dog I want. Shelters, rescue websites, breeders pages.

I talk to as many people as I can who have a similar dog or who know anything about the dog. If the history of the dog cannot be known or uncovered to any degree, I usually will not get the dog. Too many people and dogs get hurt that way.

I don't have to know everything about the dog, but I have to know a lot. When you bring a dog into a home, or a hospice unit or a book store crowded with people, you have to know people can do anything to that dog and it will be okay.

Two weeks ago, a man at a book reading accidentally ran his wheelchair over Red's tail. Red let a short yelp, backed away, and then came over to put his head on the distraught man's knee, tail wagging. That is the kind of dog I want to have. You don't get that kind of dog by putting a blindfold on and tossing a dart on a wall.

My dogs  go everywhere, most are therapy dogs doing sensitive hospice or other kinds of therapy work. I cannot and will not risk harming or frightening any of these people, there is simply no tolerance for mistakes in that work, so I need to have some reason to believe the dog's temperament is sound. And no dog of mine will ever again harm the face of a child. Those are my values.

The idea that a dog of mine might harm a child or bite the hand or face of an elderly person in assisted care is absolutely horrifying for me. I will do everything I can to make certain that never happens.

Rescuing a dog is a wonderful thing, and I've done it a lot,  but my primary moral obligation when getting a dog is not rescuing one but doing the right thing, and taking the time and trouble to make certain we did everything we could to get the dog that was right for us, that we will keep and love and cared for.

If I can rescue a dog, too, great. But it's one factor, not the only one.

Taking away our choices is not only lazy, it can be harmful, most often to the dog, and the people who own him.

Bringing a living thing into my home  for years is a sacred responsibility. I will do it in the right way for me.

I have been focusing on Boston Terrier rescue pages and websites for some months  and have not found the dog that I believe is right for me and my farm. I have not found such a dog on breeder pages either. I am in no rush.  My vet was the matchmaker, and vets are good matchmakers.

If Leroy is not the dog, I will keep looking.  Cute is great, it is not enough. Every dog we adopt, rescue, buy,  needs a home, no matter where it comes from.

When the vet called, I rushed down to see Leroy, he was with  his two siblings, both of them are sold. The vet told me the temperament of the line is stellar, the dogs are healthy and there is no history of aggression or serious illness.  She thought it would be a great dog. I liked the look and feel of this dog, he spoke to me, it felt like he was the dog I was looking for.

When I showed the photo to Maria, she said, "this is our dog." We said the same thing about Fate as soon as we saw her photo.

Those are the words I want to feel and hear whenever I get a dog. I haven't spoken those words  yet about Leroy, yet the process seems to be coming together in that way. I put it out there, and wait. If it is right, it comes true. I love the choices I have.

I have a solid, but not perfect, track record when it comes to choosing dogs.

Two or three did not work out and were returned to the shelter or breeder or given away. One was euthanized for  repeated aggression. The other dozen were wonderful dogs, each one fit perfectly into my life and gave me companionship and affection, and taught me something about myself.

I do not look to people on Facebook or Twitter to tell me how to get a dog, that is an internal decision, that can only come from me, and from Maria.

So when we got to see Leroy tomorrow,  I will look to see how he relates to me, Maria, the other puppies, his mother, my daughter, her child. I will look for signs of skittishness or extreme fear, I will look inward to see how I feel about getting him. We will all sit down and talk about it. I will ask a lot of questions about his forebears and their health.

I hope the breeder asks me a lot of questions about me. And then we will all go home, talk, think and  make a decision. All of these steps are important to me, and I made a vow once never to short-cut the process or skip any steps.

Bringing a living thing into my home for what could be the rest of my life is a profoundly important and very personal decision.  It is not a vote for other people to take, or an argument for any one else to make. I did appreciate the stories and testimonials about the breed that so many people posted on my Facebook page. They were very helpful.

So tomorrow, the next step. Or not. I'm excited and wary, both at the same time.

Posted in General

Robin Has Landed

Robin Has Landed

Robin and Emma steamed into Albany this afternoon, it's been pouring for most of the day, we are getting acclimated. I think I forgot just how hard it is to have a baby, but Robin is a trooper, affable,fun and adaptable. Fate is wild about her, the two have become best pals, although Fate did try and steal the toy fox out of her crib.

I'm learning the new drill, from diapers to feeding so I can hopefully give Emma some badly needed rest. Everyone is settled in, I'm making dinner of Vermont pasta with spinach and ricotta cheese and a salad, along with freshly picked blackberries. I took Robin out brief (Emma was a bit nervous) briefly to meet the donkeys.

Lulu and Fanny came over to sniff her vary carefully, and get a sense of her. Robin's eyes nearly popped out of her head at them, the chickens and the sheep. Too wet to take any photos outside, but I'll get some tomorrow. Robin spent a good part of the afternoon in my lap, we are making strange faces at one another, and waving at each other. She loves to wave.

Tomorrow I hope to take her into town, and we are all going to see Leroy, the two week old Boston Terrier I am thinking about getting. Maria and I had a long talk about it on the way to Albany. She conceded that if it is cute, she will want to get it. I'll write more about it later tonight when things settle down.

I have a strict process for getting a puppy or any dog, and I'll write about that.

Posted in General

The Great Lawn Experiment

The Great Lawn Experiment

When Maria and I were in California a couple or years ago (when there were still book tours), we noticed that because of the water shortage, a growing number of Californians were experimenting with natural lawns.

We liked the natural grass or the planted meadow grass, it seemed more attractive to us than mowed and trimmed lawns. And neither of us have ever liked most lawns. They seem ugly an unnatural to both of us. And I think they are.

We are both also aware that lawns are bad for the environment, for the soil, for the lives of insects, small mammals, even birds. Lawns have no natural reason for being, they were invented by wealthy homeowners in England who lived in cities and wished to be reminded of the sylvan glade.

They became popular with European aristocrats, and then capitalists in America found all kinds of ways to make money touting them – mowers, the landscape industry, weed killers, dandelion wars.

Lawns are also expensive and time consuming to maintain, they have become one of the mass-marketed ideas to help a number of companies make a lot of money. So this year, we decided to conduct an experiment. We are leaving half of the front lawn alone, just trimming it along the outside to see how it looks and feels.

I understand that many people love having trim green lawns, and more power to them. We are moving away that here on the farm.

So far, Maria and I both really like the experiment.

It is more attractive than a mowed lawn to me, and certainly easier to maintain.It seems more in sync with the meadows and hay fields around us, and with our own pastures. We do trim the outside, so it is clear that this is deliberate, and because it sets the natural grass off from the mowed grass.

We will make a final decision later on in the summer, but so far, we like it. I have liked mowed or trimmed lawns, they look and are artificial. Stay tuned.

Posted in General

Oh, Oh. Leroy Is For Sale, Looking For A Home

Meet Leroy

I told my vet that I was thinking of getting a small dog, change of pace for me, a learning opportunity, and yes, something to love, write about and photograph. I believe that when you open up to the idea of a dog, one either appears or one does not. This morning, my vet called me up and said a local breeder was there with her new litter of Boston Terrier puppies. All had been sold but one, and his temporary name was Leroy.

Maria was out getting a message, I was home alone, I went rocketing down to the vet and met the breeder, who was very nice. Leroy is the only dog left in the litter, Dr. Fariello says the dogs are healthy and the line is strong, the dogs have  wonderful temperament. I am thinking therapy dog all of the way.

I am not, of course, sure about betting another dog right now. We have lots going on in our lives, but I have paid the mortgage writing about dogs for some time now, and getting a dog is a momentous personal and creative affirmation for me. I just want to be patient, careful and thoughtful about it.

Leroy is a little over two weeks old, he won't be available to leave the litter until July.

Maria hasn't seen Leroy yet, and my daughter Emma and Robin are arriving today, perhaps we will all go and see him together tonight or tomorrow.  I am drawn to the idea of the Boston Terrier, they have great warmth, energy and spirit, not unlike Fate. They are house dogs, but they need lots of activity and stimulation, and so do I, and with two border collies in the house, that will not be a problem.

I have to think about this. I've been researching the breed for some months, and I think I know what is expected of me, what they require. They can make wonderful therapy dogs, they love children and people and animals. That sounds right for us. But Maria has to go along with it (please! Maria turning down a puppy?)

I love training dogs, socializing them, learning from them. But my life is pretty full right now. I'll share my thought process for sure. This is turning out to be a wilder weekend than I imagined – Robin coming, the refugee kids arriving Saturday, now Leroy hovering overhead.

Being alive is the meaning.

I liked the breeder, she seems to know her stuff, but I am also experienced enough to know not to make any such decision while meeting a cute puppy. Leroy is only a few weeks old, but I have to decide in the next few days whether or not to put a deposit down on him.

I will, of course, share the experience. I can't wait to show Maria this photo when she gets home. I think if she were with me, it would already be a done deal.

Posted in General

Robin’s Coming: A New Chapter, Is There A Spirit Baby?

A New Chapter. Robin At The Brooklyn Bridge, Learning To Stand

Today, a new chapter for me, in a life filled with new chapters. My granddaughter Robin is coming to Bedlam Farm to spend most of the weekend. She is coming with my daughter Emma. It is Robin's first visit her, her first visit with me in several months.

Family is a very complex and mostly painful thing for me, and for Maria as well. My original family was shattered by mental illness, abuse and disconnection. My family has not gathered together in decades. I am close to my sister but almost never see her. I have not spoken with my brother in years.

After 35 years of marriage, my second family broke up as well. Even though we were mostly living apart for years, everyone we know was stunned with my former wife and I got divorced, including my daughter.

Emma and I had always been close, but I had been crazy for some years and increasingly detached from my life and home and family. I didn't see until much later how difficult this must have been for her.

For some years, I was running away from my life, emotionally and literally, even to the point of moving to the country on my farm. I fantasized that my family would come with me, it was a delusion, and a selfish one. On the first Bedlam Farm, I cracked up, fell apart, began life over. Another thing for my daughter to contend with.

I take responsibility for it, it was entirely my fault. I'm the father, it was my job to do better than that.  As the therapists say, I was not available.

Emma is very close to her mother, the divorce was difficult for her and she had become accustomed to my absences and impulses and unpredictability. A father is supposed to be a fixed point, not a shooting star.

Emma and I became distant with one another, sometimes angry with one another.

But our love for each other never snapped, we never stopped talking to one another, we never walked away from each another. Still, it was difficult. We lived apart and I acutely felt this new and cold space between us sometimes.  On top of everything else, Emma had to contend with a stepmother, a new presence in her life, a person I loved very much and who was the center of my life.

Emma and I had a lot to fall back on, enough glue to bind us. But it was not easy. I used to shop, eat and cook for her, drive her to school, take her to lessons. Now, we were suddenly living radically different lives, her in urban, hip Brooklyn, me on a farm in a small town in upstate New York. We had little in common, and sometimes struggled to understand one another. But we never quit.

Robin arrived last summer as something of a miracle. She seemed be a kind of magic wand that simply erased the past and brought me and Emma together again. If she were a dog, I would say she was a spirit dog, come to bring my daughter and me back together. Is there such a thing as a spirit baby? I have never heard of one.

Suddenly, Emma and I were so easy with one another.  All the trouble and difficulty seemed to melt away. Suddenly, we talked all the time. Suddenly, she seemed interested again in me and my work. Suddenly, those frightful wounds seemed to heal.

I am careful about having high expectations for me and Robin. She is Emma and Jay's child, not mine, and there are geographic and emotional obstacles to our getting too close.

That's fine with me. As much as I already love Robin and enjoy her, the big news for me is Emma. I am thrilled to feel like a father again, to be hopefully helpful and supportive for her when she needs me, and I sense she needs me again.

I'm not sure how it all worked out, but I love Robin for it, and I look forward to showing her my farm and my world and getting to know her better. I ran around like a mad fool this week buying food, toys, baby stuff. Emma shipped some ecologically appropriate diapers and wipes, I stuffed the refrigerator with food for both of them.  We bought cribs, car seats, blankets, etc.

I hope to show Robin off it works out, but mostly I want to help Emma rest and recharge. She has beautifully balanced a high-powered editing job with a new baby, and I know how difficult either one of those things can be.

I hope to resist GrandKid Mania, I don't want Robin to be the center of my existence, for her sake or mine.

She has great parents who care deeply about her. People scoff at this and keep waiting for me to melt away with granddaughter love,  but I have learned about boundaries the hard way, and I respect and honor them. I am shooting for love and fun and renewal this weekend, for all of us. I hope Emma can drink in the natural beauty, quiet and restfulness in the country. Brooklyn does not I think, offer those things.

She is the most wonderful mother, calm and loving and patient and encouraging, I hope she learned a bit of this from me, I so loved caring for her.

I was anxious this morning. Did I have enough food? Was the bed all right? Did we have space for changing diapers. Would the car seat work? Could I help Emma to get some rest, which she sorely needs? Would we be going out? Where? For how long? And how would Robin take to the farm, the dogs, the donkeys? Would Fate in her enthusiasm be too rough? Knock her down? Would Maria be able to do her work?

But there is much to be happy about and excited. I want Maria to keep working this weekend if she wants to, I want our lives to be normal.

Robin and Emma arrive at 2 p.m., along with some rain and showers. We will meet them at the Albany train station.

The high chair is set up, we will rush out and buy a diaper can, I have toys sprinkled all over the house, the donkeys know what to do – initiate another young person into a love for animals.

I would love for Robin to experience my community as well, if there is time  – to go to Battenkill Books, the new Round House Cafe, dip her toes into the beautiful Battenkill river, walk down Main Street, see the Gulley farm. I sat down and thought about this today, and felt fortunate. A chance to redefine family, to experience it anew and differently, another kind of rebirth and renewal.

I see it will be an emotional weekend, but also a meaningful time. Life comes around and around when you let it. I till take as many photos as I can without making Emma crazy.

Sometimes I feel like a garden snake, the old skin has to be shed before the new one can grow. Hell is when life dries up for me.

Posted in General