11 August 2017

The Small Dog Chronicles. A Different Experience

Small Dog Chronicles: Getting A Better View

Gus is only a few months old, but he seems older to me, and it feels like he has been here a long time. He has settled in very well, and is a dominant presence on a farm with a lot of strong characters.

He was stunned to meet his first donkey a few weeks ago, now, he will happily sit on Lulu or Fanny's back to get a better view of things, at least until he slides off. He is alert and careful, but not afraid of much.

It is no longer surprising for me to see Gus lick a sheep on the nose or sit up on a donkey's back.

I've had my eye on the breed for a while, but I was also interested in getting a small dog to learn about the experience and understand better why it is so important to people.

I get the Lab thing and the border collie thing and the rescue dog thing, I've done that and more than once. But as someone who writes about dogs, I felt incomplete not ever having had one of the many millions of small dogs that are an animal subculture all of their own.

I am not an over-the-top kind of person, not with a grandkid, not with a small dog puppy. My granddaughter will not take over my life, nor will Gus.  Neither will transform my life or blow me away.

I just don't go over the top. I worship perspective, and I love my life, I won't give it over to any other thing but my wife. And even then, we prize our separate identities.

Gus will not be dressing up in costumes, riding in carriages, wearing cashmere sweaters or Scottish caps. If he's cold, he might get a sweater, as my vet suggests, and I will avoid that if at all possible. We don't go much in for baby talk, and do not treat him like a child. He is dog.

So what have I learned about small dogs?

It is obviously quite easy to emotionalize them, they are cute and small and often replicate the feelings and needs of a human baby. They push all kinds of nurturing buttons. In the emotionalized world of dogs, small dogs are an invitation to talk baby talk, be overprotective, pick them up a lot,  cuddle like one would a baby,  provide car seats and special harnesses,  and snuggle endlessly. They can so easily be child surrogates.

I'm not here to tell people that is wrong, just that it isn't for me. What I like about Gus is my discovery that he is a real dog, in every sense of the term. Boston Terriers can breed, unlike some small dogs. They are tough, the stand up for themselves, and are not easily intimidated.

I believe small dogs must not be overprotected. Gus learned to be smart around sheep when he got run over once or twice. We don't pick him up whenever there are stairs, we want him to learn how to climb. Sometimes, Fate tries to steal his treats. That is his problem, he has to handle it.

Gus is a quick study, as smart as border collies and observant.  He misses nothing, and can not easily  be manipulated.

Small dogs have evolved into highly adaptable creatures who quickly sense what is safe and what is not. And they scream to the skies when they want help or feel in danger.

They are not working dogs in the sense of Labs and border collies, their work is interior, not exterior. They love to chew, chase balls, and be with people. They love to cuddle up on chairs, sofas and beds. (Gus is not allowed on any of those things, except sometimes bed in the morning for an hour or so.)

Because they are so small and agile, they fit easily into cars, love to ride, and thus are good candidates to come along for chores and errands. They are happy to sit in laps. Sometimes, when I nap for a few minutes in the afternoon, Gus will jump up and go to sleep in my lap or on my chest, I hardly feel him up there. It is sweet and calming for me, I like it. A border collie would never do that, at least not with me.

So their work is mostly us, their families. They stay close, pay close attention, watch over us, and are always available to us. Gus sleeps at my feet when I write in the morning, he sleeps in Maria's studio in the afternoon when she is making her art. In between, he teases and plays with Fate.

He is especially close to Maria, but he is everybody's dog – me, Maria, friends, the other dogs, the donkeys, and soon, the sheep.

His kingdom is our universe, the farm. That is his work.

I am very happy with the small dog experience so far. It is not, of course, for everyone.

The biggest thing I  have observed is the number of times in a day that Gus makes me and Maria laugh. He has a great deal of personality, and is expressive and playful. Today, I tried to count the number of times he made me or Maria laugh out loud.

I lost track just after lunch.  Up to that point, we laughed about 25 times in between us. That is a big deal, and I think that is the thing that really separates many small dogs like Gus from many larger and "more serious" dogs. They make us laugh, and that is not a small thing.

Posted in General

Where I Belong. At The Mansion, Me, Johnny Cash And My New Family

With My Family

At the Mansion today, perhaps the sweetest birthday party I have ever had. Once a month, the Mansion gathers people with recent birthdays, hires somebody to sing, and serves cake and cookies.Since my birthday was this past Tuesday, I was invited to come to the Mansion for some cake, a gift bag and to sing Happy Birthday.

I was flattered and pleased to be invited and included. I see that the Mansion is becoming a part of my true family now, along with Maria, my friends, the dogs and farm animals. This is where I belong, I thought, this is where I should be, this is where I feel so comfortable.

Jane showed me her beautiful new water-color, Peggie gave me a beautiful birthday present, a painting of Red and Gus, Art talked to me about his ministry.  I helped Joan come down the stairs and watched her beautiful face as she sang along (see video just below) with Red at her feet, and offered some cake to Madeline. I danced for a bit with Barbara.

Maria came also and we helped to distribute cake and presents and sang along with the country singer  who came to sing for the party. I even got my own gift bag with some dark chocolate inside.

Art came in for the celebration and Mary and Jean blew me birthday kisses from across the room. Alanna asked me if I had accepted that Fate wouldn't hurt the sheep.

I was mesmerized by Joan singing along with Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Joan has severe memory issues, and it seems that music and/or a dog can pull her out of herself, she is quite  beautiful and expressive.

I was so touched by the beautiful image of her listening to this music and reacting to it.  The people at the Mansion can be poignant and heartfelt beyond my words, what a shame we have forgotten the elderly and pushed them away from us. It is our loss, they are well worth knowing.

Come and see:

I felt loved and much appreciated there, and i hope the people I have come to know and love feel the same way. I'm not sure I will ever understand my connection to the place, but it very real. I know who likes to get mail, who likes what kind of books, who misses their dog or cat, who can't remember what they said two minutes after they said it. Red is so loved there, everyone wants to see him and touch him, and he loves to work there.

Maria is a part of my life in every way, and the residents have come to know and love her as well, she sat and chatted with people and helped them get their cake and then, clean up. The staff is so generous and loving, it pierces the heart sometimes to see how hard they work and how much they sacrifice.

The Mansion is a special place, full of heart.

Red no longer needs direction from me, he goes from one friend to the other, he is democratic and sensitive and intuitive, he knows the ropes.

Over time, the residents have become known to me, their quirks and fears. We have become more valuable to one another. I think I am getting to know how to really help some of them, it takes awhile. I even got a handshake and some smiles from some of the grumpier men, who shunned being photographed and said they dislike dogs.

I brought a proof of the resident's short stories to show them, "Tales Of The Mansion" which has sold 100 copies at Battenkill Books two weeks before it has even come out.  You can pre- order it at 518 677 2515, $10 plus shipping or online,  they take Paypal and major credit cards.

There was some applause and two of the writers asked me what stories I was talking about. Time has a different context here.

I loved my birthday party, and am grateful for it. I am grateful to have had a party with my family and happy to sing with the other birthday people.

Other Mansion news. There is a new resident, Winnie, a farm woman. She loves to get mail and especially loves cats (The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816).

Today, with the help of the Army Of Good, I spent nearly $400 buying tickets on a Lake George Steamboat Company steamboat called the Lac Du Saint Sacrament. We are sending 10 people – eight Mansion residents and two aides – to Lake George in early September for a lunch and boat ride on Lake George.

It's a two-hour boat ride and the Mansion will use its new van and one car to transport everyone. I did a bit of haggling and got a slight discount for senior citizens. The residents are much excited, they have wanted to go for a long time but it's an expensive outing for them. They didn't want to ask me for help, but I overheard the staff talking about their struggles to make this happen. It's happening. A wonderful trip for those who can make it.

If anyone in the Army wishes to contribute to this trip or help sponsor it, you can send a donation "Lake George Steamboat" to me at my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. We are steaming along ourselves.

I have enough money in the Mansion account, the trip is paid for. I  have learned that some people appreciate the chance to contribute, and even small donations keep the fun fluid, we have about $2,000 left. No pressure. Tomorrow, I purchase a portable air conditioner for Peggie, and that is, I think, the end of the air conditioning campaign.

A list of the names of the Mansion residents who wish to receive letters, photos, messages: Jean, Ellen, Mary, Gerry, Sylvie, Jane, Diane, Alice, Jean, Madeline, Joan, Allan, William, John, Helen, Robert, Shirley, Alanna, Barbara, Peggie, Dorothy, Brenda, Bruce, John Z., Winnie.

The Mansion address is 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Art wishes to hear from people of faith, and Connie can receive messages at Saratoga Hospital, 11 Church Street, Saratoga Springs, 12886.  It isn't clear when or if she will be returning to the Mansion.

This was a wonderful birthday week for me all around.

Posted in General

Mansion Stories: First Printing Sold Out! More Books On The Way

First Printing

Good news, Battenkill Books reports they have already sold 100 copies of "Tales From The Mansion," a short story collection from the residents of the Mansion Assisted Care Facility in Cambridge, N.Y.

The book is the result of a story telling workshop I conducted at the Mansion in June with Activities Director Julie Smith.

There are 15 stories, the book is 38 pages and sells for $10 plus shipping. It is sold exclusive at Battenkill Books, they take paypal and major credit cards, you can order it online here. You can also call the story to pre-order, "Tales From The Mansion" at 518 677-2515.

These stories are important, I told the residents they are their stories, and I am proud of them for being open enough and brave enough to share them. The stories are poignant, touching, and surprising.

These are the stories of life and memory, from people living at the edge of life. The first printing was 200 copies, 100 of those will go to Mansion residents and their families. Looks like I need another 200. Thanks much. This was supported by the Army Of Good, another triumph for people who wish to do good rather than argue about what good is.

Posted in General

The Mansion: Art And His Ministry: Bible Study And Human Connection.

Bible Study

I got up early and drove over to the Mansion  to bring Art his new CD player and a complete set of discs containing the entire Holy Bible. Art and I give thanks for the letters he is getting from the Army of Good and some of the faithful, he has begun what he calls his new ministry.

He is eager to receive letters about faith or from people of faith.

He is preparing for this new work, he ordered some flyers and pamphlets and books to send to people who have written him. His new air conditioner is working well  (thanks again, Army…) and his room is becoming a kind of unofficial office for his ministry. Pamphlets and booklets are piling up on the bed.

His days have sharp focus now.

Art is from Montana, he moved into the Mansion to be near his brother who died recently.

I love the Mansion, and I especially love the way the staff cares for the people there, they know how everyone if feeling at any given moment.

We had the sense that he was lonely, and after the death of his brother John, a bit adrift.

There are other religious people at the Mansion, but none quite like Art.

Your letters (c/o Art The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816) have been a great help to him. He feels he is part of a congregation as well as a ministry.

The other day, we prayed together, and Art asked me if I was a "believer." I said I doubted I was a believer in the sense that he meant it, but I said I was a seeker, and that was good enough for him.

Art's faith is strong and unyielding, we agreed not to talk religion too much, but we like praying with one another.

I am comfortable in that room, and so is Red. I took a short video of the Bible reading (above)  so people can hear it and get a feel for the room.

How curious is life.  Art and I could hardly be different, yet we seem connected. He is from Montana, a fervent and absolutist evangelical and outdoorsman, and  a hunter and fisherman.

Gee, I was thinking, if Art and I can work it out, wouldn't you think members of Congress could do the same?

I set up the CD player next to his bed and chair, and I put volume One of the Bible inside and turned it on.

We sat together and listened for a few minutes, it's working well, Art can here it clearly. Art is very happier, happier than I've yet see him, he loves his new ministry and will now be able to sit and listen to the Bible, he eyes keep him from reading.

"This is something for my days," he said.

All of his letters and papers have arrived, he is beginning to reply to his letters today.

As I got to leave, Art asked me what he could give me in return for the air conditioner, the letters, the CD player and the Bible CD's.

I shook my head and said "nothing, you can just enjoy them and find meaning in your life."

He nodded, "that's what I thought you'd say, just "use them."

He told me a story. He said he would often stop in Montana when he saw stranded motorists or broken down cars. They would offer to pay him, and he said he would tell them: "just do it for somebody else, that's all the payment I want."

He shook my hand. "I can't thank you enough," he said. "You just did," I replied.

Ah, I said. We are brothers from different mothers.

We made plans to pray together sometime over the weekend.

Posted in General

Gus’s Charm Campaign: A Kiss For The Feisty Zelda

A Kiss For Zelda

Gus's charm offensive has finally reached the sheep, who he has been watching closely for a week or two. He was pretty tough with them when Red was around, but otherwise cautious. This morning, he came into the Pole Barn with Maria and walked right up to Zelda, our most independent and tough-minded ewe, and just licked her on the nose.

She was taken aback, but accepting. It was a milestone in Gus's new life as a farm dog. You might remember that Zelda led two breakouts from the farm when she first came, leading a charge through the fence and up a busy highway for a mile or two, me and Red in hot pursuit (the pursuit for me was not so hot.)

Zelda has knocked me down more than once and gave Red a very hard time when she came. She is our toughest sheep. She seems enchanted by Gus, who has begun his campaign to win over the sheep, as he did the donkeys. Gus definitely a charmer. And Zelda is a tough nut to crack.

Posted in General