Red is the sweetest dog away from the sheep, inside the pasture gate he is a true authoritarian, humorless, insistent, ruthlessly focused. His gaze will free a flock of sheep right in their tracks,and hold them where they stand until somebody blinks. Red never blinks.
Red At Work
Saving My Walks. Red Is Teaching Me To Live Well With My Heart
I'm into the third or fourth day of this remarkable experience with Red, a therapy dog and now my therapy dog, one of those delicious and ironic twists of life. I was diagnosed with stable angina a couple of weeks ago, a disease of the coronary artery system. When the heart is strained, my heart muscles constrict and the heart does not get enough blood.
I have to be careful, and carry nitro pills, otherwise my life continues as normal.
The most frightening part for me was wondering if I could still walk the three or four miles I walk every day. Angina can be painful and debilitating if you don't watch it.
Walking is critical to me. It is a spiritual, creative and physical exercise, necessary for my mind as well as my newly sensitive heart. Most of my walking is done up hill – this is not the land of flat ground, and I love walking in the forest with Maria the most. There are fairly steep inclines and paths in and around those roads and woods, and I walk them all the time.
Once or twice a day, I walk on a road near the house, it is a long, continuously uphill walk, it was becoming difficult for me.
This became, for me, one of those quality of health issues. They could keep me alive, but how and in what form? I had trouble imagining a life where I couldn't walk where and when I wished.
Red always walks with me on this road, we usually walk alone together. This week, and for the first time, he radically changed the way he walks with me. Every few minutes, he suddenly turned and stopped and waited for me. As I got closer, he began to sit down.
He did not get up, as he always does when I drew near, or just continue walking, as he usually does. Red always walks ahead of me and to the left, he waits only when he gets to too far ahead.
Red actively explores the side of the road, sniffing for scents, walking up ahead of me. Not since the angina. Now he seems to sense – before I do – when I need to stop and let my heart catch up with my feet. He stays close to me, up and head on my left, and then suddenly turns (above) and just stops.
I have no idea how he does this. He may listen to my breath, watch my facial expressions – I imagine pain shows itself clearly – or observe my body language and smells. Before Red intervened, I was walking as hard and fast as I could, perhaps in the male way of denying reality or trying to overcome it with will. Many men give their lives up to this idea when it comes to heart disease, I am told by many nurses and doctors.
When I think about this, it makes sense. Of course Red can hear my heartbeats, he can sense my mood, he can hear the rhythms of my breathing change, he can see me stiffen or change my strike. Dogs instincts are so vastly superior to ours that we often fail to even imagine them. They don't need our emotions, they have their instincts.
I sensed after a few missteps that Red was trying to tell me something. And I listened, as I have learned to do – mostly.
When Red stopped, I caught up with him, and stopped. Usually I was feeling the beginnings of pain and tightness. I waited – first for a few seconds, and then, since Red wouldn't move unless I waited for a longer time. Perhaps he was hearing my heartbeat, researchers have said dogs can hear the heartbeats of their humans.
I found that if I stood still for three or four minutes, the discomfort disappeared, I felt no pain or discomfort or pressure or shortness of breath.
When I resumed the walk, I found that my heart was stronger, the walking easier. And Red got right up and waked on ahead.
The challenge, as Red seemed to be trying to tell me, was patience. If I waited a few minutes, then I could resume the walk uphill and go a long way without stopping, at my own pace. It felt as walks should feel, nourishing and good.
So that was it, I realized.
Somehow, Red was sensing I needed to stop and telling me to stop. I just had to trust him and listen. Neither of us had ever walked this way before. When I stood still – I could meditate, plan my writing, take photos, check messages, call Maria – it calmed me down, loosened me up, grounded me.
I could walk as often and as long as I wished – I just have to be conscious of my heart and breath. My heart is fully in agreement with this new understanding, she is giving me no trouble. I imagine she and Red converse regularly.I walked up and over the hill, stopping the two or three times Red stopped. I stopped before I felt any discomfort, and walked as far as I wished and back with no pain. This morning, Maria and I tried this walk in the woods, and I stopped two or three times, and otherwise walked normally. The trick is to stop – as Red suggess – before the angina comes on, not after. That, I believe, is what he was telling me.
I feared I might be losing my walks, but thanks to Red, I have given rebirth to them, they are actually better. More peaceful, more thoughtful, and somehow, I sense, even healthier. He has taught me how to walk with angina.
Our lives are frantic and stressful, walks are a way of slowing things down, taking us outside of ourselves, living in the solitude of our heads and souls. I am never more at ease than when I am walking.
I am grateful that I am learning to listen to animals, I am in awe of the things they can teach us. We must work hard, I believe, to keep them among us, and not to send them away, out of sight and reach and headed for extinction.
Video: How Red Is Helping Me To Keep Walking. My Turn For A Therapy Dog
I've been walking in the woods and hills around me for more than 15 years now, it is a medication, exercise, creative and spiritual connect. A couple of weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Stable Angina, a sometimes painful and disruptive heart condition that occurs when the heart is not getting enough oxygenated blood when it is under strain, as in walking up a hill.
My heart is strong, my pulse is healthy, but I was upset by the idea that I could not walk any distance again, especially on hills and inclines. There are not a lot of straight roads around here, and that would be a significant loss for me, and change in the way I live.
And I have to carry a small vial of nitroglycerin tablets to put under my tongue if the pain gets too severe. I have yet to use one, but I have felt pain when walking on hills and uphill trails. The doctor's are vague, they say I can walk as far as I want, but where and how is up to me.
I have a tendency to overdue things in these kinds of situations, to walk far and long to prove that I can do it. I can't bear the thought that I can't walk any longer, or that walking would be painful for me.You don't always need to rush to the emergency room and have things implanted inside of you.
Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. I might down the road, but I believe I can handle my angina comfortably now, and so does my doctor.
This walking thing was causing me some unease and some distress. I walked until I hurt, I didn't stop frequently enough, so I was always hurting. Not good for the heart. It's okay to strain the heart, my doctor says, but not to torture it.
Red is my dog, he is a therapy dog, we work with veterans, dementia patients, residents in assisted care facilities and nursing homes. This week, I decided to see if Red could be my therapy dog and help me to figure out just what i can do and can't do.
I decided to work with Red, to use him as a guide and train him to help me stop and wait for me. Red is an astonishingly intuitive dog and I trust him. He knows every move I make before I make it.
Yesterday and today, he helped me to figure out how I can walk anywhere I want, and for as far while still protecting my heart and not being in pain. This was a remarkable experience for me – to be on the other end of therapy work – and I wanted to share it with you. It was very successful, it showed me that I can keep on walking if I just take a few precautions.
As you can see in the brief video, I decided to stop whenever I felt the pressure in my chest building. I didn't wait for pain. On a mile-long walk up a nearby road, I stopped when I got to the steepest part of the incline, and waited a minute or so. I felt the pressure immediately recede. I had to stop two times before I got to the crest of the hill.
Red completely grasped what we were doing. Every few hundred yards, he would turn to me as if to ask if I wanted to stop, and I checked myself. Sometimes I did need to stop, sometimes I didn't. I got to the top of the hill easily and comfortably – this had been giving me trouble over the past couple of weeks.
Red, who always runs ahead and sniffs carefully along the road, completely altered his habit, as I was altering mine. He kept a close eye on me, consciously or unconsciously causing me to walk vigorously, but to give my heart a rest when it needed one. At the top of the hill, I turned and walked all the way down without any discomfort at all.
Red kept an eye on me the whole way, I have no doubt he was sensing my heart and my breathing and reacting to it. I never claim to know what is inside a dog's head, what a dog is thinking. But I appreciate that Red and I slipped into a new rhythm together that helped me discover a way to have angina and continue my walking, something I was despairing of and that is precious to me.
This was an important discovery for me. My heart, in most respects, is functioning very well. I can do almost everything I used to do. I just need to be more self aware. And to listen to Red when he turns to me, as he does in the video, to remind me of what I need to do. Listening to animals, talking to animals, there is so much benefit.
I think I know how to live with it now, sometimes you just have to figure these things out with your own body. And having a wonderful dog can really help.
Poem: Now Is The Time – All You Do Is Sacred
Now Is The Time For You To Accept,
That Everything You Do Is Sacred,
That There Is Nothing But Grace For You.
Call A Truce With Anger and Fear,
See The White Flags Waving
In The Righteous Breeze,
Collect Their Swords,
And Give Them The Honor Of
Keeping Their Horses,
And Riding Them Home.
Now Is The Time To Understand
That Your Stories Are Important,
That You Can Finally Live,
With Truthfulness And Love.
Please Tell Me Why It Is
That You Still Throw Sticks
At Your Soul?
What Broken Thing Inside Of You
Whispers To You Those Sweet
Songs Of Fear?
Now Is The Time For You To
To Speak To The World,
And Let It Know That
Every One Of Your Thoughts
And Have A Day
Repairing The Red Rocker: The Country Way
I want to thank everyone for all of the advice pouring into my computer about repairing the Old Red Rocker Maria has rescued from the eaves of the old barn. It is a chair with great character, and I hope to sit on it one day and rock my way into old age. I can see sitting on it outside in the shade, or on the porch or in the living room.
I was startled by the volume of advice – you know I have written about advice many times and am evolving away from my knee-jerk wariness of it.
I was told to find a crafts class and learn to weave, given the names of several basket weavers who do chairs, sent a link to a basket seat replacement kit from Amazon, and offered many other solutions to the problem. Like me, many of my readers are impulsive, and in something of a rush.
I appreciate the thought and care, but the advice provoked some thinking and introspection, as it always does, and I think I'm not going to do any of those things.
For one thing, this is Maria's chair, not mine, she found it, and she will decide what to do with it. She might call a weaver, do it herself, or ponder it for a year or two.
Our society moves quickly and with urgency, we are mightily stressed, but here on my farm, I am learning the lesson of being in no hurry. The basket has been sitting in the barn for 100 years or so and doesn't need to be repaired immediately. I have absolutely no interest in learning how to basket-weave, I can't imagine taking a class like that or inflicting myself on the teacher, or in repairing the chair myself.
I know when I am in over my head, and the work, if it goes anywhere, should go to a profession who knows how to do it. I could never sit still in a writing class, why would I want to hear somebody drone on about weaving?
That is not me. Know thyself. I don't like the idea of an Amazon weave kit, to be honest, I just have a hunch it wouldn't work and would be a mess. Too many changes to screw it up.
I have a lot of things to do in my life – run my farm, take photos, love my wife, blog, write my book, herd a sheep, see my friends. I need a class like a need less hair. And I do not have much spare time to fill.
I think there is this visceral rush in America to deal with things, and social media reinforces this idea of what help and advice is. Don't get me wrong, I am beginning to appreciate it, it is all about people wanting to do good.
I am often guilty of rushing into things, of doing things right away that can wait. Balancing our checkbook at the end of every month is teaching me to be patient, and think and wait.
The farm and the animals and finances have taught me to take a longer view. My guess is that one day, someone will show up on the farm whose mother, sister or grandmother is a weaver, and repairs chairs for not too much money.
Or Maria will call the weaver she has heard about in Vermont and set things in motion. But honestly, I don't see the rush. Slowly and painfully, I am learning that most of the things I rush to do can wait. I love the way things work in the country. You don't go online and order a kit, you don't take a class.
You wait to run into somebody who knows somebody, and you always do, without fail. In the country, there is always somebody who does that, and has been doing it for years. You find them or they find you. And they get the support of being paid for their skill. If every goes online, there won't be any of these people.
I am coming to terms with the idea of patience and fate. The chair may never get fixed, or it will get fixed soon, but I have this image in my head that I will be rocking in it before too much time is up. Something to look ahead to.