9 December

Zinnia And Bud At Play. Put A Smile In Your Day

by Jon Katz

Bud and Zinnia would play all day given the chance, sometimes it’s irresistible to watch. I leave them alone for a half-hour in the morning otherwise, they can play all they want outside.

I don’t want Zinnia to learn to be aroused or cranked up in the house.

She needs to learn how to be calm and quiet, and mostly, she is.

Still, they are perfectly matched – gentle, playful and stubborn.

My Lab training theory is to flood the house with chew toys, so the dog has better things to chew on than my socks.

And it’s working. Zinnia pays no attention to our shoes or socks or sofa pillows, she has plenty of stuff around to chew or steal from Bud.

And no ball chasing in the house at all. I’ve seen too many Labs turned into obsessive and annoying animals because people over-stimulate them.  This breed needs to learn how to chill.

It’s a balancing act, but something to be mindful of.

When I put a leash on Zinnia (which I do if they get too cranked up) she just lies down and goes to sleep. I’m teaching her to do nothing, something she doesn’t know how to do.

I did a short two-minute video of these two doing their morning thing. They are fun to watch. Come and see.

9 December

Fate And Zinnia: The Annals Of Acceptance

by Jon Katz

Dogs are fascinating creatures to me, they are quite different and although we like to think we know what is going on in their heads, most of the time we don’t, or at least I don’t.

They work things out in their own way, left alone.

Fate is a complex creature, she adores people but doesn’t adore most dogs, at least not up close. Bud’s arrival unhinged her for months, and Zinnia’s is worse for her, because she is a confident intrusive creature, unlike Bud, who is quiet and deferential to her.

Fate snarls ever time Zinnia gets close and rejects every invitation to play with her.

Zinnia’s response is to try harder, Labs don’t give up on love.  I remember Lenore charming the ferocious Frieda, and just ignoring her growls and snarls until they stopped.

But there are signs that Fate, who is not, by nature, tolerant of puppies or most dogs, is accepting Zinnia just as she accepted Bud.

One clear sign was last night when Fate let Zinnia lie down right next to her and put her paw on her back.  Up until now, Fate would just get up and move, disgusted by this intrusive little monster.

Last night was a touching, even poignant thing to see. It may take a while, but Fate, like Bud, has a playful and fun streak in her, Zinnia will get it out of her, for sure.

She just doesn’t take no for an answer. She loves Fate more than Fate resents here, and love is winning out, as it often does.

8 December

Zinnia And The Power Of The White Spirit Animals

by Jon Katz

For centuries, the appearance of a white animal has been seen as an indication of a new era of peace, compassion and restored balance.

From ancient times, white animals have been seen as sacred, as representing purity, spiritual fulfillment, and attainment.

And yes, Zinnia is a white animal.

Several members of the Lakota Nation, who have stayed in touch with me since my writing about the New York Carriage Horses, have written me to point out that Zinnia is a white animal, and white animals are held as powerful symbols and spirits by many cultures, including theirs.

Each of the white animals, they believe, belongs to a species at the apex of their ecosystem, and that the environment in which they live will unravel and vanish without them. They believe white animals are a call to humanity to restore love and balance to the world and to heal the earth.

I am not comfortable turning a Labrador puppy into a deity, she is just a dog.

I called Sue Silverstein, a friend and teacher of theology at Bishop Maginn High and asked about Zinnia and her place in white animal lore. Sue has her feet on the ground.

I trust her and listen to her.

“Absolutely,” she said of Zinnia’s white animal identity, “she is a joy magnet. She brings joy, peace, and happiness to everyone she meets. You absolutely cannot look at her and not feel better.”

But this is true of many puppies, I countered. “Yes, but there is something very special about her,” she said.

I am by nature skeptical of such claims, but I am very touched by the effect Zinnia has had on scores of people already. There is a kind of power and symbolism coming off of this dog, and I am sure other dogs as well.

I am listening to what I don’t know and can’t understand, and trying to understand.

I brought Zinnia to Jean’s Place, a magnet for the hard-working, not very well off people of a poor and struggling town. When I saw these people grin and laugh and light up at the sight of her, I knew I was seeing something special.

I feel the Circle Of Love is a vision, and that it is coming to pass all around us, and Zinnia is a part of it. I’ve seen this in my own life since 2016 and this feeling is growing deeper and wider every day. I believe we are entering a new era of promise, not an evil one of greed and rage.

I’ve been reading a lot about white animals this weekend, and everywhere I see them described as prophets of change.

Many of us are weary of the eternal arguments, the hateful assaults on innocent people, the greed of corporations, the fecklessness of elected officials. We are not waiting for the world to turn around, we are not lost in the argument.

We are praying for change.

We are doing good every day. So are many millions of others. We are awakened.

Zinnia is full of love and joy, and I see that this is what people want, above all things, especially above politics.

Native Americans and ancient mystics believed white dogs were sacred, along with white wolves and white buffalo calves. White Star lions of South Africa were also considered sacred, so were white “Ghost Bears” in British Columbia.

White elephants in India, Thailand, and Myanmar are worshipped,  considered powerful symbols of purity and love, as are White Peacocks.

I wrote yesterday of my vision to create a Circle Of Love around Zinnia as she moves forth with her mission to make people smile,  and be an ambassador for joy, a task she has already undertaken with great zeal.

About 30 members of the Army of Good – you don’t have to live here to help Zinnia for this circle – have messaged me and offered to be Zinnia’s other Godmothers. Two men offered to be Zinnia’s Godfathers, men are quite welcome.

The only requirement to join this circle is to have a great heart. To that end, Sue Silverstein became a Zinnia Godmother, so has Robin, our friend, and a waitress at Jean’s Place. She has an enormous heart.

So does Maria, and I asked her if she would support the Circle of Life by also becoming a Godmother (which she already sort of is, of course) and she said she would be happy to support this idea, she loves it.

The thought of these three strong and loving women lifts me up and warms my heart. Something important is happening.

As I wrote yesterday, I believe an enormous Circle Of Love – and empathy and compassion – has grown up in our country since the presidential election in 2016. Hundreds are in the Army Of Good, other people are doing thousands of other things.

It is not discussed much by the people who argue day and night in their New York and Washington TV studios, but I see this Circle Of Love every day, and it is growing and deepening in its commitment to empathy and compassion.

This circle will make itself felt, I am certain of it. This Circle Of Love is off to a great start with three wonderful people of great heart eager to be Zinnia’s nearby Godmothers and many more around the country offering to help, sending light and good energy this way.

I don’t have the answers to these deep and meaningful questions. I want my dog to be a happy dog.

But I  like what Sue Silverstein said about Zinnia. It is impossible to be around her without feeling better.

What a gift that is.


8 December

Video: Zinnia Walks On A Country Road (Off Leash)

by Jon Katz

I believe in giving dogs a chance to succeed, not fail. I want my dog to walk with me off-leash in the country; it is a different, even spiritual experience for me to walk with a dog off-leash.

I’m not sure Red was ever on a leash when we walked, the same was true of Izzy, Lenore, and Fate. It’s an unnerving moment when it first happens since I am always mindful that dogs are animals, and animals do not always behave the way people want them to (except maybe Red.)

I suppose this is another of those instincts I have that bothers some people, but I’m not running for Dog Mayor, and I don’t care what other people think about what I’m doing as a rule.

If I did, it would drive my dogs mad and me. And I would fail.

A grounded and obedience trained dog – especially an ethically-bred dog – is bred to work with people and stay close to them. I work on Zinnia’s recall six or seven times a day and whenever she’s in the house.

In therapy work, the dog must be instantly responsive, or he or she will never be certifi

On this road, I can see cars coming nearly a half-mile away, and I have plenty of time to leash up the dogs, (Zinnia, like Fate, will soon be trained to lie down on command) or if necessary, stop an oncoming car.

It an exhilarating moment for me when this first free walk happens, and today, Maria and I walked up a country road with Zinnia and Fate, and halfway up, I let Zinnia off-leash. It was a big deal for me,  a turning point, although she took it in stride. She just stayed close.

She followed Fate, sniffed along the road,  and came instantly every time I called. Fate isn’t crazy about puppies, but she is obedience-trained and Zinnie was watching her closely. That helped.

Zinnie’s recall is getting to be first-rate. I trust it and I trust her.

This is a great way to begin her training. Staying close is her nature; what I need to do is reinforce her view and reward her for it. I can tell my dogs I want to trust them all I want, making it happen a different story.

I do take precautions.

There is almost no traffic on this road, and there is excellent visibility. I wouldn’t do this on a busy highway.

On this road, I can see cars coming nearly a half-mile away, and I have plenty of time to leash up the dogs (Zinnia, like Fate, will soon be trained to lie down on command) or if necessary, stop an oncoming car.

It an exhilarating moment for me when this first free, off-leash walk happens. Today, Maria and I walked up a country road with Zinnia and Fate, and halfway up, I let Zinnia off-leash. It was a big deal for me,  a turning point, although she took it in stride.

She just stayed close, sniffed at various points along the road.

She followed Fate, sniffed along the road,  and came instantly every time I called. Fate isn’t crazy about puppies, but she is obedience-trained, and Zinnie was watching her closely. That helped

Her recall is getting to be first-rate. I trust it, and I believe in her.

I used the walk, like everything else, as a training opportunity.

Maria took a video of me working with Zinnia on her stay and recall commands. Fate came along for the treats.

Now, I use treats every third or fourth time, not every time. In five or six months, I’ll hardly use treats at all. Now, I want Zinnia to know her name, look me in the eye,  know my voice, know my commands.

This makes for a great therapy dog and also for a family pet.

There is almost no traffic on this road, but there is excellent visibility. I’ve walked with my dogs on this road 1,ooo times.

I can see cars coming nearly a half-mile away, and I have plenty of time to leash up the dogs (Zinnia, like Fate, will soon be trained to lie down on command) or, if necessary, stop an oncoming car.

It an exciting thing for me when this first free (off-leash) walk happens. It happened today.

It was a big deal for me,  a turning point, although she took it in stride. She just stayed close. She was happy to come running when asked.

She followed Fate, sniffed along the road,  and came instantly every time I called.

Fate isn’t crazy about puppies, but she is obedience-trained, and Zinnie was watching her closely.  Fate didn’t seem to mind the company, snoot that she is.

That helped. Well-trained dogs can be great teachers and models for new dogs or puppies. I will always remember the good-hearted Lenore teaching Frieda how to become domesticated, how to sit and lie down.

I love walking in the woods with my dogs off-leash; it seems so essential to our bonding and so natural for me. I can hardly imagine a life with a dog without it. I am blessed to live in a place where that can happen.

Zinnie’s recall is getting to be first-rate. I trust it, and I trust her. I want to build up on that trust every day. It’s almost my training motto. Dogs can’t succeed if you don’t give them a considered chance.

7 December

Zinnia’s Godmothers: Building A Circle Of Love

by Jon Katz

I’ve decided to build a Circle of Love around Zinnia, the same kind of circle I’m feeling from all over the country, apart from dogs. It’s a much bigger idea than me or my dog, or obedience training.

But I believe it is not only possible, I feel it happening everywhere. And I think Zinnia is blessed in a certain way to generate love.

We talk all the time about housebreaking, sitting and staying, but the real power of dogs is in love they bring us and inspire in us.

Dogs taught me how to love, and kept my heart alive until I understood this and began to heal and found Maria.

Zinnia, like Lenore before her, is a pure Love Dog, she is all about love, and her very presence in a room shows me that her therapy work is already underway, I’m just the person who brings her places. She has a profound impact on the people she meets and who follow her on my blog.

She is a joy spreader, smiles and laughter go wherever she goes. And isn’t that what therapy work is all about? She has a calm but very strong presence. She is different.

We stopped at Jean’s Place today to have breakfast and then move on to the supermarket in Vermont to get some groceries. We’re having guests over for dinner Sunday evening and I’m cooking.

Zinnia sits quietly in the back seat, sometimes for hours. Like Red, she is always quiet in the car, no matter how long the trip.

She sleeps or just looks out the window. I am able to bring her everywhere and meet all kinds of people. Jean’s Place is friendly but loud and crowded.  I wasn’t sure how she would react going inside.

But I told Robin that Zinnia – who turns out to be a great car traveler – was in the car and she insisted that I bring her in.

When I did, the restaurant went a little mad, people getting off of their stools and tables and rushing over to meet her. Zinnia acted as if she grew up there. Oddly, I feel the same way.

I saw these people in the restaurant, ordinary people, hard workers, no one rich or powerful or flashy, lighting up their souls when they met this dog. So many smiles, we were quite divided and connected in that building.

There was no polarization around Zinnia.

Robin took the leash and walked Zinnia around the restaurant, and she met everybody who worked there or ate there, while we had our breakfast. Robin, like Zinnia, has a great heart.

The idea inside of me began to grow as I watched the two of them and saw the response in the restaurant.

Zinnia has no fear of strange places, she said hello to a dozen or more people, and then came and sat by my side while Maria and I finished eating. Her calm and her great heart are two very dominant traits in this dog.

It was an important experience for me.  I got emotional, I felt a stirring.

I had this very clear and strong impulse about Zinnia and Godmothers.

Friday, Sue Silverstein from Bishop Maginn High School became Zinnia’s first Godmother.

Saturday Robin became her second Godmother.

These women are different, they do very different work, they live in very different places. But they both have great and loving hearts.

There will be more.

An idea I’ve been nursing secretly sort of mushroomed out in my head and my heart and became clear.  It wants to come out into the light.

I’ve always had this idea – well beyond training and food, etc – of building a Circle Of Love around Zinnia, perhaps the most important training I could possibly give her.

I’m going to ask the people I know with the greatest hearts – most are women, I think – to be her Godmothers and help to form a Circle of Love around her.

Just a short while ago, this idea would have seemed like madness to me.

But I believe a great Circle of Love is forming all around the country, it’s not something polls or pundits would see or feel or care about. It is being formed by people who care about other people and practice empathy and compassion rather than hatred and division.

Increasingly, that’s what seems to me to divide us. Empathy versus grievance and anger.

The Army Of Good is nothing but a Circle Of Love, and there are many thousands more like it, sprouting up like spring flowers.

Just wait and see what they can do. I hope some of the Army Of Good warriors will choose to be a Godmother to Zinnia, no matter where they are or what they do.

Love is love.

We have a lot to build on.

This Circle Of Love, around me, and already around Zinnia, will work through the magic of this dog, who is special in different ways.

And I’ve already seen this, Zinnia is a force for love – the more she is loved, the more she loves, and the more she loves, the more she is loved. That’s how a circle forms.

This is what she’s about. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll seek out people of great heart and ask them to be her Godmothers or Godfathers.  A great heart is the only criterion.

We’ll do great things together, and not only at the Mansion and Bishop Maginn.

There is already a great love for Zinnia in many hearts, including mine, as is obvious.

I look forward to seeing it grow and deepen around this dog. A Circle Of Love.

Bedlam Farm