the new edition of REX AND THE CITY is available now!

Dear Ones:

I wanted to let you know that my book, REX AND THE CITY, has just been re-released. Originally published by Random House in 2006 to critical acclaim, this book was praised as “Hands-down the best human-with-dog memoir you’ll ever read” by Bark magazine. A revised and updated edition has just been released by Diversion Books—just in time for the holiday season.

 

http://diversionbooks.com/ebooks/rex-and-city-memoir-woman-man-and-rescue-dog-who-rescued-their-relationship

 

If you know anyone who might enjoy a book about the joys of rescuing a crazy hunting dog, please consider recommending Rex and the City. We’re donating a portion of all book sales to animal rescue organizations. My hope is that, through this book, more people will feel inspired to rescue needy animals and to appreciate the amazing canine species even more.

With Love and Gratitude,

 

Lee

RatC_cover-1RatC_cover

Thoughts on Life With a Meat-Eating, Creature-Killing Dog

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Please note that this piece was written for Bark magazine several months before my beloved Chloe passed in 2013. In her honor, I have not changed the tense, for in my heart Chloe will always be Present Tense.

My dog Chloe is one of the sweetest-looking dogs I have ever seen. She has the brown and white markings of a spaniel and the golden, almond-shaped eyes of a lab. When she greets you, she looks you straight in the eye with an expression that says: I see right through to the heart of you, and I see that you are good. All this, combined with her cute pink mouth and big dog-smile, prompt people to call her a “lover” when they first meet her.

Upon hearing the word “lover,” Chloe will wag her tail and wiggle with joy and then start lowering herself to the floor, moving in a sort of spiral, until she is on her back, waving her legs into the air. This gesture, in a way, always reminds me of the slow-motion blossoming of a flower. Pure love. Pure sweetness.

So imagine my surprise–and horror–when I witnessed my loving dog killing a squirrel. I’m sure many of you have experienced this shocking moment when we first realize our sweetie-pies are actually natural born killers.

I myself am not a killer. On the contrary, I’m one of those militant animal lovers who practices vegetarianism, who refuses to wear leather or fur, who will not buy any product that has been tested on animals, and who will even carry humanely-trapped mice out of the house, drive them two miles away in the mini-van, and set them free near a small stream, with a few sunflowers seeds to help them start their new lives (far, far away from my house).

As an aside: please note that I’m not trying to preach here, or cast myself as some kind of saint. Refraining from killing is simply the lifestyle that I choose for myself. I try not to judge the lifestyle of others. But having said that, I did find myself judging Chloe–just for one second–after I witnessed her first kill. I mean, obviously I’d been taught that all predators are wired to hunt and kill, but I didn’t want to believe that my dog had such instincts. I wanted to, you know, believe that her DNA was on par with that of a cute stuffed animal. But then I thought of the way Chloe treated her own stuffed animals: seizing them in her jaws, shaking them, whipping them around, and finally eviscerating them with vim and vigor. Apparently all this time she had been practicing for the real thing. I did not know my dog as well as I thought.

Some would say my reaction to that squirrel’s death was extreme. I cried. I shouted. My hands shook. I wanted to run away; flee the scene of the crime, as it were. I just hate to see any living being suffer, period. I hate to hear any innocent creature cry out in pain or sorrow or fear. I felt guilty that my own dog had played part in this pain, and then I felt confused about the very state of earthly existence. Why were some creatures are born as prey animals and some as prey? What is the point of a world in which it is necessary to kill in order to survive? Meanwhile, Chloe looked at me with confusion. In her mind (yes, I always speak as if I can read her mind), she hadn’t done anything worth crying about. In fact, she had passed through a canine Rite of Passage. She was a hunting dog who had just accomplished her first official hunt–why was I acting as if she had committed a crime? “Because you just murdered something,” I told her. She just cocked her head in that cute way she has. So of course I forgave her.

My dog-loving friends understood my reaction–even the irrational, existential crisis part. Most of them had been through this, and through the years we have been able to form a sort of support group, sharing our experiences, offering comfort, and trying to find ways to justify or rationalize dogs’ behaviors.

First of all, there are the facts of life: that dogs are predators, and predators track and feed on prey. And while this fact is hard for those of us with domesticated animals to accept, we obviously cannot control the genetic makeup of our fellow mammals — no matter how cute and cuddly they appear to be. Secondly, there’s the fact that — at least among my friends — it’s not as though we’re encouraging our dogs to kill; or, heaven forbid, train them to kill. Again, I try not to judge people who use their dogs to hunt, but I can’t say that it doesn’t make me cringe. I even have to turn off the volume on “Downton Abbey” each time the smartly-dressed Grantham party goes off on a hunt.

Then there’s the “humans are worse than dogs” theory which my friend — also a vegetarian and an animal rights activist — puts forth. “Dogs eat meat, period,” she says. “And the dogs which are being fed commercial dog food are, in most cases, consuming the flesh of factory farm animals that have been tortured by men.

“So when my dog manages to kill and eats a squirrel,” my friend continues, “it helps to remind myself that at least the squirrel got to live a relatively painless life, unlike those poor cows.”

I suppose my friend is speaking to the quality of a prey animal’s life as opposed to the quality of its death. Either way, this is always a difficult topic for me. I honestly have a hard time feeding Chloe meat. It’s not that I would ever put her on a vegetarian diet, but I’m completely grossed out by the raw chicken and ground beef I have to handle. Often, when I’m unwrapping those packages of meat, I’m met with images of those tortured farm animals and feel wracked with guilt. The only thing I can do is say a silent prayer to the animal whose life was taken for the sake of my dog. And then leave the room so that I don’t have to hear Chloe crunching away on the chicken legs.

After that first squirrel incident, Chloe managed to kill a few more creatures — not enough to set any world records, but enough to send me into brief fits of sobbing, followed by a few hours of existential crisis. Over the years, she killed one toad (which caused her mouth to foam up and which sent me into a tizzy); a snake (which prompted me to call her Morfin Gaunt for a while –something only the Harry Potter fans will get) and a good number of insects, which she liked to swat around the way a cat would. I always tried to save these creatures, but hopping, slithering things are particularly hard to catch. Unless you’re a dog, I guess.

My previous dog Wallace (also known as Rex) was much worse in the murder department. A hunting-dog to the bone, he killed with an expertise and a blood-lust I found alarming. I won’t go into the gory details of the number of small animals he manage to capture and kill. It’s just sufficient to say he was the type of dog who would probably have taken on a gazelle or a wild boar if given the chance.

Many will point out that the simple solution would be to keep our dogs on-leash. And this, of course, is a loaded topic: the off-leash issue, which seems to crop up every day in the dog world. So let’s just say I have made the choice to allow my dog to exercise off leash. And sometimes my choice has unwanted consequences.

Recently, Chloe found a living creature and brought it to me. We were outside on the property: I was watering the flowers and Chloe was romping around in the fields, snuffling her way through the tall grasses. Suddenly I saw her trotting toward me, carrying something in her mouth. Her white plumed tail was held high, and she moved with a jaunty step which indicated she was feeling particularly proud of herself. I assumed that the object in her mouth was a long-lost toy (our woods were littered with decaying Beanie Babies and Teddy bears), but then Chloe placed the object at my feet. It was a baby bird, which I suspect it had fallen out of its nest. And it was still alive.

I started to go into panic mode. What to do? What to do? Pulling on my gardening gloves, I gently picked up the bird and carried it into the house. Chloe followed along, seeming to sense that we were on the verge of doing something important. She always liked to pretend she was in charge of such things.

Inside the house, I found a small cardboard box, lined it with tissues and towels, and carefully placed the bird inside the make-shift nest. The bird was breathing, but not moving too much. Already, I was crying. I absolutely love birds; bird-song, to me, is one of the most beautiful sounds on this planet. But I know absolutely nothing about how to care for birds. Thank goodness we have the internet, so I rushed to my computer and Googled “care” “injured” “birds.” Most instructions said to keep the bird warm and comfortable, and offer tiny bits of water if the bird seemed dehydrated. I called the local Fish and Wildlife hotline hoping for more information, but when I described the situation and the bird, I was told that it was actually illegal to help the bird. I was told that there was nothing I could do but “let it die.”

These are hard words for a militant, animal-loving vegan to hear. I wanted to do something. I wanted to save the bird. Some people, I suppose, would have put the bird “out of its misery,” but there was no way I could do that. Never ever, ever. What then could I do?

At a loss, I placed the box and the bird on my shrine. I should point out here that I live in Woodstock, New York, which is the kind of place where many of us keep shrine rooms in our houses. Mine is filled with crystals and meditation and prayer books and the scent of sandalwood incense. The altar is lined with statues of Buddha and Shiva and Lakshmi and Quan Yin and — of course — St. Francis, my favorite patron saint of animals. It was here I placed the bird — still breathing, but not doing much else. I placed a lamp near the box to keep the bird warm — one of those Tibetan crystal-salt lamps that are said to absorb negative energy. And then I prayed. Don’t worry — this is not a dogmatic or religious essay. I know that the word “prayer” means different things to many different people. For me, “prayer” consists mainly of chanting Buddhist mantras. One in particular — Om Mani Peme Hung — cultivates compassion and well-being, and is said to be good for animals on the verge of death.

As I chanted, I heard Chloe barking at the shrine room door — her cue that she wanted to be let in. She always likes to be around when mantras are being chanted — she seems to know that there’s good energy in the room. For a second, I found myself being mad at Chloe again — for being a killer, for putting me through the pain of having to witness the suffering of a small living being, but then I reminded myself that she may have found the bird as opposed to capturing it. In fact, maybe she brought me the bird out of compassion — to allow me to save it. Ah, the things we tell ourselves.

“You can’t come in,” I called out to Chloe. “I don’t want to stress the bird.” I heard Chloe sigh, then lie down on the floor, placing her nose at the base of the door so that she could sniff through the gap. This made me smile. Everything she did was just so quintessentially dog. I couldn’t stay mad.

I chanted for another hour or so, constantly checking on the bird and unable to tell if it was getting better or worse. Next I played some Tibetan singing bowls for the bird and tried a made-up form of Reiki, which I don’t know how to do. I realized that, while there are many things I do know how to do, saving lives is not one of them. The little bird stopped breathing. And so, for a few seconds, did I.

I cried, of course, the way we all cry when we try to save something and fail. But what is “failure?”

One thing I’ve noticed about people who work in animal rescue that we all want to save everyone and everything. We want to live in a world that is free from pain, free from suffering, free from fear and cruelty. The saddest past is that most of our efforts go toward rescuing animals from human cruelty. This always makes me question just what exactly the role of the human race is in the “Natural Order of Things” mentioned above. Weren’t we put on this planet in order to care for Mother Earth and all her creatures? If so, why have so many humans strayed so far from that role? These are questions we cannot answer. I’m just so thankful for all the people who continue to try to help. Many of us who work at animal shelters have witnessed –firsthand — just what sort of suffering our animal friends can endure. We read horrible stories on the Internet; we see graphic pictures on Facebook that we wish we hadn’t seen; we feel frantic, we feel guilty, we cry, we wish that those dogs had not lived or died in pain. And yet so many of these horror stories have happy endings. The abused dogs find homes; the pit bulls forced to fight learn once again how to love. That’s the thing that always moves me to tears — that in the midst of all suffering, one bright spark of human love seems capable of purifying and nullifying any pain. Right? Is that failure?

Maybe that was the original role of humans on this planet: to show compassion amidst the ordered chaos that is life on Earth.

So getting back to the little bird who died on my shrine: both the dog and I experienced a shift after this incident. First of all, Chloe hasn’t killed a single thing since. And I swear there have been more birds on my property than ever before. I’m sure there’s a logical reason, like — duh –migration season. But I like to think that those birds are trying to tell me that everything is okay. I have heard it said that any being that dies in the presence of mantra or prayer or any kind of spiritual vibration is guaranteed to be reborn into a higher realm. Some call this realm heaven. Some even call this the human realm — because humans, unlike animals, have the capacity to change or control their instincts.

So each time I hear stories of a dog following his or her canine instincts to hunt and kill prey, I follow my human instincts and, well, pray for the prey. Every time I feed Chloe her raw meat, I chant mantras for the cows and chickens. Ever since I started thinking this way, I have felt more empowered. So we can’t prevent death, here in this land of mortality. Nor can we control the genetic makeup of our fellow mammals. What we can control is how we react.

And Chloe, she continues to charm people with her cute looks and goofy antics. “Yes, she’s a lover,” they say. And my response is always, “She’s a rescue.” And that always gets a smile.

 

Mantras for Dying Animals – from SpiritVoyage.com

 

Mantras for Dying Animals

By Lee Harrington on January 27, 2014;  http://www.spiritvoyage.com/blog/index.php/mantras-for-dying-animals/

Four months ago, my beloved dog Chloe (affectionately nicknamed “Gopi”) died quite suddenly of a particularly aggressive form of cancer I didn’t even realize she’d had.  Long story short: I came home from a kirtan late one night to discover that my normally exuberant, bouncy spaniel mix was disoriented, listless and unable to walk. When I knelt down to investigate (assuming rather dumbly that she had some kind of sports-related injury), Chloe–sweet friend that she was–tried to give me a reassuring kiss. That’s when I realized that her tongue was cold. And grey.  Panicked, I rushed her to a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic near my house.  There, the vet told me that my dog had something called “canine splenic hemangiosarcoma” and that a tumor on her spleen had ruptured. Basically, my sweet little Gopi was bleeding to death internally. After delivering this diagnosis, the vet–a youngish, tired-looking woman whom I had never met before–told me rather dispassionately that there was nothing I could do and that the “best thing” would be to put my dog down. Right then and there.

How do you react to news like that?  One moment you are sitting in an artist’s loft in Soho, sipping gingery chai and chanting “Om Namah Shivaya” with your friends; the next you are in a poorly lit, eerily quiet veterinary office in some derelict section of Poughkeepsie, being told that your nine-year old dog was going to die within the next twelve hours.  Needless to say I was stunned. But someone in this equation was going to have to make a decision and that someone was going to be me, whether I felt qualified to be doing so or not.

My decision took a second, and yet you could also say it took lifetimes. Lifetimes of meditation practice, of studying dharma and spiritual texts, of practicing yoga.  “I’ll take her home with me,” I told the vet. I wanted–somewhat selfishly–to have the opportunity to say goodbye to Chloe. And I also believed–somewhat childishly–that maybe Chloe wouldn’t actually die; that I could take her to my “real” vet in the morning and receive a more positive diagnosis.  But mostly I wanted to spend the next hours chanting for Chloe in a nurturing environment while she made her transition.  As a meditator and a practitioner of both Buddhism and Kundalini Yoga, I knew that these final hours were very important.

And so, whether my decision was a wise one or not, I arranged to take my dying dog home. The vet gave Chloe a dose of strong painkillers and I watched with a sense of surreal, sorrowful determination as a technician lifted my dog into my car.

chloeChloe

Before I go on, I should clarify that I am not an expert on death and/or dying; nor am I am expert on the nature of animal consciousness or of human consciousness for that matter.  I am simply a devoted practitioner who happens to love animals and relates particularly well to dogs, and was blessed to have shared a connection with a pretty remarkable dog. She was a mood elevator and a mind reader and a happy-go-lucky-goofball, and she spent much of her short sweet life sitting next to me at churches, monasteries, spiritual retreat centers and at our weekly Woodstock kirtans.  For nine years we walked the path together. Literally and figuratively.  And now she was dying. And it was my duty–my privilege–to walk with her right up until the end.

I felt wholly unprepared.  And yet, one could argue that our yoga and meditation practices are nothing but preparation for the moment of death. One of my first Buddhist teachers, Khandro Rinpoche, used to say: “If it doesn’t matter at the moment of death, it doesn’t matter now.”  Likewise, Yogi Bhajan always said, “You and your mastery must come through at the moment of death.” They were talking about one’s own death, but still.  One of the great gifts we have as humans is our own free will, to work with our minds and direct our consciousnesses.

Another great gift we have as humans is the power to help others.  And as human yogis, we have even more power. In the Buddhist tradition, we place special emphasis on helping animals.  To paraphrase Lama Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, renowned for his work with animals: “the animal realm is considered to be one of more suffering and less potential than the human realm. Thus, we want to do everything in our power to help that being’s consciousness to find a higher rebirth. A very important condition for a better rebirth is for the being to have a calm mind at the time of death. Also, being in contact with holy objects (statues, stupas, holy images and mantras) purifies negative karma and accumulates merit for that being which will help in this regard. This is the biggest present you can give them: Good rebirth, finish samsara, liberation.”

So yes, I am talking about reincarnation here. But even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, you have the power to surround your loved ones with love at the time of their death.  It sounds so simple–and it is so simple–but it is also easy (and natural) to lapse into feelings of powerlessness as we are faced with another’s imminent death.

I know I lapsed into feelings of powerlessness quite a few times that evening.  But I am so grateful that I had a mantra practice.

When I brought Chloe home from the emergency clinic, she was too weak to climb the stairs, so we spent the night in the foyer, on the cold wooden floor.  I had brought one of Chloe’s beds down for her to rest on, but for some reason she chose to stay on the floor–perhaps because the wood was more organic, more related to the Earth. In solidarity, I lay next to her, foregoing any padding so that I could stay close to her.  The next few hours were and still are a blur.  I know that I chanted and prayed and sang for hours, I know that I told her again and again that I loved her in so many ways, but when I look back I seem to remember only a few minutes and a few scant details. The sound of the music. The sound of her breath. The sound of recorded monks reciting mantras, and of gongs and of Snatam Kaur. And myself, crying and chanting; chanting and crying. As the hour of sunrise neared and the sky outside began to lighten, I made some phone calls: to my vet, to a neighbor, and to the Tibetan monastery where I planned to bring my dog.  Even as I write this blog four months later, I am asking myself if I did the right things. If I should have tried to save Chloe’s life with risky surgery while I was at the veterinary clinic; or if I should have shortened her life with euthanasia. And yet, I know that friends of mine who chose the euthanasia route are also asking the same questions: “Did we do the right thing?”  I guess the answer is: anything done with love is the right thing.

With the help of some friends, I was able to get Chloe back into my car, and I was able to drive her up to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery, where one of the resident lamas attended to her (working with her consciousness in ways I still can’t comprehend), and then I took her to my vet, which opened at 9:00 am.  Chloe died as as soon as we arrived at the vet’s office.  The last word she heard before her consciousness left her body was “Om.”  Or rather, I should say: the last thing she heard was my voice, singing “Om.”

After Chloe died, I posted a short announcement on my Facebook page and on my personal blog pages, and I was both humbled and floored at the amount of response I received.  Hundreds of people wrote to me wanting to know which mantras I chanted. So here, finally, is the list.

Akal

From the Sikh tradition, we have the beautiful, simple mantra “Akal” to assist our animal friends at their time of transition. “Akal” means undying, and I am going to quote Spirit Voyage blogger and Marketing Director Ramdesh Kaur on the deeper definitions of the mantra because she describes it so beautifully. “Chanting ‘Akaaaaal‘ is said in the Kundalini Yoga tradition to help liberate the soul from the dense field of the earth, giving it a boost into the peace of the divine beyond. Akal means that there is no death, only liberation. It reminds both the departed and those who remain behind of our true identity as deathless souls.”

Akal,” to me, is one of those chants that can fill the room with a white light and literally set the soul free.  Many of us are aware that our intense love of and grief over a dying companion can actually hold that companion back.  The soul, in other words, sticks around longer than it technically should.  (Forgive my lack of eloquence here, but the topic of death somehow turns my prose to wood.) By chanting Akal, we are reminding ourselves–and our loved ones–that it is okay to make this transition, that all is well, that we are safe.

I chanted along to Snatam Kaur‘s version during my dog’s transition (available as an MP3 free download here on Spirit Voyage).  There’s also a soaring version by Simrit Kaur, from her album The Sweetest Nectar). The sweetness of the mantra can bring so much comfort in times of pain and loss.

Mantra of the Medicine Buddha

Tayatha Om Bekandzay Bekandzay Maha Bekandzay Bekandzay Radza Samundgate Svaha.

From the Buddhist tradition, the Medicine Buddha mantra is an excellent mantra to recite for a sick or dying animal.  As the name implies, it aids in the healing of both physical illness and emotional distress.  This mantra is also used to “ripen the minds” of animals, meaning that any animal who hears this mantra will be guided toward higher rebirths, better conditions, and more positive states of mind. (Remember: mustn’t forget how powerful these ancient languages of Sanskrit, Tibetan, Gurmukhi, Hebrew, etc are. These mantras are powerful that animals and even beings from other realms can hear and understand them.)

 

Mantra of Chenrezig (the Buddha of Compassion)
Om Mani Padme Hum

According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the benefits of reciting the Compassion Buddha Mantra are infinite, like the limitless sky. Not only will reciting this mantra bring your animal comfort at the time of transition, the effects of this mantra will be felt for lifetimes to come.  “This makes a huge difference. It has inconceivable result, unbelievable result. This practice will plant the seed of all the realizations of the path to enlightenment. That makes them have a good rebirth next life, to be born as a human being and meet the Dharma.” Rinpoche says it is best to verbally recite the mantras into our pet’s ears. You can also recite this mantra over their water and their food to increase its potency.

I sang Chloe my own version of Om Mani Padme Hum (which she seemed to like) and one by Imee Oiee.

You can download Deva Premal’s potent versions of the two aforementioned mantras, recorded with the Gyoto Monks, here:

 

Yod Hey Shin Vav Hey

My dog always enjoyed a CD from the Judeo-Christian tradition, called “Holy Harmony,” from master sound healer Jonathan Goldman.  I used to play this hour-long chant for her whenever she was anxious, and the healing tones combined with the ancient chant would send us both into the cosmos.  According to Mr. Goldman, “Holy Harmony” contains the divine frequencies of creation itself, with tones direct from the healing codes of the Bible.  The mantra, YHSVH (Yod Hey Shin Vav Hey), is an ancient name of the Christ. So, as you can imagine, this mantra powerful beyond measure. It was comforting to both me and my dog to have this track and its frequencies playing in the background during her transition.

And I think, in hindsight, it was a wise decision to play something that Chloe was familiar with.  Because so much of what happened that night was unfamiliar, after all.  This is all the more reason to start playing healing mantras for your animals now, by the way.

I am not trying to be morbid here, or a doomsayer.  I just want you to know that, if and when you ever reach that moment in your life when your beloved animal friend is critically ill, and your vet says: “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do…” that there actually is something you can do. You can sing and pray and chant. You can create a vibration of love and healing and ease so that your beloved animal does not transition in a state of worry or fear.

Friends are now saying that I was “lucky” and that Chloe was lucky that she got to die with me, at home, in a sacred environment, rather than at the vet’s office. Here I have to remind people that she actually died in my mini-van, which I suppose was the dog’s home of sorts, too.  But I won’t deny that Chloe was blessed to have spent her final moments at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

But I’d like to point out that any environment can be made sacred, simply by putting forth the intention, or calling upon the Gurus. When once voices reaches out to another in prayer, that is sacred. When one heart reaches out to another in love, that is sacred.  No matter where you are–at home, or in a treatment room at a veterinary clinic, or (heaven forbid) at the scene of a tragic accident–remember that you can help your beloved pets on their journey with the sound of your own voice.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful sound current to be carried away on. And neither can they.

May the long time sun shine upon you!

Additional Resources:

Jivan Joti Kaur Khalsa’s spectacular and profound book, Dying into Life, presents teachings on death, loss, and transformation from a Kundalini Yoga perspective. For me this book has been very therapeutic as I process the death of yet another beloved in this lifetime.

If you are interested in learning more about Buddhist practices for assisting dying animals, visit: http://www.enlightenmentforanimals.org/index.php/prayers-and-practices/death-a-dying

Related Articles:

My Last Installment of The Chloe Chronicles in Bark Magazine

My last installment of “The Chloe Chronicles” from the December 2013 print edition of Bark magazine is now up on the Bark’s website. I handed in this installment about three weeks before Chloe died. In this piece, I wrote about how Chloe was slowing down and showing signs of aging. I wrote about how I was starting to worry that some day she might get sick and die. I had no idea she was actually quite sick, yet as I re-read the piece, the signs are there.

As I re-read the piece, I don’t know how to react. I could feel ashamed and horrified that I treated her “signs of aging” so lightly; or I could feel awed that, at some level, we got to say goodbye in such a deep way.

What awes me most is the pull-quote Bark chose to use. A few months ago, when I expressed my concerns about to Chloe that I wouldn’t be able to handle it if she got sick, she replied (telepathically, of course): “Don’t worry. We are together now. That’s all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me and I will be with you.”
Thank you, Bark Magazine, for publishing The Chloe Chronicles and allowing me to honor her in this way.

Here’s a link to the column.  Enjoy!

http://thebark.com/content/chloe-chronicles-part-x

 

 

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder – from my Spirit Voyage blog

Hi Beloveds:

I’m finally re-posting my SpiritVoyage.com blog here on my own pages.  Better late than never.  Enjoy!  xooxx

 

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder 

By Lee Harrington on October 18, 2013

By now, most of us are familiar with the term “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” as well as it causes (chemical imbalances caused by changes of season, temperature and/or amount of sunlight available) and effects (depression, lethargy, inertia, etc). I was afflicted by this disorder for years–especially during those long dark winters in the Northeast. And at first I tried approaching this SAD from both traditional, Western, and alternative routes: Vitamin D, light box therapy, St. John’s wort. I even, for a time, tried  taking medication–which helped, I suppose, but made me feel dull-witted and not quite real. Finally–in a more drastic measure–I decided to just move to Florida for the winters. The Florida sunshine helped, believe me; but after five seasons of SAD I finally decided to approach the disorder from a more organic standpoint: Kundalini Yoga.

 

One of the most challenging aspects of SAD, for me, was the complete lack of motivation I experienced on a daily–sometimes hourly–basis during the winter months.  Especially first thing in the morning.  The cause of this lack of motivation is neurochemical: decreased levels of noreperephrine and serotonin caused by decreased exposure to sunlight. But the effects can be devastating–especially to us work-obsessed Americans who thrive on being productive. (I like to use the word “creative”.)  Sufferers of SAD who find themselves too depressed to create can become even more depressed out of frustration. And round and round it goes.  But the good news is that there are many, many simple practices from the Kundalini Yoga tradition and beyond that can help those who are prone to SAD break this cycle of seasonal depressions.

 

1.  START ADDRESSING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER NOW

While many of us don’t start to feel the full effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder until December or January, many physicians–both Eastern and Western–now believe that the best time to start addressing the disorder is in the fall, when Daylight Savings goes into effect.  (My doctor actually advised me to start my pranayamas and kriyas in mid-summer, after the summer equinox.) The reason is fairly obvious: as the days shorten, and we lose two precious minutes of sunlight per day, our serotonin and dopamine levels are slowly but surely being affected by these changes. Our energy wanes, our moods slowly darken, and our minds cloud. Then, all of a sudden, in the throes of cold,  cold January, you wake up and find that you can’t, well, wake up. But by addressing any potential neurochemical imbalances now, we can stave off these crippling winter depressions.

 

2. GET SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR KRIYAS (KEEP UP AND BE KEPT UP)

The thought of doing 52 minutes of daily practice–or even three minutes–can be vastly intimidating to the SAD-afflicted mind. I remember once bemoaning to a friend: “I don’t have the energy to do all the practices that I absolutely know will give me energy.”

 

But then I remembered three very important, life-changing quotes.  Arthur Ashe’s “Start where you are.” And Yogi Bhajan’s “If your sadhana is more important than your neurosis, you are fine. If your neurosis is more important than your sadhana, you are not.”  This statement really woke me up.

 

SAT KRIYA

Yogi Bhajan has called Sat Kriya one of the most powerful and complete kriyas in Kundalini Yoga, adding that “If you want to change the world, do Sat Kriya.” There’s a reason Sat Kriya is also known as “The Everything Kriya.” Its benefits are innumerable, and sufferers of SAD will enjoy its energizing, mind-clearing, Kundalini-raising effects. You might find that practicing Sat Kriya for just three minutes a day will shift both your mind and body from that frozen state of “I can’t do anything because it’s too cold and dark” into a more expansive state place of fortitude and action.

 

KIRTAN KRIYA (SA TA NA MA)

Kirtan Kriya is another extremely powerful (and simple) kriya that can help shift the SAD-plagued mind. Yogi Bhajan has said that if you had time to do only one meditation per day, Kirtan Kriya should be the one. Among its other benefits, this kriya eliminates brain fog, breaks up negative habits and patterns, and balances the hemispheres of the brain–thus restoring emotional balance.

HOW TO DO KIRTAN KRIYA

Music for Kirtan Kriya

 

SODARSHAN CHAKRA KRIYA

Yogi Bhajan has said that of all the twenty types of yoga, including Kundalini Yoga, this is the highest kriya.  “This meditation will…cut through all barriers of the neurotic or psychotic inside nature…This kriya will give you the necessary vitality and intuition to combat the negative effects of the unchanneled subconscious mind.”Simply put, this meditation “cuts through all darkness” which is basically what a person in the throes of SAD needs most.

 

Music for So Darshan Chakra Kriya

 

For three times the benefit, trying practicing the”Triple Kriya” meditation, which consists of Sat Kriya, Kirtan Kriya and Sodarshan Chakra kriyas, in that order, for 11 minutes each. You will be your own internal sunshine for the rest of the day (and for lifetimes to come).

 

3. PRACTICE MANTRA

Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru

The Long Ek Ong Kaur, also known as Morning Call, Long Chant, and the Adi Shakti Mantra, is one of my all-time favorite mantras. According to Yogi Bhajan, chanting this mantra will open up all the chakras, charge your solar centers, purify your karma, and align your soul to the Universal Soul. In SAD terms, this mantra is perfect for those dark cold mornings when you’re so depressed you can’t get out of bed.  In fact, I used to chant this one while in bed (pushing myself up into the proper posture first, of course). This mantra literally gave me the energy, strength and will to rise. In my humble opinion, it’s better than caffeine.

 

INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO DO LONG EK ONG KARS

MUSIC FOR LONG EK ONG KARS:

Another terrific mantra which is particularly good for SAD is:

 

Ardas Bayee / Amar Das Guru / Amar Das Guru / Ardas Bayee
Ram Das Guru / Ram Das Guru / Ram Das Guru / Suchee Sahee

Also known as  “Mantra to Illuminate the Dark Night of the Soul,” the name speaks for itself. This mantra helps transform those SAD feelings of yearning and hopelessness into feelings of deep faith and hope.  There are many extraordinary recordings of this mantra to choose from. Singh Kaur’s version is particularly stunning: as sweet and gentle and rejuvenating as morning sunlight.

ARDAS BHAEE CHOICES:

Singh Kaur
Snatam Kaur

 

4. BREATHE THROUGH THE RIGHT NOSTRIL

Another quick fix for those who are too depressed to even think about doing their practice, a great place to “start where you are” is breathing through the right nostril. This simple yet profound practice stimulates the Pingala channel, also known as the male channel or the solar channel. Just a few minutes of right-nostril breathing can help stimulate one’s own internal solar energy, thus counteracting the lethargy and mental fogginess some of us feel on those cold winter mornings and/or when the afternoon sun begins to set.

 

5. COMMUNE WITH THE SUN

At this point, most of us SAD sufferers know about the importance of absorbing sunlight and of taking Vitamin D. In yogic traditions, practitioners are advised to expose their hair, head and skull to the sun at least once per week. Yogi Bhajan always stressed that exposing the forehead to sunlight is especially beneficial.  This is because the forehead bone is porous, which means that more light can pass through and stimulate the pituitary gland. And a well-stimulated pituitary gland, as we know, results in healthy levels of dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.

 

But who wants to expose themselves to full sunlight in the winter, right? Especially those of us who live in colder climates? When I lived in the Hudson Valley I would do my morning practice in front of a sunny window, positioning myself so that that first ray of morning light beamed straight onto my forehead.

To take it a step further, try transforming your daily dosage of sunlight into a devotional practice. I’ve always loved the concepts of those mythological sun gods of Egypt and Ancient Greece; so whenever I am in the sun I like to offer thanks to Ra and Apollo for sharing their healing light with this planet.  I ask them and my other guides to help my body to integrate this blessed sunlight as efficiently as possible, so that I might be of utmost service to humanity on that day. I swear it makes a difference. (They don’t use the term “Sun Worshiper” for nothing.) If you think about it, the word “RA” in itself is a powerful mantra. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition it means “sun.”  Among American sports fanatics, it means “Yahoo!”  So you can’t go wrong.

 

6. STIMULATE THE SENSES

 

FLOWER ESSENCES

Flower essences are distilled tinctures that basically carry the vibration of flowers, meaning that when you take a few drops of, say, Summer Snowflake essence, you are taking in the frequency and qualities of Summer Snowflake. This delicate flower is winter hardy but also thrives in extreme heat.

There are hundreds if not thousands of essences to choose from, which can seem a bit overwhelming at first. So my advice is to call the essence makers directly–these kind and caring people will usually offer intuitive suggestions based on your personal needs and constitution.

Some of my personal favorite flower essences for Seasonal Affective Disorder are:

Swamp Candles or Summer Snowflake

Yellow Rose

“Lighten Up” or “Solstice Sun” combination essences from Alaskan Essences

 

AROMATHERAPY:

Most aromatherapists agree that citrus oils are the best choices for Seasonal Affective Disorder It makes sense if you think about it, given that citrus typically grows in warm, hot, sunny places.  Think California in a bottle! Organic essential oils are best, distributed with cold-mist  diffusers.  Spirit Voyage blogger Donna Shepper wrote a wonderful piece about the use of essential oils to help treat SAD:  Read it here.

 

7. EMBRACE THE DARKNESS:

Depression can be uncomfortable and painful. There’s no doubt about that. But when approached from a spiritual standpoint, it can also be beneficial. Yogi Bhajan used to stress that  “In all darkness, there is a light and in all light there is a darkness.”  Author Michael Beckwith also points out that “a dark night of the soul may be considered to be a moment of gestation; a new inner realization that is gestating. Just as a seed needs to be in the darkness before it breaks into the light, there are spiritual realizations gestating within us. We may be giving birth to something, so it doesn’t feel comfortable.”

 

I also like to remind myself something I learned long ago: Whenever you feel like giving up, recognize that you have reached a moment of great change. That’s your moment of power. Like Yogi Bhajan says: “Keep up, and you will be kept up.”

Why I Stopped Writing–And Why I Intend to Start Again

Several years ago, someone I love (and someone who has had a great influence on my life and development) told me, quote:

“No one wants to know what you are thinking or feeling. We want to know what you are doing.”

I think she told me this in 2004 or 2005. If I did my research I could find the exact date.  But that’s not important.

What matters is that I never realized until quite recently that THIS is the reason I haven’t been writing much for the past several years.  This is the reason I haven’t been posting anything regularly on this blog, despite the fact that my agents, publishers, publicists, etc all say it’s essential.  At the back of my mind, deep in my subconscious, that voice has been saying: “No one wants to know what you think or what you feel.”  To a writer and an aspiring musician, those are condemning words indeed.

But I must take responsibility for the fact that a) I believed this statement and b) I have let those words, and that person’s opinion rule my life.  I’ve been acting like a coward, like a fearful child.  Whereas what I actually am–what we all are–is a child of Divine Source. A Creation of the Creator; and a Creator myself.  We all are.  And as Creators, our duties are to express–with as much dignity and truth and grace as possible–what it is that we think and feel.  Otherwise we are blocking that creative force, that Divine Flow.  I believe that those forces are actually divine messages, aching to flow through us and out into the world. Artists are the first messengers, the Winged Mercuries.  Yes, people (as in critics, flamers, politicians) often shoot the messengers, but that’s the risk we must take.

Do I claim to be the most interesting person on the planet? Do I claim that my thoughts and feelings are essential to the workings of the world? Well, no.  And yes. If something I write can be of benefit to at least one person on this planet;  if something I sing can benefit at least one person, or plant, or dog; then yes, it is important. Can you see that?

There’s a quote I love which says something to the effect of: “You exist. Therefore you belong.” (I’d love it if someone could remind me of the source of the quote and of the correct precise quotation)

So I suppose when I heard my loved one tell me that no one wants to know what I think or feel, I took that to mean:  You Don’t Deserve To Exist.”

That’s my warped mind talking. And I don’t need to listen to voices like that anymore.  From now on I’m going to try to write the way I used to write.  From the heart. Without fear about what others might say about it.  Hey, if I sound crazy, I sound crazy.  At least the other crazies, odd balls, and hippie peace freaks will know what I mean.

Sending love and hugs to  you all. And thank you for all the support you’ve given me throughout the years. I love the fact that you read and that you care.

~

“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

THE CHLOE CHRONICLES, Part IX – The City Slicker Visits the Country Vet

NOTE THIS INSTALLMENT OF “THE CHLOE CHRONICLES” ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN BARK MAGAZINE  Issue 73, Spring 2013

Lately—because it’s a new year—I’ve been considering canceling my health insurance. I know it sounds crazy, but I never—and I mean never— go to the doctor, at least not allopathic doctors. Whenever I have some ailment I’ll visit an acupuncturist or a homeopathic practitioner or the like, and those visits often cost less than the co-pay for a Western doctor. Plus, there’s the fact that most doctors’ offices these days seem to run like factories, with new patients scheduled every 15 minutes; you barely have time to tell your doctor what your symptoms are before the doctor has to leave the room to tend to someone else. My dog Chloe gets better medical care.

Speaking of which …
Chloe, a sweet-faced Spaniel mix, doesn’t look like a troublemaker or act like a troublemaker: she is well-behaved, well-trained and always remains within sight when I let her off-leash. But in the eight short years I’ve had her, she has troubled my bank account a bit, managing—through various small mishaps—to rack up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills. I’m not complaining; she’s worth every penny. Just don’t ask me about the time she ate a river rock and had to have emergency surgery. That procedure cost more than three months’ rent. Still—my dog is priceless.

A few years ago, Chloe and I had to make a special trip to the vet because she somehow managed to get a marrowbone lodged around her lower jaw. Yes, one could say it was my fault for letting her have such a small marrowbone in the first place. (I honestly didn’t know then that size mattered.) And yes, one could also say her torn ACL in 2009 ($3,300) was my fault, for letting her off-leash to chase rabbits (but I—a city person—didn’t know there were rabbits hidden in the brush so late in the season). And let us not forget the lacerated paw pads of 2008 from running through tide pools ($376); the epic river rock adventure of 2007 (swallowed for free, surgically removed for several thousand dollars); or even the strained shoulder, which wasn’t anyone’s fault—her boyfriend Rainbow, an exuberant English Setter whom we love, plowed into her on the play field (not that we blame him for wanting to play).

Anyway, any of these could be seen as my “fault” because I allow my dog to run in the woods, and play, and leap over fallen logs, and plow through bramble bushes, and swim in the river. And it’s not as though I ever let Chloe run around unsupervised. She, for one, never lets me out of her sight, so lack of supervision is not possible for either of us.

But off-leash recreation is obviously a larger topic. Should you keep your dog confined and/or leashed, keeping him/her safe but undoubtedly frustrated and bored? Which can then lead to destructive behavior such as chewing and incessant barking and a genuinely unhappy dog? (New sofa: $1,499; replacement for chewed-up dog crate: $189 plus s/h; irate neighbor: how does one set a price on that?) Or should you let your dog off-leash for quality playtime, stimulation and exercise? (Thus, some would argue, putting the dog at risk for injury.)

I have obviously chosen the latter approach. But does this make me, as a dog guardian, bad to the bone? Let’s get back to the bone.

Who knew marrowbones could be dangerous? And what dog doesn’t love a good marrowbone? Especially on a blustery winter day, when the winds are gusting at 60 mph and the freezing rain sounds like machinegun fire against the windows, and there is nothing to do but remain inside and stare at the hideously wallpapered walls of the Myrtle Beach, S.C., high-rise where we were staying to escape the chilly weather of New York. What dog doesn’t particularly love a bone when she has been condemned to strictly limited exercise, meaning three short pee-walks per day, because of a fairly recent rabbit-chasing incident that resulted in a re-strained ACL and two $250 trips to the vet? Chloe loves her marrowbones, and I love watching her enjoy them. Plus, it kept her occupied while I applied acupressure to her knee points. I was only doing what I thought was right.

That night, however, while I was in the kitchen making ginger tea, I heard a yelp and a helpless little whine, and rushed into the living room to see what was wrong. There, I found Chloe with the bone-ring lodged around her lower jaw. I have to admit that it was hard not to laugh—she had stopped whining and was looking at me with a completely perplexed expression on her face, the bone shaping her mouth into a goofy smile. And don’t be mad at me for laughing because everyone who has experienced this tells me they laugh, too. They take pictures. And videos. And post them online. Google it and you’ll see.

I did not take photos, however. Instead, I knelt before the dog, stroked her head and told her I would help her get the bone off. But said bone was wedged behind her canine teeth, and I could see no way to slip it back over those teeth and off her jaw. In fact, it looked as though I would have to wedge it off—no benign slipping allowed. I realized that this is why Chloe had yelped: one hard crunch had forced the bone behind her teeth.

Poor baby. As I inspected her mouth and turned her jaw this way and that, my good girl kept her head still and wagged her tail. She even tried to kiss me, but her tongue was, um, obstructed by a marrowbone.

I’m not a handy person, nor skilled at geometrical problem solving. I have difficulty with spatial thinking, too. But still, I kept analyzing the bone and its position in relation to the jaw, to see if there was any possible way it would slip off. To the best of my limited knowledge, it looked as though Chloe’s teeth were one-quarter of an inch too long to make this possible. Plus, the bone seemed to fit perfectly around her jaw— hugging the contours as though it had been custom made. There was no way I could get the bone off without causing my dog pain. And there was no way I would do that.

I went online, where I found all those pictures of all those other silly dogs with bones ringed around their lower jaws. I tried not to giggle at their goofy faces. As I read on, I realized that each of these dogs, in the end, had to be taken to the vet. I couldn’t find any solutions to the problem. Just comic descriptions of the episodes, concluding with those trips to the vet, where the marrowbones were either sawed (eek!), cut (ouch) or drilled (you must be kidding) off.

And here we arrive at another loaded subject: veterinary costs. How many of you hesitate, just for a second, when faced with a costly late-night trip to the emergency vet when you could wait until morning? Especially in a non-emergency, which you could quite possibly resolve yourself? This is what I faced that night.

It was stormy outside. The roads were icy. I was also in an unfamiliar city. I did not know any local vets on Myrtle Beach. Then there was the fact that, at that point in my life, I was financially strapped. I am a writer, after all, which means that there are many stretches of time during which I don’t get paid, and if you’re a slow writer like me, those stretches of time can get really stretched out. There was a time when I couldn’t even afford pet insurance, because my savings account kept getting drained by Chloe’s veterinary bills. It was a game of cat-and-mouse that, I am happy to say, I no longer have to play. We are all insured.

Even in those toughest times, Chloe always came first. Some people thought it was crazy that I would, for example, delay my own trips to the dentist so that Chloe could get her horribly chipped incisor repaired. I know that dog people always understand. Love is the reason. When I first adopted Chloe, and rescued her from a life of neglect, abuse and abandonment, I made a vow—an oath. I vowed to always take care of her. To keep her safe and warm and healthy and fed and happy. No matter the cost.

So back to the bone. I spent another 20 minutes trying to calculate—geometrically—if/how I could wedge it off my patient, now-drooling dog. I tried to lubricate it with extra-virgin olive oil. Nope. I tried arnica gel. Nope. Petroleum jelly (which can’t have tasted good). Still, the bone wouldn’t budge. Chloe wagged away, seeming to enjoy the attention. I looked out the window to see if the storm had cleared. Nope. Back to the olive oil.

Finally, poor Chloe had had enough, and she crawled off into the closet to avoid me, her tail between her legs. At that point, I decided to call the nearest vet I could find online. When I told the receptionist that my dog had a marrowbone ring around her lower jaw, and that I needed to find someone who could cut the bone off, the receptionist replied, “You mean you want us to cut off your dog’s jaw? Hold on while I ask the vet if he can do that.”

I didn’t hold. The next vet I called was able to comprehend that I needed to have a marrowbone removed from my dog’s jaw—that I did not need to have the jaw itself removed—so we made an appointment and I was there within an hour.
The first thing I heard as I entered the waiting room was the terrible, piercing howl of a dog in pain, but let us not talk about that, or about the fact that I overheard that the dog’s owner was currently in jail or that the poor sweet man taking care of the dog in the interim could not afford to get the dog’s nails clipped, which was why the dog was now suffering from embedded toenails. My heart ached for all of them.

Chloe, meanwhile, happily greeted the man and the receptionist—wagging her tail rapidly at first, then more slowly as she began to comprehend that she would be going to that same back room.

When I sat down to wait for a consultation, the nice man with the dog in pain whispered to me, “Gotta be careful, ma’am. They-uz here’ll try to jack up your bill here with things y’all don’t need. Ask for an estimate ’fore you let ’em do anything.”

“Thanks,” I whispered back, grateful for the tip.

“That’s a good-looking dog you got there,” he said. “’Cept for that there bone ’round her mouth.”

We laughed despite ourselves, and Chloe wagged her tail.

Soon, I was called into a consultation room, where a young vet, seemingly nervous, inspected Chloe quickly—looking rather than touching—as though afraid she might bite. Now, by that point, I already considered myself an expert on marrowbone removal, given that I had spent 40 minutes on the Internet reading about it. (Don’t we all consider ourselves medical experts now that we have the Internet?) Thus, I listened with skepticism as the vet recommended a complicated series of painkillers, penicillin, antibiotics and some other pills I’d never heard of but that sounded unnecessary.

“All this to clip a bone off?” I said.

“She’ll need to be anesthetized, too.”

Now, I’m not a fan of anesthesia personally, nor am I a fan of anesthesia for my dog (let alone the bills). The first time Chloe was anesthetized (see the aforementioned River Rock Incident) I swear her personality changed. But that also is another story to add to the list of other stories. “I’d prefer not to do that,” I said. Plus, instinct told me this would not be necessary. Nor would the antibiotics or painkillers.

Following my instincts (and the man in the waiting room’s advice to be prepared for overcharges), I pared the bill down to two things: office visit and removal of foreign object.

“You sure?” the vet said.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Okay, then.” The vet said he’d take Chloe to the back room and that I could wait where I was.

But I insisted that I be allowed to remain in the room during the procedure. I am a New Yorker, after all, and we must uphold our reputation of being pushy, obnoxious Yankees. “I want to be with her,” I said. “I’m going to apply acupressure to one of her calming points so that she’ll stay still.”

“Acu- what?” the vet said.

“Acupressure. It’s a form of Chinese medicine in which you stimulate certain meridian points to relax your dog in stressful situations.” I did my best to explain what this was. Acupressure is the practice of applying light pressure with the fingertips to specific meridian points in the body with the aim of sending healing energy (or chi) to those parts of the body. “My vet at home practices acupressure,” I told him. “And homeopathy.”

“Homo- what?”

Homeopathy is hard to explain. So I just said it was another form of alternative holistic medicine.

A vet tech came and led us into a treatment room. The vet went off to prepare. In the meantime, I started to think about his recommendation for a painkiller. Even though I sensed Chloe would not need it, I began to second-guess myself. Did people with unwanted wedding rings stuck on their fingers get painkillers when it came time to clip the rings off? (Or was the divorce painful enough?) And what about that poor dog I’d heard howling when I first walked in? Had that been a sign?

I put my hands on Chloe and began applying pressure to her various calming points. Beneath my fingertips, I could feel her warm pulse, and within minutes, she was relaxed, mellow and trusting.

I had expected the vet to return equipped with saws, drills, rubber gloves and a headlamp, the way a dental surgeon might. Instead, he came in with a pair of what looked like wire cutters, such as you might get at Home Depot. Sharp tool aloft, he sank to his knees in front of Chloe, who rested calmly on the floor. I, however, was not calm, and increased my acupressure on the dog, whispering “It will be all right” into her ear. Suddenly, I heard a clip and a quick snap, and the marrowbone fell to the floor. Matter resolved. Chloe did not even yelp.

“That was brilliant!” I said, truly impressed. “What kind of tool is that?”

“Just your basic pliers,” he said.

“Pliers,” I said. “Wow.” I am a single female living in New York, which means I am impressed by things like tools. I do not own a wrench. Or a screwdriver, or a hammer. My toolbox consists of eyebrow tweezers and nail files.

“Yes, wow,” the vet said, smiling. “Pliers.”

I love the way southern people say the word pliers.

“And how’d you do that Chinese acupressure thing?” he asked. “Your dog sure is calm. Lots of dogs here are afraid of the vet.”

I showed him the points I had tapped, which have beautiful names such as the Governing Vessel and the Place of a Hundred Meetings. “People can do this on themselves, too,” I told him.

“Is that right? I’ll have to try it on my wife.”

“Absolutely.” I showed him a few points on his wrist he could press for peace of mind.

“Learn something new every day,” he said. As we walked with the dog back to the reception area, I asked, “Um, where did you get those pliers?” I worried for a second that he would laugh at me. I could hear him telling his buddies later that night, “These damn Yankees don’t even know where to buy pliers.”

But he just said, “Any hardware store’ll have them. Seven ninety-nine.”
And then he surprised me by giving them to me. I was very touched. In return, I offered to pay the bill for the man in the waiting room and his howling dog.

New-agey northerner learns down-home southern ways. We can all learn from each other, I realized. And that’s what makes it priceless.

So I now have a few new resolutions: Renew veterinary insurance. Get pliers/wire cutters ($7.99). And make sure that none of the bones I give Chloe from this day forth will fit over her jawbone.

Print [1]|Email [2]
This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 73, Spring 2013

Published on The Bark (http://thebark.com)

The CHLOE CHRONICLES Part VII: Getting Rejected by a Rescue Group

Chloe Chronicles VII: Rejection Blues

by Lee Harrington

Originally appearing BARK MAGAZINE  in Issue #71, Sep/Oct 2012

All of my life, I have dreamed of having at least two dogs, but always knew I would have to wait for the right situation. For me, the “right situation” involved living in the country rather than in New York City, in a house surrounded by lots of land and with all the time in the world on my hands. Or at least, enough time to train my second dog and help him adjust to his life with Chloe and me (in our house in the country). I wanted to be able to take them hiking and give them plenty of attention, engagement, exercise and so forth. I figured that, with a second dog, my caretaking duties — meaning my supervised duties, above and beyond the care my dogs always receive — would amount to about four hours per day.

 

Why four hours, you ask? Because I wanted to adopt an English Setter mix–my most favorite type of hypo-dog.

 

–> You know how it is — we dog lovers can be partial to certain breeds or types of dogs.  Some of us love the cuteness and ease of lapdogs; some of us admire the regal carriage of Afghan hounds, or the calm strong presence of Shephards, or the goofy sweetness of pit bulls. Some of us can’t resist the ultra-floppy ears of Bassett Hounds, or the giant gentleness of the—ahem—Gentle Giants, or the wiggly wags of Labs. The list goes on and on, and I am sorry if I have left out your favorite breed or mix. And, oh, the glories of mixed-breeds! Who can resist the myriad combos? I have a friend with a short-legged, big headed lab/Bassett mix named Hagrid—the cutest dog you’ve ever seen. Another friend has a Beagle/Setter mix—a gorgeous orange, brown and white dog with a Beagle’s bugle-bray.

My own Chloe is some sort of Spaniel/Lab/Border Collie amalgam, and I adopted her, in part, because of my Spaniel/Setter fixation. I love their beauty, their exuberance, their fondness for hikes and swims, their silky fur, and they way they transform, inside the house, into cuddly lap dogs—albeit 70 pound ones. To me, the only thing better than having a bird dog as a companion is to have two bird dogs. So the idea of adopting a second dog was always on my mind.

 

In 2006, I finally left New York City and moved to the Catskill Mountains full time. I had had Chloe for about a year at that point, and we had enjoyed a rich life, spending part of our time in an apartment in the city and the other part at a small cottage upstate. It was an ideal situation in many ways, but it got to be exhausting. The commutes and the changes and all that packing and backing-and-forthing was too much, especially with a large dog in tow.

 

So I moved to that big house with lots of land I had always dreamed about. Finally, it was time to adopt my second dog.

 

I was very excited at the prospect, and I knew Chloe would be too. We all know that dogs are pack animals and thus are happiest and most comfortable when they are members of a canine pack.  Chloe loved other dogs — she loved to play and romp and flirt — and she also seemed to enjoy being a mother dog. I got a kick out of watching her play with puppies at the dog park, wrangling them and letting them crawl all over her, giving them playful but very gentle swats and nips. It made me wonder if she had had puppies at some point in her young life, before I adopted her. It made me wonder if she missed them.

 

Therefore, I decided I would adopt a puppy this time around, rather than an adult. I had the time, after all. And I knew what raising and training a puppy would entail. I felt fully prepared to adopt my Setter pup. And so, I began my search on Petfinder.com.  Whereas I’d searched the Internet for several months before choosing Chloe, the second-dog search took only a few weeks. I found a Setter rescue group that I liked, and they were in the midst of arranging adoptions for a litter of nine liver-and-white pups. Seven of them were male, and I knew I wanted to adopt a male. I telephoned immediately, and spoke with a kind and encouraging volunteer, who filled me in on the adoption process. We spoke for about 45 minutes — about me, their group and my potential dog — and by the end of the conversation, she told me she’d send an application. (Apparently, this group will not even send out applications until they speak to the candidates in person or on the telephone.) “You sound like an ideal candidate,” the woman said.

 

I must confess that I also thought I was an ideal candidate to adopt a dog. I’m not saying that I’m a perfect human specimen, or that I know every last thing there is to know about dogs, but I do work for Bark magazine, for goodness sake,—the best dog magazine out there, which means that for the past twelve years I have been reading, editing, and reviewing (and yes, writing) articles and essays from some of the top trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, ethologists, poets, and animal rescuers in the country. We who read Bark are up to date on the best and most effective training methods (positive reinforcement/operant conditioning, of course), the latest studies on canine behavior and psychology, the newest and best veterinary treatments (holistic and allopathic) and even the latest treats, toys, beds, gadgets, accessories and foods. And please don’t think I’m bragging—if you are reading this column in Bark magazine, that means you have access to all this knowledge, too.

–>

To further toot my “You Should Let Me Adopt Your Setter” horn: I also spent years writing a series of columns—and a subsequent memoir entitled Rex and the City—about how I devoted just about every waking moment of my life to rescuing and rehabilitating an abused hunting dog: a wonderful Spaniel mix named Wallace. He was everything these setter rescue groups “warn” you about: exuberant, energetic, high spirited (read: highs-strung), vocal, stubborn, capable of fantastic athletic feats (i.e. leaping tall fences in a single bound, etc). We used to joke that Wallace was the equivalent of three dogs. So again, I felt I could handle a Setter puppy.

 

I thought of Wallace, and of my near-perfect dog Chloe, as I filled out the rescue group’s very long application:

 

• How many hours per day are you home? (Average, about 20.)

• Where will your dog sleep? (Wherever he damn well pleases — usually on the most comfortable bed in the house.)

• How much exercise will your dog get? And where? (Hours daily, at dog parks and on hiking trails.)

• What is your income? (Enough to keep the dogs, and myself, well fed, comfortably housed, healthy, impeccably groomed, constantly entertained, etc.)

• What will you feed your dog? (Bones and raw food and homemade meat/vegetable/supplement mixtures.)

• What sort of training methods will you use? (Clicker.)

• Do you have a fenced-in yard? (Um … kind of … but we have many acres of land in a low-population area with no cars.)

 

At this point I called the adoption coordinator again to express my concern about my lack of a fenced-in yard. I was definitely worried about this sticking point. But the coordinator assured me that this group often made exceptions for “the right candidates.”

 

Can you blame me if I thought I was a shoo-in? After my application was approved (with flying colors, I might add), we arranged for a home visit. One of the volunteers from the rescue group would come the following Saturday to meet me and my dog and check out our digs.

 

Gleefully, I started to prepare — mentally and literally — for the arrival of my new puppy. I bought cute little toys and a memory-foam bed. I read up on puppy-specific training, and on the body language of puppies and mother dogs/ female dogs. I even picked out a name: Trinley, in honor of a Tibetan monk of whom I am particularly fond. (He said it would be all right to name a dog after him.) “Trinley’s coming,” I’d say to Chloe in a sing-song voice. “Your new little brother Trinley!” One night, I even dreamed about him; in the dream, he snuggled and squirmed in a way that seemed incredibly real. Trinley was so excited to be with us and we were so excited to be with him. When I woke, I was convinced that the dream was prophetic — that Trinley was meant to be my second dog.

 

Yes, the thought sometimes crossed my mind that I would not be approved, but those thoughts were fleeting. After all, I had adopted Chloe without any trouble. Millions of dogs in this country needed homes. Surely my offer to provide a home for an unwanted dog would be granted.

 

My evaluator, whom we shall call Mr. Whitaker, arrived at my house on a sunny Saturday. An older man, he was wearing khakis and a polo shirt of a distinctive color that we in the know call “Nantucket Red.” He drove a silver Volvo with a Connecticut license plate. A gorgeous Belton-type English Setter sat in the back seat. The dog had one of those long names I can no longer remember. “Constantine’s Westchester Amblefoot Toucan Pie” or some such thing, with the call name “Took.”

 

“Took,” I repeated happily, and reached into the car window to pet him. “Would you like to come meet Chloe, Took?”

 

Mr. Whitaker seemed uncertain. “He doesn’t really play with other dogs. I’m not sure I should let him out of the car.”

 

I must have looked at the man perplexedly, because he added, “He’s a show dog.”

 

I didn’t know how to respond to that statement. My dog is a mix with tainted blood?

 

–>Meanwhile, Chloe was running circles around the car, dancing happily at the sight of another canine. I told Chloe to come sit quietly by me so that Mr. Whitaker could say hello. (And yes, I spoke to Chloe in a full sentence). Chloe immediately ran to my right side and sat, looking sweetly at Mr. Whitaker with a gently wagging tail.

 

“Wow,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a thing. How did you do that? You got her to sit down and everything.”

 

“I clicker-trained her.”

 

“Never heard of that,” he said.

 

I kept my face blank and pleasant, but inside I was thinking: They sent this man to evaluate my dog? Meanwhile. Took began to bark and scratch at the car window, trying to wedge his body through the small crack.

 

–>“Well, I suppose I could take him out,” Mr. W said. He looked at Chloe again and seemed to convince himself that she did not have any communicable diseases.That she was the “right kind” of mixed breed. He then strung Took up on a choke chain and let him out of the car.

 

I should point out here that I Iived on 16 acres of land, much of it bordering thousands of acres of state land. Chloe is never on a leash because she does not need to be: (a) she is not a roamer, and (b) she is, as we have seen, well trained and has perfect recall. For recall, I use hand signals in addition to verbal cues, and a special whistle she can hear at great distances. She’s a terrific dog who has earned her freedom.

 

Now, Chloe waited for my “okay” command before she said hello to Took. She play-bowed and he play-bowed back, then he leaped forward for a romp, only to be yanked back rather cruelly by Mr. W, who had pulled sharply on the choke collar.

 

I winced. I hate to see dogs yelping in pain. “Do you want to let him off-leash and watch them interact?” I said. “We can watch their body language and signals, to see how Chloe interacts with other dogs.”

 

“I never let him off-leash,” he said. “He hasn’t been off-leash since he was six weeks old, straight from the litter. If I let him go, he’d never come back.”

 

Do you know that for certain? I wanted to ask. But I held my tongue.

“Will you let him off leash inside the house?” I asked.

 

Mr. W answered: “Sure, I think that will be okay.”

 

I wish I hadn’t asked.

 

Once we got inside and Took was released, he began to wreak havoc. First, he peed on my sofa, then he ran into the kitchen and jumped up on all the counters, sweeping his snout across in search of food, knocking over blenders and utensil containers along the way. Finding nothing to eat, he ran into the bathroom, tipping over my little metal trashcan and digging around for used tissues. Meanwhile, Chloe followed Took with a rather perplexed look on her face, as if to say: we don’t do that around here.

 

Mr. W was aghast. “Took, Took!” he shouted. “No! No!” He finally seized Took by the collar, pulled the chain until the dog choked, and then snapped on the leash.

 

He’s a show dog, I thought.

 

“I’m sorry,” Mr. W said with a laugh. “He’s never done this before.”

 

“Would you like to see the rest of the house?” I said, remaining polite.

I gave him a tour, showing him where the dogs would sleep (two dog beds in my bedroom), and pointing our various rooms and amenities. I showed him the sun room, where Chloe liked to hang out during the day, watching squirrels though the window as I wrote, shifting her body positions so that she was always lying in a patch of sun. I showed him the finished basement—another spot Chloe liked to visit if it were particularly hot outside, or stormy. “She has free reign of the house,” I said. “Whether I am here or not.”

 

Then we heard a crash—Took, in the boiler room, tipping over boxes, one of which contained antique tea cups. Chloe lifted her ears and looked at me with an air of concern. I swear she rolled her eyes.

 

“Why don’t we sit in the living room and chat?” I said.

 

Chloe, upon hearing this, trotted into the living room and seated herself on her “special spot”—one corner of a long sofa that I had bequeathed to her. It was covered with a thick throw rug to protect the sofa cushions from her fur.

 

“So you let your dogs on the furniture?” Mr. W. asked, bringing out his notepad.

 

“Just that one spot. She’s trained to stay off everything else except that rug.” I placed a tea tray on the coffee table as I spoke: Earl Grey and cookies. “When we go to friend’s houses or hotels or whatnot, she knows not to go on the furniture.”

 

“Impressive,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, Took leaped onto the coffee table, spilling tea right onto the sofa I had worked so hard to protect.

 

“I think I’ll put him in the car,” Mr. W said.

 

Back outside, I showed Mr. W the property. As we walked with Chloe across the meadows and around the pond, I pointed out stone walls in the distance that marked the borders, and the mountain that loomed behind us — the beginnings of the great Catskill Park.

 

“Chloe is boundary trained,” I said. Mr. W had never heard of this, so I explained that I had spent many hours taking Chloe along the property’s perimeter, which I’d marked with light-colored flags on various trees, and used a clicker to teach her that she was not to wander beyond those barriers. “It was time consuming, but it was worth it.”

“My dog could never be trained like that,” he said. I wanted to say, With a clicker, you can do anything, but I held back out of respect for his point of view. I had to respect his beliefs, and he believed his dog would “never” come back and “never” be trainable.

 

I showed him Chloe’s various skills, cueing her with a mix of hand signals, verbal cues, eye movements, whistles and clicks. It felt like a circus act, but she seemed very pleased with herself, and happy to entertain our guests. When I told her to “run to the pond,” she ran to the pond, which was quite a distance away. Then I shouted “Come” and blew the whistle, and Chloe returned, bounding happily across the grass, ears flapping.

 

Mr. W was impressed. He petted Chloe and praised her when she returned. “What a good dog!” he said. “I never knew dogs could do such things.” Chloe beamed with pride.  She seemed to feel–as did I–that Mr. W would certainly approve us as puppy adopters.

 

Then the issue of the fenced-in yard came up. I had a pool, which was fenced, but both of us knew that didn’t really count. I was banking on the fact that this particular rescue group made exceptions to the fence rule for the right candidates.

“Chloe loves to swim,” I said, pushing through the gate into the pool area. “She does laps.”

 

“Technically, we require six-foot fences,” Mr. W said, looking around, “and I worry about this pool.” Then he turned to me and smiled. “But I think you’re a good candidate. I’ll put in a positive recommendation.”

 

I was so happy that I hugged him. Chloe, sensing the mood, threw herself on her back and waved her legs in the air. We talked a bit more about bird dogs in general and Setters in particular, and then discussed the logistics of the adoption process. “I submit a report of my home visit,” he said, “and then the board meets to decide.”

 

All in all, I felt that this home visit had been a pleasant experience, and a successful one. As we parted ways Mr. W emphasized that Chloe seemed to have a good life here.

 

So imagine my shock when, a few days later, I received an email notifying me that I had been rejected. The reason? Lack of a fenced-in yard. And more: boundary training. “We cannot give our dogs to people who boundary train,” I was told.

 

I was crestfallen. Rejection never feels good in any situation, but this felt like an emotional, even personal, blow. Sometimes we come across certain dogs that we know are meant to be with us—we know it in our hearts that our paths were destined to cross—and yet bureaucracy gets in the way.

 

Soon my sorrow was replaced by anger and indignance. I complained to my off-leash friends, to my rescue friends, to my dog-writer friends, and we all had choice things to say about this rescue group’s decision. I am not usually a back-stabber but it helped to let off some steam.

 

“And why did the rescue ground send a representative who wouldn’t recognize a well-trained dog if she stood before him and danced the can-can?” one friend complained at the dog park

 

“Or if she peed on command on his leg,” a friend chimed in.

 

“Exactly!”

 

“And don’t get me started on fenced-in yards,” another friend said. She actually runs a shelter in Queens. “Yes, yards are handy, especially if you have a dog door, but I just can’t see how access to twelve square feet of much-shit-upon grass, surrounded by a fence so high you can’t see above or beyond it, constitutes a better quality of life for a dog. According to behaviorists, dogs experience boredom and boundary frustration. It can be stressful.”

 

“And the dogs don’t get socialized.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

After a few days of immature complaining, I finally had to settle into the truth that I would not be granted a dog. I like to think that I have a rational mind, and I always take care to see both sides of the story. Thus, I began to remind myself that the people who work at these rescue groups are well meaning. That’s an understatement. They volunteer their time and efforts and hearts all for the sake of rescuing and rehoming dogs. They have witnessed cases of intolerable neglect and abuse. They have seen dogs die at the hands of humans. They have rescued dogs who were emaciated, or broken-spirited, or simply confused at being separated from people who didn’t care enough to keep them.

 

Bird dogs are often relinquished, by the way, because they aren’t birdy enough, or they shy away from guns, or don’t respond to those awful shock collars those hunters often use. Bird dogs are often found as strays because, yes, they do run away and they can jump fences.

 

But anyway, all this is to say that I can recognize a rescue group’s needs to be stringent. People can be cruel. I often find that many rescue workers have lost their faith in the human race, because they have simply seen too many horrors. So they have to err on the side of caution.

 

But what exactly is the fine line between error and caution?

 

Back to the fenced-in-yard debate. The pro-fencers argue that dogs are safer enclosed in high fences, and that’s a considerable point. But in this world, as we know, safety is not an absolute guarantee. Even the fenced-in dog can be stolen, poisoned by a toad, strung up on his chain, etc. In life, there are no absolutes, period. Does that mean we should not take risks?

 

When I first adopted Chloe, I knew the possibility was high that she would be a birdy-bird dog with a strong prey drive and no training. I was willing to take that risk. I also took the proper precautions. In our first few months together, I did not let her off leash in unenclosed spaces. I brought her every day to an enormous fenced-in dog run at Fort Tryon Park in New York City, and there taught her the rudiments of recall. Then I took her to an even larger park—an abandoned fenced-in soccer field underneath the George Washington Bridge. I won’t take you step-by-step through her training: suffice to say that I supervised my dog and continue to do so to this day.

 

I would have done the same thing with Trinley. And if it came to pass that he still roamed beyond my comfort zone, I would have restricted his activity more. He’d still have had Chloe to keep him entertained and exercised. And she would have kept him in line, too. We all know that older dogs can teach the younger dogs new tricks, and remind them of certain household rules. I still think Chloe would have been a model mother.

 

But I must say that my dreams of adopting a second dog are finished for the time being. That rejection from that rescue group was stinging enough—and demoralizing enough—for me to give up the quest for a very long time.

 

Why not try another rescue group, you say?

 

Why not spend thousands of dollars to fence in the property?

 

Why not consider another type of dog—a lap dog, for instance, that wouldn’t be fast enough to run away?

 

I can’t explain….I wanted Trinley. And then someone came to my house and told me I wasn’t good enough. Maybe part of me believed them.

 

That was six years ago. Chloe is an old dog now, beginning to limp with signs of arthritis, and no longer all that patient with exuberant dogs—especially pups. She has also become—forgive the pun—quite the bitch, and doesn’t necessarily want to share her space with anyone else but me.

 

Sometimes I still think about Trinley, with great pangs of regret, but I am sure he found a home. Puppies always do. But I cannot help but wonder how things would have been. I especially wonder this on the days when I do have to leave Chloe alone on those rare occasions where I need to go down to the city for the day, to make music or teach class. She looks at me with her sweet and tender face, and I start to worry that she’ll be lonely.  “I’m sorry,” I tell her. “Sometimes I have to go out.”  She seems to understand and, being an older dog, seems to enjoy the extra-long snooze her time alone allows.

 

Being older and wiser (we hope) I know that everything always works out for the best. So I hold no grudges against Mr. W or that particular rescue group. But the question of where to draw the line with potential adopters is an interesting debate…..

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

Copyright © 1997-2011 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc.  Join The Bark pack: twitter | facebook


Source URL (retrieved on 25 Mar 2013 – 7:48am): http://www.thebark.com/content/chloe-chronicles-vii-rejection-blues

A Taste of Things to Come….

Hi Friends –

Just a quick note to say that this BOOKS, ESSAYS AND STORIES page won’t be officially up and running until, well, until I finish writing all my books, essays and stories.

But for now, here’s what we have in the pipeline:

AVAILABLE TITLES:

Rex and the City: True Tales of a Rescue Dog Who Rescued a Relationship (Villard)

Now available in expanded eBook edition, Rex and the City chronicles the trials, tribulations and triumphs my then-boyfriend and I experienced after adopting an abused shelter dog named Wallace and bringing him home to our 300-square foot apartment in New York City. Based on my popular series in Bark magazine, Rex and the City has been hailed as “hands-down the best human-with-dog memoir you’ll ever read!” Visit www.rexandthecity.net for more information. 10% of all sales proceeds are donated to animal rescue. *First edition was published by Random House/Villard under the title Rex and the City: A Memoir of a Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog)

 FORTHCOMING BOOKS:

 THE EXPATRIATE’S GUIDE TO HEARTBREAK (Forthcoming Summer 2013)

Jamie Palmer is a PhD candidate in Classical Studies trying to write her dissertation on the philosophy of love. When her boyfriend of seven years dumps her, she realizes she knows nothing at all about love and sets off on an adventure to learn about life and love and heartbreak in all its various forms.

 

ANTHOLOGIES

My fiction and non-fiction have been anthologized in various publications, including:

Howl, A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit (Crown: 2009), edited by the editors of Bark magazine

Dog is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendships (Crown: 2003), from Bark magazine


 Tennis Shorts: A Literary Companion to Tennis (Citadel: 2003),edited by Adam Sexton

Virgin Fiction: The Best New Fiction Of Writers Under Thirty (Rob Weisbach Books: 1999), edited by Colin Dickerman

 

ESSAYS

My essays and articles have appeared in such publications as Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Poets and Writers, Bark, Jane, Time Out New York, and O: The Oprah Magazine (forthcoming).

I continue to blog for Salon and Huffington Post, and also currently write a regular column for Bark magazine called “The Chloe Chronicles,” which chronicles the life of my wonderful new dog Chloe, whom I adopted after Wallace (of Rex and the City fame) died.

STORIES

Early in my writing career (basically when I was in graduate school), I wrote short stories exclusively, and they appeared in such publications as Playboy, Jane, Literal Latte, Potpourri, Sundog, and a handful of obscure literary magazines. These days I am focusing on writing books, but plan to return to the short story form when I am sixty-four (decades away).

 

 

Rex and the City eBook Release!

Rex and the City was originally published by Random House/Villard in 2006 under the title Rex and the City: A Memoir of a Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog. In 2010, when it became apparent that memoirs about dogs were becoming the hottest “new” genre in publishing, I decided to make the bold move of re-issuing my book and joining in on the “dogoir” craze. As dog lovers can attest, one can never have too many books about dogs on one’s shelf. There’s always room for more, right? Thus, I embarked on the exciting journey of self-publishing. I acquired the rights to my book from Random House, designed a new cover, added four chapters and revised existing ones, and clarified some of the text. I also added a new preface and a sneak preview chapter from Rex and the City Volume II. Revising a published work has been a remarkable, gratifying, and empowering experience, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. (Whomever invented the eBook: I salute you).