Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons Learned from Little Dogs - The FrankenMutt

This isn't about one of our little dogs.  It is a memory of a little dog from years ago I call the FrankenMutt.

When I was finished my Freshman year at college in 1972, I worked the summer for a cousin of mine.  He was a painting contractor and I spent that summer working with him and his crew.  One of the more interesting parts of the job was a contract he had to rehab homes of welfare recipients.  There are stories I could tell...

Only one includes a little dog.

We had a job in North Dayton to do some repair work and paint the interior and exterior of an older fellow's home.  It wasn't a bad neighborhood, nor a bad house.  It was just in disrepair, mostly because the owner was old and unable to do the work.

I don't know why I ended up with the interior painting, but I did.  Usually it wasn't a bad job at all.  Well, sometimes it wasn't bad.  In this case I dreaded it every day after the first day.  The home wasn't dirty, or even cluttered.  No, actually it was quite neat and clean.

The problem was the dog.

It was most likely a Rat Terrier or perhaps a Jack Russell Terrier.  I am not sure of the specific Terrier breed.  It was difficult to tell.  You see, the dog was old.  It was wrinkled and warty.  Yes, it had warts all over its black and white body.  Big warts any Halloween witch would be proud of.

The worst part is yet to come.  It had no teeth either.  AND its tongue hung our to one side and it slobbered.  It slobbered like a Saint Bernard.  I am talking volume here.  Lots and lots of slobber.

It apparently also had had a stroke or something because it walked and ran sideways, dragging one back foot as it ran.  Its face was limp on one side.  I suspect that is why the tongue hung out and it slobbered.  It was an ugly dog.

The owner loved this dog.  He fed it Cheeto corn puffs all day long.  He said it couldn't eat much else.  For that reason the mouth area was constantly stained Cheeto orange.

Here is the reason I remember that dog... It hated me.  It would run at me time after time, gnawing at my legs with those bare gums and lolling tongue.  My white painters pants would have orange slobber on them at the ankle day after day.  I hated that dog.

I would move a step and it would attack.  I would reach for more paint and it would attack.  The owner just laughed.  I would jump as it ran up behind me and attack.  I still shudder when I remember FrankenMutt.  What a mean, nasty dog.

The funny thing is, that dog didn't have a tooth in his head.  It really couldn't hurt me.  It was like the Boogey Man.  It was just my mind, my disgust at its looks that make me crazy.  I would lift my leg up so it wouldn't bite me.  Yet it didn't hurt.  I just responded.

Aren't a lot of our fears like that?  Unfounded, toothless unless we flinch?  Don't we all have a laundry list of toothless dogs that hound us in our dreams, our quiet moments?

I often wonder now what would have happened if i had simply stomped my foot at that dog instead of running from it.  I wonder what would happen if we all faced those toothless fears, stomped our feet and didn't worry that it might mean a little orange slobber on our ankles once in a while?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lessons Learned from Little Dogs 2

This house is run by two small dogs.  That is the reality.  My wife likes to think she runs it.  Occasionally I pretend I am in charge, but it is the dogs that run the place.  Five or six years ago the wife and middle child began a quest for a dog.  Put a bookmark in this place.  I'll talk more about our older dog later.

The middle child is a girl.  She is grown now, but then she was about 17.  Apparently commercials had an impact on her that went way beyond late night snacks.  She had watched the Taco Bell commercials that were popular back then so much that her choices in puppies were influenced by them.  Yes, she wanted a Taco Bell dog!  I am not sure if Chihuahuas really are in the canine family.  I have always suspected they were a cross between Norway Rats and little dogs gone terribly wrong.

My favorite thing about Chihuahuas was remembering the TV show "WKRP in Cincinnati"'s episode when Les Nessman called them "Chi-hooa-hooas".  Not much else recommended the breed to me.

After calling ads in the newspaper we went to the east side (the place where most hillbillies like me settled) of Dayton, Ohio to look at pups.  Thankfully they were not quite ready to go home with anyone.  We arrived and were brought into the room where the pups were.  The mother AND the grandmother were both there for us to see.  Gee whiz!

Sure, the pups were cute.  They were also four weeks old.  Even Iguanas are cute at four weeks, as are armadillos, yaks and polar bears.  The mama and grandmother were not so cute.  They were downright ugly.  Not the tiny, precious well proportioned rat dog of Taco Bell fame.  These dogs were odd shaped and just not what one would call show quality.  They were just dog ugly.  I think they were descended from the Hunchdog of Notre Dame.  Maybe the father was made from spare parts in some lab... named Frankenrover. (I smell a story brewing in this!)  If ever a dog should wear a mask... them were the dogs!

I finally herded the females of my family back to the van and as we drove home I began the lengthy process of convincing them to look elsewhere for a pup.  Again and again I reminded them of the mama... and (shudder) that toothless, flop-eared grandmother dog.  (Memories of my teenage years and another UGLY odd dog came to mind.  that story later.)  Good sense finally won the day and we did not go back for a Chi-hooa-hooa pup.

The reality is the pups were from a bad line.  The owners had not done the breed any justice and had bred indiscriminately.  They really were not a good choice.  Buying one would have been buying the dog for the puppy, not for the dog it would become.  For those of you that are going to say, "a dog isn't about looks or breed, there are plenty of great mutts out there." - I agree, not the issue!

Here is the lesson to be learned.  Don't settle.  Do your homework.  Those are important lessons when buying a dog AND in life.  Because the breeder was indiscriminate, who knows what problems and possible heartaches we might have gone through by now.

Settling is the easy way, the "get it now" way, sometimes the "American" way of life.  There is no real planning, no thought put into what we do.

Remember the TV show "Happy Days"?  The Fonz had a list, a written list of the qualities he wanted in a girl.  I took that to heart years ago.  I eventually had some sense knocked into me and made my list.  It served me well.

Why not govern our big decisions by sitting down and logically making a list of what we want... "must haves", "nice to haves" and "deal breakers"?  Why not pause before we buy that 800 inch plasma 3D TV with the jewel encrusted remote and a bottle opener on the side?

Why not ask the annoying questions like, "can I really afford this?"  or the ever unpopular, "Do I really need this?".  Hey, how about saying once in a while, "Yep, I want it, do need it, but can't afford it right now.  Rather than go into credit card debt with 28% interest, I will SAVE till I can buy it"!!!  Pretty bold concept, I know.

Don't settle... do your homework.  Decide what you really want, make a list of the qualities and look for that.  It might keep all of us from rushing out to buy the latest thing just because it is the latest thing.

Who knows, making a list and checking it twice works for Santa Claus.  It might even save some heartache and keep a few folks out of divorce court!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lessons Learned from Little Dogs

Folks who can observe life as it happens and deduce from those observations are blessed.  Too many of us go through life without seeing things around us.  The reality is there are lessons being taught to us daily.  We only have to stop and watch.

Just as an example, yesterday I took each of our little dogs around the block for a short walk.  Short for me, dogs with legs that are eight inches long might disagree.  The routine is the same for each of them... out to the garage (away from the other dog who waits their turn, impatiently) to have their leash attached.  Then out the side door and down the driveway.

They always stop before they get to the end of the driveway and wait.

You see, when we moved in, I installed an "Invisible Fence".  They learned the "safe" area they were confined to very quickly.  It was, apparently, ingrained in their minds.  The interesting thing is that about a month ago a lightening strike took the fence out completely.  The in ground wire needs to be reinstalled and I just haven't had time to do that.

I even took off the collars that give the "gentle correction".  (Neither had been corrected in years)

Those two little dogs still are convinced the fence is there, working and that their collars are on.  They sit and wait to be picked up and carried about ten feet to cross over the fence.  It is sort of silly, picking them up, carrying them ten feet across the area where the fried fence wire is buried.  I suspect they would pull away if I tried to lead them toward it.  In their minds they are captivated by a fence that no longer works.  The collars that presently sit in a closet still hang around their minds.

I began to ponder that as I walked with Trulla May, my Shitz Tzu.  How like them we are.  We allow ourselves to be bound by invisible, mostly nonexistent limits in our lives.  We establish boundaries to our creativity, our dreams, our hopes and goals every day.  We go just so close to the edge of "safe" and stop, waiting but going no further for fear of some "gentle correction" from fate or life or the response of others.

I wonder why we don't just run through those boundaries?  What is stopping us?  What is stopping you?

Is it bravery, genius or disregard that allows those few, passionate folks to cross the invisible fences in their lives and become great?  An even better question... when you do cross that line, why do you run back into the yard?  Why do you go back into the box, back to the defined area that is vanilla safety?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

His Day

Morning is red on the horizon
As if God has not yet
Opened the other tubes
Holding the colors of dawn
Nor yet filled out his palette.

It is as if He pauses
Peers at paints and brushes.
Even now and ponders:
"What sort of day
Shall I create today?"

Soon and very soon
He will reach of glorious yellows
Whites beyond my vision
Oranges and dozens of shades
Of blues, reds and royal purples.

Then He will look with satisfaction
At the day He has made
And I will know then
That is is, was and will be...