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Our Four-legged Rascals

The Plastic Bowl
I enjoy retirement. Those busy days of veterinary work are behind me now, leaving me with a medley of memories to sort through whenever I feel the urge to entertain myself. Today my mind landed on this one:
Dogs love to chew, especially puppies. They chew up furniture, kid’s toys, shoes, dish towels, sprinkler head….and sometimes they swallow. Swallowing is the problem. I have surgically retrieved a great assortment of items that lodged themselves at various points along their journey toward the exit orifice….socks , money, rings, binky’s, peach pits, rocks to name a few…the list is really endless.
It would be a relative who brought “uncle Bob” one of my more challenging surgeries. It was their black Lab, Stanley, notorious for gluttony, who would become my next patient. Labs tend to be high on the list of breeds preoccupied with swallowing items having absolutely no nutritional value. Stanley decided to eat his plastic food dish. Of course the bowl was much too large to swallow, but, for Labs, this is only a temporary inconvenience. You could say Stanley was adept at demolition, and a plastic food dish is no match for his determination to reduce it to bits and pieces small enough to be swallowed…to begin their perilous journey through his digestive track.
Jerry knew his pooch was in serious trouble just by the look on Stanley’s face that telltale look of nausea that precedes retching. He only managed to bring up a pitiful glob of yellow phlegm, dangling harmlessly off the end of his protruding tongue. Fortunately, those few remaining pieces of plastic scattered across the floor gave Jerry clear evidence that his pet was in trouble…big trouble.
It was a lengthy surgery, both in terms of time and distance as I searched through what seemed like miles of coiled intestine, removing errant shards of lodged plastic pieces. I didn’t count the number of incisions needed to free Stanley from his plastic banquet, but it must have set some sort of record.
You would expect there would be a moral to this story, it might have been a “learning moment” for this robust Labrador retriever…if you think that, you don’t know Labs. Stanley recovered quickly, only a temporary pause before returning to his hell-bent sprint into a life of incorrigible mischief.

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Memories From the Heart

We are born with this wonderful capacity to bond. The bond is what animates life and infuses it with joy, but also with sorrow over times of loss. When I think of miracles, I think of bonding and I celebrate the gift we humans receive when we also bond with those four-legged companions we call our pets. For me, by temperament and training, I feel closest to dogs—yes, my brother and I did have an orange striped cat named Spooky that ruled over our family with her regal presence during our youth, but it would be dogs that found their way into our hearts and home with regularity—Hobo stands out in my mind.
She came to us one day during our boyhood…. a motley canine vagabond, a proud Montanan by birth and resident of the Slack home by choice. She followed us to Hawaii to suffer through several months of quarantine as part of the state’s attempt to keep rabies out of the Hawaiian Islands. But, she weathered the incarceration and lived out her life basking in the sun, sharing her body with a village of fleas, those pesky parasites that relishes the balmy climate of Hawaii as much as we did.
Thinking back to those high school days I realize how important Hobo was to our mother. Her boys were off to school, her husband gone to work leaving her home empty…. if it weren’t for that black and white mongrel pet, Hobo. It was always mom who grieved the deepest whenever a pet was lost.

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Pet Mentoring

Living in the Moment
In writing my book, Tails, I came upon the realization that pets are wonderful “wordless” mentors. My own two pets, Shilo, a yellow Lab and Bailee, a black and white Springer Spaniel, silently taught me about “living in the moment”. They helped me recognize I have a human condition called negativity bias (I just call it monkey brain), a condition unique to the human species.
Monkey Brain’s cardinal symptom is our human tendency to avoid being in the moment. Shilo and Bailee are free of this human habit of ours to dwell on things in the past, mostly things that didn’t go well. Or, if the past becomes too burdensome, we simply leap over the present to land squarely in an imagined future, only to find things to be anxious over, things we have absolutely no control over, things that keep us from noticing what’s going on right before our eyes.
It was during one of our many trips into the woods when I became aware of this habit of mine to live “outside” of the moment. This realization came by observing how my two hunters seemed to be so completely immersed in the present. They seemed to have such a zest for life, their movements were so effortless and graceful. There was a rhythm to their gait that made me imagine they were dancing to music only they could hear. I admired their vitality—they seemed so “doggone” happy! Maybe, unlike humans, they received this energy by living in the only time they know: the present.
If my two pets could compose their own music I believe each note would represent the “now” in time. Unlike humans, they would not be distracted by notes already played or those yet to be written. Thus free of human entanglements, they are able to live life to its fullest, completely unencumbered by human distractions of living “outside” of the present. I admit—I’m slow in learning to dance in the moment….the place where music lives.