"The Peeing Post"
Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature
Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen
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Dear Dog Friend,
Thanks for all the contributions to book titles for my new book about mental activation and brainwork! I can understand that there are certain tiles that are more attractive than others, but I still miss a "clear winner"... So, if you are one of those that did not yet give me your suggestions, you can still do it at http://k9joy.com/forms/BookTitleFeedbackForm.html. The grand price for helping me with this is still a free download of the book as soon as it is done, and all participants in this draw will be given a possibility of getting the book at a 30% discount. All you need to do for getting the discount is to tell me which of the titles you would buy first. Even if you don't feel like getting the book, then you might do it simply as a favor to me... :-) I most certainly will appreciate it!
Saying Good-bye to Bettemuir (1985-2003)
I need to announce that my little "star model" Bettemuir has gone to the eternal search fields for true "tripivores".
Bettemuir has all her life been on a natural, raw diet. She was living proof that raw meat does not make dogs vicious - but healthy and mentally balanced. She could certainly be very protective - if someone tried to break into "her" van. But food was never subject to her protection behavior - even though she never got more than 3-4 meals per week.
She knew the experience of having meals that made her full. And she knew that food generally was a result of good work: smart dog doing good job = great meal.
She was an incredible worker - when hooked on a job, she finished it! Only the meals were often too big for her to finish...
During the last two years, her arthritis steadily increased its grip on her activities, but it still left her with things to do and enjoy, when I lifted her into the van and up and down the stairs. It stopped many fun games, though, like our "goalie game" where she was to prevent me from "making a score" by throwing the (k)not-sock past her as the goalie, so I was constantly alert to her enjoying life still. (There is a clip showing this great game in my video "The Dog's Social Behavior" - if you watched that video, you will recognize it...) But she could still move, without jumping - and she could use her nose, so she adjusted.
Her deafness became serious since last summer. But she managed fairly well, once I learned that I had to keep her on leash, because she would get lost if I did not... It was hard to stop most of our training, though - but she could not hear my commands any more, and her eyesight was not good enough for her to respond to my hand signals either. We made some headway by using specific touches as commands, but that limited all commands to be given while she was close enough to be touched... Fortunately, she adjusted to do her searches more or less alone - and she enjoyed it. She just needed her two claps on the hip to know she could go ahead and find her "goodies".
In a way, it was funny, because I had to learn all those bad habits I always tried to pull out of my students when they inadvertently used the leash to signal their intentions to the dog, so the dog learned to respond to the leash and not to the handler's commands. Well, when that happens, you are basically stripped from your chances of ever controlling the dog off-leash, and that is, to most people, an important goal... But here I was, deliberately trying to communicate with Bettemuir through the leash - and we got pretty good at it! Mind you, letting her off the leash was not an option any more - and could never be again. Although she had never had a leash on in her entire life before last Spring, we had to go through all the basic training with no pulling, getting untangled, staying close, and all that "puppy stuff". Good for Bettemuir she did not care about being compared to a puppy. But it was nice to see that she still had her brain intact - and she learned these leash manners in a matter of weeks. Great proof that dogs never get too old to learn!
Making the decision...
However, the last two months, her health went quickly downwards. She was suffering from constantly increasing pain. She was a tough girl that never whined, but we could see on the tail dropping from the cocky position above the back (where it is supposed to be constantly for a Spitz like her) that she was dealing with pain.... She still enjoyed her walk and searches. Every time such an activity was offered, the tail came up, but for shorter and shorter time. It was as if the enjoyment mostly was the happy memories associated with the preparation - once we got out there, the reality of the pain took over and made her want to get home again. The balance was tipping into the red, and the pain was creeping in to take control of her life to an extent that left too little for her to enjoy.
Bloodwork revealed that the pancreas was inflamed and did not function as it should anymore. We tried all possible stimulants to get it to work again, but without enough success to give her a worthy life. She could only sort-of keep the pain in control when we drugged her heavily - but the drugs would also make the condition worse if we continued for much longer.
When we realized that we could not improve her condition, and took into account also that the painkiller would make it worse, there really was no choice anymore. I have pledged to all my dogs that I will not let them suffer past the point of life no longer being enjoyable, so we made an appointment with the vet to make sure I could deliver on my promise.
We tripled the painkiller the last three days and she had a good time with a veggie-free diet! Just tripe - as I know she thought was all she needed for her entire life... She was still able to do some searches - but not for very long. And as soon as we stopped the stimulation and she got to rest again, the pain was back... However, we were able to maintain the balance so she was tired enough to sleep most of the day away.
The last day...
Well, the final day came, and we drove the 4 hours to see our vet. Bettemuir was tired. Very tired. And content. With all my moving the last few years, the van was more a home to her than anything else. She was tired both because of the disease that drained her energy, but also because of all the activity that was more than what she had been used to. Also, travel time had, for her, always been "the time we were together, heading for new things to enjoy together". The van was more of a home to her than anything else - I never went anywhere without taking her for the ride. Heck, the first three years of her life, she literally lived with me in my RV when I went to work Monday-Friday 200 km from home!
Pawel, our vet, came out to the van, sat down on the seat with her and gave her a nice greeting. He managed to give her a few drops of a calming remedy, just to be sure nothing went wrong. Then he gave her the first sleeping injection. We continued having a good time together, but she got sleepy and just cuddled up in my arms. When she was asleep, I carried her into the clinic. She did not notice. The next injection put her into deep coma - and, a few moments later, the final one directly into her heart stopped the potential misery in the tracks.
It was very peaceful, and it took several minutes before Anita and I really came to terms with the fact that the little fluff-ball on my lab no longer was Bettemuir, but just a an empty frame. It was a weird feeling, and yet I recognized it from the similar situations with all my previous dogs. It is a mental transformation inside oneself. I feel it as if my own spirit has to step outside me in order to have me understand and accept that reality is going to change now - and that I will have to learn to live with the new ways the Universe will function from here on. There is more to the world than what we can measure - and the metaphysical part is, in many ways, more real than "the real world".
It has always been sad to perform this duty - but it also is something I would feel terrible about not being able to do! I have done it to all my dogs. And I will do it also to the next. It is a relief to know that I could stop at a time when life still had good memories and still was more fun and enjoyment than misery and pain. Making that judgment is not easy, unless you know your dog well. But when you do, it is simple... It is just a matter of winning that fight with your emotions, because you know you are going to miss your pal, and you really don't like to let go! But making that ego shut up gives peace.
Yes, it helps when you are two and you agree, and it helps a lot when this is well prepared. Anita and I discussed it for more than a year - we knew it could come anytime and we knew we would have to step up to the responsibility. It was her first time, and it is never easy to trust the process when you only have other people's experiences to rely on. But I am impressed with the way she deals with it - and that helps me too.
The autopsy confirmed that Bettemuir's body could not have lasted more than another month or two - and that she would have died a cruel death in horrible pain, had we not interfered... The body started decaying in just a few hours, indicating that it was severely stressed fighting all kinds of internal battles. The pancreas was obviously only part of the overall problem. Many small cancers in many of internal organs caused a lot of stress too. I did not need the autopsy. I was certain about the decision. But the vet wanted to do it for his own education, and I saw no reason to not help him - it could contribute to his ability to help others later.
The tough part comes later when you get reminded of your loss. The biggest one is when friends ask... Don't avoid answering. The grief does not disappear because you deny it expression. But it becomes much easier to deal with when you accept it for what it is and don't feel ashamed about your own emotions. They are very real - for you. Good friends will understand and support you. And those that don't are not your friends - just so you know...
But all those small habits where the dog was an important part of your life will continue to bombard your memory, long after you have spread the news to your friends.
Every time I came back to the van, I kept turning around to pet the dog on the back seat.... and I had to pull myself together and make sure I could see through my eyes before I started driving...
Every morning, when Anita served the vitamins, it took another stream of tears to understand that there was no need for Bettemuir's serving....
Eating chicken was a pain: We used to bite off the cartilage from the bones to make treats for Bettemuir's next search. It was hard to just throw those treats in the garbage...
Shifting to beef did not make it easier. Anita always cut off the bones and fat with some extra meat for Bettemuir before the steaks went on the grill or in the oven.... It made me feel bad to just leave the pain for her. The chicken experience, at least, we shared...
But there are no escapes. It was wrong to go to bed without first carrying Bettemuir down the stairs for a last pee. The feeling of her furry body against my chest and shoulders was a much more soothing confirmation of our connection than I was aware of...
Getting up in the morning was hard: Both Anita and I continued to look for her - we were used to her sleeping on the floor next to the bed, and we had to be careful not to step on her - she was too deaf to hear us. And the long "morning cuddle" to wake her up is just a memory now..
Going for a walk alone is very, very hard... it is terribly empty.
Working at the computer without having her at my feet to touch feels very empty too. It is amazing how much good it does to a soul to have someone to touch anytime you feel like having a little boost to your purpose...
Cooking became too easy. Anita was used to keeping an eye on Bettemuir to make sure she stayed off the linoleum, so she wouldn't get tripped on because she suddenly was too close to human feet that moved in a direction she did not predict. (After we moved in January, we had to instigate this new rule that said, "dogs are off the lino when someone else works in the kitchen". Bettemuir was no longer alert enough to get out of trouble on time, and having Anita trip and fall on her would have been disastrous.) Bettemuir was generally good at staying on her carpet, but that little sucker had to test the rules when we now were in a different kitchen... Thanks to Anita's consistency, she learned the rule in a matter of days - but Anita got in the habit of checking - just to make sure... And now there was no reason for checking anymore...
Well, the list could go on - but my purpose is not to make it complete - only to give you some help to deal with the situation when your turn comes... It does come. You know it. But I want you to also understand that when you are prepared for it, it is much less painful. I am not saying that the grief becomes enjoyable. It doesn't. But when the grief is made managable, life can become enjoyable again - and faster. And that's what counts.
Last Fall, we had an invasion of mice. I caught one or two every day in the traps. Bettemuir was never a good mouse hunter - mainly because of my training, she got her hunting instincts totally focussed on finding people and things that belong to humans - those were her "prey" - she completely ignored all kinds of wildlife her entire life.
Mice represent a great wholesome food source for dogs, so I felt bad about just throwing these valuable mice for the eagles. But Bettemuir did not want them...
The turn point came when a mouse got caught in a trap that did not kill it - only a leg was caught.... I was alarmed by the noise, got the mouse + trap and killed the mouse by cutting its throat. But, as with chickens that are beheaded, the body of this mouse continued to wriggle. I gave it to Bettemuir while it still moved. She instantly started shaking it - and true: it stopped wriggling!
Here she comes, offering to share her "kill" with me... I checked it and gave it back to her - and she ate it!
After that, I had a nose and a wagging tail in my head every time I checked the traps for mice...
The lesson that must be learned...
It is four weeks now, and I still cannot write about it without constantly clearing my eyes so I can see the keyboard. There has not been a single day since she was 8 weeks old where she and I have not been together. I have gone nowhere without her. Even shopping - she was always with me in the car. 18 years like that carve some pretty strong habits - and leave a lot of reminders...
I also know from experience - not only my own, but also those of so many of my students whom I have supported through a similar transition in their lives - that there really is only one way through this: set the goals for getting another dog!
I know a lot of people who find this a distasteful act of ignorance to the one you loved. But I sincerely disagree. The dog you loved has no joy whatsoever out of your suffering at the memories. It makes no sense to think it would enjoy that. It makes far more sense to think that it would like to see you happy - and I know another dog can accomplish that much better than the memories of one that no longer greets you in the physical world.
I used this "philosophy" also when I became a widower a few years ago. I know it works. Self pity doesn't. And hanging on to the past in a way that prevents you from enjoying the future is stupid and meaningless. Asking questions like, "why this?", "why me?", and "why now?" is an insult to whatever you call your higher power in the Universe. You will for sure not get the answer by asking those questions - but you might find meaning with the situation when you start to look for the lessons you can learn from the past, the experiences that make you stronger, the riches you gained that make it possible for you to make new contributions for the world to be a better place to live in for those that still need it for that.
It is not our purpose in life to spread misery and suffering by hanging on to our grief by using it to get attention and pity from other people. It makes far more sense to use what we have learned from the past for the purpose of creating a better future. "Better" meaning "better than it would be if we didn't do anything about it". I most definitely do not believe that we should compare tomorrow with yesterday and start a contest for which one is "better"... it makes no sense because we cannot change "yesterday". We can only change "tomorrow", and using "yesterday" as a standard for whether or not "tomorrow" is worth waiting for is not supporting us. We need to compare what "tomorrow" would be with or without our positive contribution, because that is a choice we can control - and should make.
Our dogs do it all the time. Yes, they experience grief. But they get over it and move on. They adjust to the new order of things and do the best they can to get the best possible out of the new situation. I think this is important for us to learn too.
It is a huge privilege that we have the power to ensure that our dogs live a happy life. I wish for your dog too that you will be able to live up to that when it needs you more than ever to do what it cannot do itself....
Cheers and woof,
If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of The Peeing Post, I will be happy to know about them. (Please no anonymous comments, though...)
If you have any comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in general pertaining to dogs, please respond - if I can find an answer for you, I will!
Even if your question is a "My dog..." question of a personal nature, I will be happy to give you as much advice as I can per e-mail, provided you will give me feedback on how you used my advice and what results you got - and allow me to publish the story. (If I don't get feedback, you get an invoice for my time...)
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I need to announce that the plans for summer camps have changed. I had to reschedule the times, so there will be no camp in May, and the camp in September will be open to everybody, also new students. If you would like to join me on a summer camp for a full week where we can let everything "go to the dogs", you should check the possibilities at http://k9joy.com/dogtraining/campcourses.html.
I promise: we will have fun!
But seriously: don't leave it till the last minute for you to decide if you want to go or not. Camps get cancelled if I do not have enough students signed up well ahead of time and those who did sign up get their deposits back immediately when this happens. And: there is no exceeding the limit for the number of students, so if you are too late, you don't come along. I make no exceptions to this, and there will be no whining time allowed.