The pure joy of a dog happy to see you

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, July 10, 2013 12:36 AM

I could hear it before I even came in the door, just like always. The thump, thump, thump against the wall. It happens every time we come in the house. It happens sometimes when we just come into the room. Thump. It’s the tail wag of Cooper. He’s a frantic wagger. The tail swings almost violently from side to side. When he’s out-of-his-mind excited about something, he does the circular tail wag affectionately known as the helicopter. He gets that thing spinning so fast we worry he’ll take off.

I had been gone five days. It’s a long time by many standards, and in Cooper’s world, it was nearly forever. He’s very attached to me; has been since we got him in October. I became the chosen parent and he is nearly always at my side. As I type this, he is at my feet, snoring. I leave the room, he follows. I go outside, he must accompany me. I go upstairs, so does he. I go downstairs, he trots behind. In other words, I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and everywhere that mommy goes, Cooper is sure to be.

It’s kind of adorable until it’s not. Mostly it’s cute. But I left. I didn’t come back through the door at the end of the day like usual. When I’ve left before in the car, he lays patiently in the entrance way, staring at the garage door, waiting. He hears the car; he rises. The car door opens and closes. Thump, thump, thump. Kevin said for the first day, he laid in the hallway waiting. I didn’t return so he adopted daddy as his new BFF. Kevin knew it was most likely a temporary position and he was OK with that.

We pulled into the driveway at about 1:15 yesterday afternoon. I got out and walked toward the door. Thump. I said his name through the closed door: “Cooper.” Thump thump. “Where’s my boy?” Thump thump THUMP. I opened the door and he went out of his mind.

There are a number of videos that make the rounds on Facebook and youtube. Occasionally they even show up on CNN or NBCNews. Most often they involve a soldier returning from wherever they’ve been stationed. He or she walks in and their significant other records the absolute pandemonium that ensues. Dogs love their people and when their people have been away and then return, they are uncontrollable.

Cooper was nearly off the floor. He was whining and pushing and kissing and thumping. I sat down on the floor and he was in my lap, wiggling like a puppy, tail still going. Then he was out of my lap and running around me and running into me and kissing some more. Thump. And whining some more. Thump. And kissing some more. THUMP. He was so excited he was nearly jumping and wiggling out of his fur. As it was, fur was just flying, literally and in the spinning guise of my Cooperman.

I assured him that I missed him, too; that he was just wonderful. Handsome. A good boy. He continued with his joy.

Dogs are the most interesting creatures. They are completely dependent on their people, their parents and show unconditional, undying, total love and affection. There is nothing quite like witnessing the joy in a dog whose person has returned unless it’s being on the receiving end of that joy. It is complete and pure. Nothing in the world matters other than you and this moment, whatever and whenever that moment might be.

It’s because they love thoroughly. There are no conditions. In that way, they are much superior to humans who judge. Dogs don’t judge. They simply adore. They dance and wiggle and squish and kiss. They thump. They celebrate.

It was the best welcome home.

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In which it is hot and I celebrate the first heat wave of the season

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 30, 2013 1:12 AM

I don’t believe that A. A. Milne, one of my favorite writers because of his devotion to a bear named Pooh, a small swine named Piglet, a morose donkey named Eeyore, a wise Owl, an irritating Rabbit, a bouncing Tigger and a boy named Christopher Robin, ever wrote about excessive temperatures. All of his wonderful characters lived in the Hundred Acre Wood, where they got into mischief, and supported each other, happily. Mr. Milne always started his chapters with the trope In Which. I always loved that and evidently I’m not alone. I see this phrase used a lot around the blogosphere as people describe something that is about to happen, thus moving the conversation forward.

In which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place. In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump. In which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One. In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water.

I have to say, that after the last couple of days out here in the west, I’m envious of that little insecure pig in his striped shirt. To be surrounded by water when one is surrounded by crippling heat might be a good thing.

Which is why we are moving to the desert.

It was 102º today in the OP. Bobbi said it was 109º in the valley where they live. A friend of mine who lives in Scottsdale said it was 116º in the shade. The southwest is bathed in a heat wave and it has been sizzling for days. Can’t walk outside barefoot kind of sizzling. Feel your hair color evaporate kind of sizzling. In other words, warm.

Las Vegas was a balmy 117º while Phoenix hit 119º in the middle of the day, breaking a record that has stood since 1944. Much hotter and Sky Harbor will have to ground the planes. Something about not being able to get enough lift when it’s hot like this. I always thought it was because the planes sunk into the tarmac, emphasis on the word ‘tar.’

The appropriately named Death Valley was on track to hit 128º today. Death Valley, a barren but stunning piece of land far to the east of us, has the distinction of being the hottest place on earth, having once clocked a high temperature of 134º about a century ago.

It was hot and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. We like the heat but this kind of heat is rather oppressive. We also like to be outside and you can’t really do anything outside. The sun burns your skin the minute you leave the shade. I already mentioned about the hair color problem. It seems almost impossible to get enough water.

It was into this furnace that we ventured several times today, with a little boy in fur, as people came by to take a look at the house, which is currently for sale. We pulled up some shade where the temp dropped to a near-cool 99º maybe. We took water and a bowl for Cooper. Our real estate ladies were so worried about him that on their third trip to the house this afternoon they brought him a travel water bottle, a bottle that hooks into its own trough for easy dispensing, storing and sitting outside in the shade for 20 minutes or so when the temperatures are in the triple digits.

We like the heat. It’s why we’re moving to the desert. But liking the heat and understanding that it can be dangerous go hand-in-hand especially for dogs. I don’t worry so much about cats because they instinctively know how to find the safest, coolest place to be. Dogs just want to be with their people. But their pads can burn and get blistered if they’re on asphalt. Whenever I see someone walking their dog when it’s hot like this, I think they’re idiots. In Arizona, it is literally considered animal abuse, one of the few laws in Arizona I agree with.

Cooper and his dad (Kevin), in the shade

As the day progressed, the temperature remained constant. I thought about Piglet, surrounded by water. I thought about the introduction of new characters, In Which Kanga and Baby Roo Come to the Forest and Piglet has a Bath. More water. New characters in our lives are always good. We have new characters in the guise of our real estate ladies, Debbie and Hillary, sisters who love dogs and love our Cooper.

Tonight, after we’d gone to the store and the temp had dropped even further, down to the low 90s on its way to the high 80s and eventually into the 70s we finally took Cooper for a shortened walk. The sun was setting, bathing the neighborhood in shades of pink and peach and pomegranate. The birds were out, kids had ventured onto the street to skateboard, or play bad mitten, air conditioners clicked off and the world became more normal. It was an every day life in the OP.

It was hot today. Sizzling, oppressive, evaporative, feverish, devilish, blazing, blistering, broiling, scalding, sweltering. Tomorrow promises to be worse.

And that’s OK. We have each other, we have water, we have AC. When it’s hot, we’re ready to live it out loud anyway. But just in case, here, have some water. 

The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:20 AM

Episode 4: Cooper exercises his right to choose

Once upon a time there was an amazingly well-behaved dog and his name was Maguire Michel. He was blessed with an extraordinary amount of politeness, especially for a dog. He wouldn’t dream of taking anything that wasn’t his, except for the one time that Bobbi was here and she had this adorable faux fur purse. She put it down on top of some bags in the kitchen and Maguire proceeded to sit and stare at it for an hour. You could almost see him trying to decide if he was going to take it as he was sure it was a new toy for him, but since no one had given it to him, he couldn’t take it. It wouldn’t be polite.

We could put food on the coffee table and never worry that it wouldn’t be there if we had to leave the room. He might be sitting right next to it, again staring at it and drooling uncontrollably at the sheer thought of a piece of pizza, or a chicken breast, even seared ahi tuna from the grill. He would wait patiently until we returned, and then eat whatever we offered him, off of a fork. Very delicately, very politely.

When we put something special in his bowl, he would stand, ready to launch, but with his eyes on us, waiting for permission. If we didn’t give it, he didn’t eat. We always gave it.

We used to joke that we could put the turkey on the floor at Thanksgiving and he wouldn’t eat it unless we said it was OK. Granted, we might be flooded out because of the dog drool. But we’d still have turkey.

We don’t know where he got this trait as it wasn’t anything we ever taught him. He just seemed to be instinctively polite, incredibly well-behaved. The kind of dog who would never stick his nose into a bag on the floor and pull out food that belonged to someone else.

I’d like to introduce you again to the newest member of the family, one Master Cooper Michel. He is not at all cursed with the quaint idea of being polite. His motto is simple: “if it’s on the floor, it’s mine.”

Also, “if it’s on the coffee table, it’s probably mine. Especially if you’re not there to guard it.”

Witness the goings on of last night. We had a lovely dinner of pan-cooked salmon, steamed cauliflower with a garlic/mushroom/blue cheese/butter sauce, and sliced strawberries. Roy and Bobbi were here and we had spent the first hour or so of Fritini – which has become Cooper’s favorite holiday. It was also Maguire’s – sitting on the patio, sipping cocktails and having a healthy vegetable crudités. Also dried peas coated with wasabi. [Note: if you have not had these, run, quickly, to Trader Joe’s and stock up. They’re absolutely addictive. Also, too, they’re good for clearing the sinuses.]

Cooper, like Maguire, always sits as close to Roy as caninely possible. Roy, who bills himself as “Daddy” on Fritini, proceeds to feed Cooper cheese and crackers, carrots, and anything else the dog would like to munch. Roy did the same for Maguire. He was also Maguire’s Fritini dad. If Roy stops feeding Cooper for anything longer than a minute, the paw comes up to rest on Roy’s leg. As if to say: “Who’s my Daddy, now?”

Once we served dinner, Cooper calmed down. While he likes salmon, he was content to only have a little bit. He didn’t seem to care much for the cauliflower.

We were wrong.

Roy had a bit of both salmon and cauliflower left over and so he wrapped it up nicely in some aluminum foil and tucked it into one of their bags on the floor in the kitchen. Everyone, including Cooper, continued to savor the wine. Kevin went inside at one point to get a sweatshirt and Cooper decided to go with him. Kevin returned. Cooper did not.

About 30 seconds later, I noticed that the dog was nowhere to be found. I asked Kevin “where’s the dog?”

Kevin: “What dog?” He jokes. He’s a kidder, that one.

I went into the house and toward the kitchen, calling his name. Now, the one thing you need to know about Cooper is that he is nearly surgically attached to me. The fact that he was not next to me on the patio, nor was he coming when I called was concerning to say the least. I knew he was fine. I also knew he must be doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.

I was right. I walked into the kitchen to find the remnants of cauliflower and mushrooms and garlic and blue cheese spread across the kitchen floor, and my dog, my adorably not-polite dog, standing in the middle of the room, looking at me innocently, with a huge piece of aluminum foil sticking out of both sides of his mouth.

Hey, if it’s on the floor, even if it’s in a bag, even if it’s wrapped up in aluminum foil, it’s his. He was just exercising his right to choose. And he chose Roy’s – Daddy’s – doggie bag.

The end.

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live out loud

Our continuing need for a blankie

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 6, 2013 12:55 AM

The idea that children need a security blanket is something even those who don’t have children know. Parents usually call them blankies. It’s a bit like baby talk but it’s a name that has stuck.

When Justin was little he had something we called Pillow. It was a pale blue satin pillowcase with ruffles. Because it was satin it was even softer and silkier than the standard blanket. Pillow went everywhere with us. It was tucked into his backpack when he went to preschool. It moved from his bedroom to the living room and back again. It went in the car, on the airplane. If he didn’t have Pillow, he couldn’t sleep. I worried about when Pillow would wear out because occasionally the thing had to get washed and enough washings of an old satin pillowcase can cause it to shred.

As he got older, I convinced him that maybe we needed to upgrade Pillow, sort of like how we upgraded his JumpStart software each year to match his grade level in school. That made sense to him. We tried a number of different things and finally settled on a navy blue fleece blanket. I was pleased because I figured when he grew out of it for security purposes he could use it on his bed at night to keep warm. Pillow got washed one last time and another official blankie was introduced. He quickly outgrew it, as I suspected. It’s now Cooper’s.

I still have Pillow. Its remnants were carefully folded and put away for safe-keeping.

I’ve come to realize that kids aren’t the only ones who have blankies. Adults have them, too, though they’re almost never in the guise of blankets or pillowcases. More like security items we have to have in order to feel like we can function properly.

In the movie The Natural, Roy Hobbs needs to have his special wooden bat in order to work his magic. It’s always there for him, until one night when he hits a long ball that eventually tweaks foul. When he trots back to the plate to swing again, he stops dead. His beloved bat is in two pieces on the ground. For a moment there is sheer panic in his eyes.

I talked to Therapist Bobbi about this today. I wondered if she had anything that she needs to have with her when she works and if she feels as if she can’t function properly if that thing is missing. The answer was yes, a bottle of water. She has to have one always, even in therapy, or she’s missing something that allows her to do her job correctly.

She told me of a fellow therapist who sees clients while rolling a ball of silly putty in her hand. She doesn’t do anything with the silly putty. She doesn’t stretch it into obscenely long strings, or try to take copies of her notes by pasting a flattened putty onto the paper in front of her. She simply has this malleable item in her hands. It’s actually an interesting metaphor for therapy.

According to the website LiveScience, in an article published in 2010, a survey of 6,000 adults was conducted by the hotel chain Travelodge. It found that 39% admitted to still sleeping with stuffed animals. A study in the Journal of Judgment and Decision Making revealed that people who held a mug for at least 30 seconds before bidding on it in an auction offered an average of 83 cents more for it than people who held the mug for 10 seconds, which suggests that our tendency to love and need inanimate objects goes far beyond the soft and cuddly.

A professor of behavioral sciences at UCLA has done studies finding that people get more attached to a pen with a “nice, smooshy grip” than an identical, gripless pen.

Which is a nice segue into my own blankie, a blue mechanical pencil with a nice, smooshy grip. For some reason, I have become ridiculously attached to this pencil to the point where I can’t work without it. Yes, I work on a computer all day long and rarely actually use an old-fashioned writing utensil. But I need to have it lying on the desk in front of me as I type. I need to have it within reach should I need to scribble a note, or simply to think. It actually helps me work through problems, come up with ideas, etc.

This morning I took all of my stuff back up to my office (I bring it down at night to work). My computer, my invoicing ledger, several notes, my cell phone, coffee and my dog. I plugged in the computer and hit the power button. I opened my PC laptop and turned that on. I sipped my coffee. I absently petted Cooper’s head. When the computer was up, I opened all of my necessary programs, checked my email and prepared to work. I stopped dead. Where was my pencil? I ruffled through the thick piles of paper on my desk. I picked up notebooks; I checked my invoice ledger. It wasn’t there. I opened the drawer. No. I looked behind the PC. Huh uh. I turned to Cooper. Where’s my pencil? He simply stared at me.

I got up and went downstairs, into the kitchen, and there it was, tucked in the valley of an open book on the table. My beloved pencil with the smooshy grip and the almost finished eraser. I felt my heart beat slow; I relaxed. I picked it up, trudged back upstairs, laid it in front of my computer and proceeded to work all day long, picking it up between projects, twirling it in my fingers, writing notes in my notebooks and appointments in my calendar. Then I’d lay it back down and work some more. It’s my blankie. It makes me feel secure and confident when I work, and I’m OK with that.

Justin and I have even more in common than I thought, and it’s all blue. Definitely something to celebrate.

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live out loud

Games we play

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 24, 2013 12:27 AM

It has been quite some time since I updated everyone on the progress of Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies, especially in regards to his schooling, aka training. Since it’s the end of the school year, I thought this would be a perfect time to do just that.

When we first got our friendly four-legged redhead, we weren’t sure what to do. He was different than Maguire in every way save one: they were both dogs. We quickly found that we were still used to doing things with Maguire because of the way Maguire did things. But the way Maguire did things was not the way Cooper did things so we ran into some issues. Though Cooper had definite aggression issues toward other dogs – diagnosed as fear – he was otherwise a good dog. We just didn’t know how to bring the good dog out. We were shortchanging him by not adjusting our mindset.

In other words, a dog is not a dog is not a dog. Or something like that.

Once we came to the conclusion that we needed help, we got trainer Danielle. She was here at least three times. But we had an incident with her last time she was with Cooper that bugged us. She remains a great trainer but her approach was turning us off and we didn’t feel that it was helping Cooper, so we parted ways. Still, she left us with some invaluable tools that we needed to use.

And use and use and use. Because one of the things that made Cooper not Maguire is that we were not being consistent with what we wanted him to do. We figured he’d just know because Maguire had always known, but Maguire grew up with us and so we all had a kind of short hand. Cooper has been with us just seven months (this weekend). Shorthand needs to be learned.

Once we figured out what we were doing wrong and started being more consistent with what we were doing and how we talked to him, how we treated him, how we trained him, things started to get better.

In addition to the leash tools that trainer Danielle gave us so that he’d walk better and be less aggressive with dogs, we also knew we had to create some training that would teach him how to stay, how to not bark incessantly and how to be better when people come into the house.

We decided to play games.

Painting by Ray Krajewski

First we introduced the Stay Game whereby Cooper is told to sit, which he does, and to stay, which he sometimes does, for a short period of time. This game works best when he sees that we have his favorite cookies in hand, Nutro mixed berry crunch treats, little heart shaped cookies that actually smell good enough to eat. I kid you not. They smell like fresh blueberries. He sits, we tell him to Stay, give a hand gesture with the flat of our hand, indicating same, and walk away with the cookies. In about a minute or so, we come back and if he’s still sitting, he gets the cookies. If he’s not, we play Stay Game all over again. He’s getting better.

Then we introduced the Quiet Game. Cooper has a somewhat shrill bark. It’s very jarring when he decides to unleash it here in the house. And when the doorbell rings, he’s fairly out of his mind. Bark, bark, bark, BARK! We had tried “no,” but no doesn’t tell him what we want him to do. So we introduced Quiet. Now when he barks inappropriately, we say Quiet and it works most of the time. He’s actually much better at the Quiet Game than the Stay Game.

A couple of weeks ago, we also decided that he needed to learn how to better greet guests coming into the house. Barking his fool head off and lunging toward the door does not make people feel confident about coming inside. So whenever someone is coming, Kevin puts his collar and leash on and sits him down in the living room, in plain sight of the door. When someone comes in, he is sitting, staying, and being quiet. Then he gets walked over to properly greet our guests. He is gentle, he sits down and offers himself up for petting. This is the Greeting Game, and it employs all of the games. It is also proving to be successful.

The next game we will attempt is the Kissing Game because Cooper is not a kisser, but we figured with a cookie or two, we might get him to play. That’s the game I’m most looking forward to.

Celebrating the games we play tonight as we’re homeschooling our still-new boy and getting him to live it out loud a little more quietly while sitting.

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live out loud

Home is where the heart, the king-size bed, the newly shampooed and trimmed puppy, and the stuff is

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 7, 2013 10:56 PM

There are many people in the world who live to travel. They love to fly off to far off and exotic lands, even if it involves four times zones and three plane changes. They live to sample local color and cuisine; to find small hotels tucked off the beaten path that are filled with culture. They take the hassle of security in the airports in stride. They are completely at home when away.

They are not me. I’m a homebody and proud of it. I love to be home. I’m not afraid to fly; I just don’t like it. The security is a pain, the planes are jammed, the airlines are nasty, the flight attendants disinterested, and there is nothing to eat. I don’t sleep well when I’m in an unfamiliar bed, especially the first night. I don’t like living out of a suitcase. I do like eating out and finding good restaurants, but I often spend much of my time away waiting to go back home.

I know. I’m weird that way.

It’s just that I truly love my home. I love my stuff. When we’re away, I miss my bed, I miss my dog. I miss sitting on my couch in my living room at night and simply relaxing from the day. Watching TV, having a glass of wine, writing my blog.

I love the atmosphere of home, the hominess of it. The comfort of knowing I can get anything I need whenever I need it. Feel a little chill? I can grab my favorite oversized button down shirt or a sweatshirt or wrap myself up in a blanket. Don’t know what I’m going to wear today? Doesn’t matter because my entire closet is right there in front of me.  I can even change my mind eight times if I want. I don’t have to plan ahead. I can figure it out on the fly.

I can cook what I want, I can experiment with different sauces or marinades or salads or whatever. Coffee is there when I want or need it; ditto fresh fruit and snacks.

My dog is here, too, or at least he is once retrieved from the Westlake Pet Motel. My husband is here. My kid used to be here, but kids are raised to leave, to eventually make their own home, one where they can put their stuff, where their bed is their own. Their parents’ home is always referred to as home, of course, much like when I go to visit my mother I’m “going home.” Only I no longer live there.

Home is where one grew up; where the mother is. Home is also where you live.

Cooper, home after five days away

“Home is where the heart is” is a saying that is somewhat overused. I’m not sure I’ve ever really stopped to think about it before this past weekend, but for some reason, I finally got its meaning. Home is where you most want to be because it’s filled with love. I suppose that means you can actually have several homes, or at least several places that feel like home.

After traveling for only four days, I felt like I was gone a month. We flew to Dallas then to Cleveland, rented a car, and drove to Mayville on Friday. We took two carry-ons; nothing more. We drove to Fredonia on Saturday, several times. On Sunday, Khris and Shawn – who had met us on Saturday after they drove for 8 hours plus one speeding ticket – and I drove to Pittsburgh to see Aunt Beryl. Three hours each way. Then we drove to dinner and back to the hotel. On Monday we drove back to Cleveland, then flew to Dallas then to LA and then drove home. I didn’t sleep well while gone. I missed my bed. And when we got here last night, Cooper wasn’t here. One of my loves was missing. It was home but a piece was missing.

We picked him up this afternoon and he emerged from the Motel fluffier than we’ve ever seen him, sporting a new bandana and newly trimmed nails. We got home and he ran from room to room to room, whining and huffing and puffing and whining some more. He grabbed Wubba and trotted around the house. He went up the stairs and then down. He went out into the backyard and then came back in. He drank a bowl full of water and then finally settled on his blanket. His huffing eventually subsided, the whining died down. He was home. He was safe. He could relax.

As I watched him – as I watch him now, sleeping soundly next to me – I realized that I’m not the only one who is a homebody. I completely understand, my little Coop de Ville, the Cadillac of rescue puppies. I know how you feel. 

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live out loud

The curious case of the slipper at the top of the stairs

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 27, 2013 2:35 AM

About a month or so ago, Kevin decided to try something when we went for a walk. The something did not actually involve us being outside but rather Cooper being inside. Since we got him in October, we had been putting him in his kennel each time we would leave the house. We just thought it was better for him, from a feeling-secure standpoint. It was also better for us from a knowing-he-wouldn't-destroy-the-house-while-we-were-gone standpoint.

This first trial of trust would only be for 30 minutes or so. We figured, what could possibly go wrong? Of course, we knew exactly what could go wrong. He could chew the wood shutters. He could chew the leather couches. He could pull all of our dirty clothes out of the hamper. Unroll the toilet paper. Empty the trash. He could pee on the walls.

As it turned out, he did nothing at all but lay in the entrance way, probably staring at the door as he anxiously awaited our return.

We were thrilled. We were proud. We were encouraged that he really was turning into the good boy we always knew he could be. So we started leaving him out when we went to the store, or out for dinner, or to The Wineyard on Thursdays.

Which is where we pickup our story. Last night was Thursday, which means date night which means wine tasting. We took Cooper for a walk a little earlier than usual (5:30) so that we could shower, get cleaned up and leave around 7. The Cooper walk is just a little over a mile so he gets a bit of exercise. After the walk, he gets the last cup of his 2 1/2 cups of food a day. He's gotten all of the energy out of his system, as well as everything else, on the walk. His appetite has been sated. He's content. It's nap time. Us going out has become a regular happening; he's used to it.

We kissed his nose, promised him we'd be back soon, told him to be a good boy, and with that, we were off. Yes, we felt a tiny bit guilty about leaving if only because the face. The face looks like this: eyes wide, a bit scared, a lot lonely. The mouth is closed. The head is slightly tilted. It's Cooper putting on his very best cute. It's a face that says "how can you leave me?"

It's not easy. But we do it.

Last night we tasted wine from a place called J. Rickards. It's in Napa Valley, on the Silverado Trail next to Silver Oak, and they've been there since the early 1900s. Their Zinfandel was fabulous; their Petite Sirah equally so. Didn't much care for the cab. We laughed with the people we've gotten to know, noshed on pretzels and sipped wine. We gave hardly a thought to what might be going on at home since nothing ever does.

On the way home, around 8:15 or so, we stopped to pick up a couple of salads to-go. The sky was newly dark; straight ahead, a huge moon hung just over the road, lighting the way home.

We came in and the little face was there to greet us, tail thumping, butt wiggling. Where have you been? We petted him, rubbed on him, kissed his nose again and I walked toward the bedroom while Kevin took the salads into the kitchen. I rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs and stopped. Something caught my eye. It was at the top of the stairs, sitting on the edge of the landing, parallel to the step. My right slipper.

I stared at it for a minute or so. It wasn't comprehending. My slipper is never up there. It's always either under my nightstand or in the closet, and it's always with its mate. I called to Kevin, come take a look at this? He came. He stared. We both turned to look at Cooper who was standing in the living room, what?

I went up to retrieve the slipper. It was fine. No dog slobber, no teeth marks, no shredding. It was just ... there.

We're curious as to why after all this time, a slipper is now carried to the top of the stairs. The same thing happened today. Same slipper (the right), same position at the top of the stairs, same lack of slobber. Kevin has decided that in addition to mommy issues, Cooper also has a slipper fetish. I suppose. But it sure is, well, curious. And awfully funny. At least until the slipper ends up like Wubba I and Wubba II.

For the time being, I’m celebrating the curious case of the slipper at the top of the stairs. But if anyone has any wisdom to share in order to solve the case, I’m all ears.  

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live out loud

Joy in a growl

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:41 PM

I am in love. It has happened gradually and yes, a bit unexpectedly. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to love again but it snuck up on me and now I can hardly stop smiling. I whistle during the day. I find myself singing sometimes and I don’t sing. I laugh out loud for little to no reason at all. It is joyous, this love, for it is new and bubbly and fun, and growing.

The love of which I speak? My Cooper.

When we lost our Maguire last March, I could hardly imagine ever having another dog let alone loving one. And yet, within months of losing him, I was lost. I was lonely. I missed the jazz feet on the hard wood, the drool across the floor, the toys, in various states of disarray all over the house. The wonderfulness of fur. Everywhere. I missed my Maguire, and I still do, but by October of last year, I was ready to try again. To heal my broken heart. To fill the empty place with a beautiful new face.

I found Cooper on Pet Finder. He was a rescue and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I looked at him for weeks before I even told Kevin that I was thinking I was ready. Kevin, of course, was not ready. He was prepared to never be ready again. He loved Maguire fiercely and the thought of another made him almost angry. No one could replace Maguire.

I explained that I didn’t want to replace Maguire, that no one dog could ever replace such an amazing animal, the love of our lives. But I needed to have a dog in the house. I had found one. Would he at least take a look? Begrudgingly he agreed. We met Cooper, then Andy, and made the decision to take him. It was not love at first sight. It wasn’t even love after a week. For a short time I worried that I’d been too hasty. That I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. The memory of Maguire and his Maguireness was still too fresh. After all, I could still smell his fur if I tried hard enough, and truth be told I didn’t have to try very hard.

We had our fair share of issues with Cooper. I worried and stewed. I wasn’t feeling the rush, the heart palpitations, the sheer bliss of seeing his little face and hearing his feet as they danced across the floor.

But then something happened. Things changed. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was kiss his nose. And hug him close, and rub his belly. And play with him. And take care of him, to let him know that after years as a foster puppy, he had finally found his forever home.

Tonight, I met my friend Connie for a glass of wine. We laughed and talked and exchanged stories about family. We had a great time. While I was there I got a text message, from Cooper, relayed through Cooper’s dad, that he had gone for a walk, that he and dad were doing fine and that he’d even had dinner and it was good. I smiled.

When I got home and came in from the garage, a little red and white face was anxiously awaiting my arrival. His tail was thumping against the wall. We exchanged a pet and a hello, and then he took off like a shot, looking for a toy, any toy but most likely Wubba. He was excited! Mom was home! Life was as it should be! His family was complete! And he needed to share his joy via his toys.

Wubba was still in my office so he couldn’t quite find him, but he found two other toys that he proceeded to growl at as he tossed them round the room with great joy. I watched it all with amusement and, yes, love. As I watched him racing around the room, throwing his toys through the air with wild abandon, all because he was just so damned excited that I was home, I was suddenly overcome. I realized that I had fallen completely and totally, head over heels in love with my dog. I don’t know exactly when things changed but they did.

Maybe it’s the complete happiness he has in playing with his toys with both me and his dad in the room. His life is complete. And now, again, ours is too.

Somebody once said something along the lines of “once you have loved a dog, your heart will never truly be full again until you allow another in.” It’s a bad paraphrase but the sentiment is a good one.

I have allowed another in; we have. And my heart – our hearts – are all the better for it. Maguire would understand. And I think celebrate it with us.

Even though he was never much for other dogs. 

What Kevin wants to know

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 8, 2013 11:41 PM

Every once in a while the conversations in the Michel household turn to wistful wonderings about things we will never know. These conversations are almost inevitably started by the mister part of the house and always digress into discussions on what he wishes he could somehow find out. We talk and twist our way into a conclusion that invariably concludes that he will probably never know but we have the discussions anyway and they are usually quite interesting in a Groundhog Day kind of way.

A digression: Don’t you just love how Groundhog Day, an actually charmingly amusing little Bill Murray flick, has become synonymous with the same thing happening over and over and over again with the thing never getting resolved?

OK. I’m back.

Today’s Groundhog Day conversations happened because of Cooper. Somehow we were talking about his past and how we’ll never know anything about how he was raised, where, or by whom. This led to a conversation about Maguire and how we got him at 8 weeks old but from the Agoura Animal Shelter and how we couldn’t believe that someone had actually found him in their bushes, here in Oak Park, and had taken him to the pound rather than keep him.

That’s the story we were told at the shelter when Kevin discovered him that fateful Saturday morning in February 1997. He was 10 pounds of rolling, bouncing fur, the cutest thing Kevin had ever seen, and then the cutest thing I had ever seen. We wanted to know how he came to be at the pound, alone. Often times, a mother and her pups will end up at a shelter, or a litter of pups will end up at the pound because someone is trying to get rid of them. But one lonely puppy seemed odd.

Did I mention he was cute?

We could hardly believe he was still available for adoption. Turns out he couldn’t be adopted for two more days because someone had just dropped him off on Friday and they had to wait three days in case someone owned him and came looking for him. The shelter staff said that the person who brought him in found him behind some bushes somewhere in Oak Park. It didn’t make sense to us then; it doesn’t make sense to us now. And it haunts Kevin.

Me being me and a believer in everything happening for a reason as well as when it’s supposed to long ago decided that he was there on that Saturday because he was meant for us. He had been found because we were supposed to be with him and he was supposed to be with us. That’s how my mind works.

Kevin’s mind spins differently. While my mind hotrods forward on my 255/55R19s, Kevin’s got the big studded tires climbing mountains in four-wheel drive. He digs it out; he obsesses. I just go with it. He needs to know the answer to a question that we will never know. How did Maguire, who wasn’t Maguire at the time, come to be at the shelter? Who found him? Was he actually found or was he a present for someone who decided they didn’t really want a puppy because puppies are a lot of work? Was he tossed aside? Did he escape from someone’s yard? Was he really found in Oak Park? How could someone throw him away?

Usually I’m the control freak in our family. When we’re going somewhere, I need to know how we’re getting there. On Saturdays, I need to know what we’re doing for the day even if we’re not doing anything. I like to know what I’m making for dinner so I can think on it, mull, and do it differently than I’ve done it before. I plan; I control.

Kevin is much more easy-going, except when he’s not. He plans things because he has to for work or for when he’s building something. But he can get on the motorcycle and just go without needing to know where he’s going or how he’ll get there.

But when it comes to Maguire, he needs to know. I suspect it’s because he never will.

He also wonders about the Kennedy Assassination and the grassy knoll and what really happened; if it’s what the government has long concluded or if there was really someone else shooting other than Lee Harvey Oswald.

He wonders who killed Roger Rabbit, if there really were aliens in Roswell, New Mexico, and if the Skunk Works plant in Burbank, where they built the SR-71 spy plane, is still operational even though supposedly it isn’t.

He wants to know these things. And who am I to discourage his curiosity? Maybe someday, if he looks long enough and finds the people who have the answers, he’ll find out how Maguire got to the shelter. After all, at the end of Groundhog Day, there was a change. There was resolution. Bill Murray got the girl. Maybe there’s hope that Kevin will get the story on the puppy, the wondrous little ball of fluff who grew up to become Maguire. 

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In his dreams

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 30, 2013 9:34 PM

It starts with a subtle twitch of the feet, first one, then another and another and another in quick succession. Before long all four are galloping through the air as the dog lies on his side. Then the ears start to move, the breathing increases and he’s off and running. In his dreams.

When we had Maguire, we used to love to watch him dream. He didn’t dream a lot but when he did we just knew he was running through tall fields of grass bathed in sunshine, a warm breeze tickling his fur, his feet barely touching the ground. If his dreams could have been filmed they would have been in slow motion. He was such a happy go-lucky boy. Since we had him from the time he was about 10 weeks old, we knew exactly what had transpired in his life and that it had all been good. Oh, there was the time he and I were out walking one night in July, minding our own business and an off-leash dog came racing up the street and attacked him. That was bad, but for the most part, his life was one filled with naps and cookies and walks and hugs and constant kisses from his mom and dad. His good life was, we believe, reflected in his dreams.

By comparison, Cooper’s dreams regularly take him through Dante’s inferno. He howls, screeches, puffs and barks. He bares his teeth; he growls. His feet don’t gallop at a leisurely pace; they race as if he’s running for his life. If his dreams were available to screen they would be in 3-D with fire-breathing dragons singeing his tail.

We’ve only had Cooper for five months. He supposedly had a home for the first years of his life but for close to the year and a half before we rescued him, he went from foster home to foster home, five in total. We have no idea what those homes were like. All we know is that when he came to us, he was a little high strung, and appeared to be very aggressive especially toward other dogs. Actually appeared is probably too nice of a word. He acted very aggressive to other dogs. We came to find out that he is terrified and he masks his terror by being overly demonstrative, biting, snarling, threatening; standing his ground when no one is threatening him. The perception of a threat is his reality. We’re not sure why; we’ll never know. In much the same way we’ll never know what he dreams of. We just know that he dreams and when he does, it appears to be scary for him.

According to psychologist Stanley Coren, the brains of dogs are similar to those of humans. When dogs sleep, their brain wave patterns are similar to that of people, going through the same stages of electrical activity. Dogs aren’t the only animals that dream, either. Two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compiled evidence that the brains of sleeping rats function in such a way as to suggest dreaming. I’m not sure what that means, but since they’re from MIT, who am I to question?

Much of the way we dream as humans is associated with what we’ve done during the day. If we were out driving all day, we might dream of driving while we’re asleep. MIT researchers studied rats in a maze during the day and theorized that rats probably also dream of going through a maze while they sleep. In fact, the researchers found that the rodents’ electrical patterns were quite specific and identifiable based on recordings done while the rats were awake. When they were asleep, the electrical patterns were such that researchers were able to tell where in the maze the rat would be if it were awake.

Coren also found that big dogs, like mastiffs and Great Danes dream every 45 minutes for about 5 minutes at a time while smaller dogs, like terriers and poodles start dreaming every 10 minutes but their dreams only last for about a minute or less. Cooper falls somewhere in the middle.

Charles Darwin believed that proving that an animal dreams also proves that there is conscious thought. And conscious thought means being aware, of thinking of what you’re thinking.

Anyone who has a dog knows this already. They are aware. Maguire was aware of everything right up until the three days before we lost him. We could tell him to get a specific toy and he would. We could talk about going for a walk, simply mentioning the word in a sentence, and he knew what we were talking about. He was aware; he was safe. Cooper is aware, too, though less so. Still he is aware of his toys, of his kennel, his space. We haven’t yet spent enough time with him to teach him, to show him that he’s OK, that we’re here for him, that we’ll always be here for him, and that life as he knew it is over. Soon he’ll be aware that he has a forever family who loves him. Soon his dreams of being chased will turn to dreams of rolling around on his back in the grass. He’ll dream of the same tall fields that Maguire graced. He’ll run free.

In his dreams. 

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