Cooper sit

by Lorin Michel Thursday, May 8, 2014 9:42 PM

These were the first words I heard this morning. It was 6:53. Kevin had just gotten up because Cooper had just gotten up. This is the ritual. Cooper stretches inside his kennel, then we hear his paws hit the tiled floor. He shakes to get all of his fur into place. It's the equivalent of me getting out of bed and running a brush through my hair which I do every morning, often to little avail. Depending on how I've slept, it is often a lost cause. Cooper's fur always looks good though – the same, regardless of how he has slept. It's a perk of being canine.

The two boys padded out to the great room. There is a door in between the windows on the back wall that opens onto the patio. Every morning and several times during the day, Cooper journeys to this door so that he can go out into the backyard.

I heard the door open, the slatted wooden blinds that cover the glass banging slightly. Good morning. That's when I heard it: "Cooper, sit."

A few seconds later again came the words "Cooper, sit." It wasn't yelled nor was it whispered. It was a simple command -

Cooper, sit

- that Cooper obviously wasn't obeying. After about four more of these commands I heard the door close again, the blinds tousling, and then my little furry one was back in the bedroom and on the bed.

I heard Kevin making coffee, then he too returned to the bedroom.

"What's up with all the Cooper sits?" I asked without opening my eyes.

Cooper growled.

Kevin proceeded to tell me that when he opened the door to let Cooper outside, the sprinkles were running. The landscapers had been here on Monday and then back again on Tuesday, and had evidently recalibrated the sprinklers. Cooper started to go out, then stopped and turned to go back in. He didn't want to pee in the shower I guess. Kevin needed him to wait. The sprinklers don't run for long. He just needed to be patient.

Patient is not a word in Cooper's vocabulary.

Each time he would sit and Kevin would turn away, Cooper would turn too, lower himself to the ground, a snake, and try to slink away unnoticed. Kevin was having none if it. Cooper was being obstinate and Kevin was going to win because he was.

Cooper sat and waited and eventually got to pee. But he was not at all pleased about it. Kevin was holding him back, cramping his style, making him late for a nap.

Which is another perk about being a dog. Almost as soon as you get up in the morning after a restful sleep, you get to crawl onto the big bed to sleep some more. That's sleeping it out loud.

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live out loud

I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 6, 2014 10:56 PM

Guest post by Cooper

When I first came to live with my mom and dad, I had already lived with a lot of people and I guess I just thought I wouldn’t be with them very long. I’ve been here now a pretty long time, almost my whole life, and I really like it. I like them, too. I especially like my mom. I’m not supposed to say that because I’m not supposed to have a favorite but I just like being with my mom better than being with just about anybody, even Wubba.

I get in trouble sometimes but not really bad trouble. Like I don’t dig or anything in the backyard probably because I don’t spend very much time there. I like it. It’s just that if I’m in the backyard, I’m not with my mom and I really like to be with my mom. Sometimes she sits in the backyard with me and I sleep in the sun. We did that today for like hours, though I think it was really only a few minutes. I was rolling around and she was sitting on the patio in the shade. I took a little nap. Then dad came out with the brush and I had to get brushed. I don’t like getting brushed.

I haven’t chewed anything in the house except my guys. I’m allowed to chew them and I do. I had a guy named Jax. He was really cool and had like five separate squeakers. I killed all of them! Jax is gone now and I’m sad.

I did do some stuff to the couch that mom didn’t like but I don’t really remember what it was.

When mom and dad would go out I used to get in my house, or kennel, and they’d shut the door. I don’t like that at all. I tried to dig my way out but it’s really hard to dig through the metal on the bottom. So then I started trying to chew my way through the bars. Dad said one day after they got home and I got out, look at the bars on the door. Were they always bent like that?

Then mom got worried. She was looking at the bars and running her hands along them and I guess they had teeth marks and stuff and then she said how could he do that? They’re metal. I guess I’m just really strong.

Then she said, well, we have to do something different because I don’t want to come home and him have figured out how to break the bars and then he impales himself.

I’m pretty sure the him that she was talking about was me since Justin isn’t here right now.

I’m not sure what impale is but I think it’s bad.

So before mom and dad went out today mom sat down on the floor with me and I sat down next to her. I knew they were going out. They always brush their teeth before they go out. Mom also has her purse. And they’re usually dressed differently than when they’re just hanging around the house. Like mom puts shoes on and stuff.

We were sitting there on the floor and she said that they were going to trust me and that I had to be a good boy.

I’m not really sure what would happen if I’m not a good boy. I wonder if they’d give me back. I always try to be a good boy. Mom says that no body ever really taught me how to be a good boy and that she knows I am one. But we had the talk anyway.

I really didn’t want them to leave but mom says she always comes back to Cooper and she does.

They left and I watched out the window in mom’s office. I barked a couple of times and then I wasn’t sure if that was being a good boy or not so I decided to just say it a bunch of times.

I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy I am a good boy

And you know what? I was! I didn’t even do anything to the couch. When mom came back about a hundred years later, she said I was a very good boy. And I got a cookie.

Good boy equals cookie. I can do that. 

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live out loud

Joy in the walk

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 29, 2014 10:23 PM

This morning, Cooper and I went for a long walk, just the two of us. It’s usually all three of us. In fact, since we got Cooper nearly a year and a half ago, we all go out twice a day. But Kevin was working on the car and there was absolutely no reason that the furry one and I couldn’t go off on our own for a bit. It was a gorgeous day, already 72º when we left and headed north along Campbell toward Allen where we stopped and waited for the light so that we could cross and get into an area where there is no traffic, in fact no cars at all, and just meander. Meander we did, him wandering in and out and around the brush, the trees, the well-placed rocks. I simply held the leash loosely. The walk is his time.

It’s also mine. Walking the dog alone allows me to think or not think at all, and I have been known to do both. Maybe it’s being outside in the fresh air and sunshine. I don’t know. But the fact that I don’t have anyone to talk to means I can truly just relax and let my mind wander to wherever it decides to go. There are no restrictions. I might find myself in a childhood memory or on a sailboat off the coast of Maui. I might think about the day ahead or last night’s dinner. My brain may attempt to work out a creative problem with a story I’ve been writing or plan to start. Rarely do I think about work. I think my sub conscious takes over and I simply drift.

Which is not to say that I stop paying attention. I am vigilant when it comes to watching for other dogs or animals. Cooper, as I’ve mentioned, is a nervous dog. We’re not sure why though we’re fairly sure it has something to do with his life before us. He is terrified of other dogs, so we keep him away from them because he shows his terror by working himself up and attacking. I know this sounds counter intuitive but we have been assured by many dog trainers and behavior specialists that it’s actually quite common to react to terror with aggression. It’s impossible to avoid other dogs entirely and we don’t try to. We simply pull up on his leash so he is walking right next to us. The idea is to assure him that as pack leaders, we will take care of any and every situation and he doesn’t need to worry.

This morning, as Cooper and I walked down Allen toward a farm, there was an older couple walking toward us. They were on the other side. They had two dogs. I pulled up on the leash but we just kept walking. Cooper glanced at them as they passed but didn’t get upset or worried. He just went back to sniffing and peeing and being a dog. I nodded to the people, wished them a good morning.

Maguire and I used to walk alone nearly every day, until he got older. It became my job early on in our relationship to trot the pup as we called it. I’d ask him if he wanted to go for a walk and he’d turn cartwheels on his way to the door where he’d wait for me to put his harness on, raising his left front paw so I could slip the harness over it and then buckle it. Off we’d go. I came up with a lot of good ideas while he and I were out slumbering along. Maguire was not a fast walker. He was a grazer, a sniffer. When he got older and his gait slowed even more, Kevin started walking with us. I think he realized that we weren’t going to have our precious boy forever after all. The walks became our family time.

This morning was mostly quiet. Cooper’s prancing feet in the rocks and dirt made a lovely percussive melody. I walked along slightly behind him, my flip flops snapping as flip flops do. Behind us and in the distance, the sound of tires churned on pavement as people did whatever people do on Saturday mornings, going to wherever they need and want to go.

The solitude of the day was wrapping around us. In that, I found – I find – great joy. 

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live out loud

One minute you have a nice, warm, delicious garlic roll and the next minute

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:36 AM

I love bread. I am especially drawn to fresh baked sourdough bread. If it is freshly baked sourdough with garlic and parsley and a bit of Parmesan cheese, I’m nearly euphoric. I don’t eat a lot of bread because I’ve found that as I get older, bread tends to, well, not evaporate as well as it used to when I was in my 20s and 30s.

Last night we went to our favorite gourmet grocery store to get salads from their salad bar. Like many gourmet grocers, their spread is very extensive with several types of lettuce, marinated as well as sliced button mushrooms, artichoke hearts, different cheeses, and more. We don’t do these salads often but I wasn’t in the mood to cook, or even to go to the store.

Salad bars often have fresh soups as well. The one last night also had fresh garlic rolls. They smelled so wonderful, so warm and gooey, that I had Kevin grab one for each of us. We got home with our salads and plopped ourselves in front of the television as is the way of the overworked American, Kevin on the couch, leaning over the coffee table, me on the floor, legs under the coffee table.

We flipped through channels and finally settled on Sideways. It had already been on for about 30 minutes but we just love that movie – we actually own the DVD and the soundtrack. We came in right around the time Miles and Jack were having their first dinner at The Hitching Post and seeing Maya. We decided we too needed a glass of wine if we were going to watch the film so in honor of Miles we opened a Pinot Noir. It wasn’t from Santa Ynez, where the film takes place. It was from Washington, and fairly decent. It’s hard to find a good Pinot because, as Miles so eloquently explains, they’re temperamental and need a lot of love and attention.

Cooper was flitting from one side of the table to the other. We were taking turns telling him to stay back. He was drooling, panting, whining. In other words, being a dog. You’d think he was horribly deprived, that he never got any food in his life.

Maguire was one of the most polite people – I mean dogs – we’ve ever met. It wasn’t anything we trained him to be; he simply was. He never took any food without it being given to him. We used to joke that we could put an entire chicken on the floor in front of him, and unless we told him it was ok, he wouldn’t eat it. He’d drown himself in a pool of drool but he’d never eat the chicken. It wouldn’t occur to him to ever take food unless offered. Like I said, polite. Cooper is not nearly as polite.

You can see where this is going I’m sure.

So there I was, feet out in front of me, legs crossed at the ankles. I was leaning back against the couch, watching the movie. I swirled my wine, sniffed and sipped, just like Miles was doing. It’s funny how you sometimes emulate what you’re seeing or hearing. Maybe it’s just us. We like to quote and recite and mimic.

Cooper finally sat down next to me. He was close, but he was fine. Every few seconds or so, he’d lean into me, as if to remind me that he was still there and could he have something to eat please. Never mind that he was panting and breathing rather heavily on me. Or that he weighs about 55 pounds or that he has red fur, making him hard to miss. Never mind that he doesn’t really like salad – it’s not really in one of his food groups. He wanted something, anything, please please please please.

I took a sip and he took the opportunity. With one quick lunge he grabbed my nice warm gooey garlic roll from the table and ate the whole thing in one bite. I almost spit out my wine. Kevin started to laugh. I said Bad dog but Cooper, unlike Maguire, doesn’t seem to suffer from remorse. He didn’t seem to feel the least bit badly about the fact that he had taken my roll. He got up and went over to Kevin’s side, eyeing Kevin’s roll hungrily. Kevin picked his up and ate it.

It just goes to show you that some things in life are fleeting. Look sideways for just a second, or watch Sideways, and you lose your garlic roll. One minute it’s there, and the next your dog is living it out loud. With garlic roll breath.

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live out loud | The cooking of joy

4:20 am and the phone sounds

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 2, 2013 1:06 AM

There are few things that can rouse a person out of a deep dream-state in a split second. An earthquake, the sound of glass breaking somewhere in the house (often synonymous with an earthquake) and a ringing phone. In the days before cell phones, an old-fashioned phone was usually propped on a bedside table. If its ring shattered the silence, it was just jarring enough to cause instant panic. Who died?

These days, many people no longer have landlines, Kevin and I included. Cell phones and all that they can do – and let’s face it they can do everything but go grocery shopping – have rendered landlines virtually extinct. This summer, after several years of threatening to pull the cord, we did, eliminating both our private line and our two business lines. Now the cell phones go with us everywhere, held in our hands or tucked in a pocket or a purse. They move to the coffee table at night when we set up to relax and watch a little tube before going to bed. Then they move into the bedroom, each taking up residence on its owner’s table, hopefully to be silent until the morning.

We’ve had telemarketing calls come in fairly early, around 7 am. That’s obnoxious, but we’re usually not in that dead-like sleep where the real world has ceased to exist and instead has been replaced by strange happenings that seem, remarkably, normal. Being in the same space with a group of people I haven’t seen since college. Driving a car that isn’t mine and that I’ve never seen before and trying desperately to find my lost candy bar. The possibility of time travel where my dad is still alive and young, as are my brother and sister, but where I’m the same age or older than I am now. A story is born.

I can imagine that in this state, my eyes are engaged in the rapid movement scientists often discuss. I know that this morning at 4:20 I was deep in the zone. I have no idea what I was dreaming about but I know it was interesting in that way that dreams have of being just fascinating and making perfect sense while you’re in them. It’s probably one of the reasons they dissipate so quickly upon waking. They want to leave you with the feeling of wow rather than the more apt thought of WTF.

At 4:20 am, there was a loud bloutzel blang, the sound that Kevin’s phone makes when it is getting a text message. Both of us sat up immediately, terrified. Hearts pounding. A cold sweat breaking out. Hair standing on end.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Your phone,” I said, hyperventilating. “I think it was a text message.”

“What time is it?”

“I have no friggin’ idea. Who is texting you at this hour?”

“Where’s my phone?”

“It must be over there. I heard it.”

“I heard it, too. Shoot. Where’s Cooper?”

Cooper was snoring. My heart was pounding as was Kevin’s. He reached for his phone to find out who was texting us before 4:30 in the morning, interrupting our dreams, our sleep, our night. Jolting us awake in the same way as an earthquake or glass breaking or the old-fashioned jangling phones of old.

“Justin. He needs rent money.”

“At 4:20 in the morning?!”

Granted it was 7:20 for Justin since he’s in New York. Still. We both slid back down into the bed, under the covers. Cooper sighed. Seriously? We’re up and talking? It’s still dark out. After a while, we both drifted back off to sleep, back into dreamland, and back into the night. 4:20 is early to be so rudely awakened but the ability to get back to sleep is always something worth celebrating.

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live out loud

A day in the lush life of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 22, 2013 12:25 AM

It occurs to me that in my next life I would like to come back as a dog. Naturally there are conditions. It would have to be in a nice house with really good puppy parents who would insist on spoiling me constantly. I would like the water in my bowl to always be cold, fresh and full. I would like to have good food supplemented with chicken and cheese, not necessarily together but if they are, all the better. I actually came to this reincarnation theory many years ago when I would watch Maguire. I am punctuating it today as I watch our Cooper navigate his way through a typical day as the dog of Kevin and Lorin Michel.

It begins thus: he rises to the cooing of his parents saying good morning, baby did you sleep good? followed by a quick squirt in his backyard and then the first walk of the day. Granted he has to endure the attachment of a pinch collar due to the incident, but pinching is rarely applied. Leading the way from the front door, the walk commences. It is his time. The pace is mostly set by him unless he gets the nut on, which happens usually after he has sniffed the essence of another dog or sees another dog on the horizon, an apparition that seems to taunt him mercilessly. We walk on, he pees and sniffs and whatever and we eventually make our way back home so that he can break the long fast of the night. Thirty seconds later, he's licking his chops and racing toward the bedroom to push his face into the bed.

Who knew a California King could also double as a dog’s napkin? At least he's cultured and civilized.

The day proceeds. Over the course of the ten minutes following the napkin-use, every toy he has is ceremoniously pulled from his bed, whipped around in a frenzy, and trotted out to the great room where it is deposited onto the rug. Tired from all of that, he settles down, often atop the toys, for the first of numerous naps.

I realize as I'm typing this that my reporting is nothing new to other pet parents. I report; you nod in recognition.

Lunchtime means snacking on some of the same things we’re eating. Often there is chicken involved. Sometimes cheese. Occasionally tuna fish. He loves all three. He’s a little disappointed when we have salad as he’s not a big fan of tomatoes and lettuce, though he does like cucumbers and avocado. And the saving grace is that there is usually some sort of cheese involved.

After lunch, he goes back out into the backyard for a bit, usually to roll around on his back in the grass, growling and snarking and play barking as he does. Then it’s back for another nap or three. Later, there is another walk followed by dinner followed by our dinner. His dinner, then, functions more as an appetizer, a cup of hors d’oeuvres to munch on while he awaits the real food.

We are the type of parents who have no qualms about giving the dog people food. I realize there are many who don’t believe in doing this and I respect that. My justification has always been that their lives are short and a piece of cheese or chicken is not going to hurt them, and if it helps make them live even happier, what’s the harm? We don’t do bones. And I have read about the food items that are generally considered bad for dogs so we don’t share those.

Maguire lived to be over 15 and for his entire life he ate people food in addition to his dog food. On Sunday mornings when I would make us breakfast, he got his own plate. I would make him his own egg, his own piece of turkey bacon. If we were having waffles, he got his own waffle with just a hint of syrup.

Now it’s Cooper’s turn. He too gets his own plate on Sundays, and during the week, he gets a taste of whatever is for dinner. Then he settles on the rug as we all watch television a bit before it’s time for one more supervised spin around the backyard before bed.

It’s a tough life. It’s a lush life. It’s the life of Cooper Michel, as it was the life of Maguire Michel before him. 

I’ll tell you. A dog with a good owner in a nice house with lots of food and water and toys. Not a care in the world other than what time we’ll be leaving to embark on our next walk. Not a bad way to live. Not a bad way to live it out loud. 

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live out loud

Oh, baby. What a dog.

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 26, 2013 12:37 AM

I’m not a fan of the derogatory statement “what a dog.” It’s used to insult people behaving badly but it’s actually more of an insult to dogs. Dogs are usually much better than people. Yes, they’re animals. But only if you think of animals as being creatures less than human, and I don’t. I’m of the mindset that animals are creatures often better than human.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I am a huge dog person. That saying alone explains a bit about how I think. I’m a dog person. A dog-person. I love dogs, but I understand dogs. I am part dog. Maybe I was a dog in another life. I often joke that in my next life, I’m coming back as a dog with a good owner in a nice house.

I see a dog and I go all gooey inside. I want to get close to them, to pet them; to hug and kiss on them. I am careful to ask the owner first, of course. Because sometimes people train their dogs to be aggressive, or because they may be aggressive by nature. I understand this. Still, I ooh and awe. I smile. Hell, I grin. My Facebook page is covered with dog-related pages. My checkbook cover (yes, I still have a checkbook, for those bills that I can’t yet pay online and for emergencies) is dog bones.

Maguire was my Honey Bear, my big furry baby. I loved that dog more than life itself and was nearly inconsolable when we lost him, as was Kevin (as was Roy, Bobbi, everyone who knew him). In our eyes, he was a fur-person, capable of understanding most of what we said and of carrying on conversations. Yes, we often spoke for him but he was very articulate.

Cooper came along in October and for a while it was a bit like having a new roommate. We didn’t know any of his quirks; he didn’t know any of ours. But soon he settled right in and before you know it, he too became quite the conversationalist. Turns out he’s pretty funny. Great sense of humor, fairly smart. While he’s not the cultured boy that Maguire was, and is, in fact, more of a Honey Boo Boo than a Honey Bear. More trailer trash than high class. We love him anyway, because he’s now our baby.

Turns out we’re not the only ones. There are an awful lot of people out there who feel the same way. According to research, people who think of their dogs as babies are actually kind of correct in that dogs react to their humans in a manner that “eerily mimics how human children respond to their parents.” The researchers used an experiment that involved something called the “secure base effect,” something that is typically found in the nearly unbreakable emotional ties between parents and their children.

Dog test subjects, who earned treats by manipulating interactive toys, were placed in situations where there was an absent owner, a silent owner and an encouraging owner (I would have used the word “parent” since we’re talking about dogs being our babies but I suppose that’s picking nits). The dogs whose owners/parents weren’t present were much less interested in working for their treats than when those owners/parents were in the room.

Dogs appeared to be most comfortable and most willing to take a chance when they were near their people, offering what has been deemed “the first evidence for the similarity between the secure base effect found in dog-owner and child-caregiver relationships.”

Evidently science has already deciphered this effect in human-children versus fur-children. Kids who were able to use their mother as a secure base were found to be more motivated and persistent than those whose mothers were absent.

This comes as no real surprise to either dog trainers or dog owners. It certainly comes as no surprise to this dog owner.

Maguire was my baby; I spent every day with him. Cooper is now my baby; I spend every day with him. Maguire was a good boy, smart, knew all of his toys by name, had a vocabulary that was at least a hundred if not more words. Cooper is becoming a good boy, too. He’s smart; he’s learning his toys by name. He knows to take one up to my office and to bring it down at night, and trot around the house with it in his mouth. He sits, he does paw bump, he does stay game and he gets rewarded for it.

What a dog. What a boy.

Do dogs grieve?

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 30, 2013 11:48 PM

There have been a number of stories in the news lately about dogs grieving. There are dogs grieving for other dogs, lying next to a dead companion, risking their own demise to shelter another dog who has been hit by a car and lays dead in the roadway. A recent story in Utah tells the story of a dog named Bella grieving over the body of her best friend, a beaver, dead in a field. Bella whimpers. There are service member dogs that grieve for their masters, fellow soldiers killed in the line of duty, like Hawkeye, a chocolate lab, whose owner, 35-year-old Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson, died in August 2011. Hawkeye could be found on the floor where the family held the memorial, in front of the flag-draped casket, refusing to leave. Dogs in military zones have been known to put their heads on the chests of fallen comrades.

Others guard gravesites, returning time and again to sleep a top a marker, to be near the one they loved and lost.

There have long been stories about dogs grieving. One of the most famous was that of golden Akita named Hachiko whose owner was Professor Hidesaburo Ueno of the University of Tokyo in 1924. Each day, the professor would ride the train to work and each day the dog would meet him at the station when he returned. Then, one day in May of 1925, the professor didn’t return from work, having suffered a fatal heart attack. But the dog waited at the station anyway. Legend says that Hachiko waited for ten years, until March of 1935, when he, too passed. A scientist found that his cause of death was terminal cancer; others were sure it was heartbreak.

I’ve written here about Shep, a sheepdog who accompanied his owner into Ft. Benton, Montana in 1936 when the sheepherder fell ill. He died several days later and his body was boxed up and sent back to relatives in the east. Shep followed the box to the train station, watched as it was loaded aboard and chased the train as far as he could as it departed the station. For the next five and a half years, Shep kept vigil at the station, greeting each train as it arrived, waiting for a master who would never return.

Ciccio and his owner lived in San Donaci in Puglia, Italy. Each afternoon, as the bells would toll, Ciccio would accompany the woman to church. The woman died suddenly one November, and Ciccio was devastated, attending the funeral and following the casket into the church. Day after day he returned. The priest let him sit in front of the altar during services.

In 2005, a man named Miguel Guzman brought a dog named Capitan home for his son. Guzman died the next year and the dog disappeared. A week after the funeral, the family returned to the cemetery to pay their respects to their departed Miguel and found Capitan there, howling. He continues to live at the cemetery, fed by the family, sleeping on his master’s grave.

A dog named Leao was photographed lying patiently next to the fresh grave of his owner, killed in the Brazilian landslides of January 2011. The face is lonely, grief-stricken and dedicated.

After the devastating Japan earthquake in March of 2011, a shaking, mud-splattered spaniel was photographed sitting next to another dog who was hardly moving though still alive. The spaniel refused to leave his friend, standing guard, pacing. The two were eventually rescued.

There are countless others, and always have been. Perhaps it’s the human characteristics we bestow upon our dogs that allows us to believe they also possess the same gauntlet of emotions of we mere mortals. Perhaps it’s that they do, in fact, grieve. They love, they guard, they play, they attach themselves to us as much as we attach ourselves to them. Suddenly “we” are gone and they don’t know what to do. It’s the same when a dog loses a fellow canine or other type of animal companion. They are lost, and they need time to be found. Much like humans. Grief is not a switch that can be turned off, in any kind of person including the kind with four legs.

It’s an amazing phenomenon. It breaks my heart when I see one of these photos, watch one of these videos or read one of these stories. I find myself sharing in the grief. In empathizing with the dog. Perhaps it’s because of the immense grief I felt when we lost Maguire, an overwhelming sense of loss I could barely comprehend. Some would say, well, he was just a dog. Those who would say that have never loved a dog, never loved an animal, never looked into their soul to see them looking back.

I believe that dogs grieve, just as I know humans break into pieces over profound loss. I will believe that until the day I die. There is synergy, somehow, in the idea that we grieve for their loss and they, in turn, grieve for ours. May I be so lucky as to be mourned by my dog, and may my dog then find comfort and love with another. It’s the cycle of life.

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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

And the eyes are wise

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 6, 2013 7:47 PM

One of my loyal readers, Fred, commented on a recent blog post that he just needs “to look into an animal’s eyes … to gain clarity.” It got me thinking and thus writing. I, too, have spent much time looking into the eyes of my dogs, the late, great Maguire, our vintage puppy, and the new addition to the family, one Mr. Cooper, our pre-owned puppy. Interestingly both of them have similar eyes. Brown, alert, and clear. Looking into them was and is like looking into their souls.

Kevin used to hold Maguire’s head in his hands, one hand cupped on either side of his ears, and pull his face close so they could have a conversation. Maguire allowed it because he loved his dad so much. Kevin said that he had absolutely no doubt that Maguire understood everything Kevin was saying; that he could almost hear Maguire answering, with his eyes.

The eyes of an animal, especially one who is older or even just growing old, can tell us so much. They are wise with life and love. They look at you with such astonishing clarity they can almost make you self-conscious. It’s as if they can see if you’re being honest, if you’re a fraud. And they love you anyway. This is the power that comes through the gaze of an old dog.

Last week, Roy and Bobbi gave us a book to commemorate the anniversary of Maguire’s passing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year today that he left us. The passage of time – and the wonder of our dear Cooper – has made it easier to bear but we still miss him all the time. We miss his big furry self sprawled on the floor, his drool drying on the wood, his stretches and his noises. We miss his patented three-woof announcement for everything from “I see you” to “there’s someone at the door” to “yes, I would very much like that piece of chicken, thank you.” Woof, woof. Woof.


Our beloved Maguire a year ago, watching us from the sunshine of the backyard. 

The book is called Old Dogs are the Best Dogs and it’s by Gene Weingarten with photography by Michael Williamson. In it, Weingarten writes: “They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

“As they age, dogs change, always for the better. Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing – his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness, his unequivocal love. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce.

“Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these things are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But above all, they seem at peace. This last quality is almost indefinable; if you want to play it safe, you can call it serenity. I call it wisdom.”

So do I. And it is most visible in the way the eyes of an old dog follow your movements without the head following along. It is how they look at you, how they see you, how they express their love and knowledge of all that you are completely through their eyes. Old dogs don’t wag their tails anymore. The mechanism either doesn’t work or it takes too much effort. All of their expression comes through their eyes and even their ears; through a kiss on the nose.

Maguire used to watch us both at nearly the same time. He would be lying on the floor, with his head tucked between his two front paws and his eyes would move to Kevin on one couch, and then switch to me on the opposite couch. His eyebrows would arch as his eyes tracked first one way, then the other. After doing this six or seven times, the eyes would begin to close. He’d fight it a little but only half-heartedly. Soon, he’d be sleeping. He had secured his people. Life was good.


Cooper, just a few days ago, in the kitchen, gazing

Maguire was 15 years old when he died last March. We still feel his presence, we still speak of him all the time; sometimes I still hear his tags on the floor, the heavy sigh as he’d lie down, letting the world escape through his nose. I can still smell his fur. I can still see his beautiful brown eyes.

I see them now; I see them in Cooper’s brown eyes. The depth isn’t there yet, the wisdom hasn’t come to him – he’s still in that loopy middle age nutty stage, still doing the helicopter tail wag round and round and round – but it will. Just give him time. 

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