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.

Things I've learned

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 13, 2012 11:01 PM

On this mother’s day, I’m celebrating some of what I’ve learned as a daughter, as a mother and as a friend, in no particular order. These are the things that make me who I am, that make me happy, that make me sad, that make me alive. I know there are more things I’ve learned; I know that in many ways I’ve just begun to learn. Every day is an adventure and a new opportunity, a new lesson, a new joy and sometimes sorrow. But it’s all part of life and love. So here are some of the things that come to mind as I sit here at the kitchen table on this Sunday.

To never run with scissors, and when handing scissors or knives to another, to do so with the pointy end facing in, not out.

To treat people with respect and to follow the golden rule. I’m not religious but do unto others as you would have others do unto you seems like a no-brainer.

To not swim immediately after eating because I might get a cramp, something thoroughly debunked but old habits stick.

That money doesn’t grow on trees and that leaving the door open in the middle of winter evidently provides warmth for those outside. That I wasn’t, in fact, born in a barn.

How to properly set a table for a dinner party, and to truly enjoy the effect.

How to make meatballs and tomato sauce; how to make a pan of lasagna. How to eat at a restaurant and re-invent the meal at home by knowing what certain spices taste like.

That cheap red wine gives you a headache, and that a car with a great stereo system playing great music sounds great even and especially with the sunroof open.

That people really shouldn’t get married until they’re in their 30s because none of us really become the people we are meant to be until we leave our 20s behind.

That raising a child takes more than simply giving birth to him; that loving and caring and supporting and nurturing and teaching has nothing to do with biology. That when you live with people long enough, they start to look a like.

That dog is my co-pilot.

To always keep the car’s gas tank as close to half as possible, as often as possible, just in case.

That The West Wing is still one of the best television shows to ever air.

That turkey bacon is almost as good as regular and better for you, especially when served with a lovely omelet stuffed with mushrooms, broccoli, and three different types of cheese.

To take care of my knees and hips, and that you should always have a big supply of Motrin, just in case.

That red wine goes with just about everything but pancakes.

That good sneakers are essential for good footwork.

To call my mother as often as possible and to accept that sometimes she really does know best. But not always.

That love actually makes the world go round and that politics is the opposite of love.

That hypocrites abound but to cut them a little slack for they know not how ignorant they are.

That sisters rock and best girlfriends are required, and that dogs are the greatest creatures to walk the planet.

That I miss my dog every single minute of every single day, even when I’m sleeping, but I also know that he had a good life with us, a long life, and a happy life. Still…

To err on the side of positive rather than negative; to believe that everything happens for a reason even if the reason doesn’t readily present itself; that everything happens when it’s supposed to; and that gut instincts should always be trusted.

That I am mostly happy and sometimes sad and often stressed and that all of those things and more are what it means to be alive and living it out loud every day.

That there is always something worth celebrating, even on the darkest of days.

That I love and am loved, and that on this Sunday, this mother’s day, this May 13, is the start of something very possible and even probable: another day and another chance to enjoy this life. Cheers.

Celebrating hug-your-furry-family-members day

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:16 PM

The hug is that most human of responses, one we use in both joy and sorrow. We reach out our arms to say hello to a friend we haven’t seen for months, or just since last week. We reach to comfort. We hug our family close, our children closer. We give a perfunctory hug to colleagues. Sometimes we pretend to be so happy to see them we also throw in a little pretend air kiss. But perfunctory hugs are different than other hugs. The arm motion is wrong. The hugger sort of loops his or her forearms through the huggee’s to apply just the smallest amount of pressure to the huggee’s back. A hug given to someone you know and are happy to see is a full-blown expression of love, a big wrap of the arms accompanied by a squeeze.

This is also the kind of hug most people give to their creature-comforts. You know, those of the four-legged and furry variety. Hugging a dog or a cat, or gently giving a squeeze to a puppy or kitten is one of the great joys of being a person, in this writer’s humble opinion. It’s one of the things I miss most about Maguire. I miss so many things of course, but not being able to sit on the floor and put my arms around him is what made National Hug Your Dog day so heartbreaking.

Yes, I’m a day late on celebrating this wondrous day, a day when it’s OK to hug your pup, as if it wasn’t OK any other day. That wondrous day when you shouldn’t wear black because you’re going to be wearing your animal’s fur after engaging in that hug and the person behind you in line at Starbucks will smile knowingly and ask: “How many pets do you have?”

April 10th was National Hug Your Dog day, per Beneful dog food, but according to a survey of U.S. dog owners, 68 percent of respondents actually hug their dogs more than they hug their people. Thirty percent admitted that they hug their dogs more than any of their other family members and 26 percent said that they hug their dogs more than they hug their best friends. Except that dog is often referred to as man’s best friend, so I think that statistic is a bit suspect.

The most cuddly breeds of dogs are evidently cocker spaniels. They require a great deal of human interaction. Retrievers, specifically of the Labrador variety, are also extremely loyal and loving. Beagles, gentle, sweet, sociable creatures that they are, are also highly affectionate. A Bichon Frise is happy to be hugged and hugged often, as is a boxer who gets five out of five paws for affection by WebVet.

My personal feeling is that it doesn’t matter what the breed – Maguire was, after all, a mutt, an adorable concoction of golden retriever/Australian shepherd and maybe some Akita and perhaps a bit of Chow Chow – they’re all infinitely huggable and fabulous.

And if you have a cat, that hardly matters because cats are dogs, too, just more aloof versions. As the saying goes: dogs have owners; cats have staff. But you can have wonderful relationships with people who work for you. Cats love their people and cat people love their cats as much as dog people love their dogs. I had a cat before we got Maguire. I lost her to cancer but I loved that beautiful little girl; I was devastated when she died and I couldn’t hug her anymore. She actually liked to be hugged, to an extent. When I would get home at night, to my townhouse, I would stand in the entrance way and wait for it. Sure enough, after about 30 seconds or so, I’d hear the soft thud as she jumped down from her sleeping position on the corner of my bed. Soon, she’d come slinking down the stairs, meowing the whole way, and then do that great little cat strut over to me, rub against my leg while stiffening her tail. I’d pick her up and she’d put her front paws around my neck, one on either side, and bury her gray and peach-colored fur head under my hair as she purred. She hugged.

Roy and Maguire

Maguire hugged too, by putting his head under my chin and pushing up against me. He was a hugger from the moment we got him, all 10 pounds of stinky fur, burrowing up against my chest and pushing his head up under my neck. As he got older, he did the same thing, though usually when he was sitting and I was sitting next to him. He hugged. I miss those hugs.

Today, I’m celebrating hug-your-furry-family-members day. I celebrate dogs and cats every day, and I celebrate the memory of hugging my boy. I still think he’s here with me sometimes, laying his head against me, hugging me back in the only way he knows how. It gives me a bit of creature-comfort just thinking about it, thinking about him, hugging him still if only in my dreams.

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