Why Write?

In a previous post, I eluded to reasons that explained my passion for chronicling the lives of dogs and the lessons they teach us when we are keen enough to observe and humble enough to listen. This post is along similar lines; however, I hope to explore my motivation for writing in the first place.

When I was younger, cancer consumed four long, arduous, and confusing months of my fragile life. Someone, whom I unfortunately cannot recall, suggested I turn to expressing my feelings through written word. From that day forward, I began to draft intermittent but impassioned prose, venturing to the darkest and brightest corners of my life, begging for answers, and searching for meaning amongst a period of time that felt drenched in obscurity and fear. Writing provided me with a canvas to curse my demons, count my blessings, reject convention, question everything, and spill my weary soul just enough so that I might be able to put it back together the next day. But writing would come to serve as something more than therapeutic as time elapsed.

As I healed from the tragic yet enlightening year that defined my understanding of resilience and reality, I began to see the beauty of language. I had once known it for its ability to soothe my fears and relay my thoughts to a surface of non-judgement, but as I matriculated to college and began my professional life, I began to realize that written words could tell stories that my physical voice could not–I began to understand that my clearest, most focused, and insightful thoughts were best realized on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. I began to see the lasting impact of print, and it struck me that I had also been greatly influenced by the prose of others throughout my entire life.

Whether reading gripping novels or thumbing through The New Yorker for its cartoons, written word tends to move me and evoke emotion in ways that other art forms simply do not. Maybe it is the challenge of ascribing and finding meaning that I am enamored by, or perhaps the ferocity and fearlessness it demands of one to stamp their permanent mark on something that others will view until its ink fades or computers fail. Either way, I am drawn to the medium for reasons I can define and others that remain intangible.

These reasons that inspire my yearning to write, those which I cannot fully grasp, may be exactly what keep me coming back to the art. As E.B. White once said, “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.” If I could convey and transmit just one truth of writing to my students, this would be it. For one to understand and embrace the idea that their thoughts are to be raw, powerful, emotionally charged, and provocative–that is the key to any piece of writing that will someday be worth reading. And I say “someday” because writing begins much like a child enters the world. An infantile state of being, whether portrayed by a newborn child or terribly unrefined first draft, is open to flaw, without blemish, void of judgement, and willing to test boundaries. It is when a child grows that it learns to perceive the world in different ways, and it is in these same stages that a piece of writing demands revision and requires our attention to detail. Much like an artist that first requires a vision, so too does a pen require a pad. Without the most basic of equipment and a desire to work through the painful stages of enlightenment, one cannot expect to expand their world–such is true in accordance with the process of writing and becoming more effective among the trade.

Finally, I write because as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous character, Nick Carraway, narrator of The Great Gatsby, suggested of reserving judgement of others, I believe that writing with intensity and purpose is “a matter of infinite hope.” Hope for days coming that will test one’s resolve, commitment, and general being. Hope for innovation, vision, adaptation to life and its circumstances, and the myriad of fantastic and unfortunate events that will come to present themselves in ways that will demand our better selves to emerge–this better self, for me, is never more present than when my pen hits paper or the tips of my fingers pound relentlessly upon the black keys that transport my inner-most feelings to the screen that reflects more than my words.

For me, writing is an unparalleled form of celebration and articulation of self. My hope is that you feel that in some capacity and choose to think critically of something that has made its way to the page before your eyes.

“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.”

Robin S. Sharma

 

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Lacy Under Drawers: Hunting for…Love

I first received word of Lacy Under Drawers from a friend of mine, Debbie Lawrence. She commented on my initial blog posts and eventually suggested that Lacy, her gorgeous dog depicted in the feature image above, would love some recognition for her presence among the canine community. In the photo above, Lacy is surrounded by Debbie and her husband, and despite the camouflage gear that might indicate a hunting trip, Lacy seeks affection above any wild game.

Debbie noted that when they adopted Lacy at eight weeks old, she initially began to respond to her husband’s hunting retrieval training methods and commands, yet it would not be long until she developed a tireless and devout love for her owners, trumping even her most primitive behavior: retrieval–a trait that dogs of her breed are famous for displaying. Debbie described her husband as “devastated” by Lacy’s refusal to retrieve, noting that she was only interested in “being by his [Debbie’s husband’s] side.” While they suggest that they may have her professionally trained at some point, they currently enjoy the love that she provides and desires despite her apparent lack of interest in traditional hunting roles–though maybe all she was ever really interested in hunting for in the first place was the love that she has now found. And as Debbie put so eloquently, “Isn’t that what we all strive for?”

Ironically, while Lacy currently does not hunt, one of her favorite resting places is within the parameters of her owner’s hunting bag (above, middle photo). Dogs have a way of sending us interesting and compelling messages, and maybe this is an example. While she presently does not hunt, perhaps she is warming herself up to the idea by spending time and immersing herself within her owner’s hunting bag. Maybe she wants to be a part of epic hunting trips, surveying the woods and retrieving game like so many of her friends, but maybe she wants to do so on her own time. Sure, this might fly in the face of conventional wisdom or sound far-fetched, and I certainly offer no scientific evidence to support my theory, but as a teacher of literature, I often refer to the famous line inked by Romantic author Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous essay “Self-Reliance” that suggests complexity of being and the sometimes hidden element of one’s true self. Emerson notes, “To be great is to be misunderstood.”

And so it may be perplexing to many that a hunting dog apparently lacks interest in hunting, but as previously suggested, maybe Lacy is on the hunt for something else that transcends any wooded adventure. Maybe she is on the trail for an unbreakable bond with her owners, a type of connection that makes it difficult to chase down a bird when you’d rather lean firmly against the family that provides you love, shelter, warmth, and compassion. Maybe she simply feels a need to show a great deal of gratitude and loyalty before indulging in her most primal behavior. For as any unselfish being understands, to serve oneself is to strengthen oneself, but to serve another is to declare their worth as equal or greater than their own. Dogs like Lacy seem to embody this ideal.

Speaking of ideals, there is something to be said for standing one’s ground. Abraham Lincoln once stated, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” At first glance, this quote may appear to have little or no connection to the aforementioned thoughts regarding Lacy and her relationship with Debbie and her husband; however, a deeper glance may reveal something more. Garnering love, trust, respect, and loyalty by exhibiting and practicing these very traits in her interactions with her owners seems to be Lacy’s recipe for establishing the connections she desires. By placing her feet firmly among the values and in the ground that she elects to live into, she has sent a transparent message of love and affection for all those willing to notice. Let us remember that such intentionality in building relationships is not exclusive to humans–in fact, we could often look to canines for such sage examples of sacrifice and selflessness.

“It is not sacrifice if you love what you’re doing.”

-Mia Hamm

Why Dogs?

After hastily but passionately chronicling the adventures of nine deserving dogs, I have paused over the past week to consider my motivations. Why do I write about our four-legged companions? Why not other people? Why not myself? Simple: I admire the behaviors and traits of dogs more than men–they [dogs] seem more in tune with their being and project a sense of non-discriminatory acceptance for others.

Maybe Mark Twain said it best when he suggested, “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” In light of this statement, I am forced to evaluate the relationship that I have with my dogs. In momentary fits of anger and misguided frustration, I have scolded Bo and Simba for simple things. Failing to come when called, becoming overly rambunctious when I am utterly exhausted, or wandering endlessly at 1 1 p.m. in search of the perfect defecation destination–these are but a few examples of innocent canine behavior that have, at times, tested my patience and revealed a side of me that I am not proud to display. And how have my dogs reacted? They have  dropped their tails between their legs in fear of my loud voice and disapproval, yet they continually seek love despite my irrational, selfish, and perplexing behavior. Now, if you find yourself astonished by these revelations, stop and ask yourself, “Have I ever lost my cool? Have I ever yelled at my dog? My kid? My friend? My spouse?” If your answer is no, tell me your secrets, Jedi master.

Despite my growing pains as a dog owner, I can say definitively that I have matured tremendously since a moment of epiphany presented itself a few years ago: Those under my supervision and care will behave in accordance to my ways, and our relationship will thus be defined and developed. They, whether canine or child, will take their cues from me, and they will seek my guidance in moments of clarity and those more obscure. These truths have been especially true regarding my relationship with my older Labrador, Bo. He and I have had epic battles wherein we both displayed our stubborn nature. These standoffs included driveway stare downs, front yard protests, and late night meandering among the yard when all I wanted was to go to sleep. Now, we still have our standoffs from time to time, but they are less frequent, and I am able to handle them differently because I am intentional in assessing the situation and reacting in ways that promote the strengthening of our relationship. In short, I am less quick to judge and more open to understanding.

When I took time to discover that Bo’s protests were almost exclusively a product of his desire for more attention, I felt somewhat guilty. It had been easy for me to devote more face time to Simba because as a puppy, he [Simba] was always walking by my side, dropping tennis balls at my feet, and extending his paws toward me for what we have decided must be dog hugs. So, much like an older child that might be feeling the pangs of the attention that their younger sibling might be receiving for whatever reason, dogs too can feel overlooked and undervalued.

The messages that we send to our dogs are clear and direct, and they often tend to pick up on the vibes we emit before we know we have delivered them. These revelations and apparent truths have allowed me to see a bigger picture: The conclusions I have arrived at regarding the nature of the relationships that I share with my dogs have impacted my outlook in other areas of my life. For the struggles that I have endured in building trust and respect among the four-legged constituents residing within my home, I am a better man. For the challenges faced under duress, I am a more patient and caring person. For the times that presented unknown scenarios requiring my humility and grace, I am a better teacher, and for the moments requiring my love and loyalty above all else, I am a better husband.

If my experiences have taught me anything, it is that I am to be eternally open to and welcoming of the uncertainties of life that subconsciously define our attitudes and approaches to our small but extraordinarily important day-to-day interactions. And the more that I read about and study the nature of love, I am forced to reflect on its presence in my life and the desire that I have to consistently humble myself to its multitude of manifestations–for the love that we enjoy and know as beautiful will also challenge us to our core, and for that very reason we must hold as firm to its presence when days are dark as when the sun seems to know no bound.

As Sigmund Freud poetically noted, “Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is.” Assuming we can detach ourselves from the myriad of distractions that sometimes impede our vision of what arguably matters most to our existence, Freud may have a point that has led me to a strong and inevitable conclusion: Love requires our work, and if the two are to harmoniously co-exist, our work must be done with love and relentless passion.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jetjet: Perfect Timing

Jetjet is a Border Collie/Lab mix. Naturally, I am a fan. I have been around Jetjet only a handful of times, but I have learned that she, like so many dogs, wants to be friends with those possessing a pulse and offering a smile. She is a beautiful dog, and her owner, Sarah, takes very good care of her. This is why I was so shocked when Sarah told me about Jetjet’s first two years of life.

Some of the most basic needs that any person or animal yearns for include shelter, food, and water. Jetjet had these things at the Fort Mill Humane Society, but she did not have her forever home. To make life more difficult, Jetjet’s two sisters and four brothers had been adopted very shortly after arriving at Fort Mill, leaving Jetjet undoubtedly feeling scared, alone, and unwanted, despite the fact that her basic needs were being met by a friendly and caring staff. Insert Sarah into the equation and one can now entertain the all too familiar bumper sticker, “Who saved who?”

Sarah told me that she first sought a canine companion after she completed her sophomore year of college. She had experienced a bit of frustration and decided to take time off school and begin working. Hours on the job may have occupied Sarah’s time, but not her soul–that would come the moment she met her dog. She describes her first encounter with Jetjet along the following terms, “I rounded the corner [at Fort Mill] and there sat Jetjet all alone in her kennel and with her one ear sticking straight up and down and the other bent over. As soon as she saw me she began to wag her tail. I knew then she was my dog.” When I read this in the form of a text message, it nearly brought tears to my eyes, but not for obvious reasons.

Jetjet’s new life with Sarah is enough to warm my heart, but I was dually inspired and moved by how much of an impact Jetjet was able to immediately impress upon Sarah. Sometimes the support we need comes in forms we are unprepared to recognize. Her story of her adoption of Jetjet reminds me all too well of a frustrating time in my own life wherein my childhood dog provided unconditional love and acceptance–feelings Sarah undoubtedly shares with Jetjet to this day.

It seems that Sarah and Jetjet found one another at a perfect time. Little did Sarah know that while she was saving the necessary donation money for her adoption of her loveable pup, Jetjet had fallen into depression and stopped eating for a period of one week. Though when it seemed dark and desperate for the jet black furball, Sarah came back with the money needed to make their adventures together legit. From that day forward, Jetjet was Sarah’s dog, and she no longer had to worry about when her forever home would finally come to fruition. She was adopted and rejuvenated, and she indubitably provided some of that same relief for Sarah, allowing both to put past frustrations to rest and look forward to many walks, belly rubs, and silly adventures.

Stories like this remind us that dogs can provide a feeling of security and love that at least appears unrivaled. Maybe it is their own desire to be recipients of these values or ideals that makes them so capable of exhibiting such traits with unparalleled determination and consistency. Dogs like Jetjet, with her resilience and unaffected love, remind me of these features that our four-legged friends possess. We could learn a thing or two from them.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

-Roger Caras

Action Jackson: Canine Crusader

Jackson belongs to a friend and colleague of mine, and as far as I can tell, he lives a fairly bodacious lifestyle. Whether enjoying time on his hoverboard like Marty McFly or lounging in the pool and waiting for the babes to show up, Action Jackson is always up to something totally and inherently rad.

Jackson might not be host to the largest frame, but don’t tell him that. I’ve seen him frolic through fields of grass like a Budweiser Clydesdale. He’s even been spotted strutting his stuff on The Church Farm School campus, inviting onlookers and anyone with a hand that is willing to pet him. Attention is his friend, and the two have been good buddies for some time.

I’m not entirely sure how he earned the nickname “Action Jackson,” but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with his capacity for constant movement and his surprising speed. Nicole, his owner, had told me about his speed on many occasions, but until I saw him dart across the Church Farm acreage in true Flash Gordon style, I didn’t actually understand his running abilities–dude can fly.

I’ve also been informed that Jackson has a love for snow. As you can see in the image above, his hops rival those found in most IPAs. Nicole told me that he “hops through snow higher than he is–like a bunny.”#smalldogproblems. No big deal though, for Action Jackson has been taking on the big world around him with an even bigger personality. He shares his house with other pets, even a cat, and so far he hasn’t eaten anyone else, even the feline of the group. Maybe this doesn’t impress most people, but I’m pretty sure that my dogs would have had some snacks by now if they lived with a cat.

And so the legend of Jackson grows: a relatively small but adventurous dog with a heart three times the size his body, and an appetite for speed and rabbit-like movement. What will the action-packed canine conquer next? Niagara Falls? The Nile River? Mount Everest? Whatever he chooses, we will all be mere spectators to the wondrous and lively energy that the young  pup delivers with unwavering force. The rest of us are simply living in Action Jackson’s world–a fact of life he already knows.

“I get up in the morning looking for an adventure.”

-George Foreman

 

The Redemptive Power of Faith

All of the photos obtained and displayed among this post are courtesy of DCL (Animal Planet/Discovery Channel) and depict moments from Season 4 of Animal Planet’s popular show “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” a series that highlights the day to day operations of Villalobos Rescue Center (VRC) and its mission to provide refuge, care, and adoptive services to Pit Bulls in desperate need of rescue.

The feature image at the top of this post depicts two pit bulls, a parolee named Earl, and Mariah, the daughter of VRC founder, Tia Torres. I chose this photo for the feature because I believe it communicates the best of what VRC sets out to achieve. In this photo, Grizzly, the adorable brown Pit Bull nestled closely to Earl, is encountering his first day out on the streets of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter. What is amazing about this seemingly ordinary photo is that Earl and Mariah had been tasked to expose Grizzly to the streets of the Quarter because his potential adopter frequented this area, so they wanted to ensure that Grizzly could handle the hustle and bustle of busy New Orleans streets. This pre-adoption exercise might sound like common due diligence, but VRC appears first and foremost to be a sanctuary for Pits, hosting hundreds of dogs and tending to their medical, social, and emotional needs. Yet amid all of these services rendered, the Rescue Center does its best to make sure that even when a dog leaves its grounds, it does so under proper and healthy circumstances. VRC goes as far as to perform home checks, often traveling out of state to bring dogs to their prospective homes and owners.

Still, what remains a controversial point, and one that is stressed time and time again by Torres and her staff throughout the series, is that many people fret at the mention of “Pit Bull.” The show’s introductory message notes that this breed, although often portrayed as highly aggressive, is actually one of the most “misunderstood.” This was something that I had heard from Pit Bull owners prior to viewing “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” but I had never spent much time with the breed or witnessed many Pits interacting with other dogs or people. Unfortunately, my view of Pits had been previously informed and defined by media outlets and the stories they chose to run and images they selected and deemed worthy of public viewership–particularly stories of dog fighting rings and photos and videos of Pit Bulls chained to poles, trees, sheds, and other objects, as they stared menacingly into the camera. What I did not know then is that in many of these cases, these dogs had been trained, coerced, or forced to survive under inhumane and unjust circumstances. Still, perception remains reality in the eyes of many, and media outlets attract heavy viewership and phenomenal ratings from such grotesque and sometimes misleading stories.

In light of some of our dominant culture’s views and portrayals of Pit Bulls, what is often overlooked is the rehabilitation of such dogs–while some Pits never fully recover or trust other dogs and/or humans, many Pits make full recoveries and seek love, affection, and basic needs, just like other dogs that we commonly adore. And the horrific accounts of Pits that we are frequently exposed to fail to recognize the thousands of Pit Bulls that exist among our nation and world in loving homes, as many provide playful and loyal affection for their owners much like a Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Boxer, Bulldog, or any other dog breed regularly recognized for its affinity for people and families.

Images below illustrate more moments from Season 4 of “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” and one cannot help but notice the innocence and desire for safety, love, and a consistent lifestyle that these dogs desire. From being rescued from adverse circumstances to undergoing medical exams and finally interacting with members of Torres’ staff and meeting potential adopters, the Pits of VRC have seen and experienced a lot.

While the highlight of this post has been the operations of VRC, its beautiful and redemptive mission, and of course the Pits the Center exists for in the first place, I would be telling only half of the story if I were to overlook the prerequisites for employment at VRC: must have criminal record. Come again? While most employers will explicitly note that potential employees must have a clean record, Torres seeks parolees in hopes of providing them a chance if they display a passion for the work and dedication to the job. Sensing a common theme?

Possibly the most refreshing element of this story is its faith. Torres and her staff transmit an energy that suggests they believe in the value of those left behind, those trying to make amends for past transgressions, and everyone in between. If this does not provide a sense of hope and faith in restorative justice and new beginnings, then little or nothing does. While I am cognizant of other rescue missions and noble causes, I could think of no other that touches my heart the way Torres’ operation and intention to stand up for and believe in a breed of dog and demographic of man that are all too often blindly judged and overlooked.

Certainly, and like anything else, not everything works out as planned at VRC–but Torres’ ongoing vision would not be an operation of profound faith and hope if its outcomes were predetermined. The vulnerability that she and her staff expose themselves to can be likened to that of the dogs they rescue, and it might be in that common bond that they forge understanding and resolve to push through the darkness that brought them together in the first place.

“What I absolutely want is to suggest that before it’s anything else, redemption is God mending the bicycle of our souls; God bringing out the puncture repair kit, re-inflating the tires, taking off the rust, making us roadworthy once more. Not so that we can take flight into ecstasy, but so that we can do the next needful mile of our lives.”

-Francis Spufford

For more information on Villalobos Rescue Center, including contact information, you can visit their website: Villalobos Rescue Center

 

Bella: Princess Wild Card

I first met Bella when she was just a puppy. My buddy from high school had adopted her when she was only a few months old, and even then she was an energetic, clumsy, and sweet little lady all bundled into one lanky, uncoordinated, young pup body. Fast forward a little more than three years, and Bella has recently moved in with my sister-in-law Chris and her husband, Andy. She now has a brother, Miles (Office Linebacker), and is quickly learning the ropes that he has known for some time. Yet that is only one side of the coin–we are all learning the ropes that Bella knew before warming up to us, too.

Bella has an insatiable curiosity. Whether it be a toy, a large bowl of water or food, or even a box of bran flakes–like the one that she and her three Lab friends managed to recently devour, she is willing to indulge in life’s many treats. She’s also no stranger to a fast paced game of fetch, typically outpacing her brother with Usain Bolt like legs and a bull-in-a-china-shop sort of fearless abandon. As the only female of the group (the group otherwise including Bo, Miles, and Simba), she has quickly made an overwhelming and special impression in the mere months that she has been with Chris, Andy, and Miles.

Bella, perhaps more than any of the aforementioned Labs that we have come to know, simply wants affection. And true to her Labrador demeanor, she will do many things to garner that attention and love, including laying on top of you with disregard for her size, retrieving and showcasing each and every item from the toy basket, and whimpering if you leave her alone for too long. She is undeniably a princess, and since we are still learning so much about her and her emerging personality, we are fondly dubbing her the “Wild Card” of the group, as so poignantly noted by Andy.

Maybe Bella is new to the group, but the group is also new to Bella. We have already learned much from her, and she has brought countless smiles to our lives that will continue to flourish throughout her days. We also know that she will continue to bring smiles to the faces of her Labrador buddies Bo, Miles, and Simba, as they have been more than happy to accept another beautiful pup into their club, even competing for her attention from time to time, but what would you expect from a group of boys? Sometimes a wild card brings out the best in everyone else.

“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.”

-Nate Berkus

 

Miles: Office Linebacker

The first thing you need to know about Miles is that he is one of the sweetest, most affectionate dogs that one will ever encounter. He loves belly rubs and games of fetch, and he doesn’t mind cuddling either. That being said, he does not mind confrontation one bit. Now, this is not to suggest that he is an aggressive dog–far from it. Instead, Miles, like Terry Tate of one of Reebok’s famous ad campaigns, can pack heat and lay a friendly whoopin’ on his dog buddies. Don’t know what I mean? Stop reading for a minute and view this short video before proceeding: Terry Tate: Office Linebacker.

Okay, good. Now that we have established the hilarious, powerful, and linebacker-esque side of Miles, we can proceed. I call him Terry Tate because he loves to run full speed and collide with his brother and litter mate, Simba, our yellow lab. Quick update: Simba belongs to me and my wife, Tara, and Miles belongs to Tara’s sister, Christine, and her husband, Andy. When the two dogs were young, they would see each other once or twice a month, and like male dogs sometimes do, they would try their hardest to establish dominance. For Simba, this meant retrieving tennis balls before Miles could get to them, and for Miles, it meant watching Simba grab the tennis ball, calculating the necessary speed and angle to lay a Terry Tate-like sack on him, and executing the plan. The two were inseparable and still are to this day, but more on Miles.

Being a litter mate to Simba, we know that Miles also traveled from Michigan to arrive in Pennsylvania. This explains his name–since he journeyed so far to be with Chris and Andy, they so aptly named him “Miles.” I sometimes call him Kilometers, which elicits a turn of his head and a confused look, which is appropriate given my sometimes confusing and bizarre nature. Dogs love me because I’m less intelligent than they are. This is especially true for Miles, as he has a special tendency to hear me say, “Want to play?” while moments later he fails to hear me utter, “Time to come inside.” He can protest as well as any dog. “Let me drop to the ground and hoard as many tennis balls as possible,” he must think to himself, all the while deriving pleasure from watching me stand at the doorstep, arms crossed, eyes rolling, thinking, “Come on, man. Cut me a break.” I guess he is just waiting for Chris or Andy to come and tell him the exact same thing; he tends to listen then! We’ve come a long way though–he’d admit that if you asked.

Perhaps the coolest thing about Miles is his love for darts. You could place a raw steak, a box of tennis balls, a squirrel, and an old slipper right next to him, but if he sees you pick up a dart, you will have his attention until the end of time. His devotion to the game extends beyond participating as a fan. In one case, a dart hit the metal ring that surrounds the edge of the board, and it proceeded to careen downward, landing between his shoulder blades. This was the moment that I knew he and Simba were brothers–much like the time that Simba gashed his own head open on the stucco siding of our home and went on to smile, wag his tail, and drop the tennis ball at our feet in hopes that we could continue to play, Miles stood happily, wagging his tail, smiling up at me and Andy, waiting for one of us to pull the dart from his backside. Just like Terry Tate, Miles knows how to play hurt.

Though he is not my dog, I love him just as much as any four legged pup that has carved a special place in my heart. I know that I can count on him to toughen up Simba, track darts, and behave in other lab-like ways that touch the soul of any true dog lover. Miles may have earned his name through travel, but he earned our adoration through his unparalleled love and loyalty.

“A dog is the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself.”

Josh Billings

 

Reese: A Boxer in a Pup’s Body

The first time that I met Reese, she weighed only a few pounds and stood mightily on her hind legs, flailing her playful paws in my direction like a young Joe Frazier. If she were a large dog, I would have corrected this behavior, but seeing that she would be lucky to knock out incoming fruit flies, I warmly accepted the challenge. We boxed regularly in her early years, as I would sometimes pup-sit her while my sister, Jen, and her now wife, Kristin, tended to professional matters.

See, I was in college when Jen and Kristin brought Reese home (nearly seven years ago); thus I garnered few real world responsibilities. My day to day routine included writing essays, reading books, playing baseball, hanging with my bros, and sleeping–it was a daunting lifestyle. Playing with Reese was a welcomed and joyful task, but in her early days, I had to be very careful with her. Reese is not a boxer in a pup’s body simply because of her jab, cross, and uppercut skills, but also because she went toe-to-toe with a rather gnarly case of Parvo, a serious intestinal virus that can easily take the life of any dog affected by its woeful nature.

In many ways, the small but resilient Pomeranian Fox-Terrier reminds me of Philly’s beloved Rocky Balboa. Other than failing to possess turtles named Cuff and Link, and void of a relationship with a woman named Adrian and a trainer named Mick, Reese is a similar underdog. She was given slim chances for survival, comparable to those that any sane viewer of the Rocky series would have given Balboa when watching him receive skull-bashing blow after rib-blasting shot, yet she managed to pull herself through the unfortunate circumstances that defined her first few months of existence.

Now, as Reese transitions into her middle-aged years, she is busy training an up and coming warrior: William Hohn. The youngster from Upper Darby is already maturing into a stellar Fisher-Price basketball legend, and one cannot help but cite Reese’s role as mentor and coach for the toddler’s progression. Like every great champion, regardless of their arena or particular trade, Reese must pass the torch that she shouldered so well for so long, as she has appropriately and deservingly earned her retirement from the featherweight division that she dominated for years.

Never underestimate the hunger that one might have for the world and life they desire. In this case, Reese wanted nothing more than a chance to experience the world she was born into, and she fought for every second of what she now enjoys. Her battle was her own, but it was noted and supported by all of those in her corner.

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

-Marie Curie

Lance: A Scrappy Hot Dog

When I was sixteen, I experienced a few difficult months. Stage 4B testicular cancer had reshaped my body, spirit, and worldview. Over time, I found peace and solace in family, friends, and new found vision. However, in the immediate days following my treatments, I struggled to find meaning and purpose. My parents did everything they could to improve my outlook, and they were stellar in that capacity, but what really helped pull me out of a dark place was a pint-sized dachshund that we named Lance.

Named in honor of Lance Armstrong, famed cyclist and now notorious social figure, our dachshund possessed a similar tenacity to that of the Tour de France victor. However, that is likely where the comparison ends. I highly doubt that Armstrong barks relentlessly at inanimate objects and obscure noises, digs fervently between his washer and dryer units until otherwise distracted, or is baited from such situations with dog treats or “Scooby Snacks” as Lance has come to know them.

Beyond Lance’s territorial, obsessive, and relentless behavior exists a compassionate, loyal, and understanding dog. While he may sometimes defiantly urinate on personal belongings or in his self-proclaimed areas of the home, he will also lay with you, protect you with every bit of his fifteen pound frame, and affectionately steal your shoes and socks. For years I witnessed his antics, and as he is now well into his elderly years, I am coming to appreciate the short but meaningful life that he lives. While he resides within the confines of a beautiful home and spacious backyard–one that would feel small to a larger dog but likely represents itself as an endless farm to Lance, the impression he has made on our family, and the unconditional love that he showered me with during difficult times, will extend beyond any parameters that he will likely ever know or see.

The scrappy hot dog will probably only get scrappier in his golden years. He sometimes shows shades of his youth, and he also has his senior moments, but to me, he will always be the puppy that our family brought home in a cardboard box over a decade ago.

“Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.” -Diogenes of Sinope, Greek Philosopher