I speak dog

It’s been almost two weeks since I came home and found Sunshine unable to stand and in the midst of some type of seizure. It’s been nearly two weeks since I had to put her to sleep.

It’s been almost one week since I acquired another dog, this one a 25-pound fluff ball that is allegedly a Australian Cattle Dog, a “blue heeler”. He’s currently dragging around a knot in his mouth and batting a lacrosse ball across the living floor with his paws. Multi-tasking, I guess.

I hadn’t meant to get a new dog quite so quickly. And I wasn’t sure if I should. But the puppy needed a home and I needed a dog, and well, sometimes that’s all it takes. His coat came in black and his tail looks like he dipped it in a bucket of white paint. He has tan paws and a grey speckled nose. Who knows what color he will be in six months. He’s soft and wicked smart. When we walk somewhere new, he puts himself in my footsteps (heeling, herding me) with his little ears cocked all serious, trying to keep track of his charge.

I need for you to understand how completely different this animal is than my Sunshine. But this season of my life, preparing for a wedding and to join lives with someone else, is totally different than the one I just left. Fitting, I guess, that Sunshine would take leave of me at this particular point.

This new dog, Helo (the Helo monster, Little Fluffybutt, Mr. Barky Pants), is our dog. We, the couple, A and me, had to have a series of conversations about whether I was getting a new dog before we get hitched, when we were getting hitched, what kind of dog was I going to get that was going to be allowed to live in the house, what did he want in a dog, what did I want in a dog, what were we going to feed it, who was going to be its vet, blah blah blah…Exhausting and totally foreign.

I haven’t had to ask someone about what I want to do in my personal life (other than my priest or out of politeness) for most of my years now. Totally strange to have to do it … I told my sister that some of those conversations were like Sunshine’s last gift to me, prompted by her death and the impact that her dog soul had on my life. Those conversations grew me, grew the relationship and I know I’m not any good at having them, or even thinking about having them.

I told my sister about how it seems God knows I speak dog, not in a wow-is-she-a-really-good-dog-trainer way, but in the way that I learn more from them, or find they prompt some strange spiritual work in me that may not get done othewise.

The Sunshine season of my life, as I outlined earlier, was a place where I carved out space for myself to rest and to trust, something made so much easier by her calm and easy way, her love of naps and the way she just was happy hanging out.

I’m not sure what the Helo season is going to look like, but it’s already busier and I’m spending less time on the couch. It’s going to be a season of more intention and conversation, of better planning and discipline and it is the first thing A and I have done together.

He’s given up on the lacrosse ball (thankfully) and is now gnawing on a rawhide A bought him. I wonder what he’ll teach me tomorrow.

P.S. I’m using the Monks of New Skete‘s methods to work with him (Orthodox dog…)

On my friend

Ed. note: Sunshine died today (Jan. 13) at about 2:20. She died peacefully, with her head in my arms, hearing as she drifted off what a wonderful and good dog she was.

Once upon a time, I used to write obituaries. (Most real reporters have. If you haven’t, well…) Sometimes I still do. Big newspapers have ready-to-go obits, works in progress for really important people who, when they die, are going to require a lot of attention –like the Pope, the President, etc.

This is one of those obituaries, one I’m writing while my eyes are relatively tear-free. This is for Sunshine, my dog. She has not died, yet, but her time here with me is drawing to a close. I write this, not just in tribute to a really cool dog I’ve had the privilege of hanging out with for the past six years, but to give thanks to God for those things He brings into our lives to change us, to save us even.

I told my now-fiance A last night as we sat in my living room trying to figure out what to do with her that she was responsible for helping to bring much of what I have into my life — my house, my fiance and my emotional health. I believe these things are all true. For whatever reason, God used that really cool dog as an agent of change in my life and I am forever grateful.

Sunshine, Madame Fuzzy Fanny, Miss Barky-Pants, my sweet pea and fur friend, the honey bear and S-dog…has had a really good life, I think. She’s done things, gone places that most dogs never get to do. For the first year I had her (she was about six), she was the official newshound of the Journal Gazette’s west bureau. She came to work with me, slept under my desk, snoozed in the bureau kitchen, made me go for a walk in downtown Columbia City every afternoon around 4:30 and wagged her tail whenever I came back to the office.

She covered fires, floods, tornadoes, city councils, school boards and jury trials. Often sources figured out (I told them) she was outside and would often go out and say hi. The mayor of Decatur loved her because they had the same hair color. The police chief of Bluffton went so far one day as to go and take her from my car and put her in the police department. When I came to the police department, I saw my dog and the police chief trotting down the hall back to her office. We were looking for treats, she said. Later she told me she had just put her own dog down and could not resist enjoying an afternoon with a dog, any dog. Sunshine was snoozing under her desk while we talked.

She watched my back on those early morning web shifts from hell, including the recent wrenching morning that involved the fruitless search for the little girl. Sunshine always offered her ears for scratching and belly for rubbing after I had a long day at the courthouse. She listened as I swore and grumbled about my job. She chewed her rawhides with enthusiasm, rubbed her face with her paws when she was excited and buried bones throughout the yard, usually on Sundays.

Knowing she was soon to be my dog made it easier to break up with my Italian #*(&$% boyfriend, necessary for my emotional survival. I bought my house so she’d have more places to bury her bones. I took a chance on dating because, well, why not, the dog worked out so well.

But most importantly, and this goes back to those pills I take every day, she provided me an amazingly safe place to do the work I needed to do to get well. The VA prescribes dogs to veterans with PTSD. My therapist did the same back in the day for me. And for about seven months, Sunny came with me to every session, snoozing under Annie’s desk while we talked.

She was not a particularly well-behaved dog. She was extremely lazy, and people often mistook it for a desire to please. She really couldn’t give much of a crap. If she determined that the cost of moving (committing the sin) was outweighed by the benefit (eating the apple pie on Thanksgiving), well then, she’d do it. If not, forget it. She never, ever came when she was called and was horrible on leash.

But she loves me. And I love her. And for some reason that dog was brought into my life to work for my salvation. I have no doubt that she did just that. Should she pass on tonight, and go chase bunnies in the eternal back yard, I know that my life has been so much better because of that really cool dog.

Thanks, old girl.

On a familiar theme

Or actions have consequences, late 2011 edition.

I’m sure you hadn’t heard the news, what with the holidays and the recess appointments and the Iowa clown car, I mean caucus. So in case you didn’t, here you go.

The tauntaun made a bad choice New Year’s day and ate Princess Leia. As my 3-year-old nephew explained it, the tauntaun did not do what he was supposed to do, which was protect her, instead helping the tiger to eat her.

“But she’s ok. She came back to life,” he said as he made the tauntaun climb the door frame on the sun porch.

Well, thank the Force.

Most of our choices don’t have a complete reversal, especially if they’re tragic.

As I wrapped up the tauntaun the day before (we do our Christmas on New Year’s weekend), I was so mad I could spit. I intended to buy L a different present, as well as a more deliberate choice for my new month-old niece MM.

But I never got to the store last week for Christmas shopping or groceries. I ran out of milk, orange juice and patience as I chased the worst story I’d ever covered and the worst I hope I ever cover. It’s not over, so it will continue to aggravate the #*$(& out of me, but whatever. The bad choices of that guy spread out like so many ripples in a shallow pond after a boulder falls into it. The cops missed their Christmas with their families searching for that little girl. Normal people throughout the community prayed and hoped beyond reason for her safe return. And I sat and listened on the scanner to the fruitless hunt, lit a candle, had a good cry and knew in my heart she was dead. But all that work, hours and hours of chronicling the madness (I told one of my judges I felt like a carnival barker in hell…step right up and see the freak show), left me without the time and the emotional energy to engage in my own joy.

Thank God, seriously, I realized that was happening. It only took a day or two to figure out how to deal with it, put it aside for the time being and join in the celebration of so many recent blessings in my life and the lives of my sisters. I sit here now, on the tail end of a week off, nearly ready to go back to work. I know, though, that that one choice made by that mom to put her child in the care of that one guy, who made the choice to do what he did will continue to ripple throughout my own life, professionally and personally. I know it’s going to wear me out, make me cry, make me pissed off and make me spend time in the basement with my heavy bag, hitting the only thing I can.

The little princess didn’t come back from this one. I give thanks knowing that my sister is raising that little boy to understand that bad choices have consequences. And in spite of the resurrection of Leia and the rehabilitation of the tauntaun, L knows some things aren’t made right.


2011 in review (blog-wise)

I blogged a lot more this year and mostly out of necessity. As I was inspired by my friends at the MKs blog, struggled to wrap my head around the stuff I see everyday and continued to work to be a better Christian, blogging finally became nearly a necessity on some days. There’s more I could have said and probably some I shouldn’t have said. This is a teeny-tiny blog, but it provides me with something I guess I need. Thanks for indulging me. To those of you who interacted with me here and elsewhere, thank you.


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.