The Sting of Shame

My cockapoo Scooby Doo is kind of an asshole. He’s barky and anxious and prone to dragging his butt across the carpet (and licking his weiner obsessively but why pile on to the poor guy?) Trust me, I’m well aware of his shortcomings. In fact, we’ve had him to multiple dog trainers over the 9 years of his life and he remains the same stressed-out canine he has always been. My sister is convinced he was dropped on his head as a puppy and should wear a dog-sized medical alert collar with the warning: “Mental Problems”. And she’s right.

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As a sidenote- I should mention that he’s also adorable and super loving and gentle- and has never met a person of any age that he didn’t adore within minutes. And if you’ve got a treat he’ll be your best friend for life.

Scooby is also my running buddy. Bless his little doggy heart – he politely walks along beside me as I huff and puff down the sidewalk. Recently we were out for a run when I spotted a neighbour walking his dog up ahead of us. Although this man is not an acquaintance, I’d certainly seen him pass by my house many times. “Uh-oh,” I thought to myself “my jerky dog is sure to freak out.” Scooby is especially nervous around big dogs and compensates by barking his fool head off.

Anyhow – we crossed the road to avoid a scene. But true to form, Scooby started making a fuss. I smiled sheepishly and stammered out a lame apology: “I’m so sorry . He’s harmless, just hopelessly insecure.” The man literally stopped in his tracks, crossed his arms over his belly, glared at me and shook his head slowly back and forth. At first I thought he was joking but he locked onto my eyes and continued with the silent reprimand…and I swear even his majestic-looking golden retriever scoffed at the horrid behaviour of my ill-behaved Scooby Doo and his unfortunate/negligent/shameful owner.

For a second I was frozen to the spot. My face burned bright red. And then instead of saying a word, Scooby and I both hurried off with our tails between our legs.

By the time I returned home, my embarrassment had turned to anger. How dare he?! That old fart had some nerve criticizing me and my dog! It didn’t take long for my anger to turn to meanness and I launched into a full-on personal attack. My husband sipped his coffee with his head down as I raged against this smug/self-important/holier-than-thou dog owner.

After I finally calmed down I came to a sobering realization- the real reason I was so upset was because this reprimand from a stranger made me feel something I’d rather avoid – shame. If I’m being completely honest, I feel a deep shame at the way my dog sometimes behaves. I feel like a failure as a dog owner and that is really, truly embarrassing.

Yes we’ve had him to multiple dog trainers – but did my husband and I follow through on all of the things we learned? Nope. Did we heed the advice to make him sleep in a crate? Judging by the sight of his furry butt at the foot of my bed I’d say no to that one too. Did we spend the time teaching him how to properly walk on a leash? Or to not beg for food? No and no. And the list just goes on.

I recently overheard a friend talking about an encounter she’d had with another canine and how appalled she was that this dog’s owner would allow her misbehaved pooch to bark at her perfectly well-trained pet. I nodded politely but inside, I immediately felt a kinship with the other owner (I also silently wondered if the bad dog ever eats his own poop and decided I must track them down. I have a feeling we have lots in common 🙂

Certainly I’m not condoning bad behaviour – but this experience has made me realize how often shame and judgement (intentionally or unintentionally) creeps into our conversations:

“I can’t believe how much time that mom let’s her kids spend on electronics! We only let our kids spend 1 hour a week on their ipads.” 

“That school is such a dump – I would never let my kids go there!”

“I only eat organic food. As far as I’m concerned- people who eat non-organic are poisoning their bodies.”

“I could never get a divorce – it’s too damaging for the children.”

When we hold ourselves and our own choices “above” one other – whether it pertains to dog ownership or anything else- we creative a gaping divide between us that is filled up with shame. Can you imagine how much healthier our culture would be if we could meet each other with honesty, empathy and understanding when we talk about the hard and messy stuff of life – like parenting, relationships, careers, eating, exercising, marriage, religion, politics and barky dogs?

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A few weeks later, Scooby and I were racing down the street adjacent to our house when I spotted the man and his dog at the end of the road. I felt a bit nervous as we drew closer but our meeting happened to coincide with a neighbourhood search for a lost dog. “Hi.” I said tentatively as our paths converged. I gripped Scooby’s leash tightly. “Did you hear that there is a dog missing?” I blurted out. “If you don’t mind – would you keep an eye out for him on your walk.” I braced myself for another reprimand as Scooby started to growl – I was quite sure the man had been replaying our previous encounter over in his mind too and was ready to attack.

“Oh yah” he said “I did hear about that. I’ll keep a look out.” He sounded fairly amiable but by this time, Scooby’s growls had turned to barking. “Listen,” I said preemptively, “I get the impression that you are somehow annoyed with me and my dog.” He looked genuinely confused but I pressed on- “I realize he’s not the best behaved but I can assure you that he would never hurt you or your dog.” 

“Ok” he said dismissively – I could tell he was anxious to get on with his walk and away from Scooby and I. “You know” I said, mustering up my courage “It really hurt my feelings when you shook your head at me the other day. I know I’m not the best dog owner but we are neighbours and I hope we can treat each other with respect.” I had to force myself to meet his eyes and was surprised to find the man smiling at me. I half expected us to come together in a big bear hug…but he simply grinned and carried on with his walk.

Perhaps not the most cathartic of endings for me or you – but since then, this man and I have run into each other several times. And he always offers me a kind smile and friendly “Hello”. He even bent down to pat Scooby on the head on a recent run.

I don’t know for sure, but I half suspect that when I was able to be honest with myself about my shame, maybe he was able to release some of his judgement. Or maybe he forgot all about our first encounter and simply thinks I’m a crazy person with an annoying dog. Both explanations are kind of true really.

Will the “man” and I ever be best friends? No. But I feel like we have come to a silent understanding and kinship. I almost think he likes me and Scooby now. I’ll let you know if I ever get that hug ; )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Animal Poison Control

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My husband was at a work function and I was home with the three kids. As soon as they were happily entertained, I snuck downstairs to do a bit of work. No sooner had I plopped at my desk then my oldest yelled down “Mom – get up here quick! Velma is sick!” I bolted up the stairs two at a time to find our 5-pound shih-tzu retching on the living room rug.

Poor Velma was heaving over a gooey pile of half digested green tomatoes. My husband had unearthed the plants the day before to prepare our garden for the winter and dozens of unripe tomatoes had fallen into the soil. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that the innocent looking pup could ingest her body weight in spoiled fruit.

 The kids were hysterical. “Mom – is she going to die?!” “What are we going to do??” “I wish dad was here!!!”

I desperately wished my husband were home too. While I have perfected the art of the “instant freak-out” – he is famously the calm one in any given situation. The world could literally be crumbling around us and he’d be holding up the house with one hand and the kids in the other while stating “Easy now, I don’t think this is the time to panic…” In fact, in almost 20 years of marriage the only time I’ve seen him visibly shaken was the night Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey. (I won’t harp on the fact that he wept more that night than on our wedding day or at the birth of any of our children. Nope – I’m not bitter about it at all!)

Immediately a rush of anxious feelings overcame me accompanied by a burning stomach, shaky legs, dry mouth and a head reeling with a familiar message- “I can’t handle this! I can’t handle this!”

But the kids had their eyes glued to me and I knew I had to step up. I combed through my brain for any gems of wisdom I’d gleaned over the past 8 weeks at my meditation seminar and one particular piece of advice popped into my head – “Respond don’t react.”

My instructor had recently spent an entire class focused on how many of us live our lives in a purely reactive state. And it really hit home. Instead of taking the time to consider my responses – I frequently rush right to panic mode.

But weeks of faithful meditation with my butt glued to a chair and determined efforts to quiet my busy mind have helped me recognize my conditioned responses and I’m working very hard to reprogram the looped tape stuck on “worry, worry, worry”.

Back to Velma – after about 10 minutes she stopped throwing up and I scooped her up in my arms, took a deep breath and turned to the kids: “Let’s call the vet and find out what we can do.” I spoke to an emergency vet who told me that green tomatoes are in fact poisonous to dogs  – who knew?! And they had me call an Animal Poison control hotline to get protocols for handling the situation. Yes there really is an Animal Poison Control Hotline and I have the number if your pet ever decides to indulge in green tomatoes or another toxic delicacy.

In the end – the puppy was fine and the only real victim was the rug that is now permanently splotched with light green circles.

Afterwards, I saw that the kids were still shaken, so I invited them to tell me how they were feeling. “My stomach hurts,” my youngest said. “I’m shaky,” said my daughter and my oldest admitted that he felt twitchy too. I used it as an opportunity to connect with them and to share some of what I’ve learned- how pausing, taking a deep breath, recognizing your physical symptoms and challenging your thoughts can transform a stressful situation into something much more manageable.

That’s right, ME – the panic queen – was able to turn the entire event into a teachable moment. I showed them a breathing exercise that helps me (breath in on a count of 4, hold for 7, then breath out for 8), I taught them a mantra I frequently use (“I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful”) and we even brainstormed strategies for handling stress and anxiety (ok maybe my youngest suggested that we keep dad home more often – but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)

That night as I was tucking my 15-year old into bed, he met my eyes – “Geez mom – I thought you’d totally freak out today but you actually handled it pretty well.”  Hot damn! Not only do I have the direct line to Animal Poison Control, I’ve also gained a modicum of respect from a teenager. Booyah!

I allowed myself a moment of pride, then I kneeled down, took a deep breath and began scrubbing barf off of the living room rug. I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful…..

 

 

The Best Running Buddy Ever!

I’ve always struggled as a runner. I think it started way back in public school when all students were forced to participate in the Canada Fitness Tests. This involved a series of “challenges” including chin ups, rope climbing, sit ups and the most horrible of all…..the endurance run! It was probably only a few measly laps around the school track but I dreaded that freakin’ run every year like the plague. I was that kid who would complain of a cramp or a sore muscle and start walking half way through and then limp across the finish line long after everyone else had completed.

That early exposure to running convinced me that I was not cut out be a runner. It was painful, it was unpleasant and I just didn’t like it. Period. End of story.

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But then when I was in my early 20’s, I lived with my aunt and uncle for a year and my uncle was (and still is) an avid runner. In his very gentle way, he convinced me to read a book on learning to run and my aunt and I gave it a try (run 1 minute, walk 2 minute- run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute – all the way until we were running 10 minutes straight). Shortly after, I joined a running clinic at the Running Room and before I knew it my sister and I were signed up for a half marathon.

That led to several years of training and 9 half marathons completed. Did I ever love running? Heck no! Was I quite likely the slowest runner on each course? Heck yes! But I shuffled along and did the training and collected my t-shirts and medals until I decided a few years back to take a running break. I told myself it was “better for my knees” and that “my boobs would get too saggy” if I kept running. Honestly it just wasn’t bringing me any joy. So I joined a power walking group, I signed up for a boot camp class and I took up yoga and pilates – and I didn’t miss running. Not. One. Little. Bit.

But this past winter was a doozy here in Southern Ontario and in an effort to keep ourselves somewhat active, my hubby and I rented a treadmill from Easy Fitness. I’d put my little guy down for a nap and pound out a few kilometers….mostly walking in the beginning and then running until I was up to 5km or so. And this spring I decided to park all of my lame-o excuses and take my running to the streets.

Is it still hard? Yes! Am I still painfully slow? Yes! But my amazing new running buddy is making my workouts much more enjoyable. I’ve certainly had my fair share of run pals in the past (Jodi, Christianne, Melanie, Tammy) but I’ve got to say this new guy is my favourite hands down. He never says things like “why don’t we pick up the pace a little?” or “let’s sprint to the next lamp-post!” or “holy crap you are slow today!”. He’s happy just to be out – just to be spending time with me. My floppy boobs and wheezing don’t bother him at all….in fact he doesn’t say a word as we shuffle through the streets in the early morning hours.

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Ok yes he’s a dog. My little Scooby Doo…all 22 pounds of him.

And to be perfectly honest – he never actually breaks into a run…he just walks slightly faster than normal.

 

 

Garbage In Garbage Out Featuring Scooby Doo

I have a yappy and adorable 5-year-old cockapoo named Scooby Doo. He is a chaser of squirrels, a barker at cats and a stealer of table food but we love him just the same.

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From the time he was a puppy we fed him a high-quality kibble and he seemed to do just fine. Mind you he had red and itchy ears a few times a year, he licked and bit his feet until they were red and raw every fall for no apparent reason and he would occasionally have a bout of the runs. The vet chalked it up to seasonal allergies and prescribed medicated baths and ear drops and I didn’t think too much about it.

About 2 years ago after chatting with a friend I started to question his diet and decided to try raw food. I take full responsibility for the horrifying aftermath of this experiment that began with me too quickly changing his diet, his stomach rejecting the new food, weeks of living with a sick and weak dog and $4000 in vet bills only to have a surgeon tell us he had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and would have to be on medication for the rest of his life.

I am happy to report that today Scooby is the healthiest he has ever been and he hasn’t taken one single drop of medication since he recovered from that surgery. What has changed? Well Scooby now eats real, unprocessed, cooked food homemade especially for him. No it’s not vegan (although I hear Alicia Silverstone’s dogs eat all veggies) but it is real food with no garbage ingredients often found in commercial dog foods like salt, sugar, soy, yeast, corn and wheat and no fillers like ground animal by-products and other yuckiness.

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Now I’m not as good as my Aunt Jan who makes volumes of homemade food for her 2 large dogs once a month but I have found a healthy and reasonably priced solution from the wonderful women at The Skye’s The Limit. These amazing ladies prepare muffins of goodness for my little dog using 100% human grade and organic ingredients that I simply store in the freezer and defrost as needed. Scooby’s muffins contain chicken (but there are many other protein sources), green veggies, orange veggies, red apple, oil, water, egg and a pre-mixed formula made of organic milled whole brown rice, whole oats, whole barley, calcium, carob, 100% pure alfalfa, Acadian sea kelp, oregano, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, ginger and garlic. They will even cater to animal dietary and special needs including gluten-free, cancer, liver problems and diabetes.

As for Scooby his coat is shiny, his eyes are clear and best of all he has had no ear itchiness or redness, no foot problems and his poop is perfect and regular. So this Scooby Doo mystery is solved. Whether human or animal- garbage in equals garbage out.  It’s a good reminder that the food you put in your mouth has a direct link to your overall health (and they would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for this meddling mom ; )