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Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Decade With My Dog

It's hard to believe, but October 12th marked the 10th anniversary of Abbey's adoption, making this her 10th & a Half Adopt-a-versary.* That's right, my sweet mutt has been my boon companion for more than a decade now! Ten years. TEN YEARS! I can't even begin to express how important her support has been for me during the early years of depression and anxiety, the middle years of excruciating medication withdrawal, that one really great year when we went on lots of walks and hikes, and five years of migraines. I hit the canine jackpot when my family decided that Keta, the "brown" dog sitting so patiently in her kennel at Seattle Animal Shelter, should be our new family pet. And while she loves and is much loved by the rest of my family, for ten years it's really always been about the two of us, Dog & Girl, two lost souls in need of something to love.

* I started this blogpost back in October in hopes of posting it on her adopt-a-versary, but then life happened. Better late than never, right?

From Abbey's perspective, the highlight of 2014 was the Disintegrating Christmas Reindeer. Of course, it wasn't disintegrating yet when it showed up in her Christmas stocking as her annual soft toy gift. What usually happens is that the soft toy is vigorously played with, gets a bunch of holes, and after a month or two, when it can no longer hold together, we give Abbey permission to pin and rip it to her heart's content, and the soft toy fun is over until next Christmas. Right from the start, though, it was clear that this year's reindeer was something special. My mom even went to Petco to get a backup within a week, but by then, all of the Christmas toys were gone. Fortunately, Abbey was determined to make this toy last as long as possible, the Disintegrating Christmas Reindeer is still with us! This is especially impressive because 99% of all games played in 2014 centered around catching and shaking and fetching her reindeer. Abbey makes playtime look so FUN and we all get such a kick out of watching her build extra bounces and zigzags and twirls into her reindeer antics. The reindeer loses another piece of stuffing during every game, the squeaker fell out long ago, and the body is limp and full of holes, but it has demonstrated an impressive tenacity. It made it all the way until Christmas, when it was finally retired in favor of the Christmoose, which was this season's variation on the same toy.

Chewing on my reindeer!

Reindeer game, anyone?

C'mon, chase me!

This is the best toy ever!

Proudly posing with her favorite friend.

Abbey and the Christmoose, the reindeer's successor.

"Whee! You're home!"
Of course, it isn't just when she's playing with her reindeer that Abbey is acts like a Big Silly. While most of the time Abbey is as mellow as they come, she does have that little bit of a twinkle about her, and nothing unleashes her goofiness like me coming home from dog-sitting. I didn't used to think of Abbey as much of a smiler, but taking photos to post daily on Pack (more on Pack later) has made me realize that she does have a little smile and it is perfectly ridiculous! She's not above acting undignified and I definitely like that in a dog.

This is Abbey's goofy grin. I can't help but crack up whenever I look at this picture!

Another very silly smile.

Rolling around hoping for belly rubs.

Making some joyful noise.

"Yay! Pet me!"

Of course, from Abbey's perspective, there is so much about life to enjoy. Things to celebrate are not limited to her reindeer stuffy or my comings and goings; other fun things include dinnertime, car rides, petting, squirrels, and snow. (There are, of course, great many quiet pleasures to be enjoyed, too, but these are the kinds of things that can make a girl romp and bounce and spin for joy!)

We seldom get much, but you can see how happy playing in the snow makes Abbey feel!

Also fun is getting a chance to chase her blue squeaky ball in a big field.

Better yet is going swimming with your squeaky ball!

Abbey greatly enjoys chasing squirrels, though once the rascally rodent has scrambled up a tree, Abbey will sit nicely in hopes of being rewarded for being a good girl. It appears we trained her well! Pity the squirrels don't understand that good dogs get treats for sitting...

While Abbey may be an old dog, she definitely disproves the old adage that you can't teach an old dog a new trick. This year she has learned "spin," "tip it," and "find it." With Rice Chex as a reward, Abbey has shown us that two training sessions are sufficient to master a new command. I usually associate intelligence in dogs with a propensity to get into trouble (ya gotta keep those active minds busy!), but mellow Miss Abbey has quite a few more smarts than I give her credit for. It's just that usually she's busy applying them to looking after me!

Abbey demonstrates her mastery of the command "spin"!

Besides new commands, there were other things for Abbey to discover this year...

"By Jove! I do believe there's a dog on the other side of this fence!" Abbey's known about Licorice, the Dog Next Door, for years, but there are, in fact, TWO other Dogs Next Door that she's never really noticed. This summer, she and Georgie chased the same squirrel on opposite sides of the fence and now she's always hoping for a repeat. Don't tell her about Leo, okay?

"What IS this thing?" Abbey carefully investigates a caterpillar crossing the deck.

"And what's this?" I spent the early days of summer making sure Abbey didn't chase baby birds, especially the baby juncos before they fledged, but it was some other force that felled a little kinglet that she found dead in the yard. She sniffed it very carefully, but made no effort disturb the tiny body.

Abbey now has two food puzzles: a Wobbler and this delightful Tornado! She loves the challenge of tipping the Wobbler just so and twirling the towers of the Tornado to get at the concealed treats. More than just fun, food puzzles are a great way to engage a dog's brain.

One of the most surprising things that happened  in the past year is that Abbey reversed her policy on guests, WANTING to meet them instead of warily viewing them as intruders and possible threats. It has been our position for years that Abbey doesn't spend much time with company when we have people over because she can be doing okay and then something a male guest does--gesturing, blocking an exit route, reaching down--will spook her and if you spook Abbey...well, there's a risk of getting bitten. We don't like guests to get bitten, so we limit the circumstances when she can circulate with company and she always wears a muzzle. While she still is wearing the muzzle (much to her disgust), Abbey has decided in the past year to become social. She now is eager to come down when guests arrive and is, in fact, quite put out about being shut in my study with me. (The thing is, I'm not usually up for spending a full evening with company, so I typically don't come down until the meal is served and Abbey waits with me.) Nowadays, instead of surreptitiously sniffing guests around the perimeter of the table, Abbey is sticking her head in laps and nudging hands to request petting! Her biggest test was when my aunt and uncle came to visit. In the past, big gestures and excitability during conversation were triggers for her, and my uncle is a tall, wonderful, enthusiastic man much given to big gestures, big laughs, and excitable story-telling. When Abbey first encountered him, she lay some distance away with her back turned for half an hour. Then, she made an excuse to sniff under his chair. Soon he was petting her. I knew that all was going to be well when my uncle was petting her with one hand and gesticulating widely with the other while telling me a story and she cared not a whit. Abbey remained rather fascinated by my uncle for the whole visit (she immediately included my aunt as part of the family and in fact interacted with her very little, aside from the occasional nose-bump acknowledgement) and often sought him out. There was only one time when I called her away from him: my parents, my aunt, and I were having an animated conversation involving much laughter in the kitchen while my uncle dozed in a chair in the adjacent family room. I looked over and saw that Abbey was going over to wake him up so he could join us. Since he is not in the habit of being woken from a nap by a wet nose, I thought it was possible he might act startled or jump, which would scare Abbey, and all the great work of the visit would be undone. That possible crisis was avoided and by the time my aunt and uncle departed, my uncle could stand in Abbey's path and reach down directly toward her to fondle her ears and she was loving it. I was so proud of my girl for taking the risk of being social and learning that the reward was lots of extra affection.

Abbey puts her head in my uncle's lap to ask for petting and is well rewarded.

While she's much more amenable now to new people than she's ever been before in her life, because I don't socialize much, Abbey doesn't socialize much, either. What she doesn't realize is that she has an online following! Abbey is a bit of a rock star on Pack, the dog photo social media site. I post photos of Abbey there almost every day; I don't want to test the patience of my Facebook friends by posting endless Abbey images, but I am taking pictures of her all the time, so having a site just for dog photos is a great outlet. She has some great fans (one made Abbey her very own doggy quilt!) who always comment on her photos and I've enjoyed getting to know their dogs in return. Abbey is also trying hard to make #doghaiku a thing--a recent health issue was documented almost entirely in daily haikus. I was extremely flattered to be asked to do the inaugural "Meet My Mutt" interview for the Marvelous Mystery Mutt Pack and I highly encourage you to check it out, as I put a lot of thought into my response. Abbey also shows up a couple of times on Pack's "Best Dog Photos of 2014" honor roll. Outside of Pack, Abbey has also made an appearance as one of BADRAP's "Game Changer Dogs" where I share how Abbey changed my life for the better, and in a book (made by a dog I follow on the internet) called "Paw Wisdom" about lessons that old dogs have taught us. Her lesson for me? That the greatest joy can be found in the simplest things.

Abbey has a new guilty pleasure: snatching mouthfuls of ornamental grass.

Abbey loves marshmallows!

Noms aloft! Abbey enjoys catching airborne morsels.

And don't forget about peanut butter!

Basking in the sun has long been one of Abbey's favorite pursuits.

And of course you must stretch after a nap in a sunbeam!

There's nothing better than sleeping away the day on my bed.

Abbey is at least twelve by now. That's old for a dog. I was mighty pleased when she had her yearly checkup this past summer and the vet said that if he hadn't known how old she was, he never would have guessed. She's got her "old dog warts" and her dozen lipomas, white on her muzzle and a blue haze in her pupils, but she is otherwise in good health. The most significant sign of her age that has manifested in the past year is that she is getting somewhat hard of hearing. If she's asleep, she'll no longer hear her name being called from another part of the house. It has progressed to the point where she will not always hear me enter a room she's in and during a recent thunderstorm, she didn't hear most of the thunder. She battled a paw fungus in February (prednisone turned her into a hot, panting, restless, hungry, thirsty little stinker!), but otherwise her health has been very good and the vet thinks there are likely many years left in her yet. I sure hope so.

My dear old mutt.

Dog kisses are slimy and tickle!
Ten and a half years... They've flown by so quickly. I know I'm unlikely to get another ten and a half with my precious pup. Even if I do, that still won't be enough time. But I've been so lucky to have known her love. The two of us: it's likely one of the greatest bonds I'll ever know. It's going to be heartbreaking to lose her. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now she's lined up beside me, asking "Where to next, my friend?" with her ears and her eyes and wagging tail, ready to go where I go, do what I do, for as long as she can follow.

To see my photographs of things other than dogs, check out my photography Facebook page.

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