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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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dog story

All You Need is Love

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At Home on Air

We are all creatures of habit. People. Cats. Even dogs.

“Will you be sad? Lonely?” my friend Jill asked me as she blew up the air mattress in my empty bedroom. Everything in the apartment was gone. Packed up in boxes and moved to my mother’s. I’d even sold the bed. Truth is, I hadn’t expected to sell it so quickly. I still had a few more nights in the apartment — hence the air mattress.

“I don’t think so,” I said. But as I looked around at the bare walls, I wasn’t so sure. I watched her make the little mattress with my queen-sized sheets. At least the thing was high enough off the floor. I could make an easy transfer to and from the wheelchair instead of wondering how I’d get off the floor.

Later that night, I came from the bathroom, feeling exactly as Jill had anticipated. Sad and lonely. I tucked my toothbrush back in an overnight bag, a guest in my own apartment. Then I looked at the air mattress and smiled.

Frankie was sprawled out by the foot. Bella had taken over the top half, including my pillow. They both looked sound asleep and quite comfortable. I wondered how on earth there’d be room for all three of us. Frankie barely moved over when I launched myself onto the bed. Bella looked a good deal more concerned as the bed wiggled and wobbled about like a waterbed. She crept over the unstable surface, crouching low, eyes wide, ready to flee at the first sign of danger. She slowly repositioned herself, looking doubtful of the whole affair, yet not relinquishing her customary spot. I tried to make as little movement as possible, an impossible feat for me on a regular, much bigger bed. I marveled that we all stayed put. It felt like we’d roll over and topple off at any moment.

As I laid in the dark and listened to Bella’s purr and Frankie’s snore, I felt anything but lonely.

Canine Cousins (Twice Removed)

130301_0008Frankie is officially a service dog.

I realize that’s laughable to those of you who really know him, but nevertheless, he is a service dog. And before you ask — no, he doesn’t do anything for me. He doesn’t pick up dropped items (unless it’s food and that’s to eat it). He can’t open any doors. And on public transportation, he’s more likely to climb over me trying to stick his head out the window than sit quietly beside me. If I fell out of the wheelchair, he’d probably look at me like “Now what?” instead of getting help. The idea of having a service dog that doesn’t actually provide a service used to bother me. Until now.

Several weeks ago, some friends and I attended the ceremony of what is, in essence, a service dog school. We watched the “puppies” (usually a year and a half old) matriculate into the training program and fully trained dogs graduate out. These dogs were the real deal. Imagine having close to 50 dogs in one building with no barking. Granted, they all looked alike (black or golden, labs or retrievers). And you wouldn’t want to try to pick these pups out of a police line up. But then, you wouldn’t have to. These were well-behaved dogs.

At the Ceremony
At the Ceremony

At first, I watched sheepishly, imagining my own “service dog” going ballistic in the place, barking at other dogs and jumping up on people. These dogs seemed to have nothing in common with Frankie. They were all distant (very distant) relatives. But as I watched a video presentation, I realized most of the receipients of these “real service dogs” didn’t have tasks on the top of their lists either. Most of these (mainly) special needs children just wanted a friend. And the parents of these children wanted to help them socialize with other children. To help them not feel so alone.

Dogs can do that.

I was fortunate enough to have an able-bodied childhood. To not meet with disability until I was well into my thirties. But even so, I can relate. I can relate to being the odd man out, to stares, or even worse, avoidance. And that’s just in the adult world! Children can be so much worse. Even I was scared of them, gunning my power chair past their school bus stop near my house. Until, I went by with Frankie.

Dogs are the great equalizers. The kids were so busy petting Frankie and asking questions, they didn’t seem to notice I was in a wheelchair. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have been approached by half the neighbors I know, without him by my side. Plus, I know I wouldn’t be getting out as much.

So, I recognize there’s a huge value in companionship. Of service dogs that don’t complete tasks. And of little guys like Frankie. But, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that every woman with a toy poodle in her purse run out and get a doctor’s note to take Fido (or Fifi) everywhere. Though Frankie can accompany me most places, I’m only planning on taking him to the pier. He’ll be the one in the blue vest, barking at the birds.

On The Farm

Since I’m loathe to simply slap up the “Writer At Work” sign and leave my poor readers with only the Sunday paper or less worthy blogs (blogs of dear friends excluded, of course,) I’m doing the next easiest thing: posting something I’ve already written. Frankie got a lot of love last week, so for all you Frankie fans out there — enjoy this excerpt from my book. And don’t hold it against me if the sign’s there next week. 

Arguments with my mother can sound like Abbott and Costello routines.  We are parked in the car and my mom is taking Frankie out to do his business.

“When we get back, we can eat!” she tells him.

“I thought you said you didn’t bring any cookies,” I say.

“I didn’t.  You said you brought grapes.”

“I did.  But those are for lunch.”

“But we always have a snack at the park.”

“Yes.  We always have cookies.  You’re welcome to the grapes.  But they were for lunch.”

“Well, I didn’t bring cookies.  I thought we could eat your grapes.”

“AgainWe can.  I’m just saying, they were for lunch.”

Frankie whimpers to remind us he needs to go out or this could go on forever.  As the door shuts, she shoots me a look that says I’m a spoiled child, unwilling to share.

Continue reading “On The Farm”

Parenting

I feel like the parent of the kid who got picked last for T-ball. I have the world’s cutest dog, who on Halloween looked especially dapper, and no one said a thing. Not one person.

I walked him in my neighborhood in the morning. I walked him in my mom’s neighborhood in the afternoon. And he sat out with us for the arrival of trick-or-treaters. Nothing. My mother’s political signs got more attention than his costume.

Granted, it was just a $5 shirt. (I don’t believe in decking him out in complicated, constricting garb, strictly for my amusement: see last year’s post.) But, this was really adorable. I can only describe it as a muscle tee.

As I discovered after the holiday, when I  posted his picture on Facebook to soothe my wounded feelings, there’s some discrepancy over exactly what he was. One friend assumed he was a pirate. I get that. Skulls and crossbones and all. Another friend thought he was a biker dude, which I find even funnier. Some of the skulls are wearing helmets, so I get that too. I’m not sure about the helmets by themselves. Some invisible ghost Harley reference I don’t get? Whatever he was, he was cute. But, no one aside from me and Mom appreciated it.

The only other person we saw on our morning walk took one disapproving look at Frankie and said, “Oh, Amy” in the same tone one might say, “For shame.” Good thing she never saw 2010’s hot dog costume.

I’ve become a true pet parent and no one but other parents can understand. I recognize how crazy I’ve become about Frankie, and I say this is why I never had human kids. That and the fact that I never married or really wanted them, waited too long, am a little selfish, in a wheelchair, and now almost 43 years old. With real children I’d be unbearably suffocating, overbearing and overprotective. My mom occasionally misses being a grandma, but she’d feel differently as the only babysitter I could trust.

Next year, I plan to take Frankie to school — er, I mean, doggie daycare — where he’ll be fawned over in the manner he deserves. Then he and all his costumed friends will be treated to Halloween pupcakes. Stop rolling your eyes.

Mr. Independent

They say that dogs become like their owners or owners like their dogs. I realize that my mom is Frankie’s “mom,” but since he spends most of his time with me, that’s really just a technicality. A recent trip to the dog park made it all too clear — Frankie and I are a bit too alike to do either of us much good.

We were invited to spend a recent Sunday afternoon at the Jacksonville Beach Dog Park. Since this is something my mom and I have always been nervous to try alone, I jumped at the opportunity to go with my neighbors, Trish and Pete and their dog, Chewy — seasoned dog park veterans. Besides, all parents are dying to watch their “kid” on the playground. To see how he acts with his friends.

I was disappointed. Frankie didn’t romp. Or play. Or chase balls. He didn’t even run fast. All the other dogs took off the minute their leashes were unclipped. Frankie just collapsed under the shade of a park bench and barely got up except to lap up the water that stained his chin or investigate the smells left behind by other dogs. Of course, he then raised his leg to mark the same fence post, garbage can or rock (any inanimate object, really.) He had to get the last word on the subject. In the dog world, it’s important to one-up the competition. To outsmell their smell.

He was the same way on a play date at a friend’s house. Boring. Frankie couldn’t have cared less about his three jolly playmates or their big backyard. He stayed inside in the AC, sprawled out on the cool tile.

It’s not like he’s the cool kid who can’t be bothered. He’s more like the grumpy old man who doesn’t want to join in the fun. Anti-social. This is where (I’m ashamed to confess) I see the similarities between us. Lord knows my mom has accused me of acting like her mother. And there’ve been plenty of times when I just can’t muster the will to go out. I’m a self-admitted homebody.

At the dog park, Frankie got up and moved whenever the other dogs started playing around him. And he growled whenever Chewy, a Shitzu-Yorkie mix (that’s right — a Shorkie,) got too rambunctious. Chewy can’t help it! He’s a youngster, still in the puppy phase. That annoying kid who just wants to be everyone’s friend. Frankie seems to have forgotten he was a puppy not too long ago. Apparently he skipped adulthood and went straight to senior citizen.

On our walks though, he seems to prefer dogs over people. Maybe, like me, he’s better one-on-one. But get a whole park full of them together and he opts out. As I watched my boy all by himself while the other dogs ran around in a pack, it was a good lesson for me. Sometimes being alone is just no fun. And okay, I’ll try harder not to growl internally when that family of four sits next to me at the movies.

The old man and the kid

Snack World

Sorry I’m a little late with this week’s posting, but Frankie and I were vacationing at Snack World (my mother’s house.) Like most vacations, this one entailed lots of relaxing, tasty treats and a general flouting of the rules.

We both enjoy Snack World immensely. Mainly for the obvious — the snacks. Like one of those old-fashioned sweet shops on Main Street, my mother keeps a colorful variety of dog treats in a see-through canister in her kitchen. Like a spoiled child, Frankie has become selective, turning up his nose at some, in hopes that the next goody pulled out of the jar will be even better.

He’s also become wise to the snack routine. In the beginning, he would paw at the side door to be let out to do his business. My mother so appreciated him letting her know when he needed to go, that he received a snack when he returned through the back door. After months of receiving treats this way, he started skipping the part where he actually went to the bathroom. It was discovered when he began pawing to get in just seconds after pawing to get out. Frankie was leaving out the side door and immediately circling around to the back door, just to get the treat.

I too, enjoy the food, though it’s challenging when I’m trying to watch my weight. Mom doesn’t keep anything fat-free or light in the house. Since I can’t cook, I often look forward to having scrambled eggs or a grilled cheese sandwich. But it’s a real grilled cheese. Not 2% cheese and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. It’s made with thick bread, tons of regular cheese and you better believe it — real butter.

Flouting the rules

A different household means different rules. Forget consistency. It doesn’t exist. But Frankie’s smart enough to keep it straight. At home, I’m the mom, the disciplinarian. But there, I’m a child too, and under my mom’s roof, Frankie lives by her rules. Which is to say, he gets away with murder. He’s allowed on the bed, to beg, and to chase the cat, just to name a few. It’s no wonder he jumps up and down in excitement whenever she comes to pick us up.

My routine disappears too. My computer isn’t there so I can’t write or send emails. Usually my power chair isn’t there either, so I can’t walk Frankie. Gone are the 4 a.m. wake-ups and we all watch a late-night movie on my mom’s big screen. If Frankie could talk, I’m sure he’d be bragging to his friends at daycare about what he does on his vacations. And it’s not even summer yet.

Not a Service Dog

Believe it or not, Frankie could’ve been a service dog. Well, I don’t know that he would’ve made it all the way through training or graduated, but he was accepted. He had the right temperament and personality. Or so it was determined.

Years ago, preferring to adopt a homeless animal rather than support a breeder, I began looking for an organization that trains rescue service dogs. There aren’t many. With so specialized and special a mission, apparently it’s better to know an animal’s parents and history. After much looking, I was left with one immediate option (and not a very good one.) Train Frankie. First, he would need to be evaluated in a class.

After barging in late, Frankie leading the way, I handed over the leash to the instructor. She took Frankie around to meet the other dogs, all of whom outweighed Frankie by at least 50 pounds. After passing that test (he wasn’t timid or aggressive, but invited everyone to play,) she threw metal food bowls to land near his head. Instead of being scared or nervous about the clanging bowls, Frankie checked them all for food. She called his name to make sure he knew it, pulled his tail to make sure he wouldn’t growl and gave him treats to see how food motivated he was. (I could’ve answered that one.) In the end, he was cleared for take-off. The instructor called him happy-go-lucky. I think Mom and I were just excited to get that little “service-dog-in-training” vest.

Now I laugh to think of Frankie as an assistant to the handicapped. In fact, I’ve compiled a list (by all means not exhaustive) of the things Frankie does that a service dog would never do. A service dog would never:

…chase a cat.

…bolt through the door at the slightest opening.

…use the couch to roll about and dry off dew after a walk.

…chase a leaf.

…run across the front of a moving power wheelchair to bark at another dog.

…eat ants.

…bark and growl at lizards like they’re dangerous intruders.

…bark and growl at his own reflection.

…eat cat poo.

…walk on top of tables and counters.

…eat birthday cake.

Unfazed by chocolate

Harmony: Life Lessons From My Pets

Bella and Frankie have adjusted to living under the same roof. There’s still no love loss between them. They’re not exactly grooming each other or sleeping together. But they’ve learned how to be in a room simultaneously. We should all be so lucky. So, next time you’re tempted to ask, ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ — take a hint from a cat and dog who’ve mastered it.

Allow people to be themselves. Don’t expect everybody to be like you. It took Frankie a while to get this one. He just didn’t understand why Bella didn’t want to wrestle with him. He would bounce around all excited, doing the maneuver where he lowers down, front legs out straight, inviting her to play. Bella, in turn, would get all freaked out and run away. To Frankie, of course, this simply meant game on. As an outsider, it was so easy to see all the miscommunication going on. This leads to the next bit of advice.

Stand your ground — gently. Don’t run away or give chase. This was the worst thing Bella could do. She’d tear down the hall with Frankie close on her heels; terrified, while he had the time of his life. She has learned. Now I watch her crane her neck back, moving her head as far away from him as possible without moving her feet. She stays put. Clearly with distaste, but she never moves her body.

Be tolerant. Don’t overreact or yell. She used to hiss and make a big fuss whenever he came anywhere near her. Poor Frankie didn’t mean any harm. He just wanted to get to know her. Now she doesn’t make a big production of it, just lets him take a sniff or two. She’s realized that’s all he’s after. There’s no reason to growl and get all testy.

Give others plenty of space. As with any relationship, all parties can benefit from a good dose of “me time.” Since Bella is little Miss Independent, Frankie had to be the one to learn that sometimes a creature just wants to be left alone. Now he seems to know to act bored and aloof. It goes against his nature, but he’s a quick study. What’s true for winning over a man can also be true for winning over a cat.

Dress Up Day

I’ve always been the type of person that didn’t believe in dressing up animals. I hate those email jokes where there’s some poor attired feline who looks ticked off (obviously,) and I would never humiliate a cat with an outfit. I felt bad for my friend’s Labrador when she slapped a pair of plastic antlers on its head at Christmas                                                     time. Once again, Frankie’s changing my ways.

I was swayed by the persuasive tactics of commercial marketing. Have you seen the rows of pet costumes at Target? They’re adorable. Last year, still unconvinced, we did things my mom’s way — last minute. We were stuck with the unoriginal, far from clever, hot dog dog costume. Maybe this would’ve been cuter if Frankie actually was a Dachshund, but a Pekingese as a hot dog wasn’t that funny. I was a little embarrassed walking him the morning of the 31st, not to mention constantly worried he was going to pee on his getup. (Though I now know these costumes are made with strategically placed straps for safe and comfortable widdling.)

Amazingly, Frankie seemed to not only tolerate it, but enjoy it! Maybe it was all the extra attention he was getting, but there did seem to be an extra bounce in his step. Frankie has always trotted happily, but as ridiculous as it sounds, as a hot dog, he pranced.

This year, we’ve done things my way. Planned out and well in advance. Frankie’s Halloween gear was originally a sweater. Black and white striped with a skull and crossbones. Simple. Cute. I steered away from anything that looked too uncomfortable or went on his head. (I may have changed my mind, but I still have my compassion.) The problem was, his sweater looked like it had gone a couple rounds in the dryer. Way too small, it only came halfway down his back. I marveled that my mom was even able to get it on.

The sizing charts of pet costumes and a book on the Pekingese have called Frankie’s weight into question. The book says “dog show standards” (yeah, right) are limited to a maximum of 14 pounds. At last weigh-in, Frankie tipped the scales at  20. The sweater chart listed his breed as size small. Yet, what I received looked fit for a Chihuahua. We were told he’s all Pekingese, but he’s a rescue, so either he’s a very big boy or he’s mixed with Bulldog, which would explain his absolute stubbornness.

Validated for beginning the process early in the month, I returned the miniature sweater in favor of two more outfits, in hopes that one would work. One did. And Frankie felt so good about it at photo time, he turned toward the camera at his name like he was working the red carpet.

The Hawaiian Guy

In the end, he’s a contest winning Hawaiian Guy. That’s right, the dogs are having a party and costume contest on Monday at daycare. As a columnist in Tallahassee says, this is what happens in America when you don’t have children. Silly yes, but I’m embracing it. If you see us on the street on Monday, I’ll be the one proudly walking the prancing Hawaiian Guy.

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