Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Change . . .

*Written 4 years ago when Chloe' first stormed into my life . . .

Nothing is certain except change itself.

Sometimes change comes on four legs . . .

John Steinbeck once wrote that it is the nature of humans to complain about change. Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better. We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.

Chloe’ wasn’t what I was looking for that day last August. I wasn’t even sure I was doing the right thing – looking for a puppy so soon after Katie’s passing. But there she was – bounding down the dry, dusty gravel hill on a farm outside of Kalamazoo. Her bright blue eyes full of piss and vinegar. Her round body barely keeping up with her chubby legs as clouds of dust rose up around her. She sprang onto my leg and into my heart in one full swoop – I never knew what hit me!

I had just gotten out of the hospital and was looking at a long, up-hill climb to regain my health and my life. The last thing I needed – everyone close to me advised – was a puppy. But I wanted – needed – my life to change. And it certainly did. Chloe’ landed in the middle of my struggle for normalcy like a heat-seeking missile.

Chloe’ is instinctive and dominant, in the way of all well-bred border collies – and explosive. You don’t simply coexist with her – as you can with most dogs – you have to react to her. Like all border collies, she needs work – and like it or not she will invent her own work if not given something productive to do. She somehow knows what annoys me the most and commences to have at it if left alone too long. Eating my zucchini plants is a current favorite “job”.

I have been around dogs enough to know that the problem with dogs is almost always the people who own them. Chloe’ and I are both impulsive, impatient, distractible, and restless. We are also both redheads of Scottish descent. Need I say more?

Recognizing early on that I needed help with Chloe’ – a far greater challenge than I had ever imagined – I started reading books. Books on training, books on border collie history, books on trick learning, books on recognizing “calming signals”. Our coffee table is piled high with dog books.

And then there are the classes. Puppy Head-Start was my very first introduction to the world of the American Kennel Association and its members. Dog People – but a totally different bred of dog people. These are not “pet dog” people. These are serious dog people. I have been told by more than one trainer that I don’t always take my “work” as a handler serious enough (Just when did I transition from being a dog lover to being a dog handler????).

At 11 months Chloe’ is well on her way to becoming a champion Agility Dog. At 52 years I am wise enough to know that I may be the only thing that stands in her way. But I am also confident because the challenge exists to make things better for both of us. I have had other big changes in my life that were more or less second chances – this time change just happened to arrive on four legs.

*Epilogue: We have survived each other! And I have learned so much more than I have taught.

Dogs may not be our whole lives. But they make our lives whole.
- Roger Caras

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