What I Learned from Dogs

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From the What I Learned series

I’m slightly obsessed with dogs. If given the choice to pet a dog or hold a baby, I’m choosing the dog. I do not really consider my dogs pets; they are my children. But they are a lot of work and responsibility. No one should go into dog ownership thinking it will be all wet kisses and cuddles. But it’s all worth it. My life has been forever touched and changed by my sweet girls.

I’ve always loved animals, but growing up, we only had outside pets. Except for my mom’s collie that she had before kids came along. I was young when he passed so I don’t remember him too much. I knew one day I’d have the chance to have my own animals. It took me a while to be prepared for a dog. I had cats, but they aren’t as needy as dogs.

I started considering it more a little over six years ago. Even though it didn’t seem ideal at the time because I lived in an apartment downtown and had three cats, I was longing for companionship and somebody who needed me. Then I saw her. Her picture was on FaceBook, posted by North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue (NMAR), which is an amazing nonprofit, no kill rescue. She was in need of a forever home. Those kind eyes and perfectly pointed ears made me fall completely in love. Her name was Honey, and she was 10 months old. I just knew when I saw her in that picture that she was for me and that it would work out.

A few weeks later, Honey came home with me. Although not all of her background was known, I knew she had been adopted once before and returned and that at some point she had been abused. She was very timid and shy. She was fine with the cats, more afraid of them than they were of her. She became my instant companion. She went everywhere with me including work!

For the first three months, she didn’t even bark. We had some challenges. She had to be potty trained again and suffered from anxiety mostly from storms or loud noises. We were a team, and she was a big part of how I survived the death of my eldest cat.

Being Honey’s mom taught me a lot about being selfless. Her needs really came first, and I was focused on letting her grow into a wonderful dog. It’s amazing how her love helped me grow and vice versa.

Eventually, she found her voice. And as she aged, her anxiety showed signs of getting worse. She was so protective of me; too much so at times. She didn’t like for people to talk to us when we were out on walks. Even though she was very popular because of her beauty. And oddly, people asked me all the time if she was a dingo! I also followed her intuition on men I dated. If she didn’t like them then it wasn’t  going to work.

I can say she never wavered once on her acceptance of Justin. True she did know him from going to work with me, but when he became a part of our lives, she was all in. At this point, I had changed jobs so her routine was now staying at home all day. She seemed depressed and more withdrawn. We tried different activities, but she was starting to react badly to other dogs and people.

Our solution was to get her a sister. Justin and I went into it a little rose-colored. I wanted to adopt an older dog again; not a puppy. I like the dog that needs a second chance. Enter Fawn, who I found through PetFinder. She had been saved by the Australian Cattle Dog Rescue (ACDR). ACDR is a volunteer run association that saves dogs that would have otherwise been euthanized. She was beautiful with her red brown coat and funky patterns. She was a little over a year when we got her. We were her last shot. It was rough the first few weeks. We didn’t get much sleep. But Fawn and Honey got along pretty good from the start. Their differences complimented one another.

Fawn came with her own assortment of challenges. She wasn’t scared of much. She was full of energy. Cattle dogs are herders and that’s what she often tried to do to us. Nipping on heels is her go to. And don’t even let her see the Swiffer. Brooms are okay, but the Swiffer is like her arch nemesis. Fawn also has incontinence. It wasn’t that she couldn’t be potty trained. A lot of female dogs have this issue; it’s connected to when she was spayed. But there’s a solution. She takes an estrogen supplement, and it works!

Although Fawn’s still a bit wild even though she’s three now, she has really helped Honey overcome some of her fears. Because Fawn is not scared, it makes Honey braver. On the other side is they react off each other. Instead of one bark, we’ve got two.

We talk all the time about how different they are. Fawn watches TV and reacts to dogs and other animals. Honey could care less. Fawn is affection-aggressive (yes, that’s a new word I made up), meaning she doesn’t take no for an answer. Honey wants attention on her terms. She’s a bit of a loner. I have to force affection on her!

I’ve learned a lot from my dogs. They’ve helped me heal a lot. The unconditional love and sheer joy they share every time I come home is pretty amazing. Hard to hate the world when doggies love you.

I’ve also learned that it’s better to take a chance on a dog that may need some rehabilitation. They’ll love you more for it. After all, someone took a chance on me.

I still get frustrated and wish they’d stop reacting to other dogs so much. I wish they’d both calm down a bit and chill out. Not every noise needs to be investigated. I also wish they’d be less interested in the cat. They, like me, are still a work in progress (and after over a thousand dollars in training, I’m guessing that this is just who they are). I know that when we move, they will be happier. They’ll have their own little space to run around.

It’s hard work. We don’t just think we have pets. They are our family. And we totally realize that the majority of our lives revolves around their bathroom needs, which seems ridiculous but will ring true for any dog owner. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. And please remember adopt don’t shop.

How I Explained Anxiety

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Anxiety is kind of Depression’s first cousin. They often go hand in hand. And they feed each other, but anxiety is somewhat different. Whereas depression makes me want to cocoon and pull away, anxiety makes me feel like I need to do something. I’m just not sure what. In my early 20s, anxiety manifested itself as panic attacks that were often triggered by being in large social situations. I felt pressure to act normal, but I felt invisible and had no desire to be chatty. It was a push pull. I was pushing myself to be social while really wanting to be alone. For some reason being in big groups of people made me flashback to funerals, and my mind would go to places I didn’t want it to.

I didn’t really understand it as anxiety then. I was more like, “Get it together, Beth!” I have and will probably continue to be super hard on myself. Isn’t it funny how hard we find it to be kind to ourselves? It’s something I still wrestle with, but I’m much better than I was in the past.

But anxiety is still part of my life. It’s not something easy to explain even if you have awareness. Yet it’s something I think is important for those to understand who don’t suffer from it. I’m blessed to have an amazing man in my life who accepts all my flaws and wants to genuinely understand what I go through. Recently, I was able to explain it to him.

Something happened (a trigger) a few months ago that really spiked my anxiety. Our HOA sent us a letter claiming that someone had reported that one of our dogs attacked another dog. I got the letter after work so there was no way I could respond or find out more information. Logically, I knew the accusation was false. Our dogs don’t run wild. They are always with us. To our knowledge, nothing like this had occurred.

But anxiety doesn’t mesh well with logic. Suddenly, I was thrust into fear and panic.  My dogs are my children. I love them more than just about anything or anyone. This letter made my mind race thinking someone was watching us or deliberately making false accusations. I felt as though my dogs were in danger. I was really upset. I couldn’t eat dinner or focus. It may seem like an inconsequential event but for me it was much more. So I took the time to explain it to my significant other.

I told him that when something irritating or upsetting happens to you, it’s just this one thing. You can be mad or frustrated but still think clearly toward a resolution. He’s a super chill kind of guy (I’ve heard him yell once in three years) so not much ruffles his feathers. I then told him that when something like this happens to me, I’m not just contemplating this one incident. It’s like a wave of every trauma I’ve ever had sweeping over me. It makes me feel like I can’t breathe, like there’s something stomping on my chest. For him, it would be like standing under a waterfall and there’s one tiny drip.  For me, the levee just broke, and the water is furious.

My therapist gave me props for being able to take him through my experience.  It was one of the first times, I could step outside myself and express the feelings and thoughts I had. I think it gave him a greater appreciation of my struggles. Anxiety affects millions of people. It can be debilitating, and lots carry around shame on top of it.  Our brains are highly complex and often because of trauma we’ve experienced or chemistry, it can’t always look at a situation clearly. And that’s okay. There are ways to get through it. Deep breaths and focusing on ways to manage or resolve the situation work for me. But I’ll be honest, I also take medication. You can find something to help, just don’t suffer in silence.

After I wrote this and before I posted it, I thought maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe someone might judge me or not want to hire me. Then I remembered that I must live what I say. I can’t be scared. I can’t control what other people think. I am taking this opportunity to be honest so that maybe it might help someone else be able to accept their own struggles. That’s all and to admit I’m human. I think most of us are all doing the best we can every day. I’ve always believed that life will rarely turn out as expected but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great.

P.S. The HOA sent the letter to the wrong unit. Our dogs were cleared of any allegations. Deep breath; crisis averted

Surviving Renovating: Deep Breaths Required

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Renovations aren’t near as fun as they seem on HGTV. We’d love for Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper to come save us, but the reality is we are the renovators. And we’re living in the area we are renovating. We can’t escape. It’s our home. And I might be just teetering on the edge.

I’d say we’ve been renovating for months, but it’s really been years. The other projects were smaller. I was conveniently traveling so my exposure to it was less. I’m sort of longing for airports and hotels right now.

But this project that includes the kitchen, dining room and living room was close to a full gut. The hope for a six week timeline went out the door fast. First, we have real jobs; the kind where you don’t get home until after six and then have responsibilities like walking dogs, making dinner and doing laundry. It’s hard to get motivated to work in the house after a 9 or 10 hour workday.

I have to interject that the majority of the work has been carried out by my love. He’s amazingly skilled at anything, and if he doesn’t know how to do it, he just watches a YouTube video on it. However, I’m not completely on the sidelines. I have some skills. As a young girl, I loved to build things from scrap wood. In high school, my bestie and I took shop class (we were the only girls). And for most all other relationships I was in, I was the handy one! I’ve painted many walls and done my fair share of small projects.

But this is mostly over my head. And he’s been reluctant to let me help too much. I was actually fired from taping but later reinstated me (something about a labor shortage). He’s very particular about the prep work. I’ve sanded a lot. And painted like it was my job; thankfully it’s not. One of the hardest parts was scraping the popcorn ceilings. If they’ve never been painted it can be easy, but nothing’s easy about this place. Nothing is square or even or was done correctly the first time. We’ve spent a lot of time repairing and fixing things right.

We didn’t have a stove for two weeks. You don’t understand all you can’t do without a stove. But we have it back now that the new countertops are in and the cabinets are painted. It’s just little things and clean up right now with the final step being the new floors, which are set to be installed (by us) in about six days.

Then these rooms will be back in order. The couch will actually be somewhere you can sit. Then we will start on the bathrooms. Why are we doing all this? Do we want to punish ourselves? Test our relationship? No, not at all. We are doing all this because we want to sell our condo. It just doesn’t work for us. It’s a great location, but we’ve encountered many challenges, mostly do to having some of the worst neighbors in the history of neighbors (more to come on that). Most importantly, we just want the pups to have a little yard to run free.

Home is an important place. It should be a place where you feel safe. It can get a little rough out there in the world. We all need a soft place to land. I’ve never needed a huge house with rooms I’d never even use. I do adore my closet room; it’s nice to be able to see everything I have, but I’d give it up in favor of a house with a nice yard for the girls.

We had this chat the other day that the house in this state has become our new normal. We’ve become complacent. So I had to light a fire under us, and set a firm date for the floor install so we can get back on track. We need to be done by the end of the year, and we have to account for the fact that we can’t be dedicated to renovations during football season (that’s not just a mandate from him; I’m just as crazy about it as he is).

So please keep us in your thoughts that we survive this and don’t kill each other (okay I’d probably be the one to kill him). Deep breaths…..