On the Dog, Celebratorily

Our baby isn’t a baby any more! On July 4, Acorn turned one.

Why is his birthday July 4th? Since we’ll never know his actual birthday, but we know it’s some time in July, we decided to make him an “America dog” (not my choice) and to give him a birthday we’ll easily remember. Last year, July 4th was the first day that boyfriend and I started hanging out again, too. We went to a barbecue in Boulder with some of his friends. So it all wraps up nicely.

Baby Acorn in Mississippi.

How did he become Acorn? Well – naming things just has to come. You can’t force it. So of course we panicked. Something so adorable also has to be aptly named. We thought. We thought some more. We suggested things — most of them Mississippi related. I threw out “Acorn” — pronounced “A-kern” — since I had found it hilarious that boyfriend’s grandpa had explained to me how much deer love “a-kerns” when we went hunting. I spent two days trying to figure out what an “a-kern” was before realizing they were acorns.

We laugh because when we went to get him that bright orange collar before we left Mississippi, I was filling out the tag so it could be engraved while we were telling the store proprietor that we hadn’t named him yet. The tag clearly says, Acorn. At one point, boyfriend’s grandpa said, “Don’t know why the hell they named him A-corn,” clearly enunciating the corn.

He was about 35 pounds when we rescued him. Since he was clearly abused or dumped or both, boyfriend always teases me about how Acorn used to have a “loving family.” Whenever I talk about how much I love the dog, he’ll say, “I bet he never did that with his loving family” or something about how much they miss him. I usually end up just rolling my eyes at him and then snapping, “He did not have a loving family! They didn’t take care of him and they don’t deserve him!” (It’s like my mom always said when my brother was picking on me, “The reaction is the reward.”) I remember when he was tiny and sweet, a timid puppy who needed love and encouragement. Now he’s all about chomping and fetching and wiggling. He still needs (and gets) a lot of love, but he’s so much more confident now.

20 hours of car ahead of him on his way to Colorado.

It’s funny what a full seven months of love can do to a dog. He went from being terrified of EVERYTHING (cars, stairs, linoleum, wood floors, dogs) to being an adventure dog. He still has to defer to Carlos, who’s the head of the animal coalition in our house, but they get along and tolerate each other. (Usually — Acorn recently discovered Carlos’s other stash of squeaky toys, which didn’t go over so well.)

One of my friends said last week that she truly believes that we gave Acorn (who also answers to Mr. Corn, General Cornwallis, and Hey!) the best home possible. She looked at him, lounging in the front lawn, not running away because he knows better, and told me that a lot of homes would have given him love but that we had given him the best. Since they’re not my words, I can totally use them to brag about how much he rocks.

As I type this, he’s whining under my feet. Ha. It’s not all roses over here in puppy parenthood. When I got home from two fully exhausting days at adoption camp a couple of weekends ago, he had been alone all day and was needy and whining and miserable. So was I. It made me wonder how people do the whole parenting thing. Especially teachers. Whiny kids for eight hours, oh wait, you’re working a double, but with different whiny kids for the next eight hours! Woo!

He’s a black lab something mix (collie?), so his furry sweater is really long and when it’s 90 degrees out, it’s too hot to walk him. He doesn’t understand why we can’t go play all the time, because it’s hard to explain to a dog why I don’t want to end up on the 6:00 news for being the kind of dog parent who lets their dog boil. Communication problems.

How he feels about camping.

And miles and miles of sticks. I love him. I can’t explain how much I love him. It’s the same way I feel about Carlos, that whenever I look at them, my heart somehow manages to both squeeze and overflow with love at the same time.

The sass is strong in this one.

I love watching boyfriend with him, too. I know from the moment boyfriend carried him into the house in Mississippi that he was ours, but boyfriend wasn’t so sure. I’ll never forget it when, after we’d given the dog his first bath, boyfriend held the dog’s little head in his hands, wiggled the dog’s ears, and asked him if he wanted to be best friends.

Even though there were moments when boyfriend wasn’t so sure we’d ended up with the best dog, a lot of love and some hard lessons (don’t eat sandwiches or bad things will happen, etc.) have made him into a pretty excellent companion. Watching boyfriend come home from work and play with the dog is my favorite thing. Watching the dog try to run after boyfriend when he leaves for work tugs at my heart. It’s all good. We got so lucky. I know he did, too, but really, it’s us who came out ahead here. We have a funny, floppy son who brings up so much joy and so many sticks. And tennis balls. And antlers. And rope toys.

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On the Week, Backwardly

I’m trying to type but there’s a giant black cat laying in front of my keyboard and it’s complicating the whole thing. There’s a thunderstorm brewing and I think the animals are tense as a result. Well, maybe not the dog – he’s got a rawhide bone and I imagine I won’t hear a peep from him until he’s finished it.

I found my car keys! We were retracing my steps for the past two days, and even though I swore I didn’t take them into Costco, I called anyway, just to double-check. Turns out, I must have just grabbed them out of habit, because the man who answered the phone at Costco asked me to describe them and then told me that he was holding the zebra and skeleton key in his hands! I was overjoyed and slightly embarrassed, but hey, I saved myself a ton of money and a call to AAA.

I got to see my first X-Men movie last night! I enjoyed it. I haven’t been to the movies in ages. My friend Duane works for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he travels with them, so he met up with us to see the movie since they’re in town this weekend. It was fantastic to see him – I haven’t seen him since I graduated from college. It was brief, though, because after the movie, I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed. Hopefully he’ll get a bit more free time before he heads back home so we can actually catch up. (Whispered movie conversations don’t quite count.)

I got super sick this week. Monday night, without warning, it hit me, and I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday in bed. The fever finally broke, but my energy levels aren’t quite back to 100% yet. I was looking forward to getting a lot done this week, but as it turns out, maybe sleep was just what I needed.

While it would be fantastic if just one thing would go right for me now or at some point in the near future, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. I’m just trying to ride it all out for now, and the idea of trying to conjure up some success or luck is swirling around in my head. Keep going forward, I think. And so I am tiptoeing, but also trying to make the most of this unexpected downtime. I am relaxing, or at least trying to. I’ve read more books in the past few weeks than I have in ages, and I’ve made plans to binge on some “Game of Thrones” tonight.

The boys are off camping; they’ll be back tomorrow. I’ve been enjoying the time alone. The silence is nice. Not having to answer to anyone is nice. Not having ESPN on is nice. (I was am so frustrated with DirecTV, because they’re pulling the old Comcast trick and upping our bill every month. During a phone conversation with them the other day, I accidentally dropped us to a package that does not include ESPN. I am, of course, not the least bit upset, but my brother will be. I told him it was his job to call DirecTV and fix the whole mess because I can’t be bothered since it’s just ESPN. Poor guy.)

The dog misses them, though. I’m not enough stimulation, even though we’ve been to the dog park, the park, and on walks. It’s hard to be entertaining all the time. I did take the dog with me to a bbq spot downtown last night. He got to sit on the patio and get tons of love from everyone, but he kept shooting his bored eyes at me. But man, he’s so cute.

On Long-Awaited Life Updates, Determinedly

Oh man, life is indeed a roller coaster.

I’ll do the briefest of brief updates, just because I can’t go back and catch up on everything.

– The last spring snowstorm we had in Colorado cracked two of my tree branches in our backyard. I was heartbroken. I loved that tree because of its crooked branches. The boys spent an entire afternoon taking down the tree branches, which had narrowly missed power lines. My backyard is a bit more naked, but I’m grateful that I still have part of my tree. 

We keep joking that we’re going to make a treehouse out of a boat and put it in the tree. As we walk around our neighborhood, I get exited every time I see a boat, no matter how ridiculous it might be to image it in our tree. Boyfriend remarked sarcastically to my mom the other day that having a boat in the tree is a great idea because it’s clearly so structurally sound.

– My recovery from the torn EHL tendon has been slow. I have regained about 50% of the movement. I am now a full 8 weeks post surgery. I am working on keeping my foot protected but also trying to get it to do some movement on its own. I was finally cleared to leave the boot two weeks ago! I have some nasty looking scars, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever have full movement back, but I’m alive. And I can sort of wiggle my toe.

– I lost my job two weeks ago. Long story short – bad business practices and disagreements about my working conditions (they wanted me full-time back in the stores due to nearly a dozen people quitting; I cannot be on my feet full-time, nor do I want to be). I filed for unemployment, which they told me they would not contest. Heartbroken again. I had been finally really starting to enjoy myself but also to utilize my strengths as a leader and as someone who wanted what was best for all of the stores.

— Boyfriend and I are thinking about moving to Mississippi. It’d be more of a study-abroad deal for me, since it’s going to be such a huge culture shock. He’d be pursing a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics or similar and I’d be after a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration.

I feel that Mississippi is a state in dire need of help on a very real and large scale, and that my involvement there would be a fantastic kick-start to a rewarding career in public policy of all kinds. (Non-profit administration also stems from this degree, and over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s something I’d love to do.)
The reason that the Public Policy and Administration program intrigues me is because it is the only Master’s degree that really encompasses my loves of government, social issues, writing, and law, while furthering my drive to make a lasting difference in our world.
I’m hoping that this degree will help me sharpen my leadership and communication skills, but also allow me to participate fully in the community in the most effective way.
— I lost my car keys. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I lost my car keys. Like, gone. MIA. Nowhere to be found. I am so frustrated. We went to Costco the other day, and I came home and opened the door and we haven’t seen them since. I have torn my car and house apart to no avail. I am waiting. If they don’t turn up by Monday, I must have my car towed to a dealership so they can make me a new key.
— Acorn is definitely part shepherd. He plays basketball. It’s the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time. He comes with us to a school by our house, or a park close by, and runs around while we (usually the boys, only sometimes me) play basketball. He’ll play defense and try to get the ball from you, he’ll bark while he’s waiting for the rebound, and he’ll jump up to get it. Once he gets it, he’ll shepherd it around the court until he gets bored with it. He’s just like Air Bud, sort of!

On the Puppy, Anxiously

There’s something wrong with Acorn.

We knew it the moment we met him. He’s all floppy black puppy, but he’s got sad brown eyes. He sat there on the floor of the house in Mississippi, shaking fearfully, timid but so sweet. We fed him, we bathed him, and he was ours. I knew it instantly. Boyfriend was hesitant, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with him before we took him in. And there wasn’t, mostly.

But there’s something wrong with Acorn. It isn’t physical. Whatever happened to him in the four and a half months before he joined our family left deep scars. We knew it when we met him, that he’d been mistreated. It’s in the way he cowers from an outstretched hand, the way he’s terrified of doors and floors, the way he used to curl himself up into a ball around other dogs. He’s anxious. Boyfriend likes to joke that he takes after his mother (me) in that way.

He’s come a long way in the two months we’ve had him. He’s more confident around other dogs now, he loves to play with them. He’s better with people. He stills shies away from a hand that’s put forth too quickly, but he loves to be loved. He climbs into bed with me at night and sleeps with his head on my legs. He sits on the bathroom mat behind me when I brush my teeth. (He blends in, since the mat is black, so I’ve nearly tripped over him a few times.)

He’s been ours since we fed him. That first night, he lay by the foot of our bed, and he’s been with us every night since. He’s loyal – when I’m outside in the front yard, I don’t have to worry about leashing him since I know he won’t go far. When we’re hiking, boyfriend usually takes the lead, and when Acorn can’t see me anymore, he’ll double back until he sees that I’m behind them, and that I’m okay. Then he’ll run back up to boyfriend.

He’s like any other puppy, eating us out of house and home, chewing on everything he can get his paws on. He’s stubborn – he won’t come in until he’s done playing, and yesterday, leaving the dog park, we had to put him back into the car because he didn’t want to leave.

The car was where we first realized he had deeper fears. The first few days, he wouldn’t jump in or out of the car. When you’d try to take him out, he’d plant his feet as though you removing him was going to be the worst thing. Same for getting in. And doors. And places he’s never been before. And bridges.

He’s hesitant, nervous, afraid. He won’t go in the side door of the house. One day, boyfriend had the back gate open and he got out. Boyfriend found him, a few minutes later, waiting patiently at the front door to be let in.

He’s sweet. He’s loving. He’s learning how to be a dog. But he’s still scared. The other day, boyfriend was lamenting that we ended up with such a wimpy dog, a coward, and that these aren’t ever things he’ll outgrow. Abused dogs, he said, are like that forever. There’s no changing them.  (Boyfriend loves him, don’t get me wrong. He just gets frustrated at the seemingly unending line of nervous anxieties we find and the seemingly illogical explanations for them.)

I disagree. I mean, I don’t think Acorn’s ever going to the most aggressive, alpha male out there, but I do think that we can love a lot of the fear out of him. He used to freak out about the linoleum in our kitchen (I mean, who wouldn’t?). He’d scamper across it like it was burning lava. He wouldn’t eat if his bowl was on it, and if he did, he’d run back to the safety of the living room as soon as he could. But now, if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit patiently behind me or lay down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He’s getting there.

Instead of getting upset with him, I’ve been as patient as possible. At first, I set the bowl just inches onto the linoleum, where he could eat with all paws on the wood floor. And then, I inched it in, so that eventually, he was standing with all fours on the floor, happily chowing down.

He used to be unable to go outside without one of us. Now, I let him out and let him play outside until he signals that he’s ready to come in. He knows we’re coming back for him, that being outside isn’t being abandoned. Sometimes, after I’ve had enough of outside play, he’ll refuse to come in, carrying his rope toy and looking longingly at me. I’ll leave him outside until he comes to stand by the door, his signal that he’s done. He knows I’ll be there to let him in.

Right now, he’s curled on the couch next to me, asleep. Even his dreams are calmer now. He used to yelp and squirm when he slept, nervous little yips. Now, he sleeps more soundly. When he falls asleep, he’s out. He’ll try to fight sleep, his eyes getting lower and lower until finally, they close and he melts into his sleeping position. It’s so sweet. After big hikes, he’s usually asleep before we even leave the parking lot.

He’s got the most adorable face. He’s already learned the word “walk” and when you say it, his ears perk up and he stares at you expectantly. He’s all giant paws and he’s still mastering walking gracefully.

We’re working on reassuring him that he’s safe, that we love him, that when he does something wrong he’ll be punished, but it will be reasonable and consistent. We’re finding out how to adapt to his nervous habits, and how to change the ones that are changeable. We’re exposing him to other dogs, so he’ll have buddies to play with and learn from. We’re letting him be loved by everyone who wants to love him — strangers always comment on what a sweet, adorable dog he is.

I can’t help but think about how whoever it was that hurt him and then left him. I can’t help but think about what a miserable person they must be. I can’t help but be sad for all of the animals that don’t have loving homes. But I look at my two furry sons, both rescued, and I can’t help but feel like the most blessed person on this planet.

Carlos, my FIV+ Chicago street cat, missing a fang and half an ear, who was returned to the shelter by a family. Acorn, my anxious black lab puppy, abandoned in Mississippi. They are my favorites. Carlos is fierce and too aggressive for his own good, but he loves his wet food and to be pet right under his chin, and will hop up onto the bathtub ledge to say hi while you’re taking a bath. He loves to curl up in the crook of your elbow and fall asleep with you. Acorn is sweet and playful, full of energy, who shakes with excitement when you come through the door. He loves ice cream treats and his rope toys, tearing up anything with a squeaker as soon as he can. These guys are part of my family. These guys deserve all of the love. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

He was such an unexpected blessing. It’s like my brother said, “He’s such a precious little pup.” And he is. He’s our precious little (50 pounds and counting) pup. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On the Puppy, Who’s Growing Quickly

When we bought Acorn’s collar, we bought an extra-large. It was too big, so boyfriend’s grandfather cut an extra hole. Two days back into Colorado, we had already loosened the collar to the next hole. And now, we’ve loosened it again. Man, they grow so fast.

It’s a good thing the collar is orange, or sometimes I think we’d sit on him when he’s nestled into our black leather couch. He blends right in, and when he falls asleep, sometimes he sleeps so deeply that your presence doesn’t even wake him.

There are currently two dogs in my living room, lounging on the couch. The boxer-lab mix, Lily, is eight; she’s into naps and comfortable places. She doesn’t belong to us, but we’re babysitting her for the week. She and Carlos have a very antagonistic relationship, so Carlos has been taking over the basement while Lily gets the living room. (Lily will sneak away when she thinks no one is looking in search of the cat — she ate his entire food bowl one day before we got to her. Carlos, for his part, will sit and wait for her and swat at her as soon as she’s close. Acorn knows to avoid Carlos, and the two of them seem to be okay together, as long as Acorn doesn’t get too close for Carlos’s comfort.)

Acorn is happily chewing on his new rope toy; we’re halfway to perfecting fetch. He’s still all puppy, floppy and sweet, into chewing on everything and playing, hesitantly. He’ll run into the backyard and romp for a while, but every so often, he looks back to make sure you’re there.

I bought the rope toy yesterday, thinking we needed something besides deer antlers and the squeaky hedgehog (with camouflage fabric on his belly, hah) for him to play with. The rope toy immediately became a hit – I threw it into the backyard and he ran after it, bringing it mostly back to me before dropping it and running to me to get love. I threw it again, and he brought it back to me. He loves it. Last night, he was playing with it all by himself, tossing it into the air, swinging it back and forth. I’ll have to take video; it’s so adorable I can hardly stand it.

We had people over to celebrate boyfriend’s birthday last night and everyone fell in love with Acorn. He’s the happiest puppy, they said, and so well-behaved. It’s been funny to watch him follow Lily’s lead all over the backyard – wherever she goes, he follows, and she’s been teaching him how to play, fierce wrestling and running. We laugh because now she’s bigger than him, and far more dominant, so she seems to have the upper hand, but one day (sooner rather than later), he’ll be bigger than her. I think she’ll make a good mentor, minus her penchant for begging, which we’re trying to avoid passing on to Acorn.

I’m enjoying this time, but trying to give Carlos enough love so that he doesn’t feel left out and so that he doesn’t start to resent the puppy for needing so much attention. I’ve been enjoying having all of us here at the house – brother and boyfriend were heading to the gym as I got home from an errand this afternoon. It’s a nice feeling to come home to a happy house, full of my family.