Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Single Dog Mom

June 2003: Kinook and I remained alone in the house. I felt responsible for her, like a mother to a child. I was juggling work, social life, caring for myself and for her in this aftermath of intense emotional drama, and with a great deal of uncertainty on financial resources. 

Not having children of my own makes it difficult to judge the degree of challenges a mother faces, and from where I was looking, as a single woman caring for a dog, it seemed to me that children were easier to look after than dogs. Children are welcome everywhere - there are no sign in stores, doctors’ offices, office buildings or parks that read: “No kids allowed”. But dogs -  at least in Ottawa, Canada - they are a different story: dogs are not allowed in most shopping malls, all restaurants, many offices and office buildings, and unless they are service dogs, they are certainly banned from grocery stores. Only specific parks in town are dog-friendly, and none of the beaches, including the public beaches on natural lakes in national parks, allow dogs. 

What this meant for me, as a single care-taker for Kinook, was that if I tried to lump my chores in one travel, and combine shopping and various appointments with dog-care and walking, I had to leave Kinook in the car, which was only possible in the colder weather, to make it safe for her, as car interiors get too hot in the summer. I would not dare tie my dog in front of stores and leave her on the street - what if somebody steals her? I couldn’t risk that. 

I have no close family this side of the Ocean, so Kinook filled in the role of sister, daughter and close friend. I became really creative in finding places where I could go with her and things to do where I could include her. When I would set playdates with friends, and someone would propose a place to go to, I would immediately check: “Is it dog-friendly?” 

One summer day I met with my two friends, Lucie and Anne, and went for a stroll in Ottawa’s Byward Market - a central place of shopping and entertainment for the young and bohemian crowds. Kinook was on leash, by my side, her suburban canine self utterly curious and intrigued by the downtown smells and busyness. Lunchtime pulled us towards an Italian restaurant with patio tables. I tried my luck and asked the owner: “Could we have lunch at a patio table? We have a dog…” Luckily the owner wanted our business more than he feared Health Canada laws, and allowed us in. I was at my happiest, out with girlfriends, and with my puppy-girl by my side. Why is it such a thrill to do things with your dog? I can’t remember being so thrilled going out on dates with sexy men - and I have been out on dates with quite a few lovely, sexy, great men! Maybe it’s a offer versus demand thing: places to go with your dogs are so scarce, that when you find one, it feels like you won the lottery. Maybe I’d be less thrilled in a place like Yellowknife, where people take their dogs everywhere. Everyone in Yellowknife seems to drive trucks instead of cars, and every truck has a large, calm, fluffy dog riding in or on it, enjoying the scenery and their rides with their humans.

The Canal Ritz restaurant on the water is one of those grey areas where taking your dog out for dinner is legitimate thanks to logistics: the restaurant’s patio is fenced by a low, simple fence which makes the separation between inside and outside merely symbolic. 

So I would go for a meal with my puppy girl and tie her outside on the fence, then sit at the table right next to her, on the inside. I could touch her, pet her, and feed her my steak (of course!) while we were dining together but legally, she was not in the restaurant. This became one of the places you go primarily not for the food, but for the company and view. 

“Look! Squeaky toys!” I would tell Kinook, pointing my fingers towards the ducks lazily floating on the Rideau Canal waters. 

“How underwhelmingly interesting” my placid working breed of a dog would say with her eyes and body language. She had no interest in either chasing birds, or squeaking toys. “Is there more steak on your plate for me?” she’d inquire instead. Requesting steak from a human’s plate is a time proven tradition, way more effective than duck-chasing and a much better use of an Akita’s time. The mark of an intelligent dog is that she knows that the source of her food is the human’s plate and fridge, and not so much on the land, so it’s important to know where to place one’s efforts and attention.

Kinook and I walked often at the Arboretum, a doggie-friendly park filled with interesting specimen trees, a lovely park unfolding further down from the Canal Ritz on the Rideau Canal. There was a “doggie beach” at the park, where water-loving dogs would swim, retrieve sticks and balls, or try their luck chasing ducks and geese. One day we watched a black Labrador Retriever stalk a bunch of ducks up and down the water, while his human was patiently watching the scene from a bench. “The self-entertaining, self-exercising dog” I thought, my eyes on this scene which looked like a live clip of a doggie comics cartoon: the black Lab swimming up and down, following the ducks with committed aplomb, neither bored or discouraged enough to give up, nor eager enough to get tired ; the ducks were just enough annoyed to try and get away from the dog, but not threatened enough to flee. So the pursued and pursuer swam up and down, up and down. And Kinook - she couldn’t be bothered. 

Kinook had a thing for squirrels though. She took more interest in creatures who jumped, ran and climbed up trees, than water creatures who swam. Her double coat getting heavy while in water kept her interested in dry land endeavours, while her greatest aquatic adventures consisted in wading through the water with an open mouth so she could step forward and drink at the same time, in examining the occasional fish or frog, ears perked up and rotating to the sides, like satellite dishes. Occasionally she’d jump up and stomp in the shallow water with a sudden splash in a half-hearted attempt to catch that fish or frog by surprise - but really, without placing all her bets on the move.

But chasing squirrels on dry land, that was a different kind of game: it was entrancing, compelling, deeply engaging, and it had a very specific procedure to it. First, you watch the squirrel from afar. You lower yourself by flexing the knees, you lower your tail, and the ears go pointing forth. You gently walk forward towards the squirrel, as silently as you can, treading lightly over the tops of fresh, dewy blades of grass. You walk step by step, stop for a short while with one front leg in the air, smelling the breeze coming the way of your nostrils from the squirrel. And when you’re close enough to the target, you sprint with your full speed towards it, and give it your all to reach it! When the inevitable happens, and the little creature has climbed up a tree (why, oh, why do they put trees wherever there are squirrels? It’s not fair!) you sit under the tree, looking up at your almost-caught game, and speak up your mind from the tops of your lungs: “I see you! I know where you are! Come on down here, you pesky little squirrel! Come on down, and make my day!”


Is it a coincidence that all my friends are animal lovers, and particularly dog-lovers? It so happens that all the houses I have been invited to for visits and dinner, have been open to me together with my dog - except those houses with territorial cats, but for some reason I don’t remember myself visiting many of those houses. I do, however, remember visiting Gabriela’s house in Gatineau, the Quebequois (French Canadian) city right across the river from Ottawa. Gabriela and I share the same cultural background, both born and raised in Bucharest, Romania, and as we found out in our conversations, we even attended the same school, but in different years. 

Gabriela was a single Mum for her (human) daughter. She loves people (she’s a medical doctor), and she loves animals. Kinook and I entered her home, we humans gathered for chats and tea, and Ms. Pup went on to do what she needed to do when on new grounds: she went exploring. There’s a great deal of new smells to take in when on a visit, so she went ahead meticulously examining Gabriela’s house room by room, her life enriched by the novelty of the experience.

In the middle of the conversation, we heard a far away bark. “Wroof!” And then a pause. Then again, “Wrrroof!” And another pause. And it went on and on with committed, predictable barks, neither too flimsy nor too enthusiastic, spaced out at about five seconds apart. We went looking and found that the sounds came from upstairs. 

“Oh!” Exclaimed Gabriela on our way up the stairs. “She must have found Gogu”

Gogu is a ubiquitous male name in Romania.

“Who’s Gogu?” I asked.

“The Hamster” she replied.

We found Kinook planted in front of Gogu’s cage, staring him in the eye, intrigued and bedazzled by this creature that she couldn’t reach in spite of it not climbing up a tree, and she kept interrogating him: “Who are you?” Pause. “What are you?” Pause. “Come on out!” Pause. “Look at me!” Pause. “Come on out!”

Gabriela took Gogu out of his cage, and we were both (scientifically) curious to see what would happen in an encounter between our furry friends. She carefully held Gogu in her hand, and sheltered him in case Kinook would decide to consume him as her treat; then she placed her under the nose of her curious visitor. Kinook sniffed carefully, filling the data files in her brain with the new information, and then she gently licked the hamster twice. 

It wasn’t the exuberant, affectionate sloppy and slobbery kind of a lick that translates to the human kiss which the more passionate dogs are known to do. It was a careful procedure of curious exploration to complement her sense of smell, where she employed the taste buds on the tip of her tongue (specialized on hamster-tasting, I am sure!) to get all the information that she could on Gogu, which proved satisfactory enough given Gogu’s silence and stubborn reluctance to answer any of Kinook’s interrogation.

The encounter was short-lived, as Kinook’s short attention span being that of a typical Akita, a breed too intelligent and curious to be captured by one single event for too long, so once satisfied with the smell-taste introduction to the hamster, she went on to explore new corners of our hostess’s home.


The most difficult part of being a single Mom for Kinook was caring for her during the times I needed to travel out of town. I had to find a good, reliable dog sitter. And I did. On one of our walks to the Conroy Pit doggie park, we found the business card of a woman who offered “A home away from home” to dogs. I called. The woman was freshly retired from her job as a computer science college teacher whose dream was to come home to a moving carpet made of dogs. She had two fluffy canine creatures of her own, and she went on advertising for her retirement occupation as a dog-sitter. The woman, Penny, was a true dog lover. She lived in a two-storey townhouse across from a park, had a dog-friendly car (a van) for chauffeuring her clients to the off-leash grounds, and had turned her house into a doggie day-care place with walk-in crates under the stairs, toys, and a hall-of-fame wall in the entrance hallway showing the portrait photos of her favourite clients. Kinook’s face was on top of the pile! 

Kinook proceeded to steal Penny’s heart, and upon my returns from travels, when going to pick her up and bring her home, I would hear stories of what she had done, like staring at Penny’s dinner pizza until she got her share. One time I came to pick Kinook up, and she came to greet me, her Akita-enthusiastic tail vibrating extended way beyond the usual two seconds, and then she returned to a marrow bone she was chewing with an outstanding exuberance and a delighted smile on her face. I will never know for sure, but when I think of it now, she was so happy at Penny’s that I think I could have left her there, and she would have been as happy as she was running to our car to go home with me. Penny was clearly the dog-sitter made in Heaven, and a fur baby’s single Mom’s best friend!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Dark Night of the Soul

What makes a human’s destiny has been the subject of endless debates – is it predestined conditions, family genetics, life experiences, or life choices? Is it written in the stars, or can a human make their own good luck and good fortune?

What is even more mysterious is what makes the destiny of a dog? Anyone who has lived with dog siblings from the same mother and father will attest that there is more to it than genetics or astrology: animals born on the same day, to the same parents, under the same conditions, develop differently and have different life paths. Is it karma? Is it chaos? Who knows?

Kinook’s life started with stability and care, together with a Mama, a Papa, two children and another dog, a female Lab. Then, when she was one year and a half, she ended all by herself in a Humane Society cage, where she lived for two months until we found each other. She came into our home fully loved and wanted, a calm dog with serene brown eyes who trusted us from day one, and had no fear of vet visits or thunder. You know how you can tell if a dog has been abused and beaten? You raise your hand above when she can see you: if the dog lowers her head in fear, she’s seen that gesture before, and it caused her pain. Kinook had no connotation to the raised hand, it meant nothing to her, and she watched me and my arm with slight boredom, the experiment proving that she had no history of trauma or abuse.

Her new home, our home, was a detached house on a suburban corner lot surrounded with lawn, flower gardens and cedar hedge. The Eastern side of the garden, connecting the side door with the driveway, was fenced, and safe for Miss Pup to go and sit outside on her own as she pleased. The upstairs had a living room, three bedrooms, the kitchen and bathroom; the basement recreation room, one bedroom and bathroom were claimed by my healing arts client work and Reiki classes. My office desk was in the large recreation room, with my back against the wall and my face facing the stairs. The utility room with furnace, washer and dryer, and storage, were also downstairs and across from my desk, to the left of the treatment room (the bedroom).

At first Kinook was clumsy walking down the stairs; she sounded like a herd of cattle trotting around, neither her nor I being quite sure of how exactly she placed her feet on those steps, in which order. She didn’t go downstairs if she didn’t have to, and her first reason was to be there where interesting action took place.
On a Saturday morning, as my Reiki students would start to come in for a class, Kinook would come to the basement to check them out, each one of the humans passing a nose test of her sniffing, often a taste test of her tongue as well. Students were seated on chairs forming a circle, and Kinook would lie down inside or outside of the circle and soak in the soothing feelings of the Reiki class. During attunements, the transmission ceremony through which I, as a Reiki Master, initiated the participants into becoming practitioners, Kinook would stare attentively at my hands and at the space above my head, making me wonder what was she seeing that I didn’t.

Then there were the times when the basement was sought as a refuge...

My husband J.’s moods were unpredictable, and anything could trigger him, at any time. Sometimes it was something that someone had said at his office, at other times, a fellow passenger in the bus on his ride back home. Most of the times, it was me, something I had done, or said, or didn’t do, or didn’t say. No one would know in advance when his cheerful mood would turn to gloom, and when it did, he’d be changed, his eyes bulging, his lower lip pressed outward, his face distorted with anger, nose wrinkled, forehead frowning. His voice would thunder and his pace would quicken, the sound of his barefoot heels hitting the floor tiles with a thud, and he would rant about the object of his anger, calling them (or me) names, wishing them (or me) bad things to happen. The air around him would change, and a feeling of dread would arise: my heart would race, my stomach tied up in knots, the upper body collapsing over my waist, my limbs would feel cold, weak and shaky.

If I were at the computer, downstairs, behind my desk when J. would arrive home triggered, Kinook would run down the stairs in her rushed, clumsy way, and come to hide behind my chair. I would try to soothe and reassure her, pretending I was calm; and I could lie with my words, but not with my body: I was as scared as she was. Were we afraid of being harmed by J.? Or did we both tune in empathically into his fears and trauma, and became ourselves vicariously traumatised? All living things are like cells in an organism, we communicate with each other whether consciously or not, and through the mirror neurons that science has discovered, or perhaps through the energy fields that mystics talk about, we tune into each other’s states of being, and influence each other’s thoughts, feelings and sensations.

J.’s moods were unpredictable, and he was verbally violent, cursing, threatening and insulting. He didn’t hit Kinook, but I found out from neighbours that when he would walk alone with her, he’d tug at her leash violently, impatient with her disobedience of him. When the three of us went for walks, and when Kinook and I were alone, she obeyed me – I was her Alpha, and my gentle voice and touch was convincing enough for her to come when I called, stay close, within eye sight, or sit, or lie down. It was not so when J. walked with her, and the more turbulent his emotional state, the less inclined Kinook was to follow him; the more she’d disobey, the angrier, and more impatient he would get, and when his leadership failed, he’d compensate with force by tugging on the leash.

Kinook’s calm slowly changed into anxiety and allergies. Her skin became itchy, her eyes teary, and she scratched crying with irritation, until her skin was bleeding, and an odor would ooze from the wounds. No one can really say what caused the allergies, and to what extent they were psycho-somatic and triggered by mental distress. The calm this gentle dog had when she joined us was eroded, and gave way to anxiety and fear from sudden noises and lights, from the camera flashlight to fireworks to lightning and thunder. Her body shook often, and she sought refuge behind me.

On June 13 2003 I was getting dressed to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I had signed up for an art summer camp with the Ottawa School of Art, a week of daily drawing and painting classes. I was already taking weekly classes with a local community centre and painting watercolor on paper, and acrylic on canvas. When in good mood, J. and I called each other ‘Motek’, Hebrew for ‘Sweetie’. When in good mood, J. would watch me paint and fondly call me; ‘Toulouse Motek’.

This afternoon the mood turned gloomy:

“How much did you pay for the classes?” J. asked.

“Two hundred dollars” I replied, my stomach tied in knots.

“Two hundred fucking dollars?!” he thundered back. “We don’t have two hundred dollars! Where did you get the money?”

“I charged it to my credit card” I replied sheepishly.

Everything else went into a blur in that moment: his thundering voice, something he said about this painting of mine being an expensive hobby, his pacing with heavy, stiff legs, shaking the earth with resounding thuds. I could feel my heart high in my chest, close to my throat, and my hands were frozen. I watched helplessly Kinook who had started to pace, ears back in distress, her eyes spelling fear, as she looked at J., at me, and at the door. No-where for her to hide behind me now, she scratched the door with her right front paw, asking to be let out. I let her out and thought, I can’t subject this dog to this, it’s cruel. My thoughts were racing and muddy. I have to rescue her. I’ll call the Humane Society to come and rescue her. I reached the cordless phone, no phone number in mind. I muttered something about calling, and J. came quickly towards me, towering over me with his fist hovering up in the air, as he hissed: ‘Want to call the cops? You cow, you stupid, stupid cow! I’ll give you a good reason to call the cops, I’ll hit you so hard, you won’t be able to dial!’

That’s when I dialed. I dialed the only phone number I could think of. I dialed 911.

J. stooped and soon after an operator answered, he unplugged the phone from the jack.
Within a few minutes, the living room phone rang. I ran to answer.

‘Did someone at this number call 911?’ a female voice asked.

I blurted loud and quick, as quick as I could, my home address.

‘Is someone ill, ma’am?’ asked the voice

‘No, my husband threatens to hit me!’.

J. ran to the living room, struggling with the stiffness of his body to stoop low in order to find the phone jack behind the furniture and unplug the chord.

‘We’re on our way to you Ma’am’ the voice reassured me. ‘Where is your husband now? Can you put him on the phone for me?’

J. took the phone and controlled his voice: ‘Hi, no-one is going to hurt my wife, Ma’m. She’s fine, there’s no reason to send a car here. You folks have better things to do’.

The car arrived. The things that always happen to others, or in movies, but never to me, today were happening to me, to us. Police officers separated J. and I, and compared our stories. They handcuffed him, and took him away. An officer offered to drive me to the hospital, as I was shaky, crying uncontrollably, and had sharp pain in my chest. I declined, unwilling to risk being sedated with drugs, and I signed the papers for it. My friend Lucie came by and remained to give me a hands-on Reiki treatment to help me sleep.

Kinook and I remained on our own, both shaken and unwell. I had nightmares, dreaming that J. would take revenge on me and come to kill me, and would wake up startled, hallucinating his voice thundering: ‘Fuck!’.

Kinook became too scared to walk, and it was heartbreaking seeing her on the top of the driveway, looking suspiciously in all the directions, planting herself on her behind on the pavement, unwilling to budge. I had watched Cesar Milan’s Dog Whisperer programs, and using some of his methods I managed to gently coax Kinook into going for walks; we’d make it to a school’s fenced yard where dogs were welcome after hours, and once unleashed, she was looking worried towards the gate, ready to head home on her own. She had no joy in socializing, no joy out of our walks. And I felt guilty to have brought a peaceful animal into my home, and wreck her mental health like that.

Before the summer was over, I managed to find a classical homeopath veterinarian doctor to treat Kinook, Femma Van As. Kinook and I both embarked on a journey to healing and coping. It was not easy, but we had each other.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why Alpha?

The case for leadership in dog care

When do you and puppy cross the road? When there's a squirrel on the other side, or when it's safe to do so? And whose decision is it?

There is confusion between dominance and leadership. Dominance is a forceful attempt to control others, emerging from helplessness and frustration; it's a decision based on deficiency. Leaders are calm and assertive influencers of their environment, who act on purpose. Leaders can be kind and powerful, whether a human Dalai Lama or a canine Border Collie herding the sheep with calm and poise. 

I remember seeing my friend Natasha crying the premature death of her miniature poodle after she ate a poisoned bit left by the garbage bin by a cruel, malevolent human. The dog was on a leash, and faster to swallow than my friend's attempts to get her to spit. It was tragic.

Who decides whether a chicken bone from the garbage bin is a good idea for a snack, your dog, or you? And if your command: 'Leave it!' or 'Drop!' is successful, was this an act of evil dominance, or loving care - effective loving care?

The Alpha dog doesn't bark her head off, or bite: she elegantly embodies love and power and with just one look and the right stance, the pack will follow.

There is a family who adores their dog, but when it comes to obedience, they feel frustrated and annoyed. They constantly scream from the top of their lungs at their dog, whenever there's too much barking or running around, and they did exactly the same thing with their previous dog before this one. It is not the dog that causes the screaming: it is what these people do. 

The Alpha doesn't scream: she whispers. The Alpha doesn't scream, because she doesn't have to! The Alpha embodies love and power in her stance, her breathing, her movement, her touch and her voice. The Alpha protects, provides, soothes and leads the way to safety. 

The Alpha leads with elegance.

In this photo I'm sticking my face in Kinook's bowl to teach her that it's okay for me to handle her food. She first got worried at my 'Yum! Yum!' sounds, but quickly got to make peace with my touching her meals.

Monday, July 4, 2016

New Driver, New Passenger

I'm a late bloomer. The good part of it is, when all the other flowers are starting to wilt, I bloom. All my friends got their driver's licence when they were in their late teens; me, in my late thirties. More precisely, at thirty nine and a half. 

I had just moved to Yellowknife to join my newly wed husband J., and had plenty of time on my hands, so why not take driving lessons. At first I was quite nervous, whatiffing myself: what if I am too old to learn new tricks? What if my reflexes are too slow? What if I'm too emotional to be let loose on highways?

My driving instructor was reassuring: "You are a very good driver - you have a bit of a heavy foot on the acceleration, but other than that, you'll be just fine". And I was. The road test was a piece of cake: the city is too small for accidents, with traffic too light, and not enough lanes to change; the only time of the day where a bad driver stands the chance to make an accident is between 4:55 and 5:00 pm sharp, when the government employees rush home, time fondly known as the city's rush minute.

We bought a family car when we moved to Ottawa, in the end of the year 2000. Now, if you are a new driver behind the wheel in your own town and neighbourhood, you kind of know your way around when you switch chairs from passenger's to driver's. This wasn't my case - I was new in Ottawa, new behind the wheel, newly married and newly Canadian, and quite overwhelmed putting it all together. There was tension between two of my inner voices: one side of me saying: "Go, drive, be free!" while the other voice, and quite a loud one too, was saying, in a high pitch: "Whaat? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Do you know how people die in car accidents?!?" I could feel both voices inside my body, the fear tightening my stomach in a knot, while the voice of my soul opening my chest in warm spaciousness, warmth spreading all around my arms and the rest of my body.

At first I drove with J. in the car with me, but my husband's temperament was far from reassuring: he'd lit a cigarette, puff nervously on it, and instruct me with an alarmed voice to go that way or this way by stretching his index finger in front of my face. J. was so stressed by my driving practice, he'd dream about it at night, and I'd hear him yell in his sleep: "It's green! Go, go go!!!"

The first time I drove alone, it was both scary and liberating. My worst fear was of getting lost - this was before GPS and electronic maps and sexy voices telling you where to go while keeping their fingers to themselves. The next scare to overcome was driving on the highway. 

And then the scariest of all was driving the most precious cargo I was in charge of, my new puppy girl Kinook. She sat on the back seat, nose glued to the window, checking the sites for a while, then sat back on her tail, calmly gazing ahead of her. We went on exploratory drives together, spiralling around our home, every time widening the circle of our exploration as my confidence grew. 

One night I took the wrong turn on the highway, and instead of heading towards home, I found myself across the river, in Quebec, driving towards Montreal, with nowhere to stop and consult the paper map. I muttered "Oh, shit!" and briefly turned to look at Kinook, who shared none of my fears, but looked at me with her characteristic calm, serious face.

"She trusts me!" I noticed. I looked up from my new driver tunnel vision and followed the road signs. I followed the road and drove us back home, to live up to my dog's trust in me.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Eros and Dogs

The Greek language has different names for different types of love: Philia, Caritas, Pragma, Eros, Agape.

Those who regard Love to be an all-permeating force at the very essence of being look at Agape as the all-embracing spiritual love which descends from higher realms of existence down into the world, to embrace all beings in unconditional love. Agape is the love that asks no questions and places no demands – all are loved just because. It is this descending unconditional love that awakens the hearts of spiritual beings, radiating upon the world like the warming, inspiring glow of a million suns.

Eros is the ascending aspect of Love, the irresistible, mighty drive to reach up, commune and become from a singular ‘me’ a larger, collective ‘we’. Some view Eros to be the very drive that causes atoms to commune and become molecules, molecules to cells, and cells to organisms. It is this force which compels humans to become couples, tribes and communities and it can be persuasive enough to make you lose your appetite and sleep until you have done so.

There is a narrow view of erotic love, which confines its meaning to couple relationships; but in the larger sense, Eros is the same invisible force that drives us, humans, to dance with others, share meals with others, embrace each other, and share our most intimate thoughts and feelings with each other.
Humans are a complex animal: we hunt, feed and mate, but we also build cities and countries, invent things, tell stories, and ask deep questions about meaning and values. To be fulfilled in our erotic communion with another, we need to be met at the depth of our complexity – and if we are preoccupied about what makes life worth living, or how to alleviate suffering in the world, we thrive in conversations with others who share the same passions and in shared action towards mutual goals.

At the same time, with greater complexity arise greater problems, and often a deep level of psychological development leaves us detached from more primordial aspects of our existence. We gain greater intelligence, and we lose some of our instincts. Our greater conversation partners or activism buddies often do not touch us or move with us as we’d like; or our best lovers and dance partners don’t meet our mental depth, and we are left wanting.

This is where our best friend, the Dog, is there to help out: living with our animal family members we connect with them at the primordial aspects of our being that we have otherwise largely disowned: touch and movement. Because our dogs are not human, we have no expectations from them for deep mental connection, and where a friend who fails to listen to your dreams and passions will disappoint you, a dog will not, because he’s not supposed to do anything else but eat, sleep, mate or not, and play.

Trading Hugs for Food!

Ideally, erotic relating would be the meeting of two beings who commune at all the levels of their being, from the simple, primordial, animal aspects of their self, to the highest peaks or deepest depth of thinking, feeling and acting: we touch together, move together, talk together and act together. In reality, this is rare, if at all possible, so we seek the human companions of the equally complex men and women for living, working and playing with; and we rely on our dogs for affectionate touch, caresses, hugs and kisses, and we walk with them, run with them, swim with them. Unlike children, they never grow up to shy away from your kiss (“Ew, mom!”) or from shared activities.   

The dog has lived with humans for tens of thousands of years, in a relationship that changed from a simple transaction: “You feed and shelter me, and I’ll protect your young, herd your sheep and hunt with you and for you” to: “You feed and shelter me, also provide me with exercise, play and a job that’s a good fit for my breed and personality, and I’ll cuddle with you, kiss you, and sleep with you in bed so no matter what goes on with your human relationships, I’ll make sure that you’ll never feel lonely”.

Dogs have empathy, and can feel with us. How many human tears have been dried up by dog’s tongues, how many hurts have been comforted by a caring paw and a wet, cold nose? There’s something valuable in the simplicity of being there with a friend in need without preaching to them, trying to fix them, or offering unsolicited advice and while we human learn how to offer such simplicity to each other, dogs already have it for us.

While no dog can replace a lover, a child or a friend, and no lover, child or friend can replace a dog, it is the same mighty Eros that compels them to commune with both human and beast.

Embracing Kinook upon her arrival in my life - June 2001

Monday, June 20, 2016

I Miss You - A dialogue

“Ookie, I miss you so much”

“I see how sad you are. I wish you weren’t sad. I want to see your head lift up.”

“Kinook, my love, I feel so much love coming from you!”

“You are my Alpha human!”

“Ookie, you are the perfect dog for me. If I had to choose from a million dogs, I’d choose you all over again, if I could. Tell me, my love, how was I as a human for you?”

“A bit aloof, Tana. You’ve been distant, sometimes days at a time, sometimes more. I could see your body and couldn’t feel your mind. You’re there but not there. And you’ve always been very protective of me. I felt protected in so many ways. And you were distant, withdrawn in yourself, but when I hurt, you were there for me, with me. Alarms always brought you near me.”

“Would you choose me over other humans?”

“I don’t know how to answer this question, Tana. I don’t have a comparison with other humans. You are my pack, my world, and I can’t imagine my world otherwise.”

“What was it like inside you? What was the pain like? Did I keep you for too long?”

“I had headaches, on and off. And knee pain, and back pain, and the back pain was manageable until that time I fell, then I had sharp, shooting pain from my hip down my left hind leg. The warmth of your palms helped with the pain, and put me to sleep. I trusted your touch less after that day when I fell. But when the warmth came, it helped. Pain was less bothering me than the loss of my sight and hearing, mostly my sight. I couldn’t see well and that made moving around so difficult.”

“This conversation helps me, Kinook. Is this helpful to you too? Could we talk again?”

“I’m sleepy. Let me rest.”

“What do you want me to do with your ashes?”

“Scatter them over the Billings Estate graveyard, I’d like that. Bring those two cookies as well.”

“I will, my love. Rest in peace.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

No Dogs Allowed!

You know that you are a dog lover when you count your dog into your daily activities. With a little bit of creativity, a car, and a heart full of love, you can combine dog walking with shopping and running errands, and this is what I did with my new canine love, Kinook.

Kinook at the lake

Exploring my new city, Ottawa, I found a place where I felt right at home from the first visit: a family-owned building on Main Street, Mama Poppy and her daughters, and their businesses: a vegetarian restaurant called The Green Door, where all the who’s who in the healing arts, yoga and meditation meet, intentionally or not, and eat; a consciousness, spirituality and well-being specialty book store, Singing Pebbles; the new age gift store The Three Trees and a health food store called at the time The Wheat Berry (that’s before wheat-free was fashionable). That building was my favourite hangout where I’d browse the books, listen to meditative music, chat with people, have a flavourful vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired meal (the owners are Greek), and shop for food, books, incense and crystals.

The Green Door and its sister businesses stand across the street from the St. Paul’s University, a doggie-loving academic institution to my taste, where hundreds of happy (wo)men’s best friends gather to romp the green pastures of the University’s property, along the Rideau River. Dogs run after sticks and balls and each other, the water-loving kinds jumping all the way to the water and back, and it’s an ongoing people and fur friends outdoor party. Ottawa’s culture is quite conservative, and compared to what I knew in Romania, Israel and Yellowknife, it is quite hermetically closed to newcomers, with one outstanding exception: the doggie park! Walking your dog in Ottawa is more likely to get you a conversation with strangers and a phone numbers exchange than going to any other place, well, except the Main Street businesses, which are like a Greek-new-age embassy of warm hugs and communion.

Kinook and I adopted the Main Street walk-n-shop as one of our outing routines. Kathleen the trainer-turned-friend had advised me to walk with Kinook in a variety of places. “It keeps her on her toes” she said, and a lover of variety myself, I went along with it. So on a sunny day we’d take the car, Kinook taking her regal spot on the back seat, on a doggie blanket and towel, go for a walk behind St. Paul University, go down to the river for a pee and a drink of water, the order of which never mattered, for as long as one was upstream of the other; then visit the dog-friendly Singing Pebble book store and have a browse and a chat with Moira.

Moira is this ageless woman who loves nature and has stories of animals and trips to Africa. There’s something about Moira that makes me think of Safari explorers– her sporty clothes, her gray hair braided in one thick braid which rests on one shoulders, her love of animals. She’s worked at the book store for a long time, and judging by how comfortable she looks, always with welcoming, smiling face and eyes, my guess is that she likes it there. Moira and I liked to chat, and when I wanted to eat next door at the restaurant, she took Kinook in her care while I was away. Kinook spent some time behind the counter, but did all she could to find her way to the door and watch outside, nose against glass, to wait for me, and see my return. The French say: “Qui m’aime, aime mon chien” – who loves me, loves my dog. I felt at home among dog lovers, and in these places where my pup was welcome.

And I felt not so much at home in all these other places where the “No dogs” sign stared in my face, from shopping malls to parks to beaches. My assumptions about Canada being a dog-loving country turned wrong in Ottawa and its surroundings. It was for the first time that I was seeing an entire park banning dogs and I could neither understand why, nor accept it. Some parks allowed dogs only on leash, a policy largely disobeyed; and most of these parks were frequented by canine delinquents who happily and carelessly ran around from tree trunk to tree trunk with no leash on, taking in the glorious bounty of scents.

It was the summer of 2001, and to me a real summer is when you go swimming outdoors in a natural body of water. As a child growing up in Romania, I travelled for hours each summer to spend a good two weeks on the Black Sea shore. During the fifteen years of living in Israel, I lived within walking distance from the beach – the Mediterranean beach, mind you! Then I moved to Canada, and my first Canadian summer was that impossibly cold Yellowknife weather when people perspire profusely at a mere 25 degrees Celsius, and lakes are put there by the gods not for you, human being, to swim in their waters, but for your dog! So Arctic summer means that you take your dog for a hike and throw a stick into the lake so puppy gets to swim, not you, but if you so chose, you're welcome to vicariously enjoy the water through your furry friend.

Well, now I was in warm(ish) Ottawa, and I had a dog, so following the compelling mental images of my heart’s desire, I jumped in the car together with my husband and my new, wet-nosed love Kinook, and drove to the Gatineau Park.
The wooden bridge on the way to the beach

Parc de la Gatineau is the French name for this lovely Quebec national park, a beauty spreading over miles and miles of forests and lakes, so big that, if you live in Europe or Israel, think that your country has turned into a park, that big! It has trails and lakes for swimming, lakes for hiking around, one lake for staying away from dipping in because it has funny substances that you don’t want on your skin; and it has a couple of visitors’ centres where you can go and get maps for the whole thing.

Meech Lake is a go-to-swim lake, and bathing suit on, I parked the car in the parking lot, and together with husband and dog, I trotted the short hike towards the beach, looking forward for a dip in the water together with Kinook.

At the beach, we were greeted by an NCC (National Capital Commission) officer in uniform, who pointed towards the dreaded “No Dogs Allowed” sign at the entrance to the beach, and who requested that we leave.

“Is there a beach where we can take our dog?” I asked the officer.

“No ma’am, all public beaches are banned to dogs”

“Why?” I asked.

“For health reasons, ma’am” and then he added, "It's Health Canada regulations, ma'm!"

I was surprised, disappointed and angry, and I complained all the way back to the car. How exactly do dogs pose a threat to human’s health? I thought of the park across the street from my home, where dogs were allowed on the right hand side of the park, but not on the left hand side of the park where the children’s playground was. Moms and dads who happened to have both human kids and fur kids to walk with, couldn’t go to the park without splitting the family in two. Now we were in a forest lake, not in a fancy country club with man-made swimming pools (and I’ve seen dogs in those country clubs in Israel, baking in the sun alongside their humans, their only threats posed only to ice-cream cones and hot dogs). Forests are inhabited by bears, deer, raccoons, geese and loons and a great variety of animal species big and small, all of whom are known to pee and poo, some of them on the beach, and some of them in the lake. Dogs on the other hand sleep indoors, often in the same room and bed with their humans; they see the vet more often than I see my doctor; they are vaccinated, bathed, fed special food, kissed, caressed, hugged, and hand-checked for ticks; and I cannot understand how their pee and poo is more dangerous to humans on a beach, than the pee and the poo of scavenging wild beasts. Argh!

Back in the parking lot I saw a group of men who were unloading bicycles from their cars. One of them had a fluffy white little dog with him. I approached the man, cheeks flushed from anger and disappointment, and pointing to his dog, and mine, I asked him: “Where do you go to when you want to swim together with your dog?”

The man, while placing his protection cap on his head and fastening his gloves, replied: “There’s a nudist beach up ahead on this trail. If nudism doesn’t bother you, you can take your dog there. The beach is unofficial so nobody will bother you about her.”

“How do I find the beach?” I asked, pretty sure that nudism bothered me much less than no-dogs beaches.

“Oh, that’s easy!” the man replied, pointing towards a small plaque nailed on a tree: “Just follow the ‘Nudism Prohibited’ signs!”

Just follow the signs!

The signs helped, and we trotted on a hilly hiking path for about twenty minutes. On the way to the nudist beach we met the beginning of the Meech Lake spreading on both sides of a picturesque wooden bridge, the cool azure blue glistening in the sun so proud and beautiful,  sunlight sparkling on the surface of its water, so magical that it makes you tingle watching it. Kinook ran to the shallow water and went wading with her mouth open, letting the water flow in as she drank like a crocodile. I watched with a huge smile on my face: this, like most everything that she did looked so cute and funny to me, so adorable, especially since, as the respectable and dignified dog that she was, she did everything with a very serious look on her face.

Wading in shallow water

Another few minutes on the main path, we turned to the left to a smaller path, and then again to the left on an even smaller path, literally out of the beaten track, and into the woods again. And then trees turned to low bushes, and the tiny path opened to a small beach covered with grass, and a breathtakingly beautiful view. No sight, sounds, or smells of cars or roads: all the eyes could see around the waters were trees, a dock on the other side to the left, and on the far side across, a house. Naked bodies of men sprinkled the grassy beach in front of us and the forested hill to the left, lazily lying like lizards, soaking in the sun. A group of three or four naked men were standing in the lake to their waist, chatting.

We found a spot in half-shade and laid down the beach blanket. Kinook went to the water for a drink, a pee and to chase some frogs. I looked around a bit curious, a bit apprehensive, and amused at my own hesitation to undress. I removed the bra of my two-piece bathing suit and kept my arms crossed in front of my chest for a long while.

I remembered a scene from a beach in Israel. It was soon after a large number of Persian Jews fled Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, and immigrated to Israel. Many of the Israeli women at the beach wore topless bathing suits with tiny thong bikini bottoms. A small group of male Iranian newcomers walked by one such woman who was lying on her back the sand, her young, round, cheeky breasts reaching up to the skies to be sun kissed. The men slowed down their pace, and stared at the woman, heads pulled forward towards her on stretched necks, their eyes and mouths wide open in shocked amazement. It must have been a great cultural shock for them, leaving behind a society where women were covered from head to toe, the Moral Police arresting anyone for even showing a strand of hair or an inch of skin on their ankle, to arrive to this place with bare breasts and buttocks. I looked at the men and thought poorly of their cultural attitudes.

Now I was sitting on this other beach in my new home country, Canada, facing the other end of prudish attitudes: my own! Public nudism is quite common in Europe, not only in the South of France, but also in the country of my birth, Romania, which boasted a nudist colony by the Black Sea - but for some reason I had never been to that place and this, here in the Gaineau Park, was my first mixed - men and women - nudist encounter. As the morning advanced towards noon, a couple of families, with women and children, appeared on the beach, and when the other women dropped their panties, I dropped mine. Participating in public nudism became easier after that, including learning to make eye contact when talking to others, instead of staring down below their waists.

A number of regular beach-goers called themselves ‘naturists’, even though they were smoking and drinking beer, so I quickly learned that naturists are not necessarily vegetarians, vegans, or even natural-health seekers. They are men and women who like to get together naked. One of them, Lucien, greeted us with a wide smile and a warm, friendly hand shake, and told me the story and politics of the beach, which, I learned, was “clothing optional”, which meant that one had the freedom to do with (or without) clothes, as they liked. The regular naturists shared a code of unwritten rules about their stay at the beach, which included careing for the environment, cleaning after themselves and packing all the garbage away when leaving; respectful behaviour towards women and men, with no overt sexual passes to others, and these rules made the place pleasant for all. Kinook was immediately welcomed by most everyone, and she was an easy companion, with little demands. She went to the water to cool off, and then lied in the shade of a tree; the greatest annoyance she was ever guilty of was when
planting herself in front of whoever was eating their lunch, shaking an unsolicited paw, staring at their sandwich.  

Us, humans, got along well, and unlike clothes-on beaches, we formed friendships and talked about things personal and political and philosophical, agreeing and disagreeing on things; and later on, when Mark Zuckerberg made it available, some of us connected on Facebook. Weekend after weekend, summer after summer, until late in October for as long as dipping in the cool lake was still possible, Kinook and I trotted up and down the trail to the lake, and we had the best times ever in that place where no clothes were required and no dogs were banned.

Happiness is playing in the lake together!