Livestock in the Bedroom

Joe Normal Pose

(This is my mastiff Joe who passed away this week just shy of his 12th birthday.  I wrote this piece years ago when I first adopted Joe and am rerunning it in his honor.  I have never met a dog more devoted to my well-being than this boy and I will miss him forever.)

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Economically, times are tough. Those that have spending money are finally showing a bit of well-placed caution, and those that don’t have money, well, the decision to become fiscally conservative has been made for them. Economic distress is so close that everyone is feeling its hot, sour breath in our ears, whispering terms of anxiety and fear.

We Americans are strong. We will adapt. We will come through this and be content and prosperous again. Though right now that we’re in the middle of this financial fog and trying to cope, we’d love a gigantic cocktail of scotch and Xanax, hold the ice. Yes bartender, I would like to run a tab.

As people are being shoved into tight corners and having to make painful choices, it is often the most blameless that bear the first, confusing cut. The family dog, particularly if it is a large breed, often finds itself dumped in a shelter through no fault of its own. Large breed rescue groups and shelters are being overrun with owner-relinquished pets as people are being forced out of their homes into an apartment or worse.

If you and yours find yourself having to live in your car, there is no question that Meatball the mastiff doesn’t quite fit your current situation. It’s not Meatball’s fault. He’s grown into 200 pounds of fur-covered familial devotion, but your new reality is that you have a Ford Taurus as a home address and two children sharing the back seat. Meatball has to go. He is an innocent, bewildered casualty of the current economy and it is just not fair.

My heart aches for Meatball. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a total sucker for a large dog. I am absolutely potty about lumbering, heavy-jowled monsters. My husband’s favorite breed of dog is the Labrador retriever, which I consider to be just a medium-sized dog, practically petite. We decided to adopt another rescue dog this year to join our two, Oney the Great Dane; and Clara Jack, the Basset hound from Hell. In a fit of unusual practicality, I was leaning towards something smaller this time, even bedroom slipper size, like a Pug.

Then my husband Patrick proved to me once again that he truly does love me all the way down to my toes. He said no. Even though it would have been so much easier on him, he said no to a small dog, because he knows I really do love and prefer large. He reminded me of the joy I’d known with our late Bernese Mountain dog, Bubba, who was convinced I’d personally hung the moon. Patrick told me I had to get an enormous male dog who was as smitten with me as Bubba had been, insuring that domestic bliss would be achieved. He even went so far as to bolt a twin bed onto the side of our king-size bed giving room for all, so no one would be left out of the pack while we slept.

So with Patrick’s encouragement, I found my very own Meatball. An English mastiff the size of Jupiter, he was available through the Southern States Mastiff Rescue group. I met him at the foster home where he was staying. He sniffed me once and promptly jumped in the back of my car. It was a done deal as far as he was concerned. I probably would have acted a bit more coyly, but that would have only wasted time. He was mine, I was his, let’s get on with our lives.

He is now called Joe. He plays with his sisters, likes my husband well enough, and absolutely adores me. And when it comes bedtime, a thundering herd of 420 combined pounds of dogs clomping up the stairs and settling in for the night sounds like disgruntled cattle.

I have never slept better.

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Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)