Shiloh 7 – Ethereal Cocooning

It seems at the moment my favourite time of day is a walk with Shiloh at the dog park. Having said that, sometimes I still need to convince myself to go. I liken that to drinking a green smoothie or doing some meditation ; you know it’s good for you and you know you will be glad you did it – hey – you may even really enjoy it BUT you still need some convincing to start. Such is the constant battle of making self care a priority.

When it’s walk time and its just Shiloh and me, there is the beginning of something wonderful; Shiloh is becoming my sunny shadow. Whilst it’s true he is more independent (not quite the fragile puppy that he was) the irony is that he is more dependant on me in a different way. Before he was unconsciously dependant. Now he is consciously so. He looks around to see where I am and doubles back when he goes too far. And he does this adorable thing…. When he wanders off far in search of a doggy interaction  I open my arms and say

‘Shiloh come”.

He turns on his heel and races back to me.  Perhaps, it is only those who have experienced a loved dog sprinting with total abandon back towards them who can fully appreciate how wonderful it feels.

Shiloh’s love spills over.

Shiloh has opened up a whole world for me personally. Not only has he offered me the opportunity to meet other likeminded dog owners, he has encouraged me out of my four walls and into the wide open spaces of Linklater Reserve. I discover that having a dog is a natural ice breaker – and every dog owner relishes opportunity to speak about their dog! (including me)

There have been times I have wondered if getting Shiloh had been a good idea. The work involved has been immense and I have felt the responsibility of being a good dog owner more than I thought I would.

Whilst I have learned much about dogs……… my biggest learning is about myself.

When Shiloh was only 4 months old  I felt the loss of being alone. I wondered what I had done. I was afraid I had made an error of judgement and that the lone walks I so relished were over. And then – within 6 weeks of those worried thoughts, Shiloh became my little shadow of sunshine.

He didn’t need watching and attending to as much (his recall is superb! – just sayin!). And suddenly I could feel alone but not alone. I could feel ‘in my thoughts’ but ‘with’ Shiloh. Suddenly that warm little shadow was encompassing comfort; ethereal cocooning. Alone but not alone. Two but one. A merging somehow of the comfort we felt in each other.

Me and Shiloh. Shiloh and me.

Shiloh may be a way off being a Therapy dog yet – but he is therapy indeed for this counsellor.

Shiloh 6 – Clean Laundry

I knew that Shiloh had retriever in his blood. But I didn’t fully appreciate the impact of his ancestors.

At first it was cute (and to be honest it mostly still is). He is BORN to retrieve.

Socks, long ago given up on, appear in the middle of the sitting room. Plastic bottles not quite closed into the bin lay strewn in no longer ‘recyclable’ chunks across the lawn. Dressing gown robe ties are picked up muddy and soggy in the middle of the flower bed. The ceramic cats bowl lies upside down on the deck. Don’t even get me started on shoes.

I have lost count of the number of propeller pencils (my preferred way of noting in my diary) that I have retrieved (chewed, mangled and half buried in my garden). And I have almost had to go into overdraft to keep up my supply of erasers. My new prescription glasses (in the expensive frames I had been promising myself for about 2 years) were gently removed from Shiloh’s fair jaw when a crunching sound alerted us. Shiloh was fine. The glasses were not.

Now I know what you are thinking. Where are the rules? Where is the discipline? And how on earth does he GET half this stuff. Well let’s just leave your question there because I promise you…we try.

All of these antics are a mixture of annoying, horrifying and adorable (not in that order). But he’s so proud – so very very trotting, happily, proud every time he manages to retrieve something. And also, Shiloh is teaching me things. For instance : he’s teaching me to be tidier

One morning, I was approaching the top of the stairs when I saw a pair of my knickers on the top stair. Quelle horreur!

Now I know what you are thinking and it’s something to do with a late night and a bottle of wine. But NO! You would be wrong. It had more to do with the fact that my underwear drawer is the bottom drawer of my dresser and I have a habit of not closing it properly.

You would think that one incident of such nature was enough to forevermore teach me to close my dresser drawers properly – but NO – I needed another incident and this one’s a goody.

You see we are currently doing a renovation and have builders onsite. And these said builders were treated to the view of me racing across the lawn in my dressing gown, desperately trying to retrieve my best lace underwire bra from one adorable, fluffy, one of a kind. retriever labradoodle. It took a while! They could probably describe the item in detail to their wives.

Better work stories am I right?

Shiloh 5 – We’re all going on a summer holiday

With six days of sun and sand to look forward to, we are packed to the hilt. Anyone would think we had a newborn. We have a pile of towels, cotton bedcover, night time enclosure, dog bed, treats, meals, dog shampoo (and conditioner!) de-matting combs, water bottles and favourite toys. So, with a sense of new and adventure we head off.

About 20 minutes down the road and Shiloh‘s chin is dripping and he’s looking anxious. We close the back window and turn up the air con. After a little while it occurs to me he might be car sick. I turn to check on him and see him purposefully stand. In the nick of time, I manage to catch the proceeds of his breakfast in a towel (twisting a muscle in my neck at the same time but I guess that’s besides the point, at least my husband’s leather seats were spared right?!).

Poor car sick Shiloh. I climb into the back seat with him and firm up his little body against every bend in the road (further aggravating my neck) and after some time manage to prop his head up with the remaining clean towels.

By the time we reach Waitara he is feeling a little better. We unpack and settle in.

We have six days ahead. Six days of beach and sand. Shiloh encourages me to lie on the cool grass and watch the sky.. Jackson Browne plays in my head. Or should I say Jackson Browne tries to play in my head. Shiloh was pretty interruptive.

‘Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down……….

Keep a fire for the human race
And let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down……………….

Perhaps a better world is drawing near…….
Just as easily, it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found………….
Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around
(The world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make……… a joyful sound’

Shiloh does help me make a joyful sound – it’s so true. But I have to admit that he is extremely interruptive and  going on holiday with a 6 month old pup is hard work.  We are up early each day to let him out. He gets an upset tummy on day three requiring fast track 4am walks to the park because he refuses to go on the grass nearby. It also meant that two of the 5 nights there were spent cooking chicken and rice………for the dog! (Instead of our usual dinners out. Shiloh loved (LOVED) the beach. And what he loved (LOVED) most about the beach was digging…… walks to the beach ended with a very smelly, sandy and wet dog needing a hose down and a towel dry (and blow dry – he IS a labradoodle !) And of course our last day was getting to a vet for advice on our car sick pup. We didn’t fancy a repeat of the leather seat rescue.

Where, I wondered were the isolated walks along a beautiful beach with nothing to explore but Jackson Browne lyrics or the deep recesses of my mind? Or the hours spent watching the tide go out and hours collecting shells or writing messages in the sand? Shiloh was always there and up to something.He needed constant looking out for and I began to feel that the mental space I had longed for could not be had = with a dog in tow.

Is this the way it is? Have I lost the aloneness I value?

Arriving home (with a crick in the neck – steadying Shiloh in the back seat) I didn’t feel particularly rested.

 I am again struck by the ‘okayness’ of feeling conflicted. Our summer holiday was still sun and sea and Shiloh is just so lovable – but I wonder about the tradeoffs I have unwittingly agreed to?

Shiloh 4 – Of daisies, boots and beaches

We grow.

Confession : At times I have doubted my decision to bring Shiloh into our lives.

Here’s the thing about doubt: it’s allowed. It would be so much simpler if these kind of things were black or white. Night and day. Right or wrong. But 99.99% of the time they are on a continuum i.e. shades of grey. And it’s okay to feel things that are at odds – sorrow and relief/ wonder and fear/ regret and excitement, weight and light.

I’m not sure how (previously) I have skipped the weight of responsibility that owning a dog brings. What was that? – Youth? Confidence? Lack of vision? Whatever it was then, I feel the full weight of it now. And at times I think back a little longingly at the simplicity of just wo cats; no early morning loo runs, keeping gates or doors closed, juggling animal meal times, the duties of clearing the lawn and the rescuing of every item known to man! (We are making progress though on the rescuing – seems Shiloh will sit and allow me to remove the bottle of nail varnish/ pen/ mobile phone/ TV remote etc if I move very slowly, using a stern voice and asking him to ‘wait’. He gets rewarded after this for relinquishing his prize. He is always so proud of his excavations or elevations (i.e. floor to sofa to coffee table!!) and it is SO hard to be strict.

Shiloh knows when he has been told off even when you haven’t told him off and it’s quite hard on the heartstrings watching him quietly walk away and lie in the corner after a disapproving tone has been used.

Of course this sensitivity will hold him in good stead in the Therapy Room and I have no doubt about his rapport building qualities.

So we grow.

Shiloh goes from 3kgs to 11.7 – YES – 11.7 kgs at 5 months (we are beginning to doubt that part of his job description : medium labradoodle). He is allowed out into the big bad world (all vaccinations done) so can do wildly exciting things like go to the dog park/ visit Granny/ have Sunday morning coffee and cheese scone at a dog friendly cafe/ get cuddles at the local hardware store from little girls/ walk the neighborhood like it’s wonderland and go shell collecting at the beach (he already know me so well; he knows I love shells and on our very first beach walk he brought me a very beautiful one which he spat out into my hand with a little drool and sand:)

Shiloh offers the kind of love only a puppy can give ; unconditional, vulnerable cuddle filled love. And he’s a chocolate, fluffy, edible rascal. I love him so.

Sometimes we lie on the warm grass and smell the daisies.

We grow. We. Grow.

Shiloh 2 – The Anticipation

Whisky looked cute in the photos ; no doubt. And according to his breeder he was the friendliest and most outgoing of the litter. He was also ‘chill’ which was not surprising being that he was from her Therapy line of Labradoodles. The decision had been made, and I shifted into a mixture of anticipation and panic! Was I doing the right thing?/Was this a commitment I should be taking on?/Would he be the right temperament??/ Would my much loved two cats adjust?/ Was I prepared for the restrictions owning a dog would bring?

Lockdown threw a giant spanner in the works and I became anxious that if we did not all go down to a level 2, Whiskey would not be allowed to travel to me nor I to him. But Level 2 arrived just in time to book him on Originair from Nelson – and soon we found ourselves waiting anxiously at Palmerston North Airport. It was quite funny really . . .we peered through the glass like anxious expectant parents. And then – there he was….this tiny, fluffy, shy little ball of love squinting out at us through his cage. He was afraid and overwhelmed. He was cuddled and loved.

Whiskey – therapy dog in the making had arrived.

Shiloh 1 – The Journey begins – To Dog or not to Dog.

As I stepped up to the door of the cafe an adorable dog caught my eye. Tethered to a wrought iron chair was quite the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. As it turned out this cream, fluffy, teddy bear look-a-like was a Lowchen.

Up until then I had been fine with not owning a dog again. The distress we had experienced leaving our Rhodesian Ridgeback in Zimbabwe after we fled the war veterans claiming our farm was burnt forever in my memory. We had believed giving our two year old ‘Hasha’ to another family was the right thing to do. We could not afford to bring him with us. The memory of Hasha throwing himself against the corregated iron gates to get to us as we left nearly broke me and although I don’t know the full outcome, we were told months later that Hasha was still struggling to adjust to town life.

And then there was this bundle of calm and love sitting waiting patiently for his owner to grab her cappucino, and it made me wonder whether I could put my heart on the line once more.

18 months later, after much soul searching I decided that I would. I also decided that I would love to add a Therapy dog to my practice.

Labaradoodles look quite a bit like Lowchens! And by all accounts had the perfect nature for the job. My search lead me to a South Island breeder well versed with providing Therapy dogs to families and other clients. I agitated about the puppies health, their size and even their colour – but ultimately what I knew I needed was the right temperament. A little chocolate boy caught my eye! And there followed a myriad of messages about how he was reacting to people and sounds/how cuddly he was/how calm he was and whether he could be ‘the one’ ! Eventually I put my full trust in the breeder and the decision was made. She had called him Whiskey. And my phone soon overflowed with photos of the puppy I couldn’t touch or see – the puppy miles across the sea – the puppy who could just take our hearts and offer healing to many.