Saturday, February 21, 2009

A new day

I started this blog with the intention of filling it with posts and stories of living with and learning from my two very special dogs, Heidi and Shelby. I named the blog "Heart-Dogs Heal", because that's what my two canine companions are, and what that is what they do. People in the dog world will tell you that a "heart dog" is that once in a life time dog; a dog that all others will be compared to. A dog who knows what you are thinking, what you are asking of them (even if they have not yet been trained to perform that specific task), and a dog who is your constant companion. Ask a dog person about their heart dog and you will usually see their eyes go misty and hear their voice constrict. They will usually tell you amazing stories of how this dog changed their lives; and how they are a different person because of that dogs love. The bond that we have with any dog that we share our lives with is amazing, but the connection between a person and their "heart dog" is something truly magical. It is something that often cannot be expressed in words, but can only be felt in pure, raw emotion. But often times we true dog people don't need those words to explain. Because we know what the connection is like. We understand because we have felt it ourselves.

Every ones experience with their heart-dog is different, although those raw feelings and emotions all tend to be the same. I know that every ones beliefs are different too. Some people, for example, think that we only get one chance with a soul mate. Once we find that person, or dog, we only get that one experience with them. Although their spirit always stays with us, we only get that one brief breath of time with them here on Earth. I know that some people think the opposite; once our soul-mate leaves, they can choose if they want to return to us. We can call them back, but ultimately, they have the final say. This thought can be overwhelming; daunting. What happens if we call them back and they decide the time is right? How can we be sure that when we go and look at a litter of puppies, we chose the right one? And that's if we even find the right breeder with the right litter! Its a challenge that seems insurmountable. But if you believe in the theory itself, then you also believe that there is a way.

For me, my belief right now, is that my heart-dog is actually two dogs. I truly believe that a very special, heart-dog soul has been split, and now resides in two bodies. I know that people out there may be thinking I'm crazy. There may also be some who think that this is an indecent thought. A soul is not meant to be split; it is not meant to be torn in two. A soul is meant to stay whole and unchanged. And it is meant to reside in only one body. But if you lived with my two girls, you would understand where my belief comes from. There are just too many coincidences to have this not be true. They just compliment each other in so many ways; both in their individual personalities and the relationships that they have both with me and with each other. I hope that in future posts I'll be able to show everyone why I believe what I do. I hope that everyone can see how they really are two halves to one whole. And my life is made fuller and more complete because I am lucky enough to have the pair of them.

On that note, I realized that I had gotten away from the true intention of this blog. I was using it as a posting site for all of the general, mushy posts that I had done through another blogging forum. I haven't posted anything here in weeks. I have been using our other blog, "Sheltie Musings", to publish all of the recent things I have written. Which is fine because those stories tend to be sillier, and more humorous, and we've made quite a few friends there! But I want to get back to this blog; back to posting what it is really like to be living with my heart-dogs. And how it feels to be able to have them use their healing powers to help me through whats been a very difficult and trying time.

I was born with a serious congenital heart condition, and therefore have been living with it and the various problems associated with it for my whole 25 years. I've gone through the trauma of two open heart surgeries, being diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia (which is dangerous enough, but having only one ventricle makes it a bit scarier for me...), having a blood clot in my leg and being placed on coumadin because of it, almost bleeding to death because of the coumadin, and these recent episodes of "fluid overload" (aka, congestive heart failure) and being diagnosed with collateral vessels which are causing blood to bypass my lungs and renter my body unoxygenated. This last issue has caused extreme shortness of breath and low oxygen levels. And for those reasons, Ive been out of work and unable to drive for a month and a week. Its been an extremely lonely and trying time. I've had three additional cardiac catheters (one of which resulted in a stent being placed to try and "block off" the collateral vessels), 2 wisdom teeth pulled (without sedation), and have been placed back on coumadin. I wasn't worried about it too much (except for the frequent blood draws...I'm a big needle baby!) but just the other day I started bleeding, and it quickly got out of control. I once again ended up on the ER, and then stayed the night for observation.

I mention all of this not because I'm looking for any kind of sympathy, but to illustrate how important my dogs have become to me. This situation has been difficult because I have been unable to really do even the simplest of tasks. I now know how my Grandfather feels when he becomes depressed and agitated because he is slowly losing his Independence. I can't drive any where by myself and have to now rely on rides. I cannot go to work, which is a huge blow in itself, but the anxiety of having the bills (but no money to pay them) coming in the mail every day has robbed me of quite a bit of sleep. I find myself sitting day in and day out here, on the couch, on the computer, reading or watching t.v. I could have very easily went into a dark place; found myself in a deep depression. But I have two furry therapists that have kept me from getting there. Two Sheltie-shaped life preservers that have prevented me from drowning in a sea of self sorrow. Although I have had dogs (even these very two dogs) with me during the other difficult times of illness, this is the first time where I am fully aware and appreciative of their healing powers. Before they were just my dogs. Sure, they obviously helped me in many of the same ways that they are helping me now, but now I am only now fully conscious of their abilities and attempts to get me back on track. What before was an unhelpful behavior that bothered me, is now something that I recognize as an act of mercy; it's their own way of bringing me back to the present, and keeping me focused on a positive outcome and future. They're trying to break up the monotony of the day by engaging in play. They're pawing and whining at me to break the trance I sometimes find myself in: sitting for hours in the soft glow of the computer monitor. Yes, they are trying to interrupt me. Only now I see their interruptions as loving interventions, where before they were annoying and time consuming.

What brought around the epiphany? Several things, I think. My maturity and the intense love for my dogs that has grown over the years has played a big part. But the other thing has been the amount of reading I have done. I obviously have had a lot of time to catch up on some good books. And my extremely generous friends from work have given me gift cards to allow me to vastly expand my library! I've chosen books specifically written on the human-animal bond. A few books were researched and written by well known authors, and a few books were written by people like you and me about their special heart-dogs, and how their lives were changed and bettered by them. One of the books that really contributed to my change of thought (and change of heart!) has been "The Healing Power of Pets" by Dr. Mart Becker. In it, he tells how pets help their people through some truly difficult and life altering illnesses: cancer, heart disease, disability (physical and mental) and the aging process. The chapters speak to the illnesses, and are filled with well researched facts and people's personal stories. The book is really well written and easy to read. For me it has been totally enlightening. Towards the end of the book, Dr. Becker brings up a very good point. If animals are such good medicine and are so effective at healing their people, why are so many people with pets still suffering from illnesses? Especially those that are self inflicted, like obesity? It's because, to paraphrase what he says, that just like any medicine, pets need to be used effectively. People need to be open and aware of the help that their pets are offering them. They must be willing to listen to their pets when they try to offer them help: when they try stirring them into activity, and when they signal that something is wrong.

This is how I am now going to live my life. I was, before, just a dog parent. A dog parent who loved my dogs as if they were my own children. But like so many parents, of both human and canine children, I wasn't really listening to them. We were coexisting. I did not have my eyes, ears or heart open to what they were offering me; the ability to have a better life. But I am listening now. I have started to really enjoy the little things that I am able to do with them. Before I looked at bath/grooming time as if it were a chore. A necessary one, but still a chore. This time I enjoyed the entire process. I enjoyed it as the social bonding time that it is really meant to be. I enjoyed being able to do something physical; to use the muscles that have been resting for over a month. I liked feeling tired after the job was done. I revelled in the feel of their hair: dry, dirty, wet, lathered, conditioned, cleaned and dry again. Every stage was a wonderful tactile experience. And my spirits were lifted to new heights when I was able to laugh during the process. Laughing and smiling is not something that you can help when you see your previously furry, fluffy dogs turn into skinny, naked ones. And when you see some of the looks that they give, or the expressions on their faces you really can't help but chuckle. All in all, the whole experience was great. The girls and I felt better after all was said and done. And it has since affected me too. Because my mom brought the grooming stuff (table, bag of supplies etc.) from the garage to the house, I have been using it every day. We do our daily "who's so pretty!?!?" routine before we play Sheltie-Speedway. It continues to be a really nice bonding time for us all, and I know that they will continue to feel nice and clean long after that last bath. I I really enjoy seeing them clean too. It really makes me smile when I see them outside, the wind playing with their silky hair, and their highlights sparkling in the sunlight that, like me, is growing ever stronger.

I feel like it is a new day; like I have been reborn with all of my senses fully awake. There are so many possibilities life still has to offer both me and my girls. There is kayaking and hiking this spring, summer and fall. There is getting back into obedience, rally and agility training. And maybe even competition. And there is a new business idea that's slowly taking root and growing in my mind. All made possible by the love and healing that my heart-dogs have given, and are continuing to giving me. I am so thankful, and so blessed.

I hope to be updating this blog more frequently, if not daily. I really hope to start using it for the original reason that it was created: to bring stories and updates to our friends, and to share the stories about my heart-dogs, who continue to inspire me every day.
*I also wanted to mention the huge amount of support that I have received from ALL of my family and friends. Although this is a blog about my dogs, I do want to make sure that I mention all of the overwhelming support and love from all of the humans around me too. I truly appreciate every well wish and warm thought! I wouldn't be here if it weren't for both the dogs, AND the people!!

1 comment:

  1. Sitting here with another of my heart dogs at my feet, I can't help but think that the heart dogs are all part of the same soul, that of the Creator, who breathes life into their precious bodies, then takes them home to the Bridge again when they are needed there. I know that the only way I have survived the loss of my Michael is through the gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, "interruptions" that you mention. And the fact that when he died, I knew that a heart dog was awaiting him in the spirit land...