Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dog-Mom Guilt

I received the following email from a Facebook fan this week asking how I balance my work-life with Charlie's needs:

"Hi Heather, I know that you have a job outside the home as well and I'm wondering how you balance that with Charlie. I take my dog out in the morning and go home for lunch but still feel awful leaving her and worry she is depressed during the day. I check in with her on camera we set up and it seems she mostly just sleeps but I still worry her life isn't the best it could be."


I have to sigh about this kind of question because I think any good pet-parent deals with ongoing guilt over whether we're doing enough for our pet. Are we feeding the right food? Are we giving them enough exercise? Do they get enough enrichment activities? socialization? love?

Some dogs, like Charlie, have an ideal situation. My retired mom lives with me and watches Charlie during the day while I'm at work. Charlie has a fenced-in backyard where she can play safely anytime she wants. I take her on neighborhood walks (up to an hour) on weeknights and hiking in pristine wilderness for miles on the weekends. She goes on roadtrips and gets to meet new people all the time. I've learned to make balanced homemade raw food to use in conjunction with her high-end kibble. Charlie gets homemade dog treats and lives with another dog and a cat so she has social opportunities. Basically she's never alone and has everything she could possibly need. She is The.Most.Spoiled dog I know.

And yet... I feel guilty at times that I'm not providing enough or spending enough time with her.

I've spent the last 5 years living my life around Charlie's needs, and enjoying every minute of it! She's a wonderful dog that has enriched my life in so many ways, but I have someone new in my life now and my time (and love) is sometimes pulled away from her.

I'm slowly coming to terms with my guilt and understanding that in order to live my life to the fullest, I have to stop living my life for Charlie. She'll always be my baby girl and I'll do anything for her, but sometimes "good enough" has to be "good enough."

You need to take care of yourself too. You have to go to work and make money (so you can spend it on your dog!). You have to take time to refresh your own spirit and enjoy everything life has to offer... including having a wonderful pet that you care so much about. Don't let your guilt ruin your perfect relationship with your pet.

Honestly, if you suffer from Dog-Mom Guilt it means that your pet is one of the lucky dogs.

Some dogs are not so lucky. Some owners couldn't care less if their pet sits outside in cold wet snow shivering all night. Some dogs don't get to eat every day. Some dogs are treated like property instead of part of a family. And worse... some dogs are horrifically abused.

Our dogs are so lucky that we feel guilt over not giving them enough. In reality they have everything they could possibly need:  a loving pet-parent.

As I begin to consider a future with D. and fall more and more in love with him as time goes on, I'm becoming comfortable knowing that Charlie has a full life and is surrounded by love even though my love is being shared with another. As I make room for another person in my life, she gets to share his love too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ice Safety

Now that winter is fully upon us, it's time to start thinking about ice safety again. I've blogged about this before, but it's worth repeating. I know there are times of the year when it's perfectly safe to be out on the ice and people do it all the time, but it really creeps me out. I just don't trust it no matter how cold it is or how deeply into winter we are. To me, you just never know where there might be thin spots or ice-fishing holes that are still open. Bottom line:  it's too risky. I prefer to have my feet on solid ground.

Recently, Charlie and I were at a nearby park where a thin layer of ice had just formed over the small lake. I wanted to keep Charlie away from the temptation of going near the now-frozen water, so we kept to the grassy field to play Chuck-it for a bit before starting our leashed walk.

Charlie behaves better on-leash when she's had a chance to run and release some of her energy. I was admiring her thundering-quick run and the way she jumps up into the air to catch her ball... such grace and athleticism!

But on one catch, the ball bounced off the tip of her nose and went rolling toward the slope down to the water's edge. I ran after Charlie yelling at her to "STOP!" as I watched the ball slowly roll out onto the ice.

Luckily I got to Charlie before she headed out after it. I quickly leashed her and stood there contemplating how to get the ball back. It was too far to reach with the Chuck-it stick and I didn't want to leave it there to tempt the next off-leash dog to go out after it.

I decided to walk along the path and see if I could find a longer stick. Charlie of course thought this was a new and even more fun game than Chuck-it!

Soon I found a small branch that was long enough. Keeping it away from Charlie was not easy though! Charlie loves her sticks and this one was the monster-of-all-sticks.

You can probably imagine the hilarity of watching me trying to retrieve Charlie's ball off the ice while she's trying to steal my branch.

And perhaps you can imagine my chagrin when I finally retrieved the ball only to find that Charlie would now prefer to have the stick instead. So typical. Love this girl.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Day of Release

The Christmas rush is over. The season of celebration and light is ending and the long dark days of winter are settling in. It's a time of peaceful reflection. And a time to release.

Wolf prints (large one in the middle)

Charlie and I spent the early afternoon hours today exploring a favorite trail. With Charlie off on a mission to find the perfect stick, I had time to take slow steps and let my eyes feast on this new landscape before me.

An open canvas of shapes illuminated by a light dusting of snow brought forth trees, branches, rocks and riverbanks not seen before.

My mind wandered through the moments of this past year as my boots slowly left tracks through the snow on the trail. Times of sadness, times of joy and times of knowing that all is right in the world.

And at this very moment, I feel content with everything in my life and there is a slow release of tension from my neck and shoulders as I let that thought sink in.

Everything is right with my world and I am at peace.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice (or the last day of fall)

Oh, fall. My favorite season of the year. Normally I would go on about how much I'll miss you, but this year it feels like you're still here.

Charlie and I took a long walk tonight and enjoyed the unseasonably warm El Nino temps. Low-lying clouds obscured the moon, which will be full in a few days, leaving the air moist and humid. Christmas lights on houses seem almost absurd without snow.

I'm still happily wearing my hiking boots. My winter boots haven't even been worn yet. The sidewalks are blissfully dry and free of ice and snow. I can walk at a quick pace without worrying about slipping or falling.

Gloves are left in my pocket and I wear a light scarf wrapped around my neck to keep the chill away. My jacket is unzipped and open. I love the feel of the cool breeze on the exposed skin below my scarf and above my shirt's neckline. It's like winter's version of skinny-dipping.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Falling for Wisconsin's Waterfalls

Potato River Upper Falls

At the beginning of this year, I set out a goal to visit as many of Wisconsin's waterfalls as possible. Somehow life always gets in the way of accomplishing a goal, though. I got a little sidetracked when I decided to pursue finding love instead of waterfalls.

I joined the throngs of people trying their luck at internet dating and after almost a year that included one failed attempt at a long-distance relationship and several first dates, I realized 3 things:

1.  Internet dating is very time-consuming.
2.  Most of the people I was interested in lived too far from me.
3.  Internet dating is not for me.

So after investing tons of time and energy into something that wasn't working, and realizing I had wasted all of my summer and the better part of fall, I gave up.

It's funny though... as soon as you give up and quit trying so hard, things just naturally happen. And that's when I met D. Not online, but in real life.

And I guess for someone like me, so into nature and everything natural, it was fitting that I would find someone naturally rather than trying so hard.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a trip up to Northern Wisconsin. D. remembered that I had mentioned something about wanting to visit Wisconsin's waterfalls and being the thoughtful and sweet person that he is, he offered to spend the weekend showing me a handful of them.

Copper Falls State Park

Copper Falls State Park

Copper Falls State Park

I can't even begin to describe how powerful it is to be in the presence of such magnificence. The photos and videos DO NOT do these masterpieces justice. You have to be there in person. You need to feel the vibration of the water thundering down steep drops, to touch the rocks that were pushed up through the ground with such force that their striations are vertical rather than horizontal... but most of all you need to feel the gentle swirl of the mist.

There's a phenomenon surrounding waterfalls where the force of the water molecules crashing together produces negative ions, which are natural mood-boosters. There have been many studies proving that being near waterfalls is as effective as anti-depressants.

So you can imagine that spending a weekend with a really wonderful person in the presence of all these negative ions could produce some pretty intense happiness. Yeah, I was pretty blissed out... and I'm still riding that bliss wave.

As we ascended the steep embankment from the trail of the last waterfall of the weekend, I gazed down at my dirt-crusted jeans and held up both hands to show D. how much mud and clay I had stuck to my palms and under my fingernails. I commented that I've never looked like this after a date before. He quickly replied that I haven't been dating the right people. What a sweetheart.

VIDEO-Potato River Upper Falls (best viewed in Chrome):

Nothing ever works out the way you think it will, but everything always works out. So after almost a year of failed online dating attempts and wasted time that should have been spent exploring my beautiful state, I finally got to see some of Wisconsin's best waterfalls while falling in love.

Superior Falls

Superior Falls... that's Lake Superior off in the distance (but hard to see).

By the way, Charlie gives her full approval of D. even though she didn't get to come along on this particular adventure. The steep terrain combined with fast-moving current was not a good combination for Charlie's activity level so I opted to leave her home. As always, safety first. Remember to make sure that your pet can handle the type of adventure you take them on and be prepared for everything!