Lessons and Musings inspired by a Mexican Mutt
I just returned from a 5-day camping trip, originally be 3 days, but due to a broken-down car situation, added 2 days. It was my first trip with Zafi, the pooch I adopted last month. What a trip. I’m still in bed, writing, and she’s still zonked out on her bed snoozing lazily into the late morning. We’re both pooped. We both learned. A lot.
When I was deciding whether or not to take her, I stipulated that she must fit into my life well and easily, because I was in a transition of buying a new house, and working with some health issues. She fit in pretty seamlessly. I know I’m still a wanderer at heart, and intend to continue to travel. She’s under twenty pounds and can therefore fit in a bag in the cabin on an airplane, which is super important for me, and a definite plus. Last Saturday I was excited to bond with her and take her out on the road. She was too; she was beyond keen and jumped into the truck immediately onto my friend Pete’s lap with a “Let’s go!” attitude. Ah yes, this dog and I will get along just fine, I thought as I gazed at her with pride and love.
Upon leaving San Pancho there was a small truck alongside the road selling woven rugs and dog beds. How perfect! I picked up a small cute bed for her and we were off. En route to my friend’s ranch in Mascota, the road winds and bends as it ascends and descends mountainous roads. So beautiful. And barf-inducing. Not for me, but for poor Zafi who heaved a few times as it was her first real car trip. We pulled over so I could clean out her (brand-new!) bed, that was now sprinkled with vomit and let her get some fresh air. Poor little pooch.
We arrived and got set up while we waited for our friends to arrive with their extended family. As their car rolled in, Zafi’s ears perked up and she approached the car to see what was up. My friend’s elderly father, gingerly approached, and as he did, she began to bark and growl incessantly. Super embarrassing. I tried to reason with her that this wasn’t our house, but she wouldn’t listen. It took her a while to settle. I’d seen this several times with certain men who pass our house and I wonder why it is that she’s racist towards her own people. She may have been treated poorly by one of her previous owners; who knows?
Over the weekend, she chilled and became comfortable and affectionate with both the male and female family members in the house, which was a relief. My friend’s have a one and a half-year old baby girl named Olivia who is beyond cute, and this is saying something as I’m not really a fan of babies, or kids for that matter (which is quite alarming considering I was a teacher for so long). Her mom has great style and a sense of appreciating luxury, and has a small hand-woven blanket/mat from South America that she puts out for Olivia to play on.
Apparently Zafi also has this taste for exquisite textiles and would plunk herself down on it all the time. My friend wasn’t really liking this understandably, particularly since I had found and removed a few ticks from Zafi’s fur earlier that day. I tried to lure her and pull her away all day and put her back on her new bed. Maybe there were still remnants of barf on the bed, but whatever the reason, she was avoiding it like many shoppers avoided me at No Frills last summer when I refused to wear a mask.
As a psychotherapist-in-training, I’m assuming that the bed now triggers her and she’s remembering the windy road and upchucking of Pedigree Dog Chow. I can’t be sure and I’m not sure how much she actually thinks, but I’d say it’s pretty likely. And so, it was a bit of a struggle with keeping her off Olivia’s alpaca rug, and trying to find her a place where she’d be comfy. In the end, I aired the bed out in the sun, and put some of my cotton clothes on her bed as a blanket, and to get my smell into the fabric of the bed. It worked. At the end of the day, she feels safe with me and wants to be close. That’s pretty sweet. I also totally get that she’s a reflection of me and that she’d rather be on soft alpaca and natural fibres as opposed to made in China foam. I’d rather be in high thread-count sheets instead of shitty polyester ones. I get it.
Zafi, loving to lounge on cotton blankets
One morning I took her to a waterfall to swim in the huge crater-like lake. There, I imagined we’d frolic on the rocks, listen to the rush of the waterfall, the cry of a bird overhead from time to time, and overall the essence of peace. Ahhhhhh. This all went to plan until I decided to swim across the lake to the waterfall itself. Zafi went wild with barks and yelps. She’d been with me on the beach, and is okay with me swimming out and knows I’m coming back, but here, she was nervous. I forgot to add that the lake is surrounded by volcanic rock and that a whistle will echo and reverberate like nobody’s biz. So you can imagine what a shrill yelp and bark sounds like: armageddon. My patience was being tested. As I was trying to serenely backstroke across the lake I could still hear her yelps under the water. This bitch was seriously cramping my style and my desire for a vipassana kind of morning. I alternated between thoughts of “Surrender, surrender. She too is part of the soundscape of nature,” and “Can vets do larynx removals?” Before you immediately stop reading and call PETA let me explain that I also had serious PMS and had been eaten alive by mosquitoes the night before and had one of my top five most lousy sleeps....ever. Another (less violent) thought was, “I wonder if her voice will get lower as she gets older?”. You know, like young versus old Joni Mitchell. She’s one of my fave songwriters, but I’m not a big fan of her early work, which showcase her high soprano. To me, it’s grating. I love her collaborations with Mingus, after the years of smoking took its toll, and lowered her range about two octaves. Could this be the case with Zafi, and if so, how can I get her to start smoking cigarettes?
Don’t call PETA yet. I know I sound like a horrible fur baby mum. But I’m not. I’m just transitioning to having serious responsibility. I feel like I don’t “own” her, but rather I’m her steward. And I have to be impeccable with my word (one of Ruiz's Five Agreements); I said I’d take care of her and love her, and I will. I am. Once I relaxed at the waterfalls, she relaxed. I came back to shore, gave her lots of love and attention and chilled with her for a spell. The second time I swam away (about a 10 minute swim), she felt more comfortable and knew I’d be coming back, so just nestled herself in the shade and waited. Quietly. I returned to shore and praised her for her ability to chill, and then noticed that she got in my backpack and ate the oatmeal I’d so eagerly been anticipating. What can I say? I left it within pooch reach, so really, it’s my bad. I also recognized that this is all new to her, this camping and hiking thing, and that her barking and yelping meant that she was nervous I wouldn’t come back. And maybe she was nervous that I wasn’t a strong swimmer. Whatever the reason, she just wants love and security. Don’t we all?
I reflected on my own lack of patience and thoughts/behaviour for when she didn’t act or do exactly as I wanted, and I see elements of control freak in myself. I also saw some lack of conditional love, and changed that immediately. I mean, did my mum want to give me away when I threw an uncanny temper tantrum on my 8th birthday on the front lawn because I didn’t get one of my own lootbags (the party favour bags the “host” gives at parties, NOT for the birthday girl herself)? Did she scream, “Okay you greedy kid, you just got 12 presents! What’s your problem? One more peep and you’re off to a foster home!” No, she laughed, and continued to love me unconditionally, knowing I was probably just overtired and jacked up on sugar.
And so, on our curvy drive home yesterday, when she barfed yet again, I held her little head out the window and gave her sips of water as she slept on and off on my lap for the 3-hour drive home. I worried about the tick she had on her ear earlier in the week as I wondered if her ear was as floppy pre-tick bite. She’d look up at my intermittently, soulful eyes meeting mine and we seemed to say, “I am you, you are me.” In this moment of new-age eye gazing, I’m sure that I won’t ever do any larynx surgery, and vow to accept all that she is. Barks, yelps, barf and all. THIS is unconditional love. Thank you Zafi for the constant teachings. Just when I thought I was evolved and had things figured out. Guess again. Woof. Aho.