Stuff I’ve noticed since moving to Maine – DOGS!!

In just over a month, my family and I will be celebrating TWO WHOLE YEARS in MAINE!!  HOORAY!  To mark this momentous occasion, I’m starting a new semi-regular column here on The Daily Dish.  Dedicated to whatever seems different from where I used to live (Philly) or whatever I notice that just sticks out, STUFF I’VE NOTICED SINCE MOVING TO MAINE will be a way for all of you to visit, without me having to clean the house.  So without further ado, today let’s talk about.. DOGS!

My family & I went to my daughters school on Saturday for Winterfest!  Winterfest! is an annual celebration with games, food, raffles, contests, crafts, singing and more.  It draws a BIG crowd and when we entered the gym the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t the enormous moon bounce or the line for hamburgers.  No!  It was a woman walking towards me with a dog in her arms.  It wasn’t injured.  It wasn’t a helper dog.  As far as anyone was concerned, this lap pooch was just one more merrymaker at Winterfest!  WHY?  Because Mainers are CRAZY ABOUT DOGS!!!!

They are everywhere here and I mean EVERYWHERE.  We have one laying across our floor, outside there are two barking from the back, 4 barking from the side, there’re a couple peeing at the end of the driveway, another one’s approaching looking keen, and a huge one just drove by mostly hanging out the car window.  It’s doggone NUTS!

In Philly a lot of people had cats.  I think cats are cool, but Portland is a dog town.  Maybe it’s because Maine is so white?  Not to stereotype, but white people seem to like dogs more than minorities.  Personally I like minorities more, but I also love dogs.  Dogs just seem to gibe with Maine.  They’re laid back.  Chilllll.  Portland’s baseball team is even called the Sea Dogs!  Which I think is technically a seal?  Or something?  Seriously, I don’t even know what a Sea Dog is, but here’s Slugger the Sea DOG w/ my daughters. 

The Sea DOGS even have a Bring Your Dog to the Game DAY!  WHY??  Because Mainers take their dogs EVERYWHERE.  They don’t like leaving them at home.  Every single parking lot you pull into, every other car has a dog waiting for its owner to return.  Here in Portland there are dog parks and even the regular parks all have “off leash” laws: as long as your dog is under voice command, roping them is unnecessary.  And because beaches are also open to dogs it’s common to find them year round romping in the surf, chasing balls and taking dumps right there in the sand as nature intended.

Mainers are so generous with their dogs, they not only take them everywhere, they often let them drive.  Not alone, mind you.  I mean they let their dogs sit on THEIR laps in the driver seat.  No offense, Sir or Madam, but what the hell are you gonna do when Fido smashes your face into the steering wheel and you lose control of the vehicle?  Or when Happy becomes incontinent and lets fly in your lap?  Surely your first impulse will be to SCREAM AND CAREEN OFF THE ROAD.  I know mine would be.  YAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!  I’m not saying you have to harness Hoover, or invest in one of those gated cage areas in the trunk, but for all our sakes could you at least put the dog in the back seat?  It’s illegal in the state of Maine for children under 13 to ride up front.  Maybe elderly dogs can ride in the passenger seat, but otherwise – back seat buddy.  PS: In Philly I had to worry about people driving around with infants in their laps.  Here it’s dogs.  Is that better??

This is my dog Max.

Max passed away on Halloween.  But before he died, he told me how much he loved Maine.  Not just for all of the reasons outlined above, but b/c here in Maine, Max was ACCEPTED.  Back in Philly strangers would cross the street when I walked Max.  Here, no way.  Everyone would welcome him like an old friend.  (To be strictly honest, some of the little yippy dogs would stand there and bark & bark till they looked like they were going to drop dead, but they do that everywhere.)

Dogs are SO POPULAR here in Maine, I have noticed other things.

  • The prevalence of dog-themed bumper stickers.

  • Or simply dog FRIENDLY stores.

And I’m not talking pet stores either.  I mean “normal” ones, like Marshall’s.  Just before Christmas, I was shopping with my older daughter.  We turned a corner and there’s a woman perusing housewares w/ her dog.  Again, this wasn’t a helper or seeing eye dog, he was a fluffy lap dog, riding shotgun in her cart.  I notice this all the time and I can’t help but think how tolerant people are here.  In Philly, if some woman showed up at Marshall’s totting her dog, they’d escort her out of the store faster than you could spell N-O_EFFING_W-A-Y.  Personally I think they might do this to me too, if I showed up at Marshall’s with our new puppy, Roxy the Rottweiler


versus a 5 lb. Foofie

but.. still.  Maybe I will try it and see.  After all, Mainers LOVE their dogs.

When Life Hands You Lemons

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade. We’ve all heard the phrase.  But how many times do we put it into practice?  Do we throw our hands in the air when things go sour, or do we use those hands to take action?  Lord knows I fall short of the mark; I’ll be the first to complain when I feel like c-r-a-p. But occasionally I manage to make use of what the Big Guy has given me.  And these times, above all else, are the true triumphs of my life.

I am someone who has been dealt both a fabulous as well as difficult hand, not unlike most people. Although blessed beyond measure with an amazing family and friends, fed, clothed and most days happy, I struggle with a disease that often has no rhyme or reason. When I was diagnosed with Meniere’s 6 years ago and put on a salt free diet, I thought okay. I will deal. But that acceptance quickly dissolved into anger, frustration and resentment. I felt as though I’d been cursed.  Thankfully, instead of giving up and accepting LIFE WOULD SUCK, I sucked it up and spit it out.  I already had the skills to solve the problem, I just had to DO IT.  And thus this blog and its twin (The Daily Dish) were born.

When my dog Max died a month ago, it was like I’d aged 10 years overnight. My world seemed fractured. I knew before he passed how much his loss would eventually affect me, when it came, but until it actually happened I’d never have expected its depth. In the past weeks I’ve tried to figure out where to go from here. It can never be the same, but should we get another dog? We tried. I’ll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say, we adopted an adult dog who was with us a mere night before return, leaving me to accept we’ll have to get a puppy if we get another dog at all. My kids & their safety, no matter what, come first.

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to squeeze a cantaloupe into a coffee mug?  No matter how hard you try to make it fit, it ends up exploding in your face, sending seeds and soggy pulp everywhere.  So you clean it up.  And try again. and again.  Regardless of how impossible the task is, you don’t give up.  Friends, I’m here to tell you to PUT THE F*CKING FRUIT DOWN ALREADY.  Sometimes it isn’t meant to be.  And other times, you can’t see the answer staring you in the face b/c you’re too covered in melon guts.

The past few weeks have been like that.  Trying to shove a big ole melon into a tiny glass.  I spent hours glued to Petfinder.  Checking Craigslist.  Cruising websites looking for the PERFECT DOG.  But you know what?  He’s dead.  Gone.  I know, I know.  Cut myself some slack already, but it’s true.  I was so intent on finding the way out of my grief, I failed to see what I was doing wasn’t helping.  It just made me miss Max more.

Two nights ago, I found the answer.  I guess I shouldn’t fault myself for checking Craigslist obsessively, b/c that’s where I found it.  I saw a post about a puppy and automatically clicked it.  But it wasn’t about re-homing said puppy (and trust me, this whole ‘re-homing’ business & its accompanying fees is another blog post altogether) but rather about finding this puppy a SITTER.  Hmmm.  If you can hear the gears turning, then BOY ARE YOU RIGHT.  This person has a young puppy and needs to find someone to watch said puppy during the week while they are away at work.  Said puppy is cute, and small, and furry, and loving and Oh By the way, You get paid to watch the puppy.  CHA-CHING!

As someone who is home full time, needs money and is in desperate need of dog, I wiped the melon pulp from my face and replied.  And guess what?  They wrote me back.  And said I sound perfect.  And you know what?  I wrote them back and hopefully this (now clean and illuminated) soul sitting before you will be squeezing lemons and soon, making lemonade.  With a puppy on her lap.

Max

My dog Max died two weeks ago.  Although his legs had begun to fail, he was otherwise in good health and spirits, and his passing was wholly unexpected.  We’d taken a long walk the day before and he’d been so full of joy!  Rushing ahead, leading the charge, till finally he was so spent he’d practically collapsed.  He woke us early the next morning, about 3:30 am, crashing around downstairs.  My husband rose to let him out, thinking he had to go to the bathroom.  Max went out into the yard and laid down in the grass.  He wouldn’t get up, even after John called him several times.  His breathing was labored, his tongue hung to one side and his lips felt cold. Something was seriously wrong.

John came and got me, and together we went outside and rolled Max onto a blanket and carried his heavy (150 lb.) frame inside.  We placed him gently on the rug, then fetched blankets and pillows for ourselves.  We laid, side by side, as if on a camping trip.  Petting him, speaking to him, sensing – somehow – that this was the end.  Just shy of 4:30 his breathing became almost imperceptible, punctuated only by a few deep gasps. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. John woke the girls in time for them to say goodbye. And then Max was gone.

His swift departure has left a hole in the heart of my family.  Max lived with us his entire life, from 7 weeks to almost 10 years.  He grew up side by side with our daughters, and neither can remember life without him.

We miss him terribly.  But even in death Max remains a steadfast presence in our lives.  I see him when I walk the woods, I feel him beside me at the beach.  Each morning as I rise, I meet him in the hallway where we parted, and every meal I fail to finish I take out to his yard.  2 weeks ago, Max died, and we buried him under the apple tree.  And next year, when flowers bloom from his grave, I will think of him all the more.

A dear neighbor gave us a book of poems to help us through our loss.  Many are consoling, some difficult to even read, but the one which has touched me the most was written by Rudyard Kipling and is entitled Four-Feet.

I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

Does a dog sh*t in the woods?

I am a city dweller. and I have a 150 lb. dog.

Having such a big dog in the city requires due diligence. I have to keep him leashed. I have to watch him. And I have to pick up his crap WITHOUT FAIL. If my dog Max leaves even the barest trace of doodie on the sidewalk, I address the situation. So no unsuspecting soul will fall afoul. City sidewalks – as I have mentioned before – are busy places. People walk on them. Children play on them. And yes, dogs do their business on them. The city sidewalk may be a dog’s toilet. But everyone needs to flush. So, w/out fail, I curb my dog.

Having a big dog in the city requires additional planning when it comes to exercise. Our virtually nonexistent and unfenced yard is simply insufficient to meet Max’s needs. We joined a local dog park to allow for off-leash playtime. But Max likes to walk. Really WALK. So once or twice a week I take him to a local nature refuge for a 4-mile hike through the woods.

Yesterday morning we went to the refuge.  The walk had barely begun when we encountered an older woman coming toward us on the path.  GOOD MORNING! I exclaimed cheerfully.  HOW ARE YOU?  To which she acidly replied, “I’d be better if you’d pick up your dog’s poop.”

Well. Hold the PHONE.

As detailed above, I am fastidious when it comes to feces. NEVER would I leave crap near an unsuspecting foot! But when I take my dog to the woods, we are not on a public street.  We are on a trail. We are not someplace where an infant may pick up a turd and stick it into his or her mouth.  Where someone’s $500 pumps may be ruined. We are surrounded by the natural world. And I do not allow Max to ever dump on the trail itself. Oh no. But I do not see any problem w/ him pooping on the side in the grass and leaves. After which I take whatever large stick is handy and push/scoop/or fling said poop out into the woods – where it will not harm a soul.

I am not talking about letting my dog poop on a playing field.  Where children or lovers – or anyone – would be meandering.  That is just plain gross. But the only meanderers in this case would in fact be deer.  Or groundhogs.  Foxes, snakes, turtles, rats, birds.  YOU GET MY POINT! And no living soul is picking up their scat in plastic baggies to deposit in the trash. As I responded to the woman yesterday, it is natural. Left there, excrement (my dog’s included) will decompose and return to the earth. It is recycling in its most primitive form. Something beautiful in its perfection and simplicity.

She tried to explain to me that the ecological burden on the wildlife refuge is great enough. I have been visiting this refuge for 11 years. The acres are sandwiched between the city, I-95, and the airport. Oil pipelines run beneath it. The burden is great but the burden is ALL MAN-MADE. I simply fail to see how dog poop is going to push this land over the precipice.

There is nothing natural about bagging poop. Nothing. Though I do it, living in the city, w/out fail or hesitation. WHY? Because it is a matter of courtesy and b/c it is the law. But in the woods? No. I will not pick up poop. I will not. B/c it doesn’t make sense. If left to the air, excrement will decompose naturally w/in weeks or days. It is a matter of natural recycling. What is UNNATURAL is picking it up, sealing it into a bag, and placing it into a trash can. Where it will have to be picked up by a waste truck, carried miles to a landfill, to be dumped and sit festering for years to come. Where it will not easily – if ever, decompose. THAT, to me, is insanity.

I may be the only person thinking this, but I do not care. B/c in my heart it makes sense. In my mind, every dog has a right to take a crap on the soil and not feel like he or she is doing something wrong. I for one have pooped right there in the refuge behind a bush and I didn’t blink twice. WHY? B/c I had to go. And when nature calls, I answer.