Getting ready for 2019, I looked back and saw that I started this blog waaaay back in January 2011 – almost exactly 8 years ago. It was four years after my retail store closed (hence the name) and I was looking for things to keep me busy, other than my re-established gardening business, and allow me an outlet for my writing and photography. That sometimes feels like a lifetime ago.
I have seen many blogs come and go since then. Like life, peoples’ interests wax and wane. Peoples’ lives change. Different passions and distractions appear and often thwart the best of intentions.
I’ve not been on here very often in the last couple of years as I have found my concerns shifting. I’m still passionate about plants and gardening and love my gardens — that is, my own as well as those that I call “mine” but technically aren’t as they belong to my wonderful clients. Many of them have grown and changed over the years and it is such a pleasure working in them. And many of the people I have had the honour of working for have become great friends.
But I also have found myself thinking more about life – that is, what it is to live our life, what it means to have had a “good life.” And how to juggle living with waiting; waiting with living.
Ironic that I crave moments now and not things, this coming from an ex-retailer! Indeed, I have been shedding many of my possessions as I begin to realize that although they might be nice to look at, nice that they provide padding to the corners of the house, they are collecting dust and not doing anything other than weighing me down.
I now crave lightness.
My father is 100 years old and my mother is approaching 90. I will be 60 in 2019. As my parents struggle through the meanness that is old age, their mature children are left behind to negotiate their comfort and care.
They both struggle with memory. So moments disappear with the tick of the clock. They refuse to become memories. Perhaps that is why I am craving moments — while I know they will still warm me with memories.
Do you follow Jann Arden on Facebook? If you’ve ever experienced a family member who is suffering from debilitating dementia, then look her up. She writes, of course, in words like she does in song. She at once describes the sadness, loss, guilt, ugliness and reluctant acceptance that is the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. She is the daughter of a mother who let her in and they were good friends before this disease began to take her away. Truthfully and sadly, that has not been my experience.
If you’ve read my other entry here about my feelings toward my mother, you’ll know it has never been a close relationship. Now that I find myself being the “go-to” person for both my mother and father’s care, the clash of feelings is only getting louder and more pronounced. The expectation of attention, the weight of duty, the guilt that the tender feelings are not present. It’s all there. Laid bare when I think to place my hand on her shoulder to quell her shaking when she is scared and confused. When I realize that telling her about her condition is actually terrifying her, so I withhold and edit. The mental processing and the operating on dispassionate, automatic pilot. It is exhausting and it strips you bare. You need moments of relief to find yourself again. And to somehow forgive yourself.
When I say I have to leave to walk the dog, it is true, but it is also self-preservation. I need an outlet that gives me joy in this time of weightfulness.
I don’t know what the next few years will bring, but I fear it will be more of the same and I am terrified that the dreams I am chasing will go ‘poof’.
I continue to research “how long does someone with Alzheimer’s live?” and look at statistics. I tell myself I am a horrible person. Then I whisper to myself that I am not.
“Longevity is in your genes,” the ER nurse says to me today. I cringe. Please no. This is not life. This is not living. This is waiting. Everybody’s waiting. And the clock is ticking.
Well, as you already know, my two biggest loves are gardening and dogs (well, there are three, but the third doesn’t apply here lol). I don’t think I’m alone in that. The companionship of a dog and a garden can be equally comforting and rewarding. Over time we learn what makes our plants tick much the same way as we learn about our dogs — we spend time together, we watch, we make deals, we try different methods to get a desired outcome — they are both always a work in progress!
But today I want to talk about how to keep our new dogs safe. It was prompted by the story of Yoghi, a young male Spinone Italiano — aka an Italian hunting dog — who went missing on October 20th in Ottawa, after having just arrived in Canada. Despite two weeks of sightings and 24 hour searching, Yoghi was too fearful and would not be caught. Just barely in advance of winter, he was found today and is now back home in the loving arms of his family.
Truth is, many dogs today are being adopted on foreign shores and then brought back to Canada to start their new lives. The trip can be scary and disorienting, and it is not unusual for a “new Canadian” dog to bolt at some stage during the journey. If it does get into the arms of it’s new owners without incident, it may still be what is known as a “flight risk” — that is, a dog who is easily spooked and must be handled with care and a tremendous amount of safeguards to ensure its security.
But it’s not just foreign dogs who can go AWOL – in truth, any dog who is changing hands can, as can any dog who is spooked by something sudden. Even a dog who has been with you for years can suddenly disappear. So that is why I’ve decided to write about strategies you can use to ensure your dog’s safety.
Our newest dog Scout was a two year old first-time mom when she was abandoned at the vets by her previous owners. She was so scared and confused when she landed at the Humane Society that she needed medication to calm her fears.
Scout is a mixed breed with 1/4 border collie DNA and is the most cuddly and food-motivated dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. However, these character traits weren’t fully obvious at first. I understand that it takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months for a “new” dog to show its true colours. And more than this, it takes an uncertain amount of time for a “new” dog to bond with its new family.
A few months after we adopted her, Scout pushed open our front screen door, ran past my husband, mouth gaping, on the front porch and down the street.
We ran! We called! She stopped, looked at us and kept running in the opposite direction. Thankfully she ran “right” instead of “left” at the bottom of our front steps, a decision which meant we intercepted her in a neighbour’s backyard rather than as a crumbled, lifeless heap in the middle of a very busy four lane thoroughfare.
Truth is, making sure a “new” dog is safe is a multi-pronged endeavour but can mean the difference between life and death. After Scout’s brief adventure, we made sure we put several safety protocols into play so that she would never be at risk again. I share several of them with you here, as well as others that might be useful to you.
1.SECURE THE FRONT DOOR WITH GATES:
After Scout’s getaway, we realized our front door was not secure. So I searched online and in local pet stores for a gate that would be appropriate. Our front door didn’t seem to be “standard”, so many options were simply too big or too small. I didn’t want the type of gate that simply pressed against the door jamb; in my experience, these gates could be pushed out of place. Nor did I want a gate that was too short, as Scout would surely jump over it. I also wanted a gate that could be opened and closed fairly easily for humans, but be more difficult for a dog to do the same — even a border collie! I opted for one that was secured into a bracket that had to be screwed into the jamb. There was a mechanism on top of the gate that allowed it to be opened inwards, meaning it didn’t interfere with the screen door on the other side. This is a version of the gate that we chose.
Then I realized we also needed a barrier for the front porch, as we often sit out there in good weather. The top of our stairs didn’t seem to allow for a built-in wooden gate, so we found something that was sturdy, tall and relatively attractive online: this one is it.
Here are the two gates pictured together…Fort Knox!
Of course I won’t tell you that the opening mechanism on the inside gate kept getting harder and harder to release so I kicked it (really hard) one day and voila, it’s so much easier to operate now <wink>
2.CAR STRATEGIES TO PREVENT BOLTING:
I quickly realized that I could not take Scout in and out of our car through the back hatch. When I lifted it, the opening it created was too large for me to block with my body in case she decided to leap out.
This was before I had had a chance to teach her manners, so I had to think of another solution. I decided to take her in and out from the back seat, even though it meant putting the car barrier between the front and back seats, rendering my vehicle a paddy wagon for whenever my poor parents had to ride with me….
The barrier was necessary because she really wanted to ride in the front seat, ideally with her feet on the dash and her nose pressed closed to the windshield. This riding-in-the-car thing was new to her and she was fascinated by it!
There are plenty of seat covers that work in the back of all cars to keep the seats clean. This is by far a better solution with a dog who may jump out of the car without warning.
The other precaution is either using dog seat belts or tethering the dog inside the car with a leash. Both of these strategies work best with the dog situated in the back seat.
3.WALKING PROTOCOL: LEASHES, COLLARS, HARNESSES:
It is important, even with the most reliable and predictable dog, to ensure that you have control over him/her while you’re out and about walking. Using a collar or harness that they can’t break away from is paramount.
A regular collar with a clip-on leash is totally unreliable: firstly, if the dog pulls or lunges or bolts, either the collar will potentially injure the dog’s larynx OR it will slip right off allowing him/her to get free.
Sophia Yin gives a good analysis of all collar/harness types from the point of view of medical safety in this blog post here. She favours the use of front clip harnesses and head halters. Surprisingly, savvy or insistent dogs can actually rid themselves of a harness, as can be seen in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKNAw3r2F2g) so never leave a dog unattended while secured using a harness.
Choke chains, prong collars and regular collars are not safe choices unless your dog is very well trained already (some trainers believe the first two choices are not good ones under any circumstance). Martingale collars, which operate under the same principle, that is, tightening as the dog pulls, are a superior choice because of their wider profile and regulated tightening capability.
Whatever you choose, make sure it a) is safe for the dog’s neck and body, and b) doesn’t allow them to escape easily.
Some dog owners fasten their dog’s leash to their waist, so that they don’t have to rely on their hands to keep the leash secure and that their whole body acts as a means to stop their dog from getting loose from a bolt or lunge at full speed. Ruffwear has a great selection of dual purpose hand-held and waist-attached leashes here.
This video shows Scout waiting for her Dad to come out of the washroom at Upper Canada Village wearing her Ruffwear harness, embroidered collar with phone number and leash attached at the chest. You’d think I was torturing her!
Whatever you do, do NOT rely on flexi-leashes to secure your dog. If he/she bolts, even if this leash is attached to a well-made, super secure, front-clip harness (some of the best are also found through Ruffwear here), by the time your dog runs to the end of the flexi-leash’s tether, it will fly out of your hand so fast (perhaps even injuring you in the process) that your dog will be free, dragging the flexi-leash behind him!
Over time with a new dog, being a very judicious trainer will ensure that he/she will have a more predictable behaviour in unpredictable situations.
One of the first things you should teach is “wait” — wait before leaving the house, so that you can lead the way, rather than being pulled out the door and down the stairs. And wait before exiting the car until you have given the say-so. This command alone may save your dog’s life. The other command, in my opinion, equally important to “wait” is a recall. A solid recall is something that you’ll need to practice every day of your dog’s life.
Loose-leash walking is also something that all dogs need to learn. It makes walking together a pleasure instead of a chore and in the end, will save your shoulder sockets and back!
5.WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG DOES GET AWAY FROM YOU:
a) Don’t panic!
b) Don’t chase!
c) Use your recall word…if that doesn’t work, try yelling “Puppy, puppy, puppy!”;
d) Run in the opposite direction;
e) Drop to the ground and make high pitched, happy noises;
f) Use treats to get the dog to come closer;
g) Secure the dog with a leash slowly and carefully – no sudden lunges or movements.
There is an excellent blog post on how to navigate what can be a very stress first few moments of a loose dog; you can find it here.
If your dog does not respond to these actions and keeps running or disappears from sight, then immediately take action. Petfinder has a great resource in this article to help you take the appropriate steps when your dog is lost: find it here. The more people you can reach about your lost dog, the better. It often takes a village to return a dog to it’s owner.
Some of this is planned, orchestrated, made better. Other times changes are borne out of circumstance that don’t necessarily fit into your idea of aesthetics.
Some time ago we placed mattresses on our living room floor so that our beloved Skye-dog would not be alone at night. You see, she can no longer negotiate our stairs and we didn’t want her to be relegated to the downstairs without us. So we all sleep in the living room together. She will be 14 this month and is a 5+ year lymphoma survivor.
For some, this would be anathema. For us, it is togetherness and there is a certain simplicity to it.
The living room is one thing. The garden is another.
As anyone with an aging dog knows, we must tweak how we live to accommodate them. This may mean mobility aids, raised dishes, night lights, shortened walks, regular vet visits, ramps and modified outings.
Our backyard was never doggie friendly. Years ago, when our beloved best friend was Riley, one day she exited the kitchen door to the backyard and leaped off the porch stairs — much like she had all her life — but this time to touch down in agony on the ground. Her anterior cruciate ligament was ruptured and she would need surgery to repair it. In Skye’s case, she could no longer negotiate the steep stairs and a solution for nightly potty breaks had to be figured out.
That’s when my wonderful friend Jo Hodgson stepped in last fall and built in one day our doggie ramp…which was a god-send to us throughout the winter of 2015-16 — a winter that was not supposed to be seen by Skye-dog at all…
But the garden! The garden!
It is a work in progress. And always will be … as circumstances change.
What is a garden worth? Does it exist without love? Without associations?
This garden will forever reflect this relationship.
But wait a minute? What’s this? The only other yellow plant more maligned than wild parsnip is the ubiquitous goldenrod, Solidago canadensis. Believed to be the wild botanical culprit that causes our autumn sniffles and itchy eyes — but isn’t! that credit goes to ragweed — goldenrod is actually cultivated in Europe as an ornamental and used in decorative plantings alongside ornamentals (like grasses, sedum, Joe Pye weed as well as rudbeckias, asters and echinacea.)
Best to know the difference between the two — wild parsnip, as well as its relatives giant hogweed (uber toxic sap), dill, coriander, carrot, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and others — are members of the Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) family. They share the same flower-structure, which appears as a flat-topped umbel:
So be aware, but don’t be fearful.
After all, parsnips are yummy with your Thanksgiving dinner! Goldenrod, not so much.
In honour of Earth Day, especially when this day in 2014 is grey and wet and there is little colour yet to be seen, I give you hope but I also give you a challenge….
How are you celebrating? Have you gone searching for the earliest spring blooming perennials in your garden?
Did you skip your clean-up last fall and are you having now to unearth blooms from under a blanket of wet leaves?
Are you seeing these beauties in other peoples’ gardens? Are you now making plans for this autumn, searching for Chionodoxa, primrose and other jewels to enjoy in your own space next spring?
This spring, I challenge you to not simply look down and appreciate the plants. I challenge you to take a garbage bag with you on your next walk and pick up plastic, pop cans, other peoples’ trash — there is nothing that makes a landscape more unhappy and feel more unloved. And if this blight is on your regular commute, you see it everyday and it chisels away part of your soul and your feelings of hope for the future. Make the world, your small piece of the world, a place that can bring joy instead of discouragement. Honour a small part of your world and clean it up. Do it in honour of Earth Day…
But do more than this: tell me about it! Take “before” and “after” photos and I’ll post them — and give you kudos for a job well done.
It is crazy sometimes how there is so much beauty in such menace.
The papery sheaths of dog-strangling vine seedpods and their delicate twisting stems strike such a beautiful silhouette against the snow.
But, honestly, it is not even mid-January and the crusty, icy and treacherous trails that Skye and I walk are not fit for human or beast.
A youthful dog might prance and pounce through this awful mess of a winter, but it is slow going if you’re 11 1/2. And a dog, that is.
It is now well past Twelfth Night and we are finally taking down the Christmas tree. It is funny how Christmas is now a ‘dirty’ word. When I was in retail, there was little mention of it, only the ‘holidays’. I remember as a young girl, being sent on my way after a night of baby-sitting at a neighbour’s house. I said politely upon leaving, “Merry Christmas”, only to hear in reply that they didn’t celebrate Christmas. Didn’t celebrate Christmas? How can that be? Didn’t everyone celebrate Christmas?
Apparently not if you’re a devout Jew is what I learnt. And I also learnt much later, as I was a well-insulated WASP child, that Christianity and Judaism aren’t the only faiths.
Out recently with an old (Jewish) friend I said, ‘Really, what makes us so different in terms of faith?’ — that is, if I were a true Christian. She replied with a laugh, ‘Jesus’.
I have always been curious about my inherited, if not embraced, faith in a historical sense, as well as the figures that take centre stage in it. In my case, Jesus, his followers as well as those who are said to have written the New Testament. Did they really exist as we think they did? How true are the ‘Jesus stories’? What is symbol and what is historical truth?
It is interesting to me how history has unfolded largely within the rigid structure of religion — with the skills needed for learning and self-awareness not shared beyond the monastery wall. I thought of that when we visited several plantations on our trip through the southern states two years ago. The haves and the have-nots.
The Christmas season is upon us and I have noticed that everyone is distracted. People seem to be driving around town wrapped in a fog of multi-tasking, walking in and out of stores with a grim determination rather than a smile.
Excuse me while I slow down the pace a little bit.
It is such a beautiful time of year, especially with this layer of healing snow. As gardeners, it allows us the opportunity to rest and reflect.
If you can, take a moment to think about your year. What were the highlights? Here are some of mine…
First, and perhaps most importantly for me, celebrating another year with my beloved Skye-dog. As many of you know, she was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 8 1/2 years old back in February 2011. After undergoing six months of chemotherapy and complementary holistic care, the first with Dr. Bravo and her team at Alta Vista Animal Hospital and the second with Dr. Eddie Beltran at Blair Animal Hospital, Skye-dog remains healthy and in remission. We are very grateful and hope that she stays with us for another lifetime. Surely not too much to ask.
My trip to Francis Cabot’s garden known as Les Quatres Vents with my friend Patti was a bit of a marathon, in a good way. A long drive and much anticipation ended in several hours of horticultural wonder, not to mention post-viewing garden analysis.
If that wasn’t enough of a feast for the eyes, I saw the spectacular glass creations of Dale Chihuly at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which were just so alive and organic.
My year was also filled with smaller, but no less meaningful moments…
Slow down, take a breath. What have your moments been?