Me, the Mountains and the Stick

The mountains are my sanctuary, my think tank and my personal fitness center. I’m so comfortable up there that even my sense of direction is better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE That’s not saying a lot. Sometimes we pee on trees to make sure we can find our way back.

Okay, I may be pushing it but I figured I’d better justify this post because I’ll probably get some static from my daughter/mothers. They think I have a little streak of crazy but I prefer to call it a streak of adventure.

Awhile ago, I found a stick that gives me a certain sense of security. I started carrying it whenever I’m hiking alone. I use it for balance and for checking under rocks but figure I can use it as a weapon if I ever have to. I would share a picture of the stick but I don’t want anyone questioning my sanity or laughing at me. And no, I don’t think it has magic powers.

ELBEE Let me put it in perspective. If I fetched, which I don’t, the stick would almost be too ridiculous for me to bring back.

I was walking on dirt Mulholland when I decided to take the stick and head up a ridge trail that only the “regulars” use. For the record,  I’ve done it countless times. I was enjoying the climb, watching at least twenty ravens soaring over the canyon, putting on a spectacular air show.

Then there it was, right in front of me, a big rattlesnake. As you may know I’m not a huge fan of snakes but I do respect them and try not to bother them. This one, however, started getting on my nerves. It wouldn’t budge so that I could go by. Finally, I gave it a gentle nudge with the stick and it took off.

Snake on the Ridge
Relative of the Snake on the Ridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started climbing again, using the stick to make sure that none of the snake’s relatives were hiding in the rocks or bushes. Unfortunately, as I got near the top, I missed one little turn and instead of arriving back on the main trail, ended up looking down a mini cliff.

ELBEE She was probably “rattled ” after meeting the snake.

GUS Good one Elbee!

Since I had absolutely no desire to back track, I decided it was “doable” and slowly slid my way down. FYI: I’m writing this post from my house and not from a hospital bed.

Seriously, I am truly appreciative of my ability to climb these beautiful trails, especially with the wild fires that have been ravaging California. I also have such gratitude for my health and for my sense of adventure, which I admit has grown stronger as I’ve gotten older. I think that challenging yourself is a way to feel vibrant and alive, no matter your age.

It’s like the grandpa in the commercial who tells his wife he’s going fishing and then goes surfing with his grandson. I totally get it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

Recently I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful young man named Van. He and his mom and dad were the family that took care of Gus before he came into my life. When circumstances forced them to give him up, there was a line of people wanting to adopt him.

Fortunately, recognizing that his temperament was perfect for a therapy dog, and having heard about Charley and Elbee, they chose me. Along with the joy of bringing him home, I felt so much responsibility with the trust they’d placed in me to give him a productive life. The good news is that he has far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Over the past three years, I’ve kept in touch with the family, kind of an open adoption. I’ve shared Gus’s progress from passing his Pet Partner’s test with a perfect score to his very first day in the hospital. I also let them know about the more challenging situations he worked with Charley like the special needs camp and the anti-bullying group from Compton. I may have trained Gus but Charley was his true teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was surprised when I received an email from Van and his mom asking if he could interview me. He’d been chosen as a finalist in a junior journalism contest and the topic they’d been given was “A Hometown Hero.” Since he knew all about my work with the dogs and even the accident and my bodybuilding past, he thought I’d be a good subject. Needless to say, I was very flattered. We arranged for them to come over to my house.

ELBEE Excuse me. We all know I’m the hometown hero. I just don’t do interviews. I let my accomplishments speak for themselves.

 

Although it had been over three years since Van, now an impressive eleven year old, had seen Gus, their connection was instantaneous. It was if they were long lost friends.

While his parents went for a walk, Van and I sat in the dining room with the Doods at our feet as I answered his very insightful questions. What struck me as we talked was how we’d come full circle. I know it was difficult for Van when they had to find a new home for Gus but he could see how well things had turned out.

I felt such gratitude. I was grateful that Van viewed me as a hero for doing the work that I love. I was grateful they’d entrusted Gus to me. And above all, on that particular morning I was tremendously grateful that, with a little help from Charley, I’d been able to give Gus the life that they’d envisioned for him.

 

Return to the Scene of the “Crime”

During a recent heat wave I decided to head to the beach with the dogs. Since I have no patience for sitting on the sand, I thought that Santa Monica would be perfect. The pier is a tourist attraction with lots of activity. Even better, there’s a pedestrian path that goes down to Venice.

ELBEE That sounded good to me. I like the beach although I’m not much of a surfer. I was, however, a little suspicious when I heard that Venice was on the agenda.

As soon as we walked up the steps to the pier, Gus and Elbee, with all of their hair blowing in the breeze, were surrounded by people. I lost count of how many wanted to take pictures. All that was missing were the “puparazzi.”

ELBEE I knew she couldn’t resist that lame joke. By the way, I’m pretty sure I saw Kendall Jenner and another model type on the pier. They had their own professional camera man with them. Why didn’t I?

Things stayed interesting on the ocean path. An adorable toddler in big sunglasses came over to pet the dogs. Two seemingly drunk men asked if I knew where there was a liquor store. Someone yelled out “Look at those diva dogs.”

ELBEE He was obviously very astute. 

 

 

 

That last remark was our welcome to Venice Beach which is a crazy, fascinating place that has become even messier since the last time I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, I couldn’t resist posing the Doods for these touristy photos.

As if!!
Just embarrassing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE As for the one on the right, I don’t know which is worse, that she took the picture or that she’s sharing it here. And take a look at this one below. They’re opening a Muscle Beach History Museum! I think Pack Leader is hoping to secure a place. What is she? Arnold?

To be honest, I’m not sure if Venice Beach is the site of my former glory or of my former crime against “carpool momdom.” I had done a few bodybuilding shows before I competed there but they were sort of under the radar. The first was in Fresno. The other one or two were in places that no one in my daily life except my family would know about. Competing in Venice was like “Woo hoo, here I am.”

GUS “Woo hoo?” I don’t even say that.

To make it even better, Nicole, the middle daughter, was turning eleven and wanted to have her birthday party at the show. She probably wasn’t old enough to be embarrassed. To this day I wonder what the other parents thought about it. At least no one called child protective services.

Nicole had one special request. She asked if everyone could sing Happy Birthday to her if I won. I mentioned it to the emcee who loved the idea and brought Nicole up on stage as soon as I became Ms. Venice Beach.

ELBEE That was subtle.

 

Seeing the microphone in my face is probably disconcerting to anyone who knows about my singing. The good news is that with a thousand people in the crowd, no one could hear me.

 

 

THE DOODS Amen to that. Remember, we’ve heard her in the car.

 

 

The Doods Make the Day

 

For the past few years, I’ve been taking the Doods to an adult health center. Close to 100 people, ranging in age from their 20’s up to their 70’s and a few in their eighties, spend their days at the facility. Many are dealing with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, dementia or depression. Others have severe physical disabilities.

A chime sounds as we walk in the front door and the dogs are instantly greeted by an excited crowd. There is a core of regulars who know the Doods and wait for their arrival as soon as they see them on the schedule. The appreciative staff members are always there to welcome us.

The center offers a wide range of activities. For instance, there are discussion and anger management groups, as well as light exercise or physical therapy sessions. Between activities, however, some just sit waiting at the long lunch tables or sprawl on couches scattered around the room. A few chat with each other while many keep to themselves.

I never quite know what to expect once we get to the central area. A sad looking man will suddenly get up from the couch, smile and start petting the dogs. An agitated woman will calm down and hug them. The people at the lunch tables will call out for me to bring them over. There is a ripple effect of positivity and happiness. There is more conversation.

Many of the regulars have an established routine with the Doods. Some of their interactions may seem odd but it’s moving to watch them reach out to the dogs. For a few minutes they forget their struggles as Elbee and Gus offer unconditional love and acceptance. There is no judgment.

One man always apologizes for not having dog treats. I slip him a few to feed the ever hungry Elbee. There is an elderly woman who often cries when she holds Gus but I was told that was her way of letting her emotions out. There is another man who runs over as soon as he sees us to tell me what wonderful dogs they are and how much he likes them. He just doesn’t want to touch them because he’s afraid he’ll get fleas.

ELBEE Normally I would be offended but under the circumstances, I understand.

There is one very handsome, physically handicapped young man who truly touches my heart. He is in a motorized wheelchair which he can operate despite extremely crippled hands. He speaks with difficulty but understands everything. He has a smile that lights up his face.

He always stays in one place at a lunch table so I bring the dogs to him. He was able to reach Charley and now Elbee but I pick up Gus so that he can pet him. We’ve even worked out a way for me to fit treats between his fingers so that he can feed them.

Due to life happening, last week was the first time that I’d been there in awhile. I could immediately sense how glad he was to see the dogs but it was something so simple that let me know how much he really cared. Instead of remaining at the table, he made the effort to move his chair to follow us around the room. It was a special morning.

A well deserved rest

 

 

 

 

 

A Double Dose of Doodle

A few weeks ago I posted about my long time friend Roberta who is waging the most determined fight against brain cancer. Roberta is so tough that if anyone can scare cancer, she’s the one.

She has the rare gift of acknowledging reality, working with it and creating the best possible scenario. In this case she has developed a whole arsenal of medical and emotional support. That includes, as I shared in the other post, the neighborhood dogs who visit when she’s working out in her garage and the Doods. The first time I went to visit I brought Gus. Last week it was the dynamic duo, Gus and Elbee.

As soon as we drove up to her house, the front door flew open and she came out to greet us, hair and makeup done. And you know I consider that a big plus.

ELBEE It’s no secret. I do too.

She was in a great mood, positive, upbeat and welcoming. There was laughter. There was a lovely lunch.

There was also a bit of dog chaos. The minute the Doods pranced though the door they became the center of attention. Roberta was running around with them, applauding all of their tricks, sneaking them treats every time I turned my back. Then as they finally tired out, she sprawled on the floor with both of them for some unconditional dog love and support.

As she was resting with Gus and Elbee, gently petting them, we began talking quietly about how much the time with the dogs means to her. That’s when she urged me to do this follow up because she wanted people to truly understand the impact that dogs, and particularly therapy dogs, can have on someone who is fighting for his or her life.

I asked Roberta if she would send me an email expressing how the dogs are affecting her. I thought it would mean so much more coming directly from someone who is experiencing dog therapy rather than from my observations. It’s difficult to do this with hospital patients because of confidentiality issues.

She wrote some extremely touching things about me that modesty prevents me from sharing. Oh who am I kidding. Showoff that I am, I’ll tell you one. She said the dogs were “unique and amazing” because they take after me.

ELBEE I was so proud that Pack Leader was staying out of it but I guess she couldn’t help herself.

Seriously, Roberta did say that she feels so great when she knows the Doods are coming over. She can hardly wait until they arrive. She absolutely loves to roll around on the floor with my “incredible animals,” and yes, “give them dog biscuits, the best variety,” when I’m not looking.  She also wrote, ” It is a thrill to have them in my house, pet them and gain peace of mind. How bad can the world be when dogs and their leaders exist to help others.” Amen Roberta. I am proud to call you my friend.

 

 

Yentas by Proxy

In my June post A Different Dynamic, I wrote about how much Charley’s passing had changed the rhythm of the pack, especially during our walks. Now there is a new twist. It seems that two fluffy white dogs instead of three are less intimidating. People feel even more comfortable stopping to chat. And yes, I’m a yenta so I probably encourage it.

As soon as anyone approaches, Gus immediately cuddles up to them with tail wagging and a smile on his face. Elbee, as we know, is the canine answer to Mariah Carey. He will still sometimes do his obnoxious bark but he loves being noticed.

ELBEE Excuse me. I have a lot to say. If Pack Leader would pay attention, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.

People get so comfortable petting the Doods that they talk about all sorts of personal things.

ELBEE Maybe because she brags to everyone we meet that we’re therapy dogs. 

One woman asked if I was a dog walker. When I said no, she looked a little disappointed. Then she explained that she needed help with her own dog because she was having shoulder problems. She was only putting off surgery because she had heart issues. We took off before I heard the rest of her medical history.

Then there was the woman working in the garden in front of her house. As she was petting Gus and Elbee, she went into a diatribe about her crazy neighbor across the street. If it was all true, I’m never walking over that way again.

A man passing by on a busy street suddenly stopped to see the dogs. After a casual conversation, he began sharing or maybe oversharing about his divorce and how it was all his fault. Apparently, he really wanted to win her back. I think he kept petting them so that I would commiserate or offer advice.

ELBEE She takes us for a walk and all of a sudden she’s “Dear Abby” of the street. What concerns me is that I’m becoming a yenta by association. Just look at this picture. And I’m starting to have a lot more opinions.

 

 

 

GUS I’m just a nice, friendly kid…kind of a people pleaser. I don’t know how I keep getting caught up in all of this stuff. I don’t want to be accused of aiding and abetting a yenta. Would I have to get the lawyer daughter to defend me?

Aside from all of the conversations, we get some very interesting commentary. An older man, possibly homeless (yes I’m judging) passed us and said, “Oh it’s the foofy dogs and the lady with the foofy hair.”

ME AND ELBEE Really??

 

Perhaps my favorite was an elderly lady driving an “elderly” Mercedes who pulled up next to us and rolled down her window. As she puffed on a cigarette and coughed, she said, “You and the dogs add a lot of class to the neighborhood.”

 

 

 

 

Another Birthday, Another Butt Burner

Some people celebrate their birthdays with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Others like to get a cake from a special bakery. I celebrate by hiking up the butt burner, which maybe I should rethink considering that my birthday is in July and it’s really hot outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE Maybe she should consider going to a senior cooling center instead.

The birthday was on a nice morning as far as summer mornings go. There were a few clouds and a soft breeze. As I began my way up the trail, I was enjoying the scenery and the tranquility. It was challenging, but I was happy that I could still do it.

ELBEE Hello, she just did it last week so it’s not really much of a stretch. On the other hand, I’m impressed that she can still do it at her age. I’ve done the butt burner and it’s not easy. I absolutely refuse to do it in the summer heat, though. It ruins my hair.

As for this unfortunate photo, it’s her first birthday since Charley passed so I let her dress me up. I’d prefer to be anonymous but I’m so well known by now, that’s almost impossible.

Then the air warmed up, the sun got stronger, the breeze disappeared and I started thinking that going shopping might be a better alternative. To add insult to injury, the show offs who had set out early were smiling and waving as they passed me on their way down. Not to mention the young ones who ran by me on their way up. Hey, I never said anything about not complaining.

Undeterred and sweating, I kept going. About forty minutes later,  I made it to dirt Mulholland, an unpaved road that crosses through the Santa Monica Mountains. Since it was the birthday hike, I climbed a little higher where there is a beautiful ocean view. From there I decided to really go for it and come down a short steep hill that only the “regulars” use. It involves a bit of slipping and sliding but is really fun.

ELBEE No wonder the daughters think she’s a shade short of cuckoo.

As I made it to the bottom, feeling pretty good about myself, I saw a guy holding his phone and leaning against his bike on the side of Mulholland. He looked at me and said, ” I was just watching you and waiting to call 911. Figured you were going to wipe out at any moment.” I debated whether he was being thoughtful or making an age crack.

GUS Even I know that was an age crack. 

ELBEE Apparently, dressing us up has become another birthday obsession for Pack Leader. I mean, look at Gus (are you kidding me) and poor Riley!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from Grandma Land

My grandson Ryan is about to become a teenager. Being a writing hoarder, I recently found something that I wrote years ago when I was helping out by taking him to pre-school. Sorry but the Doods are going to be left out this week, although Ryan and Charley were each around three at the time and growing up together.

ELBEE That’s it. I’m finding a new blog.

 

I’m going to share it just as I jotted it down long ago in that classroom.

Help, I’m trapped in pre-school Hell, a sub-division of Grandma Land. I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor that I’m guessing is filled with rocks, trying to be invisible or as least extremely boring. This is in the hopes that my grandson will disengage and play with the other children rather than grab me in a choke hold. A hold, by the way, that I think has been banned by LAPD.

Many decades ago when the three daughters were starting pre-school, the system was simple. You dropped them off and left them screaming as you skulked away. At that point you had choices. You could sit in your car crying hysterically because your baby was growing up. You could be wracked with guilt because you had just left your offspring with near strangers which also involved hysterical crying. Or, as was the case when I left the youngest, I did the happy dance in the parking lot singing “freedom, freedom, freedom” and then went shopping. Okay so I didn’t win mother of the year but I did find a fabulous pair of shoes.

There were exceptions. I had a friend who was expecting her oldest daughter to have great separation anxiety. Instead, when Sally (her name has been changed in solidarity with moms everywhere and to avoid lawsuits) dropped off Susie (also a fake name), the child turned to her and said “See you later, mom.” Sally ran to her car and sobbed because she had enough separation anxiety for both of them. Looking back, there was so much drama in that parking lot a therapist could have cleaned up!

But I digress. Back to my invisible grandma spot on the floor. In a cage to my left is a mean looking albino guinea pig the size of a small dog. It has a smaller black and white accomplice. I would almost swear the two are conspiring to escape and bite me. I must seem like an easy mark because I’m glued to my pillow spot. I wonder if guinea pigs carry rabies.

ELBEE She’s sharing about guinea pigs instead of me. I’m getting an agent.

Facing me in a cute little toy stroller is an anatomically correct doll. He, yes he, is naked except for a piece of plastic pizza draped unceremoniously across his chest. Considering myself to be a fairly hip grandma, I still feel a little behind the times. After all, when the daughters were small they had gender non-specific dolls who could only be identified by hair and wardrobe.

I am happy to report that despite my presence or non-presence, Ryan made it through pre-school with flying colors. I would like to add that he has always had a special bond with the Doods. Are you happy Elbee?

ELBEE For the record, I have been his favorite for years.

 

Ryan is also the wonderful young man who made this touching photo tribute for Charley when he passed.

 

UCLA Pups on Parade

I was in the middle of writing this when we had a massive power outage in the neighborhood. I wondered if it was the universe telling me that my post sucked. I’m going to assume it was just a result of the heat wave we’re having and “power on.”

ELBEE If that was supposed to be funny, I should be doing stand-up. 

At the risk of sounding corny and emotional, I have to say that the Fourth of July was very special this year. No matter what side of the political, social or grocery aisle (shout out to all you vegans) people were on, there was a real sense of wanting to reach out and connect with each other.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t run to have Marsha, Gus’s groomer/colorist, dye his ears and tail red and blue as soon as I knew that he was going to be in a parade. She even came up with the idea of putting paper plates over his ears to keep the color where it was supposed to be while she was applying it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE I admit that I was a little jealous until I saw that photo. Paper plates on my ears! As if!

GUS It’s the price of beauty.

Since we had to do the color a few days before the event, I sort of forgot about it until I took the dogs walking. Almost everyone we passed smiled and wished us a happy fourth. There was a pervasive sense of patriotism.

On the day of the parade, we met in Pacific Palisades with several of the other teams from the UCLA People Animal Connection. From the moment we arrived,   the atmosphere was incredibly warm and friendly. People seemed truly happy to be uniting in appreciation of America. It was a celebration of our history and our freedom.

 

I had been in the parade a couple of times but this year seemed different. The crowd was larger and if possible more enthusiastic.

 

Gus was so excited, his red and blue tail never stopped wagging. Before we started walking, he flirted with Ella, a Golden Retriever, and drooled over Gracie, a darling Chihauhau who is the smallest dog in the program in terms of size but not of heart.

As we started down Sunset Boulevard with all of the other dogs, Gus played to the crowd. He visited with spectators along the route and even did a few impromptu dance moves. With the children, he was spectacular. I have never seen so many smiling faces. Okay, once or twice he got a little tired and I had to carry him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the other two parades, Charley was by my side, greeting celebrants, young and old. As you know, we lost him this year but we also lost Tovah, another special member of PAC. She was a beautiful Dachshund who happened to be Charley’s “girlfriend.” They often worked events, including the parade, together, with Tovah riding in her wagon as she got older.

I cherish this photo of them. It will always represent the Fourth of July to me. Without even trying, Gus is once again following in his big brother’s paw prints. He’s carrying on in the tradition of Charley and Tovah, making them both proud.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Therapy Dogaholic

This week I decided to rework the post that started it all, Confessions of a Happy Dogaholic. Only a few people saw it because I was nervous about showing it to anyone. Now that I’ve overshared all over the place, I thought why not this too.

ELBEE Personally I think it was just a slow news day.

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with the dogs. I talk about them incessantly which I’m sure is why so many people encouraged me to write about them in the first place. They were probably hoping I’d shut up and stop talking about them.

ELBEE Good luck with that. Wait, it’s about us. Keep talking.

There were even one or two people who hinted that I might want to join some sort of 12-step program. That was never going to happen. We all know that I enjoy my dog addiction. It’s not causing liver damage and I really can’t get with the whole anonymous concept. Hey, remember, in the 80’s and 90’s I was a competitive bodybuilder. Does that scream anonymous on any level?

ELBEE Where does she find these things?? I threatened to boycott this blog and even offered not to bark for a year if she’d stop. I give up.

GUS I shouldn’t admit it but I’m kind of starting to like them. I think all the therapy has really helped me cope.

 

Hey, old habits die hard. I often wondered what had triggered my love of dogs but didn’t have an “aha” moment until one day when I was looking at some of my baby pictures. Two things jumped out at me. First, I was a really unattractive baby. Second, there was some sort of adorable dog in almost every photo.

In retrospect, I think they were an attempt to distract from my looks. I also have a suspicion that they were rented or borrowed since they seemed to vary from month to month. My mother was so sweet and kind, I’m sure she was trying to help me out. At least with the cute dog/ugly baby thing going on, people had something to work with. They could say, “aw how darling” and still pass a lie detector test.

Today I am grateful to all of those anonymous dogs and to the ones who actually were our pets like Killer, the sweetest Cocker Spaniel in the world. From the time I was a little girl, they turned me into an animal lover. I am even more grateful to the late Charley and to Elbee and Gus.

ELBEE Excuse me. A great name like Killer and I get stuck with Elbee.

I’ve written that there are pivotal moments in life. Being a passenger in a near-fatal car accident was one of mine. Another was the very first time that I walked into UCLA Medical Center with Charley by my side. So thank you to the Doods, even you Elbee, for turning me into a therapy dogaholic.