Wednesday, April 06, 2011

My Happiness Evolution

Since evolution is a gradual process, exactly when dogs became domesticated is up for much debate.  Recent studies using mitochondrial DNA, suggest that wolves split off into a different species between 50,000-100,000 years ago and occurred as a result of a mutually beneficial relationship between the two species.   Dogs helped to hunt and with a keen sense of alertness, safeguarded our long-ago ancestors to dangers among them. In return, dogs had an assurance of food, shelter and safety…in theory.
“Who will take care of it?” “Who will walk it and make sure it is feed properly?”
Growing up, my brother made several unsuccessful attempts at caring for goldfish, which just reaffirmed my mother’s stance when we pleaded with her to get a dog.  Since both parents worked full-time, the responsibility would fall on my brother and I.   With each goldfish we had to flush down the toilet, there went our proof that we could take care of another living creature.
Although my desire to have a dog during my adolescent years seemed feasible at the time, as I became an adult, the excuses to hold off became more abundant.   “I’m working all the time, when will I take them out?”   “What happens when I need to travel?”   “I heard they chew on everything and I can’t afford to buy new shoes every few weeks.”   Although I could hold out on the last excuse and just try to enjoy my custom ventilated sneakers, deep down, I just was not sure all the sacrifices would be worth it.
Despite living in Florida, January 2009 had constant frigid temperatures. Bleary-eyed as usual in the morning, I shuffled into work.   It was still fairly early but the office was already buzzing, and there was some commotion coming from the adjacent cubes.   “They’re so cute!”  Disregarding the distraction, I tried to get started on my day, however people were bustling in and out.  Additional comments starting with “ooh’s and awe’s” filled the air.  Mustering up the energy out of utter curiosity, I headed over to the corner cubicle, which had an office door.   People were huddled all around but the door was closed.  “What’s going on,” I inquired.  “Puppies!  Go look at the puppies!”  Un-amused, I opened the door and there they were…two pint-size puppies with adorable faces staring at me.  For a moment, my heart softened.  They were lying on the floor, one, light brown with piercing hazel eyes and the other, its twin, in dark brown fur.
My co-worker Paul was sitting on the floor with them, “where did they come from?”   “We’re not sure,” he replied.   “When we opened the back door this morning, there they were.  We assume someone dropped them off at the Humane Society in the middle of the night.”  The Flagler Humane Society is located across a main highway, Route 1, from our offices.  Which means, cold and dark, they crossed this busy highway alone.
Paul, a dog-owner, was keen on finding them a home.  Asking around in the office, most responded with how sweet they were but either already had a dog, or had the same laundry list I did, why not to take them home.   Deflated, he resigned to the fact that when the Humane Society opened at 10am, that he would have to drop them off.   “Well…” I began with hesitation. “I always wanted dogs, and always wanted two so they could keep each other company when I wasn’t around.  If these two stay this small, it shouldn’t be too bad.”  Paul’s face lit-up!
After a few moments, while attempting to reclaim sanity from the admission of adoption I was offering, Paul’s wife walked in with some dog toys and food she had rushed home to get for them.  Paul had me reach into the bag of kibble so they could eat out of my hands.  Burying their noses into my palms, the two pups nearly inhaled the food.   “Oh look, they are bonding so well with their new Mommy,” Paul cooed.   ‘Mommy!  What?!   Where?!  Who?!’    When I realized he was referring to me, a shiver ran down my back.   ‘What did I just get myself into?’
Ecstatic, Paul rushed out and told everyone that I was going to take our newfound friends.  My co-workers actually started cheering…I felt like a quarterback that just threw the winning touchdown pass.   “Congratulations!"  “Way to go!”  A hesitant smile was my response.
“What should I do now?”   My cohorts advised to take them to the Humane Society anyway so they could be checked out, given their shots…neutered.  Since it would take five days before I could pick them up from all their preparations, I spent that time ‘puppy-proofing’ and preparing for what I was being told, was a life-changing bond.
Everyone kept asking me if I was excited, if nervous counts as excited, than yes…I was VERY excited.   Collars, leashes, dog bowls, water bowls, crate, bed, toys…forgetting something…FOOD.  Need to get them food, but what do they like?  What if they turn their noses up at my choice?   Will they even like me?  Panic was setting in.
Even though I was trying to exude a fa├žade of confidence, the Humane Society volunteer handed me a DVD on pet adoption and care.   I tossed it in my bag with complete disregard.   However, when we got home, the DVD went in, and notepad and pen came out, ready to absorb as much insight as I could.   About halfway through, I realized, “Where were the puppies?”  A quick search revealed they were already making a home in the crate.   Crossed ‘crate training’ off my list with a newfound zeal.
The next morning started with real confidence this time.   Heading to their crate in the next room, I noticed some white substance all over their bed and they both looked very lethargic.  The morning walk turned into a hacking contest between them.  Ok, now I was back to panicking.
The vet diagnosed them with kennel cough to which they were just vaccinated.   Still upchucking white phlegm all over the apartment carpet was not helping.  Since the floor in the minuscule railroad kitchen was linoleum, it seemed to be a more logical location for them to stay, and easier for cleanup.  Luckily they loved peanut butter, so I was able to get their antibiotics down without a fight.  But on the second day, while dragging them out for a walk, the dark-haired pup put his nose to the grass and out came a flood of green fluid.   In turn, I became green and once again, panicking.   “Oh it's just some bile, shouldn’t happen again but call us if it does,” the vet concluded.  Granted, they deal with this every day, but I don’t…I didn’t know how to be so nonchalant.   I felt horrible and scared.   I sat on the kitchen floor with them, rubbing their bellies, when I began to sob.   Having always doubted whether I could truly be responsible to take care anything other than myself, I looked at them and knew...knew that I needed them as much as they needed me.  Sacrificing is not a curse, but a gift.
By the end of the week, they were running all around the apartment, wrestling with one another…tails wagging.  Ah, joy!
When I finally made it back to work, my caring friends inquired after them.  “Oh and what did you name them?”  Grover and Grady!   Because that is where we found each other and became a family…at Hargrove Grade.
Some canine experts claim that dogs do not feel happiness, that actions are based more on instincts, conditions and response to stimuli; emotions are not a factor.  After two years, when I come from work and Grover and Grady come running over to me, with their entire bodies wagging like they are doing the wave at a sporting event, I know they are happy, and despite what research tells us, that happiness is mutually beneficial.
“Animals are not just the backdrop of our own story, but at the center of the whole drama, and how we treat them is one of the great themes of the human story."
Wayne Pacelle, President/CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and author of The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

[1] Dog History:  How Were Dogs Domesticated?  By K. Kris Hirst, Guide

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Reverse Snow-Bird

Despite the colder-than-normal winter this year in Florida, many northeasterners still find their oasis on the sunny peninsula. While 49 states are receiving snow fall (yes, even Hawaii gets snow at the top of the volcanoes), Florida allows its residents to go snow-shovel free. No digging yourself out each morning in frigid temperatures; no warming your car up for a good five minutes while you scrap and re-scrap layers of ice off the windows. Yet many ‘now-native’ Floridians, myself included, complain when they have to cover their plants or actually put on a jacket and gloves, we forget how good we have it until…we head back north for the winter.

Though it would be a longer trek to go skiing, I promised myself when I moved to Florida six years ago, that I would try to get back to the mountains at least once a year. Packing for a five-day ski trip felt equivalent to packing for a semester abroad. Ski pants: check. Five sweaters: check. Three pairs of long-underwear: check. Five pairs of wool socks: check. A sense of sanity: left at the ticket counter at the Jacksonville Airport.

Learning from the past plagues of checked-luggage getting “re-routed”, I made sure to carry certain essentials on-board. Heading out into the Vermont tundra without a jacket, is a sure-fire way to become an ice sculpture in less than three minutes. This time, the luggage-gods were smiling. Gathering up bag after bag, I slowly made my way towards the exit. If I were to lean just slightly in the wrong direction, I would surely topple over.

All smiles, my Aunt came rushing towards me, arms stretched to receive a hug, only to be pelted in the face by my ski bag. “We’ll hug later, when it’s safe,” I remarked after making sure she wasn’t hurt. At first, the Burlington air is crisp and refreshing; the exposed skin on my face, tingling. By the time we reached the 3rd level of the parking garage, I was sure my cheeks had frost bite. Wrestling my luggage into her small Saturn, my toes were going numb. Hauling the 50lb suitcase up and into her trunk by arching my back so far a gymnast would be jealous, I was exhausted by the time I was finally defrosting under the car’s heater.

The next day, my Uncle “the human rooster”, awoke me from my cozy slumber at 6am, exclaiming, “Time to hit the slopes!” Climbing out from my four-layer blanket burrito, my feet hit the frigid wood floor and shot me airborne. Time to put on a pair of those wool socks!

The first mountain on our agenda…Stowe! Although technically it is Mt. Mansfield, Stowe is emblazoned on all the signs and gondolas. We hoped on the chair lift, which did move fairly quickly for a chair lift. Towards the summit, you entered into a haze of chilly wind. Looking at my Uncle, I knew the next trip to the top would be in the enclosed gondola, the epitome of ski luxury. At times, the sun attempted to peer through the clouds and luckily that helped warm the atmosphere, slightly.

Took a few runs to get the feel of being on skis again, but much like it is said about bicycling, “you never forget”. The exhilaration of tearing down a mountain returned and although the day flew by, I knew I had two more full days of skiing in front of me… “Pace yourself, Geiss.”

Normally when I visit my Aunt and Uncle, we head to Smuggler’s Notch but we were all feeling adventurous and wanted to try another ‘new’ mountain for the day. Here we come, Jay Peak! Located about twenty miles from the Canadian border, you could tell how far north you must be when hearing most of the skiers speaking French. At least I assume it was French. It had been snowing all day so the sky was a pink-hue, and the powder was in abundance as compared to the normally icy terrain of Vermont. Despite all the snow fall, Jay Peak had this crazy notion that they needed to make…more snow. Snow machines were cranking all over the trails and severely limiting the visibility. Doing my best to avoid their powerful sprays aimed right at any skier taller than three feet, I still had one almost knock me backwards. I must have looked like someone trying to do the limbo, only to hit my chin on the bar. I am sure Jay Peak is a beautiful mountain, if only I could have seen it.

“Oh, I don’t know about this. It is going to be mighty cold!” Coming from Uncle who has lived in Vermont for almost 40 years, for him to say the last day of skiing I have left is going to be “mighty cold”, gave me pause. Huddled over their computer, we studied the weather forecast at Smuggler’s Notch. Minus thirteen in the morning…may warm-up to zero by noon. “But this is it! This is the last day I have of left to ski for a whole year…I have to go!” Seeing my resolve, my Aunt offered to accompany me.

Wearing enough layers to resemble Randy from A Christmas Story, I almost couldn’t put my arms down. Never the ‘snow bunny’ type, I knew at least I would be warm enough to enjoy the day. Greeted by blue skies and still air, it was turning out to be fairly good ski conditions. The low temperatures, or lack of temperature, did result in my toes going numb at one point; perfect opportunity for a hot chocolate break.

We took the last few runs with unexpected zeal. Noting the clock each time we reached the lift, wondering if we made the next run just as fast, could we go once more before the lifts close? When we finally realized this would be our last time down, we took each turn, each corner a little smoother, a little slower. Remarking to myself at the beauty Vermont holds and why I made the resolution to return each year.

Getting off the plane in Florida, I called my brother to see if we were still on for playing tennis. No precipitation, 65 degrees, sun…

Returning to my car, I loaded up my skis and luggage, took off my bulky jacket and tossed it in the back seat. Sunglasses on, windows down…it was good to be home.

Published at