A Higher Calling


I was at a party recently, chatting with a woman who is a hospice volunteer. She was unique, in that she brings her dog with her to visit dying people. What a lovely idea, right? She said she was inspired to do it after visiting relatives in nursing homes, whose only stimulation was the television blaring in the background. She wanted to provide the tactile stimulation and evocative memories that people can experience when petting a dog.

I have a social work background, am very comfortable with the hospice clientele, and I have a dog…hmmm, maybe this was something I could consider, I thought. Is there a certification a dog has to have, another woman asked? Yes, of course we were told.

“Well my dog’s certifiably cute,” I offered. I think he would bring joy to people at the end of their lives.

The hospice volunteer went on to explain that her dog is a standard poodle who was in fact a rescue dog. She said that he seemed to have a calling for this kind of work. Once, a patient with advanced dementia who barely spoke, reached out and patted the dog and said, “I had a poodle too.”

Her dog has a calling. Huh – imagine that. I wondered if my dog has a calling.

I told my sister about it the next day.

“Great,” she said, “now you not only have to worry about your children achieving their potential, but you have to search for your dog’s calling. Sheesh.”

I thought I just had a run-of-the-mill, rear-end sniffing, self-licking, squirrel-chasing, laying-around kind of adorable dog. Maybe he’s destined for greater things. Do I get him tested to see what his skills, strength and weaknesses are? Or take him to doggy therapy to work out his neuroses and self-image so he can lead a happy, fulfilled life?

I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I think his calling may be simply to bring joy to our family. If I have the energy, maybe I’ll see if he has a knack for making other people happy. I suspect he will. As the late, great Andy Rooney said, ““The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”

We should all strive for a higher calling.



Many people begin the parenting experience by making grand proclamations about how they will raise their offspring. Things like, “my child will only watch educational television,” or “my child will only eat healthy foods.”

Then life happens and those strong feelings get tempered, those little babies become people who speak and have opinions, and parents learn to juggle their wants and desires with those of their children.

Sometimes we get beaten down and cave to their incessant demands. In my house, this has played out recently in the form of an iPhone. My husband and I were so proud of ourselves for holding out and not buying an iPhone for our oldest child until he was seventeen, which was last year. “What does he need it for?” we asked. “He has a perfectly good phone. And an iTouch.” Being the dutiful firstborn, he accepted his fate and didn’t press too hard on the subject. So we eventually relented, telling ourselves that he’ll be in college soon.

Ah, but it’s a slippery slope. Now our 13-year-old is lobbying hard. I find that I just don’t feel as strongly this time as I did with our eldest. Maybe because smartphones have become the norm. Maybe because he never seems to have his plain, old phone charged or with him when I need to reach him.

“If we get him an iPhone, it will no doubt be attached to his body and fully charged and therefore he would be reachable, right?” I asked my friend, who also has a 13-year-old boy.

“Absolutely,” she said, “My son’s phone is never dead. I could be dead, but his phone – never,” she chuckled.

Yep, I see an iPhone in the future for this son, once I negotiate this with my husband. Poor guy, he recently attempted to use his legal prowess with our daughter on the very serious subject of her birthday present. He called me one day after dropping her off at school.

“I caved,” he said.

“Oh? On what?” I asked.

“A trampoline. For her birthday,” he announced, defeated.

I’m happy when my husband occasionally caves. Since I spend more time with the kids, I am the recipient of most of the asking, whining, and begging so of course I cave more than he does. I was glad to see my daughter go for his weak spot – it’s a good skill for her to learn. In his defense, he held out for well over a year before caving.

So the trampoline will grace our backyard, where the dog roams too. I’m the one who caved on the dog. I guess we’re even, for now.

Have we lost control or do the things we care about change over time? Once we were rigid about bedtime – now it’s only the eleven-year-old who’s asleep before us. I was talking with a friend about this.

“I’ve lost control of that, among many other things,” she said and went on to tell me that her neighbor has noticed over the years that the lights in their house stay on later and later. The whole world apparently notices our loss of control. What’s the neighbor doing up so late anyway?

I like to tell myself that I don’t cave on the things that I really care about like being a good person and having good manners. Oh, and being a good student – although I confess that I leave the schoolwork to the kids and their teachers. I assume they are doing well if I don’t hear anything negative from the school. I guess I’ve sort of caved on that too.

Ultimately my children will be the captain of their ships and will have to do their own navigating. In the meantime, I’m just trying to have smooth sailing.


A Post for the Holiday Season – How to be a Good Guest


I was looking for somewhere to board my dog for a few nights next month. I came across a groupon type deal for a company that connects people who wish to board dogs in their homes with dog owners.

The idea of my pooch staying with a family is appealing. After culling through several pages of possibilities, I arranged a “meet and greet” with a woman who seemed to be a possible match for us.

My dog and I set off, in rush hour. What should have been a 15 minute car-ride ended up being 45 minutes. Lewey sensed something was amiss – I had to drag him up the stairs to the front door. We were greeted by the nice lady, her husband, and two pugs. At her suggestion, I took off my dog’s leash so he could explore the house.

A meet-and-greet is a nice way of saying that the boarding family wants to make sure my dog is not out-of-control and I want to make sure they are not psychopaths.

The woman and I sat down in the family room. She pulled out her notebook to ask me questions about my dog, who was being adorable and playing with one of the other dogs. As we continued our discussion, I followed her gaze to the left of my chair.

There, in the corner of the room, on the wall-to-wall carpet, my dog was taking a dump.

Really? After I went through all the trouble to find these people and shlep to their home, my dog is going to put the kibosh on the whole thing within the first five minutes by pooping in their house? I was mortified. He never does this, I assured them. It called into question my dog training skills. Maybe I was a terrible dog parent? Oh, the shame.

They were very nice and matter-of-fact about it. I quickly cleaned up the poop and the husband sprayed the anti-smell-please-don’t-poop-here-again-spray. He told me they’ve learned to take their dog guests for a walk as soon as they arrive as they can be agitated and out of sorts. Apparently my dog’s behavior was not as abnormal or abhorrent as I feared.

We finished the interview and talked about the dates I needed the dog to be watched. They seemed like they were actually still willing to watch my dog – I couldn’t believe it. I figured when I got home I would receive a text saying that something had come up for them and they wouldn’t be able to watch Lewey. You know, the doggie version of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

I felt as if I had ruined a first date. We did the walk of shame out to the car. I called my husband and my sister.

“They’re dog people,” my sister reasoned, “they’re used to this stuff.

To my surprise, they accepted my official request through the boarding website to watch my dog. I will plead with him to be a super good boy and do all of his business outside.

I hate to leave him, but sometimes duty calls.

May your Thanksgiving celebrations include only well-behaved guests.



Dietary Indiscretion


My dog had tummy troubles last week.  Judging by the quality and quantity of what he was producing, the poor guy’s system was clearly out of whack.

What to do? Should I use the model I apply to my children…wait a few days and hope the problem resolves or call the vet?

I called the vet, described the dog’s symptoms, and went in to get some pills.  When I asked the vet what was causing my pup’s poop problems she explained it was colitis.

” What causes that?” I asked.

“Stress,” she offered.

Nope, I thought, that’s not it – our pooch does not lead an especially stressful existence.

“Dietary indiscretion,” she suggested.

Bingo. That’s it, that’s the ticket right there.

It’s the puppy’s first spring in the world. He has so much to see, smell, and sample.  Twigs and mulch and yard clippings – oh my! That was clearly the cause of his problem. The pills quickly fixed him up.

Then it occurred to me that my dog and I have something in common. I too suffer frequently from dietary indiscretion.

Dietary indiscretion. Such a brilliant commentary on my eating habits. Beautiful in its simplicity. Thankfully, I have no symptoms of colitis. But any extra weight I carry around must be due to serious indiscretion in my diet.  If only a pill could help me. The happy pantry items, the refreshing alcoholic beverages, the comfort food I turn to in good times and bad all contribute to this problem. Sure, the dog-walking has increased my level of activity; not only the walking itself but the repeated bending over to pull those indiscriminate objects out of his mouth. But oh, to live the life of a dog, where I only ate once a day and someone would command me to “leave it” whenever I was about to throw discretion to the wind and put an ill-advised morsel into my mouth.

Unlike my dog, I am supposed to have free will.  Maybe I’ll use it to control my consumption this summer.  Or maybe not.