A Minister of Joy for Times Like These
These are serious, challenging times. We live near Seattle, one of the epicenters of COVID-19 lock down in the U.S. Even on our island we are watching church services, meetings, and performances cancelled. Every day the news sends a new level of concern. People are on edge, yet we all still need connection and laughter. We are discovering that our puppy, Vivi, is a little minister of joy.
The other day I walked into ACE Hardware to pick up a few things. We always stop to see our friend who works there. Vivi wiggled all over and licked her face when picked up. Our friend said into her headset to other ACE employees: “Serious cute puppy alert in the paint department. “
About a half dozen employees came over for their fill of licks and kisses. The whole scene took only a few minutes. When the employees had returned to their posts, a customer who had been watching said, “You have no idea how much I needed this.”
One of our jobs as the owners of this outgoing, four-month old corgi is to protect and replenish her extraordinary spirit. Spending time outdoors together works for all three of us.
Puppies and toddlers naturally love the earth. Well, yes and no. I remember the first time I took our newly arrived, 15-month-old adopted son, Brian, outdoors on grass. He was barefooted and did NOT like the prickly sensation of the grass on either his feet or his hands. Clearly, he had not spent time outdoors on the ground before. Fortunately, he very quickly discovered the freedom of a large yard and took off. It reminded me that it is a big world out there and having positive experiences requires care and skill building.
There have been a number of instances this last month that remind me how quickly fear can come in and change things when you are 13 pounds and 9 inches tall. My job at 120 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches tall is to help our puppy understand what to fear and what is just another new thing.
Lesson #1—Sometimes the woods seem big and scary. We have walked Vivi in our local state park with its paths through old growth trees since she was 10 weeks old. When we first went, she could not even pull herself up and over some of the big tree roots. She needed “butt assists”. Now, twice the size of that smaller puppy-self, she has no problem getting up or down, under, over, or through the natural hurdles on the forest path. She has been building skills and coordination through practice. She has gained increasing strength and confidence.
The other day, though, she had a moment of fear. We had stopped along the trail for a little snack break on our 3-mile walk. (She loves knowing that food is also a part of hiking.)
I was putting away our snacks. All of a sudden there was a strong blast of wind and a dark cloud covered the sun. She put her little paws on my leg and whined. She was fearful and needed to be carried a short distance. Sometimes when you get scared, you need reassurance that you will be taken care of.
I remember the first time we took our four-year-old, city dwelling grandson walking in the woods at night. He had a headlamp and as we entered the woods he directed his headlamp scan to the top of the trees. “Is there anything in here bigger than we are?” he asked.
We assured him that neither the trees, nor deer, nor wind in the branches high above would hurt us. But like Vivi needing the reassurance of a temporary lift, little Jaden needed the assurance of words from his grandmothers.
Lesson #2—Trust your owner/parent to know when another dog is safe. This is a big responsibility for any dog owner or parent of a young child.
Little Vivi just loves meeting people and dogs on the trail. When we meet people, I always ask, “Do you enjoy dogs?” If they shake their head “no”, I kneel down and hang onto her harness and let them pass. However, if they have a dog, I instantly pick up our little 13 pounder and ask, “Is your dog friendly with puppies?”
Vivi has never had a negative experience with another dog and I am determined to keep it that way. The other day hiking in the woods we met a man and a woman and a 3-year-old mutt three times Vivi’s size and off leash. I could hardly hang onto my squirmer so eager was she to meet this dog. I asked, “Is your dog friendly to other dogs?” The man replied, “Yes”.
I asked, “Should we let them meet?” The woman looked squarely at me and said, “I don’t think so.” I thanked her and they walked on. This is an ongoing challenge for owners of any dog, but most especially small dogs. When in doubt, don’t have them meet! And as a toddler parent, always pick them up when a dog approaches and work from there with careful dialogue.
Lesson #3—A mile is a whole lot more than 5,280 feet and it is filled with the best possible replenishment for humans and dogs alike. In Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (1991, University of Minnesota Press) my three writer friends and I focused on helping parents realize how much can be seen, heard, felt, and discovered together with their children. For those of us with puppies and children, a good summary of that book would be—stop often and let them explore. Let them help us slowdown and rediscover all there is to experience in a mile of walking. And then all of us can re-enter the social fabric of life with new joy.