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.
“When my dog places her quivering muzzle on my lap telling me it’s time to go for a walk, I release my selfish grip on the day. So many walks around the block, and each time I come home to a very different place, all because of what dogs do. They save your life by making you leave it behind.”
-Karen Maezen Miller
Love this post, Ann. I think of these words of Karen’s every time I take my little Yoda out for a walk. He is 11 now, so no longer a puppy, but I still haven’t learned all there is to know about him. Or me. These days I really need the distraction of his company to break up the day. A little while ago he got very ferocious with a blow-up leprachaun and I am now amusingly aware of this new neighborhood threat 😊 Your little “minister of joy” is so lucky, as are the two of you. Dogs just make us better.
This is an exquisite poem and marvelous thoughts from you. Indeed, dogs do make us better.
Thank you Christina and Ann Linnea- from me, Diane, in Virginia.
I love this. Thank you, Ann. I look forward to meeting Vivi someday. Meantime, take good care. I know you are. Gretchen
The aww of discovery when experiencing life, and especially the great outdoors for the first time! Your story was a nice look into a new pooch’s discoveries in hiking. You are lucky that you can yet pick up Vivi into your arms! Safe and sound. Especially loved Lesson #3! So true and how lucky we are to have animals that require us to take them outdoors. Smiles on all of our faces! Fun story, Ann, thanks.
So sweet to picture the three of you on those trails we all know so well. It brought back memories of our kids and puppies exploring them, and of all the times I’ve recommended your book to families. What a gift!
I love this. Lessons from the natural world and a little pup. What a cutie! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to meet her!
Quoting the customer at your hardware store, “You have no idea how much I needed this.” Thanks, Ann, for sharing your stories, lessons, and pictures of VIVI. Walking Annie today in the snow, a much needed balm for my anxious heart….Love to all from us.
Sweet story, Ann! Nature gives us so many opportunities to learn lessons. Thank you.
I too look forward to meeting Vivi when the time is right. Thank you for lifting my spirits in this moment. Be well
Dear Ann. I teared up just to see the title of your blog, trusting that when I read it, there would be a gentle voice of reason and wisdom that I trust. The story is lovely in itself, but the layers of encouragement are salvation. . .no less so than puppies! I feel so Blessed, just knowing you, Christina and Vivi are in the world holding steady and filling every space you touch with Love. It inspires me to keep on keeping on.
I’ve become well acquainted and bonded with my daughter’s dog since moving in with her partner and them almost 2 years ago. Mako is 36 pounds of friendly, herding border collie. I appreciate your tips on meeting other dogs as she is only the second dog that I am related to.
Gratitude for such a beautiful sharing!
I have been drawn to having a little fur friend…
Oh, how beautiful! I now have, for only the second time in my life, a cat. But she is fiercely devoted (she has granted no one else an audience with her), and I am glad she is here, and safe, and happy. Still, there’s nothing quite like a dog for walking through the woods and having adventures and discovering new things. It’s a tradeoff. For now.
This is the best! I love Vivi so much already. Cute puppy alert, indeed. Going for a walk now with my pups to ground myself as well. <3 Love, your niece Molly
Thank goodness the woods aren’t closed. And so great full for the joy my dog Lilly brings me as she begs me to take her for a walk where she can explore the smells, the sights and the sounds. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.