Mazel in red

Once upon a time long ago—last February, actually (sheesh, where does the time go?!)——I told you part of a tale of two dogs. Well, it’s high-time I tell you the “rest of the story” of my two dogs.

If you remember (if not, just read the post a few down from here), I had described as best I could the differences in tone of my two dogs. Those differences have given me much pause to ponder this past year.

Since I last wrote, winter finally packed up and left south-central Indiana. Spring flew in immediately, and has been busily unpacking for her three-month vacation since about the middle of March. She brought so much stuff with her!

For weeks, she’s been throwing it all out of her overstuffed seasonal suitcase, into the air, onto the ground, down into the hollows, into the trees and streams. Her belongings are everywhere: flowers and bird’s nests and infant salamanders. Tiny green leaves and pussywillows and pond lilies poking their tender green stems skyward.

Hannah with shoe (or what's left of it)

Walking the forest is a joy and an agony: there is nowhere I can step without squashing delicate green leaves or tiny wildflowers fragile as spun glass. I read that deer walk without stepping on flowers, even with their back feet. I walk like a bulldozer in a rainforest, wincing at every clumsy step. One morning, I nearly stepped on a little green ringnecked snake, stretched out sluggishly on our cold patio stones.

The dogs don’t walk like deer, either. Actually, they don’t walk at all. Hannah flies like a black rocket, low and fast, through fresh glades of Virginia bluebells, across rocky slopes blanketed in dappled trout lilies. Her speed and stamina are mind-boggling. I get tired just looking at her.

Mazel bounces and twirls through the forest, stepping on my feet, tripping over logs and sticks, flopping off stream banks. It is hard to keep an eye on your feet when you are obsessed with the stick in your human companion’s hand. Hard to keep from breaking your toenails on rock mounds and old brush piles when you MUST keep your eye on that stick no matter what happens!

I swear, a parade of briefcase-carrying squirrels could march in front of that dog and if I had a stick in my hand—or was looking for a stick, or throwing a stick, or even THINKING about throwing a stick—he wouldn’t give them a glance. I’ve seen Mazel bypass a smelly cottage cheese container for a chance at a stick.

Forest walks define many of the differences between my two dogs. From the moment I grab a walking stick and some mucky shoes, the dogs are primed for forest adventure in their own, unique ways.

I step off the back porch, and Hannah is gone, flying across the ridge like the shadow of a hawk. She doesn’t look back, and in seconds, she is out of my sight. I may not see her for the next half hour, except for brief glimpses of her shiny black pelt, weaving out of sight behind bushes and dense trees.

Mazel dances around my feet, bringing twigs and log stumps which—thanks to Carter’s diligent training—he literally throws on my feet. Once I find a good, solid stick, he launches into a frenzied howl, and the tossing begins. He’ll keep fetching for as long as I meander, unless I tell him, “wait a moment, I’m busy.” Then, he will putter around me, nose to the leaf litter, busying himself while I gather water bugs or newtlings for my pond.

No matter what, Mazel’s attention remains on me. No matter what, Hannah’s mind and heart are somewhere else. It takes Hannah a good two hours of exploring before she is ready to slow down to my pace and rest within my sight as I wander the forest floor and creek bottoms. Mazel remains close, checking in often to lick my cheek, or check out the fern that has captured my momentary attention. Hannah, even in her “finally worn out” mode keeps to herself, napping many yards away.

Twice in my life, I have brought home dogs who were slightly older puppies, past that milk breath, ball of fuzz stage. Strongheart, my Anatolian shepherd came to me when he was five months old and 87 pounds, Hannah, when she was eight months and skinny from parasite infestations. Hannah’s beginnings were rough, and she had very little socialization when she was very young. My ego told me that I was such a good dog trainer, those lost months wouldn’t make a difference. But they have.

Her nature and nurture (or lack of it) had solidified much of what would have been her younger flexibility. I believe Hannah had already adopted a fixed set of beliefs about life and people when she came into our home, whereas Mazel Tov was like a ball of silly putty–easily molded.

Another thing that I am only beginning to become aware of is that I am not the same kind of dog person I was in my younger years. The dog person I was then was focused, energetic, and totally fixated on the idea that my dogs were a reflection of me; thus, they were vigorously trained to make a good first impression.

This past winter I finally began the hard work of reconciling who I was with who I have become in the past decade. My health failed so slowly, I feel as though I woke up this winter to a “sudden realization” that I was truly no longer the woman I had been in any area of my life. When my first disability check arrived in March, it signaled a tipping point in my self-awareness.

And my first long forest walk in the spring brought into focus the fact that Hannah and Mazel have been heavily influenced by the new, sort of decrepit me—much more than I would have thought, but then again, my thinking is compromised these days.

Yes, Hannah is a gentle loner by nature, by nurture—and by my hand. Mazel is a self-confident, happily disobedient, willful soul by nature, but more so by my failing energy and willpower to enforce the very strict dog rules I crafted years ago. By the time Hannah and Mazel came along, I had morphed into someone much less inclined to go into a Hitler mode with my puppies. I no longer had the energy or staying powering to invoke perfect sit-stays, spot-on “comes,” or instant “downs.”

I no longer have any investment in my dogs as a reflection of me. I have come into a much deeper appreciation for their unique doghood. My dogs are as annoying as anybody else’s these days. Gone is the no-dogs-on-furniture rule. Mazel takes up more than his third of our double recliner, and Hannah will sprawl the entire length of the sofa if you don’t fight for your few inches of turf.

Gone are the days I can leave food near the counter’s edge. And trash cans–especially the bathroom trash with its tempting empty toilet paper rolls—are occasionally breached. Hannah will still sneak off the to forest if given the chance, because I have not found any means or training that can cage her gypsy heart.

So, are Hannah’s lost early months the main reason for her solitary nature, or has it been my own more fatigued and solitary nature that steered her course? Is Mazel a goofball because I have been lazy, or is he just the funniest, happiest, most unrestrained spirit to every inhabit a dog’s body?

I suspect it is both and much more. The more my mind and body settle into a kind of humorous, peaceful foggy state, the more I can see the hand of mystery at work in all things. I am no longer the crafter of dog’s destinies. I never was, except in my own, control-crazy, immature mind. I’m too old for thinking I can control anything anymore. And I think my dogs are probably the better for it. And you know, fading abilities aside, I think that I am better for it, too.

I am graced with the steadfast and fierce love of two very different dog souls in my life right now, and I’ll try to remember the hand of mystery is always at work the next time Mazel eats the contents of the bathroom trashcan.

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27 Responses to DOG LUV PART II

  1. elayne says:

    Thank you for this story, for its honesty and how you have changed.
    I find that I’m now quiet with my animals and that my dogs two heelers who help me with my sheep are enjoying my lack of control, they go about doing their jobs with such joy, they do know what to do and I’m so very proud of them.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hi Elayne—As a woman who has struggled with an insidious sense of fear all my life, I battled it by trying to control and fix everything that I could. Letting go of that has been such a blessing for me and my family (animals and others!). I have no idea where the fear came from. I think I came in with it and it was part of my soul work.

  2. Cindy says:

    Welcome back darling, I’ve missed you. Love to you and your blessed beasts in all their manifestations. But isn’t dog love, like, the best?! 🙂

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Dog love is a wondrous gift! There is something so settling to the heart in the way that dogs love. They are avatars.

  3. Kerry Fletcher says:

    Nice to hear from you again Susan. Happy Spring! 🙂

  4. kathey says:

    It is wonderful to hear from you, Susan dear. You give to Mazel and Hannah the best gift ever…running in and exploring the woodlands. It must be fun to spend a couple of hours or more with them as you look at everything and seek out what is happening amongst the leaves, trees and flowers, and creatures. Blessed, lucky, fortunate dogs, they both are.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Kathey, they are indeed very happy dogs! I’m not sure which of us has the best time out there. I love snuffling along as much as they do.

  5. d.B. says:

    Hey, Hey friends!
    Remember that bumper sticker that said “Lord help me to be the person my dog thinks I am?!”

    It’s Spring up here in Northern Michigan, the Tree Peepers are singing, the Moral Mushrooms are out and we are blessed by Susan!


    Shout out to Cindy and Kerry! 🙂

  6. Kerry Fletcher says:

    Three months in a hotel with all three of our beasties, and no end in sight! But I have a housekeeper to clean at my whim and a ‘complementary’ breakfast to pillage every morning, so it ain’t all bad. 🙂

  7. Kerry Fletcher says:

    Hey Girlies! Nice to ‘see’ you again! D.B.!, gotta get my poop in a group and write you soon! I’m in canning mode and am thinking of you….. 🙂

  8. d.B. says:

    Good Morning to all!
    Reading Susan’s blog again about the ebb & flow we have with our beloved beasts; are we a perfect mirror us and them of one another? I too notice as I am blessed with the gifts that come with age the ease of understanding I have with my dog Lola, she knows if I am working or off for the day, if I am in a peaceful mood or not.

    It makes me wonder after reading Susan’s stories of her dogs if I am being equally as conscious to Lola? So, today I will look to see what she may want and walk in her world. Thanks again Susan.

    Oh yes, I am happy you are planting Susan, we have another week or so up here in Northern Michigan before we can really go to town, can’t wait.

    Kerry, please send your housekeeper when you are finished! 🙂


  9. Pam Templeton says:

    Hi Susan,

    Happy to hear from you again! Glad we all made it through the long strange winter months.

    We are feverishly working toward our summer goal of moving into my Pop’s house in the upstairs apartment,with all of our 4 legged babies. My husband Rich is remodeling a large tractor shed across the road on the farm, into a cozy barn for Drummer our horse. Our hope is to bring Drumm a pasture buddy there, take care of Pop and revive the farm a bit for my father to enjoy as he approaches 91.

    It’s a big family project that is helping us heal a bit more after my Mum’s passing, am sure she would be pleased.

    Health, and happiness to us all 2 and 4 leggeds alike!


    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hi Pam: What a wonderful—and huge!—spring project! You’re whole family will be “transformed” by next winter!

  10. Cindy says:

    Hey d.B, Kerry and all…

    A shout out back at ya! Glad to know life is humming along for you, me, well, I could use a bit of good energy sent my way. I am in the middle of an unexpected and unwanted divorce. Since February I have been in a complete daze. Change is the hallmark of my life now and it’s difficult to comprehend all the layers of emotions this involves.

  11. d.B. says:

    Sister Cindy,
    We have all been silent these past months, gosh, um, sorry to hear things have changed for you. Your note brought me up short, we have talked about lots of stuff on this blog…this is new and I know we will all rally around you.

    Is it o.k. to ask how you are? Can we set a meditation time for YOU?
    I’m sure we can all take a moment and quiet ourselves to focus on renewing your energy.

    Seriously, you o.k.?

    Stay with us here and we will walk with you on this one.

    To the Animal Medicine, today I saw the Beaver…

    Hugs Cindy,


  12. Cindy says:

    D.B and everyone…..

    I am on shaky ground and I’m terrified. Thursday at 1:30pm est I could use all your good energy and prayers, if even for a moment. Please direct it towards a peaceful resolution. My husband has turned into someone I do not recognize. I can’t believe this is happening to me. Mediation attempt tomorrow at 1:30…..please send goodness an love…for all involved. And I apologize for unloading this here, but there are many kindred spirits among you and I need support.

    Much gratitude for each and every one of you!


    • Susan McElroy says:

      Cindy, you will be fine. This is the way of divorce—even those that start out on respectful ground. Divorce tends to revert people to their worst “inner child” characteristics. We regress in times of terror. It WILL come to completion, and you WILL be a new person from it all…better and stronger. The universe must have decided that you were ready for some really hard lessons. Divorce is one of the worst. My love is with you.

  13. d.B. says:

    Saw you this morning and this afternoon in my meditation; you are aware of this shift and your inner core is holding you in check. Susan is right that you will get stronger, I’m sorry you are hurting. Please stay close to your animals and follow them they will show you how to go forward.

    Today people came and cut down the trees the Beavers were cutting down, I wish we would stop doing that and justifying it by saying we are stopping them from doing damage? Animals don’t seem to hold grudges they just move on and don’t carry any grudges.

    Here is a site for an Eagles Nest I’ve been watching for weeks, the Eaglet hatched about 2 1/2 weeks ago and is growing fast. This site is on 24/7 enjoy! If it does not open to the Eagle, scroll down to on the left where it says “New Eagles Nest”.

    Cindy, sending you everything you don’t think you have right now…hugs!


  14. Cindy says:

    Susan an D.B……

    Thank you for your kindness, love, and support. I’m losing my home and I don’t know where to go. Not enough money to live on and needing time to build my massage practice again. Opposing attorneys don’t want to grasp this fact. Scared…..but willing to trust my higher source. Flying on faith…..

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Cindy, I can’t tell you how many women have written me lately—all on the subject of being forced from their homes for one reason or another. I am choosing to believe that this energy is out there for a reason. I want to believe that this is happening so that women will be “relocated” to the place they need to be as this world goes upside down. I tell myself this so that I can find some way to tolerate the terrible stress all this human trauma rains down upon my heart! May it be true!

  15. Cindy says:

    I have to believe this too. I am visualizing a muddy river bed, being stirred up until you can’t see anything….but then the muck settles and the water becomes clear again. Bless this upside down world of ours….individually and globally.

  16. Nancy says:

    “The more my mind and body settle into a kind of humorous, peaceful foggy state…”

    Yes! At almost 60, I feel that way too! No longer the intensity or energy of when I was younger, but so much more peaceful.

  17. d.B. says:

    Its “spirit”!, dog’s hold our spirit…especially when we can’t/won’t or are not able to…

    They are so good at reflecting and maintaining our souls.

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