On losing a parent, 17 months later

Over the past few days, weeks, and months, I’ve noticed a (seeming) increase in friends with parents who are ill, dying, or have died. Each time, my chest aches at the thought of one more person beginning the slow, painful, and transformative journey of grieving a parent.

For some, it’s an angry, confusing time because the parent was abusive, estranged, homophobic, and/or changed by the unkindness of aging, dementia, and/or pain.

For some, there is a sweetness to the grief–closeness, affection, mutual respect, and decades of positive memories. It intensifies the grief in the beginning, but it helps the wound heal more cleanly.

For me, I am grateful that my father died before I came out and my family turned against me.

I don’t have words of wisdom to share today.

Just sending love to those of you, near and far, who are learning to live without your parent/guardian/caregiver figures.

It’s the club no one wants to join, but where even random strangers will show kindness, compassion, and love.

If you’re grieving a recent loss, my heart goes out to you.

If you’re taken by surprise at fresh grief for a long-ago loss, you’re not alone.

And if your heart is heavy because your parent is alive but is not able to sustain a healthy relationship with you…

Gentle hugs to you.

Grief, in all of its forms, tears us down. Strips away everything we thought we knew about ourselves and the world.

Then, amidst the ashes, we find the humanity in people around us.

The ones who send a card in the mail, for no other reason than just to send their love.

The ones who gently take us around the store, when we’re too stupefied to think, and help us choose ingredients for our father’s last home-cooked meal.

The ones who remember, months later, and ask how we’re doing.

My father may have let years of religious propaganda sever his relationship with his only daughter.

He might have put those concerns away and simply accepted me, as he always did.

I’m grateful that I will never know.

And in my heart, his memory is untarnished.

My family now consists of my father’s memory and nothing else.

As far as family goes, it’s not that much.

But I will always have it, and for that I am grateful.

As much as we grieve our parents, it’s a testament to how much we loved them.

How much we were loved.

And that…yes that…can never be taken away. Not by death, not by tragedy, and not by loss of physical presence.

My father loves me, seventeen months after his death.

This is most certainly true.

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Taking back power after sexual assault: Pap smears, part two

A few months ago, I wrote about my first (attempted) Pap smear after sexual assault. In short, an already difficult experience was made worse by a GP’s refusal to honor promised accommodations.

Because I am in a low-risk category, I can opt out of Pap smears altogether. In fact, one GP in the UK has written about her reasons for doing so (actually, screening in general). Her argument boils down to:

  • Screening tests everyone
  • Not everyone is equally at risk
  • Tests are faulty
  • False positives result in unnecessary additional treatment, which comes with side effects
  • Even when accurate, many tests can’t distinguish between harmless abnormalities and actual cancer risk

For me, though, Pap smears mean taking back control of my life, not limiting medical risk. I was told that I couldn’t/shouldn’t have them by someone I thought I trusted, and I complied. Just as I complied with the loss of freedom, meaningful employment, friends, and everything else that was taken away from me. I let someone else make decisions for me. I thought she truly had my best interest at heart.

Not anymore.

I’m fortunate enough to now receive care from a doctor who specializes in psychosexual health. (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!) For a month before the first appointment, I literally made myself sick with worry. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t work, and couldn’t do anything besides take my puppy for endless walks.

If the gynecologist’s job was to help me overcome sexual trauma to have a Pap smear, wouldn’t she (reasonably) expect me to talk about it? Just the thought of talking about it kept me awake at night.

One (accidental) mention of the traumatic incident (in a different context) rendered me almost completely non-functioning for over a week. I spent each day looking at the time and calculating how many minutes and hours were left until I could safely go home with the possibility of going to sleep. As long as I stayed outside, and as long as I kept walking with my puppy, I could dull the fears to a constant, painful ache. At home, the terror consumed me.

It’s been a relentless cycle of mutually exclusive, competing demands.

  1. I don’t have to have a Pap smear. I’m about as low-risk as possible.
  2. I was told I couldn’t have one. If I don’t, I let her win.
  3. A man made me terrified to let anyone touch me. As long as I can’t have a Pap smear, he wins.
  4. I can’t let anyone touch me. Pap smears involve touch.
  5. A doctor’s touch is clinical, so it can’t hurt me. But the doctor who attempted the exam (five times, without consent) did hurt me.

My brain doesn’t know where to settle, so it spins constantly. I want the power to have a Pap smear, but I’m terrified of the actual exam.

I’ve been put in a position of helplessness, powerlessness, dependency, and vulnerability. So, the way to take power back…is to lie flat on my back, half-naked, with a stranger inspecting my genitals?

Um, what?

But that’s not quite it, though.

It’s about choice.

Decision.

My body, my life, my rules.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in this gynecologist. (Full disclosure: I’d never visited a gynecologist before. So I, honestly, expected the worst.) I’m very appreciative of the NHS providing services like this, as I hadn’t known they existed.

I walked into my first appointment expecting a cursory interrogation followed by instructions to strip for the exam. Instead, almost immediately I was promised “no touching” and “talking only.”

That one promise changed the entire experience from nightmare into an embarrassing but tolerable medical experience.

I answered lots of questions, including ones that didn’t seem relevant. It helped, though, because questions about the sexual assault were also brief and matter-of-fact. I’d been afraid I couldn’t talk about it, or that being pressured to talk about it would precipitate another weeks-long crisis.

Instead, we ended with the decision to make another appointment.

The next one was even better. I knew what to expect, and (again) was able to say I couldn’t tolerate any touching. In fact, the response was, “Actually, I wasn’t sure you were ready for an exam yet.” (Not the real thing, obviously, but a teeny-tiny step in a pretend exam.)

What an amazing experience!

I’m not saying I’m ready for the exam, or I expect/hope to be any time soon. But just being able to go into a doctor’s office, state my personal boundaries/limits for the visit, and to have them respected…most importantly, to still be able to receive medical care…wow!

This is why the Pap smear is important to me.

If I’d never been told I shouldn’t/couldn’t do it, and if my power had never been taken away, I wouldn’t care one way or the other. I’d put it off because it’s embarrassing and unpleasant, but I’d probably get it done because small preventative steps can save a lot of expensive medical bills later on.

But I was, and it was, so I need this. I need to be able to visit a medical professional, discuss my care, and find a reasonable solution that will respect my limitations while still accomplishing the objective.

The second visit hit on my favorite coping strategy–intellectualization. If I can transform an experience into a chance to learn something new, I can cope. As long as I’m able to learn, fears stay manageable.

And learn I did! I’ve spent a great deal of time, since the visit, looking up information, articles, and videos online. Some very kind and patient medical friends have answered questions, and I’ve gotten to feel a tiny bit like a medical student.

Want to know what I’ve learned? These points helped me, so maybe they will help you as well.

+ Contrary to popular belief/practice, you don’t have to be naked below the waist. Wearing a long, loose skirt is a great way to feel less exposed, and it doesn’t interfere with the exam.

+ A great deal of pain/discomfort/exam failure (i.e., having to make multiple attempts) stems from improper speculum technique. Since the speculum is straight and the vagina is not, inserting it the wrong way can result in both pain and failure to find the cervix.

+ Using a larger speculum is not always necessary if the first attempt fails. (This was the cause of huge distress for me, as the GP insisted on switching to a bigger speculum without giving me a chance to process the increased emotional panic.) If you get the wrong angle, a bigger instrument won’t help.

+ You insert the speculum sideways and rotate it after it’s inserted. Why? That reduces the risk of pinching skin tissue on the way in.

+ You do not need a longer/bigger speculum if the patient lies on her side, contrary to what my GP tried to tell me. It’s slightly more fiddly for the examiner, but the process remains the same.

+ It’s possible to insert the speculum yourself, similar to inserting a tampon. You don’t have to lie on your back to do this.

+ It may be possible to use water-based lubricant on the speculum (to make insertion easier), depending on the criteria of the lab. Some places say no lubricant at all, but some will allow as long as it’s not oil-based.

For me, the biggest epiphany surrounded pain. Yes, of course pain is increased when we’re tense, but that wasn’t enough explanation. Since “just relax!” has been a favorite way to dismiss my real concerns about most things in life (including situations with training my puppy), it didn’t help to know that I should relax.

Here’s what did help:

As nerdy as it sounds, taking a little model of the female reproductive organs and showing the angled pathway the speculum has to enter. Recognizing that a Pap smear doesn’t have to hurt if it’s conducted properly.

Discussing techniques for using a speculum.

And discussing why opening it hurts so much. If it’s not in the correct location, and sometimes even if it is, it can pinch tissue. The blades of the speculum open to push the vagina walls (sorry, my non-technical term) outward to give room for swabbing the cervix.

It works on the principle of holding your eyelids open so an optometrist can examine your pupils. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and it forces your body into a position that doesn’t feel right.

Only it’s a lot less scary when thinking about eyes instead of a cervix!

I learned, also, that the pain of a Pap smear isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Why?

The vagina has a circular, strong muscle that contracts in response to fear.

Why?

Protection.

If you’re scared (especially while a foreign object tries to intrude), our lovely, intelligent, and wonderful bodies decide to protect us. Keep us safe. Keep the intruder out.

In other words, Pap smears hurt so freaking much because my body said no.

When I couldn’t say no, my vagina said it for me.

Thank you, body.

Thank you for instinctively protecting me when I needed it.

Okay, so it hurt like nobody’s business, I nearly fainted from the pain, and I honestly felt as if I would die…

But the speculum didn’t hurt because it was a horrible, evil awful instrument of torture.

It hurt because the GP didn’t use it properly, and my body said no.

So, today, I’m not ready for a Pap smear. I haven’t so much as unlaced a shoe in my doctor’s office, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to do so any time soon.

However, I’m excited to learn.

Excited to tackle this problem in the way I know best–studying it obsessively until I can become a lay expert.

I’ve found so little information like this as I’ve prepared myself to try a Pap smear again, and I wanted to document my journey for anyone out there who may also be searching. I may never be able to have a Pap smear, and I may not be able to any non-emergency medical exam again…but at least now I’ve got a chance.

Three months ago, the experience with the GP made me wish I could die. The doctor I’m currently seeing says that it was yet another sexual assault. It brought flashbacks, nightmares, terror, and depression so severe that some days I couldn’t manage anything besides feeding and walking my dog.

Right now, I can’t manage a Pap smear.

And that’s okay.

Thank you, body, for trying to protect me.

Just like my puppy will learn to trust when people are worthy of her trust (and I will always, always instantly remove her from any situation in which she may be mistreated), my body will learn to trust people who have earned it.

Thank you, body, for saying no.

I absolutely, positively, adamantly refuse to force my puppy to do anything that breaches our trust. If I don’t want her picked up, she better not be picked up. If I don’t want her fed treats, she better not be fed treats. Anyone who is incapable of respecting my dog’s boundaries will instantly get booted from her life. No second chances. (It only took one second to nearly kill her, and we’re still reeling from the aftereffects.)

If I wouldn’t force my puppy, why would I force my body?

Thank you, Ladybug, for teaching me about consent.

I protect my little dog from everything in the entire world, and I lay my life on the line to protect her. I will give up anything for her. No one will ever be allowed near her unless they consistently demonstrate that they will respect her and my boundaries.

If I can protect my dog, I can protect myself.

And I’m lucky enough to have a gynecologist to help me.

Will I be able to do the actual Pap smear eventually?

Who cares?

That’s not what this is about.

 

 

 

 

Quick little update

I have about ten minutes before Ladybug and I rush off to an appointment, but I wanted to give a little update as I haven’t written in so long. The inability to write has been due to some pretty terrible things happening at home, but I won’t go into that. Moving onto more pleasant topics! πŸ™‚

Ladybug and I have attended two more flyball tournaments, and we’ve had fun at both. She’s now decided that the team is her pack. Last weekend, she even went up (on her own initiative) to both John and Paul. I was so proud! Even got teary the first time she went toward John. He’s been so good and gentle with her, never getting in her face or trying to talk to her. Just waiting. Once she decided he was okay, he’s given her fuss and a few treats. She put her paws up on Paul’s lap, uninvited. πŸ˜› Little minx. She knows she’ll get told off for doing that ordinarily, but the rules are lax when it comes to the men on our flyball team. She went around the circle of chairs asking for attention from one person after another. I got the cutest photos, too!

She’s become quite popular with the younger dogs on the team, too. They’re younger siblings of racing dogs, so they come along for the day. Scout, a 1-year-old spaniel, loves to bark at her when he’s not getting enough attention. She’s made friends with Piper, a 7-month-old collie who’s sister to Reuben, Ladybug’s first flyball friend. Piper, Scout, and Ladybug had a lovely field run last weekend. Scout kept trying to get a bit up close and personal with our fearless puppy heroine. His mum kept telling Ladybug to tell Scout off, but she wouldn’t. Ladybug thinks smaller dogs are babies. πŸ˜€ She will tolerate almost anything from them. But if a BIG dog so much as looks at her…!

Puppy yoga has been hit or miss, as she struggled to stay focused with other dogs returning to the class. She loved having the class and room to herself. Little spoiled madam! But she’s had fun practicing yoga at home or while resting on walks/outings, so that’s been lovely. I enjoy being able to give her a belly rub a lot more often than before. She’s never liked to lie on her back or show her belly, not even to me at home. It’s a huge bonus of puppy yoga that we get to cuddle a bit more.

Scentwork was fabulous last weekend, but it’s too bad the workshop is only once a month. She’d love to go every week (every day, lol!) if she could. Ellen even mentioned trials this time. I don’t know if Ladybug is ready or how expensive a trial would be, but it sounds fun to try. The trial is only with the judge and a scribe. No other people or dogs, so she wouldn’t get nervous. I think the only problem would be me. πŸ˜€ Ladybug’s almost 100% perfect at finding the scent quickly, but I don’t always read her signals correctly. It’s a hard thing to learn! I did say, when beginning scentwork, that the only thing to hold Ladybug back would be me. I need the training more than she does. πŸ˜› It’s fun to see her at scentwork because she gets so excited. She doesn’t even care about treats or rewards. Just finding the scent is reward for her.

We’ve had some scary times, though, as she had to go to the hospital yet again. 😦 😦 😦 😦 Cannot say how tired I am of worrying about her health! Why can’t I have a normal one-year-old border collie who drives me insane by getting into the garbage or eating my shoes? She’s lost almost a whole kilo 😦 and she was “off” most of a week. Not eating, lethargic, unhappy, and just not her usual self. I thought it was a normal upset stomach and would go away. Negligent mummy waited four days, until she got horrifically sick, to take her to the vet. 😦 Poor thing was feverish, had lost weight, and was not looking well. The vet was worried it was her kidneys acting up, so I had to sit through the worst 45 minutes in a long, long time. Thank goodness, she’s okay (for now). But it was pretty scary. Poor thing has yet another shaved spot on her neck, and her other spot still hasn’t grown back all the way. I can’t wait until she’s done with all of these horrible blood work exams. It’s good to know that she hasn’t gotten worse, but it’s scary that she still needs them. Plus, they’re frightfully expensive.

Fortunately, we were sent home with medication, special food, and instructions to rest. She looked so much better after a day that I swore she’d been faking just to get yummy sick food. πŸ˜› Babybrat!

And there’s the end of my time. Gotta run! Hugs to everyone. Hope I’ll get some actual real writing done soon. Sometime!

Finding safety

Photo credit: Gracie’s mum

Last weekend, I felt as if Ladybug had won a gold medal. She and I visited our first flyball tournament, didn’t have a meltdown, and made new friends. Watching her run around with the other dogs gave me a soaring, exhilarating joy. I want her to run free, but only if she can do so without coming to harm. The world is full of nasty, hurtful things and people who could cripple or kill her in an instant.

The paradox?

Learning to run free (in a safe environment and surrounded by her new “pack,” our flyball team) has meant locking her in a cage.

I still want to cry, sometimes, at the thought of her behind bars. But she and the team are doing everything in their power to reassure me she is okay. She didn’t jump into Tracy’s van without a treat (which she was doing by the end of last weekend), and even with a treat she was a bit hesitant. Not because she was afraid (even I could see that), but because all kinds of fun things happened outside. We went for walks, played with other dogs, and she sniffed all kinds of disgusting piles. She was fine in the van for over an hour ride each way, and she was fine periodically throughout the day. Several people made a point of telling me that she was relaxed, resting, and calmly watchful of everything going on.

Huge progress: while in the crate, she allowed people to come near her! Even to sit on the bumper of the van. In our car, she feels threatened when anyone (even someone she likes) comes near. Maybe the bars help her feel safe that no one will come in? No one will thrust a hand at her, shove their face into hers, or pick her up.

I’m still amazed that we needed the canny collar almost constantly just two months ago, but I can’t remember the last time I put it on her. She’s been great about listening to me when I tell her to stop pulling on the leash. She doesn’t always choose to follow through, lol, but she clearly knows what she should do. At practice last Wednesday, she didn’t mind at all when first Lisa and then Nicky held her to practice running toward me.

It’s like our early practice in walking off-leash. I let her walk a few steps away from me, and she turned back to check on me. I let her walk a bit more, and she waited until I returned to her. The more I trust her, the more she trusts me. The more she trusts me, the more I trust her. (Except then she runs toward poop or barks at a postman.) I’m always afraid she will make a mistake or choice (out of fear or puppy naughtiness) that someone will use as justification for hurting her. I expect her to behave perfectly, as if that will keep her safe.

Something happened at the tournament today that made me worry about my and Ladybug’s safety while participating in flyball. No matter how perfectly she behaves, and no matter how hard I work on training with her, there will always be that one dog or person who could hurt her. I kept her on leash all day, except when our team was together with our dogs. (Strength in numbers.) I’m not positive I’ll feel comfortable walking her by myself in the future (at the tournament sites). No witnesses if something happens, and no one to help. Up until now, we’ve enjoyed walking around quiet corners of the sites (as other dogs get energy out by racing, and she’s not doing that yet). Until/unless something is resolved, I’m going to be wary. Worried.

Fortunately, that’s just me. Ladybug was a star. Had a little play session with Brogan, a cute staffie (I think? Still not great at identifying dogs), and she had another fabulous zoomies session with Scout. It was great to see Scout, Brogan, and Reuben all ask to play with her. Scout barked at her when she was too slow to respond. πŸ˜€ Poor Reuben got the short end of the stick today, but he had plenty of other playmates.

Oh, and another proud moment! She went up to bother Lexi (an older collie who is not impressed by impudent pups getting into her face), and she stopped! I think Lexi gave her a good hard stare, and our fearless puppy explorer actually read the situation correctly. Very proud of her for responding appropriately!

At practice last Wednesday, I’d asked people not to give her any treats (because she hadn’t eaten anything all day). Turns out that she did just fine! Quite surprised and pleased to realize that she no longer needs treats to allow people to approach her, at least for now. Lisa pointed out that people tend to look at her while giving treats, and at this point she’ll do better with being ignored. She doesn’t mind people coming close to her/us if she knows they won’t bother her, and she doesn’t mind safe people interacting with her if she’s getting to practice flyball technique. Not a single peep from her when Nicky held her collar (first time ever!) to practice runbacks. This was all without getting any treats, too. πŸ™‚

 

(Puppy yoga interlude)

At puppy yoga, we had another wonderful session. We had the class to ourselves for the third time in a row, which was amazing. Ellen had even popped popcorn (trying to find a bland training treat that won’t upset Ladybug’s stomach), and Ladybug thought that was great. We worked almost the entire hour without a break (just tiny snuffle mat breaks now and then), and she loved the new position. We started doing head between paws, but she shifted to lie back on one hip. Since she kept doing it, we decided to capture the behavior. She loved it. πŸ˜€ Got all the way on one side and even rested her cheek on the mat. It’s cute to see her desperately eager to train/learn/be rewarded while learning poses that help her relax and calm down.

I was particularly proud of her for successfully struggling through confusion. In the past, she’s gotten upset or discouraged when she doesn’t get something right immediately. (So glad she’s outgrowing this! It made me reluctant to train her.) This time, she put a paw on my knee, leaned in, and gave me her sweetest, most endearing look. It was very hard not to fuss over her, but I managed it. After a little pause, she offered something closer to what we were learning.

She very much likes flopping onto one side for a treat now. πŸ˜€ Impressive as she’s never liked being on her side or back in front of most people, but especially with people she doesn’t know well. She even went up to Ellen several times, mostly out of curiosity or asking for a toy or treat. (Ellen had made the cutest sort-of snuffle mats, soft fabric padded toys with crevices for stuffing treats.) Ellen was allowed to crouch down near her and touch her a few times (lol, or say nope you can’t pinch the toy).

Ladybug still is doing her jump-like-a-maniac thing whenever Ellen tries to show me how to train something, though. I’m not sure why! She licks me and jumps on me, not for affection but in a slight panic of, “OMG someone came too close to me!” Only it’s not necessarily about proximity. Maybe she doesn’t like someone else taking on the intimate role of training her? In flyball or agility, she’s allowed people to hold her for a few seconds or to hold her leash. Ridiculously amazing accomplishment and leap of faith, but it’s still something with distance. She doesn’t have to interact with them. Maybe, because she’s only been trained by me for a long time, she thinks that’s my role? That if she allows someone else to hand-train her, it’s violating a boundary?

I don’t think she was scared, or at least not in the barking-lunging-cringing way. Unsettled, yes. Fearful for her safety, no. She wasn’t responding to my unconscious cues, either, as I trust Ellen to show me a training technique. I trust Ellen 100% not to get too close, speak too loudly, or move too fast around her, too. So what makes Ladybug jump up and maul me when Ellen attempts to train her?

I’m fascinated and trying to figure out her psychology. Is it because puppy yoga is about being calm, learning boundaries, and letting her indicate when and how she feels comfortable doing things? So she feels more able to let me know what she doesn’t want? Or is it because the lower energy level of yoga means she’s more in tune with how she feels (rather than agility or flyball when she’s a mass of adrenaline)?

It’s so interesting to watch how she responds to different training methods and environments. She’s more tolerant of flyball teammates using more authoritarian methods with her, but sometimes it can be difficult to get her to settle down afterward. (Ellen suggested that this past week’s antsy-ness may have been due to slight muscle stiffness–she was walking a tiny bit funny–and/or due to my having a horrific week.) Maybe how I’d be willing to let someone hold my hand while walking on a wobbly log, but I wouldn’t let anyone rub my shoulders. Different kind of touch, purpose of interaction, and mood.

Ladybug’s been my only for so long (only everything, not just only dog) that maybe she’s protective of our connection. She’s slowly but surely allowing other people to enter our lives, but she doesn’t want anyone else acting in a mummy role to her. Maybe that’s it. Flyball teammates are aunties and uncles, teachers and neighbor-types.

(End puppy yoga interlude)

 

Two new firsts for flyball today: huddling in the tent and watching “starters.”

Starters is the name for beginner competition. They do declare a winner, but no one cares too much as you can’t earn points toward awards and levels. If a dog doesn’t get something right (refusing to bring a ball back), they get to go back and try it again. One dog ran the jumps, ran toward the box, and barked her head off before getting the ball. Another decided to wander around rather than return to the start/finish area. It was so cute! One dog had only come to a few practices but already was able to run back and forth. I think she even brought the ball back! Pretty impressive.

I wonder how Ladybug will handle starters, once she’s ready? The netting and extra people will help, and she won’t have the option (unless she jumps over the netting–she’s capable of doing it, but hopefully she’s learning not to) of running over to the other team’s dogs to say hello/beg to play. I think she’s become excited enough about running that the noise and commotion won’t scare her. I *think*. She’ll bark and lunge, but that’s not uncommon for the other collies. Even the seasoned competitors go nuts as they wait their turn. How she’ll handle strangers in “her” lane (record keepers and the judge), I’m not sure. She’s getting a bit better about men, but she’s still wary.

In some ways, I think it will actually help because running will allow her to channel her energy and excitement. In others, the pressure (having to do it on command, at a certain time, and with dogs and people in close proximity) will be overwhelming. Brogan, a cute little staffie, had to run about five times because she kept refusing to bring back the ball. (I can see Ladybug’s busy little brain figuring out that not bringing back the ball means she gets to run extra times! πŸ˜› ) I liked how several people reassured her handlers that their dogs had also had mishaps when they began competing in starters. There was that in-and-out weaving of “that’s like what happened to me when…” or “you think that’s bad, listen to what my dog did…” Several dogs were competing for their first time after months of hard work, and they had fun. That was most important!

I’m still worried about Ladybug tripping on a jump, injuring herself, stressing out, or getting freaked out by the chaos. But…once she’s ready (and not any time before!), I think she’ll enjoy it.

Will I? I’m not sure. I’ll hate people looking at me, and I’ll hate the pressure. Even if it’s baby starters where no one cares who wins, I’ll still feel pressured. I’m happy collecting tennis balls in the back because no one notices that. I like cheering on the other dogs, and I like giving a cuddle to the dogs who will allow it before or after racing. (Very much missed Sky today, who was sulking at home because her paw was too sore to run.) I’m so adamant about people respecting my dog’s space, so of course I have to do the same for everyone else. Olly’s always good for a cuddle, and Bonnie and Birch are as affectionate as they come. Reuben came to me for a stroke today, and he was jumpy and licky. πŸ˜€ Feeling how slight he is (although he’s the same size as Ladybug or even a bit bigger) made me realize that Ladybug’s chest as filled out, and she does have a more adult body than she did a few months ago.

The other first was rain. Such heavy rain that races had to be cancelled. We huddled in the tent, played a quiz game (with some blatant and unapologetic cheating from Paul πŸ˜› ), and shared snacks.

The highlight of the day, of course, was at the very end when Ladybug got to run around with her new pack. Worth the price of admission.

I may not be a great flyball teammate. I don’t care if my dog competes. πŸ˜› The lessons she’s learning are so much more important than fast times or races won. She’s learning to be a confident, secure, healthy, and happy puppy.

I started flyball 100% for her. I had no desire to stand in muck and rain in all weather, and working in close proximity with a lot of other people stressed me out. I preferred to cuddle with her on the couch, but she needed something productive to do.

As I’m growing to like flyball in its own right, for my own sake and not just for my dog…

Will my resolution waver?

Will I walk away if/when she says she’s had enough? If she says, in a month or two, thank you but no thank you…will I recognize it and make the best decision for the welfare of my dog?

I’ve got decidedly mixed feelings as I grow to like the team more and more. I was very impressed today at how everyone stood together and supported a family. I’ve never had anyone be loyal to me, or to stick up for me when I’ve been hurt. I’m pleased that team seems to really mean just that.

This is for my dog.

Not me.

But since she is my entire world right now, isn’t that the same thing? I need to know she will be okay before I can be okay. If something happens to me, or if I can no longer keep a roof over our heads, this training will help prepare her for those challenges. If, God forbid, she is taken from me.

We’ve been up since 5 AM, and tomorrow will be another long day.

Better busy than sick with fear and worry.

Ladybug says that any day is made better by a tennis ball. ❀

 

Can Ladybug have a treat?

As I’ve been mulling over our first flyball tournament, something keeps coming back to me:

This is what it looks like to have boundaries respected.

One thing that made an impression on me was when Lina (a prime Ladybug-spoiler) stopped in the middle of a conversation, looked at me, and asked if I wanted people to stop giving Ladybug treats. I’d said it was okay, but she wanted to make sure I really was okay instead of just being polite.

I appreciate that more than I can say.

For the record, yes I am okay (for now) with our team giving her treats. Particularly the men. Well, not if she’s barking and misbehaving. πŸ˜› She’s still learning to trust, settle down, and become part of the group. If a bit of sausage now and then teaches her that this is a safe space…then sausage it will be.

Do I want people feeding her treats long-term?

Nope.

I don’t usually let anyone give her treats, except the vet or if a child asks. (I can’t resist children. πŸ˜› ) If we have a play with another dog in the park and that dog’s mum or dad asks to give her one, I might say yes. (Honestly, mostly to be polite.) Sometimes a trainer/teacher or someone similar.

But for the most part, nope. Treats come from me.

So why have I readily agreed for a group of flyballers to feed my dog?

I admit, the first time I was taken aback. I nearly said, “Wait, please don’t feed my dog.” Ladybug was lunging and barking at a guy we’d just met, and he kept telling me that it was okay. To let her approach him, and that it would be okay. He fed her a treat. The little madam gulped her treat and barked again. This was repeated a few times. πŸ˜›

I didn’t say anything, partly out of politeness but mainly because the motivation and method were 100% about reassuring Ladybug. He was gentle, slow, and didn’t get too close to her. She still barked her head off. πŸ˜›

In the next practices, various people came up and asked to feed her treats. The first time was so incredibly effective (well, if you give my dog sausage when she’s never, ever allowed it from mummy!), and it was immediately followed by good, focused training.

If people are willing to spoil and coddle my puppy so she learns big-girl things like resting in a crate or running over jumps–without bothering other dogs afterward–then treat away!

The second Ladybug learns that this is a safe space, though, I’ll ask people to put the treats away. Once now and then for a special fuss or reward, sure. But I don’t want to have “that” dog, the one who won’t leave people alone. Just like I’ll allow Ladybug (up to a point) to paw at or jump up for a cuddle if people are okay with it–but only for now. Once she feels safe, mummy’s discipline will return.

If she’s learning something for the treat, sure. If she’s learning to let someone else hold her or help us with training, that’s okay.

But until Lina asked me, in front of everyone, whether I preferred for people to stop giving her treats, I hadn’t thought much about it.

To be honest, with flyball it’s been a day by day, minute by minute kind of experience. Will she be okay today? Will she be okay for the next five minutes? I’m still holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and wondering if this is all too good to be true. Agility was amazing…until it wasn’t. Our first and only friend was great…until she wasn’t. The jury is still out whether flyball will be another hope dashed. I really, really want to believe it’s not, but only time will tell.

That’s why I refuse to seriously consider competition for Ladybug. If it happens and we can afford it, great. If it doesn’t, I don’t care. I refuse to care, or I will worry and stress about getting things right with her. We’re starting flyball the way a desperately sick child might have started ballet lessons–as a way to develop strength and health after a long illness.

It was such a pleasant experience to be asked whether I really was okay with how people interacted with my dog. It was probably because of my tone–oh sure, whatever, let her have treats–but that was more about me sighing at throwing my own rules out the window. At home, we have very strict rules. I’d really prefer to enforce them consistently, but I’ve learned in the past few months that progress isn’t straightforward. We work on something, have a setback, and start again. It’s disheartening, but she does still make progress. Each time we start again, it’s not as difficult as before. Plus, she’s better able to handle a challenge the next time.

Right now, she’s learning to trust people. She’s learning to tolerate a few chosen men (trust will take an extremely long time, for both of us). That lesson is far more important than food manners, at least right now.

I know this, but the mummy in me winces at letting the rules go. πŸ˜› But I’ve done it before, for very good reason, and it was okay.

She lost almost all of her discipline in the hospital and recovery period afterward, as all of my energy was consumed in getting her to eat. We are still working on getting her back to good eating habits.

(Oh, a funny moment! When I gave someone treats to give her, he said, “It’s a wonder you’re not fat with all the treats you get!” πŸ˜€ I was so pleased! She must look like a healthy dog at a healthy weight for someone to say that! It’s been so many months of blood, sweat, and tears to get food into her. For the record, though, she almost never gets treats at home. Just for training, and many days we have to skip at-home training because she can’t afford to eat the treats. Not due to weight gain–I only wish!–but because she hasn’t eaten any/enough regular food, and the treats will make her sick. Plus, she’s so erratic with her food intake that she’s still probably not consuming as much as she burns. Have to weigh her to see whether she’s regained her most recent weight loss.)

I really want Ladybug to work for a toy/tuggy as much as possible. Then I won’t have to worry so much about her getting an upset stomach. It didn’t work last week (little madam had refused food the entire day and evening before, so she was ravenous), but maybe this week. πŸ˜€

Or if the babybrat would work for kibble again, grr! I’m so annoyed that we’ve lost that. She was wonderful at working for kibble until the hospitalization. I keep hoping we can get that again, but it’s been a long, hard-fought battle to get her to eat kibble at all.

Over the past few months, we’ve found a new set of rules that works for our new circumstances. She’s now allowed on the sofa, which was an absolute no-no before. (Boy did she like to test that one!) I’m not pleased that she thinks she can jump onto furniture, but the hard floor is too uncomfortable for cuddling. She now sleeps in my bed. I’d always permitted (wanted) that, but she refused. I think that’s my favorite change post-hospital. It’s lovely to snuggle with her at night, and I’ve slept a lot better. It does mean changing the bedding a lot, though. πŸ˜›

Some rules have stayed the same, and others need more work because of different circumstances. She didn’t use to jump quite so much when I came home because she had a big house to run around in.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but allowing people to give Ladybug treats is another way I’ve begun trusting again. I didn’t even notice it, either! That was a sore point before, that someone was giving her treats constantly (to the detriment of her health and nutrition, as she refused to eat her kibble), just for the fun and ego boost of having Ladybug as a constant shadow. It became a point of contention, but I didn’t mind for flyball. At least not once I got over my initial discomfort (and that was more about not asking my permission first than giving the actual treat). She’s older now, more secure in her attachment to me, and more clearly understands that she’s mine (lol, well, that I’m hers) and not anyone else’s.

That was the biggest difficulty I had training and raising her in the early days. Because I was constantly undermined and no one respected my wishes regarding her, she never got consistent discipline. Everyone liked the fun of a new puppy when she was fun, but no one took responsibility when she wasn’t. She was my first dog, so I believed all the criticism that I was doing everything wrong.

(I’ve later found out that much of what I’d wanted is recommended by trainers–things like working for kibble, keeping training treats as tiny as possible, consistency in training, and that training little behaviors does help with overall discipline. Sitting and waiting at the door may not seem like a big thing, but it helps to establish boundaries.)

It’s quite nice, being asked what is okay for my dog.

It’s a nice change.

I look forward to the day when Ladybug trusts our flyball team enough to not need treats for reassurance (this person is safe), but for now I’ll enjoy watching everyone spoil her. Adore her, pet her, and joke that I should put her in their van to take home after practice. (Puppy-napping! πŸ˜› )

“You spoil my dog,” I said as I served the Rice Krispie treats, “and I’ll spoil you.”

Someone laughed. “And what’s wrong with that?”

Not one blessed thing.

πŸ˜€

Our first flyball tournament!

(warning: massive post ahead! πŸ˜› )

Ladybug and I have achieved so many amazing milestones recently that it’s hard to keep track.

Her:

  • Let someone else take her leash (more than once!)
  • Let someone else pick her up
  • Jumped into a crate (her new friend Lucy was in the neighboring crate, so Ladybug wanted some of the fun)
  • Traveled a short distance in the crate next to her new friend Sky
  • Traveled a long distance in the crate next to her new friend Sky
  • Visited a flyball tournament
  • Got braver at approaching the men on our team
  • Got to join the team dogs in ZOOMIES after flyball races
  • Made new friends on the team!

Me:

  • Put myself into a situation where neither I nor my dog could leave instantly if anything or anyone threatened us
  • Allowed someone else to put Ladybug into a crate
  • Gradually coaxed Ladybug to spend time in a crate…in just one short day! (Helped that her new friend kept her company)

The first item for me might sound small, but it’s enormous. For the better part of a year, I lived in fear almost every single day. I was afraid to go to the bathroom. I was afraid to go down the stairs. I was afraid to take my puppy anywhere outside my bedroom (and, of course, she needed to go out frequently). I had to keep her on the leash inside her own house because I was so afraid. I was thrown out of the house and forced to leave her, multiple times. My safety and hers was threatened almost daily.

Whenever I enter a room, I have to be in a position with a clear line to the door. If I park somewhere, I have to have a clear path to the exit. If I’m in physical proximity to someone else, I have to have a clear space where I can leave instantly if necessary.

For my puppy, this goes double. I will never bring her anywhere (walking, car, etc.) unless I can focus 100% on her and leave instantly if she is treated badly. If anyone so much as makes her flinch, she and I will never go back. I was told for a year that everything I did for her was wrong, and she almost died. So from now on, no one gets a final say except me. I know her best, and she is my only. If the entire world tells me that I’m wrong when I think she needs safety, reassurance, or an emergency exit–the entire world can go hang.

She’s my baby, and I’ve allowed multiple people to hurt her because I trusted them. I taught her to trust them, too. So from now on, nope. Nope, nope, nope. I’m thrilled she likes flyball and scentwork and puppy yoga, and I’m thrilled she likes our teachers/trainers. But if anyone ever frightens her, I’m not giving second chances.

So…when the invitation came to attend our flyball club’s next competition, I hesitated. It would be out in the country somewhere, and I’d already subjected Ladybug to a 60-mile ordeal in 80-degree heat for nothing (when we couldn’t find a flyball club’s practice grounds). Then our new friend offered for us to drive with her. It solved one problem but created another. It added some time to our trip, which wasn’t too bad (Ladybug’s a fantastic car traveler). We’d find our location and have company for the trip.

But…what if something went wrong?

What if someone, meaning well, ignored my warnings and scared Ladybug?

What if another dog, hyped on flyball, didn’t like an impudent pup and attacked her?

What if it was so noisy and crowded that Ladybug and/or I couldn’t cope?

What if I felt awkward all day, out of place and wishing I hadn’t gone?

What if the environment was all wrong for Ladybug, stressed her out, and I had to start from zero all over again? She’s had so many setbacks in the past few months. She’s still learning basics that she should have learned as a tiny puppy. I don’t mean things like sit and lie down, but Men Are Not Monsters and I Can Let Safe People Touch Me.

I know I keep going on about it, but four months ago Ladybug was not expected to live. I brought her home from the hospital, not because she had recovered, but because the vets could do nothing more for her. It wasn’t just one terrifying night, either. It was weeks and months of terror and uncertainty. If she ever needs anesthetic for the rest of her life, we could be right back in the same place.

While other 8 and 9 month old puppies were learning basic lessons–how to play with other dogs, how to be calm in scary situations, how to read body language (both animal and human) and respond correctly–Ladybug was fighting for her life. And, because that’s how dogs are, she was worrying about and protecting me.

I love my little babybug more than life itself. Other people might claim that dogs don’t really have emotions (or at least not as valid or nuanced as human ones), they don’t comprehend things, they don’t understand, or they don’t have concepts of time, separation, or trauma.

They are welcome to their beliefs, but so am I.

Once upon a time, we believed that infants didn’t feel pain. Baby boys were circumcised with no pain medication at all. Once upon a time, we believed that people in a coma had no sensations or couldn’t hear. We believed many things that may or may not be true.

A lot of dog people I know have or have worked with rescue dogs. They think that because they’ve helped a dog from a traumatic situation, they understand Ladybug.

They don’t. If you have a human in a stable situation who had no responsibility for the dog’s trauma, it’s completely different from our situation. Ladybug endured trauma, but so did I. For the rest of her life, I have to look into her trusting, sweet eyes and know that my trusting the wrong person nearly killed her.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, just get over it.” Or, “it wasn’t your fault.”

Ladybug lost much, but so did I. I watched one family turn their backs on me as I gave up everything and everyone for the woman I thought loved me. I then watched that woman throw me away.

No, Ladybug’s story with me is not a simple rescue story of time, trust, and patience healing and working miracles. I’m her rescue human, and she’s patiently teaching me how to live. To laugh. And to re-enter the human race.

The very least I can do in return?

Keep her safe.

No matter what anyone else says, “expert” or no, I will do anything to protect her from more harm.

I put her into a situation where someone grabbed and shook her, terrifying her. I trusted the wrong person, and she paid the price. She could have, if she truly had been the aggressive dog she was accused of being, defended herself. She could have bitten the attacker, or at the very least she could have fled. But because she trusted me, she allowed this person–someone I had taught her to trust (someone she’d distrusted at first sight)–to overpower and hurt her. I will never forget the look in her eyes as she went limp, cowed, and defeated as she was forcibly held and shaken. She gave me a quiet, resigned, and confused look. She gave in.

This wasn’t a random stranger. It was someone we had known for months, invited into our home, and trusted.

So with people we’d only met a few times (however nice they seemed), how could we know that something similar might not happen again?

It’s not about being an overemotional worrywart. It’s about the realities of trauma. It’s also about living in a situation for almost a year where my boundaries were never respected when it came to me or my dog. I desperately looked forward to giving her that first bath. Someone else took that away from me and terrified her in the process. I was on the fence whether I would crate train her (useful in some ways, but limiting in others). While I was still deciding, someone else threw her into a crate and–again–terrified her. Without my knowledge, permission, or presence. Again and again, things that should have been joyful first moments became anything but.

It’s been nine months since she was thrown into a crate. I’ve never attempted to put her in one since, and I swore she would go into one over my dead body. I kept my word, except at the hospital. I nearly cried when I saw her in the crate there, but it was huge. Floor to ceiling, enough room for four dogs her size to lie down and spread out, and with soft, fluffy bedding that was changed constantly. I was allowed to settle her in her crate, bring a new toy or blankie each day, and give her a kiss and treat through the wires. Plus, the nurses and vets spoiled her so shamelessly (sometimes she was the only dog there overnight), even spending a whole hour or more getting her to eat.

Ladybug may have forgotten that first horrific crate experience, and she might have forgotten the fear and depression of the hospital crate. I think, overall, she’s adjusted admirably to the ridiculous amount of changes she’s had to go through in the past half-year.

But…I haven’t. I still remember the stab of horror and guilt when I saw that horrible crate, nine months ago. I still haven’t forgiven the person who threw her into it. I may not ever be able to.

By putting her into a crate now, even if it was a lovely, well-fitted-out crate with her new friend in the crate next to her, I felt as if I’d become a conspirator in her trauma last summer.

I swore she would never see the inside of a crate again, so help me God and I will kill anyone who tries.

It’s a complicated and difficult process, separating the instrument from the perpetrator.

Crates by themselves are not evil.

Before this happened last summer, I had no objections to Ladybug learning to rest in a crate–provided that I introduced it to her, and I could do it slowly, gently, and without fear. My concerns included space (British homes are teeny-tiny, with little room for large crates) and inflexibility (if she learned to sleep in a crate, she might refuse to sleep anywhere else…and what if we had to travel and couldn’t take a crate with us?). Plus, my childhood family dog had free rein of the entire house. She could go into the bedroom if she wanted. Or downstairs. Or sniff in the kitchen or hop onto an armchair to look out the window. On the whole, I preferred to teach Ladybug how to stay home alone (safely) so that she had more freedom.

Once we had a safe space, I began doing this as soon as she was well enough. Little by little, minute by minute, she has achieved one milestone after another. It’s quite sad she is learning these lessons at the ripe old age of 13 months, but it’s still amazing considering everything she’s been through. To her, a crate has been:

1. A prison

2. A hospital

Not very nice associations.

But, with sheer luck, she got introduced to crates again. This time by the lovely, tail-waggy, happy-go-lucky springer spaniel, Lucy.

We went for a walk, and little baby Ladybug pestered Lucy to play. Over and over again. I kept worrying that she needed to stop (I don’t want a rude dog!), but Tracy promised that Lucy would tell her off. Nicely, but firmly. Indeed, Lucy barked right in her face…and Ladybug listened! (These are lessons she needed to learn as a younger puppy, and she would have if she’d been well enough to interact with other dogs.) After that, Ladybug played on her own while enjoying some interaction with Lucy now and then. For a few minutes, I even let her off the lead so the two could play together.

At the end of the walk, Lucy jumped into the crate at the back of her van. It was her comfortable spot, and she liked getting into it.

Guess what?

Ladybug jumped into the crate next to her!

By herself!

(If this hadn’t happened, Ladybug would still be steadfastly crate-free.)

The next time, Ladybug rode in the crate next to Sky while we went to the woods for a walk. Just a 10-15 minute drive each way, but this was huge. Tracy, not realizing what a sensitive issue this was, picked Ladybug up and popped her into the crate. I nearly had a meltdown (unless it’s a case of danger, I always give Ladybug a choice, ability to consent, and the option to escape)…but Ladybug was fine! Surprised, but this was Tracy who cuddled her, fed her sausage, and played with her. A Safe Person. On the way back, I guided Ladybug into the crate (just like she hops into the backseat of our car–I never pick her up unless she’s too ill to jump). She was fine! She had a moment of uncertainty when she tried to come back out, but she calmed down when she realized her buddy Sky was in the crate next to her. (Ladybug has a hero worship thing for older border collies. It’s cute, except she gets heartbroken when they won’t play with her. Sky was very patient with her, overall.)

Well. Guess what our fearless puppy explorer did?

She rode in the crate for the 45 minute trip to the flyball competition. She only squawked once we got to the field, and she always squawks when we arrive at a field with dogs (or where she knows we will walk). This was her border collie OMG LET’S GO! THERE’S SOMETHING EXCITING COMING! Not a cry of distress.

I walked her for about half an hour before the first race (when she would stay in the crate while we went ringside), and she met her first sheep. It was soooooo cute! She didn’t know what they were at first. (They were safely in a paddock, and she saw them through a fence.) I thought she’d get scared because they’re bigger than she is, but Tracy thought collie blood would make her want to herd them. Probably both were true. Ladybug pricked up her ears, stared at them, and sniffed hard.

I wanted to get out my camera to take video of Ladybug’s First Sheep Encounter, but then she barked. I couldn’t tell whether it was fear or trying to boss the poor sheep around, but they did not look happy. Out of pity (and teaching puppy some livestock manners), I dragged her away. I really wish I could have gotten a photo of her first sheep! Then when we walked back, the little madam barked again. This time, the poor sheep bolted. It was a hot morning and they’d been comfy under the shade of trees, so I had to drag Miss Pleased With Herself away again.

Such a bad girl. But it was hilarious. I think she would have failed puppy shepherding class. Rule number one has to be don’t frighten the sheep. πŸ˜€

We walked back to our “campground” (circle of chairs next to a big tent, with cars parked in a row), only to see the team already waiting for the first race…fifteen minutes early. I panicked, as I’d purposely gone back early enough to ease Ladybug into her first time in a crate alone (Sky would be racing). I tried to settle her in (I’d brought her bed, blankie, toys to make the space seem more familiar), but she got skittish and wouldn’t go in. I tried to keep calm, as she would pick up on my anxiety.

Thing is, she’d done great in the van crate so far…but this was with Lucy or Sky keeping her company. How would she do on her own?

I lured her with a treat to the back of the van. She skittered away as soon as she ate the treat. She didn’t seem scared, though, so I kept trying. (More uncertainty or nervousness than fear.) Good thing I’d brought the tiniest treats I could find. πŸ˜› First a tiny bit of a treat on the bumper of the van. Then another bit a few inches higher. She skittered away. Then another treat high enough that she had to put paws onto the bumper and get the treat.

It took time, but I’ve learned from Ladybug’s experience with the head collar. She was perfect with the canny collar at first, but I used it out of desperation. It helped break the downward spiral of fear and reactivity, but it also caused problems. We’re now almost 100% free of the canny collar, but I’ve learned that early compliance may mean later fear. Meaning, it sometimes takes her a while to process her reactions. She needs time and space to think things over, whether it’s learning something new or getting used to a new situation. Once she’s clear in her mind, then she reacts. It can be good (suddenly learning baby box turn work with no effort), or it can be bad (suddenly realizing she dislikes the canny collar).

If we’re going to do the flyball thing long-term, crating or something similar would also be long-term. That means going excruciatingly slowly now so she won’t reject crate time later. Our coach thinks that Ladybug has forgotten the early bad experience with the crate, but I doubt it. If nothing else, I haven’t forgotten. My memory affects how I feel about the crate, and this indirectly affects Ladybug.

Not to mention, putting her into a crate makes me feel like I’m just as bad as the person who threw her into one last year.

Intellectually, I know that I’m not…but emotions don’t listen to logic.

I am culpable.

No matter what anyone else does to her, she’s my dog.

It’s my say.

And it’s my fault.

If she’s going to spend time in a crate now, it will always be her choice. If she wakes up one day and can’t cope with a crate, then we will either quit flyball or find a different way to manage. She will only enter a crate of her own volition, and she will only go in because she chooses to. I don’t mind using a treat to guide her in, at least at first. Goodness knows, she’s perfectly capable of snubbing a treat if she doesn’t like the associated responsibility. πŸ˜› But she will choose to walk/jump in, always.

I promise you this, Ladybug.

I will never force you in against your will. And if it causes you so much distress that it affects your well-being, we will stop.

If anything (or anyone) about flyball, in any way, negatively affects your well-being or causes you fear, we will stop.

Your safety (physical and emotional) matter more than anything else.

After just a few tries, Ladybug jumped into the crate. I sprinkled a few treats onto her bed, which she ate with relish. Then she jumped out, and I let her. (I wanted her to know that she wouldn’t be trapped.) I gave her a minute to think about it, and I made the crate as nice as I could. Soothed her, reassured her, and gave her some cuddles. Then asked her to go into the crate again.

This time, she let me! I closed the door, gave her another treat through the wires, and gave her our special good-bye routine. (So she will know I’m coming back, not leaving her.) I stepped next to the van so she couldn’t see me but I could hear her, and she began to cry. Not very much, but still a cry.

(For reference, she never cries when I leave her in the car or at home. Thanks to the wonderful smart cam our friend sent us, I’ve been able to check many, many times that she is fine. If she normally cried a bit after I shut the door but then settled down, I would have expected it. But, nope. That’s why I do our little routine with her, so she’ll know I’m coming back.)

I hesitated, but by this time I was quite late. Maybe late enough to have missed our team’s turn in the ring. Against my better judgment, I walked away. Ladybug’s cries increased. I started crying, too. I wondered if I’d been ridiculous to think that a few minutes in a crate with a friend nearby meant she would be okay on her own.

When I arrived at the ring, I found out the times had gotten mixed up and we still had a while to wait. I went back to check on Ladybug. She had settled down, but she was desperate to come out. So desperate, in fact, that she charged out of the van while I was still trying to hook her leash. Why do I have to have the dog with a death wish?? I clipped her onto the leash, let her run around for a little while, and coaxed her back into the crate.

This time, there were no tears!

(From either of us. :P)

She did need the treats as enticement to go in, but she was willing to sit down while I closed the door. She happily took the treat once the door was closed, and she looked reassured when I gave her our good-bye.

In a much better frame of mind–and with a much lighter heart–I went back to the ring.

I became the ball collector, which was confusing. Someone gave me a bucket, and at first I didn’t get to see any of the dogs racing. I was too worried about retrieving the tennis balls without getting in the way. I also couldn’t figure out what was happening. After three sets (called “legs”), our team called out “thank you” and it was time to take our equipment down.

We went back to our area, took the dogs out for a play, and had a little break before round two. This time, I had a little better idea to watch the dogs first and pick up the balls later. It was fun seeing how excited the dogs got, and how (as I’d been promised) no one cared at all if they barked. They barked because they were collies and excited (lol, same thing), and they wanted to work. The spaniels and labs were a bit more relaxed. πŸ˜€

An unexpected bonus of Ladybug resting in the crate:

I got to cuddle other dogs without her getting jealous!

Most of the time, she’ll slip in between me and the dog I’m trying to pet. She’ll bump her bum against their side to get them away from me, and she’ll try to play with them. Fortunately, she doesn’t bark or get aggressive…but she’s still crystal clear that I may not pet other dogs. (Sigh!) At the races, though (well, waiting outside the ring, as they were too focused inside the ring) I could pet, cuddle, and kiss whatever dogs would allow it.

Our labs weren’t too sure about this stranger encroaching in their space, but I did get a paw and a kiss when their dad asked them to. Ollie the little stubborn cocker spaniel flopped onto his side for a belly rub. He looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, but he was determined to jump onto the picnic table. Probably for no other reason than his mum said not to. It’s always funnier when someone else’s dog misbehaves. πŸ˜€ He was very quiet about it, but he had no intention of listening.

One of the best parts was coming out of the bathroom (while everyone was waiting at the ring) and seeing Sky coming toward me! I opened my arms (my gesture to Ladybug for “come”), and she came for a good cuddle. Kisses and everything. She has such a soft, rounded chin. Much nicer than Ladybug’s pointed one, at least when giving a jumping kiss. πŸ˜€ (Sorry, baby. I do love you, but your jumping kisses hurt!) I’d wanted to pet Sky since the first day I met her, but she was always busy training or playing with Lucy. Turns out she’s a sucker for a cuddle and a treat. Another affectionate dog was Bonnie, a sweet little spaniel who was happy to give cuddles but not come onto my lap. And Harry, of course, always wants a pet and a treat.

A nice surprise was finding Reuben had come, too. He’s still at the manic playful puppy stage, and he had a great run or two with Ladybug. I grinned so hard as I watched them fly around the field. The entire trip was worth it just for that!

Another great first–Ladybug made friends with Poppy (or was it Lollie?). I was quite nervous as Ladybug was doing her pesty little sister act (playwithmeplaywithmeplaywithmePLEASEplaywithme!), but Nicky reassured me that things were okay and Poppy would tell her to back off if necessary. She did, Ladybug listened, and they started playing. Just a few minutes, as Poppy had to rest before the next race.

Even better, the last run of the day saw Ladybug play with several new friends–Scout, Birch (who tried to hump her, lol!), Poppy again (unless it was Lollie :P), and a few others. Just wow! Her first day running with the big kids, and they welcomed her!

Each time going into the crate got better and better. By the end of the day, she happily jumped into the crate without any treat at all. She also sat and waited for me to fasten her leash before letting her out (our typical leash/walk routine since babyhood–leash doesn’t go on or off until she sits politely). This was great! It meant she was more comfortable, but it also showed she trusted me to let her out.

Here’s how amazing this little dog wonder was…on our way home, we got caught in a thunder-and-lightening storm. Plus a flash flood that submerged part of the highway. We were stuck without any way to go around the water or turn around for 45 minutes. I didn’t mind for me (have lived through monsoons and lots of thunderstorms/flash floods), but I was terrified that Ladybug would freak out. It’s probably a good thing she was back in the crate instead of close enough to sense my fear. She’d had a long and busy day, conquered fears, and achieved new milestones. She’d been beyond fabulous, but an extra 45 minutes in a strange crate was too much to ask. Once she started crying, there would be nothing I could do.

Guess what?

She was absolutely fine!

*jaw drop*

Absolutely, perfectly, amazingly, beautifully fine.

Partly thanks to sweet Sky resting calmly beside her, partly thanks to the crate only happening at Ladybug’s insistence (not mine or anyone else’s), and partly just to wonderful good luck…she was fine.

She only started crying after Sky woke up, thought we were home (as the engine was off to conserve gas), and whined to come out. Ladybug gave a tiny cry. Normally I’d have let it go, but I was too much on edge. I jumped out, took her out…and saw that the road had cleared! People were backing up and exiting our side of the road to cross to the other side. This meant driving down the wrong side of the road (turning a two-lane one-way road into a two-way road), but it was just a short distance.

Ladybug was perfect the entire trip to Tracy’s, and then our trip home.

There were so many other wonderful moments yesterday (the Rice Krispie treats eaten with enjoyment, learning more about the racing, watching everyone give Ladybug special treatment and fuss, and watching Ladybug grow more comfortable and confident with everyone else), but there are too many to name. I loved the balance of closeness (people caring for each other) and familiarity (people picking on each other, but in a funny way). I especially like that this group almost always has at least one kid around, often learning to train the dogs.

The best moment for me, though, is a toss-up.

A. Watching Ladybug zoom around with all of the dogs–and playing with several of them. She’s more likely to pick one dog (in this case, Reuben) to like, love, and want to play with exclusively. It’s unusual for her to be willing to play with another dog, let alone three or four! Huge accomplishment for her. It’s a testament to how comfortable she felt, and how welcoming everyone was to her. In fact, several people stopped me when I was going to pull her out. (She’s started stalking Sky, which ticks Sky off…lol! So poor Sky couldn’t play if Ladybug was out.) They said to let her enjoy herself, and she did. Seriously, the whole entire trip would have been worth it for those ten or fifteen minutes. She was just a normal happy dog with other normal happy dogs.

B. Going back to the crate, while we waited for an escape from the flooded highway, and seeing she was completely okay. She was happy to jump out for a few minutes, but she was equally happy to jump back in once we could move a few minutes later. She wasn’t stressed, scared, or worried. This moment wasn’t the sheer, satisfying exhilaration of A, but it would have been unthinkable until yesterday. It’s still hard to believe, a whole day later.

I don’t know what the future will hold for our brave little puppy. She might try this for a few more months, get spooked, and refuse to set foot on the field again. We might find that the more serious training later on is too difficult and/or stressful for her (or me). We might find, which is my most significant worry, that the risk of injury is too great. I was deeply distressed to watch poor Sky have to run and re-run the same lap 5 or 6 times because the other team kept having a problem (dog running over to Sky, running into the jumps, etc.). It’s not fair to her, and I never want Ladybug to be in that position.

I don’t want her training so hard that she pulls a muscle, or tweaks her back, or damages her paws or joints. I can’t afford physical therapy, hydrotherapy, or extensive medical care for her. I’m not even sure how I’ll pay for her spaying, especially if she needs extended in-patient care afterward. Or if, God forbid, the anesthetic kicks off her kidney damage so we’re back to square one.

I think my biggest worry after yesterday (besides fear of injury/strain, which has always been my concern about flyball) is whether I will miss signs that Ladybug is no longer enjoying flyball, or that it’s not good for her. Or, on the flip side, that she’s dying to do it…but that it’s wrong for her. Too much stress, too much pressure, or too much something. I tell myself that everyone knows I want a long, slow, and steady training process with absolutely no guarantee that she will ever compete. I suppose it goes both ways, though. Clubs must train lots of dogs who turn out not to be right for competition, for any number of reasons–even if their owners really want it.

I want the friendship, training, and socialization for Ladybug. I think it’s been the best thing in the world for her, and I’m excited at all of the lessons she’s learning. She’s found a few men to tolerate (she’ll be wary for a long time, although sweet Clive has almost won her over), which is more than I’d ever hoped for. She now pesters Tracy, Cat, and Lina for treats and cuddles. (I’m allowing this just for now. Once she adjusts to the new environment and relaxes, we’ll be back to enforcing basic manners. But if I want her to trust in a strange situation, I have to give her slack in other areas.) And, hip hip hooray, she’s made some doggie friends.

Me?

I made Rice Krispies, my dad’s favorite treat in the whole world. I shared them with people who enjoyed them. It was my first “baking” (not real baking, but close enough) since moving in. I’m not me unless I’m writing…and feeding people. πŸ˜€ I’ve stopped cooking for people ever since the horrible incident last winter, and this was a first for me. First time making something for people to eat…and it was a success. I proudly brought home an empty pan and requests for more next week.

I was able to take my puppy with me, and for the last rest period of the day I had her rest next to me. She wasn’t perfect, but she handled it very well. No barking, no lunging, no yelping. She even relaxed enough to lie down several times, and she nudged Jamie and Doug for a treat. (She tried to snatch a treat from Doug’s hand, even though she knows full well that’s not okay. Little madam! She even got away with it, as Lisa tried to intervene. I was scolding Ladybug for snatching, but Lisa thought Ladybug was doing something good in trusting Doug. Ladybug’s fear of men only applies to adults, though. She loves every child in the world and wants to play with all of them. She was snatching the treat just because she could. She knows she’s supposed to take it gently, especially from a child. I’ve drilled that into her since babyhood because I was so afraid she might accidentally hurt a child in her enthusiasm. Little booger. πŸ˜› )

It was fun having an actual team job yesterday. I mean, I needed to and did focus mostly on my puppy, but it was nice to feel part of the group. Picking up tennis balls was a little thing (someone told me that I had to start somewhere, lol!), but it was also something I couldn’t screw up. Just like Ladybug needs slow, sure-to-succeed baby steps when learning something new, so do I. It really is amazing how much we are alike. She shuts down if she can’t get something right on the first try, so I have to make things simple enough that she can. When that happens, she gets so excited that she wants to keep working for ages.

I wonder if she would have had that personality all along, or if it’s been my influence. Her illness? All of the stuff she’s gone through? But her personality has stayed consistent since I met her. The only differences are degree, like becoming more affectionate/cuddly since the hospitalization. She’s always been both timid/skittish and having an attitude, right from when she was a tiny puppy at the farm. (“She’s trouble,” said the farmer’s little girl who helped raise her. “She sticks up for herself.”)

I still have huge reservations about flyball and its potential for injury. I’m still not sure if I ever want Ladybug to compete. Maybe, after a good long while, it would be fun to let her try the baby version with all of the safeguards. Maybe I’ll feel differently after I watch her progress, see a few more competitions, and get a feel for how the team works. It’s nice that the team has quite a few dogs already, so there’s no pressure for replacements. It’s also nice that the minimum age for “open competition” (misleading name that means the most competitive division) is 15 months for one league and 18 months for another. I can’t imagine Ladybug being ready, emotionally or technically, in that short amount of time anyway, but it’s good that it’s not even allowed in the rules for her to compete yet. She can try the easier/less intense divisions if she’s ready (starters/intermediates for BFA and pre-cadet/little league for UKFL), but that won’t be for a while.

For now, she’s learning how to be one of the team. She’s learning to accept new people and dogs into her pack. We’ve been a tiny pack, just the two of us, for a long time. It’s a terrifying but exciting process, peeking outside.

What will happen next? Will we get spooked and run for safety?

Or will next week’s competition be just as fun?

I can’t wait to find out.

We are now flyball converts!

Jeepers.

We are now the official poster children for flyball.

I should send in our story to BFA (British Flyball Association) or UKFL (UK Flyball League) to use as an advertisement for flyball.

In four short weeks (really three, if you consider that four practices represent three weeks’ time), my little scaredy-cat fusspot has transformed into a confident, excited, and thoroughly spoiled madam. πŸ˜€ But spoiled in a good way! She jumped up on two people today, which I would normally consider a bad thing. (Manners are good!) However, she jumped on people because she was excited to see them. She went up to a team member we hadn’t met before and begged for a treat. She met another new-to-us team member…a guy, even! She barked her head off at first, but within a few practices of box turn work and a few tosses of a tennis ball…no problem.

Just…wow.

She let our coach hold her leash, repeatedly. (This is one of the two people who fed her tons of sausage last week, and she was ready to go home with them.) I walked away, turned around, waited for her to settle down, and called her to me. She yelped a bit at first, but she changed as soon as she realized she could always come back to me.

Then she hunkered down, strained at her leash, and was a mass of flying legs and fur in her haste to run to me.

There was a magical moment when she settled down (well, relatively speaking) and waited for my signal. She even barked at one point as she lunged and prepared for launch.

Like a real, proper flyball dog!

We practiced baby jumps, and except for one or two hiccups she laughed. Give me something harder, she begged. I don’t think she even knew we were practicing jumps. In her mind, she was just having a nice run.

(Too exhausted to write more, as we have had a super long day! But it was amazing. More later. I hope.)

Back. πŸ˜€ I’m still glowing the next morning. She’s gobbled a breakfast of kibble and oil from my canned tuna (a special treat). She didn’t eat yesterday until we got home at nearly 10:30 PM (her choice to refuse earlier meals, little fussybug)

(Fell asleep again!)

Ha, I guess I’ll just have to put what I posted on Facebook after coming home:

Rats! I didn’t get one single photo of Ladybug at flyball tonight. Too excited watching her have an amazing time! Can’t believe I was going to never even watch flyball again. And to think that other flyball team refused to train her because they thought she was too aggressive and would never be able to do flyball. She got heaps of praise, spoiling, and treats tonight! The little wonder baby has finally fallen asleep after a mad dash around the house.

I have a feeling I will now become “that” person who urges everyone to try flyball with their dog. If you’ve got a dog who likes running and likes tennis balls, seriously! You’ve got to give it a try! Best thing ever.

Warning: if you get a flyball club like ours, your dog will be spoiled rotten forever. Best club in the world.


Sitting here with my puppy and my breakfast (she’s gobbled hers already)…and still marveling at last night.

She raced up onto the chute, grabbed the ball, and turned around to jump off the chute. Perfectly! On the first try! After that, she did it perfectly except when I accidentally confused her. Without any coaching or instructions that she should pick up the ball. Oh, and with the chute at a 45 degree angle!

I can’t believe that I was in tears three weeks ago thinking it was all too complicated and we would never get it right. And the LOOK on her face! Just…wow! I’ve only seen her that proud and excited a few times before.

Me, I was completely beside myself but for different reasons. SHE LET OUR COACH HOLD HER LEASH! Many times! I walked away from her, and she barely barked twice! As soon as she realized what we were doing (practicing running to me), she got down in the proper flyball position of OMG LET ME GO! I GOTTA RUN LIKE THE WIND! Not a care in the world that someone besides me was holding her leash and keeping her away from me. She met a strange man, barked her head off for a few minutes, and then settled down as soon as she realized we would practice box turns and he would GIVE HER A BALL.

One team member came up and fed her an entire sausage (with my permission, of course). Ladybug then went up to someone SHE DIDN’T KNOW and asked for a treat! While not behavior I’ll allow in the long run, for right now it means she’s learned to trust people at flyball. In just a few weeks!

And so have I.

I think that says it all.

It’s raining today, so we’re waiting to see if agility is cancelled.

She’s tried peanut butter and kibble stuffed into a treat snake. Peanut butter, great. Kibble, forget it! (Fussy baby.)

I’ve also, in the past half-week, managed to write five chapters. A new prologue for An American in England, and four chapters of Raven’s Love, book three in the Raven series. This one will focus more on Raven, her past, and her motivations in becoming a domme. Alena may start behaving better, but I wouldn’t count on it. πŸ˜€ Since my poor Patreon subscribers have had to wait forever for new updates, currently all Patreon subscribers (except the $1 level) receive access to the new chapters as they’re written.

Puppy happy at flyball.

New friends for both of us.

Me writing.

What could be better?