A Flying Finish

Labor Day hasn't yet arrived, and still, here I am, contemplating the days left in the year and how they will be measured out. If only TS Eliot was right and coffee spoons could be used... but looks like it's going to be a flying finish to the very end, trying to cram in as much as possible before I take a deep breath and hang up my brain for a rest around the holidays.

Several friends have had health scares this year, and I had one of my own. And all of us ended up contemplating our mortality a bit more than usual. (By time you're my age, old pal Mort is a frequent guest who stops by for coffee on a regular basis.) I am relieved to say that my own little scare was -- like just about all my serious health woes in my life - dog induced. Turns out that when you're laying in bed, and a 100 pound dog leaps over you and misses, and one of those big paws doesn't miss, you can develop quite a lump in your breast. But it doesn't show up right away. Nope. That would be too easy an equation: OW = lump & bruise. Did get the bruise. Didn't find the lump until a heart stopping moment nearly a week later.

I've read plenty of advice on how to find the right doctor. Not one article, not even in Cosmo or Good Housekeeping or The Whole Dog Journal, bothered to mention that for people like me, a good doctor should possess a working knowledge of exactly what forms of breakage and damage can be inflicted on a person by her loving animals friends. For example, years ago, I had to call my doctor at the time and ask if she felt my health might be endangered by the firm insertion of an inch or so of raw mouse spine into my instep. There was a long pause before she answered. I hadn't inserted the mouse, but rather stepped on it getting out of bed -- it was a gift from a cat who had thoughtfully eaten the back half, leaving me the front (and frankly, cuter) mouse half. It is quite the wake up call to step sleepily from a comfortable bed, feel a sharp pain shooting into your foot, pick up your foot to look at what might be stuck, and find yourself staring at the equally surprised face of a half-mouse stabbed well into your sole. We had very similar expressions, the mouse and I. But I recovered.

Anyhow, my current doctor is a grand guy. But he was on vacation, leaving me with a substitute doc who does not understand what animals can inflict on those they love. She didn't get animals at all. In fact, when I noted that my dog had landed on my breast with the force of a sledgehammer, and pointed out that the worrisome lump was located conveniently under the bruises left by the beast, she shook her head with authority. "There is nothing a dog could do that could cause a lump like that!" Left me wondering what kind of experiments they ran at her medical school. I figured it wasn't worth the breath to list all the fun things i knew for a fact that a dog or even a small kitten could do to the human form.

Many tests and pokes and prods later, a more reasonable doctor who understood dogs noted wryly that yep, being landed on by a dog that big surely could cause a hematoma that large. He jokingly suggested I get rid of the offending canine, and more seriously recommended a follow-up ultra-sound to be uber certain in a few months. Not long ago, I had that follow-up, and all was well. Though I do take evasive maneuvers more frequently when large dogs are launching nearby.

All by long way of saying that the year's already been fun, and I could do with a rest. But Robert Frost did not measure stuff in coffeespoons but in miles to go before sleep. I'm looking forward to the upcoming workshop at WOLF PARK in Battleground, IN, where I have the immense privilege of teaching with Pat Goodmann and of course the wolves! After that, down to my old stomping grounds in NJ to teach for West Jersey K-9 SAR , which offers the bonus of old friends and familiar roads added to the joy of teaching. I'm very excited to be offering the first ever RAT workshop (Relationship Assessment Tool) in the Chicago area in late October at For Your K9. And then - please do break out the violins and wailing women, grab a hankie 'cuz this is sad and hard to hear - it's off to Holland, Belgium and Italy to teach and sightsee a bit. Belgian vet behaviorist Dr. Rudy de Meester is among my favorite people on the planet, and my four Italian friends (Monica, Ilaria, Roberto, Alberto) will make me feel like I've come home all over again. I'll even get to visit my grandpup Ilaria who is now a brood at the Dutch guide dog school (just had her first 11 pups!).

So exciting to be teaching in Europe again - the seminar attendees are quite unlike American audiences. I once asked a very permissive dog owner in Italy if she would let a child act in such unruly ways as her dogs. She shrugged and smiled, and said, "Si! Es a bambino, eh?" I quickly revised my analogy, asking if she would allow a man to treat her the way her dog did, disregarding anything she did, showing no interest in where she went. She immediately drew herself up, and with a sharp tone and angrily flashing eyes proclaimed, "NO!"

I love the cultural differences, the food, the wine, the people, the dogs, the antiquity of it all. Some days I wake up just flat out astounded that this is my life -- all those years of scooping poop and watching dogs be dogs paid off in ways I could never have imagined.The amazing people and animals and places I get to see enrich my life beyond measure, and I have found some real treasures who have become dear friends.

So much to fit in between Labor Day and when my labor's finally cease in mid-December. A flying finish, galloping through the days and miles with gratitude that this is my life's work. A good gallop indeed... hope to see some of you along the way.

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

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Author Suzanne Clothier

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