Rainbow over Brooklyn
A lot has been going on in the poetry and dog land I live in! First the poetry news:
I had 5 Brooklyn poems published in Poets & Artisits December 2009.
I had a dog walking poem published in Work Zine November 2009.
I was interviewed by Galley Cat’s Jason Boog about The Dogs of Brooklyn.
Sonya Chung quoted me in an article on The Millions about dogs and writing.
I had my poem (and Dennis’s photo) Powerboat Pit Bull published in this wrestling poetry anthology on Clattery MacHenry. Scroll down to “P” its in alphabetical order.
I interviewed rock and roll prose poet Ray Gonzalez, bilingual poet Kristin Naca, and feminist poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker for BOMB and post punk poetry icon Eileen Myles for The Rumpus.
Whew! Thanksgiving was a welcome few days off though I was dog sitting for my pal Jack. I was so grateful for all the small victories this year–publishing and dog training etc. That morning we took Jack to off leash hours at Prospect Park. I love Prospect Park, Fredrick Law Olmsted the landscape designer was such a genius I named my plant after him, then proceeded to kill it with a slow death like every other plant I’ve had. In my life there’s a long tradition of naming things after famous people and characters- My first dog, the Golden Retriever Cindy Lauper, my hamster Murphy after Murphy Brown (I was eight!), my cat Cobain. Anyways, I digress, If you haven’t been to Brooklyn and seen it, its as beautiful as Central Park and far less crowded!
So back to Prospect Park Thanksgiving- we ran into Pooh Bear, the dog that wouldn’t go outside when I first met him. He had lots of fears of the outdoors when I started working with him and would pitch an 80 lb. fit whenever his owner tried to walk him. I switched Pooh to an over-the-hose-nose gentle leader so he’d be easier to control (sometimes the right lead makes all the difference!), a backpack with water bottles as weights to tire him out and give him a job, and ignored his drama. A few months later he’s trotting along happily in Prospect Park with his owner! It feels good to be able to help people with what I’ve learned in my year dog walking.
I used to think because I didn’t have a title or go to some office that I was a failure and couldn’t keep a “real” job. Now I see I wasn’t meant for that world. I am a humble servant to the animals and that works for me. I’m reliable and trustworthy and people trust me with their pets, I may not be some fancy professor or lawyer but I’m of service and I make enough to live and work shorter hours so I can write, that’s all I need. I also see some people can work for others in offices, I am not one of those people, I’m someone who needs to have their own business and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just had no model for this kind of life growing up in Florida. That’s one of the reasons I love New York, you can have a small business and survive, its harder in other areas of corporate, chain-store America to do that.
Back to Thanksgiving- I was just grateful I could eat this year. Last year about a week before Thanksgiving my appendix exploded and I was in the hospital getting emergency surgery. The surgery wasn’t so bad it was the recovery. Since my appendix burst there were toxins all over my insides so they had me on all kinds of antibiotics and I have never been so sick and scared in all my life. It was like a horror movie in the hospital with people screaming down the hall. I kept throwing up green and having diarrhea and I couldn’t walk. I think the immobility and weakness may have been the scariest part of all. I couldn’t eat anything all I could do was suck on ice chips. Thankfully my friends and family showed up-Dennis stayed at the hospital practically all day everyday with me. I got out the day before Thanksgiving but still could barely eat or walk for about a month. Thank god for my friends, employees, and understanding clients- running a business from a hospital bed is no fun but everyone was really great.
I think a lot about gratitude and service when it comes to dogs and writing. I don’t think I felt really a part of the writing world until I started doing service for it by writing a column for BOMB. I don’t get paid for it but the writers I interview are so grateful to have someone read, understand, and ask them intelligent questions about their work and I feel like I learn a lot from doing it. Also I’m publishing and making connections regardless of whether my own poetry is being published. Its easy to feel resentful when other people’s work is getting published and yours isn’t but somehow writing this column has made me feel a lot less disenfranchised and more a part of the poetry community. So my advice to anyone who’s struggling is to find someway to be of service, it works for me every time.
Gracie photo by Dennis Riley
I also just wanted to write a little about dog obedience since I’ve been doing a lot of training with insecure dogs lately. I have Oban, french bulldog who is aggressive to any visitors, and Claudia who has a lot of fear of the outdoors. When one brings home a new dog or there’s a major change in environment- a move or a baby being born- this can bring out nervousness and sometimes even aggression in an insecure dog. The biggest problem with these dogs is they are not natural pack leaders and they don’t feel secure in their owners pack leader status. Dogs have different dispositions just like people, some are shy, some are bold, some are just mellow. It never fails though that if we step up to the plate and are strong, dominant pack leaders the nervous guys stop being so nervous, they’re nervous because they feel they have to step into the pack leader role if we aren’t it because in a dogs world there are only two positions- leader and follower. Feeling sorry for a nervous dog doesn’t help them. In the wild animals don’t pity each other, a pack leader cuts of any behavior they don’t like and that’s the end of it. Dogs want to please us, they don’t want to act out. So I correct behavior I don’t like with a tug on the leash or a sharp “chhh” sound and then we move on. I praise only behavior I like with affection. We have to give affection at the right time not all the time. Dogs need jobs just like we do or else they get bored. So tricks, walks, etc stimulate their brains and make them happier than just sitting around the house getting petted all day. The migrate (walk) for their food all day then eat and play. That’s the natural order for them.
For Oban the aggressive dog I recommended they switch his leash and leave it on in the house giving it a tug anytime he did something they didn’t like, this snaps the dog out of the bad mindset the same way a dog pack leader would nip a dog on the neck if they misbehave. Simple subtle, drama free correction is all they need. I use the “chhh” sound because dogs are non-verbal, all energy, and I can’t be all emotional about a sound the way I can about yelling NO. That only makes an excited dog more excited. Its the energy behind the NO or the “chhh” sound that they respond to. Oban is improving and his owners are more empowered with how to correct him.
With Claudia, I switched her to a gentle leader and she responds better to it. A dog’s neck is really muscular so gentle leaders or leashes worn high up on the neck work better for getting their attention. I also recommended that they stay cool as cucumbers when she gets nervous on the street. When I walked her I noticed she kept looking up at me to gage my reaction of loud trucks etc. The more I ignored them the more she felt safe simple as that. I didn’t respond to her freak outs only her calm states with praise. The thing we give more energy too will always be the thing that grows so we only want to give energy to positive things unless we want the negative to grow.
Then we have the one year olds- Ozzie, Roxy, Jasper, Gracie, Leo, Murray. They’re in there rebellious teenage phase where they test us with spazz outs and occasional bad behavior. We wonder what happened to our sweet pup. This will pass but we have to be consistent in the training we’ve done so far and not freak out. Consistency is the key in writing and dog behavior. If we just keep at it with consistence eventually we’ll get what we want cause nature abhors a vacuum. With the insecure guys we don’t get to space out or talk on our cell phones when walking them. They need us to be present with them which is really the point of having a dog to spend time with them and share our worlds. This has taught me how to be more present in my whole life and see the little things as opposed to the big things I have no control over. Sometimes the dogs we get aren’t the ones we want we, they’re the ones we need. They help us work on our own issues of nervousness, stress, etc. because they pick up our energy like sponges and the more freaked out we are the more freaked out they will be. So when we work on being a calm, strong pack leader it not only helps them, it helps us. This is the beauty of having a relationship with your dog, don’t miss out on it because you’re too busy worrying about other things. Those things will work themselves out if you focus just on what’s in front of you.