A Dog Named Beautiful – Book Review

To start, this is my first book review so bear with me! I’m not exactly sure how to do this, so sharing my unbiased opinion will have to do.

I can’t remember how or where I first learned about Rob Kugler and his dog, Bella- people are always tagging me in stories about the profound bond between humans and dogs, and I’m sure I found out about the two of them the same way. I remember crying when I read their story- they were still on the road together when I first found them on Instagram in 2016- and I cried again when I saw the post that Bella had passed. Rob has a gift for story telling, and my heart broke for his.

As I’ve continued to follow his adventures on Instagram, I was thrilled to see that he was writing a book about he and Bella’s adventures! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and downloaded from Kindle the day it came out.

As I said before, Rob definitely has a gift for storytelling and I truly enjoyed getting to read his backstory and Bella’s entrance into his life. When you’re close to a dog, when they’re your heart, they witness so much of life with you; so many changes in a way that’s not often experienced in human relationships. As someone who has that bond with my dog, I was honored to peek into someone else’s bond.

I come from a military family, with a brother who served an Army Infantry tour in Iraq and a fiancé in the Air Force, so I connected with the book in that regard as well. “A Dog Named Beautiful” shares an important perspective on military service that was certainly valuable for me to read. I don’t want to reveal major aspects of the book to those who haven’t read it yet, but I am truly grateful for all of those who’ve served our country and their families.

The original story that I saw on Huffpost or Buzzfeed or wherever it was, introduced me to so many possibilities! I did start writing a bucket list for Boots, though at that time it was probably weighted pretty heavily in the direction of things that would make me happy. As I’ve grown older and wiser, and as my relationship with Boots has continued to grow, my bucket list for the two of us has shifted to what I know he’ll enjoy. This book will definitely remind you of how precious the finite amount of time we get with our dogs is. I’m certain it will inspire many people to hit the road with their pups- I really hope Boots and I have that opportunity one day (Ranger isn’t a big fan of the car.) Something I really enjoyed throughout the book was the universal way that loving a dog deeply bonds humans- dog people just get it. I’m not surprised at all by the amount of people who opened their homes and hearts to Rob and Bella, as I know Chris and I would do the same if we had the opportunity.

If you know anything at all about Rob and Bella’s story, you know that there are very hard, sad moments in the book. I really felt as though I was going through them too. It taught me a lot about terminal illness, hospice, and end of life care in dogs. Despite working with them for a living, I really wasn’t aware of some of the options available to help your pup have the best last moments possible. Being able to honor your bond is so incredibly important, and the ways in which Rob described doing so definitely taught me some things. The grief process is very personal, but I did appreciate Rob sharing the reality of it with all of us.

I spent an entire self care day on the couch with Boots and my iPad on my lap- I finished reading it in about 6 hours total because I couldn’t put it down! I think anyone who has a special dog and a life altering bond with them will really enjoy this book.

If you pick it up, let me know what you think!

When Your Heart Dog Is a Senior

I adopted Boots when he was 2ish and I was 19- his adoption fee was my 20th birthday present to myself. I had grown up with dogs, but had never had one of my own. My childhood dream was always to have a little dog who was constantly by my side- a dog who would sleep in the bed with me and go with me everywhere. By the time I met Boots, that dream had long since been pushed to the back of my mind, but still, I knew he was my dog. The minute I saw him for the first time, I knew.

Since then, we have grown up together in every sense of the word. It’ll be 8 years in July and each one of them has taught us something new. I was a little bit of a wild child when I adopted Boots- I was spreading my wings for the first time as an “adult,” and I can’t say I was the most responsible in my first few leaps from the nest. Boots didn’t make me become responsible- I don’t necessarily believe anyone can make that happen. But what Boots did was love me and show me that I was valuable to him and within our bond. The bond with him changed me.

Boots is inching closer to 11 now, and I’ll be 28 this summer. In a lot of ways, we’ve both slowed down and mellowed out a bit, though in others we’re just as tightly wound as we were back in 2011. Boots’ eyes have the blue haze characteristic of a dog his age, and I’ve begun fielding questions about when Chris and I will start trying to have human babies. Things have changed in big, big ways.

And it’s hard. I can say with 100% certainty that I have never loved another being in the way that I love Boots. I don’t mean that to offend my fiancé or my family or Ranger, though I know that they all understand it. Boots isn’t my “fur baby” and he’s not just my best friend- to describe it more accurately, Boots is more like a piece of my soul who just happens to live outside my body. He’s my Heart Dog.

Last night we had a bonfire and Boots, for the first time in almost 8 years, chose to remain on his blanket inside, watching us out of the sliding glass door instead of coming and sitting outside. He gets tired at the end of walks sometimes these days, and I don’t attempt more than a 3-4 mile hike anymore. He has a dental cleaning coming up and the idea of putting him under anesthesia is terrifying to me, despite knowing it’s what’s best for his long term health. It’s both difficult to recognize and impossible to avoid the knowledge that he is getting older, but I’m trying so hard to make every step of our journey good for him, no matter what. I think that sometimes we can’t let go of not only who our dogs were when they were young, but also, who we were. Neither of us is who we were 8 years ago.

There’s no message to this blog post today- maybe it’s just me shouting into the void or trying to see that I’m not the only one who’s ever made this transition with their Heart Dog. If there is a message, maybe it’s to honor your pup’s dogginess, honor what makes them who they are for their whole lives, not just when they’re young and active. Be there for it all, as they are for us. I think that’s the best thing we can do.

What It’s Really Like to Be a Dog Person

To start off, I want to clear something up from the get go- there is a difference between “owning a dog” and being a dog person. People who own dogs (hopefully) provide all of the necessities for a dog to live- food, water, and shelter- the things that the law says must be provided, and sometimes not much more. Dog people, dog guardians, dog moms and dads, we’re different. There are varying degrees of crazy dog person- I’m well aware that I’m at the higher end of that spectrum, and I’m 100% okay with that. 

A good friend of mine pointed out that so many of us dog people post hundreds of photos of our pets on Instagram and gush about them, but we don’t illustrate the real and sometimes difficult aspects of being a good pet parent. I think that how we deal with the things that aren’t warm and fuzzy dictate the kind of dog moms and dads we are, so we should talk more about those things! 

Boots is my soulmate and my best friend, and he also regularly wakes me up in the middle of the night to go outside. Is he going outside to pee or just to sniff? That’s really not clear to me, and thankfully I now know that if he gets a walk every single day, the odds of him sleeping through the night are much higher. I’m a super light sleeper, and it was really really hard when he was waking me up at 2:00 am every single night for months on end. When he had urine crystals, it was sometimes 2-3 times a night despite him getting aggressively treated for them immediately. I’m not someone who functions well on a funky sleep pattern and I can admit that as much as I love my dog, there are times I’ve wanted to cry because I’m so tired and he needs to go out again

Dogs also really like to eat things that aren’t food. Chris loves to garden, and he loves to add both Southwestern and Cajun elements to our garden to represent both of our heritages- one of those was a very old, sun dried steer skull that he bought from a yard sale for $5. The idea was to grow succulents out of it, but Ranger did not agree with that aesthetic choice and instead decided to eat it. I didn’t realize he’d actually consumed any of it until the middle of the night when he jumped off of the bed and started throwing up pieces of it all over the bedroom floor. I had never felt more like his mother than I did at that moment, and never been more worried about him. I stayed up watching him all night, ready to drive him to the Emergency Vet in an instant. Thankfully, he was just fine. We definitely had to pay for carpet cleaning when we moved out of our rental home because we never could get that vomit stain out of the floor, but I’d pay it a hundred times over for Ranger to be okay. 

Both of my boys are behaviorally special needs in different ways, and that’s been it’s own adventure. Boots and I hyper bonded with each other pretty much immediately when I adopted him. When I was in college we rarely had to be apart and that only contributed further to our closeness, which manifested in Boots’ screaming when he wasn’t able to get to me. When I was in the shower, he’d sit outside the door and alternate between whining and screaming, much to the displeasure of everyone I’ve ever lived with. He still whines and occasionally screams when we’re separated, and he does not like to share my attention. While I’ve accepted that that’s who he is, it has strained some of my human relationships… but that’s just life with a dog that you love. If they can’t hang with him, they’re not going to be in my life. Ranger, on the other hand, was very under-socialized when he came into the shelter. Chris has done so much to counter his early months, but that said, Boots, and Chris and I, are Ranger’s anchors. He functions like a well adjusted pup when we’re around, but he does revert back to his very fearful roots when we’re not or when any piece of the puzzle changes. He doesn’t like strangers, and he’s terrified of bearded men to this day. If anything in the house moves, he panics a little bit- moving with him was incredibly difficult for that reason. He hates cardboard boxes!! All that said, Ranger is our baby boy and we adore him. He’s such a special dog. 

Caroline Knapp’s book, Pack of Two, sums it up perfectly- “I once heard a woman who’d lost her dog say that she felt as though a color were suddenly missing from her world: the dog had introduced to her field of vision some previously unavailable hue, and without the dog, that color was gone. That seemed to capture the experience of loving a dog with eminent simplicity. I’d amend it only slightly and say that if we are open to what they have to give us, dogs can introduce us to several colors, with names like wildness and nurturance and trust and joy.” Reality with dogs is taking the good with the bad. It’s recognizing that their presence changes things, and that sometimes accommodations have to be made. Life as a dog person means that you can’t necessarily jump on a plane to another country at a moment’s notice, but you can take a walk and encounter a whole different world through their nose and eyes. It’s understanding their needs so that we can enrich their lives as much as they enrich ours, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Let’s Talk About Enrichment!

What is Mental Enrichment? To me, it’s the process of making an animal’s environment interesting and stimulating so as to decrease boredom and provide outlets for species normal behaviors. It’s letting your dog be a dog in all of his or her glory!

If you had asked me in 2011 when I adopted Boots what enrichment was, I really would have had no idea. And for college me and baby Boots, that shockingly worked out alright because he was getting TONS of environmental enrichment without me realizing it- going everywhere with me that I could possibly take him, being walked often, interacting with many people, going for rides. Now that I work a 40 hour week in a job where he and Ranger can’t come along, I prioritize getting them out for their walks and adding other mental enrichment to their lives. I realized recently that like me at 19, many people don’t know what enrichment is, or how to start in an inexpensive way, so here’s my cheap and easy introduction!

Use Puzzle Feeders instead of bowls! Your pup can solve a puzzle to get their food instead of quickly eating it out of a bowl! Not only does this provide mental stimulation, but it also slows down hasty eaters. Some great puzzle toys are Kongs, the Kong Wobbler, and snuffle mats, but you can also DIY it and use a muffin tin as a puzzle bowl! My boys were shocked and dismayed when I introduced puzzle feeders for the first time because they weren’t used to having to figure something out to get their food, but they quickly got the hang of it, and yours can to! Now they’re excited when the Kongs or snake toy come out.

Take your dog on a Sniffing Walk! Think about how much time you spend watching TV, scrolling social media, and reading books- sniffing novel things is the canine equivalent! Next time you take your dog for a walk, let them lead the way and sniff whatever they want to their hearts content. If you want to learn more about the amazing way that dogs use their noses and why sniffing is so vital for them, check out “Being a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz! I used to worry that people would think ~tHe DoG iS wAlKiNg YoU tHoUgh~ and you know what, they are! It’s THEIR walk!! Let it be!

Play hide and go seek! This can be done with people or treats and is a blast either way. If you have a helper, have them take a treat and hide in an easy location, then ask your dog to “Go find the person!” When they do find your helper, they should give them a treat and praise. You can also do this one on one using just treats- with your pup confined, hide one treat in an easy spot. Ask your dog to “Go find it!” and they’ll be rewarded by eating the treat when they do. As they get better and better at finding hidden people and/or treats, gradually increase the difficulty of the hiding spots. We don’t do this as much as we used to anymore because Boots has a hard time when it’s not his turn, but I definitely want to reintroduce this game when my fiancé and I have a less crazy schedule so he can help me!

Practice Good Manners! Running through the cues that your dog knows, like Sit, Down, Shake, etc. is not only mentally enriching for them, but also helps them to be better citizens of our human world. Using positive reinforcement like treats and affection to train is fun for both humans and dogs! You can also work on new and fun tricks with books like “101 Dog Tricks & How to Teach Them” by Kyra Sundance or by finding a force free, positive reinforcement trainer in your area to take classes with. A good way to find someone credentialed is by searching on the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website, or on the Karen Pryor Academy website. I’ve loved being in training class with Boots, and Chris is dying to get back in another class with Ranger, but even without class, there’s so much to learn and do at home and through Youtube videos!

I hope you go down the rabbit hole into the wonderful world of Canine Enrichment! It will make you and your dog’s life so much happier, I swear!

Til next time,

Our First Rally Trial

We competed in our first Rally Novice A trial yesterday!

Life has been crazy and busy recently, what with Chris & I purchasing and moving into our first home of our own, cleaning & wrapping things up in our previous house, and getting into crunch time organizing final details for our wedding in June. Even with the craziness, Boots and I have stuck with Rally and I decided that I wanted to take the chance to put our months of hard work to the test in a trial.

I can’t stress enough how nerve wracking it was for me to walk into class with Boots those first couple of sessions, 7 months ago. As you may have read in my previous post about our training journey, Boots and I have come a long way and learned a lot in this world of animal behavior. The ladies of East Mountain Dog Training were incredibly kind and understanding from the very beginning, helping me to see that Rally is about the relationship between person and dog, not about the archaic standards of obedience that were my unfortunate introduction to the world of dog training back in college. I’m so grateful that I learned a better way and have gotten to experience the joy of working as a team built on trust and mutual understanding with my baby boy.

That said, I woke up yesterday morning SICK TO MY STOMACH with nerves. I absolutely would not have bailed on the trial, but I can’t say I didn’t want to. I’m not a stranger to competitive ventures- as a kid I played tons of sports, was an All Star cheerleader on a national championship winning team, and competed with show choir, among other things. This just felt different, somehow. Adulthood & anxiety have a way of making any kind of security in your abilities go away, and I could see that my nerves were affecting little man. His bearing was off and I know that he was cuing off of the vibes coming from me.

The trial environment was totally foreign to me- I had no idea where to get my arm band number or where we should hang out and wait our turn. Yesterday was a lot of trial and error for Boots and I, and there are definitely some things I’ll tweak for the next go round. Thankfully, Wendy and Jeannie of EMDT came to support myself & Boots and my classmates, Nancy & her adorable pup Raven. When they arrived I didn’t feel lost anymore!! Chris, my mom, and my triplet sister Nicole also came along to cheer us on and their support was invaluable. All of the above know how hard I am on myself and how badly I can get into my head. They know I’m a perfectionist in certain arenas (something I’m working on!)

When it came to the actual trial itself, I kind of blacked out. I thought there was another team ahead of us so I didn’t go when our number, 406, was called. The judge had the good taste to compliment Boots’ adorableness, which I appreciated!! We made it past the offset serpentine but when we got to the next exercise, “Halt & Down,” I didn’t have Boots’ attention so we had to repeat it. We had a right turn after that, then one of my favorite exercises, “Come Front – Finish Left.” I panicked when Boots wasn’t lined up perfectly, a rookie mistake on my part, and bobbled my feet, which cost us the entire 10 points for the exercise. Fumbling that one made me even more nervous leading into our absolute least favorite sign, “Stop & Down.” Laying down on cue has been one of the hardest behaviors for Boots to perform consistently, and I was dreading the appearance of this particular sign. We missed it on the first go- I asked for a repeat and we missed it again, so we just moved on, losing another 10 points. We performed the rest of the course with only minor deductions- a point or two here and there for “lag,” but otherwise no big mistakes. When we left the ring I felt super relieved it was over, but to be totally honest, I felt disappointed in myself. I felt like I was the half of the team that let us down when I knew I could do better. We did earn our first qualifying score towards Boots’ Rally Novice title, coming in with a total of 73/100 points, but I definitely felt like my nerves and anxieties took the joy out of Boots’ experience of us working together.

Thankfully, I had a whole team to assure me that that was not the case and to remind me that I’d shown up for my dog, to remind me that this was our first time ever competing in the trial setting in a brand new environment, with a crowd of people watching us. They reminded me that we’re new to all of this, and that doing something new is really freaking hard!! Wendy and Jeannie reminded me of the most important thing- “It’s not about the ribbons, it’s about the relationship.” I am incredibly proud of the relationship that I have with my dog. I’m so proud of what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown together, what we’ve overcome. That’s what matters.

Boots slept hard last night, first pressed against me on the couch, then in bed, curled against my chest. He didn’t stir at all except occasionally to donkey kick me in his sleep. He trusts me, and loves me, and that’s what’s important to me. I’m his girl and he’s my dog and that’s really all that matters in the end.

So we’ll take what we learned and we’ll try again! As long as we continue to enjoy playing the game together, that’s what matters.

Happy 3rd Gotcha Day, Ranger!

To start, I have to begin the way I always do when talking about Ranger- he’s the second dog I never knew I always wanted. Before him, I did know I wanted a second dog, but it just never worked. Boots and I helped a series of foster dogs find their way to their forever homes, but none of them were the right fit for the two of us. We’d been a pack of two for so long that I just didn’t think we would find a human or a dog who’d fit into our life.

I’m not going to tell me and Chris’s love story today, except to say that it definitely sounds like something out of an implausible and cringeworthy Hallmark movie! But Ranger is 100% the reason our paths crossed, and for that, I will be forever grateful. Just like I was when I stumbled upon Boots, Chris was lonely and needed a best friend when he found Ranger. My mentor and dear friend, Sue, coached Chris through the adoption of a very fearful 5 month old Ranger. His hard work, dedication, and patience on top of the foundation that Sue built are what made Ranger the incredible dog he is today.

Ranger’s shelter intake photo – December 2015

Coincidentally, Chris adopted Ranger right before his 25th birthday- Boots’ adoption fee had been my 20th birthday present to myself 5 years prior! He was terrified at first that Ranger would never come to love or trust him. As a significantly under-socialized stray puppy, Ranger was incredibly afraid of things like going through doorways, walking on leash, being reached for, being in the presence of unknown men, and many other every day things that most people take for granted. I can’t say enough that Chris’s hard work and patience and love made the biggest difference for this big beautiful boy.

One of my absolute favorite shots from our engagement session courtesy of the incredibly talented Carissa & Ben Photography!

There are so many things I love about who Ranger is- he’s so goofy when he’s comfortable! He loves to play with other dogs and he will do his damndest to catch toys in his mouth. We call him our big whale because if he’s feeling lazy, he’ll throw himself forward an inch at a time to be loved on. He’s incredibly gentle, with both people and other animals. He’s learned to be a big boy and express his boundaries, but he always does so with great restraint. The way he handicaps himself to play with Boots, simply laying on the ground and bopping and weaving his big head while Boots jumps up and grabs him by the ears and carries on brings me endless joy- I could not have picked a better little brother for him.

Boots & Ranger on their first walk through our new neighborhood- super ready to be done moving!!

So as February has just come to a close, I celebrate the two amazing gifts I’ve been given by the universe- my fiancé and my second baby. I could not be more grateful for how the two of them have changed me and Boots’ life!

Top 5 Dog Movies for a Cozy Night In

I’m not much of a winter person- I see those of you who hike in the cold and the snow, and I admire you, but that’s just not me (or Boots- Ranger, however, loves the snow!) Something that I do love in the winter is a bubble bath with a movie playing on my laptop, complete with a beer or glass of wine and a face mask if I really need some self care.

Like any crazy dog lady, many of my favorite movies involve dogs, because the best art mimics life if you ask me. So this Valentine’s Day, whether your Valentine is a dog or a person or both, these are the dog movies I most recommend cuddling up on the couch and enjoying!

  1. Dog Days is an ensemble rom-com starring Vanessa Hudgens, Nina Dobrev, and Adam Pally among many others. It’s a lot like the Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve ensemble rom-com’s, except it’s dog centric which obviously makes it better. My triplet sister and I went to see it on a Tuesday night in a mostly empty theater, and while it was absolutely cheesy and predictable, that’s what we both needed and we loved it! It’s on Hulu now, so I definitely plan on having it in heavy rotation.

2. Bolt is an absolutely charming Disney movie staring Miley Cyrus and John Travolta’s voice acting, and if you haven’t seen it, honestly, where have you been?! The first time I saw this movie it stressed me out intensely, but ever since, it’s been one of those things I can put on when I need to relax and zone out a bit. Over the summer, I watched it during a monsoon storm with Boots curled up at my side and it was magical. It will definitely make you cry but in the best way.

Penny & Bolt’s relationship makes me ugly sob every time.

3. Isle of Dogs takes it another direction entirely- I’m not a movie buff at all, so I didn’t totally get the Wes Anderson excitement in regards to this movie, but I did love it so much that I saw it in theaters twice, which says a lot for me. (I hate movie theaters because they’re always too cold, I can never get comfortable, and I hate not being able to pause it when I need to get up for a bathroom or snack break!) I would have seen it a third time if I could have dragged a third person to go see it with me! I think Claymation is amazing, and I loved the story line as a whole. As someone who would absolutely hijack a plane to rescue my dog, I was super impressed by this movie. PRO DOG!!

4. Marley & Me is one of those movies that I feel has to be included in just about every dog movie list because it encompasses something so special about our lives with these incredible souls by our sides. Just like John Grogan, I feel like my dogs have been witness to some of the biggest growing pains and moments of my life, and this movie beautifully illustrates that. We’ve all had dogs in our lives like Marley- incorrigible and too smart for their own good- this is a good reminder to love them well. Also if I need to cry, this movie does the job 100% of the time. We all have those moments where we need to let out some emotion but it just won’t come, and Marley & Me is my solution in a pinch. 10/10, will cry to again!!

5. Walking the Dog is a cheesy, predictable Hallmark movie and anyone who knows me knows that I eat those up, no matter how ridiculous they are!! Do most of the Hallmark and UP! movies recycle the same 20 actors for every movie? Absolutely. Are they almost cringe worthy in their cheesiness and predictability? YOU BET! But for me that’s a big part of what makes them so much fun and so relaxing to watch. A girl can’t help but enjoy a silly, predictable happy ending every now and then, right? Pinterest (oddly) starting suggesting all of the Hallmark & UP! dog related movies to me on my feed, and I have to say, I’m here for it! I’m definitely not telling you that you can watch this entire movie for free on YouTube…

Like I said, whether your Valentine is human or canine, these movies are guaranteed to make you laugh, cry, and groan at the cheesiness. Comment and tell me your favorite dog movies, books, and any other dogs in pop culture that you enjoy!

Happy Valentine’s Day!