Learning to live with a Master Teacher Dog was a big order for my reluctant soprano. She hadn’t a clue about the grand plan attached to my behavior, that I was intentionally reflecting her well-concealed character deficiencies back to her… I had a higher purpose in mind. Playing the role of an obedient, adoring canine companion, or Heaven forbid, a mascot… was not my mission on earth. I was there to teach. I materialized myself (in other words I appeared in full sweet-as-candy puppy disguise) in order force her to reflect upon what she was doing wrong. Specifically my focus was Ms. Em’s inability to live in each moment, to be conscious and aware. I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse (and who could have? I was a wriggling mass of joyous reunion) and we were a team. However, after I got out of that darlin’ ‘lil pup stage… I was fully prepared to show my teeth, to snarl and growl, make a horrendous scene… or play the gracious guru. Whatever lesson the situation demanded, there I was… ready to play rough or to reward. And don’t get me wrong; I am not congratulating myself for my acting ability. I am simply illustrating the role I played for the benefit and spiritual development of narcissistic Ms. Em during her most turbulent years on and off the operatic stage. If you have read Learning to Live with Fritz, you already know that.
Let’s get back to Freddy and the training of a puppy (as taught by many excellent, educated, experienced and well-meaning authors, trainers and canine scientists too). After the Inseeing of The Monks of New Skete and Cesar Millan’s rigorous pack-leader techniques, I highly recommended (whispered emphatically) to Ms. Em that yet another enlightening and entertaining ‘dog book’ might be interesting to her and definitely helpful in bringing up her new pup.
THE GENIUS OF DOGS: HOW DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN YOU THINK
By Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods
I found author Peggy Tibbetts review on the Goodreads website to be far better than anything I could think up as a description of content and intention of the book The Genius of
Dogs.Ruggedly handsome Dr. Brian Hare (Dr. Brian Hare is associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University) creator of Dognition and the stunning Vanessa Woods
(Australian scientist, author and journalist- feature writer for the Discovery Channel) researched and wrote together. The cool thing about this is that they could argue and edit the manuscript without ever leaving home since they are married to each other! Read how they got together in Vanessa’s fascinating book The Bonobo Handshake.
Now this is quite a trick. Can you imagine it? An in-home scene: a bathroom … the shower is running … Miss Woods is shouting over the noise of cascading water: “Darling? What do you think about Chapter 10? I am not happy with the leading paragraph … Sweetheart … are you in there?” Somehow this beautiful couple, each with their separate successful careers joining forces to write an entertaining and still very serious and scientific book about the intelligence of dogs sparked my memory.
No one who has ever watched a Thin Man film could forget “America’s favorite Mister and Missus” … Nick and Nora Charles. Along with their snappy repartee they were often chatting about and interacting with Asta, their clever fox terrier whom they both (and the American cinema-going public) adored.
For a laugh watch Asta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKLCAHVKb0w
Yes, it’s all about LOVE. Hare and Woods are two young scientists who got together because of their love of animals. This love combined with their knowledge and individual research brought forth an excellent manuscript. In the case of Ms. Em it was not really her love of dogs that propelled her forward. She was traumatized into writing a book about her experiences with me and her book was an exercise in trying to figure out why I acted the way I did. Exit Fritz. Enter Freddy. The seven years between us has contributed to her understanding of what I was up to while on the earth plane doing what I did best: intimidate! In the interim E. has read more than her share of books about dogs, puppy training and general information about canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog.
Even though Bolonka baby Freddy has proven time and again that he has no talent for aggressive teaching skills, I can tell that Ms. Em is still fearful. She has persuaded herself that after the honeymoon is over (pup with his puppy mom) that Freddy might turn out to be … well, another Fritz. She is SO frightened that she almost made another huge mistake: spending too much time studying! I stepped in just in the nick of time and reminded her of the greatest truth of all… LOVE. You can read and study and watch DVD’s all you want but every one of those activities occur somewhere else. Do you know what I am getting at? That somewhere else is not living in the NOW. All the time you are spending reading, watching or listening … even making lists and vowing to be the perfect puppy parent… you are not spending time WITH your puppy in the present moment. All you need is love. Think about it. LOVE always occurs right now. Spend TIME NOW with your pup.
Dr. Hare has the right idea about being here now with your canine companions. His intelligence tests can help you classify and thus better understand what type of genius your dog might be. A charmer, an independent thinker … Oh, I could go on about this but since a video is worth a million words … just watch this report from ABC news about Dognition.
I have to apologize for the delay. I was in shock. My voice or the voice I borrow to whisper is no longer available for earth plane communications. So you will forgive me if this blog is not entirely devoted to Being Here Now, although my advice to live in this moment could never be more poignant or important than right now. It is in the realization of loss that one feels the bitter sting of life’s fragility… its brevity. “Oh, had we only known …” when a loved one, a family member, a pet or beloved public figure passes. Had we only known in advance that this person would be GONE.
This is the sad truth about James Gandolfini, the brilliant actor sometimes better known as the sensitive, complex New Jersey mafia boss in the HBO series The Sopranos. Who would have thought that Tony Soprano would be so quickly swooshed away… vanished and suddenly unavailable for us to admire or speculate impatiently about what J.G’s next big role might be?
His was the voice I used (and still intend to use …) to whisper instructions, to cajole, intimidate and in the worst of cases, to command. It is the voice E. heard when I ordered her into the Manhattan pet shop where I was waiting for my hysterical student to appear. His was the voice of the “angel” who saved Ms. Em (and me!) after her disastrous accident on the German Autobahn #3 near Aschaffenburg in April of 1993.
James Gandolfini’s throaty baritone, with his New Jersey accent was the ideal voice-choice for my purposes of other-worldly persuasion. His voice: Authoritative but still sensitive, respectful but with a slight threat… ideal. I could say that I am “deeply saddened” but this is what a presidential candidate might say about this incalculable loss to the art of acting. I can only express the VOID that E. is (along with his acting colleagues, directors, producers, friends, family and the millions of Soprano fans) feeling in the wake of this brilliant actor’s early departure. Granted, he is flying now, as free as I am. Jimmy (his friends called him) has his own cloud to be sure… but the feeling of loss for earthlings is colossal and real.
James Gandolfini’s funeral was held at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. I was happy about the choice of location because the huge edifice could accommodate the crowds of people needing to BE THERE NOW, to participate in and the honor the memory of that vulnerable stranger who through his immense talent was not a stranger at all. What made me dance was the animal-friendliness this Cathedral Church has proudly displayed since the tradition of blessing all animals began. Here are some links to the World Animal Day 2012.
Above a photo of Edie Falco (Carmela, Tony’s wife in The Sopranos series) holding a baby kangaroo for blessing at the Church Cathedral’s World Animal Day a few years ago. I am sure Edie could never have imagined the heartbreaking event that would bring her back to this location. Life can sometimes be strange indeed. I needn’t repeat myself but I will … Carpe diem.
Broadway theaters simultaneously dimmed their marquees at 8 p.m. on Wednesday in honor of this great artist. Thursday of last week was James Gandolfini’s funeral. On Youtube I recommend this video to get the feeling of BEING THERE at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. This is a beautiful tribute featuring fans who traveled long distances to be with other Tony Soprano fans. They simply could not stay away.
Finally, here is quotation that I chanced upon. (Ha-ha! Remember there are no coincidences.) I was looking over E.’s shoulder at the exact moment that her radio blared out the bad news from Rome. This was the sentence she was reading from Richard Ford’s Lay of the Land:
I mean, isn’t that the most cherished pre-post humus dream of all? The news of our premature demise catching everyone so unprepared that beautiful women have to leave fancy dinner parties to be alone for a while, their poor husbands looking around confused; grown men find they can’t finish their after-lunch remarks at the Founders Club because they’re so moved. Children wake up sobbing. Dogs howl, hounds begin to bark. All because something ineffable has been erased, and the world knows it and cannot be consoled.
-Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007), 74–75.
I liked the part about the dogs howling and the hounds barking… but seriously… this quotation is possibly more appropriate for the death of giants like JFK or the eventual, but looming, demise of Nelson Mandela, however, it is also in some wondrous way fitting for our beloved James Gandolfini.
Upon hearing this announcement E. put her book down, took off her reading glasses,and wept.
I didn’t run out of steam in my last blog: Pet in Cabin. I ran out of space. I am still steamed up about what occurred on those two long, international Freddy flights.
As it is, I am confined to venting through writing this blog for E. What rankles me, rattles my chain, is that even with the expensive price tag on his ticket, Freddy was forced not only to endure humiliation and physical pain (never being allowed to legally relieve himself) but also a few insults, threats and derisive laughter from airline employees and airport personnel! Granted, Ms. Em knew from the beginning what was required of a pet traveling as cabin baggage in an airplane. What she and Freddy were not acquainted with were the insufferable airport rules governing any and all four-footed creatures within their hallowed halls.
To be fair, I have to mention the one compassionate person that Ms. Em and Freddy encountered on their round trip nightmare flights from Europe to the USA. Just to remind you, I am reprinting some background… what came before… with an excerpt from my original diatribe: Pet in Cabin.
“The trip back to Europe was more eventful and even more distressing since after a while poor Freddy had an idea about what was to come. All was well until the pilot announced that a storm was brewing, that the plane had to wait it out … and this took 2 hours while patient Freddy remained taciturn in his friendly carrier. When the pilot announced to the hot and chagrined passengers that they might miss their next connections Freddy started to cry, and so loudly that the Steward warned Ms. Em that she might not be able to get on her long overseas flight with such a yowling animal! E. begged the man not reveal this to anyone officially … that she would calm her dog … somehow.”
… and she did… by performing an illegal action and allowing Freddy to pee on a puppy pad in the women’s restroom after which she was accosted and threatened with a $500 fine for her act of kindness.
Here’s what happened on the overseas flight just when nervous Ms. Em and frantic Freddy began to suspect that there were no sympathetic “good” people out there in the airline and airport world. The purser on their overnight flight back to Europe proved them wrong.
It was the purser who saved what might have been an intolerable nine hours for all her passengers. By the time the aircraft had reached its cruising altitude, inconsolable Freddy was truly living in the NOW; his own private Hell. He was whimpering and whining … then out and out yelping to be let out of his carrier. E. was frightened and mortified. Nothing I could whisper to her calmed the hysterical puppy-mom. Her agitated state only contributed to Freddy’s frenzied cries for freedom. Just as E. was sure that the plane would either turn around or parachute the two of them out of there, a lovely, tall woman with a decided aura of command identified herself as the purser of the flight and asked how she might help.
You might (as Ms. Em did) be asking the question: “What is a purser?”
“An airline, or flight, purser usually oversees the flight attendants to ensure that passengers are safe and comfortable. He or she may confirm that all baggage is safely secured and all passengers are served refreshments efficiently. The purser also makes sure that safety procedures are carefully obeyed at all times. Sometimes called the cabin manager, he or she may also be called on if there is a disturbance in the cabin, and may need to complete detailed reports after the flight lands.”
This woman had the authority to change the rules for the benefit of all. She told Ms. Em that in spite of what the green tag (the signed agreement attached to the carrier) stated, that she as flight purser was allowing Freddy to escape from his prison. Lapdog Freddy could fulfill his dearest wish. The good Samaritan purser personally brought a bowl of water and an extra soft pillow to make the pup and his mom more comfortable. Freddy’s wide-eyed amazement and peaceful sigh of relief as he was lifted up and out of his confinement seemed to thrill everyone witnessing the drama. The rest of the long flight was blessedly uneventful. I felt compelled to add this little story, this light at the end of the tunnel … to be fair. There are dog lovers, humanists and compassionate hearts out there too!
However, if you love your pet and might someday travel long distances with your beloved and respected family member (in a Pet in Cabin approved carrier) take action!
And that was to be my concluding sentence for this blog … until I had a thought: I am advising readers to take action without recommending a plan of action. I had to chew on that for only a minute or two. Ah-ha! Of course! Logical deduction brought me to the idea of contacting the Humane Society or SPCA International.
Wishing to be informed about what I was recommending, I scanned the sites. Horrified… I watched only a few of The Humane Society’s rescue videos. Suddenly I realized that no matter how angry I am about Freddy’s Pet in Cabin experience that there are other pups out there suffering in ways no one could ever imagine.
My advice is to watch this puppy mill rescue video at the risk of your heart and sanity. I was appalled as well as heartbroken. I also came to the realization that what poor Freddy suffered is nothing in comparison to the abuse actually occurring in puppy mills all over the US and in Europe. How is it possible that we have so many cruel and ignorant, unfeeling people who feel entitled to torture animals for profit? Watch this video… and weep.
Write an email or use this site http://www.aspca.org/Home/Fight-Animal-Cruelty/report-animal-cruelty to learn how to report suspected animal cruelty anywhere.
I created this dog blog to generate even more interest in my book Learning to Live with Fritz which was ‘authored’ by E. Rawlins, my opera diva mistress. Note the use of the quotation marks above. I was the voice dictating, editing and rewriting her manuscript to make sure she got it right. Finally, I was satisfied that her comical memoir was self-critical and entertaining enough to appeal not only to dog lovers but to opera buffs and individuals interested in the spiritual aspect of their hairy housemates. Let me just cut to the chase: Buy the book or download the eBook… you won’t regret it!
Now I can get to my real topic of the day: How I found out about the Monks of New Skete, their German shepherd dogs, training manuals, books and general philosophy… including their beautiful practice of Inseeing, the relationship of human to companion animal… soul to soul. Yes, you read this correctly… as in non-separation.
Susan hosts her own unpredictable and eclectic radio show: The Sound Kitchen… where you never know WHAT you’ll be served! It is an international listener interactive radio program; it features essays on various topics written by listeners from all over the world, interviews with artists, scientists, peace activists, and offers an exciting weekly quiz.
The subject of the interview was E.’s poetry collection: Rather Light Candles Than Rage Against the Darkness and featured her reading of “I don’t know how to hate you” (page 67) a prose poem describing a cultural collision and its surprising outcome. *
It was The Sound Kitchen’s Susan Owensby who contacted E. by email after reading Learning to Live with Fritz.
“Your book stirred up so many emotions! Sad, happy – even the little green monster (why didn’t Burton or Taylor or Heloise send ME messages?), but after a good week’s’ digestion, this is what your book has brought to me: the readiness to have a dog again. You have certainly heard of The Monks of New Skete – the dog Brothers? I just remembered them the other day. Anyway, I just got their books and am loving them … You should read them.”
Of course (!) E. learned about the Brothers from the fabulous Ms.Owensby… but it was I… I was the one who consistently whispered reminder after reminder… until E. actually bought the Monk’s books and saved our sweet Freddy’s future… just in the nick of time.
Although through E.’s ineptness… Freddy has become a true chickaholic, this could work out to be (hopefully) his greatest character defect. He will certainly be socialized and more lovingly trained with the helpful guidance of the Brothers and Ms. Owensby on our side… that is if I have anything to say about it.
*Listen to Susan Owensby’s The Sound Kitchen Sunday 30 May 2010 – Interview and poetry reading with E. Rawlins
Puppy Freddy is at this moment (I try to get my teachings about living in the NOW… as often as possible) benefiting from my magnificent discovery! After consulting the books on puppy training by the dedicated Monks of New Skete, (who have been breeding and training German Shepherd dogs for over thirty years) I persuaded Ms. Em to do their inseeing exercise. You can try it too. Get down of the floor and look around … then look UP!
By doing this you get into the puppy perspective. Do you see the huge, looming potted plant with those enticing, droopy leaves? Notice that electrical cable-salad… all multicolored and twisting deliciously around the desk. Ah yes! The DESK… where something omnipotent rules the huge space that is your new human’s den? Are you able to see (and curb your instinct to investigate) those yummy-smelling leather contraptions that your human wears over his two back paws? Is this impossible to imagine? Try it.
This is the visual part of the empathy exercise that the Monks of New Skete advise those with a new puppy to practice. They have labeled this process: “Inseeing.” This term implies far more than just the visual aspect of interacting with your puppy. Here is a definition I found taken from an article by Morgan Van Wyck who has raised and trained his golden retriever Deva the New Skete way. Check out his article adapted from the Shambala Sun Magazine (Please note that all bold type is my idea of what’s important here).
The monks and dogs of New Skete
by Morgan Van Wyck
“The monastic experience calls one to go beyond words and to live, as Brother Christopher puts it, “a life without division.” It is an important point, since only in this way can one appreciate the extent to which, in the process of raising and training dogs, the monks have also enriched their own spiritual practice. Frequently, for example, the monks speak about the discipline of “inseeing,” a term they borrowed from their readings of the German poet Rilke.
Father Laurence, the abbot of New Skete, regards inseeing as the true meeting place of the contemplative mind with the natural world: “Inseeing is being willing to look at another living thing in a way that allows for seeing it in and of itself. It is respecting this ‘other’ for what it is, without trying to change it or own it. In this struggle to deepen one’s understanding one is enriched, given life, no matter how limited one’s success in this endeavor.”
This sounds good doesn’t it? Oh, if E. could have done that with me. If she could have found it in her heart to respect me, to look into me or just once in a while take the time to ask herself why I was behaving badly in certain situations. Had this been the case, there would have been no reason for her to write our book: Learning to Live with Fritz. Why? Because I am sure my dizzy opera diva and I would have gotten along better. I would have felt understood. I would have appreciated the peacefulness, the moments of silent human-canine communication. I would not have felt the need to teach such dramatic lessons. This empathy between us did not exist because Ms. Em was too involved with her divorce and her move back to Europe to save her flagging career. Along with those two life-changing events… meeting and recognizing the greatest love of her life was paramount in her mind and heart. She was an emotional basket case. Need I say more? She thought of me, merely as a traveling companion and mascot. I had to get her attention, didn’t I?
I cheerfully acknowledge torturing and embarrassing her so often because this was the only way I could teach her the lessons she so desperately needed to learn. All my tutorials were intentionally crafted to teach her about Being Here Now and living in the present moment. Be honest. This moment is the only moment that you-and all humans living on Planet Earth have. Can you change anything you did or said five minutes ago? (… and don’t you wish you could?) I rest my case.
All I was saying to E. was… “Slow down. Smell the flowers. Stay present. Concentrate on what you are doing, saying, hearing and seeing … right now.” Voila! What could be easier to comprehend? However, as any Zen Master will imply (but will never outright tell you)… the simplest lessons are the hardest to ‘get.’ I wanted her to THINK about who she was toting around with her. What impact was I (the tiny, bellicose and despotic Maltese nutcase) making on her psyche? I tried to make her see that the way she was scurrying around trying to make all the pieces of her life fit together… was pure nonsense. She never thought about what I might have been trying to tell her! E. didn’t think about this until I was long gone and she felt the vacuum of my absence. Don’t let this happen to you and your dog … please.
Inseeing means to take your dog seriously. Your dog is not a plaything, although he loves to play. Your pup is not your possession, although you paid a lot of money for her, or rescued him from a shelter. An Inseeing statement of purpose might go like this:
“We are in this together. Let us join forces for friendship and companionship and live our lives from this moment on as equal partners in sharing and learning about each other.”
If E. had known about Inseeing she might have discovered something about herself and I would not have taken such drastic measures to get her attention… but then, as I said before… our book would not have been written and this blog would not exist. Now I ask you… hasn’t everything turned out perfectly? You bet. Ms. Em learned all about unconditional love and I received a much deserved bonus of ruling over this Dog Blog as Whispering Fritz! Spiritual journeys are rarely trouble-free and as straightforward as we would like them to be.