Leela at the Lake, Part One
Once or twice a year, I drive to central New York to house sit for really special friends. This year, Leela was invited. Did I mention that these people are really, really good friends; special friends? I had my apprehensions, only having Leela for 2 months and both of us still on a learning curve. Taking her with me to house sit raised all the flags in me about wanting her to be the perfect house guest. She still wasn’t perfect in my house, and yet, off to the lake we went for two weeks of housing sitting.
I learned right away what it’s like to pack for a road trip with a puppy: food, treats, dishes, mats, beds, toys, towel for muddy feet, potty bags, leashes, brush and nail clippers. Need I say more? I was so busy packing all those things that I forgot the motion sickness pills the vet gave me and didn’t realize it until we were too far along to turn back. And yes, somewhere along the way, she got a bit sick but I never heard a peep out of her. For her, it was a colossal nap time. We stopped along the way because puppy mommy wanted to give her baby a break. It was, after all, a 5-hour trip. Darn it, I had to pee and yet, couldn’t see leaving her in the car, so I managed to wait until we arrived at our destination. I envisioned people breaking my car window because I’d left her in the car, even though it wasn’t hot. I thought about posting a sign that stated, “She’s already peed. Now her mom needs to. I promise I’ll be right back. She’s fine.” But I didn’t. I just waited. How do other doggy moms do it?
She was so excited when we stopped, I thought she’d never pee. “Are we here? Is this the place we’re going to?” It happened to be the back of a McDonald’s that had a small ‘wild’ area with grass and rocks, so I’m sure she would have been more than happy to stay and smell the burgers and fries all day; more than happy if that were our destination.
But back in the car we went.
The lake was instantly a magical place for Leela. It didn’t take long for her to feel right at home (in a good way – not all the ways that I’d been apprehensive about). There was a backyard forest and hills and a big lake, new sights and smells. A nest of Red Winged Blackbirds was nearby and they weren’t too happy with Leela’s choice of favorite spots. But we survived and so did they. Chasing robins became a favorite pastime. Never catching any made me happy.
I need to add that in addition to house sitting, we were also cat sitting for Kizzie. Kizzie was used to three standard Poodles, but Leela, that was something altogether different. They’d touch noses, then Leela would get so excited, thinking they were going to play, that she’d cross one of Kizzie’s boundaries and get hissed at or swatted. Now, Kizzie had lots of high places to be and there was a gate until Leela learned she could jump it. Still, when Leela thought of Kizzie from time to time, there was much tail wagging, barking, hissing and swatting. I wanted to create the perfect environment for Kizzie, who I’d developed a relationship with over the years. Well, occasionally, I got swatted, too, probably for bringing this beast; this hyena, into the house.
This is probably a good time to share why I refer to Leela as the occasional hyena.
Leela’s energy connection with Catherine
While I was house sitting, I’d wanted to get some dog training from Catherine of Paws Please Dog Training. She’d worked with my friends’ Poodles and they were awesome companions. Catherine also did energy work with animals.
Before Catherine came to the house for our first training session, I asked if she might try connecting with Leela to learn more about those precious few months before I adopted her. Leela shows no trauma or aggression; no hoarding or guarding, so I was curious. What I got was not what I expected.
Catherine came to the house with some interesting information. I’d sent her a photo of Leela earlier, as the conduit for connection. Catherine said that she was in her doggy day care center when she connected with Leela and didn’t get anything about her early months at all. What she got was something about Leela’s past life. In fact, as the energy came through, all the dogs in doggy day care began acting strangely. You see, Leela shared with Catherine that, in a past life, she’d been a hyena.
Well, of course she had; my dingo dog had been a hyena. Made perfect sense to me. So, when I refer to Leela as the occasional hyena, that’s why. We have to figure out how to help the occasional hyena be a dog in this lifetime.
Immediately, the energy was different with Catherine. I wrote in ‘the first 60 days’ that I felt the first trainer’s energy was very authoritative; that it impacted how I felt with Leela when I corrected behavior. I felt I wasn’t gaining relationship. I may have been losing it, actually.
With Catherine, there was structure and an understanding of canine behavior that suited my own energy. Yes, you have to lead. Yes, the dog has to want to behave for you, not feel forced to behave.
Clicker and treat bag. More things to balance, manage and remember to bring on our outings. And yet, it fell easily into place. Less stress on my thumb, which the previous trainer told me to use to loop the leash (and people would know I’d been professionally trained – What people really care about that?) using my middle finger so I could also hold the clicker. No arthritis in that finger so it felt better right away.
We worked on not jumping on people. We worked on approaching people differently. Still working on it and open to any volunteers who’d like to be the jumped-on person as we continue to learn. We also worked on getting her to come when called (rather than turning and laughing as she runs away). These are the big things when you want your dog to be social.
There’s a great farmers market in Hamilton, NY, so Leela and I used that as our homework location, meeting and greeting so many people. I let them all know that they were helping to train her, because some people said, “Oh, I don’t care if she jumps,” to which I had to reply, “I understand and I do. She needs to learn not to jump. Will you help?” Frankly, she jumps with the force of freight train, so she really needs to learn not to jump.
More to write about Leela at the Lake. Stopping here for now.
The First 60 Days
I waited 3 years to even consider another animal companion after losing my Airedale, Harry. The wait was grief-related and also based on my home situation. My son’s dog, Roxy, couldn’t always manage the stairs up to my son’s second floor apartment, so she stayed downstairs with me most of the time. She missed Harry, too, so we consoled each other. She had the best of both worlds and I still had a dog in the house.
We lost Roxy late last summer and suddenly, the house felt so empty.
I don’t make decisions easily. I wish that meant I had keen discernment. What it really means is I angst over choice, for fear of making the wrong choice; for fear of the permanence of choice or what I’m missing having chosen, and for fear of the grief and effort it takes to right a wrong choice, when that’s necessary.
Leela came to me through One Love Rescue, Inc., a foster care organization here on Long Island. She was the first dog I met and, after several days of decision-angst and my son’s encouragement that she would be perfect for me, I said yes. She was a rescue from Alabama, found on the street with another dog that ‘clearly wasn’t related to her’, according to One Love Rescue. She was sweet and social and about 4-1/2 to 5 months old.
There’s this imaginary story you create in your head about what having a new puppy will be like: the cuddles, the puppy clumsiness and pranks, the sweet sound of sleeping when you’ve only been in the world for 4-5 months. I’d also created another chapter to that story that Leela would become my forest therapy dog when I lead walks, sitting patiently by my side, unaffected by people, other dogs or anything else a dog might find curiously interesting. But that last part was for later. Now, it was sweet, clumsy, cuddly time.
It was nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. I had, it seemed, adopted Leela, the warrior princess; a puppy who looked like a Dingo dog rather than a cuddly ball of fur. Technically, dingoes are not a breed of dog. They're only semi-domesticated and are just as much wolf as they are dog. So far, it's unclear if Canis lupus dingo was ever fully domesticated. Some evidence suggests that they may once have been pets, but were abandoned and left to revert to their wild state. You can find dingo blood in Australian Kelpies and Australian cattle dogs, the latter of which I believe is part of Leela’s DNA.
I used to laugh at people who tested their dog’s DNA. Now, I am one of those people who is considering testing my dog’s DNA to see what comes up in her mix. And then again, I stop and think. She is who she is: a dog that no one seems to be able to identify. Her own unique self. (You'll want to read the next segment - Leela at the Lake - to learn why this is titled, "The Occasional Hyena".)
People comment that she must have some German Shepherd in her, and yet her legs, front and back, are long and getting longer. Dutch Shepherd is the next choice, which feels closer than the German breed. Australian Cattle dog, because her chest and belly are colored white with black spots and the hair is much longer. They also have the ears and were originally a crossbreed between Dingos and Collies. Catahoula Leopard dog (uh, no), Treeing Tennessee Brindle (except for the ears, this is an excellent match!) And the list goes on. Now, through my own online research, Akita-Dutch Shepherd mix seems possible. But then, there’s the Dutch Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix and I say, “Yes! That’s Leela!” So, the mystery remains.
Leela didn’t start out being Leela. Her first name was Hootie. What an evil thing to do to a little puppy. No disrespect intended since the rescue organization has hundreds of puppies that require names. But really? Hootie? Since One Love Rescue, Inc., is a foster-to-adoption organization, the first couple of trips to the vet for shots and spaying were all Hootie trips. I had trouble saying, “Yes, this is Hootie, and she’s here for …” When she was spayed, the day she officially became mine, her tag said, “Leela.” Enough of this Hootie nonsense. I’m done. Leela means Divine Play, or Sport/Play, depending on where you search for results. Derived from the Arabic Leila (night, dark beauty) or the Persian Leila (dark-haired). In Sanskrit, it looks like this – लीला. I thought it looked like hearts.
At any rate, after the first few weeks, it was clear that my ideal dog relationship wasn’t turning out as I’d intended. Leela was smart and quick to learn. She was also quick to ignore what was clearly something she knew how to do. I don’t feel like sitting, no matter how many times you say it. Drop it? Drop what? And barking. For a dog that barks at nothing, Leela began to bark at me. After we’d run through the list of reasons why she was barking: out, eat, teething, needs a toy retrieved from under the sofa, etc., there was no godly reason to bark at me, except that she could. And then there was stalking. I’d throw the ball and she’d run after it, only to turn around, look at me, and slow-stalk me, eyes laser-focused on me, until, breaking into a frenzied run, she’d throw herself at my body. Really? Are we having fun yet?
As she’s gotten better at “Fetch”, the stalking has lessened, although sometimes, she runs to the ball, circles around the back of it, and then runs headlong for me, leaping within 2-3 feet of me. She’s responding to “No. Stop” much better these days but I’m impressed at just how far she can leap, even if it’s at me.
With all this going on, I decided to hire a trainer. My vet recommended someone who was reasonable and came to the house to train me. That’s really who’s being trained. Not the dog. The human. He was a kind man who immediately showed me that Leela could be ‘the perfect dog’ with lots of references to the human being a ‘good leader’. Well, I must suck at leadership, which is ironic since I teach it to organizations. At one point, he said, “Linda, look” and I looked. I half expected a treat.
Working with this trainer led me to an interesting question. Is there a masculine energy associated with leadership and training, or is that a choice, and there’s also a feminine energy associated with leadership and training? There was a thin, short lead for Leela to wear around the house. I needed to keep her close, so keeping my feet on the lead, so she had to lie down was my assignment. I liked that she sat on the back of the sofa, watching the world go by (not barking, mind you) but that was 1) elevating herself inappropriately in rank and 2) not paying attention to inside or me. The free spirit in me thought that if my parents did that to me, I’d have poked my eyes out with a spoon in a NY minute. And, oh wait. They did do that in their own way and I remember how I rebelled and how my spirit was broken often over silly things as well as monumental things. I didn’t like it.
The next lesson/challenge was taking her for walks. He sold me a nose harness, assuring that it didn’t hurt her (physically, that is. Her soul was another story.) and advising me that if people ask if she bites because it looks a bit like a muzzle, his reply was, “Oh, she could bite you if she wanted to.” Uh, no. Not saying that to anyone. Leela hated the nose harness, often throwing herself on the ground until I realized (quickly) that I was dragging a dog, not walking one. Ironically, she walked perfectly in it by my side and there was something that felt outwardly assertive/even aggressive that I just couldn’t bear. “Are you a good leader, or a bad leader?” ala Wizard of Oz (Are you a good witch or a bad witch), comes to mind. Now, she walks well without the nose harness and she gets time to sniff and wander and be a dog. Everyone is happy most of the time. Ask me what I did and I can’t tell you. I have no idea except to say I worked with her and we figured it out.
At one point, during the bark-until-the-human-cracks phase, I called this trainer again. He’d promised that he wouldn’t keep adding lessons so he made more money than I did, and yet, barking, it seemed, required another lesson. He started talking about teething and how good leaders always have a toy handy. You know, it takes me 3 trips on a good day into the backyard, just to have everything I need to sit and enjoy the backyard with Leela. Oops, I forgot the treats. Heck, let me get you a ball. Now my coffee is cold. Wait, maybe I could read that article I’ve been meaning to read. Good leader be damned, I’m doing my best.
The straw, final or otherwise, was when he told me that we’d require a lesson about barking because it would take him 40 minutes to explain it to me and then I’d need to agree to it. “Just tell me how to make it stop!” I wanted to say. Now I know how Leela felt when sitting just wasn’t an option for her. Instead, I said thank you and the training relationship ended with me feeling deeply that there’s got to be another way; a kinder way. After all, teaching leadership and how to create a culture of engagement, you are supposed to create the environment in which engagement happens. You can’t MAKE anyone engage. I need to work on what motivates her and how to use that to our advantage and benefit.
Things haven’t always been so rosy (yes, these stories were the good ones). Peeing on my living room rug sent me into a spiral of despair more than once. All I really learned from that is that if I were being murdered and screaming with all my doors and windows open, the neighbors wouldn’t have the slightest curiosity about what was happening. Good to know.
Everything I have comes at a great cost to me. Being a solopreneur, money is always dear. So, when something is damaged or ruined, it breaks my heart, because often, I can’t replace it. The last time I spiraled into despair, I was cutting my living room rug into 3 pieces for the trash people to take away and looking up how to get urine stains out of hardwood floors (It turns out that hydrogen peroxide works). I practiced what I planned to say the next morning to One Love Rescue; about why this wasn’t working and why it couldn’t continue. I’d reached the end of my rope and I was hanging from it that day.
Then a friend said to me, “You know, she’s a lot like you: cuddly AND a warrior. Maybe you’ve met your match.” Strangely, that comforted me. It encouraged me. Who had I decided Leela would be? Who was she really? When I looked at her as this little one whose only been in the world for 6 months, I was impressed and inspired. She’s fearless. She’s confident. She’s got her own mind and a past I know little about. How do you keep the warrior princess spirit AND respect household boundaries? It really was up to me to be present and attentive and curious about who she was; who she is and learn from that; to be a better leader in my own way that keeps the warrior princess spirit alive in me, too.
here’s no trainer to tell me that; just my intuition and reading her cues. I knew that intuitively. I felt it when guided to go against what felt right to me. I just couldn’t own it as a method. What a huge learning that was for me!
Curiously, we are snuggling more as a result and having more fun. We are two cuddly, warrior princesses at the end of the day, both feeling good about ourselves and each other. In the end, that’s all I ever really wanted.
Walking around a lake with my puppy, Leela, the other day, I couldn’t help but notice all the creatures on the road: caterpillars, snails, slugs. It had rained the previous evening and through the night, so the ground was still damp; the perfect environment for all the creeping-crawling-sliming things.
Where were they going, I wondered? Crossing the road – to get to the other side? That seemed a Herculean task given their size and the width of the road as well as the time it would take to get there.
How much time would it take them, I wondered? Even more curious, how long do they get to live in optimum conditions that crossing this road this morning is what they've chosen to do? Snails - maybe 2-3 years or more. Caterpillars - I guess it depends on the caterpillar. Slugs – 1 to 5 years.
Maybe that’s enough time to do whatever it is they do, so that moving this slowly across a road is time well spent.
Then, it struck me. They were taking it slow even though their natural lives weren’t more than the blink of an eye for us, because this is what they do: they wait for a good rain; cross the road to get to the other side. That’s it, and here we are, we humans, dashing about, waving our arms, wasting precious time, of which we’ve been given an abundance, and for what?
We are rarely satisfied or fulfilled; rarely happy with ourselves or our lives. There’s always something to improve or change or let go of; always something we’re told we’re lacking so we shop and fill our lives with things. Is that our version of crossing the road? Is that what we’re meant to do, or is there a deeper lesson in the slow, steady path of a snail, caterpillar or slug?
Here’s what I take away from that. Life is short. Take it slow.
“This isn’t the 1920s and people today have more respect for nature. Trees are not billboards designed to be written on, they’re living beings and you’d shouldn’t deface living beings. If you want to give yourself a tattoo, that’s your business, but tattooing someone else without their permission is just wrong! And tree carvings are tree tattoos.”
I recently visited Bayard Cutting Arboretum and the giant Weeping Beech tree, under whose branches there’s a boardwalk so we humans can walk around the base of this 130-year-old gentle giant and view her in all her magnificence … and all her tattoos.
She’s been defaced over the years with initials, names, words and hearts that beg the promise of love everlasting; a love which probably didn’t last as long as the scars on the tree will last. Permanent scars.
I spent some time with this tree this past week; this beautiful Weeping Beech; ironically named, for all the pain it’s felt with every knife carving into it. And yet, what I found was not anger, or victimization. What I found was a sadness and, something else; an immense honor in the scars it bears. As I placed my hand on this tree and listened, these were the words I imagined:
“Believe it or not, it got easier over the years to feel the sharp blade of someone or someones leaving a lasting legacy in my bark. Yes, at first, there was surprise, even horror, until I tried to understand them. I realized that those someones saw me as something capable of holding that legacy they probably didn’t even know they longed for; knowing that I’d live beyond them, carrying this moment in time far longer than any human could. I might even imagine that they believed other humans would come by and wonder ‘who carved this?’ or ‘who were these lovers, soulmates or was their love unrequited?’ I realized that they entrusted me to tell their story, or at least hold the mystery and wonder of their story. How sad that humans try so hard to be seen, known and heard! That their presence here on this planet isn’t enough for them. Too bad they couldn’t see this from the perspective of a tree; never moving from the spot on which I was seeded or planted and yet capable of dancing in the wind and being a home to the birds and other living beings! What more could these humans want?
I only wish they realized that I, too, was a living being, with a wish to create a legacy through my presence. That, while one carving might not be deep enough to allow pathogens in; that I’ll usually compartmentalize the wound and it will eventually heal over, that repeated carvings might allow an invasive fungus or microbe in; that leaving their legacy might end mine; that multiple carvings deface me to the point of unrecognizable bark until I am no longer a fine specimen of a Weeping Birch. I am now a fine specimen of human ignorance. And one ignorance leads to another; permission to carved something in me because someone, before you, did so already.
I hold hundreds of scars; tattoos; evidence of human ignorance and longing. I’ve survived. In fact, I live to be a teacher of these ignorant acts of humans; not with anger or resentment. You can see how strong I am; that I continue to grow in my one spot allotted me for life. I live to be a teacher of kindness and compassion. When someone places their hands on me today, there is a sweetness and gentleness to that touch. Sometimes, there is even an apology, a whisper, “Please forgive what they did to you”; oh-so-softly, so only I can hear it.
What more could a tree want in that moment?”
Linda Lombardo 11/30/2018
 The laidbackgardener.blog
Those of us, living in the Northeast United States, are especially fond of Autumn, when the leaves on the trees turn a resplendent array of colors: the brightest yellows, reds, oranges or sometimes, yes, even the lowliest of browns. The crunch of the fallen leaves under foot is a harbinger of the deep rest that is to come; the temperature drops and we bundle up. It just feels right. It’s why it’s called Fall, right?
Leading forest therapy walks in the forest at this time of year holds some special invitations: all about letting go, and yet, there is more to it than that; more to it than a leaf changing color and falling off a tree. In fact, it’s quite the other way around. It is the tree that chooses, and it is the tree that pushes the leaves off its branches.
According to our botanists, when the days get colder and shorter, a hormone is triggered in the trees. Once the hormone is released, the trees begin to deposit cells where the leaf and the tree connect. These cells are called abscission cells; the word literally meaning scissors. As these cells build up, the leaf and the tree begin to separate until, finally, the leaf is severed from its connection to the tree and it falls. The tree literally pushes the leaf away. Once it’s done that, the tree heals itself producing another, specialized layer of cells.
Not all leaves are pushed away and not all trees do this. Our evergreens keep their needle-like leaves year-round. Only Deciduous trees release their leaves in order to survive the winter and prepare for new growth in the Spring. Imagine the dead-weight of all those leaves if they didn’t fall. How would a tree create a new growth without releasing the past?
And the big question is … how might this inform our Human lives?
We talk about letting go; releasing what doesn’t serve us. So many of our global stories no longer serve us and yet, we hold on. Same holds true for personal stories: people, places, our clutter, money and our jobs. How will we invite new growth if our arms are full of old stories; our hearts full of grief and our minds so cluttered that we can no longer bear the silence in which discovery emerges? What would it take to create that release; that slow and steady cutting off of the thing(s) no longer needed; in fact, harmful to us if we allow them to remain?
An invitation to explore this in concert with a tree should come as no surprise. Who else to teach us how to release, to push off the unwanted? At the same time, let’s not forget those vivid colors; the red, gold, and orange colors of release. To be released with such love; not quietly, no, with splendor. What a gift!
How might you release an old story with love, with splendor?
Go into the forest, or park, or preserve. Find a tree with color surrounding it. I invite you to pick up some leaves: one, or as many as you can hold, and raise your arms up high, as if you were a tree, it’s branches full of the leaves that once gave you life. Name them, your stories, if you choose. Otherwise, simple stand with your leaves until your arms get tired; until you get tired of standing with these leaves from a season past. Then one by one, or all at once, imagine building a cellular wall between you and the leaves, notice their colors. They do not go quietly, do they? Once you’ve made the separation between you and your leaves, release them; push them off. Wait. Don’t go yet. What does it feel like to release them? Hands, free of old stories. Wiggle those fingers; maybe even wave your arms. Yes!
The tree also teaches us that there’s a resting period between this act of love, the freedom of release and new growth. A deep resting time to trust that we’re in the mystery of something extraordinary; something primordial. So, I invite you to rest, deeply. Don’t even consider Spring. The tree doesn’t and yet, it buds and blooms, and grows new leaves every Spring without fail. It trusts that’s how it works.
Time to trust how you work; how the world works in interbeing with you. Sweet dreams. See you in Spring.
Linda Lombardo, certified Forest Therapy Guide