Volunteer Time at Scout Mountain Ultra Trail

Last weekend, the dogs and I traveled up to Pocatello, Idaho to volunteer at the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail race with my brother and a group of people from the Pocatello Running Club.  We needed to get up early, meet my brother’s friend, Matt, and hike in to the aid station about a mile to start setting up gear that had been dropped off the night before with ATVs.  My brother and I decided to take two cars to the trailhead, just in case Charlotte didn’t make it all day (it was a long day, and she’s only 4 1/2 months old).  I had visions of her tied to a tree and barking all day at the runners.

We did not get much sleep the night before.  For whatever reason, Charlotte would not settle down and was awake every hour to go outside from 10pm until 3am.  I finally went out to the car at 3am and got a couple of her stuffed toys and she kind of slept for a couple of hours and then wanted to go out again at 5am.  We snoozed until 6:30 and then it was time to get going.  I felt like it was going to be a really long day…

My brother made me breakfast, which was good, because I usually don’t eat breakfast and I think it really helped to get me going for the day.  We left Franklin in the backyard with a peanut butter Kong to chew on (because he is a good boy) but I didn’t trust Charlotte to stay in the yard for 10+ hours.  There’s not much phone reception where we were on the mountain, so if she did get out and someone called us, we might not have even gotten the call.

So we picked up Matt and drove up to the trailhead.  Charlotte was all chipper and ready to go, prancing up the trail.  At one point, my brother said, “Wow, a deer… she (Charlotte) smelled it, but didn’t run after it.”  Thank God.

When we got to the aid station area, we started setting up and getting food and drinks ready, which took about an hour.  One other woman was with us (Louise) and the running club hadn’t shown up yet.  Turns out, they would show up later because some of them were sweeping the first part of the race before heading up (talk about a long day!).

After we were mostly set up, I took Charlotte for a hike up to the Frog Pond, about a mile away.  She had fun snooping along in the creeks along the way.  On the way back we met the bartender from Pebble Creek Ski Area and her daughter, and a man on a motorbike whom Charlotte stopped for and was very cautious, waiting on the side of the trail.

As the day went on, Charlotte roamed around the aid station and mostly stayed off to the side of the action.  She said hi to a lot of the runners but didn’t jump on them.  I was helping at the drinks and ice station most of the morning, and she stayed right nearby, snuggled into the base of a tree.  I tethered her to the tree when the foot traffic was really heavy and she started barking at one point.  “Oh no, ” I thought.  “Here we go.”  I let her off the leash to let her go and get a drink in the nearby creek, and she just looked up at me and squatted to pee.  “Oh is that why you were barking?  You had to go potty?”  Such a good puppy.

There were several times in the afternoon when I was looking around for her and kind of started to panic, thinking she had wandered off or followed some of the runners up the trail.  She was found, several times, sleeping under an aid station table in the shade.  She got so tired in the afternoon that she decided she no longer wanted to sleep on the ground, but wanted to be in a camp chair so she climbed up and took a nap.  She was totally fed up with the biting flies and mosquitos 8 hours into the day (such a long day for a puppy) and when we finally dumped the left-over ice out of the cooler, she sat her little buns on the pile of ice and cooled her belly on it.

We hiked out, and she pranced right along ahead of us, looking back every few minutes to make sure we were coming.

We got home and she was happy to see Franklin (and he was happy to see us), the dogs ate their dinner, and promptly fell asleep on the kitchen floor.

I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have such an amazingly smart and agreeable little puppy.  I’m so proud of Charlotte Jane.


Charlotte, stretching her legs on the way to Frog Pond


Me and Charlotte Jane taking a break from setting up the aid station


Charlotte contemplates her situation and her water bowl as Elizabeth looks on


Charlotte got tired of napping on the ground, so she climbed into a camp chair for her extended afternoon nap


Charlotte cooling her jets with Ariane after a long day volunteering


Skipping Class: a puppy truant

We skipped out on puppy class yesterday evening.  I just couldn’t find the motivation to go.  Here’s the thing:  Charlotte gets really frustrated there, with all the clickers and commotion going on.  It’s hard for her to focus and I can tell she is frustrated because she forgets her name, doesn’t listen, and sits in the middle of the room barking.  She really is a good puppy for me outside of the class.  I understand the fact that, “She needs to be able to do things when the situation is difficult.”  But you know what?  She does.  She already does that.

Yesterday morning, I went up to Park City with my friend Alyssa and her dog Kona, and Charlotte and Watson for a trail hike/run.  We hiked up for a little over 2 miles and didn’t see many people, only a handful of mountain bikers who were all very courteous.  Charlotte jumped up to say “Hi!” but only when they were stopped on the side of the trail, and she did get down when I told her to.

She was actually as much of an angel as a 4 1/2 month old puppy can be.  She stuck around, came when she was called, and was not a complete nuisance.  She has good mentors in Watson and Kona for how to behave on the trail.

Towards the end of the hike, we came along two older gentlemen on the trail.  At this point, we were about 4 miles into our 5 1/2 mile adventure, so I’m sure Charlotte was getting a little tired.  She was up ahead and as she approached the men, I told her, “No jumping!  No jumping!”  and you know what?  She didn’t jump up!  Only when one of the men started really fussing over her to say hello did she start to get really excited and did a half-jump onto his knees.  He assured me it was all his fault that she had jumped up, and that he is guilty of many dogs’ disobedience.

Charlotte is going with Mountain Mutts again today while I am at work.  I’m so happy that she has a place to run and play and learn on her own terms, in an environment that suits her.  We’ll keep working on basic commands at home and in the Park.  For now, she is an amazing trail dog which was my number one goal for her.





Charlotte Jane vs. Charlotte Duane

Ok, first off, I need to be completely honest and say that Charlotte sucks at puppy class.  The amount of distractions with the other puppies around is insane.  She hears multiple clickers going off all at the same time and I think it probably drives her crazy.  She doesn’t even know her name in puppy class.  I click and treat her and do my best to get her to focus in on me, but she really just can’t do it with all of the distractions.  There’s a couple of dogs in particular who drive her crazy.  I can tell she just wants to get them outside and run them into the ground, but we have to be civilized in puppy class and mind our manners.  It’s hard.

It was this past week with my neighbor Erika that we decided to call Charlotte “Charlotte Duane” when she is doing something bad.  In Erika’s family, all of their dogs have had the middle name “Duane” whenever they did something wrong.  The name certainly fits Charlotte in certain situations, and she was definitely in fine form as Charlotte Duane the last two weeks at puppy class.  Just like last week, she was sitting in the middle of the room, leash taut to her neck, barking.  We had a “meet and greet” training exercise where the dogs needed to go up to each other, sniff each other politely, and then turn away when called by their handlers.  Charlotte Duane was like, “OHMYGOD, you are the coolest dog EVER!  Do you want to play?” all wiggles and grins and I kid you not every other dog and handler was like, “Get that crazy black lab away from us.”  To which Charlotte Duane’s response was, “Wait, what?  We have to go?  They’re not interested?  But WHY?!?…

And then there were the games.  We were supposed to have them play with a handkerchief, a bell, a light that when tapped went on and off, a basket.  What did Charlotte Duane do?  She climbed into the box that was holding the toys to eat some stray kibble that was in there.  Seriously, head, paws, and front end all in the box pushing the toys out of the way to get the food.  Butt in the air with tail wagging.  I was so embarrassed.  She really is such a smart dog!  Why does she lose her mind and get all stupid at puppy class?  She’s like the one kid at the party who gets all hyped up on sugar and is like, “Let’s PARTY!!!” And all the other kids just stare at him with eyes wide and mouth open and gaping.

Contrast this bad puppy to the puppy I know at home; the puppy I know on the trails and in my own neighborhood.  That good puppy is the one I know as Charlotte Jane.  Sure, she gets excited around other people and dogs and jumps up, but we’re working on that, and she’s just a four-month-old puppy.  She’s actually shown a little improvement the past few days as far as the jumping up on people.  Several days ago, we were hiking on a trail above Salt Lake City.  Charlotte saw a group of people:  a couple of ladies and a young boy.  She started to jump up and I told her, “OFF!”  I told the boy to tell her “Off!” and you know what she did?  She got down and stopped jumping on them.  She sat on the trail and wiggled and let them pet her.


Charlotte Jane the trail dog

Later that same hike, she was about 30 yards ahead of me on the trail when another woman with a dog called up to us, “My dog isn’t very good around other dogs!” as she got her dog clipped on the leash.  I called to Charlotte and she looked back to me.  I clicked the clicker and she stayed where she was (and didn’t advance to the other dog).  She and I did this one more time and then on the third try, I said, “Charlotte here!  Come here!”  And she came.  From 30 yards away with another dog and person tempting her down the trail.  Charlotte Jane.

She is really such a sweet puppy and she tries so hard.  She plays hard and she loves hard.  She loves so much on one of my cats that the cat is terrified of her (Charlotte Duane).  She loves so hard that she cries in her kennel at night for the first few minutes because she wants to be with her family (Charlotte Jane).  She plays so hard with her friend Watson and typically lets him win (she doesn’t fight back) when he gets a little rowdy (Charlotte Jane).  She sticks around on the trail, off leash, and comes when she’s called (Charlotte Jane).  She did escape from the neighbors’ yard the other day (Charlotte Duane), which gave my neighbor Kate and I both a heart attack because we didn’t know where she had gone, but then she was found by another neighbor sitting in the front yard of her own house (Charlotte Jane).  She sits, stays, lies down, shakes hands, and rolls over all for treats (Charlotte Jane).


Puppy trail kisses are the best

Counting up the Charlotte Janes vs the Charlotte Duanes, she really is a good puppy.  She just gets challenged with there are other distractions, especially other dogs (puppies).  I’m planning on taking Charlotte to the park near our house to sit on a bench and sit, stay, and watch other people go by all while trying to be calm.  I’ll try and teach Charlotte to “settle” and not get too excited about the things around us but just let things “be” and hopefully she can earn a few treats and clicks while doing so.  Laurie, our puppy class instructor, said, “She might only earn one or two treats the first time you go.  But that’s ok.  It’s all about trying to get her to be good while there’s other distractions around and when things are difficult.”

I know that there will always be a part of Charlotte who is Duane.  But we are going to try and get Charlotte Jane to win out the majority of the time.


Charlotte Jane and her best buddy Watson, taking a break from playing wrestle-mania


So, so tired from playing so hard with friend Watson

Some days are just like, well… huh. Puppy Class with Charlotte

Charlotte and I have gone to two puppy-training classes at the kennel/daycare/vet office where I met her.  The first lesson day went spectacularly!  Charlotte was a star pupil.  Puppy training climg_86371.jpgass is not about socialization and playing.  It’s work.  Charlotte did a really great job to sit and wait quietly and listen to her clicker for the first time two weeks ago.  She earned a lot of treats and soon learned that being a good dog means getting lots of clicks and treats.

I was a bit skeptical of the clicker training method at first, but after working with Charlotte at home and on the trails with the clicker, she really seems to respond to it well, and it helps her to focus and listen to me.

Don’t get me wrong, she is still a four-month-old puppy.  She has her struggles.  The other night, after having a really busy day (me at work, Charlotte played out in the neighbors’ back yard for about 4 hours while I was gone) she really just couldn’t settle down and go to bed.  She barked in her kennel for about an hour.  I took her out to potty and got her a drink of water, but she still just wouldn’t settle down.  I ended up putting her in bed with me and she slept through the night.  I don’t want it to become commonplace for her to sleep in my bed with me, but sometimes when times are tough, you gotta break the rules to have a little snuggle time.

IMG_8850.JPGShe’s also been jumping up on things more (the couch to chase the cat, front paws on the kitchen counter, dining room table, and entryway table) and I’m thinking she is just going through an adolescent curiosity phase.  We are working on “sit and wait” and “down and stay” and she actually is doing pretty well with those commands as well.  I’m trying to keep lots of legal things around for her to chew on:  peanut butter Kongs and rawhide treats, and letting her know when she is good (instead of just yelling at her when she is bad).

So, to recount the second class of puppy training, I first need to say that Charlotte went out for almost 4 hours (car time and hiking time) with Mountain Mutts and my friend Nicole.  It was Charlotte’s first outing with the group, and Nicole got some really great photos of Charlotte tearing up the trails.  Previously, my Goldens, Franklin and Artemis, had gone with two other friends of mine who have dog hiking groups.  But I chose for Charlotte to go with Nicole because Charlotte’s best friend, Watson the terrier, goes with her and is a really great mentor for Charlotte.

I got off work a little after 5pm, and got home to get Franklin and Charlotte out for a quick stroll around the block before leaving for class.  I also fed Charlotte her dinner.  Looking at her, laying in her bed after eating dinner, I could tell she needed a nap, but we didn’t really have time for that.  Class started at 6:30, and Charlotte was asleep in the car on the way to class.

Unfortunately, it was raining, so the outdoor facilities at the kennel were unavailable for the class.  More folks and their dogs had also shown up class this time.  I was a little overwhelmed with the high energy of the class and the close proximity of the dogs, and I can only imagine how poor, tired Charlotte felt.

Class did not go well.  There were several times when Charlotte just sat in the middle of the room and barked.  She clearly looked like she was over it.  Once during the class, the instructor, Laurie, was giving the group some instructions and at the end of the explanation, she said, “Unless you are Charlotte, and then, well…. we’ll just take what we can get today.”

I went up to Laurie after the class and explained the situation, told her what Charlotte had done with the hiking group earlier that day, and we both agreed that Charlotte was just plain over-stimulated and probably needed a nap.  I thanked Laurie and told her we would see her next week, and that I was happy for what Charlotte did accomplish today:  trying to concentrate and do what she’s told even though she was tired and didn’t want to be there.  Laurie agreed, and said, “I wish everyone could understand that about puppies!”


Charlotte immediately zonked out in the car for the drive home from puppy class.

Charlotte and I did have a couple of great trail runs the past couple of days.  She’s been working on the command “here” with and without the clicker, and is circling back around after going ahead on her own (she never goes more than 10-20 yards).  I’m really super-proud of her, and happy that she is catching on so quickly to commands.  All this hard work early in her life is really paying off for the future, I can just tell.  I’m so lucky to have such a smart pup who wants to learn and please.


Beautiful Charlotte pup on the trail this weekend



Puppy trail kisses

Charlotte Takes to the Trails

Two months ago, I thought this day would never come:  the day that Charlotte turned 4 months old!  It seemed like it was an eternity away.  When I got her, two months ago, I never thought that Artemis wouldn’t be here to watch her grow up and teach her how to be a big dog.  That responsibility has fallen on the arthritic shoulders of Franklin, who is 14 1/2 years old.  Franklin is doing the best he can, but sometimes it seems that Charlotte expects too much from this old, tired dog!  He’s not really into how she pulls his tail and snaps at his heels.  He lets her know it’s not acceptable, and I suppose that is something that a puppy should learn at a young age.


Franklin (r) is teaching Charlotte (l) a little bit of patience.


Watson (l) is quickly becoming Charlotte’s best bud.

There’s also another dog in the picture:  Watson, the neighbors’ two year old terrier.  He and Charlotte have become best buds over the past two months.  He’s teaching Charlotte how to play and wrestle and how to be a good trail dog.

If you read in the puppy books on how to socialize your puppy, a lot is said about the importance of socializing your dog early.  But it’s also kind of a scary process, not because the pup can be intimidated by older dogs, but because they are not fully vaccinated until they are 4 months old.  So a lot of people think they can’t take their dogs out at all until they are fully vaccinated at 4 months old.  I can tell you, I couldn’t wait until the day that I could start taking Charlotte on walks in the neighborhood and on the trails just a few weeks later.  I can’t imagine trying to keep her contained to her house and yard until she was 4 months old.  I think she would have probably developed a lot of bad behaviors.

When Charlotte turned 3 months old, she got a DHPP+B vaccine, which includes distemper, adenovirus (hepatitis), parvo, parainfluenza, and bordatella protection.  The one I worried about most was parvo, after having a friend lose two golden retriever puppies to the virus several years ago.  It’s often found in parks, dog parks, and places “frequented by dogs” where poop is found (which could be the dang sidewalk outside my house for all I know).

I decided to keep Charlotte mostly contained to the back yard and the neighbors’ yard with Watson until she was just under 3 months old, then I asked the vet when she could go out into the neighborhood.  She got DHPP+B at two months old, and after getting her DHPP+B booster just shy of 3 months old, the vet said she could hit the streets 48 hours later.  Woohoo!  We started walking around the block regularly as soon as the 48 hour window had passed.  She got another booster about 3 weeks later, and after another 48 hours we were cleared to hit the trails!


Good Charlotte, sticking close by on the trail (leash available, just in case!)


Charlotte checks to see that I’m coming as Watson blazes the trail ahead.

Charlotte has taken to the trails like a natural.  She sticks close by, and often tags my heels with her step (which I don’t mind, because she doesn’t trip me, and I know where she is). So different from Artemis who was into this and that and running off to chase animals.  Charlotte will run about 10 to 20 feet ahead, and turn around to look and make sure I am coming.  It warms my heart to know that Charlotte is so loyal and is behaving, but I also wonder what she will be like as the weeks pass and she gets older and more adventurous.  She is definitely interested in other people, dogs, and birds in the neighborhood and on the trails, but has yet to encounter such things as moose, deer, and coyotes.

Watching Charlotte makes me also think of Artemis, who was the true huntress, and was off in the blink of an eye to dive her head into a carcass off the side of the trail and start eating carrion.  Ugh, so gross.  Time will tell if Charlotte develops a taste for dead meat!

It’s such a great thing to watch this puppy grow and learn.  Tonight we are going to our first puppy class and will have to let you know how it goes!  I’m sure it will be tons of fun watching all the pups playing together.  We hope to learn some good training tips as well.


Artemis and the Coyotes

Last winter, Franklin and Artemis and I decided we would try to hike up to the pass on the west side of City Creek Canyon for a bit of sunshine and a view.  The trail must have been snowy, because it was January.  And I remember that once we got the 2 miles to the top of the trail I decided that we should keep going up the steep hill in the snow drifts because the sunshine and snow just felt so good.


Artemis, hiking up the snowy hill, just before spotting the coyotes and taking off on an adventure.

We were knee-deep in drifted snow, going up a steep hill, and I thought, “We can push just a little farther up to where if flattens out a bit, have a rest and enjoy the view before we head back down.”  Franklin seemed to be in agreement with this plan, and was following close behind in my footprints.  I got my phone out to take a couple of pictures of the dogs because everything was just so beautiful and we were all so happy… when I looked up to find that Artemis was no longer in front of us.
I wanted to hurry up the hill to the top to see where she had gone (and how far), but the going was a bit rough in the deep snow and I didn’t want to leave Franklin behind.  Franklin and I made it to the top about 5 minutes later and I looked across the hills to see three dogs running across through the snow, about a mile or so away.  Two gray “dogs” were in the lead, headed towards the cliffs, and one blonde dog was hot on their heels.  Coyotes.  Artemis.

I had she shock collar on Artemis and initially I think I just hit the recall “beep” button to let her know that I was calling her back to us (in the event that she couldn’t hear my frantic screams).  I still think back to that day and wonder if there were other people up there hiking around hearing my screams and wondering who was in mortal danger.  “Oh, just my dog, chasing a couple of coyotes across the foothills.  And they are probably leading her into a trap in those cliffs over there so that they can brutalize her, and I’ll likely never see her alive again.”  Those were my thoughts.  I soon switched the shock collar over to “shock” mode, and was shocking on full power, wondering if she was ignoring the shocks, couldn’t feel the shocks because of the adrenaline running through her body, or that perhaps she was simply out of range and my attempts to discipline were futile.


Franklin:  ever loyal, would never run out of view (he knows who gives him his dinner… )

I turned around to find Franklin at my side, looking up at me as if to say, “Why would she do such a thing?  Doesn’t she know that you are the one who feeds us our kibble twice a day?”  Silly dog indeed, but I was trying to suppress the panic that I was starting to feel.  Shouting into the wind, I felt that she would never hear me.  I feared that she would get tired and the coyotes would take her down.  I wondered if she she somehow survived a coyote attack, would she perhaps work her way downhill to the gated community, and would I be able to explain to someone, anyone, that I needed to somehow get my dog back but that she was probably in their neighborhood that I couldn’t gain access to…?


I decided that the best course of action was to retrace our steps.  Franklin and I started back down the trail (which was in the opposite direction from the one that Artemis had run off in) and hoped for the best.  I felt sick to my stomach.  I wanted to look for her, but the going was just too rough in the deep snow and there was no way that Franklin, who was weaker because of his age and arthritis, no way that he would be able to keep up.

We came around the corner from the pass and started heading back down the trail into the canyon, when a smiling yellow face came down the snow-covered slope.

“There you are!  We were worried sick!  Didn’t you hear me calling you?  Didn’t you feel the shock collar?  I thought those coyotes were going to kill you!”

She just looked up at me with those smiling eyes and I wrapped my arms around the thick fur of her neck and hugged her long and hard.  I thanked her for coming back.  I thanked whoever was watching out for her for not letting the coyotes take her down that day.

On the way back down the canyon trail, Artemis took off once again, bolting off the side of the trail towards a dead deer carcass.  She started eating the hide and I shocked her on full power,  wondering if the shock collar was even functional (it was:  she just didn’t care).  Her instinct and drive to eat a dead animal (or chase a couple of live ones) was just too strong.  I scrambled down the slope through the melting snow and mud and shocked her not 3 feet away (no response).  I yelled at her (no response).  I dragged her by the collar away from the dead deer and had to pull the hide out of her mouth with my bare hands (gross) because the more I told her “No” the faster she wanted to eat it.

Artemis, the huntress, the goddess of forests and hills, had survived to hunt another day. She also showed me that she would never go hungry… she was willing to sacrifice her kibble for some delicious carion if she had to.


Oh the Places You Will Go

Charlotte pup is 14 weeks old this week!  She got her final Distemper-Parvo booster on Wednesday, and has the go-ahead from the vet to hit the trails. I’m so excited for the weekend and taking her out on the trail. 

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been able to run more than a mile or two with Franklin and Artemis, because of their advanced ages and arthritis. The past six months or so, they have really only been able to go on short walks, and Franklin seems to have slowed down in the past few weeks since Artemis passed away. (He is 14 1/2 years old!) I’m excited to soon have a dog that  I can run with again. Charlotte and I have been doing one to two mile morning jogs around the neighborhood, and she has been doing great on the leash. 

The sense of happiness that I have when I think of running with her on the trails is incredible. I’ll need to be careful with her the first couple of years, because I don’t want to stress her joints too much too early by taking her too far. That part is going to be a real challenge, because I know that hitting the trails will bring us so much joy that we will want to go and go and go…

The excitement I have thinking of the adventures Charlotte and I will have together is so huge, and brings me great joy. I know she will love it, and thinking of how I will be able to watch her explore and learn and grow makes me so happy. Oh, Charlotte, the places you will go… I can’t wait to show you… we are going to have some amazing adventures together!

Forever Artemis

Artemis was arguably one of the sweetest dogs on the planet.  She was also one of the naughtiest.  Probably one key to her being able to get away with figurative murder, was that she always had a look of happiness and innocence.

IMG_2656 2.JPGOne could be walking along a trail with her and suddenly she would disappear.  This would invariably happen at the most inopportune times:  when a storm-front was approaching, when you needed to be somewhere by a certain time, or when you simply just didn’t have the patience to put up with her antics.

But that smiling face, once found again, would look up at you and make you realize that all the bad stuff that she did was totally worth it.  This dog had a way of living life to the fullest:  full of abandon and instinct and pleasure.  And one could learn how to forget about all the bad stuff in the world, all the stuff that needed to be done instead of having fun, all the real-world worries, just by watching her live her life through mischief and by not giving a damn that she was being called back to reality.

Over the next few weeks, stories of Artemis and her misadventures will be recounted here in this space, entitled Forever Artemis.

Introduction to Charlotte

A couple of weeks before Artemis passed away, I was taking her to a veterinary acupuncturist to try and alleviate some of her arthritis pain and vertigo symptoms.  We had tried most things:  Adequan injections (a cartilage building medication), daily Rimadyl (an anti-inflammatory), and glucosamine supplement (which she had been on for years).  Daily walks seemed to help, but the vertigo was getting worse despite giving her Meclizine, an anti-nausea medication that is often used for vertigo.

She had been to at least 4 or 5 acupuncture visits and seemed to be improving a little.  The vertigo was a little less pronounced when we got home and for a couple of days after her treatments, so we increased the frequency from once to twice a week.  The problem was, that I work 4 days a week, so one day a week I could go with her, and the other day I had to drop her off for the day.  Thankfully, the vet clinic is also a kennel and doggie-daycare center (Best in State award winner for the past two years), and I could drop her off for acupucture and get complementary daycare until I could pick her up after work.

So on this one day, it was a Friday, I was dropping Artemis off and I looked past the receptionist and there was a sweet little black lab puppy.  “Do you want to hold her?” one of the girls asked.  And I thought to myself, “Well, of course I do!” and I think I said that exact thing out-loud, and I met Charlotte for the first time.

I left for work (I tore myself away) and went about my day and sort of forgot about the puppy, until it was time to pick up Artemis in the afternoon.  I asked if we could go back to the vet clinic and talk to the vet, Dr Verona, to say hello.  “Oh sure, no problem… go on back.”  So Artemis and I walked to the back and there, once again, was the black lab puppy.  She was snoozing on the floor by the couch in the clinic area, and I couldn’t help but pick her up and say hello again.  She was also super sweet, because she was still drowsy from just being spayed that afternoon.

Artemis seemed to like her, and I really liked her, and I asked one of the girls, or the vet-techs as a group, “So, what do I have to do to take this puppy home?”  And I almost couldn’t believe the words had just come out of my mouth, but I meant it.  They looked at me… “Seriously?” asked Camille.  “I’m serious.”  And she said she would make a call, and she did right then and there.  The call went to voicemail and she left a message for the adoption coordinator with a group called CAWS (Community Animal Welfare Society).  The vet techs encouraged me to submit an application for adoption, and give the name of the puppy in the application (her name at that time was Dakota).  I tore myself away from her (it was nearly 6pm and the clinic was closing) and Artemis and I left, hoping for the best.

I filled out the application immediately, and asked a couple of friends who have contacts in the local animal-welfare community to put in a good word or two for me if they had time (and they did).

The next day, I went skiing with my brother in Idaho (a two hour drive away from Salt Lake) and told him and his friend Tim about the pup on the chairlift.  “Do you really want a puppy?” they asked me.  “I really think I do,” I replied.  Tim had a puppy (and an older dog) and was reminding me how much work it is to have a puppy.  “I think I’m ready,” I told them.  They seemed skeptical.  Eight years with two middle-aged and now elderly Golden Retrievers and two cats in the house, and a puppy would definitely change the dynamic of our household.

But in my heart, she was already mine.  I drove home and went to bed that night and asked the dogs, “Would it be ok?” And they looked at me with their soulful eyes, and they seemed to say that I could do whatever I wanted to be happy.  As long as I was happy, they would be happy.  Because that’s what elderly Golden Retrievers say to you, no matter what you ask.

I went running the next day with my friend Ann and my neighbors’ dog Watson (the two-year old terrier).  I was talking about the puppy and telling myself, “It’s ok if she doesn’t come to us.  If it wasn’t meant to be, it just wasn’t.”  But in my heart, I wanted so much for her to come live with us.  I wanted her to be part of our pack.  And then, my phone bleeped with a text.  It was the foster dad, telling me that I could come out to his house that afternoon to come meet her.

“I think I just got a puppy,” I said to Ann as I ran down the trail.  I’m certain my pace quickened.  I got tears in my eyes.  I knew this was meant to be.

I drove out to the foster family’s house and held her.  She was mine.  And I was hers.  My heart belonged to her, it was clear from the moment I held her.

As Artemis got sicker and weaker over the next couple of weeks, Charlotte (I switched her name from Dakota) hung close.  She often curled up in bed with Artemis and I thought there really couldn’t be anything sweeter than this pup bonding to an old, dying dog.  Artemis stayed patient with her, never nipped her despite Charlotte’s nips and ploys for attention, and I’d like to think that Artemis was telling us that it was ok.  She would pass the torch.

A little over month after I came home with Charlotte and three weeks after putting Artemis down, I returned to the vet clinic to say thank you.  I brought some small gifts for the vet-techs (little crocheted change purses that I make, because when I would sit with Artemis while she was getting her acupuncture treatments, I would often be working on a crochet project).  Several of the girls told me that they had put in the good word for me to the adoption coordinator.  “Really?” I said.  “Thank you so much.”  Apparently there were several people interested in Charlotte.  But after they saw the bond that Artemis and I had, they knew that the match had been made and that Charlotte needed to join our pack.

I’m so grateful.  I’d like to think that Artemis passed on a little bit of her sweet magic to Charlotte before she left this world.  Lord knows, Artemis had the sweetest goofball grin.  Let’s hope she took her love of chasing coyotes and deer through the foothills with her.  Next week, Charlotte will get her final distemper booster and take her first outing on the trails.  Time will tell just how much Artemis passed on the Charlotte in those final days.





Find Your [Writing] Focus

I went to coffee with my friend Suzanne this morning and talked with her about trying to find my focus for my writing.  I’ve been taught that in order to find your focus, you need to know or find your audience, and I’ve had a lot of trouble doing that.  My blog to date seems so random… I just write about my thoughts and interests and I wonder if anyone can really get invested in what I have to say.

I do know that I have at least a knack for telling stories, but I feel that I’ve been at a loss as to how to reach out to people and connect with them.  It’s been a struggle for me and held me back from writing more.

Some writers might say that you should write about what you know or write about your passion(s).  But what if I have so many interests or passions that I don’t know which one to focus on?  I love to write, but do I want to write research-based, informative articles?  Do I want to write about my adventures in a creative sense?  Do I want to teach something?  If you look at my profile and previous posts, you’ll see that interests are: nature, which includes running, hiking, and skiing in the mountains; interacting with my pets, both dogs and cats; baking and cooking; crocheting, drawing, and a little bit of crafting; gardening, but mostly just doing yard work; and music, which is mostly playing the piano when I have a spare moment, but not necessarily following any musician or composer or going to concerts.

I look at other people whom I know:  one writes about organic gardening, another focuses on her passion for nutrition and how to live a healthy lifestyle through healthy eating, another talks about his passion for ultra-running.  I have passion, but how do I narrow my focus to come up with the content that will actually be: 1) interesting enough for others to want to read, 2) keep people interested enough to follow me and come back to reading my work, and 3) be interesting enough for me to continue writing about it?  How did these other people find their focus and find their audiences?

One problem I find is that in our world today, we have so many interests of commitments that pull us in different directions, that it’s really hard to focus on just one thing.  We have our work which gets in the way of individual pursuits.  We have our individual pursuits which distract us from our work.  We have our normal adult tasks which need to be done each day or each week so that our houses and lifestyles and families don’t fall apart.

Something else that I feel distracts us from our focus is that we live in such a digital world, that there are just so many choices out there that it’s hard to be connected to any one thing or group of things.  Social media continuously distracts me and draws me in for minutes if not hours per day.  I feel that I’m just scrolling through pages and posts and not really getting any tangible information that I can actually use.  Articles that I do read need to be less than 5 minutes long, or I lose my focus reading them and move on to the next thing.  Gone are the days of sitting down and reading a newspaper front to back, because the way digital news sites are set up, I really only read the top stories or stories related to a search term.  There’s so little continuity to the site that before I know it, I’ve worked my way through 5 “related articles” and wonder what I was searching for in the first place.  (The term “down the rabbit hole” comes to mind.)

What should I do to find my writing focus and my audience?  I call for comments!

And if you’ve made it this far, thanks for entertaining my ramblings.