Bosco Learns the “H” Word

IMG_3461Yeah, we’ve been gone forever. We’ve been off enjoying our lives, and forgetting to share the awesome things that have happened. We’ll try to do better.

So in a nutshell, here’s what’s happened:

Bosco’s learned how to be happy.

It wasn’t a light switch moment, and it certainly was a long time coming. But a few months ago, as he crossed the room in front of me, I knew it was true. He was walking around, with no particular destination, wagging his tail. Whatever he was doing and thinking about, he felt good. And safe. And happy.

Not gonna lie to you – I cried.

How did we get there? With lots of cuddles and trust-building. And canned pumpkin. And Blue Apron.

Yep. Food.

It all started when he had some allergy issues, and he got put on special “allergic boy” food – which gave him the Ass of Fire. I asked his doctor if that could be remedied, and he suggested pumpkin, which of course worked, and Bosco liked it. I changed his food from the stuff his doctor sells to Blue Buffalo, because it’s $50 a bag cheaper. Big boy eats a lot, and that adds up. The Ass of Fire stopped, and so did the pumpkin.

His allergies were just fine until this autumn, and it seem like the poor guy was gonna lick his toes off. So back we went to the doctor food. And the Ass of Fire. And pumpkin.

He was so happy to see the pumpkin that he got very excited about every meal – running in circles, bouncing up and down in anticipation, and nagging me when he thought it was close to suppertime. He’d never been enthusiastic about anything before, and I made sure to give him huge amounts of positive reinforcement.

Now he’s very excited about supper, and runs laps around the house in anticipation. I let him lick the pumpkin spoon (yeah, judge me – I don’t care), and he comes racing into the kitchen, with his tongue already in action before he reaches the spoon. It’s clear that it’s his favorite part of the day.

And that’s just the start of his culinary adventures. Bosco’s never been one to hang with me when I cook – too much clattering and cursing, I imagine. One day I realized I had been eating the same two foods for dinner, every other day, for months. I needed to get me some variety, but I’m not the sort of person who looks for recipes or plans menus. So I signed up for Blue Apron, which sends me two servings of three different meals, with all of the ingredients, every week.

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Bosco thinks he’s hit the jackpot. Turns out he’s not disinterested in cooking and eating. He was just bored by my menu – without even tasting it. Now when the box arrives, he meets me at the door. After he’s had supper (let’s not be foolish), I unpack the box and he inspects the ingredients. He doesn’t try to take anything. He just sticks his head in the box and huffs everything. I think it’s the unusual ingredients that he likes – I’m pretty sure he’s never smelled lemongrass or kumquats before – but he’s curious and excited. And happy. Of course it doesn’t hurt that every so often he gets a little taste too.

These two super experiences let him discover what happy feels like. And he was able to piece some moments together. He’s happy when he’s tasting or smelling things – and I’m with him. He gets that same feeling when I praise him, so he knows my praise is good. He gets praise when he gets silly and we bounce and run around the house. And when he runs he gets that same excited feeling. And when he’s done running, he gets big cuddles and praise because he’s a big goofy good boy. And the cuddles feel good, so he randomly wanders over to me, flops down, and asks for more. He’ll nag me to get out of bed on a weekend morning because he wants to sit with me on the sofa and get cuddled for hours on end.

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He’s happy.

We both are.

Bosco Backup

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When last we talked, Bosco was doing some significant miles throughout his neighborhood, and also telling me that he wanted to be an only dog. However, he has developed (or made me aware of) an amazing talent.

Dog rescue.

Really. While on our walks, sometimes we find dogs who are out there on their own. And Bosco helps them get home.

It started out quite simply – somewhere on the row of houses whose back yards butt up to my backyard, there are two little dogs who like to hang out on their front porch. Their person constructed a barricade that looks like it’s from Les Mis across the porch gate, and keeps the front door open so they can go in our out as they please. Not saying I would ever do that, but it is better than chaining the dog on the porch and leaving them there. They’re funny little dogs – they will yell at everything that goes by, but the second you look at them or talk to them, the spunk disappears and they run back inside.

In short, I know these dogs, and I know exactly where they live. So one day, when we saw them loose, a block away from their porch, I knew something was wrong. And, like most little dogs, they won’t come to you if you call them, offer them snack bribes or anything. I was afraid they’d get skittish and run away from me and into the street.

But then Bosco gave off his vibe, and the little dogs came up to him. They stopped a little distance away, and just looked at him like “okay man, you’re in charge. What do we do?” So I walked Bosco, with two little dogs trailing, down the block, past the collapsed barricade and up to the porch. When the owner came to the door, she was horrified that they’d gone missing. Now the barricade is gone and the door stays closed.

It upsets me greatly to see so many dogs running loose, and owners and passersby who just don’t care. A few weeks ago there was a little Pomeranian on a very busy street corner. I knew I’d seen him before but couldn’t think where. He had tags, and I wanted to get the info. He wouldn’t let me near him, and I was scared he’d run into traffic. Two different dog walkers passed by. I asked each if they knew the dog. One ignored me and kept walking. The other said, and I quote, “obviously the owner doesn’t care about it,” and turned to go. And I said “but I do.” I could not believe she turned her back and left.

Bosco to the rescue again. He fascinated that little dog. He’d stand on his hind legs and look at Bosco’s face. Bosco just looked back. That boy needs to learn how to make small talk. We slowly walked away from traffic, to a quieter section of the sidewalk. Still trying to read the tags, I’d get close enough to read one number, then the dog would dart away. Bosco gave off his calm vibe and the dog came back. Repeat repeat repeat.

I texted my boss and said I’d be late for work. After 45 minutes and 3 of the 7 phone digits, the stupid owner realized her dog was gone and had just started looking for him. I gave her a very firm lecture on “no dog outside alone.” I don’t think it sunk in.

And just FYI to those who wouldn’t get involved …. If your dog ever gets loose, we will help find them. Even though you’re a cold-hearted yutz.

The best one was two weeks ago when we found two tiny tiny tiny chihuahuas running down the sidewalk. They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw Bosco. They might have been thinking “what’s blocking out the sun?” They were in awe of him. I had a hunch they came from the closest backyard, cuz their legs were so little. So again we had a doggy train, with Bosco in the lead. And we found the chihuahua person. Who commenced to jaw at me about making sure Bosco didn’t eat her dogs. While she was doing that, they escaped again. I gently reminded her that she should worry about her dogs and not mine.

We’ve had four successes and one miss. That miss still bothers me. Two blocks from my house, I heard a man yelling, and saw him and a woman slinking down the street, facing the sidewalk, and using the parked cars as a barrier. That struck me as odd. Before I could process what was happening, I saw this little red pit bull. She was 35 pounds at most – probably still a puppy. She was healthy and clean with big lively eyes, and her pink sparkly collar told me she was most likely well loved. She stood under a bush taking in her surroundings.

The man was still screaming, and I finally figured it out. He was chanting “Looooooose pit buuuuullllllllll” over and over. It was a not funny version of Monty Python’s “bring out your dead” routine. All he was doing was scaring the dog, and making other people jumpy. I wanted to chime in with my own warning – “Black man yelling” – because it was equally stereotypical, inflammatory and pointless. But for once I kept my mouth shut. He didn’t. And the dog turned and ran. Bosco and I looked in every cranny in a 5 block radius, but never found her. I pray she found her way home.

I spent a few days this week volunteering at BARC Shelter, who kept Bosco safe for so many years. Being surrounded by so many beautiful souls – who are all strays or throwaways – hammered in the importance of “home” for an animal. Home is where it’s safe. Home is where there’s love.

Bosco experienced that loss first hand. I can’t help but think he understands that a loose dog is someone who is perilously close to experiencing it too, and wants to prevent it.

Superhero.

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Let Bosco Be Bosco

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Sorry we’ve been gone so long. All this walking takes up a lot of time and energy!

And then there’s the post-walk recovery napping. And I’m not going to give you the percentage breakdown of how much time we spend on each.

So… When we last saw our hero, Bosco was being dragged around his neighborhood by an evil person, intent on destroying his cuddly layer of fat. Bosco has stoically submitted to the evil master plan, going as far as losing 5 pounds, just to give the illusion of compliance.

According to my Fitbit stats, I’ve walked 330 miles in a little more than 2 months. I think Bosco’s done at least half of that. I doubt this dog walked that much in his whole life leading up to it. Combined.

And he HATES it. He hates the noises, he hates the distance, and he hates getting hot and panty. And this got me thinking….

What if …. Bosco were to get a sister? Someone who could help him understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Who could show him how to let loose and have fun. Someone who could take some of the walking duties off of his plate.

I remembered stories from his shelter days, of dogs that he enjoyed being with, and I’d heard how he flirted with the girls when he was at his hotel. So I pondered it for a while.

And one day, a sweet face showed up in my Facebook feed, and a few days later I saw it again on Twitter. She was a big, good-looking girl who looked just like Bosco, except she was white, with a big brown spot on her head. She looked so sweet, and I thought maybe Bosco would like to be with somebody just like him. Of course she was at BARC in Brooklyn.

So I arranged a visit with Vinnie and Jay, and Robyn and Bosco and I headed off on a big road trip. Robyn and I gabbed the whole time, and Bosco farted up the car.

When we got there, Vinny and Jay were waiting with the dog on the sidewalk. How did that go? Well…….. The first thing she did was mount Bosco. We can safely say that set the tone. I really think she’s an unpolished gem, but Bosco haaaaaaaaaaaaaated her. He went so far as to growl. We all talked for a while, and my three friends were of the same opinion – this was not the dog for Bosco.

Vinny spelled it out for me – Bosco just wanted to be with me. And he didn’t want to share. Robyn and I talked it through over Asian food, while Bosco flirted with strangers. She helped me understand that if that particular dog was added to our household, it would completely destroy every step Bosco has made in building his confidence.

And I’d told Bosco he had the deciding vote. And that vote was no.

So no it was. I’ll be honest and admit that I was more than a little sad about it. I wasn’t ready to rule out future roommates though, so I thought the next step would be a little more socialization with other dogs to see if he was opposed to all dogs, or just that one.

Last week Bosco and I went to visit a friend and her dog. I wanted to learn how Bosco would be with a more passive dog, who he’s met before.

Bosco taught me something totally different.

He interacted with the other dog the same way teenagers with cellphones interact. They were both there, both fine with each other, but beyond that, could care less. But…..

My friend has had some horrible changes in her life, and her world is upside down. Bosco was drawn to her. And during this visit, which was full of emotional conversations, he was at her feet, or sitting two inches away. He requested a tummy rub, and fell asleep while she rubbed him.

You might already have picked up on this, but – Bosco doesn’t go out of his way to interact with other people. This is way out of character.

I felt like he was saying to her “I know exactly how you feel. It’s really scary. Let’s just be together and everything will be okay.”

So Bosco may not want another dog in his life. So what. He knows what’s important.

Baby Steps

Bosco is broken.

Or so he claims.

Bosco: It’s an absolute fact just look at me I can’t even lift my head I’m ruined.

photo 5Long story short – my company developed a wellness program that’s pretty cool. Check it out at mindful.sodexo.com.   A couple of weeks ago, I joined an activity group that the office set up.   I’ll be honest – the free Fitbit was quite the incentive. All I have to do is try to walk 10,000 steps every day.

That doesn’t seem like much at all – unless you have a desk job. And all day long, while I’m not walking, there’s this big guy sleeping on my sofa. And he’s grown a bit too soft and cuddly.

photo 1Bosco: In dog culture you’re supposed to have extra padding because it means you have a good house and good food and surely you want everyone to see me and know that I have that because it also means you’re a good person see there’s something in it for you too and it’s not so bad see I haven’t even eaten this snack so it’s not like I have a problem.

Yeah. Anyway….

To get my steps in, I need to take a couple of lengthy walks every day. See where this is headed? I thought this would be great for both of us. Time together, exploration, socialization, etc. We do not, however have a unanimous decision on this approach.

photo 1Bosco: A walk means I go outside and turn left and then I walk halfway up the block to do my thing and turn around and go back inside to eat a snack and go back to bed and besides that sidewalk is very cold in the morning and doing anything else would seriously cut into my nap time and a great way to spend time together is sitting on the sofa while you rub my ears.

We’ve been walking every night when I get home from work, usually around 7. The distance varies – it’s a minimum of 8 blocks, but I have to hit 10,000 steps by the end of it.

photo 5Bosco: I have been very busy snoring all day and I am worn out and I don’t want to walk around in the middle of the night 7:30 is my bedtime and this makes me late for nite nite and then I’m too tired to go up the stairs to my bed so I have to nap on the floor first and it just throws my whole schedule off.

This past week I added a morning walk. We crawl out at 6, and do anywhere from 8 to 10 blocks. Nothing major, just enough for Bosco to do what he needs to do, and prevent any “using the laundry room as a bathroom” incidents while I’m gone.

photo 2Bosco: I don’t know who’s doing that in the laundry room I’m upstairs sleeping the whole time and I sleep very soundly it must be the mailman and 6 am is still nite nite unless I’m hungry and then I want you to get up right away.

I do have an ulterior motive to our activity. This horrendous winter limited Bosco’s interaction with the outside world. He’s made great gains in his confidence when he’s safe inside the house. But he lost ground about being outside, seeing different people and encountering unexpected events. Walking more, and in unfamiliar places will help him understand that there’s still nothing to be afraid of when he’s outside.

photo 2Bosco: For years I walked two blocks to the pier and looked at the water and then walked back and took a nap I don’t see why there needs to be more I bet you don’t drive to work taking longer and different routes every day do you I thought not I’m gonna trail along behind you and act all grumpy and when people laugh at us it really hurts my self esteem.

In the last two weeks, I’ve logged about 50 miles of walking, and a little over half of it has been with Bosco. He is cooperative, but not happy. Yesterday we took a long walk in the morning, and another in the afternoon. Later that night, I got cold and put on a hoodie. Bosco interpreted that as an indication that we were going for a third walk. He ran upstairs to hide.

Bosco: I may not not know much about the world but I’m not stupid.

But we’re doing good. We’re starting slow, and taking a lot of breaks. Bosco gets very happy when we stop, and drinks directly from my water bottle, which I find both hilarious and disgusting. He still pesters me to go for a walk, and soon he will get used to the distances and be enthusiastic for the whole walk.

photo 3Bosco: Maybe we can get in the car and drive around and I can look at things that way and eat snacks without having to walk at the same time and we can circle the block where the cute cocker spaniel is and I can put my head out the window and say hey baby and impress her that I have a chauffeur.

 

Babbling Bosco

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Bosco’s talking!

It took 19 months for him to have an opinion strong enough to verbalize.

Normally he communicates with snorts and huffs and every so often a very soft sound that sounds like “berf.”

But a week or so ago, he had something to say, which was:

“I like pork.”

It all came about when I was eating stir-fry pork. Bosco thought it smelled good, and dropped some hints that he’d like to taste it.  He put his head in my lap and  stared up at me with huuuuuge eyes. Really subtle. Then I offered him a vegetable. He eagerly reached for it – then realized that wasn’t what he wanted. He sniffed again, curled his lip, and shook his head.

Being a jerk, I laughed at him. And then he spoke up, and ran around in little circles.

A few days later, we had the same scene – but this time it was grilled chicken. After submitting his request, Bosco accepted that there would be no chicken for him, and went off to watch from a distance. Then I called him over and gave him a piece. This is a loose translation of what he had to say:

“Yay it’s chicken I’m eating chicken and it tastes soooo good and I’m so happy I’m going to run around the room and yell because I’m eating chicken and it tastes so good and this is the best day of my life because I had chicken.”

Or something like that.  Something so wonderful happened to him that he finally forgot himself and all his anxieties and was a big happy dog. A one inch piece of chicken did all that.

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In the last few months, he’s been seeking affection, asking to be petted, and to have his ears rubbed.  He doesn’t get as nervous when I cuddle the stuffing out of him, and seems slightly disappointed when it stops. But …. then there’s the smooching. He’s so cute, and so tall, and I love to plant a big kiss on the top of his head. He haaaaates the smooching because it comes with sound effects. Yesterday I smooched at him from across the room.  He ran backwards and “berfed” at me, wagged his tail, then ran forward. Repeat repeat repeat. He wanted me to know that it would be more fun to run around the house than smooch.

I was eating trail mix yesterday, and Bosco wanted some. He was unconcerned that everything in trail mix is bad for dogs.  He made his eyes 600 times their normal size, and looked from me to the container, and back again – After I’d put it away, he kept it up for another hour.

Let’s just say this- I’m pretty thick sometimes. He wasn’t telling me he wanted nuts and raisins. He. Had. To. Go. And I wasn’t getting it. So he resorted to the classic way to get my attention.  He put himself at eye level, reached out with a big ol’ paw, and smacked me.

Message received!

Emo Bosco

Bosco’s in love. His problem is that he’s in love with two different women.

I had to go to Maryland last week, so Bosco had to go to camp. He has training sessions with Robyn, and her dog Bella chips in to help him understand what he’s supposed to do.

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And so it begins….. True love. At least on his part. Perhaps Bella’s used to her students going head over heels for her. She certainly doesn’t seem all that into Bosco.

Which might explain why he also had grand feelings for the dog in the hotel room next to him. I don’t have much info on that. Except she’s a blonde. Gentlemen don’t kiss and tell.

I’m making light of something that’s pretty neat. Bosco is freely expressing his emotions..

This morning I woke up to Bosco poking at me. I figured he needed to start his normal morning routine, so I stumbled down the steps and let him out the back door. That wasn’t what he wanted, so we came inside and I gave him breakfast. He wasn’t in the mood for that either. I sat down on the sofa, figuring that eventually he’d communicate what was on his mind.

It didn’t take long for it to be crystal clear. He flung himself up on the sofa and sprawled across my lap. He needed cuddling.

In case you’ve been wondering, Bosco hates hates hates snow. He has been struggling to keep up his end of the backyard agreement, because his spots are covered and the terrain is constantly changing. Even taking him for a walk doesn’t help, because there are snowbanks in the place he wants to use. I did have to laugh yesterday – he decided the solution was to stand on his hind legs, put his front paws on the top of the snowbank, and let it fly like a man. And when I laughed, his big eyes were very expressive. They said “I’d like to see you try this.”

With the massive amounts of snowfall, the city asked us to get cars off the street. I parked in a large deck several blocks away. I doubt anyone in the world says “oh, I feel so safe and comfortable in a parking deck.” So I made Bosco come with me. I felt safe and comfortable in a parking deck. My apologies to those we encountered as we walked home and back again. The sidewalks were narrow, Bosco’s toes were cold, and he had the grumpiest expression on his face. Many people decided to dive into snowbanks to avoid us. Oops.

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He’s doing something new and adorable – presenting me with toys. It started last week when I thought he’d like playing a searching game with a hidden toy. I was wrong – he didn’t like it at all, and spent the next hour wandering around the house looking for a spot to hide it from me. Then he’d put the toy on my lap. Then he’d remember that I was the one who’d hidden it in the first place, take it back, and wander about some more. Repeat repeat repeat. Yesterday morning I was given a toy – a nice soft tiger – without any provocation on my part. I had no clue what he wanted me to do with it. I petted it and praised Bosco for having such a nice tiger, and thanked him for sharing it. He wanted me to do something else. So I tossed it gently in the air, with a big “wheeeee!” a couple of times.

My tiger privileges have been revoked.

Bosco Words

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Let’s talk about communication.  Bosco and I are working on how to better understand each other.

It’s been a challenge. Every dog I’ve known has been verbal about their desires.  Especially my beagle, who would stand in front of me and yell when he perceived an insult to his dignity.  But not Bosco. He doesn’t make noise. Unless you count snores. And farts.

We have a common language on the essentials, thanks to school.  And some words came very quickly. Never any confusion about what “supper” means. “Cheese” came pretty fast too.

Just before the weather got awful, we figured out what “go outside” and “go potty” means.  This is such a relief. Before this clicked, Bosco could only poop on a leash. And an awful lot of my neighbors don’t shovel their sidewalks, which left us walking an icy route, in the dark, in single digit temperatures.  In other words, a disaster waiting to happen.

And I figured out how he tells me he has to go out. He realized that I’m pretty thick, and pacing and looking at me didn’t get through. Now he just puts his big face about 1/4″ from mine and stares at me.

Now Bosco’s not exactly thrilled that he’s getting his delicate parts cold, but he just needs perspective.  I tell him he looks strong and brave as he hikes across the snowy yard. He gives me a big-eyed look that says “I don’t like this.” On really cold days I think it means “$%*^ you.”

We had a very cute moment this weekend when I came home from the post office with a box full of stuff for him.  It was big and smelled like the outside world, so he was curious. When I told him, before I opened it, that everything in it was Bosco’s, he got excited and prancey. He took the stuffed toy out himself, and supervised the installation of a new blankie in his crate.

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Every few days, I tell him a story – about how great he is, how strong and smart and brave. I tell him that most people cant do what he’s done, that people aren’t good at putting bad things behind them, starting again, trying again. I tell him that in his world now, everyone he knows loves him. In his world now, he is always safe, always loved.

I’m trying to teach him another word – forever.