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.

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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!

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.

Bosco’s Blatant Ripoff

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Dear blogger: I am 7 years old.
Some people say dogs don’t know about Santa Claus.
They think Christmas is for silly hats and stripey knit sweaters.
But please tell me the truth; do dogs get to have Santa?

Bosco de Lazzara
Allentown PA

Bosco, those people are wrong. They are skeptical people in a skeptical age, unable to believe anything other than what they see. Their little minds think Christmas is nothing more than an excuse to play dress up with fine fellows such as yourself. In this great universe of ours, these thoughts are limiting, contradictory to the bountiful truth and magic of the season.

Yes, Bosco, dogs have Santa Claus.

Santa exists as certainly as the love and generosity and devotion of those two generous women who saved you at your deepest point of despair, who imagined for you a life of beauty and joy. How dreary the world would be without them! It would be a dreary world with too few good dogs, without the faith and poetry of companions in this existence. Without them, the lives and light of thousands would have been extinguished.

No Santa for dogs! You might as well not believe in saints!

You might look in every window to catch sight of dogs and people, but you will not see saints. The most real thing in the world is what you will not see. Do you see the shelter staff and volunteers on the lawn? Of course not, but they are there. Nobody can conceive or imagine the wonders they have created, unseen and unseeable, in the dog-loving world.

You can tear apart a squeaky toy to find what makes the noise, but there is an armor created by these unseen people, the strongest men and women who have ever lived, and no one can tear that apart. Only their faith and love can push aside the wall of neglect and cruelty, and picture the beauty and glory to come. Oh, Bosco, they created your world, which is real and abiding.

No Santa! Thank God he lives forever in these people. Years from now, Bosco – and ten thousand years from now, they will continue to protect the lives and make glad the hearts of big good dogs.

– with thanks (and apologies) to Frank Church of the New York Sun, 1897

Awareness

Last Saturday was pit bull awareness day, and this week wraps up awareness month. I’ve seen tons of stats, and this one really stayed with me:

On average, 22 people are attacked and killed each year.

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By cows.

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Now you are aware, and I bet from now on, you will cross the street whenever you encounter a cow.

A certain cow-spotted fellow and I are building our awareness.

I now know that when at a vet’s office, to ask what the side effects of steroids are. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say they were extreme, and had me worried that we’d lost ground in building Bosco’s confidence.

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I am aware that a large dog who consumes 4 quarts of water each day needs to release 4 quarts of water each day, regardless if I am home or not. Bosco is aware that towels are extremely absorbent. The county water authority is aware that I am doing lots of laundry and they will make more money from me this month.

We each became very aware of food. Bosco did not know that wonderful things like peanut butter and cream cheese existed, and does not care that there are pills jammed in them. Now he knows to wait until my back is turned to stand up on the counter and eat out of the containers. Now I know to close lids and put things back right away.

I have experienced the hysteria of an 80 pound dog who thinks he will starve if he has to wait another hour until supper. I am aware that no matter how ravenous he is, he still will not eat green beans or carrots. Even if they are covered in peanut butter or cream cheese.

We are both aware that he can lose all inhibitions and be silly and super-cuddly, and run in circles and sit ON my lap and demand tummy rubs.

And now that the drugs are leaving his system, he’s ready to relax. He is newly aware of the greatest doggie possession that isn’t food – a warm fleece blanket.

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