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.

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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’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

Ownership

ImageWe interrupt your regularly scheduled blog for a very special announcement…..

Emotionally, Bosco became mine as I drove on I-78, somewhere around the Hellertown exit. Legally, he became mine three weeks later when I handed some cash to BARC shelter and swore I would always do what’s right for him.

I’ve always loved my dogs with all my soul. I’ve also always had this Peanuts cartoon stuck in my head – the one where Lucy says (of Snoopy) to Charlie Brown, “He only likes you because you feeeeeeeed him.” God, Lucy’s a jackass.  But it made me wonder what the dog/person relationship was like from the dog’s side. Is it just food, shelter and security?? I didn’t know.

Until last weekend…..

I became Bosco’s.

Something clicked and took away any remaining doubts he had.  And for once, I actually noticed when it happened. We were on the sofa. His head was on my leg, and I was rubbing him. He twisted around, tilted his head up and we locked eyes.

Yep. Dogs love.

Ever since, he’s never been more than a few feet away. If I go upstairs, he’s coming with. Taking the garbage out? Maybe I should make that bag a little lighter for you and eat something in it. How come I can’t go to work too?

My favorite thing in the whole world is our weekend morning routine. I drink coffee and screw around on my iPad, and he sits with his head in my lap. Having been awake for an interminable 30 minutes, he falls asleep almost immediately, and has woofy, ear flicky dreams, and he eats in his sleep.

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Hanging on a Sunday

The bond really sunk in last Monday. We were out for our morning walk, which is at the same time kids walk to school. There were two girls half a block behind us.

Remember how I said Bosco is a freak deterrent?  Well… I noticed a guy, and my spidey sense told me he wanted to play some “hey baby” game with those girls.  Of course I wasn’t going to let that happen. So I stood 10 feet away from him until they went past, ruining his game.

And Bosco? He picked up on it – and moved so he was standing between me and the freak.  This is the dog who hides behind me when he sees a goose or a group of children. But a freak – a potential threat – he took the lead. And the freak went away.

Bosco knows now, that aside from nose buttering, he has nothing to worry about when he’s in the house. And he’s been a cuddly clown, prancing around and making sure I notice him. He HATES my new workspace, and does everything he can to pull my focus away, mostly by asking for (and receiving) affection.

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“hi”

His last resort is to play “sofa shark,” where he pretends to give up and go sit on the sofa. Then he suddenly pops his head up, and the cutie faces start all over again. I have to explain that work means money, and that means snacks, and he sighs and flops down in resignation.

Image But the best part, when I know that I’ve done right for this dog, and that he is happy, is when I catch his eye. There’s no caution, no worry. No fear.

It may not be a cute YouTube video, but to me, it says “I love you” loud and clear.

Labor Day

I stumbled across the following essay – a letter to an adoptable dog. Elaine Sichel outlines her qualifications as a dog companion, and hopes the dog will agree.

I showed it to Auntie Laura and said that I hoped one day to have a resume like that. And she gave me a list of jobs I already have. And that got me thinking … today is Labor Day.  I decided to put off doing some things for my day job, and make a list of things I do in my job as Bosco’s person. And that got me thinking about what Bosco does, which he perceives as his job.

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Bosco is not in the mood for a walk

 

MOTIVATION

Me: Motivation Booster

Bosco is perfectly happy lying on the sofa all day. He has a history of refusing to go for walks.  I make going out fun.

 

Bosco: Motivation Booster

I am perfectly happy sitting on the sofa all day.  I have a history of losing several hours to Candy Crush. Bosco makes going out fun.

 

SAFETY

Me: Security Shield

Whether it’s a throng of squealing children or a hundred geese in the park, I will stand between Bosco and the scary stuff.

 

Bosco: Freak Deterrent

There are lots of … unusual people in the city, and many of them feel a need to share their unusualness with passersby.  But not with Bosco around.  Let’s just say his appearance makes them think twice.  Number of freak encounters before Bosco? At least one a day.  Number since?  ZERO in a year.

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Napping on a Sunday

 

SLEEP

Me: Headrest

So Bosco can sleep with his head upright, and see the world square on when he opens his eyes.

 

Bosco: Nap Monitor

When I’ve napped enough, Bosco yanks off my blanket.

 

MAINTENANCE

Me: Ear Swabber

That boy could grow potatoes in there, and I have to keep him clean.

 

Bosco: Grass Trimmer

I have issues with keeping the lawn mowed. Bosco does his part to keep the grass short.

 

SERVICES RENDERED

Me: Remote Control

When he flops on a certain place on the floor, it’s time to turn on the air conditioner.

 

Bosco: Quality Control

I like to sing loud. Bosco lets me know when it’s bad by gently putting a paw in the middle of my face.

 

Me: Transportation Captain

Whether it’s to the park, a play date or the doctor, I take Bosco where he needs to go in a Honda Element specially configured so he can sprawl out.

 

Bosco: Upholstery Protector

Bosco covers the sofa and makes sure that it doesn’t get sun-faded.

 

FOOD

Me:  Snack Baker

What started as a simple fundraiser for work turned into an on-going duty. After all these weird toxic food issues, I feel better making Bosco’s snacks myself.

 

Bosco: Bacon Taster

He would like it to be an on-going duty. It’s possible the bacon could be tainted, and he thinks he should make sure every piece is okay.

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Making cutie faces

 

LOVE

Bosco:  Carnival Teddy Bear

He’s so cuddly, I can can’t help but hug him and squeeze him and kiss him and love him and call him good boy.  This used to freak him out.  But here’s his little secret:  he’s starting to LIKE IT…

 

Me: Human Thunder Shirt

This is the one I take most seriously, and I think about every day. Last October Bernadette Peters told me that Bosco wore a thunder shirt at the shelter to help control his anxiety.  I’d never heard of a thunder shirt, and asked her to tell me more about it.

Her response:

“He doesn’t need one now. He’s got YOU.”

 

That’s a good job. Happy Labor Day.

 

 

 

Becoming Bosco

I don’t recall exactly what I was doing between July 4-10 2007, and I’m too lazy to look it up. I have a pretty good hunch that I spent a lot of that time with my dog – playing catch, walking in the park, playing catch, cooking while he cleaned my spills off the floor… and playing catch.

I certainly was not thinking about Manhattan or Brooklyn, or the animal shelters there, or anyone who visited those shelters, or any dog in those shelters.

And yet, those seven days had a huge effect on my life.

On July 4, 2007, a stray dog was picked up in the Bronx. I’ll never know the story, but odds are good that he pulled a door open, went out and got lost. He was picked up and taken to the ACC in Manhattan.

He looked like this:

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The ACC did what it does for the thousands of animals who come through their doors – estimated his age (one year), weighed him (59 pounds), and gave him a name – July.

July, they said, was fearful and withdrawn. He did not approach the handler, and leaned away with his ears flattened. He resisted being removed from his cage,  He did not exhibit aggression. When tested with another dog, he did not interact.

He was put up for adoption, in a cage with a tag that said his health status was mild and his behavior moderate.

On July 8, he came up for review. The sheer  volume that goes through the ACC forces them to euthanize unwanted animals, and that was the decision made that day. July was to be euthanized.

BUT….

Two amazing women spend an astonishing amount of time reviewing the “at risk” list. They select as many animals as they can, pay the adoption fees, and arrange transportation for each animal to be taken to a no-kill shelter.

On July 10, 2007, Bernadette Peters and Patty Saccente saved July’s life.

They put him in their car and took him to BARC Shelter in Brooklyn. At BARC, Vinny and Tony took him in. They actually took him in twice, but that’s a story for another day.

Somewhere between the cage at the ACC and a large pen at BARC, July got a new name. Ms. Peters says that he had such a classic old-time look, so she gave him an old-time name to match. Bosco.

Today, and every day, I say to these four people:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Those seven days did not involve me, but they changed my life. Five years later, crushed by the loss of my dog, I knew that the only way to dig out was to love another. And Bosco was there.

So now I’m getting up on a soapbox: everyone, support an animal shelter. Whether it’s with money, or by performing services, do it today.  Whatever you do today saves a life today.

That life could very well be your future sweet boy.