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Monday, February 29, 2016

The only way to learn

I think that Rudolph is getting an addition nickname besides just Rudy.   “The Mugger” seems fitting as we probably mugged people for 15-20 treats tonight.  This guy has done the math.  Sit = Treat.   So, we find someone else walking a dog in the park.   We get right in their face.   We look menacing….then sit and get all puppy faced.   This usually equates to the person saying something along the lines of “You’re such a good boy” and then a reach into the pocket produces a treat for Rudy.   As his accomplice, I just smile and agree with the person and then we head on down the path to find our next victim.   He has it down to a science.   One smooth operator…...and me.   I love it.

We started off walking with Zoey again.   We met some other dogs along the way.   Talked with other people.   After a while (and a few flat out sprints), I noticed that Rudy was going on his own a bit.   So, I went with it.   We walked together.   We stopped for a photo opportunity and kisses (I did not return them) in a picnic shelter.   We hung out.   We chatted (no surprise that I did most of the talking).   We didn’t just do mindless laps around a park.   We did stuff together.   When we got back at the end of the walk, we sat on the curb for a bit and just hung out.   It was awesome.   Just a couple of guys sittin’ around.      

I really wish that parts of my current situation were a bit different.   This is one great dog.   I often wonder how he and Irving would get along together and If I could run with them both.   The more time I spend, the more I like him.   The more I like him, the more difficult it becomes to leave at the end of the evening.   Part of this is because of the fact that Rudolph always has a way of pushing me to learn more.   I’ve walked with him 8 or 9 times and at this point, you’d think that as a younger dog, he’d be out of lessons for me.   He’s not.   He never fails to teach me something.

When I showed up, I had an agenda of walking around the park in mind with a cool dog and by thinking that, I forgot about how much this hour means to him every week.   It’s his time to get out and do things.   Think about the things that you want to do every week.   Imagine having to fit all of that into one hour.   Could you?    What if you only got one hour per week to get out and “play”.   It took a while for me to figure this out.   He wanted to do things and I needed to facilitate that.   I straightened up.   We made sure that we sniffed trees.   We ran.    We walked in totally random directions.   We had a great time.   

Listen.   That’s the only way to figure out what you need to do.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Constantly improving

Who else would I walk with but Rudy?    The walk with him was a bit different this time though.  Another volunteer and I were asked to walk Rudy with another dog named Zoey.    I guess that Zoey is a bit woeful of the world and Rudy has been pretty darn good support.   Fill up my pockets with treats, and head to the room where they are both staying.   

As we start to head out, you can tell that Zoey isn’t exactly crazy about the idea.   Rudy on the other hand, he’s ready to go!   As we start to motivate towards the park, things smooth out a little bit.   It really was an uneventful walk.   We met a few other dogs, hung out for a few, but would continue walking around the park.   We would walk some more and occasionally stop for a treat, a potty break, or for some scratches and a hug, but overall, it was just a walk.   Time seemed to roll past rather quickly.   Before I knew it, it was time to head back and bid farewell to my friend.   

It hit me this morning what Rudolph was teaching me last night, and I’m not quite sure how he was able to teach me two lessons about the same subject, and show me both the good and bad sides of it.   

Rudy was there for Zoey.   He had gone from a dog that needed care, to one that could do the caring.   He has constantly improved and has gone from the one that needed help, to the one doing the helping.   To meet him 2 months ago and see where he is now and what he does now, he’s come a tremendous distance.   It was all done by making constant, small improvements.   It’s amazing what effort and time can create.

The constant improvement that Rudy has done, well...I guess I had stopped improving with him on our walks.   We have a bit of a routine which is nice, but in the same sense, this isn’t where it should be stopping.   He wants to improve.  He wants to learn.   He’s nowhere close to reaching his potential.   In life, so many of us reach a comfortable spot and stop pushing forward.   Rudy is depending on me to help him do this until he finds his forever home...and I feel like I’ve let him down.  I’m honestly finding that very difficult to deal with.   That “comfortable routine” that has been found in the walks is holding him back.   Maybe we all need to get out of our comfortable routine and learn something new.   

This is a very special dog, and he deserves better.   Once again, I’m really hoping that my friend has found a forever home before my return visit next Monday.   If not, I know that I need to help him help me improve.   

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Simple things

A blur.   That’s the only way that I can describe the mission today for Akron Snow Angels.   I was part of the request vehicle again.   That meant that the day started out with seeing how much compassion could be crammed into a 2 door Blazer.   Apparently, it can hold a lot more than most would think partially, because it comes in different forms for different people.   One pair of size 11 work boots can hold a right foot, a left foot, and the brightest hope for the job that can lead to a better situation.   A large pair of long johns and a knit shirt can hold 10 degrees of happiness on a chilly day.   A Batman toothbrush and toothpaste can make a child have a size 82 smile.   The Blazer could carry the tangible items.   A fleet of ships couldn’t come close to carrying the feelings.  

The first stop was just down the road to a smaller group .   Even with it only being my second visit to that site, I feel a personal connection with some of the folks there.   The feel is very much “some friends are stopping by to chat for a bit.”   We just happen to be the friends that drop off some much needed supplies at the time also.   It really is a comical bunch of folks that we get to hang out with.   Eager to talk.   Eager to share stories.   In need of the laughs.   

As we arrived at our second stop, I spotted Johnathon right away.   I was excited.   I had two pairs of pants for him, a nice insulated shirt, and a pair of boots that will keep his feet warm and dry.   I caught up to him and we chatted for a few.   He is adapting.   He doing what he can to get through this.   It’s not an easy road, but he seems to be staying between the lines.   It was good to see.

I saw Lee today but unfortunately didn’t get the chance to say hello and shake his hand again.   I am kicking myself a bit for not doing so and I’m making it a point to do so next time.   Seeing him again brought about a bit of a contradiction of feelings.  I want to see familiar faces so I know that they are ok and so I can share the laughter with them.   I hope that I never see them again as I hope they have the shelter, heat, food, and clothing that they need.   Emotionally, it’s a wild ride.         

What did I learn today?   I learned two things:

1. Big problems are solved with simple steps in the right direction.   
I saw a child smile because toothbrushing now involves his imagination and a superhero.   I saw someone gain a world of hope.   I saw someone less worried about freezing.  I saw a lot of people laughing and sharing in conversation.   These simple things can be the things that help solve much larger problems.   

2. I guess I should have paid more attention in math.
It’s in my nature to want to put a measurement to things.   Maybe my high school math teacher would be disappointed, but I need help with this problem.
Solve for x
x = hope + 10 degrees + size 82 smile

My math says x = u

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tough Decisions

A tongue for treats.....and kisses!

Familiar things can be good and bad. I was more than happy to walk with Rudolph this evening. I am sad that he isn’t in a forever home…yet. I will state that as difficult as it is, I’m ok with it. The person that Rudy met last week as a possible adopter decided that maybe Rudolph wasn’t the best fit for their home. I’m glad that they reached that decision earlier rather than later and I hold no hard feelings on that. It’s a very difficult call to make, but they felt that they had reason to do so. It takes a strong will act on that. Although it wasn’t Rudolph, I’m pretty confident that the person will be adopting a rescue dog in the near future, and that in itself is a wonderful thing. I sincerely hope that Rudolph gets adopted soon, and I do think that it will happen. Patience is a virtue that Rudy has much more of than I. Maybe even some day he and Irving could hang out together. Who knows...

As Rudolph and I walked with one of the other volunteers and Queenie, I was told that “as soon as Rudolph heard your voice, he started jumping and got all sorts of excited.” It feels good to know that what I’m doing can get someone that excited. In some ways, I think that I’m one of the highlights of the week for him. In some ways, working with him is the highlight of mine also. What I give in treats, I receive back 10-fold in understanding, loyalty, life lessons, and kisses.

What did I learn from today? Rudolph has shown me that he is constantly learning. Constantly evolving. I need to follow his lead in that. As he and I have walked together, I see him get more and more excited for our walks as he starts to grasp how much there is to learn. As he gets better about sit, stay, up, and wait, I can see that he’s thinking, “Ok, got it. What’s the next trick that’s going to make you happy (and earn me a treat maybe)?” He’s soaking up knowledge like a sponge. He wants to explore. He wants to play. He wants to thrive. He really wants to be a companion. He wants to learn from someone. I find that awesome and admirable. This is one really smart dog and I’m amazed at how much he has taught me. Wow……...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Warmth on a cold day.

Today was another mission with the Akron Snow angels, and it was a cold one.   It was cold enough that a few of us jokingly celebrated when we broke into the double digit temperatures.   Yeah…..10 degrees.   That’s only about 65 degrees colder than comfortable for me.   A 15 mph wind didn’t help it to feel any warmer either.  On the good side of things, more shelters are open during weather like this meaning that we didn’t come in contact with as many people today.   It’s my understanding that not seeing people typically means that they are safe and warm.   That’s a good thing.

The two people that I talked to the most seemed to be sharing the same lesson with me.  The first one was Johnaton.   He was polite and courteous guy, but also seemed as if he was newer to the homeless community which is tough to see.   He had a fairly warm jacket and hat, but was in sweatpants and sneakers which are great for summertime workouts, but bad for keeping warm.   So, he and I walked around to the different stations looking for some much needed boots and jeans for him.   Unfortunately, we came up empty on those for him today. (We are working on something for next week hopefully).   As we stopped at the stations though, I noticed something astonishing.   I’d ask if he needed another hat, sweatshirt, or another similar item.   “Nope. I’m good on that.   I’d just really like some jeans and boots.”

The next guy had jeans and a jacket, but no hat, scarf, or decent cold weather shoes.   I asked him, “could you use a scarf”.    HIs response was simple, “I’ll be ok.   I don’t want to take one if it can help someone else.”.   Finally, after convincing him that seeing him without one was making me cold, we went down and picked out a scarf and hat for him.  As we were getting ready to leave, he stopped and looked at me and said, “I’m not sure I got your name.”   I introduced myself and without hesitation, he extended his hand, looked me square in the eyes, gave the the type of handshake that you’d expect from a high ranking official and said, “It’s nice to meet you Josh.   I’m Lee.”   Wow.   A stand up guy in my book.   

Johnathon and Lee really made me think long and hard about things today.   These guys only wanted what they really needed for survival.   That’s it.   Just things to make sure that they can live to fight another day.   It made me ask the question, what do I really need?   Although it is a simple question, it seems like it requires a very complex answer……..or does it?     

Both of these guys were very cold yet still had wonderfully warm hearts.   In a short time, they taught me a lot about being “human”.   I’m looking forward to seeing them next week and seeing what lessons they have in store for me.   

Monday, February 8, 2016

Leading, when you need to

Yup.    Monday.   That means another walk at One of A Kind.   When I walk in, it’s not even a question as to who I’ll be walking with. I’m greeted with “Rudolph is waiting for ya”.   I peek in the window and I see a dog that is ready and waiting to go.   Like a battery that’s been charging all week and is ready burn up all of that energy at once.   I say hi with a treat, hook the leash on, and we head out to the park.

Once we get to the park, it’s go time!   We ran almost a full lap.   We generally followed the path, but there were some “off path excursions”.    (Hey, you have to stop and smell the roses…...or in this case, where other dogs have pee’d).   We had a blast, but sometimes running with Rudolph is a bit tough.   He runs in front of, beside, behind, then in front, then stops to sniff, then off to the side, then takes off like a shot, then to the…… get the idea.   I realized two separate things at this point.   The first part is that without leadership, things aren’t efficient.   They don’t stay on task.   I was letting Rudy lead and the priority for him was really just to follow the next smell.   He sorta-kinda followed the path, but we were all over it.   We weren’t really getting anywhere.   For us to actually walk around the park the best he needed a leader to guide him.   Being on the other end of the leash, that was up to me.    

Taking my leadership responsibilities a bit more seriously, I started to offer my guidance to keep him on track.   As I started to rein him in and point in directions, he did great.  He walked next to me.   He checked other things out, but did his best to stay on task.   While doing this, I could tell he just was ready to explode though.   That’s when the second part hit me.   “Why are we restraining what we’re doing?”   This guy doesn’t get walks in the park but once a week.    Should the whole hour be filled with rules and work?   Heck no!!!!!!   I looked down at the same time he looked up at me.   “Let’s go Rudy!”   We took off running like the wind and having a blast.   Sniffing, stopping, starting, and going in circles as he pleased.  It was his time for fun!   My second lesson…fun doesn’t always need to be organized.   Sometimes, it just needs to happen.

As we started going a bit bananas and having some fun, my phone rings.   It’s a call from One of A Kind.   “Hi Josh.   I was wondering if you could bring Rudolph back as there’s someone here that would like to meet him and maybe adopt him.”   I’ll be very honest, I’m not sure how I responded, but inside I said “@#$% yes we can!”   I scratched his chin, and said, “Let’s go buddy!   This could be your big chance!”   Straight across the middle of the park we went.   We didn’t need a path!    We needed a straight line to get us back as fast as 6 legs can carry us.   

We get back to the clinic and I’m doing my best to act like I didn’t just do a ½ mile sprint with the dog, and failing miserably.   I’m breathing like someone that ran a marathon while sucking air through a straw.   I do my best to compose myself and  we head into the room for a meet and greet.
Frankly, I think it’s better if I don’t say much about the meeting.  I will say that I’m very hopeful.   I very much hope that I will miss Rudy.   If I do, it’s because he has the forever home that he deserves.   For such a wonderful creature, this possibility makes me feel happier and more fulfilled than I have in a very long time.   We will see what happens, but if it means that Rudolph has his forever home, I’m more than willing to let someone else teach this old dog some new tricks.    

Monday, February 1, 2016

One wise dog

Tonight was another walk at   If I’m being honest, I was in some ways  dreading going there tonight as I have felt a bit stressed and animal shelters aren’t a relaxing environment.   Compounding this, I have a very strong sense of empathy.   What this has given me in the ability to bargain and understanding of how others feel, it has very much taken payment from me by making me comprehend some of the fear and confusion that are often found in situations like this.   Other than knowing I needed to help, I made this comparison in my head to push myself out the door:   “That uncomfortable burn is what makes me a better athlete when I’m training.   Maybe putting myself in an uncomfortable situation mentally can help me be a better person.”

Every time that I get to the clinic at One of A Kind, I hope that Rudolph isn’t there and is up for adoption and finding the forever home that he deserves.  I peeked in the window and saw that he was in his area, half asleep. As soon as he saw me, the tail started wagging. I'm happy to see that each week, that tail is having to do more and more work. Let's go buddy!

It started out as less of a walk once we got the park and turned into more of an all out sprint.   I guess Rudy thought that my 400m time needed some work because as we ran, he kept looking at me and the leash like “dude, toss the anchor out the back and let’s go!”   After a lap, we ended up stopping by a shelter in the park as we haven’t really investigated that so far.   I thought that it’d be a good opportunity for some training, so I got him to hop up on the bench and take a seat so I could take the worst picture both of us have probably ever been in.   (I never earned that photography merit badge)

At the end of the evening, we headed back to the shelter and it was a bit odd for me.   I was wondering what I lesson I was supposed to take from this evening.   Helping others always seems to teach me something, and Rudy is one to make sure that those lessons are hammered home.   Sometimes, lessons don’t sink in until later, and I figured that was the case here…..until we got back to the shelter.   

When we got back, I opened up Rudy’s kennel.   He walked right in, sat down, and waited for me to dispense the treat that I was holding in my hand.   He took the treat to his bed, laid down, and started munching away.   When I closed the gate, he stopped chewing long enough to look up and he seemed to give me a slight nod, almost as if he was saying “Thanks man.”   As I started to leave, I noticed his neighbors.   Both looked a bit confused as to what was happening and one had some obvious health issues.   I looked at Rudolph again.   He was OK.   He was calm.   He knew he was safe, well taken care of, fed, and loved.      

He was OK with the things he cannot change.   He has what he needs…not what he deserves, but what he needs....and he is OK with that.   

This is one really intelligent dog…