Old Dogs Learning New Tricks

Life can throw you curve balls. What you thought would be your constant can change in the proverbial blink of an eye. During the time of adjustment, when you are struggling and dealing with a new way of doing things, guess who may be struggling right along with you?

I am in a current transition. Some days are great and positive and full of an “I can do this!” attitude. Some days my mind whirs with everything that needs to be done and the urgency of the thoughts is overwhelming. My three pups are right there on the roller coaster with me. It’s good to have them near.

They have gone from having someone with them for most of the day, to my departure early in the morning and late return 5 days out of 7. That may be what has changed their everyday over-the-top enthusiasm when I come home to an extreme “YOU CAME BACK!!!” greeting. We are all adjusting.

One of the biggest changes for them is that no longer is the door left slightly open for easy nose-opening access. One day about four weeks ago, my middle-aged pups were given the daunting task of figuring out how to use a dog door. I had thought that my pack leader, Waylon, a speckled coon hound, would be the first to conquer the heavy plastic flap….and I was correct. Next came Cash, my happy-go-lucky Boxer mix, but it was not immediate. He would dash right behind Waylon, almost as if he were going to try to fit next to him as he exited through the one-dog sized opening. It took a few “are you kidding me” looks from Waylon before Cash took a leap of faith and made it through on his own. Now he dances back and forth through the opening just for the heck of it.

And then there was Harper Lee. Many repeats of me holding the flap open so she could see the yard outside. Many moments of her standing just outside whining as she tried to figure out how Waylon and Cash made it though the scary entrance. Many nose pushes as I sat on the inside coaxing her. Only her snout making it through until she pulled back frustrated and began her barking. And one day, right at dinner time, she decided getting to her bowl of food was worth possible injury and in one swift movement, she burst through the door. It was quickly followed by much praise and dancing to the tune of her elated barks.

I was thrilled. No more worrying about coming home to a mess in the house! No more worry that Harper Lee had been sedentary in the house for sometimes 12 hours. The problem was, Harper was okay with coming in to the house where she would be fed, but going out was still an issue.
For four weeks, I would come home and round the curve in the drive to Waylon and Cash and no Harper; but, I heard her in the house barking to come out. And then one day, three pups met me. And there was dancing, and laughter, and joy.

The pups and I are learning new tricks together: how to move on, how to try new things, how to take on challenges … proving that, with patience and time, old dogs can learn new tricks.

by Elizabeth Sullivan

Of Mutts & Meditation Part II

During our early morning ritual, I speak quietly and murmur endearments to each of the pups. Then comes the best part. The time when I do nothing but listen. To the crunch of canine teeth on dry dog  food. To the whirr of the ceiling fan. To the tree frogs and crickets who have not yet decided to sleep the day way. To the songbirds slowly waking and testing their voices with a solitary note which hangs in the air. To the jingle of tags as the dogs release some of the pent-up energy stored from the long night inside.

Eventually the dogs become still and they make their way to me pretending to need head scratches, but in their dancing eyes I always find impatience and eagerness and joy as they send me telepathic messages to move it and get my walking shoes on! 

Our walks begin down the same familiar path past the cherry tree and into the wooded trail that leads to open pastures and eventually to the lake for a swim. The dogs thunder down the path and all I see are a variety of tails bouncing and wagging as they taste complete freedom. Once in a while one of my companions will remember I cannot keep up the pace and will pause and turn, looking back over a shoulder to make sure I have not perished in the wood before springing forward again and leaving me in the dust.

Eventually I will catch up to the pups who are no longer so full of pent up energy and I will admire their beauty from a distance. The tilt of their heads as they lift their snouts to pick up a scent. The magnificence of their canine musculature. Their complete and utter appreciation of nature. And I realize how precious a gift they provide me by affording me the opportunity to drink in the tranquility and clear my mind in preparation for the upcoming work week.

Throughout a walk, the dogs race back and forth, dashing in and out of the underbrush to let me know that my protectors are on alert. Occasionally, one will give me a quick head butt to let me know my safe procession through the trails can continue.

Once when making our way back home, in the distance a limb snapped and fell with a crash to ground. My brave and strong companions flew to my side, tails under and heads down, a little glimmer of worry in their eyes. In turn, I placed my hand on each of their heads and assured them all was well. There was a time when I was the hero and defender of a red-headed toddler whose arms circled my leg and whose head was hidden against my pants from anything startling. With these pups, I feel my role as guardian once again.

I have considered studying the art of meditation, but I think I may already be a master of my own style of deliberate contemplation. I was taught to take time to drink it in, the world in its quiet moments before the chaos of the day unfolds. I was taught to experience joy, to relish a good nap, to appreciate a cool drink, to stop and enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face…by some of the greatest four-legged teachers in the world.

Elizabeth Sullivan

Of Mutts and Meditation

Sunday mornings are my time to just be. Although there is the rare morning I might luxuriate under the covers till 6:00 am, truth be told, I am usually wakened by the snuffle and sighs coming from the top of basement stairs way before the crack of dawn. No sleeping in for this fur baby mom.


Following a stumble through the dark to the kitchen for my wake up cup of coffee, I turn back toward those stairs that lead to the basement and begin my morning routine. Catching a whiff of the corn chip scent of puppy paws as I open the door, I start my day with one or two of the most loving looks ever bestowed upon a human.

Over the years, I have opened that door to Bo, our precious Boxer mix; Cali,
our smiley, low to the ground beagle-basset mix; Waylon, our coon hound; Cash, another Boxer mix and one who we call the happiest pup in the world; or to Harper, our beautiful retriever mix who came to us a bit older than our others. Down the stairs following an ungainly canine descent to the garage I go and round the corner into what is known as the Dog Cave. Amidst the wagging tails and prancing feet I make my way to the door to the outside and set the pups free for the morning constitutional before heading back in for my feeding chores.

The pups and I live away from the city and next to a lake where there are acres to explore and no fences. At night it is not uncommon to hear a pack of coyote circling close to the house, howling and foraging in the wood, seeking sustenance. Our first dog, Bo, would stand in the open doorway, his eyes piercing the darkness, ready to let the scavengers know he would not put up with intruders. He would growl menacingly then let loose what I called his “big boy bark”. It was deeper in tone and carried much more
weight as it traveled through the air. After each warning, Bo would look pointedly at me as if to say, “Never fear, you are safe”.


That early in the day, even the summer mornings are cool and refreshing and the pups run forward with abandon only pausing for the occasional sniff and marking of the territory to alert those still lurking
nearby that the canine patrol is back in action to shield and protect. They do not stay out long because they know there is kibble ready to be had.
During our early morning ritual, I speak quietly and murmur endearments to each of the pups.

Elizabeth Sullivan
To be continued

Harper Lee

I live in what some would consider the boonies. My home is surrounded by trees, there are no city lights, and I fall asleep to the sound of cicadas, tree frogs, and the occasional lonely howl of the coyotes. It is heaven on earth. It is also, unfortunately, the area people with no conscience come to dump animals. Mama dogs who have not been spayed and are on their third or fourth litter. Un-neutered males who wander. Puppies, newly born and helpless. Cats who continue to have kittens. It is heartbreaking.

Each of my dogs was brought into the family from a rescue situation. My latest love is named Harper Lee. She came to the Troup County Humane Society because her owners chose to turn her in rather than make arrangements to keep her from going after the neighbor’s chickens. She was approximately 5 years old and showed the signs of having had multiple litters, one very recent. I saw her picture on the TCHS Facebook page and I fell in love. When we met, her name was Daisy. She was skittish and loved to carry in her mouth a stuffed bird which the ladies at the HS called her baby. She would hide that baby in a corner and go back to check on it over and over. Think about it.

Something in her eyes, something in her demeanor and I knew she was meant to be mine. That’s how it happens. You just know. It didn’t matter to me that Harper was a little older, that she obviously had some issues, that she was needy….my heart knew.

That first meeting happened close to a year and a half ago. Harper Lee will always be a little quirky. I have no idea the trauma she endured. But from a shy pup who sat on my feet and ducked her head when anyone approached, she has become an outgoing, loving companion who sets out each morning to visit my father next door. She dances when I come down the stairs with her dinner bowl. She is the first to alert me of someone on the drive and the first to greet the visitor with a kiss. She is my 55 lb lap dog. She has two younger brothers, also rescues, who she joyfully hops around to coax them into play. Every day, she provides me with unconditional love which knows no bounds. Every day, I feel so lucky that I was the one to take her home. Every day, I hope that others will be as fortunate as I and will find their next fur baby with the help of the Troup County Humane Society. Stop by. You may fall in love….

Elizabeth Sullivan