Webinars, podcasts, social medial has been a downfall for me. But no more! I’m educated now and know how to use the internet for good instead of evil. I’m working on webinars and podcast about pet care, pet health and safety and all of the things you’ve come to expect from me as an award winning pet sitter. I’m also going to do a special webinar about how to be a stellar pet sitter. It’s coming! Stay tuned!
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy from Circles on the Water
Life is about adjusting to new things, dealing with stress and memories of old wounds, picking yourself up and brushing the dust off to do it again. Interspersed with that is the people and animals you love, your hobbies, passions, desires and dreams. The trick is to prioritize and keep the power of your thoughts on the things that keep you happy, calm, safe and encouraged. Recently, I let an intruder into my thoughts. He was a physical embodiment of a bully, but I rarely saw him. When he did make his presence known, he was unkind, rude and very angry. I let him into my mind and he took over. I became upset, paranoid to go outside and afraid…not to mention very reactive. I was afraid to leave my dogs at home alone, I was afraid to be home alone and I was afraid of going outside. This intruder took over my thoughts, without permission or invitation. I mulled over it, I ruminated about it and I had bad dreams about it. The worst part of it is that I know he hates me, but even more distressing is he hates my dog. I’m a people pleaser, and I want everyone to like me but winning this bully over is of no interest to me. He messed with my dog and spread rumors about her; and me. This morning I woke up and decided I have had enough of waking up with a pit of anxiety in my stomach. It’s time to pick myself up and brush the dust off and move on. He’s a bully, always will be. How do you deal with bullies? Well, when my son was little I told him to stick up for himself. Don’t instigate a fight, but don’t walk away from it either. Make a boundary. Stick to it. He grew up to be a pretty great adult, so I’m giving that Mom I used to be a virtual high five! Now, I will put the advice into practice. I have words, I will use them. I have a brain, I will use that too. He’s a bully, but in reality he’s a coward. Aren’t all bullies cowards? So, if you’re a bully I’m saying to you; knock it off. If you are being bullied, stop letting that person take residence in your brain. I know it’s hard because negativity sticks in our brain like velcro. It’s true! There is scientific evidence that our brain keeps our negative experiences so we learn from them and don’t repeat them. It’s a coping mechanism from our ancestors so they would learn what they shouldn’t eat, which animal not to bother, which path not to walk. It takes purposeful effort to focus on the positive things and not the negative. Even the bullies have this going on in their brain. The difference is I choose to focus on positive experiences and that will loosen the velcro of the negative. It’s a choice that must be made every moment of every day, but the alternative is unacceptable. The bully has a right to live in my neighborhood, but he doesn’t have the right to live in my brain. He’s evicted from my mind and my thoughts. Should I run into his unpleasant company again, I will use my words to stand up for myself and my dog. I will be brave. Let me make this very clear: Being brave doesn’t mean I’m not afraid. It means I am choosing to stand my ground despite the fact that I’m afraid. In my opinion this is one of the most powerful things a person can do for themselves. I encourage you to take your power back if you are being bullied. If you aren’t encountering this unpleasant experience in your life, then I encourage you to support and edify those who suffer from this torment. It’s not just the fear of physical harm that is so threatening, it’s the amount of time, space and energy it takes to try and live a normal life with a bully in control. Help your friends if they have a bully in their life. Encourage them to take their power back. Tell them they are worth it. Help them stand up for themselves. Don’t make them do it alone.
I’ve been a pet professional in Michigan for over 20 years. I’m also a pet parent to Mozi, a year old mutt rescued from a shelter, and Hazel, a 9 year old Malmaute rescued from a disturbing situation. In the mitten state, “dog friendly” is a term that is just emerging. Dogs are not welcome in most professional settings, unless the dog is a service dog or therapy dog. Dogs are not welcome in shopping centers, restaurants, malls and most hotels. Despite the efforts of many members of the community in which I lived, a dog park isn’t even available for dogs and their parents to visit. Living on the shores of Lake Huron, one would assume dogs would be more than welcome to romp in the water, especially on public beaches. That is not the case; beaches are closed to dogs. As a pet professional, I battled hard for dogs to have adventures with their parents and be welcomed on patios at local restaurants. My pet service would sponsor local “dog walks” so like minded dog lovers could come together and enjoy the company of their dogs and others. It was an uphill battle the entire time.
When my family and I decided to move to Seattle, I was excited about the prospect of dog friendly living. I saw the story about the black lab who takes the bus to the dog park when the mood strikes. I was in awe that no one on the bus was bothered that they were sharing a bus with a dog. I felt that I was on my way to Oz. The drive to Seattle took us 5 days and I used those 5 days to daydream about life in the city with my dogs. I had visions of walking my dogs along the sidewalks of downtown Seattle, with a Starbucks coffee in one hand, poop bags in the other. I assumed there would be dogs parks placed in strategic places in the city, restaurants with patios where the dogs and I could sit and relax; me drinking some tea, them drinking from a shared dog water bowl, while a barista gave the dogs some treats. I assumed my visions were farfetched (pardon the pun) and I had to work hard to reign in my enthusiasm.
We arrived during the heat wave that has hit the west coast so hard. Seattle heat can’t compare to Michigan heat. Combined with high humidity and no breeze, Michigan heat is suffocating and can easily make one very sick. Seattle heat is just hot and uncomfortable. Due to the heat and temperature of asphalt, I couldn’t take the dogs downtown, so we decided to take our first adventures without Mozi and Hazel and explore our new hometown. Google maps became my new best friend and I discovered and visited so many dog parks just within miles of my new home. My head was spinning as I spoke to many pet parents who shared my enthusiasm about dog friendly living. We went downtown to explore and saw so many dogs trotting happily alongside their parents, unaware that in other areas of the country, this is unusual. We saw dogs dining with their parents, dogs exploring Pike’s Market, dogs sitting patiently while their parents played instruments or sang songs loudly on the sidewalks for spare change, dogs accompanying their parents while shopping. I thought I was prepared for a dog friendly life style, but once I started to take it all in, I was near tears, overwhelmed by the acceptance of this lifestyle and consumed with grief for all those dogs who will never experience this kind of kinship with their parents. As we wandered the streets of downtown Seattle, I found that I stopped and took a picture of every community dog water bowl that I saw; posting the pictures on my Facebook page sharing my enthusiasm for Seattle’s dog friendly lifestyle. Some of my Facebook friends thought I had finally lost it, while some of them celebrated with me. Even though my day dreams from my 5 day drive across the country were coming true; I was actually finding that dog friendly living was more than I had expected. One would think that I’d be happy; overjoyed even. However, I was overwhelmed. So many opportunities to enjoy a happy dog and I couldn’t decide where to start. I decided to slow down, make a list of the places I wanted to visit and take it one step at a time.
Acclimating to a new city is hard enough, but I was trying to acclimate to a new lifestyle; a lifestyle I had dreamed about, yearned for and anticipated for a long time. It’s hard to find the words to describe the difference between how dogs are viewed and treated in Michigan and how dogs are accepted and loved in Seattle. It’s as if I truly have gone to Oz.
As if that weren’t enough, I found out about a dog beach in Edmonds. A dog beach where the dogs were allowed to play in the water…off leash! Of course, I had to go. My first visit was astounding. My husband and I were speechless as we wandered through the gate and onto the beach. We found an old, washed up log to sit on and tried to take it all in. This must be what dog heaven is like; dogs running in the sand, swimming in the water, fetching balls that don’t even belong to them, people petting each other’s dog and dogs just being dogs with such enthusiasm it warmed my heart. No one was yelling or scolding the dogs for jumping or being messy. No one was telling the dogs to stop barking. No one was even phased that the dogs were digging holes in the sand. It was amazing. We sat there for over an hour just watching the dogs and their parents. I felt like a student in a new school; unsure if I would fit in, hesitant to approach new people, wondering if others automatically assumed that I didn’t belong there. I need not have worried. An elderly husky wandered over to where we were sitting. She nudged my hand with her nose, asking for some pets. Not knowing if it was bad form or not, I obliged the old girl’s request and she closed her eyes and sighed a little. She then turned away from me, dug a hole in the sand, which was nice and cool, then settled in for a nice nap, just a few feet away from where I sat.
The rules of engagement at a dog park/beach are new to me. I don’t know if it’s ok to correct another person’s dog; if it’s ok to snuggle with a dog I don’t know; if it’s ok to throw a ball for a beckoning dog. What I discovered is that the dogs make the rules at the dog beach. Their parents are not judgmental and as long as the dog initiates the contact, I was welcome to play and love and pet as many dogs as I possibly could; and I totally took advantage of the opportunities I was given. The dogs ruled and I finally found a little bit of peace. While I have so many more places to visit, so many more things to discover about this dog friendly life style I now live in, when it overwhelms me, I go to Edmonds and visit the dogs who are romping on the beach. Even if they ignore me, it’s a grounding experience to just watch the dogs be dogs; happy dogs who are loved and respected.
A new name for an old ailment. It’s when caregivers run out of steam. It’s when fatigue overwhelms enthusiasm. It’s when compassion faulters. It’s the one thing I expected would never happen to me, because I’m full of boundless energy and compassion for animals. When it happened, it knocked me on my backside. That’s where I’m at. On my backside, with the wind knocked out of me, stunned with disbelief that this has happened. Taking care of pets does take a toll on a pet sitter, both physically and emotionally, but it’s what we do. However, no one told me about the emotional impact (and this is true to the definition of the word…impact…think getting punched in the stomach) the clients would have on me, emotionally and mentally. Clients rely on me to be stoic when faced with great emotional turmoil. They expect me to be strong, especially when they can’t be. They turn to me for advice on everything from what to feed their pets to when it’s time to put them down. I’ve been with client’s pets when they take their last breath and every time I cry; you know that uncontrollable sobbing that is gut wrenching and ugly? Yep, that’s what I do; every time. My clients don’t see that. The veterinarians and their techs do, but the clients remain blissfully unaware of how much of an emotional impact that has on me. And it doesn’t stop. The last 6 months have been awful. My service has lost more pets in the last 6 months than in my entire career put together. Each one of them I loved, cared for and cried about when we lost them. By the end of April, I was tired. By the middle of May, I was aggravated. By the beginning of June I knew I was done. When the downslide started I thought it was a simple case of burnout, easily fixed with some time off. However, there wasn’t any way to get time off. I love that my clients need me, but a few of them just refuse to let me take time off. I battled for a weekend off and finally got one. I turned off the phone and tried to enjoy the weekend. It wasn’t enough. The downslide had started, and, like anything that starts to go down, it continued and got worse, going faster and faster. I couldn’t keep the pace and keep myself in check. I knew I was in trouble. I started to do some research about burnout and soon discovered that what I was experiencing was far worse than a simple case of burnout. I learned I have Compassion Fatigue. To me, those words were dooming. It meant that the best of me; the part of me that made me good at my job; the part of me that had so much passion for my pets was gone. Not just burnt out but gone. I panicked. How could I continue to service my client’s pets when I had lost my passion? I felt like I was lying to them. The last straw, for me, was doing hospice care for a client’s pet for a week, all the while knowing the exact date and time the dog would lose her life. It was one of the most distressing things I’ve ever gone through, especially the last visit. I have flashbacks now. I also lost my own personal cat during this time, a cat I had hand raised from 2 weeks old. He died of heart failure, but I missed his symptoms and it was far too late when I realized he was sick. I have flashbacks of this as well. Nightmares. Fear. Anquish. Guilt. Waves of nausea. (Yep, physical symptoms are part of the deal with this). Headaches. Insomnia. Helplessness. Anger. I can’t even describe how these feelings rush in and over take me with no warning. Then, I find myself lost in whatever thought, vision, feeling or physical symptom that has assaulted me and I will literally shake my head trying to get it to stop. It’s distressing. Then, found out that a friend of mine lost a friend of hers to suicide due to Compassion Fatigue. It’s time to take action, get better, rest, deal with it and then fight back. This distressing ailment is a real as PTSD in soldiers. It’s as real as depression and heart disease. It’s not something to take lightly because it’s a beast and it doesn’t want to let go. It likes to torment and taunt it’s victims. I think that if one doesn’t know what they are dealing with, this beast will do serious damage to a person. So, I’ve decided to speak out and share my journey. This is not my style at all, but with health care professionals unsure of how to help with it, I figured this is the next best thing. A pill will not restore my compassion and neither will a psychologist. The words need to come out. Experiences need to be shared. While I heal, I wont pet sit or walk dogs. They deserve my best, and right now they wouldn’t get it. A few experts say it wont take long, another couple said a year or 2. I guess I’ll know when it’s time. But, for now, I rest, I write and I discover where my passion and joy went and I fight with the beast that stole it from me. I also urge any pet care professional who even thinks they are suffering from Compassion Fatigue to do some research. I know that I’m not the only one.
People cause me a great deal of anxiety. It’s the truth and there is no disputing this. I’m old enough to know and accept this fact about myself. I am not one for confrontations, but I wont back down if I’m confronted. I apologize when I need to. I don’t hurt people on purpose. I try to be helpful when people need help. I always…always believe what people say until proven otherwise. I always think the best of people and give them the benefit of the doubt. I always assume the best in people and, sometimes, I’m not disappointed. But for the most part, people confuse me. They say something that, in my head, I have to figure out is true or not. If it’s not, why did they lie? What is their motive? See? This causes anxiety for me. The past several months, due to a death in our family, I’ve been forced to deal with all kinds of people. I was unprepared for the chaos, pain and anxiety that followed and continues to torment me. I’ve never been one to let many people in my personal, life, just a few here and there…ones that I trust and I know have my back. Those are the people I cling to right now. They are helpful, understanding, supportive and just plain wonderful. I don’t know if they think I’m odd or weird, but they accept me for who I am. These special people seem to understand what pets seem to know instinctively. I’m just me and they just know that. No questions, no demand for me to change who I am and no pressure to “buck up”. My relationship with animals began when I was very young and I’ve always been more comfortable interacting with animals than with people. People confuse me. Animals do not. Dogs, especially, are honest, direct and you know exactly where you stand with them. People, I have found, are not as forthcoming or honest. In recent days, my anxiety and stress level is at the highest point that I can remember in my experience on this earth. Several factors have come into play at just the right time and, seem to be pushing me as far as I can be pushed…and continue to push. I felt I was at a loss on how to cope. I couldn’t hide with my animals, I had to face what was happening. I felt completely lost, even with my husband trying to guide me through this mess of a human experience. I still feel that way, but this morning, as I was trying to drink some coffee while sitting on my bed, I looked at my cats. 2 of the 3 housecats, Polly and Itty, were laying on my down comforter. It looked like they had just nestled right into a sweet spot and the comforter was, well…comforting them. Polly was asleep and Itty had curled up against me. Both of them were purring, for what seemed to me, no good reason. No one was touching them or petting them. They were just laying there purring. I began to wonder why. How can one be so content just to “be”? I watched them for about 15 minutes, intently. I began to wish I had the capacity to just melt into a down comforter and dispel the anxiety that is tormenting my brain right now. Somehow, cats have it figured out. I sat with them for some time, until I began to feel my anxiety subside and was able to get out from under the covers. I knelt down next to my bed, rested my head, and put a hand on each cat, just to feel their warmth and their breathing. They both began to purr. Comforting. I don’t know if Polly and Itty know that I’m struggling with people right now. I don’t know if these two little fuzzy creatures understand anxiety and stress, but they do understand that I need them. While people will continue to confuse me and cause anxiety, my interactions with animals will be something I can count on to be true and honest. As I write this, Itty is watching me intently. I’m not sure why. Is he looking for signs of my distress or is he trying to tell me something? His breathing is rythmic and hypnotic. If I focus hard enough, everything kind of melts away into the background, if only for a moment, and I feel some relief. I believe that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t know what that reason is or see it right away. There’s a reason. There’s a lesson to be learned. I don’t know what the reason is for the distress in my life right now, but I do know that my cats wont let me down. Neither will my dog, for that matter. Last night I had to walk. It’s how I deal with stress and anxiety. I have to walk…and walk and walk and walk. It was chilly last night and I went to the beach. My husband was with me, but my dog is the one who led the way. I followed where she led and she took me for a long, long walk on the beach. The cold air helped my hot cheeks cool off. The waves soothed my brain. The ice and the snow reminded me of better winters. I just followed my dog and she took me where I needed to go. The cold never invaded me and my wet feet didn’t bother me. My husband’s hand in mine was of great comfort and felt like my only attachment to the world outside my head. We would stop, once in a while, to watch the waves crash against the ice that is building up on the shore. Hazel would stop too and just wait until we were ready to walk some more. How do animals know? How do they sense distress in people? How do they know what to do to provide comfort? It’s amazing that they have the capacity to just comfort with their presence and never ask for anything in return. Not once has my dog said, “Ok, you feel better, give me a cookie now”. My cats have never said “Stop watching me and go scoop my box.” They have never asked for anything in return for their comfort, not even a thank you. As much as I wish more people had the capacity to love others the way animals do, I understand that people are people…with all of their faults, character flaws and weirdness. I also understand that I am a person, with faults, character flaws and weirdness, however my animals don’t care. While I don’t foresee an end to this torment I’m going through right now, I know it will end. It always does. I will lean on my husband as well as my animals for the comfort I need to get through this ridiculously difficult time. As depressing as this blog entry may sound to you, the reader, don’t despair about me. If you have a pet, just take a moment to appreciate the love that pet gives to you. Touch her fur and appreciate the warmth. Look into her eyes and see compassion. Talk to her and see how she listens. Watch your cat completely relax and give in to sleep as it over takes her. We can learn from our pets, if we just pay attention.