Monday, July 11, 2016

Hope Sure Loves a Pitbull!


What do you  think when you hear the word “pitbull”?  Or more to the point, what do you feel?  Is it fear? Or is it a sense of justified anger?  Possibly one might feel curiosity or even simply neutral:  “Pitbull=Stocky Dog and didn’t I see something about one of those in the news?”  When I think of “pitbull” I think of Oliver.  And Bailey. I also think of Home Girl, Big Guy,  Russell, Lacey, and many others.  I think of Wilma and Louise who are two older girls I met at the pound recently. They are dedicated to each other and even though they are slower and older, they happily wagged their tails when I stopped by their cage to say hello and then they politely asked me to take them home. 

I’ve been a “dog person” since I was two and Cyrano de Bergerac, a jet-black poodle with a long nose, entered my life. My entire existence has been filled with canines and to imagine not having a faithful friend by my side seems incomprehensible. Through many doggie adventures with a lot of different dogs I have had my share of difficult experiences. I remember being attacked viciously by a maurading dog in Taos, NM and throwing heavy rocks on the attacker to get him off my Simone, a gentle girl, my true best friend. Later there were the ongoing threats by a pack of angry Golden Retrievers in Bend, OR,  and because they lived on my favorite walk by a beautiful rushing river, I chose to continue bringing my beloved Rosie, a retriever herself, near by, but always with a pocket full of rocks and shoulders raised. Later, in Tucson, when menaced by a Rottweiler with machine guns (or so it seemed), we fought to protect each other.  Comical, as we took turns stepping in front of each other, till the owner appeared and called the hoodlum off.  Hintza, my strapping and fierce looking hound, had enough hunks taken out of his hide by dog-park thugs and wandering coyotes that he looked like he’d been to war.  And so it goes.

Is there a theme among those attacks?  The only thread I can pull out is that some people do not stay in control of their dogs and then all hell breaks loose when an ill-tempered or poorly socialized dog is able to have his way with anyone in his or her path. Another theme is that poorly socialized humans purposefully over-breeding any type of dog, will tend to create misery in a million different ways.  My purpose in writing about dogs in general and pitbulls specifically today is not to beat you over the head with one more statistical bludgeon. As we all know statistics can be used in devious ways to support any argument and media outlets know that blood and gore sells. The heart-warming stories of millions of good dogs behaving well and being sweet just don’t sell advertising as well as one well-worded tragedy massaged and milked in such a way to create fear in every single person who reads/hears it.  No one even agrees what the breed “pitbull” is.  And many dog bite reports alledgedly caused by pits have had no basis in reality as most of us are not very good at dog identification.

With thanks to Facebook for always supplying clever memes.  

I became interested in taking in a pibble after our Hintza died four years ago.  He was irreplaceable, as all true- loves are, and I had to wait a long time before I was ready to welcome a new canine into the household.   I slowly began researching bully breeds and learning more about their history and temperament  and began looking at dogs available for adoption, online, at street fairs, and other local venues.  However, I didn’t feel ready until facebook popped a pibble right into my heart.

Oliver aka "Bart" at a local dog daycare with his devoted care-giver.

Bart was a black and white cutie who was dedicated to his 94 year old person  June, and the belle of the ball at doggie daycare three days a week. Sally Weber, a sister yoga teacher in Tucson, took him and his brother Pepper in after her mom died and then began the process of trying to find new homes.  Here is what she told me:  

"Mother had 2 dogs when we came to Tucson in 2005; Ginger (a white lab) and Pepper (a black lab).   Both of these dogs were hurricane Katrina survivors.  Several years after we moved to Tucson, Ginger died. Within the next year, one of Pepper's groomers told mother of this "sweet" dog that needs to be adopted into a loving home. She convinced Mother to see the Animal shelter video being aired on a local TV station.  Mother was excited before she even viewed the video.  It showed him resting. She invited me to the shelter to see him.  I suggested that we bring Pepper to see if there was compatibility. The meeting went very well and Mother was determined to bring him home.  She remembered two things from the instructions; one is that all dogs are tempermented tested and they do not adopt out any aggressive dogs; and secondly that if she brought him back for any reason, he would be put down.   She loved him and his vitality.  She rode him and Pepper around in her Honda Element (dog mobile) to their grooming appointments, day care, and vet visits.  I would help her with many these appointments."  Sally also told me that while her mother June was living in a nursing home before she died, that Pepper and Bart  visited every day for over a month.  Bart, being a social guy, loved visiting with all of the other residents as well.

June and Bart during her final days.

My young adult kids were instantly smitten, but we knew that the one who had to approve was Athena, our aging matriarchal standard- ranch- poodle.  She said “eh, whatever, just make sure he knows his place” and we made the big move. Our first act was to rename him Oliver, because well, you know, Bart rhymes with fart and that’s something that no dog, or his teenaged boy, can overcome. Over time we have come to know him as the sweetest and most loving dog we’ve ever had. Kind, cuddly, and always eager to please. He greets us at the door with a favorite toy and then proceeds to do a sophisticated happy dance. Such joy!

He has done continuing training at his obedience classes and has been a favorite of the instructors.  My goal is to help him reach his canine good citizen certification and then do the necessary training to be a visiting pet therapy dog.  He has already proven his competency in this area by visiting June, his previous beloved person in the nursing home she resided in during the last months of her life.   He and his pal Pepper went on daily visits to June and the other nursing home residents and Sally tells me that he was quite popular. 

I am also working to create the very best hiking partner possible. Ollie loves to run so nailing that recall is essential.  On trails all over Tucson I have been heartened by those hikers who make a point of saying hello, asking to pet him, to give him a treat, and to congratulate me on having the best-behaved and most handsome dog on the mountain.  Yes, those who are dedicated to these misunderstood pups are also dedicated to creating a new community that is respectful and supportive of dogs and those who love them. These warm souls are found everywhere:  Bookmans (our local used bookstore chain), Ace Hardware, Petsmart,  Home Depot, the neighborhood where we live, and anywhere he goes.  These locations are perfect locations to take any dog for socialization for those who are serious about creating successful companionsI am as heartened by these folks as I am saddened by those who take one look and cross the street, averting their gaze. I have learned that there are two kinds of people. 1) Those who rush to our side hoping to pet our guy, and 2) Those who take one look, scowl, and cross the street muttering as they hurry on by.

Oliver enjoying a hike in Sedona, AZ
Loving someone who is so often unfairly judged based simply on his appearance has been an interesting journey for me.  I’ve learned the depth of my commitment to another being, about being steadfast in the face of difficulty and not giving up. It hasn’t been easy as, Oliver, with all of his sweet -natured charms, suffers from extreme separation anxiety when apart from his people.  His self-medication of choice is to chew.  And chew and chew.  Pillows, couch cushions, blankets, entire couches, my electric toothbrush, and more. When he moved to books I knew I had a problem that required solving.  I am a bibliophile, and while I try to keep a handle on my book-loving tendencies (no new shelves!), I have a collection of over 1000 volumes, most that I intend to keep and read forever.  This is not a passing  fancy, and while couches come and couches  will go, books are sacred in this home.

Oliver caught in the act.

After trying many things from behavioral conditioning to herbs and supplements, I found three things that worked in combination.  1) We installed a dog door having learned that some dogs can suffer from containment anxiety - hence the bent bars on his crate and the broken tooth in his mouth.  2) A veterinarian consult led me to very reluctantly try medication.  Dogs have anxiety too!  Prozac dialed it down by a huge degree. 3) After a consult with a dog behavior expert, we learned that helping him be successful by providing nothing to chew was important. This last was the hardest to implement.  Who needs cushy furniture anyway?  It's terrible for our posture and our backs. I am not exaggerating much when I say that my house has had a transformation.  With a some simple modifications we have found our way to pibble peace and better posture as a way of life.

After reading this, it may seem like it's been one thing after another, and what on earth would be inspiring or hopeful about this story? This dog greets every person he meets as if they are his long lost soul-mate. He comes happily to the front door bearing a toy for each visitor who enters and he makes sure they feel loved and cared for.  He is an entertaining, endearing, wriggling mass of comfort when sometimes comfort is hard to find in our crazy world.  He is an untiring ambassador for the innate goodness of pitbull type dogs everywhere.  He gave great joy to a woman in the last years of her life, and then came and did the same for us.  I look at him every day and tell him how very grateful I am to have him in my life.  I hope he feels the same with us, in his third, and final home.

We live in a throw-away society.  Always after the next new thing, the next best thing, the thing that will bring us instant happiness. Hard work, dedication, devotion, loyalty, and constancy don't always make the news.  Oliver has taught me in a way unlike any other, that these things matter, and that loving someone and sticking by them is absolutely a choice, even when it's tough, and we can choose to do so every day.

Who do you choose to love?

Shalom, Shanti, Peace,


Normally I would post links here, but I trust that any who are inspired to consider rescuing your new best friend can make your way to a local Humane Society or Animal Control Agency near you. There are many breed specific rescue groups and more non-kill shelters are springing up daily.  Here's to finding hope with your new love. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Horses, Hope, and Taking the Ride of our Life

Riders in the Okavango Delta of Botswana

In late July my 25 year old daughter, Isabella, and I will be meeting in southern Africa to embark on a journey that has called us for many years. While I have often heard that “this is a trip of a lifetime”  whenever I have gone anywhere out of the country, it never felt true until now. This summer I have become aware that this endeavor has already stretched me toward personal growth in ways I couldn’t have imagined when signing up back in January.

We are heading to the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana (see map), an area that floods every year during the rainy season, and then slowly dissipates creating islands that animals can gather on in the dry seasons. This annual progression of advancing and receding water creates a rich tableau of wildlife as the life cycle continues with mating, birthing, and growing of babies. 

I first read about this adventure immediately after we returned from southern Africa four years ago.     We had spent a magical and eye-opening two months traveling through the wilder areas of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and even spent a few minutes on the banks of Angola while visiting the Caprivi Strip. We primarily experienced wildlife through self-drive safaris in rental vehicles and had many happy hours on the dirt roads of Kruger National Park, Etosha National Park, the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, and many other remarkable places. Because Isabella and I are both horse lovers, the idea of combining elephants, lions, hippos, impala, baboons,wild dogs, and more, with horses seemed like a truly magical undertaking.  We dreamed  about this trip repeatedly over the past four years until last winter.  Isabella was home for Christmas and as we looked at her future schedule as a veterinary student at Colorado State University (CSU), we realized that this was the last summer she would have discretionary time for at least two years and possibly longer.  We decided to make the fantasy real and to plunge into our next big adventure, not knowing what we would discover.

Close encounter of the elephant kind.

When we decided to commit to the Big Ride, we learned that we would be required to sit a posting-trot for six hours a day, and would need to be skilled at all paces:walk, trot, canter, and gallop. This felt a little daunting as I had never sat a full-on gallop before not to mention the sheer work it takes to trot hour after hour. When I thought about what we might be running away from; lions, enraged bull elephants, rhinos, leopards,  or a cheetah which is the fastest animal in the world, I wondered if we were truly crazy. We had seen first-hand on our previous trip how a pride of lions could effortlessly crouch in two feet of waving flaxen grasses and instantly disappear, nowhere to be seen. We had faced off with more than one enormous and angry bull elephant and had heard the stories of those who didn’t survive. You, like my mother, may be wondering why on earth this scenario is appealing?

Participating with nature, no barriers.

Isabella and I both find a sense of deep and restorative peace and serenity when we are immersed in the natural world.  We find great enjoyment from learning about the plants, animals, geology, weather and natural history of a new area.  We are completely energized by interacting with all wild creatures, great and small, furry or scaly. We are true nature-women in all senses of the word. And this is what drew us to Africa four years ago. Returning to experience one of the wildest experiences in Africa by horseback seemed like a natural fit. 

Wild horses of Wapio Valley on Big Island, HI  2014

Felicia riding Dahlea in Colorado using only body language and no
Additionally, we both have a life-long love affair with all things equine.  Spending time in any capacity with horses can be life-altering.  Horses are unique in the domestic animal world in that they are completely honest and forthright in all of their dealings with each other, and with us. While we may never be quite sure exactly what our cat or dog thinks of us, with a horse there is never any question.  Creating a relationship with an individual horse requires us to school our emotions towards calm and confident, and asks us to become very sensitive and intuitive about reading equine body language, and to be completely aware of our every movement, breath, and sound, no matter how small.  The horse and human partnership can be one of the most rewarding relationships possible but it takes perseverance and patience.  Learning to ride well is more complex than simply jumping on, grabbing the reins, and giving a kick.  

Isabella training with Grace in our round pen.
Because we highly respect our equine partners, whether at home, at school, or in our vocational or volunteer capacities, we realize that taking our undertaking seriously is imperative. From December to June we have both ridden many times a week, wherever and however we can.  I returned to dressage lessons with a favorite riding teacher who lovingly helps me create the best “seat” possible.  This means working at all paces in her arena, sometimes on a longe line while I walk, trot, and canter with no hands, no stirrups, and often eyes closed. Learning to ride using only my weight, balance and intention has improved my abilities 100%. My Morgan/Arab mare Grace, and I have ridden 100’s of miles through the washes, dirt-roads, and national park trails near my home.  Isabella was fortunate to ride a friend’s horse on the beautiful trails of Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Ft. Collins, Co where she attends veterinary school.

Grace choosing a trail for our ride in Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ.
Tucson has knocked us down with debilitating heat for the time being so I am able to ride less and for shorter times.  Meanwhile, Isabella, on a research assignment in Tasmania, is riding far less there due to short days, rain, and lack of transportation. We wonder now, can we really do this?  Will our bodies possible hold up for this sort of intense activity in an environment that requires full physical engagement and complete mental attention every moment?

The most peaceful moments I have ever experienced in this life have been from the back of a horse companion, in the company of wild ones in beautiful natural settings. During these times I am held quietly and perfectly in the present moment, aware of each breath, mine and my horse, each exquisite  mountain peak, tree, flower, bird, mammal, reptile, all in sharp relief, all  held in the ease of relaxed meditative concentration. Because riding easily creates mindfulness for me, I believe that this big ride, will only make it easier.  What greater joy to participate fully in the great unfolding drama of one of nature’s grandest theaters.

Bayfawn and Grace, as we ride into another glorious Tucson sunset.
Is it hyperbolic to imagine that we will be singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music” as we ride in ecstastic communion with our mounts amongst all creatures great and small through the great Okavango Delta? Hopefully! We’ll be bringing a lot of ibuprofen just in case!  And I hear that the safari camp has a good bar too. So even if we are battered and tired, help will be at hand.  Stay tuned and we'll be sure to let you know.  

Felicia on Bayfawn, the mare that came to me 22 years
ago. We're still going strong!

Isabella riding Grace, a horse that formerly
worked as a therapy horse at TROT

If you have a hankering to become more acquainted with horses and the healing and hope they can bring, I would like to recommend connecting with a therapeutic riding center near you.  Locally, Therapeutic Riding of Tucson (TROT) has been a home away from home for me, and truly is a happy place for many.  I have volunteered as a horse-handler there regularly for the past five years which is a great job if you have previous horse experience. If not, being trained as a side-walker can be a wonderful experience too. TROT, as well as other centers around the country, works with individuals who are developmentally delayed, physically disabled, adults with head trauma and PTSD, and veterans. I have seen the difficult and the amazing, the miraculous power of horses to be present in challenging situations and to facilitate healing of the highest degree in everyone they encounter.  In observing therapeutic riding situations as a volunteer horse-handler I have been privy to some pretty stunning exchanges.  This is a fine way to make a difference for a child, an adult, a horse, yourself.

Miniature Horses during a round-pen lesson at TROT
There are also horse rescue organizations that often need volunteers in many capacities. As with other companion animals, there are far more horses bred each year than there are homes for. The options for unwanted horses are bleak. Being sent to a cruel and inhumane death at a slaughter house in Mexico, being turned out in the desert to fend for themselves (a hopeless situation), or living with poor and substandard care is fairly common in the USA.  It is harder to rescue a horse than a smaller animal, many go to food markets in Japan and elsewhere. Volunteering to care for and to help re-home abandoned horses is a worthy calling. 

Look into the eyes of a horse and watch your life change.

Becoming friends with a horse can change your life and your outlook and I recommend it highly.

Shalom, Shanti, Peace,


Blog Links:

Felicia and Isabella's 2012 Africa experience:

Therapeutic Riding of Tucson:

The Desert Leaf:  Read Tucson author and photographer Robin Stancliff's  account of her horse safari in Botswana in 2008.  Many great photos!

Equine Voices Rescue and Sanctuary in Green Valley, AZ.  This rescue group works to save mares and foals from the Premarin (PMU) industry. To learn more or to donate and volunteer:

Bayfawn contemplating the labyrinth.  It was an interesting ride!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Finding Hope Goes to Africa!

Damaraland Desert Elephants, Namibia, 2012 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”
Mahatma Gandhi

After a 1.5 year hiatus from my blog project Finding Hope In A Fractured World, I find myself returning to the place that inspired it in the beginning. For the past year I have often thought and have had others tell me “it’s time to start writing again." 

What paused me for so long? After a difficult interpersonal experience that caused a loss of confidence, it became harder to imagine writing again, much less to allow any other person to read my words. My heart healed after a lot of time and introspection,  but I still felt afraid  of sharing myself in a public way. It was quite recently that I came to see this as a rare streak of perfectionism within myself. I had told myself that my perspective on suffering and hope in the world was not needed and not unique. Who am I to self-publish something not vetted by editors, publishers, experts? Yet, I continue to find myself drawn to many excellent home-grown blogs and looked forward to each new installment of my favorite authors. I love those brave bloggers!  I am grateful that we live in a time when we can communicate around the world with many people in an instant. Many readers have written, called, and asked “when are you coming back?  You’re writing has meant a lot to me." Kind, supportive words indeed, but still not the motivation I needed to move beyond my personal writing crisis.  

It wasn’t until my daughter, Isabella, and I hatched a plan to return to Africa this summer that my writing life and even one of my larger purposes in life came back into focus.
Felicia flirting with hippos in Namibia.
Isabella at the Cape of Good Hope,
Southernmost tip of Africa in Capetown.                      
 When I initially started this blog, it was a response to the majestic beauty of the African bush and all of her inhabitants transposed with the extreme pain, suffering, darkness and chaos I had seen in my travels through southern Africa four years ago [see Heartache of the Elephants in which I write about the impact of my first journey to Africa]:

  I felt utterly confused and hopeless about our world. It seems that we are destroying the planet and everyone and everything that inhabits it as quickly and ruthlessly as we can. Learning of the plight of so many animals on the verge of extinction and so many children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic was heartbreaking.  Witnessing the hatred and fear of post-apartheid South Africa was shocking. But coming home and finding that although we have made great progress in racial relations;  fear, confusion, and hatred toward the “other” remained strong right here in America. After the warmth and friendliness of travel personnel in five different countries, arriving in the USA and going through customs in Houston felt like a "welcome home" sucker punch.  There was such overwhelming hostility and debilitating fear in our great land, the land that has historically provided opportunity for the poor, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, everyone who is seeking a better life, just as our ancestors did.  Indeed, our collective paranoia and confusion seem to be on the rise as we ponder potentially electing a man who has been compared to Hitler. We scapegoat migrants, pillage the earth, and shoot each other up on a regular basis.  It seems that light and dark, good and evil, are partners.
When returning home in 2012, I had a period of spiritual darkness as I pondered all of this, and came to see, that the remedy for myself, was to consciously search for the good. The light. The creative. To notice, every single day, what the average person was doing to create peace and love in their own environment. I was convinced then, and have become even more certain, that as much as we may long for an institution, a government, a politician, a movement, a Bernie or a Trump, to save us, that it is really up to us to save ourselves and each other, to care about the lives of others as we do our own. To value our precious and fragile planet and all of it's beings instead of treating it as a commodity to be consumed. We are the ones who create our collective societies and always pointing a finger to “them” or finding that “us” is the victim is not where change happens. Change begins when we make a conscious decision to treat the cashier at the grocery store with kindness, speak with respect to a homeless person, when we willingly let others in on the freeway, when we see the stranger as part of our own family, when we  sit with those who are dying, when we tutor children.  Change begins when we cease our addiction to righteous outrage and instead roll up our sleeves and dig in to serve a larger purpose and take action. Yes, the world is a mess, so what are we going to do about it?

To be clear, I am a believer in collective power, movements, education, and the power of larger groups and even governments to make changes for the good, especially in protecting the most vulnerable and powerless among us:animals both wild and domestic, children, elderly, disabled, the poor and disenfranchised, the earth itself. We must collectively speak truth to power and stand up with our neighbors and be heard. But  when we look to others to make the shifts we want and need to see, we negate our own power to be change-agents every single day in profound, practical and effective ways.  It is important to fight for justice, to stand with those who are oppressed, to add our voices to the causes we find meaningful. There are multitudinous ways in which we can serve. Learning to become change-agents in our daily lives with each personal encounter we have, can be just as powerful as an election, a movement, an organization and probably more.

 In November, 1983, I wrote about my highschool friend Doug‘s project Bedstart.  

I have watched how Doug's conviction that no-one should have to sleep on the floor become reality for thousands of persons in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area where he lives. One man’s simple act of standing up with those who have very little has blossomed into a much larger movement.  I meet people every day like Doug. People who are not waiting for “someone” to do “something”. People who are simply wading into their world and doing what seems most pressing. These people are a voice for abandonded animals, for abused children, for those with painful and debilitating diseases with no known cure. They are working quietly and cheerfully to make money for a cause they believe in passionately, to support the work of organizations they believe in, and to simply help their neighbor anyway they can. They change unjust laws, they educate others, they reach out into the unknown with hope that they can make life better for even one being. They are you and me.

Isabella and I, so tiny next to an iconic Baobab.

Isabella and I are returning to Africa in July and will be revisiting our beloved elephants, reuniting with old friends, meeting new friends, and exploring the ancient heart-beat of Africa. This is the back-drop of my own reentry into public writing. Finding Hope in a Fractured World Goes to Africa.  I will be providing a mix of interviews with people I meet along the way who are doing their part to make the world a better place, and will also share my own thoughts as we travel, and want to invite you to come along.  If you would like to get a sneak-preview, please check out first travel blog Felicia In Africa for stories and photos of our first 8 week sojourn in 2012. 

In quieting my perfectionism I am writing in spite of the mistakes I will make,  the readers who will disagree, and the masses who will have no interest. I am writing to find hope for myself, once more and I hope to provide hope for those of you who are in greatest need of it right now.  I will also be adding updates about those I’ve written about in the past.  Do you have a story to share? What’s one thing you do to find hope in this fractured world?

Shalom, Shanti, Peace,


Wild-Dog in South Africa, Isabella's favorite sighting.
These animals are on the edge of extirpation in South Africa,
and extinction elsewhere.
 I wonder what we might do to save them and all of the others
who are pressured by the forces of the modern world?

copyright 2016 by Felicia Lowery