Monday, 28 July 2008

Talk therapy

[New title added, intro edited, 21st October.]

Sometimes, while I talk, Lucy gazes into my face, listening. In exactly the same way I know Charley must have done with Steinbeck (Travels with Charley). And nothing could feel more right.

No human could muster such eye contact. No man’s ears twitch with such eagerness to hear. And no one show quite so much enthusiasm as a poodle when the tempo rises and empathy shares - when they feel the same adrenalin rush as you.

There is no greater friend. Nor confidante. And maybe it’s true that it is only the tone they respond to, but, in a poodle’s case anyway, there certainly do seem to be a lot of tones/sounds they remember – and not all of them self-serving! Indeed, it appears to be the words themselves – at least for Lucy – which serve as the key to memory and retrieval of the correct response.

Words like: “Kibble”; “dinner-time”; “fresh water”; well, of course, she knows those well. And: “bed-time” (which she enjoys); “toys”. But: “Excuse me!” and she moves herself away when I’m trying to walk? Recognising when we say “she” and are talking about her (looking up, tail wagging, ears pulled back [floppy ears can’t ‘prick up’!] to attention)? These things amaze us.

Oh heck, I’ve always known she can speak English. She just chooses not to, most of the time!

Anyway, I’ve been thinking, lately, about the way I talk to Lucy. For a couple of reasons: 1) because if I didn’t I’d be talking to the walls and/or outloud to Jesus (what, I don’t do that already?!), and 2) it suddenly struck me that Tom doesn’t.

That is, he uses sounds and not words when addressing Lucy. Now I asked him about this, and his reply left me speechless:

Our [his and Lucy’s] relationship is special on a primeval level!”

Oh, of course he was laughing. It was tongue-in-cheek and meant specifically to annoy me (the Darwinian thing, as well as reminder that humans normally talk to humans!), but really…

Our poor, little poodle has been unwell lately. Not surprising when, following three weeks of nerve-jangling builders’ noise upstairs, her favourite family member (and food-provider), Tom, left home. (To say nothing of “Mummy”’s ever-progressing multiple sclerosis [PPMS] – bound to have an effect.) Her security and routine were undermined, and it wasn’t long before the emotional upset revealed itself in physical malady.

First it was messes – on the carpet. Not even trying to hit the “toilet-tray” (f’s & u; p&p [do we need to name them?] – difficult, and dangerous [falls], for me to clean up).

Then, her second "season" which seemed to go on and on (three weeks – and, yes, I am reconsidering spaying). It exhausted even me (empathy, and worry about males in the “’hood” [canine]!).

And finally, before the estrus (that’s what they call it, the very bloody bit) was even over, with defences down, she was pounced upon by an ear infection: bacteria and yeast - they don’t come much nastier, or more parasitical, than those two hoodlums!

Itching and scratching. Itching and scratching. Out came the loathed Elizabethan collar and in (to the body) went the increased garlic; on (to the flesh) went the calendular (marigold – antiseptic, strongly anti-fungal/itch and healing) ointment. But it was unceasing - drove us all crazy – and was, of course, most distressing for Lucy.

A visit to the Vet was reluctantly arranged and off went Tom with sad, toy poodle in tow (carrier). But not before a ‘phone call from me to lay down the groundwork (“absolutely, no steroids”)!

Well, of course, that was completely ineffective, because the rotten Vet – who obviously hadn’t received my message or heard it from Tom (?!) - apparently, poured his bully-boy anti-biotics/steroids straight into Lucy’s ears. And then suffered the verbal wrath of Yours truly, straight down the ‘phone into his! I was furious (see MS – My Scene for why I wouldn’t give steroids or anti-biotics [except in an emergency] to my worst enemy, let alone - like Lucy - my best friend).

Anyway, she came home, the poison (did I mean potion?) went in the bin, and off we went with incensed/increased vigour on our herbal attack.

For an anti-inflammatory we used chamomile essential oil (also anti-fungal). We mixed that with garlic (anti-biotic) oil and based them both in extra-virgin olive oil (antiseptic/healing). It may have taken longer than prescription pharmaceuticals to see results, but dear, litle Lucy is perfectly well now (a couple of weeks later), without side effects and we I know, without her immune-system being compromised (take note, however, things were a bit smelly!). Thank God for herbs. (By the way, while we’re at it: eyebright, not only for your eyes but also for dogs’ - excellent, even in conjunctivitis).

And this is where I get back to the issue at hand: ‘talking’ to Lucy and, by extension, all animals because of my conviction that talk-therapy (as I bet all MSers agree) is a prime healer. At the very least, it will promote endorphins to camouflage pain.

Ergo, when Lucy scratched, I would say: “Lucy, please STOP scratching, you know it makes things worse.” But Tom would shout: “OY!” Where I call: “Come on, Little One!” Tom will whistle, shrilly, as if she’s an alsation outside. And, when I sense stress, soothing: “Don’t worry, it’ll be all right.” Tom… blows raspberries, then puts on drum and bass!

And so on. And you-know-what? This is exactly the way I did it bringing Tom up, as a single parent (heck, I even taught him to read and write by the age of three!). It works…

When Tom was a baby, I went into hospital for a week and he went to a foster-family to stay. He had recently been in hospital himself with pneumonia and I had gone for a “rest” (like a rock-star!). Anyway, while he was at this other house he developed another bad cold – everyone (i.e. the family themselves, the social worker) - thought he should stay there till he was better (I think they’d all thought I’d be away longer) but I said no. Our place was far from luxury, it wasn’t even carpeted or very warm but I just felt that it was the being separated from what he knew best and – in his case – his own birth-mother that was causing the upset, so we brought him home. I talked to him none-stop, he slept in my bed and he was better within days, it was wonderful. I have never been more sure of the power of love than I was then. And I will never forget it.

And so I apply the same logic to Lucy and the discourse shall continue. With time, God willing, she’ll get used to the new routine (is there one?!) and settle down.

But, here’s the thing, am I really writing about my chatter to them or their helping me by letting me chatter? The more I think about it the more it seems I’m the one should be saying, “Thank you.” After all, by talking to and worrying about Tom and Lucy, my mind has been taken off myself.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Oh, how true.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Bloomin' poodles!

Just in case some of you were wondering whether I was even aware it’s summer – that last post being so (literally) cold and under the weather - I thought I’d present you with a bouquet of chrysanthemums, full of good cheer and bonhomie.

Because that’s exactly what chrysanthemums stand for in the language of flowers: cheerfulness and to tell someone, “You’re a wonderful friend.”

Which is why Lucy thought they were for her!

Have a great summer! (Oh and, yes, I do know chrysanthemums bloom naturally in the autumn, but, well, the way the world is, and they’re so sunny. [Plus: I can’t get to the roses at the bottom of our garden!])

P.S. Fellow-MSers, if you can’t keep cool just be cool – that’s all that matters!

Credits (!):pictures and blogging by Virginia; picture editing by Tom.