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High Anxiety

I woke this morning around 5am and couldn’t catch my breath. To my left, Kerry, my husband, slept soundly and still. To my right, the plastic shoe box wiggled with three puppies, one of whom whined the warning, “almost time to eat.” It’s kind of them, I think, to wake slowly, giving me a chance to heat the bottles. I realize it’s rather fantastic to think they have a sense of courtesy, but I’m the one whose heart is racing in the groggy, pre-dawn hours, so I can think what I like.
Shuffling across the cold, white tile to the kitchen, I breathe slowly and deeply, dismissing the odd bit of panic to focus on the task at hand. Alfa, Bravo and Charlie only have so much patience and I have to teach in a couple of hours. Returning to bed, I snuggle each puppy individually and offer the warm mix of formula and pumpkin — feeding has become quick and sweet now the pups’ motor skills have improved.
So, why the panic? What nagging subconscious thought came bubbling to the surface to dispel my dreams?
The blog, of late, has been mostly about progress made, about fuzzy-love moments of puppy breath, ounces gained and wobbly steps taken. But it hasn’t been all sunshine these last few weeks. A storm has been brewing and I realize, after a handful of days where weather has forced us inside more than usual, that some changes need to be made. I am feeling a sharp and forceful measure of both rock and hard place.
If you’ve been following the blog, you know there are seven dogs in the house: Bailey, Mick, Duke, Mike, Alfa, Bravo and Charlie. Granted, the ABC’s are tiny and not at all under foot. Their total combined weight is less than half that of a “real” dog, as Kerry would describe it (he is of the strong opinion real dogs weigh more than eleven pounds – less than that is a rat). Bailey and Mick are the “home dogs,” while Duke and Mike are fosters – these four are all grown and well under foot — often.
It’s not the presence of the dogs, however, that presents a problem. It’s becoming an issue of chemistry. When Duke first arrived, he presented the greatest threat to Mick’s sense of home ownership. Mick had taken his time learning to share his space with us and with Bailey (who is more than double his size, but a fairly gentle and patient soul), and, though he wasn’t thrilled with Mike’s presence, he accepted it. Molly, of course, had been so ill she’d gone unnoticed. But Duke seemed to set off something in the Basenji — some trigger. Mick exploded into furious little tirades at the sight of Duke, occasionally waiting for the big dog to pass before lunging and striking his back haunches.
Duke was relatively tolerant at first and seemed almost confused at the angry attention being paid him. He was much more interested in the toys and food, both of which he was inclined to protect and hoard, a habit which we noted and have tried to discourage. Duke is very easy-going fella, playful and extremely smart. As Mick’s behavior became more pesky and intrusive, Duke avoided him unless attacked, at which point, he would slap the little dog down, sometimes giving him a nip. Bailey picked up on the tension, her herding instincts shifting into gear, and began “moving” Mick away from Duke, pushing him with her chest and shouting the odd warning growl. “Don’t make me pull this car over,” she seems to say.
That was the first month or so. Over the last few weeks, while Mick wants to mother the puppies, he has become increasingly aggressive toward all the other dogs, snapping even at Bailey. A few days ago, when I’d slipped away to the kitchen for a midnight puppy feeding, he got sideways with Duke in my bedroom — one of the only places besides the back yard that had an air of neutrality — and started a fight. Kerry stopped them, but not before Duke had put a rather large hole in Mick’s neck.
Since then, Mick grumbles around the house, working himself to fever pitch with even a peripheral glimpse of Duke. He has snapped at Mike, leaving a mark on his chest, and no longer backs down when Bailey intervenes. The two-legged family members are on edge, as well, and I worry that Lily will be bitten should she attempt to stop a quarrel. Mike and Duke are ready for adoption. I realize that will ease the current situation, but then what? Are my fostering days to end because of Mick’s territorial and intractable nature? Is it fair to consider adopting Mick out to someone who will understand him — not test his patience? I want to do what’s right, fair and best, but is it possible to accomplish all three?
“Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assissi

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More About this Blog: St. Rocco

Shortly after my Mom remarried, my new Grandmother, Margaret, gave me a book: The Lives of Saints. It was my first exposure to the mysteries of Catholicism and I was stunned. The stories captivated and inspired me: the drama and devotion of the men and women in those pages more fascinating than any cartoon super heroes. Though my own spiritual path would wind and branch, die off and reinvent itself time and again, the saints maintained quite a hold on my imagination. It was their passion I longed to emulate – their fearlessness in the face of adversity. So it was that, when pondering names for this blog, I stumbled upon the story of St. Rocco, patron of many things, but, most accordantly, patron saint of dogs.

Most bios of St. Rocco follow the same thread: born to noble parents in Montpellier, France, he grew, under the tutelage of his mother, into a devout servant of the Church. After his parents died, he surrendered all his worldly goods to the poor and took a vow of poverty. During the course of a pilgrimage to Rome, Rocco encountered many villages struck by the plague and set out healing people by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads. At some point along the way, he, too became stricken by the plague and isolated himself in the forest, building a small hut of boughs and leaves. It was at this time, Rocco was visited by a dog belonging to a local nobleman, reputedly Gothard Palastrelli. The dog appeared each day with bread for Rocco. Count Gothard, followed his dog, and, upon finding the convalescing man, took him into the castle to recover. It is believed that when Rocco returned to Montpellier after so many years of travel and suffering, he was unrecognizable and the townspeople tossed him in jail under suspicion of espionage. Not until his final moments of life, was his identity revealed: a cross-shaped mark on his chest, which had been there and grown with him since birth, was exposed and, according to the legends, the chamber was filled with blue light as Rocco died. It is said he continued to perform miracles after his death and he was venerated to sainthood by the people.

St. Rocco is noted as the patron saint of dogs, bachelors, second-hand dealers, the falsely accused and surgeons, to name a few.

There are churches dedicated to St. Rocco all across the globe. “VSR” can be found carved or painted in doorways around Europe – “Viva San Rocco” is thought to ward off the plague. “The Godfather II” features a processional for the Feast of St. Rocco, a tradition in standing since 1889. Though not celebrated with the same dedication as in years past, St. Roch’s Day on 16 August in Bolivia is considered the birthday of all dogs and celebrants dress up their pooches in colorful ribbons.

In a world so often stricken with the modern plague of ambivalence, where are the saints? I believe they are everywhere. Some of them have two legs and some of them have four. Maybe someday I’ll post a roster of my saints, but not tonight. I’ll leave you to ponder yours . . .

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