Love and the psyche, or soul: Intertwined and essential parts of our being. If you are new to my writing,
you'll find that I take a deep and long view. What we do is a product of our deepest and highest longings, our instincts, biological drives, traumas and losses, failures, successes, and primal urges. When you go out to get a dog, you're not just looking for a dog, you're looking for part of yourself. If you don't understand this, you are likely to do a disservice to yourself, and the dog. Let's explore this. (And yes, I do have a background in psychology.)

YOU MAY HAVE FINISHED THE PREVIOUS ARTICLE about my close-to-terminal empty nest syndrome and thought, "Well, that's very nice, but what does it have to do with dogs?"

Ah. It has a great deal to do with dogs, but exactly what has not been revealed––yet.

Sometime in my daughters' teen years, as my deep subconscious began to realize that they would grow up and leave, I discovered a wonderful new aspect of contemporary culture––the Internet. I learned to search and find and bookmark and revisit site after site, letting my fantasies guide me in a wonderful new world, the worldwide Web.

We go the way we're bent: Some people get on the Net and are hooked by unsavory stuff, which ends up costing them a lot of money, and may eventually destroy their lives.

My fantasies are pretty boring. I found three primary areas of pretty tame exploration, which as it turns out, could cost me lots of money and mess up my life just as easily.

I love black and tan Cockers.
Check Ode to eBay to get your doggie stuff!


(1) On-line auctions, chiefly eBay. This craze resulted in my writing An Ode to eBay, a multi-part series giving you the tools you need to succeed on the world's largest auction. Check it out:They sell dog supplies and goodies on eBay, and I got the cutest black and tan cocker spaniel Christmas figurine . . . He's shown above, demonstrating that this article really does have to do with dogs.

If you want the real scoop on my experience with on-line auctions, check out my book.

(2) Real estate. Did you know that Multiple Listing Services are increasingly being put on line? And that you, the person panting after the perfect, most wonderful, trouble free, glorious existence––or a piece of property that conveys all of that to your mind in 200 by 300 pixel pictures––can search the real estate market to find THE PERFECT PLACE?

For several years, I searched the continent for an even better, larger, cheaper, and more wonderful place to park our horses, ignoring what I already had. After enormous personal growth, I realized I already had what I was looking for and stopped my on-line search for nirvana.

Does anyone relate to this? Looking for love (or something) in all the wrong places? When you already have it? Yep. We're human

We don't own all of this, just the part in front with the house and hay barn, but we do get to look at all of it. .

(3) Dogs! I've always loved dogs. As my subconscious prepared for my children leaving, I found myself thinking about dogs. Cuddly, furry dogs. Sweet dogs. Dogs who would wiggle from head to foot at the mere sight of me, just like my kids did as babies. Dogs are an almost perfect child substitute.

I found dogs well represented on the Net. Every SPCA, animal shelter, pound, rescue operation, as well as every single breed of dog––no matter how obscure––has its very own Web site. A person can look at pictures of adorable dogs that need new homes all day long. And all night long. I did.

I'd look at page after page of doggy faces, all with pert smiles. Oh, isn't that one adorable? How about that one? I must have over a hundred breed associations and rescue groups bookmarked on my computer.


I didn't really get it. Why was I doing all this searching?

Why the bone chilling dread? What else does the kiddies packing off mean?

In India, they have a very clear division of life stages. With the kids at home, I was in the second to last stage, the householder stage. My life was about performing my duties in the world, the duties of a wife and mother, and writer, in my case.

What came next? The final stage of life, in which the smart person takes up spiritual pursuits and polishes his or her soul. Why? Because after that, the next big growth jump is––death.

When my girls left, death would stare me in the face. I could not pretend to be a nubile young thing, a luscious young mother, or even a pretty well-preserved older gal.

Some people try to dodge the facts––getting nipped and tucked and pounding their bodies into an approximation of their younger form. (Don't get me wrong: I believe that cosmetic surgery should be mandatory and applaud anyone who can remove those last fifteen pounds.) But you can't hide from the fact that you are as old as you are.

The smart person faces it.


Understanding all this is useful. It takes a bit of the edge off the anxiety which I hope you're feeling now. Facing reality takes a brave soul.

I'm very interested in reality; I think we all do better if we live in the real world. If we have dogs, they do better, too. We're more likely to treat them in a respectful and humane fashion appropriate for dogs.

If you're extremely brave, check out Ernest Becker's Denial of Death. Becker wrote his masterpiece as he was dying from cancer. What did he say?

We humans are the only creatures who know we are going to die.

Ernest Becker said that everything we human beings do is an attempt to avoid facing our deaths. This means everything: from being compulsively neat, to compulsively achieving, to spending our lives creating monuments to ourselves, like the pyramids or shopping centers in modern times. Running from death also includes hobbies such as collecting dogs, horses, or anything else: These activities soothe our knowledge that life is finite. (Becker wasn't talking about religious tenants about an afterlife here, he was referring to physical death. Regardless of what you believe about what comes after death, I think you'll admit fear of the event itself. I sure do.)

My visceral fear of my kids leaving had fear of death at its root. No kids at home meant I was definitely in the last life stage. Death's gaping jaws opened for me.

Am I being dramatic? Overly negative? No. I'm reporting my experience. The only way to become free is to know the truth. Psychological introspection––deep examination of drives and fears and complexes and rigorous truth telling about what one finds––is one of the major ways to become spiritually healthy.

I was spending all those hours on-line running away from my own death.

I didn't know this, of course, which is why I'm writing about it now. I am an optimist: I believe that telling people about my little inner depth charges and insights will help other people understand what they're doing, thus uplifting and improving the world. Eventually.

Another force pushed me as I cruised from dog site to another, looking for a new dog to squelch a fear of death that I'd just as soon not admit. I've had many dogs during my life. They all go from this:


to this:


Our dogs die. Playful pups stop jumping for joy. Instead of frolicking in circles around us, they walk alongside, sedately. My dogs become more dear, more vulnerable, more present as they age. They look at me with clouded eyes and struggle up walkways they once galloped across. I love them more, for our history together, and for the time we have left. Every day of it.

The only alternative to watching our dogs age is having them leave us early.

We humans often use animals to express our limited views of life, distorting their bodies as we breed for the show ring's latest fashion and distorting their lives by forcing them to live in unnatural ways: hauling them from one show to another and forcing them to live in boxes. Used this way, our animals become extensions of our egos. They are used as decorating props or prize winning machines, means of puffing up our sense of superiority at the expense of their souls. And ours. This use of animals diminishes us.

A life filled with animals also can serve spiritual growth. We can enjoy our animal friends for what they are, not our anthropomorphized, cheapened versions. This can include showing them, if its done in a way that acknowledges the animals and humans involved. Check out The News on Rancho Vilasa's site for some personal/spiritual lessons I learned at horse shows.

Having animals in our lives does one thing very well: It shows us the cycle of life with absolute clarity. Our pets don't live as long as we do, so we must witness and cope with their living and dying, preparing us for our own.


While my girls were getting ready to leave home, my beloved Yuki was aging, stumbling toward the night. Sumo, the "Robert's hound" I picked out of the back of a truck in front of the grocery store, became gray and grizzled.

Then Yuki died. It came unexpectedly; she started choking and gasping for breath. I took her to the vet. He couldn't help her.

Stunned, I made my way home from the vet's office without my dear friend. I couldn't believe it. I could not face losing another dog. I could not face Sumo's death.

My search for a new dog became frenzied. Whenever a particular dog's picture attracted me, I'd look up where the shelter was located on Yahoo. How long did it take to get to Atascadero, anyway? How about San Diego? That wasn't too far, was it?

He's been rolling in hay as he poses here. That's not all he rolls in.

"You can't just clean up Sumo and bring him inside, Mom?" said my youngest daughter, not understanding my distress.

No, that wouldn't work. Sumo's a ranch dog: He won't go indoors unless he's terrified of something. Lightning. Fireworks. Someone shooting. His idea of being groomed is jumping into the horses' water trough. He jumps in every day in the summer, giving his coat a green iridescence and a delicious (to a dog) scent of algae.

No, Sumo could never be a lady's companion.

* * *

I started talking to dog rescue people, in addition to looking at pictures of dogs on the Net and scanning the ads. I had a number of very interesting conversations. For instance, one woman specialized in rescuing Rottweilers. Talking to her on the phone, I confessed my fear of that breed.

"Oh, most of them are wonderful dogs. They're very loving and loyal," she replied. "Do you know what the most dangerous breed of dog is? I read about it." I confessed that I didn't, so she told me.

"The Cocker Spaniel. They have a rage syndrome where they just go crazy and attack anyone around. They're responsible for more dog attacks than any breed."

Wow. I wasn't clear as to what breed I wanted, but I sure would never get a Cocker Spaniel. That would be like having a Viking berserker in the family room.


Click to be transported to an article on Little India.


During this period, my daughters and I found ourselves in Little India. Little India, near Los Angeles, California, is the shopping Mecca of the universe and one of my favorite places on earth. (Click on the link to read my article about Little India. If that doesn't have have in your car and heading to LA, I'll be surprised.)

Aside from the joys of shopping, the trip gave me the opportunity to check out some of the tantalizing dogs I'd found on my search of the Net. Many rescues and shelters exist the LA Basin, and I intended to check out all of them. I had lists of photos and descriptions I had downloaded.

I was determined to go home with a dog! A young dog that would hang around past Sumo. Past me, maybe. I was on a mission.

The girls didn't know about my plans, until I started making some pretty hairy freeway maneuvers to get to towns with Spanish names that none of us had ever heard of before. They were not happy about any of this. It wasn't part of their plans.

Who cared? I was gonna get my dog!

* * *

We ended up going to two large dog rescues. I'll write more about our experience of these places in a later article. The bottom line is: After visiting two rescues, our nervous systems couldn't handle any more.

We left, without a dog.

I had no clue when I started looking at dogs.

That my husband would love.

That I would love.

Our visit to the rescues was a learning experience. I thought I was looking for a large dog, preferably a black Lab, or something even bigger. A dog that my husband would like so he wouldn't barbecue me when I brought it home.

Does that sound familiar? Our dogs are reflections of our personal images, and a few more things––like the people we live with, how our relationships with them are structured, our physical environments . . . I needed a dog for myself, but looking for one for my husband.

Are we women more likely to stuff our own needs to look after our spouses? So that we don't even know what we really want? Is that a woman thing, or is it just human nature?

Beats me, but I've never heard of a man coming home with a poodle because his wife would get mad if he came in with a retriever.

I had no clue that the dog I was looking for wasn't what I needed. However, the Universe did.


Click on the photo to go to the ASAP pet list on Petfinders.com

Chico is a purebred Redbone Coonhound. I'm showing his picture to illustrate a breed. HE IS NOT THE PROBLEM DOG I DISCUSS BELOW. Look at the bone and chest on this dog: This is the kind of structure that I, as a horseperson, like to see. You can find truly fine dogs in rescues and the pound. I understand from my rescue friends that 50% of such dogs are purebred––not mutts (which I LOVE, by the way.) If you are interested in adopting Chico, contact Deborah at (805) 528-6930. He's available through Animal Shelter Adoption Partners, San Luis Obispo County, CA. (Which is not the rescue I discuss below.) I'm providing this information as a service, and do not make any warranties or guarantees about this animal, other than expressing the opinion that I think he's gorgeous.

I went to one very large rescue to see a big hound-type dog, a lovely athletic thing that my husband had approved in concept. He'd seen a picture of a similar hound and said, "I could go for that dog."

The dog looked entirely different than its picture on the Net, about twenty or thirty pounds heavier, for one thing. It still was a beautiful dog and I knew I could get its weight down. The volunteer at the rescue got the dog out of it's kennel for me.

Leading it was like being pulled out of the water by my father's water-ski boat with its 322 cubic inch Chrysler marine engine. The phrase "could use some obedience training" was an understatement. I couldn't imagine how this dog would be trained, or by whom.

We got to a sitting area, where prospective adopters could get to know the dogs. I sat on a bench, and pulled the hound to me. He leaned away, eyes scanning the perimeter fence and entrance gate. He never once made eye contact. He had no interest in anything but escape. This gave me a clue about how he'd work out at our ranch. Still, I tried:

"Okay, buddy. This is a job interview. How are you qualified for the job of making me happy?" I asked him straight out.

* * *

About the relationship between people and animals: I keep animals for pleasure––my pleasure. When I ride my horse, his job is to make me happy. I'm tolerant of mess ups and errors, which are normal parts of life. I deal with these with all my resources, pulling in professional trainers as necessary. But my horse is in my life for my pleasure. I pay the bills, after all. I do not allow my horse to walk all over me. I am the boss, a benevolent dictator.

This attitude makes the horse happy; horses are herd animals. They live in herds with strict hierarchies: Everybody has a place and knows it. In the the hierarchy of my horse life, I'm the herd leader. I can be relied upon to deal with emergencies. This includes hawks swooping down and having a fight right in front of my poor horse's face, which happened today when I was riding. I made sure my horse knew he'd survive, and so would the hawks. We had a very nice ride.

I'm the boss, and my horse is happy about it. We both have a good time.

This philosophy also works with dogs, which are pack rather than herd animals. The difference between a pack and a herd is: You don't want to be late at feeding time for a pack animal, especially if its not domesticated. A herd tends to worry about being lunch for other species; a pack is on the lookout for lunch.

No problem: both need a top dog/Alpha. It should be the human.

* * *

The hound pulled his lead out of my hand. I let him go, watching him run along the fence line frantically, trying to escape so he could run more. That's what hounds do: They run after things. This hound boy wanted to head for the hills and run something down.

I could imagine him at our ranch, seeing actual open space, real living wild life: deer, bobcats, our neighbors' cattle and cats. The neighbors wouldn't like it if houndy-boy took off after their livestock, baying wildly.


"Hey, buddy! You're failing your job interview." The hound never returned, and may be patrolling the rescue's perimeter to this day. I sat back in disappointment. The dog portion of our trip was a total bust. Dog rescues are LOUD. Imagine the sound of a hundred hounds baying. My nerves were shot.

I sat on the bench, with the hound and several dozen other dogs, the people looking at them, and rescue attendants orbiting around me. Small dogs yapped without pause. This was not how the rescue seemed on the Internet. Profoundly disappointed, I looked around for my daughters. One was in the car, furious with me; the other was petting a puppy that looked like a baby coyote.

I felt something touch my leg. Looking down, I saw a tiny creature with the sweetest face. Its eyes grabbed mine. It was a long-haired miniature Dachshund, so small that its raised head couldn't reach my knee. It begged to be picked up. I did, feeling awe. The little thing crawled up my torso and nuzzled under my chin, cuddling like a baby. I petted it softly. I could barely breathe for the wonder I felt.

THIS WAS WHAT I WANTED! I wanted a sweet, little dog like this, not a big hound my husband would love. I WANTED A SMALL DOG. A quiet small dog––the yappers continued to screech while I had my dog moment with the Dachshund. I had to have this dog. My daughter had found a puppy she had to have. We were in love!

(On 4/17/05. )


This lovely dog, a young female, is available at the L.A. County Animal Care Control, Castaic Shelter, Castaic, CA 661-257-3191 Ask for ID: A3349685. If you're interested in this dog, call NOW. This is a public shelter and they do not keep dogs very long..


Niner is a longhaired Dachshund, about 5 years old. He's available at the Smiley Dog Rescue Oakland, CA 510 496 3484 SmileyDogRescue@yahoo.com http://www.smileydogrescue.org

We didn't take either the puppy or the mini-Dachshund home. When I asked how much adopting the two dogs would cost, I found the rescue wanted an amount equivalent to a month's mortgage payment on our ranch. I am not kidding.

"I could go to a breeder and get a purebred, registered puppy for less than that," I croaked to the volunteer, in shock. She looked at me like I'd offered to consort with the Devil. I think the word "breeder" was the trigger. I got that the rescue people didn't think much of dog breeders.

We left. I will discuss this episode in a later article, presenting all sides. The bottom line is: Two dogs that could have found great homes didn't and I learned something.

This is my mom with her beloved poodle. Aren't they adorable?

My mom tried to tell me. "Why do you want a big dog, Sandy? A big, clumsy thing! Get a small dog. You can cuddle them. They're so sweet." So many things that my mom told me now make such sense. I didn't get what she said until years after she died.

To me, a dog was a utilitarian animal, something to guard the house, run stray cattle off the front lawn, intimidate bad guys, and lie at my feet while I read or watched TV. A dog was affectionate, but nothing you'd want in your lap. Especially if it weighed more than one hundred pounds.

But that little Dachshund cuddling into my shoulder––I couldn't get it out of my mind. What a darling! That's what I wanted; a real baby substitute.

All of a sudden all the small breeds made sense: Dogs could be companion animals! Dogs could give love in ways I hadn't understood. And my mom and her Pepe were right there in my mind. They were really, really BONDED.

* * *

I decided to buy a miniature Dachshund––I found a breeder who'd been in business for almost fifty years and called her. Shortly after, I found myself heading down the freeway, planning on driving a very long way to look at puppies.

I hadn't told my husband of my change of doggy plans or where I was going. Or the fact that the puppies cost $450. That was a reasonable price, the going price in our area, and less than that rescue wanted for a dog without papers or known parentage.

Cruising along, driving and driven. Now I would get my dog!

* * *

Heading up US 101, I was almost at the central California town of Santa Maria, when I felt like something took a hold of my steering wheel and pulled me off the freeway. In minutes, I was pulling into the parking lot of the Santa Maria Animal Services office. I knew that Santa Maria had a pound; I even had a Yahoo map to it with me. But I intended to buy that Dachshund puppy, that's what I wanted.

No matter, a giant hand guided me to the Santa Maria pound. I went in and found out where the dogs were.

Minutes later, I was walking down a row of kennels. A little dog strolled toward the gate, looking at me steadily.

"Well, aren't you just the cutest thing?" He was a black and tan, long haired Dachshund mix. He sauntered along, completely calm and self possessed, as if he were waiting for me to arrive. I squatted and talked to him through the fence. His front feet toed out slightly, he had tufts of long hair sticking out between his toes. He licked my fingers and wagged his tail. Very dignified. I was captivated. He was larger than the mini-Dachsie and better for our ranch, which is a pretty rugged place.

This beautiful mixed breed dog stole my heart.

I went inside to get an attendant so I could look at the little fellow. I'd found him, I knew it already!

Coming back out with the staff person, I noticed something else: Another dog had emerged from inside the kennel. He was almost identical to the first, just possessing longer legs. He was a cocker spaniel mix, maybe a purebred. He walked to the front of the kennel, more wary than the other dog. Still, he looked at me calmly, right in the eye. This was a truly beautiful dog.

I took the Dachshund mix out on a leash, leading him around a side yard. We were the only ones there; this was so different from the hellacious rescue. A funky old cat hung out in the middle of the yard. The little Dachshund walked around it respectfully. A good sign; we have cats, and so do our neighbors. The dog was just a pup, nine months old. Walking him was a dream. He'd obviously never had any training, but he was so willing.

"I'll take him." Putting him back in the kennel to go inside and do the paperwork, that little Cocker kept looking at me, wagging his tail softly. I heard myself say, "Oh, let me look at this one, too."

The Cocker acted like he was obedience trained. He, too, eyed the cat respectfully, actually pulling away from it in fear. I like this, I thought. A dog who's afraid of cats. They had an old kitchen chair out there so people could sit and pet the dogs. I sat.

The Cocker sat better. Just snapped into a "sit" like a agility dog. He sat, the most elegant creature I could imagine, head up, looking at me, with pale brown eyes the color of root beer.


"Aren't you just the cutest thing?" I was in love, what can I say? The two of them were captivating.

I went inside and handled the paperwork. I adopted both dogs.

"We picked them up as strays. We don't know a thing about them," said the very nice young man at the desk. Well, they were so nice when I handled them, how could I have problems when I got them home? They were even afraid of cats . . .




The Santa Maria Animal Shelter is a very nice shelter, but it's not home.

* * *

I didn't tell my husband about the dogs until it was time to pick them up. And I chickened out: I only told him about one. I knew what he'd say. I was afraid of his anger. Part of it was due to the fact that we had maybe 18 horses at that time. Anyone who takes care of eighteen horses is likely to be a little testy if you mention adding anything else. Plus, I was always saying things like, "Why don't we ever go on vacation? It's been fifteen years, Barry."

His feelings were justified. When I told him about the second dog, it wasn't pretty. He was very, very, very angry with me. So angry that it took all my counseling/negotiation coach skills to handle it, plus the skills of a counselor friend. Very angry.

Even more angry when he saw the little darlings.

Everyone jokes about people and their dogs going together: Big tough guy with bulldog, elegant woman with whippet. Sporty runner with hunting breed. Our choices in dogs do reflect our self images.

My husband's self image did not allow for the presence of two small, adorable dogs in his home. They were an affront to his masculinity, and lifestyle.

"They're my dogs, not yours. I need them." And I did. As difficult as this was, I knew I'd done the right thing for myself. I needed these animals. And they needed me, let me tell you. The pound is not a long term recreational facility. I stuck my guns: "I promise I'll take care of them; you won't have to do a thing." I've kept that promise.

I'm glad that I didn't tell him about the $450 Dachshund puppy.

* * *


Home free: Throughout it all, I knew I was being true to myself. I needed these little guys. They were meant for me. The eerie way we came together seemed like a miracle––something pulling me off the freeway and into the Santa Maria shelter. Finding them, calmly waiting for me to rescue them. The love these little dogs gave me back makes me cry.

I was home, in love. I've had so many dogs, but none that I felt like this about. This was a piercing kind of love, a to the death kind of love. That aching of my heart was quelled; I was happy. Even my husband seemed to be accepting the turn of events.

What could possibly go wrong?

To find out, click on the link and go to: A PROBLEM DOG: That Dog's Just Insane!




















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