A few days ago Jean and I listened to an episode from the BBC Radio 4 series The Art of Living. Or as the home page of the programme’s website explains, The Art of Living is a …
Documentary series revealing how engagement with art has transformed people’s lives.
Anyway, the episode that we listened to was a delightful 30-minute discussion between Marie-Louise Muir and the Belfast-born poet Frank Ormsby. The reason we selected this episode to listen to in particular is revealed by republishing how the BBC introduced the programme. (For Jean was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in December, 2015.)
Frank Ormsby’s Parkinson’s
The Art of Living
When the poet Frank Ormsby was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, his response was unexpected. He embarked on a newly fertile creative period, documenting his experiences and finding a voice in his poetry that he was beginning to lose in his daily communications.
His first act was to search Google – for jokes. “Which would you rather have, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Obviously Parkinson’s! I’d rather spill half my pint than forget where I left it.”
As he discusses with Marie-Louise Muir, the illness has changed him. It’s mellowed him. After a career as a school teacher, his daily life is now quieter and more solitary. There’s a poetry, almost, in his pauses and silences.
Frank belongs to the generation of Northern Irish writers that has followed in the footsteps of Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley. His medication, he believes, has aided his creativity. But it has also induced hallucinations. He finds himself sitting on his own in his study but surrounded by people, by the ghosts of his mother-in-law and unidentified visitors. And he’s also haunted by a fear that the earth will open up and swallow him.
But if you ask how he’s doing, he writes, “I’ll tell you the one about ‘parking zones disease’.
I’ll assure you that the pills seem to be working”.
Photo credit: Malachi O’Doherty, With readings by Frank himself and Ciaran McMenamin from The Darkness of Snow. Produced by Alan Hall. A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.
That wonderful joke offered by Frank, this one: “Which would you rather have, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Obviously Parkinson’s! I’d rather spill half my pint than forget where I left it.” comes a little after the 5-minute point in the interview. I strongly encourage you to listen to the full interview. Here’s the link to the radio programme.
Jean and I were sitting up in bed a couple of mornings ago reflecting on how recent it has been since we ‘got it’ in terms of what becoming old really means. For me and Jean, for different reasons, it is only in the last twelve months that ageing, the process of becoming older, the decline in one’s faculties, and more and more, has been truly understood. Yes, before then of course one understood that we were getting old. But it was an intellectual understanding not the living it on a daily basis understanding we now experience.
Back to Frank Ormsby. Or rather to a feature in the Belfast Telegraph published in 2015.
Frank Ormsby: Life at Inst was very different from my upbringing
Leading Belfast poet and former Inst. Head of English Frank Ormsby on his tough Fermanagh upbringing, losing his father when he was 12 and how humour has helped him cope with a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
March 23, 2015
As Frank Ormsby sits in the study of his beautifully-appointed 1930s home in north Belfast there is no hint of his much more austere upbringing. As befits the workspace of a poet and long-time English teacher at one of Belfast’s leading schools, the bookcases that line the walls are crammed with a wide range of literature.
It could not be a more different environment from the rural home where he grew up just after the Second World War.
When Frank was born in 1947, his father Patrick was already in his 60s. “I remember him as an old, grey-haired man”.
It was Patrick’s second marriage. His first had produced 10-12 children. “I was never totally sure of the exact number”, Frank recalls.
“I never met them as they had dispersed to Scotland and other places by the time my father, by then a widower, had married my mother. As far as I know the last one of them died last year.”
Frank’s home was about a mile and half outside Irvinestown. His mother Anne had worked on a relative’s farm – “she could build hay or cut turf as well as any man” – and his father as a farm labourer who occasionally sought work in the factories in Scotland.
“The conditions in which we lived were lacking in luxury. We had no running water. We had to carry it in buckets from a well half a mile away. There was no electricity and it was a long time before we even had a radio, or wireless as it was called then,” Frank says.
Here’s one of Frank’s poems that was published by The New Yorker in March, 2013.
By Frank Ormsby
They have the look
of being born old.
Thinning elders among the heather,
trembling in every wind.
My father turns eighty
the spring before my thirteenth birthday.
When I feed him porridge he takes his cap off. His hair,
as it has been all my life, is white, pure white.
Maybe that’s how it is. Having the look of being born old!
But there’s one thing that I treasure beyond gold itself. Having the fortune to be living out my final days, however many there are, in the company of my beautiful Jeannie and all the loving dogs around me.
My dogs are both terrified of thunderstorms. These are some of the tricks that vets and trainers have recommended to help our poor babes when stormy weather rolls in.
Our lab mix, Jenna, trembles in the corner when it thunders, while our 60-pound dog, Bandit, tries to leap into my lap. These are some of the ways to calm a dog during thunderstorms that we’ve tried.
Every dog is different, so what works for one may not work for another. Jenna is terrified of the Thundershirt, for example, but many people I know swear by it. Chances are, not all of these calming techniques will help your dog during a thunderstorm. You’re basically throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
Ways to Calm a Dog During Thunderstorms
1. Lavender Oil
You don’t want your dog to ingest lavender oil, so put a few drops on her collar when a storm is freaking her out. The soothing scent can help calm some dogs’ nerves, and the smell is a distraction from what’s going on in the sky.
Just like humans, dogs find massage soothing. The video above shows a calming massage that you can use on your dog during a thunderstorm. You can also try an ear massage, which Jenna responds to really well. Basically, you gently run your hand up the dog’s ear, from where the ear meets the head to the tip of the ear. When you reach the tip, gently massage for a second, then repeat. Like in the video, it seems to work best if I also talk to her in a soothing voice while massaging.
3. A Hand on the Back
Sometimes, your dog just needs to know that you are there and in control of the situation. This trick works well on our dog, Bandit, who is definitely boss dog in our house. During a storm, a hand on his back helps him feel like he can step back from being the pack leader, which helps him feel secure and safe. Talking in a soothing voice helps here, too.
4. Training Exercises
You may feel like it’s mean to start bossing your scared dog around, but practicing her sit/stay/shake is a great way to distract your dog from the storm and remind her that you’ve got this under control. This one works well on both of my dogs.
These wrap shirts help soothe a lot of dogs during thunderstorms, and they’re available at any pet store. Many friends with dogs have recommended the Thundershirt to me. It made Jenna more anxious, but she is clearly in the minority in this situation.
6. White Noise
If your dog can’t hear the storm, your dog won’t be so scared. Dogs can feel the shift in pressure from a storm, even when they can’t hear it, so this technique seems to work best in conjunction with other calming techniques, like massage or lavender oil. Bring your dog to her favorite room, turn down the lights, and turn up the white noise. If you don’t have a white noise machine, you can find free white noise tracks on YouTube, like the one above.
7. Rescue Remedy for Pets
Rescue Remedy is a blend of plant extracts. They make homeopathic drops and gummies for humans, and they have drops for pets, as well. The site recommends putting the drops into water, but I’ve also had good luck putting them onto a treat or into a glob of peanut butter, if my dogs aren’t too scared from the storm to take a treat.
As I mentioned above, different natural remedies will work for different dogs, so don’t be discouraged if the first thing you try doesn’t work out. Sometimes, especially for high anxiety dogs, you’ll have the best results combining a few of these ways to calm a dog during a thunderstorm.
I don’t know about tips for calming dogs, some of these sound great for yours truly!
This post should be read in conjunction with the post that came out an hour ago: Dogs and Learning. It was first published on Learning from Dogs on March 19th, 2014.
Where to start this story about Cleo?
I guess by going back to the days when I was living in the village of Harberton, near Totnes in South Devon, England. That means going back to 2003, the year when it seemed the right time for me to get a dog. (Jean and I first met in December, 2007) There was always only one breed to be considered; the German Shepherd dog.
Thus that desire for a German Shepherd led me to Sandra Tucker who lived not too many miles away who owned the GSD breeders Jutone. It was at Jutone where I saw the wonderful puppy dog who became my Pharaoh.
But Sandra did better than breed the dog that has meant more to me than words can ever describe, she gave me some fantastic advice. That being that when Pharaoh was getting on in life, then bring in a German Shepherd puppy. There were two solid reasons why this made sense. The first was that Pharaoh would teach the new puppy many of the skills and disciplines that Pharaoh had learnt as a young dog and, secondly, the puppy would keep Pharaoh active.
That puppy was Cleo.
Cleo was born on the 23rd January, 2012. At that time we were still living down in Payson, Arizona. Right from the start she was, and still is, the most joyful, loving dog one could imagine. That top photograph shows in her eyes the openness of her heart and soul.
So here we are coming rapidly up to the two-year anniversary (6th April, 2014) of when Cleo entered our lives.
Cleo continues to be the most loving, gentle, sweet German Shepherd.
However, as Sandra so correctly predicted, Pharaoh has ‘taught’ Cleo a number of commands such as Sit, Stay, Lie Down, Come, and more. Not a minute’s training of Cleo has come from Jean and me.
Cleo is very fond of Pharaoh and it’s obvious that Pharaoh gets a huge amount from having Cleo around him.
Fast forward to now, as in January, 2017, and the relationship between Pharaoh and Cleo is still incredibly important. Cleo senses that Pharaoh is in the last ‘phase’ of his life but still shows him incredible respect.
Cleo is a very intuitive dog who appears at times to really understand what Jean and I are talking about, even when it has nothing to do with dogs. For instance, Cleo knows when I am finishing up my lunch and that the next thing that will follow is Jeannie and me taking the dogs out for their afternoon walk.
Cleo is almost certainly the most knowledgeable and obedient of all of our dogs and it’s all down to Pharaoh’s skills as a teaching dog.
Really good news now that it’s well over a month since our two dogs have been taking this oil.
First off, I want to republish in full a post first shared with you all on the 19th September.
Just wanted to share our early results with you.
Back on the 13th September, I published a post under the title of Listening to our pets in more difficult times. I mentioned that Pharaoh was suffering pain in his rear hip joints and struggling at times to get up on all four feet and that we had started giving him Rimadyl.
Don’t wait around for a vet to tell you that your dog is in pain. You live in a state with legal MJ plus hemp oil is legal in all 50 states. I give CBD oil to my BC X Aussie 12 year old dog. He could not get up and yelped in pain before I began giving him 0.7ml daily that I drizzle over his food., After second dose he could stand up without help. Now he walks and runs with fluid movements of all limbs. It is totally safe and doesn’t require expensive tests, The danger of Rimadyl and other meds in that class used to treat arthritis, is that these types of meds cause kidney damage and your pet will have a shortened life span. Hemp oil works like a charm with no side effects.
We did some research and came across the following brand of Hemp (CBD) Oil specifically for dogs. We ordered it and it arrived last Saturday. Jean did not delay in adding* it twice a day to the food for both Pharaoh and Paloma.
Here we are at the end of Tuesday, at the time of writing this post, and already we can see observable improvements in both dogs.
Yes, it’s early days but I wanted to share this with you now.
There will be a more extensive report from me once these dogs have been using the oil for a few weeks.
One dropperful twice a day for Pharaoh, approx. 105 lbs, and half a dropperful twice a day for Paloma, approx. 45 lbs.
Yesterday, as in Sunday 23rd, as per usual I let the ‘bedroom’ group of dogs out around 7am when I went down to clear out the stables. Usually Pharaoh comes away from the front door and ends up laying down on the area just outside the garage door.
But on this day he decided to trot down to the stables and join the others, mainly Brandy, Cleo and Oliver, in sniffing around after the horses and eating fresh horse dung. (Don’t ask me why our dogs find it so tasty!)
It was so lovely to see Pharaoh, who will be 13 1/2 years-old on December 3rd., still being able to walk around the property when he is in the mood.
Frankly, Jean and I are amazed at how well he is doing and how the hip displasia has not yet defeated him. We are certain that the CBD Hemp oil is a key factor.
Later that morning I took a couple of photographs to support my claim that he is still walking around, albeit somewhat stiffly first thing in the day.
If you have a pet who’s mellow and loves being around people, and the idea of helping your pet bring joy to others appeals to you, you might just have a therapy animal in the making.
Accompanied by their owners, therapeutic visitation animals – which are most commonly dogs, but can also be cats, rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, horses, etc. – regularly visit people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and other facilities, providing furry comfort and compassion.
“Four-footed therapists give something special to enhance the health and well-being of others,” says the website of Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a nonprofit organization that regulates, tests and registers therapy dogs and their handlers. “It has been clinically proven that through petting, touching and talking with animals, patients’ blood pressure is lowered, stress is relieved and depression is eased.”
What It Takes to Be a Therapy Animal
Therapy animals are “born, not made,” according to TDI. They must have an outstanding temperament, and be outgoing and friendly to people of all ages. They must also behave well with other animals.
In general, therapy animals must also be at least one year old; current on all vaccines required by local laws; and be clean and well groomed when visiting people.
As for dogs, along with the ability to obey basic commands like “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come” and “Leave it,” they are tested by therapy dog certification organizations to ensure they can do the following, according to TDI (most of these requirements apply to other species of potential therapy animals as well):
Listen to their handlers
Allow strangers to touch them all over
Not jump on people when interacting
Not mind strange noises and smells
Be calm for petting
Not be afraid of people walking unsteadily
Getting Your Pet Certified as a Therapy Animal
Think your pet has the right stuff to be a therapy animal? To get an idea of the type of testing involved, this TDI brochure describes each of the 13 tests a dog must pass in order to be certified. The tests are similar for other animals.
Some therapy animal organizations, including Pet Partners, offer workshops so you and your pet can practice the required skills before being tested for certification.
The Difference Between Therapy and Service Animals
Although the two are often confused, therapy animals are not the same as service animals, which “have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind or assists someone who has a physical disability,” the American Kennel Club (AKC) explains. “Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places such as planes, restaurants, etc.”
Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are privately owned. Unlike service animals and their handlers, in most U.S. states, therapy animals and their owners don’t have protections under federal law (ADA, the Fair Housing Act, etc.), reports the National Service Animal Registry.
You can find out more about therapy animals and getting your pet certified from these organizations:
Yesterday, Val published a post over on her blog Find Your Middle Ground that really ‘spoke’ to me. That’s not to imply, by the way, that her other posts don’t very often reach out to me and, undoubtedly, to many others.
Instinctively most people would regard us humans as far more complex than our animal companions. As the old Devon (South-West England) expression goes, “There’s now’t so queer as folk.”
Yet, once we have really got to know a dog there will be many who will see behind those fabulous eyes a sense of a depth of character, a soul comes to mind, that suggests that the brain of the dog offers a canine psychological complexity most of us don’t allow for.
To support that proposition just look at the eyes of Pharaoh in this photograph going back to June, 2007.
However, today I am republishing Val’s recent post and I do so with great pleasure.
I read an interesting article some time ago by coach Michael Neill on how there are different levels in our relationships with others. I’m not talking about literal closeness, for example a brother is closer than a colleague at work, but more about our ability to truly connect in an authentic way with another person.
Have you noticed that you can feel a deep connection almost immediately with a stranger? Or feel like a member of your family is hiding behind a mask and being superficial? … That’s what I am talking about.
Surface Level – How we pretend to be
On the surface, people present themselves to the world in whatever ways they would like to be seen. They may be clever or cynical, light and cheerful or intellectual and deep. This is our persona or the “mask” of our personality, often revealing our fears, judgments, and insecurities in the very attempt to hide them.
Whether we enjoy or dislike someone’s personality is fairly arbitrary – an accidental coming together of our own innocently acquired preferences and prejudices from a young age.
But like it or not, at some point the mask slips and we see through to…
One Level Deep – The selfish self
Underneath the masks of personality, we’re continually navigating the world through a swirl of thought. Because we feel that thinking is coming at us from the outside world, we tend to see our actions, as one of my clients once put it, as being ‘the only sane response to an insane world’.
This is how we justify our ambition and ruthlessness; our cruelty to ourselves and others. After all, if it wasn’t a dog eat dog world out there, who would ever want to eat a dog?
When we see through someone’s “nice person” or “tough guy” mask, we often see only as far as this level. And it’s difficult for most of us to feel warmly towards someone who is seemingly only out for their own self-aggrandizement or self-preservation.
Until, that is, we see through to…
Two Levels Deep – Doing the best we can as we’re all in this together
There is a quote often attributed to Philo of Alexandria that we should “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is not only true in the physical world, where our bodies begin to decay long before our thoughts are ready to let go, but also in our innate psychology.
Every human being I know wants to love and be loved; to be happy more and suffer less; and to feel like in some way their life had meaning and value. How they go about achieving these aims is a product of their level of understanding and experience of the world.
It’s easy to love people “two levels deep”, because we see ourselves reflected in them. We all have a natural compassion for the suffering of others and an abiding conscience which ensures that while we may at times act in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others, we do it in spite of and not because of who we are at core.
Loving people at this level doesn’t mean we have to live with them or let them get away with murder, literally or figuratively. It just means that we don’t get so upset by their humanness or carried away by our own delusions that we can escape the human condition.
While seeing through to people’s innate humanity makes for richer and more wholesome relationships, there is a level beyond even that which takes us past the illusion of separation which allows us to play judge and jury to our fellow humans…
Three Levels Deep – Who we are before the fact of thought
Who are you before thought comes into the equation? Mystics throughout time have described our essential nature as being made of spirit – a name for the invisible life force that makes up the visible world of form.
It’s difficult to even talk about “loving someone” at this level because rather than two or seven or even seven billion separate people, there is simply the presence of Love with a capital “L” – and as we dissolve and surrender into that Love, we fulfill the age-old proverb that “we are that which we seek”.
We are one in shared consciousness and spirit.”
p.s. This makes me think about how that pesky neighbor, or annoying colleague and Donald Trump appear one level deep for many of us.
Val concluded her post with the proverb “we are that which we seek”. I used a very similar idea as the title to today’s post, “We are what we think of most!“. I am clear in my own mind that those two sayings are opposite sides of the same coin.
All of which reinforces in spades the benefits that flow from open and honest self-awareness.
If only for the wonderful quality of a deep sleep that results from that self-awareness.
Our new young puppy is consuming a great deal of attention and time!
As regular readers will know (and your readership is so much appreciated) last Tuesday I published the news that we had taken on a new puppy. He is settling in incredibly well but consuming heaps of attention; as well he should.
So rather than struggle to be creative with today’s post, I’m cheating by going back to the last time I wrote about a new arrival to our flock; namely puppy Cleo. If you will forgive me, I’m going to republish the post I wrote for puppy Cleo back on April 8th, 2012.
But before so doing, let me explain that our latest arrival has gone through a name change. The previous owners had named the young pup Smokey but we were not comfortable with that name; Jean especially so. So Smokey is now Ollie!
The arrival of Cleo brings us back to eleven dogs.
Way back in 2003 when I became the proud ‘Dad’ of Pharaoh, my German Shepherd dog that you see on the home page of Learning from Dogs, Sandra Tucker who ran the GSD Breeders Jutone, where Pharaoh was born, gave me some advice. Sandra said that when Pharaoh was getting on in life, then bring in a German Shepherd puppy. Apparently, there were two solid reasons why this made sense. The first was that Pharaoh would teach the new puppy many of the skills and disciplines that Pharaoh had learnt as a young dog and, secondly, the puppy would keep Pharaoh active.
Now we know this to be true because years later when Pharaoh had his own mini pack here in Payson, we introduced a new ‘rescue’ puppy called Sweeny. Pharaoh took an instant like to him and became very tolerant to Sweeny’s ‘games’.
But as adorable as Sweeny is, Jean understood the deep reasons why I always wanted a German Shepherd in our lives. So when a chance encounter in Payson Feed Store between Jean and Brendon S. revealed that Brendon had a litter of German Shepherd puppies for sale, just a couple of miles outside Payson, the temptation was irresistible!
Thus a few days ago, Jean and I went round to Brendon’s home and spent a couple of hours mingling with the puppies and their GSD mother. They all looked excellent dogs and a review of their blood lines showed that their genetic background included German stock not too far back. It was difficult to select any one pup as they were all wonderful animals. But one youngster seemed to catch Jean’s eye.
Then the next test was to introduce Pharaoh to the puppies. That took place last Friday and it was wonderful to see how well he coped with the onslaught of puppies!
In the end, we ran out of reasons not to follow Sandra’s advice from all those years ago and we agreed terms on a young female GSD that, inevitably, was christened Cleopatra (Cleo) by Jean!
Then yesterday, Saturday, we went back round to collect young Cleo, meeting Brendan’s wife Ebony in the process. The following photographs record some of the key moments.
So there we are. Back up to eleven dogs, five chickens, six cats, and a fish!
Finally, a big thanks to Sandra of Jutone for her guidance in the last few days.
Back to the present to leave you with a picture of puppy Ollie happily playing with Cleo and Hazel. More pictures of Ollie on Sunday.