Life is Good. I'm a Dog... And You're Not! - Carmel Dog Tales

 

Life is Good. I’m a Dog…
And You’re Not!

Four-legged Lessons for a Day Well Lived

by
Mark and Winifred Oman

Photography
Liz Stavrinides

 

INTRODUCTION

 

DATELINE: Carmel, Ca.

Five-thirty in the evening. Enjoying a glass of Panilonco Merlot Malbec from Trader Joes.  I turn and smile at my five-year-old terrier mix rescue, Winifred, sprawled on the couch, head between paws. We lock eyes. And I can’t help thinking…

Am I the only one who looks in the eyes of his dog and knows exactly what she’s thinking?

Good. Then you understand.  I have no doubt Winifred does her damnedest to remind me how lucky I am to have her as my teacher. Her look is unmistakable: So many things to be thankful for. Get with the program, Oman!

I’m working on it. Give me a break, girl. I’m only human!

Of course, that is exactly the problem. I’m human. Winifred’s a dog.  As someone very wise once said, “the teacher will appear when the student is ready.”  And boy was I ready three years ago when Winifred picked me out of the primates wandering past her pen at a Monterey County SPCA adoption event.  As I walked past, her eyes flashed, Where do you think you’re goin’? That’s right. I’m lookin’ at you, sweetheart…

Ever since I have found myself reminded, cajoled, and dragged at the end of Winifred’s leash to explore lessons I should have learned by now. I feel no embarrassment in saying that since that fateful day I have become more attuned to what, for Winifred – and increasingly moi – constitutes a day well lived.  Then again, what does that even mean… A day well lived?

Aristotle called it eudaimonia, often translated as happiness, joy, thriving and relishing life in all its twists and turns and detours.

Quite a load to fit into one day. And while what follows may not get you all the way to eudaimonia, if you are willing to entertain a shift in perspective, Winnie and I promise to help expand your vision of how to begin the journey. All it takes is a willingness to look at things from the other side. Or in this case, the other end of the leash.

Case in point, has it ever occurred to you that, in fact, you do not take your dog for a walk. It’s your dog that takes you! Look at the evidence: Who leads the way, you or your pooch? Who has to poop? Winifred takes me for a walk three times a day whether I have to poop or not!  I rest my case.

So… If you are willing to let your dog to take you for a walk, then get your tail in gear, follow your nose, and open your head and heart to the grand adventure of getting through each day with as much joy as humanly possible. (Not in be confused with the nearly impossible canine joy Winifred exudes every day.)

As I write at my desk, Winifred trots into my office and gives me the look. You know what I’m talking about.  Imploring, heart-wrenching, impossible to ignore, a laser beam into your soul instantly making you putty in her paws.

I swivel around giving her room to jump on my lap, her back against my chest, ears erect like goal posts, my chin splitting the uprights. Her eyes peruse the computer screen. She knows this is about her.

I better get it right.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Rise & Shine!

 

Winifred is an early riser. I was less inclined. Until Winifred showed me the error of my ways. I confess I was not a quick study. I got quicker when Winifred greeted dawn’s early light with her tongue up my nose. Good Morning!

Within a week, I was sufficiently trained. Now I am up, dressed and making coffee while Winnie, no fool, has my side of the bed to herself, stretches out and catches a few extra zzzzs on my pillow.

Next on the morning schedule, stretching class! Watching Winifred do her downward dog and shake out sleepy muscles looks so good I follow her example. Got the downward dog. Still having trouble with upward human.

Winnie is patient. Sits and watches while I take off slippers and put on shoes for our morning walk. I fumble with the laces on my sneakers. I swear Winnie gives me the whites of her eyes, Paaa-lease

It’s cold out there, so I grab a sweater and coat. Winnie is less patient. To her and my wife, who has already finished a two mile walk up and down our hill, it is not cold out there. It’s brisk!

All right. I’m sorry. I’m a wuss!

Now bundled for a stroll in Antarctica, I smile at Winnie, “You ready?” She jumps up on my barrel chair, does her circle dance, tail thumping a happy samba. I hitch her up in halter and leash. Winnie grabs a hank of leash in your mouth and drags me out the door.

Out the backyard gate, Winnie pulls me across a field to the street. My two wheels are no match for the power of her four legs. She is thirteen pounds of four-wheel drive pulling a biped with a bum wheel.  Neighbors smile – no question as to who is taking whom for a walk.

It’s also true that it is not horribly cold. Or maybe it’s just that Winnie’s pace is making me trot behind at a pace giving me mild aerobic exercise in the fresh, brisk air!

I unzip my hoodie, ready for the assault on the stairs to the top of Ribera Road.

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.

~   ~   ~

 

 

CHAPTER 2

In-house Therapist

 

Back home in my office, lungs full of fresh, brisk air, coffee at my side, I peruse emails, local and national news on various websites.

Winnie sits in my lap, watching me get all riled, talking back to the screen about what’s happening in the world. I know exactly what she’s thinking. Who are you talking to? And what are you accomplishing?

Of course, she’s right. Why can’t I be an observer? A quiet witness to what’s going on. Not so emotionally exercised, making myself miserable over things I can do little about?

Winifred understand this. For she is ever the observer, witness to my human foibles. She knows when I am most vulnerable. And has no compunction reminding me when I need to give it a rest!  She picks up one of the many tennis balls scattered about the room. Starts bouncing it. Tosses it in the air, catches it in her mouth. Impossible to ignore. If I do, she jumps on my lap, ball in mouth and shoves the ball in my face.

Winifred and Mic Jagger would be best buds. She knows you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need. Winifred knows what she needs. And thankfully, what I need!

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Will Lived

Your dog knows when it’s time to
give it a rest and go play!

~   ~   ~

 

CHAPTER 3

 

Play Ball!

 

Until recently, play was a big part of my life. As recreation and in my business. While Winifred loves to chase balls – dirty old tennis ball at the top of her list – I have spent the better part of my life chasing golf balls. My work as a golf humorist in books and as a magazine columnist, afforded me years of research into the addiction suffered by millions. To fully understand the causes and cures for “acute ball-beating dependency” I had to succumb to agonizing hours of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of that dimpled little devil. And I confess, I was also an enabler, caddying for amateurs and pros whose lust for the links knew no bounds!

What happened next is not relevant here, except to note that several years ago, I stopped playing the game. (I am reminded of Lee Trevino’s advice to an amateur partner after enduring 18 horrific holes: “Lay off for a couple of weeks. And then quit for good!”)

Good advice. Shortly after hanging up the clubs, Winifred came into my life. And I have begun to play again. Her game. Her rules. She has taught me to have several balls ready for action. Our backyard is full of out of bounds from which she will not retrieve the ball – not so different from my golf experiences. Her rules of play are also not so different. Though it took me a while to see the similarity.

In golf, you hit the ball, chase after it, then hit it again. In Winnie’s ball game, I throw the ball, she chases it, then holds it in her mouth till I come to get it and throw it again.  She also has a cute variation where after getting the ball, she trots off to hide the thing in some bushes for me to find. Clearly, our ball games have nothing to do with the word retrieve!  Except on my part.

Winnie has trained me well. I am the retriever-in-chief – reminding me of the simple silly fun of play. She has me throwing the ball, chasing after it and playing hide and seek! So, we keep playing until a dozen balls are hidden around the yard.

Eventually, it is up to me to find all the balls while she stretches Sphinx-like on a chaise catching some sun and watching me forage in the foliage. She knows I need the exercise more than she does.

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

“You can learn more about a person
(and your pooch) in one hour of play
than you can in a year of conversation.”

Plato (and Winifred)

~   ~   ~

 

CHAPTER 4

Confession is Good for the Soul…

 

…but bad for the reputation. So, I’ve heard.  At the risk of my already shaky reputation, I have a confession to make:  The older I get, the more I’m becoming my dog.  There, I said it. I can no longer pretend otherwise.

Perhaps some of you can relate. There’s no escape. You will get older. And you will come to appreciate your growing dogginess in the process.

That said, it’s just as true that the older I get, the more I’m becoming a lot of things I did not foresee a short time ago. But becoming my dog? And no, I am not talking about looking like my dog. (Although friends have whispered that our furry white faces do bear some resemblance.  I am flattered. Though no question Winifred’s snout is far more adorable.)

While we’re on the subject, the more I’m becoming my dog, has nothing to do with actually becoming a dog. I have yet to notice any physical canine manifestations. No furry protuberance arising from my tail bone.

The more I’m becoming my dog, is more about a revived appreciation, even celebration, of whatever wants to happen. Which is rarely the way we had it all figured out and planned.

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish,
but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen,
and your life will be serene.

Epictetus, Greek Stoic

Sniff the silly stuff waiting to surprise you every day!

Winifred, Canine Wild Woman

~   ~   ~

  

 

CHAPTER 5

 

Your Furry Fountain of Youth

 

Watching Winifred explore whatever wants to happen, it occurred to me that I have never seen her try to be something, or someone else. I can’t imagine my terrier-mix wild woman trying to act like a pampered poodle, or a big goofy lab. No façade or attempt at assuming a false persona, Winifred is what she is, and all that she is.

As Popeye the sailor said, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” Rightly echoed by every pooch I’ve ever known. Makes me wonder why we humans have such a hard time with that? At least for a big part of our lives.

Think of your life as a Three Act play. Act One: Growing up. We are just becoming our most genuine persona, unafraid to reveal, even flaunt, our blossoming uniqueness to the world.

Act Two: The big middle where we often find ourselves morphing into whatever society requires for success. Which often means sublimating our genuine uniqueness for becoming more like others if we’re going to get where we want to go.

But then, Act Three: Time to let it all hang out. I think we all get to that point – and yes, that age! – when we’re happy to recall from the recesses of our soul that super-star persona of youth.

As George Bernard Shaw put it: Youth is such a wonderful thing – what a crime to waste it on children.

Winnie and I say, Waste no more!

For the last several years I have been a volunteer at the Carmel Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. Nearly all of my co-volunteers are end of Act Two, or full-fledged Act Three folks. Have they shed their Act Two personas in favor of their original fun-loving, often outrageous selves of youth?

Or did my Visitor Center friends never lose their youthful exuberance and joie de vivre on the road to personal and business success in Act Two, because that’s who they were: “I am what I am…” No apologies.

One thing is sure.  Nearly all the volunteers I work with have dogs. And these people are just as genuine, real and goofy as their pooches. So…

Do we humans show our pooches how to be what they naturally are? Or do our dogs lead us unashamedly back to our youth?

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

To get back one’s youth, one merely has to repeat one’s follies.

Oscar Wilde

Your pooch will be happy to show you the way.

Winifred Oman

 ~   ~   ~

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

Eat, Drink and be Merry…

 

 

For tomorrow we may eat, drink and be merry again! Which pretty well sums up Winifred’s thoughts on sustenance.  Fortunately, Barbara is a terrific cook and has been a health advocate for most of our married life. Winifred gets steamed veggies pureed with only the best raw turkey, bison, or beef. And assorted pills and powders of vitamins, fish oil and pro-biotics.  In terms of drink, unlike myself, Winifred prefers water over beer – preferably lapped direct from one of our well-seasoned bird baths. (I have yet to follow her lead on that tasty libation.)

At lunch or dinner, she does not bark or beg for food. She knows that is unacceptable. Which doesn’t stop her from giving me the eye… the look. Pathetic, unrequited starvation. And she will deliver the look for as long as it takes. I relent. (I tried the same thing on Barbara… under somewhat different circumstances. She gave me her look…   I have much to learn.)

Now, in terms of my eating habits, I have to say Winifred has not been a good influence. My lack of culinary discipline is mostly her fault. When I was working full time, I was too busy to think about breakfast, lunch, or even dinner at times. All that is a distant memory. Because now that I have the time, Winnie has awakened my most ravenous animal appetites. Dreams of breakfast, lunch and dinner dance in my head, a tango in search of soul satisfying sustenance.

Which means… it’s LUNCH TIME!

Barbara’s homemade turkey chili is quite yummy. Winnie and I are happy campers, me at my desk, Winnie lounging in a barrel chair across the room, head between fore-paws watching me intently, her furry white snout littered with sticky bits of turkey chili. No doubt there have been times my face and short beard looked no better than Winnie’s.  But here is another instance where any similarity between us ends. For while she is quite happy to lick my fuzzy snout clean, I have yet to do the same for her.

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

Never eat more than you can lift.

Miss Piggy

 

Eat, drink, and be merry,
for tomorrow we may
eat, drink, and be merry again!

Miss Winifred

~   ~   ~

 

CHAPTER 7 

A Nap is a Wondrous Thing

 

After a tasty lunch, I can’t think of anything better than a little siesta with 13 pounds of happy tail, warm tummy, and big brown eyes sprawled across my chest.

I realize this may have more to do with my age and other assorted conditions. I prefer to attribute my new-found appreciation for afternoon siestas to watching Winifred in angelic slumber, at peace with herself, and the world – a well-earned time-out from her hard life watching me slave at the computer and rail at life’s slightest injustices. She deserves her nap time. And so do I!

A good nap is a wondrous thing – a floating dream-state somewhere between consciousness and deep sleep. As Winnie lays on my chest, I rub her back and ears. My hands relax and pull away.

Not so fast, Oman… Winifred’s paw reaches out, clamps onto my paw and pulls it back for more.

A few more rubs and scratches and I’m finished… She’s not, her paw again slapping mine, I’ll let you know when you’re through, sweetheart…

Another minute massaging behind the ears and her eyes slowly close.

to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub…

Not for Winifred. The only rub is behind the ears, and then to sleep. While I have no evidence to support this, I believe the ease with which Winifred can drift away to dreamland is directly related to her inability to waste one second in negative self-talk, feeling unworthy, undeserving of a happy life, or any other useless human musings.  I can’t say my propensity for such self-flagellation has ever made anything any better.

And animals in general, have no sense of whether they are pretty, handsome, or on the wall-flower side of their breed. In other words, they don’t waste a lot of time and energy wondering if your affection is based on their physical attractiveness. They certainly don’t give a woof as to your good looks, or lack thereof. They cut right to the core of your heart and soul… or lack of either!

Nor does Winifred live in the future, worrying about what will happen next week or fantasizing about her well laid plans for the weekend. Winifred is all about whatever wants to happen. Now.

And at this moment, all that wants to happen is a lovely nap. A little snooze full of…

                                   Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you /
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you …

Gus Kahn had it right when he wrote those lyrics for Dream a Little Dream of Me.

Watching Winnie in deep slumber, I whisper… Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

A nap is a wondrous thing.
Make time for cuddling and snuggling
with your furry four-legged friend…
or a two-legged one!

~   ~   ~

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

A Walk on the Wild Side

 

Shaking ourselves from our half-time snooze, it’s time get on with the day. Time for Winnie to take me on an afternoon walkabout – slow and leisurely because we have no place to get to, and no appointed time to get there.

We park at a four-way intersection on Carmel Point. Which way to go, North, South, East or West?

I want to go this way. She plants paws, gives me the look. I explain why we ought to go this way and not that. She is content to wait me out, while I thoughtfully deliver my most persuasive argument. She listens, happy to let me babble on. I pull her leash in the direction I want to go. She balks, paws super-glued to pavement. Winifred has made up her mind. And mine.

There is a lesson here. Passive resistance. Wait me out. Then take me the way she wants to go. After all who is taking whom for a walk? Her look says, who’s walk is this anyway?  How could I forget.

But a lot of folks do forget. They’re out for a walk glued to their smartphone, texting, twittering and have no clue what is going on with the pooch they’re dragging behind.

Pay attention people! Your pooch is trying to help you get some exercise, clear your mind, disconnect from all the noise out there in the ether, and inhale all the sights and sounds of life in the slow lane.

I admit this is not easy for me. There have always been places to go, people to meet and things to get done!  Not so much anymore. My walks with Winnie are teaching me the joys of just being along for the ride. Even Ernest Hemingway, whose life was anything but a spectator sport, preferred to ride shotgun in later years. He considered it de rigueur to leave the driving to others so he could fully suck in the Spanish, French and Italian countryside he had written about in The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms.

Having no such literary excuse, I focus on Winnie, eyes, ears and nose on full alert for life’s little adventures. I am reminded of Walter Hagen, a golfer and contemporary of Bobby Jones back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Hagen enjoyed the game, and life, to the fullest, famously showing up for an early tee time still in his evening clothes from his all-night adventures.  Hagen said, You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

I believe Winifred understands that. After all, dogs are only here for a short visit. They don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And want to smell EVERYTHING along the way!

Winifred’s nose probes the asphalt, gravel and earth for clues to who or what has trod this way before. I smell nothing, my nose apparatus many millions of times less sophisticated. But Winnie’s many stops allow me time to use my eyes, look around and look up. I see the tops of towering Cypress trees, a giant nest for some winged creature hiding in a tangle of branches touching the clouds.

Winnie sees something too. Her ears perk, nose twitching.  I follow her steely gaze… Nothing. What is it that has so enraptured every fiber of her being? I feel left out.  And then a feather moves behind a lower branch. A bird? A plane? No. It’s Super Squirrel!

The big grey tail flashes and the squirrel looks down at us – gives Winnie a happy cackle. Winnie strains at her leash. Let me at him! 

I watch her enthusiasm for the chase as the squirrel scampers higher up. Makes me want to get back in the hunt. Her interest in exploring the simplest things reminds me how many simple things I take for granted. Her joy of noticing… everything, makes me smile.

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

Take a hike.
Disconnect from your electronic connection
to all the noise out there in the ether.
Reconnect with the sights and sounds of life
in the slow lane, the wonderful stuff that happens
when you let your pooch take YOU for a walk!

~   ~   ~

CHAPTER 9

 

 Nature Calls!

 

It cannot be denied that a Winnie walk is also about relieving herself. Winifred’s deliberation and selection of time and place for peeing and pooping is something I didn’t think much about for most of my life. Now…  certain bodily functions require more serious scrutiny as to a suitable location when surprise urgency looms below the belt. I never imagined that peeing and pooping would figure so prominently into my plans for a well-lived day. Truly, Winifred has awakened a latent talent enabling me to sniff out emergency relief stations in some of Carmel’s finest lodging establishments and watering holes.

And as long as we’re in the neighborhood, I confess there are some of Winnie’s practices I do not wish to emulate. Sniffing strangers’ southern orifices has yet to reach the top of my “to do” list.

Then again, as much as we humans look askance at our four-legged family sticking their noses up another dog’s behind, we seem to have no reservations about ass kissing one of our own. Sniffing another’s behind? Disgusting!  Kissing ass? No problem! A requirement for success in some quarters.

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

Just because your dog sniffs another pooch’s behind
does not make your ass-kissing okay.

 ~   ~   ~

CHAPTER 10

 

Partners in Crime!

 

 

After an exciting walk on the wild side, Winnie and I are often hungry for a little snack. Let’s be honest. Man does not live by gluten free bread alone. You can only eat so much Quinoa, Kale, turkey bacon and fat free, non-dairy cheese. There are alternatives that are tasty and still healthy. Can anyone deny that Cheetos are simply aging carrots?

Which is a long way of saying… I cheat on my wife.  (Not that Barbara hasn’t figured this out.) I bear no shame in confessing that Winnie and I both love street food – though our definition as to what constitutes such is somewhat different. Winnie’s idea of street food is whatever is in the street. I am not there yet. Nor have I resorted to preying upon the kindness of strangers for treats. (Though, depending on the stranger and the treat, I could become flexible on that point.)

Of course, there is also a slightly more upscale option to the above street food – particularly in Carmel-by-the-Sea, often named America’s most dog friendly town. Many of the best restaurants in town have pooch-popular patios featuring delectable treats for your extended furry family. A couple of establishments even serve your BFFF (Best Furry Friend Forever) inside. A dear friend related that she went into Terry’s Lounge at Doris Days’ Cypress Inn Hotel and sat next to a French Bulldog being served a cheeseburger and fries at the bar. (Although she also said she was on her third martini and the French Bulldog was rather attractive.)

Anyway… Back to the subject of actual street food. My idea of yummy street fare leans more towards street tacos! My carnivorous appetite easily satisfied by soft taco carnitas with guacamole, Pico de Gallo and a pinch of Jalapeño!  Just writing that makes me salivate. Winifred too. She jumps on my lap, gives me the look and sticks her tongue in my ear.

Auntie Mame put it best:

“Life is a banquet. And most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Not Winifred. And not me!

 

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

(A)  Life is short. Eat dessert first.

(B)  A balanced diet is a cookie in each paw.

 

   ~   ~   ~

 

CHAPTER 11

The Nose Knows!

 

And while we are out sampling street tacos, we often experience close encounters of the canine kind.

Winifred knows friend from foe.  And I have to say, I’m also pretty good at making the call. But no match for Winifred’s mastery of sensing another’s energy, smelling trouble before it gets up close and personal. The nose knows!

It’s been said that all we are is energy and vibration. Dogs get that. They smell that. Where we rely on our eyes to give us a clue as to another’s energy and intent for good or evil, Winifred trusts her nose, her instincts. Perhaps because her heart is pure, void of guile, duplicity or deception. She doesn’t come with a hidden agenda. Unlike some of us. (You know who you are!)

Not a lot of second guessing, analyzing mind-numbing data for Winnie. She knows who’s trustworthy and who’s not. And once she has you pegged… good luck convincing her otherwise.

Winifred’s Lesson for a Day Well Lived

Your pooch knows which dogs to party with,
and which humans ought to be leashed and/or muzzled.

~   ~   ~

Winnie and I will be adding more Chapters
from the book every week, so stay tuned!

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