Posts Tagged ‘Shih Tzu’

When It’s Time

December 8, 2013
I Dare You...

I Dare You…

This isn’t the topic I expected to post this weekend. Not because of the passing of Nelson Mandela, but for an even more personal passing that raises almost identical emotions.


I demonstrated to push my college to rid itself of all investments that supported the South African government during apartheid. I’m proud to say Swarthmore College was one of the early institutions to manifest its (Quaker) values by participating in the economic boycott which the pundits are crediting with bringing an end to the apartheid system.

I rejoiced when it became clear that Nelson Mandela’s emphasis on equality and democracy, and commitment to reconciliation as the path forward, would be carried out with a simultaneous delight in the small pleasures of life. I’ve followed Mandela as I have the Dalai Lama, listening (by reading) to their speeches and appreciating how well they each translate values into action in ways I try to embody in my own life. My venue, as my status, is so much less than that of these two men I admire. Only others can assess to what extent I manifest any similar virtues.

I do attest that my Shih Tzu, named Shian Shung in respect of his status as a Master and Teacher, has shown the Mandela and Dalai Lama traits of persistence, consistency, dedication, joy in living, playfulness, affection, tolerance and respect for the equality of all. I could not know, when I cuddled him for a bit of extra “affection time” this past Monday, that I would never again do so. I cleaned and treated his eye, hugged him, received several doggy kisses in return, and watched him run out to catch up with his mates, chasing a rabbit into the pasture.

Blowing Kisses

Blowing Kisses

I loaded the car for my week of job training away from home and, as I headed down the drive, looked back to see my four dogs sitting on the deck, watching me go. That is my final image of Shian Shung – a furry white bundle of loving energy standing out against the blackness of the other dogs.


Today everything outside the windows is white. It snowed while I was away, and is snowing again now. Somewhere hidden within the cold wet white, is the body of what was a vibrant, lively personality cloaked in the white fur of a Shih Tzu. Apparently he was hit by a car mid-week. A visitor reports noticing a white dog lying beside the road Wednesday night. Shian Shung has not been seen since Wednesday morning; no body was found near the highway on Thursday. Most likely it was moved, or covered over, by snow plows clearing the road from the storm that day.

In his three short years, Shian Shung endured two traumatic health challenges and lived with a persistent eye irritation that required daily treatment. He was little more than a year old when he ingested meat some neighbor had set out, filled with rat poison. His gums were almost colorless when I got him to the vet. Daily injections with Vitamin K saved his life. He bounced back. He had one surgery to his right eyelid, intended to eliminate irritation to the cornea. It was only partially successful – I still had to clean and treat the eye daily. A follow-up surgery ended abruptly when Shian Shung flat-lined on the operating table. The vet and his assistant performed CPR, intubated him, worked on him for more than half an hour. He survived – again.

Within a week he was running and playing and teasing his pals, warning me of intruders with his assertive bark, tolerating steroid shots to reduce the inflammation to his eye, and lavishing me with his affection and abundant joie de vivre.

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural New Mexico, I’ve shared my home with a very large number of dogs and cats. Inevitably, a few stand out… Natasha, Driftwood, Daisy, Haiku, Rowena, Mei Ling and now Shian Shung. Daisy (a beagle/basset cross) extended her life after a serious illness, for just long enough to see me through the loss of my father, before she moved on to join him.

Handsome Haiku

Handsome Haiku

Haiku and Natasha (tiger-striped cats, one ginger the other grey) each taught me how to recognize the difference between choosing to live with sickness and being ready to depart. Rowena (a Scottie) and Mei Ling (another Shih Tzu) offered generous  love while also requiring respect for their independence. Each chose her moment of passing, in ways I could not avoid recognizing and respecting.

Miss Independence x 2

Miss Independence x 2

Various cultures articulate a tradition of animal guides and companions for the spirit world; I’m certain they “have it right”. A cat (my totem) will undoubtedly inform me, and accompany me, when it is my time. For now, I accustom myself to life here without the active presence of Shian Shung, as I adjust to a world now lacking the physical presence of Nelson Mandela.


We are most fortunate when we find good role models or wise teachers, to help us on our paths through life. I’m blessed to have my spiritual teacher, on MasterPath, still present in the physical, as is the Dalai Lama. Two other role models, one proximate (Shian Shung) and one more distant (Mandela), have shown me how to live fully and well despite imprisonment and life threatening trauma. Both will continue to function as guides, now in my memory.

I wonder – is Shian Shung frolicking at Mandela’s feet as they move to their next stage of being?

Warm Furries

November 30, 2013

Five doves are fluffily hunched on the gate to the long pasture, seeming to emit waves of discontent because their bird food plate is piled high with snow rather than seed. I will probably succumb to the pressure shortly, and wade around the house with a bowl of feed for them. I doubt that my steps will imitate my Shih Tzu’s curious snow shuffle, though. I’ve been watching Shian Shung coming toward me down the drive, each front paw’s forward motion initiating a wave of snow rippling slightly sideward. It is the strangest looking movement, suggesting he has suddenly acquired the widely feathered feet of a nun pigeon. Or as though he is swimming his front legs through the fluffy white stuff that is belly deep for him.



My Min-Pin, Doodles, being a short hair, seems able to bounce through the same drifts, almost as though he’s walking on top of the snow instead of wading through it. Not any taller than Shian Shung, he has more of his minimal height in his legs, and an overall springier step. When excited, he can easily bounce to shoulder height on my Lab/Collie cross. And does so frequently, trying to get Blackjack’s attention away from the food bowl, gnawed deer bones, or the treats in my hand.

Aw, please...

Aw, please…

Doodles survived in his earliest life as a dumpster diver – he was about six months old when I collected him from a distant ranch and brought him to live with the rest of my motley crew. Eighteen months of ample and regular food has not yet broken him of the need to be in charge of any edible in the vicinity. Fortunately, Blackjack has a tolerant demeanor, only rarely exerting his considerable might to retain possession of a favored goodie.

Blackjack in Charge

Blackjack in Charge

The fourth member of my canine family is an elderly toy poodle – like Blackjack and Doodles also a rescue – with more serious personality issues. I know nothing about his earlier life, but it cannot have been easy. He was found at death’s door, totally dehydrated, his fur invisible beneath a matting of burrs, his belly distended and sagging to the ground. He growled and snapped at every attempt to care for him, requiring sedation by the vet before medical attention and a total body shave. Damaged intestines, causing the sagging belly, seems likely to be the result of being hit by a car; the injury continues to cause him intermittent constipation.

Warrior newly clipped

Warrior newly clipped

If left by himself, Warrior whimpers ceaselessly, or barks non-stop for an hour or more. Six months after arrival, he began to let me pet or groom him. Diametrically opposite to Doodles, he is reluctant to accept treats, which he requires be set down in front of him, to consider at length, before he will venture a nibble. Consequently, he loses them to Doodles unless they are offered when the other three dogs are off exploring. Which happens reliably enough that Warrior does get treats, but is also unhappily alone for periods of the day.

Blackjack shows remarkable patience with the littles. He lets Doodles and Shian Shung play out attack strategies, his legs and ears the more common targets. He makes sure Warrior has the warmest spot on the porch, and tolerates Doodles’ determination to be first at the food bowls. I remember to give him an extra rub around the head and muzzle, and to tell him he is the senior, and most essential, member of the pack. His calm demeanor, his defining of the boundaries outside which the others should not roam, his lessons about what is and is not fit to eat, and his manner of greeting – or guarding against – visitors to my acres all combine to transmit the expectations I have set about tolerance, respect, and appropriate behavior.

The Littles

The Littles

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural settings here in northern New Mexico, my one consistent rule for all pets has been that they must get along with one another. Not like, not necessarily interact, but tolerate and make space for all who wind up calling my home theirs. As a result, I’ve had a dog who let newborn kittens nurse on her while their mother took a break from the constant demands of parenting. I have photos of a cat cuddling with a Bouvier de Flandres large enough to squash her if he’d rolled over. That same Bouvier encircled an escaped rabbit and kept it safely between his paws until I got home and returned Mr. Bunny to his cage.

Guarding the rabbit cages

Guarding the rabbit cages

The coincidence of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hanukkah – an event apparently not to reoccur for an enormously long time – allows me to celebrate my two favorite holidays in one. Favorite because both encourage not just thankfulness, but also appreciation of freedom, joy in new beginnings, and the pleasure of connecting across boundaries.

In a heap

In a heap

I am grateful to have observed these same feelings played out amongst my four-legged family members.
I am grateful to be reminded by my furry friends, each time I hunker down to pet and play with them, that I don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah to participate in a demonstration of tolerance, respect, and appreciation.
They keep me sane, they make me welcome, they direct me back to balance when I start to tilt off center, they define home.
For all this, a lower reflection of the inner beauty being shown me by my spiritual Master, I am thankful.

Whoooo Are Youoooo?

July 13, 2013
I Dare You...

I Dare You…

The neurology course I finished last month on line, through Coursera – and the Cardiac Resuscitation Science one I just finished – both touched briefly on brain phenomena which have been observed to accompany what people describe as near death experiences. By wiring up Hospice patients to study brain patterns as life ends, or monitoring brain activity in the emergency room during CPR and defibrillation, scientists have observed bursts of brain activity which accompany the last moments of life – and which also occur in those who are “brought back”.

I’m not sure where I stand with regard to the effort to explain all cognitive experiences in terms of brain physiology. On one hand, the brain is fascinating in its complexity, flexibility, capability – and in the fact that there is so much we still don’t know about how it functions. On the other hand, I am strongly drawn to a spiritual life that knows phenomena by direct, non-mental, experience. It’s an easy out to say that when we fully understand the brain, we will fully understand transcendental experiences. I am more inclined to maintain that when we fully understand the brain we will fully understand that not all phenomena of experience can be explained by physiology.

How I wish that I could inquire of my three year old Shih Tzu what his experience was when he recently flat-lined and was resuscitated with extended CPR at the vet’s during what should have been a routine, minor surgery. When I picked him up he showed only the usual post-anesthesia grogginess – and his recovery was reasonably normal for what he’d experienced. It took him a few days to regain easy movement after the bruising and soreness from chest compressions, and he slept more than usual for about a week. He now seems his normal self in most activities, but there is a slight yet noticeable change in his personality (okay, his behavior, if you prefer a more rigorous, scientific terminology).

From puppyhood a rousing, adventurous and typical “boy”, Shian Shung would tussle with all comers, chase after rabbits, try to dominate larger dogs at the food bowl and to herd the neighbor’s horses if they came too close to ‘his’ property He manifested an assertive command of his life. He accepted human affection and tolerated my ministrations to his infected eye, but would generally leave people with the impression that, catlike, he was gracing us with only a portion of his attention and that only for a limited amount of time before more pressing demands took him off into the fields or to a game with his peers. (I have four dogs and a cat, while neighbor dogs and cats – including the striped and stinky variety – regularly visit our acreage).

Since his resuscitation, Shian Shung has been seeking out human contact, wanting to spend time on laps or in the house around people. Just today, he tried to climb into the car of a new person coming to our home, rather than standing to one side as he used to do, barking to let her know she was on his turf. He is as energetic as usual, but milder and less dominating of the other dogs. And he has stopped chasing the cat. Because he has “seen the Light?” He was intubated during the CPR and did not suffer oxygen loss to the brain, so cell death in motor or instinctive behavior areas did not occur and thus cannot be invoked as a cause of his behavior change.

Personality is the subtlest of the selves by which we are known and recognized. One might say it is the aspect of oneself closest to one’s real essence, or core reality. Changes in personality do occur with changes in brain function, as often happens with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. But that does not obviate the possibility that a personality change can occur without any apparent change in brain function. The sense of self we all recognize as part of our being and project through our personality has, as it were, a life of its own. If we suffer brain damage from accident or chemical changes, we may behave differently but we retain – in almost all cases – our ‘selfness’ unaltered.

How I wish I could inquire of Shian Shung whether he recognizes his changed behavior (personality)!

I think I’m on solid ground when I project that he would not be aware that he has changed, just as we humans are rarely aware, until circumstances or another person force the point, that we have begun to respond differently than we did in the past. We think of ourselves as impatient people striving to improve until one or more situations arise which we handle with a consummate patience for which we are praised. “Oh,” we say. And look back at our behavior with some surprise, recognizing that we have indeed been patient, not only in the most recent encounter but also, upon reflection, in those of the past several months as well. The interesting question is whether we then alter our self-concept to include being patient, or continue to cling to the idea that we are impatient but ‘doing better on occasion.’

There so often is a disconnect between so-called reality, and our perceptions of it, especially when the subject of the perception is some aspect of ourselves. Humans are famous for perceiving themselves as fatter or thinner or older or uglier than reality – the consensus of others – dictates. Some of us can feel fat one minute and not-so-fat a few minutes later (when trying on new clothes for example) despite there being no change whatsoever in our actual size. How much more flexible, and divorced from reality, are our perceptions of our personalities.
So who are we, really? A body commanded by a brain to move through time and space? A mind inhabiting and directing a body to move through time and space? A Soul or Spirit temporarily linked to a mind and body and animating it within time and space? Something else altogether?

If Shian Shung could communicate with me about his death and resurrection, would he express it in terms similar to those used by people to describe their own near death experiences? Or would the fact that the canine brain differs significantly from a human brain mandate that the experience be perceived differently? I wish I knew – or do I?

Each advance in science, seeking answers to these ancient questions, seems over the course of recorded history to have only raised new versions of the same questions. Quantum physicists posit abstract entities, the descriptions of which sound a great deal like the energies that mystics have attempted to describe with terms like Soul or spirit. Neurologists use the laws of physics to describe brain function at the level of the neuron. Neuroscientists have completed experiments which purport to show that neurons are activated in support of one option in an either/or choice milliseconds before the subject becomes conscious of deciding to act. From these results, they propose that free will, like the concept of a self which is separate from brain function, is an illusion – a byproduct of brain functioning.

A contrarian argument arises – that the need to believe brain function can explain all aspects of human experience, is itself a brain-generated belief and not the ‘choice’ of a rational, scientific mind. I need to stop at this point. Taking the iterations any farther will land me in the far reaches of hypothetical thinking, and I will have come full circle once more from science to philosophy, from the brain to the Self or Soul – without knowing anything more about the inner experiences of my dog.

For now, I am content that he survived, that he is healthy, and that he enjoys time on my lap.

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