I’ve been touched only very tangentially by the catastrophic losses of 2020. I struggle to grasp the enormity of it: the loss of loved ones, family members, jobs, businesses, entire ways of life, and some industries… changed forever. The accumulated grief, mourning, and trauma is immense. I could become paralyzed by it all: fear, sadness, anger, outrage, and then deep deep grief. Instead, I choose to focus on dogs. Of course.  

Photo by Beth Adams, Candid Canine Photography

I admit it: I love New Year’s resolutions. I love the intent and energy, and the ritual. To me, resolutions are all about hope. Each January, the taking stock of the prior 12 months and setting intentions for the next feels so hopeful I can’t help but get a little excited. I don’t set a lot of goals; just a few surgical strikes, quantifiable and realistic. Hey, as a psychotherapist I wrote treatment plans with measurable goals and objectives for 16+ years. Goals R Us.

In no particular order, here are my goals for 2021:

  1. Rally Novice titles for Hawkitt and Bindi. Yes, that’s a dog sport. Yes, it’s a bit silly and meaningless in a world wracked with strife to set my sights on dog sport titles, but there it is. Sometimes something silly and light has a metric shit-ton of weight when looked at through a different lens. Understanding all the moving parts involved in earning these titles will be a good exercise for me – I’ll have to enter an arena (virtual arena – I can do this at home and submit a video) in which I’m an utter newbie, and learn every piece of the puzzle. The actual stuff the dog has to do isn’t difficult or complex – it’s basic commands like heeling, sit and down stays, etc. But how to set up the course, manage the video camera, submit the paperwork… it’s all the logistics that tend to make me stumble.
  2. I’m doing a 5 day dog training bootcamp. It started last night. It’s not focused on any one issue but marketed as a reset for the new year. It’s super accessible, 100% online, extremely affordable and likely basic AF. I figured I can’t go wrong, so I clicked the “sign me up” tab and said “what the hell.” I’ll let you all know what I think. Canine Performance out of North Carolina are the hosts and trainers. They also developed an app that seems pretty fun and functional for dog training.  
  3. Trick titles. We ended 2020 with Hawkitt having earned two titles – Trick Dog Novice and Intermediate. Squirming in under the gate, Bindi submitted her paperwork for Trick Dog Novice in 2020 too. I’d like Bindi to earn her Intermediate and Hawkie to earn his Advanced but … that’s not the big news. The big goal for 2021 is I think maybe Peeka could earn her Trick Dog Novice title. Yes, silly and meaningless but… when it’s Peeka, you can see the glimmers of why I think it’s also worth doing.
  4. My own personal goals? I’m doing a Dry January which is also perhaps silly, but as much as I love rituals, I also love shaking things up and pushing myself to do that self study stuff that yoga requires. I want to explore what an alcohol free month feels like and determine if any of my ailments improve in the absence of beer. I’m writing this on January 5th, and initially my acid reflux got a lot worse. Ain’t that a kick in the head. But I’ll soldier on and note any other changes. It’s only been 5 days.
  5. I am going to try to average 10k steps a day. It’s a competition. My daughter is working on 10k steps a day and if she can do it, I can do it. So far I haven’t. She has. I think it might be good for our relationship if she succeeds and I fail. Or at least flounder.

Why set silly goals and then attempt to defend them as monumental? Back when I was a therapist, one of the new and popular movements in our field was “short term therapy.” While there was a ton to criticize about STT, some of the almost AA-like slogans of the approach have stayed with me. One of these slogans was “Do Something Different.” If a client was struggling with depression, for example, the intervention was to inspire that person to try to do something different. It almost didn’t matter what – the idea was to shake things up by DOING. Not insight, not self-reflection, not thoughts or emotions, but action. Do something different.

I’ve interpreted that for myself to mean “step out of my comfort zone.” Push myself a little. My comfort zone is in some ways sufficiently uncomfortable to warrant a different epithet, but I think the sameness I’ve embraced in day to day life can be a crutch. The pandemic allowed me to dig in to sameness in a big way. I’m someone who could ace agoraphobia.

So I’m pushing myself to do something different. The pandemic, Cinder’s death, menopause, an esophageal motility disorder, my father in law’s death – while I have been blessed with a relatively easy go of it, I’m not leaving 2020 unscathed. I’m tired, fatigued in that deep chronic, “I haven’t slept well since the 1990s” way — tired of not feeling well, tired of worrying, tired of feeling like I’m on the edge of my seat regarding world events. When grief and exhaustion and worry feel huge, my response is to get small. Small goals. Small steps toward small triumphs. Small but manageable and incremental learning and growing. Because it sure feels like a grow or die situation to me, in almost every way.

I never wanted to compete in any dog sports and quite honestly most of me still doesn’t. But two things: 1) being open-minded and willing to try is a part of the whole “doing something different” thing. 2) I think Bindi will benefit from this. I’ve spent a lot of years focused on Brody and Peeka. Their limitations, both physical and mental, have dictated my training focus, with Hawkitt as an afterthought. Hawk is so easy to please, and so ready to team up to do almost anything… in a strange way he needs very little. He isn’t a complex conundrum to solve. He just needs suggestions – go climb that tree. Open the freezer. Pick up that sock I dropped. As long as I’m ready to pay him in tug and fetch, he is ready to work all day long on damn near any task I concoct. 

Bindi, however, has issues. They are extremely “mild” and easy to resolve, but they won’t simply go away on their own. She deserves the attention and assistance those issues require. She’s so worth it. I said to Tom the other day “I haven’t seen Peeka play this much since the first year we had her.” Hell, I haven’t seen Peeka move this much since that first year. Bindi is a true Bringer Of Joy, but she is timid. This is not a big challenge or a severe case of fearful dog. She just needs the structure of more formal training to gain the confidence to be a happier pup, able to enjoy more of life’s adventures. So as long as it’s good for her, and helps her grow into a more confident pup, I will step out of my comfort zone and explore more formal ways to enrich her life.

That’s what caring for another living being is all about – growing, changing, and exploring new parts of yourself in order to meet their needs. And doubling down on that seems like a sane and kind way to enter 2021, and solider on during this pandemic.

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