I have, extremely recently, been faced with the overwhelming lesson of what it means to responsibly care for a dog. I made the decision to have my veterinarian euthanize the love of my life, my best friend, and my spirit animal – Johnny. What may come as a shock to some, is that I had to make this decision when Johnny was five and a half years old, due to increasing aggression.

I rescued Johnny when he was seven months old. He was scrawny, his nails were too long, he was shedding too much, his eyes were on the sides of his head (hammerhead dog), and he looked defeated in a crate where he hung out on the weekends waiting for the love of a home. He looked at me with piercing green eyes as he layed there, unmoving, and I was instantly attached. As soon as I got him out of the crate, he was a new dog – super excited, jumping around, ready to go. I told the lady who ran the rescue that I wanted him, but she said I could not take him until I had a note from my apartment complex saying they allowed the breed on his paperwork – an American Staffordshire Terrier mix, Amstaff for short. If you have experienced the world of bully breeds, an Amstaff is never allowed to live anywhere. I went home and got angry with anyone who told me I would just have to find another dog that I liked. Silly giver uppers. When you know something in your soul, you have to go for it. Giving up on little hammerhead green eyes was not an option. I formed a plan and decided to call the rescue woman back, pitching my idea. She agreed and with overwhelming joy I showed up to meet her in the middle of nowhere to get my very specific buddy.

  

I worked at a dog daycare at the time and was friends with two certified dog trainers as well as being surrounded by co-workers who knew and understood dogs. I was ready for this. I was going to do this the right way. Step one – socialize. So, I started bringing Johnny to work with me. What a dream. Wasn’t I the best dog owner ever? I could bring my new BFF to work with me every day and he got to play with friends and go home exhausted.

 

Lesson learned: Not every dog can mentally handle the stimulation of a yard full of dogs. Johnny was fine for months but eventually, it was too much for him. He started acting out and his anxiety manifested in aggression. Although, an overall minor aggression in the big picture of Johnny’s life, it was painful and upsetting. Johnny could not play in a big group of dogs anymore and I was saddened that I would have to leave him at home while I worked all day in a place that had a ‘bring your dog to work day’ every day. Once this happened, I jumped right on the dog training* bus and was ready to face this new issue head on.

After working with a trainer, and now a person very dear to my heart, Johnny had a few really good, incident free, years. For a while, I took him everywhere with me – we road tripped together, we went to dog friendly breweries or shops together, we visited friends together. Anywhere he was allowed to go, he went with me and I often chose to stay home with him rather than go somewhere he could not.

Lesson learned: Positive Reinforcement training builds confidence in your dog and deepens your relationship. The trust that Johnny had for me began from the start but strengthened tremendously during the training techniques and years to follow. Johnny felt like more of a person than a dog to me. We understood each other. He trusted me with every piece of himself. It was up to me to always do what was best for him, no matter what.

 


Then, within the past year, signs started showing up again. Some were subtle. A great infographic to refer to for some insight is below.

For more informational infographics, you can click here.

But shortly after, some of the signs were more obvious – growling, snapping, hunting, biting. He was becoming anxious, but this time it was worse. The training was not working anymore. Removing triggers did not work. Removing stimulation was not working. Something had changed in his brain and it was out of my control. This is the part I have the most difficult time grasping. I have never accepted anything as out of my control in my entire life. Until now. And that left me with both the biggest choice and no choice at all.

All I’m going to say is, within a week of each other, Johnny got in two dog fights very different from each other. Both unpredictable and unique to what I had ever seen him do before and both with dogs he had a history of friendship with. After incident one of that week, I had an instant gut feeling that I would have to put Johnny down. I had NEVER even considered that before, yet all I could hear in my head was “Oh my God, am I going to have to put Johnny down?” so I finally said it out loud. My partner was shocked to hear those words come out of my mouth and even curious as to why THAT was the incident, of all the questionable actions, that changed everything in my mind. My answer is that I don’t have much of an answer other than a deep, gut instinct and the sudden awareness that he was no longer as predictable as he used to be to the person that knew him best – me. This all happened so fast that I was simply devastated and at a complete loss with this thought weighing on me night and day. I had zero acceptance of a life without Johnny and I think that is why incident two rolled around six days later and sealed the deal. There was no denying it after incident two. There was a brutal understanding of what love, safety, and surrender meant. Every reason I had to keep Johnny alive, was a selfish one.

The thing is, with Johnny, I never gave up. Johnny had a history of dog aggression that was managed quickly at a young age. Even when it seemed to start showing up again in the last year of his life, I swooped in and got into management mode immediately. Even after he had bitten a person and gotten in a minor dog fight, I still did not consider euthanasia. I researched the exact scenarios, I called my dog trainer, I contacted another dog trainer I knew and trusted, and I set up a plan to manage this with my knowledge of the exact triggers and a responsible approach. The hope in dog aggression cases, is that if it is predictable, there is a potential that you can safely manage it so long as the dog and the owner’s quality of life is considered. I never, ever gave up on him. But, I did surrender when it was the responsible, selfless, and loving choice to make.

I knew Johnny like you know a piece of yourself. I spent the past five years knowing him, snuggling with him, observing him, training him, playing with him, adventuring with him, testing what worked and what did not with him, and dedicating my life to making sure he was taken care of. But at the end of the day, Johnny was an animal – a topic I will cover more next week.

Johnny pulled me through some massive years of heartache. He gave me a reason to get out of bed some days when I may not have otherwise because I knew I had to feed him and let him out, no matter what I was going through. He licked away countless, countless tears. He was the perfect snuggler, especially when I needed it most. He was hilarious and holds the title of Number One Bootscooter in the World. He was my first priority, always, and love of my life. I did the absolute best I could have possibly done.

Of all the losses I have suffered in my life, this one has by far been the most painful. Yet, it has also been the most powerful lesson in both trusting myself and surrendering.

None of this was Johnny’s fault, or mine.

*Side note about dog training: I am huge advocate for Positive Reinforcement Training and for a lot of informational links on that you can click here. Had I taken an alternate approach in training, such as treating aggression with aggression or dominance training, I wholeheartedly believe Johnny would have gone downhill fast, rather than giving me five full, beautiful years.

First, I want to acknowledge that I went off the grid for a bit and I now feel myself coming back more fully and more myself than ever before. I was in a place where I couldn’t write to the world. I want to always remain genuine and I couldn’t find the words to share what was going on in my life. I would rather break the rules and not blog at all, then post something that felt less authentic.

So here I am! And this feels so good. To write again and to have it just flow right out of me. There has been a few times where I have sat down, attempting to write something, thinking I was ready, and could not figure out a single way to put words to my spinning mind. One day, I attempted handwriting it out and within five minutes – I was asleep. Not because I was so tired, but because it had been an emotionally exhausting time in my life and trying to put words to any of it just stressed me out and my physical body decided to avoid. I wasn’t ready yet.

There is no way of knowing when life will hit hard and when it will flow easily. This has been a true lesson for me in being OK with where I am at, listening to my inner Sam and doing what I need to do to care of myself, and adjusting to any obstacle that may come my way.

One beautiful, wonderful, splendid way of coping/learning/growing/listening I have had these past few months: WRITING!!

FullSizeRender(6)

Today I am here to talk about one tip (of many) that I have for journaling and writing on a daily basis. I think I could talk about journaling, the importance of it in my life, and the different techniques and activities I partake in – for days. I am a writer at heart. I love it, I need it, it helps me sort through life. So to keep it from getting overwhelming, we are going to focus on one activity I find so, so important.

Every night, before bed, I sit down with a piece of paper that holds ten questions and my journal where I answer these ten questions. These questions keep my head straight about how I am living my daily life. They force me to stop and think and reflect on my day. Here they are:

10 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF EVERY SINGLE DAY

  1. What did I learn?
  2. Who did I love?
  3. How was I vulnerable?
  4. What am I grateful for?
  5. Who did I listen to?
  6. How was I challenged?
  7. What made me laugh?
  8. Who did I connect with?
  9. How did I grow?
  10. What did I share?

 

IMG_1665

This activity has helped me get through some very trying times and see such positive in them. Any answer you can give is going to remind you of the positive actions of your day – even if it was challenging. Sticking to this as a nightly ritual, I have begun to remember the questions at random points throughout the day and it excites to me see that growth in myself. It reminds me to share, be vulnerable, face challenges, listen to others, etc.

I also recommend finding a safe space for you to be fully present in your writing. I usually do it in bed as the last thing before falling asleep, so I end my day on reflection and positivity. If I’m writing during the day, I like to go to places that make me feel comfortable and zen. Recently, my safe space has become The Honeysuckle Tea House in Chapel Hill. So, shout out to them for creating a space that makes me feel like I can breathe and fills me with appreciation for the beauty that is around me when I am there. Whatever that space is for you – take advantage of it. It’s those small beauties that change our day and change our life.

IMG_1402

IMG_1544

Johnny likes Honeysuckle Tea House, too

Try it out. Every night for a week. Let me know how you feel!

Peace & Love,

Sammy

Here are some things I have learned about friendship:

Friendship breakups are real. They are painful and they are a loss and they are real. The realization that I have recently come to face is that friendships aren’t all that different from any other type of relationship you might have.. romantic or not. You make a connection with a person, you decide that person is someone you want in your life, and you spend time with that person. Along with an increased bond to a human comes the good and the bad. Laughter, inside jokes, memories.. jealousy, the pain of attachment, and sometimes toxic patterns.

I have been a bad friend in the past. I have taken on the roll of energy sucker and become so self centered in my actions, I lost sight of what kind of toll that could take on a person. Let alone a person I call friend. I was reflecting on the old friendship I had with one being in particular and didn’t like the way I was feeling about it. I didn’t like the guilt in my heart for not being the person I would be had I been their friend today, and not back then. We had broken up by simply fizzling out of each others life until it was rare and then not at all. So, having not spoken in a long time, I sent her a long message about my feelings and apologizing for my shortcomings in our past friendship. I never got a response, and that’s ok. I said what I needed to to try to make it known that I was aware of my part in the downfall of the friendship and I also healed my path to a situation that could have held guilt in my heart for years to come.

I have also been a good friend to people who didn’t or couldn’t give back in a way that I needed. I have taken on the roll of helper/fixer and allowed toxic patterns to form that made me feel exhausted and spent from a continuous cycle of building the other up or even feeding their ego. In this circumstance, the chat wasn’t an apology letter, but rather a well thought out reason to end the relationship at that point in time. A real “it’s time to break up” moment. It was not received well and that’s ok, too.

The reason I give these two different examples and tell you that the not so perfect endings are ok, is because it isn’t how the other person reacts that matters. If you get anything from this, that very statement is what’s important for me to pass on. What matters is that you do the best you can do at each point in time of your life. Expectation will hurt you. If you want to mend a path or end a friendship with expectations that someone will act a certain way in return, you will always be disappointed. All you are responsible for is your actions and how clean your slate is. Let go of the need to be right or the need to fight back. If you feel those needs in yourself, it’s ok – you are human, just notice them, don’t judge them, and let them pass without reacting to them.

expectation

There are also situations with friends where you are going to have to work hard to understand each other and be there when the other needs you. Similarly as you would with a boyfriend or girlfriend. You are going to need to make an effort to understand the way a friend handles situations different than you and figure out how to still be there for them in a way that works. Your gut will tell you which friends to fight for and which to let go.

Then sometimes, you will meet people and they will become great friends fast and easily and you know they will be there for a lifetime. It will flow and it will inspire you and encourage you to grow. Keep those.

I am going through all of this at once and learning as I go. If you have any stories, advice, or words to offer – this is an open space for you to do so. If you want to know more about my stories or process in this subject, feel free to ask and I will answer. This is a trusted community here and you are safe.

Trust yourself.

Sammy

I am going to give out some advice that I myself need to hear right along with anyone else.

You. Are. Enough.

I don’t care about your weight, your gender, or your sexuality. I don’t care if you’re competitive, sensitive, outgoing, or prefer to be alone. Whoever you are and whatever qualities you possess, you are enough.

I am sitting here in my bed crying as I write this because life can be tough and you have to find out who you are and know its truth. If you don’t know its truth, people will get to you with their words and it will bring you down. It will confuse you. It will make you second guess who you are. But if you are aware of yourself, if you know yourself – they can’t define you.

Trust yourself. Trust yourself enough to know that if someone is spewing words of unkindness at you (or hurting you with their actions), you know it is coming from a place of pain in their hearts and has nothing to do with you. Get angry, get sad, get funky, and then come back to that place of compassion and acceptance, when you are ready. Hurt people hurt people. Feel it, let it float away, and remember who you are. They can’t touch you. You got this.

Let that spunky spirit fly.

 

The way we portray our lives and perceive the lives of others on social media is an important dialogue I’d like to open up. We are filled with constant words and pictures of others and we form these ideas in our heads of what that person is like or how their life is.

THEIR LIFE IS NOT PERFECT. I promise.

meme

I want to touch on two areas about this.

  • Feeling down on yourself about your own life based on how happy or exciting someone else’s life appears to be

Maybe they post a happy picture with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe they landed their dream job. Maybe they have a lot of money. Maybe they workout a lot and always seem to eat the perfect meals. Maybe they have a lot of friends.

Maybe there is hidden abuse behind closed doors and they don’t want to admit it to themselves yet, let alone to the world. Maybe their dream job came to be after they lost it all and had to start fresh. Maybe their parents give them a lot of money because they don’t know how to give them a lot of love. Maybe they can’t control anything in their lives besides what they eat and how their body looks. Maybe twenty friends that don’t want to hear about your struggles in life aren’t quite as good as two friends that do.

It doesn’t mean that every exciting or beautiful picture has some hidden, dark meaning. Not at all. We all have happy moments! But deciding that someone else has a better life than you because of a picture or status is a dangerous game. Especially when you are comparing a person’s great day to your bad day. How many times have you posted something happy without describing the inner workings of your family issues or deepest fears? Do. Not. Compare. Yourself. To. Others. You are great and your life is yours and you don’t need to be like anyone else.

P.S: I am no exception. I have been there time and time again wondering why I can’t do this yoga pose, why I’m not in a jungle in some exotic country, why so and so is so damn happy and I’m sitting on the floor crying. I am learning this lesson right along with you. But thoughts create things and your mind can be a dangerous neighborhood. Once you recognize that, you can stop the crime from happening right in its tracks.

  • Portraying your life as only positive, even in dark times, and neglecting to express the negative

What really opened my eyes up to the importance of this topic is when I found the courage to post this on Instagram:

Image-1

…and it got a lot of good attention. I realized, when I spoke up, not only did people relate, but they wanted it to be a topic of discussion as well. Telling them the truth about my sadness at the time led to a flow of love and support from unexpected people. I was shocked. And in the end it was so beautiful. I doubt any of those great people realize how much it meant to me to be recognized for doing something out of my comfort zone and fessing up to the truth of my sadness. So here I am thanking you for that. You were a seed in the process of this blog coming to be what it is.

People aren’t generally comfortable with letting others in and being vulnerable in their daily lives, let alone online – the easiest source to fake it. They want to trick themselves into thinking their lives are perfect just as much as they want you to believe it. I have been in circumstances where someone close is communicating with me about their current dilemma around the same time a picture goes up on Instagram of them smiling. Have you ever experienced anything like that? Notice the patterns. Understanding leads to compassion. The world can use all the compassion it can get.

I encourage you to open up in one form or another. Once you are honest with yourself, you will realize there is nothing to prove to anyone else. Take pride in your genuine feelings. Take pride in your story. It is so inspiring to read the words of a person’s hardships and how they survived it. What you go through is YOUR story. To share or not is completely your choice, but I promise if you let others in a little bit more, you will notice the humanity stored in all of us waiting to be needed.

How was your day? How have you been lately? I want to know the truth.

Whatever that truth is, all is well. You can always count on impermanence.

Sammy