Dan Weil, CPCC
Like every morning, a recent Thursday morning, I begin my process of waking up in a slow, stretchy way.
Funny, I say that and somehow that is never the case. If I don’t begin to stretch or if my breathing isn’t moving from sleep to waking breath – then surely soon enough a fuzzy, whiskered little face gently wakes me up with the softest of touches. “It’s time to get up!” Olive encourages me. It’s been like this for her whole life, more than 11 years now. Olive Marie Presley is a Queensland Heeler with a strong herding instinct. She keeps our house running.
Over time, she’s decided when we get up in the morning, that 10 am is time to play frisbee or something else, that 2 pm is another play break, that dinner time is half an hour earlier than we’d like it to be, that 7 pm is time for a snack like popcorn, and when it is time for bed. We have other duties she asks of us too. Sometimes Olive will ask to go for a walk or for one of her balls to be retrieved from under one piece of furniture or another.
In-between, she is mostly at my side, at my heels. Dutifully following me around and making sure she knows where I am and what I am doing. She’ll follow me from the couch to the bathroom and wait for me just outside the bathroom. If I’m getting dressed in the morning, she’s there. Ever vigilant should I need her. Among her jobs, dating to pre-COVID times, she’s always inspected every incoming package or shopping bag. When I’m in the home office, she’s always on her bed with me or just outside the office. Ever-present.
We have become so very connected in a way that feels so very special to me. I talk with Olive in a conversational way and sometimes she talks back to me through an extensive vocabulary of grunts, moans, barks, yips, whines, trills, body language, eye rolls, touch, and facial expression. It’s both subtle and overt. I don’t “speak” dog and she doesn’t “speak” much English, but somehow we know what the conversation is about. She looks at me — and my heart fills and soars.
When something is bothering her, she tells us. When she’s scared she comes to us and let’s us know. When she makes a mistake she apologizes. When she wants love or reassurance she knows how to ask for it. When she wants to be alone because she needs quiet, or she needs to process something, she finds a quiet spot to do that.
Olive is very much like my “daemon,” the magical creatures that fill the pages of the “His Dark Materials” (The Golden Compass) by Sir Philip Pullman. She is encouraging, curious, playful, fierce and guarding, calming and loving, companionship, and much more.
Our connection feels powerful to me. A friend who watched us interact said, “You talk with Olive just like you talk to a person!”
“Of course!” I said to this friend, “She understands me and there’s no reason to talk with her any other way.” Another friend said, “Look at her eye contact with her! That is amazing! She’s so connected to you.”
Olive is such a pleaser. She may be bossing us around in a moment, but underneath that she is just wanting to do a good job. She’s always looking to please us. So she’ll bring us balls to toss, her Kong rubber dog bones — to play with her or to coax treats out of us , or proudly show off the cardboard toilet paper roll she’s managed to find while she plays keep-away with it.
From the time we brought her home as a teeny puppy, we said that we wanted her to thrive, to honor her full self and we were not going to stifle her creativity and possibilities by abusing her. Of course we aren’t that kind of humans, so we wouldn’t have – but with Olive, we consciously named it and we said it and we committed to it. We’ve had a few adventures with Olive and there’s still lots we could do with her and I hope to share with her. Mostly she loves to be home with her toys, her yard, a local walk, and a schedule she understands. We have taken her to see the ocean, we have taken her with us on a couple of trips including, most recently, to Lake Tahoe in winter.
Since she was a pup, Olive has always had a canine companion. She first moved in with Rowdy and I and Bell. Bell was older and had a more grumpy personality, so Olive learned some dog respect from an early age. Since Bell passed, we rescued Tara. She’s grown into our little family pack in her own unique ways. It’s fascinating to witness them teaching and learning with each other.
If it isn’t obvious by now, I completely love our dogs and this Olive Marie Presley. She’s taught me so much and especially about love.
A switch flipped somewhere and an encroaching evening got very dark.
All of this that I am sharing with you now, truly flashed through my mind and my heart as I now sat on the floor with Olive, desperately holding her in my lap, calling to her, yelling for Rowdy’s help, terror, panic and despair flooding over me while she was experiencing her first massive seizure that seemed to go on and on.
There was a moment, where I got quiet. I just pet her. I touched her tongue, which had gone from dropping out of her foaming mouth to a stiffened position and I knew then she really might not come out of this. I’ve seen this in animals that have died before. This “death tongue.” I was absolutely helpless. To myself I was saying to her, “please don’t do this!” And choking my throat was, “Please don’t die!” Strangled with, “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!?!” For the first time in my life I was stringing words together that made no sense to me. I couldn’t get them out. Then I forced them out, “Please Olive!” And, “Please don’t be hurting.”
Horrified. In utter despair.
Still in my lap. Weak. She began to come out of it. Slowly she lifted her head and touched my face with her nose – she put her head back down and rested. Then she did that again. Full of emotion and crying I talked with her, with Rowdy, and pet her. A little while later she was walking around a bit, trying to shake it off.
Shaken to my core, it was taking me far too long to get my shit together, to get Olive in the car, and get her to the vet. Olive has never had to deal with anything remotely like this in her whole life. I was fighting denial.
Thanks to the protocols of COVID, I was not allowed into the vet’s office with her. I waited in the car outside, calling in to the office for updates. Finally learning that she had another seizure inside the office and that they needed to use medication to help her come out of it. Another very close call for her. All of that despair flooded over me in another tidal wave. Now she was inside the vet clinic with people she doesn’t know.
At the same time this was happening, Rowdy stayed home with Tara. She was having a reaction to all of this herself. In fact, it was Tara who alerted me to a problem when she came running to me and flew her 40lb self into my lap. Tara was shaking and looking intently toward the front room where Olive had fallen and where her shaking body was knocking a chair around. We needed to care for Tara too.
Now on an IV drip and in ICU, Olive was going to spend the night at the vet. We prepared to accept phone calls during the night to make whatever decisions we might have to.
Thankfully, two weeks later, she’s home with us. It hasn’t been easy for her. It’s been two weeks of middle-of-the-night care for her disorientation, dizziness, sickness, and exhaustion. Over the past couple of days she’s beginning to show interest in her toys. Her “face” is more present. And even with herself beginning to feel better, she’s asking us to be with her. She doesn’t like to go into the backyard by herself. She’ll take a couple of steps outside and look over her shoulder at us, “Please come with me, please be with me. I feel sick.” Her footing isn’t sure or strong. Her perception and coordination is different.
Her love of playing with her balls is starting to come back. We’re adjusting to her new reality — like going from tossing the ball to her or for her to chase, to playfully handing it to her. Her near perfect frisbee and ball catch skill is not there for her in her present drugged state.
Still she’s teaching us.
I think about how intensely protective I felt at the vet’s office. “Clear the way! Stat! Emergency!” going through my head and “Jerk face, I seriously don’t give a shit that your pack of hunting dogs just got bit by a Mojave green rattler – since you obviously don’t, blocking my path to help because you just spent a ridiculous amount of time positioning your damn truck in 3 different parking spots,” and “I will seriously hurt the fucker who gets in the way of getting Olive care or who causes her any more distress.” I was projecting some powerful mojo. Maybe just plain, distress. Whatever it is, the more protective part of this, is very readily tapped for me.
What do we know now? I think we are still working on that. We’re told that what is happening for Olive is one of three things; a toxic reaction, onset epilepsy, or cancer. The vet has eliminated a toxic reaction. We might learn more with Olive’s upcoming appointments.
In the meantime, we are leaning deeply into our values of love, compassion and care in this new reality.
During this whole event, I noticed that I was already in a particular perspective that I am grateful I have. This perspective that I call, “Caretaker.” It’s the “Caretaker” perspective where I see us humans as caretakers of the world around us. I can be in this fully. To the vet I said, “Take reasonable measures. Don’t do anything that causes her too much pain, discomfort, or extreme. Let her not be in too much distress.”
Still she’s teaching us.
Olive is teaching us to be present with her now… as we learn more about this daemon connection between us. Even as our anxiety grows about what’s ahead, even as what we believe our capacities to be are tested, and even when we are dancing quickly from one perspective to another, even as they move like layers over this firmly held one of “Caretaker.” Even as we love more deeply, more expansively.
Learning upon learning.
Three weeks later, Olive is doing better. So far, no further seizures. Her meds have been adjusted and more of her is coming through. She has had a few more sick nights. Each day, we hope for her days to be better and we are with her for whatever she needs.
Coaches continually get coached themselves and evaluate where they are in their process all in service of their clients.