[ˈempəTHē.]

Empathy: [ˈempəTHē.]   The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. A Wikipedia glance further defines empathy as: the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feelings with the heart of another.

Lately, I’m feeling that empathy is disappearing as an element of emotional intelligence.  Perhaps I’m exaggerating this feeling (I’ve been accused of being overly sensitive for years.  Guilty as charged!).  Still, in my little world, what seems like a growing lack of empathy is troubling indeed.

So just a few days before Thanksgiving The Poodle got into a nano-second altercation with a German Shepherd. I didn’t see the split second event as The Poodle had bolted for the front yard ahead of me in eager anticipation of finding Rocket-man among the trees, assessing what we’d need for outdoor Christmas lights. I was just on the last step inside the garage when I heard “cujo” snarls, barks and growls followed by a dog’s wounded cry. I dashed out of the garage straight away and in that moment I can see a woman walking her two large dogs (one a German Shepherd and the other a yellow Lab). She was on the sidewalk in front of our house just at the bottom of our driveway.

Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong dog.

Believe me when I state unequivocally that my poodle love is as gentle a boy as can be. Truly. He is quite a social butterfly. He loves everyone…EVERYONE. Okay…well…almost everyone. For some inexplicable reason the only dog he has ever gone nuts over is a German Shepherd. In all of his eight years he has never growled at another dog…except for this one German Shepherd.

So yes. Apparently my sweet boy charged at the German Shepherd and was met with a swift response from the dog.  A natural response, of course!

The Poodle came crying and limping back to me while the woman and her dogs kept going. Rocket-man came running in too. Cradling The Poodle in my arms, I made a quick assessment of my boy as we sat together on the garage floor. He was clearly shaken but within a minute or two he seemed himself again. He responded well to getting a treat and he was off and running in the back yard without a care.

It wasn’t until the next day, late in the afternoon, that I noticed dried blood on the right side of his torso. Upon closer inspection I could see a wound and I was mortified.

How did I miss this? I wailed to Rocket-man.

He’s got so much fur it was easy,” he said as he checked the area. But it looks like it may be already starting to heal so lets wash up the dried blood and put some Neosporin on it just to be safe. We did this for two days. Still, the wound did not look like it was healing as quickly as I’d hoped so I scheduled a vet appointment the day after Thanksgiving.

The vet was mighty sympathetic that The Poodle was involved in an altercation. “It happens a lot; I see this all the time,” he said.

He loves my boys’ sweet nature and comments at every visit how great he is. Our vet isn’t the most communicative of vets that I’ve been involved with throughout the past several decades, but I’ve always felt his words to be sincere.

The doc asked if he could shave the area to get a better look and naturally I agreed. Quickly it’s apparent that the wound was deeper than we thought. I was beside myself.

“I should have brought him in the very day it happened,” I said fighting back tears. “But he seemed fine.

“No, no. Don’t beat yourself up,” replied the vet in a soothing voice as he washed the area. “Look, he’s got lots of curly hair making it difficult to see lumps, bumps, tics and such.”

So he’ll need stitches, right? I asked.

“Well, because more than twelve hours has passed since the incident we’re not going to be able to stitch the wound. We only had a twelve-hour window and you wouldn’t have made that anyway since you didn’t notice the wound until some 24 hours later. What we can do is prescribe a special salve which will help close the gap and speed healing. You just need to apply it once a day. It’s sticky and gooey but very effective. And, even though he doesn’t have a fever, let’s be on the safe side and put him on antibiotics for a week.”

So, the Poodle is healing. He doesn’t handle “The Hat of Healing” very well; he literally stands as still as a statue…won’t move a muscle…and he whimpers.  He did that for a full hour!  I suppose I would too if I had to wear such a thing! So,  I gave up on using it.  I’ve stuck close to home and I’ve had him in my lap a lot since it’s the best way I can insure he doesn’t lick his wound.  Let’s just say I’ve almost had my fill of Hallmark movies.

Please get this thing off of me...PLEASE!

Please get this thing off of me…PLEASE!

So…I saw the owner of the German Shepherd a couple of days ago as I was driving down the hill from my house. She was walking her dogs. I stopped in the middle of the street and rolled down the window.

“Hi…I’m the lady with the poodle,” I began.

“Yeah, I know who you are,” came her sharp reply.  Oh dear. 

Perhaps I should have stopped there but I felt she needed to know.

“Um. Okay.  Well I am sorry that my boy came at your dog. He was at the bottom of our driveway at the wrong time I guess. Really, he loves all dogs but for some reason has a problem with German Shepherds; he barks like crazy at them. I think something must have happened at doggie daycare.  Look, I’m not asking for anything but I just thought you should know that he took a chunk out of my poodle.”

“Not my problem,” she yelled back.

So there you have it. I’ll confessed that I was stunned. My stomach was in knots as I drove away. Hands gripping the wheel in anger I called Rocket-man to vent. He attempted to calm me but I wasn’t in the mood to allow it at the time.  I also call Miss Cookie.  “Well, consider that at least her dog didn’t go for the throat.”  I agree to feel lucky.

It occurred to me that there was indeed one thing I had wanted. Only one thing. And in that moment it was quite clear I was never going to get it.

Empathy.

I can assure you my response would have been measurably different had the shoe been on the other foot.

Much needed rain pounds the pavement on this dreary December morning.  But my boy is on the mend.  The tree lights are twinkling and Christmas music makes me sing out loud as I type.

This is my bliss for the day.

Mega Pet Peeve

Another hot and ridiculously humid day today in middle-earth land. Instead of spending it indoors, which was my first inclination, I subjected myself to the heat with a morning cycle ride with a group of ladies. We cycled just shy of 39 miles, finishing minutes before noon, with the sun beating down upon us through blue skies and clouds resembling puffy white cotton balls. There wasn’t a dry woman amongst us; we were all drenched with sweat from head to toe. How lovely it would have been to fall backwards into a swimming pool à la the Lipton ice tea plunge. Remember that? Thankfully the ride was uneventful…meaning, no dogs gave chase and heart rates didn’t soar off the charts out of fear and peddling for one’s life.

These lovely women don’t know how close I am to hanging up my bike because of the unleashed dog problem in my area. Or maybe they do. I’ll admit that I talk about my fear nearly every ride. In my defense—should you think I’m a wee bit off in the head—I have been attacked by a dog and that experience is still so fresh in my mind even though it happened three years ago!  So all rationality goes out the window when a dog comes running after me and I turn into an emotional mess. Believe it or not, I do try not to become overly fixated about these “redneck” dogs. Still, often the fear catches a hold of me and once it does, I just can’t relax.  And yes, I have a cute little stun gun that I got on Amazon.com in my jersey pocket.  One would think this would ease the tension a bit but little good is it when a dog comes charging out of nowhere; I’m clipped in… and when there is an angry dog at your heels in a flash, there is simply not enough time to safely respond to the situation with the stun gun.  God help me if my vocal cords fail me.
Case in point:  Last weeks’ ride featured a large dog that came out of nowhere. In the blink of an eye he was out in the road, determined to get a piece of someone. Our very accomplished ride leader successfully yelled the dog out of her way and we thought the dog was retreating but apparently he had second thoughts about the whole thing and decided for another go of it. Barking wildly and clearly not friendly, he aimed for the next in line, which was me. He was a breath away from my right ankle. I screamed so hard that I thought I had damaged my vocal cords.

This is so NOT fun people.

We stopped not even two minutes later as we saw a parked patrol car. The officer was sitting in his car doing something on his cell phone. Our breaths were still somewhat labored with emotion from the encounter as we reported the incident. We were met with a languid, unconcerned response.

“You should call animal control,” was all the officer said. Seriously. It took everything I had not to unleash an expletive or two. A fleeting image of being behind bars in an Alabama jail cell came to mind so I thought better of it. I did manage a mildly cloaked sarcastic response: “Thank you for your help officer” before riding off.

Folks, I’d really love to be able to enjoy the Alabama countryside (and, for those who know me, that’s a huge thing for me to admit!). It’s no joy to be constantly scanning for Cujo-like dogs whose purpose in life seems to be to terrorize cyclists. Some of the ladies, long time locals, are of course very familiar with all of the various cycling routes so they know where the bad dogs are. They often alter routes to avoid dog encounters. But invariably, despite planning and precautions there is a bad dog encounter. It’s not unusual to hear: Where did he come from? That dog (or worse, plural—those dogs) wasn’t there last week!

Alabama Barn

Alabama Barn

Though I still fiercely miss the beauty of Southern California, there is much beauty to behold in the Alabama countryside. There are acres upon acres of soy, corn, and cotton fields. There are beautiful barns–some bright red, some strikingly white, and there are the old, fallen down ones too.  There are quaint little white churches and farm homesteads as well as dilapidated abodes which cause my mind to wonder as to the history behind their life and sad decline. Beautiful Crepe Myrtles dot the countryside and when they are in bloom it seems the entire countryside is awash in pink and white.   And, It’s always lovely to pass by lush green pastures where cows, seeking respite from the sun, rest their hefty bodies under the shade of trees, or horses …casually strolling in their fenced-in pastures, their long tails gently swatting at flies as they nibble on whatever treat is before them. And lets not forget the occasional goats, donkeys and chickens, and even Alpacas and Llamas. One such farm is a favorite on our route, where a good-sized herd of these animals live a sweet, cozy life on a farm that spins their wool into lovely yarns for sale as well as scarves and such. So cozy is this place that it is in fact the Cozy Cove Farm and this ride has been dubbed the Mama Llama ride. This setting, and more, are interesting sights to take in and enjoy during our morning or evening cycle rides.  But for me, always on the lookout for bad dogs, I’m often too tense to take pleasure in the beauty around me.  Sigh.

Llama beauty

Llama beauty

Our ride leaders—ladies and gents alike— do an awesome job of planning and leading rides in the Huntsville cycling community. They are working hard to establish Alabama as a cycling friendly state. We currently rank an abysmal 49th in that department (thank God for Mississippi!).  But it seems to be a difficult task making dog owners accountable for their pets which is beyond my comprehension. Cyclists are getting injured because of dog attacks!  I pray every time I get on a bike that someone doesn’t lose their life because of a dog taking them down. And, paraphrasing here, as one gal put it: It’s sad when you’re more afraid of dogs than cars.

Suffice it to say that irresponsible dog owners is one mega PET PEEVE of mine!