Happy New Year and welcome back to the world of Cleo! The lamb-girl and I are very glad to be here. You may recall that the week before Halloween, I wrote to say that I would be taking a month off to get my book in order. Okay, who knew?! It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be to ready a book for publication. So here we are, two and a half months later, but the book is published and available on Amazon. Here’s the link, in case you want to get it: The Educated Dog. It is being sold only as an ebook, but if you don’t have a Kindle, here is an article on how to read ebooks without one. If you like the book, I would so appreciate your posting a review on the Amazon site. Anyway, I’m really excited to have actually accomplished this goal, as well as to be back writing the blog and sharing our stories!
So much has happened since October, both in the wide world and in the tiny sliver of Cleo’s world. Anyone who was alive and aware in December 2012 will never again hear the words Sandy Hook or Newtown without experiencing a wave of grief. For our school, exams had ended two days before that dreadful Friday, and our students had scattered to their homes and vacations. I spent a lot of time that weekend alternately reading news stories and lying on the chaise snuggling Cleo, her head tucked under my chin, her little body warming my chest. Even she eventually got fed up with being plucked from whatever activity she was engaged in to be wrapped in her mom’s arms and tightly held. She squirmed to loosen herself, her pointy paws pressing into my neck and sternum, her elbow digging into my ribs, then hopped down to pounce on her moose which she carried back to me to present for a game of chase. She was right, as always. Playing with her was a much better palliative than lying around trying to fathom the unfathomable. Action trumped inaction and eventually led us to join the 26 Acts of Kindness movement. Building bridges between people by affirming our mutual humanity is the only answer I can think of to an act that so rends the fabric of society.
Once it got underway, we had a wonderful vacation. John and I made sure that Cleo got to walk on her favorite trail every day, and several times took her to the park for an evening tear around the field or, if the stupid deer had taken over, the tennis court. Ever since Cleo and I were out walking one day and a young doe ran down the path after us, she has recognized their silhouettes. When she sees them on the field at night, she stands at attention, pressing forward, nose awiggle, tail ramrod straight and quivering. She looks like she’s thinking how much she’d like to bite their ankles. Or maybe I’m just projecting. She probably wants to play with them. It’s me that wants to bite their ankles. Anyway, she enjoys the tennis court almost as much as the grass and was happy to show off for our son Jackson and his girlfriend when he was home on leave from his Navy training. She raced around the court, easily outrunning and outmaneuvering all four of us, laughing as she taunted us by skimming past, just out of reach.
And now we’re back at school. I’ve been making a point to take Cleo with me to meetings this year. Usually, I take her blanket and favorite chew-object, an antler (no, my hostility is not subconscious), so that she has somewhere to be and something to keep her occupied. Faculty meetings are held in the library, just downstairs from Cleo’s and my office. The other morning I dropped Cleo off, leaving her to do her daily perimeter check (territory outside office windows free of turkeys, quail or other intruders; couch cushions inspected for left-over crumbs, toys or other objects and scents of interest; toys present and accounted for), grabbed her blanket and headed to the meeting, letting her know she could join me when she was ready. In a minute or two, I heard little exclamations of greeting rippling through the group of assembled campus adults, then a happy face was grinning up at me. I arranged Cleo’s blanket and showed her the antler. She plopped down and started enthusiastically gnawing—crunch, crunch, grind. Then she stopped, craned her neck and looked at me. Up she got, a truly uncharacteristic lack of obedience. The meeting started and I quietly put her back in a down-stay. It lasted for less than a minute. What was going on? I knew she didn’t need to go out; she’d already done all that less than a half hour before. Back onto the blanket. A new teacher is welcomed and a returning one greeted, both with applause. Cleo is up, feet on my lap, looking anxiously into my face.
Call me slow. It wouldn’t be the first time. You see, two days before, the boiler in the library had broken. The repairman had the flu and couldn’t come fix it. It wasn’t unbearable when we were in our office with a space heater cranked, but in the open library it was cold. In fact, the California Central Coast is now going through the coldest winter I can remember since I moved here. Temperatures are dropping into the 30s almost nightly and rarely breaking into the high 50s during the day. Every human in the room, literally, was bundled up in winter coats, scarves, mittens, hats. Some were even huddled in extra blankets. Cleo, her hair clipped unusually short by a new groomer, was literally shivering. She wasn’t being disobedient; she was succumbing to hypothermia!
I patted my lap and she jumped up, turned around and gratefully lay down, curled into a tight ball. I lay my gloved hand on her side to help warm her up. During the break, when she normally would have gotten up to say hello to her favorite people, she managed to open an eye and look around. She did appreciatively crunch up a few Charlie Bears that one of the art teachers happened to have in her pocket, and happily sniffed the coat sleeves of her Aunt Kim and Aunt Charlotte when they scratched her ears (gloves on). But she was not about to leave my lap. As she warmed up, she uncurled a bit from the tight ball, taking more and more of my lap until I had to extend it with my left forearm and hand. She sighed contentedly and stretched her chin so that it rested fully in my palm. By the end of the meeting, my knees were stiff, my feet were tingling and my arm muscles ached. But Cleo and I were both toasty warm. Several folks stopped on their way out to tell Cleo how good she had been, then we made our way up to the office and dialed the space heater to high.