For Erika

1927737_534796676181_9041_n

For Erika.
For her Family.
For those she loved.

This coming Monday, March 9, 2015 marks the one-year anniversary of the day we lost our beloved husky, Trace, to cancer.  I spent a lot of time on this blog, documenting the two-month long process of his surgery and recovery and ultimately his passing. In the midst of that there was a close friend, Erika, who I have known for many years, who reached out to me. I was trying to sort out whether or not to put my dog through surgery and I was at a loss for words and overwhelmed with emotion. Erika was helpful in just listening and being compassionate about the situation because she too had a four-legged loved one: her 17-year-old sheltie, CJ. Our stories paralleled, as on March 1, 2014 Erika had to let go of her sweet CJ. We had a conversation about her loss, and the pain she felt after letting go of her lifelong companion. I felt for her. Erika is family to me, as I am best friends with her brother and I spent most of my summer days at their house during high school and college when we both lived in Ohio. As a matter of fact CJ was our “mascot” at cross country meets in high school. Erika, a few years younger than I, was always there, with her dog.

A week after she had to let go of CJ, Erika was so gracious in consoling me after the loss of Trace on March 9. We shared the emotion and the pain. But eventually we both acknowledged peace would come, and it did. A few weeks later, Erika adopted a new puppy sheltie and she named him, Kairos, which can be loosely defined from Greek as, “God’s timing.” Over the course of the last year, scattered throughout her Facebook posts, you’d see these joyful pictures of Erika and her new dog. They always seem like two peas in a pod – just like with CJ. She displays the kind of relationship anyone would want to have with any animal companion. Erika and Kairos seem like they are all heart. And Erika has that kind of effect on people too. After high school I moved to Indiana and she moved to Kansas, so we have had some time apart but we have kept in touch often. But I can imagine many people know her kind heart much more than I do. She’s the kind of person anyone would be drawn to. Her kindness and free spirit lifts a room up, at least that’s how I always remember her. She has so many friends and I won’t attempt to assume how they feel, but I imagine there’s no friend of Erika who feels like their relationship with her was/is fake or shallow. She’s just that genuine and sincere and I will always remember her as playing a significant part in being there for me when I was in pain.

*****

This past Sunday, March 1, I was flying home from San Diego and I remember in the afternoon flying over the state of Kansas. And for a moment I thought of Erika because I noticed the change in geographical texture from Colorado into Kansas and eventually seeing the outline of the Missouri River. In a fleeting moment I wondered, “what is Erika up to?” I looked out the window at 37000 feet and observed the beauty of the vast, expansive blue sky, and the sun shining so brightly. It was a peaceful site to see. I woke up the next morning (yesterday) to find out that my sweet friend and sister Erika had passed away. On Sunday afternoon, Erika was walking her dog next to a frozen lake and he got loose and chased after another dog that on was on the frozen surface of the water. Erika went after Kairos and they both fell through the ice, neither to make it out alive. The rest of the details don’t matter as much as the heartache so many are feeling now. I was initially met with the typical feeling of disbelief and shock. I got to work yesterday morning and had a few moments of rest and then it just hit me. We weep for you Erika. It feels like someone has reached inside and constricted our hearts. Heaviness. Nausea. I cannot fathom the 10-fold intensity of these emotions and feelings that must be going on in her family and her boyfriend and those who were close to her on a daily basis. My soul aches for you.

And the questions that arise in the mind, oh how they are so unanswerable. The way the mind imagines images of something like this. Unbearable. You hope that she didn’t feel pain for long. You wish for her spirit to be somewhere safe and sound (and she is). You try to put all sorts of things into logic but you quickly find that there is no magic equation that solves a problem such as this. I believe this is because the human spirit doesn’t operate on that level. The human spirit is infinite in its many forms.

I can imagine the feeling Erika must have felt when her beloved dog ran out onto that lake. Erika was all heart and I have to believe she acted on her heart, which had to be filled with love and compassion. There’s just no other way to slice this other than a tragedy, and tragedy isn’t something we can sort out with our minds. It is something we must embrace with heart, just the way Erika embraced all of us with her heart.

*****

I hope the nature of what I say next does not sound insensitive. Erika’s family is my family, and I hope they find some kind of honor in these words. And I by no means claim to be any closer to Erika than anyone else who had the privilege of knowing her. If you are reading this and you live with a dog (or any animal), surely you can identify with the bond Erika had with her Kairos. Some people might feel like, “oh its just a dog.” But to look your dog in the eyes, to look ANY living/breathing being in the eyes, you can’t help but see the love and affection reflected back at you. You are tied at the heartstrings, just as you are with the humans you love in your life. Some might disagree here, but for me it is a bittersweet notion to consider the potential serendipitous nature of Erika and Kairos, transforming into the next life together. They went together. Despite the awful, horrific circumstance, they were not alone. They were not alone. Two sentient beings full of love, tied together through heart and spirit, were with each other. And to me it strikes so hard to know that even in the end, they found Erika because they found her companion.

And we weep again.

*****

This heart pours out to Erika, her parents and her brothers and her extended family, her boyfriend, her friends, and all those children she ministered to. I hope this is not too soon to say but if there is anything I have learned from losing my Grandmothers in 2004 and 2013, I can still hear their laughter, feel the warmth of their hugs, see the jewels that were their eyes. If there is anything I have learned from tragically losing my former youth pastor in 2007, I can still hear his guiding voice, see his gentle smile. If there’s anything I have learned from losing my Trace in 2014, I can still feel the texture of his fur in my hands, still smell his lifelong puppy scent, still feel the energy of his presence. With that, I pray that you all will sense, for as long you are on this earth the following:

I pray that we see Erika in the beauty of the blooming Spring flowers,
That we feel her warmth from the sun in the sky,
That we catch her in the clouds passing above,
That we embrace her down-to-earth company in the warmth of a cup of coffee (oh how wonderful it was to catch a cup of coffee with her :)
That we hear her encouragement in the tears we shed,
That we mold to her gentleness in a hug or a caress of the face,
That we see her smile in those that we serve, because she had the pure heart of a servant,
That for those who were so close to her to smell her scent in the soft breeze no matter the season,
That we feel her free spirit dancing in the jolly prance of dog who passes by,
That we hear her laughter in the company we keep with those we care about,
And that we see Erika in selfless acts we commit for the betterment of other human beings.

As I have said before, the relationships we form with others are sacred. There is something sacred in the spirit of Erika that indwells us. We are better human beings for having known Erika. And in a very expansive sense, I believe Erika is still very much, very very very much, still with us – all you have to do is look in to the eyes of someone you love – and right there, in those gems, is Erika.

One of the best ways I know how to express my heart is through words. And so I pray to God that Erika can read these words we all have to say, that she can hear all thoughts we have for her, and that she can feel the love we continue to pour out. I hope that those who have read these words can take them as they will and I am sorry if I went too far with my words, but they came from my heart and this is how I know to grieve.

Time is only a human concept. Healing begins when we are ready so there is nothing to rush. Others might disagree but there is only the eternal sense of NOW. Beyond this life is a Heaven for sure, but as long as we live on this rock there is always the unfolding of the moment-to-moment experience of our lives. This is only part of what I learned from Erika. I hope and pray that we take after Erika’s life; that is, to live it fully, with no regrets, no preoccupation or worry over what may or may not come, and that we appreciate the joy of here and now just as beautifully as Erika did.

Peace be with you all.

For Erika.

 1927737_534796676181_9041_n

Aiki Canine: Balance, Flexibility, and Posture

Scott and Matsuoka 2 bw

Scott and Matsuoka 2 bw

I begin a series entitled “Aiki Canine” where I attempt to integrate principles of aikido and dog training. Aikido is a Japanese martial art in which I hold shodan rank (black belt) in two different systems. Mainly, I want to see how aiki concepts mix and match with Kevin Behan’s Natural Dog training and other common models. This is a series I will pick at bit by bit with various ideas.

As a quick and dirty overview, aikido, founded by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century, is a Budo art (“The way of the warrior”) that entails blending and/or entering on an attackers movement. Unlike “hard” arts like karate, tae kwon do, kick boxing, or mauy tai to name a few, aikido relies on neutralizing an attack through soft/flexible guiding and redirecting movements, usually resulting in a joint lock and/or throw.

Like most disciplines, aikido requires a calm mind. The Japanese have a term we often reference: mushin, or “a mind of no-mind.” We employ this concept as a way to focus attention on the body so that it promotes natural movement. In our dojo we often refer to using “internal strength” as opposed to “external strength.” Internal strength relies on three main principles: balance, flexibility, and posture. These are all but different aspects of the same single process: natural body movement. The unique part of this discussion is that these concepts have been around much long before any dog training model was developed.

I have attempted to separate the three principles as talking points but it is almost impossible because you can’t refer to one without referencing the other two. For instance, in aikido once we have taken our attacker’s balance, they lose their strength and power and we can basically control their body. This is as long as we ourselves have proper balance, flexibility and posture. Shoulders, hips, and head are aligned – not stiff, but aligned. Our stance is tri-angular: open and soft and easy to move. Our knees are bent and flexible and our physical center (located below the navel in the basin of our hip structure) is lowered, allowing us to shift and disappear like the movement of a ghost. This allows our footwork to glide or to flow so smoothly that at a given moment our bodies become weightless (sound familiar NDTers?). True story!

We cannot be rigid in our movements. When posture is incorrect, balance is destroyed. When the posture of the mind (big brain) is incorrect, emotional balance and focus is destroyed. Even an inch off-kilter throws off the natural movement we seek to apply.

At a recent seminar, our guest teacher was speaking to us about these concepts and how with proper posture the “body becomes condensed.” It is like the head, spine and hips, once properly aligned, move together. You get the feeling like head/spine/hips are a stack of rocks piled on top of each other and as long as the integrity of balance/flexibility/posture is maintained, the “rocks” won’t topple over. Energy becomes concentrated so that centrifugal/centripetal forces flow. It was said that in the beginning, practitioners will feel uncomfortable and this is a good thing. One of the students commented that this proper movement actually felt like they were going to fall at one point. And our teacher said this is a “good thing.” My theory on this is that we are so used to having improper balance, flexibility and posture that we have to relearn how to move naturally. The teacher explained how the body already knows what to do – natural movement is automatic. If we allow ourselves to disengage from thinking about movement and focus on the movement WITH the body, we will get it right.

So where does dog training come in to play? I think the problem we have is our dogs are reading us on a level we are not consciously aware of: they are reading our balance, flexibility and posture, both physical and mental. The difference between being rigid and flowing depends on these concepts. Do you have to be a martial artist to apply this? Of course not! But we all can work to improve this. You see, Cesar Milan had it right: you fix your mind, you fix your body and vice versa. I’ve played around with these concepts in working with Bella through NDT. With good physical mechanics on my part, I feel open and “COLLECTED” (cough, cough, hint, hint). My dog responds much differently now but it has taken a lot of work and a lot of patience. You have to get your mind right before you get your body right and this takes discipline practiced. There’s only so many words I can say to describe this but to see it in practice is a whole different aspect. For those of you who have worked with Kevin, you may or may not have realized that he has really good balance, flexibility and posture. I’m not just saying this, I’m only speaking from experience. along with this of course, is experience. There’s always going to be discussion and debate about technique in aikido but it is all for nothing if we don’t rely on our base principles. The same applies to dog training.

So, begin to notice your body more often. Check your posture when you are at work. Bend your knees from time to time to check your balance when you are on a walk. Feel your movement from point A to point B: are you flexible or rigid? Pay attention to your dog’s movement: are you feeling relaxed or tensed up when you enter a training session with your pup? Mindfulness is the key here folks. Pay attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgment and adjust accordingly.

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The Power of Spirit

Every Tuesday I lead a faculty/staff meditation session as part of my outreach work for my job. With my aikido experience, personal meditative practice, and clinical specialty in mindfulness-based approaches, I get just as much out of it as the other faculty and staff who attend. We do all sorts of meditation: metta (loving-kindness meditation), zazen (Zen meditation), guided meditation, nature meditation, contemplative meditation, forgiveness meditation and many more. Today’s session was as powerful as I’ve ever meditated.

The group knew what happened to Trace and I am so lucky to be surrounded by such supportive people – they are a wonderful group. At a place of readiness to clear the mind, I asked the group what they wanted for meditation today. Someone said, “something low-key”. The first thing that came to mind was the pull to visit a place we were fond of – a place maybe we’ve been before, maybe a place we have never been, or even a place we could imagine up ourselves. So I gave them the task, upon my cue to go to that place and just rest. Just to rest in the center of the place of peace and rest and simply visualize just standing, sitting or laying down and to just watch. We could choose to be alone or be with family or friends or animals – whatever we chose for ourselves.

Picture1

We began with a lead-in mindfulness practice, noticing the connection with everything in and around us as we sat on our cushions. And then it began, the release of our hearts and minds to travel to that place of rest. I instantly saw myself sitting in an open field, fresh green grass on a gradual hill, clear blue skies, a mountain range as the backdrop, and the warm glow of the sun above. I had never been to this place before. And instantly, there was Trace, who suddenly appeared with all smiles and wagging tail as he trotted over to me. We played and we ran around. He rolled on the ground and I rubbed his belly as he just melted in the bliss of being there with me. We sat for a while together and just watched the trees and the sky and the mountains. I was with my boy again and it was good. As I had this meditative vision, I literally smiled as my eyes were closed, my mind off in the distant place. It was beautiful. He was full of life as we interacted. He even had his old body back from before he had surgery. He was renewed, pure, and full of light. What seemed like an hour of seeing him was only about ten minutes.

At the end of this segment of the mediation, we envisioned saying a “farewell, see you again soon” to our places we visited. So, I gave Trace a good rub-a-dub and pat on the head and kiss between his eyes. He let out a resonant bark, as if to say, “thank you”. And as the image dissolved he trotted back off into the freedom of that beautiful place. I opened my eyes as we closed the meditation session and just couldn’t stop smiling. It was such a powerful moment.

Now, some may read this and think it is merely a delusion or some hocus pocus vision. Well, maybe so. But I “saw” what I saw and I felt what I felt and it was a sensual experience to me. In my years of clinical training and in my years of personal practice of mindfulness and mediation, I understand the power of spirit. It is transcendent, beyond the monkey mind that clouds our awareness. I am convinced that we have access to something spiritually deeper than our chattering perceptions. And I think we all can find it if we simply stop trying so hard to change/control everything – really, if we just sit and still the mind and just watch and listen. We all really need to understand the evolution of consciousness, both academically and experientially – it is just fascinating. And we don’t necessarily have to sit and count our breath for 45 minutes; it really can be as simple as conscious appreciation for what is, like watching a sunset, jaw-dropped without any comment.

What started out as a devastating experience has now evolved into appreciating what was already within me. Spirit never dies and its pretty damn cool when you catch glimpses of it in your daily life. What an ironic process this has been and will continue to be…

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The Aftermath: Unshakable Peace

Bella

Many people believe that we should keep our precious moments to ourselves, that it somehow cheapens the meaning of them when these experiences are shared publicly. I disagree with that notion because for me, as terrible of a writer as I am, there’s something very divine, something very creative about this experience of sharing what is sacred to me, sacred to all of us. And for me, aside from the day that I gave my life to Jesus Christ, the day I married my wonderful wife, and the day that I held my daughter in my arms for the first time, holding Trace in that moment was one of the most sacred experiences I have ever had. So, I suppose, I feel a freedom that comes in expression and I don’t do it for anybody else but me. And if it just so happens that others can learn from my own experience then that’s great.

You see, to be sacred means to imply dedication, setting something or someone apart, devotion, reverence, respect, and most of all connection. I am reminded of growing up in the historical Miami and Shawnee areas of southwest Ohio. Many of these Native American tribes spoke of the sacred, as they used symbols and spoke of legends. Many are probably aware of the sacred bundles, or medicine bags, that the shaman’s would carry that contained objects of spiritual value and meaning. And it makes me realize that the “object” that was Trace was not what was necessarily sacred. It was and is the memory and experience of him being with us that was/is sacred. Just the capacity to be conscious with another being is holy. Its not to say objects do not carry spiritual value, it is just that they only become that way through connection.

While we will have a redwood box filled with Trace’s ashes, that will be a symbol of his sacredness but it’s origins are of the heart. And when we say heart, it may not be literally the four-chambered muscle; rather, it would pertain to the sheer center of beingness. We don’t need murals and statues to find the divine; that is, the divine lives within us, only if we open ourselves up to invite it in. And so, his ashes will only be a reflection of what is really truly already in my heart.

In the aftermath of Trace’s passing, or transformation as I like to call it, I have found an intriguing, eye-opening peace about him. If there’s a powerful energy about the last 24 hours, it is that for the first time in a long time, I have seen and felt God in the strangest of ways. As I mentioned yesterday, on the way to the hospital I asked for guidance and that came through the eyes of the surgeon who tended to us. Again, in a single moment, no words were said but a powerful look through the eyes of another human shook my soul, as if God saw through him right back at me, showing me, “it is time.”

One of the after thoughts people have asked me about is Bella. When I got Trace ready to go, I told Bella to “say goodbye” – even in that moment, whether I wanted to admit it or not, I had a feeling this was it. Bella wasn’t quite sure what was going in that moment. She timidly approached and of course Trace wanted nothing to do with her. It was when I got home from the hospital that Bella sank with me. I walked into the empty house and I sat on the floor and just sobbed. And there she was, the dog who came before Trace, that came and laid down by my side. It was in that moment Bella knew, she felt it. She and I are going to heal together these next few months. It’s a new dynamic in the home now and Bella and I are gonna have to figure this out together: NDT anyone?

My other God moment came when I put my daughter to bed last night. We do the usual nighttime books and then we say a prayer and sing a little song while we both lay in bed. By the time I got to prayer she was pretty much asleep. I laid there and I closed my eyes and I began to pray. And I asked for a sign, something to show me that Trace was safe and that he was with God. Not a minute later, I felt this little hand (from my sleeping daughter) caress my face and I felt a rush of joy, a blanket of peace. It was then I knew that Trace was safe and he was alright. And in the next moment was when God showed off a little bit:  my daughter, mind you she is still asleep at this point, takes my hand and places it on her little stuffed animal she is snuggling with: a husky, whose name of course is, Trace. I melted with tears of joy.

And then finally this morning, I got in to work and I was the on call counselor at the time. I get a call from our front office manager who tells me that a student walked in asking to see me because she knows I run the PAWS outreach program at the University (basically, I’m the dog person on campus). This student wanted to talk to me about a puppy they found outside their dorm last night. So I scratched my head in irony. The student sat in my office and explained to me that this very young puppy had a collar but no tags and there was no way they could keep it. And for the record, NO, we are not getting another dog and NO, I did NOT offer to take this puppy. But in the moments of talking with this student I found myself thinking of Trace and in my heart he reminded me of this wonderful life we have. No matter how short or long it is, there’s no better way to live than to live with love and compassion. So I guided the student to some resources to help find this dog a home – a home, I hope could provide the kind of grace and love we gave to Trace. It felt good to do that.

As I sat with Trace yesterday in those finals moments, it has hit me square up front how poetic that was for the both of us. I value my independence – there are just many things in my life I enjoy doing on my own and its always been part of my temperament. Trace was the same way – not aloof, rather, he was independent, just a strong dog on his own. So it was only fitting, that he and I got to share that moment, just to the two of us. It was pure, abiding, selfless love. It reminds me of a saying from author and psychologist, Steven Hayes: “love isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” And I find peace in that…unshakable peace.

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The Spirit of Trace is Free

Trace

It is with the heaviest of heart I announce that my beloved Trace has passed. Yesterday we found that his incision from his surgery had split open and we thought maybe he could get stitched back up. We woke up this morning and he had bled everywhere. So I took him to the vet hospital and found that he had developed a new tumor underneath his scar. It was about three times the size of the one that was removed a month ago. There was no surgery to be done and there was no stitching that could help him. 

I am devastated. I’ve balled my eyes out all day. It hurts knowing he is ‘gone’. And we know there was nothing else we could do for him. Fortunately, he was in a place where he wasn’t in so much pain as later stage cancer can be. But, by the looks of things, he wasn’t too far away from being in dire straights.

There’s no way to express how much I love him and miss him so much. And I don’t speak in past tense because I know he is still near. On the way to the hospital, I prayed to God to show me what to do because for the past few months I’ve been praying for the cancer to be taken away. I realize now it was not in my control – it was not up to me. So this morning as Trace and I drove, I asked for a sign to show we what to do. It was when we were in the hospital and the surgeon inspected the bloodied area of his abdomen – I saw the look on the surgeon’s face and without say any words, I knew it was time. I broke down. I sobbed. And there was Trace. He looked at me. He knew it was time.

The sinking feeling. The weighed down sensation. It all happened so quickly. But I finally had to stop thinking about what I wanted for me and I made a choice for Trace that set him free from his discomfort. As painful at it was, I found peace in holding his body next to mine, his head resting on my lap. His piercing blue eyes – I knew I would never see them again but they will forever be burned into my eyes. But in my heart I knew this was one of the richest moments of my life.

As the surgeon injected the sedative, Trace began to relax and rest with me, my tears falling on his face. He was at ease. I can’t make this stuff up – right before the final injection was made, Trace raised his head and licked my chin – a kiss farewell. I held him in my arms. He wasn’t alone. He was safe. He is safe. I don’t know how many times I told him “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” but I’d like to believe he sent a message to my heart that “it was okay”. And so I told him to “run, run as fast as you can, as far as you’d like”.

In the saddest moment, I found a sweet feeling just resting with him. No more worry. No more pain for him. It was purely honorable. Full of dignity.

So, I call out to you Trace, my precious boy. I will always remember running with you and your beautiful gallop. I will always remember the first day we got you: you were the only dog that got along with Bella. I’ll always remember your ears pinned back when you’d be excited to see me. I’ll always remember your sweet face as I massaged you behind the ears and your sweet spot at the base of your tail. I’ll always remember your resonate voice as it echoed throughout the area. I know wherever I go, you will be with me Trace. We used to call you by so many names: Mr. Brown, Mr. Dinosaur, Tracer Boy, Buddy Boy. You always be all of those to me for eternity.

You were taken from us too soon but I know you’ll be with me even though your body won’t lie next to my side of the bed. I know you’ll be with me when I hike in the snow – o, how you loved the snow like a true husky. I know you’ll be with me when I run around the yard with my children. And I know you’ll always be on my left side when Bella and I go for walks. And I hope you don’t mind your ashes being spread on the trails we used to run together at the Nature Park.

You are my sweet boy and I honor you and I honor your spirit. You were a noble dog, full of life. And while I did not get to fulfill my final wish for you, I’m still going to run – FOR YOU – and I know you will run with me, full stride and all. I rejoice in my faith that some day, when the Lord calls me to my true home, you will be there, wagging your tail, ready to run and play. Until then, I want to say that I love you and every dog that comes after you will know that your were here…that your ARE here. I love you, Trace.

Trace

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The ‘Trace’ of My Heart: Part X

20140224_125301This will be the final part of this series as we embark on an unknown journey after Trace has gone through surgery and we face the difficult news about his biopsy.

I took him back to the surgeon two weeks ago to get his staples out. He’s been home with us since then and has been doing pretty well. He sleeps a lot which is normal for him but otherwise he is a happy-go-lucky dog. You wouldn’t think he had cancer as he is playful and energetic.

The biopsy news we got wasn’t great, although I wasn’t surprised as I expected to hear the gloomy information. Basically, it is likely that the tumor had spread mast cells on a microscopic level. Pretty disappointing. We don’t know what is going to happen quite yet. There’s still a piece of information we are waiting on from Michigan State which will indicate the results of the c-kit analysis. This will give us a good idea of the treatment recommended.

But I find myself reflecting on this whole process that began when we found the tumor over a month ago. I come to a point where I leave this with a reference to the title of this series: the ‘Trace’ of my heart. Yes, the reference is indeed a nifty little pun. So the story follows. When we adopted Trace in 2009, that was the name they had given him when he first arrived at the rescue. We decided to keep it. It’s a unique name and we figured, why give him yet another name to go by?

The word, trace, can be defined in a number of ways:

  1. a course or path that one follows
  2. a mark or line left by something that has passed
  3. a path, trail, or road made by the passage of animals, people, or vehicles
  4.  a sign or evidence of some past thing

Trace (the dog) is all of these to me. While we do not know what will happen, I do know in this moment that he has taught me so much. And I don’t say any of this as a ‘saying goodbye’ or a ‘bidding farewell’. What I am saying is that the beings and places we come in contact with will always leave a mark, or a trace, in our minds and hearts. I often reflect on my family: grandparents who have passed, my parents, my brothers, my in-laws, my friends, my mentors, my wife and child, and so on: they all, whether alive or passed, near or far, can be traced back to my heart by the connection I have/had with them. The same goes for the dogs of my past and the dogs we have now: these sacred, sentient beings with four legs and wagging tails, will eternally live within and without.

One day, whether its tomorrow or weeks or months or years (God willing) from now, Trace’s body will go back to the earth and some where, some time a new living being will be formed. Whether that be the grass or a leaf on a tree or a particle in the air floating off. I’d like to say that spiritually he will also exist infinitely, just as every dog I’ve ever had still lives within the heart. Why? Because we paid attention to each other. And if you think about the body, it comes from the ‘dirt,’ takes form and evolves only to turn back to dirt. In that sense we often call that process birth, life, and then ‘death’. But I tend to believe that consciousness sneaks away somehow and takes on new form. It’s like there’s a sense of the beingness we share with others (humans and animals) that always leaves a trace. It shows up in our thoughts and feelings and behaviors and actions. And even in the sense of forming a path on which to travel – the people (and dogs) of our lives take part in the forging of a way on which to venture.

When some one or animal we love passes on, we tend to lean on the notion of spirit. I know we could easily get into a debate on this topic and that’s fine, but I say this: I believe the dog does have a spirit. Whether you want to call that a ‘soul’ or ‘energy’ and whether you want to believe it comes from God or nature, doesn’t matter to me. There is something very fascinating, even in the midst of mourning the loss of one we love, about the sweet experience of just living; of being part of this grand stage we call the universe. Many of us can probably attest to the notion that even though a loved one is ‘gone,’ in a very real sense we KNOW that being is still very much here, within and without.

So, I guess what I am saying is that Trace will always be here, always be everywhere, in some form, and in some way. What he has taught me is that while the joy and sorrow of life and death can be overwhelming, there is truly something to appreciate about giving all you can to the ones you love.

But there’s still something left to do and that’s to give back to Trace what he was born to do; what his ancestors thrived on (an even saved lives because of it); to give back to Trace what fulfills his spirit and makes him free. That’s right: we’re gonna run! We’re gonna run our asses off. Before we found out about his tumor in January, I had ordered him a running harness from Alpine Outfitters, along with some Cani-Cross equipment for me. Ironically, the harness came in the mail the day he had surgery a month ago. Basically, we’re going to run and he’s going to pull me along. That’s my only wish for him at this point, to get him running again. To let him feel free. And in some way this brings back one of my pastimes of being a cross country runner. I figure I need to stay in shape anyway, take care of myself, and in my core my body knows it was always running that set me loose.

All is not lost. Right here and right now is all we have – it is all we will ever have. It’s time to be free – let’s run.

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The ‘Trace’ of My Heart: Part IX

To take care of a dog after surgery is quite a task. Although, there is a routine you get used to:

  • Wake up, take out the healthy dog
  • Take out the recovering dog
  • Clean up the blood that has drained
  • Take him back to his recovery room
  • Give him the cheese that has his sedative in it
  • Go get the other dog from out back and bring her in
  • Repeat three more times (except he only gets the sedative one other time at night)
  • Oh, and feed them both at night – the healthy dog gets to eat out back as usual while the dog in recovery has ‘fun’ trying to eat with the head cone on

I am looking forward to next Wednesday to get Trace’s staples out. My only concern is that he is still going to be bleeding from his scrotal urethrostomy incision, which might mean keeping the e-collar on a bit longer. I’ve read some studies that suggest bleeding from the site can actually last up to 10 days or more. I hope he stops before next Wednesday.

I’ve read dozens of articles on ‘natural’ cancer-fighting diets. In  particular, the Budwig protocol has me intrigued. While we feed a raw diet based on the prey model (i.e. raw meaty bones with organ), I am willing to make a rule-breaker with the cottage cheese-flaxseed oil mixture. I say rule breaking because the philosophy behind the prey model raw diet is based on a species appropriate ‘natural’ diet, so canine’s do not eat/drink dairy naturally. We’ll see how it works. I am also going to be using Nzymes digestive enzymes. I will probably start Bella on this as well. Will this work? I can’t say for sure but it is worth a shot. There are thousands of anecdotal accounts suggesting Dr. Budwig’s simple protocol works. If nothing else, they both will have the healthiest coats in town!

As for Trace himself, I feel like he’s groggy most of time when he is on his sedative, but when its been 12 hours since his last dose, I can see the puppy in him coming to the surface. Those gremlin ears perked up straight to the sky with the tips of them flapped a bit forward from the e-collar. He IS recovering.  I don’t know if this is a false hope or I’m really seeing Trace begin to bloom forward a bit.

I can’t help but wonder what this is like for a dog. As a follower of NDT, we believe that dogs are immediate moment beings, as in, they have no sense of distinguishing one moment from the next. Life is all one stream of consciousness. Birth and death are inseparable moments of the same lifespan spectrum. Nonetheless, Trace has gone through a physical trauma. Maybe not so much a mental image memory of the surgery, but most certainly the physical memory of a trauma done to his body while unconscious.

One of the things I know will help Trace, when he makes full recovery, is to get him back through the five core exercises of NDT. I put him through this surgery, I’m going to help him overcome the stored stress of it. When it’s all said and done, I dare any NDT follower to challenge Trace and I to a pushing technique contest!

This dog is a champ and I love him to death!

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The ‘Trace’ of My Heart: Part VIII

After a long weekend, I finally got to bring Trace home yesterday. I was excited and nervous at the same time. When the surgeon brought me back she did a thorough consultation with a treatment plan for Trace. Then they brought him in to see me. People ask how he responded and I’d have to say, in one word, agitated. I suppose after a major surgery and constant post-op sedation, the dog has all the room to feel whatever he feels. I’d say he certainly ‘recognized’ me, you know, the one who left him in a hospital only to wake up the next day with some ‘parts’ missing. Yeah, I was that guy to Trace. Not that a dog could be a cynic, but maybe that was the closest example I’ve ever seen. Otherwise, I’d say he was happy to see me.

Of course, wearing the e-collar, that infamous, shameful cone around his head, annoys the heck out of him. I find myself feeling very anxious on behalf of Trace: I’m wanting to ‘fix’ it for him, realizing there’s nothing really to fix about it. It’s just an awkward, flimsy device and that’s it. And he’s got to live with that until next Wednesday, so another week. At that time he’ll get his staples out. Plus, we’ve got him on a sedative and antacid.

On a good note, I fed him some fresh venison last night and he LOVED it! Glad to see him back on his regular diet. I plan to use the Budwig formula as well once his recovery progresses. I will actually start Bella on it as well – it can’t hurt.

We should find out later this week or early next week about biopsy reports from MSU. Obviously, we are hoping there is no cancer and this was a one-and-done operation, but we’ll take it one step at a time.

You know, as I sat there in the waiting room yesterday, before the consult, I just sat and observed people coming in and out with their pets. I recognized the looks on their faces. The knew something about their beloved pet in the same way I knew my thoughts and emotions about Trace. This ‘knowing’ is something we as human can pick up on in a split second without any use of words. Its a deep connection we all have with each other – this sense of mirroring each others’ emotions by just a look of the face or posture of the body. And the ones who were in fear or deeply saddened, you could feel it as they walked through the door. This is not to be a downer; instead, there’s a paradoxical sense of relief in that. You know you’re not alone even when you might be convinced that you are. We are never really alone.

As for us going forward, I’m hoping and praying for the best, but not out of desperation. Its more from a standpoint of doing what is best for the animal and not yourself. That can be a hard one to swallow for most people. Having said that, I do have a secret dream for Trace, a specific one. We’ll have to wait and see if that plays out.

I’ll keep you posted as the week progresses…

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The ‘Trace’ of My Heart: Part VII

Well, Trace continues to stay at the hospital. Apparently, he was not a happy camper last night, hates the e-collar, and did not eat at all. Of course, he has no clue what is going on or what happened. The hospital has been absolutely wonderful in the quality of care, their customer service, and flexibility. They are truly state of the art and I would recommend anyone to go there. They offered me to come visit him if I wanted but I opted not to because I know his temperament: it would probably stress him out if I came and left.

Later on today they called me back and said that he was taking his meds well, and was scarfing down on some food. Poor guy hasn’t eaten dry kibble in years but I’m sure he was starving so was willing to eat anything. Readjusting him to his raw diet is going to be interesting when we bring him home.

I’m sure he will be very excited to see me when I go to bring him home. I’m also sure he will “ask” a number of questions:

“What the hell happened?”
“Where have you been?”
“How long have I’ve been here?”
“Are we going home?”
“Where is my penis?”

Sorry, couldn’t resist – I need some comic relief. All of those questions will probably come in the form of pinned back ears and a ferociously wagging tail – I can see it now. I expect him to be very ginger. Apparently, his continence still needs to kick in but that is normal for this kind of surgery. The surgeon explained to me that in a urethrostomy they basically redo some ‘plumbing’ and a suture is made so that the ‘male’ dog can still urinate. Poor boy. Again, this was the only option so the tumor could come out.

I miss him but I’m also a little nervous to bring him home. I’ve spent days researching cancer diets, including the Budwig diet (cottage cheese and flax seed oil), coconut oil, various herbal remedies, among others. I’ve learned way more than I wanted to about it – but I’ve also learned a lot about the evils of Big Pharma, especially as it pertains to treating cancer. Save that for your free time to do your own research on it.

I suppose I’m not real clear if Trace officially has cancer, per se, but we will know much more after diagnostic analysis of the biopsy. Nonetheless, these tumors can often come back so I want to take as much precaution I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

At home, it feels weird. There’s an oddness to having just one dog in the house. I definitely noticed there was no giant Siberian Husky I had to step over in order to get into my side of the bed (he always sleeps on the floor next to me). It feels like Bella is ‘waiting’ and ‘looking’ for him. I’m not saddened by that – more anticipatory. Maggie (my almost 3 year-old daughter) hasn’t asked for him, which isn’t to imply she hasn’t noticed her ‘Tracer Boy’ isn’t around. The night before we took him to the surgery, Maggie laid her head on his side – something she doesn’t do too often. It was a little bitter-sweet. But no fret, her dog will be home soon.

One of the things that I have prayed about is that Trace be an example of God’s Grace and His ability to do miracles. Something we can share with others. Time will tell, but all I need to do is have faith, no matter the outcome. There have been some very profound ‘God moments’ in this whole situation which I will keep private for various reasons but maybe some day I will share – there’s still a lot more we don’t know about Trace’s prognosis and I want to see out more miracles before we witness much.

I know that I’m not often ‘religious’ on my blog – ‘spiritual,’ yes. But I cannot deny some of the things I believe I have felt and seen in this situation. It just feels like God has His hand in all of this.

We await a progress report tomorrow…maybe he will come home tomorrow night, we’ll see?

Thanks for all the positive support!

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

The ‘Trace’ of My Heart: Part VI

A short, quick update: Trace made it through the surgery very well and is in recovery overnight. If you are of the praying kind, first and foremost pray for no more recurrence of tumors or cancer as well as a speedy recovery. We also want the biopsy to come back with clean margins and a clear prognosis that is good and long-term.

We may be able to bring him home tomorrow but I’m not going to push that unless they say he is good to go.

Thanks for your prayers…much more processing tomorrow.

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and indiananaturaldog.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.