DOG-CHURCH 9/29/13

29 Sep

Twenty-eight dogs thundered onto the field as the hazing peach sky beckoned another beautiful fall morning. The sky was clear and the air was rather cool, requiring me to grab a jacket on my way out the door.

DDA staffers, Devan and Caitlin stayed busy with the morning hustle of chores, allowing me the peaceful freedom of time spent with the happiest hounds on the planet. And boy oh boy, were these pups happy!

Today’s group was made up of canine Cross Country athletes. They raced in large sweeping arcs around the pasture, zigging and zagging as they criss-crossed the field. A couple of the “senior” gals walked along close by me and together we watched the shenanigans of the younger generation.

The dogs divided naturally into two different groups. There was a pack of real sprinters that seemed to stay in high gear constantly. They didn’t stop to smell or hunt or track or wrestle or play. They, quite literally ran up and down the trails, through the shallows of the pond and down the fence lines at Mach speed. It was like thunder rumbling as they rushed towards me. Almost on instinct I held my breath as they raced by. The impact of being struck at the knees is enough to send a person sailing into the air… believe me, I know! So do a few of my staffers! But this group eased by me gracefully and disappeared down the overgrown trail.

The second group of dogs, while still runners, seemed more interested in checking out the landscape. They hunted brush piles, hedges and the waters edge looking for signs of life.
They seem to waste no time getting from point A to point B but if something caught their eye, the whole pack practically tumbled over themselves as they attempted to change direction on-the-fly in pursuit of whatever it was. There was so much activity happening at such a fast pace, I finally just sat in a chair to enjoy the show.

I noticed Hondo, a black speckled pointer standing perfectly still in the dark cove of the pond. He wasn’t in a traditional ‘point’ but he was certainly fixated on something. Even when his buddies would rush up to him, splashing and jumping in and out of the murky water, Hondo never changed his focus. He ignored the silly frolic around him and maintained his concentration, starring hard into the water. I watched him for several minutes standing like a statue amidst all the commotion, seemingly undaunted by any of the sights and sounds going on around him. Just as I was about to look away, I saw him pounce, plunging his head deep into the water. His bobbed tail quivered with excitement. When his head came up I could see the glimmer of orange in his mouth and I knew immediately he had caught a fish. And just as I jumped up from my seat, Hondo tossed the poor flailing Koi into the air and it vanished back into the dark water. Hondo plunged in after it! He leapt around the water delighted with himself, his big body rising up high and pouncing back down again! His joy made me laugh out loud. Then just as suddenly as he had exploded, he became very still again. Not a muscle moved as he peered intently at the water as the ripples he had made moved in big rings away from him. He was frozen, like a majestic peace of art planted chest deep in the water, patient, focused, watching, waiting for just the right instant to dive in. He stayed that way for at least another 15 minutes. In fact, even as I lead my canine campers back to the gate to prepare for clean up, Hondo was unaware we had left. When I finally went back for him, it was a process to get him to come to me.

Instead of being frustrated by Hondo’s lack of cooperation, I found myself impressed with his lesson. He was a dog so focused on the prize he could not be swayed or bribed or coerced into doing anything different. He seemed to know that his effort would eventually pay off… the trick was to never give up!

Life is full of distractions great and small. We get hurried and rushed and annoyed by circumstances that seem to impede our endeavors. But if we stay focused on what’s really important… If we keep our eyes fixed on the goal… on the prize… Then the annoying circumstances that attempt to distract us, seem to disappear.

Peter stepped out of the boat during a storm. The winds blew and the waves crashed. But he heard the voice of Love beckon him to come and he focused on that and he walked… even if only a few steps… he did the impossible… he walked on water! Only when he took his eyes off Jesus, did he noticed all adversity against him and he started to sink.

Love is a powerful thing. Next time you find yourself getting annoyed at something or someone, check your focus. My guess is you’ll realize you’ve taken your eyes off love. It’s as simple as that. We can make all the excuses and come up with a million reasons why we’re justified, but in truth, we’re either walking in the light of love or we’re not. And like Hondo, we’ve got to have faith that the prize is worth the sacrifice.

Remember, where iniquity abounds loves does greater abound. Just focus!

That’s Dog Church!

Dog-Church 9/15/13

15 Sep

If I had to choose a word to define today’s group of canine campers, it would be “Youthful”. This energetic collection of juveniles was boiling over with joy and exuberance. They raced back and forth, up and down the trail with wide smiles and tongues hanging. Even the handful of older hikers bounded down the trail comically, shoulder bumping their pals and leaping over fallen logs with ease. “You guys take it easy or you’ll be stiff waking up from nap later” I warned them. They just laughed at me and bounded away all jolly-like.

Their enthusiasm was infectious… there was no way to avoid the lighthearted, playful invitations. We ran down the various paths around the ponds, weaving through trees, climbing the hills, hiding from and hunting one another until we piled in a breathless heap in the clearing at the back of the property. Joy unspeakable… That is what I felt!

It’s been a busy week here on the ranch. While the summer boarding season seems to be behind us, daycare enrollment is up and that means new dogs and puppies joining the program. That means new names, new faces, new personalities and play styles to get to know and incorporate into existing playgroups. The DDA staff has had their work cut out for them.

All the dogs in my hiking party today were dogs I am quite familiar with. They were either regulars in daycare, or frequent weekend warriors. But as I watched Cate’s group playing in the park, I saw several new faces in the mix. Even Tyrel had one or two in his group I had to ask about. My inner control freak isn’t sure how she feels about this.

Dog Day Afternoon Inc is approaching 15 years. When I opened the doors at our first location downtown on Monroe, I had 11 dogs in attendance and 4 of those were my own. By the end of that year, we had grown to over 40 dogs each day and my husband was hired as my first employee. There wasn’t a dog in the place I didn’t know. Today, we average 80+ dogs. We have added daycare on Saturdays, we employee 20 people who work in various areas of operations. They monitor playgroups, conduct interviews, make the schedule, perform all the services and behind the scenes tasks that keep the place running. Me? I make policies, guidelines, develop marketing strategies. I take online business classes because, well lets face it, when it comes to business I have a lot to learn!

However, Sunday mornings remain my special gift to myself. A few hours in my life where the hustle and bustle is drowned out by the grace of God. Where the fun and frolic of happy hounds balances the trials and tribulations of life. For it is here that I can reflect on and learn from days gone by, set clear goals for the future and live in the only moment of time for which I really have any control…. now.
To my fellow control freaks… lets stop kidding ourselves. Control is merely an illusion. Let go and let God… and then enjoy the journey!

That’s Dog-Church!

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DOG-CHURCH 9/8/13

8 Sep

To me, some of the most important lessons in life are those I’ve learned from dogs. Dogs are great teachers and I never tire of observing them. Lots of people talk to their dogs, but I often wonder how many people actually listen to them. For 30 years I have been tagged a “dog whisperer” more times than I can remember… but to me, whispering is still talking… still telling… still directing. I think I’m much more a dog-listener as my colleague Chip once pointed out. I let the dogs tell me in their own soft whisper, just what they need to strike a balance. And by doing so, I also find the much needed balance in my own life.

The dawning transition from darkness to light was pretty uneventful this morning. While the sky was still black I noticed a soft peach hue that hung low on the horizon. Like a faint pastel ribbon, the pale glow floated for a long time on the canvass of the sky. It was so subtle I almost believed I imagined the color. And then, without fanfare or spectacular brilliance, the sky simply changed from dark to light. I had expected more.

My canine campers could have cared less how the sun arrived. To them it was more important that the meadow was indeed illuminated and the pond was still alive with frogs and turtles and Koi fish that teased and taunted them in the shallows. The fact that a new day had begun was quite enough for them. Exactly HOW it had begun was of no importance. I stood on the meadow watching the small group of happy hounds racing, chasing, wrestling, rolling, hunting, splashing and swimming. They ran free, without intent or expectation from anyone or anything. They celebrated the new day with joy… big grins on their faces. I find it impossible to have cares or concerns while watching a group of playful pups having the time of their lives with like minded friends. I too, soon forgot how the day came to be.

Fun, as it is often defined by others, isn’t something I do naturally on my own. In fact, I have often gone to great lengths to avoid fun. As my husband pointed out, much to my embarrassment last night while we were having dinner with friends, I have been known to make plans to do something fun only to back out last minute. My first instinct was to deny his accusation, but I knew better. As I had stood there, with my friend Kat pouring over a calendar of events from across Kansas, I had to admit that my husband was right. As excited as Kat was to plan us an outing to a Fall Festival or the Renaissance Fair, she should be warned that my own flight response could kick in and I’d be a no-show. She suddenly looked puzzled. I mean, there isn’t much that leaves my friend Kat speechless. But for a second she looked at me confused. As if a hundred things crossed her mind at once and she couldn’t quite decide just which opinion she wanted to voice first. And then she said, “Well Little Girl (she always calls me Little Girl) your just gonna have to get over that! You know we’re not gonna let anything happen to you!”

The great thing about Kat is once she sets her mind on something, she’s not going to be swayed from it. If she has her way, and believe me she will, I’ll be having fun before the New Year!

Today I’m so thankful for the journey of life. I really do long for the freedom that exists beyond the walls of protection I’ve built for myself. I’m a prisoner of my own making and I know it. I often write of breaking out of my comfort zone and the longing I have to experience a new kind of freedom. The freedom to enjoy my life and all that I have worked so hard for. But what am I waiting for? Is it permission? Time is ticking by and I’ve not journeyed very far at all. Like I keep going in circles around the pond but I’m still just an observer. It’s time to take a leap of faith. I need no more permission than what’s written in Ecclesiastes to know that God wants me to live without self imposed boundaries built on fear and distrust. He wants me to live large and step out in faith to find His purpose for my life! And I want that too!

Its true when the they say ” Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”. The dogs have been great examples to me of what freedom to live and explore and express ones creative self looks like. And now God has sent an old friend back into my life to help me navigate these things for myself. I have a fun creative side buried deep in my heart somewhere… Kat is back to help me uncover it! It’s time to explore all the things I’ve been missing! It’s time for balance!

That’s Dog-Church!

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DOG-CHURCH 9/1/13

1 Sep

Dog Church 9/1/13

A storm rolled across our Doggie Dude Ranch property, just about the time of sunrise. Disappointing, but I told myself that somewhere in the world the sun rose spectacular and I cherished the vision.

The DDA crew showed up right on time to start morning chores and get breakfast served to our canine guests. Nobody was in a hurry to get out in the thunder and lightening, so the routine, though delayed a bit, went smooth without a hitch.

I went back to caring for my own household of fur kids. We sat at the window and watched the rain quench the dry ground. I tried hard to be thankful… I know we need the rain. But the muddy paws, dirty floors and tons of laundry that always follow are not what I look forward to.

When the sky finally cleared, it was too late for a hike. One of my kids (the 2-legged kind) needed to be picked up at the airport by 10:00. It was time to hit the road.

So, my hike didn’t happen today. Am I disappointed? Absolutely! But am I less thankful? Not on your life!

We’ll let the sun dry up the ground over nap time and after 2:00 we shall release the hounds for some afternoon fun in the sun! It’s been a fantastic weekend so far and I’m not about to let a few storm clouds rain on my joy!

We deal the hand we’re played and give thanks for just being at the table… in the game… holding enough cards to be viable… and with Lady Luck smiling down, perhaps we can bluff our way to a win!

The sun is out now! Step away from the computer and go make the most of a glorious day! That’s what we’re gonna do!

That’s Dog-Church!

DOG-CHURCH 8/25/13

25 Aug

Dog Church 8/25/13

Majesty of heaven, glory filled the sky. I watched from a concrete retaining wall the bold color of dawn breaking over the Arkansas River.

Smack dab in the heart of the city of Wichita, I had Dog Church with a dozen or so Canadian Geese, a few squirrels, my dog Helena and a homeless man. With Amazing Grace playing softly from my iPhone, none spoke a word, but all gave thanks to a God who provides for each of us just what we need at the time. It was a beautiful sunrise and the peace of God was ever present making for a breathtaking few moments of awe.

I snapped a few pictures of the glorious scene but nothing could do it justice. As I quietly slipped from my place on the wall to start my run along the river trail, the homeless man who had barely acknowledged my presence, spoke as I walked away. “Thanks for coming.” He said in a husky, low voice. I turned and smiled to him. “Be blessed wherever you go” I said in return. “I always am” he responded. Somehow, in spite of his tired, tattered appearance, I believe he is and I humbled by his presence today.

I’m a firm believer that God puts people in our lives for a reason. We are all on a journey and as our paths cross and intersect, I believe there should be a connection of sorts. Without an expectation to perform some social ritual, but just to be present in sharing the same moment in time. The thought usually terrifies me! Meeting people, strangers sharing small talk or worse awkward silence, is enough to keep me from parties, receptions, dinners and other crowded social settings. But for some reason this morning, the silence want awkward and I was very much at peace in sharing a few minutes of a spectacular sunrise with a total stranger.

God shows up in our lives in many forms. I think we need only remember to look for Him in each moment. He is never far away. I find Him in the beauty of the landscape, in the wild of nature, in the sunrise… and in the eyes of a homeless man along the Arkansas River.

Find blessing wherever you go… Make every moment count. If not for you than for someone else.

That’s Dog Church

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DOG-CHURCH 8/18/13

18 Aug

I’ve been gone from the ranch for awhile. Dr.’s orders! “Take some time to do nothing, Jules. See what comes of it”, she instructed.
Me? Do nothing? The thought caused instant feelings of anxiety. But you know, I saw in her request an opportunity to try something new. To journey down a whole new path and see just how far I could go. I was terrified but at the same time a little curious about what lay beyond my own feelings of guilt and anxiety, which always rush in to fill the void when I back off of work.

Today is my first Sunday back at Dog Church. I haven’t hiked with the dogs in over 3 weeks… Oh, how I missed them! I really needed to be in the presence of wonder today. A what a wonder the sunrise brought. Brilliance that filled the black sky and chased darkness from the landscape.

The dogs rushed out onto the field this morning with gusto! Some headed right out to the trail, running at top speed and disappearing into the woods. However, many of my long time campers appeared delighted to see me. They huddled around me, howling and whining, rubbing their big bodies against my legs, wagging excited tails. There was much rejoicing in Dog-Church this morning!

After a few minutes of hugging, kissing and petting of heads, I lead my happy hounds out onto the trail in pursuit of the speed racers still in the woods. Finding them isn’t a concern because they will inevitably find us first anyway. I could hear them crashing through the overgrowth of brush and wild vines. Sometimes I could hear the tinkling of dog tags dangling from their collar hoops. Every so often I would catch a glimpse through the trees, of a canine rocket sprinting by, almost a blur. I have so much fun watching them all have so much fun!

I noticed how at ease this pack seemed. They are at peace with themselves. This is vacation for them. A break away from their jobs as companion animals to the people who love them. And are they spending their time pining away? Stressed out about all that has been left undone at home? Are they worried an intruder will breach the boundaries of their domestic territory and find a buried bone or favorite toy? No! These precious pets that bring so much comfort and joy to their families could careless about what is happening anywhere except right here! They are totally in their element and enjoying the opportunity to just be dogs. This is where they find their own personal dark side and become primal… wolf-like and predatory. They don’t feel guilty about feeling good about it either. It’s all a part of what makes them well balanced canine good citizens. Time spent like this makes them better at their jobs at home. I could use more lessons like this in my own life.

I think I see the connection. I think I understand where God is leading me in all this. I need the breaks from work to step back and rediscover who I am. My work can’t be all that defines me. I’m far more complex and multifaceted than that. The thing is I’ve been a workaholic for so long, I’ve completely forgotten who I’m supposed to be. I have given up on what used to bring me satisfaction and joy… what stirred my passions in the first place. Certainly there is noway have I arrived at any permanent destination and yet I’m not reaching or striving for growth. Unless of course it has to do with work. Then I’m as tenacious as a terrier on the end of a rope toy.

Just like the dogs, I know I have a dark side, too. That doesn’t mean I want to become a serial killer. But it does mean that I know I have some buried desires I want to pursue. Places I want to go and things I want to feel and experience! To do that I have to dare myself to travel down some paths that might seem unfamiliar or look less traveled. But sometimes the thrill is in the risks we take. And if the path is a dead end, we should still say, “Wow! What a trip!”

The dogs have no regrets because they live on the edge. And the edge is different for every dog, just as its differ for each of us. For me, the edge can be as simple as a trip to the grocery store. A very dark place in my book. But what’s beyond my fear and anxiety about shopping in a crowded market? I believe I will never know unless I put myself out there and just walk the path and see where it leads.

By enjoying my time away from the ranch I gain a whole new appreciation for what we’re doing when I return. Like the dogs, I’m better able to focus on my job and what needs to be done to keep our little dude ranch operation running smooth.

Yes, I think I do see where God is going with this. To be all that He has called me to be, I must do all that He has called me to do. I must trust that a way has already been made for me and I must endeavor to follow it even when the road looks dark and scary. With the light of Gods love shining before me, darkness cannot overtake me. I can walk through darkness by staying in the light. I gotta stop being afraid to be human. Mistakes don’t equal failure! I am who I am and love is not what I journey towards… It is the road I journey on. And it is the road that always leads me back home… to my favorite chair in the woods on my own property!

That’s Dog-Church,

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DOG-CHURCH 7/28/13

28 Jul

The dogs were happy and excited this morning. Lots of doggie campers have joined us for the weekend and that always makes for an energy liken to that of children at Disneyland. There is so much to do, see, smell, taste, chew, drag, hunt… it’s like canine sensory over-load.

I watched the sun slowly rise on the horizon through the clouds in a darkened sky. It was really a spectacular presentation and if you weren’t sitting outside at exactly 5:57am then you missed the brilliant band of red that exploded and faded fast to orange, before I could get my camera opened. It was almost like fireworks had burst through the clouds. I’ve watched sunrises by the hundreds and never have I seen a show quite like this morning.

The thirty or so adventure hounds that joined me on my hike this morning we playful and animated. They splashed each other in the shallows of the pond by leaping high above the water and kicking out as they landed. I think I heard one delighted pup yell, Canon Ball!” as he jumped from the dike into a crowd of swimmers. This was pure comic relief!

Luke J. one of our regular campers, raced the perimeters of the ranch property looking for any wayward members of our hiking party. He’s a Border Collie. Enough said, right?

Luke J is a sheep herders dream. He is a focused, attentive, determined, action oriented individual. He is in constant motion unless he’s kenneled, and then he’s asleep. Likely, because he’s exhausted from running at breakneck speed for hours at a time. His time on the ranch must be carefully monitored by staff, so as to maintain a healthy balance between energy spent and battery recharge.

At one point, as I sat in my old metal chair at the back of the property, a pack of canine racers came flying down the trail toward me. They sped by me just barely glancing my way before turning the corner as they followed the fence line down the hill to the east. “Where do they get the stamina?” I wondered to myself.

Just then, here came Luke pounding his paws on the dampened trail, sailing by me like a blur! With a big grin on his face, he leapt over my outstretched legs like a gazelle. Just as he was about to land on my other side, I was slapped in the face by a flying tree branch! I was startled by the intense sting and confused at the same time. As the black and white blur disappeared down the trail, I rubbed my cheek thinking, “What just happened”? I looked around for what had struck me, but there was nothing. “I’m not crazy!!! I know when I’ve been assaulted!” I started to imagine someone might have targeted me with a slingshot. But the woods were quiet but for the sound of happy dogs splashing and playing as they raced around and through the pond.

Then, I saw it! It was Luke! Oh my! The poor dog had a tree branch tangled in his tail and he was dragging it around at top speed! He was apparently so focused on his fellow campers he failed to notice his own precarious situation. I called to him but he happily ignored me. He just ran into the water, swimming across the pond, up the bank and across the meadow, all the while the leafy branch bouncing maniacally behind him. He was oblivious!

I was concerned for his safety, yes… but I’m not going to lie… This was a hysterical sight and I laughed uncontrollably at his antics.

In a few minutes Caitlin, who was in the Open Range park with her group of smaller dogs, radioed in. With genuine concern and hesitance in her voice she informed, “Uhhhh…. Luke just came running down the fence line and… he’s dragging a tree in his tail!” “Yep” I radioed back through my tears of laughter.

I pulled myself together enough to attempt to catch him. Luke didn’t want to be caught. Hearing the radio communication, Lauren came out to see how she could help. It was no good. Luke was as happy as he could be racing around the field with his friends… and a tree branch. Not until we brought in every other dog from the pond did Luke submit and allow us to corral him. Katie, the groomer cut the shrubbery from his tail. Luke J never did consider his circumstance.

As I sipped my tea, pondering the morning, I was marveled by the revelation. Border Collies are notorious for being all business. Everything is a task to them. The game of Frisbee? That’s not a game to a Border Collie, that’s a job! They get so single-minded and can be so persistent that play is not play, it’s work. There is no relaxing for a Border Collie. Only waiting, intently waiting for the next task to present itself… and then it’s a high speed sprint to complete the objective! Nothing, not even a dragging tree branch can sidetrack a Border Collie.

I’ve been seeking answers lately about my own inability to relax. I’m a Border Collie. I don’t do anything just for fun. There is always a mission, a motive, a goal, a driving force… a focus. And just because I do it, doesn’t make it right, or good or even healthy. I’m sure it’s not healthy. And I want to learn more about focusing on “me time”. For some reason, “me time” makes me feel guilty, selfish and lazy. I don’t like those feelings and so I jump from one task to the next with very little time in between. No celebration for victories won… no rewarding myself for a job well done. Border Collies find the task itself is reward enough.

But in truth, I’m not a Border Collie. I’m human. And I’m not mortal and sooner or later this tree branch I’m sure I have tangled in my own tail is going to cause me trouble, unless I slow down and pay some attention.

Yes… I got slapped in the face this morning. It was a wake-up call from God I think. Like, “Hey! Kiddo! You want answers? Take a look around. The answer you seek just hit you in the face!” Yep. God talks to me like that sometimes. Sometimes I need it. Sometimes we all need that slap in the face to get our attention. So while you’re rubbing your cheek, take a look around. The answer you seek is likely dancing right in front of you!

That’s Dog Church!

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