Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ugh. (A non-dog-training post)

Disconcerting. That's about all I can say about the Thanksgiving holiday.

I really wish I could sit here and "blog" about the things I'm thankful for, and there are many as I think about it. But it's really difficult to enumerate them or even call them to mind when your attention and energy are being sucked into the black hole that happens when one family member is very ill with a brain disorder and another family member utterly fails to deal with it.

Dick and I enjoy cooking. Normally on holidays we cook at home, package up everything and tote it over to mom's, where we finish up some of the last-minute side dishes and serve dinner. This time I decided that since my mom needs some company, I'd roast the turkey at her house. It's not a mistake I'm likely to make again.

Regarding the dogs, I usually bring one - Piglet - and the rest get some quiet time at home. Piglet is the best one to bring because Rascal (mom's dog) doesn't want anything to do with my dogs and Piglet will not pester him. They totally ignore each other. It's the strangest thing. I raised Rascal and he was very well-socialized when I handed him over, but mom didn't maintain it - she kept him mostly at home, and he slipped back into the cowdog's characteristic aloofness. Funny, but after mom got him, he always remembered me when I visited, greeting me with great joy and enthusiasm. But the first time I brought another dog over (Sugar Baby), he spied the other dog, backed up, looked away and trotted off. He still hasn't forgiven me. Okay, that's anthropomorphizing, maybe, but that's sure the way it looks to me. Anyhow, Piglet pretends he doesn't exist and hence makes him less uncomfortable than the other dogs, who are quite friendly and sociable. She's not aggressive; she just has little use for dogs outside the pack.

I brought Piglet, as usual. Mother sprung dad from the nursing home for the first time since his placement. In my opinion, she brought him home WAYYYY too early - about four hours before dinner time. That's about two days in Alzheimer's time. Now, I don't care to write anything which my mother might find embarrassing, so I'll limit my observations to generalities. Let's just say that dad is no longer able to think logically, and mother has not accepted this. Not really. Her whole life has been about helping people. She is a licensed clinical social worker with an MSW and an undergrad degree in education. Throughout her career, she has helped people by guiding them to understand the illogic in their behavior and applying logic and reason to help them improve their lives. That's great for someone who has enough brain power to think logically, but it fails miserably with a brain-compromised person who can't remember the beginning of a sentence by the time you get to the end of it. Dad's mind, apparently, flits around in a sort of dreamlike state, grasping fleeting thoughts which immediately evaporate like bubbles in the air when you catch them. And, of course, he spews a lot of pre-programmed, stereotypical remarks based upon long-established behavior patterns (think of your grandmother saying things like "You're gonna put an eye out!" or "You'll fall and break your neck!"). The biggest problem is that he does not understand his illogic - from his point of view, he is the logical one and no one else seems able to get on the same page.

So now you have the scenario. Now put them in a room together for several hours, and what unfolds is a sort of black comedy - an endless stream of "Who's on First" routines and circular arguments as mother tries to push some magic button that will return my dad to the man he once was. My dad is trying to "talk some sense" into mother, who just doesn't get what he's saying. It's like the chimps in psychological experiments where the have to push a series of buttons in a certain order to get food, and once they get it, the experimenter changes the required sequence and the poor ape becomes frustrated and frantic, pushing buttons in random order with increasing frustration, ultimately whacking the machine and screaming. My mom, being the only one of the two who is capable of real logical thought, must be the one to stop the spin cycle, but she doesn't because her behavior patterns are too ingrained and she's too emotionally invested. There's nothing, apparently, that I can say or do to redirect her. It's like trying to stop a train wreck by grabbing the locomotive - in doing so, you become part of the wreck. So Dick and I just pretty much watched this vicious cycle unfold, occasionally exchanging owl-eyed glances and wondering how long it would take for one of them to resort to violence. They didn't, mostly because it isn't on their list of choices, but the gripping terror kept us pretty much on the edge of our seats. Strange to say, but there were actually moments that were close to hilarious, and it would have been if we weren't so close to the subjects.

It is now Sunday and I still haven't emotionally recovered. I am stunned - frustrated beyond words - unable to concentrate, ready to scream at the drop of a hat. It's not a good state of mind to be in when training a dog, and worse yet when you're managing a pack, especially one in flux AND during a full moon! The dogs pick up on it and their energy becomes as messed up as yours, leading to disharmony and misbehavior, which adds to my off-kilter state of mind. I'll get over it and I'll probably be okay within the next day or so - I will get Petey out today for a training walk and socialization, provided I can once again find my "Zen" place. That's hard to do, though, when you're in the spin cycle.

I'm reminded of the advice I got from that legendary dog trainer, "Captain" Arthur Haggerty, when I consulted with him on doing the movie with Piglet:

"Learn some relaxation exercises," he said. "You're going to need them."

So, in the memory of that great man (whom I sorely miss!), I will stand tall, feet somewhat apart, eyes closed, and brreeeaaaathe. Inhale through the nose as deeply as possible, hold it for a moment, exhale through the mouth slowly, releasing all the tension with that breath. Repeat.

Thanks, Cap.

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