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You can’t see it, but his harness says “I’m kind of a big deal”. Indeed he was.

As some of you know, a few weeks ago one of my benevolent dictators passed away rather suddenly. Clarke was not even 3.5 years old and after having a great day at doggie play school and an absolutely normal evening, I found him dead the next morning when I woke up to go to work.

What an awful shock. He was the big goofball of the family, always doing things that would make me scold him: “You’re lucky you’re so damn cute, because otherwise…!” — an utterly empty threat, of course. We don’t know what happened — the vet said that it was likely either a stroke or some sort of heart failure since he was so young — but his legacy and all of his unforgettable stories will live on.

Clarke was the only dog I’ve ever known that absolutely loved going to the vet. He would get excited in the truck on the way there, and once we arrived, he’d pull me in the door, not able to wait patiently like he’d been taught. And once inside? First he would put his paws up on the tall counter so he could say hi to all the ladies. And then after we took a seat to wait for a room, he would sit in front of that counter and sing (I wish I had a recording of it! It was like a cross between a yodel, a whine and howling at the moon), and all the ladies would swoon, calling him handsome and giving him treats. He had them wrapped around his paw, for sure. In his mind, even though the vet oftentimes meant pain (one of those visits ended up with his tail being amputated, even!), it also meant TREATS. And LOTS of them. And what’s there not to like about treats, right? And leaving was almost impossible — he was QUITE SURE that not only were there more treats available, but that he just needed a little more time to work his magic charm and wheedle them out of the people there.

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He slept in some of the oddest positions. This photo actually won me a free pizza for being so weird and wacky.

Clarke could have been a stand-in for Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible movies (cue the soundtrack). When it came to getting at food, he was beyond stealthy. One holiday, we were all gathered around the kitchen table after dinner, chit-chatting. Clarke had gotten a healthy amount of leftovers after we had cleared off the table and did dishes, so I didn’t give him much thought, but after awhile realized that I didn’t know where he was. And it was far too quiet, and we all know what that means.  My search through the house finally brought me to the dining room where I found Clarke — he was standing on top of the dining room table, the chandelier balanced on his back and moving precariously every time he did. He was hunting down crumbs, of course. He looked at me like, “I’m doing your cleanup work for you. You’re welcome.” and I was sure that I was never getting invited back to my parents’ house ever again. I managed to get him off the table (a graceful jump down that belied all the knee and hip trouble he had) without him ripping chandelier down and then led him back into the kitchen and guiltily confessed to my Mom what my dog had been up to. Clarke? He had no regrets.

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Yup, tough and menacing. That’s my boy Clarke.

Clarke looked like a tough and menacing pitbull, but the kids weren’t fooled. The last weekend that he was alive, we were out walking when a little girl, just a few inches taller than he was, came to me and asked if she could pet him. Knowing that Clarke didn’t always like to be pet on the head, I guided her towards his back and butt and told her that he absolutely loved to be scratched. While she did this, he acrobatically turned and sniffed her up and down, side to side, covering every inch: she must have passed the test because he turned to face her instead of just giving her his butt. The little girl looked at him, grabbed and waggled his cheeks like an Italian grandma and told him, “You’re so handsome!”. Clarke’s response? He licked her from chin to forehead and then tickled her neck.

But Clarke did have some tricks up his sleeve, er, coat. See, Belle was the queen of the house — definitely the alpha. And sometimes she’d take “his” spot on the chair and while he’d whine about it, he wouldn’t ever really challenge her to get it back. Instead, he’d go to the front door and furiously start barking. Belle, never one to turn down an opportunity to scare the life out of someone, would leap from the chair to join in whatever intimidation he had going on. And as quickly as she did that, he’d turn right around, and slink onto the chair with what I would swear was a self-satisfied grin. This happened enough times that I’m quite sure he did it on purpose.

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Yet another nap… playing really tuckers a boy out, ya know?

At almost 80 pounds, Clarke was also sure he was a lap dog. One time I went to pick up my roommate from the airport and I brought Clarke with. Since he was always her shadow (he liked me, sure, but my roommate was his favorite), he was ecstatic to see her after she’d been gone for almost a week. She climbed into the front seat and he was kissing her and happy dancing and everything and then — he jumped into the front seat, circled her lap twice and curled up right on top of her. Butt pressed up against the window, head propped up on her chest and as happy as he had been in days.

Clarke, when he wasn’t too busy eating, napping or sunning himself, was always up for playing. At doggie day care his favorite thing to do was to be put in with all the puppies — he would roll over on his back and let them just crawl all over him. But it wasn’t just puppies that he loved. One day, he was standing in front of the sliding glass door to the patio and doing the “play bow” thing that dogs do when there’s another dog they want to play with. I was wondering whose dog was out there, but when I went to go see there wasn’t another dog in sight. But what was there?  Three birds. Yes, he was play bowing to the three birds sitting about a foot from the door. He gave me a sad, confused look when they flew away. Clarke wasn’t used to anyone not wanting to play with him.

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May the sun always shine on you, Clarke.

But mostly, Clarke was just Clarke. The goofball who would do anything for a treat, wouldn’t trust just anyone to rub his tummy, would steal the entire bed from you if you let him (also would sleep ON you if you let him), wanted to sniff you before you pet him, somehow stole my favorite chair from me (it was a bloodless coup, as I like to say), had a hilarious dinner happy dance that he always did when being fed, managed to get up on furniture and tables without anyone hearing a thing, had the biggest heart imaginable and made friends everywhere he went.

He will certainly be missed. There’s a Clarke-sized hole in my heart that will never be filled, no matter how many dogs come after him. He was a rescue in need of a home, and, it turns out, I was a home in need of a rescue.

RIP Clarke … I know you’re in a place where the sun spots never move to somewhere that you can’t get to and where the treats are never-ending.

 

So, it was Sunday night and getting late for me (you know, it was 8:30pm) and I headed to my bedroom to start winding down for the night.

All of a sudden, Clarke is in the foyer, looking around alertly — unusual since he had already been snoring away in his chair and very little gets him up once he’s asleep. I thought maybe my roommate was home early (she wasn’t supposed to be home for another few hours) and didn’t think much of it. Then, Clarke is staring at the front door. Hmmm.

And then? Someone has opened my screen door and is jiggling the door knob on the interior door. Clarke is doing his sissy bark/whine thing that he does; I figure my roommate had trouble with the garage door (it had been acting up) and was trying to get in. I go to the front door, start opening it at the same time that I’m pulling the curtain away from the side window and lo and behold — it’s not my roommate. In fact, it’s someone who might look vaguely familiar, but certainly nobody that I outright know.

(disclaimer:  I am AWFUL at remembering faces.  And names.  And what I did yesterday…)

I’m holding the door open just a few inches and also holding onto Clarke’s collar because now he’s barking like he means it (Belle is too, but is gated into my bedroom so hers is a long-distance “I’m going to eat you if you come in the door” bark). The woman on the threshold tells me, “I’m glad you’re home — the door was locked and I really have to pee!”. Um, okay?

“Who are you?”, I inquire.

“Lisa! I’m supposed to be here!”

“Are you a friend of my roommate?”, I ask, thinking that maybe there was a miscommunication somewhere and this is a friend of hers who was expecting her to be home.

“Who?”  Okay, apparently not a friend.

“Let me in!” the woman insists again.  I tell her that she must have the wrong house.

“No, this is the right place — that’s my dog Toby right there!”  And Clarke, apparently not taking a liking to his new name, begins barking with renewed vigor.

“I’m sorry”, I reply, “but this isn’t the right house.” And with that I close the door and watch the woman trail down the path away from my house. Weird, I muse, but then go back to my bedroom to continue getting ready for sleep. I live in a townhouse where every house looks the same as the other, and not only that, but my house number is also the same as a house on the next block north, so it wouldn’t be impossible to get it wrong.

About 10 minutes later, more door knob jiggling. And knocking. And even more demanding door knob jiggling (if door knob jiggling can be done in a more demanding type of way).

Now, both dogs are at the door trying to get at this lady. She looks normal and non-menacing: Mom-type hairdo, glasses, big ol’ purse, flip-flops, too-short shorts (just my $0.02) and a tank top. But she is quite insistent that she lives at my house and needs to get in. Because, she tells me for a third time, she really has to pee.

I open up the door once again and once again let her know that she’s got the wrong house. After a little verbal jousting back and forth, again she leaves, looking confused but walking away nonetheless.

Back in my bedroom yet again, it occurs to me that perhaps she needs some sort of help. While she didn’t seem drunk or under the influence, perhaps she was on some drugs or is suffering from some sort of dementia — who knows.  I grab my phone, put some shoes on and go outside with the intention of offering to help her find the right house or call someone. I walk around the front of my house and turns out she was telling the truth about one thing — she really did have to pee. And was doing so in front of my neighbor’s garage door, blocked from most people’s view by his huge truck.

I backed away slowly and went inside once again thinking that perhaps this was finally done with.

Of course not.

She’s back for round 3. This time, I don’t open the door and instead call the cops — there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to bother them because I’m not really in fear or anything, but I also know that this is beyond something I can deal with on my own. I call the police station — 911 seems like far too dramatic an action to take — and the nice woman on the other end efficiently takes down the necessary information and sends a squad car my way.

In the meantime, I stand in the foyer by the front door, watching my dogs go absolutely nuts while she’s trying the door knob (which – really? – does she think it’s going to magically unlock or something?) and pounding on the door. I have two panes of glass beside the doors and if she really wanted to get in, it would be easy enough to break them so on the off chance that she does something that stupid, I don’t want my dogs getting caught in that fray.

Within 5 minute, a cop shows up. She gets out of the squad car and approaches the woman on my doorstep — the woman loudly complains to the police officer that I’m not letting her in and that her dog Toby is in the house. I open up my garage and go outside that way — opening up my front door would likely mean that one of the dogs would get away from me and go through the screen and lord knows, the last thing I need is for one of my pups to get in trouble for something that wasn’t their fault.

I walk up behind the police office, she turns around and asks if I live here — I reply that I do. She goes back to questioning the woman on my stoop, requesting ID and gently leading her away from my house. Another cop shows up and helps get the woman to the curb.

I’m standing inside my garage, taking all of this in — I don’t feel a need to be part of this process — and the woman is almost swallowed up in her huge-ass purse trying to find her wallet or some sort of identification. She can’t, but she does finally locate her cellphone and says that she’s going to call her daughter and her daughter will come out of the house to tell them that she belongs here.

The cops are losing their patience with her as she keeps ranting:  “That’s my house! I live there! That’s my dog, Toby!” She takes a break from the yelling to dial a number on her cellphone, both police officers over her shoulder telling her to hand over the phone. Like an indolent toddler, she kept turning to and fro to keep them away from the phone.

I can now hear her yelling, “Come out here — the cops are here and think I don’t live here for some fuckin’ reason…”.

And from a couple of houses down and across the street, out comes a teenager. I recognize the house as our “crazy neighbors” because there’s often yelling and cursing and fighting going on outside as if their driveway was as private as the inside of their house. I suddenly know why the woman looked vaguely familiar — she’s the mother of the crazy neighbor house.

The woman and the cops walk towards the daughter, the cops trying to figure out what’s going on. They ask for her address and the woman yelled it at them — clearly not my address, which both the officers and I had been telling her for the past hour. They had what looked like a one-sided conversation — the officers asking questions, the woman not answering — and then she defiantly walked away from the cops, her daughter trailing and looking behind, apologetically, at the officers. As she walks to her house, she makes one last turn towards me and yells, “And I don’t know what she is all about and why she has my dog” sweeping her arm to indict me and my entire household in some strange dog-napping crime, I suspect.

Both officers came back to talk to me, asking if I knew what was going on and I divulged the little information I had — that they were the crazy neighbors and why we thought of them that way. They didn’t have much to add to my assessment — whether it was because they couldn’t divulge the information or didn’t know, I’m not sure — so the mystery of my crazy neighbors remains.

With my involvement no longer necessary, I thanked them profusely, they told me I did the right thing in calling, and then … finally … I went inside and got ready for bed, with no further interruptions.

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Okay, so my confession: the Whole Life Challenge is only a little over halfway done, but personally I’m about all the way done with it. And I have only one thing to blame this on: Panera.

Yes, the new Panera opened right by my house! And it’s all sorts of awesome. I can order online and they’ll have it ready, sitting out waiting for me, on a shelf and I can just grab and go. And I really do love their food. It’s healthier than normal fast food so it doesn’t feel as much like I’m cheating, either (either that or I’ve gotten especially skilled at ignoring the guilt).

Initially, I was good; I ordered salads and sandwiches in a bowl instead of on their tasty, tasty bread. But that got old quickly — especially when you can’t HELP but smell all the freshly-baked goodness awaiting you inside. And not only that, but anytime you order something non-breakfast, you get a side. And what are your choices? Chips, an apple or a piece of their fresh-from-the-oven french baguette. After accumulating a refrigerator drawer full of apples, I succumbed to the temptation and started getting the baguette. And you know what? It was OH SO GOOD.

Of course, that also meant that I was now getting docked nutrition points — the Whole Life Challenge gives you 5 potential nutrition points per day, and any non-compliant food subtracts one from that total — and my run of perfect days came to an end. But did I care? Not really, to be honest. I could feel my competitive attitude about the challenge slipping away into a puddle of good intentions.

Even with Panera so close and my motivation so distant, I found that I was still following the nutrition guidelines pretty closely; the Kickstart nutrition level was easy enough that it fit into my lifestyle almost seamlessly. And that gave me hope, because the goal of the Whole Life Challenge was to create habits that were going to be easy to keep for the rest of your life. I’ve always known that the stricter levels weren’t for me anyway (frankly, I don’t think there’s any reason to give up potatoes and rice), and the looser Kickstart level gets me pretty close to where I’d like to live my life.

The other aspects of the challenge — exercise, sleep, water, reflection, stretching — are just as important, in my opinion, to living a healthy life and I’ve been totally nailing them. With the nice weather, I’ve been getting in the exercise part religiously (my dogs, perhaps, aren’t as happy with all the walking I’ve been making them do, however — they are the laziest creatures I know, outside of myself). Stretching had been something that I did frequently but not regularly, but now I look forward to my nightly ritual before bed. Water and reflecting upon my circumstances have never been too difficult for me. And sleep — oh, wonderful sleep! — is by far the most crucial of all. These past two weeks I’ve been not getting enough and every day I’m reminded that without sleep, everything else is exponentially more challenging. That is, when I’m not so tired that putting together a coherent thought is a challenge in and of itself.

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Laziest dog ever: all the time spent sunning himself this morning really tuckered Clarke out

By my count, there’s another 3 weeks of the challenge and I’m no longer “in it to win it”, but I’m being mindful and aware of my habits and choices. It’s a process, for sure, and one worth doing. I don’t care for having a list of foods that I’m not supposed to eat, but giving myself the leniency to break the rules from time to time has been working to keep my binging urges at bay while still keeping me eating healthy.

So, here’s to the Whole Life Challenge for helping me curb the sweets, here’s the Panera for reminding me that bread isn’t evil and here’s to me, who keeps moving forward, figuring things out, bit by bit, or, rather, bite by bite.