A shout-out to rescue…a psych and her pets

I’ve had plenty of opportunities since my crushing car accident to think about what my friends mean to me. The care and support I received then, and continue to experience, made all the difference in my recovery.  But my furry canine friends have something to offer in companionship and support every day, and we cherish one another!

Both my 5 year-old Boxer and 1 ½ year old Wheaten Terrier are rescues. A moment of praise for the rescue groups!  They do a wonderful service by collecting dogs of the same breed, stabilizing them with good foster families and giving excellent care while permanent families find them–thank goodness for the Internet.

Perhaps if I had not chosen to be a “people therapist” I might have gone the career path of someone like Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.” But with both human and animal interests at heart, I do like to remind everyone that pets have a tremendous influence on a person’s well-being. I doubt I need to quote the studies that reveal simply stroking a beloved pet, or any animal, lowers blood pressure, improves the heart rate and stabilizes breathing. Just walking, grooming, or throwing the ball with your cat or dog will lift your spirits nearly as well as a standard antidepressant. I do wonder why we don’t have more animals named Prozac or Zyban!

To be involved in another being’s life is a special relationship that goes way beyond supplying basic needs of food, water and shelter. The need for a gentle touch, soft words, and good care with a smile that comes from the inside out begins to heal the confusion that a rescued animal feels as they move through difficult, often terrifying adjustments to a strange new place. Then building trust with a rescue animal takes time and patience, but is oh so rewarding! But who is the true rescuer, I often ask myself.  No matter what is going on in my life, my soft, loving and furry companions are there to share with me and we all benefit from that mutual support.

In my counseling profession I often have occasion to share with others the value of leaning into the shelter of trusted companionship and I personally know that through many life transitions it’s our pets that gladly meet us at the end of a hard day.  I’ll be posting more stories about my beloved dogs. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them as I share how important they have been in keeping me company through many significant life events— joyful occasions as well as protracted stressful periods. Why not share with me stories of your relationship with your trusted pets? What has connected you in mutual support? I’d love to hear from you.

When those eager greeters meet you at the door, bounding forward with enthusiasm and playful joy, do you wonder like I do, did I rescue them, or do they rescue me? Does it really matter? Not one bit!


It’s Wednesday and here come the leaf blowers!

I always learn something new at the Aquarium, and yesterday’s trip with the girls was no exception. I did my best to explain to Sophia the difference between baleen whales and toothed whales. Karina was more interested in mimicking whale song and I had trouble prying her away from the computerized kiosk. I was also interested in learning something new.  And I did; a term new to me anyway—acoustic smog.

The term accompanies a disturbing fact. Primarily due to increased shipping traffic and noisy ocean technology, the whale breeding opportunities are more limited because the females cannot hear the males singing. Maybe now would be a good time to plug the World Wildlife Fund for its work in protecting all animal habitats.

Watching my granddaughters’ awe and fascination with whales certainly makes me more sensitive to the great mammals’ plight, but then, too, maybe the reason this particular threat jumped at me from the many other environmental and conservation concerns is due to my personal sensitivity to acoustic smog.

It doesn’t take living at the end of an airport runway to experience noise pollution. First thing every Wednesday, here he comes, the same groundsman who otherwise contributes to the beauty of the university landscape (noise-canceling headphones strategically placed), armed with a giant, exhaust spewing leaf blower. He ceremoniously fires that baby up spewing a whirlwind of dust and debris from one direction to another. Then, after what seems longer than it surely must be, he concludes with a final sweeping sequence that appears to return the dirt to its original location.

Am I unreasonable? Noise by definition is repeated unwelcome sound, and although most of us are not physically threatened or harmed by its intrusion into our daily lives we are all nonetheless affected.  And here’s an interesting fact! Although we may think we tune out unpleasant sounds after a brief period of adjustment (traffic, sirens, construction noise, dogs barking) or even invited sounds (loud music, television), the brain interprets noise as a signal to trigger  hormonal reactions associated with our primal fight or flight response. Noise pollution has a negative impact on well-being, sometimes contributing to aggression, hypertension, high stress levels, hearing loss and sleep disturbances.

Perhaps it’s not such a great thing that we even think we’ve become desensitized to background noise. If you aren’t sure that you are affected by some version of acoustic smog, try eliminating as much noise as possible, background or otherwise, and see how you experience silence. Have a television free night once in a while and see if you notice a change in how that one small act makes you feel. Most people actually report feeling unnerved and bit uncomfortable.

There’s really only so much we can do about external noise, but I suggest making a commitment to finding as much quiet—even silence, as you can on a regular basis. Strike a reasonable balance. I know that my television has been mostly silent for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been too busy to watch much, and, I’ve also been saving up for this weekend’s opening of–wait for it… Shark Week 2011. I need to get ready for all those questions next time we visit the Long Beach Aquarium!


Style doesn’t matter. Jump in and just enjoy!

I like to think about the meaning of words. I’ve frequently made short apologies to more adventurous friends by reminding them that the only think spontaneous about me is my hair.  But don’t confuse spontaneity with impulsivity.  I can be very impulsive.

Take for instance this weekend’s trip to Home Depot.  I went for a bag of potting soil, but returned with a dozen of the most spectacularly green and leafy purchases.  This isn’t the time of year I typically do much new planting. It’s really enough to keep up with harvesting the vegetables and assessing the irrigation systems. We also still have a planned vacation. I acknowledge it really isn’t the best time to purchase and plant even the most generous of values and admit that I succumbed to the temptation of the lowered price. Home Depot saw me coming.

I couldn’t seem to help myself.  Summer is already winding down and I already missed some opportunities. For instance, I really wanted to plant Thumbelina pumpkins for the girls to enjoy this fall, but the opportunity passed. That good idea was derailed with a solid month of termite preoccupation. I didn’t plan ahead.

A recent trip to the mall provided a tidy object lesson on planning. I learned you can’t buy a decent swimsuit in July—heavy wool coat, yes, but nothing to match the current season’s climate. When it comes to some aspects of gardening I think I need to take pointers from my fashion forward friends. They plan for the seasons and aren’t caught short. Lesson noted.

Procrastination, even in welcome and anticipated situations, can become a tricky and often detrimental counter weight to impulsivity. Finding balance with planning still an open process is the real deal. I think this time I’ll  celebrate my unplanned garden center purchases as a welcome deposit towards a more colorful fall.  I even marked out the necessary space for autumn seed deposits that promise a profusion of sweet pea spring color. When it comes to working with a garden, it’s always about hard work today for a future  and pleasant reward.  For me, visualization and anticipation most certainly extends the pleasure over a longer period of time.

During a busy work week it isn’t always possible to do more than move through the paces of our hefty schedules and multiple responsibilities, but I encourage limitless imaginative planning nonetheless. Garden landscapes may not be part of your chosen visualization , but I think I can guarantee your well-being will be heightened if you put some creative thought into anticipatory planning–perhaps a trip or future vacation, playful arrangements with friends for a shared outing when cooler climates sweep in, or making a personal blueprint for a home improvement project–all for future benefit.   Whatever sounds good to you, go for it! Just jump in and take a few steps forward.  With a little imagining  you’ll get excited, and I promise it won’t feel impulsive–and if it does, change the term to spontaneous, and you’re off on an adventure!