In my first post after leaving Arcata, I wrote that as I left I discovered that I felt a sense of relief, and I said I was going to write more about that later. I’ve debated whether I actually should or not, but given that my blog is really for me, for my memories, my future record of my own experiences, I want to. I want to remember this.
So: I was reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else how much I truly hated the way Suzanne treated Bear, and Sophie by extension.
I really did, though. I didn’t feel like there was much I could say, because she was doing all the expensive training and courses, seminars and Cesar Milan, and weekly Zoom calls, and I was doing… well, not much. Recently fun classes, of course, but I’m no expert dog trainer.
But the more time passed, the older the dogs got, the more pronounced our really different attitudes toward the proper treatment of dogs, and the proper expectations for dogs, became. The more pronounced the difference between the dogs became, too, and not in a good way.
At one point recently, Suzanne asked me something like whether I thought she was wrong in how she was training Bear, and the question was a surprise. I answered it badly, I think because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. On the spot, I said something like, “Well, you know, we have really different dogs, and if Sophie and I get into a power struggle, I will always win, because I can pick her up, and Bear’s a lot bigger, so you know, you have to negotiate power in a different way.” I’m including those “you knows” because I bet there were even more of them, and maybe some ums and ers, too.
I was avoiding the truth.
I didn’t want to recognize that the answer was, “Yes, Yes, YES,” because… that would have caused an argument? Hurt her feelings? I don’t know why. She has all this training on her side, thousands of dollars spent, to have an anxious, reactive, insecure dog who has to be on a leash in the back yard because she can’t be trusted to not try to attack the neighbor’s dogs. Yes, I think that the firm discipline, shock/prong collar, “do what I say at all times,” approach is a lousy way to treat a dog and not a successful training technique.
And I say this from the unfortunately smug position of finding Little Miss Sunshine to be truly delightful, even if she does jump on me and get excited and persists in wanting more ball time and even occasionally barks at people passing by, all of which Suzanne disapproved of. I didn’t need a perfect dog, I needed a pet, and that’s what I have, and she is awesome.
So yeah, a big chunk of my sense of relief to be leaving is because negotiating Suzanne’s attitudes toward the dogs and what they should do/should be was not much fun, and I don’t regret not having to do it anymore.
Now that I’m in Florida and hanging out with Christina, Greg, and Riker, that sense of relief is even more pronounced. I felt really sad to be taking Sophie away from her bestie. It was ending a friendship that I thought would be forever for her.
But Suzanne never let them play. She disapproved of dogs getting excited for any reason, enthusiasm was always the enemy. As far as she was concerned, romping was “activating Bear’s prey drive,” therefore bad. Doggie wrestling was to be shut down the moment it started. Maybe she was right and Bear was dangerous to Sophie, but I felt like the way dogs learn to play together is to play together, and that if Bear hurt Sophie, Sophie would yelp, and then Bear would know better, and be more gentle the next time. Instead Suzanne would separate them. It’s been literally months since the last time they got to play at the beach together. I kept thinking that Suzanne would… well, eventually go back to who she was when she had her first dog, Buddy, which was super chill and loving, easy on everything he did, but… not so much.
Now Sophie has Riker to play with, and OMG, are they adorable together. Riker is working very hard at teaching Sophie to play the way he likes to play, which is a lot of wrestling and jumping on one another. Sophie is super confused, she keeps checking in with me to say, ‘is this okay?’ Yep, it’s okay. There is much face licking and following one another around and exchanging of toys and some occasional barking and a ton of enthusiasm. So much enthusiasm. It’s making me really happy.
As for the rest of my relief, well, dumping my rain pants and three pairs of shoes on the free pile at the end of the driveway felt great. Before I moved into the van, Arcata was never on my list of possible places to live because I didn’t think I’d enjoy the weather. As it turned out, I really didn’t. Last winter was hard. Living in a tiny house in the perpetual rain is miserable. I spent probably twenty-two hours a day on my bed, because it was the only place to sit in Serendipity, and outside was wet. The other two hours were walking Sophie in the rain and/or playing ball with Sophie in the rain. All those extra pairs of shoes were because my feet were constantly wet.
Did Arcata have good points that mostly outweighed the weather? Absolutely.
But am I happy to be back in the land of sunshine? Also, absolutely.