Take the plunge (10/19/05)

Dear Zelda

I've always been someone who's constantly on the go. My life, my work, and my personal life have always been a whirlwind of chaos and calamity. I’m a very successful and professional woman with no children, no pets, and no mate. I’m writing to you because although I don’t have any pets, I’ve always wanted to adopt a puppy of my own. I have a beautiful house with a perfect backyard for a dog to enjoy. The only thing that concerns me is my long hours from home. I know that things are going to eventually slow down and I’d love to try.



Dear Dog-Gone-Lonely,

Okay, can I just say that wanting to adopt a precious little pup is about the cutest darn thing I’ve read all day. The thought of a teeny bundle of fur with big ol’ eyes snifflin’ and snugglin’ leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside (I’m already fuzzy on the outside).

I too was once a puppy (and could probably still pass for one...ahem, no comments from the peanut gallery), and I would have to say that growing up in a beautiful house with a perfect backyard sounds like nothing short of heaven. That being said, adding a dose of canine “chaos and calamity” into any peaceful home can quickly turn heaven into... well... a mess, at best.

Adopting an animal of any kind, especially a precocious and playful puppy, is a big commitment, and it speaks well of you that you’re taking the time to carefully consider the puppy’s needs and happiness before making the leap, something many people don’t do. It requires long hours and regular supervision, and the pup is guaranteed to bring with him a whole lot of his own chaos and calamity: sofas will get chewed, gardens will be uprooted, and carpets will get “marked” as territory. House training, leash training, obedience training, and just about all the other “training” words associated with a new four-legged addition can end up making you wish for days when the only headaches you had to worry about were in the workplace. But despite all the hard work, let me tell you, IT’S WORTH IT!

As for the puppy’s needs, don’t make the mistake of thinking that an amazing backyard by itself will be the home your puppy was meant to have. Although it’s a great bonus, it certainly won’t be the substitute “you” required to ensure his younger years build the proper foundation for a great personality and a happy dog. The most important part of any home, from your dog’s perspective, is YOU.

Does this mean that your doggy dreams will have to wait until you retire? Absolutely not! But it does mean that you should be willing to commit a certain amount of time each day to the dog, and, if you are really busy, it probably means arranging for someone else, a friend, neighbor, or someone you hire, to come and give your pup a little attention during the day. Every hour you spend with your dog when he’s young will pay off a hundred-fold down the road in terms of personality and happiness. Lastly, if you are truly worried about the amount of time that you or others could spend with a pup, let me make a crazy suggestion: get two! We dogs are incredibly social animals, and if your life, your garden, your carpets, and your pocketbook can handle it, one of the best solutions for lonely-dog syndrome is to get a pair of dogs who can provide comfort, company, and companionship for each other.

Bringing a dog (or dogs!) into your life is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do, and unconditional love without judgment is all any of us can ever hope for. The companionship alone can make you forget your hectic, stressful day, and remind you exactly why your once-lonely house suddenly feels like “home.”

Your heart and your home sound more than big enough for a pup or two (and we love you for that)...it's time to decide if your schedule, and the rest of your life, has as much space.

Licks and wags,


Dear Zelda-

I am in the last year of my forties. I’ve always played it safe, and admire those who take chances. My alter ego keeps telling me to take chances and add some excitement and adventure in my life. I think my 50th birthday would be a great place to start. I have been inspired by your words of wisdom, and would welcome advice to get me outside my little box.

Boxed In

Dear Boxed In-

Congrats on your milestone! Fifty times around the sun, a fabulous accomplishment for anyone! That may seem like a lot of years, but just think: when I turn fifty, in dog years I’ll be THREE HUNDRED and fifty! Your fifty doesn’t sound so bad by comparison.

Now, about that “stepping outside the box.” I say it’s never too late to grab life by the throttle, and your Fiftieth sounds like just the right occasion to live a little. Playing it safe can only get you so far, and I agree with you, it takes a lot of courage to step outside the safe, comfortable routines of life. The first step is often the hardest, so I say make up your mind, formulate a concrete plan, and then just DO IT! Of course, there’s risk-taking, and then there’s risk-taking, and I don’t want to confuse the two: taking salsa lessons, traveling somewhere exotic, or writing a novel? HOT! Investing your entire nest egg into a startup dot-com whose mascot is a sock puppet? NOT!

So what kind of risks do YOU want to take? It just depends on whatever sets your heart a-flutter. Tired of the desk job, and always wanted to try your hand at being a glassblower? Well, find some glassblowers in your area, go talk to them, and find out what it takes to get your feet wet and your glass melting. Or maybe you have some talent that’s been lying dormant for a number of years, like juggling. Join a group of jugglers, meet like-minded individuals on a public forum like Craigslist (www.craigslist.org), or just start your own group! Or perhaps you’re feeling a little more adventurous, and want to hike the Inca Trail, raft the Grand Canyon, or do some international volunteer work. For these kind of adventures, an easy way to start out is through a professional adventure company like Backroads (www.backroads.com). Bottom line: you’re only limited by your imagination.

Of course, the biggest obstacle in accomplishing these things is believing that you can actually do them, and then just sitting down and planning it. Make a list of the big priorities in your life, and another list of those wonderful fantasies you’ve always dreamed about but never managed to do. Then sit down and think long and hard about how to make some of those fantasies happen in ways that are realistic and consistent with your priorities in life. As long as you are still making decisions that are responsible for yourself or those people who love you and depend on you, the sky’s the limit!

We bulldogs are big risk-takers, you know: we were originally bred to face off against angry, full-grown bulls about fifty times our size. So the next time the big risks in your life are seeming impossibly far away, or particularly scary, just think of how my great-great-great-great grandfathers must have felt stepping into the bullpen!

Leap, and a net will appear!


Dear Zelda,

I have two dogs, a yellow lab and a brindle bulldog. We live by a river and while the lab loves to jump in the river and retrieve sticks, the bulldog sinks whenever he tries to swim. Can bulldogs be trained to swim, or should I buy him a life jacket?

Sink or Swim

Dear Sink or Swim,

What a coincidence! I too used to swim like a rock, and let me tell you, this season’s hottest swimwear doesn’t look quite as magnificent when you’re sitting on the bottom of the pool like a small boulder and gasping for air. Been there, not doing that again!

But wait, there’s help! The good news is that we CAN learn to swim (sort of). But with 70% of our weight close to our “bow” (the front), and with our oars not being very long, any jump-first, ask-questions-later attempts at diving into the water will most likely leave us looking more like the Titanic than the iceberg.


Unlike the Titanic, you need to be prepared. EVERYONE MAN THEIR LIFE JACKETS! Buying your dog a life jacket is a great start for training your bully to swim, and it may be a necessary swimming accessory throughout his life. The jacket will allow him to strengthen his swimming muscles and hone his skills, as well as keep him afloat and in plain sight. Just make sure you’re not fooled into a false sense of security with the jacket, and don’t get too comfortable with just letting him go. Even with the life jacket he will require constant supervision, and at first it may be a good idea to attach a length of rope or a long leash that will only let him wander so far, and with which he can be hauled back if he gets in “over his head.” There are a lot of canine life jackets out there, but you might try the “Outward Hound” jacket available at PetsMart (www.petsmart.com), or the “Ruff Wear K-9 Float Coat” available at Altrec (www.altrec.com).

Let’s face it: even with all the training in the world, we bullies are not going to get recruited by the US Olympic team any time soon. But then again, WHO CARES! As long as we’re having fun, and we’re being careful and safe, it doesn’t really matter how fast we go, or if we go anywhere at all. You just may want to get yourself used to the fact that your bully will always need supervision, especially in moving water like a river.

Finally, if you’re going to play around water with your little “bottom sweeper,” it’s always good to prepare for an emergency, and know a little something about dog CPR. Here are a couple sites that explain the basics: http://www.dogpatch.org/doginfo/cpr.html and http://members.aol.com/henryhbk/acpr.html.

Anchors away!