Waggleview with Susan Abello, author, illustrator, business owner
Dog Owner: Susan Davis Abello ‑ Author, Illustrator, business owner.
I love my job, not just because as a writer and an artist I get to work on projects that I’m passionate about, but because most days, I can be at home, with my husband and in the company of our dogs. I work with my husband in the architectural rendering firm he started before we were married, but I’ve also illustrated a couple of children’s books, one of which I wrote myself called, Pumpkin and Buster and the Right Thing To Do About a Bully. It’s been a few years since that was published, and in the meantime I got my MFA in creative nonfiction in an on-line program at Bay Path University. My dogs were by my side, quite literally, through all of it ‑ keeping me company while I worked, and reminding me that everyday, rain or shine, a nice walk in the woods is always good for the soul.
Dog type and Name: Oliver is a silver toy poodle.
Q: Why did you choose this dog?
When I was a kid, my mother used to breed Miniature Poodles. Over the years we kept a few of the puppies from the litters. We were never without a dog or two to love. When I was in junior high, I started training our black Poodle, named Cricket, for obedience competitions, and she actually won a few. My mom drove us all around New England to shows ‑ sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was just comical. Cricket was only brilliant when she wanted to be. It wasn’t my training really, it was more her mood and how she felt about the other dogs around her and the place in general. So, I’ve always had a thing for poodles. I know how smart they are.
But I wasn’t really looking for a dog to take care of when I bumped into the black-ball-of-fluff who, the store clerk explained, would eventually turn from black to silver. (How did they know?) I already had my hands full with four little kids. It was one of those times where I was just looking in a pet store window, I couldn’t resist seeing who was there, but had no intention of buying, when I saw this little black Toy Poodle and I knew he was family. It’s like I recognized him. I remember talking to him as he sat looking at me through the bars of a cage. I told him I was going to go home and check out my finances, to see if I could work it out, but that I would be back. I told him to wait for me and not go home with anyone else. I was going through a divorce and had just moved into my first home with the kids by myself, so I didn’t have a lot of leeway with my budget. The next day the puppy was still there and I took him home to meet his new family.
He was so tiny and sweet and he brought so much happiness and excitement to the kids and me. We named him Oliver, after Oliver Twist, because he was an orphan and we took him in. Oliver has been through so much with our family. He’s been around since my youngest was four and now she’s twenty years old. He’s here for her when she comes home from college just as assuredly as I am, as her step dad is. He runs up to her, to all of our kids, with his tail wagging and lets them know he’s missed them while they were out on their own. He loves holidays when they visit — he loves his kids. (And he really hates to see a suitcase…it means someone is leaving and Oliver gets depressed and sits by the suitcase with his ears down and he looks heartbroken…it makes leaving very difficult.)
Mickey, the border collie, was my husband’s dog when we got married, and he was about the same age as Oliver. I think my husband got him when he became divorced as well. Dogs are good at soothing a frazzled heart. I’m sure Mickey helped him a great deal during that time. He was very energetic and it gave my husband, who would work at his desk for 15 hours a day if you don’t drag him away, a reason to go out and jog or take a walk. Mickey’s instinct to herd was so intense that we had to keep him inside when the kids were all in the pool ‑ he would run around and around the pool deck, trying to keep the little kids together until his little paws would bleed! He was so intense. Mickey played all the way up until his last days. He slowed down a lot of course, but he would still run around after a laser light or catch a ball when you tossed one. He never could fetch though. Mickey kept whatever you threw and ran away with it. We buried him with his laser light on, and with all of his toys. He liked to collect and sleep among all of his balls and stuffed animals. He was like a sweet baby, very loyal, very gentle.
Joe was a gift from my mom. She wanted to get a dog for my son, (the only boy in our family) for his eleventh birthday. We didn’t know Joe was a Yorkie. He didn’t look like anything at all. He was a ball of black and brown. Everyone called him a little “caja”. In Spanish that means box. (We speak a lot of Spanglish in our house. My first husband was Colombian ‑ my kids are half Hispanic, and my second husband is also Colombian.) Joe was built like a little square box and he was so cute. He was also very difficult because we discovered early on that he had Cushing’s disease. I had to care for him more and more as time went on – things like carry him up and down the steps to go outside nearly every two hours, and clean up his messes because he drank so much water that he peed a lot…sometimes inside if I didn’t do my job and take him out regularly. Anyway, I lived for Joe ‑ to make him comfortable ‑ and I guess I realized sometime last spring that he was just never going to be pain-free no matter what I did. When the vet gave him that last injection, I felt his little body go limp, to truly relax. I realized that he had never felt like that in my arms before, never even when he slept. He had been tense with pain since he was little and I just didn’t know it. He was a trooper though. He had a strong character and demanded we notice him, as tiny as he was; he had the biggest personality of anyone in our family. I once wrote and essay about Joe on my blog at Word Press, here’s the link and the essay is called, Spoiled, https://the-artist-upstairs.blog .
Q: Do you talk to your dogs? If so, what do you talk about?
Sure, I spoke to all of them quite a lot. Now, its just Ollie so he gets lots of attention. I think he must feel like and only child. It should be a nice thing, but he seems more desperate for our attention than he was when his brothers were with us. He might miss bossing them around ‑ it sure seemed to keep his mind busy, planning what to do next to show them who was in charge. We tell Oliver what’s going on with the kids when they call, sort of involve him in the conversation most of the time; we also often have to explain to him why we go from room to room so frequently – it must seem like he just gets settled into a nice position on a bed or on a chair, and then we move again, so I feel pretty guilty when I get up from my desk a lot. He likes days when I write; he tucks himself into the furry folds of the brown poufy bed next to my desk and snores for hours ‑ for an old man, that’s heaven. We also like to egg-him-on when we see birds and squirrels in the back yard. He sits on a little stool I bought just for him – so he’s up high enough to look out the window – and we speak with indignance that those birds and squirrels are in his yard. He gets all huffy and barks in agreement. It’s his next favorite thing to do, other than cuddle of course.
Q: If he could talk to you, what would he say?
I think he would ask us to go for a walk. He loves the trails behind our house. He tries to get us to go out there every day…he runs over to where the woods begin at the edge of the yard and turns to look at us…he won’t go if we don’t follow, but I can hear him pleading with us! “Come on you guys! This’ll be great!”
Q: If your dogs had a job or career, what would they be doing?
Well Mickey would have been a shepherd, no doubt. Joe would have worked for an exterminator, ridding houses of rodents because his passion, and greatest frustration, was chasing chipmunks into small holes.
Oliver, hmmmm, he’s difficult. I think he’s like a professional boss. We all work in his office and he’s the boss. He’s always had the attitude that he’s in charge and the family answers to him.
Q: What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?
So many…to be patient, to be loyal, that family comes first, to have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, show love, be a good cuddler and a great listener, when you goof up, show remorse, be grateful when people are kind to you, never hold a grudge.
Q: How does your dog inspire you?
Oliver wakes up happy every day. As soon as he sees us in the morning, he races around the room with so much joy. That’s awesome. To bring so much happiness to a living creature just by being there for them is an incredible feeling. Of course, we feel the same about him, only we don’t have as much energy in the morning to run around and express it, so we just pet him and laugh. He’s seems satisfied with that. I guess I look at Oliver like a model for loving well. He’s got that down. I’m inspired to be kinder, to cuddle more with my family, to express my joy more freely – like he does.
Q: Where is your dog’s favorite place to go with you?
Oliver loves to walk the trails in the afternoon. There are about 12 miles of beautiful trails that run through the woods behind our house and it’s dog heaven. The property belongs to my parents but they allow everyone who lives around here to use the trails. We pass neighbors on horseback, boys fishing in the ponds and people walking their dogs. Oliver runs through the trails like a puppy. For an old dog, it’s a beautiful thing to see.
Q: Who or what does your dog find the most interesting?
Oliver loves my husband most. He likes to do things with him outside. He rides in the John Deere Gator to do yard work and waits by the garage door when my husband is away. We’ve even given him the nickname “Gator Dog”, because riding in that vehicle is his favorite thing to do as long as his dad is driving!
Q: What is the most annoying thing other dog owners do?
I can’t say that I’m annoyed by anything dog owners do! Do we talk about our four legged kids too much? Do we greet dogs on the street before we even notice the person who is with them? I don’t know, probably, but I don’t mind!
Q: What does being a responsible dog owner mean to you?
Well, two things. First is being there for quality time. Dogs need attention like kids do. They need mental and physical stimulation as well as to feel as though they have a purpose.
Second thing is having a good relationship with your vet and making sure you keep up with all of the vaccinations and care that the vet recommends. It’s just like having toddlers for fifteen or sixteen years. They require a lot of care to be as healthy as they can be. It was an expense that I wasn’t exactly prepared for when I first got a dog of my own.
Q: Do you ever dress up your dog? If so, as what?
Oliver has a winter sweater. He used to hate it but now he lets us put it on without too much of a fuss. I think in his old age the cold New England winter is getting to him.
Q: How have your dogs changed your life?
Each of the dogs brought something different to our family life. Mickey was all about play. He was in the center of everything we did as a group, adding energy and laughter with his relentless desire to interact with us.
Joe taught us something different altogether. He taught us how to persevere. He moved slowly and stiffly, often dragging his back legs behind himself because the Cushing’s made them weak, but he still went for walks with us. He struggled to keep up and seemed to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the woods.
Oliver has made us homebodies. We hate to leave him and he doesn’t like going in the car so much. He cries and shakes whenever we take him for a ride. Maybe we were homebodies already, and Oliver fits right in, but I think these days, we appreciate even more, the good company of each other…as Oliver slows down, we are taking the time to slow down with him and appreciate the small things.
Q: Do your dogs have a philosophy of life?
Mickey’s philosophy would have been, “You can never play too much.”
Joey’s would be, “You can never eat too much.”
Oliver’s is, “One should cuddle as much as possible.”
Q: I love my dog because he’s an angel. I truly believe that dogs are God’s perfect creatures. They show us unconditional love in its purest sense. They have the ability to calm our nerves and sooth our souls. If you are not a person who believes in a higher power, you can still experience the kind of joy that spirituality gives us through the love of a dog.
Q: Have you ever made dog treats for your dogs?
No, I’m not much of a cook and to be honest, whenever I have purchased those kinds of specialty treats for my dogs, they haven’t gone over big. Not one of my dogs loved the “homemade” treats. Give them a Pup-Peroni Treat anytime!
WAGGLEVIEW®: These interviews are focused on leaders in business, the arts, the community, or at home. My hope in doing this is to present remarkable and respected people in their community with their beloved pets. Who can resist reading about pets and what these people do? This is a platform for people to display their talents; their own business, a new book, a deeply loved passion for a charity or their own job. It also shows their love for their pet!
Thank you Susan for taking the time to participate in the Waggleview®.
What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?
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