Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Joy of Play

When Carter's family returned him to the shelter a year ago, they did not comprehend why stared out the window and bumped into things. I do not know if his vision loss was gradual or sudden, but his family didn't understand the change in their dog. So they returned him to the shelter. And when the shelter called to say, "Hey, did you know Carter is blind?" They took him back, for a year.

And so far as I can tell, they didn't do much with him. They had a second child and I can understand the difficulties in having two mobile children and one blind dog. I've had to modify my home a smidgen to accommodate Carter. I have to remember to keep things as stationary as possible. But mostly, I have not had to do a thing except re-adjust my reaction when Carter runs into something.

I don't know why I am a little obsessed with this, but I keep going back to his intake form in which his previous family label his favorite activity "sleeping". I think it's because "sleeping" isn't an activity for Carter; it is a year-long coping mechanism. It is the result of an unenriched environment - no play time, no toy time, probably limited people time. He spent 1/2 of his time outside and the other 1/2 apparently in the living room. There is no mention of him enjoying playing.

And this just breaks my heart.

Playing is a dog's prerogative. I have never known this to be untrue. If it is, I don't want to hear about it!

Play is a way to exercise. It is an expression of pent-up energy. When engaged with another, play becomes the premium bonding experience. It is the sharing of joy, joint play. And I love seeing it in dogs, because play is uninhibited and unwavering. It is happiness incarnate.

Mina and Celeste play and I do not stop it, despite knowing how fragile Mina is. How every sharp turn could result in a tumbling, somersaulting Mina. How one wrong move could result in two canines crashing, then clashing, then going their separate ways. Mina is 14, but her favorite activity is not sleeping - it is sniffing and motion and yelling at neighbor dogs and running free with Celeste. It is play. Even when she curls up behind me to fall asleep, she will immediately pop open her eyes if I squeak a toy and pinch her jowels and invite her to a soft game of tug.

Carter has not had that in the past year. He has not had romps in the backyard, bouts of tug-of-war on green grass, leaps and twirls of joy. He has sat on a couch or on a bed or in a living room. And he has slept. He has just been waiting, waiting, waiting for his invitation.

I invite Carter to play on a regular basis. He is intrigued and engaged. When presented with a nylabone, he grasps it gently as if to ask, "mine?" and sets to chewing on it. When given a squeaky toy, he mushes it in his big mouth and spits it out gently. When asked to run around the yard, he trusts my voice and bounds up to me. I wake him up, because I want him to know that "sleeping" is not a favored activity of any self-respecting canine...not if games are afoot.

And yesterday, I offered him a rope toy. He put it in his mouth. When I tugged on it, his eyes got large. At first, despite knowing this game, he wasn't sure what to do. Tug? Drop? Run away? Play?!? I would tap him on his side and he would leap in the air, jaws gently snapping. He was so happy! I offered the tug again and he pulled gently, tugging, twisting, enjoying this shared moment of fun.

Carter doesn't really enjoy walks. Yet. They are too overstimulating and scary. So I have to make sure he exercises his body and his mind. And the only way to do that is with play. I can get him to run, almost full tilt, on the lawn. I can distract him with squeaks and bones and rope toys. When he is more comfortable, I will invite him to try mental games, like scent games. He's not quite there - I used some essential oil on a tug toy to see if he could find it easier when I waved it around. He curled his lip, disgusted at the smell (it was lavender, geez). But I found a temporary alternative. I whack the rope toy against the lawn and he pounces, like a graceless coyote. Play = joy.

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