Friday, March 11, 2011

How Puppies Remind Me of Florence

When I was 21, I lived in Italy for a year. In August, I flew to Rome and took a train to Florence where a friend met me. I stayed in the comfort of her home for several days before going to live with my "Signora" - a lovely woman in her 60s who lived alone and who spoke not a word of English. My fondest memory is of her graciously letting me watch Star Trek weekly. Dubbed in Italian. What an experience!

I didn't speak Italian well at all, though I understood it well enough. I had been studying it intensively for a year and a half but that wasn't enough to make me feel really comfortable with the language. I stuttered and tried, but I could often feel the flush of embarrassment at my ineptitude. It didn't help that my best friend in the program, Franca, could speak Italian like she was born in Florence. Once a man admonished me (in Italian), "Why can't you speak as well as your beautiful friend Franca?" Her name rolled off his tongue with admiration.

I'm still not sure what possessed me to spend my junior year abroad. Some kind of wanderlust, I guess.

When I entered college, my hope was to become an illustrator. I studied painting, sculpture, printmaking and illustration. I also studied Italian to honor Sandy, a dear high school teacher of mine who had loved Italy and told me the story, with tears in her eyes, of the first time she had beheld Michelangelo's David. I became a double major in Studio Art and Italian in part because of Sandy's passion and that story.

And, being me, I couldn't take the easier path and go on one of the English-speaking courses abroad. I chose the most difficult, most intensive course I could find -- Smith College's program in Florence. I was accepted and off I went to a program in which I would have to take all of my courses in Italian, live with an Italian-speaking family, and take at least one course at the University of Florence. Yeah, it was intense. What a trial.

I've never thought of myself as bold or outgoing by nature, though my sisters would tell you I am. I was really scared during my first few days and weeks in Florence. I cried at night, I was so homesick. But each day things got a little easier. What I overcame in those first weeks, and just walked through my fear to accomplish, became comfortable to me by September.  When I returned to the States, I really was a different, bolder person.

I think that trip to Italy when I was so young really set the stage for me to overcome my fears and try new things. I learned to love Italy and Europe. I miss it. I know I'd feel comfortable there even all of these years later. I'm sure my comfort in experiencing new things arises in large part because of that year in Italy.

Each time that Echo experiences a big new event -- coming to a new home, going to her first puppy class, going with me to work, her first visit to our condo in Florida, her first competition -- I must remember how I felt my first week in Florence. These experiences are her Florence and they will be her strength.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I consider Emily to be one of my most special clients and a friend. When she comes into the clinic it brightens my day and makes me smile. We have good conversations about different breeds of dogs and what's going on with her cats. She's one of those clients that all veterinarians love to have.

Oh. Emily's 10. 

Ten going on 25.

I first met Emily when she was about 7. For the last 3 years I've been sure she's 12. ( I don't have my own kids and I'm not as sure about their ages as most of my staff. But I think I can be forgiven, since Emily is certainly not your average kid.) The earliest moment that sticks in my mind is Emily coming running up to me one night at the Cape Fear Regional Theater at intermission, dancing and chanting, "Mom! It's Dr. Blackmer!" I felt like a sport's hero.

Echo on her first night home.
When we brought Echo home our breeder reminded us of how important it is to socialize her with lots (her words were "hundreds") of people. That goes double for kids, since we don't have any. My first thought was Emily. She's exuberant and energetic, but she's also really good with animals. I was fairly certain she'd be a good choice for Echo's socialization with young girls. (Hannah had ensured that the litter met many people, including kids, but, as she reminded us, it's different when the pups are away from their litter mates.)

Emily was beside herself for two weeks, as Echo settled into our home and became more comfortable. Then yesterday I had Echo with me at work (safely in our grooming area, away from any other dogs, since she's not yet fully vaccinated) and Emily and her family were coming in to pick up Murray, their noble and gorgeous Maine Coon cat that I'd just neutered. 

Emily and I went to visit Echo alone first. I put her on the floor and as suddenly as a spring storm, Emily turned from dancing, enthusiastic bundle of energy to calm, still, and gentle. She sat in one place and talked in a low voice and Echo approached her and ate treats from her. Within 30 seconds she was climbing all over Emily and licking her face. Her tail was wagging and Emily was smiling and giggling. We took her out for a walk and Echo would as soon go to Emily as to me. I wish I'd had a place to let her off leash, because I'm sure they would have happily romped around together, exhausting themselves.

I could not have been more thrilled at my puppy's first experience playing with a kid.

Echo is already asking when we get to visit with Emily again.