The Gates of Freedom-Success in 10 Steps

A truly special, inspiring creature…in an uninspiring form. Do we have what it takes to follow her path to success?

This is not a dog story.

All of us have felt caged in, weighed down, frustrated and angry before. Many of us choose to resort to complaining about it, especially when our paths to success or improvement seem too difficult to navigate, or we lack the strength to continue.

We happen to be taking care of six dogs right now ( and three cats). All of the animals at this place were rejected by society, and life. Most grew up on the streets or in animal shelters, and some of them have extremely troubled backstories, none worse than Berlioz the cat, who arrived here without hair–lost it all because of the nightmares she went through as a kitten/small cat. The people in the shelter had taken to playing classical music all the time in her room; they figured it might calm her. Hence the name.

But Berlioz is merely an example of the pain we all go through in life. As said, all of the animals here, and every one of us as well, have their crosses to bear. But for every problem we face there is a solution waiting for us, if we just take the time and have the patience to find it.

That would mean that our redemption, salvation, land of milk and honey, GI Joe with the kung fu grip–whatever we desire–is already waiting for us behind the obstacles we imagine are so/too difficult to surmount in the circumstances we find ourselves in right now. We may say that these goals are hidden away behind a gate we can’t open, for what ever reason.

1) The back gate-door to doggie freedom.

This gate can mean anything for anyone. For some it is the doorway to a better life with no financial lack. For others it guards a world they would like to reach without pain or shame.

Step 1: Define your gate

For our six dogs, the back gate separates them from the happy place where they can run and chase things and live the way Nature intended so long ago.

For five of our dogs, opening the gate is beyond their abilities, due to their lack of size, of thumbs, of the needed mental wherewithal.

But Negrita is a different dog. She is small-ish; too small to be a medium-sized dog and too large to be a lap dog. Her yellowish-brown eyes are less handsome than other dog’s almond-brown ones. She is maybe not chubby but keeping her that way is a full-time job. She is fast, but our two greyhounds and Podrick–possibly/probably an Ibizan hound–are faster. Negrita is also strong, but she lacks in size and the two mastiffs, Chewy & Espe, treat her like a fly.

What she does have are brains, and she is not afraid to use them. She understands at a very deep level how the words “human” and “benefactor” are related, and ingratiates herself expertly and persistently. It is impossible to be mad at her and difficult to refuse her extra treats.

Negrita looked at this back gate above and decided not to acknowledge it. There is always a solution, and if she really wanted to find it, she would by God find her way out one way or another.

If you had the desire and the brains of Negrita, you might also choose to turn away from the gate and seek freedom elsewhere. Maybe you would analyze the problem and decide to take a step back to look at the problem from a different angle.

Step 2: Collect information

Maybe, just maybe, you might decide to turn around and head back the way you came. Yes, on the right is a high stone wall–no escape there–and on the left is the fenced-in yard you know you can’t escape from, but you know standing around staring at the gate in frustration will not help either.

What would happen if you tried to get behind that wall?-you might ask.

Step 3: Take action

You get to the beginning of the path. Do you still seek freedom? Then you must stay focussed and continue to seek solutions. What about that space there on the right? Where does that go?-you might ask yourself.

Step 4: Keep working/Never Stop Learning

Where does this highway lead to?

Step 5: Be Creative/Ask Questions

What would happen if I went up?

If you’ve come this far you may content yourself knowing you are much farther than 5/6 of everyone else in your group. Now it is time to bear down. Grit and determination are needed.

Try jumping up on the wall, then to the top of the stone wall (upper right in Image #5).

Step 6: Play! Experiment! Solutions won’t get found by not trying

Doesn’t look like much, but let’s see where it goes…

It is so easy to give up. To say you’re not good enough or rich enough or pretty, tall, strong, smart, green or right-handed enough.

But you’ve already come so far. Do not be satisfied with past progress, but if it helps to keep you going, revel! Even better, though, would be to celebrate the freedom and success you’ll enjoy after you’ve reached your goal-as if you’re already there.

Step 7: Stay Positive (NOT “Don’t Get Disheartened!!”)

There will come a time, or times, when you you will find yourself in places where you never dreamt of being. Cleveland comes to mind. Also, maybe you are in a toxic relationship, maybe you are terminally sick, maybe you’re living in a dump next to the dump and walk sidewalks, paths, or even streets filled with dog, cat, cow, pig, lion (who knows?) or bird dumps. Maybe your life is a total disaster area (see picture), but you must always remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t always have to be the disaster unimaginative eyes see: maybe you have a great view, or wonderful flowering trees, or all the materials you need to build your paradise is already there but not yet formed (see picture).

Your paradise, however, will never get built when you devote your energies to focussing on failures, the difficulty of the task at hand, the shitty weather, the aches and pains in your body, the looseness of your socks, etc.. Which is why you must always remain positive, knowing you are mini-steps (3) away from reaching your goal. This includes using the right language. If you tell yourself not to be disheartened you may as well tell yourself to not think of a pink elephant. What are you thinking of? Oops.

Staying positive opens up a universe of possibilities, and one of these just might be the one you’ve been hoping for, even if it doesn’t look that way at the time.

Make a game of it. Any dope can mope. You are on your way..

The answers are there where we seek them

Step 8: Bulletproof Yourself

All of your doubts and fears are only more obstacles you just have to step over, around, or under. Maybe you’ll have to smash a couple? Who knows. They should be used as fuel, because by now you must realize how far you’ve come, and how silly it would be to give up. This attitude preps you for your second biggest step:

Dead end or another chance?

Step 9: Have Faith

Some people have religion, some have a powerful sense of self. Whatever it takes, you need something to fall back on when things are darkest, like when you’ve come so far but seem to have reached a dead end.

You need what some experts call an “Absolute Core Motivator (ACM).” Anytime you arrive at a point where failure looms, or your energy fails, or that bed is way too high on the Cozy-Meter, you may break out that ACM-it’ll help you keep on trucking where there is no road (see picture), and where you have no gas or idea where you should be going. You have exorcized the ghosts of your childhood, made your peace with what- or whoever you were warring with, all of your doubts, fears and negativity have been turned to fuel, and you are supremely focussed on your goal.

Which is good because the time has come for the biggest test of all:

Step 10: Make the Leap

The view from under the bushes, behind the square board in Image #9.

You are small, mortal, vulnerable. You are no genius, no superman/woman, and was not blessed with limitless resources at birth*. However, just the fact that you have come this far shows you have everything it takes to make it as far as you want to go. What are you waiting for? Make the leap.

You did not come this far to not jump, did you?

For those of you you who still view the words on these pages as just that: empty words from a stranger, go back to the picture of Negrita at the beginning. If she is not the smallest of our six dogs she is definitely the shortest – and weakest. She somehow got pregnant when she was too young for it, and her ribs expanded at a disproportionate rate, giving her a permanent “chubby” look. Her legs are short.

She was not dealt good cards for this game of life, but for whatever reason chose to make what she could with the tools she has. Every time I leave the back gate, it is she and she alone who dashes back the way she came, until she eventually leaps under the chicken wire in Image #10 and out to freedom. She follows exactly the path I’ve photographed here-with a few exceptions.

My wife and I figured out the route Negrita uses to escape her Alcatraz, and then I went to work trying to impede this route. I put the metal chairs on the wall in Image #5. I put up the square board in Image #9 so she couldn’t get a running start to leap up under the chicken wire. The bricks you see in Image #10 were too far from the front edge of the wall, and I pulled them closer to make it impossible for the dog to find purchase there. I also pushed the chicken wire down so it would be impossible to leap up underneath it.

No matter.

Whatever I tried was futile. Whenever I leave the back gate I can always be assured that wherever Negrita had been, she will soon be at my side, enjoying her success and her doggie freedom to the best of her ability.

Which is how it should be.

*Also not true, but that will, also, come in time.


California! Land of Sunshine, beautiful beaches, and, at least here in Oakland, the all-pervasive smell of weed. On July 4th, no less, we found ourselves in a little park that overlooked not only Oakland but also San Francisco, way back across the bay to the West. It soon became difficult to see the fireworks because of “smoke” from either the fireworks or, um…not.

At any rate, I did not want to tell you about watching fireworks through glasses formed out of marijuana smoke, which, now that I think about it, would actually be kind of cool….

B..but I wanted to tell you about why we are here. We are here to commune with every single solitary molecule our inner essence…WHOA! Guess we’ve already been in Cali too long. We are here to take care of Whisky and something called “Lani”. Whisky is a boxer, and “Lani” is either a boxer or an advanced form of extraterrestrial life sent here to study and learn from us. If the latter be true, “Lani” has really taken to her role, as proven by the boundless vigor with which she throws herself into neighborhood watchdog mode.

However, even should she be in reality a normal four-legged mammalian carnivorous acute-hearing slobbering drug-sniffing one-billion-strong species of domesticated wolf-sludge, “Lani” is, how shall I put it, “off”. She jumps too enthusiastically, as if she’s trying to prove that she is enthusiastic. She supposedly needs to be pet every three and a half minutes, which is too strict a schedule for most canines we have taken care of up until now.

Whisky is more traditional in the sense that he barks and jumps on you and eats your hand and stares at you uncomprehendingly when you quote Rick Moranis’ speech from Ghostbusters (1984):

“Gozer [sp.?] the Traveller. He will come in one of the prechosen forms. During the Rectification of the Valdrani[sp.?], the Traveller came as a large and moving Torg[sp.?]! Then, during the third Replication of the Maketrik [sp.?] Supplicants, they chose a new form for ‘im. That of a giant Slor[sp.?]! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was like to be roasted in the depths of a Slor that day I can tell you!”

So he was perplexed. Whiskey stayed perplexed, perhaps because of that speech, for most of our stay in Oakland. I loved both of the dogs but I admit I had a special place in my heart for Whiskey. Whiskey was kicked in the head by a donkey as a puppy and to be polite and politically correct, I’ll just lie and say this stomping hasn’t affected him in any way and he has, in fact, all of his faculties intact.

Kind of.

Many times Whiskey “got it”. I can remember several instances where Whiskey “got it”, but I’m sure not going to tell you any of them. Instead, I see a wonderful, well-kempt (opposite of unkempt), handsome and powerfully built boxer standing there staring at me with a look that says, “Huh?”

Both of these dogs were remarkable specimens of caninitude, and if I was a judge at a Dog Show where both these dogs were entered I would pin a comely blue ribbon that says “First Place” on them, and I doubt that neither would be mad because neither of them won…one? I’ve definitely been here to long.

Though it would be humorous to come home and watch them wrassle over the real true first place winner–I’m sure that epic clash would go on for hours.

See, these two beasts were young and loaded to the gunwhales with surplus energy; so much that they could think of nothing to do with that energy except wrassle in the backyard and –WAIT! someone’s out on the street!–storm around the side of the house where a high wooden fence stood that was, apparently, what they were supposed to bark angrily at and at volume setting number 11 whenever they heard, smelled or sensed a presence behind it. Which was almost always.

But wait! What were we doing again? Oh yeah!

And it’s back to the backyard to wrassle some more and maybe grovel for a treat.

My biggest regret #1 is that we weren’t able to take them for walks. It would have been foolhardy, loosing these two cannons on the world with their energy, temperament, and chiseled muscular fury. Despite being warm, loving dogs, they were playful to a fault and would have shredded anything short of Max, the Rhodesian Ridgeback we took care of in Australia.

That being said, I can imagine a day in Oakland where I jog up the hill to the East, and do a long loop through Anthony Chabot National Park, where the sun shines in all of its fine California splendor, and the dogs patter over the landscape, feeling like kings. Their boxer muscles expand and contract, saying, no, screaming “Get the eff out of my way Here I come!”, and everyone would.

They would hardly stop to poop, which would break my all-important jogger’s rhythm, but when they finally do they drop mountains in the middle of the trail and I realize I’ve forgotten to bring “doggie bags” with me. Then a squirrel (and not, thankfully, a small child) appears, and I’m all but drawn and quartered as both dogs surge to the attack, bearing down like charging rhinos on the precocious interloper, until I’ve been dragged through the dirt face first and he is torn like the Constitution in Trump’s rough, unfeeling grip.

So yeah maybe taking them for a walk is not the best idea. Better to let them duke it out in the back yard, with the occasional “Bark-at-the-Fence Game” as a diversion. You know, when wrasslin’ gets boring.

Two final stories: 1.), I got into the ill-advised habit where, upon returning to the house after a jog or shopping, I would sprint out into the backyard with them and wrassle’ right there with ’em on the grass, hopefully avoiding doggie mines. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this breed of dog, you will quickly understand why they are thusly named, and you will also understand why the owners of the house cautioned me (especially me, not my wife) against playing this game, but if it should so happen that this game were played, that I best be “on my guard” in case I didn’t want one or both of my “testicles” to wind up “in the back of my throat” (not their exact words).

One of my, like, hugest regrets (#2) is that I did not film us all wrasslin’–especially me and Whiskey. We tussled with such unbounded fervor that even Lani kind of stayed “just out of reach,” respecting the fervor, even when I tried to momentarily shed myself from Whiskey and include her in our shenanigans. When Whiskey got started, it was very difficult to calm him down again, and he would literally begin steaming like a runaway train, until the borders between fun and “Bloodsport” were not only advanced upon, but leapt over in a gazelle-like bound. On two occasions I had to stop immediately and hold Whiskey gently, giving him all the love I could muster–out of fear, perhaps–until he realized he was back on a planet where he was loved, and he did not have to defend his life with his dying breath from terrifying alien invaders intent on killing and enslaving the populace. Which, really, couldn’t have been further from my mind.

Story #2: My Next Hugest Regret. Whenever the dogs wanted to rest a little, and the sun wasn’t too hot for them, they would lie, Sphinx-like, on the back lawn, with their front legs stretched out in front of them. They would lie like that, Lani more so than Whiskey, in a kind of gentle “catch-my-breath” moment. If you didn’t look close, you might be tempted to assume that they were not alert, and, in fact, relaxing hard core.

Perhaps this was true with Whiskey, I don’t really remember. But remember when I said that Lani was a little “off”? I noticed, or, more accurately, felt that I was being watched when she was like that. Which brings us to my next hugest regret (#3?). I should have done the following exercise on film, I’m really kicking myself that I did not.

For, to test my theory of being watched, I began strolling veeerryyy slowly over the back terrace, rolling my eyes innocently, even glancing out of the corner of my eyes her way. She sat there and panted, all innocent-like: “Just lyin’ here, mindin’ my own beeswhacks…” (dogs don’t spell well). Then I suddenly sprang as best as I could into my 50-year old Ninja attack pose, facing her.

I swear I have never seen a canine move faster than Lani did in that moment, springing into a low crouch with throbbing musculartude and a welder’s flame intensity in her eyes that said “KILL!”, but an aura that was all play.

If I had had time I would have wrassled with her then and there, but I was busy, and I couldn’t decide anyway if I should wrassle with her, hug her, or scream a banshee cry of joy:

Nothing we produce in all of our wildest imaginations, and our greatest, most innovative, productive, and well-executed machinations will EVER be as remotely impressive as Nature at its simplest, in its most mundane. If this is true then all of the injuries we suffer under the yoke of cruel civilization are easily healed and forgotten once we close our eyes to the yoke. What could be more hopeful than that?

I am deeply indebted to the owners of these dogs for giving me the opportunity to realize this, and to Lani for revealing this most obvious but important secret. I have loved many animals before this, but I don’t know if I’ve ever understood any as I did these two hellions, and I’m deeply grateful for it.

Thanks, Lani. Thanks Whiskey.

What a DAWG!

Wonderdogs Part 3: Revenge of the Canine Gods

In our last episode:

The time had come, however, to say goodbye and to move on to what would be, in many ways, our greatest challenge: taking care of two poodles. Yes, we’re cat people but we’re open to dogs, too, mostly. The more they bark, or bite, or don’t listen, or fuc_everything up the less so, but I believe I can speak for all of the members of our family when I say that poodles are the absolute dregs, not only of the canine world but also of the entire animal kingdom.

Some time ago I was delivering drinks, and one of my customers was an elderly woman who possessed four or five of these yipping, prancing, bouncing bundles of knotted, putrid-smelling hair. Before she paid for her drinks the universally followed procedure in her house was to give all of the doggies a treat. Like, ME! Me give poodles treats! When I found it difficult enough not to stomp on them and just get it over with. I said no, and I told her I had never liked poodles and wasn’t interested in rewarding them for being an annoying race of dogs. To which she replied that they were also God’s creatures. To which I laughed and said they were as much God’s creatures as a Ford Pinto; they’ve been bred way the hell out of Nature’s Plan a long time ago.

So, OK these Australian poodles were definitely dealt a crappy hand this time.

We slid down to the coast on an asphalt slide and took our positions in a fine house a mere 5-20 minute walk to the mighty Pacific, depending on whether the dogs were with us or not.

Missy was a twelve-year old poodle with luxurious and heinous-smelling black fur, and Roxy, also a poodle, was also twelve and her grimy-white fur had a fine brownish-purple tinge (naturally?!) toward the ends of her limbs. She took one look at us when we walked in the door and gave us a look that said, “we won’t ever be friends”- perhaps assuming that we wanted that – and disappeared under a bed at the back of the house.

Maybe she had seen me give her the selfsame look upon meeting her..

Something funny happened on day two or three, however. Roxy came out from her hiding place and decided to give us a chance. She also gave us several other looks which disturbed me; whenever we got close she looked as if she was expecting to get hit or bawled out. I didn’t like how things stood with the dogs and felt sympathy towards them – that’s saying a lot considering our preformed opinions toward their race.

We didn’t like how scared Roxy seemed to be, and we, as fitness trainers, felt especially uncomfortable with the information we received from the owners, that the dogs basically didn’t need to be walked. Yes, they were old. And just about totally stone deaf. And yes, neither was fit or able to move well, Roxy especially was overweight and couldn’t hang with Missy anywhere. Like many extremely overweight creatures on this Earth, she would lean way over to port or starboard to enable a paw to drag itself forward over the other side, because she just wasn’t able to pick ’em up and lay ’em down like you should.

We decided to take them for walks, and I started the next morning taking them for a stroll up the street and back – maybe a football field all told – and they enjoyed it. They didn’t enjoy it half as much as what happened the next day, however.

The next morning I took both of them down to the beach. Like, all the way down. It took hours. Once there, they both had a tough time getting across the dry sand, especially Roxy, but once down by the water … WOW! I don’t know the last time I’ve seen such pure, unfiltered, honest joy. I also don’t know if the dogs had ever seen the beach before, but, judging from their reaction, probably not.

Missy hopped around, seemingly unimpeded by whatever age or ? – induced injuries or restrictions she had. When I looked at Roxy, OK, my steely heart turned a little molten and went soft.. MAYBE! She was chirping! She couldn’t stop! God knows why, she was just basically standing there; but she could not stop herself: Yip! Yip! Yip! she went. I didn’t want to leave. I even baby-jogged a few feet in both directions and they both baby-jogged with me, Roxy chirping the whole time.

Can’t help including this here: GET UP AND EXERCISE!! It’s not just friendly advice but a heartfelt plea. Your body needs it! Your body wants it!! It’s the most natural thing in the world, except maybe sex and breast feeding, and if you don’t give your body the opportunity to exercise you’re not only doing it a great disservice, your body will sooner or later take active steps to wreak its revenge. So..

All in all we were in the house for two weeks or so, and most of the time it was a chore taking care of both of them: their bladders were weak and they couldn’t maneuver themselves up and down the back steps well to relieve themselves on the back lawn, so they let it loose on the back porch. Guess who got to clean that up?

But this joy that Roxy showed on that special day is something I’ll never forget. We would sit on the beach on subsequent evenings, all together, and Roxy would cuddle up real close to my leg. Even Missy joined in the act. They loved the beach. They loved us. They loved being alive. Neither seemed able to comprehend the luck they had at being “stuck” with us.

It was the reason we became fitness trainers in the first place: to unlock that same joy in people by showing them how rewarding exercise could be. By showing them a direction to go that was truly worth going in. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a reaction so well-expressed as Roxy’s on that day. And although my opinions about poodles hasn’t softened all that much since our adventures with Roxy and Missy, I haven’t been that well-rewarded by anyone, for anything, in a long time. And that’s definitely worth something..