How to Build a Heart Fire

Photo by Lisa Baechtle

The sky darkened from dusk to inky blue. Disco the sweet black pup became an exhausted brat jumping on my old dog Willow, biting at the leash when she went out for a last pee, mad with frantic energy.

I knew the antidote.

I picked up her squirmy body, held her close, lay on the couch, and covered us with a red yak hair blanket. Even the color of the blanket was warm. I held a rope toy in one hand so Disco could chew and release the last tension from her day of playing, training, and learning limits. She chomped for a few seconds before relaxing against my beating heart.

photo by Lisa Baechtle

She shifted and squirmed until every inch of her belly pressed into my body and sighed again with a huffing exhalation. We both sighed, resting in the warmth of our heart fire.

After Disco settled, my old girl Willow joined us in her preferred spot on the floor. I held one hand on Willow’s back and the other on the pup. We shared a three animal sigh after another day of learning to live together.

This little package of wild energy was born in Florida in the heat of August. A Leo girl brought north in October by the SPCA, she shivers in the cold. Since it will only get colder, I’ll keep feeding our inner fire along with teaching her to wear a sweater.

Disco with her littermates at 6 weeks old

Our heart connection began during her first week home when she slept in my bed. Under the covers. She pushed her body against my heart, tucked her nose under my chin, and radiated heat like a hot water bottle as I became surrogate for the touch and sounds of her five littermates and before that her mom.

“That’s not a good idea,” my vet said. “When she’s older it’s OK, but she needs to get used to a crate and not expect your body will always be there. You’ll make her too dependent.” I knew she was right, but I dreaded a howling pup and a night without sleep.

To ease the transition, I lay on the couch with her as she relaxed into the night while I watched the apricot-cherry remnants of sunset along the western horizon. I gently carried the sleepy pup upstairs as Vic and I once carried our baby boys. Instead of a crib, I slid her into her crate with a soft bed and a chew toy. That first night, she whimpered a few times. I put my fingers in the crate. She nibbled and licked before she quieted.

Since then, Disco the dog who dances all day follows me upstairs, sighs, and falls asleep after a few minutes of cuddling. Willow snores on her favorite cushion on the other side of my bed. A warm ember glows in my chest as I drift off to sleep.


Disco in her sweater

It isn’t all sunshine living with a young pup, but her manners are improving and she doesn’t protest about being put in a crate when she’s in a maniac mood. My house looks like a dog kennel with fences, crates, and gates. Lisa Baechtle who’s staying here helps more than I can say with knowledgeable advice, sweetness, puppy care, and special attention for Willow. I take Disco to excellent weekly training classes and we practice each day. When I bring up “problems” like pulling on the leash when she’s excited, our trainer Timm Conn smiles and says, “She’s young. It takes a few years to train a dog.”

What hard task have you taken on that didn’t seem rational, wise, or practical–and yet you needed to do it? For another post about my long love affair with dogs, see How My Dog Taught Me the Power of Ritual. For my first post about Disco, see Inspired by Artemis, Lured by Joy. I wish you a Blessed Winter Solstice and a warm hearth and heart.

  1. What a beautiful, inspiring post! This poet almost fainted with delight as she read your lyrical words “resting in the warmth of our heart fire” oh, Elaine, some seriously poetic swooning going on here! I found my eyes racing ahead of me wanting to read the next line until I reached those “apricot-cherry remnants of sunset” and so the swooning continued! By now a warm ember in my soul was glowing!

    Hmm, puppy training is something I haven’t experienced (yet!) in my life and I love your comparison to carrying a babe-in-arms and a puppy upstairs to bed. Aww! Disco is so cute and I love that picture of her on FB with her snowy nose and all the gorgeous photos you’ve included here! There may be room for a puppy in our lives one day but not until we both finish work I feel, so we’re around more.

    Writing my “Poetry of the Year” series often felt like a hard task this year mainly due to giving myself such a strict deadline (1st of each month) which became difficult during busy times. And we’ve had a lot of rain so a lot “wet walks” occurred … nonetheless, the rewards have been infinite and I feel like I’ve witnessed something glorious! Warm & wild blessings to you, my Three Wise Queens, Deborah.

    • Yes to poetic swooning. I love when you pull out poetic lines–and “underline” them for me. Puppy training is a big and constant job. Part of me feels like this is way too much, but at the moment she’s sleeping on a dog bed next to my desk after a morning of eating, playing, peeing, and all the rest. Everything is about getting her attention. She picks up the basics easily, but gets distracted by anything, so my training job is to get her to more new places so she can learn to pay attention to me.

      My heart was sure about this puppy and sometimes I wonder what I’ve done to the quiet life I shared with Willow. Disco stirs things up, but she’s sweet, soft-mouthed, and cuddly–and that makes up for the time-eating inconvenience. You’re wise to delay raising a pup until you aren’t working–they don’t like being alone. It’s a full time job learning to communicate with another species. (I’m talking this over with Artemis and Hecate who know about dogs.) Everything worth doing has hard parts–in my experience.

      Your poems nurtured me all year. Thank you, and blessed Winter Solstice to you.

  2. Elaine,

    I felt my mind and heart slow down as I read this. I love your writing. I didn’t know about Disco but so glad I do now. And glad Willow is still around to give you so much love.



    • Thank you, Kathleen. I needed a slow-down and let things go experience. My house is a kennel. Disco came to live with me a few months ago. I fell in love with her right away, but raising a pup is a full-time job. A friend who has always had dogs is staying here and that helps with the in and out and gives me a little freedom and support. Willow shares her love and plays with the pup for hours–but in the evening, Willow disappears to sleep upstairs next to my bed. I hear her saying, “I’m off duty now.” Congratulations to you as you prepare a new book, another work of love. Also thanks for sharing my post.

  3. Oh Elaine, Disco is adorable and such an apt name for a fidgety dog, lol. She’s lucky to have you and Willow. And I high five you on starting over with a new young pup. Takes a lot of energy LOL. Enjoy your newest addition. 🙂 x

    • We went through many names looking for the right one. It took two weeks for Disco to pop into my head. She’s calm in many ways, but unfocused–like any baby. Yes, it takes a lot of energy and problem solving, but my heart was clear about this when a friend sent a video of the pups. I needed that joy. I made sure my sons were on board to adopt her if I reach a point where I can’t take care of her properly. So far, she’s keeping me young. Thanks for your kindness.

  4. I have a year old corgi puppy in my home now. There are days I regret but most days we love!

    • Oh, I get the regret part, Anne. Yesterday I left the little one at an excellent day care and it was too much for her–and so she responded with frantic energy and peeing on the floor at home even though I thought she was house-trained. I’ll talk with the day care people about going to a half day or just a few hours to ease her in. They have rules of bring by 9 am and don’t pick up until 4:30, so either they’ll break their rules for me or I’ll wait a few months to try again. The magic of allowing her to lie on top or next to me worked again and she calmed down. It never fails.

  5. Wishing you and your fur babies a cozy and peaceful holiday season

    • Cozy! Yes, please. There’s lots of firewood on the porch and the weather flips like a Cody (I looked the move up). Willow flips, too.

  6. Kudos to you, Elaine, for taking on Disco–a heart-warming project!

  7. You are the BEST mom an energetic “child” like Disco could have. That pooch (and Willow, still) warms the cockles of your heart and inspires your readers too. Yes, I love your writing style, and when I click on your posts, I know I’m in for a visual and verbal treat.

    Such a busy day; I wish I had time to linger!

    Thank for building a fire in my virtual hearth and heart!

    • I had heavier pieces to share but thought they could wait. This pup fills a hole in my life, although I had forgotten how demanding it is to raise a puppy–and I was 10 years younger the last time I did it. I’m getting help from a friend and my son says he’ll do more. She needs loud noises and music, because I live in a quiet household. When I turn the speaker on to listen to something, she barks like there’s an intruder in the house. So I have to listen to more things which probably isn’t a bad. Sign. Puppy puts me behind on many things such as commenting of other people’s blogs in a timely way. Tomorrow is my catch-up day. Sending you love as you bask in FL warmth.

  8. Elaine, I was struck by the correspondence between puppies and two-year-old children when I read this post. I have more experience with the latter than the former, but your description of cuddling under the red blanket reminded me of the latest thinking in parenting advice. Time IN. Not time OUT.

    I love the connection you make between how you and Vic carried your boys to how you now carry Disco. Beautiful.

    • Beautiful and thank you, Shirley. The book I’m using for training and problem solving suggests we raise puppies just like we would a human child–with the addition of a crate for resting safely when the owner is in the shower or at the grocery store. Disco likes her crate and she’s the most affectionate dog I’ve ever had. When I leave her, my older dog Willow is always here. The idea is Love as the relationship glue–all training is a game and main thing is to teach is to focus on me and pay attention to gestures and a few words. It takes time–just like every other worthwhile thing.

  9. Puppies are so cute, but so much work. But I’ve found it is well worth all the effort. My ten-year old girl-dog has become my best friend. A great companion accompanying me on hikes and at foodies get-togethers. Whatever I’m doing, she is right by my side. And if I do leave her, the greeting I get upon the return melts my heart. When you talk about long love affairs with dogs, I know what you mean.

    • Yes, so much work and such big rewards. I’m glad I can do this–but didn’t remember how big the job is. I want Disco to be able to go any place with me, but have to wait until she’s a little older and can settle in new places. My son’s assignment is to take her to Two Goats or the Grist Mill on Seneca Lake where dogs hang around with their owners and there are many people and loud musi. We’ll get there.

  10. VERY dangerous for me to reading this delightful blog about Disco & Willow, Elaine! I miss my Sadie SOOOO much and your heartfelt blog is making me pine for a new pup 🙂

    • I’ve had dogs since I was 4 with a break in college years, but as soon as Vic and I bought this house, we got a Lab. And here I am. Planted I’m not sure that’s true for you. I look at your adventures with longing, but it’s too stressful for me to travel because of my hearing–so I keep the adventures close to home now or seeing family or close friends. I introduced Disco to daycare this week and she was overwhelmed. I’ll try again in January.

  11. Loved your description of puppy love! My 10 1/2 mo old standard poodle is residing at my side as I write this post. She has been a boon to my heart, a joy to one of my older dogs, and a brat to the other, We are now residing in peace, joy, and play. She loves doggie school and is now shining in advanced novice…except she won’t go down at a distance. We’re working on it with my older dogs trying to set a good example for her! It’s hard to train a pup in the house on cold days without the other girls joining in!

    • I’m laughing, Marianna. Thank you. As Disco and I do training, Willow (10 year old Lab) follows us around to get treats, too. It’s mostly peaceful between them, although the pup is sometimes a little too much in Willow’s face. Willow is a pacifist, so she’s a little confused when I praise her for saying No to the pup. My son will be here with 3 dogs in 10 days and Disco will learn she’s not top dog. They’ll figure it out and get along fine. Willow already loves my son’s dogs, so Disco will have to figure out how not to be too much of a pest. At 4 months, Disco do many basic things, but the big deal is to get and keep her attention. She’s an unfocused pup, so we’re working on wait and stay at every opportunity.

  12. I also quieted down reading your lovely post Elaine! Yes, Disco is much like a child needing attention but since you’re a wonderful mother, you know that you must give it even if at the end of your tether. And Willow needs your attention too.

    Your beating heart so close to Disco’s and the vibrations of that are pure magic. I wonder if there’s a puppy pillow that plays a beating heart that she could use as a placebo? Don’t ask me where that thought came from.

    • Shhhh… Don’t tell anyone, Susan, but lying heart to heart is as helpful to me as it is to Disco. And when she isn’t touching me, she’s lying next to Willow–or chewing on her ears. I’m sure there’s a placebo out there and if there isn’t, there should be. It would have to withstand heavy chewing. Disco prefers toys that squeak when she chomps. I imagine you in warm climes. I’m so behind on everything, but hope to catch up on reading blogs this coming weekend, along with sending off a few gifts.

  13. Oh, Elaine, you brought so much delight into my world with this post. Although I am not a poet, my being resonated with Deborah’s words: “This poet almost fainted with delight as she read your lyrical words “resting in the warmth of our heart fire” oh, Elaine, some seriously poetic swooning going on here! I found my eyes racing ahead of me wanting to read the next line until I reached those “apricot-cherry remnants of sunset” and so the swooning continued! By now a warm ember in my soul was glowing!”

    And I love what you wrote to Susan: “lying heart to heart is as helpful to me as it is to Disco.” My cat, Bean (that my daughter brought back from India!), lies on my chest as I am waking up each morning, and sometimes it feels as though I can’t distinguish my heart pulsating from his purring. It feels especially lovely because my health condition involves tachycardia, and I am now able, sometimes, to feel it as my body purring.

    In answer to the question you posed to your readers, I definitely think of having children as the least rational decision I have ever made, which also felt compelling–and one that has taught me more than anything else has about the universal language of the heart.

    • We had 5 family dogs for Solstice-Christmas–my two, plus my NC son’s three rescues of various ages. A Chihuahua male who can be grumpy and definitely didn’t go for the big puppy who wanted to chase and play, an old girl who is 14, and a 2 year old who weighs over 100 lbs but otherwise looks a lot like my pup Disco. Disco was in ecstasy partying and playing with the biggest dog, who is a gentle soul, and by Christmas Eve, the high point of my canine experience was lying on the couch in a drowsy haze with LilBit the Chihuahua lying on my heart and Disco’s head and upper body on my belly. My son took a photo. That’s the healing image I’ll remember when I think of the 2019 holiday pause. Tachycardia must be hard to endure. I’m so sorry you live with this which must feel so disruptive, but what could be better than a purring cat over the heart? And all the way from India? What a wonderful way to transform the physical heart experience into a purring cat.

      I’d have to agree that even wilder than getting a puppy was getting pregnant. We had no idea what we were in for, but we never doubted. I hadn’t longed for children and then twice in my 20s, it seemed the most important thing in the world. My two sons were the result–and we held them over our hearts the same way we hold a puppy or cat. Blessed New Year to you, your body, and your family.

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