Keishísh and Vivian Mork Yéilk’ share a nose-to-nose moment. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Mork Yéilk’)

Keishísh and Vivian Mork Yéilk’ share a nose-to-nose moment. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Mork Yéilk’)

Planet Alaska: Dog lessons from 2020

They took each new change as an adventure. Be like dogs.

By Vivian Mork Yéilk’

For the Capital City Weekly

As I reflect back on 2020, I realize my dogs contributed to the best moments of the year. They carried me through hard times. Like many of you, I spent more time with my pets because we were sheltered in place, or social distancing from humans and working from home. My two dogs, Gomer Pyle and Keishísh, are aging fast and I found myself looking back at the life we’ve had together. I’m a better person because these beings are in my life.

1. Naps are awesome. Sometimes you have to give yourself a break. Take time to rejuvenate even for just 20 minutes or even an hour. Make giving yourself some time a daily practice. My old dogs are the king and queen of napping.

2. Treats are important. My dogs’ preferences for treats has changed this last year and mine have too. Maybe it’s because I’m aging along with my dogs but what I’ve learned is it’s important to have cake for dinner with no shame.

3. Staying at home doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Keishísh and Gomer are used to one of us being at home. They couldn’t handle going back to a life where we’re gone for 8-10 hours a day and five days a week. My dogs love it. We go on more walks around the neighborhood and we get more treats. Staying home, this past year, also meant we were staying alive and keeping others alive. My dogs helped us do that.

4. Make the best of a bad or difficult situation. Keishísh and Gomer have learned to be adaptable. They’ve lived all over Alaska and briefly in New Mexico. They’ve lived in big houses with big yards, tiny houses with no yard, and even a boat. They took each new change as an adventure. Be like dogs.

Keishísh smiles while Gomer Pyle remains stoic. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Mork Yéilk’)

Keishísh smiles while Gomer Pyle remains stoic. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Mork Yéilk’)

5. Focus on the positive. Positive reinforcement is a great way to train dogs. Dogs are constantly in the present and are motivated by positive action. My dogs remind me to stay in the present and be mindful. We can train ourselves to focus on the positive. Though, I’ll admit, sometimes I failed this past year, I tried to be mindful.

[Stay out of the doghouse: It’s time to register pets]

6. Walk more. It’s important to get out of the house and walk. Move your body. If my dogs are getting their daily walks all of our lives are better. This rainy summer was tough but we still managed to get out. If you’ve been staying home too much, challenge yourself to get out and take a short walk. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the simple things along the way too. My dogs enjoy squirrels and so do I.

7. When life is hard it’s OK to be unproductive. Sometimes my old dogs tell me, no long walks today. Sometimes they need to lie down and take it easy and so do we. Sometimes we don’t need a nap, but we just need to lie on the couch and read a book or binge watch T.V. It’s okay to not be productive.

8. Family doesn’t have to be by blood. Keishísh and Gomer are some of my favorite beings on the planet. We have family we are born into and we have family we choose. It took work to maintain relationships during this past year and I figured out which relationships were most important. Dogs are a part of our families.

9. Express gratitude. Dogs reminds us to express gratitude. All it takes is a simple touch. Sometimes we need to tell this to the world. There are so many ways to express gratitude. I’m grateful for dogs and I’m grateful for you, Dear Reader.

10. Give a good greeting. When loved ones come home, greet them with happiness. I trained my dogs not to jump on people, but they still love to greet. They wag and wiggle and bark. Making people feel welcome is an important skill for dogs and for humans. Even if we had to wave or give air hugs from a distance or text from driveways, this past year, it was important to acknowledge people who are going through the same things we are.

11. Drink lots of water. Our dogs know how important water is. Keishísh, my husky, picks up her empty bowl and smacks it on the ground to remind me she needs more water. Water is life. It is important for all of us. Drink up!

12. Balance: Allow yourself to feel the sad things but be ready to embrace the good when it comes along too. My dogs taught me it’s okay to be sad. And like me, sometimes the dog just wants to be left alone for a bit. They let me pet them when I’m sad and let me just be sad. And when I was having a good day, my dogs were ready to celebrate that too.

13. Explore the world around you. Dogs love to explore. Take great interest in the world you are directly immersed in. Learn new flavors, new scents, new experiences, and new people. The one thing I take away from this year is that learning kept me going. Loving kept me going. Exploring kept me going.

Keishísh, Vivian Mork Yéilk’ and Gomer enjoy some time in the park. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Mork Yéilk’)

Keishísh, Vivian Mork Yéilk’ and Gomer enjoy some time in the park. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Mork Yéilk’)

14. Take a lot of photos. I look at my old dogs and realize I don’t have enough photos of them when they were young. I definitely don’t have enough pictures of us together. So take more photos this coming year. We all love to share pet photos; that’s the best thing we have in common. During the pandemic some of us have gotten new pets. Our common love for animals has the potential to bring us together since we’ve been apart so long.

[Planet Alaska: It takes a planet]

15. Make the time. You’ll wish you had made the time if you don’t. Take extra car rides, more walks, and longer snuggles. Dogs want your gift of time and so do your fellow humans and remember that dog years go by fast and so do human years.

16. Wag your tail. Show others you’re happy when you’re happy. Happiness is contagious. Show them you love them. My dog Gomer wags his back end so much it looks like he’s dancing. When I speak his command in the Tlingit language, asking him to dance, he does a prancing dance. It’s the cutest thing! He’s expressing happiness. During this past year we humans held “I love you” signs in front of our elders’ homes, and drove past a birthday child’s house with balloons and honking our horns. We held Zoom parties. We texted dancing dog gifs.

17. Love because you can. Loving my dogs taught me a different kind of unconditional love. Some cultures have numerous words for the expression of love. No matter how you define love, choose it as often as possible. The world can use more love. Love like Gomer and Keishísh because you can.

18. Don’t judge anyone on appearance. My dog, Gomer, was once owned by a salty Alaskan sourdough fisherman. Now, Gomer absolutely loves old fishermen. When we lived on our boat, Gomer was the hit of the harbor. He could melt the heart of the grumbliest Alaskan sourdough, heading up the dock to shower the stink off after returning from a skunked two-week salmon opening on the Fairweather Grounds. Gomer doesn’t judge. This past year I tried to be more like Gomer.

19. The little things in life are important. The treats, the naps, the snuggles, the walks, swimming in the ocean and rivers, and meeting new people are all a part of the little things that add up to a life well-lived. Well-lived means being able to enjoy the small moments. This past year has given me that gift.

20. Life is short, enjoy it.

• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska publishes every other week in the Capital City Weekly.

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