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Conversations with Raika

Self-centered, manipulative, irritable, opinionated …is it possible to fall in love with a dog who possesses most of the worst qualities of humanity, and rather few of the best?

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About The Book

Self-centered, manipulative, irritable, opinionated …is it possible to fall in love with a dog who possesses most of the worst qualities of humanity, and rather few of the best?

I want to talk about me. Specifically, I want to talk about my Hanukkah wish list. Yes, Hanukkah. It appears that the gifts start earlier and last longer than for Christmas, so I’m signing up for that program this year. Admittedly, Hanukkah is almost over, but I’m thinking we could split the difference and start today – sort of a hybrid holiday celebration. We can call this “Chrismakkah.”

The story of Raika begins several years after she retired from a noteworthy career in the world of competitive dog sports. Now that Raika and her owner no longer spent hours a week training, playing and traveling, she was left with relatively little to do. As a result, her life transitioned from one of working to one of eating, and eat Raika did! Unfortunately, all of that eating led to a serious weight problem, and she wasn’t about to take responsibility for her mom’s guilt-driven negligence:

“While I hate to be blunt, we do need to begin with a basic understanding: It’s your fault that I got fat. …You’ve dug yourself quite a hole where my weight is concerned. Ten pounds. Wow….I say we get walking!”

In the process of losing that weight through long daily walks, we find ourselves privy to Raika thoughts on everything from the weather to human frailty to the importance of living life to the fullest.

“The fact is, I may well be on death’s door. I mean, one never knows about these things. One day, blithely stealing biscuits from the counter, and the next day, boom! Lightning strikes and we’re flattened; never to steal a biscuit again.”

While mom is initially unable to hear Raika’s thoughts, she slowly comes to appreciate life through the eyes of her elderly dog. She also comes to accept that time is short.

“Raika, last night I had a dream. In my dream, you were trying to talk to me….it was so clear what you were trying to say…No amount of walking, or changing of diets, or listening…could make you young again….You wanted me to let you go…I know that your time will come. It is inevitable.”

And so begins the second part of the story as the pair begin to engage in dialogue. Raika presents her perspective on the irrational nature of human behavior and emotion with a blunt matter of factness that startles…and then thoroughly charms, with her sense of humor and keen awareness of the human condition.

Raika: Are you feeling better from your worry?

Mom: Absolutely!

Raika: Do you find it at all ironic that I am asking if you’re feeling better and I’m the one that missed breakfast? You know, if you get that worked up over a missed meal, what’s your plan for when I’m really struggling? Are you going to have any worry left for those times?

The reader is held with a deep and growing affection for the pair, even as the inevitable effects of aging take their toll and we work our way closer to the end of Raika’s life. The book wraps up as Raika speaks one last time in her distinctly funny and compelling way, at which point we learn that she has agreed to an enormous sacrifice in order to fulfill a promise made when she was alive.

Raika’s final words to her mom leave the reader with a sense that she has not passed on at all and that indeed, all living creatures stay with us forever.

Here we have a uniquely memorable story that leaves the reader with a sense of acceptance and perspective on the topics of life, aging, and death. In a candid and heart-wrenchingly beautiful way, a reader can find comfort and wisdom in the face of deep loss and grief, laughing through their tears all the way to the end.

The social media world has fallen in love with her. The wider world will fall in love with her as well.

When You preorder now you get a free bookmark, signed by Denise (while supplies last)! 

Sample Chapter

Chapter 21

The Great Bedtime Debacle

Mom & Raika

Raika, why are you following me around the house? Do you really think that I cannot manage a trip to the kitchen and back without supervision?

One can never be too careful! What if you opened the refrigerator door and accidentally hit yourself on the head? Or what if the knife slipped and you sliced open your hand while you were trying to cut a piece of cheese for a sandwich?

Are either of those scenarios likely?

I’ve noticed that you’re not very good with safety details.

Okay, so that explains the kitchen. Why do you follow me into the bathroom? Do you think there is some particular danger in there, as well?

Are you crazy?! The bathroom is extremely dangerous! Did you know that the bathroom is the most common place for a person to have a heart attack?

I did not know that.

Totally true. And if you were to have a heart attack and die because nobody knew you were there, I would never forgive myself.

Well, that’s kind of sweet, Raika. Thank you for that.

It’s possible there is some self-interest involved, but sure, let’s go with it and say it’s 100% altruistic.

Not everything has to be said out loud, right?

That’s what I was thinking, too. I’ve always liked your expression, “Not every thought that enters your head needs to come out of your mouth.”

I try to remember that one. Still a work in progress.

That’s okay. I struggle with that one too, but I am learning to do better. Now that I think about it, isn’t there some research that says that dogs learn better when they’ve had a snack?

Yes, I think there is.

I am having a thought right now, but nothing’s coming out of my mouth. What might we do to enhance my learning?

Why don’t we go to the kitchen and grab a cookie for you.

Wow, it worked! Maybe I can keep more thoughts inside my head than I knew.

Always worth a shot… Ouch! That was my finger!

Sorry, sorry, sorry! I really didn’t see your finger. I thought that was the cookie.

No, that was most certainly not the cookie. That was my finger. Owie. I don’t think you’ve done that since you were a puppy.

It was definitely an accident. However, since we’re discussing it, where did the cookie go? You don’t want it left on the floor, do you?

It’s right here. Where I dropped it when I jerked my hand back.

Where?

Here!

Mom, that’s not a cookie; that’s simply a vague smell of deliciousness somewhere in the vicinity. I can’t see it!

It’s kind of small. Actually, it’s one of Brito’s cookies.

That’s a Brito cookie? I think this is the first time in my life that I’ve felt sincerely sorry for the little white dog.

You’re making me feel worse than I already do. He’s a little chunky right now. We’re trying to cut back before he ends up on a full-on diet like you went through.

Is that really the best you can do for him?

I think so.

Well, rather than dwelling on chunky Brito’s misfortunes, could we just have some kind of agreement that you won’t try to feed me his treats? Because honestly, Mom, even when my eyes were really good, I’m not sure I could’ve found a treat like that, and after I ate it, I’d be wondering whether I ate anything or not. I mean, the more I think about it, the less I think this is a function of my eyesight. And seeing as I was getting that snack so that I could practice keeping some of my thoughts in, I think you need to do a little better.

I’ll make sure we use more substantial offerings in the future. Though, Raika? I hate to break it to you, but that mistake would not have happened when you were younger. You would have seen that treat and been very careful about my finger – this shark thing you’re doing around food is new. By the way, I’ve noticed that the unfettered flow of thoughts has re-emerged.

First, I’d like to point out that I didn’t actually eat your finger, which means I’m still looking for that morsel. I’d also like to suggest that holding in thoughts that could lead to my demise via starvation are not suitable for niceties like staying silent. When it’s serious, I have an obligation to speak up, if only to ensure my survival. Could I have another, larger, dog treat, please?

Mom & Raika

Raika, I have some bad news.

I’m sorry to hear that. But now that we’ve started our walk, how about if we wait until we get back home before we start to stew in negativity?

I need to tell you now because it affects you.

How is that?

I forgot your cookies.

What do you mean?

Well, Raika, you pushed me so hard to get going on our walk that I just forgot them.

So if I’m hearing you correctly, it’s my fault that you forgot the snacks? Wow, that’s some first-class rationalization right there. Classic. Regardless, let’s double-check. Both pockets in front?

Raika, really – there are none.

Back pockets?

Same.

How about the back left side. Did you reach all the way to the bottom? The smaller pieces sometimes get jammed down there.

I can look, Raika, but without a good dose of magic, there just aren’t any treats in my pockets.

Is there someone we can call? Dad, maybe? It’s about time we found a use for that cell phone that benefits me. This is important.

I think we’ll have to do without.

Without?

Yes, Raika. Without.

Well then, there is something that you need to know as well.

What’s that?

Be prepared to watch me like a hawk; if I have to turn wild to survive, I’ll take any opportunities that come my way.

Turn wild to survive? Is that not perhaps a bit dramatic?

Let’s see what you say when I find that deer carcass that has been aging for over two months now.

That is completely gone, Raika. They took it away a long time ago.

Okay.

What do you mean, “Okay”?

Just what I said. Okay. We’ll go past the deer carcass spot and there won’t be anything there, so nothing to worry about when I head in that direction. And come back chewing.

Raika, do you remember the time you got into the kitchen trash and you ended up with your mouth burning something terrible?

Yes, it was terrible! But what has that got to do with today’s tragedy?

Well, do you remember that I suggested that the entire misfortune could have been avoided if you would stop taking things out of the kitchen trash – something I had specifically taught you not to do to avoid such a possibility from occurring?

Yes, I remember. Why?

I was going to ask you if you’d learned anything from that event – taking things that I told you not to take.

I was just about to ask you the same thing! It’s your responsibility to make sure that big chunks of wasabi and ginger don’t end up in the trash amongst the good food!

It was my understanding that things in the wastepaper basket are for you to shred, and things in the kitchen trash are really trash. I had no idea that I was responsible for preventing you from getting into the kitchen trash so as to avoid another incident, so I told you not to do it anymore. And now, here I am telling you not to eat dead and rotting things on the road because you’ll be sorry, just like you were when you ended up with a mouthful of wasabi and ginger from the trash.

Here we go, blaming the victim again. Don’t leave the trash out for me to eat! And if you really don’t think I should supplement my diet with whatever I might find, then don’t leave the house without my cookies!

We never even brought cookies on your walks until we went out with Brito and you saw that he got cookies on his walks. As I recall, you managed just fine.

And I am forever grateful to the little white guy for that, even as I pity him the crumbs he accepts as having actual food value.

Raika & Mom

I just want you to know that I will remember this as The Great Bedtime Debacle of 2018.

Raika, wouldn’t a debacle be something more severe than running low on bedtime snacks?

Running low? It’s always ten! We count them together: One for me. Two for me. Three for me. One for Lyra. And a crumb for Brito. Then we continue on. Four for me, five for me, and so on. It’s always that way! Plus, you didn’t remember the most basic part of the routine. You didn’t even give me even one!

I know, Raika. I forgot. I went to bed.

Well, I saved us there and got you right up. I can’t sleep without a snack – I need it or I feel sick. Bedtime is my hungry time!

That’s why I got up. I felt bad that I forgot, and frankly, it was clear that no one was going to get any sleep if you didn’t get your snack. I just don’t believe that five or ten snacks makes that much of a difference.

If your paycheck came back cut in half, due to no fault of your own, would you be talking about “not much” of a difference? Yeah, what’s one or five or ten when it comes to dollars? And about those snacks, you could have made more. Or called a friend to make them. I bet your friends would have understood the emergency right away and brought them over. They know about emergencies. It’s okay to call friends at night when it’s an emergency.

Made them in the middle of the night? You’re right – you would’ve had better luck getting one of my friends to do it than me. I’m amazed I even managed to get out of bed to find you the first five snacks, which is when I discovered we had run out. Couldn’t you be grateful for the five?

There’s no chance I could have had a restful night’s sleep after that. I couldn’t even count snacks in my head to help me sleep, because every time I got to three or four, I would start to get upset – we all know what should happen after five! But there was no six. There was no sixth snack!

I’ll make you a new batch of snacks later today – with peanut butter and cream and other things, too. And, just to show that I am contrite, I will give you extra tonight. Fifteen. Would you like fifteen snack bites?

I would. But now I’m tired. Been up all night over the injustice of this.

How about if I give you an afternoon snack right now – a bonus!

Closer to forgiveness, but afternoon is not my hungry time unless I’m scavenging on a walk. What are you doing right now? Maybe you could find me something for a morning snack?

I’m a little surprised you want a morning snack. You haven’t been eating particularly well in the mornings. Actually, I was just about to go shopping online. Should we look for a good morning snack?

What are you looking for online? Something for me?

A dog bed for Brito. He keeps trying to sleep in a storage container in my closet. I think he wants a bed that is more enclosed like a nest.

That sounds like something he would enjoy. So what are you buying for me?

Honestly, I didn’t think you needed anything, but now I’m getting a little queasy at the thought of walking away from this computer without something in the shopping cart for you.

Need? Are you serious? What has need got to do with it? My days on this earth are numbered, you know.

Everyone’s days on this earth are numbered.

Well, mine are more numbered than yours. So numbered, in fact, that you should buy me something.

Like what?

A new dog bed!

You already have one in every room of the house.

Hmm. How about some special treats? We could do the automatic renewal thing – you know, where they just keep sending more whether you remember or not? Maybe if we bought a sizable backup supply we wouldn’t have any more bedtime debacles! Oh, look here! They have duck and cherry treats! Now what are the odds of that?

That is amazing. So you’re not going to be happy with the packing paper from Brito’s new dog bed and my homemade morsels?

Nope. I’ll take the duck and cherry treats, please. Are you getting the express delivery? My days are numbered you know.

Yeah, you already told me. But no, we are not getting the express delivery service.

I will endeavor to stay alive until the delivery arrives.

How thoughtful of you. And Raika? When those treats arrive, I hope you eat them!

Why wouldn’t I? I’ve always had a soft spot for duck and cherry. Now I have something to look forward to!

Just remember that when they show up. Lately it seems that some days your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

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Conversations with Raika

Upcoming book!

Self-centered, manipulative, irritable, opinionated …is it possible to fall in love with a dog who possesses most of the worst qualities of humanity, and rather few of the best?