Monthly Archives: December 2009

Happier News

Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum* . . . and so does the staff at my veterinarian’s office, which doubles as a local animal shelter. And so Jasper, a stray Schnoodle (schnauzer/poodle mix), has come to live with us. He’s about Violet’s size, less than 2 years old, playful as all get-out, and cute as…well, if you genetically engineered a dog for ultimate cuteness, you’d get Jasper. He’s also impeccably house-trained and crate-trained, understands the word “no,”** and is going back to the vet Friday to have a few extra ounces of manhood removed.  He loves long walks and squeaky toys and tennis balls and old, knotted socks.  And being petted, during which he absolutely melts into your lap.  Make no mistake, though, Jasper is a terrier to the bone — feisty! Violet, who is much less stressed lately, tolerates him and they have shared the loveseat with me on two occasions.

And here he is:

Treat? Ball? Pettings? Walk? Treat? Ball? Pettings? Walk?

Ready for my close-up

Put that camera down and play with me!

Speaking of Violet, here’s a pic of her out at my friend’s farm. Violet LOVES the farm, where she’s allowed to run off leash and herd ducks and, if she’s sneaky and no one notices, chase a cat or two. Whenever we go out there, I have to carry her to the car when we leave or she would stay.  She wants me to stay too, mind you, but she’d stay without me. It’s the farm!

Happy farm dog

And speaking of the farm, my friends adopted a goose this summer. Not just any goose, mind you, a rescued goose (the other goslings at the farm store were pecking it to death and the original rescuer, who passed the goose on to my friends, didn’t expect it to live). Her name is MJ and she has some fancy French breed name which I’m pretty sure translates as “Phyllis Diller’s wig”:

Yup, naturally curly feathers....

Trimming the clover....

Oh, and tho the farm has a flock of ducks, MJ hangs out with the dogs, even accompanying them on walks….

"Honk....I mean, ARF!"

The happy dog in the picture is Buckshot, so named because he strayed into the farmyard one long ago day full of, yes, buckshot. My friends and I are an animal-rescuing bunch.

*most dogs and cat aren’t too fond of ’em either.

**unless the cats are involved. But at least he doesn’t want to kill them, as Ricky really did.

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Godspeed, Ricky

At his favorite Storm Lake park

In the spring of ’06 I adopted a stray, a beagle-husky mix that I named Ricky. Ricky was in many ways a fabulous dog — quiet in the house, good with people including children, not food or toy aggressive, not an escape artist, and a good traveler. But over the years, he became increasingly aggressive to other dogs…to the point that many days it was like I was walking Cujo.

I thought about giving him back to the shelter about 1 1/2 years ago, but decided to try and work it out.

I tried training with a local pro, which didn’t do much. I started using an Easy Walk harness and that worked for about a year, but he got increasingly worked up and hard to control when we passed a dog on our walks…or something he even thought might be a dog up ahead — people walking a toddler or even pulling wheeled backpacks. Last month I switched to a Gentle Leader head harness and I was very careful to follow the training tape but he started lunging against it when he saw a dog, smelled a dog, or we approached a house where one of his “arch nemeses” lived — sometimes I felt like I was just sawing on his poor nose. I could only take him on a couple of different walks any more, where I knew no dogs lived.

A few weeks ago he got away from me at the park and launched himself into a big black lab that was completely minding its own business some ways away. The lab very expertly flipped Ricky over onto his back — the whole dog pack thing — but the minute he let Ricky up, Ricky went for him again.

Then I realized that my excuses  to skip our twice daily walks or take short walks (it’s getting dark, I’m tired, etc.) were really about not wanting to deal with the drama. At home, he was a Good Dog, but I had to admit I wasn’t capable of dealing with his worsening aggression. So I emailed the shelter and told them I was done and needed to return Ricky.

And they told me they (or any shelter) couldn’t take a d0g-aggressive dog because, of course, they had to put the safety of the other dogs and the workers first. They also noted that intensive anti-aggression training can be very tough on the dog, especially an older one, like Ricky. That’s when the possibility of having Ricky euthanized was first mentioned.

I called my vet, and they agreed. So after a few days of spoiling Ricky rotten, which he loved, I took him to the vet and had him put down. The office was not busy and the vet and two techs came into the room after Ricky had passed and we petted him and cried and told stories about our dogs — a little wake, really.

I told one story that involved Ricky’s big old hound-dog smile, and on the drive home, I realized something: I hadn’t seen that smile in at least 2 years. Ricky had become increasingly aggressive, but also overly-focused and tense and, well, unhappy. He was healthy, but something hadn’t been right for a long time. That moment, I knew I’d made the right decision.

So goodbye, Ricky. Author Terry Pratchett writes that a creature that is half-man, half wolf isn’t a werewolf — it’s a dog. Dogs are the animals on the planet that have most entered our lives and our hearts and while I have absolutely no idea what the afterlife is like, I’m pretty sure they are there.

Hound-dog smile

A sad milestone

When I moved in to my house 4 years ago, elderly neighbors who share one of my property lines were right there to say hello, invite me over for coffee and cake, share my problems and joys. They were like the neighborhood grandparents.

Both in their 80s. She’s pretty healthy, but Bill, he’s been ill as long as I’ve known them. A few days ago, he passed away from complications due to pneumonia. It wasn’t unexpected, but it is so sad — they were devoted.

When I went over yesterday with a cake (having adopted the Midwest habit of feeding any trauma), both sons (both adopted–this couple had SO much love to give) were there. One I know slightly, the other I’ve never met. I shared this story about Bill with them and they loved it:

Back in ’06 when I’d moved in, we were chatting over coffee. Some more terrorism had occurred somewhere, a suicide bombing, and Bill said, “I just don’t understand how these young men can believe that killing innocent people will get them 50 virgins in heaven.” We were having a serious conversation, mind you. I said, “I agree, Bill. But I think it’s 72 virgins.”
Bill took a pull on his oxygen and said, “Well, I could only take care of 50.”

Still cracks me up! Goodbye Bill, and have a rollicking time in the next life.

Levels of coatness

From ages 7 to 37 I lived in northern Nevada, where it can get damn cold, but it’s almost always sunny and the temp seldom remains really low for more than a few days at a time. Most folks who live there who are not fashionistas have one winter coat and if that coat isn’t quite warm enough for the short cold spells, well you just suck it up and wait it out.

And then I moved to the southern edge of the Great White North. I now own four coats, which I refer to by levels: level one is a pig-suede shirt-jacket, just leather and lining; level 2 is a Land’s End squall jacket, mid-thigh, hooded, lightly insulated and especially good for rainy or windy days to about 30*. Level 3 is an upper-thigh length nylon & down jacket, hooded, good down to the teens. Level 4, which I broke out today to walk Ricky (9* windchill) is nearly knee-length, made of heavy canvas, down stuffed, deep hood with faux fur trim, rated to -25*. It it’s too cold to wear level 4 (and it can be), Ricky gets no walk and sulks.

All midwesterners own levels of coatness, but never use those words because to them, it’s jsut normal — but I’ve started to change that. My friend Kathy travelled 2 hours to her folks’ house for T’gving wearing her pretty red wool pea coat, as it has been unseasonably warm (until today). Her mother commented on her new coat and Kathy said, “Oh, it’s usually colder than this — you’ve just never seen my level 2 coat.”

She received blank stares and now knows how people usually look at me.