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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

They've Got Paws and They Know How to Use Them!

Dakota’s paws are needly when his claws are retracted. Singer’s are sledgehammery blunt and hurt in a different way. Both know how to use their paws to get what they want.

When I grab Dakota in the hallway before going to bed at night, he’ll claw my back when he doesn’t want to go with me. It’s a power play—he wants to sleep in our bed, but only when he’s ready, not when I choose. He likes to make a nest between my legs, which means I wake up in the middle of the night as he’s trying to fashion his comfy little spot, using his claws to make me move. He doesn’t know how much this hurts!

Singer will use her paddle-paws to thunk my face when she wants me to get out of bed. Her paws feel like heavy branches on my face, scratchy and hard. You can’t ignore her wants, even if you tried. And she hits me while I’m asleep so I can’t even dodge her sledgehammers. I can’t think of a way to avoid this behavior, she’s got me over a barrel on this one. She doesn’t know how much this hurts!

Singer is also quite dexterous with her paws. She will counter cruise by jumping up and using her paw to flip an empty cat food can up into the air and then catch it in her mouth. She’ll then take the can into the living room and lick it clean. Sometimes she tries to “bury” it in the couch for later. She also uses her paw to edge out from the sink forks and spoons with food on them still. She can even get them out of the drain with her paw. I’ve seen her flip more utensils and then catch them midair than a Japanese chef at a hibachi grill! In fact, if any novice chefs out there need to learn how to flip utensils, I bet Singer could teach them how to do it. She’s an expert. She also likes to hoard her stash of utensils, which we find near her pile of toys or under her own bed. I imagine she takes them out later to lick and savor when we’re not home.

Paws are such crude implements when compared to hands. My pets have learned, through watching and necessity, how to use them for their benefit. Just wish they could be reassigned as deadly weapons sometimes, especially while I’m sleeping.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Those Special Places

Children take mental snap shots of special places they encounter that refresh in their memories for lifetimes. I know I did. I bet you did, too.

Here’s one:  A pungent cedar border, with small openings just large enough for kids, comes to mind on days when I feel like I need a vacation. The border bush was about five feet tall along a long sidewalk in front of an elderly neighbor’s house. She lived alone, taught piano to the neighborhood kids, and gave out pink peppermint lozenge candies to those she favored. We crawled inside her bush to a small opening in the center where the soft hairy branches curved obligingly just for us in twin benches. The dirt floor was speckled with sunlight from above and it was always a few degrees cooler inside this living fort. We would sit there for several minutes, the summer sweet sweat drying on our skin, and feel the grace of nature and listen to the birds. Our minds flooded with fairy tales of children in the woods, prickling the back of our necks.

Standing before a wall of towering sunflowers in my aunt’s backyard, their dark flat heads bobbing in the breeze, sheltering us, periodically raining down seeds. I look back at the yellow petals like locks of hair, flicking gently at me. I want to be taller to touch the downy dark faces and look deep into their centers. But I am so small, I have to be content to look. To my left is a hilly expanse of woods bordered by a tall wire fence. It is scary and dark. I imagine dark beings shuffling through the trees and underbrush. The hill rises to the sky. I try not to look.

An old weathered garage where the stench of oil and rust ladens the air and slows my step. The narrow cement path is almost hidden. But the sweet raspberries are my reward, as they grow profusely near this abandoned old alleyway.

My bike’s tires sink in the sand that covers the alley from my house to my grandmother’s. I can see each house and their backsides, the smaller doors, the windows closed to the outside, the yawning garages open with lawnmowers, trikes and garden tools waiting for their owners. I count each house on my way to my grandmother’s, aware that I am taking a long, long time. But I am too young to feel the need to hurry.

I know that dogs do this. I know that Singer has her special places in our backyard where she visits again and again. I wonder if these places visit in her dreams, like a special elixir to flood her awareness and to bring a moment from the past back into her present. I think she has memories of Canada and northern Minnesota, where different smells come alive once again.

She takes her route seriously. She visits the spot by the gate where she sniffs under the deck. An animal no doubt lives there. Then she hurries over to the corner and looks past several yards to see if the dogs are out, the ones who get out from their owners and run by our fence, taunting her, until their owners yell at them to come home. She loves this. Her next stop is near a small arbor vitae we planted last spring. She loves to do her business there, which is nice because I know where it is. Is she planting her scent?  Finally, she looks longingly through the fence for her old friend, Polly, and sometimes she is rewarded. Polly comes out of her doggy door and runs up to greet her, and they play by running along the fence, back and forth, back and forth. Polly always stops first.

Singer is creating memories that will sustain her while she waits for us to come home. I hope they are igniting right now in her mind. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Twinkelope and Polly

Twinkelope is Jeff’s new name for Singer. He’s decided that she’s really a new species of animal that no one’s ever heard of before, originated in Canada. The rare Twinkelope, known to run through cedar in the frozen snowdrifts with its cousin, the antelope. But the Twinkelope has silken fur the color of a sunset on the coldest night of the year. Her eyes twinkle when she sees her bunny prey running across the crusty snow.

While we imagine fantastic beginnings for Singer, she is becoming more engrossed with her community here. For example, Singer has a fence relationship with Polly, the elderly Springer spaniel who lives next door. Polly, who’s always been saucy, forever asserting her dominance, is now almost too old to care much for Singer’s games. She’d just asserted her unquestionable superiority over Saylor when she died, and that relationship disappeared from her life. Then Singer came. Thank God for fences. They both ran the fence at each other, barking and playing who’s first, who’s best, who’s dominant. My neighbor saw right away that they were enjoying themselves. But I worried that Singer, the younger, bigger dog, was scaring Polly. So I watched her closely whenever she was in the yard with Polly and called her in when she started to bark.

Recently, I let go of my neurosis and just let Singer be herself. Now whenever she hears Polly bark, whatever the time or temperature, she lifts her head toward the yard next door. Like a child whose best friend has just called her to come out to play, her attention is engulfed with overwhelming desire to answer the bark. I oblige her and let her out. It is a sight to behold her streaking across the yard to the fence, where she engages in short bursts of fence fighting. I cannot help but to laugh. Alas, Polly is also getting hard of hearing, so sometimes she doesn’t even hear Singer coming out to greet her. She has a doggie door in her basement and goes in before Singer can reach the fence. But the thought counts, doesn’t it? I hope so. I hope it’s not too late.

This morning, I sang in Singer’s ear a favorite song of my childhood, “We’ll sing in the sunshine, we’ll laugh every day…” replacing “sing” with “play”. I know she doesn’t mind that I can’t carry a tune. She nuzzled me anyway. But I felt wistful like a parent always does when you realize you can’t provide your child with her every wish and need. I can’t provide the running and canine pleasure she was brought up on, romping in the northern woods with her doggie friends. All she has left is Polly, an old, deaf companion, who still thinks she’s the head of the pack. But Singer doesn’t mind. It’s me, the one who is so neurotic, that cares too much.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bone-Love: A Dog's Right

There’s something about watching a dog gnaw on a bone that reminds me of love. Maybe it’s the way she holds the bone between her paws, caressing it and getting a firmer grip on it at the same time. Maybe it’s the way she closes her eyes and cocks her head so that more of the bone can be wedged in her mouth. Or the way she works on it like a sculptor immersed in the art of creating. Or the way she smacks her jaws loudly with satisfaction as she chews bits of rawhide, softening it until she can swallow it where it becomes a part of her. I wonder what she thinks as she stops to chew the bits. Is she thinking how much she is enjoying her bone? Her eyes are unfocused and she appears to be in a bone-trance: nothing else exists for her but her bone between her paws and that intense flavor that is so obviously pleasurable. It’s quite a sight. The only thing, besides her walks when she catches sight of a bunny or squirrel, that seems to captivate her entire being.

The other image of note lately is Singer’s head resting lightly on the table, watching us eat. She’s been quite the challenging counter cruiser lately, never resting from her food scrap vigilance, hoping to snatch any morsel of falling food or crumb. But sometimes, I just like to watch her as she rests her head quietly watching Jeff eat. She focuses on him because she knows that I’m the kitchen witch who’s more likely to yell at her for trying to counter cruise. The kitchen is my domain, and she knows it. Jeff is there, like her, for the food. Afterwards, he does the dishes, and that’s when he might sweep a morsel or crumb her way when I’m not looking.

We’ve been focusing on Dakota lately. He had a sneezing type cold earlier this month, then a bad reaction to a vaccine. He just had a dental, too, and I worried a lot about it beforehand. True to Singer’s nature, she observed the extra attention we were giving to Dakota, and tried her best to offer her own form of healing:  licking. Whenever he strode by her, she would bend over and lovingly lick his head and ears. I don’t think it was perceived that way by him, but it sure was cute. She knew we were worried about him for some reason, and she tried to show her concern as well. Now his teeth are all clean and I’ve vowed to try to keep them that way. Tonight it’s pet teeth brushing night. Jeff gets to hold them, I will brush their teeth. Singer resisted the first time I tried, although she likes the flavored tooth paste for dogs. Dakota has always resisted, his head snaps back in total revulsion whenever I try to open his mouth. He is totally appalled whenever I try to brush his teeth. Typical cat.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Hidden Bone

Okay, so we know that our dogs (and cats) are proxy for our children. That’s been established, here and elsewhere. We love them like our children, spoil them even worse than our children, and wish for them a long life of good, happy experiences. Heck, we even knit them little coats in our favorite colors and cover them up with old baby blankets when sleeping. I could go on—should I mention the towel we place near the door to dry her fur when she comes in from the slushy weather? Okay, enough already!

But who told them they could begin to assert their own personalities? Who said they could develop their own hang ups, independent of what we believe is outside their scope of experience? Who allowed them this luxury of separating from their parents? God, you say? How do you know? Who really has the hang ups anyway?

Well, there is one thing I know for sure. I know that Singer has an urgent need to dig and hide her bones. Not the ordinary rawhides, but the expensive, tasty $5.99 bones that are flavored especially to entice dogs to chew and eat them. They are shaped like a giant toothbrush, to appease my sense of guilt for not brushing her teeth enough, but that’s another hang up that belongs to me, not her.

So anyway, Singer took her delicious, precious bone and trotted all around the house with it, looking for a special place to hide it. We laugh: is this a hoarding hang up? This is her second bone; the first one she ate right away, presumably finding it delicious, but who knows. Singer has now been given this second bone, days later, and she is trying to get into my closet to hide it, but I shut her down with that idea right away. She then trots over to Jeff’s study, which is barricaded by a baby gate to keep all animals out and looks longingly around. But she quickly understands she’s not going to get in there. Then, we have to go to work, and I kiss her quickly on the head and tell her to “go to your couch” and leave. I have no idea what she does after that door closes.

Zoom ahead to several weeks later. I started wondering about that bone, which we haven’t seen around anywhere. Singer’s “spoons” from feeding the cat, the ones she fishes out of the sink after we leave in the morning, lick clean and then leave around the house, we know about those. They occupy our minds for awhile, and Jeff and I idly chat about how to get her to stop leaving the spoons around the house. Then we decide that it’s kind of cute and decide not to do anything about it. Yes, we know it’s really because we can’t decide how to stop her, she is so sneaky about it and what harm does it do, anyway? Again, parallels to parenting come up.

Just to tease her one night, I ask her to go get her bone. She is curled up by my feet on the couch. She looks at me, then at her pile of toys and bones, and back at me. I tell her several times to go get her bone, and I get a feeling she knows exactly which bone I’m talking about. To make sure, I tell her, “You know, the one that looks like a toothbrush, the one I gave you several weeks ago?” She looks at me but doesn’t move. What is she thinking?

Several minutes pass. I return to reading my book. Singer puts her head on her paws again. Then she gets up and puts her nose in the corner of the couch and sniffs and starts digging. It’s a leather couch, so I ask her to stop. She doesn’t. Finally, I command her to stop and she jumps down. I see a little something in the corner: you guessed it, it’s her bone. She buried it that day and now wanted it back.

Singer took the bone once again from my hands and disappeared with it. Who knows where she buried it this time?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Owning an Irish setter means...

…learning to love winter almost as much as the breed does.

…never having blueberry muffins on a Sunday morning with your coffee, unless your dog is outside and out of scent.

…coming home from work to a joyfully prancing “pony” who acts like you’ve been gone a month.

…seeing utensils and catfood cans licked clean and scattered around the house.

…having stuffed animals, kongs, bones, squeaky toys, and balls scattered throughout your house.

…witnessing the small white crystalline snowflakes melt on your dog’s ginger-colored muzzle in the house, and wondering if an artist could ever catch anything so sublime.

…giving up your favorite couch to your dog, because she’s so cute when she curls up there and you don’t want to disturb her, so you go to the less comfortable couch and make do, or simply kick her off.

…walking every single day of your life, and hoping you never get sick, or if you do, having an alternative dog walker.

…planning your free time around your dog’s walking schedule.

…spending a lot of money and comparison shopping on ice traction gizmos for boots.

…noticing what other dog owners use for their boots, and not being shy about asking how they work and where they got them. (REI makes a hardy pair, I hear. I’m eager to check them out!)

…teaching your dog the “wait” command, even though most times it seems futile.

…getting into the exuberance of life most Irish setters have and loving it.

…getting used to your dog hopping on tables because she’s used to grooming tables. (What? I thought you wanted to groom me?)

…getting into the meditation that comes with grooming her beautiful long coat, seeing the lustrous shine after stripping dead hairs and brushing until there are no more tangles.

…reserving hours at a time to give her a bath at least once a month, brushing her until her coat is dry.

…never having to say you’re sorry you ever got her.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cover the Hurt Until We Are All Healed

My sister gave us a soft fur-like blanket for Christmas this year. It has a chinchilla softness to it, and it’s very cozy while on the couch reading. I love it. Thanks again, Jen!

I think of that soft blanket when I think of the families whose children and loved ones were murdered yesterday. I hope there’s a soft, pure, comforting blanket that God can send these families. I hope this blanket is thick enough and strong enough to cover their hurt and pain and anger, embracing them with protection and love and understanding. It needs to send pulsating love and tenderness, 24-7, for the rest of their time here on Earth.  It needs to be strong to absorb the rage and the tears I’m sure they are feeling and like a hurricane that comes from nowhere, will be bowled over by in the coming years. It needs a lightness about it, to bring back astounding memories of their children’s love and the special times they had with them. This lightness should be resilient enough to carry them over the dark times near Christmas this year and fly them through the skies every year hence. It needs God’s grace to withstand more sorrow sure to come in this hard world. I wish this blanket to cover these families and I wish this blanket to cover the world and heal everyone at this sorrowful time. Santa, are you listening? This is what I want for Christmas. Tell God.

Singer and Dakota, our precious pets, give us much love and comfort and we are spending extra time giving them the love back. I can’t even yell at Singer, who is so smart, she found a way to maneuver past a heavy rain stick we are using to barricade Dakota’s food. I found the plate licked clean (Dakota always leaves a little bit of food on his plate—perhaps for Singer?) wedged underneath the log. And it is heavy and loud if it falls off the stove. We were hoping the sound of hundreds of little pebbles rushing through the maze inside the log, intended to sound like deafening rain, would scare her. After all, she hates thunderstorms, we reasoned. But no such luck. I just looked at her open and trusting face and couldn’t even scold her. She just licked the plate, after all.

Take care everyone. I send love and good wishes to all during this sad holiday season. And President Obama, ban assault weapons!!!!!