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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!!!!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Kitchen Witch

Females have long owned the kitchen. For thousands of years, women have stood possessively around fires stirring pots while all eyes circled around her. Men would look furtively towards their meals bubbling over firelight, casting hungry glances at the females who guarded the meat as if they themselves had hurled the spears into the hearts. Women ultimately owned the quarry of the hunt, not the men. Queens of sustenance, they drove the men to wait passively until fed.

So why am I surprised that Singer has been stalking and surveying the kitchen? Saylor was my little housewife-in-training. She always watched me in the kitchen, preparing the meals. She noted the smells politely and watched hungrily when I lifted the savory roasts from their pans, the steam filling the room. Her head swiveled from the stove to the counter to the table. She would gobble up the tasty morsel tossed to her and wait for the next piece. Maybe it was because she was so well-fed, she never begged too much while the food was so plentiful. Sorry for her food allergies, I prepared each meal for her with bits of Cheerios, oatmeal, canned dog food (prescription) and her regular dog food. She was overweight, yes, but happy with her food courses. And content to just watch me in the kitchen.

But Singer, she’s something else. We have barricaded Dakota’s eating area but she still finds ways to paw around it and move the cat food to the floor. She does this when we are at work, so I make sure Dakota eats his food before we leave. Then if he doesn’t finish, the dish is moved up to the refrigerator. And nothing is left on the counter or oven to cool! I should know this by now, having left a pan of brownies to cool one day last summer and coming home to find the empty pan in the corner, licked clean. I spent a frantic night trying to make her throw up, but she was fine. The next day, the vet’s office called me to see if she was okay. Singer never showed any sign of getting sick, not even queasy. Now Singer gathers spoons that have dished out cat food from the sink and lovingly licks them clean, leaving them in my path to the bedroom. That’s all she gets, and she wants me to know it. She wants me to find them. She knows they have to go in the dish washer, but she's also telling me how deprived she feels.

This morning she was especially sneaky. I made cinnamon buns and left them on the stove to cool, and went back to the living room to read the paper with my coffee. I called her and she obediently came in the living room. Dakota took his place on my lap, I threw a lamb ear to Singer, knowing she was jealous of the attention. But she just sniffed it and gave me a passive look. Then, while I was deep into my reading, she sneaked off to the kitchen and I heard her. “Singer!” But she took too long coming back, and she was chomping on something delicious when she finally came, not looking at me. “You knew I couldn’t get out to the kitchen fast enough with Dakota on my lap, you little witch!” She doesn’t like to be scolded. She laid down at my feet. A few minutes later, she tried to sneak back, there were some more cinnamon buns left, after all. “SINGER!” She stopped short at the threshold and meekly took her place on the couch.

Jeff came in. “I heard you were a bad girly—counter cruising,” he told her in a soft voice. She was curled up into a tight ball on the couch and didn’t move. He kissed her head. “Even though you’re a bad girly, we still love you.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

When Love Becomes Distorted

When does love for your pet go over the edge into distorted wackiness? I think there’s a fine line that starts with your budget. If you want to buy expensive food for your pet to help ensure its health, fine. I think that makes a lot of sense, and I have experience backing up the claim that feeding your pet healthy food can help to ensure a healthier, longer life. I gladly put out the extra dollars to feed both Singer and Dakota high quality food, knowing that in the long run, my vet bills will probably be lower. Hopefully.

Recently, I was at a small locally owned pet store stocking up on food for my pets when I happened upon a new dog product—yak milk bones. I took a look, knowing that Singer will be boarded for a time this Thanksgiving, and me of course feeling guilty. But I was astounded to see the price for a 3.5 oz bone--$18.99! I know the store clerk, a young man named Jake, so I felt comfortable enough to bring up the price with him. He agreed that the bones seem ridiculously pricey. He also felt obligated to point out how long lasting they are, and confirmed that people are buying them. I asked him about cat products that are ultra expensive and he told me that there is such a thing as “gourmet” litter—outrageously expensive litter that cat owners are buying these days. Really. Why, they even have a $350 litter box, called “Litter Robot”! A user says, “At that price, my cat better be pooping gold!”

Here’s a brand new market idea: A pet line for plutocrats. Go for it.

I just have to wonder at the people who are spending that kind of money on their pets. Even those people whose taxes are bound to go up soon (it’s about time!) I’m not jealous, mind you, it’s just that I can think of so many better ways to spend all that extraneous cash on animals. Do those products really benefit the pets or their owners’ egos? How about paying for a pet sitter while you’re gone during the day? Or a dog walker? That way, you can benefit the economy AND benefit your pet! Instead of buying bones that cost more than ribeye steaks, why not sign up your doggie for play dates at the local pet center? Or give your neighbor teen a chance to earn some money by walking your dog? I’m not kidding myself into thinking that millionaires are reading my blog. This is for those people who might be “cheating” by buying those expensive products once in awhile just to make themselves feel good. I confess, I considered for a few seconds buying that yak bone. Then I got a hold of myself. Guilt does strange things to mamas…

I swear, even if I suddenly become a millionaire (no chance), I promise I won’t waste my money on yak bones. Or gourmet litter. Sorry, Singer and Dakota. There’s a limit to my largesse.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Singer's View of the Weekend

I had planned on grooming Singer this weekend myself, I really did. But then other chores and tasks filled my agenda, so I went to the Internet to see if I could find a groomer with an opening this weekend. I lucked out and found a groomer who had an opening Sunday morning. Her shop was a few miles out in a little town called Fitchburg. I was motivated. And Singer needed it!  As you can see from these pictures, taken afterwards, she looks good.

When I went to pick her up, the girl who runs the cash register asked me if she could take her picture with her phone and I said sure. Singer was standing on her grooming table and she shook her head impatiently. I called her and whistled to get her attention, but she gave me this haughty look, like "You don't know what I've had to put up with here this last hour..." and then she again shook her head, so I don't know if the girl got a decent picture or not. But she was good natured about it. On the way out, she nosed another dog waiting to be groomed and I imagined she was transmitting doggy code, "You better watch out for this one...I hear she's from Iowa!" She held her head up high and quick-stepped out of there, not giving any of the other lowly dogs a backwards glance.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression about Singer, she is such a sweetheart, she actually trembles with submissive joy when I come home sometimes. And she prances around the house in happiness other times, so glad to see her family. But she is rather snobbish to strangers. She deigns to allow a stranger to pet her, then noticeably backs off. She gets this distant look in her eye, like she is comparing the stranger to one of her servants back at her mansion. Not that we are rich, but I always wonder if she is reflecting some subtle key she is picking up from me, or if she is just naturally aloof. I asked Jeff about it, and he reminded me that we were told about her "princess" nature when we got her, but still. We don't think of ourselves like this at all. And Saylor wasn't like this, she loved everyone equally. But I guess, like children, some dogs have individual personalities that seem to come from nowhere.

Yesterday, I walked Singer in Garner Park, that lovely hillside park with prairie and woods and even a pond off the trails. A man approached me and I thought, political volunteers are even swarming the parks this weekend looking for voters before the election. But actually, he was a park ranger, I learned after I took my earbuds out and took his card. He explained that this park was a "no dogs allowed" park, and owners were subject to $114 fine. I looked around and started adding up the fine money for him and came up with over $500. He assured me that he didn't want to enforce the law, but he did ask me to contact my alder about proposing a fenced in dog park. Of course, I agreed. He said the idea of a three acre fenced park in the wooded area near the pond would allow dog walkers like me to enjoy the park and we wouldn't be breaking the law. I went home and emailed my alder, expressing my support and offered to give my time if needed. I sent a copy to Josh, the young park ranger, who emailed right away with an "awesome." I still think he acted more like an Obama volunteer than a government worker.

I hope we can construct a dog park. This park has been a favorite for Singer and me, and Saylor's before her. I still worry about allowing Singer to run wild and free with other dogs, but I know she longs to run. It breaks my heart that she hasn't been given the chance since coming into our home to run, but I just haven't been able to trust her to always come immediately when I call her. And I hope the other dogs don't size her up as a prima donna just waiting to be taken down a notch or two. I guess that's my real worry.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sunset Velvet Head, Twinkie and Bingo Bango

These are just some of the names Jeff and I have made up for Singer. We’ve spoiled her greatly and love her so much. Does this mean she is a “dependent” and we are “the government” because we provide her with food, shelter and love? In other words, is she part of the “47% who don’t pay taxes”? Yes, I guess she is. When I started this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t get political, but these times are just too compelling not to weigh in. Sorry about breaking my promise.

Dakota, too, is part of this crowd, a “moocher” as the media is calling these people. They were originally described as people who don’t pay income taxes by Governor Romney, and so therefore not of his concern in getting elected. His argument is so full of flaws, I won’t go into it, but suffice it to say, I don’t agree with him. So what does this have to do with my pets, or anyone’s pets? I think there are some distinct parallels. Pets are like are our dependents, yes? And they don’t pay taxes and sometimes act like “victims”. But do they really become so passive and just lie around waiting to be fed? I don’t think so. Take Dakota, for example.  Every morning he meows at about 5:30 in the morning to get our lazy butts out of bed. He sounds like a cranky drill sergeant and sometimes even makes his meow lower by a few registers for dramatic effect. He deserves an Oscar for the emotion he puts into it. Sometimes I can coax him up to the bed and I pet him while holding him down. But he soon breaks out of my arms and goes right back to his “job”—which is to get us out of bed!  I would argue that he isn’t being driven by a “victim” mentality, but he is motivated by a sense of entitlement, that’s for sure. And who can blame him, if he’s hungry, to want us to get up and feed him? But he is uncompromising about the time—can’t he just let us sleep a little longer? Please?

Singer takes a more assertive approach, also without a “victim mentality”—she paws my face until I get up and let her out. She doesn’t wait around or whine or bark, she just gets in my face, literally. But somehow, I don’t mind that approach as much. I can’t tell you why, exactly, but to get a scratchy paw in the face just seems preferable to a mournful meow that swoops low like the resinous sounds of a cello. The sound is grating, to say the least. More than once I’ve imagined throwing something at him to shut him up. So, to carry the analogy further, I guess we find people who “complain” about their circumstances more annoying than those who “get in our face” about it, right? Is it okay to become aggressive but not complain? Wait, that’s not right, either. Back to the drawing board:  we’re all dependent on one another and our pets expect a certain amount of care from us, just as our children or others who are dependent on us do. And I guess it’s up to us to work together with them to decide just how much we can do.

Now back to my original thesis—Sunset velvet head, twinkie and bingo bango, these are all terms of endearment that we didn’t just dream up out of thin air and apply to an empty vessel. They are inspired appellations because of the love we feel coming from our loving dog, whose essence of devotion, love, loyalty, fealty is real and of value. The same goes for Dakota, whose purring soft love pours out of him like a reliable engine. They are not takers, they are givers. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Son of Luxor, Daughter of Dante

My pets are from some illustrious stock. Dakota Moon’s father was named Luxor, after the Egyptian city known for its “high social status and luxury, but also as a center for wisdom, art, religious and political supremacy,” according to a History of Luxor (Thebes). Luxor was a registered Triple Grand Champion with The International Cat Association. He was a big ragdoll, officially a blue bicolor, while Dakota takes after his mom in coloring as a seal bicolor, and is rather small for his breed. But his front paws are the same as his father’s—splayed outward. He also has a great temperament. Still he’s a bit of a prima donna. Lately, he’s been demanding different kinds of foods, he gets finicky really easily these days. So I have to rate the kinds of foods he likes, trying to please him. He soon tires of even his “favorites.” Next, he’ll demand only freshly cooked meats warmed to the perfect temperature. Such a spoiled one. Is that what his people had in mind for future generations when they chose the name Luxor for their cat? The epitome of luxury, he is surely a premium prince. This is a chicken and egg argument, but did we spoil him because of his father’s name or was he spoiled despite his name? Who knows? Maybe a little bit of each. Dakota means “friendly” in the Sioux language, by the way.

There’s an advertisement featuring an Irish setter with the caption, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” That always makes me think of Singer. She has doleful eyes set in an almost perfect face that just make you love her. And her father, speaking of elegant, is Dante’s Inferno, a champion who made it all the way to Westminster when Singer was two years old. Singer’s heritage, like Dakota’s, is top of the line, and her conformation, athleticism, and health show it.

Sometimes I imagine Luxor, who is now old (born in 1995 so he would be 17 years old) and Dante, who is at least middle aged, meeting each other. What would they be like together? Singer is so respectful of Dakota, and it came without any training or little prompting, so I have to wonder if she didn’t sense Dakota’s standing in the world somehow. Dakota, who was so equanimous even during Saylor’s trying puppy years, has now turned pretty competitive and jealous. Whenever I take Singer outside to throw some balls, Dakota meows to go out, too. If I pet Singer, Dakota wants equal time. Now I keep a special mouse toy on a string in the cupboard for Dakota up above his food. I play with him to help him feel special, while Singer watches like the princess she is. Saylor would never allow me to play with Dakota, she would always grab the toys. But Singer knows that Dakota feels threatened by her, so she watches with a ton of grace and good will.

But then again, I think these guys both have some inbred trailer trash in their lines somewhere. They both have proven they can be little outlaws and get in trouble with the likes of alley cats and ghetto dogs everywhere. Just tonight, Singer was licking up the floor with gusto for every drop of food she could scavenge. And Dakota loves to curl up in the darkest of corners, as if he were dreaming of being a hobo cat, owned by no one. Just when you think you get them figured out, they fool you. Just like a good novel that you can’t put down.

One more thing: Singer has a mesmerizing soul mate in the neighborhood. We were walking as usual and a man across the street starts waving at me (I usually am listening to my iPod, so I don’t pay attention.) I finally looked at him and his black and white standard poodle, then looked ahead to where he was pointing. I couldn’t figure it out, I saw nothing. I took out my earbuds and he hollered, “There’s a rabbit up ahead.” Then I noticed his dog, mesmerizing, just like Singer does. I laughed and pointed at Singer and told him they were both mesmerizing. He thought I was a dumb female and said they were pointing. Well, I knew that but…I like my description better. We both stood and waited while our dogs mesmerized until the rabbit decided to run away.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Animal Spirit Transfer

Singer, forever known now as the “Walk Witch”, becomes transformed by her daily walks. It is unchanging, the transformation, even if the circumstances are varying from day to day. Even though we might take a different route, or the weather is cloudy one day, steamy hot the next, she falls into the same rhythms during her walk. The first bunny she sees, she stops to mesmerize for several minutes:  her head erect, her nose twitching, her eyes focused. Sometimes her paw steps slowly, silently forward, inching toward her prey. Her elegant legs twitch in excitement—she is drinking up the essence of her bunny, who is motionless in terror, its black eye transfixed on the sight of that big red dog stalking just a few feet away. The bunnies never even consider running away at this time, it’s as if they’ve all made the assessment:  “My life is over—I could never run from that fast dog.” It also seems the very molecules that float in the air above the bunny are somehow absorbed by Singer. She is doing a sort of Vulcan-like transfer of animal spirits, I believe. And the transformation is completed as she suddenly comes back to the present, her walk, and she moves energetically forward at a pace that pulls at her long flexi-lead, so that I am straining to keep up.

I wonder just what is involved in this complex transaction of animal spirit to animal spirit during these walks. It seems that, whatever the process, it energizes Singer and she takes the rest of the walk at a brisk speed, somehow happier. I feel like a slow child, struggling to keep up with my super fast nanny, who has decided to embark on an ambitious exercise program for her chubby charge. “Come, come,” Singer might say in an English (or Irish) accent, “Hurry it up!”

I cannot help but admire her athletic movements several feet ahead of me. She slices through the air, whether it is wet-blanket humid out, or still and foggy just before rain, she moves at a business-like pace. The other dogs on our walk always stop to look at her; some bark energetically, trying to get her attention. She may get her guard up, and start to growl, at which point I carefully steer her across the street. Suddenly, I think of myself as being in charge again, instead of her, and I think of the near-miss of a vicious dog fight. I am always so relieved. Singer hardly takes any notice. She is on a mission:  “Come! Come!”

Other times we will meet our neighbors, who may stop to pet Singer and talk to me for a few minutes. Singer is aloof towards most people. I excuse her frosty manners, saying that she is just tired from her walk. But privately, I wonder why she is not a people dog, like Saylor was. She is incredibly bonded to me, I know how much space I take up in her canine mind: more than 90 percent, I’m sure. I know she lives and breathes by my wishes and actions. I can’t make any movement in the house without Singer trotting down from her couch to come check out my actions, see what I’m doing. It’s kind of a daunting relationship—sometimes, I actually invite Singer to “go see Daddy” (Jeff) so that she stops trying to paw me, or lay on my feet.

But man, every day I am so glad to have her. She is such an incredible animal. She has brightened my life so much, and I love her so very much. As I love Dakota, my sweet kitten, who is getting on in years. Both are such precious pets.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Walk Witch Gets Her Wish

Singer is my walk witch. She never lets a day go by without reminding me in her subtle way that she wants to go on her walk. Doesn’t matter if Jeff or Nate have already given her one—she has to have a walk with me. Every single day. No matter how brutal the heat, or how tired I am, she wants her walk with me.

She’ll give me looks, wait patiently until I get up and then try to lead me to the front door. Wagging her tail, she’ll look at me as if I’m a dense child: “Do you get it? Walk?” she seems to be saying as she looks at me so expectantly. I might hurry on, as I did tonight, busy with dinner preparations. She’ll lie down in the kitchen to wait, watching me.

Like a witch, she’s actually plotting her next move. I have a daring thought: I think I may be able to sneak off after dinner to the deck and get some writing down. As I walk to the door, Singer’s right by my side, like a horse trotting to first place. She blocks the door to the deck. I stand aside and let her out first. She prances around the yard, checking out her favorite chipmunk sites, and I think, “Good, she’s happy.” I boot up my laptop.

She runs over to the deck, jumps up on the table and looks down at me, her ears hanging forward as she looks right into my face. Her eyes have a disapproving look, as if she is an old crone coming out of the woods, wondering if her potion has taken effect yet. “Singer,” I push-pet her back, but she paws at me. First one paw, then she tries the other one. She tries to paw my laptop, so I stand up and walk over to the railing, setting my laptop precariously on the railing. I get a few minutes of work done. She is still on the table, watching, waiting. Her patience is admirable.

I try to sit back down again, and the walk witch tries another tack. She starts lovingly licking my thigh, slowly at first, from top to bottom. It tickles. “Singer…” I try to brush her away. Finally, I look at her, laugh, and give in. The walk witch gets her wish.

Yesterday, a Sunday, it was too hot outside to groom Singer on the deck. So I set up a card table in the cool basement and worked on her. She loves the stripping comb now, which I use every week to keep her under coat thinned out. She sometimes lays on her side and I will slow down and work on her, remembering how I used to love taking care of my dolls as a little girl. I loved to brush their nappy rough hair, dress them, talk to them, bathe them. I would use my allowance and buy them diapers and dresses at the neighborhood drugstore. Teary Deary was a baby doll I especially loved. Singer Bell Ringer is my baby doll. She loves her weekly massages, and I love to brush her fur until it shines and smooth out all the tangles so that her fur lays nice and flat. She has a sort of curl to her coat, which is hard to manage—I suspect there are show products that get the curl out. But her weekly grooming sessions leave her coat looking more uniform, less clumpy, and definitely more shiny. She always takes a jog around the yard after we’re done, and I admire how beautiful she looks as she makes her way around the yard. She’s my walk witch, but I can never say no to her for long.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Singer in the Sky with Diamonds

Yesterday The New York Times had an article about how animals like to get high. Really. And it was written by a doctor! Who has written a book in collaboration with a veterinarian! She has this theory that animals are a lot more like people than originally thought. She even had a fancy name for it, zoo…something or other. Latin for animals and then the last part of it was for people. Pretty cool.

So, I was thinking. We judge people pretty harshly for using drugs, right? We think, they had a choice, they could’ve chosen NOT to take that first pill, or snort, or drink. Then they get hooked, and get into trouble and become a drag on society. Now we know that animals like to get high or drunk, too. Researchers have determined that animals wait until the fruit on the bushes has become “winey”. Then they gorge themselves. Or in one case, there’s this cocker spaniel who was always scratching the door to go out. The owners decided to follow him to see what was so enticing. They lived in the country, apparently, because little cocker spaniel beat a trail to a pond where a bunch of frogs lived. They watched as the little doggie started sucking frogs until the skin color came off, then spit them out. He would quickly slurp up another one and do the same thing. The frogs are of a certain species that have a toxin on its skin that is hallucinogenic. Little barkster would go home thereafter, and lie around, spacey and glassy eyed for hours until he would do it again. And again. Interesting. Now we need rehab for doggies?

We used to have an old diabetic dog who loved to eat the raspberries. We worried about his blood sugar, but maybe he was actually waiting for the alcohol effect?

Singer seems to be more like a dope fiend these days. She loves to get out to hunt her chipmunks. She can’t wait sometimes to get out there and scout out her backyard. It’s funny. Today, we woke up with her snuggled between us—she was worried about the thunder and lightening, which didn’t wake me up, but apparently she heard it. I groaned as I got out of bed, seeing the rain. How would we get her to go outside before we have to leave for the day? I got the umbrella and she slinked out the door after much cajoling. Then she sniffed some hostas, not really interested, as the rain pelted her. She tried to become interested, but just couldn’t. I called after her to go potty, several times. But she just couldn’t. So I let her in, wiped her off with a towel and decided to get ready. She followed me like rocks rolling down a hill. I couldn’t get rid of her. Then I remembered that during our last vet’s appointment, I had mentioned Singer’s severe thunderstorm phobia and Dr. Pam gave me some sample pills to try. They were over the counter natural “herbal remedies”--tryptophan, theanine, and some other stuff in them. I gave her two pills and decided to wait. She paced. I finished breakfast and took a shower. She was looking outside longingly when I came out. It had stopped raining so we tried again.

This time she patrolled her yard in a more natural way, with her head up. I hated to see her slinking before, such an unnatural pose for her. She went to all the usual spots and didn’t sniff out any chipmunks, then came directly when I called. She had not gone poop yet, but she did pee. Whew. I think the pills were starting to work.

So I thought about it. She knows that she was supposed to go potty, but she couldn’t help it. Her nervous system had become hijacked. I wonder if Singer would become a drug addict if she were allowed? Probably.

Monday, June 4, 2012

We took our girl to Disneyland on Saturday

For two hours, we explored the trails along Picnic Point, on the university campus. It’s a gorgeous piece of land, with beaches, woods, prairies, and miles of trails, trails, trails full of a variety of species, both plant and animal. The weather was gorgeous on June 2 here. Singer saw waves lapping on beaches, packed earth rooted trails lined with huge old trees—cottonwood, beech, linden, tall ponderosa pine, oak. The smells were terrific, I could tell, as she darted her nose left and right on the grounds. She looked out onto Lake Mendota and watched the waves coming in to shore, as if she were waiting for her beau to come home from a fishing trip, and noted the fishy scent in the air, although not too bad yet. The waters were not yet choked with algae and looked pretty clear. We stopped at several fire pits where firewood is stacked for students who come here at night and on the weekends. Nathaniel and his friends come here often to enjoy a camping experience in the city. We haven’t been here for years and wondered why the long absence. I remember taking Saylor here once.

Alas, I had forgotten my camera. There were several shots that would’ve been perfect, with the sun just right, the background of lake, beach, sun spots dotting the woods with bright light, tall grasses in prairie, and the birds singing in our ears. It was heavenly for humans, too. These pictures are taken off the university's website for Picnic Point.

Singer loved it very much, I could tell, and strained to be let loose from her leash. By the time we got back to the car, she was panting and hot, and ready for a long drink. 

On a minor note, we found that someone had hit our car trying to back out of the tight parking spot. She was waiting for us, a note on our windshield, when we got back. She was nice enough to leave a note, and it was a minor scratch that popped out the left rear panel a bit, so we will have to get it fixed. Still, it was such a nice time, and I know that Singer appreciated it as well. The next day I expected Singer to be pawing me at her usual time, around five in the morning, begging us to take her back. 

Instead, on Sunday while we were reading the paper, Singer was emboldened to try to dig up a chipmunk in the backyard again, this time at the retaining wall that we just had rebuilt at great expense…! We will have to keep a more careful eye on her when she’s in the backyard. I bet she had visions of chipmunks and squirrels from Picnic Point in her head as she tried to undo the entire landscaping of our yard. I was able to repair it, and possibly the chipmunk will decide it’s not worth living here and leave for good.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Exploring the Limits of our Relationships

I always like to push myself. Learn something new, think about a topic in a different way and maybe go under the table to the dark corners where no one ventures because .... it's dark? Unknown? Scary? Uncomfortable? All of the above?

Yes, I believe in pushing myself to see all that I can be aware of, know all that I can, and find the gestalt meaning in things. So, I’ve been thinking about how we treat our pets lately, compared to how we treat our fellow human beings. And I didn’t want to go there. But I forced myself, anyway.

I just finished reading In the Garden of the Beasts by Eric Larson, a non-fiction account of U.S. Ambassador William Dodd’s assignment in Nazi Germany. Larson reports that Dodd, in his diary, noted how much Germans love animals—particularly horses and dogs. A law prohibiting cruelty to animals kept the animals “happy and fat” while we know they largely chose not to see the Nazi regime’s atrocious treatment of their fellow human beings. I also learned from this book just how much the rest of the world turned away from the reality of Hitler, not wishing to acknowledge his true motive of killing all the Jews, and instead always hoping for the best. He ends one chapter with a vision of Berlin’s pampered horses running with flames on their manes and tails when the Russians attacked. A horrific image that stands among those more common to the era—the Concentration Camps and their victims—to underscore the dangers of imbalance: not looking and taking action.

So what does this have to do with how we treat animals? I believe that we Americans are not too different from the Germans—we love our animals and treat them well for the most part. Thankfully, we have a free society without a fascist dictator who controls our actions and oppresses us. But we do tend to look the other way a lot. Are we taking for granted our freedoms? Do we lavish too much attention on our animals that instead could go toward our fellow human beings? Would it hurt to treat our fellow human beings with as much love and deference as we do our pets?

I once told my son, “It’s okay to spoil our pets, but it’s not okay to spoil our children.” Now, I believe it’s not okay to spoil our pets, either. They can get the better of our natures. I know, from personal experience, that they will take advantage. It’s up to us, with the big brains (supposedly), to provide the balance in the relationship.

According to Larson, Dodd wasn’t liked very much in the State Department, (or in the Nazi regime) even though he was proven to be correct in all of his warnings. He was a history professor who executed his duties as Ambassador by giving speeches about past examples of extreme behavior resulting in disastrous outcomes, in a diplomatic move to get Hitler to change his ways. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Larson notes that Dodd’s critics in the U.S., who favored using more appeasement, wouldn’t have been successful, either. The easier route for Dodd would have been to conform to the expectations, but he didn’t do that. Perhaps he understood that the only way to control Hitler was to take him out, but he knew that wasn’t his role. In the face of this, it would be easy to use appeasement. But he chose to act in the best way he knew how, in conformation with his values.

This is a wildly extreme example from history, I realize, but it gets you thinking. Do I want to take the easy route with my relationships, or do the hard work necessary that most reflects my values? This should be true with my pets as well as my human relationships. I hope I am brave enough to always choose the latter. Next time I will talk about what this means:  how do I treat my pets so that it conforms to my values? How do you treat your pets that conforms with your values?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Squirrels are my Religion

Singer is like a religious person when it comes to squirrels and chipmunks. She’s actually quite zealous. But unlike some religious types who try to force their religious beliefs down your throat, Singer is not interested in sharing her religion. In fact, she wants it all to herself. I doubt that she’s interested in converting Dakota, for example, although she has had an influence on him. Dakota definitely perks up his ears these days when he hears the sharp chirp of a chipmunk. Although always interested in wildlife, he is several degrees more attuned lately and I believe it is due to Singer’s example.

Canine religion is probably about chipmunks and other exciting things that have so much meaning for dogs. I can just hear what some people would say about this—“how heretical—worshiping animals!”

If you constructed a line graph of a typical canine’s life and compared it to a human’s, you would find some similarities. A dog will have its high points, such as reaching maturity, leaving the nest, finding a forever home, that should be marked as significant in its life. The line graph would show roughly 12-14 years, and a lot of a dog’s significant events would occur early in life. I think this graph would approximately run parallel to a person’s life:  leaving home, falling in love the first time. But that is where the similarities end.

A dog might have other events, if it were reviewing its life at the end, which would earn a mark on this line graph of significant events. For Singer, it would definitely be hunting squirrels and chipmunks and mice. The day a herd of squirrels ran right in front of her would certainly merit. When Saylor lay on the clinic table near death, as I kissed her and whispered how much I loved her, images of her life flooded my mind. Most of the images had to do with the walks we took through the years. How much joy and pleasure I got out of those walks, and how much pleasure I think Saylor did, too. I hope she and I were reviewing the same images at that special time in her life. Saylor wasn’t much of a hunter, but she did love her walks, and she did love food. Perhaps one of her significant events in life involved food as well.

I realize that Saylor didn’t ascribe as much meaning to her ending as I did. I don’t believe dogs view death, or birth, like we humans do. I’m sure that death is just another event, not rated very highly in the emotion department for dogs. I think they view it as a necessity, and I don’t even know if they wish it over quickly. They just endure. I’ve seen two dogs pass in recent years, and that is the impression I got—they endure the pain and wait. There may be anxiety due to pain or suffering, but that’s it. No existential spiritual suffering common to humans—will I make it to heaven? Will I see God? I love that about dogs (and cats, I might add, one of which is sitting on my lap right now, while I awkwardly type on the arm of the couch…) Death is just another passage. And birth. One day a pregnant dam is fat and uncomfortable, the next day she has a litter of puppies. Oh. Okay. But she knows instantly what to do. Do humans? Hardly.

There’s a picture of Saylor I took while she was dying—one that elicits a lot of feeling when one sees it. It shows her in pain, an oxygen tube up her nose and another one threaded through her front arm, a pink gauze bandage around it. She looks sad. It triggers a flood of emotions for me, and for most people who have seen it. But I know that Saylor didn’t ascribe the same emotions to this last event in her life. And for that, I’m grateful.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Summer Camp for Doggies

Is there a doggie summer camp somewhere close to Madison?  I want to send my Irish setter, a nice young female, to camp in a rural area with lots of rolling hills and woods to play in, nice young doggies to run with, and a good camp leader to walk through basic discipline with her.

I thought of this yesterday, when I was home in the afternoon with a headache, trying to get a blueberry bush planted. So my headache may be influencing this, but I got the great idea as Singer tried to get my attention as I looked online for information on amending the soil and where to plant the blueberry bush. She was excited and impatient that I was home in the early afternoon and kept pawing my laptop (both she and Dakota hate my laptop—it takes so much of my attention!) I found what I was looking for and went to the garden center to purchase the soil amendment ingredients I needed. One of them was cocoa bean shells, the kind that smell like chocolate.

I got my gardening done, and spread the rest of the cocoa bean shells around my Vanderwolf pine because it loves acidic soil. Something about this, though, didn’t sit right with me as I put away my tools so I went back online to see what else I could learn. Bingo. After just a quick search, I found out why.

I finally remembered reading about cocoa bean shells being toxic to dogs when several links popped up. So, knowing Singer loves to munch on inedible items, like dirt and cat poop, I decided to send Jeff to the garden center again to get some wood chips to cover the cocoa bean shells. Husbands are good for things like this—they run errands when you’re making dinner, or feeding the animals, or when your headache just won’t quit. And mine wasn’t.

After dinner, we spread the cedar mulch over the cocoa bean shells, and then just to be safe, I put a plastic fence-like material around the drip line, weighing it down with sticks. And put an actual rabbit fence around my blueberry plant, which, by the way, was a Mother’s Day present. And so, Singer is watching me, trying to contain her excitement, waiting for the moment my attention lapses. I can see her out of the periphery of my eye. She prances like a young girl, practicing ballet. My headache seems to worsen and I can intuit what will happen next.

When the moment is right, she moves in and starts to nibble some of the beans around the edges. Both Jeff and I catch her, yell at her, and she runs away, duly cowed. But then she sneaks back, again and again, to try to eat that enticing chocolately yummy stuff Mom has spread for her to eat. She knows it’s for her, why would her mom put it out in her backyard if it wasn’t?

We spent the better part of the evening watching her try to sneak the shells, stopping her as she approached. She’s very obedient when someone is watching her. But I worry she will dig up the treats when we’re not looking. That’s when I got the bright idea that this young dog needs a summer camp—a place where she can run and play and tire herself out, learn some discipline and come home all relaxed and happy. Just like Nathaniel did when he was eleven or twelve. He learned a thing or two. We missed him terribly for a week, but knew he was having fun. And he grew up a little bit, too!

We probably won’t be sending Singer to summer camp this year, or next. Instead, I will probably dig up the cocoa bean shells and throw them away, using only cedar mulch. I just don’t want to chance it that Singer will eventually learn to keep away. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Day in the Life

Singer leads on her walk like a sailor on the prow of a ship. She looks out as she floats along, stepping like hot peppers—quick and spicy—her nose doing the navigating. Her green world today is misty from ground fog, and the spring is well under way with leaves and flowers halfway grown. A lovely time of year. But she is all business—her nose is scouting out the animals within a radius of a hundred feet or so, and there are a motherlode of them in this park. Garner Park is decorated with spots of prairie, woods and open fields where all kinds of animals are lured into thinking the city is reverting back to nature. Deer and turkeys, wild muskrats (there’s a fetid pond surrounded by trees—sort of a coven for animals), and who knows what else come here. I wonder if they feel cheated when they realize it’s only a sham? Singer’s nose keeps track of their numbers and kinds, I’m sure, better than an Excel spreadsheet. Other dogs and their owners are taking a stroll through this unreal patch of wilderness, too.

Singer’s field of vision is like a video game as she moves through the environment. The greenery flashes by as if we are players whose quest is to find the hidden animals. I join her in this game, and try to spot the animals before she becomes riveted. But of course, I fail. She is always several steps ahead of me, her scenting powers almost magical and unparalleled by any of my modest abilities. I’m just content to stay behind and watch, like the novice sibling whose skilled sister is a master gamer.

While turning onto our block to go home, we hear the lamentably familiar urgent barking from Arrow, our neighbor’s Border Collie who is always outside, unhappily, in the backyard. He is barking now as he scents us coming near his front yard. Arrow is hardly ever out of his yard, a misfortune for such a young and energetic breed. Singer walks by and although the house is across the street, she quickens her pace slightly. Is she hurrying so she can avoid her less fortunate neighbor? I’m reminded of how people react when confronted with those who are down on their luck. I know I hurry past the homeless and try not to think about their fate.  Sometimes I guiltily add a few dollars to their outstretched hands.

I doubt dogs have the capacity to compare their lives to other canine lives, especially based on such little evidence. But I listen to Arrow barking a lot, and I know that he sounds lonely. I want to do something to help him out, but don’t know what I can do. It seems unfair that Singer gets at least one walk a day, sometimes two or three, while Arrow hardly ever gets out. One time, (I didn’t witness this, my neighbor did) Arrow was let out of his yard and the children were supposed to be watching him. But Arrow attacked a man while he was walking his two little white dogs, and one of them ran away. I guess Arrow got punished for that.

I hear the sadness in his bark as we walk by, every day, or later while on the couch reading. He barks because he is alive and he wants his people to know that. He barks to let the neighborhood dogs know that he is alive. He barks to hear his own bark. I hear you, Arrow. I wish I could help you. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Animals and Selfhood

 Singer and Dakota await to be fed on a recent night...

One of my favorite novelists, Barbara Kingsolver, says that good writing involves “relaxing into who you really are.” We humans have to learn how to be who we really are by relaxing. We can’t just be ourselves all the time? Since when? Where’s the research? This is so not true with animals.

Singer is naturally who she is all the time. She doesn’t need to relax. She knows she loves to look out onto her backyard and monitor all the wildlife, whether they’re scurrying in the grass, in the bushes, among the tree branches or flying across the sky. She can spend hours, sitting straight up and attentive, watching her domain from the deck like a powerful landowner. She knows she owns this land. She knows who she is. How do I know this? Last weekend, as I brought in a strange, coiled object to her yard, she showed me just how audacious I had been. While I dragged it right in front of Singer, she pranced around it, barking and yipping, and play growling. She thought this large “snake” was invading her territory. I stopped dragging the hose and called her to me, then offered the nozzle for her to smell. She usually takes her cues from me, who she understands is the “empress” to her “landowner” status, and decided to accept the new object in her yard. Singer: “I guess that thing can share my yard…but I have my eye on it!”

She knows what frightens her and is not shy about showing it. Last night, thunder and lightening scared her, so she stepped up on my side of the bed to paw me awake. Petting her didn’t calm her down. She then hopped up on the bed and settled between us, our bodies putting pressure on both sides of her to help her feel calm. She breathed short, quick huffs until the storm died down. When do we as children learn to cover our fear of thunderstorms, or nightmares, or whatever fear we might have? When do we “outgrow” those fears? Do we ever? Or do we learn to cover them up and forget we once were afraid of loud noises? Neuroscientists might tell us that we learn to “habituate” to fearful stimuli. But I also wonder how quickly we learn to cover up those fears and erase them from that image of who we think we are. Our selves are constantly changing. Dogs and cats don’t do this, although they may habituate to fearful stimuli, I’m told.

My yoga teacher urges us all to confront our fears. She believes in self-knowledge and that certain yoga postures will help us deal with our fears. She encourages us to think about how we affect others around us with our thoughts and communications. All very new-age kinds of ideas. But this also goes to the issue of finding out and expressing who we “really are”. A complicated process for us humans, and not just children—even adults.

I just have to think of Singer or Dakota, relax a little, and pop, suddenly myself is there, right before me. It may waver a bit, like a mirage. The tender side of me is there to recognize my pets in the early morning storms while their frightened bodies quiver beside our legs. Dakota found a safe little cove in the curve of Jeff’s bent legs and snuggled in, while Singer huddled between us, her head right next to mine on the pillow. There’s no pretense to fear. She didn’t care that she was breathing shallowly right in my face. She just knew she felt safe there with us, and that was all she needed to know.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Singer and Aiden

Singer’s best friend in Minnesota was Aiden, a young male Irish setter. They used to run together through the pines, weaving in and out, in an intricate pattern that only they knew how to create. And recreate, day after day.

Aiden would dash out of the kennel first, daring Singer to follow him. She took him up on the call every time, her paws scrabbling on the concrete kennel, anxious to run. He would glance back at her, and just seeing her follow gave him a charge of energy, boosting his pace. The wind carried their ears aloft like birds swiveling sideways in a head wind. She tucked her head down and sped up to his side, then he sharply turned to the left among a copse of pine trees, and expertly jumped over a rotting log. Her feet turned also, and she was soon right beside him again. Their noses twitched as they entered this small forest, bursting with animal, decaying plant and other verdant scents. Singer became distracted and slowed a little. Aiden was right up ahead, but he turned to see if Singer was still following.

Then the bewitching scent of squirrel seizes Singer by the neck, as if a giant leash were snapped taut around her neck. Now her head is set back a few degrees, her body frozen in a graceful attentive posture--tail up, one forepaw held up, and she begins to mesmerize. Out of the periphery, she sees Aiden, nose to the ground as he tries to follow a scent. Her body is still but her nose shivers as it becomes flooded with the delicious scent of squirrel. It makes her heart tremble with joy, but she keeps those secrets hidden as she concentrates.

The squirrel tries to make a dash for the large pine tree just ahead, and Singer gallops to catch it. She almost makes it, her bronze coat flashing in the patches of sun that skitters through the boughs, its delicate lacy texture splashed on the ground. Singer is so close, but the squirrel escapes by leaping halfway up the trunk and disappearing among the top branches. Singer puts one paw on the trunk of a nearby oak and tilts her head up, unwilling to let go.

Meanwhile, Aiden has followed the scent of rabbit out of the forest. He suddenly notices that his companion, his best friend, is not beside him. He looks back to see Singer, poised on the trunk of an oak, and shakes his head. This action slows him down considerably and he loses the rabbit. But no matter, his friend Singer has now started to run toward him, and he eagerly looks toward a field, where they will run companionably, side by side, noting the pleasant rush of smells in the wind until the sun sets later that afternoon.

Writer’s note:  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual or living characters is merely a coincidence. [Hah! That’s what I always say when I read this disclaimer…]

Friday, April 20, 2012

Caramel Sundae and Sweet Potato Pie

Have I decided to write about desserts in this blog? No, actually, these are desserts that remind me of my pets—Dakota is the color of a caramel sundae and Singer the color of sweet potato pie. The latter choice is really from my vet, who called Singer “Sweet Potato Pie” yesterday when she went in for her annual exam. So, thanks Dr. Pam!

Dakota is a rich creamy tan color, topped with fudge sauce for his ears. The tan fur seems to melt into his vanilla fur and he is so soft and creamy looking, you just know if he were ice cream he would taste buttery sweet! But then if his fur does get into your mouth, the image explodes. More like bits of cigarette tobacco—yuck! His sharp claws dig into your thighs like needles when he braces himself for a leap down off your lap. Yeow! He’ll look back at you with his owlish crystal blue eyes and blink once or twice. I wonder what he is thinking? Does he want something from me? That stare never ceases to lure me into his private world of cool assessment, calm confidence.  I am suddenly in the middle of a forest, surrounded by thick trees while Dakota sits in a circle of light. I want to be in his good graces. Like a woman desperate for her lover’s approval, I will go where he leads. To his dish or outside on the deck, it’s usually one or the other.

My son has decided that Dakota is really an accounts manager who is rich. He has figured out ways to finagle money out of the biggest corporations and is now fabulously rich, all due to his ingenuous ways of funneling money into secret accounts. Of course, it’s all legal, just very, very secret. And no one suspects a thing, especially when they see him. How could such a pretty kitty do anything illegal? Perfect cover.

Singer’s bronze coat matches the brown sugary sweet potato filling and the flaky crust provides the accent of salt and crumbly fat that melts in your mouth. Come on in and sit down for awhile, enjoy a cup of coffee, put your feet up. Yum, just looking at her you see how perfect the analogy is. There’s something inherently old fashioned about her, and I would venture for all Irish setters. They have gingham in their souls, and the smells of baking pies from Grandma’s kitchen waft over their top form. They are the American classic car--not the clunky Chevrolet, but the 1950s Pontiac with sleek chrome tail lights. So anachronistic in today’s canine world. Where have all the Irish setters gone? The slant of their eyes twist your heart just a tiny bit, and you can lose yourself in the shine of the bronze coat. But the smell of brown sugar and sweet potatoes keeps you grounded in the past and present all at the same time.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Collars and Leashes, Males and Females

Symbolically speaking, collars and leashes are anathema to the very nature of our pets—the freedom to roam untethered as their nose dictates is now limited. Symbolically speaking, collars and leashes are necessary items of safety as seen through the eyes of their owners. And finally, symbolically speaking, collars and leashes are quite the fashion statement these days. Have you seen the kitty aisle lately? Rhinestones aglitter, colors galore, cute icons abound, my oh my! And then there is the hunter’s aisle for doggies—bright orange, camouflage, olive green. So female, so male.

The bright pink collar Singer came with marks her as female. She may fool people with her confident prance, her head held high, although her slight body build gives her sex away, I think. I also think she sashays a bit when she walks…But Saylor was very confident as a young dog, too, and many thought she was a male. I guess there’s no sexism in the world of dogs? Females are allowed to be who they want to be, and Singer is very feminine in many ways—she curls up in a dainty ball on the couch, giving everyone in the room one last glance before she allows herself to fall asleep. Dakota doesn’t do this. He just falls asleep, his family could be dead or unconscious for all he cares…

Singer also cares about Dakota. She will perk up when he utters the mildest of coughs (could be the beginnings of a hairball, or just his allergies) and jumps down from the couch to give him a caring lick or two. She is so maternal. Dakota barely registers the gesture and continues to snooze in my lap. 

But Singer is not afraid to get her paws dirty. Yesterday, she finally decided to uproot that pesky chipmunk that’s been burrowing in our backyard for years, it seems. She dug a hole about a foot deep before I was alerted and stopped her. Her tail wagging, tongue hanging out just reminded me of a little boy who’s been playing in the dirt with his cars and trucks. Although I must confess:  I used to play in the dirt a lot when I was a kid.

When I brought her in the house to wash her paws, she patiently waited while I dipped each paw in warm water then dried them. I eventually decided to give her a bath, but I am still impressed by how patient she is with grooming. It’s probably her show dog background, but I also wonder if it’s her sex—little girls don’t mind all that primping and grooming stuff. Ah, but that’s really not true, when I recall how much Saylor hated to be groomed. Yes, I don’t think our pets have been constrained by sex roles like the ones we humans have created for our little ones. It’s another good reason to own a pet—they show us a different way that males and females can behave without artificial and somewhat neurotic rules imposed on them.

Back to collars and leashes:  I wonder how our pets perceive these necessary items? I doubt that the cats appreciate the rhinestones like we do. My cat tries to lick his collars off and usually succeeds. But I try to put his collar on anyway when we go outside, because it has his I.D. and my phone number on it. Same with Singer, whose collar is always on. But I know she hates her muzzle collar, the one called “gentle leader” (although I’ve heard that dogs can still hurt their necks with this if they pull too hard). She sometimes tries to rub it off in the snow. Like a little girl who hates her scratchy dress her mama wants her to wear…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Paws Have It

Her paw comes up and rests on my knee. It is rough and the claws are strong when she puts pressure on them and they come out of their sheathing. I take her paw and massage between her toes, where the soft and fuzzy fur grows. She likes that, I can tell. If I stop, she paws me for more. So I oblige.

Her rough paws always smell like the earth, even in winter. She retains this scent of the ground as a way of keeping in touch with the earth. Like an oceanic animal retains the scent of the sea, she holds the essence of earth in her paws. Her paws are one with the earth, where she digs in pleasure and industry. Her tail wags and her crusty, strong paws find common molecules in that microbial soil while the loamy scent of minerals and decay seeps in. Her paws are sponges, soaking up information received by the moist, cool substance and she is savoring all that she can for later.

We like to think our hands are superior to paws, but I don’t think so. Dogs have a special gift in that their paws are extensions of the earth, pungent reminders of immortality. Dogs are practical, and use their paws for getting food, love, even the toy that is wedged underneath the sofa. Singer uses her paws in all these ways and more. She loves to paw the earth and leaves in the backyard, and certain smells that beguile her. Her paws tell her stories that she reserves for bedtime. They keep the scent of narratives secret until her mind is quiet and her eyes are closed to the world. Then she sees what the molecules of her paws have been transcribing all day long, and it unravels like a beautiful, fascinating story.

As she is dreaming, and her paws are working again, scratching the air and the wall, I understand that her digging has become a story retold in another language. Her paws remember. And the scent of her scratchings in the dirt will waft in the air and she will whimper in her sleep as the story comes to an end. I reach down to touch her, savoring the scent in the air, communing with her dig like characters whose story I have been following and have come to love. It is as if I am right there in the dirt beside her, and I too don’t want the story to end.