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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Toys in the Basement


If someone came into our modest home, he or she would notice right away the old raggedy dog toys and bones scattered throughout the house. They lie along the walls—an old purple plush toy, its stuffing long gone (Saylor), a newer stuffed polar bear, a rawhide bone. Walking through the dining room, you would see an old hedgehog underneath a picture window, half stuffed, and a pink pig ridiculously limp from lack of stuffing. In the kitchen, underneath the table, is a multi-colored plush ball that squeaks, still in pretty good shape. Rope toys lie half-way hidden underneath chairs. Singer has found them all in a basket in our basement, where we kept Saylor’s toys. In later years, she would focus briefly on one toy. Most of her toys lay in the pink basket in the basement, forgotten.

Singer has found her aunt’s former possessions and dragged them all over the house. I’m reminded of a child who finds her mother’s old clothes in an attic to play with, perhaps leaving them scattered throughout the house for weeks at a time. Singer has been enjoying these old treasures, romping with them throughout the house and then just leaving them for reminders. I wonder what she discerns from their scent, if she is taking away from them a bit of Saylor? Does she get images of Saylor, who is her aunt on her father’s side? Does she wonder about her? I like to think she does.

It’s interesting to see these toys, played with by Saylor when she was one and two years old, then slowly abandoned in the basement as she aged. Near the end of her life, she did still love a pink dinosaur that had different sounds than the typical squeaker. We brought it to her while she was at the hospital and snuggled it under her paw. It is wrapped up still, I cannot bear to look at it yet. One of Saylor’s favorite toys of all time was a grey plush elephant, with long, distorted legs. Each foot had a different sound in it, and she loved chewing on each of the feet to hear their distinct sounds, like playing a musical instrument. Eventually the elephant became destuffed, its head torn apart like most of her toys, but she still loved it for the musical feet. I couldn’t bear to throw it away, although Singer has not yet brought it out. She probably realizes it’s not worth much now, except for my memories of Saylor.

These toys are quickly brushed aside when I vacuum, only to be brought out again by Singer. But I don’t mind. It’s comforting to see these icons of playfulness, joy and healthy vigor in our house once again. They are symbols of puppyhood and I’m also reminded of Nathaniel’s babyhood, when his toys were scattered throughout the house, and he would busy himself looking at each one, investigating and thinking about his world through his toys.

I imagine Singer is seeking answers from her new world as she sniffs, then grabs each toy, prancing with it throughout the house. I kiss her on her warm head, and think about her as a young puppy, faint memories still lingering in her scent.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Eyes Touch My Soul

Sometimes I look at my two animals and marvel at their beauty. Dakota looks at me with ice blue eyes, so clear they look like rare gems. There is a minute fleck of brown in the right eye that pulls your vision away from the translucent quality for a moment, as if it is a spot on a sheet of ice. The sky blueness of his eyes can make you smile or catch you in the throat with their acuity. They make me think he is always clear and razor concise in his thoughts. Indulge me with this illusion.

Singer’s liquid chocolate eyes, dark brown orbs that exude an ancient kindness bestowed by the animal kingdom fall on me. She holds her head at a perfect angle, so that her eyes match mine, though I am sitting higher than she. She is encapsulated in stillness, giving her an especially graceful look that is compounded by those eyes that I feel like I can fall into, and discover wonderful things about myself within their depths. You think I’m crazy? Just ask anyone who is in love with their pets. They’ll tell you it all begins with the eyes. What we see in those eyes, what we project, will transform our hearts and change us forever. And something magical happens, because they always show us we are right to feel this way.

But then Singer grabs a slipper, she doesn’t care whose it is, and romps with it around the house, her front legs springing forward like a young pony. She gives the slipper a shake, as if it’s a resistant muskrat she’s caught down river, and the playful gleam in her eye transmits across the room. I yell at her to drop it, but she doesn’t. She runs farther into the house, daring me to chase her. I oblige in her game and more sternly demand that she drop it, and she obeys. Her eyes are now dancing with a playful light and she looks quickly from my hand, which holds the slipper to my face, wondering what I will do next. I laugh at her and cannot help to pet her head. Satisfied, she trots away and finds one of her own toys to play with. Dakota is sitting like a sphinx in the corner of the room, watching. He observes without comment or preamble, and notices that I haven’t punished this unruly girl. He stretches for a second, then struts, and I mean struts like Saddam Hussein did in his palace, over to Singer and gives her a good swipe across her muzzle. And a snarly meow for good measure. I am astounded. This is the first time Dakota has exhibited any overt sign of aggression toward Singer, and it is so in line with what has just happened, it’s almost uncanny. I wonder, do animals really know more than we think they do?

I wanted to take a close up shot of both Dakota’s and Singer’s eyes for this post, but at the moment, Dakota is hiding under the couch. Maybe next time.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Dogs and Peak Performance

Dogs are like artists, by which I mean creative people in general. They approach their world with high levels of passion that continually renews itself. I see artists this way. BTW, artists can be scientists or engineers, or just about any profession—it is the way in which you perceive your profession that defines an artist. An artist is someone who has all their faculties engaged at high levels. And dogs have their sensory switchboards lit up every time they step outside. Take Singer, for example.

Today, she steps outside tentatively, as if to make sure she senses everything there is to know about her world—she doesn’t want to miss anything. Her paws feel the melting snow on the deck, noting the temperature change in the air. She takes a quick look around, and focuses on one spot in the yard. I look, but I am only human—I don’t see what interests her. It is somewhat dark outside yet.

Her head alerts to a sight/sound/smell (any or either one-take your pick) and she stands in full concentration. I imagine, if we could hook her up to an fMRI machine, we’d see her brain lit up in all the pertinent areas of peak performance. Her alpha waves would be high. She exhibits no distraction, no preoccupation, no self-consciousness. I love to watch her, and this moment is available to her virtually every morning when we step out the door. Can you imagine being so engaged in your world every single day? So why do I have to interrupt her by calling her to do her business? She never seems to mind, but I always feel like I’m intruding on an artist who is just getting that special insight for her next brush stroke, or writing the next scene in her novel, or which experiment to perform next. But Singer is always forgiving. She sometimes is so into the flow of the moment that she will take a few extra seconds to respond, but I too am forgiving. After all, I’m the one interrupting her!

Dakota, our cat, is more zen-like when it comes to flow. He likes to hop into our bathtub on a regular basis and watch the water drops. Drip, drip, drip. How could anything be more boring? But Dakota is fascinated, every single time. I imagine he notices how the light reflects onto each drop, how fast the drop falls, the sound of the faucet as it strains halfway between on and off (I oblige Dakota in this particular activity by adjusting the faucet to just the right turn.) I love to see him totally absorbed, and have come back at times to see him still engaged, still absorbed, still in the flow.

Dog-cat relations update:  I think Singer and Dakota are starting to bond more closely. Singer continues to give Dakota a quick swipe of her tongue when he passes by, and Dakota now doesn’t even flinch. It makes my heart swell whenever I see it. And, Singer is staying away from Dakota’s toys!!! I think that’s just major. Saylor never could resist.

We have a lot to learn from the animal kingdom, don’t you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Do Humans Need Training Too?


Yes, I think they do. Today in our second dog training class, I was very uncoordinated for some reason. I couldn’t guide Singer while she weaved around orange cones by doling out treats at the proper time. I had to do the whole routine over again, with treats in my left hand so I could treat her faster (she was on my left side). The second time around, Singer was able to respond beautifully. We were practicing the heel command and she was supposed to look at me when I said “heel” as we angled around the cones, and I treated her the instant she looked at me. Singer fell right into the game, as if she were in a dog show. She knew the routine, it all came back to her. I was the problem.

For some reason, I wasn’t able to coordinate walking around cones and keeping my eye on Singer, while treating her at the exact time she rounded the cone. I think I need the class more than her at times. First, I have to get my act together so Singer clearly knows what I’m trying to show her. If nothing else, these classes show owners that they need this training just as much as their dogs do.

We were still struggling with “sit” and “down” today, although she is doing better. However, there was one game we played today that Singer excelled in. She was allowed to sniff a container with really enticing bits of meat inside of it, and then I called her name. If she looked up at me, she was treated; if she came when I called, she was given the jackpot—a fistful of goodies.  Singer quickly caught on. I asked the teacher about it, explaining that she was looking at my treat hand and ignoring the pot of meat on the floor, expecting me to treat her. The teacher said I could go sit down, she “patterns easily.” She'd figured it out, and was on to our little trick. The other dogs were still trying to get at the meat container, and were torn between the meat and their owners. So Singer “patterns easily.”  I think that means she’s smart. But I knew that, I’m her mom! Too bad I can’t take credit for her brains. Her breeder and previous owner deserve that credit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Run, Singer, Run!


In the cold early dawn, a midsize animal streaks with electrical speed across my backyard, her legs moving above the ground like a race horse. It takes her only seconds. She stops at the fence, stock still, and looks to see another wild animal scurry away into the bushes in a neighbor’s yard. Her head is held high, her tail aloft, and her body still as stone. I whistle sharply and she turns her head toward me for a second, then tucks her head into her body and gallops toward the deck before making a sharp detour toward the gate. She sniffs the snow and looks past the chain link fence, and I call her once again.

It is cold out! Singer makes her early morning ritual of streaking across the yard, checking to see what wild animal has dared to enter her domain, and she is so unaware of how magnificent she is to see which makes it all the more enticing. She is faster than God's commands. Our yard can’t be more than 70 yards wide and maybe 50 yards deep, yet she makes the most of it by racing around to certain check points, her form so perfect and automatic, it is utterly amazing. For a few seconds, I run with her in my mind and forget the cold. Then I remind her to “go potty!” She gives me a mindful glance, but then returns to her real duty:  checking the yard for animal intruders. Her body can engage in high gear in no time at all and she does it all within the perimeters of this small space. It is amazing and kind of sad at the same time, as I yet again wish we had more space for her to run in. Once you see her run, you know she should not be confined. She needs to run, she needs to burn oxygen at a high level, her muscles fluidly working at a moment’s notice providing the speed in which she seems to fly through the air, her ears flapping behind her and her tail waving like a banner through the frigid air. Then it is over. I actually want her to “do it again!” like a kid, but understand that we don’t have much time, it is cold, she is there to do her business, and I have to go in and get ready for work. She also knows this. She will, after the third or fourth reminder, trot over to one or two different places in the yard, sniff quickly for a spot and then squat and do her business. I call out praises and notice the rose colored horizon as the sun comes up. I always make a connection with Singer, my runner, my magnificent goddess of running, my gazelle, and yes, maybe I’m amazed.  I hope I feel this way every morning.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Canine Communication

“Watson, come here…”  When Alexander Graham Bell first realized he had invented a new form of communication that worked across the miles, he must’ve been thrilled.

On a smaller scale, it feels similar when the channels between humans and canines are suddenly clarified. We were “communicating” this morning in Singer’s obedience class and it did feel good. We both learned how certain signals, both verbal and nonverbal, could be interpreted by each other. Singer focused quickly on my hand, and watched closely to learn how she could get me to give her the treats. She picked up a difficult command, “leave it”, rather easily while the simple “sit” is still fuzzy for her.

The “leave it” command was taught by showing her a “low value” treat—a plain dog biscuit—then throwing it a short distance away while saying “leave it.” I had to block her as she went for it, and then treat her with “high value” treats—pieces of meat. She learned “leave it” after blocking her the first time. I think she saw the utility of the command. It somehow made sense to her that she wasn’t supposed to go after something, and quickly realized that the tastier treats were in my hand anyway. But “sit” and “down” seem rather pointless to her. She finally sat when the treat was drawn over her head as she watched (I remembered this trick from when Saylor took the first intro class). The down command was a little harder for her. We asked the teacher to come over and help us out. She got Singer to sit, then she lured her down by bringing the treat to the floor, and Singer went down with it to try to get it. When she was flat on the floor, she got her reward. “Good girl!” She seems really responsive to verbal praise, and she got a lot of it this morning. Treats helped, too.

There were quite a few dogs and their owners in class—about twenty in all. We met a female black lab, Maxine, seven months old, a rescue dog. Maxine sniffed at Singer and then decided she didn’t like her, but we kept the two from fighting. Maxine then growled at a Great Dane, who looked like he could’ve swallowed her up in one gulp. She’s a feisty one, Maxine. Her owner was really nice.

These commands like “sit” and “down” must seem contrived to dogs. They all quickly learn that they are getting treats in exchange for a lot of silly movements. To help us understand the canine perspective, the teacher had us try to get our dogs to sit with our backs facing the dogs. Singer didn’t do it, and I’m not sure any dog was able to do it. The teacher showed us that this is a perception issue —dogs think sitting means right in front of you when you have a treat in your hand. A rock solid sit is when the dog will sit on voice command no matter where you are and with or without a treat. We have a lot to work on this week! But I think the value of learning how to communicate with your dog is the real benefit of these classes—not perfect obedience, although I do want to make sure Singer always comes when she’s called.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Between Man and Machine


That’s where I think most animals fall—they are somewhere between thinking, scheming, feeling, idea-generating, ego-cruising, evolving, loving man, and reliable, unchanging machines (until they break down).

Today at work, as I attempted to print out a 179-page document and then went to get my lunch, I assumed the job would be done and waiting for me when I got back. Wrong. The printer jammed. Well, dogs are sort of between the reliability of machines and the unpredictable nature of man. A child coming into a new home would have all sorts of emotions as she adjusts to new people, new family members, new environment. There would be many ups and downs, I’m sure. But Singer has been somewhere between reliable and unpredictable. Her nature keeps unfolding like a flower, although not always pleasantly. She is showing a preference for me, and only me, to take her outside to go potty. We have to work on that. Yesterday, Nate tried twice to take her out back to go potty, but she waited until I got home, took her on a walk and only then decides she wanted to go. Oh well. I feel foolish complaining, almost. But it is illustrative of my point. Singer is not a machine, she has her own feelings about her routines, yet she does conform to rules pretty well. That’s when expectations rise, and that’s when man and beast clash.

Sometimes man expects too much of beast. They are our friends, our family, and then we expect perfect canine behavior as well. We watch their behaviors and say, “Okay, this animal will be able to do this or that.” Then the animal decides that he or she doesn’t want to do this or that, without a clear reason why. I guess that’s why dog training is such big business. I bet there are more training manuals, classes, videos, etc. for training your dog than training your kid!

Tomorrow we start our intermediate dog training class for six weeks. I’m looking forward to it—we should have fun going through the exercises, and I’m hoping Singer will feel more comfortable with both Jeff and Nate as she learns to trust them more and respond positively to their commands. Jeff is attending, but Nate probably won’t go. I’m hoping he’ll take an interest, though, when he has the time. I’m sure she’ll do well, but I have to watch those expectations…! More on the class tomorrow!

Singer looking out at her yard, wondering where all that snow came from....
"I better see if there are any squirrels underneath my deck here..."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Goose Pond


I can’t wait for spring—this spring-like weather we’re having notwithstanding. Spring is when the geese come flying back north. And Goose Pond is crowded with geese.

We first took Saylor there when she was about a year old. She probably got a crook in her neck from looking up in the sky at all the geese. There were some marshy trails we followed, but definitely, it was the sights and sounds that entranced us all. I cannot wait to take Singer there this March.

As I recall, we took Saylor right around the Spring Equinox. The area is a designated state natural area, about fifteen miles north of Madison. The 500 or so acres host hundreds of species of birds, not just geese. There are wetland habitat restorations going on, and tall grass prairie sites, perfect for walking your bird dogs. I imagine the experience is sort of like Disneyland for hunting dogs like Singer. She will be so excited, her body rigid in alert concentration, as she points for the birds. Saylor was a pointer, but not formally. She held her tail aloft and her head pointed, as if we were out hunting water fowl. Singer is such a natural hunter, I bet she’ll be going crazy with excitement.

Yesterday, I went back to work after two weeks. Tough getting used to my old schedule again, and knowing that Singer is crated for a good part of the day, although Nate comes home in the afternoon and lets her out before he leaves again. She seems fine though, and I keep reminding myself she spent a lot of time in the kennel. She is getting used to our routines. As if she is noting our particular temperaments for future reference, she watches us deliberately at breakfast, looking from one face to another. I smile as I think, “Turn around is fair play. You’ve had many people watching you and evaluating you these last two weeks. Now it’s your turn!”

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Who Do You Like Best?

Ah, this question was bound to come up, was it not?

Every parent with more than one child or pet secretly ponders this, or is possibly asked this by the child! I have only one child, but two pets. So, who do I like best?

Let me delay my answer for a bit. A quick look at the research shows that mom’s favoritism contributes to adulthood depression, even in the favored child. It seems that the favored child feels guilty about their status, while the unlucky child feels bitter. Don’t know if you can extrapolate to animals, but I will anyway. Yesterday, Dakota seemed to perceive my behavior toward Singer as favoritism. I thought his mock attack was an important sign that my behavior probably wasn’t as impartial as I’d assumed, even though I’ve been concerned about how Dakota feels lately.

There are also, apparently, hormones linked to maternal bonding. I felt very maternal towards Saylor on her last days with us, wanting to ease her suffering and protect her. During those few weeks before Singer came, I focused a lot on Dakota, buying him his kitty condo, catnip, taking him to the vet to make sure he was healthy, spending more time with him. Then suddenly the attention was divided.

Singer needed careful, loving attention at first because I could tell she was really frightened. She didn’t know where she was, who I was, and what was going to happen. Maternal instincts were high again. I fell right into the role of making sure she settled comfortably into our home. I thought I was dividing my attention between Singer and Dakota equally, but apparently not. It seems that Singer is also aware of how Dakota might be feeling because she again licked Dakota last night when we let her out of her crate. Singer seems to be trying to assure us that she will protect and love him. All that any mother could want. Can’t you just feel the bonding hormones surge?

So back to my original question: who do I like best? Well, dear reader, I like them both for different reasons. I really do appreciate having a cat, who is more independent and cuddly, who wants me to stare at him with adoration, but not necessarily reciprocate. Who thinks it’s okay to want to go outside near midnight, just because he feels like it, but then not care when I don’t take him out. (The audacity of that cat!)

And I appreciate that Singer watches me, trying to anticipate my next move so that she can be ready for me. Who loves and expects me to enjoy with her, our daily walks. Who wants to be with me almost all the time. And who likes hugs and cuddles, just like Dakota does.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blue-Eyed Cat Turns Green-Eyed


Remember yesterday’s post when I thought dogs’ emotions are not that complicated? Well, I forgot about cats. Today, I think Dakota showed signs of jealousy. I was in the kitchen, Singer was on a couch, while Dakota was behind her on his usual post. I was blowing kisses and saying what a good girl Singer is, then Dakota looked up and I said what a good boy he is. I won’t tell you what I call him…okay, okay, I call him: zboo-boo-loo-boo-noo-boo! (I suppose I’ve turned off more than a few readers now.) So anyway, I started sending kisses his way, and he responded with blinking at me, then he suddenly jumped off his perch and jumped up on Singer, then veered off on the top of the couch. It was a mock attack. This all happened so fast, Singer hardly turned her head before it was over. Jealousy, I fear. So, cats are more complicated than dogs! No harm was done, but Dakota’s message was clear:  “I don’t like you saying sweet nothings to nobody but me!”

I can just about project anything I want onto these animals, and who’s to say I’m wrong? Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me…

On today’s walk, Singer and I encountered an older woman walking her two Labradoodle puppies—one black, one cream. Very cute! A few feet away, she bent down to make sure they sat while we passed. Singer hardly paid any attention to them, and I smiled at her and mentioned how cute they were. Like a mom that she is, she was paying attention to her “children”, making sure that they were obedient and not getting up from their sit. I thought about that as Singer walked on by. We humans spend so much time and effort to get our dogs to live with us in an acceptable manner. Some adhere to our rules, some don’t. Singer is an adherer. But then she has been brought up within an environment that also honors a dog’s nature, where she can run and hunt and be wild and free. I appreciate that. She has a centeredness that I believe is the result of this upbringing. No neurosis living in too much confinement, without the ability to express her animal side. Perfect balance. I hope to find venues where she will be able to run wild and free. At the moment, I don’t know where that might be, since I fear dog parks right now. Saylor was fine, she walked alongside us and no dogs ever attacked her. But Singer might run too far and fast, away from my sight, and then I’m not sure about the other dogs. I may regret that she may never have the chance to really run wild and free again, but will she? Who knows?

BTW, today I changed the paragraph under the banner of my blog to be more specific about its purpose. I intend to write about canine/human relationships, provide interesting insights into this experience of bonding with the animals (hopefully) and just be entertaining for a year. It makes me sweat a little trying to think how I can make this interesting for a whole year, but I’m gonna try! Keep me honest and tell me when it doesn’t work, okay? 
I had to get this shot, even though you can't really see it very well. As you who have been following this blog know, Singer is obsessed with squirrels. Today's squirrel, in the crook of the tree, has a red tail! It must be Irish, Singer is thinking.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Basketful of Squirrels

I asked my son Nathaniel yesterday how he thought Singer was adjusting to her new home. He thought for a minute, then said she was probably disappointed. “Disappointed? Why?”
“She thought she’d get a basketful of squirrels on her pillow in her own room.” We both laughed. I know what he means. Looking at her, she does look like this princess who expects things to be given to her. That is, when she’s not focused on a chattering squirrel on a telephone line, sassing her and twitching its tail.  

Singer is the child in the back of the classroom who sits quietly all day, unnoticed by the teacher or the kids. But when no one else knows the correct answer, Singer will come through. She just has this look about her. She notices everything without looking like she’s paying attention. She is quiet and almost dignified, if that’s possible with an Irish setter. She knows how to behave when it’s required of her, and she knows when she can just enjoy life as much as a dog can.

I imagine that she misses her home. Sometimes, when she’s still, looking into the distance, I wonder if she’s thinking about her people and doggie friends in Minnesota. Does she miss them? Does she miss the smells of her old home? Surely she does. No matter how much she seems bonded to us and to Dakota, it's likely that images of her old home flash through her mind from time to time. I have no idea about the inner life of dogs, (I’m no Patricia McConnell) but I suspect their emotional life is not nearly as complicated as humans. I don’t think they feel regret, for example. Their homesickness is probably a lot different than what people feel. She is, for the most part, an alert, calm and contented dog. She is enjoying her new life with us. She knows where the back door is, where her food and water are, and loves to watch her backyard like television. She checks on Dakota regularly, sniffing his head or his back. And she is getting closer to me and to Jeff and Nathaniel every day. 
"What is that squirrel saying to me?"
"Dakota, did you see that??!!"

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mother Love


Singer did something that borders on sainthood yesterday. I had to put her in the crate last night before we headed out to our yoga class. She looked at me like, “Why are you doing this? Don’t you trust me?” I gave her an extra squirt of liver paste in her Kong and shut the door. When we got home, she came bounding up the stairs after I let her out, so glad to see me. Then she went into the living room, where Dakota was stationed on his kitty condo, as usual. Now, a lesser dog might jealously lash out at Dakota right about then, furious that he has freedom in the house while she has to be caged…like some sort of animal! But Singer walked up to Dakota and started licking him in the most loving, slow way that it brought me to a standstill. Her tongue gently and carefully swept across Dakota’s back, as if she were his mother, cleaning her precious baby boy. I so wanted my camera, but of course these moments are rarely long enough for one to run and get it. Jeff, who was reading, didn’t see it. Dakota stepped off his perch and turned around to give his fur a quick swipe with his tongue, like a kid wiping away his mother’s kisses. The look on his face said, “Yuck!” I think Singer was trying to show me, “See, I love my brother already, even though he looks like a squirrel…” I actually think Dakota looks like a raccoon—he’s a seal bicolor ragdoll, and his coloring around the eyes gives him that masked look.

Irish setters have these liquid brown eyes that are so easy to anthropomorphize. They exude such love and tenderness, and a sort of wisdom, too. Their behavior can be so impetuously childlike, it’s hard to see wisdom in them, but trust me, it’s there. It’s a kind of stoic understated wisdom, like they are saying, “I know you think I’m brainless, but actually, I know more about the important things in life than you would ever guess.”

Singer fell asleep with me on the couch last night, tucked in by my side, her head snuggled in the crook of my arm. Her eyes started to slowly close, like a tired baby’s, and she breathed deeply. She would make her eyes pop open to check on me, then the sleepiness overcame her and took her to dreamland. I woke up about a half-hour later, and we both got up to get ready for bed. It’s amazing how energetic the night air makes her as she patrols the yard one last time before ending the day. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Peaceable Kingdom


Singer and Dakota have both staked out their positions for viewing the backyard through the bay window. Dakota, from his kitty condo perch on the left (which he never goes in, only on top) and Singer, from a seat on the couch. They watch all the scurrying squirrels, chipmunks and bunnies in the backyard. It’s like a Disney movie! And Dakota keeps an eye on all the birds flying to the birdfeeders in the neighbor’s yard. It’s hard to say what each of them thinks of the other one, but judging from this picture, it seems they are at peace with each other. At least during Singer’s first week in our home, that is to say. Singer will sniff Dakota, who will give a short mewp of protest, at most. No claws. Dakota will sometimes burst into a frantic cat scat, tearing through the living room, ears flattened, and leap on top of the couch, a wild look in his eye. But Singer placidly watches, no sign of the hunt instinct. Big test for her, and I think she passes.

Still, Singer goes in the crate when no one’s home. I bought another bed for her today, not as comfy as the old one, but she can’t destuff this one. Now I can rest easy when I go back to work next week. I also got her a rubber ball that you can stuff treats in (she also has an old Kong from Saylor). At first, she didn’t want to grab it when we bounced it for her in the house. Perhaps she is trained not to be rambunctious in the house? So I took her outside with it and tossed it around. It took several tries before she grabbed it up and started to play with it. Then she loved it. Reticence in an Irish setter—quite unusual!

I had to get new “snow studs” for my boots today, the old yak-traks don’t last very long. The wires break and get rusty. The new ones are rubber things that you pull around your boots with metal studs in the soles to grip the ice. A mild winter always produces more ice than normal, so these are an essential item for everyone who has a dog in urban areas. I mentioned to the salesman that we only have two more months until March, thinking he was a runner and wanted to be free of the ice. He said that he normally doesn’t wish his life away, but yes, this mild winter was hard on runners. I thought about that—here on the second day of the new year—wishing one’s life away. How many times have I wished for a day to come, hoping all the days until then disappear? I know something about wishing your life away—I’ve done it quite often. Here’s an idea: let’s not wish things were better, let’s be like the animals and just accept things as they are. This is going to be my new year’s resolution. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Singer March Rose

I spend a lot of time deciding names for my animals. It’s important to me that they reflect something of their character. Saylor April Song was named because she was born in April, and I liked the poetic sound of an April Song. Saylor is merely a reference to sailing, a romantic occupation, spelled differently since she was a girl.

Singer came to us already named, except I added the “March Rose” because, can you guess? She was born in March and she is a rare beauty, and it sounds nice. Dakota is actually Dakota Moon, because he seems to be a lunar type, (kind of loony too!) and it sounded good together. Someone pointed out to me after we had named him that Dakota Moon is the name of a group, but I guess I didn’t steal it because I didn’t know about it then! My son named our first cat, Cloud Linden, because he was grey and white. He also liked Linden trees, which lined the street where I worked at the time.

Names help solidify our pets’ (and children’s) identities in our minds, creating an evocative image or perhaps metaphor for all our complex feelings we associate with them. In my family, my dad named all of his children. He took time to consider forebears and then he would choose a name that reflected something about us, some little attribute that would provide a familiar and comforting sound in his mind. I heard this story after he had died, so I can’t be sure if it’s true or not, but I like to think it is.

Singer March Rose, born in the last days of winter before the roses bloom while verdant stirrings underneath the crystalline snow have already started to push through, seeking the early spring sun. Singer March Rose, whose buoyant walk projects an assured grace. She is never far from her people. She is mindful, and moves through her world like a confident diva.

Okay, enough of this idolization. Singer is not an angel. Like an actress who has just performed the role of her lifetime, Singer threw away her awesome fa├žade on Friday. We went out to eat on Friday night and put her in the crate. I threw an old blanket over the top, thinking she would find it more den-like and settle down. She licked the Kong with the liver paste in it, but soon heard us getting ready to leave and started to whimper. I thought of her throughout dinner, and hoped she wasn’t too lonely. When we got home, Singer had pulled the blanket through the wire crate and ripped it open, taking the stuffing out of it. “See, her name Singer is really after the sewing machine—she loves fabric!” joked my husband.  Then yesterday, I set out sandwiches for lunch while Singer watched. We have not given her any table scraps, not even one, since she wasn’t given any in her former home, and I don’t want her to start begging. So I turned around and saw from the corner of my eye her mouth open near my sandwich. “No!” I shouted, and she stopped. I couldn’t help remembering the day when Saylor, as a young dog at a show, used her paw to swipe a ham sandwich from the judge’s table. That’s why she didn’t win that day, we told everyone later. Anyway, I’m glad my dog isn’t perfect, it’s too intimidating!