Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Drool Too Two

As you may recall, our last visit to the Drool Zone promised more watery discussion. So, without any more delay, let's explore why dogs drool.

Remember Pavlov's dog? Ivan Petrovitch Pavlov was attempting to prove conditioned reflex by showing a dog some meat while ringing a bell. The dog drooled because his mouth anticipated eating the meat. Automatically the dog's mouth produced the juice to aid in digestion.

Eventually, the dog would salivate upon hearing only the bell. Pavlov figured people had the same tendencies, not so much drooling, but the conditioned reflex stuff. Had Pavlov done his experiments with humans rather than dogs, the volume of spit would have been more difficult to measure and Pavlov may not have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1904.

As we know, dogs have more reservoirs of saliva available to them than people do. This is why we notice the drool factor in dogs that leads to the distressing appearance of glumps of spit on walls and assorted other surfaces in the home.

What is most fascinating to observe drool wise, is when the drool becomes thickened and hangs from the dog's jowls. This strand of saliva has the remarkable ability to stretch, sometimes to great lengths. Then this string swings precariously. You may chase it with a dishcloth hoping to catch it before it lands somewhere but it is difficult to predict its sticky trajectory. This phenomenon is known as the Pendulum of Yuck.

Bon appetit.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Save the Cookies

Christmas offers a lovely excuse to bake cookies to share and enjoy. The other day, after some merry baking, I'd just finished bagging up some cookies to give. There were several left so I arranged them attractively on a pretty plate with a holly design. Strolling jauntily, humming a holiday tune, I headed to the dining room to display the cookies in the fancy cake dish.

Then I tripped. On the way down I did a one quarter turn- no doubt it was an unconscious desperate attempt to save the cookies. The cookies and the gorgeous holly plate took flight from my left hand. I landed on my right side, my arm pinned under me. My shoulder absorbed most of the force. It hurt a lot. I lay there thinking: please don't be a rotator cuff injury.

The cookies were strewn on the rug. How fortunate that I'd vacuumed the day before. The dog hair will be at a minimum. I sat up and noted that the beautiful holly plate appeared unharmed. My husband appeared. "Oh my God!" he said. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, yes." I pointed at the cookie carnage. "Save the cookies!"

As he gathered the broken cookies and reassembled them on the festive holly plate, our dogs drew near. They had been silently watching this little drama and wanted a part of the unexpected bounty. Like hyenas circling ever closer to a lion's kill, they moved in. A glare from this wounded lioness convinced them to retreat. My husband placed the damaged cookies on the resplendent holly plate in the cake dish.

"OK. Go ahead." I told the dogs. A few Shortbread crumbs wouldn't hurt them. Cookies are made to be enjoyed and shared.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Eat the Poinsettias

At this festive time of year, let us be alert to everyday dangers!

The following are common poisons that your pet is likely to encounter.

1. Accidental ingestion of medications.
2. Rodenticides (rat poison)
3. Methylanthine toxicity (Chocolate)
4. Plant poisoning
5. Household chemicals
6. Metaldehyde (slug bait)
7. Insecticide
8. Heavy Metals (lead and zinc coins)
9. Toad poisoning (buffa toad Florida)
10. Antifreeze
11. Walnut poisoning
12. Alcohol
13. Strychine

(List compiled by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co.)

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423

For classes and/Pet First Aid booklet visit:

for further information on general pet care

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Customer Service with a Patronizing Touch

As did presumably all other addressees served by the Royal Oak Post Office, I received a letter a couple days ago. It was from Jeff Helmuth, Postmaster.

The Letter read: "Dear Postal Customer,

The United States Postal Service is determined not to have a repeat of last year's record number of accidents caused by snow and icy conditions.

It will be necessary for you to remove the ice and snow from your steps sidewalks and porches within 24 hours of each snowfall. If conditions are unsafe, carriers are instructed to suspend delivery and bring the mail back to the Post Office.

Your carrier strives for complete customer satisfaction and this includes daily delivery of your mail. Please assist your carrier in staying healthy and safe this winter. "

I don't know how everybody feels about this, but I'll bet I'm not the only one who is offended. You can just see Jeff the Postmaster shaking his finger as he orders you to clear your snow now! Accidents in wintry weather are all your fault! Shame shame double shame!

Can you imagine if you received such a letter from FedEx or UPS? You'd stop using their service and switch to a company that treats you with respect. When an organization thinks they are superior to the customer and lets it show- than the customers leave. Could it be, that more customers would leave if the Postal Service was not a government entity?

My mail was delivered a few minutes ago. My carrier isn't talking on the phone or smoking a cigarette. She is focused on delivering the mail to the houses on her route. She is wearing rugged walking boots, a warm coat, gloves and a hat. In other words, dressed for the weather and her job. Evidently my property was adequately clean of treacherous ice because the mail carrier placed the mail in the mailbox and departed in a vertical manner.

No doubt Postmaster Jeff has noticed that weather conditions occur. Here we are in southeast Michigan and it is December. A few days ago we had rain. Then the temperature dropped to below freezing. Then it snowed. Then the sun shone. Then overnight the temperature dropped to the teens. This makes for challenging clean up to prepare for those who deliver in rain and sleet and dark of -what was that slogan again? Notice they don't use it anymore.

I sincerely hope that nobody slips and falls out there in the dangerous outside. Meanwhile, we grown ups do the best we can to clear a safe path for all. We do it even if we are not told to by a government bureaucrat.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bubba the Cat

Some cats live a wild life. Literally. They are just as wild as the squirrels or the sparrows or the skunks. Feral cats are the offspring of domestic cats that have, shall we say, run away from home. Feral cats also come from non neutered house cats that are allowed to roam and impregnate wild cats. Some feral cats live in colonies.

There was one such colony in my own neighborhood, one street over. A bunch of cats lived in an unused garage. Who knows how many. Dozens? Hundreds? It's tempting to say, so what? Cats have just as much right to live as raccoons or bumblebees. Sure they do. But here's the thing. These wild cats must eat. Among other things, this threatens the songbird population. In fact, one day I saw a wild cat with a baby rabbit in it's mouth right under my backyard bird feeder. You may say, this is good. Keep the varmint population in check. I say, that's what hawks are for.

Feral cats use my flower beds as their toilet. Nobody comes up behind them with a plastic bag to pick it up, the way I do with my dogs. And if I let my dogs run wild and mate willy nilly, there would be complaints from the neighbors. All I'm saying is, that all cat owners need to be responsible for their pets. If they were, there would be no feral cats.

But this is about Bubba. Let's talk about Bubba. About four years ago a wild litter of cats was born. One of these kittens was a black and white boy with green eyes. A nice lady took this kitten in and her young son named him Bubba. The boy loved Bubba and wanted to hold him and pet him and overall, treat him like a house cat. Though Bubba seemed to tolerate this good fortune, he escaped the first chance he got. He was found and coaxed close enough to be grabbed and returned to his luxurious prison. You guessed it, he escaped again. And again. Each time it was more difficult to recapture Bubba.

The boy's mother actually camped out in front of my house one night in hopes of spotting Bubba and returning him to caring captivity. Bubba was having none of it. He was born wild and chose to live wild.

Bubba is fairly long lived for a feral cat. After four, or is it five years now? I still see him now and then, under a car in a driveway or walking down the sidewalk. How does he live? Kindly folks put cat food on their back porches. Does Bubba supplement his diet with songbirds and garbage picking? How many children do you suppose he has sired by now?

For more information on feral cats:
feral cat allies-
for facebook users:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Caution: Drool Zone

Anyone who has ever experienced a Newfoundland or Saint Bernard up close has noticed that things tend to be particularly moist. All dogs drool, of course, but some dogs have a style of mouth that flows more freely.

A dog's saliva lubricates food to help move it down the throat, much like it does in the human mouth. The sub lingual gland runs just below the bottom teeth with openings for oozing saliva from front to back. Keeping supplies of the wet stuff is no problem, in both man and beast there are also salivary glands behind the throat (parotid) and below the cheek (mandibular). Dogs have extra water power with a gland under the eyes (zygomatic).

What makes some dogs's faces seem extra damp is mostly due to lip style. The looser the lips are the more liquid can drip out. With so many breeds of dogs, come variety in head shape, jaw and teeth structure, coat type, etc. So it's no surprize that there are different lip types.

Notice, for instance, the difference between a Bull Terrier's lips and a Bullmastiff's lips. Lips are the fleshy areas that surround the mouth cavity, they tend to be a different color than the other skin. In dogs the lips may be less noticeable because the muzzle surrounds and sometimes over shadows the lips. Some dogs have a hanging muzzle like a Bloodhound, you have to search for the lips. In a stubby muzzle, like a Pug's, the lower lip is obvious but the upper lip in obscured by the muzzle. A Borzoi's smooth tapering style muzzle leaves the lips easy to see.

The skin that hangs from the muzzle around the lips is called the flew. The flew is that flap of skin that is able to fling spittle with a shake of the head.

Size matters too. A Boxer has pretty loose lips but so does Mastiff. And bigger dogs have bigger mouths and bigger glands. The better to soak you with the old head in your lap trick.

Just why do dogs drool? Stay tuned. In the next installment of Drool Theater we'll visit the Pendulum of Yuck.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Icy Procrastination

Though there are very few downsides to having dogs rather than children, one is that you can't make your dog rake leaves. Leaf blower? No thank you. Whenever I'm besieged by the sound of a leaf blower, I feel like I'm in an old Star Trek episode. Alien forces are attacking the Enterprise with sound waves. Kirk and the crew grab their heads in agony, fall down and writhe until they pass out. Someday I'll join in the drama on my front lawn. So far I've refrained because I'm pretty sure my neighbors think I'm a little odd, why confirm their suspicions.

Leaf rakes work very well in moving fallen leaves around. They require no power other than muscle. And they are less likely to cause writhing than are leaf blowers. Procrastinate on raking leaves in November and in March the leaves will still be there, sodden. Then you must stomp on the mushy ground to remove them. This is not recommended.

You can put off indoor chores. Do your spring cleaning in summer? Why not! Most outdoor chores have a smaller window. Take the rain barrel, for example. As we all know, water freezes into ice. Leave your rain barrels out too far into fall and you have rock hard barrels. The hull of the barrel is then exposed to the damaging stress of expansion. When things finally thaw out you have a leaky rain barrel. This is not recommended.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Music to the ears

Let's get this out of the way first: yes, it's true. I frequently sing Show Tunes while on the job. Luckily I'm a dog walker, so the complaints are few.

Lyrics stick with me. It's a gift. And a joy. Even so, when it comes to selecting music to listen to, most of the time I choose instrumental Classical music. Since I'm most drawn to Baroque and Classical styles, maybe it's the strict patterns that I find pleasant or perhaps, soothing. After all, once the Romantics and Moderns got into the act, things went looser and well, less soothing.

A Jazz enthusiast once got in my face; calling me uptight, conventional and unimaginative. Jokingly, I suggested that because I go to bed early, I've never experienced real live jazz in smoky night clubs. Therefore, I never learned to fully appreciate jazz. That explanation fell on deaf ears. Instead I was deemed too closed off emotionally to appreciate the spontaneous innovation of jazz. That's just plain poppycock. If I was closed off emotionally I wouldn't be inclined to lustful thoughts of Gene Kelly.

But lets return to our musical discussion. It could be, that my ears prefer to separate sensations. Voice is meant to be more wild and free. While strings and woodwinds and pianos sound better with more structure. Give me scatting Mel Torme' or Ella Fitzgerald. But keep the piano Mozart.

Maybe music is like religion to some folks. That would explain the Jazz Zealot's heartwarming inclusion and acceptance toward other musical faiths. Like most things, of course, it's not all that complicated. What is music to you may not be music to somebody else. It's really just a matter of keeping the volume down low enough not to force others to listen and just high enough to enjoy it yourself.

As for me, I shall sing 'Whistle a Happy Tune' and 'I'm Called Little Buttercup' while I walk and listen to The Brandenburg Concertos while I drive. As I type this, Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax play Beethoven.

Rock on.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Legal Issues/ dog breeders

The American Kennel Club Government Relations group tracks activity by the US Congress in matters of importance to dog owners. One of the bills being considered during the current lame duck session is:

H.R.5434 – This legislation, known as the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, would require all breeders who breed and sell more than 50 puppies in a 12-month period to be regulated under USDA dog dealer regulations. Requirements would include obtaining an annual USDA license, maintaining minimum federal standards of care, and regular inspections at least biennially. It also would require that breeding dogs receive daily access to exercise that is sufficient to maintain normal muscle tone and mass, the ability to achieve a running stride, and is not a forced activity. The AKC has expressed a number of concerns with the measure and will keep owners and breeders up to date on any changes in the bill’s status. S.3424 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry. H.R. 5434 is assigned to the House Committee on Agriculture. No hearings have been scheduled for either bill.


This bill is in response to the "puppy mills" that have gained notoriety through assorted media sources. It is surely a well meaning attempt to save unfortunate puppies that suffer through the shocking neglect by a minority of large scale breeders.

As is usually the case in adding federal standards and regulations, this will put many kind and honest smaller scale breeders out of business due to the extra expenses to comply. Consider: How much does this license cost? And who do you think pays for the inspection? The breeder. Then the breeder must charge more for his puppies. And if he can't sell the overpriced puppies?

Government is micromanaging banks, motor vehicles, insurance, food, medicines and now dog breeding?! How many industries are going to stagger at the brink of extinction before we realize that just because a law appears to do good doesn't make it a good idea?

for more information:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tail of Two Surgeries, Part 3

Two years later, everything is just peachy. Then one morning Lester is acting worried. Was this just that quirky Chihuahua behavior we have come to expect from him? No, this was different and brought on a horrible case of deja vu. Yes, sometimes you just know something bad is going to happen- again. A little while later Lester is arching his back like he is in pain. Then his front legs got that jerky out of control look. His legs and body went out of sync.

Off we go to Commerce and the Animal Neurology and MRI Center. Dr. Galle is on duty. As he shakes my hand he remarks that I look familiar. Then it dawns on him and he says, sorry this happened to you again. Some ten percent of disc cases reoccur. The luck of Lester!

The MRI confirms that it's a disc herniation. This time it's at C3-4, right next door to the last disc misadventure.

Lester's recovery was quicker this time. Old dogs and new tricks? Dr Galle said Lester was trying to get up on his front legs as he was coming out of his anesthetic stupor. A few days later, Lester walked out of there.

Heartfelt Thanks to Dr. Galle and the wonderful staff at Animal Neurology.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tail of Two Surgeries, Part 2

Turns out, Lester had a pain in the neck. All those times, when he flinched upon being touched on his neck or shoulder, we put it down to nervous Chihuahua behavior. Maybe the poor guy has had a sore neck for years. Under that fur coat was a bulging disc laying against, agitating delicate nerve endings. That would make just about anybody act like a nervous Chihuahua.

Here's the thing about spinal discs- they are like jelly doughnuts. The outside of the doughnut is attached to the disc bones. Running along side of the row of doughnut stuffed discs is the spinal cord. Sometimes the jelly oozes out of a doughnut and bumps up against the spinal cord. Pain occurs. Infringement of motion occurs. This is what happened to Lester.

The surgeon goes in and removes the disc material (doughnut jelly) taking the pressure off of the spinal cord. The cushion (outside of the doughnut) is still there. Now the discs aren't clanging against each other, there is just less buoyancy in the material between the discs then before the insides of the doughnut squirted out.

The incision was, interestingly, on the front of Lester's neck. With his hair shaved and that long scar running down his neck he would have looked pretty bad ass if he wasn't wearing a diaper.

The first two weeks post op, Lester was on bed rest. For a dog, this means confined to his crate. Lester was allowed out of his crate only to relieve himself. For that event, he needed help standing up. So he wore his seat belt harness. The loop on top of the harness, designed to attach to a vehicle's seat belt, worked dandy for Lester's toilette. A pretty pink scarf looped through the harness loop for the human helper to hold on to and Lester had stability to stand and "go".

Trouble is, Lester didn't always go while in this rig. Thus the diaper.

At our vet visit two weeks after surgery, Lester's staples were removed. What ever happened to stitches? No matter. Though one envisions an office claw style staple remover, the vet tech whipped out what looked more like heavy duty cuticle scissors.

The vet examined Lester and said because he has feeling in his limbs and is able to stand, albeit with a precarious sway, most likely he would in time return to full motion. We were to simply allow Lester to practice walking and get his balance back. "It's OK if he falls," Dr. Galle told me. That's when I knew Lester would be fine. That one sentence broke through my protective maternal mind, that Lester is not so fragile and oh so not helpless. I had to let him walk and let him fall.

Indeed, as soon as we got home, Lester staggered around our backyard, his muscles waking with each jerky step.

Lester was treated at Animal Neurology & MRI Center in Commerce, MI.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Tail of Two Surgeries, Part 1

Lester is probably a Chihuahua. He's not one of those four pound apple heads you see at the Dog Show though. Lester is more of the street smart Taco Bell style of Chihuahua. You might say he picked me out. Some years ago, my husband and I set out to add to our pack. Dennis envisioned a goofy fun loving lab mix. He found one. But she grew up to be a terrier mix.

Anyway, while Dennis and his faux lab mix were eyeing each other, a small tan green-eyed little hoodlum stared me down. Thus we added to our pack with two puppies rather than one. (Our older dog gave us dirty looks for months.)

After eleven years of joyful togetherness we discovered, darn the luck, Lester has what you might call wimpy discs. It was an ordinary weekday. Dennis and I were dressing for work and noticed that Lester was walking funny. He was wobbling, having trouble keeping his balance. He yelped. Then his legs didn't work at all.

Off to the vet we go. She referred us to a veterinary neurology specialist. The availability of specialists is relatively new to small animal veterinary medicine. When I was a kid we had a Snoodle named Marsha. One morning her hind legs didn't work anymore. The vet said maybe she'll get better but probably not. We kept her quiet and hoped she'd heal. Every time we had to move her she bit us because of the pain she was in. Marsha's story does not end well. But in the thirty-five or so years since Marsha's disc tragedy, veterinarians have brought the MRI and surgery to the mainstream.

Thus, Lester is alive and walking today.

October was Surgery Month

At least it seemed that way to me. My dog, Lester underwent ruptured disc repair two weeks ago and just last week, my mother underwent heart surgery.

So, yesterday I'm visiting Mom in the Intensive Care Unit. As hospital rooms go, this one was pretty nice. The TV was on but happily, the sound was off. The beep beep of the heart monitor is enough ambient sound for any one room.

A man wearing a lab coat appears saying he is Dr. So and so and was referred here but doesn't know why. Talk about confidence inspiring. He's a "stomach doctor" he says and opens a binder with about four inches of paper in it. He flips some pages and says again that he doesn't know why he is there.

He looks at my mother and says, "so you've had surgery? Heart surgery?"

Now, my mother is lying there with the incision on her chest partially showing above her gown. She is clutching a red valentine heart shaped pillow with a picture of a human heart on it. I almost laughed but the horror of it all smothered that impulse pretty quickly.

Then stomach doctor asks my mother if she has nausea. She says yes. Well, stomach doctor says, you have had surgery so nausea is quite likely. How old are you? My mother tells him. The woman is so doped up, I'm impressed she can remember her age. Then I glance at her arm which bears a hospital bracelet. Her age is listed right under her name. You gotta believe that somewhere in that four inches of referral information stomach doctor is looking at, the patent's age is mentioned.

Dr Stomach asks what surgery did you have? My mother says they repaired a valve and did a bi pass. What valve? Mom doesn't know. Stomach doctor chides her- you should know these things! His eyes meet mine accusingly. I shrug. The kindly nurse who has been hovering all the while says she doesn't know which valve it was either! One assumes the surgeon was savvy to which valve a couple days ago when he opened up my mother's chest.

Meanwhile my mother is fighting to stay awake to undergo further questioning by the hapless stomach doctor. The helpful nurse flitters in waving a piece of paper and exclaims, it was the Mitral valve! OK says Dr. Stomach, you'll be nauseated for a while, that's normal. He leaves.

I say to my mother, "nice bedside manner, eh?"

"I don't know," says Mom, "I thought he was kind of cute."

This was my cue to leave and let the patient sleep.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Review

Dialogues with Dogs by Bruce Fogle
copyright 2006

The book feels like a condensed version of some of his other books. There is very little new information and it comes across as a half hearted effort. The illustrations are OK but are more distracting than entertaining.

Skip this book and read Fogle's "The Dog's Mind". (1990) The dog's brain is discussed including explanations of hormones, early learning and maturity.

Dr. Fogle combines his years as a veterinarian with scientific studies to help the reader understand the goings on in the dog's mind. Behaviors such as aggression and phobias are explained . The information is presented fully yet is easily understood by even the least scientifically inclined.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bo, lead us!

American Thinker article : Obama fails as 'pack leader' says dog expert
by David Paulin

President Obama's approval rating is at a record-low among Americans - yet he remains popular abroad and at the United Nations. What accounts for this perception gap? Obama is popular abroad because he is weak -- and so is America under his leadership, noted the London Telegraph.

More evidence that Obama is a pushover is now being provided from an unlikely source -- the first family's dog "Bo." Recently, dog expert Cesar Millan of the "Dog Whisperer" TV show observed that Obama has failed to assert himself as a "pack leader" with Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog. Millan pointed out that when Obama walks Bo on a leash, it's obvious that Bo is in charge because the dog walks in front of the president and leads him along. In other words, Bo is taking Obama for a walk - not the other way around.

The British press, no fan of Obama since the president removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House, is having a good time with this revelation. A headline in The Independent chortled: "Leader of a superpower, led by a dog called Bo."

Dogs, of course, have an uncanny ability to sense weakness, as anybody knows who owns a dog or grew up with dogs. Generally, dogs respect those who are firm yet fair. Dogs behave badly with family members -- children in particular -- who fail to assert themselves as pack leaders


An interesting article, but I'm not taking sides here. Wait, yes I am. I'm on Bo's side. I usually do side with the dog. Alright then, Cesar Millan has noticed that President Obama walks behind Bo when they are walking.

Millan is right about many things regarding training/handling dogs. For instance, give a dog lots of exercise he is likely to stay out of mischief. The old "tired dog is a good dog" theory has a leg to stand on, if you will forgive the phrase.

Dogs are designed to move, much like people, squirrels and small mouth bass. When deprived of activity they become antsy. Whether the antsiness expresses itself with a bouncing leg while seated or pacing across the floor, it's a body that wants to, has to, move. Thus, walking is beneficial for man and beast and presumably for assorted creatures inhabiting air and water.

Returning to the matter of Bo on the leash. Millan asserts that in order to maintain order in the man/dog relationship, man must lead, dog must follow. True. Someone must be in charge and it ought not be the dog. (Coming soon to this blog: When We let Dogs Lead We invite Anarchy!).

So according to Millan, while walking with your dog on a leash the dog must remain behind you, or at least not in front of you. That's fine when you are walking in the dog show ring at the confirmation competition. Or when walking down a crowded street, it is courteous and safer to keep the dog at heel. But in real life; most of the time walking your dog, such uptight restraint is unnecessary and so not fun.

The average leash is six feet long. Normal people let their dog have that room to walk comfortably beside them with slack to stop and sniff interesting stuff or to lift a leg. After all, it's a walk, not a parade.

Whether Barack Obama is a good leader is not something I will comment on at this time, other than to say that our President's relationship with his dog Bo is not a significant factor.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

recipe: doggie pan cookies

This recipe is so easy and sensible you will ask yourself why the heck you would ever buy dog cookies!

-a couple tablespoons of fat (drain it off the ground beef or chicken or whatever you made for your own main course)
- 1 egg
-2 cups whole wheat flour
-1 cup all purpose flour
-handful of left over or shredded vegetables
-enough water to mix to brownie consistency

mix thoroughly

spray some Pam on two 8 or 9 inch cake pans, fill each pan about half way with batter

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes

for crisper cookies- leave the pans in the oven after turning it off

once cooled, cut or break into bite size pieces

refrigerate for optimal freshness

Monday, September 27, 2010

Excerpt from a Dog Walker's Tale

Warning: Moron using Tool

It’s been said that God protects drunks and little children. Clearly, God also protects small dogs with idiot owners.

Tie outs are handy for securing a dog outside when you don’t have a convenient fenced in area. A lead is attached to a stake that can be pounded into the ground. Attach the dog to the lead and SHAZAM your dog can enjoy the outdoors and you know where he is. It’s a win/win!

Because the tie out is such a simple and useful device, I want to believe that the neighbor Chihuahua is securely tethered as she barks like a crazed banshee and leaps about with every ounce of her five pound strength while Betty and I walk down the sidewalk.

Betty, a senior but still vital Akita mix, is a lovely dog. Once during a walk, she grabbed a squirrel in her mouth (in all fairness to Betty, the squirrel ran right under her nose). Seeing Betty with the squirrel, I said DROP IT! She gave me a look that said, sorry dear, no dice. She then bit down on the squirrel and dropped its limp body on the sidewalk.

Though Betty has mellowed some with the years, she still gets her back up every time that demented little dog goes into another of her bark fests.

Now, the tie down stake, like any tool, only works properly if used properly. And the thing about such stakes is they must be pounded fully into the ground in order for the system to be effective. You can’t just plunk it softly in the flower bed like a plastic tag that identifies a flower.

In the several years I’ve been walking Betty that raucous Chihuahua has lived with a vacuous woman of middle age a few doors down on the opposite side of the street. Certainly, a little dog barking through a window as you walk by, merits minor notice. But once the dog is outside the house, the rules change. My first priority is always the safety of the dog I’m with. But naturally, I am not unconcerned with the fate of any other dogs involved. And obviously, a five pounder is no match for the fifty pound Betty. Let’s face it, to Betty that Chihuahua is just a big annoying squirrel.

That it happened, yet again, was inevitable. Betty and I are walking on the other side of the street. Little wacko dog is in tie down, yapping and zipping around. She lunges in our direction. Because the tie out stake was put in like a thumb tack, the exuberant little hoodlum easily pulls it out of the soil. She makes a beeline for us, running across the street, the line with the stake on the end clanging behind her tragicomically. Incredibly, at that moment there was no lawn crew truck with trailer thundering down the street nor was there a big UPS truck roaring through the neighborhood.

God once again spared this small beast. Perhaps the little wretch suffers enough living with a nincompoop. The good Lord must feel it unnecessary to add to that ignominy with being squashed like a bug in the street.

The tiny freak stands inches from us barking wildly. Betty, to her credit, seems to have bored of this nonsense and remains at my side instead of grabbing the hapless fool in her mouth and snapping her spine. As usual, the imbecile who owns this dog who has cheated death more times than I can count (and those are just the ones I know about!) appears on her porch saying, “Oh! Sorry sorry! ".

Then the moronic woman runs across the street just as heedlessly and with equal luck as does her dog. “She won’t hurt you!” The boob tells me for the umpteenth time.

With each exchange, I am less polite but say roughly the same thing: Because of your careless stupidity your very small dog has only just escaped death. Now, what exactly are you sorry about?

Even dumb folks can learn. Some just choose not to.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dog Groups and You

The American Kennel Club (AKC) separates dog breeds into seven groups: Toys, Terriers, Working, Sporting, Hounds, Non-sporting, and Herding. These groups attempt to organize the many breeds by categorizing them by things they have in common.

The Herding group is full of dogs that were originally used to herd animals such as sheep or cows. In general, these dogs work well both independently and also in response to commands. These qualities are valuable in doing the job of herding and/or droving. Sometimes the dog has to make a decision on his own regarding how to move the herd and other times the dog is told by his owner how to move the herd. These dogs tend to be fairly high energy, easily trained, intelligent and loyal.

Toy dogs are mainly used as companions. They are small and agreeable to hang out with. For example, the King Charles Spaniel likes nothing more than sitting upon his master's lap. The Chihuahua makes an excellent hot water bottle. He never cools off and is pleased to join you under the covers.

The Sporting group contains dogs used to assist in hunting. This group includes retrievers, pointers and assorted gun dogs. Like most categories where the dog has a particular job, there are variations on a theme. For example, the Clumber Spaniel does the same job as the Brittany (tracking and retrieving game) but has shorter legs so is more suited to the slower walking hunter. The Labrador Retriever likes to swim more than the Golden Retriever does, so usually the Lab retrieves ducks while the Golden retrieves Pheasant. Dogs in the Sporting group tend to have lots of enthusiasm and willingness to join in activities.

The Working group represents dogs that do jobs such as guard property, pull a sled, herd or hunt. Their temperament varies with the jobs they are breed for. The Boxer, for instance, is a protective yet jolly pal with family and friends, and patient with children. He is alert to intruders and fearless if threatened. The Siberian Husky likes nothing more than to run, which makes him ideal to pull a sled over long distances. He is usually friendly and outgoing, without the possessive qualities seen in guard dogs. Most of the working breed dogs have a confidence that can make them challenging to train but admirable to know.

The Hound group consists of dogs that, in general, hunt by giving chase rather than flushing or pointing. Some hounds hunt by sight, such as the Afghan, some by scent such as the Bloodhound. Some hunt in groups like the Black and Tan Coonhound and Beagle. Hounds are usually friendly and are always in the mood to pursue prey. This can be troublesome while, say, walking down a suburban street when suddenly the dog catches sight or smell of a critter and gives chase. Hounds tend to be amiable and loving without being clingy.

The word terrier is derived from terra, meaning earth. Dogs in the Terrier group were originally used on the farm to kill vermin or hunt ground dwelling animals such as gophers, ground squirrels or even badgers. The tallest of the terriers, the Airedale, is roughly 23 inches at the shoulder. Most of the other Terriers are knee high or shorter. Terriers have a plucky, spunky attitude.

The Non-sporting group is not a bunch of lazy dogs who are indifferent to joining in games. Rather, it is various breeds that don't fit neatly in the other groups (though that is debatable). It is difficult to find similarities in use or temperament in this group due to the huge variation in type of dogs. For example, the American Eskimo Dog is a Nordic type breed with a stand off double coat, prick ears and a curved fluffy tail. This is an intelligent dog, friendly, yet an alert watchdog. The Bulldog is a thick dog with short legs and short hair and extra skin which hangs off his cheeks. He is placid and kindly. The Schipperke is interested in everything around him and was originally bred as a guard, watchdog and vermin hunter. In sum, the nonworking group is a mixed bag.

An interesting study, albeit relaxed in scientific design, was done by the AKC profiling people based on which group their dog hailed from. The results: Toy dog owners are nurturing and meek. Terrier owners are timid and highly dependant on others for emotional support. Hound people are friendly. Those with Working breeds are the most dominant of dog owners. Herder owners are orderly and aggressive. Sporting breed people are wealthy. Non sporting dog owners are as varied as the breeds in that group.

It's a fun and silly little study. But worth thinking about. Are we who we are because of the dog we live with or do we choose the dog we live with because of who we are? Is this akin to the mate we choose? Surely the type of person we fall in love with and live closely with offers significant information about us. Is not our dog as significant?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pets Gone Wild

Backyard ponds have become an almost ubiquitous part of landscaping. Sixteen years ago when I dug my first pond it was difficult to find a flexible liner. Now the choices, options and availability is pretty much unlimited.

Nevertheless, I did dig that pond, laid down a thick rubber liner and filled it with water. I put dirt in some plastic containers and planted lilies and cattails. A layer of pea pebbles spread on top keeps the dirt from floating around. I bought several tadpoles and feeder goldfish (Comets) and tossed them in the water. A pump and filter keep the water moving, oxygenated and captures some of the debris.

Here we are at the end of summer all these years later. Right now there are over a dozen frogs sitting along the edge of the water and on the lily pads. Fish swim below, clustered in their mysterious social order. The Dragonflies and Damsel flies are gone now, as are the water bugs that crowded the water's surface in the spring. It is a curious thing. Are these fish and frogs generations removed from what I began with, my pets? Or are they as wild as the bugs and algae that spontaneously appeared?

My dogs sniff around the edges of the pond (they know they are not allowed in it-like walking in the flowerbeds, this is "no"). The frogs are unconcerned by the dogs. I often wonder why. Can they tell the difference between a thirty pound black dog and a raccoon? Can they tell the difference between a skunk and a little dog with a pointy nose? And how come they run for the shelter of underwater when I, a common human being approach, but not when Mabel, a majestic mastiff loiters at the ponds edge?

Do they fear me? Is it because now and then I thrust a net into their domain and scoop out treasured gunk? Is the net scary, or is the temporarily clouded water caused by my meddling the threat? When a Heron swoops in and walks among the lily pads do they tremble hidden in the shadows? Or do they see it as benign as the decoy I put out in the spring in hopes of keeping the real Heron away?

These creatures are not dependent upon me. I don't even feed the fish. But if I didn't keep the pump going the water couldn't sustain life. Or could it? In winter when ice covers the pond, a floating heater maintains an opening in the ice so air can get in. Without the heater dangerous ammonia and whatnot would build up and kill the fish and frogs (it happened one year when the heater went kaput). But some critters survived even that disastrous winter. So perhaps they don't need me.

Is that the definition of a pet? Need? Maybe the pond frogs and fish need me as the perennial garden needs me, to tidy things up and make it just a little neater than wild. Aren't pets more than that? What about affection? It is doubtful that these pond residents love me. After all they appear to fear me, for they flee when I stick my hand in their water. Maybe this fear confirms that they are wild.

Certainly, the fear these pond dwellers display is not the God fearing variety. I know this much for sure, I'm no God, I just dug the hole.

Now, I fear, it is time to stop asking questions and get out there and scoop some leaves out of that pond.

Friday, September 3, 2010

No Fuss Fisticuffs

Betta fish (Betta splendens) are a popular and inexpensive pet. Suitable housing is a container with a volume of as little as one cup of water. Bettas come in many exciting colors ranging from pale yellow to iridescent black. Also known as fighting fish, this pet is best kept singly. They are a couple of inches long, with flowing fins, some of which double their size. Easily riled, these fish flap their gill covers at you when you so much as look at them.

Talk about low maintenance, this fish does better in dirty water. Betta fishes are able to get oxygen by swallowing air, thanks to a unique organ in their head called a labyrinth. There is more oxygen in air than water, especially dirty water. In the wild, these fishes live in swampy areas so they habitually swallow air to survive. So for them dirty water is more like home. That's great news for folks who want a pet of minimum fuss.

Pet shop personnel advise that when keeping fish in a bowl it is best to replace only one third of the water at a time, when cleaning. With the Betta it is best to do this infrequently .

The male Bettas are the fighters. When you go into a pet shop you usually see the males on display. They are often lined up on a shelf in their individual containers. They react to the male beside them with manly movements of their unpaired fins. They fix their opponent with a menacing stare as they undulate. If the fishes were in the same water together they would bite to the death. (Meanwhile, safely tucked in the back room, the females await the victor and the mating that will follow.)

Keeping one of these fearsome fellows in the home is easy and offers interactive drama. Put one on the dining table as a centerpiece. As you pass the potatoes he will flail his fans at you. Put one beside the sink in the bathroom and he'll watch you wash your face with hostile interest. Put one on the coffee table and every time you reach for the remote he'll lunge ferociously.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: Natural Health for Dogs & Cats

Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Third Edition 2005
by Richard H.Pitcairn, DVM, PhD and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

This is a good reference book for any dog or cat owner's library. The first of two sections discusses feeding. The commerical pet food vs homemade food debate is detailed, with consideration to convenience, cost and nutrient values of each. Dr. Pitcairn clearly recommends real or human grade food for dogs and cats. Recipes are given using various sources of protein and carbohydrates, including some vegetarian dishes. Supplement recipes are provided and are tailored for animals at various stages of life and for those with special needs or conditions.

Section two lists common diseases and ailments along with herbal remedies and recommendations for treatment. Even if one is not inclined to whip up a batch of slippery elm tea for diarrhea, the information on dog and cat physiology is useful. It's nice to know what a normal pulse rate is before you are worried your pet is ill and decide to take his pulse.

Speaking as someone with a fairly extensive collection of reference books for dogs, I can say that this book is not unique in its approach to the "natural" topic. Scary statistics of animal poisonings by pet food companies as well as everyday household stuff is offered. This book is better than most preaching natural because it gives the pet owner recipes with nutritional values to assist in pulling off this home cooked nirvana.

Rating: very good.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review: Her Last Death

Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg 2008

This memoir begins with a decision made in the present. We then are taken through Sonnenberg's past. We learn of her mother's fierce love, cruelty and selfish neglect. This is a woman addicted to drugs and sex and getting her own way. Her daughter is thus schooled.

Sonnenberg's writing style is good enough to keep you reading even during the less riveting parts. Hers is a remarkable story yet even the most ordinary and average reader can relate.

That Sonnenberg becomes the woman she is, reminds us that we are free to choose what we are.

Rating: good.

Excerpt from A Dog Walker's Tale

Sometimes a Golden is just a Golden

I first met Sam when he was about nine months old. Sam’s people worked all day so I was engaged to provide him with a mid-day walk. Being an adolescent Golden Retriever, Sam was brimming with energy and enthusiasm and not surprisingly, pulled on the leash. Like most dogs, he responded to my consistent reminders that the fun, that is the walking, stopped anytime he didn’t follow my rules. So, if he pulled or crossed in front of me or crossed behind me or leaped around like a lunatic, the fun stopped. He came to understand that the joy of walking continued when he stayed on my left side and used the six feet of leash allotted to him sensibly. Because of this I can state with certainty that Sam was not intractable nor retarded nor untrainable.

Still, Sam’s people felt he was out of control and consulted a dog trainer. Every place probably has a “dog whisperer” or two. The fancy dog trainer Sam’s people choose was busy cultivating a big name for himself locally. He was even on the news. Sam’s people agreed to let this expert use Sam as an example in an exclusive infomercial. The camera grimly displayed Sam’s carnage. A gutter broken loose from the garage lay crumbled on the lawn while the dog guru’s voice explained that the unruly Sam had ripped it down and gave it a good shake. A frayed area rug: wild Sam chewed it to ribbons. Dents on a wood cabinet leg: crazed Sam gnawed it into sawdust.

Sam’s people appeared on the screen looking stiff and pale. “We love Sam but he is so hard to manage,” they said. “We just don’t know what to do.”

Fear not! The super dog trainer was there to save them. Sam jumps on guests? No problem. Sam is possessive of his toys? We’ll fix that. Sam doesn’t always come when he’s called? Piece of cake. The master dog trainer had all the answers.

Now, at this point I’m asking myself, how would I handle these minor snafus in a young dog’s development into a well mannered companion? For instance, he jumps on guests? Have the guests help you train. Use the guest as the reward. As long as the dog sits calmly, he gets attention from the guest. He jumps, the guest ignores him. Sounded sound to me. Alas, poor Sam. It became clear that I, a humble dog walker, could not compete with a would-be famous dog trainer.

You see, the expert dog trainer had a superior method. Fit Sam in a special collar that has a box attached to it that allows a volt, or many volts, of electricity to be zapped into Sam. A couple of prongs protrude from the box so that the zap can be directed directly into Sam’s skin. The collar is buckled tightly so that the prongs dig into Sam’s throat. This allows for a fuller spectrum of discomfort to be meted to the offending Sam. The unit comes with a handy remote control so the user can shock the dog from afar and near. And conveniently, this highly credentialed dog trainer can sell you one on the spot.

Thus Sam was rigged up and ready to be shocked into good behavior. So, Sam jumps on that guest? ZAP. Time it right and before you know it, Sam will dread every person that enters the house. He’ll run and hide under the bed. But at least he will have stopped jumping on guests.

It is a testament to Sam’s character that he did not become an angry and violent animal after this “training”.

Fast forward a few years. Sam’s people have a baby. I walk Sam twice a week.

The babysitter remarks, “isn’t Sam a handful?”

“A handful?” I reply. “ No. I find him well behaved and delightful.”

Babysitter tells me Sam is “dominant”.

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“Oh, well, Sam’s daddy told me that Sam is dominant. “

I had never noted dominant behavior in Sam. He never tried to take over leadership when he was with me. He was always content to let me be boss. He was never particularly assertive toward other dogs we met while walking. So I asked, “how is Sam being dominant?”

“Well,” Babysitter says. “Baby is crawling now and Sam gets in the way. He wants to join in with the baby and it makes my job harder.”

Gosh, I did not know that dominant is just another word for wanting to be part of the action.

The Sam episode has taught me many things. One is that some folks actually believe that a Golden Retriever should have all your rules mastered when he is still a puppy. And there are “professional trainers” who prey upon that erroneous belief for their own gain. Another thing I learned is that some people think an adult Golden should quietly mind his own business and not attempt to insert himself into the domestic affairs surrounding him. That is shocking.

I wonder what the hot shot dog trainer might recommend for dealing with Sam’s “dominance” with the baby. Put the collar on and shock Sam whenever he gets within three feet of the child? Shock Sam if he attempts to play or cuddle with the youngster? The potential for misuse with this shock system is staggering. How about if the kid reaches up to touch Sam and sticks his precious little finger near the shock point? And just at that moment Dad decides to “correct” Sam with a zap? Timing is everything- in dog training and in life.

Such aversion therapy may be a good method to get a dog to stop chasing cars but to shock a dog when he is doing what a family dog is supposed to do seems downright delusional. Sam remains a sweet and gentle dog. But for some dogs such aversion begets vengeance. Is that why so many gentle family dogs “suddenly” bite someone in the house and end up in a shelter?

Some days when I arrive to walk Sam he is wearing that shock collar. I remove it and hang it on the hook where the leash is kept. Then we walk without drama or difficulty. Sam is a lovely Golden Retriever in the prime of life. His tail is in almost constant joyful motion. Sam seeks out mail carriers because many of them carry dog treats. When we are done with our walk Sam sits and waits while I return the leash to the hook inside the closet door. I slip him a treat and say good-bye. When I return for our next scheduled walk, Sam will be ready to go. Nothing shocking here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Neighbor Child (fiction)

There he was again. Riding his bicycle back and forth on the sidewalk. His mother had probably told him, "go only as far as the yellow house" because he never ventured beyond the far end of my property. He was an old style exemplar of little boy Americana, light brown hair in a bowl cut over a round face, about five or six years old. His big eyes flitted around but never seemed to land on anything. No doubt, many people thought he was a cute kid. But to me he was not cute, nor was he in any way, endearing. He was my nemesis.

Immune to the charm of children, I had given him little attention. The simple hello or wave that worked on adult neighbors had never proved effective with neighbor children. Therefore, I tended to ignore them. This proved perilous.

At first, the neighbor child ignored me, too. Then one day, he rode his bike up to my gate and stared into my backyard. Naturally, my dogs went to the fence and barked at him. The child just stared. In spite of my indifference to children, I had noticed that they usually like dogs. But he just stared. No squeals of delight, no small fingers reaching through the fence to touch. My dogs, sensing a terrible weirdness, kept on barking, in fact becoming more and more agitated at the child's spooky vacant presence. I put down my trowel and walked to the gate. Immediately, the child turned his bicycle around and peddled down the driveway and back toward his house. Six innocent dog eyes begged me for comfort. I petted them and said, "it's OK. He's gone."

He didn't stay gone. Later that day, the dogs and I were inside the house. Something must have caught my eye- a flash of chrome or a dash of handlebar fringe- so I glanced out the window. The neighbor child was riding his bicycle on my front lawn around and around the big tree. I watched incredulous, hypnotized. Then he steered his bike into the flower bed, leaving behind a fresh tread mark in between the tulips and the holly bush. I lunged out the front door and bellowed, "what are you doing?"

His head jerked in my direction and for an instant our eyes met. Did I see evil?

He broke eye contact and I zoomed into my firm grown-up voice. "You know better than to ride your bike in the flowers."

The child said nothing. He just stared. Though his gaze did not meet mine again, it hovered near, somewhere around my shoulders. I know now why my dogs had been so freaked out. "Go home," I said. The child turned his bike and moved off in the direction of his house.

The following day came a repeat performance. This time I told him if I ever saw him riding on my grass or flowerbeds I would tell on him. Oddly, this threat that had been so very dire when I was his age, seemed to have no effect on him. His big blank eyes flitted fly-like, showing no hint of remorse and certainly not the fear or dread that I expected from him. For a moment, I felt fear. What if he was a psychopath? Or what was it called now, antisocial personality? Whatever you call them, didn't they start by torturing animals before moving on to humans? No wonder my dogs needed comfort after their close encounter.

"Go home," I told the neighbor child. He turned his bicycle onto the side walk and rode away.

The welcome mat on my front porch sat just about a thin crack in the concrete slab. For years that crack remained unchanged. Then, seemingly overnight, the crack grew. Interestingly, this occurred about the same time that the neighbor child began to appear regularly. Before long the crack became a crevasse. I feared for the mailman. Contractors came and measured and wrote up estimates. The crack had become immanently treacherous so I placed one of those orange warning cones on the scariest section so that anyone walking on the porch could avoid falling in.

The cone did not go unnoticed by the neighbor child. He rode up to the porch, got off his bike and climbed the stairs. He sat on the top step and tipped the cone enough to peer underneath it. I wondered if he had been dared to do it, like kids will dare each other to approach a haunted house. Perhaps not, for this child was always alone.

Later that same day I heard what I thought was a police or fire siren. Curiously, the sound did not increase, nor did it fade. It continued unchanging, as though it was right outside my house. A flash of worry struck me- maybe one of my neighbors was being loaded into an ambulance. I saw nothing from the front window. The siren sound continued. It seemed to be coming from my kitchen. I dashed to the window over the sink and looked out. I could hear the siren clearly now. I looked down. There it was, the source of the sound.

The neighbor child sat on his bicycle under my kitchen window howling unrelentingly, a demented alarm. The pitch was piercing and the fact that it emanated from this boy was beyond eerie and I felt something that was less than terror but far more than consternation. In that moment, the thought first occurred to me to ask the mason to entomb the neighbor child in the new front porch.

I am a gentle person, really. Edgar Allen Poe type notions don't come readily. But there was something about this bizarre boy that changed me. Truly, it was not me, it must have been he, who brought about this macabre episode.

I stepped outside onto the porch. Moving the cone aside, I held my eye just about the hole. The air was cool and stale. I squinted and strained to see down into the hole but saw only blackness. What was down there? Bricks? Dirt? A tiny squeaking came from somewhere in the abyss. Field Mice? A ground squirrel's nest? Demons? Imps? Thoroughly spooked, I replaced the cone and hurried inside, locking the door behind me.

The following day my broadcast spreader filled with corn gluten, I proceeded to feed the lawn. Many of my neighbors employed companies with trucks that carry poisons. Workers drive these trucks to my neighbor's homes to spray the poison onto their lawns. Then they erect tiny flags at the lawns edge to warn of the danger. Their lawns are green but it is not a natural green, rather, a glow-in-the-dark unearthly green. My lawn was green. The green of a wild meadow, a green you can stroll on with bare feet without getting cancer.

The neighbor child stopped his bicycle on the sidewalk in front of my house. Walking behind the spreader, I passed close to where the child sat on his bike. His spooky eyes danced randomly. I turned to spread another row, up and down in orderly lines. When I turned back again, the neighbor child was gone. There was no sign of him on the sidewalk in either direction. I shivered and kept spreading. When I finished, I noticed the orange cone on the porch was askew.

Drawing closer to the porch, I thought I heard something. Peering into the crack revealed nothing but darkness. I turned away then heard the something again. A voice? Though I spun around in all directions, I saw no one.

"I can assist you," said a clear soft voice.

"Who's there?" I asked.

"I am your servant," said the voice.

"Where are you?" I demanded.

"In here. I've always been here."

I felt a chill. The voice came from the porch. "What do you want?" I asked.

"To help you," said the voice.

"Let me see you," I said.

There was no response. I waited, listening hard. A thick silence enveloped me. No birds sang, no cars roared, the trees stood motionless.

Finally the voice said, "what do you want most?"

What an important question. What did I want most? To be happy ? Rich? Have more privacy? Freedom? Respect? Piece of mind? Wisdom? The perfect salsa recipe?

Suddenly I felt foolish, crazy, even. There I stood having a conversation with my broken front porch. I glanced around. The street was empty except for a red car with a crumbled tail light parked in front of the house next door. There were no people, no animals, no movement anywhere on the street. I longed for the obnoxious drone of a leaf blower to shatter the unnerving stillness. Glancing down the street toward the neighbor child's house, I could just make out his front lawn and his bicycle sprawled carelessly near the sidewalk.

"I'll get back to you," I muttered at the porch and rushed into the backyard. I could not be sure, for I was breathing hard, but a small chuckle seemed to follow me.

After a dreamless nights sleep, I felt renewed and clearheaded. Certainly, I had not heard a voice from the porch. I must have spent too much time in the sun. My confusion and distress were perfectly understandable. A wide brimmed hat would put an end to this nonsense.

However, no amount of sun exposure could explain the chalk design that appeared on the sidewalk at the foot of the walkway leading up to my front porch. I stood over the chalk marks, expecting to find a hop scotch pattern or names inside a heart. Instead, it was a perfect circle nearly filling a square section of sidewalk. The circle was drawn in yellow chalk. A curious pattern, also drawn in yellow, lined the inside of the circle. These markings weren't letters, at least not from any alphabet I knew of. Within this border of strange symbols was a design resembling flowers, done in pink chalk. These flower things surrounded a human figure drawn in blue. A single line of blue chalk started at the circle's outer edge and ran down the sidewalk. I followed the line. It ended at the neighbor child's house. The line turned and vanished into the grass under the child's bicycle.

I walked quickly back toward home on legs stiff with fear and stood again at the chalk circle. A pink line ran from the circle up to my front porch. Suddenly I heard a roar. I gasped, whirling around to see a large pick-up truck slowing to a stop in front of my house. A man, wearing a dusty bandanna on his head and thick work boots on this feet, jumped out of the truck.

"Hello, ma'am" the man said. He moved behind the truck and pulled a big sledge hammer out of the truck bed. Carrying the heavy hammer easily in one hand, he moved past me to the porch. "I'm gonna break up the slab now," he said and swung the hammer with a dull thud.

I went out to buy a hat. When I returned, the workman was gone and so was the top of the porch. Yellow caution tape surrounded the area. Chunks of concrete lay inside the porch foundation, like tissue paper filling a gift box. I hoped the ground squirrels had gotten out in time.

The pink chalk line that had been on the walkway, had vanished. The chalk circle remained. The blue line that ran from the circle down the sidewalk to the neighbor child's house was still there, though it appeared to have faded.

There was the neighbor child coming toward me, riding his bicycle along the blue line. I went inside the house and let the dogs out into the backyard. They barked at the neighbor child as he sat on his bicycle inside the yellow chalk circle. His weird empty eyes moved over the porch crater. He seemed to want to proceed up the walkway but his bike wouldn't move. The child's eyebrows furrowed. He tried again and again to move the bike toward the porch. Finally, he turned the bike toward his house and rode away.

Later, when it was dark, I stood before the porch. The street light cast a dabbled shadow on the rough pile of broken concrete. A voice from somewhere under the rubble said, "you have to do your part now."

"What?" I said, stupidly.

"Really now, stop being silly," the voice said. "I took care of the first part of the spell. You must do your part now. Only together can we complete the spell."

Somehow I'd known. Indeed, I had known for a long time. Even before the voice or the design on the sidewalk, I had sensed that some sort of Bogie man dwelled under the porch. Of course, my rational mind had pushed the notion aside.

"Wait," I said.

"There has been enough waiting," said the voice. "You are one who respects our earth. I will help you. But you must do as I say."

I stood silently trembling for a long time, uncertain what to do, what to believe. At last, I said, "I'm going inside now." I turned to go, then added, oddly, "good night."

"Good night," the voice said.

I heard no disappointment in the voice's tone and felt relief.

The next day, I was in my backyard staking Peonies. My dogs barked. There he was again. The neighbor child. He was on a scooter this time. He stood with one foot on the scooter, one foot in my driveway. His hands gripped the handle bars, his knuckles aimed at me. The child stared his vacant infuriating stare at me, at the yard, at the air surrounding us. I resolved then to finish the spell.

Once it was dark, I faced the porch. "What must I do?"

Very good," said the voice. "Now listen carefully."

I listened, all the while hoping that this creature would not show itself. Surely, it was a Legion of the Night and I, a foolish mortal.

Using my garden spade, I cut a circle into the lawn as instructed. I stepped inside the circle and waited. The air was warm and damp. In the distance, crickets chirped. My nose picked up delectable whiffs of meat cooking on a barbecue somewhere. A car drove past, pulsing with rap music. On the other side of the street, a man walked with a white dog on a leash. They paid me no notice as I stood in the shadows of my front lawn.

The voice began a chant of unfamiliar words. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best, trusting in this Geomancy, Majic, Sorcery, whatever it was that I had given in to. The voice sang it's strange song in the dark and I sensed nothing else but the power of the spell. Finally, it was silent and I opened my eyes. Nothing seemed different except that I now felt alone.

"Thank you," I said toward the porch. I glanced around, feeling embarrassed and guilty. What had I just done? Was I now in league with Satan's Soldiers? I fled into the house.

Once inside, I no longer felt afraid. Of anything. And not simply because I was safely locked in the house. Something had happened to me. Magic, perhaps.

A few days later, a new concrete slab was poured. I put the welcome mat out again. The spade cuts in the lawn had closed up, like a minor wound healed. The yellow circle was still there on the sidewalk but the blue figure inside it had faded so that it was barely visible. The blue line that ran from the circle down to the neighbor child's house had disappeared. A FOR SALE sign stood on the neighbor child's front lawn in the same spot that he had heedlessly tossed his bicycle.

A month later a SOLD sign perched on top of the FOR SALE sign. I got into the habit of wearing my wide brimmed hat when I did yard work. One night brought a thunder storm with heavy rain. In the morning, the chalk circle was gone. I never saw the neighbor child again. The voice from the porch has been silent.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cool Shave ?

During the hot summer months some folks look at their panting dog and think, "all that hair is making Rover hot!" No it isn't. Rover is panting because it is hot outside, because it is summertime.

Dogs don't sweat through their skin like horses and humans do. Dogs pant to help regulate their body temperature. Panting cools the body by evaporation, similar to sweating. The dog also has a handful of sweat glands in the foot pads but panting is the dog's primary source of evaporation to cool the body.

Dogs have a coat of hair that insulates their bodies from both heat and cold. The coat holds in air close to the skin. This trapped air is the same temperature as the dog's body. So conditions outside the dog that are not ideal (not body temperature) are kept away from the dog's body by his coat. Cut off the coat and the dog's insulation is lost.

It is better to groom the dog so that his coat can better do its intended job. Matts in the hair muck up the insulation ability of the coat. A well combed out coat can efficiently insulate as designed. Unless you have a dog such as a Poodle or Schnauzer, whose coat is kept trimmed all year, don't cut off your dog's hair thinking you will keep him cool.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Massachusetts bans dog devocalization

Effective July 21, 2010, devocalization of dogs and cats is banned in Massachusetts. And federal bill H.R. 5422, if passed, will provide money to states that ban devocaliztion.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Stop the terrible surgery that leaves a dog unable to bark! Trouble is, as with so many well meaning actions, there are harmful outcomes.

How many dogs will be surrendered to shelters because of this ban? Why do you suppose most of these surgeries are done? Because the dog keeps barking and the owner is at his wits end. He's tried training, more exercise, reduced the protein in the dogs diet and on and on. Meanwhile, the dog keeps barking and the neighbors are complaining and they've called the police. One more complaint and the owner will be ticketed and fined and possibly forced to get rid of his beloved dog.

Having your dog undergo devocalization surgery is a last resort. Now the state of Massachusetts tells their dog owners no, you may not decide what to do with your property. Yes, dogs are property. The state of Massachusetts believes they know better than their citizens when it comes to a serious, personal decision regarding their dogs.

This ban is no reason to celebrate. This decision should make every dog owner and dog lover shudder and brace themselves for the next assault on their freedom. And mourn for the increased number of dogs surrendered to shelters in Massachusetts.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hairballs- not just a cat thing

When an animal grooms himself with his tongue it is inevitable that some hair will be ingested. Cats groom themselves and so do dogs.

Hairballs occur because hair acts a bit differently than most fiber that slides through the digestion process along with the food. Hair sometimes gets stuck along the way. Typically, the hair remains in the stomach and forms a ball after repeated contractions of the stomach coil it up. Then it gets just big enough for the body to decide it is a foreign object and has to go. The animal vomits it out.

Then sometimes the hair gets through the stomach and to the intestines clumping along the way. The hair lodges and blocks the intestine. So the animal gets "bound up" and may develop what appears to be diarrhea. What is really going on is the liquid waste is strained through the wad of hair, leaving a chunk of wrung out waste behind the hair plug. Usually the body is able to eventually move the hair out along with the rest of the waste material. But that can take a day or more, meanwhile the poor animal is uncomfortable and his owner becomes worried that he may be ill.

Many dogs with "chronic diarrhea" might be full of hair! What's to be done? So far there are no hairball remedies widely available for dogs. But we can do a few things to lessen the likelihood of doggy hairballs.

To start, there are common sense things like keeping plenty of water available for the dog to drink and offering food and treats that contain non hair style fiber. Examples of good doggy fiber are: most vegetables, whole grains, some fruits and nuts. Another common sense idea is exercise. Exercise keeps things moving.

Alas, there is only so much we can do.

Case in point. A dog of my acquaintance is of a breed in the herding group. Now, we all know that herders can be intense. And with intensity comes quirks. In short, this herder sometimes gets antsy. Even with exercise, water, fibrous food and a job to do, this dog sometimes feels the need to take comfort in chewing her foot. Hair ingestion occurs and the hairball cycle begins again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Suburban Hawks

The hawk is a beautiful example of how capable wild critters are. When I was a kid living in suburban Detroit, I never saw a hawk in my own back yard. You had to go "up north" to see a hawk. Now as empty spaces become fewer the hawk has adapted. The hawk has embraced the subdivision.

Somehow wild animals manage without human intervention. Prey critters like pigeons and rabbits multiply and thrive. The mighty hawk is just fine, thank you.

No, we don't need to "save the hawk". The hawk has it under control. Until somebody puts up more wind turbines to save the world from the imaginary threat of man made climate change, of course. Then winged critters like birds and bats will be cut to ribbons.

Sadly, a bloody lapel ribbon just may be in the hawk's future.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It takes a village to water a dog

Over the years, my dog walking duties have taken me to many many suburban neighborhoods. Some are filled with modest homes and big old trees shading the streets and some feature McMansions with uppity copper trim on the windows. One thing all the locales have in common: lawns.

Lawns are as varied as the people who own them. There's the putting green style lawn and the fairway style lawn. Then there's the family lawn, a study in sturdy survival under swing sets and games of catch. The lazy or environmentally fanatical go for the weird succulents xeroscape or the hardy ground covers separated by brick pathways.

Dogs and lawns are not always an amiable match. (The lawns themselves are almost always civil, it's just some lawn owners who are hostile.) Having walked dogs since childhood and professionally for about fifteen years, I think I have studied a large enough sample to say with certainty that most dogs go potty, number one and/or number two, while on a walk. Naturally, I carry poop bags with me for the eventuality of number twos. Number one is another matter. Let's just say the lawn will have to absorb that occurrence.

This elimination stuff is where things can get unpleasant on the lawn front. Once I was walking a very large black mutt named Jed. Jed lived with five or six cats and was an affable lug. He didn't look it to the casual observer, he looked big and strong and serious. Still, as Jed defecated and I was pulling a poop bag out of my back pocket a man ran screaming towards us and didn't stop until he was standing toe to toe with me. He yelled in my face, "you let your dog take a shit on people's lawns?"

"Yes," I said. "Then I pick it up."

Meanwhile, Jed was still going.

The man shrieked, "but you let him shit on people's lawns!"

"Yes," I repeated. "Then I pick it up."

By now Jed was done and stood there uninterested in our conversation. The man backed up a step and sputtered. "You're an asshole!" he said.

I said, "no sir. You are an asshole."

His lips moved but he made no sound. He grimaced and balled his hands into fists. Still, he was too flummoxed to speak. Suddenly he turned and fled, then vanished through the front door of his house. I bent down and picked up Jed's effort.

Then one day I was walking an old customer in his new neighborhood. This is another big easy going dog, though with Roger it is more obvious. Roger is a Golden Retriever. He is a little unusual in that he squats to urinate. Apparently he never learned how to lift his leg. Then he was neutered and it became unnecessary to go through all that strenuous marking. So when he tinkled on this guy's lawn he emptied his bladder. The guy came flying out of his front door, almost as though he had been lying in wait for just such a crime to be committed.

"Hey!" He was yelling at me, not Roger. Indeed, Roger appeared to be invisible to him. "That's a new lawn!"

You know how sometimes you just don't have a response? This was one of those times.

The man moved closer, even though Roger had finished and had moved between us.

"What am I gonna do about my lawn?" the man demanded. He put his hands on his hips. It was probably a pose more prissy than he intended.

I pointed to a loosely coiled hose mere feet away. Roger and I walked on.

The man shook his fist at me and yelled, "screw you, lady!"

Still at a loss for words, I blew him a kiss.

Winston's neighborhood does not have sidewalks. It still has lawns, of course. It was a brisk day, I remember I was wearing gloves and carrying a loaded poop bag. A man stood in his driveway holding a long handled garden tool. He waved at me and said pleasantly, "hello neighbor."

I responded in kind. The man walked down his driveway to the street. He informed me that he was the president of the neighborhood watch group. The garden tool in his hand was one of those fork things. The points of the three tines looked sharp. The man rubbed the tines with a rag. The gesture was vaguely threatening yet oddly comical.

He said, "I don't think dogs should be allowed to relieve themselves on people's lawns." He jerked his head at the bag in my hand. "Even if you pick it up."

I said, "well, there's probably lots of things about neighbors that can be annoying. For instance, I don't like the sound of a bouncing basketball after ten pm. " I smiled at the man with the garden tool.

Winston the Wheaten Terrier stood beside me, calmly watching us.

Still moving the rag on his tool the president of the neighborhood watch group questioned me- where did I live, did I always take the same route when I walked, etc. When he learned I was working, that Winston was my client and I was his dog walker, he suggested that it wasn't legal. I assured him it was. He repeated his belief that dogs should not be allowed to walk and mess on lawns. Punctuating with his garden fork, he told me he didn't like the fact that I was doing it for money.

I suggested he take it up with his vice president.

He said, "what do you mean?"

"The vice president of your neighborhood group," I said pleasantly.

Finally he stopped rubbing his tool and pointed at Winston. "This is Fran's dog?"

"Yes," I said and walked toward Winston's and Fran's house.

Now it is mid spring. The lawns are so lush this time of year.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Census Takers

How many census takers does it take to fill out a census form? Four, apparently.

It happened in a Southfield neighborhood last week. Only the dog was at home. The guys mowing the lawn report that four census takers stood at the door for ten minutes. The lawn crew told them nobody was home but the dog. The four census takers stood at the door for ten minutes anyway, knocking and ringing the bell.

How much do census takers get paid per hour? Eleven dollars? Seventeen? In either case, it is a pretty good hourly rate that we the tax payers are paying for four census takers to torment the family dog for ten minutes at a time.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Suburban Rodents

It has been a very long time since rats carrying diseased fleas spread the Black Death. Still, the prejudice against rats and other rodents remains strong. Case in point, my neighbor. Here in my little Royal Oak neighborhood, we share fences. Though I try to gain as much privacy as possible by strategically placing shrubs and vines, there is no denying that my neighbor's space is smack up next to mine.

Thanks to this brutal fact, I am painfully aware of my neighbor's predilection for murdering local rodents. Now, mice or rats in the house and garage are not welcome by even the most tender hearted of animal lovers. But, get this, my neighbor puts rat and mouse traps in his garden and in his flower beds.

Did you know, a squirrel doesn't die right away when he breaks his neck in a rat trap? I do. So does my neighbor, and he keeps setting traps in his garden and in his flower beds.

You tell me, who's the rat?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Yuck, my dog is eating poop!

Eating excrement, or coprophagy, is a fairly common problem. The theories as to why dogs eat poop range from diet deficiencies to being hungry to boredom. Bottom line is, if your dog is eating poop you want him to stop.

Some say sprinkle hot sauce or some other substance on the poop to make it less attractive. That's fine if you want to, but since you're already there at the poop site, how about picking it up so it is not available to eat?

Meanwhile, watch your dog when he has opportunities to eat poop. Catch him about to eat it and stop him! Tell him NO or startle him in some other way before he takes a bite. Then remove the poop. Keep monitoring him.

Eventually the dog will stop eating poop, just like he stopped other behaviors after you taught him those behaviors were unacceptable.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rescuing vs giving back

We hear a lot about "giving back". It appears to be in fashion, or better said, a fashion imparitive.

Resuing a dog is a valid option for many people. Sadly, what has happened, starting probably with the political correctness nonsense, is the all too common obnoxiousness of those doing good.

"Let me tell you about my dog" has become "let me tell you what a great person I am." What ever happened to quietly giving to charity or doing a good thing, like rescuing a dog, because you want to do a good thing, not so you can brag about doing a good thing?

Learn more about dog breeds to help decide what breed is the best fit for your family. One place to start:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bird food

If your pet birds are like mine, they usually leave some uneaten seed in the bowl every day. Don't throw it away. Add the leftover seed to your wild bird feeder outside. House finches and zebra finches can certainly eat the same seed. And really, is a Cardinal or Pigeon going to reject a seed because it is marketed for a Cockatoo?!

For more information on finches:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Neighbor Possum

I was busy with yard work but couldn’t help but notice the neighbor standing at the back fence. This is not a let’s chat style neighbor, in fact she avoids eye contact so we rarely speak at all. But now there she was. I waved a hello. She didn’t respond. She just stared. I moved closer and realized she was staring down. “Hi,” I said. “Anything wrong?”
She looked up vacantly. “There’s a possum,” she said.
Sure enough, there was an opossum lying motionless beside the base of the concrete birdbath situated near the fence that we shared.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said, gesturing to the south. “I’m waiting for my neighbor to come over.”
Ah, the neighbor to the south. I don’t share a fence with the neighbor to the south of Possum Gal but I am aware of this neighbor. We have never been formally introduced but I call her Big Mouth. She yells, frequently and at length. The first few times, I wondered if she needed help. Eventually it was clear that she was just yelling; yelling at her dog, yelling at her husband, yelling at the birds in the trees.
So there we stood and waited for Big Mouth and stared at the motionless opossum. Soon Big Mouth was standing there with us. We all agreed that it was an opossum and it was not moving. One of them said it might be dead. I suggested we leave it alone and tomorrow if it’s still there we’ll know its dead. I even volunteered to bury it if it turned out to be dead. We stared at the opossum some more.
I said, “maybe he’s, you know, playing possum. “
They gave me a blank look. It was difficult not to laugh.
“We ought to do something, “ Big Mouth said.
“Well,” I said, “if he is playing possum and we leave him alone, he’ll just leave.”
Big Mouth looked at me like I was a stupid and said, “but he could bite a child!”
“Possoms aren’t really known for being aggressive,” I said.
“We don’t know that!” Big Mouth said.
Yes, I could see the headlines now, Crazed possum on rampage in Oakland county neighborhood! Children in danger! Rogue killer possum strikes again! Citizens abandoning their homes!
“Look,” I said. “He’s a wild animal. And we shouldn’t mess around with a wild animal. But dangerous? Highly unlikely. We should simply leave him be.”
Big Mouth glared at me. Then she said to Possum Gal, “we should call someone.”
Yep, good idea, call someone. Try the neighbor to the north, maybe you’ll get the answer you want.
“Good luck,” I said, and went back to my yard work.
Good thing it wasn’t a raccoon, he’d probably have a shiv.