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.