Ripe for the Picking

A house full of dogs, so it was a clever idea to have a Christmas tree loaded with all sorts of plush toys. Cute, Santa-hat wearing soft and cuddly puppies lined the sofa waiting for their rightful place on the tree. Boughs laden with real candy canes and colored lights highlighted all of the temptations like a neon sign in a store window, beckoning shoppers to browse the selections. And Chase was in a shopping kind of mood.

He restrained his canine urges for a few days before I caught him carefully plucking a toy from the tree. As he attempted his getaway, I ordered him to "drop it" and he was quick to obey. I retrieved the pilfered toy just in time to spy Chase picking several more from the forbidden tree. He was in a generous mood and had chosen several ornaments for the other dogs in the house. And just to ensure that this was the gift that kept on giving, he dutifully taught his canine companions how to select their own ornament. The deviant behavior extended far beyond the Christmas tree. I caught dogs attempting to pull the singing musical reindeer from an end table. One over sized stocking hung by the mantle with care had newly acquired teeth marks in the toe and the wiener dog had stockpiled miniature Christmas stockings that he found tucked away neatly within the branches of the tree.

Christmas canine chaos ruled the house for several days before the dogs finally began to understand the "new" annual rules and ceased their attempts to strip the tree bare. While the stuffed-animal themed Christmas tree was not my idea, I can't say that my Edgar Allan Poe themed Christmas tree on the sun porch was any better with its jet black bird glaring down from its lofty perch at my bird dog. "And quoth the raven, Nevermore".


Oh! Christmas Tree

Many of my Christmas trees past have been determined by what new pet I had in my home. Would I dare hang the expensive Christopher Radko ornaments with a curious kitten on the prowl? Would I unwrap the precious ornaments from my childhood, rich with Christmas memories, while a rambunctious puppy flashed through the living room?

My first year with Chase, I thought that I would forgo the tree until he was older. My roommate, Regena, had other plans and we purchased a semi-dry and barely "live" tree from the Food Lion down the street. We had a choice of three as it was December 23rd and all the other evergreens had been long since purchased. We wrestled the tree into the house and as expected, we were unable to align it within the cheap metal stand. Resorting to fishing wire to aid the tree in a tall, straight stance, we spent fifteen minutes decorating it with the Barbie doll ornaments that Regena had collected for her daughter over the years. No lights, no garland, our no frills Christmas tree was ready for inspection by my 10-month old puppy and her completely insane cat, Samantha.

There was no time to place wrapped presents under the tree. Each of us had plans for the next two days that kept us away from our home. Christmas was over and I expected December 26th to be spent lazing around my home, enjoying the companionship that can only be given by cherished pets. Pets who were very hyperactive that chilly morning after Christmas. Samantha was crazily dashing through the house with Chase hot on her trail. I cringed as Samantha lunged for the tree and clawed her way up, bits of dry pine needles floating to the floor. The tree leaned precariously, hanging on by a thread, literally. Chase studied the tree with its newly acquired crazy cat and flung himself at the trunk. It was too much for the fishing wire and the tree crashed to the floor flinging out Samantha from the brittle branches. I rushed to survey the damage and attempted to upright the tree. Most of the ornaments and pine needles were on the floor and I wondered why I was even bothering.

Decision made, I stripped the tree of the remaining ornaments, and dragged it with its bent stand to my truck. My neighborhood of senior citizens were in their yards watching their newest episode of live Sarah Reality TV. This was the earliest that I have ever taken down a Christmas tree. Back inside, I finished cleaning up the needles and water from the hardwood floors and sat down with Chase to pluck pine needles from his white fur.

Pets, trees, even roommates and their animals come and go throughout the years but the memory of the three-day Christmas tree comes to mind once a year as I pull out all of the Christmas festivities and my artificial pre-lit sturdy Christmas "tree". I tend to do a quick survey of the pets in my house as I place the hardiest ornaments at the bottom of the tree with the rest out of paws reach.


A Toy Story

Chase loves toys. He is especially fond of colorful stuffed animals with a squeaker inside and believes that it is his mission in life to frantically dig and pull all stuffing out in order to remove and destroy the squeaker. I have previously mentioned my financial support of the pet stores and they have a wide selection of dog toys. I feel they are also clever by allowing owners to bring their dogs into the store. Chase enjoys shopping for toys and looks adorable carrying one in his mouth, tail happily wagging, to the cash register. I have spent more money simply because my dog looks cute doing something.

As a puppy, he enjoyed the “Kong” so long as I filled it with peanut butter and would be entertained for the duration of the creamy snack inside. He also enjoyed the heels of my shoes, headphone cords and antique oriental rugs so it was critical to keep the Kong filled with peanut butter. Chase was not very impressed with those dog toys that have no fluff or squeakers inside. To him it was similar to having a non-alcoholic beer…a complete waste of time, effort and money.

The toys that I discovered lasted the longest and were most treasured by Chase were regular children’s stuffed animals. I find them at the Goodwill and other thrift stores for under a dollar apiece and have also discovered them at garage sales. At a recent garage sale, there was a bin filled to capacity with plush bunnies. As my talkative mother chatted up the owner of the bunny bin, she discovered that the woman proudly collected all things rabbit and her husband was forcing her to downsize her collection. I selected a bunny from the bin, handed the woman a dollar, and dragged my mother down the driveway before she could reveal my intentions to present the bunny to my dog for his chewing pleasure. Because of the woman’s passion for bunnies, I didn’t have the heart to tell her the fate of the toy and hissed under my breath at my mother to stop talking.

My experience with purchasing second hand stuffed animals has proven to me that they last longer than the pet store toys, they are easier on your wallet and less likely to be completely destroyed in search of the evil squeaker. I am always careful to squeeze the stuffed animal like a package of Charmin toilet paper to make sure there are no small pellets or beans in the bottom. I’m not sure if they are toxic to dogs but I do know that Chase has pulled them out on a penguin given to him by my sister and, once strewn across the floor, are very hard to clean.

A few toys purchased have been for my own amusement. I presented Chase with a gigantic plush flower with a large stem that could be bent and twisted. He would gleefully parade around the house with it firmly clutched in his teeth and run full speed ahead at the doorways simply to get stuck as the flower was too big to fit. Chase would back into the doorway, drop the flower and then grip the end to drag it lengthways into the next room. He enjoyed an Easter Bunny that sang an old “Easter Bonnet” song when pressed in the center of its belly. Chase would work his teeth around the center until the song would play, jump back and bark along. He currently covets my father’s Walter the Farting Dog toy which is placed out of reach above my dad’s computer.

There are so many joys to having a dog as part of your life, but to me, there is nothing better than watching my English setter race manically around with a favorite toy in his mouth shaking his head back and forth, trying to tempt anyone to take the evenly coated, drool covered, unrecognizable, tattered and torn, bargain bunny-bin animal from his grip.


Travel Bound

Ever since I first traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to pick up Chase when he was a mere six weeks old, he has been a road warrior. For Chase, the proper place for him to be in a vehicle is not necessarily in line with where he prefers to be. In my truck, he had no choice but to ride up front on the split bench seat, happily resting his furry white head in my lap. That is his preference in all modes of transportation...unfortunately. It is not a pleasant or safe experience while navigating the twists and turns of a southern back road to have a flash of white fur pounce into your lap like an oversized cat without the grace or agility of one. Legs dangling down the side of my seat, his toes will press into the buttons that control the seat moving it to press against the steering wheel or in the opposite direction away from the pedals below.

Solution? Off to the pet store to continue my financial support. A barrier or gate in my car was not an option. Chase was also too big for a booster seat doggy restraint.

I decided to explore the seatbelt systems that worked with your existing vehicle seatbelt. My first choice was a lambs wool harness system that attached to your dog in an intricate manner across his chest and then to the seatbelt. Satisfied that this was "the one", I muscled my dog into place and headed off on a short two hour trip to Atlanta to visit my sister. Twenty minutes into the trip, Chase was in my lap. He had successfully twisted and turned and squirmed his way out. In Atlanta, I visited the pet store to return the seatbelt and tried a similar version in a smaller size. Chase chewed through it in five minutes on the interstate. He kept me warm the remaining way home.

I found success with a much simpler design. It looks like a short leash of approximately 12-14 inches in length. One end has a typical dog leash clasp and the other end holds two types of universal seatbelt buckles and is guaranteed to fit your car. This is used with a regular dog harness and you can have the dog leash and the seatbelt attached at the same time. It is especially useful when pulling into a rest stop or other destination. I am able to detach Chase from the seatbelt while holding his leash. Chase is able to ride in a seated position or he can lie down. The only difficulty I have with this dog seatbelt is that sometimes it can be difficult to remove from the car if I have an additional passenger that is planning on being in the middle seat. It is also not for use with your dog collar as this will not keep the dog safe in an accident. It is best to splurge on a decent harness which is also good to use in walking the dog.

Now accustomed to the routine of travel, Chase will bow his head to insert it through his harness and wait patiently on the backseat to be clipped into place. After leaving several nose prints on the back window, he settles down to happily slumber until our destination is reached.