12/10/10

Midnight Caller

I pulled into my parent's driveway after a long night at the Aiken County Museum for the annual S.H.O.P. (Sassy Happy Outrageous Party) event.  My feet were sore, my fingers prune-like from an hour of dish washing and my eyes bleary due to the late hour.  My headlights captured a flash of white and orange and I thought I spied Chase on the front porch.  I knew this was impossible as he was supposed to be tucked in bed back in Georgia.

With a groan, I pulled myself from the car and approached the front door.  Nothing.  I could hear Dolly on the other side tap dancing, whimpering and whining.  I grasped the handle of the door and pushed it open.  A large orange and white Brittany spaniel shot by me with a short wiry terrier hot on his heels.  I was not sure how I had suddenly acquired two more dogs for my parents and I debated on how to separate the boisterous gathering in the living room.

Thankfully my mother came into the room and I tried to provide an explanation for the additions to her dog family.  She opened the door and ordered "Bullet" and "Finn" out.  

"Great", I thought, "she's already named them".  I looked to my mother for enlightenment.  For several months, Bullet, a young Brittany spaniel and his brother Finnegan Flannigan had been visiting Dolly each time their human down the street let them outside.  Finn would knock on the front door several times a week in order to play with Dolly.

Mom reached for her cell phone and dialed a number.  "Yes", she said into the mobile device.  "They're here.  I'll send them on home."  She opened the front door and ordered Dolly inside.  She told the other dogs to "go home" and turned off the lights.  Dog friends.  Late night visits.  I thought I had seen it all.

11/25/10

Saber Toe

"A good man is hard to find," my mother declared on our annual October trip to close the family cottage in Maine for the winter.  "And it's even harder to find one who will let you stick your cold feet under his legs at night," she continued with authority.

Before realizing that I could be opening myself up to a case of TMI, I asked if my father let her warm her feet under his legs.

"Oh no," she stated. "He always complained that my toenails were too sharp.  He called me Saber Toe".

My sister, Liz and I giggled at the nickname and vowed to call our mother "Saber Toe" as much as possible that weekend.  The moniker, however, ended up being awarded to my sister's dog, Bronte, before the long weekend was over.

Bronte was a sweet small to medium sized dog that looked to be part shepherd and part origins unknown.  Despite several walks during the day, jaunts on the rocky sea side and car rides with her head stuck out the passenger window, Bronte was a night owl.  I'm not sure when she slept...if ever!

Everyone went to bed at the same time in our dormitory-style second floor sleeping area.  Bronte had a dog bed and blanket on the floor next to Liz's bed.  Bronte would patiently wait until everyone was sound asleep and then her nightly activities would commence.  She would carefully check on each sleeper like a night nurse in the hospital, scanning for vital signs by nudging an exposed hand with her cold damp nose.  Liz sleeps deeply as was demonstrated when she was seven years old and her bedroom ceiling crashed on her.  Bronte's nudges to check for alertness went unnoticed by my sister.  Bronte's toenails clicked loudly on the wood floors as she approached each bed.  Unsatisfied with the less than enthusiastic responses, she clicked and tapped and scraped and scratched down the pine stairs to the wooden floors below.  Her nocturnal journey through the living room, dining room and kitchen was mapped by the sharp staccato clicks of her saber toes.

Each night Bronte's saber toes tapped out secret Morse code messages that were intercepted by everyone except her owner.  I recalled that when Liz lived in Atlanta, she slept soundly locked away in her bedroom while her two cats tried to kill each other all night long in the living room, rudely trampling the unlucky guest (me) on the couch.

Luckily, Liz and Saber Toe departed Maine early and I looked forward to a good night's sleep at my Aunt and Uncle's house outside of Boston.  It would be an easy drive to the airport in the morning and I hoped to avoid traffic with an early start.  Alas, the Saber Toe curse had followed me from Maine in the form of my relatives!  Despite their age, my mother, aunt and uncle treated the visit like a preteen slumber party chattering into the wee hours of the morning while creaking and tapping and clicking and shuffling on the wooden floors outside my bedroom door...

10/31/10

Knock Knock...Who's There?

While reading my in-flight Sky Mall magazine, I noticed a doorbell device for dogs.  A big plastic yellow paw print charmingly adds a bit of Je nais c'est quoi to your front door and gives the owner the task of training their pooch to tap it when said canine wishes entry into the home.  The tap on the paw triggers the doorbell to ring and alerts the owner to open the door.


As if I needed one more thing in my life that my four-pack could use to annoy me!  I put my dogs outside for a reason and this device, in my opinion, ranks right up there with the cat toilet training system.


If George wants to come inside, he howls.  If he wants to go outside, he howls.  George has mastered the howl with such precision and far-reaching tones that I fear the neighbors will come over to let him in.  If Charlie wants to come inside he finds Chase.  Chase will knock on the door incessantly.  If that doesn't work, Chase will peer through every available window until he locates me and then knocks on the window.  If Charlie wants to go outside, he gets Chase.  Chase will find me and tap me with his paw until I get up and let him out.  If Molly wants to come in or go out she taps at the door...a trick she learned from Chase.


No, I do not need the fancy, attractive, yellow dog paw sitting at my door, but thank you Sky Mall for providing another ridiculous gadget for me to ponder.  Four dogs and many years of experience, they don't need the device.  They have ME trained!

7/31/10

A Goose on the Loose!

It was a beautiful and relatively cooler morning when I met my friend Regena at the New Moon Café in downtown Aiken for our traditional breakfast of a warm cranberry nut muffin. We were lucky enough to snag an outside table for two and chatted away, glancing every now and again at some of the other outdoor diners. Two well-behaved dogs were tethered at two different tables and were content to lay at their owners’ feet, hoping for crumbs.

Several feet away, another man sat at the table across from his companion…a large white goose with a pink satin bow adorning her neck and a frilly pink petticoat somehow attached to her under feathers. She had a delicate pink leash and was gently pecking away at the muffin in front of her. This was too much for the younger dog, which in dog-like fashion, crept and crawled over toward the goose when suddenly the goose leapt from her throne and attacked the dog. The poor animal was beaten with ferocious wings and fur was plucked from his body! The dog managed to retreat beneath the table and cowered at his owner’s feet, refusing to even look at the goose. The owner of the goose, plucked his prized possession off the sidewalk, dusted her off and placed her back on the chair. Her bow was retied and she began to peck at her muffin nonchalantly.

Regena and I left, careful to avoid the goose, and went to the farmer’s market. Later, as we drove down Laurens Street I caught a glimpse of the goose, waddling after her owner as he entered the hardware store. I smiled and wished I had taken a picture. I was sure no one would ever believe this golden egg of a tale!

7/30/10

A Modern Day Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there were three dogs locked away in a hot, dirty dungeon…

It was truly a stroke of luck that Chase insisted I update his status on Facebook. I would log into his account a few times a month and Chase had considerably less friends than me so I was able to view my New Jersey childhood friend’s status pleading for help rescuing dogs out of a high kill “shelter” in Rome, GA. I quickly logged back into Facebook as me and sent a message that, if needed, I would drive the two hours to get the dogs and find a meeting point on 95 South to make a transfer.

After a few text messages back and forth, I finally fell asleep, still unsure if I needed to provide transportation in the morning. Somehow, in the middle of the night, Gerylee pulled off what seemed impossible and was put in contact with a rescue organization that pulled the dogs out of the shelter moments before tragedy. This woman transferred three dogs to another Jersey girl, now living in Georgia and I left my house to travel through Atlanta traffic to reach Jen’s home two hours later. I wore appropriate sparkly flip flops, leaving the heels behind for this mission. I met Peanut first: a peanut-colored tiny female who was very affectionate. Next I met Piglet, a sweet black and white mix who greeted me shyly and with some hesitation. Finally it was Guinness’s turn. The brindle pit bull mix was a lively sixty pound beast who liked to jump on me. A lot. Guinness also liked my cell phone but her attempts at thievery were foiled.

After spending some quality time with the dogs, I figured I had missed the rush hour traffic in Atlanta and it would be safe to leave. I still have a lot to learn about Atlanta…especially Interstate 75. The dogs slept through it all and I returned home to pick up my 95 year old grandmother and her walker to head to South Carolina and my parents’ house for the night. Three dogs, two people and one walker were packed all into a Ford Focus that I had borrowed for the dog transport. I made it to South Carolina in record time, all the while planning out the logistics of getting man and beasts into the house.

I pulled into the driveway and walked Piglet and Guinness. I then put them into the laundry room with a big bowl of water, beds and some food. Next I walked Peanut. I lugged her crate from the car into the house and placed her inside. Finally, I pulled the walker from the car and helped my grandmother inside. It was time for bed!

The next day, Gerylee and I chose a meeting point in Dunn, NC. I spent the morning walking the dogs and playing with them. Peanut stuck to me like…well…peanut butter! Finally it was time to reload them into the car and we headed off on the next leg of the road trip. I made sure I had towels, water, a small bowl and shiny pink stilettos.

I reached Dunn, NC well before Gerylee and her friend Heather. By their mile marker updates it would be an hour before they reached me so I continued on 95 South. I hoped that we could meet at the outlet malls but shopping was not clearly in my plan. Finally, I pulled off at exit 116. Gerylee had told me it was raining where they were so I pulled under the gas station shelter. I tugged Guinness out of the car and gave her some water. I was debating the possibility of getting Piglet out next when Gerylee pulled beside me. It was the first time I had seen her in 29 years but all she could focus on was her dog. I forgave her even though I was looking especially cute in my Barbie shoes. She took Guinness for a walk while I begged Piglet to come out of the car. She dug her little toes into the upholstery. I gave her leash a tug. Nothing. I pushed the driver’s seat forward and squeezed into the back seat and grabbed Piglet in a hug. As I backed out praying I wouldn’t twist an ankle in my fine footwear, I managed to pull Piglet with me. I turned her over to Heather for her walk and a drink of water. With both Piglet and Guinness safely tucked away in Gerylee’s car, it was time to get Peanut out of her crate in the back of the Ford Focus hatchback I had borrowed. She came out easily and took a few laps of water. Gerylee managed to walk her just before the storm reached us. We quickly said our goodbyes as I headed South and they headed North with their newly acquired angels.

Determined to get some shopping done, I pressed the accelerator urging the four-cylinder car to make it to the outlets before the storm caught up with me. The shopping gods were not smiling favorably on me and I regrettably continued past my Garden of Eden with all the temptations flashing “SALE” in the shop windows. It was very quiet in the car and I realized that I had been having one-sided conversations on the trip north. I pulled into a Cracker Barrel and got an audio book for the long trip home.

7/21/10

The “Howl”elujah Chorus

Nearly every day I am treated to a special a cappella recital by George, Charlie and Molly. George begins with the prelude as a low whine from deep down in the secret, dark places of his body. The whine turns into a wail and as it begins to grow louder, Charlie joins in with perfectly harmonized staccato yips, performed with a unique falsetto. As the wail becomes a howl flowing from George’s lungs and increasing in volume, Molly adds another level of low moans in a lovely alto voice. The trio continues for a brief moment until the finale. Molly and Charlie abruptly end their serenades while George finishes the masterpiece with a quivering cry quickly descending into silence. Once the canine cantata is complete, the dogs resume their normal activities of eating, drinking and sleeping…unless a special encore is required.

7/15/10

All Paws on the Poop Deck

It was a hot summer and it rained frequently. For the first time in years, Georgia was not experiencing a drought. The grass and weeds were healthy, green and tall. Very tall. Tall grass was not a problem for Chase. He trampled it, rolled on it and used it as camouflage to remain invisible as he stalked birds. The height of the grass proved daunting for Charlie, George and Molly who had considerably shorter legs. None wished to venture into the backyard jungle to do their daily doggy business.

The three vertically challenged canines solved their dilemma simply by lifting a leg to my potted plants on the back deck. Even Molly, the sole female of the bunch, lifted her leg in solidarity. Determined to end this rotten behavior, I armed myself with a bottle of non-environmentally friendly bleach and a hose. I blasted all traces of residue away from the upper deck as the three dogs scrambled out of the reach of the spray to the lower deck. I approached the railing and peered below. To my dismay, that area had been utilized as the “poop deck”. I could feel my blood boil as I raised the hose and blasted the lower deck clean. The dogs jumped into the grassy jungle for safety and I continued on my mission for cleanliness. They scurried to the back stairs and were now peering down at me from above.

I stomped up the stairs and led all three as far into the yard as possible where I ordered them to go to the bathroom. I was fully aware of the ridiculous scene and prayed that the neighbors weren’t watching. As I surveyed the yard, I spied the small green dog pool discarded beneath a tree. I gingerly gave it a tug and shrieked as a brilliant blue and green salamander slithered into the undergrowth. I looked around for my pack to rescue me but they were back on the poop deck. I dragged the pool to the lower deck and filled it with water. It was large enough to prevent any additional squatting in that area and provided a great summer activity for sixteen hot paws. Molly, George and Charlie pushed their way into the pool and splashed around in the cool water while Chase continued to roll through the weeds.

Still unconvinced, I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. I placed the hose within my reach and decided I would blast away any future bad behavior. Completely pooped, I retreated into the house with my dog entourage and called it a day.

6/30/10

Thunderbolts and Lightning…Very Very Frightening

My cell phone rang and it was my mother…again.

“Just a quick question,” she said. “Are any of your dogs afraid of thunderstorms?”

The last few words were barely out and I heard a tremendous crash of thunder through the phone. My mother began laughing and choked out, “Never mind” as Chase, Charlie, Molly and George raced for the porch with her dog, Dolly hot on their heels.

I assured her that while my dogs might stick close to humans during a storm, they were not at all like my childhood dog, Drummer.

I loved my keeshond, Drummer. He was a medium-sized black and grey ball of fluff and full of playfulness and energy. He was a perfect family pet. He also was terrified of anything to do with a storm. He hated water, hated swimming and hated baths. He was terrified of thunder and would quiver and shake long before the low rumblings in the distance could be heard by our human ears. The vet prescribed a mild tranquilizer to keep him calm during storms. A great idea in theory however it could be difficult to predict when he would need it until he was already out of his mind with fear. It was not the easiest task shoving a pill down a dog’s throat when he was trembling and whimpering beneath a bed. The pill merely sedated him and did not vanquish his fears. Drummer would lie on the floor, unable to move, but the fear of the storm was still in his eyes.

It only became worse when we moved down South. The storms were most impressive: cracks of thunder that would shake the house to the foundation, wind ripping through the trees flinging pine cones, needles and branches to the ground below and violent gusts of rain pelting a deluge of water onto every surface. These were the things of Drummer’s worst nightmare. His only place of comfort in the house was in the bathroom. He would huddle in the bathtub and we would leave the fan running to drown out some of the outside noise. He would remain in his makeshift “bomb shelter” until the worst of the storm was over. A sudden storm would make things complicated if we were not at home. If the bathroom was not accessible, Drummer would dig all of the towels and sheets from the linen closet and bury himself underneath the pile. We were fortunate that he wasn’t more destructive.

Afraid of storms? Not my dogs, but storms do make them more loving and more willing to snuggle with me. As I drove home later with them through an exceptionally bad storm, all four were sleeping soundly in the back seat of the car, curled up with a blanket and not a care in the world.

6/23/10

Keep On Rollin'

Most of the dogs in my life enjoy my parents’ pool. A large rectangle of shimmering blue sits beyond a fence in the side yard, tempting hot paws to test the cool waters, a screened-in shady cabana with plenty of padded chaise lounges to be shared and lush shady bushes and flowers line the outer edges in need of exploration by wet noses.

For several years, the pool would remain uncovered during the winter months. As the weather became warm, Chase and Dolly would check the water temperature often by dabbing a paw in the water on the first step. This past winter, my parents opted for a taut blue cover professionally installed by the local pool company. Supposedly it was so tough an elephant could stand on it. We didn’t test that claim but it sure could hold the dogs. Molly, the older English cocker spaniel, was the first to wander onto the springy surface. She was so eager to swim that she settled onto a puddle that had accumulated in the center and attempted a ridiculous dog paddle. She would have to wait a few more months.

Molly was ecstatic when she saw the pool was once again open for dogs. It was hard to keep her out once she was in. Dog-paddling her way around the edges, her black fur looked shiny and luxurious and her long ears floated gracefully on the surface. When she took a break from swimming, it was merely to race along the perimeter of the pool barking with happiness. She used the heat from the cement to dry her fur as she rolled and rolled and found unused dry cement to continue her mission. Rolling, rolling, rolling….SPLASH! Molly emerged sputtering from beneath the water where she had fallen. She paddled to the steps and continued her quest for dry fur. In the process, she rolled back into the pool once more. Fool me once and maybe fool me twice but the rolling and falling into the pool continued. Molly even took to prancing along the pool’s edge and then, oops! She would “slip” and plunge into the water.

Was this the accidental discovery of pure summer bliss or a very clumsy older dog? I find the choice difficult however, I do agree with the words of American author Ambrose Bierce, “the most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog.” A perfect description for this little water –logged water dog!

6/16/10

Dogs CAN Look Up!

Early on a Saturday morning, Chase took me for a walk. While I am quite aware that this sentence should be arranged differently, this was the truth of the matter. We had just started up the gravel driveway with Chase tugging me along as I stumbled in my appropriate three-inch sparkly sandals. I heard a “whoosh” sound. I ignored it, thinking that one of the neighbors must be playing with a new power tool. Our walk paused for a moment while Chase sniffed at something that caught his attention. I heard the “whoosh” again and then a man’s voice called out, “Hello! Good Morning!”

I froze. In a panic, I scanned the woods around me for axe murderers and psychopaths. The voice was alarmingly close and I peered through the trees trying to find the source. Another “whoosh” filled the air and a cat came careening down the driveway and disappeared under my car. As I was beginning to feel like I was the naïve star of a bad horror movie, I could hear the man laughing. I was sure he was laughing at me and I was filled with a mix of anger and dread as I still couldn’t locate the voice.

I heard another “whoosh” and noticed that Chase had frozen in place and was now staring at something above him. I followed my dog’s gaze and was amazed to see a bright yellow hot air balloon carrying a man in its basket. The man was still laughing and my dog, who was out taking me for a walk that morning had taught me a lesson: sometimes you have to look up!

5/30/10

A Key Task

An easy task it seemed at the time…head over to Jeanelle’s house and let her two dogs outside for twenty minutes or so. Put them back in their crates, pick Jeanelle up at her office, and we would be able to head to Atlanta earlier than planned.

I arrived at her house and the dogs were eager for a romp in the yard. Layla aka “The Horse” was a ten-year-old Great Dane. Patten was a four-month-old Boxer/Heeler mix and 100% puppy. Patten also didn’t need to go to the bathroom. He had already relieved himself in his crate. Puppy poo was smooshed against the metal bars of the crate and he had “covered” it up with his towel that was now plastered to the door. Gross. I found paper towels and a plastic grocery store bag and cleaned up what I could. Leaving the side door open, I flung the bag at the driveway’s edge.

Since I couldn’t return the puppy to the crate, I gingerly carried the crate outside in search of a hose. As usual, I was wearing appropriate footwear: 3-inch sparkly sandals that I purchased at Nordstrom’s in Atlanta the month before. My heels sunk into the grass as I circled the house looking for the hose. I found it but the water wouldn’t turn on. I eyed Jeanelle’s koi pond as a water source but figured that might not go over well with her. I called her up and asked her how to operate her hose. For some reason she seemed more focused on my inappropriate footwear.

I blasted the crate with water, creating a muddy mixture of clay and poo, all the while praying to the shoe god that my sandals remain unadulterated. Satisfied that the crate was clean, I retreated into the house and began a search for a towel. Jeanelle called to check on my progress. I told her that the dogs were back in the crate and all four cats were still in the house. There was a long pause on the phone and I was then informed that she only had three cats. I determined which cat didn’t belong and made attempts to retrieve the orange and white stray from under the bed. No luck. Cats are not as easy as dogs and the world is definitely on their time, not mine.

I concluded that since Jeanelle already had three cats and she could handle another one. Executive decision made, I locked up and got in my car. No keys. I looked on the passenger seat, the dashboard, the floor. No keys. I returned to the house and looked around inside, retracing my steps. Her gigantic grey man-eating cat lounged alertly on the dining room table in the exact spot that I was sure I had left the keys. As I approached cooing “nice kitty” as I never bothered learning her cats’ names, the fur began to rise on the back of her neck. Static electricity is always a good sign with cats. I asked the cat to move. She hissed. I begged the cat to move. She looked away with complete indifference. I scanned the immediate area for weapons and picked up a stack of mail. Not unlike the scene out of “Shawn of the Dead” where the main characters flung vinyl records at deranged zombies, I flung bills, postcards and other lethal mail at the hissing and spitting cat that now had all claws out. The stubborn cat did not budge. Using the longest envelope I pushed and prodded the monster, until she finally obliged. No keys and I now had a friend for life.

Through the entire battle, the other cats became interested in the sounds and the stray cat came out for a peek. Enough time for me to grab him and toss him out. I locked the door again and approached the plastic grocery bag of paper towels and poo I had left outside earlier in my adventure. I began praying that my keys were not inside the bag. I shook the bag and listened for the sound of keys. None. I squeezed the bag like a package of Charmin toilet paper. No keys. As I remained in a kneeling position on the ground, I spied my keys on the front lawn. I grabbed them, jumped in the car and blasted the air conditioning for a few minutes before heading down the road. One last phone call came through before hitting the dead zone. It was Jeanelle wondering what was taking me so long.

5/12/10

A Root Beer Note

Many years ago when I was in high school, my dad decided to make root beer. I’m not sure why but suspect the Amish in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania may have held a bit of inspiration for him. Maybe he thought he could perfect their imperfect recipe. To me, Amish root beer truly tasted like roots and I preferred the crisp, bubbly flavor of A&W root beer in a can.

Dad made his root beer and lined old fashioned brown glass bottles with the plunger tops along a section of the kitchen counter. The bottles were to remain on the counter for an undetermined amount of time in order to magically turn into soda.

Typically, my sister and I were the first members of the household to arrive home in the afternoons. Our job was to walk the dog and, at the very least, clean up whatever mess he may have made during the course of the day. Liz and I were very good about pretending not to see any mess that Drummer had created in our absence and avoided the area until after our mother arrived home. Locked in our rooms, diligently concentrating on our homework, we could hear her sarcastic comments regarding our temporary blindness as she cleaned up his gifts.

I don’t believe Drummer was a counter surfer like my dog Chase. He was a timid dog, easily startled by any loud noise. One afternoon, Liz and I returned home to find broken bits of bottle mixed with a brownish yeasty smelling liquid on the parquet floor. We eyed Drummer, who was quivering in a corner, as the most likely suspect and cleaned up the mess before my father could view the damage to his precious root beer collection. The next afternoon, we came home to the same scene. This repeated over the next few days and we couldn’t understand the dog’s fascination with root beer and realized the rapidly depleting collection of bottles would be difficult to hide from Dad if it continued. Finally, one afternoon, while watching TV, Liz and I heard several bottles explode in the kitchen. The remaining bottles had rapidly bubbling liquid that seemed angry and alive. We quickly uncapped all the bottles in order to spare the neurotic and whimpering family pet additional stress.

To our relief, Dad did not attempt to recreate or fine-tune his root beer adventure and eventually moved on to an assortment of various hobbies through the years: model ship building, soap making, needlepoint, non-exploding Amish 3-bean salad, bread making and wood working. I am pleased to report that none of his current hobbies terrorize his dog or mine.

5/6/10

Long Lonesome Road

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and a perfect day for a three-hour drive to Rossman Apiaries in Moultrie, Georgia to pick up bee keeping equipment. I never thought that I could leave from Point A in Georgia, drive three hours and still be in Georgia! Florida or Alabama maybe but Georgia? Still? None of the dogs came along for the ride in my old single cab pick-up truck.

I pondered the meaning behind some of the town names like Ty Ty or Sylvester and laughed as I passed a road sign for Long Lonesome Road. I gave up on the GPS hours before as it kept directing me down improbable roads and relied on the Google Maps directions which also proved unreliable when I reached my destination miles before the directions told me and on the opposite side of the road.

The truck tires crunched on the hot gravel stones that made up the driveway. The school next door had just let out for the day and the sounds of laughing children drifted toward the warehouse. I was greeted by a small black dog with mottled white “socks” for paws. She had no collar but clearly owned the place. As I approached the entrance to the warehouse and obeyed the large stop sign that instructed customers to wait for their orders, the small dog coaxed me into petting her head. She looked to be a cross between a pit bull and something else. As I stared at her mottled white feet she looked an awful lot like the timid Australian Sheppard lounging in the shade of another building on the property. She rolled onto her side, exposing her belly and I patted it. Puffs of dusty gravel rose from her skin with each pat and I thought that the dog spent a large amount of time rolling in the dirt driveway. I decided to call her Pig Pen.

The waiting area of the warehouse was too hot and I retreated to my truck, leaving the passenger door open and leaning against the seat. Pig Pen trotted over and placed her front paws on the running board to get a good look inside. She demanded a few more pats before she crawled under the truck for shade. She didn’t stay there very long. A Monarch butterfly hopped from one piece of gravel to another within view of the dog. Pig Pen popped from the shade and into the sun following the path of the butterfly which seemed oblivious to her nose. Finally, my order was ready and loaded into the back of the truck. As I drove away, I could see Pig Pen sitting in the entryway to the warehouse watching me go. When I reached home three hours later, my four dogs felt that I had been gone for a lifetime and they didn’t even care that I carried the smell of a small black dog from Moultrie, Georgia.

5/1/10

The Growler

I had errands to run in the Lake Oconee area and decided to spend some one-on-one time with one of the dogs. I didn’t want to bring the leash which eliminated Chase and I wanted to bring one of the dogs that didn’t need assistance jumping into the car. This eliminated Molly and Charlie. George, or “Cujo”, was the chosen one. He happily ran to the car and jumped into the back seat. He spent the first part of the twenty minute drive trying out each and every part of the back seat…a luxury for him because he usually is required to share it with two other dogs. George loathes sharing.

It was a beautiful and sunny day. George chose a window and looked out at the scenery. He is a dog that growls. He growls when he is happy. He growls when he is unhappy. He also growls when he is trying to protect his car. George feels that the car needs to be protected from other cars that pass by, people walking in their yards, cows, horses and goats.

This area of Georgia proudly declares itself to be dairy country. At least that’s what all the signs lining Highway 441 declare. Dairy country means cows. Cows mean non-stop barking, growling and spitting as every square inch of this highway is lined with farms. Every field is crowded with cows. George does not like cows.

I finally reached my first destination, which was thankfully cow-free, and rushed inside for a brief moment. Next stop was the bank. I opted to use the drive through for my banking needs. As the canister made its way through the clear tube, I could see George’s eyes following its upward path. He was watching all of the canisters go back and forth through the tubes; unsure if this was something acceptable. My canister returned to me empty and the teller asked for me to send it back so she could give me my receipt. As my canister made a return trip, George made up his mind. Moving canisters were something to loathe and George barked violently at it. When it returned, I opened it to discover a receipt and two dog treats. I handed the treats to George and wondered if he was rethinking his position on the bank drive-through.

The return trip was pretty much the same due to the cow population. He did enjoy the stop through Chik-Fil-A. George likes waffle fries. I could tell because he growled. Upon reaching the house, George jumped out and trotted to the door, wagging his tail furiously. He growled at the three other dogs waiting there to greet me and headed for the water bowl. I think he enjoyed the ride.

4/28/10

Dog Art

I travel quite a bit on Interstate 20 between Georgia and South Carolina. I do this with four dogs. George insists on picking his seat first which is okay as long as he chooses the front passenger seat. George does not like other dogs sitting next to him. If they breathe, he growls. If they look at him, he growls. And watch out if the other dog has the audacity to TOUCH him! An Oscar-worthy impersonation of Stephen King’s Cujo comes out to entertain the captive audience. Snarls mixed with teeth flashing while a white froth of saliva forms around his lips. I try to encourage George to pick the front seat lest I am forced to pull over on the highway to make him a nice cozy nest in the trunk.

Chase always must be restrained by his harness and seatbelt. For a fifty pound ball of white fur, he can be very sneaky and has jumped into my lap. Yes, I am the driver. The only way to remove him from my lap is to pull over and pray that his paw doesn’t touch the electronic seat positioning controls. He has done this once before and I don’t care for my nose to be pressed up against the windshield of the car.

Charlie, as mentioned in an earlier blog (Travels with Charlie), has a weak stomach. He prefers the floor but will pop up every so often to look out the window which makes him queasy. The floor is best for him. In fact, all the dogs try to be as far away from him as possible especially when the heavy breathing begins.

Molly is a perfect traveler. She gets in her seat, curls up and all I hear is unladylike snorts and snores from behind my seat. She has selective hearing and ignores Cujo.

With Cujo in the front, Molly sleeping heavily, Chase restrained and Charlie whimpering on the floor, I am not sure how the dogs find time to complete their masterpieces, their dog art. Always, upon reaching my destination, every window is covered with nose drawings. Intricate squiggles and swirls adorn all passenger windows and sometimes even my window. Just like a spider’s web, these drawings are unique each time with new patterns and details.

Driving on the interstate, I pass other vehicles with the familiar sketches on their windows and it makes me smile. I don’t need a bumper sticker proclaiming “I Love My Dog” or “My English Setter is Smarter than Your Honor Student”. I have dog art and I display it with pride.

4/24/10

Back in the Jailhouse Again

When Chase first came into my life, I decided to crate train him. Maybe not immediately…I remembered when my Mom was training my childhood dog, Drummer. Pieces of furniture contained him in the kitchen, some newspaper was thrown on the floor, and magically the dog was housebroken! Well, that was how my nine-year old self remembered it. Since I was more modern, I purchased a baby gate, confined Chase to a small hallway and threw down a puppy pad in the corner.

Chase flung himself at the gate until he knocked it over and decided that the puppy pad was a toy that must be shredded. Undeterred, I replaced the gate, added all four dining room chairs in front of it to reinforce the barricade and duct taped the puppy pad to the floor. Chase tore the center of the puppy pad into tiny white and blue-backed confetti and peed on the floor next to it. He attempted to climb the barricade and howled for hours. I couldn’t take it and made a trip to the local pet store, handed over one hundred dollars and hauled a cage out to my car.

Crate training, while effective, took a lot of discipline on my part. I remember one night, lying in my bed listening to Chase cry, whimper and howl for forty minutes. As I started to creep from my bed, my roommate intervened and told me to be strong and let him howl. It was a long night but in the end, my dog was crate trained.

Unfortunately, two years later, he was out of the crate and into the bed. Not exactly 100% my choice but I won’t go into it here. It soon became clear, though, that my dog needed consistency, boundaries and a routine. I tried, unsuccessfully, to reintroduce the crate. At the mere sight of it he would run and hide. I couldn’t shove him inside as he would make himself as large as possible by spreading his legs and thrashing his head around.

A friend suggested that I try a different crate instead of the travel crate (with wheels) that I had purchased in case he ever had to fly in an airplane. I tried an all-metal crate that resembled a mini prison. I put his favorite blanket inside and ordered him in. Chase obliged but wasn’t happy. He made the most mournful and sorrowful cries and I felt like I was tormenting him in a cruel manner. After twenty minutes, I caved and let him out. A few weeks later, I tried again. This time I put his rectangular dog bed inside, a stuffed animal and his blanket. My friend encouraged Chase to enter the crate and stayed with him for thirty minutes until Chase relaxed.

It didn’t take very long for Chase to think of the crate as his own private space. Maybe it was because of the other three dogs who happily utilized their crates for sleeping or just having a place of their own. When Chase was upset or just wanted to be left alone, I could find him lounging in his crate. He would get very agitated if he caught one of the other dogs in his space and if he was sleepy, he put himself to bed. I very rarely latched it. He stayed in it all night and wouldn’t come out until morning.

I never thought it was possible to reintroduce the crate to Chase, in fact I had insisted that it couldn’t be done. I’m glad I was wrong and that Chase now views it as a safe haven rather than a punishment. I don’t need to worry about disturbing him in the night which is good since he gets agitated if he is suddenly woken from his dog dreams. It’s his own private room with a view from all sides and while I may close the door, he can still nudge it open so he doesn’t feel like he’s back in his old solitary jail-like cage.

4/18/10

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

Spring had arrived. Birds flitted about the flowering trees and low lying bushes, unconcerned with the dangers lurking beneath in the form of Chase and Charlie. Chase loved all things that flew, fluttered, buzzed, and darted. He held firmly to the belief that if he barked long and loud enough at the winged creatures, they would oblige him by landing in his mouth. I am certain this belief was formed six years earlier when he caught a mockingbird in a similar manner. Charlie took a more subtle approach. He burrowed beneath a bush and lay very still. Birds would not see the small dachshund who blended in perfectly with the dirt and old leaves until it was too late. Charlie proudly stockpiled his feathered trophies for all to admire. Dogs can be just as lethal as a cat where a bird is concerned.

A favorite afternoon gathering spot for all four dogs and me was down by the pond in a shady patch of clover and wild violets. A canopy of branches and leaves was provided by a gnarly old oak tree. Very fine, soft grass carpeted the area not covered by clover and an old moldy swing, its tattered top long vanished was a perfect place to relax with a book or an occasional visit by a four-legged friend.

This was the place where you could imagine being a child again. A small, rugged door rested against the base of the tree trunk and it would be no surprise if it creaked open slowly by the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps childhood memories encouraged me to sink into the lush green ground covering to seek four-leaf clovers and I found myself gently parting patches of green. The dogs, moments before content to sit on the hillside and watch the pond or sniff around the yard doing the things that dogs do, were suddenly keenly interested in my clover activities. Four noses sniffed where my hands had been. Four mouths nibbled on clover leaves. Sixteen furry feet trampled and bruised the tender plants. Four bodies chose that moment to roll on their backs in my clover patch. Sighing, I ceased my efforts and sat back on the swing. My patch was completely flattened. Despite the damage, there was one small area untouched. Nonchalantly, I moved slowly and deliberately toward that area. Sneaking a glance at the dogs, I surveyed the area and spied one four-leaf clover. Excitedly, I stooped to pluck it before all four dogs charged and trampled that area, too.

Several days later, I returned to my clover patch and happily discovered that clovers are very resilient plants. For a brief moment I enjoyed the shady spot until the dogs discovered me and crushed my patch once again. Sighing, I lay down on the swing. A bumblebee landed very close to my face and I watched it dry its wings. Smiling, I marveled at all its bee intricacies for a few fleeting seconds before Chase pounced upon it and snatched it in his mouth chewing furiously. Horrified, I admonished Chase for his actions but it was too late.

I retreated into the house with the dogs and thought that all things flying and all things growing must be relieved by the bit of safety I just provided.

4/9/10

The Scoop

My dog can embarrass me. I think he knows it, too. There are certain activities that I would prefer he conduct in the privacy of my yard or designated areas in public that I have first approved. I have three rules that I have established in order to help alleviate some of these more memorable moments in dog ownership:

1. Be prepared! Keep doggy clean-up bags or even plastic grocery bags handy at all times. Don’t leave home without these essential items and always bring extra.


2. Remember the Double Drop! My dog loves to “hold some back”. So even if I believe that he has done his doggy duties, he hasn’t. He is banking it and waiting for that perfect moment.

3. You can’t stop gravity! Once it starts any amount of energy or effort spent to stop it is a waste of time and can make matters worse. Refer to Rule #1 after gravity takes over.

Be Prepared: When my cousin Samantha encouraged the entire Southern family to participate in the Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure in Atlanta many years ago, it seemed a logical choice to bring Chase along. He wore his backpack with pride and even had Samantha’s number pinned to his pack in support of her cause. He carried treats and water bottles and a roll of doggy bags. I was prepared and even was able to give a bag to a man who was much less prepared. That was not the case during an embarrassing dog walk from my sister’s home in East Atlanta Village to the town center. First, I made him use her front yard facilities before we embarked but I was suspicious of the scant pile of poo and the fact that Chase was walking in a manner that suggested he was packing a pile toward his back end. It was a beautiful day and the entire neighborhood appeared to be working in their well-manicured front yards. I struggled to keep him confined to the sidewalk. He sniffed with disdain at the abandoned lots I offered as an alternative and soon I was confident that he had done all he needed to do back at the house. As my sister and I paused in front of a favorite shop window, Chase proceeded to squat in the middle of the city sidewalk. Liz offered to help by extending her hand to hold his leash. I grabbed a stack of napkins from a nearby café table and attempted to clean up the mess. A fresh streak of brown stained the cement and I looked up at the sky, praying for rain. Did I learn my lesson? Hardly. There are tennis courts that are close to my house and are a perfect place to take the four dogs late at night. The gates can be closed, leashes removed and the dogs can pursue forgotten tennis balls on the enclosed courts. The walk to the courts is long enough for all doggy business to be conducted beforehand. As my friend and I threw tennis balls to George, Molly and Charlie, I spied my dog at the far end of the court in the squat position. I screamed at him to stop but it was too late (see rule number 3). I found a discarded terry cloth tennis towel that seemed to be in very good condition in a corner of the court. I approached the steaming pile while my friend chuckled on the other side of the court. Cursing my dog for using the furthest corner from the trash can, I plucked at the pile as best I could and gagged from the smell as I walked quickly to throw it away. As with cement sidewalks, it is difficult to clean and a fresh stain bore evidence of his disrespect.

Remember the Double Drop: Last year I took a leisurely walk around my condo grounds and parking lot with my dog. There are two areas that have a dog bag station so I rarely had problems with Rule #1. He conducted a very impressive amount of dog business by the first station I was certain that he couldn’t have any more in him. Just in case, I walked toward the next dog station and spent extra time on that area of the lawn. Nothing. Feeling confident, we walked toward the far end of the complex. As we crossed a large parking lot, I felt his leash give a sharp tug. My dog had squatted in the middle of a parking space and produced an award-winning pile. I had no dog bags with me and both dog stations were very far away. Hoping no one would think I was shirking off my civic duties, I sprinted back to a dog station, grabbed two bags and returned to the parking space. It only took one bag but at that point, I wasn’t taking any chances on a Triple Play!

You Can’t Stop Gravity: While visiting a friend’s home and confident in my dog’s house manners, he excitedly sniffed his new surroundings. As I picked up my glass of wine, I noticed that Chase was in the squat position by her front door. I lunged toward him, opened the door and dragged him out by the collar. A thin line of poo marked our path like a trail of sticky breadcrumbs….the carpet by the front door, the stairs, the sidewalk and finally the grass. I had a lot to clean up.

Encore: A relative was staying at the condo and had agreed to walk Chase while I was at work. I left a roll of dog bags on the counter and put in an eight hour day. When I arrived home I asked how many times Chase had been walked. I was told none because Chase hadn’t asked to go out and only wanted to sleep. I glared at the family member and put Chase on his leash. I made it to the second floor landing when the leash became taut. Chase scrunched up directly in front of the front door of a sweet old lady’s condo. I tugged and tugged but to no avail. I returned to the condo to retrieve paper towels and cleaning solution and while cleaning up one pile, Chase dropped a second. I prayed that the woman stayed in her apartment as I struggled to clean up the mess on the concrete surface.

There are so many joys of having a dog in your life, even if that means four dogs. They brighten my day, they keep me company and they keep my secrets safe. But there are other things to consider. The things that no one seems to talk about until you have already made that commitment. I try to follow my rules but there have been times (clearly) that even I have forgotten – and paid the embarrassing consequences sooner than later. So, that’s my scoop and I’m sticking to it!

“Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?” ~Jerry Seinfeld

3/20/10

These Paws Were Made for Walkin'

Several years ago, my dad had just retired and I was able to spend daddy/daughter time with him each day. One of our goals was to discover places around Aiken that would be ideal for walking our dogs. Odell Weeks on Whiskey Road was great because they had doggy waste bags at stations spaced along the track and a special dog water fountain if your pooch became thirsty. We also enjoyed Hitchcock Woods because of the soft trails and the feeling of escaping the modern world with the chirping of birds and scuttling of squirrels through the leaves and underbrush.

My favorite place was Redcliffe Plantation in Beech Island. The fifteen minute drive was satisfying to the dogs and the parking lot had plenty of spaces available. The trail was a mixture of fairly easy downward slopes and slightly more challenging hills to total approximately two miles of walking. Picnic tables and benches were scattered throughout and I have been known to pack a sandwich and book in my backpack. Chase’s account of the trail is detailed below…

Yesterday I got to go for a car ride and a walk – two of my most favorite things. Sarah put me in the back of the car with my special seatbelt (safety first) and then picked up her dad and his dog, Dolly. I’m still not sure that I like Dolly all that much. She is five years younger than me (in dog years that is a lot) and is really annoying.

We drove for a really long time, at least fifteen minutes, with the sun roof open (another favorite thing). Finally we arrived at Redcliffe Plantation. Sarah said it was a historic site but it just looked like an old house with lots of space to RUN! We all got out of the car and Sarah and her dad looked for a really long time at a big sign. Apparently there was a map on it but who cares for maps when you have a great sniffer? I won’t get lost. They stopped to talk to a man who had a giant golden retriever that kept trying to sniff my butt. I hate it when dogs do that to me – so rude! The man pointed out where the trail began and pulled his dog, Sam, away from me.

Finally I got to walk. Sarah kept issuing a ton of “No’s”. As in no pulling, no sniffing fire ant hills and no birds. The last one is particularly mean in my opinion. No birds? I am a bird dog! I love birds and there were tons of them around. As we reached the trail entrance, I noticed that Sam was following me. His person was following too. The man caught up and told Sarah and her dad that he had lost his keys. He was going back through the trail to find them but if we found them to turn the keys into the ranger. Sam and his person passed us but Sam kept looking back at us. I stayed far enough behind and kept my tail tucked until I was certain he wasn’t coming back for me. I think that dog has issues – maybe he just got out of prison or something. Speaking of prison, I thought that if this guy was a serial killer it would be a great story to tell his innocent victims and their dogs to look out for his lost keys. That way we would all be looking down and not on the lookout for bad people lurking in the woods. Hmmmm. Maybe I watch too much true crime on TV.

So off through the woodsy trail we traversed. I had a nice game of tug-o-war with Sarah. I tugged, she tugged. Worked out just fine until she shortened my leash. I stopped tugging. Strangely enough she allowed me to tug every time we had to go up a hill. Walking walking walking. Really big trees and a nice-soft-on-the-paws leafy trail. An hour later we were still walking. Well, Dolly was sort of lagging behind. She just doesn’t seem to have the energy that I have and she is younger than me! According to Sarah and her Dad, we walked at least two miles before we emerged from the woods. I was excited to see a small muddy stream and jumped in to cool my heels and take a drink. The muddy red clay felt so good on my paws but Sarah didn’t seem too happy with the fresh coating on my legs.

Unfortunately the trail let out at the end of the long gravel driveway so we had to walk all
the way back to the car. Sam and his Stalker-owner were there and now there was a woman (victim?) with them. They asked if we had found the keys. We hadn’t. Sarah then wiped all of my paws and legs with a special doggie wipe thing that I didn’t even know she had. She removed the mud coating that I had taken such care to evenly apply on all four legs. Back into the car and seatbelt, I curled up on my blanket and even shared some with Dolly. As we followed behind the stalker and Sam, they suddenly braked and the woman jumped out. She picked up something shiny from the driveway, smiled and waved. The sun roof was open and I drifted off into dog dreams as we drove home. It was a good day. Woof.

http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/park-finder/state-park/2015.aspx

3/9/10

Cookie Monsters

My mother planned a cookie baking session with her friend and three children on the same weekend that I was coming to visit with my four-pack. The dogs were thrilled to have three pint-sized humans to play with and eagerly showcased their favorite toys. After a quick lunch of sloppy-Joes, the cookie making production began. Although it was a beautiful day outside, none of the dogs wanted to leave the mouth watering smells that wafted through the house. In fact, they preferred to hang out in the kitchen, amidst the entire cookie baking activities.

The first cookies planned were a kid-friendly chocolate chip cookie made according to the original Nestle Tollhouse recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag. The two older boys helped measure ingredients in between playing Nintendo games on handheld devices. The youngest child, a tiny blonde girl, kicked off her Sponge Bob flip flops and climbed a chair she had pushed against the butcher block island. Armed with a cookie scoop, the five year old carefully measured the dough and dropped each cookie ball onto a metal sheet. She paused momentarily, face scrunched in concentration, as she counted the dollops on the tray. Her right arm, with the scoop clutched tightly in her tiny fist, dangled below and Chase was ready with his tongue to lick the dough clinging to its sides. I smiled at the Norman Rockwell moment but quickly rushed in and grabbed the scoop, admonished my dog and washed the drool covered gadget in the sink.

Mom pulled trays of cookies from the oven and held them for the boys who used spatulas to remove the treats onto cooling racks placed on the kitchen table. Once the last cookie was removed from the oven, my grandmother began to make her delicious “S” cookies. This was an old shortbread-like recipe that was mixed by hand. The cookie was formed into an S shape before baking in the oven. After baking, a generous dusting of powdered sugar coated each cookie.

Mom, her friend and I took a break in the living room until Grandma began yelling for help. Mom ran into the kitchen and discovered that George had climbed up onto a chair next to the table and retrieved two cookies! He and Molly were on the tile floor enjoying their pilfered cookies. All dogs were banished outside along with the children who ran them ragged. Tennis ball throwing and front yard races to determine who was the fastest runner…boys or dachshunds? The dogs and children frolicked until it was time to leave. I wasn’t sure who was more tired but I smiled as I surveyed all of the cookie monsters napping in the living room, paws twitching slightly, and wondered if they were dreaming of cookies.

3/3/10

Make a Wish

When I was searching for a dog seven years ago, I hoped that I would get a cool dog. One that wouldn’t hate the car, one that wouldn’t be afraid of thunder, one that would catch a Frisbee, one that wasn’t afraid to swim. My wish list was based on my experiences with other pets that I had.

My childhood dog, Drummer, was a Keeshond who was terrified of thunder. If a storm rolled in, he would shake and shiver and quiver while trying to dig his way under a bed for safety. I was grateful that Chase wasn’t afraid of storms or any loud noises. As a puppy, he would hop on the back of the vacuum cleaner for a ride while I attempted to clean the floors of debris created by him. He tried to catch the fireworks that lit the night sky on New Year’s Eve.

My cat Madison, as established in a previous post, hated the car. I believe his extreme dislike for water came from the bath that was waiting him after each car ride. He also didn’t appreciate boat rides. I’m not sure why I thought he would. My reasoning was that cats like fish; I was fishing so maybe he would like to be with me in the boat. It made perfect sense at the time until five minutes into the excursion he peed in my lap causing me to let go of my grip on his neck. In those few seconds Madison leaped from the boat into the pond and disappeared beneath the murky surface. Shocked and dripping with cat urine, I leaned over the side of the boat searching for my cat. No air bubbles. No cat. As I considered whether I should jump in and save him, which would take care of the cat pee situation, I saw a dark and wet scraggly thing pull itself out of the muddy water on the far side of the shore. It sort of looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings as it struggled through the undergrowth. Madison turned and stared at me with hot angry eyes filled with hatred. My cat could not swim but apparently was fat enough to sink to the bottom of the pond and walk all the way to the surface!

My dogs love to swim. They enjoy the pool at my parent’s house after a long adventure in the woods. They enjoy the pond here in Georgia and all four track wet sloppy paw prints throughout the house before I can catch them with my dishpan of soapy water. They enjoy splashing in puddles on rainy days. They also enjoy playing with their yard toys, too. Chase had an interest in Frisbees until Mom kept trying to train him to catch one. He gained a fear of Frisbees slamming into his head and refused to catch them. If there is a Frisbee game similar to dodge ball, then that is what happens when a bright red disc is flung at my dog. He dodges it. George, Molly and Charlie would play with tennis balls. George used to try to catch them until I threw one directly into his head. Then he would only chase the balls if I kicked them…until I kicked one directly into his head. George refuses to play with me anymore.

I think that I wouldn’t make any changes to my wish list; however I would make a few additions to it. I would want a dog that was obedient and wouldn’t ignore me when I called because all four dogs currently have selective hearing. I would want a dog that picked up his toys, especially when he snuck them out in the yard. George has a habit of bringing every toy into the back yard. He also brings socks and shoes back there, too. Chase used to bring all of my clothes into the backyard of my old house and fling them around in full view of the neighbors. He even brought a trash can out through his dog door. I would want a dog that didn’t wipe his mouth on the carpet or couch after he was done eating as George and Chase do every single time.

Although it would be nice to have everything on the wish list, I wouldn’t want a “Stepford” dog either. I feel that it is the times that they are being “bad” that it makes them so cute. It’s the times that make me smile and the times that make the memories.

The great pleasure of a dog is that you make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, he will make a fool of himself too.   ~ Samuel Butler

2/27/10

Travels with Charlie

Charlie does not do well in the car. He can tough it out on the highway but a winding, curvy, bumpy back road causes his tummy to lurch and purge. This can be especially gross if he is sitting in my lap at the time. Almost all of my pets throughout my life have travelled well. Chase enjoys a car ride and will even hop inside, uninvited, just for the briefest of trips to the store, bank or mailbox.

The worst travel companion I ever had was my cat, Madison. He loathed the car so much that he would work himself into a frenzy before I moved the vehicle ten feet from the driveway. He would spit and howl and hiss and make himself sick almost instantly. He would froth and foam at the mouth like a rabid wild animal. The cat needed a bath one hundred percent of the time upon reaching our destination. The worst trip ever was a visit to my parents’ home when I was living in Charleston, South Carolina. It was more than two hours to their house in my small single cab pickup truck. Madison was hissing in his typical fashion from the cage on the seat beside me. On this trip he graciously waited forty minutes before becoming ill in his cage. I was too far from my apartment to turn around and too far from my parents’ to continue with an agitated cat kicking bits of puke out of his cage.

I pulled over at the first rest stop I could find. There was a long row of empty parking spaces and I selected a space furthest from the bathrooms so I could have a bit of privacy. Unbuckling my seatbelt, I reached over and released the latch on the cat cage door. Madison emerged; dry on one side and sticky wet on the other. As I attempted to locate a paper towel to clean him with, he jumped into my lap and began to rub himself dry on my shirt. My shirt was completely soiled, it was a hot and humid summer day and I had a long drive ahead of me. Great. I pushed Madison away and climbed out of the truck. The parking lot was still empty. I fished a clean shirt out of my suitcase and climbed back into the truck. I decided to change my shirt in the truck by pulling my arms inside the filthy shirt and using it to shield myself while twisting the other shirt on. Good plan and I had one arm pulled inside when a minivan pulled into the space next to me. Thirty empty spaces in the parking lot and they had to pull right next to me! Madison was now perched on the dashboard of the truck. I waited for some privacy but no one exited the minivan.

As I pondered a Plan B, I was startled by a knock on my window. I looked up and saw the rest stop attendant, broom in hand, giving me the thumbs up signal. “Nice Cat!” he yelled. I looked at Madison; his fur stuck to him in clumpy matted piles and realized that the man could only see his good side. I forced a smile and thanked him, praying that he would move on. He shuffled away, inspecting a few trash cans along his route. I eyed my clean shirt again and the minivan. Sighing, I decided to go for it. Another vehicle pulled into the other space. I was surrounded and gave up the clean shirt idea. Glad that I had a full tank of gas, I yanked an old sweater that was behind the seat and pulled it on to cover my shirt. Needless to say, at the end of this journey, both the cat and I needed a bath!

Charlie has never been as bad as Madison but I have had to clean my car more times than I wanted after a road trip with him. Recently I discovered calming pet treats in my favorite store to spend all of my money: Pet Smart. While a bit pricey, Nutri-Vet Pet Ease soft chews are the miracle I have been seeking. Now before any trip, I give Charlie a treat and he has no problems whatsoever. He also is very happy to get in the car and enjoys his rides just like the other dogs, looking out the window before curling up to sleep.

2/26/10

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Trails

When my friend Shane decided to move to Bermuda, his niece Gigi graciously took his small Shih Tzu puppy to her home in Pennsylvania. Cisco toughed out the harsh winters and made a friend out of the enormous black lab that already occupied the house. After three years of island life, Shane returned to South Carolina. He wanted his dog back and planned a road trip up North to retrieve Cisco. I was already in Pennsylvania visiting Gigi and Shane soon discovered this after postponing his trip several days in a row. On the final day of my visit, he asked if I would bring his dog back with me. I agreed even though I planned on making my way back South with a few days spent in the mountains of Virginia.

I packed up and left Pennsylvania, opting for the road less travelled as I made my way down a narrow highway leading into Gettysburg. I continued following back roads into Virginia and pulled over on a mountain country lane in order to hike a short trail to a lookout tower. It was June and leaving Cisco in the truck was not possible. At the lookout tower he refused to climb the rickety, rusty metal stairs and I had to carry him. I stayed in the tower to watch the sun set, but made my way down before it became dark as I had thoughts of bears in the back of my head. I pulled into a small motel that I had made a reservation with earlier in the week and realized that at the time I called, I was not expecting to have a dog. I wasn’t even sure if pets were allowed. I eyed the seven pound shaved Shih Tzu slumbering on the seat next to me and pondered my choices. I checked in the motel and returned to the truck for my luggage. I removed everything from my satchel and stuffed Cisco inside and zipped him up. I grabbed my suitcase and slung the now kicking satchel over my shoulder and quickly unlocked the room. Cisco was not happy. In fact, it was so easy sneaking the dog into my room, I repeated it a couple more times on my trip back to South Carolina!

On Interstate 81 there is a scenic mountain highway that I always wanted to take: The Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a fee since it is a national park and because the speed limit ranges between 10 and 30 miles per hour, it adds a lot of time onto the trip. I wanted to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail and was proud of myself for bringing appropriate footwear for the first time in my life. However, I was now saddled with Shane’s frou frou dog who really didn’t like me after being stuffed, albeit temporarily, inside luggage. I stopped at the gift shop and nature center for a trail map. A park ranger highlighted the trails that allowed dogs. There were two and I pulled into the parking lot of the closest one which promised a waterfall at the end. It would be a four hour roundtrip hike. I clipped Cisco’s Harley Davidson leash to his matching collar and hoped that he was just as tough as his fashionable motorcycle gear.

Partway down the trail I found a fallen hollowed-out tree and thought it would make a cute picture. I checked it for snakes and satisfied that it was safe, I stuffed Cisco inside for a photo shoot. He kept jumping out so I didn’t get many pictures. I continued down the path with Cisco in the lead. It was a fairly easy trail all the way down. There were no ups. Just downs. Then the trail ended at a stream, not a waterfall. I began to think that I read the map wrong, which was entirely possible since I was known for being directionally challenged. Then I saw the trail marker across the stream. Great…the stream was part of the trail. I bent down to pick up Cisco, however he was already frolicking in the chilly water. I stepped on the stones in the water and tugged Cisco through behind me. Now I had a dripping wet shaved Shih Tzu and I was really getting the strangest looks from other more seasoned hard-core hikers that were on the trail. I finally reached the overlook and the waterfall. Underwhelmed, I took a few pictures and began the long hike back up the trail. I finally noticed that the trip to the waterfall was completely downhill and the entire trip back would be up, up, up. I didn’t even have my own dog with me who was much bigger and loved to pull. Looking at the seven pound dog in front of me who didn’t even seem tired, I doubted his ability to help pull me up the trail and he kept looking back, giving me dirty stares when I would frequently stop for a break. I reached the truck before the sun set and headed out of the park. Each time I would stop for a break and attempt to walk Cisco, he would back away from me with a growl. Even now, although more than three years have passed, Cisco growls and barks when he sees me. Sometimes I wonder what he would do if a brought a piece of luggage over…

2/22/10

The Dog Parade

I recently read that “dogs sleep a lot”. I wholeheartedly believe that statement. While my dogs have things that keep them occupied such as destroying their toys, barking at everything and nothing as well as backyard border patrol, they don’t have responsibilities, chores or hobbies.

When Chase was a puppy, my mother would frequently stop by my house to walk him while I was at work. Each time she found him slumbering, stretched out full-length across my bed with his head resting on my pillow. I am positive that even now, with the dog-shaped indentations in the memory foam mattress as irrefutable evidence, all of my dogs snooze the hours away between the time I leave and my return home. Sleeping and building even more adrenaline for their time to shine and entertain.

As I pull into my driveway I can’t help but hear the dog posse barking. Upon entering the house I am greeted by a tap-dancing English setter demonstrating the full-body wag, two English cocker spaniels joining in the dance and a dachshund slipping and sliding beneath the tangle of legs. Moving further into the house, the Dog Parade commences with Chase high-stepping in the front, Molly and George following with an enormous stuffed animal clutched firmly in their mouths and Charlie, The Little Engine That Could, bringing up the rear.

The Dog Parade is special, even unique, and only exists when these four dogs are together. I still receive a special homecoming performance when they aren’t all assembled. I’m just not treated to the parade.. And I find that no matter how tired I am or what kind of day I faced, the amazing Dog Parade never fails to bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

2/20/10

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

My mother and grandmother discovered Dolly on a December morning while delivering Meals on Wheels. As Mom approached the weather worn trailer with a foil-wrapped meal and sweaty carton of milk, she noticed a tiny brown puppy huddled against the moldy stairs. Upon greeting the meal recipient, she inquired about the new dog. “That ain’t my dog!” the lady rasped.

It was enough for Mom. She coaxed the shy puppy into her minivan and discussed with Grandma their options. They knew that my father, recently retired and ever-present in the house, would not approve. Grandma fell in love with the dirty, quivering bundle of matted fur instantly; however Mom decided that the only choice was to take the puppy to the animal shelter.

For two days Mom thought of the puppy. Finally, mind made up, she returned to the shelter to retrieve her. It was nearly Christmas and both my sister and I were in town. The small puppy looked clean but had awful tufts of brown, red and black fur that stuck out in a Medusa style of snaky cowlicks. She huddled in a pile of Chase’s plush animals and reminded me of the scene in E.T. when the alien hid amongst a shelf of toys.

Mom told everyone that she was merely fostering the dog she had named “Shy” until she could find a suitable home. Liz and I didn’t think it was appropriate to name the dog after an adjective and began to call her “Dolly”. Dad was not amused and began to refer to Chase as “the real dog”.

Because Mom needed to work and asking my father was clearly out of the question, Liz and I took Dolly to her first vet appointment. I gathered the paperwork from the shelter in case it was needed. Browsing through it, I found an adoption agreement and a receipt for seventy-five dollars…proof that my mother wasn’t fostering this dog! Even worse, she could have had the dog for free if she hadn’t brought her to the shelter in the first place.

Chase and Dolly’s initial meeting was not love at first sight. Dolly was huddled under the piano bench, her odd colors blending in with the assortment of toys she had surrounded herself with for protection. My five-year-old dog poked his nose beneath the bench to be greeted with snarls, snaps and growls. Now, more than two years later, Dolly charges him, knocking him over, and greeting him with barks of happiness and kisses. One mention of “Where’s Chase?” and she races through the house searching and whining.

It is amazing to see the two dogs, equal in size, run through the woods together. Side by side, their wavy fur is a perfect color contrast: his white with freckles of orange and hers gleaming brown with the sunlight catching flecks of amber.

Mom routinely takes Dolly on walks in the woods each day. Any dogs who are visiting are welcome and encouraged. Dolly has even guided them, sans human, down the pine needle littered trail revealing all of her secret places. She is a gentle dog, not easily excitable or high strung and a perfect companion for an older person.

On her continued Meals on Wheels route, down the narrow sand-packed road where Mom first spotted the wary bundle of fur, she still looks for Dolly’s potential parentage. The possibilities have been pondered and argued numerous times: Chow? Irish Setter? In the pet store there is a pricey mixed breed DNA kit available that would certainly end the debate once and for all, but I prefer to borrow from an old childhood rhyme. “Sugar and spice and everything nice”, that’s what Dolly is made of.