Creature Comforts

Molly loves clean laundry.  She lurks near the laundry room, ready to snatch the used dryer sheets that float to the floor.  She tucks them in her crate and snuggles with them at bedtime.  She eyes me warily as I clean her crate of dryer sheet debris each week, the lavender scent long faded from the white fibers.

Molly also loves a freshly pressed shirt.  Each morning, she pads into the bedroom and slowly shifts back and forth beneath the dangling dress shirt that the Englishman is ironing.  It’s a morning ritual as sacred as that first cup of coffee sipped in silence.

The Englishman need not be present for Molly’s morning ritual.  On a recent week-long business trip, there were no shirts to be pressed in the pre-dawn hours.  I found Molly in the closet, creeping gently along the edges of a row of shirts, the fabric softly caressing her head.  I sat down, gave her a hug and whispered, “I miss him, too.”


When Chickens Fly

I wore appropriate shoes to pick up my Americauna chickens that were advertised on Craigslist.  Sensible ones.  Ones that coordinated well with the bedazzled back pockets of my jeans.  A long time ago, I realized that I could drive for hours in Georgia and still be in the same state.  Such was the case on the beautiful Saturday morning when we left our driveway at dawn to navigate the back roads to Fayetteville, Georgia.  The Englishman had shoved a large plastic dog carrier into the back seat of my Honda and I fretted that it might be too small for the six adult hens.  The MapQuest app on my phone wound us through roads unknown and two hours later we had reached our destination at the end of a forgotten country road. 

The first thing I noticed were the goats roaming the property.  “Maybe she will let you pet one of the goats,” the Englishman suggested as he peered through the herd of bearded beasts, searching for the owner.  Janet, the chicken/duck/bearded goat lady waved us over to the chain-link compound.  As we made our way toward her, the goats followed.  They seemed friendly.  One bit me in the butt.  I turned around and swatted it away.  The goat had creepy ice blue eyes and human-looking teeth.  I tried walking away.  It nipped me again.  Same place.  I picked up the pace and so did my new companion who was completely mesmerized with my sparkly, bedazzled back pockets.  Nip, nip, nip.  I escaped into the chicken only section of the compound.

Janet greeted us and then pointed out the six chickens that we were buying.  They were hanging out in the chicken yard with twenty other chickens and we would have to catch them.  First Janet lured as many “not-for-sale “chickens as possible into her yard.  One of our chickens escaped with the flock.  We concentrated on tossing the remaining five into the dog crate.  The Englishman confessed that chickens scared him ever since he was a young lad back in England and he was put in charge of collecting the eggs.  Apparently the chickens pecked him with their tiny beaks.  Wah, wah, wah.  All five were secured in the crate with no help from him.  We scanned the yard for the runaway chicken.  She was solid white so it didn’t seem like it would be too hard to spot.  Janet rang a bell and all the other chickens and goats came running with the exception of one.  Fifteen minutes later, the Englishman found chicken number six hiding in the duck house.  He carried her in his hands, arms outstretched as if he was holding a rattlesnake.  I cursed myself for leaving my phone in the car.  I really wanted to take a picture.

Transaction completed, squawking birds in the backseat and the GPS leading us home on completely different roads than before, I made myself useful by reminding the Englishman that we had chickens in the backseat and he needed to take it easy on the curves.  There were a lot of curves.  The chickens rode well in the car until there was a curve.  They flapped their wings and screeched in protest with each curve.  Feathers were flying about the car and unpleasant smells wafted toward the front.  Windows down, sunroof open and avoiding the roads less travelled, we finally made it home. 
I introduced the chickens to Cluckingham Palace, gave them fresh food and water and clapped my hands in delight as they scratched the ground with their feet.  The Englishman and I left to run some errands.  When we returned, it was almost dark.  We grabbed flashlights and hiked through our overgrown grass to Cluckingham Palace.  It was empty.  The chicken yard was empty.  We searched frantically for the chickens.  Three were balanced on the top bar of the trellis and three were in a cedar tree.  Chickens can fly, I realized.  We also realized that chickens are very docile when they are asleep.  We carefully plucked each chicken from their perches and placed them inside the chicken house.  They never woke up.  No wonder foxes can eat them.  The Englishman and I retreated to our house and made a list of everything we needed to do the next day to secure the chicken area.  It would be another early morning because chickens can fly.


The Things You Can’t See

On Easter Sunday, I was headed back to Georgia with Chase, George and a Georgia Tech passenger who I was dropping off at his college dorm in downtown Atlanta. Typically the traffic on the interstate is not heavy for the majority of the trip; however it seemed that everyone was headed in the same direction. Coupled with the fact that the never-ending roadwork had closed down one lane, I made a last minute decision to keep the two dogs in my car for the entire trip instead of making a quick detour to my house.

I pulled away from the Georgia Tech campus shortly after 8PM and decided to avoid Interstate 75 as there were several accidents being cleared in two lanes and traffic. The familiar lights of The Varsity beckoned to me as I skillfully headed into downtown Atlanta with the intention of taking a “short-cut” to Interstate 20. It was getting dark quickly and I hoped Chase and George were getting along in the back seat. I could hear some commotion and suddenly Chase leaped into the front passenger seat right around the same time I started to smell something foul. “Perfect”, I thought.” George must have thrown up back there.” I silently cursed my mother for feeding my dogs Easter ham and knew that I would need to clean up my car. I do not have the greatest sense of smell but as the scent permeated the interior of the car, began to wonder if there was something more horrific back there. It was too dark to make a determination but George was clearly pressed against the far side of the car. I looked around for a place to pull over, but I could see no safe options. I opened the sunroof and all of the windows and drove home in record time.

I released the hounds who headed for the back yard and I retrieved a flashlight to assess the damage. I prayed for puke. It was worse than I thought. I backed away from the chocolate-colored poo prints that decorated the back seat like a dance step card. I went inside the house, yelling for the Englishman, and changed out of my white pants and high heeled sandals.

Floodlights in the driveway highlighted the true task ahead. I discovered quickly that I couldn’t just pick it up with doggy bags. The mess was now streaked in smears, blobs and other shapes. My back seat was now a canvas for a macabre finger-painted Pollock masterpiece. Our industrial carpet cleaner didn’t have attachments for this job and it was too big to even attempt to push into the car. I pulled out my secret weapon: the wet/dry shop vacuum. I figured the problem was both wet and dry at this point. With no attachments other than the hose, I went in with the proper personal protective equipment: latex gloves and safety glasses. I found myself working with a steady rhythm: throw some soapy water down, and then suck it up with the hose. That shop vac was the best thing I ever purchased. The Englishman followed up with a layer of “Tuff Stuff”. A little bit of air freshener and the car looked untouched. We left all the windows open and called it a night. I grabbed George and carried him inside for his Easter bath.

I waited months before mentioning the unfortunate Easter Event because the only friend I did tell refused to ride in my car for a very long time. I have more than one vehicle but somehow she just “knew” which one had festered with feces. For those that are contemplating buying a used car, keep in mind that a CarFax won’t reveal everything. There are some “accidents” you will just never know.


Cone Head

In every dog’s life there comes a time when he is selected to wear the "Cone of Shame".  The piece of plastic that encases the head in a ridiculous, yet confining crown is a right of passage for our four-legged friends.  Chase has had to wear the cone of shame several times, mostly due to his fondness of playing with snakes.  More recently, George has been bestowed with the cone.

The Englishman and I had a few complaints for the vet when we escorted George to his annual visit.  The small lump on his ear had grown larger and his breath had become unbearable.  We wanted to have his teeth cleaned and the lump removed at the same time.  The vet inspected George’s mouth and found one bad canine tooth that she felt might be causing the sewage smell.  We scheduled an appointment as soon as possible for the surgery which happened to be on a day when the Englishman was out of town.

I took the day off of work to bring George to the vet.  He happily jumped into my car, wagging his tail until I took a left turn out of the neighborhood instead of a right.  If you think dogs do not know their left from their right, think again.  In my town, “left” means “vet”.  Right means a lot of other things.  Better things.  More preferable things.  I took a left.  George pawed at my leg.  I ignored him.  George tried to jump into my lap and take over control of the steering wheel.  He has no thumbs and I thwarted his plans of car hijacking.  George finally sulked in the back seat and refused to make eye contact.

Moments later, I parked and was trying to convince George to exit the car.  I then tried to convince George to enter the building.  After resorting to dragging my dog into the office, I sat on a bench waiting for our turn.  George stood up on his back legs, placed his head in my lap and let his paw tremble.  I felt terrible.  Worse than terrible.  I frantically glanced around the room for a box of tissues as my eyes seemed a bit watery.  Finally, it was our turn.  I signed a lot of paperwork.  I was told I could check on him throughout the day.  I was told to leave.  Really?  I didn’t want to leave.  George was looking at me with his big brown eyes and giving me the “trembly” paw again.  The technician told me that I had to leave first.  It was apparently better for the dog.  I left and sat in the parking lot, tears in my eyes, and sent a text to the Englishman damning him for his business trip to California that forced me to be the villain.

I went home and waited.  I needed something to take my mind off of things so I turned on MTV’s “Teen Mom” marathon and proceeded to clean the house.  I am domestically disabled so this was no easy task, plus I could feel the other dogs’ “judgey” eyes on me.  The vet finally called me to let me know that George was awake and he had five teeth pulled.   “Does he have any teeth left?”  I asked, horrified.  I was assured that he had plenty of teeth left.  The vet felt that the teeth she removed were the cause of George’s garbage mouth.  I would be able to pick him up at five.

I went early, but they meant five.  I had to wait and stare at the bags of Science Diet pet foods on a shelf in front of me.  Finally, George careened around a corner sliding his cone encased head into my leg.  I dutifully listened to the instructions on meds and food and then carried Cone Head to the car.  When we arrived home, the other dogs backed away from him, fearful of a similar fate.

The first day, Cone Head learned how to navigate the house and outdoors without catching the edge of the cone on an object.  This was important because Cone Head would freeze when the edge the plastic caught on a door frame or other immovable object.  He wouldn’t back up or move his head.  Just freeze.  Thankfully he only weighed 33 pounds as I had to carry him around quite a bit.  The first night, he slept soundly on a dog bed on the floor of my bedroom.

The second day, he had conquered the house and every edge and object.  He wasn't sure of the front door or stairs so I would carry him outside to the front yard where there was little to block his path.  Cone Head would trot through the freshly cut grass, his head bobbing from side to side as he sniffed the warm summer air.  The second night, he slept in my bedroom, the envy of the other three canines. 

On the third day, Cone Head growled at the other dogs.  He howled.  He barked.  He carried shoes around the house in his mouth.  He was back to his typical self.  He followed me through the front door and into the yard.  He ignored me as I yelled for him to come back.  He outran me in front of the neighbors.  As I jogged down the sidewalk with my flip flops smacking against the hot cement, I wondered how a dog with a cone on his head could outrun and outsmart me.  He finally let me catch him.

In the house, Cone Head discovered that his cone could be used as a weapon.  He rammed the cone of shame into the other dogs.  He pushed the hard plastic into the back of my legs.  I didn’t fall over.  He backed up and tried again, pressing tiny red marks into my skin.  When it was time for bed, I called for him.  He ignored me.  “Fine”, I told him and walked back to the bedroom.  Moments later, the Englishman summoned me to the laundry room where the four-pack’s crate condo was located.  Cone Head had somehow backed into his crate, with the cone of shame (and his head) resting on the floor.  Stubborn dog.  I left him and he was still snoozing soundly in the morning.

Dogs can adapt very quickly to things, I have learned over the years.  George was eating his dry kibble without a problem, in spite of a distinct lack of teeth.  He demanded treats and could catch them with ease.  His stitches will soon be removed from his rapidly healing ear and Cone Head will be no more than a distant memory for him.


Counting Sheep

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we drove with his family toward Blackpool. I peered at the countryside dotted with fluffy white cotton balls that had legs. I had never seen so many sheep and they covered the fields. At the top of Blackpool Tower, I could see for miles but just rooftops, boardwalks and beach.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we approached Stonehenge. A patchwork of greens, browns, and bright yellow blanketed the hills as the sheep and lambs gently grazed. In the gift shop I bought a scarf to help ward off the bitter wind. The sheep seemed unbothered in their wooly coats.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as he navigated the narrow road climbing Westbury Hill. As I walked along the rocky path that led to the Bratton White Horse, the view was breathtaking. I peered past the three-hundred year old horse and studied the sheep gathered far below.
“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we headed toward Devon. I cringed as he navigated the rental car through the narrow roads lined with thick hedges and was glad the car was fully insured as branches scraped the sides. I couldn’t see the sheep behind the high hedges but I knew they were there. When we arrived at his brother’s house in Slapton, the English Family gathered in the back garden. Their chocolate lab stared longingly at the sheep through the fence and I didn’t feel the urge to flip his ears from their inside-out position. He was dreaming of lambs, too.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we drove into Wales. We were headed to Conwy Castle and I watched the road signs with unreadable Welsh words. “I want a red one…no a blue one!” I declared and I pondered the streaks of colored spray paint on the sides of the sheep.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we wove through the picturesque countryside of the Lake District. Hedgerows had been replaced by stone walls and I feared for our car. We pulled the car off the road at the Castlerigg Stone Circle in Keswick. I purchased an ice cream and stood near the fence to a field. A tiny lamb wobbled over curiously under the careful watch of its mother. I looked at the Englishman and told him, “I’ll take that one, please.”

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we wandered into an art gallery in Ambleside. I purchased a Peter Brook framed print called “Cornered”. It featured three sheep and one dog. We visited Grasmere and purchased gingerbread from Sarah Nelson’s famous store and stopped in a churchyard to see William Wordsworth’s grave. I pointed out that the grave to the right of it had a lamb carved into the headstone.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we struggled to follow the GPS to Lowther Castle in Penrith.  He glared at me as I paid 16 pounds for us to wander the unfinished gardens as access to the castle that was under restoration was strictly forbidden.  After exploring the grounds for an hour, we left to explore an old cemetery and I found sheep and lambs on the other side of a low wall.  The mothers gave a few low bleats and the lambs retreated from my offering of dandelions.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we strolled along the mile-long promenade in Grange-Over-Sands. The path was sandwiched between the railroad tracks and grazing fields. Beyond the fields I could see the salty water of the bay. The sheep had beach front property! I promptly found a bench so I could watch them. Signs warned of quicksand and after the Englishman spoke with a local woman about the dangers, it was decided to leave the sheep alone. I watched as sheep with streaks of colored spray-paint graffiti led their babies from one patch of grass to the next.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we sat outside the Swan Hotel in Newby Bridge. The Englishman looked up from his menu. “You can have a lamb. It’s on the menu,” he told me as he proceeded to order deviled lamb kidneys on toast. I was not amused.

“I want a lamb” I told the Englishman as we boarded our plane for the United States.  I dreamed of lambs during the long flight home.  As I unpacked my suitcase and organized my photos from my vacation, I realized that I went to England for two weeks and all I saw were lambs.


All Aboard the Rescue Train

In 2003, I adopted Chase through ACES (Another Chance for English Setters). I was able to drive the six-hour trip to Nashville, TN but not every adoptive or foster family is able to do this. Since 2003, I have been a volunteer for ACES conducting home visits of potential adoptive families and have been active on the transport list for several years.

Last month, I was part of a transport to unite Lanie, a beautiful liver setter, with her new foster family. The trip began for Lanie in a Thomasville, Georgia shelter at 8AM on a Saturday morning. Each transport driver was scheduled, amazingly just two days earlier via an ACES transport coordinator, to drive a one hour leg. I met Lanie at 12:30PM in the parking lot of a Tractor Supply store. The Englishman went inside to buy treats and we spent fifteen minutes trying to coax the terrified setter out of the previous driver’s car. The Englishman finally scooped the dog up in his arms and carried her to our car. Tail tucked, she timidly managed to climb into the backseat. The Englishman attempted to give her a “Better Than Ears” treat but Lanie seemed intimidated by the size of it. We broke off pieces of the treat and strategically placed them on the back seat. A few minutes later, I sent a text to the next driver to let her know we were on the interstate. Lanie settled into the back seat and munched on bits of the treat.

For one hour, I fed Lanie slivers of the treat and she finally became less suspicious of the larger pieces. I remained twisted in my front seat in order to face her and pet her soft silky fur. We arrived at our meeting point behind a fast food restaurant. The next driver was waiting for us and after a brief conversation; she lifted Lanie from our back seat to hers. I called the transport coordinator to let her know that Lanie was on the final leg of her trip and would soon meet her foster family in Columbia, South Carolina.

Arriving home later that afternoon, the four-pack didn’t notice the foreign smell of an outsider on our clothes. They were focused on the bag of their favorite treat and eagerly took each treasured “pig ear” to their favorite spots. I hoped that Lanie’s weekend was full of new sights, sounds, treats and love as a checked my email for the next rescue train.


Building Foundations

The Four-Pack sleep each night in the crate condo. Four crates are stacked, due to lack of space, in a former laundry closet. George’s crate sits on top of Molly’s and Charlie has a great view above Chase. The Englishman spoils them by fluffing their blankets in the dryer shortly before bedtime so each dog has a warm bed. He decided that the dogs needed better mattresses for their beds and began a search on Craigslist. In the little town of Bethlehem, Georgia his search was fulfilled with the exchange of fifty dollars for one queen-sized 3-inch thick memory foam mattress topper. As our GPS led us through windy country roads, we discussed whether or not to reveal the true purpose of this mattress topper with the seller.

I was reminded of a garage sale with my mother in South Carolina a few years ago where a woman was offering hundreds of plush toy rabbits for sale in a dollar bin. She clearly loved collecting all things bunny. Her husband had forced her to relinquish her “wascally wabbit” habit and she was seeking good homes for her treasures. I stepped very hard on my mother’s foot before she could disclose that I was on a quest for dog-appropriate toys. Chase treasured those rabbits dearly, for at least thirty minutes, while he engaged in manic de-stuffing activity.

The Englishman decided, if asked, that we would say the used mattress topper was for the English Boy’s college apartment and not for the Canine Condo Complex. Once the transaction was completed, we headed home to cut apart the memory foam. The Englishman carefully traced each crate bottom onto the memory foam with a red marker and cut along the lines. He custom-fit the foam to the crate and placed the faux-fleece bed on top. Then we put the dogs to bed for the true test. Four noses probed and sniffed the new smells below their paws. Four tails wagged as four bodies performed the required number of turns before settling down for the night.

The next morning, I let the dogs out of the crates and the true proof of whether the memory foam had made a difference was hard to deny. Instead of moving slowly and stretching each leg, the four-pack bounded out of the crates and raced through the house with energy and excitement not typical for 6:30 AM. Molly even returned to her crate after breakfast instead of her preferred cushion in the living room. Although the dogs have only had new foundations for a few days, they seem to be content with their “upcycled” and improved beds. Of course, I have been proven wrong in my theories of canine comfort many times in the past with the dogs falling fast asleep in the most unlikely places. Sometimes it would be nice if dogs could talk.

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. – Saint Augustine