Throw Back Thursday - George

George had to carry something in his mouth.  He would greet me at the door when I got home and something was always in his mouth.  Sometimes it was a toy, other times it was anything that was nearby:  safety glasses, a shoe, an empty Fanta box.  He could also communicate to me that it was time for a walk and would carry his leash in his mouth.  He even tried to walk Chase by taking his attached leash and pulling him toward the door! I've discovered that it is the little things I miss now that he is gone.


Dog Paddling

Kayak…check.  Paddle…check.  Life preserver. ..check.  Dog life preserver…check.  The Jeep was loaded, kayaks were secured on the top and the Englishman, Charlie and I were off to the Augusta Canal for our first kayaking trip.  It was Memorial Day.  It was hot.  The canal was crowded with kayakers of all skill levels.  The Englishman dropped the kayaks, our gear, Charlie and me at a grassy area that sloped to the shore of the canal.  He left to find a shady parking spot and returned by foot fifteen minutes later.  I fitted Charlie into his life preserver and the Englishman launched us off in my kayak.  I paddled in a few circles until he joined me.  

Initially, the plan was to kayak for an hour in one direction and then turn around and head back to our launch spot.  This plan quickly changed due to the strong current in the canal.  Instead, we decided that the Englishman would take the shuttle back once we reached the end of the line in three hours and return with the Jeep.  Charlie sat on my lap and occasionally dangled his head over the edge of my green kayak to look into the swirling water.  The sun pounded on us relentlessly and we would paddle toward the banks of the canal to take a break in the shade.  We passed fellow kayakers along the way and others passed us.  An hour into the trip, the Englishman paddled toward a floating dock and we pulled the kayaks onto the weathered wooden planks for a sandwich and a break.  Charlie wandered on the path leading away from the canal and explored the shady underbrush and trees.  With some difficulty, we launched ourselves directly from the dock into the surprisingly chilly canal water.  

The Englishman took Charlie as his passenger.  Much braver, Charlie perched precariously close to the edge of the kayak, front paws resting on the orange plastic and back legs on the Englishman’s lap.  I nervously watched from my position behind them and then it happened.  Charlie leaped.  The Englishman lunged for the handle on the life preserver and missed, the swift current moving the kayak further from the dachshund.  I watched as Charlie rolled like a log several times going under then emerging with a quick pop.  I quickly paddled my kayak toward my dog who finally realized he was floating with the help of the preserver.  I aimed the boat, tucked the paddle inside and stretched my arm as far as I could….finally grabbing the handle on the top of the life preserver and pulling the shivering, wet mess right into my lap.  The Englishman pulled up next to me and handed me a beach towel.  I covered Charlie with it and we continued to float down the canal.  It was a long time before Charlie ventured from beneath the towel, his little brown head sniffing the air to see if we were still in the boat.  Gathering up courage, Charlie curled up and dutifully remained inside the kayak, content to watch from the safety of my lap.  I smelled like the canal, a musty, earthy and quite unpleasant smell.  I watched the Englishman with envy, fully aware of the two hour drive home and the fact that I did not bring extra clothes.  

When we reached the docks to exit the canal, we dragged the kayaks under a tree that did not provide nearly enough shade.  The Englishman sweet-talked his way into a ride back on the shuttle (apparently you have to sign a waiver with them at the starting point) to retrieve the Jeep.  When he returned, we loaded the kayaks, the gear and the dog and began our trip home.  Charlie slept at my feet, paws twitching and I wondered if he was dreaming of the one time he went for a swim.


Owl Adventures

Owl Adventures is a mobile zoo and educational business which has a static display on the grounds of the Museum Gardens in York, UK. While visiting York with the Englishman, we wandered across the display of owls in the garden.  I veered from the path so I could watch all of the owls, each sitting atop a stand.  The Englishman’s father generously paid for me to hold an owl while learning about it.  There was a variety of owls of all shapes and sizes and I had difficulty choosing just one.  The Englishman picked out the tiniest owl for me.  The falconer placed a colossal leather glove on my hand and presented me with George, the American ground owl.  We had to move slightly away from the larger owls because they were making George nervous.  Apparently George could be a “meal” in the real world.  Not only could I hold George and stroke his soft feathers under his head, I was given a lesson on him, too.

American ground owls or burrowing owls eat insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and other birds depending on the time of year and what is available. The beetle is a favorite meal.  A burrowing owl is most active at dawn and dusk. They live in burrows dug by other animals in open, treeless spaces, and in the United States and they are often found in burrows of prairie dogs.

I was smitten with the bitty bird.  He was calm and seemed to enjoy being touched just as much as I enjoyed having the owl perched on my gloved hand.  So, while I did so many touristy things in York including exploring York Minister, walking a part of the wall, strolling through the town and floating down the river on the tour boat, the best part was the chance to hold an owl on a beautiful fall afternoon.


Canine Carts and Clearance Conundrums

Charlie loves to accompany us on quick shopping trips.  Last year, after his rabies vaccination, we brought him into Home Depot with us so we could keep an eye on him in case of an adverse reaction.  He rode around happily in the child seat at the top, his brown body wedged perfectly inside.  Since then, we have brought him with us to Home Depot, Lowe's and Tractor Supply as pets are welcome.  

A few weekends ago, Charlie insisted on riding along when we took a quick trip to the local Lowe's.  I spread a towel on the bottom of the cart to make it more comfortable for him and he peered through the metal grid of the cart at things that interested him.  I headed to the garden center and found the dangerous clearance section.  I pushed Charlie to the front of the cart and started filling the back of the cart with plants.  Quickly I realized that I was running out of room and would soon need to make a choice.  Charlie was worried that my choice would be to add more plants and he looked up at me with big pleading brown eyes.  The Englishman suddenly appeared, chastised me and plucked the poor dachshund from the flowers that were surrounding him.  "Don't worry" he said stroking Charlie's head, "Dad's got you".  He left the garden center with Charlie in tow.  I headed to the cashier and realized I was stuck with the bill, once again.


Window Shopping

The Englishman and I were spending the day in Richmond, United Kingdom wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The gardens are located outside of London and preserves thousands of plants, trees and other botanical specimens within 300 acres.  It is considered the largest and most diverse collection in the world.

There were several places to eat and have a cup of tea within the gardens and we chose the Victoria Plaza Shop which was a cafĂ© and gift shop before heading to the Treetop Walkway.  The Englishman and I picked an outside table to sip steaming mugs of peppermint tea and share a sausage roll and an orange plum cake between us.   Birds scampered about hoping for a dropped crumb.  I heard a rustling in the bushes lining the path and watched with quiet fascination as a male peacock appeared in the courtyard.  He walked across the cement slabs, oblivious to the tourists walking nearby and approached the automatic glass doors to the gift shop.  Too small to trigger the door to open, the peacock waited patiently for a person to exit.  All of the outside tables became still as we waited to see if the peacock would gain access.  Alas, it was just a window shopping adventure and the peacock soon strutted to another part of the garden.  We waited until he departed before continuing our own adventures in the gardens.


Crafty Canines

The Englishman was up very early.  He let the dogs out, placed a steaming mug of coffee on my bedside table and shut the door so the dogs wouldn't disturb me. The bliss lasted for the time it took for him to back out of the driveway, watched carefully by Chase and Charlie from a front window. Then the torture began.

Knock, knock.  Scratch.  Low whine.  Medium whine.  Loud whine.  BARK!

I dragged myself out of bed, clutching the cup of coffee.  It was early and still dark.  I shuffled to the kitchen.  The dogs tap-danced on the tile floor begging for me to feed them.  I pulled the plastic container of food from the refrigerator.  I frowned at it, thinking it looked less full than the day before.  "Did your dad feed you?" I asked the two dogs who were wiggling around my legs.  They barked.  I looked on the floor but did not see any dog bowls.  I looked in the sink.  Nothing.  I grabbed two clean dog bowls and put a small amount of food in each.  Chase and Charlie both nibbled delicately at their meal.  This was unusual dining behavior for them and deviated from the typical "two bites and done" tactic.

I went back to the bedroom to dress for work, still bothered by the dogs' strange eating etiquette.  I searched the kitchen again and I finally found the evidence I needed:  two bowls were pushed deep under a counter.  Two used bowls.  The Englishman had fed them before leaving the house and these two dogs had once again proven themselves to be much smarter than me.


Old Dogs are the Best Dogs

The Englishman was not excited when I announced that Ollie’s Bargain Outlet was opening in our small town.  I wasn’t sure if it was the word “Ollie” or “Bargain” or “Outlet” but he snorted when I dragged him to the grand opening.  He vowed never to return.  So, I dragged him back into the store several weeks later.  I pushed the shopping cart and he feigned the three disses that are apparently in the English DNA: displeasure, disdain and disinterest.  When I reached the cash register and unloaded the items onto the counter, I realized there was a book in my cart that was not placed by me.  The Englishman avoided eye contact.

Old Dogs are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten was a black and white tribute to old dogs and was filled with pages of stories.  Truths such as “Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy.”  My three-pack was all of that and more.  The stories were funny and heartbreaking and reminded me of many of the pet companions I have had throughout my life and their special quirks that I realized I now missed.

Poppy was my childhood cat from Mahwah, New Jersey who loved water.  She might beat you to the bathtub for a swim.  She was a fiercely loyal companion who would always wait on a boulder near our driveway at 3:30PM when my sister and I returned from our school bus stop.  She would roll on the surface and wait for one of us to scoop her up and carry her back to the house with us.

Drummer was my childhood dog who had an unusual begging ritual for popcorn.  He would flip onto his back and kick his legs violently into the air as he grunted with noises we dubbed “herf-a-lating”.  He tolerated us using him to pull our sleds down the driveway in the winter to make a path, worried glances behind as the sled moved faster until my sister or I reached forward and pulled him on board for the ride of his life.

Sebastian was my Persian cat who adored shoes.  He slept in mine until he outgrew them and then transferred to one of my father’s work shoes.  He loved to snuggle and would place a paw on each shoulder to knead me.  Happiness came in the form of purrs and drool.

Checkers was the family cat while I was still in college.  Black and white and super fluffy, we eventually nicknamed him the “Quilting Cat”.  As my mother and I placed pins through material, Checkers would work behind us, methodically pulling every pin.  If we banned him from the room, he would race outside and sit in the window, miserable howls echoing through the neighborhood.

Madison was my cat when I first started teaching.  He was sound asleep when I chose him from the shelter and he never forgave me from waking him from his cat nap.  He could hold a grudge.  Retaliation might not be immediate but it was sure to come when I least expected it.  He would not tolerate the snooze button on my alarm clock.  Once the alarm buzzed in the morning, any attempts at hitting snooze was foiled by teeth and claws.  He loved anything that rolled and stole bottle caps, lipstick and plastic Easter eggs as his toys.

George was a quirky English Cocker Spaniel.  He didn’t trust my athletic abilities.  I had terrible aim.  I still don’t understand how I managed to bounce the tennis ball off his head but George would flinch and duck if he saw me with a tennis ball after that incident.  I have never seen another dog flinch and duck.
George howled.  He taught the other dogs to howl.  He howled to go outside.  He howled to come inside.  He howled at sirens.  He howled when he was bored.  It has been nearly two years of silence and I really missed the howls.

There are things that I miss with my current three-pack.  I miss Chase digging in mud puddles and snapping at the rain.  I miss Molly greeting me at the door with a treasured stuffed toy in her mouth.  It didn’t matter if I had been gone for five minutes or the entire day, the greeting was the same.  I miss Charlie dancing in his dog bowl to signal it was time for dinner.  I miss the dogs making me late for work because they decided to explore well outside of their boundaries.  I miss the joy of throwing tennis balls on the court after hours and watching the boundless energy of the dogs racing after them.  But I have gained so much, too.  I love the contentment of the dogs to be near us doing absolutely nothing.  I love my newest ritual of carrying Molly to bed because she is sound asleep and it takes her too long to wake up.  Charlie waits for me at the driveway gate each day at six o’clock without fail and we spend a few moments alone before the others realize I am home.  All of my companions are still very much alive in my memories or right now in the present.  So I read through the book with laughter, tears and joy and must agree with the author:  old dogs are the best dogs.


Banning the Bag

When Chase was just a puppy, he had several conditions that affected his immune system.  He was the sole litter survivor of parvovirus, and then promptly caught the mange.  He was so small that I used an Igloo cooler to dip him twice a week into a medicated mixture that didn’t seem to work.  The vet suggested a diet rich with immune boosting foods so I cooked for my puppy for several months until he was fully recovered.

Thirteen years later mealtime was becoming a battle of the wills.  Molly and Chase were fine with kibble but Charlie refused to eat it until we layered shredded cheddar cheese on top.  If the other two saw us garnish Charlie’s meal, they demanded the same treatment.  Charlie usually abandoned the bowl once the cheese was gone and Molly and Chase would finish it off for him.  Older dogs, dry dog food plus days filled with napping caused serious weight gains.  The vet declared Chase chunky in April and I hurt my back trying to give Molly a bath.  I knew they needed a change.

I threw out the dog food and headed to the grocery store filling my cart with ground turkey, chicken, spinach, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, zucchini, brown rice and light red kidney beans.   Then with my crock pot I assembled a meal that would last three dogs a week.  Very quickly, the three-pack began to associate the crock pot with their meals.  They watched me each Saturday evening as I chopped and assembled layers within the large appliance and they smelled the meal cooking all night long.  They waited very patiently, until at least six in the morning when they barked until I fed them.  They became excellent judges of time.  Meals were at 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening and they would not allow a deviation from the schedule.

I also explored sweet potatoes as dog treats (sliced and tossed with olive oil and cinnamon and baked for 3 hours at 250 degrees).  These were also a success.  The best indicator, however, was a vet visit at three months.  Molly and Chase had lost ten pounds each and Charlie was down by two.  The vet was very pleased, the dogs were content with their new and improved diet and I was now the official crazy dog lady.


Dog Bowl

It was the end of “YEAR TWO OF HOUSE RENOVATIONS”.  So much had been accomplished yet there was still so much more to achieve.  Before we had turned the sun porch into part of the main house, there were two Papasan chairs in faded orange at one end.  The frames were made of rattan and they looked like a big bowl.  You could purchase a Papasan chair at Pier One Imports or World Market or several other places online.  At the start of “YEAR ONE OF HOUSE RENOVATIONS” both chairs were lugged down to the basement and stacked into a corner where I hoped they would be forgotten.

On the occasional trip to the Goodwill, I would suggest to the Englishman that we rid ourselves of the chairs.  His reaction varied from glares, to pouts to ignoring my presence entirely.  After changing the older English Boy’s bedroom into a computer room, the Englishman moved the Papasan chairs to their new location.  He was courageous and waited until I was away for the weekend.

I must admit it…they are comfortable.  They are also comical, especially when The Englishman lost his balance and fell onto the floor.  The one thing I never counted on was how much our dachshund, Charlie, loved the chairs.  When they were located on the porch, he never slept in them.  Now, if I was searching for Charlie, the first place I looked was the computer room.  Most of the time, the little dog had curled up into one fast asleep.  Ugly or not, this was one battle that I didn't think I would win.


A Cemetery Visit

There are only so many routes to the Englishman’s workplace and the road from the interstate through Sharon, Georgia is the most direct.  Railroad tracks that are still in use follow the road and Sharon boasts a tiny post office, stately homes from years gone by and the oldest Catholic Church in Georgia.  A small sign points the way to the original church site and the remaining cemetery dating to the 1700s.

Tucked away from the rural road, I have visited the Locust Grove Cemetery on a few occasions.  It is surrounded by a stone wall and the many headstones are difficult to decipher.  As the Englishman stopped our truck, I jumped out and carefully helped our 16-year old English Cocker Spaniel, Molly, to the ground.  In the past year, her hearing had completely vanished and her vision diminished as well.  She sniffed the air and then followed us into the cemetery. 

Birds chirped overhead in the canopy of trees.  The grounds were difficult to navigate with unexpected low points filled with water from the recent rain earlier in the week.  Autumn leaves still covered the ground, a contrast to the snow drops and daffodils carpeting the ground with blossoms of bright white and lemon yellow.

Molly shuffled through the crisp, brown leaves until she found a dip of rain water.  She pressed down into it, covering her belly and lapped up a mouthful.  The Englishman rushed to the truck to retrieve her bottled water and a towel.  Molly met us at the entrance to the cemetery and the Englishman poured clean water into a Ziploc bag that was improvised into a bowl.  Molly lay on the ground, a paw on either side of the bag and started to drink.  I perched on a small, flat rock and the Englishman stood a few feet away.  Molly abruptly raised her head and moved it upward from side to side. 

“What is she doing?” I asked the Englishman.  He stepped forward and crouched down next to her, lightly touching her back.  “Are you finished, Molly?” he asked.  Molly’s head lowered once again to her water bowl.  The Englishman stroked the top of Molly’s head.  She stopped drinking, raised her head and moved it upward from side to side.

As we drove away, Molly on a towel next to me and sun flickering through gaps in the trees, I wondered if someone from long ago was happy to have the chance to pet a dog once more.


Just a Little Loopy

Molly, our fifteen-year-old English Cocker Spaniel had been waking us up for weeks at 3AM, barking until her fur became drenched with perspiration.  We tried leaving her out of her crate, leaving the dog door open, medication…all with no improvement.  I finally suggested a visit to the vet was in order.  Molly was not a fussy dog or a needy one.  The incessant barking was quite out of the ordinary.  A quick exam ruled out our fears that she was in pain from arthritis; however a more troubling diagnosis was given:  Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Doggie Dementia.  After the vet explained all the early symptoms of the disease and then what to expect in the more advanced stages, the Englishman declared that Molly was “just a little loopy”.

The diagnosis really fit with the symptoms:  sleeping more during the day, less at night, more accidents in the house, barking at nothing and an increase in anxiety.  The vet initially suggested trying a nighttime dose of Benadryl to help her sleep.  We tried it for two nights in a row and it made things worse.  With Chase, a small dose of Benadryl makes him sleepy but with Molly, it made her hyperactive.  I decided to do some online research and found several support groups and websites with suggestions.  There were so many articles to read and so many ideas I became overwhelmed until I stumbled across and article called “Dementia and anxiety in your older dog” on A Path with Paws website.  Everything began to click with me, especially the sentence “Not all dementia has an anxiety component to it and not all anxiety in older dogs is from dementia but the two often go together”.  I realized that we needed to treat the anxiety, first.

Molly had lost all of her hearing over the past couple of years and her eyesight had greatly diminished.  She slept soundly because of this but when she woke up in the dark, she would bark until the Englishman or I came to her aid.  She wasn’t barking in our direction.  She was barking in the spot where she woke.  I could only imagine that it was a great distress to Molly when she woke in the dark and couldn’t see or hear.  We immediately moved her bed into our room, placed a water bowl nearby and added a motion activated nightlight right next to her.  If she woke in the night, there was a light at her level and she could detect our presence with her nose.  I also added lavender essential oil to a timed diffuser for extra comfort.

The improvement was immediate.  Molly no longer barked incessantly and reached such deep levels of sleep, her snoring returned.  The other two dogs, while initially envious of Molly’s new nighttime sleeping arrangement, settled back into their crates with four-inch memory foam mattresses and custom sheets.  As we headed into the New Year and Molly’s upcoming 16th birthday, we felt it was just fine that our companion was a little loopy.  Aren’t we all?