Oh Lollipop!

It was two days after Halloween.  My yard decorations were packed away, the skeletons were back in the closet.  I returned home to three dogs dancing at the door, eager to go outside into the inky, moonless yard.  I broke my rule with Abby and did not put her on a leash.  I praised her for how well she was behaving.  I peered closely and noticed as she sniffed an azalea bush, she was giving me the side-eye.  Soon the side-eye turned into stealthy side walking.  Just as I was preparing to step forward and snatch her, she made her move, bolting into the blackness of the yard.  

A mostly black dog with a black hoodie is hard to find.  I caught movement near the street and I blazed toward her in my high heels, soon running smack into her side.  Abby had abruptly stopped and I could her crunching something in her mouth.  I worried that she had a chicken bone or other unsavory object in her mouth and began to pat her snout with my hand.  I found a stick.  A stick?  It wasn't wooden.  It was a lollipop stick.  I tugged at the stick and she tugged back.  A battle ensued and soon after I was rewarded with the stick and she still had the candy.  I looped my hand through her collar and pulled her toward the house.  She happily complied, all the while crunching and munching on her leftover Halloween treat.

I took away a valuable lesson in keeping her leashed and she took away a lollipop.  Abby 1 Me 0.


Old Dog, New Tricks

It was ten o'clock at night and the Englishman was already in bed.  I had just settled in for an episode of American Horror Story when I heard a knock on the front door.  I quickly muted the television and listened intently.  Another quick but distinct knock came again.  I looked behind me and could clearly see Chase sleeping soundly on the couch.  He was the only door knocker in the house.  Charlie was at my feet and didn't react to the knock.  I crept from my chair to the fire place which shielded me from view of the two large windows on either side of the front door.  I had a decision to make:  lunge to the right and into the dining room where I had left my concealed weapon or dive to the left and into my bedroom in order to wake the Englishman and have him take care of things.  I knew that if I woke him and it was nothing, I would be subjected to his version of the night at parties and family gatherings for years to come.  Another loud knock could be heard on the door.

I took a deep breath and gracefully used my limited gymnastics skills to enter the dining room with cat-like stealth.  Weapon in hand, I recalled episodes of Charlie's Angels and Law and Order: SVU and peeked bravely around the corner where I glimpsed a fluffy black tail in the window.  A dog tail.  Abby's tail.  Relieved, I opened the door and praised her.  She pranced into the house, panting heavily.  Abby must have exited the house via the dog door and returned via the front door.  I pondered over how long she had been gone, where she went and what she did to cause her to drink the entire dog bowl of water.  I returned to finish my program and hoped that the only person she terrified on this dark and spooky night was me.


You Can Ring My Bell

The dogs are always on alert with the comings and goings in the neighborhood.  They loathe skateboarders coasting along the sidewalk. Mothers pushing strollers evoke snarls.  Runners, joggers and speed walkers require violent barking and saliva drips down the front windows.  They can watch me walk out the front door to the mailbox but as soon as I turn around, it’s like I transformed into someone else and the clamor begins.  Selling Girl Scout Cookies?  Oh no you don’t!  Trick or Treat?  No, no and no.  Meter reader, pest control or any service worker? Nope, nada, no way Jose.  

And then there are the Mormons.

They approach from the street.

They walk to the front door.

They ring the bell.

Silence of the dogs.

I open the door and all three push past me and hang out with the two young men dressed in crisp white shirts, perfectly pressed black pants with shiny official name tags.  The dogs offer paws, heads and bellies.  They sit nicely next to their newfound pack as I listen to the young Mormons in quiet awe.  They glow a bit and I’m not sure that it is simply the summer heat and humidity.  It could be a halo.  Maybe something only the dogs can see.  Every six weeks or so, the names on the tags might change but the behavior of the three-pack is always the same when the Mormons come calling.


Dear Abby

Thank you for reminding me to keep my kitchen counters clear of things.  Even if I believe it is out of reach, nothing is ever out of your grasp.  Including a wicker basket of twenty fresh eggs.  I appreciate that you made sure no trace of egg remained and I learned so much about what happens when a dog consumes twenty raw eggs.  I also learned that I was not the first person to use a search engine when their dog ate twenty raw eggs.  Some ate more.

Thank you for helping me each morning with my upper body workout.  I sure wish you would tell me why you are reluctant to do your morning business in the backyard but my arms are becoming quite sculpted by carrying sixty pounds down two flights of deck stairs at 6:00 AM.  I am certain that this also is a great conversation starter for the neighbors.

Thank you for protecting me from every vehicle that passes us as we walk on the sidewalk in town.  I cannot imagine how I ever managed to walk in my town without the added benefit of your snarling and lunging.  It’s probably best that it’s hotter now and we restrict our walks to night.  You, know, like midnight.

Thank you for enjoying Charlie’s old toys, especially the ones that he had forgotten.  Of course he is interested now and the two of you seem to have such a great time tearing them to bits.

Thank you for being tall enough that you check to make sure I’m still alive if I haven’t roused from my sleep.  Weekends aren’t for sleeping in after all and you are so sweet for making sure I don’t miss any part of the day.

Thank you for encouraging me to pay attention to you.  I love the wet toys you gently place in my lap and when you steal my blanket, well that just helps me to get up faster, right?

Thank you for insisting that you are a family member and not a dog.  You absolutely should sit on the couch or chair even when we remove the cushions.

Thank you for your joy at bath time which is twice weekly for you due to your romping and rolling in the yard (after I carry you down).  I’m not sure if my favorite part of this routine is the dragging you down the hallway, the lifting you and attempts at fitting you through the bathroom door as you spread all four legs as wide as possible, or the heavy leaning you do once in the tub which inevitably gives me a bath, too.

Thank you for chewing up a Duracell battery last night.   Double A to be exact.  And we learned something.  You aren’t the first dog to do this.  So I washed your mouth out, checked that tongue and you got a nice bowl of milk.

Thank you for teaching the duck and chickens that there are dangers lurking in the yard.  It’s important that they stay vigilant and not become too relaxed.  It’s always better to stay at home, isn’t it?

Thank you for catching the flies that get trapped in the house.  It’s been such a very long time since we had a dog help out with fly catching and I do enjoy watching your efforts.

Thank you for keeping the squirrels out of the yard and ultimately out of the bird feeders.  I really do believe that one day you will catch that squirrel.  You are a flash of black and white across a great expanse of green.

Thank you for enjoying endless amounts of tennis ball tossing.  You are the only dog I have ever had that brings the ball back to me, placing it just so in my hand.

Thank you for catching my elbow and bumping it upward with your head.  I once had a black and white dog who did that to me and I miss him terribly. 

Thank you for being a dog that can be content to lie at my feet while I watch a movie.  I knew you felt at home the night you turned around the requisite three times with your favorite shark toy in your mouth and as you plopped down on the dog bed, a sigh was heard above the volume of the television.


Mini Me

My dog is my mini me in every way possible.  He’s hyper and bratty and talks entirely too much.  He’s itchy and wheezy and has allergies and asthma.  He's easily distracted and does not like to be woken from his naps. He’s a little on the fluffy side and his fur dries in waves.  

A few weeks ago I took him to the vet for a knee problem and had x-rays and blood work done.  Hours later he was very ill and couldn’t eat.  I spoke with the vet the next morning and she told me that a virus was going around.  Days passed and Chase didn’t improve.  While I was out of town on business, the Englishman brought him back to the vet and he needed fluids, antibiotics and a shot of anti-nausea medicine.  This time, the blood work showed a thyroid problem and he was promptly put on thyroid medicine.  I joked with the Englishman that I should take the medication, too since Chase and I had a history of the same medical issues.  After weeks of worrying and an extra round of antibiotics, the worst seemed to be over and Chase was back to his normal self with a twice daily new routine:  pop open his mouth, insert tiny pill, close mouth and give him a kiss on the snout.  It was a super quick routine and he didn’t appear to mind.  

I began to wonder about hypothyroidism and searched the internet. I found a checklist of symptoms that sounded very familiar.  I wondered how that conversation with my doctor would go:

Me:  Can you please run blood tests to check me for hypothyroidism?
Doctor:  Why?
Me:  Because my dog was just diagnosed.

I thought about lying and telling the doctor it was in my family.  I had to schedule a visit for severe allergies / cold / the crud and during the visit asked about a thyroid test.  The doctor asked me for a reason.  So, I bravely explained that I was experiencing numerous symptoms but while they had my blood, they might as well test for other things, too.  Days later I received a call from his nurse.  I had hypothyroidism and medication had been called in to my pharmacy.  Before hanging up the phone, the nurse asked, “How did you know?”  I hesitated and then told her, “It was just a guess”.  As I hung up, I thought, I would never share the true story with anyone…except my vet.

So now the morning routine has changed for me and my mini me.  Pop open his mouth, insert tiny pill, close mouth and give him a kiss on the snout, open my pill bottle, and down my pill with water, except there's no one to kiss me on the nose.  


A Tennis Ball Haul

We have a route that we walk with our four-legged family members each evening:  down the sidewalk, across the street to the library parking lot, through the front of the library to the side garden with the sundial, down a small access road that is hardly used and around the town’s tennis courts, over a small wooden bridge, across another parking lot and back to the library.  The dogs know it well.  

Our walk takes about thirty minutes with plenty of time to sniff trees, grass, bushes and sign posts.  On very special evenings, when no one is on the tennis courts, the dogs run free throughout the fenced-in areas.  The best time to visit the courts is after a storm when the players have quickly vacated, leaving behind sodden, yellow tennis balls.

Charlie loves tennis balls.  He clutches a ball between his paws and peels the fuzzy material away.  He chases the balls, he catches the balls, and when we won’t play with him, he bats the balls as hard as he can with his nose and scrambles after them.  

On this evening, in the pause between storms, Charlie happily collected fourteen precious tennis balls.  The Englishman and I counted them each under Charlie's watchful eyes and put them in a shopping bag.  As we strolled home, Charlie stayed by my side, nose up and happily leaping toward the bag that was dangling from my wrist.  April 3rd was the best haul yet.


Chicken Run

I watched videos.  I read blogs.  I did my research and felt that I was ready.  I knew that I could sex baby chickens.  I just knew it.  I drove to my favorite hardware store in Wrens, Georgia and the owner helped point out the Americuana chicks in the pen stuffed with hundreds of balls of day-old fluff.  It was a straight run of mixed chickens but I was assured that the Americaunas were easy to identify.  I gently spread the wings and counted feathers and soon had a box of six female Americaunas.  After a month, I convinced myself that a couple of them were just bossy…the way females could be.  After two months, I compared the crests on the tops of the heads with pictures on the internet.  I figured they were just bigger chickens.  Healthier even.  After four months, one began to crow and it was hard to ignore this, even for me.  I could not have a crowing rooster in my back yard.  Roosters do not just crow in the morning.  Oh no, they crow all day long.  I did the research and fashioned a Velcro collar to stop this imposter chicken from crowing.  It worked but a week later, on the day the Englishman and I were to leave to tow a truck to Florida for the younger English boy, two more “chickens” began to crow.  I knew two things at once.  I could not sex chickens.  Half of my flock was male.  I also knew we needed to find a solution and quickly.  The Englishman called the older English boy for help and his wife’s grandmother agreed to take the roosters.  The Englishman was in charge of packing our vehicle and hitching the truck and my mother and I were in charge of catching roosters.  This was not as easy as it sounded and it didn’t help that my mother gave a play by play narrative on everything I was doing wrong.  I finally had three angry roosters and one hen in the crate.  “Fine,” I thought.  “They can have the hen, too”.  The crate went into the back of my mother’s minivan and we followed my husband to the interstate.  He pulled over at the rest stop a mile after entering the interstate to tell me he had left our luggage at the house.  The new plan was for him to wait at the rest stop while I dropped of the birds, returned to the house, picked up the luggage and then returned to the rest stop.  I thought that he had the easier task in his plan.  

Near the end of the summer, when the remaining two hens began to lay their first eggs, I realized that I had white eggs instead of blue and these were not Americauna chickens.  I wasn't sure what kind of chickens they were but they were laying eggs and I was happy.

Fast forward two years.  My flock of hens consisted of two Americaunas and one chicken unknown that I named Willow.  All three were cranky due to the winter and refused to lay eggs.  All through December and January, I had to buy eggs and continue to feed my egg-less chickens.  In February, The Englishman brought me six Red Star chickens he rescued from a commercial chicken farmer.  I knew that there would be a period for both new and existing chickens to establish the “pecking order” but it quickly became clear that Willow was the top chicken.  She bossed the new chickens around and kept them isolated in a corner away from the food.  She perched on the highest roost in the chicken house to lord over the others.  Finally, she held vigil at the door of the house from the inside, refusing entry to the new chickens until the automatic door closed and six chickens were locked out. I was at a loss.  I tried removing her for a few hours.  I tried letting her roam free while I worked in the vegetable beds.  I finally put her in with the ducks.  “They like her.  Let her live with them,“ I thought.  That was my solution for three days and then she learned how to crow.  Once again, the Englishman and I were able to reach out to the older English boy's grandmother-in-law and once again we were headed on the road with a chicken.  

First, I needed to catch her.  Easy, peasy.  She was perched on the roof of the duck house happily crowing at the top of her lungs.  I wrapped a tea towel around her and carried her to the Jeep.  The Englishman chose that moment to clean out the back of his SUV and required my assistance.  I looked at the chicken in my arms and he instructed me to put her in a large cardboard box.  “It won’t work,” I said.  “She’s smarter than us!”  In the box she went and seconds later she effortlessly flew out.  I had to catch her again.  A flying, cranky, crowing, angry chicken.  It took a while and the Englishman helped by offering useful tidbits on how to catch a chicken and critiqued my method from afar.  Finally, we were on the road, and I had a chicken sitting in my lap.  She looked out of the window at all the cars that we passed and the trip took thirty minutes longer than it should have because the Englishman refused to ask the exit number from his son.  We tried three before we got it right.  I had some observations from our road trip:  Chickens have tongues.  Chickens pant.  Chickens bite.  Chickens salivate and when chickens collect enough saliva and then violently shake their chicken head like a dog, drops of saliva are flung all over the car windows, the Englishman and me. 

After locating the correct driveway, the Englishman parked and did not help me by opening my door.  Instead he played with the Labrador that greeted him at his door.  I carried Willow, still in a tea towel, into the back yard and saw the most beautiful rooster.  His name was Buster and he was once my “chicken”.  His best friend was the Labrador and they rubbed up against each other in greeting.  Willow had a new home with a rooster she once knew and I hoped she would be happy ruling her new kingdom.


The Daffodil Relocation Project

Once again it was February and as I was forced to take a back road due to construction on the interstate, I saw the daffodils springing up in ditches on the country roads.  I lowered my window and felt the cool spring air blowing across my face and I craved the freedom of dirt paths long forgotten and absent from my GPS, passable with the help of a pickup truck.  I missed the slow navigation of crumbling bridges and the discovery of ancient homes held up in each corner by old trees that were still younger than the weathered planks entangled within their hold.

The Daffodil Relocation Project was founded nine years ago with several shovels and buckets in the back of my old green Ford Ranger.  The Englishman and I would follow the roads less traveled, sometimes bringing along a passenger or a dog for the ride.  We have seen peacocks and Shetland ponies and abandoned railroad tracks and houses filled with history and ghosts.  We have discovered old cemeteries and reverently traced the worn names fading from the headstones.  We halted the truck at a deep puddle of water and watched butterflies play in the sunshine, wings dipping and sending rings of water to the edges.  We rescued flowers from deep ditches that kept the roads from eroding and filled the bed of the truck with daffodils, irises and lily of the valley.  We snacked on food that we had brought for our adventure:  Girl Scout Cookies, chips, apples, granola bars and bottles of water.  And as the sun began to lower in the sky, we headed toward paved roads with yellow painted lines down the center which welcomed our reentry to civilization once more.  Our work was far from over and when we reached home, the remainder of the weekend was spent finding new homes within our garden for each bulb.

February had returned once more, and as I glanced out the window of my house, I saw the delicate yellow petals stretching gently toward the sunshine.  I saw the tiny white flower bells dangling from lush green fronds ringing the cherry trees and the distinct leaves of the irises peeking out from the mulch.  Yes, it was February and I felt my wanderlust return and I longed for another beautiful day of relocating daffodils.


Canine Couture

It was sweater weather once again.  Of course living in the South, this statement could change on a daily basis.  On Monday, it might feel like a beautiful autumn day, on Tuesday the temperature would drop to near freezing, by Thursday, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and the daffodils were timidly displaying hints of lemon petals. Suddenly on Friday, it was time for T-shirts, flip-flops and air conditioning.  I would pull out the hoodies, sweaters and jackets, wrestle the dogs into their outfits just to tackle them a few days later and attempt to strip them once again.  On Saturdays, when the Englishman would do the laundry, dog clothing would be added to the machine, carefully folded and placed on top of each dog's crate until the next clothing appropriate day arrived.  Dogs in clothes.  It still can make me smile.