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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Everybody into the Pool!

The reporters on TV were gleefully attempting to fry eggs on sidewalks. Mayors were online and on the air promoting cooling centers. Headlines everywhere ensured that every last human on the east coast knew that it was The Hottest July On Record. As if those of us living it didn't realize it was hot.

Triple digits hot. High humidity hot. Wilting people hot.

During the worst of it, the dogs went outside, did their business, and came right back in. I certainly didn't blame them; I don't think I'd want to walk into an outdoor oven while wearing a fur coat. Lilah, with her hippie-long obsidian black fur, has known since she was a puppy how to cool down in the summer heat, finding the shady--and muddy--spots in the yard. But even she stood by the door asking to go back inside to air conditioned relief.

On the days when it was tolerable--and safe--for humans and canines to be outside, we all tried to make the best of it. The people gravitated toward the pool, which, for several days, featured water temperatures above ninety degrees. Even that was a refreshing difference compared to the warm, moist dragonbreath heat of the day. Night time swimming became the activity of choice when the sun was no longer an issue; the high heat and humidity were tempered by a dip in the water. Well, more than a dip; we spent hours cooling off there.

Previously, our terrier Rosie had love to swim; she'd leap into the water to chase a stick and climb onto a wobbly raft when she needed a lift. Our current dogs had no desire to set so much as a paw in the human pool. So, in an attempt to offer them the same relief as we two-footed creatures were enjoying, I set out two small kiddie pools in the yard.

As always,  Lilah jumped right into each pool as soon as I filled it. Snout under the surface, she walked counter-clockwise, blowing bubbles through her nose.  She lifted her face dripping with water and a smile, and offered a wag of thanks. Jasper and Tucker, on the other paw, gave the pools a wide berth, in case an errant drop of water would trouble their otherwise dry fur. The boys don't like Wet.

Wiley Lilah used the situation to her advantage. During a game of chase, she aimed for one of the pools, landing with as huge a splash as she could muster. Jasper skidded to a halt, looking like a kid crying "No fair!" Tucker just kept running, never breaking pace as he made an extra-large detour around the water hazard. I swear I could hear Lilah giggling.

Lilah enjoying the water.

Up to this point, the only possible use the boys could think of for the pools was as giant water bowls. This year, though, I thought maybe with the severity of the heat, I could interest the dry dogs in at least getting their paws wet. Perhaps they could learn that water didn't burn and might actually feel good on a hot summer day.

I armed myself with numerous treats--and not just any dog biscuit or training aid. I brought out the big guns, what my trainer would call a high-value treat. Hamburger pieces. Left over from a recent cookout.

Three dog noses lifted high in the air, huffing in great chuffs of burger smell as I walked toward one of the pools with enticements in hand.

Jasper, perhaps the most food-oriented dog I've known, quivered with anticipation. His eyes glittered as he looked at me, then my hand then me again. Whatever I ask. What. Ever. He would do it for that meat.

Now began a merry dance between Jasper and I as I held out one of the precious burger bits in front of his nose and quickly moved to position the pool between me and the dog. As he tried to circle around, I kept the pool between us. I held the bit just out of reach over the water.

Jasper's right paw lifted. Slowly he moved it over the water. Like a paw crane, he began to lower it, stretching his neck to get the coveted morsel. His paw stopped a whisker's breadth above the water. He looked at me again, pleading. He touched the water, drew back, touched again.

"Good boy, Jasper!" I handed him a treat. He didn't realize his entire paw was in the pool until the deed was done. I gave him another bit for keeping his foot in the pool. He began to lift it out. Once again, I held the burger piece just out of reach. He put it back. Now his left paw slowly lifted. With eyes on the prize, Jasper gingerly placed his second paw in the water.

"Good boy!" A few more treats. Jasper managed a subdued wag.

While all this was going on, Tucker maintained his distance, mournfully watching his brother undergo water torture. Lilah lay down under a clump of Lilac bushes with a bored sigh.

"I want all four feet now, Jasper." He looked up at me. I waved the treat in front of him as he stood with two paws in the pool and two paws out. Beef aroma wafted toward him. The third foot was much easier. The burger reward was worth it.

That last paw, however, stayed anchored to try dry land. No matter where I walked, Jasper would try to reach the treat without lifting the fourth foot. He wasn't really In the Water as long as one foot wasn't.

But. Hamburger. Hamburger! The siren smell drew him ever toward the cool depths of the kiddie pool.

It was too much. As if it had a mind of its own the last foot landed in the pool as Jasper lurched toward me to get his treat.

Lots of treats. Burger bit after burger bit. Happy, happy Jasper. He walked around, getting more bits as he explored the entirety of the 5-foot wide, 8-inch deep plastic pool.

I looked up. Lilah sighed again and closed her eyes. Tucker looked nervous and backed away slowly, keeping his distance.

"C'mon Tucker!" He lowered his head. "Look, Jasper is in the pool and he's still alive."

Jasper stayed in the pool while I walked over to Tucker, who was trying to look small and comfortably arrid. I asked him to sit, and gave him a taste of the meat.

He followed me back to the pool. Having seen his brother go through the exercise, Tucker knew what was expected. At first he hoped he could just put a paw on the edge of the pool. Perhaps that counts? But plastic bends with the weight of a dog and the result was a small river of water pouring over the edge, soaking his front two paws. He tried again. Same result. This plan wasn't working.

As Tucker watched sadly, I gave Jasper a few pieces of the burger for staying in the pool.

Ears back, neck bowed, my dry terrier submitted. He put his right front foot in the water.

"Good boy, Tucker!" Treat.

Left front foot. Treat. Right rear foot. Treat. Left rear foot hovered just above the water. As it was with Jasper, so it was with Tucker. Not the last foot. Please? Tucker pleaded with me silently. The burger whispered sweet scents in his nose. I gave Jasper another piece. With a doleful glance that questioned my humanity for requiring this task of him, Tucker slid the fourth paw into the pool.  Two dogs, eight paws in the water.

"Good boy!" Treats and treats and treats for Tucker and Jasper.

I called Lilah over to see if she would join the boys in the pool. She was having none of it. "Now everyone's in the pool. It's not cool anymore." She crawled deeper under the bushes, enjoying the mud bath that was hers alone.

The boys. "How long do we have to stay in here?"

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Snuggly

I live in a spaghetti western movie.

I didn't realize this until I began recording short videos of my home’s furry inhabitants.  

As I watched the videos—and my pets,when I wasn’t recording them—I realized there were...

Good guys and bad guys. 

Showdowns. Staredowns.

Thundering herds.

And music.

Actually, the music is all in my head…the kind that plays during the pivotal showdown scene, or when everyone saddles up and the posse heads out to catch the Bad Guy. So it seemed that nearly every video required a Ennio Morrione score.

Here are few examples.
(Each video is only 6 seconds long, since they were taken with Vine.)

Scene 1, Western:  Camera pans over a desolate landscape. Pushed by a dusty wind, a tumble weed skitters past the skeletal remains of an animal. The audience understands this is a place of emptiness.

Here’s how the scene plays out in my house:

Of course in my version, it’s not tumbleweeds  but stuffing that came from a headless and disemboweled plush horse, courtesy of Lilah. No skeletons, but close. And no emptiness. Definitely no emptiness. That would be impossible in a house with three dogs and four cats. 

Scene 2, Western: Bad Guy is holed up in the local flophouse, with an injury sustained in a gun battle during a bank robbery. Good Guy spots him, and the Bad Guy leaps out of the window onto his waiting horse and escapes.

My house:

While we’re not exactly talking Good Guys and Bad Guys here, Elsa Clair has been spotted by Calvin, and leaps to a quick getaway.

Scene 3, Western: The showdown. In the center of town, two men face each other, eyes glaring, fingers twitching, waiting to draw on each other. Kitty, the whore with a heart of gold, runs for the sheriff, who comes just in time to break it up “afore someone gets hurt.”

My version:

Athena and Calvin stare each other down, until Sheriff Tucker arrives to save the day. You'll note we have not one, two kitties.

End scene, Western: Good Guy figures the only way to catch Bad Guy is to set him up, create a trap that he can’t resist. Usually Bad Guy gets shot, but sometimes, he gets away and the audience knows he’ll be up to no good somewhere else. Maybe he’ll sneak back to hunt down the sheriff who ran him out of town.

And in my house:

Sly Elsa Clair knows Calvin is hungry, and waits for him from their feeding spot, on top of the buffet. She successfully runs him out of town…kitchen. But he’ll be back. And all my cats find ways to be up to no good somewhere.

Fade to black.

See what I mean?

Where’s Ennio Morricone when I need him?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lion Around

In a previous post, I've written about the many ways that dogs play with stuffed animals. (Plush with Joy.)  We always have quite a few of these plush toys around for Jasper, Lilah and Tucker to romp with, gnaw on, chase after, or discuss ownership.

Recently, I've noticed that there are some favorites. Tucker has been quite sweet on a certain Headless Horse, whose injury was the result of a particularly enthusiastic game of Tug. It doesn't matter that his toy is missing an essential part of it's anatomy. Actually, I imagine that it's more fun that way, because a gaping hole where the head ought to be creates great opportunities for stuffing removal. And that's almost as much fun as Tug.  Plus, once all the innards are out, the flat scraps of a once-huggable toy also provide great amusement. I think it might have something to do with the Flop Factor; holding an unstuffed animal in ones' mouth and shaking it very hard creates a very satisfying effect. We keep several of these barely recognizable pelts around until, after repeated Tug battles, they are reduced to unsafe bits of  furry cloth and are added to the recycling pile.

Tucker and the Headless Horse

Lilah's lion, however, doesn't seem to be headed ("be headed?" Snicker!) toward the same fate, even though there's a slight tear near the neck--the result of a misguided attempt at Tug by Tucker. A very sweet, even-tempered animal, Lilah is the nurturer, the one who always comes running when anyone--dog, cat, or human--seems injured or sick. Yet if Jasper or Tucker tries to take her lion, she can go from zero to ferocious faster than a ticked-off tiger--or at least sound that way. Her snarly growls and frozen stare are enough to make even the bravest of dogs reconsider just how much he wants to play with that particular toy at that particular moment. It's all a game to Lilah, but Jasper and Tucker let go and back away slowly.

Lilah, Lion

Why the lion? What is it about this particular plush that makes sweet Lilah disinclined to share?

It's got whiskers.

I don't know why whiskers are so attractive, but Lilah loves them.

Every morning, when the dogs come downstairs with me, she heads straight for the lion. The boys take a drink of water, look out the window to see what's barkable, sniff a cat toy or two--or a cat--and generally assess the area to see if anything has changed since they went to bed last night. Lilah ignores all that; she locates her lion and settles down for a good floss.

With one paw holding the inanimate creature steady, she nibbles those whiskers, closing her eyes, centered on the task. Her nose mushes up against the fake fur snout as she chews gently.

Lilah's little wrinkled nose is just so cute.

The morning routine ebbs and flows around her as the cats greet me, the dog beds are put back into position, and I prepare to take the pups out for their morning business. Lilah stays focused and undisturbed.

Bones? No. Stuffed lemur? Nope. Gotta have that lion.

It's not just a morning routine, though. Whenever we're in the family room, Lilah will gravitate toward the lion and enjoy a nibble or seven. She'll often fall asleep with the toy between her paws.

Lion in her arms

Lilah is ever so gentle with those little plastic bits, and after months of whisker flossing, they're still there--a little bent, a little thin in some places, but still there.

Maybe that's why she has such a brilliant smile.

Lilah smile

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stair Down

A herd of buffalo live in my house.

Or may it's a dozen third-grade boys.

Poltergeists with bowling balls?

What I have is kittens. Though at just over a year, they're technically cats. Whatever the label, they have a combined weight of perhaps a dozen pounds. Which means there is no way I can explain the amount of thumping, crashing and thundering that occurs when Elsa Clair and Calvin play their favorite game, Chase on the Stairs.

If you live in a multi-level house with feline roommates, you may be familiar with this game. There are as many variations as there are shades of cat.

The game often begins with Someone peering down from the top of the stairs at Someone Else. That's the fun part about stairs: the staring from on high.

Calvin and Elsa Clair: the stair down.

The stair stares continue. Tension builds. An ear flicks. A whisker twitches.

The Stair Stare

Then Someone pops...and the Chase is on. China rattles. The dogs wake up. I get up from my morning coffee to investigate, expecting to see hordes of cats pouring down the staircase. Instead, I'm greeted with two tiny faces attached to small kitten bodies that are sitting calmly on the bottom step. They peer at me. "Kittens? Running? Nope, haven't seen any."

Fun on the stairs.

There must be a law of physics that can account for the huge sound of two kittens racing up and down a staircase. I know that f = m x a (Force equals Mass times Acceleration, for those who don't remember the formula from science class), but maybe there's a scientist somewhere who is working madly in his cramped lab on the top floor of Victorian home developing m x a x (2+ S) = Ch (Mass times Acceleration times 2 Kittens on the Stairs = Chaos).

Each step in our main staircase has a lip on it (technically called decorative nosing; I looked it up), which makes it perfect for Sneaking. Elsa Clair, who is the tinier of the two kittens, hides just under the nosing (See? I found a way to use my new word). At the top, Calvin will know, just KNOW she's there, but will be unable to see her from his vantage point. He also knows that, even though his sister is small, she packs a pretty good left hook, more daunting because of it's sharp and pointy edges.

Elsa Clair Sneaking

Calvin will take up a post at the top. He'll suddenly remember he hasn't cleaned his forehead.  Elsa Clair is patient, patient. The tip of her tail curls slightly to the right. Then the left. Stops. Calvin finishes his forehead and moves onto an ear. He gets distracted by an imaginary bug and looks up at the ceiling. Finally, he reaches a tentative paw over the edge of the step, followed slowly by another. Front half of cat on the first step, back half still moored to the floor. It seems safe. A cautious descent begins. From below, a tiny black ear tip moves; before Calvin can react, Elsa Clair charges up the stairs.

And the chase begins again.

The Chase!

Even with only one cat, stairs are fun. Calvin likes to roll on his back and claw his way up stair by stair, upside down.

Calvin ready to roll and rock.

Elsa Clair loves to peer through the balusters (another new word) and swat at people as they walk by.

Cuteness with pointy edges.

Living with cats, one might begin to think that the sole purpose of stairs is to provide amusement for kittens.

But then again, isn't that the main purpose of nearly anything?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Grass is Always Greener

If you live with dogs in any place on earth where it rains and snows, you will know this to be true: there are only three seasons in a year.




For the uninitiated, I will attempt to explain here. Tucker has volunteered to illustrate them for me.


Snow is exciting. The dogs dig in it, push their snouts in it. Stitch trails across its pristine whiteness as they play Chase.  A short dog like Lilah bounces her way through it, ending up sprinkled with snowflakes and looking like a powdered chocolate donut. The snow sticks to Tucker's wiry fur as if he's part Velcro. When the gang comes back inside the house after a romp with their best buds through the white stuff, we go though a de-snowification process. While this isn't a favorite activity, we play a game called Treats for the Feets, where the dogs earn snacks for each foot cleaned, and that makes it just a tad more tolerable.

Snow sticking to Tucker's paws

Just as a pearl is formed around a minuscule irritant within a clam, snowballs form around just a few strands of dog fur. With her long black fur, Lilah has to deal with this every winter. Because she has fuzzy paws, she winds up with hard, cold pepples stuck between the pads. In the middle of a spectacular game of Snow Chase, Lilah will suddenly stop, sit down, and lick her paws. That's when I know she needs help digging rock-hard snow chunks from her paws.

One of my previous dogs, a Keeshond mix, had it worse than Lilah. Pasha's paws were so furry that it looked like he was wearing fuzzy slippers. And when snowballs formed around his fur, they could be huge. We're not just talking golf-ball sized snowballs. We're talking cantaloupes.

Yes, that giant snowball is stuck to poor Pasha.


Mud comes twice a year...before and after Snow.  Sometimes there is a brief interlude of frozen ground, but it eventually melts and we're left again with oozy, squishy, splashy mud.

The key word is splashy.

If you've ever watched a horse race on a wet track, and seen horse and jockey afterwards, then you'll have an idea what the dogs look like after a few minutes of Fence Running during Mud. This is why we have designated linens known as dog towels--towels that are so ratty and abused that one doesn't mind them turning a lovely shade of chestnut brown as we clean paws. And legs. And bellies. And tails. And sometimes faces.

We use up lots of Treats for the Feets during Mud. Sometimes we need a bowl of warm water to dip paws into, or we soak small dog towels in water to wipe down the pups. Treats are given freely while all body parts are cleaned on each of the three dogs. The washer and dryer get a workout as soaked and muddy towels are cycled through to make sure we have enough for the next time the dogs come inside.

You can see the mud all the way up Tucker's legs.


My favorite dog season is when the grass has grown in and there is little or no mud. The dogs run freely, and even when it rains, all we have to deal with are a dozen wet paws. If it's raining while the pooches are outside, however, they may need an overall body rub-down and dry off, or the resulting floppity will splatter everything within a five-foot radius. (The cats have learned this the hard way--hard for them, amusing for me.) Sometimes, particularly after the grass is cut,  Jasper and Tucker will sport green-tinged fur, but that wipes off easy. For the most part, though, the Feets don't require as much attention--or Treats--during Grass.

Tucker, a dog out standing in his field, or backyard. 

I think we all might agree that Grass is a favorite. As show in the picture below.

Grass time is play time!

Other folks look forward to the flowers of spring, the warmth of summer or the color of fall. As for me, I just wait for Grass season.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Elsa Clair, the Great Black-and-White Hunter

As soon as I grab the leashes, they come running.

The cats.

The dogs come, too, but the cats get there first. Elsa Clair skids into the laundry room, brakes screeching (I swear!) as she makes a snap-quick turn to leap onto the counter. Calvin knows his sister has her paw on the pulse of all things interesting to cats, so he's not far behind. Athena, keenly aware of her dignity, arrives after the dogs and all their inconvenient large paws and waggy tails have settled into well-behaved Sits.

Jasper, Lilah and Tucker are currently being trained to WALK across the deck, and WALK down the stairs, instead of running like crazed derby horses when the gates are released, so leashes and treats are required equipment every time we go outside.

There's always a chance that a snack will fall from the treat bag as we're getting ready, which is one of the reasons the cats materialize when I'm about to take the dogs outside. However, the true cause for all the excitement is that when I open the door, Something might get inside. Its a sure sign that spring is here when the warmth brings out the insects and the cats turn into Bug Hunters.

There are several opportunities for the winged creatures to enter the house, beginning with the first time  I open the door for the dogs. Elsa Clair stands on the corner of the counter, neck stretched out, eyes wide, plaintive mrows escaping from under her quivering pink nose. Calvin peers over her shoulder.

Anything bugging you?

I come back in a few minutes later to hang up the leashes. If an invader has made it past the storm door,  Elsa Clair is instantly on the hunt. Calvin knows something is up, and is looking puzzled, but stands ready to steal his sister's prize. Athena takes up position on the washer or dryer, where she has the best view of the action. She likes to watch.

After dark, the porch light just outside the back door attracts the most fascinating prey. Almost every night, a twitchy lamp-blind moth slips in the house and sketches an erratic flight through the laundry room. As long as it stays on or very near the ceiling, it will live a few minutes. Once it comes below a certain height, it's demise is a near certainty.

If I can reach it, and the poor creature is harmless, I'll capture it gently and release it back into the wilds of suburban living. When I'm successful, the cats glare at me dolefully, not quite believing that I ruined their sport.

I can always tell when Elsa Clair has her sights on a bug. She narrates the process with a series of meerows, wows and trilling purrs that are off the charts on the Cat Sounds Adorability Rating Scale. Her mews and calls always sound like she's asking questions, as the tone of each utterance ends in an upnote of utter cuteness.

I have been attempting to record these sweet sounds for quite a while, but have been mostly unsuccessful.  Either Elsa Clair decides her soliloquy is over, or the bug is caught by the time I grab my cell phone, or--the most common occurance--some other sound like a barking dog (as if that ever happens in my house), interferes with the recording.

Below is a video with just a taste of Elsa Clair's adorable I'm Hunting a Bug song. The clip starts slow, but is worth watching in it's 22-second entirety. Please ignore the dog sound of Jasper slurping in the background.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie...Somewhere Else


We can't figure out how he does it. Tucker, our terrier mix, weighs in at a small but sturdy 45 pounds, yet he can take up an entire bed.

Jasper and Tucker on

We understand why 60-something-pound Jasper occupies so much space; he's a big dog with legs so long he looks like an AT-AT.


AT-AT ( ©Lucasfilms)

But when he sleeps, Tucker takes up more space than the other two dogs combined.

He starts out small enough, curling into an adorable Tucker Ball.

Tiny Tucker Ball
Within a few minutes, he starts to expand.

He's getting bigger

Like a liquid, he fills the space he occupies.

And bigger. 
Sometimes he even spills over.

This is the same bed as above.

On occasion, he just pours out.

Still the same bed. Really.

This is why Tucker is not allowed to sleep in our bed at night. By the time the morning sun sifts through our blinds, we humans would be scrunched into four inch strips on the outer edges of the mattress.

And it is the unlucky person who winds up on the leg side of Tucker when he sleeps. As part of the expansion process, he kicks whatever or whoever happens to be near him.

Expanding Tucker

When he wakes up, Tucker will bow, stretch, and somehow manage to fit himself back into his normally compact size.

There must be a law of physics somewhere to explain this.