Complete with Dogs...and Cats has moved.

Come see all of our stories, photos, texts and poems at our new site:

Life with Dogs and Cats

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Athena and her Precious

“It’s my precioussssss.”  
I can almost hear Athena channeling Gollum from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books. It haunts her, this precious item; she desires it greatly.
The Precious?
It’s a hair elastic hair band. The coated kind. Thick. A garden-variety, 10 for 99 cents, put-your-hair-up-in-a-ponytail stretchy circle.
And it’s very, Very Important to Athena.

She stands guard outside my bedroom and bolts into the room when I open the door, making a beeline for my grandmother’s antique dressing table. She jumps up and peers into a cobalt blue vase, looking for The Precious. 
Sometimes, I will have put it in the vase ahead of time. More often, the vase is empty. Then Athena will wait patiently--in case somehow The Precious will magically appear. She’s very good at waiting, Miss Athena is. Patient. Waiting. 
Patiently waiting.
Ever so so patient.
If she’s Really Very Patient, I will open the Drawer of Magical Items and quickly pull out The Precious and drop it into the vase.
Athena will stare into the vase to confirm that The Precious is, indeed, within and then, delicately reaching her paw inside, she’ll pull it up toward her, usually snagging it with one claw. When she gets it high enough, Athena transfers the Hair Band of Joy to her mouth--and then has to stop and think about next steps.
First she surveys the area. Dawn, Jasper or Lilah might be around. They. Might. Steal. The. Precious. And that would be A Very Bad Thing.

If the coast is clear, Athena hops off the dressing table. And the real fun begins.

This is what you do with The Precious. First, you hold in in your mouth, then you toss it back and forth between your paws. 
Then you put it in Mom’s shoe. That’s real important. Because two seconds later, you take it out of Mom’s shoe. And then place it back in again. 
You can also consider bringing The Precious with you on to the blanket chest.  Then you hockey puck it around the slippery wood surface. 
Sometimes you try to hide it under the magazines. Hiding The Precious under the magazines is good, but not as good as depositing it in Mom’s shoe. But it’s still considered to be among the appropriate activities to do with The Precious.

You might also bring it downstairs and play with it under the kitchen table. Or on the dining room rug. But you have to be careful because there are foul elements afoot who will try to take The Precious from you.

Oh, and if Lilah gets hold of The Precious, it is a very sad course of events indeed. Lilah excels at Shredding. No item is too small to escape the Lilahnator: a bit of fluff, a leaf, a tiny plastic end from a price tag on a pair of pants. A hair band.

Oh the felinity!

Until next time, when Athena takes up her position on Grandma’s dressing table  and waits ever so patiently yet again for The Return of the Precious.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What the Snow Reveals

A walk around our property gives me a peek into the lives of the other residents with whom we share our outdoor space. Their stories are written in the snow, but I’m only slightly familiar with the language, and thus can only guess at the authors and their meaning.

Walk with me:

My dogs have provided some insight; their tracks offer clues to figuring out other trails that I encounter. Lilah of the short legs can only leap through the snow, leaving sproing prints in her path. Depth doesn't matter to Lilah; it barely slows her down.

Jasper joins in, following Lilah. His long moose legs drag though the drifts, even when he's running.  A smart (and admittedly lazy) boy, Jasper will run in Lilah's path, so he doesn't have to work quite as hard.
A walk in the woods behind my house uncovers evidence that the foxes have returned to den here. With legs shorter than Lilah's, a fox bounds through the snow as well, leaping over logs, searching for food.
When the snow is not quite as deep, foxes leave more doglike prints. Here, a fox is using one of our makeshift bridges to cross a creek.
Up close, it's easier to see the fox paw impressions.
Squirrels make it easy to read their trails; their large hind paws and tiny handlike forepaws are an open book, particularly when the trail leads to or from a large tree trunk. The squirrels stay busy in the winter, proving to me that they actually do look for dinner in places other than my convenient squirrel--oops, I mean bird--feeders.
Deer, with long legs like Jasper, drag their feet through the snow; about a half-dozen of them have created a trail among the trees.
A tiny creek poses little challenge to Bambi and his friends, who leap over fences and across brooks with ease. Surefooted, the deer show no signs of slipping and sliding on either bank. It's not much of a challenge for the mind's eye to recreate the balletic grace of the animals--almost riding the air from one side to the other.
Up close, a deer print is somewhat obvious, as it is the only hoofed creature that lives in the neighborhood.
The deer in our woods are more numerous than squirrels; only a day after a fresh snowfall, there are so many overlapping trails that it's a bit of a challenge to try to figure out who went where, when, and with whom.
Of course, my walk through the woods also leaves a trail; perhaps snow shoes would have made the jaunt a tad less of a slog.
By my patio, where my dozen or so birdfeeders hang, I can tell the ground feeding birds have been very busy, hopping about and scratching through the snow for the seed I've scattered.
The heated bird bath (what bird wouldn't want a hot tub in the winter?) gives everyone a taste of fresh water to wash down the sunflower and thistle seeds, millet, suet and peanut butter offered in the daily buffet.
In the front yard, I was a little puzzled by a tiny trail of prints that travel lightly over my perennials. Like the elf Legolas (see Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein) who could walk on top of the snow, the maker of these tracks travels on gentle feet.  It is probably one of my neighbor's cats, who are known to prowl through my landscaping.
Below you can barely see the prints weaving through the plants toward the back.
Sometimes I can only guess at the writer of the glyphs in the snow.  A bird? A mouse? 
And Jasper and Lilah add their own chapters to the snow stories. Below is a tale of two friends playing; with a squint and a little imagination, I see a heart drawn with paws.
The stories unfold in front of me, and then disappear underneath a new blanket of fresh snow, or melt away in the sun. A moment in time for our local residents is captured and revealed for me to guess an interpretation: a simple gift of the winter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kelsey (1984 - 1997)

It was probably not the best way to pick out a pup. My husband at the time wasn’t too keen on having a dog, so I thought if he made the choice, he would be more likely to warm up to the idea. At the shelter, there was a litter of what looked like sheltie mix puppies: tri-color fur, thin pointy snouts, floppy ears. “This one is the least stupid-looking,” he said. 

Of course, to me, they were all beautiful, and I would have taken any one of them, but Least Stupid Looking came home with us. It seemed to take forever to name her, as my then-husband nixed every idea I came up with. As a last resort, I took out our atlas and started looking at places with names beginning with the letter K. Don't ask me why, but for some reason, in my synesthetic brain, she looked like a K dog to me. After reading out a long list, I finally got to Kelsey Lake, Ontario. “Kelsey.” I looked up. “That’s better than the others,” he said. Kelsey it is!
As Kelsey grew, her fur became longer and silkier, and she looked more like a small collie.  Bigger than a sheltie, she had longer ears, and some of the markings of a German Shepherd.  We used to play a game with her we called Shepherd, Collie, Hound. If we held her ears up so they were pointy and tall, she looked just like a German Shepherd. If we flipped the ends down, it was instant collie. And let her ears fall all the way forward, they flopped like those of a hound.
Though my family had a dog when I was growing up, Kelsey was the first I had on my own. A very smart dog, she learned fast. She understood where the edge of our yard was and never crossed from the driveway to the sidewalk without permission. She always went to the bathroom in a specific section of the yard. And she learned to walk without a leash, no matter what the distraction; I felt safe calling her back to me, knowing she would come even if a rabbit was zooming off in the opposite direction.
Kelsey was part of the family before we had children, and she was fascinated when we brought our daughter Corinne home for the first time. Never sure that we were paying enough attention, Kelsey would come running to us every time the baby cried. Every time. In case we didn’t notice. And she supervised every diaper change.  Later, Kelsey realized that feeding time was snack time, as Corinne truly enjoyed experimenting with gravity, amazed at the fact that if she dropped a Cheerio from a high chair, it would fall to the floor. Or land on Kelsey’s back as she was snarfing up the previous prize.

When she was older, Corinne loved to play dress-up, and had a whole shoebox full of Mardi Gras beads and plastic bracelets and frilly ribbons which she used to adorn the dog. After about 20 minutes, poor Kelsey would have several bracelets on each of her front paws, and dozens of multicolored beads around her neck. I’d stand by, and when it looked like the dog had had enough, I would tell Corinne it was time to give Kelsey a break. After all the jewelry was removed, Kelsey was given several treats as a reward. Everyone was happy.
While she had plenty of toys, Kelsey’s favorite outdoor activity was chasing sticks. A ball was fun, but a stick was better. She would run through the yard with the stick, bringing it back for us to throw or leading us in a merry game of You Can’t Have My Stick. As smart as she was, though, Kelsey never realized that when carrying a stick, the ends of it, well, stick out--wider than her body. So, if she ran between two people with the stick in her mouth, she created a live version of a Saturday morning cartoon, taking out two humans at the knees as she came to a screeching halt.
Perhaps inspired by Kelsey’s fondness for sticks, Corinne had a favorite Stick, too. She would totter around the yard holding her stick and pointing at things, conducting the world as only an 18-month old child can. Corinne loved her Stick and it took a lot of convincing to make her leave it in the garage every night instead of bringing in the house with her.  We put Stick to bed every night in a wagon, and it was the first thing Corinne looked for when she next went outside.  Kelsey didn’t quite get the distinction between her stick and Corinne’s, so there were several tug-of-war sessions, with an increasing note of panic in Corinne’s, “NO!” Usually I could distract the dog with a different stick and all was right with the universe.
Kelsey was the first of our dogs who thought cats were Evil, and Must Be Chased. Several of our neighbors had cats, and it was Kelsey’s Job to make sure our property was free of them varmints. Once, I opened the front door and she nearly flew out, leaping right off the porch, aiming straight for the mimosa tree that was in our yard. That’s when I noticed there was a grey cat crouched on the ground. As Kelsey ran at it, the poor thing didn’t move. The dog skidded to a halt. She looked at the cat. Looked at me. Back at the cat. Back at me. “Um, it’s not running.” Cats run. Dogs chase. This is the Natural Order of Things. Kelsey was perplexed. She didn’t know what to do. Of course I realized at once that the cat was probably hurt or sick, so I sent Kelsey back into the house, and went over to check on Pussywillow. Which became her name when my parents adopted her as their first cat. 

Indoors, Kelsey had a favorite Thing. It was, for all intents and purposes, a rawhide bagel. We called it her Circle Bone. And it was Very Very Special. Several times a day, particularly when she was nervous or excited, she would go get her Circle Bone and wander the house trying to find the Right Place to Put It. Because it had to be Just Right. Hidden, but not so she couldn’t find it again. Not really buried (we were inside, and that would have been a challenge), but perhaps placed underneath a pillow. She didn’t like anyone watching, and if she thought you saw her hide the Circle Bone, she’d pick it up and hide it again somewhere else. If you did happen to catch her hiding it without her knowing, you’d see that she would place it ever so gently in the chosen spot, and nose imaginary dirt over it. Sometimes she slept with it next to her on her dog bed. 

When Kesley was older, I thought it might be fun to have a second dog, but I didn’t go out looking for one. Instead Pasha found us (to be covered in another entry.) While Pasha and Kelsey didn’t become the best of friends, they enjoyed each other’s company.  Feeding time with the two of them was an amusing ritual; I fed each dog the exact same food on either side of the refrigerator, so they couldn’t see each other. Invariably, halfway through a meal, one of them would sneak off, then the other, circling through the family room and living room, until they were each eating the Other Dog’s food. But then the Other Dog still had the better food. And then Bowl Switch would happen again. It's amazing how the Other Dog always had the best meal. Every time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Welcome to the Winter Games

I can only try to imagine what goes through Jasper's or Lilah’s heads when they see that it has snowed. That said, it was pretty easy to guess the first time they encountered the cold white stuff on the ground last winter.  Both dogs were thinking, “The ground is covered with Snacks!”  If you’ve ever been to the beach and seen a black skimmer zipping across the water with its beak just touching the surface...that’s what my dogs were doing. They’d run along the ground with smiling mouths open, scooping up snow and gulping it down.  It doesn’t get much better than that when you’re a dog.

This year, the first snow of the season came in the form of a blizzard that dumped 13 or so inches in our yard. I took the dogs out several times during the height of it, and for the most part, it was too deep to Skim Snacks. However, there’s something about snow that brings out extra fun and nuttiness in dogs. Jasper and Lilah ran--well, more like bounded--through the drifts, chasing each other, stopping to explore a completely changed landscape, and then chasing again.

The following days offered lots of playtime in the snow. And thus began the Winter Games: Snowfall Version.  Here are a few favorites:

Exploring New Frontiers: While this may be a little challenging for Miss Lilah when the snow is up to her chest, it doesn’t stop her. She just Tiggers through the snow, sproinging like the bouncy friend of Winnie the Pooh. 
Jasper bounds as well, but with his long, long legs, he has the advantage and can explore a lot faster. If he feels like it. Sometimes, he just likes to stop and Survey the Area.
Run. And Run. And Run Some More: Simply because you can do it. In the snow, it might look more like leaping, bounding and plowing, but the effect is the same. And Running often turns into Chasing and Biting. Lilah goes for the easiest target: Jasper’s legs.  And Jasper just likes to channel his inner hockey player with serious body checks to throw Lilah to the ground. Which often leads to Snow Wrestling (see below.)
Professional Snow Wrestling: The object is to throw the other dog down and be the Big Dog on Top. Even though Jasper outweighs Lilah, and is much taller than her, under normal circumstances Lilah rules. Normally, she can outwit, out dodge, and out maneuver Jasper as she zooms behind bushes, zigzags across the yard or changes direction like a speedboat compared to his aircraft carrier. But with deep snow, Jasper can just knock her over into the fresh powder and jump on her. Half buried, it’s a bit of challenge for Miss Lilah to get back up, but she always manages it, and in a flurry of flakes she appears, taunting Jasper to just try it again.
There’s Something Under There and I Have to Get It: One or other of the dogs usually starts this game by finding a Sniff that must be investigated further. Then the digging begins. As soon as someone starts digging, another someone has to join in, because whatever is Under There is Mine and I Saw it First. Often, all you’ll see are some happy, waggy butts sticking out from the snow. And I don’t know if the Somethings are ever found. But it doesn’t matter; the fun is in the search.

I Got a Stick: The best sticks are the ones stolen from a snowman, thus dis-arming him (couldn't resist the expression), but sometimes you can find one just by happenstance. Or perhaps it was uncovered during a session of There’s Something Under There. The first thing you do with a stick is you chew on it.  
Then you run around, letting the other dog know that you have a stick and he or she Does Not.
That’s My Stick: Of course, if Jasper has a stick, it really belongs to Lilah, and vice versa.  A merry chase ensues with each dog taking back My Stick.  
Sometimes it results in a Stick Tug of War. Other times there are mutual chewing sessions, with Jasper and Lilah gnawing on different ends of the same stick. 
That’s My Frisbee: A variation of That’s My Stick, it should be noted that there are always two Frisbees available at all times. Two Dogs. Two Frisbees. Should make it easy. But The Other Dog always has The Best Frisbee. Even if you just took a Frisbee from The Other Dog; if he then picks up another Frisbee, then that one automatically becomes The Best One. This leads to lively discussions, chases and Frisbee tugs.
When it looks like Lilah might win the tug, Jasper's best defense is to lie down; Lilah just doesn't have the strength to pull the Frisbee and The Moose.
Inspired by my dogs’ love of snow, this year I decided not to build a snow man (or snow woman; we’ve done both in the past.) This was the year of the Snow Dog. Jasper Helped; if he didn’t think my snow sculpture was artistically appropriate, he fixed it.  Which meant he simply removed chunks of snow in a variation of There’s Something Under There. A couple of Leave It commands convinced him that this was Not A Good Idea. And a few treats later, he and Lilah deigned to pose with my creation.
Now barely recognizable remnants of the the Snow Dog remain.  Just when the greengray grass was starting to peek through the snow cover, a few more inches were deposited. It’s just the beginning of January; more snowy winter games lie ahead.