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Friday, July 29, 2011

Found and Lost

All of my dogs are good Finders.

For example, every one of them can find a microscopic speck of food on the floor. Jasper, in particular, excels at this. He could be running at full speed through the kitchen and pull up short as his big nose catches the scent of Something Good. In my mind, I can hear the cartoon sound SCREEEEEEEE as he skitters to a halt and licks a tiny nothing off the floor.

Sometimes I just can’t understand the significance or the attractiveness of what my dogs Find. A few months ago, Jasper was running around the back yard with that particular look on his face that indicates he has something in his mouth but he doesn’t want anyone to Know About It. My daughter Corinne was nearby and read him correctly; she called out “Drop it!” Which he did, reluctantly. Then Corinne asks me if I recently lost an earring. Amazingly, I had, about a month previously. Somehow, Jasper had Found it in the yard.

Lilah specializes in Finding those tiny plastic bits used to attach price tags to clothes. These are the ones that I can never quite pull off myself, and I should probably go get a pair of scissors, but they’re All The Way Across the Room and I figure if I pull it just right, I won’t need to get the scissors. And then Bing! I pull it off and the little plastic tab goes flying. Ten minutes later, Lilah is murmuring something around in her mouth. “Drop it!” And out comes the tiny plastic piece. Lilah gets a treat for Dropping It. But seriously, why would she pick it up in the first place?

Because she Found It.

Both Jasper and Lilah also excel in Finding worms. The deader the better. Because dead worms have a lovely scent. Whoever finds it first (usually Lilah) will stop, drop and roll, spreading smelly wormy bits throughout her fur. A quick run by and the other dog will notice the Eau du Earthworm aroma, and sure enough, he’ll be rolling in what’s left of it, too. Tucker usually figures it out last, but there always seems to be enough stinky pieces remaining so that everyone can smell equally pungent.

Tucker isn’t too particular about what he Finds. Since he’s still a puppy, nearly everything is a new discovery. He Finds an item and then carries it to his bed to chew on. He has yet to learn the Toy/Not Toy distinction. So far, among the things that Tucker has Found to Munch On include: a box of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 DVDs, a pair of designer pumps that I was going to wear to a client meeting, a New Yorker magazine, my Canon digital SLR, the scrub brush I use to clean out the bird baths (yuck!) and a wood doorstop in the shape of a cat (probably had it coming, as it was a Cat!)

Tucker also Finds flower bulbs. And by Finds, I mean he digs them up and runs around the yard playing one of his favorite games: I Have it and You Don’t. And then he chews it to bits. This is Not a Good Thing, as tulip bulbs are on the list of items that can make dogs sick. So the idea is to remove the bulb from Tucker before he eats it, thus preventing hourly Potty trips outside to deal with the digestive consequences.

Recently, my pups have been on a run of Finding living things. This past weekend, Lilah was on the deck staring curiously at a spot by one of the chairs. Obviously something caught her interest, and upon investigation, I learned she had discovered a toad. I can’t imagine what attracted the toad to my deck, as I have several toad houses (broken halves of flower pots) throughout my garden, providing refuge from careening canines. But Lilah was just sniffing at Mr. Toad, and when Jasper and Tucker showed up, they also snorted the creature’s scent a few times; all three dogs didn’t seem to want to chew or pounce. This was good news for the our new amphibious friend.  So I picked him up, and put him in one of the toad houses, where he hid for the rest of the day.
Mr. Toad, right before he was offered the safety of a toad house.

Just a few hours later, I found Jasper looking very puzzled as he pondered a Find. Spread out across one of the chairs on our patio was an enormous Polyphemus moth. With a wingspan of 4 to 5 inches, this creature was quite spectacular. He didn’t seem interested in moving, even with a Jasper Moose Nose quite close. After taking a couple pictures, I gently picked up the moth and placed him within the leaves of my spider plant, where he would be less conspicuous, and thus less likely to be on the dinner menu for the birds who hang around by my patio.
The Polyphemus moth. Love those eyespots.
A view from the front. His body is hanging down through the chair. You can tell it's a male by the furry antennae, which he uses to detect the attractive pheromones of the females.

When I take the dogs out for their Potty breaks, I keep them leashed until we get to the patio, and each one Sits. There are several reasons for this. First, I like the leash practice, because they are not allowed to pull and we get to work on that rule. And second, all the walking and stopping and talking and sitting gives the birds and squirrels and chipmunks a chance to make their exits.

Yesterday’s Potty break was quite exciting, though, as all the dogs Found a blue jay, even before I could get them to Sit. The bird was hopping around the patio, trapped against the sitting wall. Three extremely agitated dogs were straining at their leashes, and a terrified bird was trying unsuccessfully to escape--and I was hoping my grip would hold while I dragged Jasper, Lilah and Tucker back into the house. I ran back outside to assess the bird, because it was either hurt or stupid or both, and leaving it there would have an unacceptable outcome.  

Minutes later I had cornered and caught the bird, deposited it in a shoebox with a few cloths, and once again brought the dogs outside. Freed, they ran around like crazed beetles, bumping into each other as they tried to re-Find the blue jay. Sorry, guys, but he was soon on his way to The Raptor Trust, one of my favorite nonprofits that takes in not only birds of prey (raptors) but all hurt birds and other wildlife that need veterinary care and rehabilitation.

Unbelievably, a similar scenario played out that evening in the pouring rain, as we went through the whole leash, sit, release routine and a juvenile robin wasn’t quite paying attention to the fact that Three Dogs were on the loose. The next thing I know, Jasper and Tucker were way too interested in a spot under the pine tree, a sure sign of something they Found. Following their two panting snouts, I saw sprawled about a foot away an obviously injured juvenile robin. Not again! And this time I felt responsible. As I carefully picked up the bird (with a poo bag--always have them on hand) I scolded Jasper and Tucker: “Please don’t eat the birdies!”

And once again, I headed out to The Raptor Trust with a hurt and frightened little bird.

But at least I found him before the dogs injured him too much. I have a feeling they weren’t sure what to do once he stopped flapping or running away. And The Raptor Trust would do the best they could for him. (I always give a donation when I drop off a critter to be rehabilitated. It seems only right. Please feel free to learn more about the organization, or if you’re ever in central New Jersey, to stop by. It’s a fascinating place, where, in addition to helping care for raptors, they also keep a few who for one reason or another can’t be returned to the wild. There are all kinds of owls, hawks, falcons, and eagles that you can wander around and see up close and personal.)

I find a lot of things with the help of my dogs. They are such good Finders. Now if only I can Find a way to make small jumpy critters like chipmunks and birds just a little less attractive...

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