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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Something About Snow

There's something about snow that brings out the bounce in every dog I've ever known.  And my three are no exception.

When the white stuff is on the ground, Jasper forgets he doesn't like wet feet and bounds through the snow like a long-legged deer.

Lilah loves sticking her face in a snowpile; when she lifts her head up, she looks like she's been powdered with confectioner's sugar.

And Tucker the terrier, well, he just gets terrier-er.

There's chasing and pouncing to be done, snow holes to dig, sticks and dirt clumps to discover and play That's Mine and You Can't Have It.

In short, my canine companions frolic.

And while, as an adult human, I get to join in some of the fun, sometimes the best gift is watching my dogs play with joyous abandon.  There's nothing else quite like it.

The first snow of 2012 came this past weekend, and while it only deposited a few inches, it was more than enough for a few happy dogs to enjoy.

Below are some highlights.

Anticipation; the dogs can see the snow and can't wait to get out there.

Let the winter games begin.

Lilah after a snout/snow encounter.  A side benefit to snow--for me, anyway--is that Lilah loses her Stealth Dog abilities. It's only on snow-covered ground that she's actually visible at night.

Tucker pondering; should he chase Lilah or Jasper?

In Pounce Position, Tucker has his eye on Jasper.

Jasper makes a run for it.

The chase goes all around the yard.

Tucker goes for the grab but can't take Jasper down.

Not one to favor brother over sister, it's time for Tucker to chase Lilah. Even though he practically flies over the snow, he'll never catch Lilah--unless she wants him to.

In between chase scenes: a touching moment between Lilah and Tucker.

Ah, payback time. Lilah and Jasper team up to get Tucker--and he loves every minute.

Meanwhile, inside the house, Athena supervises Brian as he shovels the deck.

Back inside, a happy, cold and snow-sprinkled trio waits to get dried off and warmed up. A treat or two makes it worth their while. 

A few days later and all that's left is a tiny patch of snow from the pile Brian created when shoveling off the deck. But it's just enough for Lilah...

If you want to see more fun in the snow, check out my Welcome to the Winter Games post from last year.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tug Bouts

Ah, the joys of a good game of Tug. There's nothin' quite like it. Two forces pulling in opposite directions with only a plush toy in the middle. A battle of wills, of strategy, of physics.  And some happy growls and wagging tails.

It could be human or canine on the other end. Perhaps there's a slight change in attitude when the opponent is tugging with a mouth or a hand.  Nevertheless, it is one of the Best Games Ever. And it never gets old.

In our house, it's usually Lilah who starts the Tug Game. She'll pounce on one of the dozen or so plush toys we try to stow in a basket, but somehow wind up scattered all around the house. Then Lilah will thrash it back and forth in front of Jasper or Tucker, kind of like wiggling a worm or a fly in front of a fish--hoping it will bite.  Most often, it's Tucker who will take the bait.

Lilah tossing around a yellow bear, just hoping someone will play Tug.

Once someone "bites," the game is on. And once two are playing, the third--usually Jasper--just can't help himself and will join in, either by making it a three-way Tug, or by grabbing another toy to play with. This results in all kinds of permutations of who's Tugging with whom.

A plush snake is perfect for a Tug between Tucker and Lilah.

Tucker and Jasper put their hearts into a good competitive pull.

Sometimes, I get to join in the fun. Often, I'll play when there's one dog with butt up in the air, tail wagging, toy in mouth--and no takers. I can't resist. And often that's enough to get someone else inspired to get in the game. But not after I get to play a little.

Tucker grabs on and pulls.

Even if I'm not actively playing, Tug is a phenomenal spectator sport. Each dog has his or her own set of strategic maneuvers. And it's highly entertaining to watch how they try to best each other.

Jasper tends to rely on the fact that he's simply bigger than the other two. At 60 pounds, he outweighs them (Tucker is about 43 pounds, and Lilah 38), and he uses physics to his advantage.

Jasper's simplest trick is to just lay down--and hold on. Then the other dog, Tucker in this case, has to pull hard. I've actually seen Tucker drag Jasper several inches across the floor.

Always the Comfort Hound, Jasper finds it even more beneficial to lay in the bean bag dog bed, as it is even harder for the opponent in the Tug. And, of course, it's more Comfortable that way. 

While laying down, Jasper will also use his paw for leverage.

Or Jasper will put his opponent in a head lock to unbalance her, which is even more effective on the unstable surface of the beanbag.

Lilah is a little more strategic. She uses mind games and a more thoughtful approach to Tug; depending on who she is playing with, she employes different techniques.

Lilah likes to twist the Tug toy, particularly when playing with Tucker. Holding on to the Tug, Tucker winds up on his back--and Lilah gains the advantage.

For Jasper, Lilah tends to use The Stare. She'll hold on tight to a Tug, look deep into Jasper's eyes, and growl. And Jasper gives in.

Tucker's methods combine the intelligence of Lilah's mind games with the leverage of physics.

Tucker pulls next to objects like a couch, or under tables or around corners. The other dog can't follow the Tug around the obstacles.

Tucker will cut a corner real tight, and his Tug opponent will either let go or wind up with her head smushed against the table.

To the victor go the spoils, and once someone wins a bout of Tug, he or she gets to play with the Tug toy.

Tucker claims his half of the snake; it snapped in two during a particularly intense Tug.

Jasper enjoys a nice chew.

And Lilah disembowels her prize.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag

I'd like to reveal a secret, to "let the cat out of the bag."

I'd like to, but the cats aren't telling.

Anyone who knows cats can probably tell you a few things about cats and bags. As in, cats go in them. Actually, it's kind of hard to prevent. If you put a bag on the floor, somehow a cat magically appears--and then disappears. Inside the bag.

It's as if every bag comes equipped with a Cat Signal that is automatically set off and is detectable only by those of the feline purr-suasion (couldn't help it). "Attention all Cats. This is an official Bag Broadcast Alert. A bag has been placed on the kitchen floor. Proceed to the area immediately to stake your claim. This is not a test."

And, after you've experienced a few bagged cats, you realize pretty quickly, one doesn't really let a cat out of a bag. You can try to encourage it, or perhaps entice it out of a bag. Maybe startle it into leaving, if you should choose to be so cruel. But letting it out? The cat wants to be in there, and is quite happy, thank you very much, to stay in place. And, you see, when a cat is in a place, it owns said place.

But the specific attractiveness of Bags remains a feline secret. A mystery wrapped within an enigma and hiding inside a paper Stop 'n Shop bag.

Or a Land's End tote. Or any number of variations on the theme.

You can buy expensive cat toys and cat beds, but nothing beats a good bag for a whole bunch of kitty fun.

Unless it's a box.

(Oh dear, I'm afraid I let the cat out of the bag on that one. Hah!)

Below, Dawn and Athena demonstrate the affinity of cats for bags. But they're not explaining why. That's a secret.

Grocery bags are fun to explore, as Dawn demonstrates. Perhaps because there are groceries in them. And it is unthinkable that you might have gone shopping and not bought something tasty for the cats.

Of course once a bag is empty of groceries, you can fill it with a cat. And if you're another cat, you must pounce on the Bag 'O Cat. It's The Law.

While Athena supports and approves the usage of reusable grocery bags, paper is fun too, because it makes that nice crinkly noise when you climb in. And when you climb out. And when you climb in again.

Sometimes it's hard to decide which is the Best Bag to be in. That other bag has M.I.L.K.

Size doesn't cats.

"This bag is occupied!" Jasper looks on from above, having no doggy idea what all the excitement is about. It's important to realize that Dawn did not back into that small bag; somehow she managed to go in--and turn around.

A canvas LL Bean tote is claimed by Athena.

"Just try, Dawn. Just try."

Athena only hangs out in the best Bags.

Gift bags are a perfect fit. Because there is a Gift inside the bag. A Cat. Whose presence is always a Gift.

Tucker would like to investigate the Gift. But it seems to have sharp pointy edges. And it hisses.

Lilah, who we sometimes think is part cat, is still a bit puzzled by the whole bag cult.

But it must be something pretty darn awesome, if Dawn's Happy Cat Face (actually, it's officially Hidey Face) is any indication.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Behind the Scenes

A few weeks ago, my daughter Corinne began shooting her senior thesis film, Emily's Revolution. In addition to Jasper's acting debut, the film also included my husband and I, some friends and their children as extras. Many rooms in our home became locations for specific scenes. And Brian and I provided room and board for any cast and crew that needed to stay nearby--which at any one time was a dozen or more people.

Let's just say it was a bit crowded.

The canine and feline inhabitants of our home didn't have much say in the goings-on. But for the most part, they were pretty chill about the glamor of movie making. (And let me say here for any and all who don't know: I didn't see a shred of glamor, just a lot of hard work and long hours.)

Jasper, as a cast member, fit right in, assuming that everyone else on hand was his best friend. (Of course he feels this way about the UPS driver, the mail carrier, the landscaper and anyone who shows up at our door or in our yard.)

And who would have thought, considering Lilah's past, that she would be so cool around so many people and so much equipment. When she first came to live with us, everyone who came to our house had to leave purses, bags, boxes or whatever outside on the porch, enter slowly, toss a treat toward Lilah and let her approach on her own terms. Even then she'd be leery of new things. We had to teach her a trick called Touch it With Your Nose to introduce her to new things. When a Scary Thing was brought into the house, it was set down, Lilah was given space and told to Touch it With Your Nose. She'd approach cautiously and touch it, and get lots of praise and treats.

During the scene prep and filming, there were so many huge pieces of equipment that came into this house including a camera, a dolly, tripods, lights and cases full of Important Items. Lilah--brave, brave Lilah--Touched a Lot of Things With Her Nose. And wagged for treats afterwards. There were only a few things she didn't really like--usually anything that was big and black--but instead of skittering away, Lilah barked her commentary about her displeasure with Big Black Items That Were Brought into the House Without Her Permission, and then quieted down when the items in question were no longer being moved around.

As for Tucker, I'm not sure he even noticed the tumult. There were a lot more people to snuggle and wag at--and to provide with kisses. And he also offered his Help. Quite often.

Athena, the ever-curious cat, ensured that all equipment she had access to was appropriately inspected and approved.

And Dawn hid under the bed.

Here is a look at some of the behind-the-scenes action, from dog and cat points of view.

Lilah, Jasper and Tucker review the equipment in our living room, which served as a staging area during filming and a bedroom for the gaffer at night.

During the set up of a night scene that was to take place on our front porch, all three dogs kept a watchful eye on the crew.

As Corinne did set decoration, and a electrical grip set up the lights, Tucker supervised from our bed.

Tucker, Jasper and Lilah decided that the actor playing Emily needed extra doggy kisses. For motivation.

One of the scenes was filmed in our basement. Lilah was Concerned about all the noise and equipment going up and down the stairs.

Dawn and Athena, for the most part, were confined to our bedroom. (Except when Corinne was filming there.) As the crew made so many trips in and out of the house carrying equipment, we were a bit worried about cats getting outside. Sometimes, we let them wander the house, but we had to make sure everyone knew to try and prevent potential escapes.

Lots of furniture was moved around in order to make room for equipment. Here, Athena approves of the new placement of an old desk from my grandparent's farm, which is usually in the foyer. In its new location, it provides a lovely place to sit and peer out the window. Sadly for Athena, it was temporary. You can also see in this picture some of the big black items that Lilah objected to; they're used to control light.

For the dining room scene, a dolly track was set up. Tucker Helped.

Tucker Helped Guillaume, the gaffer, who was pitching in with set up as well. The crew designated Tucker an honorary dolly grip.

Lilah had a thing for Donovan, the director of photography. It was an on-set romance, as Donovan returned the affection.

Cast and crew--and Tucker--setting up a shot.

Lilah checks out just one of the many black cases that were scattered throughout the house. Jasper is trying to figure out how to get closer to the people for some pets and snuggles. And Tucker is giving hugs to Corinne, the director.

After two weekends of shooting, my daughter is nearly finished. She still has a few more scenes to be shot, but they are not in our home. The last weekend of filming should take place some time this month. While we were thrilled to support Corinne in her schooling, I think Brian and I and Aaron will be happy to have our house to ourselves. I think Dawn agrees. As for Athena, Jasper, Lilah and Tucker, I think they'll miss the people and the excitement.