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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Lovely Bones

Dogs love to chew. Particularly if you're a puppy

Though sometimes it's hard to tell what's on the Approved to Chew List.

Particularly if you're a puppy.

So, for the record, the following are Not on the Approved to Chew List:
  • Shoes
  • Underwear
  • Wires
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Furniture
  • Walls
  • Floors

(I swear at least one of my dogs has attempted to gnaw on everything on that list.)

On the Approved to Chew List:
  • Sticks
  • Dog food
  • Dog snacks
  • Bones
I know, it's a short list. But the last item--Bones--come in all shapes and sizes and types.  Each one is just a bit different, and you have to find just the right one for the moment. Kind of like picking out the best sugar cookie with the right amount--and color--of sprinkles. And, after a Bone has been around awhile, and chewed on by three dogs, it takes on its own particular qualities.

The favorites aren't necessarily the new ones. I think the best Bones are the ones that are somewhat broken in, so you can get a good Chew on, and really feel the crunch and grind on your teeth.

At least that's what I think the dogs tell me.

Taking a break from gnawing on a nicely broken-in Bone, Kelsey gives a very young Corinne a kiss.

I used to swear by Nylabones, those bone-shaped plasticky items you get in your average pet store. The dogs all like them, and there is a Great Deal of Excitement when I bring home some new ones. (Always three at a time, so there shouldn't be one that's Better than the others. But somehow it always turns out that one of the Other Dogs has The Best One, and much eyeing and stealing and exchanging of Bones ensues.)

Lilah and Tucker with Nylabones.

All my dogs have enjoyed Nylabones, and I still buy them. But I always felt funny about having my pups chew on plastic, so I was thrilled when I recently discovered antlers.

Turns out, the dogs were even more thrilled. Antlers are a big hit. They're strong, hard, made of good nutrients, fun to chew. The bonus? Deer and elk slough them off every year, and grow new ones. So nobody has to die for my dogs to have a good gnaw. For me, this is a Very Good Thing: Guiltless Bones.

I know; it looks like he's smokin' a pipe, but Tucker is really just about to chew on an antler.

In our  house, we keep our Bones in a Basket.

Basket 'o Bones

Now that I look at it, it does seem a tad creepy, that Basket o' Bones. Though it's not like the Bones actually stay in the basket. During the course of an average day, the basket is emptied one by one as the different Bones are gnawed.

Tucker chooses just the right Bone from the Basket. In this case, it's an elk antler, cut in half.

Lilah enjoys a good chew on a new elk antler. They're easier to enjoy when they're sawed in half.

Jasper's happiness is quite evident; there is something ever so satisfying about settling down with a well-chosen Bone.

Of course, chewing with your brother is fun, too.

Better yet, a companionable gnaw amongst the entire canine crew.

Tucker tends to bring his Bones with him when he wanders the house, and Lilah sometimes does it as well, so the Bones tend to travel. One walks barefoot in the dark at one's own risk in our house; stepping hard on a pointy, well-chewed Bone can be quite painful for a human.

As for the dogs, even though there is a Basket o' Bones in the family room, you might wind up in another room where there is only one or two and that means sometimes someone is Boneless.  That is a very sad situation indeed.

There are several ways to try to attain a Bone that is currently in someone else's paws. One way is to whine and look sad. Tucker and Jasper usually try to employ this method. Or you could always just try to take the Bone from the Other Dog. That usually ends up with some serious Discussion about who had the Bone first.

Lilah has the best strategy, though. She'll find something else to chew on or play with, and go prancing by the Other Dog (or Dogs) with the item in her mouth, wagging and happy. Neither boy can resist, and more often than not, the Bone is dropped, Lilah easily gives up her toy, and quickly grabs the Bone. She has employed this trick again and again, and Jasper and Tucker fall for it every time. They are so puzzled when they get the thing Lilah had, realize it wasn't as much fun as she made it out to be, and turn to go back to their Bone--and Lilah is chewing on it. How did that happen?

One Bone, two dogs. The calamity! Made ever so much worse by the fact that Lilah is actually leaning over Jasper's paw to gnaw on her Bone.

Even if you're not actively chewing on a Bone, sometimes it's nice to just have one around. You can lay on it, lick it, pounce it or just plain Have it. The best part about Having a Bone is that the Other Dogs Do Not Have it.
As Tucker demonstrates, one can never Have too many Bones.

And sometimes the sheer joy of Having a Bone makes you want to roll around and toss it into the air.

Tucker enjoys Having a Bone outside. Does it get any better?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For the Birds

I like watching birds--though I'm not a bird watcher.

To explain: I'm not the kind of person who goes on birding treks to find exotic species. Instead, what I really enjoy is sitting in my family room--or outside when it's warm--and just simply watching birds.  To paraphrase Opus the penguin, I'm talking about "plain Jane, home grown, bare bone, two-part, Kmart, no frills flappers." Generic birds that don't mind hanging out in my back yard.

Some folks like to keep an aquarium and to watch the multicolored fishies swim 'round and 'round; I enjoy looking at pretty birdies as they fly, hop, flit, jump, eat, drink, bathe and fluff their feathers. I love watching them build their nests. I love watching them court, whether by singing a special song, offering gifts of food, or pecking on our gutters first thing in the morning. (Though Corinne hated that when she lived here, as the gutter of choice was by her bedroom, and mere inches from her head as she slept--make that attempted to sleep--in her loft bed. )

I love watching birds choose a nest site, move into our bird houses and set up housekeeping. I love watching them bring their young ones around in the spring. I love watching the "teenagers" still beg for food from their harassed parents.

At any one time, I may have as many as a dozen different types of bird feeders stationed around my patio. I could sit and watch my winged visitors for a very long time. Though Dawn and Athena could probably watch even longer. The window is like Kitty TV for them, always tuned to their favorite channel.

Athena and Dawn watchin' birdies.

From the inside, looking out.

Lilah and Tucker are also bird watchers. Though I think Tucker is more interested in the squirrels.

I am also a fan of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and have in the past participated in their Project Feederwatch, as a citizen scientist, counting the birds that have visited my yard through the fall and winter. Every year in February, the lab also supports the Great Backyard Bird Count, where, along with other organizations, they encourage anyone who can to simply count the different bird species that visit their backyards. As little as 15 minutes of bird watching is all you need to contribute. (Though I'm sure more is appreciated.)

The information participants gather is pulled together and analyzed to help scientists understand all kinds of things about our feathered friends. And I'm happy to help.

So, in honor of the GBBC that will be held this upcoming weekend, February 17 to 20, here are a few pictures of some of the birds I've seen at my feeders this winter.

Male and female house finches belly up to the bar to feed on shelled sunflower seeds.

A male Downy Woodpecker (you can tell he's a guy by the red spot on his head) hangs out on branch.

Nuthatches tend to skitter down a tree trunk head first. This white-breasted nuthatch is feasting on suet, which also attracts woodpeckers.

A yellow-shafted northern flicker--a type of woodpecker--sits on the ground below the suet feeder, pondering his next move.

Woodpeckers also eat seeds, like this red-bellied woodpecker who, along with a gold finch, is enjoying a sunflower seed snack.

Northern cardinals--a familiar sight in many northeast US birdfeeders--really like this type of feeder, as they prefer to feed head-on, facing the food. A house finch has his back to the camera.

A duller-colored female cardinal eyes the sunflower seeds spread out before her--sure to chose just the right one.

Unfortunately, it's not just featured creatures who like sunflowers--and I often have to devise ways to discourage the squirrely thieves who eat way too much.

While some of our feeders are squirrel proof, this one is not. Birds that like to eat from the ground--or on flat surfaces--love this hanging seed tray, so I make sure there is enough food for feathered and furry diners.

Many beaks--in this case all house finches--can sup at this feeder at the same time.

One of my favorite feeders, this one is made from old traffic light lenses. Female house finches dine beneath a green roof--that used to mean "Go."

Gold finches, wearing their dull winter dress, love this squirrel-proof feeder. And it truly is squirrel proof; anything heavier than a cardinal will cause those little perches to tip down. And squirrels are definitely heavier than cardinals, as they all learn when dumped unceremoniously on the ground. Some squirrels need a few lessons to really get it.

Blue jays are one of the few birds large enough--and sassy enough--to chase away the squirrels. Most of the other birds, too, will give way when they hear the noisy squawks as they come in for a landing. Jays will also harass any birds of prey that come by; mobbing the predators until they leave.

It's difficult to get a picture of a tufted titmouse on a feeder. These birds always grab a seed and quickly fly to a branch where they eat it.

Black-capped chickadees are tiny birds with a distinctive call that gives them their name.

A trio of mourning doves huddles on my garden wall, facing into the wind. When it snows, I often spread seeds there for the ground feeders.

Lots of sparrows come to visit, particularly after a snowfall. They can be a little tricky to tell apart. This one is a song sparrow; the black spot and streaky breast are clues.

A white-throated sparrow grabs a seed that has fallen from one of the feeders.

A ground feeder like the sparrows, the dark-eyed junco is also a common eastern visitor.

Though this little Carolina wren looks a little irritated, he's probably quite happy to eat the seeds scattered on my patio.

Even though it's still officially winter, you can tell spring is around the corner when the Canada geese start to fly north.

Another sure sign is the sighting of an American robin, this one taking a drink from a puddle on my table cover.

As the weather starts to turn warmer and the days get longer, fewer winter birds appear at my feeders; the spring and summer species begin to show up. The first songs of spring come bursting forth in the morning. Male goldfinches trade in their dull feathers for their dress-up bright yellow. Woodpeckers knock against our gutters, making as much noise as possible in the hopes of attracting a mate and scaring off competitors with the size of their sound. Hopefully, a few birds will like one of the birdhouses we've placed around our yard--and maybe they'll move in.

And I'll be enjoying the show.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shadow Play

Though our two cats are sisters, they are as different as day and night. Inside and outside. Sunlight and shadow.

Dawn likes to hide under boxes. Athena likes to sit inside them.

Dawn likes to sit on a lap facing the lap owner's knees. Athena likes to sit on a person's chest facing his or her head.

Dawn respects the rules about staying off the kitchen table. Athena believes rules don't apply to her.

Dawn runs under the bed when people come to visit. Athena joins the dogs to greet visitors at the door.

Dawn chases shadows. And Athena thinks she's nuts.

It's the cheapest toy, really. All you need is sunlight and a finger, and Dawn is ready to pounce. It is one of her favorite games, and provides endless entertainment for the cat--and for us.

Any source of light will do: sunlight, lamplight, flashlight. And anything makes a shadow worth chasing, though for some reason, long thin shadows are the best.

The combination of box and shadow is extra special for Dawn. The play has very specific parameters.

First you Sneak into a Box. It must be done with stealth or it doesn't count.

Dawn is Hiding Under a Box. You do not see her.

Now you are a Hidden Kidden. And Nobody Can See You.

Suddenly you see a shadow just outside the Box. You must Get The Shadow. But it would mean you would have to come out of the Box. This causes much staring and tail thrashing inside the Box. But nobody hears your tail banging the sides of the Box because you are Hiding.

After a while, you just can't stand it anymore and you Pounce out of the Box to get the shadow. And it disappears!  Every time!  You just don't understand it, so you turtle yourself back into the box and wait for it to appear again. Because it will. You Know. Because you are a Cat.

Pouncing a shadow.

Even though shadow boxing (new meaning for the term!) is fun, you can play with Shadows anywhere. The stairs are fun, too, as shown in this short (less than one minute) video below.

As for the rest of the animals, they just Don't Understand what the big fuss is about Shadows. Dawn says they don't know what they are missing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Plush with Joy

A few posts ago, I wrote about the game of Tug.  A perennial favorite, it nearly always involves some sort of plush toy--or what is left of a plush toy. Some of these stuffed animal carcasses look like nothing more than the empty skin of what once was, for example, a soft huggable bunny. That's because one of the Best Things to Do with a stuffed toy is to de-stuffify it--pull out every last speck of stuffing.

Lilah ripping the stuffing out of what was once a plush sting ray. Oh, the joy!

Lilah and Tucker amidst their handiwork (Toothiwork?). A very floppy bunny, with most of its innards out, sags sadly in the background. Eventually this bunny lost its head in a grand game of Tug.

In the past, I would either try to fix the toy by sewing back the ripped seam, or I would throw it out. But I began to realize that the bits and pieces of fluffy polyester roadkill were actually desired items for my dogs. They loved them. They loved disemboweling them, tossing the stuffing gleefully in the air. They loved tugging the tiniest bits of previously whole plush critters. They loved having those bits thrown in the air--to catch, to pounce on, to chase.

Tucker with a bit of pelt, possibly a piece of what once was an emu. The smaller bits are sometimes hard to identify.

One of the best things to do with a plush toy is to run around the house with it. There is a dual aspect to this game. One is the pure joy of simply Having It, which makes you want to Fling It around and Shake It and Kill It. And the other is the idea that, since you Have It, the other dogs Do Not. And they might want to Get It. Which often results in a Chase or a Tug. Or both.

Lilah tosses around a half-stuffed dog. This is Lilah's specialty; she is so good at swinging and yanking a toy that she usually is able to get it away from other dogs and humans during a Tug game.

The toys are subjected to all types of brutal play. In addition to disemboweling, it is not uncommon to hear the unmistakeable sound of ripping seams during a particularly intense bout of Tug. Legs, arms, heads, tails--all eventually are removed from their stuffed bodies. Nothing is spared; I watched Tucker and Jasper rip a fuzzy snake in half.

Tucker relaxes with a prize--a half of snake he acquired during Tug. Sometimes you just want to sit there and appreciate what you've won.

Of course, there's also the joy of chewing--finding a comfortable spot to simply have a good gnaw.

Nothing like hanging with your bro and having a companionable gnaw. Unless the Other Dog has The Better Toy.

Some parts are better than others to chew on. The first to go are usually tags. They Must Be Removed. I think it's written somewhere in the Dog Codex. Chapter 4, subsection 11, paragraph 2: "Tags are evil and must be eliminated forthwith." 

Once the tags are disposed of (I usually have to ask someone to Drop It so it doesn't get eaten), the next special bits are eyeballs. Lilah loves to chew out the plastic eyeballs; they're obviously a delicacy. (That also results in a Drop It, which Lilah responds to very politely, with a gentle "pleh" as the plastic is ejected from her mouth.)

Jasper chews on an eyeless bunny. All pups are silent on the subject of who exactly it was that removed the rabbit's eyes. But I have my suspicions.

Chasing a plush toy is a lot of fun, too. All three dogs enjoy a good chase. Jasper likes to run after the little bits. Tucker views anything thrown as simply differently-shaped balls: you throw, he chases, brings it back, you throw again...and again...and again. And Lilah loves to pounce. Throw a flattened (stuffing already removed) monkey into the beanbag dog bed and Lilah is rarely far behind, landing on top of it with a playful butt in the air accompanied by a fleathery waggy tail.

Lilah pounces on a monkey.

That's MY monkey. I pounced it.

Some really creative pet toy companies have realized that dogs like to pull the stuffing out of plush creatures and have offered up a few interesting options that play to that proclivity. They sell flat, stuffingless plush toys, which look a lot like the home-made pelts my dogs enjoy.

But I think half (or more) of the fun is in the stuffing removal. Which is why the folks who created stuffed toys with other toys inside them show they really understand the canine mind. All three of my pups love the concept, and will happily pull out the chipmunks or the eggs that are inside a few of their favorite toys. I put the items back in, they pull them out, I put them in again...and so on. Eventually the toys themselves get a little shredded, but they do tend to last a little longer than the other plushies.

Lilah pulling chimpmunks out of a plush log.

Tucker chases down and proudly retrieves a chipmunk.

Jasper enjoys what's left of the chipmunk; ripped and unstuffed and still fun to play with.

And if you run out of things to do with plush toys, you can always get creative: 

Use them as pillows:

Tucker rests his head on the emu; it's also a way of saying, "This is MY emu."

Floss your teeth with them:

Lilah finds a new use for bunny whiskers.

Blame them:

"The cow did it."