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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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

High and Mighty

Every once in awhile, one of the cats discovers a New Place.  It's not as if her or she suddenly has access to unexplored territory. More likely, Someone realizes she can go somewhere she hasn't thought of previously, or he attempts to squeeze in, jump on, or go into someplace that just hadn't occurred to him until that moment.

Calvin had been eyeing the top of the medicine cabinet in our main bathroom for a couple of weeks. He would jump up on the counter while I was putting on my makeup in the morning. He'd climb in and out of the sink and be ever so Helpful in that way that cats have of being completely in the way. The he'd get bored, and I'd notice him looking up.

"Really Calvin?" I asked, when I realized what he was pondering. "Don't even think about it. It is Not a Good Idea. I haven't dusted up there in...hmm...well I don't know that I've ever dusted there." Yuck. Then I'd pull out my hair dryer and Stupendous Cat would get distracted by the cord, hop off the counter and suddenly remember he had some other kind of Trouble to get into.

Until last week. He began staring at the top of the cabinet the minute he hopped up on the counter. Then he hunched down and performed his ritual I'm Getting Ready to Jump butt wiggle. And up he went.

Ah, the look of accomplishment. Satisfaction. Superiority. Cats are so impressed with themselves when they reach a new higher-than-people spot. Okay, well, cats are impressed with themselves nearly all the time anyway, but the "I'm Impressive" meter goes to 11 on these occasions. Calvin was no exception. He paraded back and forth across the top, tail held high, reveling in his achievement.

Calvin reaches the summit.
The exultation lasted until Calvin realized I intended to leave the bathroom. That was the moment he figured out there was a down side to this feat. Literally. Our intrepid explorer had only considered how to go up; the reverse trip hadn't been given similar attention. This posed a bit of a conundrum.

He began the I Need to Get Down But Don't Know How To dance. If you've never seen it, it goes something like this: One step forward, one step back, one step forward, one step back. Repeat. Put your front half over the edge with paws on the vertical surface. Then scrunch back to your perch. Repeat three times. Sit down and clean yourself. Then start again, from the beginning.

After several rounds of the dance, the cat decides he or she really does need to get down, and--during one of the paws-on-vertical-surface moments--continues the movement into a hopefully-graceful-but-usually-not leap to the ground.

Once a cat has discovered a new place, of course, he must Return to it. He must Own it. He must show the world--and the other cats--that the most exalted of felines has reached new heights.

To do that, it is necessary to explore every inch of the fresh territory, ensuring no corner is left untouched, no dustball left undisturbed. Then you must lay down and roll around, striking adorable poses and ratcheting up the cute factor. This last bit delays the inevitable Get Down From There moment that humans always seem to reach way before cats do.

There's no more dust up here.

Striking a pose.

One of the bests parts of being First, though, is the amount of prestige one gains when one of the other cats sees you Up There. It didn't take long before Elsa Clair came strolling into the bathroom when Calvin was reigning. She padded nonchalantly onto the tiles and caught a deliberate movement from him, who was looking down at her. Elsa Clair stared at her brother: "How did you--?"

For a few moments, Calvin's cat smugness reading was off the charts.

Elsa Clair's eyes flashed to the counter. The mirror. The cabinet. She had the whole route planned out before she twitched another whisker.

She leapt to the counter.

Calculated the next jump.

Elsa Clair figures it out.
And joined Calvin at the top.

The two cats stared at each other. Ears flicked. Eyes squinted. Volumes were spoken. Calvin poked Elsa Clair.  Slowly, grudgingly, the interloper conceded the victory. Besides, the top of the medicine cabinet was boring.

The staredown

Elsa Clair left.

Calvin wore his greatness like a crown the rest of the day.

Calvin, King of the Bathroom

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bowled Over

You would have thought that the family member with the opposable thumbs would be able to feed three dogs and four cats without dropping the one breakable dog bowl.

You would have thought. Particularly if you were Lilah, whose bowl I had broken.

Poor sweet Lilah. The other dogs wouldn't even have twitched a whisker at the prospect of eating from a new bowl. But for Lilah, whose Border Collie attentiveness means nothing gets past her, it's a challenge.

When Ms. Lilah first came to live with us, she was a bit skittish. And by a bit, I mean very. She didn't like New Things. Like a garden hose. Or a plumber's wrench. Or a box delivered by the UPS man, who had to toss a dog biscuit her way because she was afraid to come closer.  So many things made Lilah anxious or startled her: a school bus on our morning walk, a piece of furniture moved out of place while she was gone.

But that was a few years ago, and with lots of training and practice, and a wonderful game we call Touch it With Your Nose, Lilah today is a calm, sweet, well-adjusted dog who is truly brave and rarely nervous. Just ask Jasper and Tucker, the boys who hide behind me at the vet's office, while Lilah wags her tail and greets the vets with a swishy sweep of her tail and a gentle kiss.

But Lilah is still a bit picky about her food bowl, and doesn't like it when her collar tags clang against the sides. She'll still eat, but you can tell it unnerves her, as she paces around her bowl, trying to find a way to eat each morsel without the accompanying jarring bangy noise.

Which is why I felt so bad about breaking Lilah's special yin / yang dog paw ceramic bowl this weekend. And why I had bought her a new one by the next day, though she did have to endure a couple meals with the Nasty Metal Bowl, even though I took her collar off the make it a little easier for her.

The new bowl was also ceramic, and had an added feature of a rubber bottom so it didn't slide across the floor as Lilah ate. All was right with the world, or at least with dinner that day.

During the after-meal Inspection of the Other Dog's Bowls to See if They Left Anything, Tucker figured out Lilah's bowl had a small curved lip around the top. Which meant he could pick it up. I caught him at it: "Tucker, Drop It." (One of our favorite and oft-used commands is Drop It. It's used almost as frequently as Leave It.)

I was ready for my own breakfast, opening the fridge to get my Greek yogurt, when I heard the crash. I  saw the unmistakable ropy tail of Mr. Tucker disappear around the corner as I found the shards of the new bowl on the floor.

Poor Lilah. Back to the Nasty Metal Bowls.

I will work with her on getting used to eating out of various different containers, but in the mean time, I went online and bought two replicas of her original--and comfortable--bowl.

And now that they've arrived, she's quite content.

(You can read more about Lilah's journey to overcome her fears in a previous post, "Lilah Becoming Brave.")

Lilah enjoying her new old bowl.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Carpet Shark Attacks

With three dogs and four cats in the house, one does not need to channel surf to find something entertaining to watch. Usually, all you have to do is look around until you find a four-legged Someone to provide amusement.  More often than not, there are several at hand. Particularly for me, since I tend to travel the house with a dog and cat entourage.

Calvin is such a funny cat that he nearly always provides a laugh or two or seventeen. I'm not so sure the dogs agree, but they are very tolerant of his antics. The other day, he was in a bit of a mad cat mood and decided that his toy of choice for the moment was Lilah. He became Calvin the Carpet Shark, a dastardly denizen of the family room, who preys on its unknowing inhabitants. The kitten crouched down low, waggled his little butt and pounced in Lilah's general direction. 

Lilah, bemused, nosed him and ever so gently took one of his paws in her mouth. He rolled over on his back and grabbed her with his claws. Not meanly, just playfully. And he showed her his Big Kitty Jaws of shark teeth--to make a more powerful impression.

Of course Lilah was spectacularly unimpressed, but she went along with the game, standing quietly through the Calvin attack. At one point, it look like he was Velcroed to her face, but she didn't mind. The cat continued swatting and rolling, adding a few mews for effect. 

It was definitely worthy of a giggle or two on my part, but I didn't let it go on too long. A toss of a furry mouse magicked Calvin the Carpet Shark into Calvin the Great Mouse Hunter, and off he ran. 

I believe the slow wag and quick glance Lilah gave me as she lay down with a sigh could be loosely translated as a thank you. 

I swear, it's better than Animal Planet. And it's 24/7.

Lilah, you have something on your face. Oh, wait, that's Calvin.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CSI My Kitchen, Part II

In my last post (which I recommend reading before you read further on this one), I had made a rather disheartening discovery one morning of a toy Mousie laying in a sad, wet puddle in my kitchen. A few days later, I was confronted with the felt-eyed stare of another victim.

My current theory was that they had been Waterbowled.

Since my dogs were with me all night, they had....ahem...watertight alibis.  So I figured the culprit was one of the cats or kittens. But Dawn, Athena, Calvin and Elsa Clair were all innocence and whiskers, and nobody came forward as a witness, or to confess.

With two dunked Mousies, I wondered if perhaps the perpetrator was making a game out of it, and feared this may be just the start of a trend.

And then, a few days after I encountered the first two victims, my fears were realized, as yet another bedraggled and sogged cat toy lay just a few inches from the water bowl.

Victim #3: Another Pink Mousie

I had to face the facts; we now had on our hands--or paws--a Serial Dunker.

And it only got worse from there.

Every few days I would discover a new twist on the crime:

Three Dunked Mousies:

Multiple victims

Two victims, still in the water bowl:

Floating like ex-goldfish.

Dunked Crinkle Balls:

Jasper is on the case.

It looked like our perp was getting creative.

Once again, I tried to interrogate our four suspects. The following are excerpts from our interviews. I've provided translations for those who don't speak Cat.

Me: Dawn, where were you last night?
Dawn: Merp. Merp. Mowl. [Translation: I was sleeping. Or something. Where's my Noms?]


Me: Athena, were you responsible for this wet Mousie?
Athena: Mew. Ew. Ew. [Translation: Yuck! I wouldn't touch that thing. It's wet.]


Me: Calvin, do you know who waterbowled this Mousie?
Calvin: Mrow! Eerow. Purr. Purr. Purr. [Translation:  Mousie! I want to play with it.]


Me: Elsa Clair, what do you know about these Dunked Mousies?
Elsa Clair: Meeoow? Marow wow. Purr. [Translation: Dunked Mousies? I don't know anything. Gotta run, got stuff to do.]

Elsa Clair

In short, I was getting nowhere fast.

And I was running out of Mousies.

And thus, I felt lucky when the next weekend I got a break in the case.

Or maybe luck had nothing to do with it. I was home and therefore was able to keep a closer eye on Things. Like Cats.

I had decided to try an experiment; I didn't clean up the Dunked Mousies immediately after discovering them. I left them out, to see who might play with them; maybe I'd catch our little Dunker in the act.

Sure enough, Calvin came by. Started pawing at the wet Mousies. Batting at them. Sniffing at them. But that's all he did. And it didn't prove anything other than the fact that Calvin found waterlogged fake fur intriguing enough to play with.

These Mousies are wet!

Calvin toys with one of

The next day, yet another sad little Mousie floated in the waterbowl. Even though it seemed wrong somehow, I left it there for awhile.

Once again, Calvin took interest. He sniffed at and then gently touched the bobbing blue toy. A few times. Then he walked away. And that was that. Which only showed that my little black and white kitty liked to poke things in the water. It just wasn't enough.

What's in the waterbowl, Calvin?

Mousie smells kinda watery.

And stopped. As suddenly as it started.

The toys were still found in various places around the house.

But not in or near the waterbowl. And not drenched.

Weeks went by. I guess Someone got bored. Or wet. Or cautious.

No more bodies. No more floating Mousies.

Calm settled over the household. I began to walk barefoot again. I would look in the waterbowl and find only water.

Until, one day in late winter, while my husband was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with his requisite glass of Ovaltine, he saw it.

From across the table he could see Calvin facing the waterbowl with his back to Brian. With a flick of his paw, Calvin fished a Mousie out of the water. And then picked it up in his mouth and plunked it back in. Flicked it out. Dunked it in. Flicked it out.

Perhaps feeling Brian's accusatory gaze, Calvin froze and turned around. He looked at Brian, calmly turned around and walked away, tail held high.

Of course that doesn't really prove anything about the original crimes. Perhaps Calvin had been the culprit all along. Maybe he learned from the real mastermind, who has since given up the habit.

But that  was the last of it. Months later and there have been no additional victims.

The Mousies in our house can rest easy.

It's over.

Or  is it?

And so it begins...