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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.