Monday, February 27, 2012

Fearless Protector?

Well, "almost" fearless. Lady, who has protected me from all sorts of potential dangers like the mailman, babies in strollers, and helicopters (yes, helicopters), is afraid of wind. March must be trying to come in like a lion as is generally expected, because it's been very blustery lately. When the wind picks up, Lady becomes a Velcro dog. I got dressed and dried my hair yesterday with a 90 pound dog trying to position herself on a 21 x 34 inch bathmat around my feet. Despite several valiant attempts, she was unsuccessful, so she settled for half in and half out of the bathroom.

Scary wind notwithstanding, we are looking forward to spring. This crocus poked its head out from underneath the covers this week. The vivid purple petals are a gloriously stark contrast against the bed of dried leaves and coneflower seed heads. Is it any wonder the birds are already singing their spring songs?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Untapped Potential

Lady needs a job. Sometimes I forget that German Shepherds were bred to work, but then she'll do something to remind me about her genetics. It will come through in the way she checks on everyone when we're out for a hike. She'll run ahead and sniff the dog in the lead, and I can almost see the thought bubbles over her head....

"Are you okay up here in the front?"

"Okay, I'm going to drop back and check on the ones in the back."

Back and forth she'll go, checking on everyone. She falls into a normal pace for 5 minutes, but then breaks away to check on everyone again. Unfortunately, most of the time there isn't a thing in the world for her to do. Truth be told, none of us here need herding, although I would never tell her that.  

I did put her skills to use yesterday morning, when the turkeys would not properly respond to my encouragement to leave the bird feeder area. They sauntered off about 10 paces (and "saunter" really is the only way to describe how these massive turkeys move), and looked at me. Patient birds, turkeys. We've done this before. They wait until I go back inside, and then resume eating all the expensive seed I put out for the songbirds. Now granted, turkeys are technically birds. But these birds are not hurting for food. It's a wonder their skinny little legs can hold up their big fat turkey bodies.

After several failed attempts at verbal encouragement, hand waving, and foot stomping ("Shoo! Right now! I mean it!"), I let Lady out. Thrilled to be needed, she rocketed up the back stairs and within seconds had all the turkeys out of the yard. It is an amazing thing to watch a dog do what it was bred to do. She knows exactly where the property line is - even though we are rarely up on that back hill - and she knows that I don't want her to chase down the turkey and hurt it, I just want it out of OUR yard. That was impressive enough, and then there was last night.

At 6:30 pm, I was still downstairs in my office working on the computer when I heard the familiar sound of big dog feet tap-tap-tapping down the wooden stairs. I glanced over and greeted Lady as she came into the room. But no happy greeting in return, she was all business. She sat down next to my chair and fixed me with the intense "Lady stare," a look she gets when she is trying to beam some thought into my mind. It was pretty intense and since I was basically finished with work, I shut down the computer and followed her up the stairs.

I asked if they were ready for dinner, and of course they always are. But that didn't quite seem like it. I asked "Does anyone need to go out?" and yes - that was it. Only this time it wasn't just your average, okay we'll all go out. When I opened the sliding door, Katie came across the room like a speeding bullet, launching herself from the dining room and sailing over the threshold (as in, airborne). She raced to the closest grass and squatted. Lady went along to supervise, and then came back with her, while Lucky waited in the kitchen. Slowly it dawned on me. Lady came downstairs to get me because Katie had to go out. Holy cow.

It made me wonder what this dog could do, if I had a job for her and knew how to train her. Does anyone have a herd of sheep we could borrow?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thelma and Louise

Katie and Lady have become two peas in a pod. I've taken to calling them "Thelma and Louise," a reference that will ring a bell for readers over the age of 20. Can you believe that movie came out 20 YEARS ago?? 21, to be exact. seems like just the other day. Thelma is described in the movie reviews as a passive, goofy housewife (that'd be Katie) with Louise summarized as "strong, organized, and stern, with some unspecified trauma in her past." Yep, that's Lady. 

The two friends take off on a 2 day fishing trip that unexpectedly turns into a wild cross country adventure. To this day if I encounter a rude or lewd truck driver, I channel Thelma and Louise and smile, mentally enjoying the fantasy of watching his semi blow sky high.

I was so surprised when Katie took up with Lady. Those of you who have been following this blog for a while remember that Animal Compassion Network placed Katie here to live with her brother, after she was "given back" to the agency. So of course the expectation - at least on my part - was that she would hang with Lucky. But it didn't work that way. She'll spend time with him on occasion, but it's Lady who has become the BFF. 

I admit that I wasn't thrilled at this change in the planned order of things. After all, Lady can be a real rascal. Stubborn, sneaky, and with a variety of behaviors that occasionally make you want to pull out clumps of your own hair. Lucky on the other hand is the most well behaved dog that ever lived.

I knew I was in trouble the first time I saw Katie tiptoe behind a bush and pretend to pee - one of Lady's infamous tricks. Lady must have some camel DNA, because she has always been able to go inordinately long periods of time without urinating. She'll go outside with Lucky for potty breaks, but just stand there and watch him, and then come back in. Most of the time I don't insist, but there are occasions when I do need her to go, like when she won't have another opportunity to go out for 8 or 9 hours. If I insist - "Lady, do your business!" she will generally comply.

Or so I thought, until the day I realized that what she was actually doing was heading off to a bush with purpose, going around the back side of it - and standing there. Then, when Lucky was done and came running back, so would she, with the exact same "I went, I'm so proud of myself, aren't you proud of me?" body language. Now when I see her lurking behind a bush (I even catch her peeking at me, to see if I'm looking), I"ll say "I see you!" And then she'll usually come on out and pick a place to go. Hilarious, that dog.

So you can imagine my disbelief (and amusement) the day I let the three dogs out and then noticed that TWO of them were lurking behind bushes, and only one was taking care of business! What a hoot. I have to insist that Katie go, however, because while Lady has camel DNA, Katie does not. Katie is on medication for spay incontinence. So hiding behind bushes is not an option for her. But how funny is that? Silly dogs.

And so it goes - what Lady does, Katie does. What Lady won't do, Katie won't do. Two stubborn peas in a pod. But what funny, sweet peas they are. Thelma and Louise.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Emmy Update

Emmy is alive and well, but I have to start off here with the disclaimer that I did not take this lovely photo of a female rufous hummingbird - someone from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gets the credit. I found it on their wonderful All About Birds website after being unable to get a good photo of Emmy this morning. Heaven knows it wasn't for lack of trying. That little wisp of a bird is hard to capture with my camera. She's so fast that by the time I get my camera focused - she's gone! She does perch in the rose bush for periods of time, but she's so tiny. Even with my telephoto lens, it's hard to to focus properly on her tiny body perched on the branch. Maybe I need hummingbird photography lessons.

The wind chill was minus 4 degrees when I woke up before dawn to set up her feeders, in what I was sure would be a useless exercise. The wind had been howling relentlessly at 20-25 mph all night, our coldest night of the winter so far. I remembered all too well the website I visited during the last cold snap, a website that proclaimed rufous hummingbirds able to survive to 4 degrees, given a reliable source of food and other protective factors. Before going to bed, I had checked the weather. The windchill was 1 degree.

I dreamed of Emmy while I slept. She was inside, in the kitchen, hovering near me. I raised my hand to her, and she immediately alighted on my index finger. I was enthralled! She was light as a feather, and so sweet - looking around and totally at ease. She then dropped over, hanging upside down from my finger like a bat. I watched in wonder and amazement as she rubbed her head against my finger, much the way a dog would to show affection. I was awestruck, and filled with joy. It was so very real, in that way of dreams. Even now, I can remember how her little feet felt, grasping my finger. 

When I awoke, the happy feelings from the dream clung to me, even though I had a sense of foreboding that she had died. How could it be otherwise? Nevertheless, I ventured out into the wind, plugged in the heat lamp and stood by the window, waiting for dawn. I didn't want to put the feeders out too soon - the nectar begins to freeze so quickly at such frigid temperatures. I would wait until the other birds showed up to feed, since that's usually when I first see her. But I stood by the window, watching, just in case. Then I spotted a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. Shock, disbelief and hope jolted me...what was that...a leaf? I stared. Within seconds she was back, hovering in front of the heat lamp, looking for the feeder. I almost tripped over my own feet in my haste to get that feeder out there.

Factoring in the windchill, it has warmed up to 1 degree now, at 9 am. She sits in the rose bush, feathers ruffled in the blowing wind, an emerald green winter warrior. And I defrost hummingbird feeders every 25 minutes or so, immersing each frozen feeder in a shallow pan of warm water until the icy nectar melts. Tomorrow will be warmer, and there will be less work. Until then, well... I know what it's like to hold a hummingbird on my finger, and that makes me smile.

So this hummingbird food business is all well and good,
how about some dog breakfast?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


We have been busy-busy-busy here lately! Everything has been upended and in disarray the last two weeks while several rooms got a fresh coat of paint. One of the rooms involved was Lucky's Room. Moving Lucky out of his room resulted in this:


You see, Lucky is a creature of habit and routine. One of his quirkier habits is his preference for being alone in the back bedroom, unless something more compelling (i.e. dinner, a walk) is going on. Lucky has never been the dog that will lay at your feet while you read a book by the fireplace. I used to think that this preference for being alone was a product of the social deprivation that marked his early years. And it may be, but I've long since stopped worrying about it and trying to change him. It took a couple of years, but eventually I realized that Lucky is a happy dog, and there's nothing wrong with his behavior. It's just who he is. Some people prefer spending time alone, and obviously, some dogs do too.

But this painting project required moving Lucky out of his "den" in the back bedroom. He's actually a pretty easygoing guy, so he didn't get discombobulated in the anxious, frantic sense of the word. He just wanted to get back into his room. In the worst way. An array of comfy beds in an adjacent room failed to entice him.

When you are a creature of habit, you want to be in the Right Room much more than you want your bed that has been placed in the Wrong Room. Since fresh paint and dog hair don't mix well, a constant state of vigilance was required. But coming upon this scene one afternoon made me laugh out loud....

I tried to explain to Lucky that his luck might take a turn for the worse if he continues to hang out underneath ladders, but he didn't seem to care.

"What? I'm out of the way! Not hurting anything.
I'll just stay here while you finish."
Fortunately, the freshly painted walls and Lucky both survived the experience. One bedroom and two bathrooms now have a fresh, clean look, and things have been restored to normal. Lucky has his den back, and all is right with his universe! :)