Monday, September 28, 2009

The Seven Magic Words

"Do you want to go to work?"

Those eyes that have been quietly watching me go through my morning routine suddenly get bright and hopeful. The ears perk up, the head cocks to one side.....

 Did she just say what I think she said?

I pause for a moment or two just to tease her a bit. Then -
"Okay, you can go!"

What follows is an absolute pandemonium of joy, tails wagging, dog bodies leaping about in glee. Anyone watching this would have to conclude that going to work must be the dog equivalent of going to Disneyworld.

She said yes! She said yes! We're going to work!! Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!!!!!!!!!!

Truly, I don't know why they get so excited. Once we get to work, they mostly just sleep, though they do enjoy playing with their 'work toys.' I guess they just enjoy going along for the ride, and being with me, instead of alone all day. That's the thing about dogs. What they want more than anything is just to be with you. I could probably ask "Do you want to go spend the day in a sewer?" and get a similarly ecstatic response. Oh yes, oh yes, we'd love to spend the day in a sewer!!!

I try to make sure I have almost everything done before letting them know it's a "go to work" day. Otherwise, they follow me around the house, alternately prancing around and jumping on each other, and staring at me....

"What in heaven's name is taking you so long? Can we go already?!" Lady in particular gets quite impatient, and if I take too long she'll start whining and complaining.

Going to work is a bit of a road trip, as my office is one hour east down the highway from my home. Lady naps, but Lucky looks out the window, nose working, soaking up all the passing smells. His favorite part of the journey is the field of cows a mile or so out from the base of Old Fort Mountain, must be the border collie in him. He stares intently, tail wagging, at all the black shapes in the field. Being in the right hand lane gives him a better view. I keep thinking that one of these days I'm going to pull off that exit and take him over to see them up close. When we arrive at work, they take a quick potty break in the bushes, then it's in the door, a quick greet of any nearby staff, and a beeline for my office and the wonderful work toys.

Aside from the initial 5-10 minutes of playtime, most of their day is spent snoozing beside my desk. I'm lucky to work for a company that is so dog friendly. I don't take them often, maybe once every few weeks, but it sure is nice to have the option. They get to go more often in the winter, when the temps are more comfortable for dog travel.

Lady and Lucky can tell time, and when it approaches 5 o'clock, they begin helpfully letting me know. Lucky will come over to the desk, nose me, and stand there staring at me, wagging his tail. I think it's almost time to go, have you checked the clock? I have to tell him "No Lucky, not yet, go lay back down." And he does, for 10 minutes or so, then he comes to tell me again. Lady will sit in the doorway to my office looking at me - Isn't it time to go? 
This is a bit of a hassle on days when I'm working till 6 or 7 pm. They wait as patiently as they can though, until finally it's time to close up shop and head home.

I have to say, that in true dog fashion, they are just as excited to hop back in the truck and head for home as they were to come to work in the first place. "Enthusiasm for everything" has got to be one of my favorite dog characteristics.

What a great day it's been!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day weekend

No posts over the holiday weekend, as a house painting project took over life for a few days. Slowly but surely, room by room, holiday weekend by holiday weekend - the entire upstairs is getting a fresh coat of paint. By now, four rooms into the project, you'd think we would realize that no matter where the paint tray is located, one of the dogs is going to step in it. 

Then follows the predictable series of events - realizing the paint has been stepped in, then trying to grab the offending dog in an effort to keep wet paint footprints to a minimum. Confused, and a little nervous now ("Why is everyone yelling and trying to grab me? Are we playing a game?"), the dog then responds by excitedly prancing about, just out of reach. Splat, splat, smear, yuck. Then, when you succeed in grabbing the dog and locating the paint smeared paw, a struggle ensues with the wet washcloth ("WAIT! What are you doing to my paw?? AAAAA they're going to cut my paw off AAAAA!"). Actually, to be fair, only Lucky responds like that. He has a thing about his paws. Better now than it used to be, but he still doesn't like you messing with his feet. Well, fortunately the mess was fairly easy to clean up, no real harm done.

And Lucky was very sorry for the mishap. Of course, Lucky is sorry about most everything, even things that aren't his fault. He's the most apologetic dog I've ever known - which is ironic, because he is also an impossibly well-behaved dog who tries very hard to always do the right thing. It is immediately apparent when his sister Lady is misbehaving somewhere in the house. You'll be watching TV or reading a book, and suddenly Lucky will tiptoe into the living room with the above expression on his face. You can almost see the word bubble above his head ("Lady is downstairs in the litter box again."). Needless to say, Lady can't get away with much, because Lucky tells on her. He is such a conscientious dog, inappropriate behavior of any sort seems to be intolerable to him. So, if Luckster Boy ever does something like accidentally step in the paint tray, you don't scold him. He's hard enough on himself!

Lady: "Painting weekends are boring
"Painting weekends are boring weekends."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Being alive

"I think dogs are the most amazing creatures.... 
For me, they are the role model for being alive."  Gilda Radner

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Is there anything cuter than a kitten???

This little sweet pea was at last month's Intake, the night at Animal Compassion Network when new dogs and cats are brought into the program, vetted, photographed, etc. He wasn't ready for adoption yet, but I did get the chance to chat with his foster mom, who told me she'd been feeding him every few hours, around the clock.

On this particular evening there were several such "neo-natal" foster parents there, including one middle-aged gentleman in a suit who had a carrier containing three orphaned kittens he'd been caring for almost since they were born. He told me that each morning when he leaves for work, he takes them to a local cat clinic, where the staff there take over the daytime feeding regimen. After work, he picks them up, and continues the schedule, feeding them every few hours through the evening and night. Whew. Talk about dedication.
That night there was an abundance of kittens, from the very young to the almost-full-grown. The lobby was full of tired looking Good Samaritans with cat carriers, who had obviously made the trek over to the Humane Alliance at the end of a long work day. Taking the kitten photos is always a fun challenge. They're usually energetic, wiggly, and impossibly curious. Photographing cats and dogs takes a calm spirit and patience. If you get frustrated, they sense it and respond in kind. A good sense of humor helps too . More often than not, I snap the shutter and get this:

But every once and a great while, a kitten will have mercy on me,
and give me this:

 It's all good.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Save Me

My love for dogs and cats has taken me into the world of animal rescue, and I volunteer with two organizations, German Shepherd Rescue and Adoptions, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Animal Compassion Network, in Asheville.
Emma, at the Seattle Animal Shelter

I am an animal rescue "lightweight" though, just to be clear. I am not one of those heroic types who get involved in abuse and neglect situations. I simply don't have the stomach for it. I can hardly read about those cases, because they stay in my head, haunting me for days. Nor am I one of the noble ones who has a house full of foster dogs and cats. I've tried fostering twice, once in 2004 (Lucky) and then again in 2007 (Lady). We see how well that worked out, since both live with me today. I seem to be better at "adopting" than "fostering." Perhaps I could foster a plant or fish and give it up, but that's about it. I respect, and am often in awe of, the ones who take on the hard stuff in the world of animal rescue. They are my heroes, and we always need more of them.

My roles tend to be more supportive than central, and that suits me just fine. With the German Shepherd Rescue, I am typically called upon to do dog assessments and home visits of potential adopters. I also assist with transport as needed, when a rescued dog needs to be transported to another part of the state. At Animal Compassion Network, I am a photographer. This is a particularly satisfying avocation, as it allows me to combine my love for photography with my interest in helping abandoned dogs and cats find new homes. I upload my photos to Petfinder, a huge national directory of homeless pets and adoption agencies. People searching for a pet to adopt will find around 320,000 homeless pets listed, from over 13,000 nonprofit animal welfare organizations. With my camera, I attempt to capture the dog's or cat's personality, in order to reach that person out there searching the Internet for their next furry family member. It's a challenging and rewarding job, and I love it.

One of my more memorable rescue adventures occurred last winter, when I was contacted by the German Shepherd Rescue about a dog at the county animal shelter. It had apparently been left at an elementary school, probably with the misguided hope that one of the children would take it home. A kind hearted man across the street noticed the poor dog standing vigil, near the flagpole by day, and in the bushes at night, most likely waiting for its people to return. After several days, he coaxed the dog over to his house, fed it, and gave it water. He planned to ask around, or try to find the dog a home, but it would not stay on his porch - it broke through the screen and returned to the school to resume its vigil.

By the time I got the call, the dog had been picked up by animal control, and it was nearing the end of its stay at the shelter. The sheer volume of homeless pets at shelters results in many perfectly healthy and adoptable dogs and cats being euthanized simply because there is nowhere to house them. The kind hearted neighbor was still on the case though, making calls to various animal and breed rescue groups to describe the dog's plight. It was at the shelter, it was a nice dog, and it was running out of time. Most of his calls resulted in dead ends. In the current economy, the numbers of dogs and cats being surrendered in local communities has overwhelmed many rescue organizations, and foster homes are frequently filled to capacity.

When GSRA contacted me about this dog, asking if I could go take a look, they also told me that all of our foster homes were full. If the dog assessed well, and a recommendation was made to bring it into the network, then some sort of emergency boarding would likely need to be arranged while a foster home was sought. They made it clear - we'll try, but don't promise anything. In short they were saying - there is absolutely nowhere to put this dog, but go assess it anyway. I had the next day off work, but had both a dentist appointment and an eye exam scheduled. I called and rescheduled them both. I have no idea why, other than something nudged me to do so.

I have to confess, I hate going to the animal shelter. It is an amazing place, filled with amazing staff who do incredible work despite having few resources. But I am such a weenie, and so soft-hearted, that it breaks my heart to see the rows of cages and runs, with all the searching, expectant faces. I want to take them all home. But off I went to the shelter that day, fortified with a friend's advice "not to look around." That seemed like a good plan. Just walk straight in, follow the staff member to this dog's run and don't look around.

I never know what I'm going to encounter when I go out to do a dog assessment. Sometimes the dogs are friendly, but wild and unmannered, having been taught no social skills whatsoever. It's hard to learn appropriate behavior when you spend your entire life alone in a backyard, or at the end of a chain. Other times the dogs are quiet, mistrustful, and suspicious of me. Sometimes they look at me and want to interact, other times they are completely disinterested in my presence.

This dog was, in a word, terrified. The staff member told me her name was "Luna" and led me to her run, where I found a filthy, trembling white German Shepherd. The staff spoke kindly to her, snapped on a leash, and began to lead her outside, so that I could do the assessment. Luna made it about halfway to the door when the other dogs spotted her and began barking uproariously, at which point she dropped as if she'd been shot, flattening herself to the floor. She would not move. The staff member coaxed and coaxed, but eventually had to physically pick her up and carry her outside. I thought to myself that I had never seen such a pitiful and terrified creature. Outside and away from the din, however, Luna relaxed. What she did next though, was something I had never seen before. She leaned into the shelter staff member for comfort and reassurance, almost clinging to her.

Then Luna turned and looked right into my eyes and said: "Please. Save me." It gave me chills. I had never seen such deeply expressive eyes, or had a dog communicate with me so clearly. What she was saying to me could not have been more clear had she spoken it verbally, with words. I knew instantly that we had to get that dog out of there. It was a terrifying, overwhelming place for her, and she needed out. But, there were no foster homes, and nowhere to put her. Even if we were able to pull her from the shelter, she would still most likely have to go to a boarding facility, or some other loud scary place, at least temporarily. It is moments like these when I wish I were a stronger person, and that I possessed that ability to love, nurture, and then let go.

I did my work, going through a thorough assessment, which involved testing her reaction to being touched all over, her response to sudden noises, and observing her interaction with people, other dogs, and cats. Luna passed everything with flying colors, with only 'fearfulness' as possible cause for concern. I felt almost certain, however, that this was due to the hectic shelter environment with all of its strange sights and smells. Above all I was impressed with her gentle nature and her interaction with me, including her beseeching looks. This was a dog that needed people.

After the behavioral and physical assessment, it was time to take some photos. I realized that if I could somehow capture with my camera the way her eyes were pleading with me, surely someone would be moved to open their home to her. I took a series of photos, pursuing candid instead of posed shots. It worked. I captured Luna's desperation, and within 30 minutes of sending out the email and photos, there was not one, but multiple offers from people willing to take her in. Foster home spots opened up like magic. It was a thrilling moment for me, and springing her from the shelter the next morning, mere hours from when she was to be euthanized, remains one of the highlights of my rescue career. Today Luna has a loving home with an adoring family, and the days of her abandonment and the scary shelter are but a distant memory.

"Save me"

*cat photo courtesy of Wikipedia
*close up photo of black and tan German Shepherd Dog above courtesy of German Shepherd Rescue & Adoptions

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good Water

At our house there are many small daily rituals, many established by the cat. For instance:

a) within a reasonable period of time after waking, one must turn on the cold water in the bathroom sink for Lucy.

Just a trickle. Not too fast, and not too slow - erring on either side will merit you an unhappy look. And it is important to keep the cat happy. If Lucy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. You see, she is a very vocal kitty. It's no secret when something is not to her liking. But, more about that later.

Lucy loves the trickling sink water, hence the name "good water." The water in her water bowl is "bad water," (despite the fact that it is refreshed on a regular basis). On a typical morning, Lucy likes to have good water out of the hall bathroom sink first, then out of the master bathroom sink, in that order. An outside observer, upon witnessing the morning routine would think, "Poor kitty, she must not have access to a water bowl."

I know that many cats love running water, but back in the early days, Lucy's pursuit of water had me worrying about scary things like "kidney disease" and "feline leukemia." But she always checked out fine at the vet, and this morning ritual has continued for many years.

This morning, after drinking her fill from the sink, she decided to stick around and keep me company while I washed my hair. Her contented presence in the center of the bath mat, little feet tucked underneath, purring, brought such a sense of peace. It relaxed me, and eased the frenzied feeling that always threatens to overtake mornings when I smack the alarm clock off. It is good to start the day in a cat's presence.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Wonderful (Endangered) World of Bees

Perhaps you've heard of the bee crisis. For reasons both known and unknown, colonies are collapsing, and honeybee populations are dwindling. It's a serious situation, with potentially grave consequences for the food chain. In my particular corner of the world, bees are even more endangered than elsewhere, but not because of pesticides or climate change. No, it's because my dog has made it her mission in life that we have a bee-free environment. I have tried to explain pollination and the food chain to her, but she doesn't seem to care.

Lady is fascinated by bees, and will eat every one that I am not able to personally protect. Bumblebees are a particular favorite.

Thankfully, she doesn't spend time outdoors by herself, so most of the time I am able to intervene. But why one would be drawn to chomp down on something that stings your tongue and mouth, I have yet to figure out. And she does get stung. That initial chomp is predictably followed by a facial expression that conveys the following:

"OUCH! ICK!! BLEAH!" chomp...chomp..."OUCH!"...chomp..."UGH!"

Then follows several minutes of licking and facial contortions. Sound like a fun experience? No! So what is the fascination?? That part remains a mystery. Maybe they taste good, once you get past the stinger. Lady will lurk near the flowers, mesmerized by the sound of the bees buzzing.

And, once I begin scolding in earnest "Lady, NO! Leave the bee alone!" - I get this look. Sheepish, mixed with disappointment that I insist on ruining her fun.

* sigh *

Welcome to "A Scratch Behind the Ears!"

My life has always been populated by dogs and cats. There has never been a time when my floors were free of dog hair, or the windows of my home sparkling clean and free of nose prints. At least not longer than 30 minutes past their last cleaning. I was the child who brought home the box of week old kittens, and the one that the stray dog followed home from the bus stop..."He's scared and lonely, can we keep him?" In those days, my love of all creatures great and small also included guinea pigs, gerbils, and fish. As an adult, I've abandoned the rodent kingdom (much to the relief of those near and dear), but dogs and cats have been a continual presence in my home. They currently number three (two dogs - Lucky and Lady, and one cat - Lucy), and it never ceases to amaze me how much joy they bring. Each with their own unique personality and quirks, they season my life with colorful, sweet, and amusing moments. Last weekend, as I watched Lady obsessing over a bee, it occurred to me that writing about my quirky pets might be a good way to try out the world of blogging, something I have recently wanted to explore. Certainly there will be no lack of material. Whether I can do the moments justice, and capture them in words and pictures remains to be seen. In any case, I believe it will be fun to try. So - welcome to my blog!