Friday, December 31, 2010

"Three little kittens, they lost their mittens..."

Okay, so maybe it's the kittens that are lost, not the mittens! Or maybe the kittens are under there somewhere. The familiar little nursery rhyme came to mind when I saw this colorful heap at the store.

"What! Lost your mittens,
You naughty kittens!
Then you shall have no pie."

That would really bum Lucy out, she loves pie. Well, even without Lady, Lucky, and Lucy around, there are many "Scratch Behind The Ears" happy moments when I visit Duluth - and not all of them involve snow! Something about cheerful piles of mittens, and knit hats hanging in a kaleidoscope of colors from a line puts a smile on my face. I want to buy them all, just because they look so fun. But I resist. Instead, I snap a photo with my phone, causing nearby shoppers to wonder about my sanity.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Secrets

Who goes there?
I wonder what forest creature was here
before me, on this December afternoon.
But the woods are still.
And the snow silent.
Only the wind sends a billowing reply,
rustling the tops of the pines.
And it won't tell.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reflections from the North Shore

Another day in northern Minnesota with clean socks, no dogs beaming "take me for a walk" messages into my brain, and no kitty trying to carry on a conversation in the background while I type. So instead of an amusing pet anecdote, I share my moment of perfect joy at Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore.

My soul just soars in this place.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter's Magic

Winter casts its spell over me
in this quiet, frozen place.

Last week I was consumed with wrapping, and packing.
The dogs that were bored and needed to go for a walk.
And the house payment due in five days.

This week I think about other things.
Like the color blue.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

This will be like one of those picture games. What's wrong with my sock? Can you tell at a glance?

No, it's not on backwards, or upside down. And there aren't any holes in it.

Do you give up? There's not a single dog or cat hair on it, that's what's wrong with it! I will be dog-less and cat-less for most of this coming week, and it is so strange. When I wake at night, I listen for Lucky snoring, or one of Lady's long melodramatic sighs after she changes positions in her bed and settles down to sleep again. But the night is silent. And my socks are clean. There are no opportunistic dog hair dust bunnies to latch onto my feet as I walk across the room. Northern Minnesota is a beautiful place, and I wish they could be here to sniff the cold, clear air, and romp about in the snow. But it wasn't practical to bring them this time.

I'll have to keep my eyes open in the coming days for other types of "Scratch Behind The Ears," moments and scenes - ones that don't involve the furry kids left behind at home. That is, unless I get a report from their sitter that bears repeating. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

I'll begin my week of blogging from the road with this scene of Lake Superior that never ceases to create joy in my soul. Duluth's ship canal is right outside my window, and it's as peaceful and serene a place as you'll ever come across. Except for a few moments ago, when the baritone blast from one of the big ore ships entering the harbor caught me off guard and almost jarred me out of my chair. But other than that....

Sunrise over an icy Lake Superior

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I wonder if all pets enjoy Christmas gifts as much as Lady and Lucky do. Jessie was even more into the gift groove - she totally understood the concept. She'd happily accept the offered gift, take it a few steps away, then proceed to carefully and gently unwrap it with her front teeth. I loved giving Jessie presents at Christmas and on her birthday, because it was so much fun to watch her unwrap them! Lady and Lucky need a bit of help with the unwrapping part, but they sure do enjoy the surprise that is waiting inside.

"Mine, all mine!"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the Night Before Christmas...

And all through the house -
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Stockings Are Hung...

We've been very, very good this year. Well, except for that minor cake tin/raw chicken eating incident. And all those times Lady went psycho when the neighbor dog walked by. Oh, and except for the 204 times Lady snuck downstairs and ate the cat food and got into the litter box.

Okay... so one of us has been good.

Christmas is almost here. The stockings are hung, gifts are wrapped, and cookies are baked. Now all that's left is the waiting for that big man in the red suit who brings treats and toys. Here's hoping he's feeling extra generous, jolly, and forgetful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Getting Ready for Christmas

If only friends and family knew how often they've almost gotten a cat for Christmas, instead of whatever it was I was planning to wrap.

"What? You were expecting something else?"

Monday, December 20, 2010

There's A Cat In My Bed

Linus and Jessie

When I first had dogs and cats living under the same roof, it surprised me how often the cats got their way. Not anymore. In spite of the fact that the dogs could easily push the cats around, move them out of favored sleeping areas, etc, that's never how it goes. The dog might pout, or come over and look at you - "The cat is in my bed. Can you move her?" - but that's about it. 

However, Miss Lady is the Drama Queen. She'll gaze at her nice soft bed for several long minutes, and pace back and forth, clearly thinking "This is wrong. This is just plain wrong." When the cat ignores all this, she finally drops to the hard floor nearby with a clunk and the most exaggerated, heavy sigh you've ever heard. It's very funny, but you have to try not to laugh. 

Lucy: "It is good to be Queen."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And Then There Was One

Do you see this cake? Looks yummy, doesn't it? Lady thought so too, and ate the other three on Friday night, aluminum pans and all. The four cakes were intended as Christmas gifts, but sank during the baking process. I'd had a slice when they came out of the oven, and given the dogs some crumbs too (it's not necessarily a bad thing when the first batch doesn't turn out and you have to make the sacrifice of eating it yourself.)

Lady must have thought it was delicious, because in 3 1/2 years she has never stolen food off the counter before. Friday night she ate not only the three cakes and their pans, but also a frozen chicken breast that was thawing on the counter. Now mind you, these things were not on the edge of the kitchen counter - no point in courting temptation! They were pushed all the way back against the backsplash tile. She had to work at it. But she managed. Thankfully the chicken breast was boneless. But the cake tins....geesh.

How much of this stuff did she eat?

The vet recommended coming in for an X-ray, which turned out to be "inconclusive."  The doctor decided against making her throw up, since any sharp edges might do more damage coming back up. She poked and prodded Lady's stomach to see if she could feel anything of concern (that must have been fun for Lady, ugh) - but didn't detect anything that warranted emergency intervention. According to the vet, dogs can eat - and uneventfully pass - some pretty incredible things. She said she'd seen dogs that had eaten knives, razor blades, needles, and nails without incident. The final recommendation was to just wait and see. So here's hoping all comes out okay in the end (sorry, I couldn't resist :)

Meanwhile they're calling her "Tin Pan Lady."  Stay tuned....

"But it smelled SO good..."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lucky's Story, Part II

Lucky's first night of freedom after 4 years of confinement,
freshly bathed and fed, but panting from anxiety.

The situation after the flood at All Creatures Great and Small was desperate and overwhelming - more than 500 rescued dogs and cats were temporarily housed at an old prison with virtually no supplies. But the community rallied around these poor neglected and now displaced animals. Coworkers and friends helped out, as did several businesses in the area. Mary, owner of the small business Asheville Pet Supply, was particularly generous, donating not only basic needs like leashes and collars, but also dog treats and boxes of medicated shampoo for irritated skin. This was an expensive and particularly welcome gift as some of the dogs stood in filthy water for 12-14 hours awaiting rescue. On a return trip to volunteer later that week, a friend and I took a truck full of donated blankets, bedding, food, leashes, shampoo, and more.

We found "Pal" in a dingy, darkened building with no electricity, in a cage so small he couldn't stand up. He was lying on his side, with one wall of the cage pressing against his back, the other sides touching his paws, head, and tail. A dog in a box, basically. As soon as we entered the building, all of the dogs began a frantic chorus of loud barking. I'd walked in, and planned to walk right out. It was deafening and overwhelming, a sea of crates filled with barking dogs. But I looked down near my feet, and this dog in a box just raised his head slightly and looked at me, into my eyes.

It was sort of like the old starfish story - we can't help them all, but we can help this one. On the way home, Pal became "Lucky." The idea was to take him out of that wretched place and get him adopted. Yeah, right.

Welcome home, Lucky.

Lucky, 3 months after his rescue, not as nervous now....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lucky's Story, Part I

Lucky was an accident. Or rather, his joining this household was an accident. We'd lost Jessie in June of 2004 and had no intention of getting another dog anytime soon. Some people, upon losing a beloved pet, can go right out and adopt another dog or cat - both to help another animal in need and to fill the void. I am not one of those people. A new dog was the last thing on my mind in September 2004 when a series of hurricanes (Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne) plowed through the southeast.

One of these storms, Frances, flooded a local no-kill "shelter." I use that word loosely, because it was a facility that the state and PETA had been attempting to shut down for years. I knew nothing of this, however, when I responded to a plea on the local news for volunteers to assist in the emergency care of almost 600 animals being temporarily housed at an old state prison of Stoney Mountain Road.

 Words can hardly do justice to what I found when I arrived. Cages and crates were everywhere. Dogs were lying in their own waste, and many of the crates were out in the broiling sun. I grabbed anything I could find on the ground - pieces of cardboard, a jacket some volunteer had dropped - and placed these things on the tops of the crates to provide some shelter from the sun. I walked dogs, I helped clean cages, I poured kibble into bowls. And I left traumatized. How could a shelter have so many animals? How could they possibly be properly cared for?

The story came out in the days and weeks that followed, and is detailed in the article below from the PETA website. Warning - this material is disturbing. I've only read the summary article, not watched the video. And I haven't read the in-depth report of the investigation. I find stories about animal cruelty and neglect too disturbing, and they haunt me. However, the article describes what PETA found when they conducted an undercover investigation in response to complaints about this shelter.

A less graphic article detailing how the shelter was finally shut down on February 1, 2008 can be found on the Animal Legal Defense Fund website:
Free at Last! ALDF Helps Shut Down Nightmare "Shelter"

And for those interested in the flood itself, the following link is the text from an archived newspaper article describing the rescue of the animals from the flooded shelter.

(to be continued)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Traveling With (or Without?) Pets

It's always hard to leave the furry kids behind when traveling (particularly when they insert themselves into the suitcase!), but sometimes it's just not practical to take them along. I love taking the dogs on trips when circumstances permit. Lucy, not so much. I know that cats can make good traveling companions, since I have friends who regularly take their cats along on trips. My friend's sister even took her cat on a road trip from North Carolina to Canada! I wouldn't make it to the state line with Lucy before leaping out of the car and running off screaming down the highway. She yowls insistently and constantly as if you are driving her to her execution. Her brother Linus, pictured above, wasn't much better.

Once I read that cats hate riding in the car because they associate the experience with going to the vet. This makes sense. The article recommended taking your cat for little rides around the neighborhood as part of an acclimation effort. "See? Isn't this fun? We're just riding around, and then we'll go back home!" It sounded like a great idea, so
I decided to try it.

I wish that I could insert a little drawing here to illustrate what that looked like. Picture a frazzled driver clutching at the steering wheel, eyes bugged out, driving up and down the neighborhood roads trying to shout soothing phrases to a yowling cat in the back seat. It never ceases to amaze me that such a diminutive black and white kitty can bring a large and rational human being to her knees so easily. I gave up after one try.

In my opinion, it's much easier to travel with dogs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abigail the Kitten

Once and a while I can't resist sharing some of the dogs and cats I encounter in my rescue work. This little handful of fluff is Abigail. I found that grumpy little face adorable, and somehow, miraculously, managed to resist the temptation to bring her home.


Lucy would have never spoken to me again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santa's Little Helper

Anyone who has ever had a cat can probably attest to their "helpfulness" when you're trying to accomplish a task like wrapping gifts. Lucy likes to be right in the center of the action, supervising things.

It's all good till the curly ribbon comes out.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Lucy wants something, heaven only knows what. She's skulking around the house, meowing loudly. It's her complaining voice too, not her happy voice. I've given her a treat, petted her, tried to engage her with a wadded up piece of paper, and finally - at my wit's end - opened the sliding door for her. Lucy stays indoors most of the time. There are just too many hazards out there. The neighbor's cat was killed by a coyote last year, and large hawks lurk overhead. But sometimes, when I can't take Lucy's meowing any longer, I give in. Fortunately, her outdoor forays only last 5 or 10 minutes. And lately what I've been doing is sending Lady out too, as a kind of bodyguard.

I'm not sure how, but I'd swear the dog knows what she's being asked to do. She'll stand nearby, watching Lucy the entire time she prowls around. Sometimes it even looks like Lady is scanning the surroundings for potential hazards. Lucy will give the yard a quick check, and when assured that no strange cats have trespassed, is content to come back in.

This morning, however, I stand with the door open, letting the icy cold air billow in for many long seconds, while Her Highness gingerly sniffs the air, ultimately deciding - "no, I don't think so, too cold."

Lucy has an impressive array of vocalizations to match her myriad wants and needs. She's not necessarily loud, although she'll certainly get loud if you aren't responding.

Have you ever watched someone trying to communicate in a foreign country? Often the hapless person will repeat the misunderstood phrase louder and slower, in an attempt to get the foreigner to understand.
As if speaking louder will suddenly allow English to be translated into Italian or whatever.

Lucy does this. She starts out with a polite: "meow, mee-aeow, meoooow." But, if you can't figure out what she wants, she gets louder and slower, drawing out the meows. She'll look at you earnestly and repeat herself:


A written description really can't do this justice, it's one of those things that has to be experienced to be appreciated. One trick that usually works to interrupt the cycle is an old down comforter. I fluff it up into a heap on the sofa, and pat the middle of it. "Look Lucy, look how nice. Don't you want to come see?" If I can entice her up there, she seems unable to resist the coziness of it. She'll begin kneading her paws into the soft folds, while I stroke her head and talk soothingly to her "Good kitty, go-o-o-d kitty." Then, quietly, oh so quietly, I tiptoe backwards away from her. If I remain very quiet and get lucky, often she'll decide to settle down in the blanket and take a nap. Whew!

Ahhhh... peace at last!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jessie, Wonder Dog of the North

Yesterday I mentioned my previous German Shepherd Jessie, and how much she loved snow. Remembering her always brings a smile, because she was the greatest dog that ever lived.

She was intelligent beyond anything I'd ever experienced with a dog. I'd read somewhere that the average German Shepherd has the language comprehension of a 2 year old child, and Jessie certainly matched or exceeded that. We would caution- "watch what you say around the dog!"

Jessie beat the odds multiple times, overcoming a run-in with a car as a puppy, a 'discovered in the nick of time' spleen that was about to rupture, and lymphoma, living to the ripe old age of 13 - old for a German Shepherd. The years since her death in 2004 have only served to elevate her status as the greatest dog that ever lived. It's funny, the beloved pets of our past become more saintly with each passing year, and we tend to forget they ever did anything wrong. Or at least that's what I've heard. Jessie never did anything wrong, so I wouldn't know.

That dog loved the cold and snow of northern Minnesota. She was born and raised in the south, so I was surprised to discover how quickly she adapted to life Up North. One of her favorite games involved her orange ball. I'd toss it into a snowbank, and she would pounce with delight on the spot where it had disappeared and proceed to dig it out (maybe she was part terrier??). At other times she had to put up with me and my antics, like making her pose with the snow dog I created.

Then I decided that Snow Dog looked lonely and needed a Snow Owner, so I created one. She obliged me by posing with the whole family.

"Good dog Jessie! Now we can go play with the orange ball some more!"

What a great dog she was, the best that ever lived.

(in spite of herself, she was curious)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dogs That Love Cold Weather

In the cozy warmth of my small library, my fingers tap on the keyboard as I jot off comments to fellow bloggers. I pause to take a sip of coffee and gaze out the window at Sunset Mountain, made blurry and gray by the swirling snow. It occurs to me that this is a delightful way to spend a morning, with a mug of my favorite Foglifter coffee, writing and watching it snow. I'm snug and happy and have nowhere to go.

Suddenly I feel a presence and look down. Lady has come into the room and is looking at me.

Now there's the look, and then there's The Look. This is most definitely The Look. She concentrates with all her might to beam her thoughts into my brain. The result is something like this:

If you try to pretend like you don't notice her (just keep typing...just keep typing....don't look...), she'll make a sound halfway between a huff and a woof and stamp her foot. Lucky can also do The Look, and his is even more beseeching and earnest than Lady's. Finding yourself under a double attack makes it almost impossible to resist whatever it is they're trying to beam into your mind, if you can figure out what "it" is. On this particular morning, I know what they want. Both dogs are desperate to go for a walk.


I try reasoning with them. "Come on dogs, does this look like going-for-a-walk weather??"

Answer: Why yes, yes it does!

They want to go. They've been cooped up inside for two days, and let's face it, there's only so much fun two big dogs can have in a living room. The fact that it is 27 degrees with a wind chill of 14 makes no difference whatsoever to them. These are dogs that are happier in the cold than in summer's heat. My beloved German Shepherd Jessie (who passed away in 2004) loved the snow and was happy as a clam when we lived in Duluth, Minnesota. I guess these dogs' thick double coats make them especially suited for northern climates.

I don't share Lady and Lucky's enthusiasm for 14 degree windchill, but being unable to resist their powers of persuasion, I go in search of my green marshmallow coat. When I lived in Duluth, I bought a down coat that was warm, but made me look like a marshmallow. 'Marshmallow' isn't a particularly flattering silhouette, but I've saved it for occasions just like this.

It does the trick. Off we go!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Two turtle doves, and a ....."

Actually, make that 12 or so turtle doves! Don't know if they show up in the photo, but Lucy is watching a dove invasion. Woke up to the season's first snowfall this morning, and it looks like the doves have decided to hunker down in the relative shelter of my Baby's Blanket rose bush. Brrrrrr, it's cold out there! As I type these words, the wind is howling outside my library window, blowing thousands of tiny snowflakes in swirls through the air. The doves are all fluffed up against the cold.

Except a few that are eating the food I put out for the cardinals.

Okay, for the sake of accuracy, these aren't turtle doves, but rather mourning doves. Turtle doves are a species of dove found in Europe and Russia. Mourning doves, however, are fascinating birds. Banding studies indicate that they live about 10 years in the wild, and mate for life. Lucy is going from window to window, complaining bitterly because she wants to go out and be with the doves.

"Can you make her be quiet?"

She's driving us all crazy. Never in my life have I had such a vocal cat, except for my childhood cat Sugar, and she was a Siamese. I have tried to explain to Lucy that it is way too cold for a kitty out there today, but she is clearly not convinced. She seems to think it would be fun to go play with birds that are just sitting on the ground like this:

In honor of the Christmas season, here's a bit of trivia about turtle doves. Do you know how they got their name? Like our North American mourning dove, which got its name from its mournful song, the turtle dove's song also figures in its name. The turtle dove's song is a deep, gentle "purr, purr." To some people's ears the song sounded more like "turr, turr," which caused them to refer to the bird as "Turr-tle Dove." The purr, purr people didn't argue because calling the bird      Purr-tle Dove was just too weird.

Thanks to for that bit of trivia! Now, the next time you hear someone singing the Twelve Days of Christmas, you can ask them if they know how turtle doves got their name!

When all else fails, find a cozy spot to sulk.