The End of Foster Care

We’ve decided.  Tisen stays.

We took him hang gliding on Saturday.  Tisen ran over and start licking my face in the middle of a hang check and then follow my glider all the way down the big hill and back up again.  When I told the instructor he was a foster dog, she said, “That’s your dog.  He has claimed you.”  She’s right.  He is my dog.

It’s funny how this happens.  I wonder how a dog decides you are theirs?  And you cannot resist.  You find yourself committed until death do you part.  Except you’re committed to a well-behaved 3 year old with fur who will never be able to use the toilet.

Upon deciding that Tisen must stay, we immediately went to PetsMart to celebrate.  Since we are working on crate training, we, of course, needed a cozy matt to put in the crate, special chews to keep him busy while we’re gone, and a new squeaky toy since I’ve discovered he’ll do about anything for a squeaky toy.  He picks a bear for his squeaky toy, but then is so enamored with a ridiculous long, red dog that I cannot resist getting it for him, too.  It’s a good thing I don’t have children.

When we get home, he picks up the red dog and carries it in from the car, trotting along with his head held high like he’s won some sort of award.  The joy I experience watching him is well worth the extra $8.  When he gets to the living room, he plops his new toy in the middle of the floor and then pulls his stuffed squirrel out of the crate, laying them out on the floor side-by-side.  It’s hard to know what goes through a dog’s mind sometimes, but I have to wonder if he really just wanted squirrel to have a friend.

I pick up the dog and give it a squeeze.  Tisen starts poking at the dog with his nose trying to make it squeak.  Pat joins in and starts squeezing, too.  I grab my iPhone and try to get a shot (not having time to change lenses on my camera).  Tisen gets irritated with the flash, picks up red dog, and hides out in his crate.  I take this as a sign that crate training is going well.

Tisen’s obsession with squeaky toys reminds me of a story my mom used to tell about me.  When I was about 2, I was given a doll who would cry if you squeezed her.  Except, I wasn’t strong enough to get her to cry.  But, I figured out my own method.  I horrified a nice lady at the bank one day when she complimented me on my cute baby and I responded by throwing it on the floor and stomping on it.  My mother smiled weakly and said, “It’s the only way she can get it to cry.”  It’s really a good thing I don’t have children.

If Daedalus Were a Photographer

We get to sleep in today–we don’t have to be at the mountain launch until 8:30AM.  At 3:17AM, I am awakened by a dog looking intently at me, wagging his tail and a cloud of stench that makes me think he’s had an accident.  I illuminate my iPhone and find he has not had an accident, yet.  I pull on footwear, grab a jacket, and race outside with him.  We make it outside with time to spare, but I’m about to have an accident by the time Tisen’s needs are met.

I spend the next 3 hours nodding off and waking up every 15 minutes.  Tisen snores loudly at my feet.  I finally fall back into a deep sleep about 10 minutes before the alarm goes off.  I lay in bed willing myself to wake up my husband and get out of bed.  Today is a big day–Pat’s first mountain launch.

We make it to the top of the mountain and find a couple of guys from Minnesota have already launched for the first time.  They and the instructor, JC, return about the time we’re done assembling Pat’s glider.  JC goes through the flight plan with Pat again, making sure he knows exactly what he’s supposed to do.

While she launches our Minnesota classmates again, I busy myself getting my equipment ready.  There’s the GoPro helmet cam, my iPhone video camera, and, of course, my DSLR.  I’ve found a spot below the launch ramp to shoot from.  Unfortunately, I’m too close to the ramp with the 100-400mm lens to get the field of view I want.

Since I am also manning the iPhone video camera, I’ve mounted it into a TomTom iPhone mount to make it easier to hold on top of my lens.  Whatever I’m pointing at will also be the subject for the video.  Pat, aka MacGyver, came up with this idea.

I learned several things trying to shoot this launch.  First, don’t be both the still photographer and the videographer at the same time.  I couldn’t pan well while holding the iPhone mount and missed the most interesting parts of the launch with my camera.  Second, the iPhone is a fine way to make a video if your subject is no more than, say, 50 feet away.  After that, Pat was a white dot floating over the trees.  Third, keeping yourself busy with equipment really distracts you from the overwhelming anxiety created by watching your life partner of over 16 years run off the edge of a mountain.  Unfortunately, it also distracts you from fully experiencing the moment.  I felt like I hadn’t seen the launch at all.  The moment my husband stood on top of a mountain with a kite on his back and ran off that mountain like he’d been doing it all his life, in that moment, I was distracted.  I wanted to be inside his head at that moment, but, instead, I was outside, looking through a viewfinder.

Head Banging Hang Gliding

 

Ah.  Another Saturday, another 5:30AM alarm, another drive to Lookout Mountain Flight Park.  Today is supposed to be a big day.  Pat will re-clear for his mountain flight, we will each do a tandem flight with a real hang gliding pilot, and then I will try to set aside my fears enough to play photographer while Pat jumps, I mean, flies off the mountain.

The gate to the training hills is already open at 7:40AM.  When we get to the parking lot, it’s nearly full.  Between the crowd and the newly formed stream running through the breakdown area, nearly every semi-dry area for set up is occupied with a glider in some stage of assembly.  We feel like we’re behind schedule.

Once my glider is assembled, I decide to carry it up to the top of the big hill instead of riding up on the trailer–I need to warm up my legs.  It’s quite a warm up!  I’m sweating and out of breath by the time I get to the top of the hill.

I do not fly well today.  I manage to do a 90 degree turn successfully and start working on reversing 45 degree turns (you turn 45 degrees to the right and then 45 degrees to the left in one 10 second flight).  I keep messing up my landings and end up banging my head a couple of times.  Thank goodness for the helmet.

Pat re-clears in three flights.  By mid-morning, I’m spent and have only passed 3 tests.  I don’t know who’s more tired, me or Tisen.  He’s been running up and down the hills all day and both of us are gimping.

We head up to the office to check in and see if Pat will be able to fly.  They send us down for our tandem flights immediately because the wind is picking up.  By the time we get there, the wind has a mind of its own.  A lone pilot bounces around in the wind, trying to land.  She gets dropped and picked up by the wind, creating the impression the glider is on an invisible string and someone up on the mountain is playing with it like a yo-yo.  We won’t be doing any tandem flights and Pat won’t be flying off the mountain today.  We head on home, me relieved.  I’m not sure I’m ready to watch Pat go off the mountain launch.

When I review the videos from today, I have to laugh.  On several flights, the helmet cam tipped over and filmed my face.  Because of the stabilization in the camera, it gives the appearance that my head is perfectly still and everything is moving around it.  For some reason, you can’t see when I hit my head, but these are funny enough (at least to me) I thought I would share a couple of rough landings from this view.  I also threw in a regular video just for good measure.  Enjoy!

Clouds and Dogs

I roll out of bed an hour and a half later than usual this morning.  I am not a morning person.  In fact, I am so not a morning person that even as an infant I was cranky in the morning.  But, I’ve learned that if I give myself a lot of time in the morning, I am able to function without snapping at too many people.  Losing an hour and a half of “me time” makes this difficult.

Fortunately for me, my hubby gets up and takes the dog out.  This is due to a secret I will share with just you, my faithful readers.  We are thinking about keeping the dog.  However, because fostering was my thing, I was doing most of the care taking.  And, since I work from home and I’m hanging out with the dog all day, Tisen has particularly attached himself to me.  My husband decided he needed to take on extra dog duty to decide if keeping him is feasible.  I am relieved to have the additional help with walking, even if we end up not keeping him.  We are weighing the joy of fostering against the joy of being dog parents.

This morning, because my husband is now fully participating, I gain back a half an hour of the time I lost by over sleeping.

Once the coffee is made, I look out the window and decide to shoot some of the clouds hovering over the aquarium.  I’ve been having fun using my 100mm lens for everything these days, so keeping with that trend, I try shooting the landscape with it as well.  Although I miss the range of a zoom lens, it’s nice that the 100mm gets me over the nasty parking lot in the foreground.

After shooting for a few minutes, I decide I’d better pack it in so I have time to refill my coffee before my first meeting.  But as I turn, I see beams of light streaming through the clouds behind me.  Why is it that the light so often does the most interesting things when you have your back turned?

I fire off a series of shots at various exposures.  I know if I stand there for 15 minutes the light will change and the beams will become more distinct, making a more intense image.  But, alas, the clock ticks and I don’t get paid to shoot sun rays.

At the end of the day, the clouds have cleared and I turn to Tisen as my model.  He loves to lay on the couch.  He looks at me without moving except his tail.  I do my best with a long exposure to get his wagging tail in motion.  I can think of nothing in life that so consistently makes me smile–I never tire of a wagging tail.  Then, Pat comes home and Tisen demonstrates how much he’s come to appreciate Pat by curling up on his lap.  Who can resist taking a picture of that?

Rain Day

The rain is back.  I have nothing against rain. I would just like to be able to schedule it.  For example, the summer afternoon thunderstorms in the Rockies are nice.  They roll in, drop their goods, and roll out like paratroopers on a daily exercise.  Having done their duty, there’s no need to linger and keep the sky gray for days on end.

While Chattanooga seems far sunnier than Columbus, the winter has brought a lot of rain.

Living on the top floor in a faux-loft apartment changes our relationship with rain.  I don’t have to look out the windows to tell if it’s raining–the sound of it hitting the roof gets so loud in a downpour that I frantically hit the mute button during conference calls.  In heavy rains, mysterious leaks start to appear that seem to be related to the angle and speed of the rainfall and can’t be pinpointed or recreated for maintenance men.

After a few hours, the rain drumming in my ears starts to fade into the background so that when it finally stops, it’s a similar experience to being in an office building when there is a power outage–the sudden absence of the white noise leaves the building in an eerie state of silence, often causing its inhabitants to start whispering.

While there is never silence here–there is always something making noise whether it’s a  delivery truck rumbling down the street, a car stopped at the intersection with its stereo blaring, people shouting and laughing over the sounds of traffic–there are moments of less noise.  When the droning of the rain suddenly stops, these other noises pop to the forefront and I find myself missing the buffer of the rain.  So, I have come to appreciate a slow, gentle rain that is just enough to wash away not only the debris in the streets, but also the noise pollution.

I have visions of shooting rain drops sharply in focus in the foreground with the blurred but recognizable backdrop of the aquarium across the river.  But first, our foster dog must go out.  After taking him out in the rain, drying him off, and setting up my tripod, it, of course, stops raining.  I shoot the aquarium in the mist.  Then, I aim for the clouds over the mountains in the distance.  Finally, I discover water drops forming on the balcony overhang and decide to try to get the effect I was looking for by shooting them falling.

An interesting thing about photography:  it’s one thing to envision an image and another to capture it.  After 30+ shots, I manage to capture the drops falling, but they disappear into the light gray background of the sky.  I cannot capture anything close to the picture in my head.

When I set my camera aside and buckle down to a hectic day at the office, it starts to pour.  If only I could schedule the rain . . .

Separation Anxiety

We want to go to dinner tonight.  Without the dog.  However, we haven’t crate trained him and so far he’s been afraid to even walk into the crate and check it out, so now is not the time to try the crate.

We decide to experiment before leaving.  Pat sneaks into the bathroom hoping Tisen won’t notice he’s there and I step into the hall.  I lurk in the hall holding my can of pennies, listening for any sounds of barking or pawing at the door.  When he scratches, I shake my can.  He stops.  I can hear him sniffing at the crack under the door.  I can’t tell if he knows I’m standing there or not.  After he’s been quiet for several minutes, I decide it’s time to reward him for being calm.  I go to open the door and discover I’ve locked myself out.

I text my husband and he comes out of the bathroom to let me back in.

Next, I decide to try 5 minutes to see how Tisen does.  I sneak back out into the hall (this time leaving the door unlocked) after getting him interested in his simulated dead squirrel toy.  I hide around the corner this time.  Unfortunately, I am across from a neighbor’s door.  I hope they aren’t watching me through their peep hole, wondering what I’m doing in the hallway holding a Christmas canister (my can of pennies is a small Christmas tin that Pat’s mom’s famous rum balls were delivered in).

Tisen is quiet.  Other than one loud sniff, I do not hear anything at all.  I look at my watch.  I get to 3 1/2 minutes and suddenly the door opens, my husband looking for me.  I go back in and learn that Tisen figured out Pat was hiding in the bathroom and was scratching at the bathroom door.  So much for that test.

Eventually, we decide to leave a note on the door with our mobile number so our neighbors can reach us if he’s making a lot of noise and head out for a quick dinner at Taco Mamacitos next door.

When we return,Tisen is having a conversation with the next door neighbor’s dog.  When we open the door, Tisen is frantic.  He leaps at us, nipping at our hands like he’s lost his mind.  He pants uncontrollably.  I wrap him in my arms, firmly push him into a sit, and talk to him soothingly to get him to calm down.  When he calms enough to let him go, I start getting ready for bed.  He follows me into the bathroom–a room he has avoided since his bath.

When I sit on the couch, he plops next to me and pushes so tight against me I fear my pants and his fur are going to merge at a molecular level.  Apparently I have gone overboard spoiling this dog–after 4 days with us, he’s having separation anxiety.  Sigh.  A new thing to work on.

Feeding a Dog

Having recently brought Tisen into our home, we are going through the period of learning about each other.  We try to unravel the lessons that Tisen has been taught over the past 8 years and understand where we must be extra gentle, where we must be extra patient, and where we must be firm.

Since dogs cannot tell us their stories directly, we must hone our powers of observation to figure out what will work and what will not to gently shape this dog into the confident, trusting sweetheart he was born to be.

We start with food.

I mix his food with warm water and place the bowl on the floor.  Tisen cowers.  I take a piece of food from the bowl and hand it to him, telling him it’s OK in a “happy puppy voice.”  He tentatively takes the piece from my hand, stepping back quickly as if he’s afraid of what happens next.  I keep talking to him, telling him what a good boy he is.  I repeat the process until I lead him to the bowl where, at last, he sinks his teeth in and takes a mouth full.  I shift slightly and he is startled, cowering back from the bowl once more.

I continue telling him what a good dog he is and start over, leading him back to the bowl. I try not to move once he starts eating.  He pauses once and looks up at me; I reassure him again.  He finishes his food and I praise him.  I try not to imagine what his life must have been like that he’s afraid to approach a bowl of dog food.

As I keep increasing the ratio of his new food to his old food, I keep thinking it will be more enticing to him.  But it doesn’t make a difference.

I discover that he is just as skittish about his bone.  When I start pulling at smoked fat stuck to the bone, giving him something to bite on, he eventually gets interested and starts chomping on it for all he’s worth.  He can chew it just fine, he was just afraid to.

He seems to have a similar fear about his toys.  He won’t claim them the way most dogs will.  While it’s nice that he doesn’t claim my slippers, I’ve never had a dog who was afraid to play with a tennis ball.  Once again, I stop myself from wondering how full of terror his life must have been.

I am glad no one is home to catch me on video demonstrating how to chase a tennis ball.  For the record, I stop short of picking it up in my mouth.

Tonight, when I feed him, he comes over to his bowl with a wagging tail and digs right in.  It was the first time he’s eaten without being lured.  Funny how the sight of a dog with a wagging tail eating dog food can bring tears to your eyes.  I’ve just witnessed a miracle.