Kittens and a Year of Blogging

This is my 366th consecutive, daily post.  Since it was leap year, I figured I had to get to 366 to say I’d completed a year of posts.  🙂

Collectively, I’ve written over 250,000 words in the course of blogging for one year.  That’s over 1000 pages worth of words.  If I would have said I wanted to write 1000 pages, I probably would have quit after the first 100 or so.

Here are my lessons from a year of blogging:

  1. In the end, it’s about people.  I didn’t expect to meet people through blogging, but I have.  I keep writing because all of you keep reading.  I look for you, I watch for regulars, I peak at your blogs when I have a few minutes.  You matter to me.  Please come back.
  2. I can only write one day at a time–one word at a time.  Thinking about the collective volume is fun after the fact, but not the goal.
  3. The delete key is my friend.  I went from an average of 1200 words a post to setting a limit of 500 words.  Although it initially took me much longer to write 500 than 1200 words, I think we’re all happier.
  4. Sometimes, you do have to think about more than one day at a time.  Scheduling posts ahead of time when I’m traveling has kept me going.  Had I not figured out how to do this, I would have given up on my goal of one post a day about a month into blogging when we spent 2 weeks in Germany.
  5. Every post can’t be my best post ever.  I started with the expectation that every post would be an improvement over the last.  What’s “best” depends on the subject and what people are interested in.  Sometimes I have the need to think about the meaning of life.  Sometimes I have the need to improve my photography skills.  Which one is better?
  6. Some days, I’m writing right before bed, falling asleep as I write, trying to get the morning post scheduled before I pass out on my keyboard.  Those aren’t going to be my best posts.  For each post to be my best ever, I’d need to quit my day job and do this full time.  I don’t love blogging enough to give up food and shelter, so I’ll just apologize for those posts now.  For me, it’s more about establishing the discipline of meeting my commitment to post about 500 words a day every day.
  7. At some point, I will have to consider the possibility that I’ve said enough in this forum and it’s time to move on to the next.  For now, I’m content to keep posting.
  8. Kittens are irresistible.  And since these kittens are indirectly responsible for Tisen coming into our lives (they are foster kittens–my sister-in-law inspired me to foster dogs), I thought they would be a good photographic subject to celebrate the completion of this milestone.

It’s been a good year–thanks!

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?

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.

January Spring

I take Tisen, our new foster dog, for a walk.  I leave my jacket at home because it’s 61 degrees.  The birds are in full-on spring mode.  Even the insects seem to have hatched.  I don’t know if 61 degrees in Chattanooga in January is normal, but it’s nice.  I’m disappointed when the sun starts to set at 6PM as if the warmer weather brought longer days.

As I watch Tisen prance along (if he were a horse, he’d be a Lipazzaner), looking more full of himself after 36 hours of being spoiled silly.  A runner passes us going the opposite direction.  He didn’t react to her at all yesterday–it’s the same woman.  But today, he lunges at her, growling a low warning.  Either the spring weather has him feeling his oats or he’s decided I’m someone he needs to protect from mysterious people running at us.

He reacts the same way 10 minutes later when two men run on a path that curves around and runs into ours.  Yet, they’re running away from us.  What makes runners look so threatening to dogs?  Even our gentle Bogart was not happy if a runner didn’t make a wide enough berth when they were coming towards me.

The spring weather has runners out in droves.  I don’t know if they’ve been running on treadmills and are thrilled for the change in temperature or if they have been waiting to start running since the New Year and the weather removed their last excuse.  Whatever it is, I have been walking these paths daily and I can tell you there are more runners out today than there have been since we moved here last August.

This is the “way up” phenomena, I suppose.  The “way up” phenomena in temperature changes plays out about the same as the “way down” phenomena in weight changes.  When the temperature is on the “way up,” it feels extra warm by comparison to the cold temperatures and so we suddenly feel inspired to don less clothing and exercise out doors even though, if the temperature were on the “way down,” we would be wearing layers at the same temperature.

Similarly, the “way down” phenomena in weight loss inspires us to think we look much better when we’ve lost a few pounds and to dress in clothing that, when we were on the “way up,” we would not have been caught dead in at the same exact weight.  Maybe that should be called the “weigh down” phenomena?

Tisen and I stop in our favorite store, Bone Appetite, for the third day in a row and pick up the oatmeal shampoo they were out of.  Tisen’s skin is getting less flaky and his coat is getting more shiny, but he still has red, irritated areas that he licks and chews at.  Between switching him to a high quality food, feeding him fish oil, bathing him in oatmeal, and treating him with “Nu Stock,” I’m hoping he’ll stop itching soon.

The Aftermath of Dog Fostering

There is a tangible shift in the energy of the apartment.  If the sound and movement in a space were represented in a quilt, our quilt would have a giant hole in it.  The only thing to do is to repair the hole.  This means putting things back to where they were before our guests arrived.

I gather the toys we didn’t send off with the dogs.  I move the remaining food and treats to a cupboard in the kitchen.  I hide the chewed up laptop chargers in a drawer.  I start mentally calculating how much we spent on our week of dog fostering:

  • fee to have dogs in apartment:  $250
  • donation to shelter:  $200
  • dog supplies:  $280
  • replacement laptop chargers:  $160

Instead of adding it up, I conclude with “A week with Lucy and Rex, Priceless.”

But, as I continue to put leftovers away, I realize it would be a sound financial decision to foster more dogs since the money we’ve already spent would cover their costs for the most part.

But am I ready for the next foster dog?  I fold and remove the crates from the living room, gather up the dog blankets and throw them in the laundry, vacuum away the dog hair, and steam away the odors.  When I am done, I have transformed the living room decor from “Dog Kennel Chic” to, well, let’s just call it “Human Occupied.”  There are no signs that dogs ever lived here.

I sit on the couch for a minute, stretching my back and think about the advantages of not having a foster dog:

Sleeping.  I not longer feel on edge, waiting for the dogs to bark or do something loud that must be interrupted immediately when living in an apartment building.  My own anxiety is more of the problem than the dogs, but a problem none-the-less.

Going Out.  We are free to come and go as we please.  When Pat took me out to dinner for my birthday, it was the only two hours we left without the dogs.  Lucy was an only dog by then.  We put her in her crate with a special chew treat and a bone and then went on our way.  She wasn’t barking when we left and she wasn’t barking when we got back, but there was a Post It on the door that said, “Please stop the barking!”

Bird Watching.  I can walk along at my own pace with my eyes in the trees.  When I am training dogs to walk on a leash, I don’t notice a single bird.

Although the quiet and the freedom feel good, I still find myself looking around for the dogs.  The hole in that quilt leaves me feeling a little cold.  Before I know what I’m doing, I’m looking at the calendar and wondering if I could take in the next foster dog in a week or so.  I’m hoping I will be well rested by then.

 McKamey Animal Center

Goodbye to Lucy Lou

Lucy, one of our two foster dogs, was adopted today.  Her brother, Rex, was adopted on Saturday.  I was happy for Rex with only a little sadness, even though he was my favorite.  Then something happened.  Lucy bloomed.  Removed from the shadow of her big brother, she came into her own.

She went from being terrified of the elevator to pushing at the door like she owned the thing.

She was suddenly sitting like she’d understood all along but was too nervous to sit in front of her brother.

She figured out walking on a leash didn’t mean towing me.

She learned to amuse herself.  First, she decided the socks on the bedroom floor should be piled on the couch.  Then, she decided to move all linens from her crate to the couch, too.  She started with the heavy quilt draped over her crate.  It weighs almost as much as she does.  She grabbed it by a corner and wrestled it off the crate, one inch at a time.  She managed to get one corner of it up onto the couch, adding to her pile of socks she’d collected.  Then, she hopped down on top of the rest of the quilt, took the corner in her mouth and tried to jump up on the couch with it.  She couldn’t figure out her own weight was preventing her from performing this feat and ended up in a wrestling match with the quilt, growling at it while she tried to figure out how to get it into place.

Finally, she gave up and went for the first blanket in the crate.  Then the second.  Then the towel we’d put underneath for extra padding.  She had a massive nest on the couch plus the large quilt draping down to the floor.

When Pat came home and sat on the couch to print a document he needed, she jumped out of her nest, barking at the printer across the room.  I laughed and said, “Maybe we can teach her to retrieve your printout?”  30 seconds later, the printer stopped and Lucy ran over, grabbed the printout off the printer, brought it to within 3 feet of Pat, and dropped it on the floor.  It was almost scary.

Sitting on the couch with her cuddled in my lap, she gazed up at me with her brown eyes and I started thinking thoughts like, “Maybe she could just sleep with us tonight?”  Then, I remembered she had an audition with a potential new owner this afternoon.  I rubbed her belly and tried not to think of it.

Pat came and took her to her appointment.  He came home without her.  He liked the family that took her.  I am happy for Lucy.  But, part of me wishes she could have left a couple days earlier when I was less attached.  The shelter says we broke a record for the shortest time to have a foster dog.  Turns out it’s not a record I was prepared to break.