Night Walks

I love walking at night, but I also apply lessons from self defense class and pay attention to what’s around me.  Had I not been listening carefully, I might have missed the calls of the nighthawk or the yips of what I suspect is a family of foxes.  I would have been mystified by the sudden sting of a mosquito’s bite had I not heard one buzzing moments before.  Yes, there really are mosquitos on January 31st.

I listen to small rustling noises in the brush and try to imagine the size of the creature causing them.  I’ve learned that small things make big noises in the dark.  I imagine a tiny mouse scurrying under layers of leaves. Then, the sound of a small bird startled from its roost is followed by the vague impression of a shadow diving through the foliage.

This is when Tisen stops to poop.  Pooping is not my favorite subject, but this dog does the strangest thing.  He lifts his leg to pee on something and then he swings his raised leg around like he’s getting on a horse or a bicycle, but goes straight into poop position.  Whatever his target was ends up pressed up against his bum.  He often deposits his poop in out-of-the-way places like among tall grasses or weeds.  I am getting a little tired of trying to figure out how to remove semi-liquid dog poo from strands of grass and shrubs without ending up with it on my hands.  Tonight, I fail and after wiping the worst of it in the grass, start heading towards the restroom so I can wash my hands.

As we return from the darkest part of the park, we see two silhouettes coming towards us.  Perhaps the combination of being backlit and uphill from us is what makes them seem like they are giants.  Tisen freezes in position.  I freeze, too.  I watch the pair of ambling shadows approach, trying to get a make on them.  I get the idea there is a dog with them, but I cannot see the dog in the dark.  As they get closer, I realize the dog registers about the same color as the concrete sidewalk below him, giving him great camouflage for walking in a park on a sidewalk at night.

I also realize that the pair is a normal-sized couple out for an evening stroll with their dog, but the dog is the giant.  If you kept the basic outline of an irish wolfhound and colored it in like a golden retriever, I think you’d end up with something that looked related to this dog.

Tisen lunges.  I grab the middle of the leash with my clean hand and hold him back.  Then, I start walking away, shortening the leash by increasing my distance.  I somehow manage to keep Tisen under control without getting poop on anything.  But, to be safe, we head straight for the bathroom sink and anti-bacterial soap.

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.

Returning a Crate

We needed to return the dog crate we borrowed from the McKamey Animal Center.  That’s all we we were going to do.  Drop off the crate.  But Anna, the volunteer coordinator, was there and she asked if we wanted to meet a dog she wanted us to foster “so we could think about it.”

We met Tisen (which I think should be spelled Tyson, but then he’d be named after a chicken company, so it’s just as well).  He is an 8 year old mix who looks like a collection of terrier breeds and maybe even some dalmatian.  He trotted out to us in the exercise yard, just a little shy at first.  Soon, he was giving us kisses.

Anna told us Tisen’s owner is dying.  And, out of “love” for his dog, he decided he wanted Tisen to die with him.  So, he stopped feeding Tisen, apparently thinking the dog would starve to death about the same time he died and they would go to heaven together.  I’m not sure what the rules are about getting into heaven, but if starving a dog to death is on the list of ways to get in, I think I’ll pass.

The man had a daughter who was caring for him and his dogs who apparently agreed to this ploy and was feeding the other two dogs, whom the man loved less.

I don’t know much more about this story except that the police were called and they called McKamey and the wonderful staff at McKamey decided this dog needed to be saved.  He’d been in their clinic under constant care for many weeks, regaining his strength.  He’d become a favorite among the staff and his many fans were giving him extra love and attention.  However, when he had recovered enough to be adopted and was put out in the kennel areas for public viewing, he started showing signs of stress.  He apparently has a hard time being surrounded by other dogs.

We looked at his flaking skin and thinning fur, chunks missing in places and his skin bright red underneath where he’s started chewing on himself from stress, and, I ask, how could we have left this sweet boy there?

I have to say it felt pretty good when one of the staff came out to say goodbye to him and personally thanked us for fostering him–she felt strongly that he not only needed it but he really deserved it after all he’d been through.

When we rode home, he stood between the seats with his front paws in my lap, licking my face.  When we got home, after sniffing around, he plopped across my lap and nestled in like he was home.  I managed to coax him over to Pat’s lap so I could run to the dog store to get something for his skin.  When I came home, my boys were curled up on the couch snoozing.  For once, I feel certain we did the right thing.

Faster than a Foster Cat

My sister-in-law likes cats.  However, she and my brother, like us, are at a place in their lives where they don’t want to tie themselves to an animal for the next 15-20 years.  My brother often jokes about looking for animals with a short life expectancy for this reason.

My sister-in-law, Megan, being more practical, has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem of how to have pets without having a long term commitment.  She provides foster care for a local cat shelter.

Megan has fostered numerous pregnant cats who gave birth under her watchful eye as well as taken in young litters with no mother.  Keeping kittens with no mom fed, emptied, and cleaned up is a big chore that has to be performed diligently and regularly.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

Megan nurtures these kitties through the tough part of their early lives or supports their mom in doing so.  When they are weaned, healthy, and confident, they are returned to the shelter until they find permanent homes.  Megan takes a break from fostering if she has a heavy travel schedule or needs a break and then takes on another set when she can.

Other than the heartache of getting emotionally attached to animals that you will eventually hand off to someone else, it’s the perfect way to have pets without taking on permanent ownership.

Chibs and Clay, named by the shelter (perhaps by a fan of Sons of Anarchy?), are the current kittens staying with my sister-in-law (see photos).  Chibs needs to see Clay do something before he is willing to give it a try.  Even when he finally joined Clay in my lap and laid there purring, when something moved, he would dart off again to hide.

Getting even these few pictures was quite a chore.  First of all, they were doing something cute and my 100mm prime lens was on my camera.  While I really like this lens, I could have used the 400mm of my telephoto zoom given Chibs’s skittishness.  But, I started shooting and gradually crept forward, crawling across the floor slowly and shooting every few seconds so I didn’t lose out on a decent shot because I was holding out for a better one.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Rapid fire shooting mode is a must.  The faster the better.
  2. Focus, focus, focus.  Rapidly moving critters in low light make this difficult.  I often end up with out of focus faces and sharply focused feet or rear ends or backgrounds.
  3. A little more depth of field is better–otherwise, I end up with just the eyes in focus and then the surrounding face is too soft (see the second photo).
  4. When flash is not an option, the animal is fearful of cameras, and the light is low, I just have to live with a shallow depth of field.
  5. Most animals will not pose.  Bribing domestic animals with treats and toys can be helpful, but requires an assistant.

One Man’s Trash

We are up before the crack of dawn, on our way to the hang gliding training hills.  We arrive early–the gates are still locked.  As soon as we settle in to wait, two dogs come running down to greet us.  They are collarless, thin, very young, and very adorable.  There aren’t any homes near enough to explain why these dogs would be hanging out here before dawn.

When the instructor arrives, we drive on, deciding to worry about the dogs on the way home, but the dogs chase us down the dirt road for as long as they can keep up.  We lose them when they tire, but they arrive at the parking lot about the time we get out my glider.  They jump all over me, wanting to be petted some more.  I turn my back on them when they jump and pet them when they have all four paws on the ground.  It takes three times and they figure out they can get what they want by standing still.  They are smart dogs.

As I go through my flying lessons, the dogs chase me when I fly off the hill and run up and start licking my face if I land on my belly.  I’m not sure if they’re worried about me or just having fun, but it’s cute.

After a few flights, they run off to explore something else.  I am relieved–these dogs are breaking my heart.  But, I don’t want to jump into a 12-14 year commitment because they’re cute and hungry.

When we call it quits for the day, the dogs reappear to “help” disassemble my glider.  They remember not to jump on me and I am impressed with how quickly they have learned that lesson.  When I am done, I sit on the ground and let them share my lap.  They are so sweet.  I remind myself they’ve been running around and are exhausted.  Tired dogs usually are sweet.

But my husband looks at me sitting on the ground with these hungry, adorable dogs and says, “All right, get them in the van.”  They ride comfortably with us to Wendy’s where they wolf down burgers.

We discuss the choices we’ve made since the death of our sweet Mastiffs to make it easy for us to travel.  We decide to take the dogs to a shelter and volunteer to foster them.

The shelter is large and clean and the man at the desk is reassuring.  I meet the volunteer coordinator and she is equally friendly.  I fill out paperwork and we bring in the dogs.  It will take 5-7 days for the dogs to get vet care (including spaying and neutering), have their behavior assessed, and be ready for foster care. I am sad as we walk out.  I cannot shake a feeling of unease, like I have shirked a responsibility.  I imagine their disappointment at being left behind.  I feel my own disappointment.  I resist the urge to run back inside and ask for them back.