Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015: The year of broken glass

I planted some grass seed in October. I thought it had a couple of weeks to sprout and get a start before we had a solid freeze. But here we are, more than two months later, and today is a perfect growing day for grass!

Walking outside today, it's cloudy, and raining, and the temp is mild. I'm in a sweater, and its the end of December! No way I thought things would happen this way, but it is what it is. Come January, or maybe February, we will get slammed. I have no doubt.

But off the current surprise of the weather, I titled this post "The Year of Broken Glass". And, that is what 2015 was. Pyrex casseroles, bowls, all that. It seemed like we lost one or two a month! I didn't actually count, you know, because its not something I keep records of! But we sure swept up bits and pieces, and then vacuumed for splinters, more than once! Not to mention mopping when were done with all that, to make sure we had all the tiny sharp bits!

I don't know what it was, or why. We've gone years and years with these same pieces, and never broke a thing. All of a sudden, one drops on the floor and shatters. Another drops into the sink (a SHORT fall!), and absolutely explodes into bits! Then we take another out of the oven and it explodes. Open a cupboard, take out a round casserole and lid, drop the lid? Boom, smash! Put a nesting bowl in the fridge, then open the fridge, and the bowl jumps out and falls on the floor. Boom, smash! We lost half of our nesting bowl sets, and more than half of our casserole dishes. We lost the glass stovetop.

Had to replace the stovetop, of course, since you can't cook on a glass stovetop stove without the glass top!

Coincidence, surely. Glad that we got all thru this year without a serious splinter event!

Getting a few Christmas family newsletters, the title "The Year of Broken Glass" popped into my head. Great title! Now I only need to write a novel to back it up!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thoughts on Amy and Andy

I've been thinking about writing a message to the adoption people locally, and in Kentucky where Amy and Andy's current journey started. I have been in touch with both, and contacted the head of the KY agency to try and discover a little background on A&A.

By the way, all in all, they are doing very well. Their health is excellent. They are happy, and their appetites are great. Their training is making progress, although sometimes it seems to be exceedingly slow. And sometimes we have moved backwards. A lot is dependent on the task.

Now that their fur has grown out, they are beautiful. I did not take them with this thought, but it is nice, when walking in a public place, and people's eyes get big, and they say "What beautiful puppies!". I can't say that doesn't do something for my ego! But they are still very nervous around strangers and in strange places. When talking to a new person on our runs, Andy will often literally hides behind me, like a child hanging on to Mother's skirts!

The reason I have been thinking about writing to the agencies is to put forth a "lessons learned". And basically, that may be this one message: it might have been better to adopt them out separately.

They are very affectionate to each other, and I suppose one could say they are "bonded". Which is certainly true. However, that same bonding, which probably kept them "sane" while surviving the previous adoption home, now works against them. When together, they have a significantly larger reaction to their sibling than they do to me, their human and their trainer. Which means that days and weeks of progress can be undone in a second.

Ideally, for me, would be to send one out to a rural family for 3 to 6 months, for socialization and training. If it were only 3 months, I might have to switch and then repeat with the other sibling. I don't exactly know. Never done the like before.

But the English Shepherd trainer that I got in touch with, second-hand? The comment I got used the word 'idiot' when talking about adopting the dogs out as a pair. Pretty harsh, eh? Well, they had not seen the dogs together, so that was certainly a generic comment. Meaning it applies in general - maybe not so much to this specific couple.

But I can see the truth in what they said. I mean, what is the most important objective here? The dogs' happiness? Or that they are happy and develop to something like their potential to work with their human compatriots? Obviously, a dog whose happiness is considered the highest priority by his humans is a spoiled dog. We don't want that.

But figuring out where the lines lie after that - that is the hard part.

Anyway, sorry, but I will have to finish this post tomorrow or the next day. See ya!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Latest photos of Amy and Andy

You can see their fur is coming in nicely! They are some of the most agile dogs we have ever had. Today Andy was squirrel-chasing and went straight up the tree when he got to it - more than the length of his body - it was amazing. I've seen little terriers do the like, but they are small! He was over 6' up that tree!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Amy and Andy, upping the training ante.

It blows me away, how much food these two eat, and don't put on the pounds. Or, at least, not in fat. As of today, Amy is up to 43.5 lbs, and Andy is a solid 48. But they are still lean, lean, lean. I have kept bumping up what I feed them by an ounce or so. They are now eating what I used to feed Klinger and Sara for maintenance.

But they do go out and burn those calories. If I ride 3 miles, they must be covering 5, anyway. Today I walk - it's raining and ugly - not primo weather for my bike. I cover just over a mile and a half. Amy goes more than 2.5 miles (she has the GPS at the moment). And some of that was at top speed, chasing rabbits.

They've been chasing after squirrels, but Amy discovered that we have rabbits a few days ago.  I will have to get control of this at some point, but they do have fun! We have plenty of rabbits, so I'm not worried about them. And so far, none have been caught (I think).

Letting them run like this does them a world of good. They really get to exercise their bodies and their instincts, and it is the only time in the day they get to do that. For sure they love it.

But I titled this post "upping the training ante". And, that is what I have been doing. I contacted some English Shepherd (ES from here on) people. The initial advice was that the best option was to separate them and put one in a separate home. Second best option was to train them separately, quote, "a LOT".

I can see why they would give this advice. They are smart dogs who need a lot of activity. They have already bonded to each other. What this means is that I am not "the boss" - they have each other, and thus I will never get them to work with me properly, not so long as they are together.

Let me give you an example. They "crib" from each other when I give a command. A couple of nights ago I told them to "leave the kitchen". Nobody is paying attention at first, and so I get nobody leaving the kitchen. I focus on Amy, and tell her to "leave the kitchen". I can see her thought pattern: "Oh, he's asking me to do something, but I wasn't really paying attention, so I'll sit. That usually works!" And she sits.  But I can see Andy's thoughts, too: "I wasn't paying attention! Whadhesay? Whadhesay?" But Amy is sitting, so then Andy sits. I never mentioned "Sit"!

They compete with each other, too. If one is going to get something, the other is right there trying to get the same thing. I've started putting them in down/stay position when I feed them. And they don't get to eat until I've put the food down and release them. I've been releasing them one at a time lately, and they find that exceedingly difficult. If one just budges a tiny bit, the other is up and dashing to the food.

The way the ES person put it: "They don't need you. They have each other. And to get good training results they have to think you are the sun and the moon and the source of all existence and anything good that is in the world." Or something like that - I do have to paraphrase a bit. I don't remember the conversation verbatim. The way some of the training gurus put it is I don't have their respect as the "leader of the pack".

The ES person also mentioned that they will not achieve their individual potential so long as they are together, as they will continue to crib, and/or follow the other's lead. And I see them "following" each other all the time.

Now, none of that is exactly true for these dogs and my situation, but there is a bunch of gold in there. I don't think anybody would be happy if we separated them - so I will have to train them separately. I've already begun to do this.

But, to get better results, I knew I needed to up my training ante. I spent literally years getting Klinger fine-tuned, and some things he never got. But we had a relationship where he would reliably work close enough to my boundaries so that I could reliably keep him safe and healthy. It has struck me that this looser target isn't quite optimal for this pair. They are too intelligent - but they still think like dogs. They are too independent - like Sara was - but they have a much higher social need than Sara did. Still, they are stubborn in that independence, like Sara was!

And these guys are adults, who came to us with a lot of habits already. Klinger was still a pup. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks, but it takes time.

So, I've been reading. Border collie stuff, Australian shepherd stuff, working dog stuff, shepherding dog stuff. All these farm collie types - the Border Collies (BC), Aus Shepherds (Aus), old Scottish Collies, etc, have a lot in common. BC are more driven, and needy that way, but they have more in common than not, I think. They are certainly none of them Labs, retrievers, hounds, or greyhound types! ES are a "landrace" breed. Meaning they were just a dog, a "farm collie", and farmer Joe over in the next town might have let in some off-breed blood so long as the pups still worked well. Or, the female got out when she was in heat, and picked the sire herself. Etc. I don't know how much free play there was, but they weren't a show breed. They were working dogs, and the personality and ability came foremost.  Some people think the Aus may be a descendant of ES bloodlines. So all these collie types are pretty closely related, with similar abilities and instincts, which is why I was going to these other breeds for training tips and behavior advice. There isn't much when it comes to English Shepherds.

As a result of my studies, I am understanding better what these two are doing - when they are being rude - when they are being insecure - etc etc. They are more complex personalities than any of our recent dogs. For instance, one thing these two seem to need to know, at least a little more than average, is "why". E.g. "You want me to sit? Why?" And anybody who has raised a teenager knows how that goes! So, if they see a car coming, they know "why", and they sit. No car coming? Forget sitting while we sniff over here. Or over there. So, I think you can see - I have to up my ante on the training front.

Back to the "separated training" advice. I have, for the past several years, only trained on an ad hoc basis. Wherever I happen to be when there is an opportune moment - we spend a minute or two on training. As it turns out, this practice  is recommended by at least some training gurus. Good for me!  :D But very difficult with these two, since they are usually together when they are with me. And they do NOT train well separately when the other is close by. I've tried that.

I have a sufficiently tolerable level of compliance to take them out off-leash. Ideally, I should start taking them out separately. However, that would just take too much time. So, I've lately been working on name-specific commands. I don't let them go out the door together - they have to sit and stay, and I release them one at a time. They don't get released together from a stay to eat dinner - they get released by name. When I go out to the shed, I might take one, not both.

Also, reading all these training gurus: Ian Dunbar, Suzanne Clothier, Nij Vyas, I've got a better handle on positive training methods. Clothier, in particular has an excellent writing technique which makes the concepts very accessible. So I'm getting better at positively reinforcing the tiny steps.

So, they are enjoying life, and they are healthy. I am enjoying them. We still have a ways to go with the training, but I do see some progress!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Amy and Andy - more fittin' in

As I write this, Amy lies on the downstairs couch, doing her yoga. She is currently in her inverted airplane and a half, which makes her look like her rear end is completely separate from the front. Flexoskeleton!

Start with a typical doggie inverted airplane: lie on your back, with legs stretched into the air in split positions. Good for begging belly rubs. Next, turn forelegs until they are lying on the ground, as they would be if one were just lying on the ground, but leaving the rear legs in full stretch into the air in airplane position. There you have it! If she could only do judo, she could be a master!

Progress continues. They have only jumped the fence one more time - when I left them at home to go run errands. Apparently this really upset them, and they were climbing the taller section of fence in order to try and find me. Amy got over. Andy was caught mid-climb, but both came back inside.

They are settling in well to thinking of this place as their new home. That definition of home includes riding in the car. When we go somewhere else, then outside the car is "not-home", and they do NOT like to leave the car. Although today, they DID get out of the car at a friend's house. So small steps!

Amy has tried again to explore beyond the yard when outside the fence. Although I am not overly concerned that she will wander far, in part because of the devotion they show to "home", to wander outside the yard is considered bad manners at the least. We have neighbors who do not like dogs, who are allergic to dogs, and who are afraid of dogs. And we also have neighbors who DO like dogs, and who are doggie people themselves - just so I don't make our neighborhood sound hostile!

But I've taken her with when I go out to the back shed and/or walk around the yard. And reprimanded her for going too far. It is a struggle, but I think she is getting the idea. I may go with the underground fence option yet. We will see.

They are very devoted - so long as I include them in everything I do! Upstairs or down, inside or out, they want to be with somebody at all times.

We had a small interesting experience on our evening run tonight. I mentioned Bandit (a rat terrier, and a nicer one you could not meet!) once before. We were on the road passing the building where he "works". About 20 yards away. Bandit senses us and starts yap-yapping. This is the dog who had both Amy and Andy in panic mode when they first met - because he started barking up a shit-storm. He was only barking up a minor cloud this eve, but Andy went up the street in double time to make sure he got away from the monster causing that ruckus! Amy was quite a bit calmer, but Andy was definitely on the edge of panic. I have to think a small yappy dog has caused problems in their past. 'Cause they normally like meeting other dogs. And Bandit is extremely friendly - so that is not the issue.

They've started playing while we are on our runs. They will chase down and bowl each other over, at full speed. We are moving along fast enough I got out my helmet for the first time in, oh, 3 or 4 years, and put it on. Sometimes they get out ahead of me, and I am not sure they fully understand they need to stay out of the way of the bicycle!

It is interesting what they DO understand. I've been practicing this routine when cars pass: "stopping", then "get right" as I come to a stop, and they proceed to the right of the bicycle. Then "get left", and "let's go" to get moving again. I think they know that the car has gone past, and they are moving in to "get left" before  being told. If they are paying attention to the cars, that could be fine. I would rather they just trusted me to give the orders, but if they can think that far ahead - and if I can see my way into working with their capacity - it could work out.

Btw - Andy likes sour apples. Amy does not. We passed a crabapple tree today on the ride. I picked one to taste it. It was sour! The definition of original "sweet-tart"! Then offered the remains to Andy - he ate it up! I nibbled a bite off two more, and offered one to each. Amy sniffed and turned right away. She said "none of that." Andy ate them both! Funny!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Amy and Andy - settling down, fitting in, learning

Amy and Andy are settling down and fitting in well. They are calmer when meeting people out on our run. Since they were coming home from the run and playing furiously for another 15-20 minutes, I extended the run today to 3 miles. And, unlike my rides in the past few years, where speed was determined by the slowest and weakest member (Sara, old and with a bad knee), where I did not really get a workout, with Amy and Andy I am actually getting some workout.

Coats are coming in nicely. Their weights are pretty optimal atm. I'm watching intake carefully, as I don't want them to get overweight and I have to cut back on food. They have too much tendency to get into things, and the smarts to know they can, and to figure out how to. So TOO hungry could be bad.

They are definitely learning. We still have problems with basic stuff (sit, stay, come, down). But, as I've said, I think this is partly due to selective hearing. I think they have had some attempts at training before - and it included negative reinforcement. Not that I think that doesn't have a place, but I also know how easy it is to overdo it when you aren't making progress with positive reinforcement. I think it may be likely that previous training had difficulty understanding how Amy and Andy respond - they weren't all on the same page if you will. So, we still get "selective hearing" for come and stay especially.

But look at what they have learned on our runs! They have a decent comprehension for all of these commands: wait, clear, let's go, stopping, get right, get left, load up, unload, down, get down, leave it, and mine. Each one of those is a separate command, with a specific meaning. Although "wait" is a soft meaning (unlike "stay"). Still, that is a pretty good vocabulary for a dog, and a REALLY good vocabulary for a dog with such little work.

And they (Andy is better, but Amy is coming around as well) are both trusting us more, and coming around to working with us more as we want.They can intuit the needed behavior at times. Yesterday I dropped a glass bowl in the kitchen, and it broke into deadly sharp smithereens. The door to the back yard was open, and both dogs were in the back yard. At the noise, they came to the door and started to come inside. I (loudly) said "wait!" and some other stuff, I forget what all! But they stayed outside the kitchen, at least for a while!

They haven't gone over the fence since the first week. Amy, when on free-leash (leash on, but nobody holding it) was leaving the yard to explore - but a bit of extra attention from us, and I think we have slowed that down.

I am not overly concerned that either will "run away" - they REALLY prefer to stick with what they know. Including 'where' they know. At the same time - they want to explore a little - natural curiosity, I guess. And they are new enough to get lost, eh? Problem is, Amy goes where I can't see her, and that is a no-go item. Well - if I can't see or HEAR her. Behind a bush or tree, if I can hear her, is still ok. Amy wants a little more freedom than that. I could probably trust her, but she isn't ready for prime-time yet.

When we are on a run, we are mutually focused on each other. When I am just working around the house - I am not focused on them at all, and that is when we have had problems. But, I spent a little time doing things around the yard, while staying focused on them. Caught her just as she was leaving 'territory', and I think we've got a better understanding of limits. We will see!

Anyway, they are having tons of fun! Their appetites are great. They are always looking for more after they've eaten. Since I'm cooking their food, I take that as a compliment! While they both ate from each other's dish readily when they came, they quickly learned that I preferred it if they stuck to their own dish. I can see that they still have the urge - but they confine it. Mostly! Hehe.

So, we are making great progress! Everyone comments on how beautiful they are! And, they are! They are also certainly enjoying their days!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Amy and Andy: caught ya!

I have GOT to get these two into some sort of agility or ball game or something. They are incredibly agile. Today I found out how Andy has been stealing the cat chow. It sits on a buffet - about 40" off the ground. He simply jumped up ON to the top of the buffet! No leap, no start, just POP! And he is on top of the buffet chowing down on cat food!

Of course, that got a good response from me, you bet. Ha. Anyway . . . at some point we will conquer these issues.

Today I also took a page from their book. Having watched them, and trying to work with how they think, respond, and work - we went off-leash on the run. And they had such FUN!

But, pretty scary, right? After all, they've only been home here a few weeks, right? Yup. All true!

But here is what I've watched. In their first days in our yard, we watched them check out the fence, looking at it. We could see in their look that the thought was "Hi fence, no problem! I OWN you!". And, a couple days later they demonstrated exactly that. And then did it a couple more times. So, we increased our vigilance, and changed our patterns a bit to not offer temptation and opportunity.

But they still had opportunity. Every day. If they WANTED to run, they were certainly capable of it. At any time. If they had been our old hound, Sara? They would have been gone and gone and gone and gone. Without either replacing our fence, or walking them on leash whenever outside, they could escape if they wanted. And we have to know that they knew that.

But, when they did jump the fence, the did NOT try to run away. They just explored the yard a bit.

So, today I decided to give things a bit of a test. I loaded Amy up with the e-collar and GPS unit. Put on their leashes. And then walked out the door and told them to come along.

Keep in mind, I've been watching them closely. They do NOT like strange places. When I take them someplace in the car, they do not want to get out when we get there. They are pretty smart about guarding the car - they haven't done that until the situation warranted. Like at a store - they have not alerted to the many people around. But the other day I was harvesting sumac at night on the Cisco parklands. Some people walked by - and they alerted. That level of discrimination is pretty amazing, if you ask me.

But back to the place thing - so I've seen they aren't keen on going adventuring outside the "known". And they much prefer to be moving along under their own guidance. Independent, yet also they strongly want to please.

So, let's see if we can work with that. Let them wander the front yard (not fenced), dragging their leashes. And, they wandered across the street. Ok - call them back. And they immediately respond and come home. Great! We ARE in business! Actually, I did the same thing a 2nd time, to validate the 1st. Got the same response. When they got farther away, they were more willing to come quickly when summoned. Good. Because we are STILL working on simple "stay" commands!

And I said to myself "allright, let's take this out into the field". We went out on our run route to where we have big fields around. They were on leash until then. I drop the leashes, and sprint away on the bicycle. They run to keep up! Excellent!

We went through a couple of miles of similar exercises. Me sometimes going a bit farther. Sometimes I stayed a little closer - it depended on their focus. When they were focused on something other than me, I stayed close.

However, all in all, it was a VERY successful training session. They had much more fun than just a run on leash for a couple of miles. They got to enjoy the "doggie picture show" ("Smells At An Exhibition"). And they got to chase me. Definitely required more from them than usual. And they appreciated it.

I'm happy I get to actually ride a bit. They are happy they actually get to be real dogs for a bit. It works.

Not it is time for their dinner. C ya!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Amy and Andy - an update

Mischievous. They are that. Not terribly so, but enough!  It's a good thing they consider part of their job description playing with each other! Sure helps to burn off some of that energy.

We've been having some slow success retraining them from their bad habits. I hit a new high spot today with a little bit of sit, down, stay practice. I finally got the looks of "This is fun! Let's do some more!"

They've responded pretty well to training, so don't get me wrong. Especially when food treats are at stake. But when there are no treats, we get a lot of selective hearing. We are working on that.

Until today, I thought we had the indoor potty business licked. Today it was raining. And here is a thing I've learned about these two - they do not like water. They won't wade in the pond on the run. They won't drink from the pond. They are afraid of a spraying hose, and they don't like it when the sprinker gets them wet. It was raining today, so they didn't want to go outside. Which is probably why somebody pee'd on the rug.

They are also quite nervous about strangers (strangers to them). When I meet friends while out running them we will walk and talk for a while, and they will move to the off side of the bike, to keep me and the bike between them and the strangers. They aren't outright scared, or maybe they are - some. Mostly it is demonstrated more like nervous sharpness.

I almost find it odd that we got such a good reception from them at the SaveADog meet-and-greet. They were not skittish as so many of the dogs are, we didn't think so at all. We thought they showed a little nervousness, but not more than one might expect.

But since then, I've come to see they have a very strong dislike and fear of new things. So, even more than before, I am not so surprised that Amy acted so sick the first week she was here with us. It was just way too much newness.

For instance, they love riding in the car - they think its great! But they hate getting out of the car when we get someplace they don't know. The park, the beach, a store, no matter.

We haven't had any new fence-jumping acts, fortunately. And given their insecurity when confronting new people and places, I don't think we will. However, I do think if they did - they might panic and be gone too far to feel comfortable about finding home.

I think they've had some hard times. They certainly get very skittish when one of us gets cross with them. As a matter of fact, and I find this very interesting, they run interference for each other. If one has done something wrong and we are trying to deal with that, the other gets all in the way, to act as a focus re-direction. When Amy is being selective about "come", Andy will be there all in my face as if to say "See! We're such good dogs! Don't worry about her!"  Amy does this a little less than Andy, but she still covers for him.

Back to speaking about hard times. I wouldn't be surprised if they'd gotten sprayed with a hose as punishment.

They also have a very high dislike of being restrained. They don't like to be held down or in one spot. For instance, so we can apply ear drops. Or groomed. They don't like being crated. They will do things we want them to - when it is their idea. Not when they are asked.

We are getting over all that. It's going to take a lot of positive reinforcement, still, but it is moving in the right direction. They are settling in to their new home, and they are definitely feeling "at home"! There are still mischief spots - the cat food up on the counter keeps getting robbed, and a couple of shoes still get occasional attention. And I don't dare leave cooked meat sitting on the counter!

But talking about all the problem areas makes them sound bad. They aren't. They are pretty good. They learn quickly. They are a dream on leash. It's just that, like I said, they came to us having learned selective hearing and independent thinking.

Everyone who sees them comments on how beautiful they are together. And I'm glad they are a pair. They are very devoted to each other, both for play, and for emotional support. When we went to the beach, I tried to get Andy out while Suzanne tried to get Amy out a different door. They actively refused to leave the car from different doors. We had to come around and coax them out the same door!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Amy n Andy - ants and apples

Who knew that ants and apples might be dog food!

Amy and Andy continue to make progress. Sit, come, doing well! Putting on weight - Amy is up to 39 lbs, Andy is at 44, down a couple from 47. Now we need to put on some muscle weight for Amy. Andy is pretty optimal.

They steal from each other at the first opportunity - food, attention, whatever. But they don't fight over it. If it a particularly good thing? Like a beef bone? One might growl a little at the other - and that is the end of it. Very nice. But guaranteed either one is watching for what the other gets and they are in their face trying to steal!

Noticed a while back they were smelling the ground in the yard, and then digging the spot. Seemed to be interested in something in the ground - so who knows - moles, voles, bugs, whatever. The other day, I thought I caught Amy chewing on roots she found in the hole.

But they are definitely smelling whatever it is that is interesting. Then today, Amy does the same thing, in a new spot. Sniff, sniff, sniff, dig a little, stick nose deep in the hole, sniff. Then she started licking at the dirt. Wtf, ok then? And I look closer, to see a couple of large ants on the ground. Could it be they are smelling the ANTS? It seems Amy might be looking at the ants as food.

I suppose that would fit with being starving and contained outdoors in a yard.

Then later, Amy picks up an apple that fell from our tree, and begins rolling it downhill and playing with it! Wow. We have been trying every which way to get them to play with dog toys or balls - with zero luck. So she picks up an apple on her own, and starts playing with it! Well, OK! Let me get you some more apples! Which I did - and they played. And between playing with them chewed on them. I think Andy thought them a bit tart!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

A requiem, a new start.

Dogs. Napoleon wondered how one dog could give him such heartache, when Napoleon himself had knowingly sent thousands of men to their deaths.

Sara was 14. She had been diagnosed with cancer months ago. We were looking for new dogs to join our family even as we helped her enjoy her last days.

Klinger was 7. He was a great dog. The best trained dog we have ever had. He was devoted to us. He started having problems, like a spider bite that went necrotic - like a brown recluse type thing. But he kept having other issues - and we could find nothing wrong. This went on for a couple of months. It always seemed like this was something that he could recover from. Except Klinger kept getting worse. Not eating. Painful joints. This went on about 2 months, and he slowly kept getting a little worse. But never really really sick, you know? Finally we decided to up the ante, and went to a specialist. Did an ultrasound, found lots of cancer, but small, and distributed all over. Which was why we did not find anything by feeling for lumps and painful spots. Klinger was dead 4 days later. And that was hard. Very, very hard.

Ok, that is done.

We'd been looking, right? We had found a couple great candidates. One had a strong prey reaction to cats - nogo. Another had 12 people in front of us on an adoption list. We saw a LOT of marginal candidates for us. I mean, sure, and I'd like to save all the dogs, but I don't have 100's of acres for them and I can't pay a staff to care for them. We've got to be a little selective and pick the best dogs that we can care for and that will fit best into how we live. A few days after Klinger passed, Suzanne looked at the Saveadog site. There were three excellent candidates there. So on Saturday, we went visiting. I wasn't much into it, but I knew I should go.

Well, turned out all three were super dogs. And two were a brother and sister act. And that was our intro to Amy and Andy. And that was how it went.

Amy and Andy. Ok - we have already had LOTS of adventures - and it has only been a week? No, a week + 1/2. First, Amy got sick - some sort of GI infection - and would not eat. Passed it to Andy, of course! But it was like a human 2 day "flu" thingy - sick as a dog for a short time - then better. Huh. The wordplay was unintentional, but I left it in - realized how bad it was as soon as I wrote it!

Anyway, after a week they are both eating MUCH better and are VERY vigorous and energetic. They got TWO daily runs yesterday and today and that still was not enough. Thank heavens they love to play with each other! Suzanne has posted a couple of vids of them playing on her page.
Past 3 days they've been eating well - about 150% of what they need to maintain their weight. At this point, that is A-Ok - as they still need to add some weight. Amy is still awfully bony. Andy is better - looks more like he has filled out to an optimal weight - but Amy needs to add some flesh.

When we started running a week or so ago - they would not break into a run. Dog trot was their fastest speed. Couple days ago was a red-letter day, when Amy was willing to break into a run. Today they went 2.5 miles in the aft, and then came home and chased each other around the house and yard at top speed. MAN, I am glad they can entertain each other! If they didn't, the boredom for them would be hazardous to us.

So let me tell you about the mischief! And they are mischievous! They get along with the cats 110% A-ok. But they WILL tease the cats. Today, both cats came indoors around lunchtime to munch on their kibble. Amy knows where that kibble is (on top of a buffet), and she has stolen it a couple of times already. But she knows she is not supposed to steal it. The cats come in and start munchiing, and Amy jumps up and pops her head up right next to them for the startle effect! "GOTCHYA!" Oy, the cats jumped and hissed, and Amy looked pleased. Mind you, the cats do not regard Amy or Andy as a particular threat - or this would have been a problem.

I've resorted to what I think of as shutzhund type training for these two - a treat within a few seconds - for excellent results. I know it isn't just shutzhund trainers that use this - it seems to be popular amongst trainers these days. But I've always regarded the offering of food at every performance as a sub-par method. Anyway, WHAT-ever, eh? Today I need what works.

Remember, Amy and Andy are adult dogs, and, hmmmm . . ., let me think . . . what mischief they might get into?  So far . . .they have opened a covered trash can . . . dug into the can recyling bin (for empty cat food cans) . . .picked up a number of shoes and socks as personal chew toys . . . pee'ed inside the house (in full view of us!) . . . jumped the fence . . . and I forget what else!

On the other hand, they are a dream on leash. On our afternoon run today, we startled live turkeys.  Andy in particular, but both were VERY interested! And they started to chase. But, they only pulled slightly and then settled down. Since I run them while riding a bike, this is important! Our last dogs - Sara and Klinger - pulled me head over tea-kettle more than once when we were working on running together. And, when A&A jumped the fence, they did not take off for parts unkown. They've stayed pretty much in our larger yard. When Sara used to get out - she was gone a mile before you could shout. And Klinger just followed right along!

When A & A run with me - they can run shoulder to shoulder - actually touching, no problem. They often look like they are in lockstep and it is beautiful. They already show understanding of come, sit, stay, down, get right, get left (very useful with me on the bicycle!), and more. We still have a lot of problem spots to work on. The indoor urination, the attraction to our shoes and socks, the jumping the fence, for instance.

And we have a number of lesser quirks. For instance, they seem afraid to get close to the pond that marks the midway spot on our long runs! Won't drink the water, won't go close to the water's edge.

They are smart enough, and clever enough, that training these guys is different from training Klinger or Sara. I can't quite tell what they are thinking or how they see a situation. Unlike Sara and Klinger. Well, we are working it, tho!

Smart, they are. Energetic. Yup. Playful, cheerful, a bit timid and cautious, great dogs. I hope we can continue to provide them with sufficient activity. I think leaving these two alone for 8 hours a day would not work very well. But they are obviously glad to have a home where they get some good feedback! And we are glad to have the company!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Klinger, singin' a song for you. Just tryin' to say goodbye.

Well, fudge . Had the dog in for xrays and a new battery of bloods on Tue. Wed he was not just worse - but much worse - losing mobility in rear legs. Xrays and bloods showed mostly nothing. Two vets found no internal masses, neither by palpating nor by looking at the xrays. Thinking was, can't find anything wrong - maybe neurological disease?
Today we went to a high-priced specialist. They did ultrasound and found a lot of small masses everywhere. So, from two active dogs to none, in short order. No telling how much time this boy has left.

I had given orders which brought death to thousands. Yet here I was stirred, profoundly stirred, stirred to tears. And by what? By the grief of one dog. -- Napoleon Bonaparte

Klinger has been my buddy. I could walk into a room, and he would look at me. And I could see that looking at me made his day better. Looking at me literally made him happy. He would just look at me and smile. I don't think I've ever had a dog do that before. Spencer Quinn writes, in his Chet and Bernie mystery series, of Chet (the dog) as looking at Bernie (the dog's human) that way. He has Chet describe Bernie as beautiful and nice to look at. It is a heck of a compliment, ya know! Made me feel good in turn.

Klinger hasn't been a one-person dog, but not far off, either. He has pretty much been my shadow the past couple years. And I've found myself attached to him, as well. So when it comes time, I'll put him down myself, and cry like a baby. I won't have it done somewhere other than home, and not by somebody else. I'll miss this one. So I may cry between now and that next time, too.

He has gone downhill very rapidly. So quickly, that it has been more than a little confusing. We only started to notice anything wrong about two months back. And, even then, it all got confused with the other problems that he had simultaneously.

I took him to the vet 'cause he had not eaten for 3 days. And he had a modest fever, and was going through panting sessions.

At the same time, he had a hard cyst growing in his groin area. I pointed this out to the vet - and he figured it looked like a spider bite. Which could cause all the symptoms we had. The cyst got large, and hard, and it eventually became a dermonecrotic lesion. Which is a fancy word for a big hole in his gut - and a very dramatic time.

At the same time, he was having digestive issues, and neurotic issues over flies and other buzzing and flying insects, and eating issues. I figured that the fly issues stemmed from the bug bite. It all got very confusing, and very dramatic.

And up until we got the ultrasound done - there was nothing that could be found that pointed to any reason for him to be going downhill. No lumps, no localized pain, no pain sensitivity at any point, no growths. For all intents and purposes, he looked healthy. Which made his distress all the more confusing and painful to us.

But, although he appeared healthy, he wasn't. The ultrasound showed small distributed masses growing throughout many parts of his body.

And I guess he was telling us he was sick by not eating. I had been thinking that the fly neuroses was affecting his appetite. He has always been affected by outside things that hurt, like bees and wasps and biting flies. He learned quickly (too quickly) to avoid whatever he was doing when they stung or bit. So that idea seemed rational. But it was wrong. Looking back, I will say he just wasn't very hungry, which is what happens when cancer is eating you up inside. 

I like to use some of the ancient traditions for the passage to the next world. I know these motions - giving those who are passing something to go over with - are mostly for us who are still here. I gave my Dad a maple leaf when he went - trees were his life. And that kind of started it for me.

Sara - the old one who passed a few weeks ago - got a bunch of treats to carry her over the river. Sara loved food, and running, and sniffing, and barking. People and doing things with them (like obedience!) were somewhere lower on the priority list. Often much lower. But she was a happy, and game dog. People naturally took to her friendly, open, and smiling face.

For Klinger? This one will need a vigil. I'll probably do a fireside vigil for him. Being touched was the path to motivate Klinger. Treats were a secondary motivation. When he got distracted by other dogs or critters, treats were completely useless. But scratch his ears? Good any time!
For Klinger, dropping some food into the grave with him won't hold much meaning. Things, and food, didn't mean much to Klinger. He loved going out in the field to run - he was very happy then - always with a big smile on his face. And he liked being touched. Whether grooming or scratching his head and ears, he was a fool for that.

And he was my buddy.

Oft I sing for my friends
When death's cold hand I see
When I reach my journey's end
Who will sing one song for me

I wonder (I wonder) who
Will sing (will sing) for me
When I'm called to cross that silent sea
Who will sing for me

When friends shall gather round
And look down on me
Will they turn and walk away
Or will they sing one song for me

So I'll sing til the end
Contented I will be
Assured that some friends
Will sing one song for me

Don't weep for me when I am gone,
Just keep sweet song still rolling on;
Until from earth you are set free,
Remember, friends to sing for me. 

"Who will sing for me". Authored maybe by the Stanley brothers, or maybe by Thomas J. Farris. Last chorus from another version.

I'll sing for ya, buddy.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Grandpa said it would be like this

Grandpa told me about how it was. His brothers and sisters - all his family - were gone. Passed. His friends were gone. Passed. He, and Prilly, his 2nd wife, were the only ones left. Prilly was a bridesmaid at his first wedding - to Dorothea. Dorothea Bristol - my grandmother. But Grandpa was the last. It didn't take but a couple of sentences for him to say it. His friends had passed. His family had passed. The people of his generation - all passed.

So, I knew it would come to my life, someday. Of course, back then, when G-pa said it, it WAS "someday". Someday in the unknown and unknowable future. But, in the FUTURE.

I'd had a friend or two who passed away young - an auto accident - cancer - but they were very much the exception. I knew, someday, this would change.

And, today, it is changing. High school classmates are passing at an increasing rate. Famous people my age - many are passing. Which brings me to the reason for this post. I mean, life goes on - we all know that. When you get old you die, sooner or later.

But a few days ago Terry Pratchett died. He was 3 years older than me. He had a true gift for words - the like of which we only see less than a dozen in any generation. He was a genius for wisdom packed into fantasy and humor. His obit page on Yahoo linked to an animated movie of Wyrd Sisters - but I tell ya - it was pretty poor. They put all kinds of stereotypes on the words and characters Pratchett created, and asfaic, they didn't catch the characters much.

Pratchett managed to capture true wisdom in comedic characters. He had a viciously clear eye for the truth of human relations.

Note: I saved this as a draft when I wrote it, shortly after Terry Pratchett's death. I wasn't sure it would stand up to time, so I set it aside. But Pratchett was an exceptional mind for his vision of the human condition and the human spirit. We have lost a great man. I wrote this post in grief over Pratchett's passing, and never finished the thoughts here. 

To tie up the loose ends then: Terry Pratchett was a great man and a great thinker. Now, granted, he did his thinking in some novels that were typically light-hearted. But it was still some pretty deep commentary on humans and what being a member of that group called humanity meant. Some very pithy stuff buried at a rather shallow level - but buried enough that you could ignore the depth and just pay attention to the fun on the surface. 

The other loose end was the message Grandpa imparted. In short: we pass. Hang around long enough and everybody you knew will pass. And after many years of youth, when you might lose a few, a time will come when all those remaining will pass in quick step. And not a day will go by but what you are hit by what has passed. 

And my message is that, for my generation, that time has begun. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

More Spring - and reflections on hand-made

Thursday, March 12, 2015 9:24:21 PM

Addendum to the whole spring thing: We can see more of our roads and even some ground off the side of the road now. I swear, it felt for a while like we were going to be like the MacKenzie Pass in Oregon - the roads might open in late May but surely by June! So much has melted, I can see stuff I haven't seen in it feels like months! We still have giant heaps on the roadsides and at the edges of parking lots. And it is still very much in the way - blocking visibility when entering the local highways.

On home-made stuff. The past few winters have seen me using the same mittens Mom knitted for me some 45 years ago. Inside their buckskin outer mitts, they are still the warmest handwear I have in the winter - better than fancy modern insulated ski gloves. There is something special for me in hand-made stuff, especially when it was made as a gift. In the case of these mittens, tho, in spite of their age, they are still the best thing going. In addition to being beautiful. It helps that they spent most of the intervening years in storage - they weren't much needed in most of the places I've lived since leaving home so many years ago. It is really rather amazing, I think, that I even still have them. I don't think most people would have held on to these that long - and I even lost track of them more than once. Fortunately they always turned up again.

The mittens are not the only hand-made thing I've been enjoying the past couple years. There is my "Thank You" coffee travel mug. It is an obviously hand painted ceramic travel mug, with stars, flowers and a large "Thank You!, Thank You!" hand painted on the handle. It wasn't made for me - and whoever was the intended recipient never used it. I "inherited" it via the recycling table at our transfer station (recycling and garbage depot). I love the obvious effort that went into this mug - and it cheers me to use it!

And then, there is the "rescue" blanket project I recently did. For many years I have had a handmade woolen poncho/blanket I bought in Guatemala on a long-ago vacation. It is not all that beautiful or anything - and it is standard tourist purchase stuff. But the yarn is quite obviously hand spun, and the poncho was obviously hand woven, and it is wool. Which all means it is a lovely bit of fabric, if you can appreciate it for what it is. The problem, for me, is that it is poncho-sized - about 5 feet square. Meaning it wasn't much good for anything I could use it for. It is overly light in weight for a rug. It is too small to use as a blanket. It is not attractive enough to use as a wall-hanging. So it has hung around for years, only occasionally getting used as a tv blanket - or sometimes as a coverlet.

But recently, at that same transfer station recycling table, I saw a light weight woolen blanket, made of mostly a natural white, undyed wool. It had seen some use, and had some spots that were unraveling from wear. And it had pastel borders - not colors that would recommend  the thing to me. However, I thought maybe I could use the good fabric, and 'rescue' the Guatemalan poncho! I tossed the blanket in the freezer for a couple of weeks to kill any moth larvae, should it have any. Then I cut it into large sections, which I pieced on to the Guatemalan poncho, and voila! I have a regular blanket sized thing now! So it is getting used on a regular basis. Blanket rescue!

I taste the air, and it feels like spring.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 6:45:34 AM

I taste the air, and it feels like spring.

I open the kitchen door to let a dog out. It is cold outside, but it feels - different. It is not like the feeling of impending snow, or of winter's colder temperatures. It is filled with promise, and comfort. And I leave the door open to let in fresh air for the first time in, oh, I don't know, it feels like it has been months!

I've been opening the door only far enough for the dog or cat to get outside. And if they did not move fast enough, I either closed the door, or scooted them along with my foot to hurry them up. I love fresh air, and our windows usually stay partly open, even in cold weather. Just a crack when it gets cold, but just a little for fresh air. Not this winter. We've closed them up tight this year.

But spring is the topic! I opened the door, and tasted the air, and felt the air, and looked around, and I could feel the beginnings of comfortable! It is a magical, exciting, promising feeling. I love spring. It is my favorite season. Now, spring is nice everywhere, but in most sections of the country it is nice, whilst the magic is not so strong. In New England, though, spring is especially exciting and promising. And it was experiencing spring, up here, that gave spring the special meaning it has to me. Most folks would pick summer, fall, or winter as their favorite season. My pick is spring.

I do not know exactly what it is that creates the feeling of spring. Whether it is the quality of the light, the humidity levels, the temperature, a scent on the air, the sounds of the wild critters moving about, or the sound of water, I do not know. It might be it is all of them together.

It could be longer days. Except the days have been getting longer for more than two months, and we've yet been deep in the grips of winter. I knew the promise was there - every morning the light came a little earlier - and I love that. I love waking up with the light.

It could be that there was humidity in the air, except it gets more humid when snow is coming, also, and that does not signify spring! The temperatures has gone up a bit, and that certainly contributes to the feeling of the air! I don't think it is the scent of anything yet, there is nothing I can see quickening and greening, and the sap is not yet flowing in the trees - although it should be soon.

The sounds of the wild critters definitely ups the mood ante. The birds are singing more. I heard the hoot owls getting all crazy just a couple of nights ago: "whoo-ho, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo". I could hear at least a half dozen "whoo"-ing at each other near our house. The squirrels are back raiding the bird feeders - and looking scrawny, too. I'll be giving them a little extra discouragement soon enough.

But there is one more thing that adds to the feeling in the air - that creates the intuitive knowledge in my body that spring has begun: the sound of water. In winter there is silence. Yes, the birds sing, footsteps on the snow squeak and crunch, but otherwise, the world is muffled and silent. There is no rustling of leaves, no scurrying of creatures, not tiny, small, medium, nor large. But now the creatures are sometimes about, and I can hear water.

Water and I have developed a special relationship in my life. You could say I have an affinity with running, living waters. Being close to these waters has always done something extra for my soul. It very much like having enough daylight - too many grey days seriously depress me. And, of course, now science tells us that the sound of running water DOES do good things for us psychologically. Whatever, I learned it was an important and special thing as a youngster, when I was living with the ocean on one side, and the intracoastal waterway (a series of estuaries on the Atlantic coast of Florida, for those who've not lived there) on the other. A few years later, when I moved to New England, there was springtime, and the return of the sounds of water.

It is dripping from the eaves. The icicles are melting, and falling off the roof. Roads, paths and driveways are clearing. There are streams and rivulets on every hill. Which is everywhere around here. And you can hear them all. Spring in the Columbia River basin has this effect in spades - with waterfalls everywhere and rainbows and mist to go along with it. But the sounds of running water helps make spring in our northeast special.

There you have it. Springtime is special. Some people get flowers, some get rain. Some people get a cessation of rain (think Pacific Northwest)! Here, it starts with the melting of the snow, the singing of the birds, and a feeling of the air.

I left the door open, until it got quite chilly inside the kitchen. It felt good.