REMEMBERING TINKER BELLE

Can you set a price on love? Can you set a number to it? Can you calculate it by the cost of health care, toys, dog food? Grooming?

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Tinker Belle was a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, also called PBGVs or Petites. They are a medium-sized, shaggy rabbit hound from the Vendée region of France, but have become over the past 20 years, quite popular as pets, though they are definitely not a dog for just anyone. They are smart, funny (they will do almost anything to make you laugh), noisy, and into everything.

Tinker Belle was special. From the day I brought her home from the airport (she had just flown up from her breeder’s home in North Carolina), she wasn’t like any other puppy I’d ever met. She was incredibly smart. As a rule, hounds are intelligent, but she was something else. Housebreaking? We showed her the doggy door. She was henceforth housebroken. She could open any door, any gate and close them behind her. She would open jars of peanut butter without leaving a fang mark to note her passing. All you’d find was a perfectly clean empty jar that had previously been an unopened, brand new jar.

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She was deeply sensitive. Probably born to be a therapy dog, she knew who was in pain, she knew who was sick. She knew where you hurt. She was the only dog who would never step on a healing incision, but would cuddle close to you, look at you with her dark, soft eyes and tell you everything would be fine. She never hurt a living thing, not human or anything else … except for small varmints she hunted in the yard. She was, after all, a hound and a hunter at that, born to track, point and if necessary, kill prey.

Tinker at 9 months

Tinker at 9 months

She was the smartest of our five dogs, the smartest dog of my life. Not just a little bit smarter than normal. A huge amount smarter. When you looked into Tinker’s eyes, it wasn’t like looking into the eyes of a dog. She was a human in a dog suit. She knew. We called her Tinker the Thinker because she planned, she remembered. She held grudges. More on that. For all that, she was Omega (the bottom) in the pack, we thought it was mostly her own choice. She had no interest in leadership. Too much responsibility maybe? But the other dogs knew her value. When they needed her, other dogs would tap into her expertise in gate opening, package disassembly, cabinet burglary, trash can raiding and other criminal activities. Throughout her life, she housebroke each new puppy. A couple of hours with Tinker, and the job was done. It was remarkable. Almost spooky. She then mothered them until they betrayed her by growing up and playing with other dogs.

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When Griffin, our big male Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen came to live with us a few months after Tinker, they became The Couple. inseparable, deeply in love. They ate together, played together, slept together, sang together. When about a year later, we briefly had a little Norwich Terrier pup and Griffin (what a dog!) abandoned Tinker to go slobbering after Sally … well … Tinker’s heart was broken.

She became depressed, would not play anymore with humans or other dogs. For the next 10 years, Tinker refused to so much as look at Griffin. Worse, she apparently blamed us, her humans for having brought another girl into the house. In retribution for our crimes, Tinker began her Reign of Terror.

Tinker took to destroying everything she could get her fangs on when she was three years old. She’d done a modest amount of puppy chewing, but nothing extraordinary. She was more thief than a chewer. She would steal your stuff and hide it. Shoes, toys (Kaity was very young), towels, stuffed animals. After Griffin betrayed her with that stupid little bitch — Sally was indeed the polar opposite of Tinker being the dumbest dog I’ve ever known and ill-tempered to boot — Tinker was no longer a playful thief. She was out to get us.

Nothing was safe. She had a particular passion for destroying expensive electronic devices. Cell phones, remote controls, portable DVD players, computers. If she could get a fang to them, she killed them. She would do more damage in under a minute than I thought possible. For Garry and I, it meant we couldn’t leave the room together unless we put everything away where Tink couldn’t get it. Tinker would strike quickly and she was lethal.

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Griffin the great

If we were going to bed for the night, every single movable item that was less than 6 feet off the ground had to be put away. If she couldn’t get to any small expensive electronic items, she ate the sofa, the rocking chair, the coffee table, a lot of books, many DVDs …. and for dessert, shoes were always yummy. For many years, I didn’t own any shoes without tooth marks.

We called such items “Tinkerized” and we had a grading system ranging from 10 – Utterly destroyed, to 1 – Only shows if you look closely. Most of my shoes fell into the 2 to 3 range and since she tended to start at the heel, I figured most folks wouldn’t notice.

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During one memorable intermission, Garry and I went to the kitchen to grab something to drink and she dismembered our remote controls. We were gone, by the clock, about a minute. The kitchen is adjacent to the sofa were we watch TV, so she managed to do this with us not 10 feet away. It cost me a couple of hundred dollars to replace them. She pulled off the backs, tore out the batteries (but never ate them), then ripped out the wiring and boards. She didn’t waste any time, either. If she had the leisure, she’d also tear out the keys and generally mangle the cases, but if time was limited, she went straight to the guts of the thing. She was good.

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For 10 years, we lived under siege. If you didn’t want it Tinkerized, you couldn’t leave it exposed, not for a minute.

Yet we loved Tinker and for the last year of her life, after we brought Bonnie home, Tinker became a real dog again. With Bonnie, Tinker came back to herself and played again. She ran around the yard, played tag, joined the chorus when the other dogs pointed their muzzles at the sky and sang. Hounds have such beautiful voices and Tinker’s was the most beautiful of all. When she sang, nature sang with her. I suppose this is a matter of taste, but for those of us who love hounds, you know what I mean.

Singing is a social function for canines. When a pack sings, it isn’t an alert. It’s a chorus. They are really truly singing together. Each dog has a part, joining in, then pausing and rejoining at the right moment. Tinker was a baritone, the deepest and loudest of the canine voices and Bonnie is a coloratura soprano, very musical, but light.

Almost exactly three years ago, Tinker died of cancer. She had shown no symptoms except a slight slowing down and a slightly lessened appetite. One day, she collapsed. She was riddled with cancer. How in the world she had so effectively hidden her illness is mind-boggling. A couple of weeks later, Griffin had a massive stroke and died. They were the same age and I don’t believe for a minute the timing of their passing was coincidence. Despite Griffin’s infidelity, the two PBGVs were a couple and would not live without each other.

The house was so quiet with the two hounds gone. We didn’t have to hide everything anymore, though it took us months to realize it was safe, that I could leave my laptop out at night and no dog would bother it. After the two hounds passed, the pack did not sing for half a year. One day, mourning ended and they started to sing again. Now, they sing twice a day, early in the morning (get up Mom) and in the evening (pause that show, time for the chorus).

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What was Tinker’s true cost? We paid $700 for her as a puppy. Who knows how much her medical care cost over? Who remembers? It’s part of the contract between dogs and us. They love us, we care for them.

Other damages? Thousands of dollars in electronic gear, furniture, shoes, books, DVDs, videotapes, dolls — who knows what else.

But she paid us back, you see. Because when I was terribly ill, Tinker never left my side. When I was back from surgery, missing another piece of me and in pain, Tinker was there, never placing a paw where it would hurt me. How does it add up? How much was the love worth? What is the cost of a lifetime laughter and love?

A NOSTALGIC RERUN: LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS

A Collaboration of Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on the Miss Kitty/Miss Lily saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.


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NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who know for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.


Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider”, is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon double-header at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second (third?) run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

LARRY AND BETTY’S MONARCH ADVENTURE – LIFELESSONS, Judy Dykstra-Brown

The vanishing of the monarch butterfly is a continuing drama as those of us who want to save them fight the clock to grow enough milkweed to nourish them on their journeys. This post by Judy Dykstra-Brown is one of the best posts I’ve seen showing the life of the Monarch butterfly. Enjoy! I certainly did.


Larry and Betty’s Monarch Adventure

I just have to share this email I got from my friends Larry Kolczak and Betty Peterson in Ajijic, Mexico. I published photos of one of these caterpillars a few weeks ago.  Here is the end of the story, told by Larry:

Since we live only a few hour’s drive from the mountains in Central Mexico where the Monarch butterflies from Eastern Canada and the U.S. migrate to spend the winter, we figured we’d better give them a helping hand by planting some milkweed in our garden. It is actually a more attractive plant than I imagined. And, it is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies lay their eggs.

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After just a week or two, Monarch’s found our plants and began laying their tiny white pearl-like eggs. Here is one right where the sunlit and shadowed parts of the leaf meet.

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The eggs hatch about 4 days later. This little guy is busily munching on milkweed.

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Milkweed contains some toxic chemicals that don’t affect the Monarch, but will sicken any predator that eats either the caterpillar or the butterfly. As a result, neither has to have camouflaged coloration. Their bright colors serve as a reminder to any predator who ever tried to eat one.

Please enjoy the rest of the story at: Larry and Betty’s Monarch Adventure on lifelessons.

SPEAKING DOGGISH

The other day, the NBC Nightly News had a piece during which they announced that scientists have officially proven what we all knew. Dogs understand what we say to them. They understand words, tone of voice, and context. Just like teenagers. When they ignore what we tell them, it isn’t because they don’t understand. They understand just fine. They are — like teenagers — disrespecting us.

I have always believed they understand and choose to ignore us — unless they feel there’s something in it for them.

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“Bonnie,” calls Garry. “Go out.” She stops halfway down the stairs and stares at him.

“All the way out.” She goes down one more step. Turns around. Stares.

“Gibbs,” he says. “You too. Move. GO. I told you to GO.” Both Scotties, in motion so slow you wouldn’t believe they had that much fine muscle control, descend the stairs. One at a time.

Thump. Thump. Thump. THUMP. Thumpitty. Thump.

There are only six steps, but it takes them several minutes to navigate their way to the ground floor landing. They stand in front of the doggie door. They look up.

“Go OUT,” Garry says. He does this every night. It’s a mind game. “No, not at the same time. One at a time.” They are like little furry clowns, trying to get through the door simultaneously and getting stuck. No one could tell me they don’t know how funny they look.

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Gibbs

Then the game goes into reverse. In the summertime, it goes into reverse. In dry weather. If it’s raining or blizzarding, all bets are off. In bad weather, getting them out is a problem. Getting them in is not.

The last trip outside in the evening is the one before we clean Bonnie’s eyes and administer eye drops. No idea what the problem is, but she’s allergic to something. We are going to be giving her eye drops for the rest of her life. She knows. We know she knows. Gibbs knows because after the eye drops come the treats.

Usually Bonnie and Gibbs finally come inside, but won’t come up the stairs. They stay at the bottom, looking up. Until Garry stands at the top and says “Come upstairs.” Pause. “Now, please.” Garry is very polite and always says “please” and “thank you” to the dogs.

They continue to stare at him. “NOW,” he says, but they don’t give him any respect. Finally, Garry goes down and shoos them upstairs. Bonnie jumps onto the loveseat. I clean the gunk out of her eyes. Put eye drops in. Gibbs watches. Everyone adjourns to the kitchen for a biscuit.

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Last night, the dogs decided to up the stakes. Instead of coming in and standing at the bottom of the stairs, they stayed on the front step, directly outside in front of the doggie flap. Garry had to open the door and say “Please. Come in.” Then, Bonnie came in. Gibbs won’t come past someone standing at the door, so you have to close the door so he can come in through the flap.

Don’t ask. It’s a dog thing.

We have other similar conversations.

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Bonnie

Me: “Gibbs, do NOT dig on the sofa.” Gibbs pauses. Looks at me, haunted brown eyes full of tenderness and affection. Then, he starts to dig some more.

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Gibbs

“Gibbs, I said stop.” He gets down from the sofa and comes over to the loveseat and jumps up, making sure to try to knock my laptop to the floor in the process. He is trying to kill my computer and I fear one day I will lose focus and he will succeed. But not yet.

I give him a thorough scratching about the ears.

He knows. He knows I know. We all know. We are, as they say, a very knowing family.

Now, the scientific community also knows. Because I saw it on network news, and everyone knows if it’s on television, it is 100% true.

Give or take a lie or two.

SMALL, FURRY, AND FIERCE

Divot was a Norwich Terrier, the smallest of the working terriers. Eleven inches at the shoulder, she never even considered the possibility that she might not be the toughest dog on the block.

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2005

Her biggest problem in her long life, was that people didn’t take her seriously. She would bark ferociously at the UPS and FedEx guys, but rather than quaking with fear, they would smile at her and dig a biscuit out of a pocket.

Finally, we had a private conversation with the UPS guy who was obviously a dog-lover.

“Please,” I asked him, “Act scared when she barks. She wants to be fierce. It’s not her fault that she’s small, furry, and cute.”

And so, from thence forward, he would quake with fear when Divot barked. In return, she would lick him ferociously.

Divot was fierce. Absolutely terrifying. Just ask the UPS guy.

FIERCE | THE DAILY POST

THAT WAS THE DAY THAT WAS

The day before yesterday was a day and a half. Maybe more.

I knew my son was coming to mow the lawn, but I didn’t know he was coming with a new (to us, but not “new” new) dishwasher. I didn’t expect UPS to deliver a stack of items that have been hanging fire. Jam for my morning muffins. A new mat for the shower (the old one has turned a funky orange). Shower cleanser and mold removing spray, both of which (my preferred brands, that is) are not available in the local store.

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These days, I order it from Walmart central and it gets delivered for free … a great improvement over hunting the aisles of our local Walmart in person.

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After the installation, I had to wash the kitchen floor again. Two days in a row is a lot of floor scrubbing. It’s impossible to install an appliance without needing a complete floor wash afterwards. Then I vacuumed again too. Because hauling stuff in and out hauled in a lot of lawn and leaf debris.

Bonnie

Bonnie

Then, realizing it was now or never, I put dinner up in the slow cooker because I had the distinct feeling once I sat down, I would not quickly rise again.

I was right.

I did manage to take a few pictures in the midst of the chaos. For reasons I can’t explain, suddenly my dogs are cooperating and hold still while I take their picture. Gibbs and I had a little disagreement about him marking furniture in the living room. He felt a need to hide. Not very effectively, but pretty funny.

Gibbs in hiding

Gibbs in hiding

I apologize (again) for not visiting all your blogs. I fell behind and then slipped even further today. It was obvious to me I’d never get through the email, much less the blogs. It wasn’t lack of love. I ran out of time. I think tomorrow will be more or less normal. I hope.