We’re all animals here. Human and canine. Quiet and companionable on this day in early October.

This has been a grey, drizzly week in southern New England. At exactly the time when I should be outside capturing the glories of the season, the “thing that’s going around” has come to visit our house. With everything wet all the time, the trees are not doing much except in patches along the river.


Today is supposedly the last of the damp, gray days — for at least a week — or unless Hurricane Matthew makes it way all the way up the coast. In which case, bye-bye autumn!

Gibbs being annoyed by photographer while he's trying to get his much-needed beauty sleep

Gibbs being annoyed by photographer while he’s trying to get his much-needed beauty sleep

The few times I remember having no autumn, were when hurricanes blew the leaves off the trees before having a chance to show their colors. There were also two memorable years when we had significant snowfall in September and early October. Although snow that early won’t linger on the ground, it finishes off the color change of the leaves.

Yawning Bonnie. Nothing much happening, might as well sleep.

Yawning Bonnie. Nothing much happening, might as well sleep.

It’s still early October, so there’s time for the change of season to make a splash. Meantime, our dogs — Bonnie and Gibbs — have been moping. They don’t care for rain. They don’t mind anything else including lots of snow, even when there’s more snow than Scottish Terrier on the ground. But, for reasons that remain unclear to me, they do not love rain.

I’ve been taking pictures. Mopy dogs are not cheerful, but also aren’t in rapid motion. Which is good for a photographer. Me.

Bonnie - posing for the camera

Bonnie – posing for the camera

Bonnie was a rescue from a puppy mill, but she was barely 9 weeks old when she came to us. A tiny little thing and she has never reached full size. Her traumatic early weeks of life don’t seem to have affected her personality, although the likely malnutrition of those early weeks kept her undersized for her breed. She has made up for it by being astoundingly food driven, checking every piece of floor (including the rug) several times every day … just in case there might be a crumb left lying free.


She’s a bit on roly-poly side, so I doubt she is really starving, but she says she is. She lies like a dog.

Her prime activity (other than hunting for food) is subduing throw pillows. You would not believe how difficult it is to keep a good throw pillow down. As soon as she pushes all three of them to on the floor, they are back  on the sofa. And she has to wrestle them yet again. A dog’s work is never done.

Bonnie, looking for a pillow fight

Bonnie, looking for a pillow fight

Gibbs was a stud in a large, midwestern breeding kennel until he came to us just this past March. He’s settled in nicely to the life of a sofa dog, but he remains — and perhaps always will remain — very wary of anyone other than us.

With us, he’s become more or less “normal,” or as normal as terriers ever are. Everyone else is someone to bark at and he has a definite spite on all internal combustion vehicles. As far as he is concerned, they are the enemy.



It’s probably his way of helping deal with global warming. Maybe if we all barked at cars and trucks, the world would be a cleaner place? He’d chase them too if it weren’t for those frustrating fences …

Bonnie waiting

Bonnie waiting

These are our animals. Our pals. Two dogs, both black Scottish Terriers. They amuse us, comfort us, play with us, and keep us busy and laughing. They don’t ask for money and don’t need car insurance.

Life goes on. Peacefully. With dogs.



It’s raining. Not heavily. Not enough to make up for all the dry months this spring and summer.

It’s exactly enough to make the dogs unhappy. Our dogs — Gibbs and Bonnie — and for that matter, almost all the dogs who have gone before them (with a few notable exceptions) do not, did not, like rain. More accurately, going outside when it’s raining.

To sleep perchance to dream

I don’t understand their aversion to rain, especially in view of their fondness for pretty much anything else the weather can throw at us. They like dirt, they like digging in mud. Gibbs thinks paddling in his water bowl is an Olympic sport. Yet, irrational or not, they don’t like rain.

Snow? Not a problem. It can be blowing a full blizzard and they’ll go out to play.

Rain? No way, mom. We are not going out there. Yuck.


Why? You’d have to ask them. What it means to me, is unless I get up and tell them to go out, then make them stay out long enough to “do something,” they will leave me pools and piles right in front of the doggy door. They get there, stick their little heads out, realize it’s raining and that’s as far as they go, unless I exert my authority. They’re sure that wet stuff falling from the sky is my fault and I should make it stop. Since it always stops … eventually … I guess it proves them right.

I was up at 5. I was up at 6:30. At 8. At 9, the phone began to ring. I have it set to silent nights, but my phone’s programming is inflexible on the definition of “night.” Night ends at 9 in the morning. Short of turning off the ringer completely, 10PM to 9AM are the maximum number of hours for which I can prevent it from ringing. It’s got such a raucous ringtone and is so near my head when I’m in bed, there’s no ignoring it.


Between 9 in the morning and 11 when I reluctantly got up for the day, the phone rang six times. One-two-three-four-five-six. Garry has a cold, so he’s staying in bed as long as possible. It was raining. I had nothing planned. There was no reason on earth for me to get up early …

I don’t remember the details of each call, but none of them were personal or relevant. One was a bill collector for someone who hasn’t lived here for years. I would have told them to stop calling me (they call dozens of times a week), but it’s a recorded message so there’s no one to talk to. The next one, though, was someone trying to sell me an extended warranty on a car we sold a couple of year ago. She was a live human person, so I could say “Sold it, go away. Don’t call again.” Click. (Someone else from the same company called later anyway. So much for getting them to stop calling me.)72-Phones_04

One of the subsequent calls was a recorded message assuring me I’d won a long weekend in Bermuda if only I would agree to participate in their survey. No idea what kind of survey it was, but I don’t participate in surveys. All they really want is personal information they can use to target you for further phone calls.

It was a recording, but they left a pause during which you could say “NO!!” and I did. I swear the recorded messenger was baffled why I wouldn’t want a FREE VACATION IN BERMUDA. Right. There’ll be a real free vacation when pigs have wings. The recording said “You really don’t want a free vacation? You said ‘No?”

“NO” I yelled into the phone. Again. Then, I clicked off. I miss the days when you could slam the phone into the cradle. Pressing off is not nearly as satisfying.

I’m pretty sure the pace of these calls has recently picked up. There seems to be no way to dump them because most of the time, there’s nobody on the other end of the line. I am being hounded by robots.

Of course by then, I was up for the day. The phone only rang once more. The same company trying to sell me an extended warranty on a car I no longer own, and another call trying to collect money from that same former tenant.

It’s a conspiracy. It’s the only possible explanation. Unless you have a better one?


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?


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.


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.


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.

great griffin

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.


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.


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).


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 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.

rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

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!


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.


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.

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

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.