HOUDINI DOG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom’s brother, Todd, came for a visit with his dog, Houla, a Catahoula Leopard Dog. She’s only fourteen months old so she’s still a puppy, with puppy energy and a puppy’s desire to play constantly with my two, older dogs.

My three-year-old dog, Remy, played with Houla a lot and the two of them chased each other around the yard at top speed. What’s surprising is that my nine-year-old, Lexi, also played with Houla. This is great because it gave my otherwise couch potato dog some exercise. So the three dogs got along fine, unlike Houla’s younger days when we constantly had to intervene to break up overly aggressive or enthusiastic wrestling matches.

The problem is that Houla discovered a way to get out of our fenced in backyard. We have a tall, reinforced fence covering a large area around two sides of our house. Our dogs have not breached the perimeter for years. Remy found a hole in the fence when we first adopted her but has not found another way out since we plugged that hole. Apparently, she just wasn’t looking.

Houla six months ago

One day we realized that Houla was not in the room with us and we went looking for her. She wasn’t downstairs and she wasn’t upstairs so we went out to the backyard and called her. She instantly appeared, happily wagging her tail at us, from the outside of the fence. We brought her back inside and in short order, she was out again.

Houla outside, looking for trouble

We had to figure out how she was getting out so we all took turns watching her when she went out. After a very short time, she made a beeline to a spot in the fence and started digging and prodding the fence with her nose. Houla had found a small area of fencing that had a hole on the inside, which Houla made bigger. Then she managed to pull on the fence with her teeth and dislodge it from the ground so she could wiggle under it and out the other side.

Houla in a rare quiet moment

This was the beginning of a two-day battle of wits and wills between Tom and Houla. Tom started by putting logs up against the loose part of the fence, but Houla just pushed them aside and escaped under the fence again. Tom then put a large garbage can on the outside of the fence and rocks and more logs on the inside. No problem for Houla.

Tom’s early attempt to stop Houla from getting out

Tom was frustrated and kept piling more things on the trouble spot. Each time he was sure that he had come up with something that Houla couldn’t possibly get around. His confidence was adorable, but he was always wrong. He even used stakes to keep the fence attached to the ground – to no avail.

Another cute photo of Houla as a younger puppy

To add to the problem, when Houla got out, she found a large mud hole to splash in and kept reappearing wet and dirty at the outside of the fence. We had to hose her down and dry her off before I would let her back into the house.

Houla with Todd

Now things got serious – except that I kept laughing at Tom each time he’d get outsmarted by a dog. But we couldn’t all leave the house at the same time because while Houla was adept at getting out, she couldn’t get back in and we didn’t want her wandering out to the road or getting lost in the woods.

Finally, Tom pulled out all the stops. He put a heavy bucket of salt from the winter on the outside of the hole and blocked the inside with an even heavier metal ramp that we use to get the dogs on and off our boat. Success! Houla has gone outside and poked around her escape route but has not managed to get through again.

Tom finally managed to plug the hole in the fence

Crisis averted! Tom is vindicated! For now.

TIME OFF AND RETIREMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Time Off

Periodically, we go to retirement parties. Well, not so much now because most of our similar-age friends are already retired. For a long time, it was all retirement parties all the time. Except for the funerals, usually held for people who didn’t make it to retirement.

At some point during the party, someone — usually the wife of or the actual retiree — would say: “Now I (or we) will have plenty of time to visit and hang out.”

This causes the rest of us who are already retired, to laugh hysterically. I’m not sure how or why it works this way, but it always works this way. One day, you are working 40 or 50 hours a week. The next week, you are retired and vaguely worried about what you are going to do.

A month later, you are wondering how you found time to work because you barely have time to get anything done. The more retired you are, the busier you become. Bloggers blame blogging. Artists blame their art. Grandparents blame babysitting. People with money complain they seem to always be packing or unpacking, though I find it difficult to sympathize with those who simply can’t stop vacationing.

Please don’t complain how hard it is to manage your summer-house in the mountains and your extra house in New Mexico. Or at least only do it with friends who also have spare houses.

If you aren’t blogging or on a permanent vacation, you are probably writing, painting, teaching, volunteering, or discovering half the children you thought had moved out are now moving  back– with or without the rest of their family.

Dogs and cats multiply. Houses need repair pretty much all the time and as soon as you finish one task, another — like magic — appears.

Time off?

What’s that?

What happened to all the time you were going to have to visit friends and just hang out? The only thing which changes is you can finally get enough sleep. Among my husband and his sleep-deprived colleagues, sleep is the number one activity on their life chart. They are serious sleepers. This is apparently what happens when you’ve been sleep-deprived for 50 or 60 years. You can’t seem to catch up.

Many of us discover while we used to be casual about cleaning, we now seem to feel a more persistent need to keep the house clean. And doing that is harder than it was. I used to be able to do a pretty good clean-up of a 9-room house in about four hours, as long as Credence Clearwater Revival was playing in the background. Now, I can’t even reach half the things that need cleaning. I’ve grown much shorter during the past 10 years.

The one thing you can count on is that you will not have lots of leftover time. It’s like the magic closet which, no matter how much you remove from it, remains full.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Life is permanently full unless you are uninterested in anything. Most of us have always had hobbies and other activities we have wanted to spend more time doing but we were busy earning a living or raising kids. Now, as retirees, we slide into our “hobbies” with the same gusto we had professionally. Except we don’t get paid.

Oh well. You can’t have everything, right?

DOG TRAINING CLASSES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My daughter, Sarah, is involved with a dog rescue group in LA called Angel City Pit Bulls. A rescue group is different from a shelter in many ways. A shelter is often a city or local entity that keeps a, usually large, number of abandoned dogs in cages awaiting adoption. Many euthanize animals when they run out of space or if a dog seems “unadoptable” for a variety of reasons, including medical reasons.

Rescue groups pull dogs from shelters and put them in either foster homes or brick and mortar facilities with much nicer ‘rooms’ for the dogs. There are a manageable number of dogs and each dog gets more human attention and training than shelter dogs can get.

A rescue utilizes mostly volunteers to do their work, which includes taking dogs to vet appointments, supporting the foster families and helping them whenever needed, as well as socializing the rescue dogs as much as possible. Rescues pay for all the dogs’ shots and spaying and neutering, and all medical care that the dog may need before they are ready for adoption.

Rescues make an effort to get their dogs used to dealing with people and other dogs. They learn which dogs are good with kids and which may not be so good with cats.

This helps with the primary job of the rescue group – matching a dog to an appropriate family. Rescues are much more particular than shelters in vetting their potential adopters because they want to find a ‘good fit’ between the animal and its new home. They want to minimize the number of ‘returns’ as much as possible, although this does still happen.

Angel City started offering free dog training classes a few years ago and my daughter assists the trainer in these classes. Today they offer three different classes on six consecutive Saturday mornings.

I visited Sarah in LA for a week and I went with her to her Saturday classes. It was great fun watching the interactions between the owners, the trainers, and the dogs. The first class is open to the community but most of the students are recent Angel City adopters and their new dogs.

It’s a Movement Class, which works on leash skills for both the dogs and their masters. Walking on a leash without pulling or getting distracted by other people or dogs, is not as easy as it sounds. Dog and human have to work together and at first, this process involves lots of treats. The dog should eventually learn to walk by the owner’s side when the owner is walking, and stop and sit when the owner stops. That’s a goal I have never reached with my two current dogs.

The second class works on Owner Focus and attempts to establish a relationship where the dog looks to the human for direction – what should I or shouldn’t I be doing now? The trainer teaches basic commands, like sit and down and works with owners to keep their pets focused on them and not the other dogs or the environment. This again involves lots of treats.

The third class is just for current Angel City fosters and residents. Volunteers commit to taking one dog through the six-week class, which will help the dog get adopted because basic training and social skills are a big selling point for potential adoptive families.

Sarah with a new student

One dog in this class had a unique story – he had just been rescued off the street two weeks earlier by a wonderful family. This dog, who was one or two years old, was still decompressing from his life on the streets and needed a lot of patience and TLC. His new owner was great with him and was committed to giving him a good life in a loving home.

I’m very proud of my daughter for devoting her time and energy to such a good cause. Her example has stimulated me to try to get one of my dogs certified as a therapy dog. I did this with one of my other dogs, many years ago and it was a gratifying experience. The dog loved it and the seniors at the senior center I lit up when they said, “me and my dog.”

I can’t wait to do this again!

MYSTERY OF THE DUKE – Marilyn Armstrong

The Duke is one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had. Not as smart as Tinker the Thinker. She was human in a dog suit. But maybe he is smarter in a different way.

Duke does what he pleases. He goes where he decides to go. He can jump all of our fences, break down doors and his desire to be our only dog has not diminished.

So the other day, Garry was outside, trying to get the hardened ice off the driveway and build a place to put the trash and recycling bins. He looked up into the window and there was the face of the Duke smiling down at him. From the window in my office.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

My office isn’t my office anymore. It has become the room where we put things that we use sometimes, but not all the time. The Christmas tree is in there all wrapped in plastic as are the two big wooden nutcrackers.

Red Finch atop Toad

The printer, router, and cable box, which the guy from Charter didn’t take with him. I think we need it anyway because it’s where we hook up the router. Which is how we send signals to the devices which use wi-fi. Computers, Kindles, iPads, and all that. Of course the two televisions. And an extra fold-up bed for a guest who might wander in from the cold.

The Duke was in that room. At the window. Smiling down at Garry.

Later that evening, in bed, Garry told me he’d seen the Duke peering out of the office window. I asked him if he’d closed the door to the office since Duke must have pushed the door open in to get to the window.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Garry said he hadn’t closed it because when he came in, the office door was closed. I said I hadn’t closed it either. In fact, had not been in that room at all that day.

So … who closed the door? The door has a standard round doorknob and opens inward, as do all the doors in the house. He could push it closed from in the room, but to close it? He would have to have pulled it closed from the hallway using the doorknob.

Doorknob

Doorknob? He doesn’t have hands. He has no thumbs.

So how did he close the door? Any explanation will do. I’ve known a few dogs who could close a gate, but never one who could close a door using a round doorknob.

Have you?

VICTIMS OR PERPETRATORS? TAKE YOUR BEST GUESS! – Garry Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Victims or Perps?

Marilyn and I follow lots of those TV procedural crime shows. We anticipate all the cliché lines.

“Stay in the car”

“He was turning his life around.”

“Everyone loved him.”

“No one was supposed to get hurt!”

Two dog

We usually figure out who the “vics” and “perps” are before the coppers and lawyers find the answer. Often before the credits finish rolling. Now, fiction has turned to cold, hard reality in our home. We are the victims. Not the mob, not the cabal, not even some local mokes looking for an easy score.

It’s an inside job and the perps are our DOGS!

If you look beyond the fence, you’ll see Gibbs and the Duke by the front steps

They’ll smile, offer constant affection and cheer us up when we aren’t feeling good. But it’s part of their sting.

Food is the motive. Their “jackets” are full of priors. Most are misdemeanors but now they’ve moved up the chain to a felony. Bonnie, our beloved Scottie, is the boss. She leads the furry gang in snatches, intimidation, assault (head butting), larceny and perjury.

We’ve tried to turn their lives around with extra Christmas goodies, more fun battles on the love seat and long chats to emphasize our affection.

Alas, but Bonnie and her accomplices are food-driven. Hunger stalks them, often immediately after a full meal. With leftovers thrown in.

Nothing we do can stop this furry reign of terror. We don’t want to profile Bonnie because she is black, and we are afraid of possible lawsuits. Perhaps the IA people can check out her background.

Bonnie, driven to revenge, is hell-bent on retribution because … we’ve put her on a diet. Bonnie is relentless in stealing Marilyn’s food. She stalks Marilyn and refuses to back down when confronted. The other dogs make sure Bonnie’s six is protected.

We’ve tried so hard to show them the path to a good life but their crimes are senseless.

Generosity… That was our first mistake.

THE DOG DONE IT – Marilyn Armstrong

A few weeks ago, my very expensive kitchen scissors vanished. I was sure they would reappear, that they had maybe fallen under a cabinet or something. I decided it could not be the dogs because why would a dog be interested in scissors? They don’t have thumbs, so what could they do with them.

But today, the truth came to light.

Garry went to The Crate.

This where all three dogs “save” stuff. Toys, bits of wood, whatever things they’ve stolen (socks, slippers, hairbrushes, small blankets, odd items of clothing (underpants [mine are very popular]), plastic medicine bottles. Weirdly, they leave each others’ treasure alone and attack their own. Bonnie prefers soft things. Gibbs like anything which squeaks — except balls which he totally doesn’t get — and mess with their own stuff. Except for food.

If it’s edible, first jaws get the bite.

So it was obvious that the crate was overflowing and Garry decided to clean it out. He found lots of stuff including the usual empty plastic medicine bottles (gnawed), with or without lids. Old mail. Not so old mail. And half of the missing scissors with a chewed-up handle.

These were expensive scissors that were designed to come apart for cleaning, so I’m pretty sure the other half is somewhere. As are a few of my missing socks, underwear, and at least one nightgown.

1/2 of a pair of scissors

I’m not even sure how the Duke — it had to be the Duke because I doubt either Bonnie or Gibbs would want the scissors — I didn’t think it was any of the dogs. I was blaming gremlins, pixies, brownies, and other house elves.

Maybe The Duke IS a gremlin. Or at the very least, a house elf. That would explain a lot.

VARIETY IS MY SPICE FOR LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Variety

I like going to the same places over and over again, but I also like adding new places to which I’ve never been.

I like white and dark humans and all the shades in-between. I respect every religion unless they are trying to kill me, and after 50 or so years, I even forgive that. After growing up with my father, I’m not afraid of anyone. Surviving him tore the fear away.

The furniture in my house goes beyond eclectic into fully random. Oddly, it works. It’s an interesting house. You never know what you will find.

The colors are mostly muted so they don’t offend anyone and anyway, no one ever comes over so if it doesn’t bother us, who else would it bother? The dogs are colorblind.

Bonnie and living room

I will order the same thing in the same restaurant for years until one day, I decide to try something different. Sometimes, that becomes my new favorite. Sometimes, I realize why I didn’t try it before.

On the other hand, I’m very careful about changing services and utilities. Like electricity or veterinarians or doctors because however bad they are,  the “new kid in town” can often turn out to be a lot worse than you imagined possible.

Atop the shelves in the living room.

I shop at little old Hannaford not because it’s the biggest or best grocery in town, but because I’m comfortable there. And it’s at least a mile closer to home than any other grocery.

I haven’t found a new hairdresser since the guy, then the woman to whom I went to for a total of 30 years retired. The new ones never seem to give me what I want. So mostly, I don’t cut my hair. When I do, I am as often as not the one doing the cutting.

Bonnie and sofa with too many cushions

There has been a lot of variety in my schooling, my work (I changed jobs often) and this is my third marriage — which has lasted at least a decade longer than the other two combined. When you get it right, stick with it.

This morning we actually had a conversation about trying to make the sofa more comfortable for the dogs. We don’t sit on it. It’s the dogs’ bed and on those rare occasions when we have company, we vacuum it, put on a clean cover and it’s fine for guests.

But there are a lot of cushions on it. I pointed out that we don’t really have to worry about the cushions because we don’t sit on the sofa and have never used any of the cushions. They are there because the dogs enjoy knocking them off and Garry enjoys dropping a pile of cushions on top of any dog that’s sleeping soundly. It’s our version of barking while they sleep.

We’ll just keep the cushions and occasionally, wash the covers to get the dog hair off.

Variety is fun but so is continuity. I think we all need a balance of both to have a life that runs reasonably smoothly.