THE HUMAN-CANINE COVENANT IS MORE THAN COOKIES – Marilyn Armstrong

I read an article a while back which announced with solemnity and more than a few pie charts, that dogs — our dogs, your dogs, pet dogs — don’t like being hugged. Not merely do they not like being hugged and display measurable levels of stress when hugged, but they really totally hate being kissed and nuzzled.

The article suggests a pat on the head … and a treat … would be much more appreciated. But, not by Garry or me.

Garry, Bonnie, and Gibbs – A moment of zen

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I know they don’t like being hugged. It’s obvious. They stiffen and put their ears back when we hug them. They also don’t like it when I grab their tail and refuse to let go.

That’s what all the growling and head butting are about. You can almost hear them sigh, wondering when you’ll be through with this nonsense and get on to the important stuff, namely distributing cookies.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Duke and Gibbs

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I told Garry about the study. He said: “Tough. They’ll just have to cope. Because I like it.” My thoughts exactly.

Our dogs are disrespectful. Messy. Flagrantly disobedient. They are masters and mistresses of selective hearing. Do I believe for a single moment when we tell them to go out and they stand there, in front of the doggy door, ignoring us, it’s because they don’t understand what we want from them, or cannot hear us?

What does Duke dream about?

I’m supposed to think if I stand in the doorway calling them, that they can’t hear me? Or don’t know I want them to come in? Of course, they hear me. They know. They’re just playing us.

From the other side of the yard, they can hear the click when we remove the cover of the biscuit container. Their hearing is fine. It’s a power play.

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Since they persist in disrespecting us, they will have to deal with our periodic compulsion to give them hugs, nuzzling, and the occasional (“Yuck! Stop that stupid human!”) kiss on their big black noses. Personally, I think it’s a small price to pay for unlimited sofa lounging, high-quality treats, and silly humans getting down on the floor to play. Not to mention the toys and the balls and those expensive trips to the vet.

We put up with them? They will have to put up with us, too. That’s our deal.

It’s the Human-Canine Covenant. We’ve got their paw prints on file.

INGENUITY: PLANNING A TRIP WITH THREE DOGS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – INGENUITY

We have been blessed with the opportunity to take a real vacation — relatively locally but in a rich and wonderful part of the country.

I have always loved Pennsylvania, especially this area — the foothills of the Poconos.  It would be a real joy to get to know these people personally, too. Online is lovely … but person-to-person can’t is the best.

Garry and I really need a time out. It has been more than three years since the last time we were away for more than a day or two.

The problem is dogs.

We have three. That we have three makes little difference because really, the problem is our two Scottish Terriers, both of whom are now 13 and beginning to show their years. They are small, so they don’t age as fast as bigger dogs, but Bonnie’s eyesight is diminishing and Gibbs is getting a bit deaf. He used to come running for treats as soon as he heard the lid lifted from the treat box. Now, he falls into a sleep so deep it takes several loud calls for him to first wake up and then to realize he’s being called and why.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Duke and Gibbs

Gibbs isn’t the problem. Neither is wacko Duke. Yelling a little louder is not a big deal and Duke has calmed down to a point where while he’s a bit too crazy to take visiting, he’s good around the house. And he’s clean. He has never made a mess in the house from the day we got him.

Bonnie and Gibbs are a different story. Because both of them were trained to go out whenever they wanted to via the doggy door, they don’t tell you when they need to go out. They simply go. They don’t give us any indication of what they want. They are self-trained — which is fine in this house but not so fine in other people’s houses.

Gibbs

We have been trying to find some ingenious way to get Bonnie’s eyes properly taken care of while we are away. Owen will always make sure they are fed, spend at least an hour or so with them to keep them for getting too lonesome … and manage to squeeze two visits a day into their lives (and do Bonnie’s eyes while he is there). This is quite a trick considering he works a lot of hours.

We had been thinking about just taking Bonnie with us. That way, we’d know her eyes were getting the care they need. But if we take her with us, she will have me or Garry up by dawn. She requires an early morning cookie and a trip outside. Then she’ll have me up a couple of hours later again.

She is nearly blind, we would have to keep her on a lead — which she does NOT like because unlike home, she can’t feel her way around the house. In her mind, she has never lived anywhere else. From 9 weeks to thirteen years is a complete life for a dog. She knows every inch of the house, where all the furniture is, even where the step stool she uses to get up on the sofa stands.

In another house, she would need to find everything for the first time. Since she has always felt that leashes were something for Other Dogs, she is unlikely to take kindly to being led around.

First I figured we would take her with us. Now I’m rethinking it. If we are going to get any rest and relaxation, taking her will make that impossible.

Not taking her is also worrisome.

I’ve been trying to figure out some ingenious way of making this work for her and us. I’m coming up empty.

Taking her with us will guarantee her eyes are tended to properly and frequently, but it will enormously limit our freedom. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

The only place we could board her — assuming we could afford to do that at all — would be the veterinarian because her eyes need care. Owen will do the best he can, but he does work a full week and there’s only so much we can expect from him.

So here’s where I ask for ideas. No “dog walking” service in Uxbridge and Kaity is finally attending college — a commuter school — so she already has her hands full.

If Bonnie’s eyes were only cleaned and lubricated twice a day instead of three times a day for a week, would that be catastrophic? I know none of the dogs like when we are away, but much as I love them. sometimes we need to be elsewhere and this is one of those times.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I’m not sure there is a right answer, but if anyone has a creative thought, I’m listening!

BASE BEAST IN A SMALLISH TOWN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Base

Another week has run away. Left me in the dust.

Maybe it’s just me, but time seems to have sped up and each time I look up, a week, two weeks, a month is gone.

Garry is running errands and I’m at home. With the dogs who obviously wish Big Daddy Doglegs would come back.

Because mom isn’t nearly as much fun.

I got some interesting portraits of Gibbs this morning. He’s fuzzy. A bit grubby. A bit matted if you look closely, but he is 100% cute with a weird factor of 9 out of 10.

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And today, for some reason, he reminds me of “poor Larry Talbot,” the Wolfman.

He’s got a werewolf face, doesn’t he?

Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman
Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman

But, to be fair, Gibbs doesn’t bite so no one will catch his terrible illness. He’s even delicate about dog biscuits. I think he will keep his monthly moon mania to himself.

Still, he really DOES resemble poor Larry Talbot.

A ROCK IS A ROCK IS A ROCK – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP-Sunday–ROCK

A rock is always a rock. No one argues whether it is a lady rock or a man rock unless the rocks argue between themselves. But yesterday, I was captioning a picture in Garry’s piece about the Oscars. It was the six actresses who are up for “Leading Actress” awards at tonight’s Oscars. I’ve noticed how everyone — male, female, and other — all refer to themselves as “actors” because we are not supposed to notice that there are actual physical differences between the sexes. Unless we are on a date, in which case we notice little else.

It brought to mind a sign I saw in a hospital — maybe 20 years ago? — which said, “Persons in need of gynecological care please go to the fourth-floor sign-in desk.”

Persons? How many male persons are in need of gynecological care?

As far as I am concerned, making all people the same effectively eliminates much of what makes us an interesting species. It certainly spells the end of much of the enjoyment we take in one another. I realize that women have been oppressed. I am a woman. I have been oppressed. I’ve been raped, nearly strangled by dates who had tentacles instead of arms. I’ve been paid less despite working harder — and better — than male colleagues. I’ve failed to be given a raise or a better job because I don’t have a dick.

I like being a woman. I don’t want to be a sexless “human” individual. I am not a rock. I like men because they are men and because they are funny and fun. Besides, I’m married to one and I like him. I think it’s mutual.

Left: female, Right: male

So for my caption, I wrote “Actresses.” Because they are women and the award is for best leading actress in a movie. If we are going to eliminate sex, why not just group all the leading actors — male, female, and other — in a giant group and just randomly give out awards because they are all actors, right?

Does anyone think that’s a good idea?

As long as we don’t use word discrimination because that’s BAD. Of course, we will still pay women less for the same or better work. Stranglers, rapists, and gropers won’t give a rat’s ass about wording. They know who is who and word games won’t change them.

Maybe it’s time to recognize that words have power, but proper phrasing is not going to change the interactions we find most hateful and cruel? Maybe it’s time to focus on the real problems and try to fix them — the cultural upbringing that tells boys it’s okay to maul a woman because they can. Maybe it’s time to pass that equal pay amendment. Maybe it’s time to make rape a serious felony and use the investigative information we have to nail the bastards.

Maybe the women competing for Best Actress should proudly remain women, too.

BONNIE IS HOME FROM THE SALON – Marilyn Armstrong

I know the dogs are a total mess when I stop taking pictures of them. The Duke tends to look good most of the time, but both Scottish terriers get seriously grubby. They love dirt. They long for filth.

Garry and Bonnie

Terriers — dogs of the earth — love to dig. They love to roll in the dirt they dug and the hole they made. Our front yard — any part of it that isn’t entirely rocky — looks like a missile testing site.

Classic beard!

They race outside and bury their faces in the mud. We brought Bonnie home from “The Bark Ark” where they trimmed her down to something dog-shaped (she needs to lose a few pounds), put a Christmas style bandanna on her and home we came.

I said: “We should take her picture right away — before she’s dirty again.”

Bonnie with Garry

Garry agreed and went directly to the back deck — from which every last bird departed as we arrived. You’d think they’d figure out by now we aren’t planning to eat them for dinner. Never mind.

I had to go inside and get The Good Camera. By the time  (a minute later) I was back on the deck, Bonnie was rolling her face around on the deck and had managed to add a few sticks, twigs, and dead leaves to her beautiful trim.

Sketch portrait of a beautifully groomed Bonnie

I dusted her off, told Garry to please hold her so I could take pictures. She’s short even by my standards. When she’s on the deck, the only way to get her picture would be for me to lie flat and hope she cooperates. That didn’t seem likely. Anyway, getting up from lying flat on the deck didn’t seem like my best idea of the day.

More handsome Bonnie. They actually groomed her like a Scottish Terrier. No puffs on her tail!

Now I have pictures. For Bonnie, this is as good as it gets. And I think we’ve found a new groomer. The price is the same, but they are miles closer to us and don’t have quite the same attitude that they are doing us a favor by grooming the dogs. They are groomers. They are supposed to groom dogs.

Of course, they haven’t met Gibbs or The Duke yet.


A note on local groomers:

Most of them don’t seem to have any idea what a pure-bred dog should look like when groomed. Let’s assume that half the dogs they groom are pure-bred, but aren’t going to be shown (because people who are showing dogs do their own grooming).

It’s hard to show how dark she really is. This is pretty close.

You would think that the groomers would buy a book about dogs and look at the pictures, thereby getting an idea of what this particular dog should look like, wouldn’t you? Even if they aren’t going into a show ring, every breed has some kind of standard.

I’ve gotten my dogs back with puffy tails. With eyebrows and beards shaved off. With tufted ears.

Good grief! A Scottish Terrier with tufted ears and a puffy tail is a travesty.

Two!

These people actually knew what I meant when I said: “Face Scotty, shave everything else down because all that long  hair does is collect more dirt.” They knew exactly what to do … AND because I explained that Bonnie’s eyes are bad and need constant treatment, they trimmed her eyebrows so that they look “Scotty,” but are leaving enough of her face clear so it will be easy to treat her. I appreciate that.

This is the “show ring” version. Most of us skip all the skirts because it’s just more dirt.

Sometimes, when she’s really in her final grubby stage, I have trouble finding her eyes. I know they are there. But where?

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF TINKER BELLE – Marilyn Armstrong

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.

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, 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.

Kaitlin’s toys were safe if Kaity was currently paying a lot of attention to Tinker. If not, she was punished with the beheading of any doll Tinker could find. She didn’t bother with limbs but always went straight for the head. She gutted stuffed things with grim efficiency.

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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 where 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. Under the influence of Bonnie, the friendliest, happiest, most charming Scottie on earth, Tinker came out of her sullens and played with Bonnie. She ran around the yard and 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.

Tinker died of cancer at age 12. She had shown no symptoms except a slight slowing down and a very minimally reduced appetite. One day, she collapsed. She was riddled with cancer. How in the world she had so effectively hidden her illness is mind-boggling, but she did. A couple of weeks later, Griffin had a massive stroke and died. They were almost exactly the same age and I don’t believe for a minute that the timing of their passing was mere coincidence.

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 when she was a puppy. Who knows how much her medical care cost over the years? That’s such a basic part of the contract between dogs and their keepers. They love us, we care for them. Other damages? Thousands of dollars in electronic gear, furniture, shoes, books, DVDs, videotapes, dolls, stuffies and who knows what else.

But she paid us back, you see. 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?

PEST PEEVES: ABOUT THOSE MOUSES … Marilyn Armstrong

PEST PEEVES? WE HAVE PLENTY!

We started out humanely. Traps to take them out to the woods without hurting them.

They strolled back inside as soon as they were let go. It was obvious our kindness was not reciprocated.

We gave up nice and put out real traps. We knocked off a few dozen mice, but enough survived (they only need to have two) to proliferate. They set up housekeeping in the walls and under floors. By the time we were inspected this year, there were hundreds of them hiding. Everywhere.

So much for Mr. and Mrs. Nice Guy. It was time for open warfare.

Unfortunately, Bonnie and Gibbs lack Divot’s devotion to vermin killing.

We declared war. We eliminated them in the attic and on the floor where we live, but they still have found hiding places in the basement. We may never be entirely free of them, but at least we can keep the numbers down. They make an awful mess of the house if you let them.

2005 – Divot

We have not won the war, but we never stop fighting. The weapons are out, the battle-lines drawn. They have us on sheer number, but we have better weaponry. They are losing, but they will never entirely lose because a mouse can sneak in through an amazingly small space.

Back when we had Divot, our first Norwich Terrier, she used to kill the mice by the dozens and pile them up by the foot of my desk. She thoroughly enjoyed the hunt and the kill. I’m pretty sure I didn’t fully appreciate her efforts. Oh Divot, we could use you these days. I hope you are happily hunting in the hills over the bridge.