GREAT LIGHT FOR AN ALL BLACK DOG – Marilyn Armstrong

Great light for an all-black dog 


With two black Scotties in the house, getting a good picture of them is really difficult. If there’s too much sun, the sunlit parts look like white patches. If there isn’t enough light, all you see is a fuzzy lump. We recently got Gibbs groomed and he looks very dapper. They trimmed him tightly — not like a show dog but like a dog you are trying to keep clean during a long, muddy winter.

Good light for solid black fur is bright, but not sunny. A day with a flat gray sky with the pictures taken just before the sun came around to the western side of the house. I think this is as good as it gets from the point of view of light for this picture.

Gibbs really looks like the Wolfman. Poor Larry Talbot!

Gibbs has the most soulful eyes.

With the snow and rain coming in waves and the temperature going from bitterly cold to almost spring in as little as three hours — it jumped 40 degrees today between 8 in the morning and noon — gooey mud is a big issue. So are ticks and fleas because we haven’t had weather consistently cold enough to put them into cold storage.

I figured I’d better take pictures while he still looked good. In another week, he’ll look all grubby again.

WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT DOGS? – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry actually asked me why I don’t write about dogs. I had a hard time explaining that in addition to the idea, you need a “book concept,” an idea of where you will start, finish, and what’s going to happen in between. Unlike blogging, it isn’t anecdotal. It needs to be … well … a book.

My favorite cartoon by George Booth was originally published in The New Yorker. It shows a man sitting in front of a typewriter. Dogs are everywhere A woman, presumably, his wife watches from the doorway. The caption reads “Write about dogs.”

My home is full of dogs. Anyone who comes to visit must compete with the dogs for the comfortable chairs and the best spots on the sofa. (Come to think of it, we have to fight them for the best seats too.) That’s the way it is. The dogs are family.

If we have guests who are old, frail or allergic, we do our best to accommodate their needs. We put the most rambunctious, smelly, and hairy dogs out of the way if we can, but that depends on the weather. Basically, if you don’t like dogs, you’ve come to the wrong house. People who don’t like dogs are not frequent visitors.

That’s fine with me. I prefer the company of most dogs to most people. There are lots of reasons to prefer dogs. But the two big ones are love and honesty.

Gibbs with Duke

Dogs love you completely, totally, and without reservation. They don’t care about your social status or education, whether you are young or old, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor. They love you completely.

Your dog will never betray or abandon you.

Dogs are terrible liars. Not that they don’t try. Every dog will do his or her best to convince each human to give them treats. Your dog will tell you she needs a biscuit now or will collapse from hunger. This is not particularly convincing when the canine in question is a beefy pooch who has obviously never missed a meal. Eternally optimistic, all dogs figure it’s worth a shot. It’s a dog thing. You never know when a biscuit might fall your way.

Duke and Bonnie

When the performance our furry kids put on in hopes of getting a tasteless dry biscuit is especially hilarious, we relax the rules and give them a little something. After all, they don’t have hands and can’t grab one for themselves. Now and again, they need to get lucky because they’re cute and we love them.

Dogs lie, but their lies are simple and transparent. There’s no malice in them. They just want a biscuit or maybe have you throw that ball. If they don’t get what they want, they love you anyway.

When it comes to love, dogs are the best. They “get” love and think you are wonderful. They think you are wonderful every day of their lives. When they are dying, the last thing they will do is look at you with love in their eyes, wag their tail one final time and try to give you a kiss.

I have spent my life lurching between my quest for God and an equally ardent quest for the best dog food at the most reasonable price. When times have been hard and we’ve had to choose between food for us and food for our furry children, the fur kids always win.

Bonnie

Our dogs do not suffer from angst. They don’t worry unless supper runs late or biscuits are forgotten in the bustle of a day’s activities. If such a catastrophe should occur, they know exactly where to present their grievances and apply for redress. Dogs live close to their deities. They hang out with their gods on the sofa. They get biscuits from them in the morning and evening. If life is circumscribed and a bit confined, it is nonetheless good.

Sometimes one of their gods gets angry and yells at them. That might make them unhappy for a few minutes, but the gods of their world don’t stay angry. Our dogs have kindly and loving gods who are inclined to scratch them behind the ears and talk to them in soft voices.

TinkerizedRemotes

We are gods to our dogs and as such, we set laws for them to live by. Don’t poop or pee in the house. Do not chew things not given to you for chewing, especially not anything containing batteries. Don’t jump on old people or babies. Don’t growl at delivery people. Don’t stay up late barking. Abide by the law and all will be well. When rules are clear and understood by all, life runs smoothly.

The human side of the contract is more complicated. It’s harder being a god than being a dog.

We pledge to care for them all the days of their lives. We keep them healthy. We love and nurture them. We feed them properly, make sure they get exercise – though they don’t get enough of it and neither do we. We keep them warm and dry in winter, cool and dry in summer. If we force them to go outside to do their business, it is because they are, after all, dogs.

About to engage …

Every evening, for at least a little while, their gods climb down from heaven to play on the floor.

Dogs don’t fret about the future. They live in a joyful present. When their time comes, we will make sure they pass gently out of this world. We promise to keep them as free from suffering as is within our power. That is our solemn contract. We live up to that pledge because we really are gods to our fur children and must never let them down. Pets teach you a lot about the divine contract.

WORDS AND WILDLIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

I have no doubt my dogs think. They don’t have as long a memory as people and I don’t think they get into nostalgia or reminiscing, but they plan. They will work together to accomplish a particular goal. Like opening a gate, dismembering a toy, or opening a door. No doubt they would hunt together too. Dogs are pack animals.

They communicate. One will get up, walk to another. They look at each other, then both of them go and wake a third dog. After which all three go out to bark at something only they can see — or ramble into the kitchen to remind us they need dinner. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002

What forms do their thoughts take? It isn’t words. Even though they can understand some words when we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must think using other senses. How much is visual? Do they think in sound and scent? They know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting what they want,  but how do they plan without using language?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration and subtexts.

Dolphins and whales talk to each other in their own language, or so we believe. Apes can be taught to communicate with humans using sign language, but it’s not their native form of communication. The words we use are species-specific. More to the point, human-specific. Although we can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use our words, it’s not normal for them. They are bright enough to “get it,” but if not taught, they would be perfectly content to think in the manner that comes naturally to them.

People need words. It’s not only how we communicate. It’s basic to our understanding of the world. It’s how we categorize objects and ideas — and remember.

In the human world, ideas and concepts don’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species who need a spoken language and absolutely the only creature who writes. Along with our opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think our thumbs would save us.

HUMANS RIGHTS — 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 hate being kissed and nuzzled.

The article suggests a pat on the head … and a treat … would be much more appreciated. Not by Garry or me. We figure fair-is-fair — we get to do our thing, too.

Garry, Bonnie, and Gibbs – A moment of zen

72-dogs-toys2-10122016_031

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 it go.

That’s what all the growling and head butting is 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.

72-bw-sketch-gibbs-13122016_00

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

Bonnie and Gibbs have gotten kind of deaf, so now I never know for sure if they are messing with me or not. Now that Owen has moved in, they bark at least twice as much as before.

Typically, they sleep until about seven, then they begin barking. Bonnie is the starter because she has NO manners at all and because she urgently wants cookies and attention. Since being put on a diet, her urgency about cookies has doubled, too.

We stagger to our feet. Give them some attention accompanied by cookies. While we are at it, we clear out Bonnie’s goopy eye and Garry takes his early morning medications. I refill my glass of juice and we go back to bed. That settles them down for a while.

Now, though, when Owen gets up — he being the early bird — they all go into a crazed barking frenzy. As soon as he comes upstairs, they calm down. I believe they lack patience.

72-bonnie-sofa-dog-13122016_018

Duke and Gibbs are passionate about him and have their version of a fight over him even though he isn’t in the room yet. They hear him (how deaf IS Gibbs)?  Bonnie barks because she likes to bark. In fact, she barks for long periods every day, which gets the other two barking. You can’t have a conversation, listen to a book, or watch TV when they are barking. It’s deafening.

I should add that they do all this insane barking indoors so as not to annoy the neighbors. Aren’t we lucky?

72-dog-grooming-day-08122016_12

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 you stupid humans!”) kiss them on their big black noses. It’s a small price to pay for unlimited sofa lounging, high-quality treats, and silly humans getting down on the floor to play with them. Not to mention having to cope with their early morning concerto. Good grief, they are loud.

Garry sleeps through it, the single advantage to deafness. With his head-gear off, he could sleep through a full cannon barrage.

We put up with them, so they will have to put up with us. That’s our part of the deal. Just to add our insult to their injury, we intentionally wake them up when they are sleeping. This morning, the three of them broke open the door and Duke, the only one with long legs, jumped all over Garry. That got us up. But they seem to know Garry is the serious sleeper because they never jump on me.

This might be a good time to mention that we’ve finally got Bonnie’s eyes under control. You know how vets only give you official medications? They never try anything that isn’t (a) expensive, (b) made from chemicals whose names you can’t pronounce, or (c) might be natural and yet work anyhow.

Her eyes were getting worse and worse and she had this big red thing in her eye that the vet said needed surgery and so did everything I could find on the Internet. In a fit of desperation, I picked up a Veterinycyn (probably spelled wrong) spray bottle of natural microbial natural stuff that is supposed to clear up pink-eye and get the goop out of her eyes.

It eliminated the redness within three days — something no other medicine has done. Why didn’t any of the various vets at three different offices consider the possibility of common pink-eye as an issue? She has had this problem for most of her life and never once did any of the vets suggest it. Yet is it incredibly common to all mammals, including us. Not only that, but that ugly red mass began to shrink and is barely visible just one week later.

Surgery? Nope. One 16-ounce bottle of pink-eye spray from Amazon. Good for dogs, horses, cats and guinea pigs. I bet it would work for me. It says it’s for pets only, but I’ve learned that this is not necessarily true. I know, for example, that the Pfizer medication we use on her eyes is identical to the stuff we get for our eyes and ears. Identical ingredients, same manufacturer — but the human stuff is packaged better and is much cheaper.

Also, we bought special baking soda spray for her terrible teeth (and some we put in the water for all the dogs). All the dogs have stopped having bad breath and Bonnie’s teeth are getting whiter day by day. When they breathe, it sure does smell better. The vet assured us it could NEVER work. Only the $800 tooth job could help. It turns out that baking soda is the primary active ingredient (along with fluoride) in toothpaste and mouthwash. For animals and people. Look it up.

She will need work done on her mouth, but we don’t have the money now and won’t for a while. Not to mention that Bonnie’s teeth were done once a year last year and for two years before that, so they should not BE that bad.

If this were one single vet, I’d change vets. But this is four or five vets in three different offices and not a single one considered pink-eye as a problem. Yes, she also has dry-eyes, but the redness and the nasty red thing in her eye were all part of the neglected pink eye.

Bad diagnoses are just as likely to come from human doctors. I can vouch for that.

Getting Bonnie on a diet has given her a new lease on life. She no longer weighs like two cinder blocks. She’s definitely a single cinder-block dog now.

She charges up the stairs at full tilt and she is outside running around as if she were five years younger. She still, sadly, remains deaf, but maybe we’ll find a fix for that, too!

ABOUT THOSE DOGS AND TREES – Garry Armstrong

Now that it has snowed, the mud that had almost become solid has turned back into gummy mud. With the best will in the world, this house will never be entirely clean. Too many dogs. Too many trees. Too many people. Dog hair, dust, and dead oak leaves — the triple D of home ownership.

Live in the country — both inside and out!

On their way

Always, the trees

Trees

Home again, from the road

There is more snow coming tomorrow unless it’s rain or unless instead of getting cold, it gets warm … or unless the winds change and everything blows northward. But something’s going to happen, whatever it may be!

STELLA, HE TALKING DOG – By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m sure you’ve heard about the studies in which chimps/apes are brought up from birth by humans and taught to ‘talk’ through sign language and other means. It’s not a big surprise that other primates close to us on the evolutionary scale can learn to communicate in a fairly sophisticated, ‘human’ way.

But I just read about a woman who trained her dog to do roughly the same thing! I am so excited! This dog, Stella, has learned to communicate in words AND sentences by touching buttons that signify specific words on a soundboard. To me, this is the coolest thing ever! I’ve always known that my dogs had complex thoughts running through their heads but just had no way to share them with me.

Stella next to her soundboard

Now, don’t get too excited – you won’t be able to teach your significant canine to do this. It’s not for amateurs. The lady who helped Stella master language is Christina Hunger and she is a speech-language pathologist who has vast experience working with children who have speech-language deficits. Many of these kids need ‘ linguistic technology’ to communicate, like modified computers, flashcards, soundboards, etc. So she’s an expert at creating and using these tools.

Christina got Stella, a Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, at eight weeks old and started to train her immediately. She set up a soundboard with buttons for the words she wanted Stella to use. At eighteen months now, Stella knows 29 words and can tell her mom and dad her thoughts. She can even combine words into sentences of up to five words. Human babies usually can’t speak in phrases and sentences initially and have to master individual words first.

Stella using her board

Stella can ask for walks, playtime or a trip to the beach. She can communicate emotions, like anxiety, as well. One day, she heard a noise outside and pressed ‘look’ nine times and then ‘come outside’! Another time Stella was whining at the front door and Christina assumed that Stella wanted to go out. But Stella went to her board and tapped out ‘want’ ‘Jake’ (Christina’s fiancé who lives with them) and ‘come’. Stella then planted herself in front of the door until Jake came home. Then, to Christina’s amazement, Stella pressed ‘happy’ and assumed the position for a belly rub!

Stella and Christina

Stella recently started using both paws on the board and she appears to be developing the turn-taking skills of conversation, like answering questions. This also develops in children only after they are able to say words and phrases on their own. Here’s an example:

Stella: ‘Stella’, ‘bye’, ‘play’

Jake: ‘Where do you want to play? We’ll eat now then play’.

Stella: 15-20 second pause. Then, ‘eat’, ‘eat’, ‘park’. This indicates that she understood the sequence of eating first and then playing. Remarkable.

Another big advance in Stella’s communication skills is her mastery of time. She can now talk about something that just happened, not just what she wants now. After she eats, she’ll press ‘eat’ and after coming back from the park, she’ll press ‘park’ as if she’s trying to tell Jake where she just went. This implies a more sophisticated concept of language. To test this, Christina added an ‘all done’ button for Stella to signify something that happened in the past. And Stella used it after a walk!

In addition, Stella originally could use only single words, like a human infant. Then she started using short phrases once or twice a week. Now she uses as many word combinations each day as single words so her skills are improving along the lines of a human baby.

I’m sure that Christina devoted a huge amount of time to training Stella and that most average people couldn’t duplicate her experiment at home. But it’s still wonderful to know that our dogs are capable of understanding more human language than we thought and when given the opportunity, they can use it to talk back to us. I’m beyond thrilled that much of the anthropomorphism of my dogs is warranted and backed up by science!

Stella using two words.

You can follow Stella on Christina’s blog at HungerForWords.com.

CAN YOU MAKE THAT LOUDER? … WHAT? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Volume

In a household where Garry recently underwent surgery for his hearing, we also now have two deaf Scotties. Bonnie is almost entirely deaf and Gibbs can hear, but you have to talk louder. Yelling works, too.

Now that Garry can hear, he was complaining the TV was too loud while I could barely hear it. I suggested, finally, that maybe he could turn down his hearing aids from “as loud as possible” to “loud enough.”

I don’t think he had ever turned down his hearing aids in his entire life. That this was something he could do which would make all the “too loud” stuff more comfortable. It was an idea that hadn’t occurred to him because as the years went on, the issue was always “how loud can I make it?”

Now, since (assuming he is wearing his aids), we both hear at about the same level — more or less — his batteries last longer and you can’t hear our television in the next county.

No one makes hearing aids for dogs. Or eyeglasses. Because not only is Bonnie deaf, she also doesn’t see much anymore and she is just a wee bit confused. She loses track of where she is and forgets to come inside once outside. She will stand for hours in the doggie door with her butt outside and her head and front legs in the hallway.

You can’t call her in because she can’t hear, so Garry spends a lot of time going downstairs and moving her around. She weighs about as much as two cinder blocks, so hauling her is not for the faint of heart.

Bonnie still has good days. When she doesn’t have good days anymore, I am sure we’ll know it. Meanwhile, having two out of three dogs who can’t hear you calling them is surprisingly inconvenient. They also bark more because they can’t hear when they talk softly.

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?

96-TinkerAtHomeHPCR-1

Tinker Belle was a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, also called PBGVs or Petites. They are medium-sized, shaggy rabbit hounds from the Vendée region of France. During the past 25 years, they’ve also gotten very popular as pets, though they are definitely not a dog for just anyone. They are much smarter than they have any right to be, hilariously funny (and the more you laugh, the funnier they become), noisy, and extremely busy or as we used to put it, always looking for trouble.

Even in such rarafied company, Tinker Belle was special. From the day we brought her home, she wasn’t like any other puppy I’d ever met. She was incredibly smart. As a rule, hounds are smart, but she was special.

Housebreaking? We showed her the doggy door. She was housebroken. She could open any door, undo any latch that didn’t need a key, unhook any gate and close the gate after her. She could (did) 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 unopened. It looked new. New and empty.

75-TinkerInSnowHPCR-1

She was sensitive and easily hurt. Probably born to be a therapy dog, she knew who was in pain, 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 any dog I’ve known. 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 and remembered. She held grudges. More about that. Yet she was Omega (the bottom) in the pack. We thought it was her choice. She wasn’t up to leadership responsibilities.

The other dogs knew her worth, so despite her low status in the tribe, when they needed a solution to a problem, they all came to her. When needed, other dogs would tap into her expertise in gate opening, package disassembly, cabinet burglary, trash can raiding and other canine 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.

k-and-peebstight_edited

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

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 a Reign of Terror.

Tinker took to destroying everything she could get her fangs on when she was three. 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 Tinker couldn’t get it. Tinker would strike quickly and was deadly.

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.

75-SnacksHPCR-20

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 two minutes. The kitchen is adjacent to the living room, 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.

75-Tinkerized2HPCR-15

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

Yet we loved Tinker and for the last year of her life, after Divot passed and 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, with our little dachshund leading the chorus.

They sing twice a day, early in the morning (get up Mom) and in the evening (pause that show, time for the chorus).

75-TinkerPrisonerHPCR-1

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\. When I was terribly ill, Tinker never left my side. When I was back from surgery, missing another piece of me, Tinker was there, never placing a paw where it would hurt me. How does it add up?

How much was the love worth?

FATE IS IRREFUTABLE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Irrefutable

Bonnie has been changing. The relentless barking. Her unwillingness to sit with us on the sofa. She seeks out dark corners and no longer hears me when I call her. She also can’t see well and the other night, one of he teeth just fell out. But she sure does sleep well.

It was vet time yesterday. There was too much that seemed wrong and so un-Bonnie. We learned immediately that her teeth were awful — and considering we had them done twice in a row two years ago, they shouldn’t be that bad. But the teeth of small dogs go very quickly as they age. We have seen in it other small terriers and even though our vets are the most reasonably priced in the area for this work, she’s going to lose a lot of teeth. And she also needs senior dog bloodwork because, as the vet rather gently pointed out (he’s not always a very gentle guy), dogs change, much like aging people change with their years … and they don’t change back.

She isn’t the dog she was been for all the years we have had her, which is from baby dog — 9 weeks — to now. I trained her in the deep snow of winter and she was always the most charming of our dogs.

The vet delicately pointed out that since she is going deaf, is partially blind and to top it all, she appears to be getting a bit demented. Which is probably what all the barking about. These days, all she seems to know how to do is shout.

We need to consider her quality of life, the vet’s polite way of saying “That time is coming around again.”

We’ve had Bonnie longer than any other dog and while I know  — knew — always knew — this moment would come, I always dreaded it. Especially because we are getting too old to take on a young pet and too poor to manage old ones.

We’ve got a few months to think about it. To square up our elderly hunching shoulders and get it together.

I don’t think we’ll be getting more dogs. We are now at the point where our dogs are likely to outlive us. We don’t really have anywhere to send them, either. There’s no one to care for them if we are gone.

We have both throughout our lives had a morbid tendency to wait until too late to deal with the end game properly. We don’t want to let go. There’s nothing easy about it and even though we have two other dogs in the house — and I know part of the reason we got Duke was that the other two were getting old. We were not talking about it, but we knew. We didn’t want to know.

I’m quite sure Duke will be our last dog. I swear, he knows. Dogs know a lot.

I’m not going to make this a crying and wailing post. I have been through this too many times. It’s the worst when there’s no lethal ailment to make it inevitable but just a general winding down of a life.

I thought she would live longer. She’s small. I had hoped for a good solid 15 or 16 years from her, but she has been aging faster than seemed reasonable for the past couple of years. I could see it in her coat turning so quickly gray and odd changes in her behavior.

Technically, Gibbs is the same age but seems much younger. I’ve always wondered if he was really the age on his papers. He was kenneled and they lie about their dogs. So I think he’s good for a while … but I wonder how Duke and Gibbs will get on without Bonnie. She has always been the sweet spot between the two boys.

Talk about irrefutable. The passage through life always ends the same way. It doesn’t matter how well we feed them or how sweetly we love them or how they care for us. Time does what time does. Why do the best ones always seem to go first?

AT LEAST SOMEONE IS GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP – Marilyn Armstrong

Usually, Bonnie crashes at about 11 at night and won’t wake up short of being shaken awake until early morning. This has become normal, and for a few nights, I just didn’t bother to wake her for her late-night snack.

Last night, she woke up.

When late-night snack time came around, she was climbing up my leg to get to her snack. When she barked me awake at about four in the morning, I staggered up and gave her her snack. She was wide awake and downright perky. I wish I could say the same.

When she woke me again at about six by not merely barking at the bedroom door, but jumping up on it and trying to unhinge it, I staggered up — again — and passed along some very small goodies because they are getting a bit beefy again.

Left: Bonnie, Right: Gibbs

When at around seven, she apparently felt we’d had more than enough sleep, I poked Garry and said: “Do something. Otherwise, I may strangle Bonnie.”

He got up. I don’t know what he did, but she’s still wide awake and peppy. Well, not at the moment. It’s just after dinner which is crash time for all three of them. They have no interest in us until they think it might be snack-time again.

Resting … however briefly

It’s really nice to know that all that sleep has really perked up little Bonnie. Garry and I are dragging around like unwashed bags of laundry and she is dashing around the house. Maybe I should get up every couple of hours, shake her awake and bark in her ear?

You think she might get the point?

DECISION, DECISIONS – Marilyn Armstrong

I worry about small things even more than big ones. Right now, I’m worrying about ticks and fleas. We got some lethal mosquitoes in the area which is bad enough, but as I was petting Duke the other night, I realized that his flea and tick collar was too tight. The Duke has filled out.

We’ve had so much rain that it has been soaked repeatedly which I think made it expand some — and I just couldn’t get it to open more. Finally, I gave up and cut it off him which left him with no flea and tick protection. All three dogs were wearing the Seresto (Bayer) collars which are highly effective, but also poisonous. All is well as long as there’s no allergic reaction and your dog doesn’t get sick. Some dogs get sick and older ones tend to have a lot of skin, eye, and ear issues anyway.

Two of my dogs are getting kind of old and I figured it was time to replace their collars anyway. But with what?

Buy the very expensive Seresto ($52 to $58 each, if you please) collars or go with the less effective “natural oil” collars that apparently work for some people, but who knows if they will work here?

There aren’t a lot of choices. You can buy the Seresto collars (Bayer) and there’s one other manufacturer that makes poison collars, but I looked at the ingredients and decided no, I don’t think so. So I went with Tuzik Flea and Tick Collar, which is one of the “herbal oil” collars. Most of these contain essentially the same oils:

      • Citronella
      • Lemon Oil
      • Clove Oil
      • Peppermint Oil
      • Eucalyptus Oil

Some also include: cedarwood, cinnamon, lavender, thyme, and geranium oils — and some don’t use cinnamon or clove oil. There is some dispute over clove oil, but I think it’s probably safer than Flumethrin or Permethrin.

The things none of them use are Permethrin, Pyriproxyfen, Flumethrin, Imidacloprid, Fipronil, Pyrethrins, Nitenpyram, Deltamethrin, Diatomaceous Earth, Tetrachlorvinphos. There are a few other poisons used on other collars. The thing is, these poison collar work very well … except when they kill your dog. Sometimes, your dog does okay with no problem and you never see a tick or a flea — which is great. Sometimes, even after using them for a long time, your dog breaks out in a bloody rash that can be hard to cure. Or dies.

I finally went with the “natural oil” version. Do I think it will work as well as Seresto did?

Probably it won’t.

Did I make the right decision? I don’t know. It’s not like there’s a third choice — like “a little poisonous, but not too bad.” It’s either natural oil and non-toxic, or really toxic and let’s just hope everything works out okay.

I hate this kind of choice. Because I never know if I made the right decision.

I THINK I’M TIRED – Marilyn Armstrong

I blame it on the dogs. Basically, I blame everything on the dogs, but this one is actually their fault. Specifically, it’s Bonnie’s fault because she is the nonstop barker.

Bonnie the unstoppable barker

We have lots of other issues, but if Bonnie did not feel — after sleeping through the night like a rock — the need to bark continuously from dawn onward, I’m pretty sure I’d have a better perspective on life in general.

Duke

After three hours of intermittent barking — she has a routine. A few barks to wake me up, five to ten minutes of peace which is exactly enough time for me to drift off — after which the barking recommences. This goes on and on for hours.

This makes me cranky. It doesn’t wake Garry because he’s not wearing hearing aids. It is all aimed at me. I’m pretty sure if I ever got a complete night of sleep, I’d feel better. I could be wrong, but I believe sleeping an entire night would help.

If the weather is nice, Garry will (when poked) put them and their water outside. Sometimes, when he does this, I sleep for almost the whole day. I’ve got a lot of broken nights with which to catch up.

So that’s bad enough, but we haven’t really gone seriously shopping for about a month. We’ve just been “filling in” shopping. A little of this, a replacement for that. Mostly, I didn’t mind because it’s summer and we don’t eat as much as we do in colder weather.

Cheese!

Yesterday’s conversation about cheese woke up my taste buds. By the time I got through looking at pictures of cheese, thinking about cheese, wondering if there was new cheese just waiting for me to try … I needed cheese.  I wanted Brie, Jarlsberg, Bleu cheese, and Cheddar. I wanted pub cheese, but without the hot peppers.

Moreover, I wanted sharp flavored cold cuts. I’m trying out the hot capicola ham as well as a couple of types of salami. I thought they would all go well with any kind of cheese. I also wanted sliced cucumbers and ripe tomatoes with Asian Ginger dressing to drizzle on the big, flat Portabella mushrooms.

Raw edible portabello mushrooms with herbs on wooden board

I even bought a new kind of pepper that’s a combination of red and yellow. It looks like Van Gogh painted it. And bright yellow summer squash with fresh redfish from the Bay of Maine.

We really went shopping. Which means I had to go through the fridge and throw away all the stuff that was never getting eaten and Garry had to haul the wagon upstairs three times, which is a lot of hauling. Now, though, he only hauls it to the main floor entry and I run it upstairs on the chair lift. (They have many uses.)

When I finally managed to find places to put everything, I realized I was exhausted. I had moved was past tired to a new place. Good thing dinner was simple. Sesame crackers, pub cheese, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, plus hot capicola and a side of ginger ale.

I have fresh cherries, plums, and strawberries waiting for me, too.

While realizing I was seriously tired, I also realized Duke’s tick collar was too tight. He isn’t fat, but he has thickened up. He has a mastiff head these days to go with the pushed in muzzle and lopsided ears. I’d love to see his DNA.

I couldn’t loosen the tick collar and eventually had to cut it off. I realized that quite likely Bonnie and Gibbs need new collars too, so I sighed and ordered three of them. Back to broke. Again.

My right wrist has had it. My right shoulder is patched with lidocaine and the rest of me is full of Tramadol. I might be fine if only Bonnie would let me sleep!

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

72-dogs-toys2-10122016_031

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

72-bonnie-sofa-dog-13122016_018

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.

72-dog-grooming-day-08122016_12

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.

SNOOPY AS A ROLE MODEL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a unique article in the Washington Post by a writer talking about something from her childhood that inspired her to be a writer as an adult. Her name is Ann Patchett and her title names the motivating force in her career choice. The article is called, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer.”

That’s right – the Snoopy from Charles Schultz’s beloved comic “Peanuts”. The perpetual loser, Charlie Brown’s dog. Ann says she read Peanut compilation books, as I did, in her formative summers and was smitten by Snoopy. She says that she was a nerdy, uncool kid who saw Snoopy as the essence of cool. He even raised the totally uncool status of his ‘person’, Charlie Brown, just by being so quintessentially cool himself.

Snoopy was confident enough to let himself become totally absorbed in his fantasies – WWI Flying Ace, Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, figure skater, tennis star, astronaut, and so on. He brought everyone else along with him in his fantasies to the point that they too heard the imaginary bullets flying by and the roar of the imaginary crowds.

Most important, Snoopy was a writer. He let his imagination run wild here too and then he sat down on the top of his doghouse and typed. He sat at his typewriter and plinked the keys to form hackneyed and repetitive paragraphs that he knew needed ‘editing’.

He had confidence and sent his manuscripts out to editors. He got lots of rejections, like all writers, yet he kept on trying. The best thing about Snoopy was that even when he failed and his doghouse was riddled with bullets, he lost in sports or his manuscripts were rejected again, he was still cool.

His superpower was that he remained cool in failure as well as in success.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Anne says that Snoopy taught her how to survive the publishing process; to deal with rejections and then get over them; to ignore bad reviews and move on. Snoopy turned out to be her perfect career mentor and he also led her into a life with dogs who enriched and fulfilled her. She says she always assumed that her dogs have an active inner life and are always cooler than she is.

I was never inspired to write. I just always did and so did my parents. My school required creative writing and analytical writing as well as research papers from the third grade on. My high school papers are indistinguishable from my college ones.

My father published seven books and numerous articles in the field of psychiatry and anthropology, many before I was born. He spent every summer locked in his study, writing, Every day he would present his writing to my mother who would edit it and encourage rewrites when needed. There was a lot of heated discussion about content, organization and writing style throughout my childhood.

My father in his fifties

When I was around fifteen, I joined my mother and we became my father’s editing team. As he got older, his writing often rambled and went off-topic and it was our job to keep him focused. We often had to outline material for him and even rewrite sections ourselves when he resisted our ‘advice’ and insisted on his now more stream of consciousness style. That may work for fiction, but not for an academic treatise.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I went through a period of anxiety and insecurity in my own writing when I was in high school and my mother did for me what she did for my father. She helped me figure out what I wanted to say and the most effective and persuasive way to say it. She taught me how to organize my thoughts and present my ideas cleanly and clearly.

Me at seventeen

When I started writing short audio theater plays with my husband, I had to learn how to write dialogue, which is a totally different kind of writing. I was used to writing analytical prose, which is not the way people talk. Dialogue has to sound like someone is actually speaking, not reading aloud from a non-fiction book.

So my writing evolved and expanded to encompass a new format for me. It is amazing and gratifying to hear actors bring your words to life. It’s even more awesome to hear audiences reacting to your words by laughing and applauding.

Title page of one of our scripts

I loved Snoopy too growing up, but I identified more with Linus and Charlie Brown than with the fearless, adventuresome Snoopy. I can imagine that if Snoopy ever wrote short plays, he would picture the adulation of audiences and bask in their approval. I’ve had that experience, so in a way, I’ve had my ‘Snoopy moment.’

Even a nerd like me can feel cool. But never as cool as Snoopy.

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE – BY TOM CURLEY

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE

I usually try to be funny or at least amusing when I write these blogs. Sadly, this will not be one of them. Yesterday, my furry grandson Banning crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was a sweet, wonderful little guy. It was only a month or so ago that he officiated at his Mom and Dad’s wedding.

For those of you who have never had the soul-wrenching job of having to have your pet put to sleep, you may think the Rainbow Bridge is the bridge Thor uses to get from Earth to Asgard.

That’s not the one. Although I guess it could be if your dog is a Viking.

Anyone that has done it knows it refers to a card the vet gives you when your dog dies. It’s really quite beautiful and if for some strange reason you should ever find yourself feeling just too happy or in too good a mood and feel the need to cry your eyes out,  just read it. Works every time. I got to thinking about this because there was a copy of it on the wall in the vet’s office.

I first experienced the Rainbow Bridge when my dog George had to be put down.

I’ve always found that term so odd. When you “put the baby down”, you put the baby to bed. But when you “put your pet down”,  you put him to sleep. Forever. Never quite understood that.

Anyway, George was my first time going through this nightmare. I just couldn’t do it. To me, I was playing God. I had the power of life and death over another being. How arrogant was that? My then-wife and I agonized for days about when to do it and even if we could do it. We decided to take a ride around the block to clear our heads. When we came back, George was in a coma.

We rushed him to the vet realizing we had waited way too long. We were both total basket cases. And then the oddest thing happened. The doctor who took care of us was a doctor we had never seen before. We had been going to the same vet for years. I didn’t think much about it at the time. New doctors come and go.

I was also too much of wreck to even think about it until later. But here’s the thing. He was beautiful. Not just handsome, beautiful. My ex even said at the time “that’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

He did what he had to do. He was incredibly nice and kind to us. We didn’t really notice until later because we were so devastated. We went home, cried for about a week and then as it does, life moved on. One of the only cures for the grief of losing a loved one is time.

So, fast forward about a month or so. One day I get a bill in the mail from the vet. All the bill says is “George – $50.” I look at it and go ‘what’? I was pretty sure I had paid all my vet bills, so I called the vet and asked what the bill was for.

There was a really long pause and the lady at the other end of the phone finally said in a quiet whisper, “It’s for… George.”

I said “Yes I know that. It says so right here on the bill. But what is it for?”

In an even quieter whisper, she said, “It’s for… George. You asked for him to be cremated.”

Apparently, we’d been asked at the time if we wanted George to be cremated and we said yes. I have no memory whatsoever of doing that, I was such a mess at the time. But I had to chuckle. Enough time had gone by that I could see the humor in the whole thing. So, I laughed and then asked her why she was whispering.

She explained most people get very emotional all over again when they are informed of the cremation, so they try to be as gentle and kind as possible. I said that made sense and that was very nice of them. She then said, “And by the way… George is ready.” I said, “Ready for what?”

Again, the whisper came back “He’s ready. He’s here. You wanted to keep the ashes.” Again, no memory of asking for that either. I laughed again and spent a few minutes consoling her because she seemed more upset about this than I was. I said I’d be right over.

So, chuckling at the whole incident and sort of happy that enough time had passed that I could see the humor in the whole thing, I went to pick up George. I entered the office and said I was here to pick up George. Instantly everyone got very quiet and out came the whispers again. I reassured them I was OK, and I paid the bill. Then the nice lady behind the counter looked furtively to the left and the right and reached down under counter and handed me a plain brown paper bag. Sort of like a drug deal. I smiled to myself. For some reason this was just getting funnier, they were all so sweet.

As I was leaving, I asked if the doctor was around so I could thank him for his kindness. I didn’t remember his name. I described him and they looked at me puzzled. No doctor of that description worked there. They hadn’t hired a new doctor in years. True story, swear to God. As the theme to the Twilight Zone played in my head, I left with my paper bag and got in the car. I looked in the bag and there were two things. One, a very plain white box. George. And then I pulled out this postcard with the Rainbow Bridge on it. I read it and burst out in tears and cried my eyes out all the way home.

I’ve helped many more of my furry family to that bridge since then and I will do so again. I didn’t have to make the choice in Banning’s case. His Mom and Dad, David and Katie did. But it didn’t make it one bit less gut-wrenching. They did what they had to do.

The ultimate act of kindness. I’m proud of them.

Keanu Reeves was on Colbert a while back and for some reason, Colbert asked him what happens after you die. He paused for a second and said.

“You will be missed by the people that loved you.”

There was stunned silence in the audience and Colbert who was literally speechless. He just said. “Wow.”

My furry grandson was my little bud.

He was loved and he will be missed.

Say Hi to George little buddy.