THE DAWN BREAK IN – Marilyn Armstrong

You think you are safe. secure. In your warm an cozy bed for the night. When you left to go to bed, the dogs were snoring — a good sign. I slide quickly into sleep and don’t wake up until my shoulder falls out of the socket.

I go to the bathroom, find the lidocaine pain patches, remember (this time) to tie my hair back so I don’t glue my hair to my shoulder — which isn’t good for either my hair or my shoulder.

I brush my teeth on the theory that the brush is here, my teeth are here, so why not? I’m 9-months overdue for my six-month checkup, so brushing is a good idea any time of the day or night.

Back at the bed, I rearrange the pillows, raise the bed a bit up top, lower it on the bottom, realize I have to sleep on my back and crawl in so I have my right arm lying on the pillow. Some readjustments are required to get the angle right. I’m just hoping the lidocaine patch kicks in.

Sleep baby sleep …

I drift off to sleep when suddenly … IT’S DUKE, BONNIE, AND GIBBS. They have pushed in the door  All three of them have broken into the bedroom and Duke (the only one with long legs) has leapt onto the bed and is joyously bounding around, licking Garry’s face.

He’s so happy to see us. It’s a reunion! I mean, we’ve been gone for hours and light is peaking over the horizon.

“Get up, get up, the day has begun.” Translation: “BARK, BARK, BARK … BARK, BARK, BARK … ”

Don’t think Bonnie and  Gibbs aren’t being helpful. They can’t jump on the bed, but they can bark and Bonnie enjoys barking. It’s her hobby. Her metier, so to speak.

In motion

Garry garbles “WHAT THE F##$!” which only gets the Duke even more excited.

“Well,” I comment, “This is a new one.” Until this moment, I was sure the doors would hold. Garry grumbles, using language that would make a sailor blush but which doesn’t bother the dogs at all. He shoos the dogs out of the bedroom and takes them to the kitchen where he does the thing that helps. He feeds them.

Diet? You’re kidding, right?

He stumbles back to bed just as I have finally found a position on the pillow that doesn’t hurt nearly as much and probably the lidocaine patch is beginning to do its job. Garry is instantly back in dreamland, his soft snoring witness to it. He can’t hear a thing because all his hearing machinery is stashed for the night.

I can hear. He has silence. I have barking dogs.

“Bark, bark, bark.” That’s Bonnie. I know who it is because they have different voices.

Bonnie has the deepest bark. She’s a solid bass. Small, with considerable power. Gibbs is more of a deep tenor or maybe a light baritone. But The Duke is a high soprano. When he barks, glasses break. Your brain begins a rhythmic vibrato inside your skull.

She stops barking. I listen for a while. When I don’t hear her, I figure (hope, really) that she has decided it’s nap time.  I drift back to sleep.

“BARK, BARK, BARK.”

Gibbs and the Duke

That’s got to be Gibbs. He isn’t the deepest barker, but he is definitely the loudest. He also has a little howl he adds at the end of his barking. It’s sort of his verbal signature.

The Duke, inspired by this, adds a few trilling barks of his own.

Then they are quiet. Again. I don’t trust them, but I am so tired. I fall asleep.

BARK BARK BARK BARK HOWL BARK BARK BARK and the sound of paws and the loud clicking of doggy toenails on the fake wood floor in the hall.

I wake. I listen. I wonder if there’s any point in taking something to help me sleep. Because even if I take something, I can still hear the dogs. I throw an evil glance at Garry who can’t hear anything. He is happy in his silent place.

Finally, I get up, give them another biscuit and explain, in my most dulcet tones, that if they begin to bark again, I will get up and kill them. They grin with joy and dance around me in a circle. Okay, one more treat.

They are so glad I’m up.

I wonder if there’s any point in trying to sleep. My back hurts. My arm is throbbing — and I’m exhausted. I used to be able to stay up late and sleep quickly, but I’m too old for long days with short nights.

I need to get a full night’s sleep.

I go back to bed and drift restlessly for some hours. Eventually, they recommence their barking. Now it’s full daylight. We are SUPPOSED TO BE AWAKE. It’s our job. I wake Garry because he doesn’t get to sleep in while I suffer.

We got up, this time for the day.

After they get their next treat (how many? I have lost count and they don’t count), they sigh with pleasure and go soundly to sleep on the sofa.

Their work is done.

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.

REMEMBER WHAT? – Marilyn Armstrong

Every night, I fill up my cup, grab my bag o’ medications, pet the puppies, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house.

After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed to its TV viewing angle. Turn on the television for Garry. He watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my blue-tooth speaker. I put my medications into a cup which is really the lid from a medicine bottle. Convenient and it keeps little round pills from rolling off the table.

I never remember everything. Typically, I forget to turn off the fan in the living room or in winter, turn down the thermostat. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t.

“Ah,” I think. “Thermostat.” I go back to the living room. Turn down the temperature. Pet the dogs. Assure them they are not getting another biscuit no matter how cute they are.

Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. Need to refill antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the big bottle is stored. Fending off the dogs, I limp back to the bedroom. And get the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else.

Ah, that’s right. I left an extra light on in the living room. Up the hall to the living room. Turn off light. I am currently embattled with the electric company about my bill. I pet the dogs again, which with three dogs always involves some kind of weird arrangement of arms and hands. Then, it’s back to the bedroom.

Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. I recently relocated all of our copies of National Geographics and The New Yorker to a shelf in the bathroom. Right in front of the toilet. I suppose I have only myself to blame.

He settles into watching highlights of a Sox game, followed by a movie or three. I turn on my audiobook.

An hour later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy. Everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic sets in.

Which is when I realize all the pills are still in the cup. Where I put them. Like two hours ago. With all the walking up and down the hallway, I never got around to taking them which explains why they aren’t working.

I laugh. Garry takes off his headphones long enough for me to explain why. I got to the punchline, he looks at me and says: “You didn’t take them?” He Laughs — and puts the headphones back.

As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines, calendars, and Google. If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re less likely to forget. Or fail to remember if we did it today or yesterday. If that fails, there’s Google.

Google is not useful for remembering if I have a doctor’s appointment or whether or not I called in that prescription, but it’s great for all the other trivia of life. All the missing words, titles of books, movies, TV shows, actors, historical events, kinds of dogs.

Actually, I use posts the same way. I may not remember whatever it is, but the odds are pretty good I wrote it down in a post. If I could only remember the title of the post!

The other evening, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right, usually. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy. If I remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog.

Recently, they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be to find simple information. In fact, the whole AKC site seems to be a place to sell puppies — something I find more than a little suspicious.

I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same kind of pooch as the dog Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it.

Search for: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.” Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show. First I had to find the name of the show.

Search for: “long-running comedy on TV about a psychiatrist.” Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first appeared, but I couldn’t remember its name, either.

One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.

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.

WHY OH WHY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Why oh why …

How come I never notice my glass is empty until after I’ve gone and gotten my medications and settled down in front of the television?

Why don’t I realize I have to go to the bathroom until after I settle into the sofa with the dogs? For that matter, how come you don’t notice you have to go until you’ve just passed the last rest stop for the next 40 miles?

Why doesn’t the GPS work in the middle of town or in mall parking lots where you really need it most?

Why don’t I realize I forgot something I want to take on vacation until we are just far enough away from home to make it really inconvenient to go back and get it?

Why don’t I remember why I’m standing in the kitchen?

Slaving in the kitchen?

How come the dogs need to sing the hallelujah chorus on the only morning all week I am sleeping well in the morning?

Why can I only think of a good witticism the day after the party?

Why don’t I check to make sure I have enough eggs before I mix the rest of the cake batter? Why didn’t my granddaughter mention she’d used all the eggs? And most of the milk? And the sugar?

Why doesn’t anyone but me ever wash the measuring spoons?

Why do you find that thing you were looking for after you’ve replaced it? Why does everyone’s back go out at the same time? Why are all the bills due on the first of the month when money comes in — variously?

Life is full of questions without answers. So many questions, so little time …