This week, Duke rejected a meal — which all the people in the house had happily eaten the previous day — because it had potatoes in it. Duke, who claims he is not a dog, does not like potatoes. Any potatoes. Not even salty, curly, spiced French Fries! “But,” said my son, “ALL dogs love fries.” Not El Duque. He used to like potatoes, mind you. In fact, he used to beg for them. Now? He puts a fry in his mouth, carries it to a corner where he drops it, then comes back to beg for another. Because the new one might be better than the last.
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Having him reject the same chicken stew we all loved was my final straw as a chef.
“It’s dog food for you,” I announced. How spoiled is your dog when he gets picky about human food? I had actually begun to carefully pick out the cooked peppers from food since Duke refuses to eat them. Clearly, a few weeks of dog food should clarify his position in the food chain. For the first time in recent memory, he didn’t get any leftovers last night. There really weren’t any leftovers anyhow, but I usually save my last bite or two for him because he’s a good boy. But good boys do NOT reject my chicken stew (which had actually been a pot-pie, but humans ate the crust).
I couldn’t help myself. I was insulted by my dog. As permanent full-time cook, his rejection of my chicken stew — good chicken stew — was more than I could handle. I am convinced before the week is out, Duke will start to recognize his doghood. He is not a person. He is a dog because he is eating dog food. Which is probably better for him anyway, though frankly, all that chicken with onions and mushrooms and tiny cut-up (by hand!) potatoes looked pretty good to me.
It’s ironic that we lost both of our Scotties during this pandemic. Gibbs, who had never shown any sign of illness, simply died one afternoon on the sofa — soundlessly in his sleep and Bonnie, who had been failing for a couple of years, just about a month ago. And suddenly, Duke is the king of the household. He always seemed to want to be the Head Hound of our home, but after Bonnie passed, he was pretty mournful for a few weeks. I think it hit him harder than it hit us.
Left: Bonnie, Right: Gibbs
We knew it was just a matter of time before Bonnie would be gone. We kept her alive longer than we probably should have because she seemed suprisingly lively, even though her hearing and most of her sight was gone and her dementia was pretty advanced.
This is a time when a houseful of happy hounds would be a great thing, but the Duke will have to be our dog. He seems to have passed through his grief at Bonnie’s passing and is a very good boy. A little nutsy, but a lot of fun. He makes us laugh.
I don’t even know how many dogs and cats we’ve had over the years. It’s odd to have just one dog. He’s a very good boy. Furry, friendly, and permanently looking for something good to eat. If nothing to eat shows up? A good cuddle is just fine.
Racket had gotten out of his cage. Nothing unusual about that, except that usually when I let him loose, I’d make sure to put away anything I cared about to avoid having Racket destroy it. It was futile but I felt obliged to try.
Racket, as his name implied, was a charming, noisy Sulpher-Crested Cockatoo. He was the perfect example of why cockatoo owners invented stainless steel perches. Racket could reduce anything made of hardwood to splinters in seconds. He had gone to work on the sofa not long ago … not the upholstery. I think the upholstery wasn’t a sufficient challenge for him. He had gone all out to redo the carved wood frame, perhaps with the intent of correcting the original artist’s errors.
The arm of the sofa nearest his cage was a pile of wood chips and splinters. No evidence of the original design remained. Having completed his work on the sofa, he had refocused his efforts towards acquiring wisdom. He began ingesting the Encyclopedia Britannica, one volume at a time. At this time, he was about half-way through the project. I could see that he’d had a busy morning and had consumed two more volumes.
There wasn’t much I could do about it. I had no where else to put the books. The flat was tiny and there was no storage space. Racket couldn’t spend all his time in a cage. Parrots need freedom, at least an hour or two a day. They are smart birds. They need to interact with the world, with us, to explore and have fun. Racket was doing what Cockatoos do for fun: tearing apart everything on which he could lay his beak.
I wasn’t sure who’d let him out that morning. Probably one of the kids. But he couldn’t stay out all day. I had to go to work and no sane parrot owner would leave their bird loose, unsupervised with no one at home. Or at least no one sane would leave this parrot unsupervised.
I shuddered at the thought of how much damage he could do given an entire day to wreak havoc. It was time to put him back into his house.
“Come on, sweetie,” I cooed. “Time to go home. Mommy’s got to go to work.”
“CAWWWWWWW! SQUAWK!! ACK-ACK-ACK!” (No M’am, I have other plans) he said. Ah those melodious tones.
He was a tame bird, bad habits notwithstanding and would stand on my hand, nibble on my ears. So far he hadn’t taken it into his head to remove my ears, though he had tried to rip an earring out. But tame and obedient are in no way synonymous. He knew I wanted him back in his cage and he clearly didn’t want to go there. I needed a proper bribe or he could easily elude me for hours.
“Come along, baby,” I continued, sotto voce. “Mommy needs to get going and we don’t have all day to hunt wild birdies.”
I offered him my arm and teased him with a piece of watermelon in my other hand. He was ever so fond of fruit. Finally, after trying his birdy best to get the fruit without having to climb up on the arm, he gave in and climbed aboard. Quick as a wink, he was back in his cage, a squishy piece of red fruit dangling from his beak.
I pondered how much worse this would have been if I not have been able to get him in hand and instead, had been left with two just like him safely hidden in a bush. It boggled my mind.
We got him by accident. We kept him because he needed a home. We thought eventually, he’d calm down. He calmed down. He has mostly stopped jumping fences. Mostly. He isn’t mellow exactly, but he is among the friendliest dogs I’ve ever known.
He’s loving and sweet and protective. He tries very hard to be fierce, but no one is ever afraid of him. He will keep trying, though.
Loneliness is one of the collateral damage effects of COVID 19. There are increasing reports of people whose social lives have been turned upside down by mandates to stay home, away from crowds and the possibility of COVID 19 infection. If you’re a party animal, this is life as you’ve never known it. Days and nights away from clubbing, sports, concerts and the hot, new movies at your local multiple plex theater. Crisis hotlines are top-heavy with folks not used to spending time away from the madding crowds.
How many texts and tweets can you share about doing nothing with no one?
We’re lucky. Senior citizens, deep in our retirement years and not especially sociable folks. Living in a small town with few places to make merry has eased us into the quiet life. We have a bonus with our furry kids demanding nonstop attention while giving us often unwanted other entertainment.
Entertainment as a Barkathon lasting from dusk till dawn. Barkathons that keep Mom and Dad awake. Well, more Mom. Our dogs are oblivious to the COVID 19 nightmares and how it’s changed the lives of those who supply biscuits, dinner, more biscuits. The Barkathons override the frantic breaking news reports and COVID 19 updates that now have an all too familiar sound.
Our nightly high point is when Donzo appears for his pandemic updates and is almost immediately drowned out by the frequent disdain of Duke and Bonnie who seem to be having barking fits as they listen to the incoherent blatherings of the White House jester.
In the midst of yelling at the dogs to shush, we realize they’ve distracted us from major portions of the POTUS drivel. A good thing. And Bonnie’s very deaf so yelling at her is pointless The furries somehow sense that the orange-haired gent on the screen is like the clown toys they love to chew up and toss around. An epiphany! Duke and Bonnie are trying to spare us the anger and frustration we feel every time the weird man speaks to us in tongues.
It’s harder to appreciate the Barkathons during the wee small hours when we’re trying to escape into dreamland where all is right in our world and dragons have been sequestered. I don’t think our dogs realize we are trying to what they do for most of the day.
We are tinkering with the idea of barking at the furries and disturbing their rest. We’ve tried without success. They think it’s a game played by Ma and Pa. If they do understand our frustration, they show little compassion. Barking is their thing. Their Right. I believe they think barking is necessary for Dad who’s been hard of hearing for most of his life. They dismiss the success of my cochlear implant and bark LOUDER to see if they can triumph over my CI. It’s a conspiracy where the dogs prevail and we, HU-mans, will always lose. Bark! Bark! Bark!
All the attention given to the dogs erases any possibility of loneliness during the pandemic. They keep us alert, insisting we march to their sound of a different drummer.
I suspect the dogs expect an award. Maybe the Presidential Medal of Honor for keeping their owners alert. Bonnie, especially, believes her shrill, nonstop barking is akin to stories she’s heard from the Dog Father. She is merely retelling an ancient doggish myth. The 24/7 barking tops any stories about celebrities the old man tells over and over again.
Loneliness? Not here! The furries kids have our 6, Bark! Bark! Bark!
Up in the air they go gliding, landing on our feeders, then gliding home.
I wish I could be quiet as a mouse and go outside and see them flying in to eat at the feeders. I love that they can drift on the wind and land precisely where they want to be.
Oh, it turns out you can’t housebreak a flying squirrel. They do make lovely, adoring pets. But they need a lot of love, a lot of cuddling, and they can be very clingy. The good news is that if you have a pocket, they are very happy to travel around in as long as you don’t forget to pet them. They don’t like being crated and they need very big cages so they can at least do a bit of gliding.
I actually looked at the cages and they gave me shivers. They live much longer as pets than in the wild. In the wild, they rarely live more than five or six years, but as a pet, they can live ten or even fifteen years.
I think they would rather glide freely through the air, high in the trees. They are the freest, most joyful creatures in our woods. They were never meant to live in cages. Would they trade a much longer life with half of it lived in a cage?
I know the raccoons we are seeing on our deck are young. They look young. Their tails are short and the coats are not the plush, rich colors that you see in adult raccoons. Their masks are incomplete.
I got to wondering how long a raccoon can live and was surprised to discover that a wild raccoon, it’s a very short lifespan — usually two to three years. Kept as a pet, they can live as long as 20 years. That’s a huge difference. Apparently being protected from other predators and being well-fed and taken to a vet as necessary makes more than a small difference in their lifespans.
They are illegal in many states, such as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and this state (Massachusetts) among others. There are specific laws surrounding raccoon ownership in most states too. In some states, it may be legal to own a raccoon as a pet, but it is not legal to import raccoons from outside the state.
A lot of this has to do with their being fur-bearing animals that are frequently hunted for pelts — which is now illegal almost everywhere in the U.S. They make charming, intelligent pets, too. They can be housebroken to use a litter pan (like a cat) and will eat almost anything from seeds to meat and fish. Their intelligence also makes them difficult pets. Imagine if your cat or dog had the intelligence of a 2-year-old and about the same amount of control.
You can’t crate them for very long. They are very active creatures. They go crazy living in cages and need to be free to explore. Free to decide your office need redecoration. They may not have the material for the decorating, but they are pretty good at destroying your current arrangement. They also love electrical cords and knocking things off shelves, tearing down curtains, opening refrigerators and eating anything that looks interesting — which, being raccoons, is more or less everything. If you eat, they’ll be happy to eat it.
In temperate or warmer climates, they are a much better outdoor pet but they are also tempting morsels for bigger predators. Lynxes, bobcats, mountain lions, big hawks and eagles are happy to eat young raccoons. If they live to grow to their full size of 25 to 30 pounds and sometimes more (obesity is one of their issues), they can fight back. It’s the little ones who die. Which is why most of the raccoons you meet in the wild are young.
Most people consider them furry vandals and try to keep them out of their yards. I have a problem with that because everything gets hungry. We’ve taken over so much of the world, it isn’t easy for them to find healthful food.
Raccoons live all over the country from southern California and Louisiana through the deep Ameican south up to near arctic conditions in Canada. They may not live long, but they live everywhere including Boston. We had a huge one living in our backyard on Beacon Hill. He owned the backyard which was technically ours, but I felt a lot safer letting him have it. He growled at me when I tried to go out there. He was a big boy, a happy trash raider if ever I met one.
Then there’s the issue of rabies. The most typically rabid animals are bats. Next, come skunks and after that, raccoons. During my (very) brief stint as Deputy Animal Control Officer for Millville, a tiny neighboring town, I became very familiar with rabies. They had even found rabid deer.
I got a rabies shot because no way I was handling possibly rabid animals without an inoculation. Rabies is lethal. You do not survive it. Not you or any animal. The anti-rabies shots they can give you to prevent it if you are bitten are known to be very painful. But if you don’t get the shots immediately, they won’t work and you’ll die. All of this put me out of the animal control business in a big hurry.
Pet raccoons don’t get rabies because veterinarians — assuming you can find one who will treat a raccoon — get rabies shots. They also get the same medications dogs and cats get to prevent ticks, fleas, heartworm as well as other worms and infestations.
So. That’s why your pet raccoon can live 10 to 20 years while the wild ones like those stealing seeds from our feeder probably won’t see age four. I feel bad about that, though there is nothing I can do to fix it other than pretending I don’t know they live on the seeds from our feeders.
I feel guilty about all the animals I feed. When it’s terribly cold, I want to let the birds in and so they can warm up. I’d like to have flying squirrels gliding around the house. I think that would solve my problem with ancient Chinese porcelain and Native American pottery. It would become shards in no time.
There was a period in my life when we used to raise the occasional litter of Siamese kittens. When people asked me about breakables I assured them if it was breakable, it was already broken. I’m getting too old to deal with taming wild things in my house, even if the wild things are crazed Siamese kittens.
The only pet squirrel (non-flying) I knew died by falling head-first into a toilet and drowning. It wasn’t my squirrel, but it convinced me that wild animals need to stay wild unless they are injured and can’t live outside.
I feel bad about the raccoons. They are young and I wonder, even with the seeds I provide, if they will live to adulthood. I’m lucky it’s illegal to keep them as pets. The laws are protecting me from me.
On February 8, 2020, Gibbs died. We had no warning that there was something seriously wrong with him and until he died, he was eating, alive, and active.A lot of people seem to have missed this post, so I’m posting it again. I miss Gibbs, especially when I’m feeding them. I automatically grab three dishes, then I remember — just two.
Bonnie was the dog who I was worried about. I’m still worried and every time she sleeps deeply and I go to wake her, I’m afraid she won’t wake up.I would love another dog but I think maybe we are too old to be good doggy parents … and too poor to afford another one. Just the veterinary care is getting to be beyond our means. But there are so many dogs who need homes now and we are a good home. Here’s the original post.
Today, sometime around the middle of the afternoon, Gibbs died.
He was having what seemed a normal day. Up in the morning, begging for treats. Barking like crazy at anyone going up or down the stairs. Then, he went to sleep on the sofa.
We were going to a concert and friends were coming over for dinner and coming with us, so I was just getting ready to get dressed for the event. Garry went in to feed the dogs. Gibbs didn’t show up for dinner, so he came in here to shake Gibbs awake, which we often have to do because he was had become a very heavy sleeper, something I attributed to aging.
Garry shook him, but he didn’t wake up. He shook him again. Gibbs normally woke as soon as you touched him. I had that instantly bad feeling you get when something is very wrong. I went over. His eyes were open and were unresponsive. He was warm and his nose was cool and moist, but he was not breathing.
He had died on the sofa in his sleep sometime between mid-morning snack time and four in the afternoon.
We had him for 3 years and 11 months. He was just about to turn 13 in April. He arrived on my birthday, nearly four years ago. He never seemed as old as Bonnie. I always assumed he would outlive her.
I hope we gave him a good home. We had him at the vet just four days ago for his 3-year rabies shot and while we were worried about those enlarged glands in his neck, he was on antibiotics in the hopes it was merely an infection.
The vet said it had to have been some kind of cardiac event, possibly a slow-growing tumor — the kind you never know about because there’s no prelude, no warnings. We’ll never know for sure.
On the way back tonight, I almost went to look in the shed to see if, by some miracle, he had woken up. But I knew better so I didn’t.
I’ve had many dogs over the years, but I’ve never had one simply die in his or her sleep like that. I’m a bit in shock right now and of course, we have to take him to the vet for cremation tomorrow. I would have liked to bury him here, but we live on rocks and without a backhoe, we could not dig deep enough to bury him properly.
He didn’t make a sound while he died and I was sitting just a few feet away. He must have been asleep. Owen points out that he died on his favorite sofa without that terrible, prolonged illness that is typical of old animals. I hope we gave him a good home. At least for these last years, he was free to come and go and get some of the love he never got when he was young.
Tom and I have had some awesome dogs. Some have had mad skills.
For example, Tom had a Giant Schnauzer named George. He was a serious herder. When Tom had a party, everyone always ended up huddled together in the corner of one room. George would be happily asleep nearby.
In addition to herding humans, George was a skilled dog herder. Often when Tom came home from work, he’d find six to eight dogs from the neighborhood in his backyard. George had collected them and brought them home. Tom would have to shoo the dogs off and send them back to their own homes.
Tom had a radio show years ago and he wrote comedy skits for the show. One was about a dog advice columnist and was called “Ask Dr. Dog”. Tom would put George in front of a microphone and point at him and George would bark on cue. Another hand signal and George would stop. Better than most human radio personalities!
Friday was a Shepard mix of Tom’s. He would obsessively steal silverware. Tom never knew why. He just knew George would sneak off with forks, spoons, or knives in his mouth.
One day, Tom followed Friday to see where he took his stolen dinnerware. Friday had a big stash behind his favorite chair. The amazing thing was that Friday had organized the cutlery by type. All the forks were together, all the spoons were together and all the knives were together. That requires a level of cognitive skills that dogs are not supposed to have. It was a surprising feat for a dog.
I had a wonderful Golden Retriever Border Collie mix named Sam. Everyone loved this beautiful dog. But he was an escape artist and a food thief. He got out of a locked crate and actually bent some of the bars in the process. He also got out of a house with all the doors shut. We have no idea how he did it. After that we nicknamed Sam, “Hairy Houdini”.
Sam’s other talent was stealing food very, very discreetly. One day I put a chicken sandwich on the kitchen table for my son, David. David called up to me asking why I had given him a lettuce sandwich. I insisted that I had made him a chicken sandwich. I went into the kitchen and David was right. There was no chicken in the sandwich. But the sandwich looked totally normal. No signs of tampering. Except for one telltale piece of lettuce on the floor next to the table. The smoking gun! We found out later that Tom had actually watched Sam carefully pull the chicken out of the sandwich, leaving the rest of the sandwich intact.
Sam also got some Rugellah I had left in the car with him for a few minutes. But the cookies were tightly wrapped in two layers of aluminum foil. When I got back to the car, the two layers of foil had been carefully unwrapped. There wasn’t a single tear anywhere in the foil. And there were only a few crumbs left sitting in the middle of the package.
One other dog of mine and Tom’s also had a superpower. His name was Caley and he was a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. He was an extraordinary Frisbee dog. He could catch almost any Frisbee you could throw at him. He’d jump in the air and do all kinds of twists and flips, backward and forwards, to get to the Frisbee. As impressive as that is, many dogs can do that. Caley could do something else.
When we had landscapers working in our yard, they had to pick the rocks out of the soil to create planting areas. Caley was out with the landscapers. The boss knocked on my door and asked me to please keep Caley inside. Apparently, when the men threw a rock away, Caley would retrieve it and bring it back to them. So he was slowing the work down. We tested him to see if he was bringing back the same rocks that had been thrown. And he was.
A year later, the landscaper was standing outside the house with me, reminiscing about the amazing rock trick Caley had done the previous year. Caley came running outside and went right up to the landscaper. Then he ran off. He came back with a rock in his mouth and dropped it excitedly at the landscaper’s feet. He waited, wagging his tail, for the rock to be thrown for him. He remembered the rock game and wanted to play it again!
There are a lot of talented dogs out there. These are just some of our stories about our dogs with unique talents.
Let me start this by saying I did not take any of these pictures. I don’t have the right equipment but hope to get some. In the meantime, these are pictures from various habitat sites.
Owen had a friend over today who was quite the expert on flying squirrels. He said not only do we have two kinds of flying squirrels in Massachusetts, but we have three. Except that the black one only lives in the far western part of the state.
Which is actually only 75 miles from here because Massachusetts is a small state. Not as small as neighboring Rhode Island or Deleware, but small. You can drive from Boston to the far western border of Massachusetts in about 4 hours. Less if you put your pedal to the metal.
So when I said the far western part of the state, it’s not all that far from here. It just seems that the black flying squirrels prefer fir trees to oak trees and there are more conifers there than here.
He also pointed out that flying squirrels are extremely friendly and make great pets. My brain went into overdrive. I had a mental image of The Duke trying to chase down a flying squirrel and the wreckage which could result from this combination. Or, maybe he would fall madly in love with flying squirrels. I know I’m madly in love with flying squirrels. They are incredibly cute and I was wondering how you catch a flying squirrel so you can tame it.
Owen went online and confirmed it. There are many articles about how tameable flying squirrels are. I went into “How can I catch one?”
Owen and Garry immediately went into “No, Marilyn, you cannot have a flying squirrel.”
“How about two flying squirrels?” I asked. “They could glide together around the house. And feeding them is easy. They love bird seed, especially black sunflower seeds. Of which we have pounds.”
Men always band together. These two were clearly against my developing a relationship with one or more flying squirrels. Owen said it was a bad idea. Garry nodded, but I think he’d really love having a flying squirrel. I think it would be tons of fun and I’m still trying to figure out how to catch one. I simply won’t tell anyone until I have acquired one of my own.
I’m making dinner for the dogs. Usually, they all swirl around my feet. This time, Duke was sitting quietly watching me … and Bonnie was waiting at the top of the stairs for Gibbs to come in for dinner.
And there was nothing at all I could say to her except “I’m sorry, Bonnie, but he won’t be coming home again.”
Making My Home A Haven is important to me. Sharing homemaking skills. Recipes and food. Bible Studies. This is a treasure chest of goodies. So take a seat. Have a glass of tea and enjoy. You will learn all about who I am.