Category Archives: Dogs

Snow incoming

Dogs of Winter 2010
Hauling ass in the snow: An interspecies pursuit

And so dogs will play, in black and white.

I don’t really get snow days anymore — maybe once every few years. But I can’t help getting that “ooooh, it’s snowing and we might be off and so we can stay up all night” feeling anyway.

Living with a teacher does that to you. Having dogs that get just as jacked up by the air as you once did helps.


Contorted and hungry

Arrived home this evening to find the puppy (nee “Shitpaws”) had soiled her crate. But-but-but: She has progressed from her Shitpaws days! She didn’t step in it and spread celebratory tracks all around her crate … which is nice.

ContortedOnce outside, though, I quickly realized this wasn’t a potty-training relapse. She has acquired a bug (or, more likely, consumed a bad hit of yard ‘shrooms) so that she — as my southern college roommate would say — “could shit through a screen door.”

A couple more incidents later, and we diagnose that we have a problem. Sadly for her, our “solution” is to not feed her tonight and hope for the best. But dogs don’t tend to buy the “but you’ve got the runs” argument for forced food deprivation. So she laid awkwardly at my feet all evening, only occasionally getting up just to flop back down with a dramatic sigh just a few feet away. This move allows her to reposition and announce a new accusatory gaze at me that says, “Is it time yet?”

The bad news is there will probably be more clean-ups tomorrow, and maybe a trip to the vet. The good news is her theatrics let me sort of capture her spine-contorting repose on film (above). Even if I had a spine that enabled my feet to face forward while my upper torso and arms faced backward, I don’t see how that would be a preferred position. But then I don’t know that I’d lay with my tail perilously close the rolling chair wheel just to protest feeding conditions, either.

Addendum: If you followed the old Shitpaws link, you should know her modest size leads us to doubt her shelter-billed part-Newfie lineage. Unless that “part” is about 5%. Or unless her Newfie parent was seduced by one smooth-talking miniature terrier mix after a long night of yard ‘shrooms.

To Wanda!

I finally got a digital SLR camera because the prices were coming down, but I long coveted one because of the joyous detail they capture. My compact Sony did a lot of nice jobs and occasionally captured a wonderful shot, but too many times it fell short. Be it sunset or smile, action or close-up, I could never count on it getting the color right or the focus true. I played roulette with too many great moments or scenes.

But the SLR, though — aiyee! — it puts the artistic side of photography suddenly at the hands of a novice. People come alive; scenes are what I imagined them to be.

What I love most about photography is the ability to isolate perspectives that exist in front of our eyes each moment but are rarely noticed. We take in too much in our field of vision (and our daily grind) to appreciate the vivid little details and wild perspectives that circulate around us. Photography brings those home. And the digital SLRs makes that photography accessible to my foolish hands.

The easiest home illustration is on our black dogs. When captured on the compact point-and-shoot, they are indeed as we see them in passing: black blurs of fuzzy dog-ness. But upon close inspection, they are combos of shaded hairs reflecting light to varying degrees. With the SLR, that blur transforms into the kind of vivid, complex face that would give a cat pause. And it takes two seconds and zero knowledge to capture.

Not enough bandwidth here to display the full effect, but here’s a hint of what’s possible.


Twice the dog breath

Yikes. A month of abject blog neglect. As I first realized when I worked for a writer in college (who, incidentally, passed away suddenly last week), writing for your main job is nice if that’s your passion. But it’s also tough* in that your passion becomes your job and acquires flavors of tedium.

*”tough” being quite relative, in the Grand Scheme.

Sometimes the act of writing for work makes me too mentally fatigued to do it for fun. I get home with big aspirations that are quickly extinguished by dog-walking, self-feeding, a glass of Irish whiskey, and the day’s Champions League soccer match. Then I get a backlog of thoughts and links (a backblog?) that I never feel are adequately digested.

“Hey worthless, shouldn’t you be writing? Or else, like, walking us?”

Anyway, one other distraction lately was the act of acquiring and pretending to be able to train a new dog. We found one, a 4- to 5-month old rescue, to be a current companion and future successor to our resident canine, Willa.

If nothing else, the two of them made our recent snowfalls that much more fun. Really, watching a dog frolic in its first snow is probably even more enjoyable than watching a kid do it. With a toddler, there’s often some hesitation or lack of understanding unless they’re old enough to know to covet it. With a dog, it’s like watching Nature’s fun gene switch on right in front of your eyes: “Something is different. I must run in this. It’s written in my blood.”

Dogs on Canvas, black and white

The rescue is part Newfoundland (those big, black literally human-rescue dogs with webbed paws for swimming), part we-don’t-know-what. Presumably the we-don’t-know part is why she was left behind: The first night, when we finally plopped ourselves down to bed after careful introductions and exhaustive bladder monitoring, she predictably started to whine from separation anxiety. After warming up with a range of barks, she went into a distinctive, mournful howl. In the dark of the bedroom, I could feel our eyes open in unison: dammit, she’s part hound dog.

The way she reacts to the sight of squirrels, rabbits and any other independently mobile body as if she’s just done a line of canine coke, supports our suspicions about her other breed. She’s hyper, inquisitive, bolder than Willa, and she’s wearing us out at the moment.

After four months in a vet’s rescue shelter — and perhaps because she’s part hound, which are supposedly resistant to housebreaking — she is not adequately turned off by crapping where she sleeps. Nor by dancing in it. We call her Shitpaws.

But please, it’s “Wanda” in formal settings … we toyed with more author names like Harper and Flannery (and Willa Who Is Called Simon), but none fit her rambunctiousness. Ww-w-w-wanda, as in A Fish Called, and “To Wanda!” as in Fried Green Tomatoes, sounded just right.

At least Willa and Shitpaws, er, Wanda are getting along fine now after a rocky introduction. And we humans, we’re wondering what the hell we’ve done. Which, I believe, is a common human response once the “I’ve got an idea” gene has been expressed.

Wild weather

Awesome front coming in. Our planet’s routine way of telling us who’s in charge here.

I woke up this a.m. and it smelled like a summer morning, minus the bloom and grass. The driveway was sweating. In a winter rarity, the dog worked up so much heat running around that she wanted to come in before I had to beg. Sunny, the temp was into the upper 60s a record 71(!) by lunch time. But within a few hours, it’s supposed to drop about 30 degrees. It should be somewhere around 15 by late tonight with flurries. Back to hot tub weather.

From work, I took a stroll to the coffeeshop to get a look at this front in action, but it hadn’t taken shape yet, dammit. I was hoping to get a feel for the armageddon conditions of this shift, with what’s supposed to be 40+ mph winds and the change in pressure. But it’s still brewing, so it’s back to work without seeing the show.

At home, the dog will miss the show, too. Whenever the pressure changes or a big front is in the cards, she cowers into a corner as if she’s anticipating the Big Quake. It’s amazing the nooks this 70-lb. beast can burrow under our knees when properly motivated. Whenever we go outside to enjoy a big storm on the porch, she balls up behind us and pleads to be let back inside where it’s “safe.”

It’s wild: With all her superhuman senses, and the smells and sounds and suspicious people she picks up from a hundred yards away, she often knows more about our surroundings than we do. But this is one bit of knowledge we have on her, one thing we can’t alter for her. We can’t override her instinct and let her know it’s going to be OK.

Stupid humans, standing outside the cave in the middle of a storm.

In her religion, too, the gods “work in mysterious ways.”

Auto pilot

Headed back to the peace of the Outer Banks this week and damn, I still haven’t done a proper recap of this year’s float trip. Now I’ve forgotten many of the banner details, I’m sure. I’d meant to get something done, but it will have to wait for after the trip.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll set up some robotic posts of random content while I’m away from the tether. I dunno, I just like to keep the seat warm…

Autopilot post #1:

All Your Bases Are Belong to Us
All Your Bases

Dogs secretly rule Earth

A funny article in Slate about “the real reason we love dogs.” It is an unapologetic defense of loving dogs, and I believe its title refers to recent debate and writing about whether dogs have actually evolved to manipulate us into loving them. The basic (and I’m *really* simplifying here) premise being that earning humans’ good graces and protection was a surer way for survival than in the wild with a pack.

I think there are a lot of leaps there — and I’ve done this line of thought no favors by simplifying it — but the basic construct is fun to think about, and it leads to more solid observations such as that “Dogs are astonishingly skilled at reading humans’ patterns of social behavior, especially behaviors related to food and care. They figure out our moods and what makes us happy, what moves us. Then they act accordingly, and we tell ourselves that they’re crazy about us.”

WillaWishes3Some believe they’ve evolved these skills just for us, “which is why dogs live so much better than moles.” Of course, I suspect the insanity of human dog breeders, who breed more for coat and “profile” just as much as for cuddling, would have equal — and possibly negating — effect on dogs’ evolution, but who knows.

Anyway, the Slate article is great: perfect at capturing why foolish dog-lovers like me are so afflicted. As a good friend who dog-sits often remarks, dogs generally treat you like a god (an easily manipulated god, sure, but a god nonetheless). That reverence is hard to beat and even harder to acquire without some serious isolation.

Some dog-owners, like the woman in the article who dumped her boyfriend over her dog, see them as sort of mates who don’t forget Valentine’s Day or go out drinking with friends. Others see them as child surrogates who don’t cry or crap in the house. But all get a cheap route to some daily dose of happiness.

Being already mated to each other, my wife and I are probably in the latter category, as we treat our good-natured, comically submissive dog like some kind of child who doesn’t require Big Parenting Decisions and unfailingly releases unconditional love. Our dog is like a cheap feel-good drug, always available and quick to make us laugh.

It’s a bit pathetic, I know. But I’ll take it without apology. Plus, in my dog I see another curious representative of the charge of life that runs throughout nature. Just as I enjoy marveling at humanity, I enjoy marveling at the similarities and variations that course throughout the spectrum of natural life, of which humanity is a part.

So when I look at a “loving” dog and see it interacting with humans and with other dogs for various motives, and when I ponder whether dogs evolved advanced social skills to take advantage of humans, I see something mysterious and cool: two species, two quantums of the life spectrum, each evolved from the same single-cell origin, now leaping across their quantums to feed off each other.