Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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Fellow blogger's house... Very nice house, I might add.

It's Not Ok, Kitty

I once worked in an animal hospital in the San Francisco bay area. My primary duties were in the kennels, caring for the dogs and cats that were boarded there. At times I was called upon to assist the veterinarian with simple procedures on his patients. In many animal hospitals a euthanasia, or E and D (euthanasia and disposal) as it is more commonly called, is considered a simple procedure.

When I took a job in the clinic I did so because I wanted to work with animals. I had a range of experience, from grooming to obedience training, and some previous jobs in veterinary clinics. I had seen a lot of things, good and bad happen to animals in the course of my life. I have been active for a number of years in collie rescue. This means I adopt unwanted collies from animal shelters and pounds. I get them medical attention as needed, give them their shots, and teach them basic obedience commands. Then I try to find them homes.

Frequently a shelter will call to alert me that they have a collie. I will go and see if the dog in question has enough health and sanity left to live in a world of humans. If so, I will bail it out and begin my work. If not, I will usually bail it out anyway and give it a dignified death. In that case I feel that it has suffered enough, and it would be kinder for them to die without trauma than to subject them to a harrowing round of homes that can't cope with their special needs. Many times these people will abandon them to the street, send them back to the pound, or kill them slowly with a combination of abuse and neglect.

So here I was, working in an animal hospital, partly to defray the medical costs of my "orphans", and partly because I’m good at, and enjoy working with animals. For the most part I enjoy my job. I see a lot of things happen between people and their pets that run the gamut between the sublime and the ridiculous. There is also an element of the tragic.

For me, the worst of it is that many of the pet owners I encounter have no idea "who" their animal is, or what it can do. Dogs frequently have no sense of purpose, or personal dignity, because most of the time they have nothing to do, and no one to do it with. I see dogs with flailing, febrile, and wasted minds, which have nothing more interesting to look forward to each day than mealtime. Cats especially seem to be the facial tissues of the pet world. If kitty gets a little funky, why then, we throw her away! After all, we can always get another one for free!

One day I was working in the treatment room. The vet came in from a consultation room with a handsome cat in his arms. He was a fine fellow, mostly white with large black patches. He was only a little tense, looking around curiously and purring in a half-hearted manner. Placing the cat on the treatment table, the vet asked me to hold him. The cat sat on the table, purring as I stroked him.

“What's this guy here for?” I asked.

“E and D,” the vet responded.

“Oh? What's wrong with him?”

“Nothing,” answered the vet. “They’re getting a divorce and they want him put down.” He took down the bottle of Euthanol from its locked cupboard, and began filling a syringe.

I looked at the cat. He was beautiful and healthy. “They don’t want to keep him any more?” I asked.

“No, nothing like that – they just can’t agree on who gets him. Hold him please.” He took the cat's right foreleg and felt along the inside for a vein.

A number of things flew through my mind in the next few seconds. I felt panicky. Should I try to catch the owners before they left and ask if I could keep him? This behavior would be frowned upon by the vet. Not professional you know. Plus, I already had two cats and two dogs of my own, plus the rescue dogs. Would my cats accept him? How would he be with them? Was he ok with dogs? Could I afford another pet? Could I find a good home for him? Couldn’t we just wait a minute?

The cat stopped purring. He had gotten a sense that something was wrong. He struggled a little, and I automatically tightened my grip. “Hold him, please,” said the vet calmly.

The cat gave one small meow, and then redoubled his efforts to get loose. “It's ok kitty,” I said, “Please be still.” My voice was a bit shaky. The vet frowned.

The injection was given, and the cat looked around and meowed again. This was wrong. He should have been sinking quietly down on the table by now. I had helped with dozens of E and Ds. He should not be struggling. He should be quietly dying. His movements were a little uncoordinated, but still strong.

“Maybe you should give him some more?” I ventured, timidly.

Briskly, the vet put the bottle of Euthanol back on the shelf and said, “No, he'll be fine. Put him in a cage.” He rinsed his hands and went out, drying them on a paper towel.

He'll be fine...

I picked up the cat and cradled him in my arms. He clutched desperately at me and gave a quavering cry. I carried him to one of the observation kennels, grabbing a folded bath towel for him to lie on. Putting the towel on the floor of the cage, I started to put him down on it. As I began to lift him away from my chest, he jerked his claws from my sweater, wrapped his forepaws around my neck, and shoved his head under my chin. He cried again. Weeping now, I held him, stroking him over and over, and telling him, “It's ok, kitty.”

People were walking past me - the Animal Health Technician, the other kennel-person, one of the receptionists. No one said anything.

Slowly, the cat began to relax. He began to die. He stopped crying. He began to purr again. I kept on stroking him. The purring grew ragged and faint, and finally stopped. It took over twenty minutes. I held him, weeping silently, gently petting his face, his ears his paws, until I was sure he was gone. Then I wrapped his body in the towel, slid it into the cage, and said, “Goodbye, Kitty. I'm sorry.”

I left the treatment room and returned to the kennels. As I came in, a cat arched its back companionably against the bars of its cage. I reached in and scratched its neck. “Hi Kitty.” I said.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lacy Britches

What is it about horses? All my early favorite stories were about them. "Black Beauty", "The Black Stallion", "King of the Wind". There were Misty, Silver, Trigger, Fury, Flicka, and many more. All through my childhood I yearned for a horse. The closest I ever got was Brighty. Brighty was a donkey. I loved him, even though he wasn't a horse; even thought he once tried to scrape me off his back by rubbing up against the granary, and then threw me and stomped on me because I wouldn't be scraped off. Most of the time he was very sweet, and we ranged allover the 160-plus acres upon which we lived. He only shucked me off into a prickly-pear patch once. But he wasn't a horse. No matter how hard I squinted, his most prominent feature was his pair of jack-rabbit ears.

Brighty and I lived on an egg farm in the Texas panhandle. Our place had 2000 hens, 40 acres of wheat, 40 acres of grain sorghum, 40 acres of barley, and 5 acres of tomatoes: In the winter we would pasture a couple dozen horses belonging to a friend of my step- father on the grain-stubble. I didn't get to know them well. They were stand-offish. And anyway, I wasn't allowed to "fool with them." But I used to watch them graze for hours at time.

Twice every day these horses used to amble up to the equipment yard where the stock-tank was, and get a drink. The last to come up were always a matched pair of wooly, liver-chestnut, Shetland ponies. Their charm, if they ever had any, was lost on me.

They were ornery. One of them was just plain diabolical. You could walk right up to them, they didn't mind. It gave them the perfect opportunity to either tear the buttons off your coat, or take a chunk out of your arm. But the meaner one had a real talent for trouble.

Each time the herd made the trip up to the water-tank, "Diablo", as I called him, would hang back with his brother while the big horses thrust their muzzles into the cold water and began to drink their fill. Then "Diablo" would sneak silently up behind a thirsty mare or gelding, bite the hell out of his or her flank, and slip quickly around to the other side of his victem.

The bushwacked horse would throw up its head, squealing with pain and rage, ears pinned, eyes rolling, and tie into the horse standing nearest its bitten side. There was always a scrap, and "Diablo" would watch it with evident satisfaction. Then, when it was all over, and the herd began to amble back out to the grazing, he would have a nice, big drink, and follow them out.

The only horse in this group whose real name was known to me was an Apaloosa mare, a red chestnut, with a white, chestnut-spangled blanket, and long graceful legs. Her name was "Lacy Britches." She was almost as friendly as "Diablo." If you tried to approach her, she would put down her head, and wheel around, doing her best to kick you into next Sunday. Then she'd go off, squealing, bucking, crow-hopping and wringing her tail.

Once under saddle, she was reputed to be the best cow-horse in the county, but you had to get aboard first. "Lacy Britches" made that pretty interesting, and once you were there, you better know your business, because she was a professional, and did not suffer fools gladly. Mostly I admired her from a distance.

I did get to ride her once, though. For a minute.

The guy who owned these critters, sent his son out to check on them. He arrived with a brand-new braided-leather hackamore bridle, and with the aid of a bucket with a few handfuls of sweet-feed in it, caught "Lacy Britches", and rode her up to the stock-tank. I had been watching all this with great interest. I wandered over, and keeping a respectful distance from the mare, made some complimentary remarks on her appearance. He asked if I wanted to ride her.
How could I say no? "Lacy Britches" looked about as tall as the windmill, and as safe as a Saturn rocket, but my eleven-year-old tomboy pride wouldn't let me refuse. I was considered something of an expert on horses by my schoolmates, and riding the infamous, widow-maker "Lacy Britches" could only enhance my image. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and said. "Sure!"

"Lacy Britches" was in a foul mood. "Lacy Britches" was always in a foul mood. I got a leg up from the guy, gathered the reins, and looked between the monster's ears. The young man stepped back, and the mare turned her head just enough to be able to see me, pinned those ears, and bowed up her back. We remained like that for a few seconds, and then I decided that I had better take charge of the situation, or she certainly would. I got both hands into her mane, and clapped my heels into her. She squatted down and took off like a scalded cat. It was a short ride.

Earlier that day, and unknown to me, my stepfather had strung a double-strand of smooth fence-wire across the yard where the stock-tank stood. It was about thirty feet from the tank, and about eight feet in the air. At any rate I knew nothing about it until a couple of seconds after "Lacy Britches" erupted across the yard. She ran under it. I, alas, did not. It caught me just under the chin, and due to the fortunate absence of a saddle, peeled me right off her back. I landed on my butt in the dirt with two handfuls of Appaloosa hair.

"Lacy Britches" was greatly perplexed. She forgot herself to the extent that she turned to see what had become of me, but soon recalled that she had a reputation to defend, and clattered off, dragging her reins. By the time the young man caught up with her, she had stomped on and broken both reins of his nice hackamore. I amazingly was unhurt.

The other horse that stands out from that time, lived across the highway. I discovered him quite by accident. He was lying on his side in a field of wheat stubble. He was a sorry sight. Once he had been pure white. Gaunt and filthy, his rough, shaggy winter coat did not hide his ribs, which looked like a picket fence. His hooves were grotesque, having grown out and curled up at the ends.

He lifted his head a little when I came near. He tried a feeble whinny, but it sounded like the rattle of the dry wheat stalks in a hot summer breeze. I noticed that he had eaten every scrap of forage in a circle around where he lay. I wondered how long he had gone without water.

I began to cry, and ran home to tell my Mother. She called the police. Before long, a horse-van appeared, and as we watched, they winched him into the thickly bedded interior of the van. We were crying, sure that he would die. But he didn't. Months later my Grand-uncle drove me to the place where he lived. He was up on his feet, and they almost looked normal. His coat was soft and clean, and there were no ribs to be seen. He was munching hay contentedly. He didn't know me, but I didn't mind. I just stroked and petted him while he ate. His name was Lucky.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The World according to Sugarfoot, or What I learned from the Dalai Lama & Yoda

In which I describe a concept of the true nature of religion and the usefulness and dangers of fear and anger.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”
- Yoda and the Dalai Lama

It is my contention that all of the “great religions”, the faith-based religions, are a strain of lingually transmitted virus. This could explain such phenomena as mass conversions, the “Moonies” and “finding Jesus.”
We have all seen it. Some perfectly normal, rational human being we have known for years will start spouting scripture. Their eyes glaze over and they become incapable of logic in certain areas of their consciousness. This seems to me to happen most frequently to adults, and less so with “school-age” children. I’ve never heard of it being observed in babies.
This virus, (let’s call it the R virus), acts like any other virus. It gets into your nervous system and propagates itself. Unlike some viruses, it doesn’t kill you or give you a fever. Instead, it targets certain areas of your brain, specifically your speech-centers, and induces you to spread it to other hosts via what you say. You begin to “believe.” You spout dogma. You proselytize. In specific ways you become irrational. How does this work? Let’s explore.

When babies are born, they are intelligent, aware and inputting a stream of sensory info as wide as a freeway. They are inexperienced in dealing with the new reality they’ve landed in, but they’re present. They are conscious – but they are non-verbal. They process and react to their environment, but since they haven’t acquired language, they don’t do it with words. They can experience fear. Fear has been documented in newborns. They can experience anger. Ask any mother. A pre-verbal child starts shrieking, and you can bet that child’s mom can tell whether that shriek denotes fear or anger.
Now, babies learn to recognize words long before they use them. Even dogs learn to recognize words. If I say, “Hungry?” to my dog, she licks her chops and bounces around in anticipation of food. But she never replies. (At least not verbally.) She can input language; a word is a part of a language. But she doesn’t process it any differently than any of the non-verbal sounds which she receives. So we can’t really say that the dog or the baby have acquired language per-se. A word is a sound, or a group of sounds, which carry a specific meaning. If the dog has learned to associate that sound or combination of sounds with an object or event, then it will attach a specific meaning to it. But that meaning will exist in the dog’s consciousness in a non-verbal format. The dog does not have a developed speech-center in its brain, so it’s not vulnerable to a virus that wants to live in one.
The pre-verbal baby and the dog are in a similar boat. The baby extracts meaning from incoming sensory data. But it does not give precedence to words, because it hasn’t acquired language. It is absorbing all the sound around it and attempting to derive meaning from it, but its speech center is not yet totally “on line.”

Now for a side trip into the concepts of fear and anger: let’s look at pre-historic, or rather, pre-verbal man. Fear and anger have survival value, both for the individual human and for the species as a whole.
When a cranky rhinoceros comes charging at our pre-verbal human, the human experiences fear. He gets a big shot of adrenalin and goes haring off and climbs a sturdy tree. He not only survives, but he preserves the possibility of propagating his species by surviving.
As for anger, let’s suppose our rhinoceros-fleeing human comes down out of his tree and successfully knocks down a rabbit. He carries it off to his cave and builds a nice fire. He puts the bunny on to roast, and waits with eager anticipation to quell the rumbling in his tummy.
But along comes another pre-verbal human and decides roast rabbit sounds like just the thing. He snatches it off the spit with every intention of gobbling it down as fast as he is able. Here is where anger comes in handy. Our hunter leaps up and flies into a towering rage. He’s hungry, dash it all! He needs those bunny calories to get through his day. He roars. He shakes his hairy fist at the interloper. He gnashes his teeth and strides forward, with every intention of doing bodily harm to the rabbit-thief.
The rabbit thief begins to feel that catching his own rabbit may be safer than risking a thrashing from this snarling character. He drops the rabbit and beats a hasty retreat.
So this anger thing can be pretty useful. Well, you say; if our rabbit-hunting chap of the first part had acquired language, he could have said, "I say, old bean, I really need that rabbit for my own as I’m famished and simply won’t have the oomph to get through another hunt successfully if I don’t dine on it.”
But the other hairy fellow might just as easily have answered, “Sod off, Shorty. I’m hungry too.” So our fellow might still have needed the anger shtick to keep his meal. Of course he could have shared the rabbit with the interloper, but hairy brutes that go around snatching other hairy brutes’ rabbits usually don’t make pleasant dinner companions anyhow. I’d have given him the heave-ho as well.
So we see that fear and anger have their uses. Now let’s get back to virus R and the pre-verbal baby.

Here’s our little one. Shall we call her Susie? Ok, here’s Susie lying in her crib all pre-wired with potential linguistic abilities, and the right sort of larynx and what-not to produce the complex sounds that make up language. But Susie doesn’t know that she’s “Susie”, because “Susie” is a name, a sort of word, and she’s experiencing herself and everything around her in a lot of ways, none of which is verbal.
But here comes mom. Mom begins to make these patterned sounds in a repetitive manner because she has language. She relies on it almost exclusively to relate to all the other humans she knows, (and machines like computers, and even animals like dogs.) Mom is hell-bent on passing on her linguistic ability to Susie. And, not surprisingly, she does. Then a very sad thing happens. Susie gradually stops paying attention to all the non-verbal components of her sensory array and begins to rely on her linguistic ability to do most of her communicating. This is sad because as wonderful as language is, it has severe limitations. You know this if you have ever tried coming to a complete understanding of what your significant other means when he/she says something like, “I’ll be ready in just a minute.” or “I love you.”
All the complex information that Susie had about how wonderful mom smells goes out the window because mom has no vocabulary for the complexities of smell, of if she does, it has mostly negative connotations. So Susie stops accessing that input and begins to tune it out, until not only her ability to have feelings or (non-verbal) thoughts about those complex smells begins to atrophy, but also the very ability to smell fluently gets tuned out, and eventually ceases to exist.
This process is simultaneously going on with most of Susie’s other potentially useful ways of relating to her environment and the things and people in it. Her native telepathic abilities, her proximity sense, and a host of other ways of perceiving reality just become stunted or die. In fact, Susie puts up mental filters to prevent all sorts of information coming in. That freeway of information becomes, (compared to what it once was), a goat-path.
The older Susie grows, the more her non-verbal communications fade and become inaccessible to her. By the time she is an adult, she is doing nearly all her person-to-person communicating with language. Simultaneously, more and more of her brainpower is diverted to dealing with language.

Then along comes the R virus. Susie is exposed. Will she be infected? A number of variables will affect whether or not she is. One of the more interesting ones is whether or not Susie has dabbled extensively in psychoactive drugs such as LSD or THC. These kinds of drugs have the effect of lowering the “filters” that Susie has in place to eliminate input which is not useful in a population doing most of its communicating with words.
The R virus may be less effective in the case of a brain that uses other forms of perception and/or communication as well as language. These mind-altering drugs may leave behind them a chemical “memory” which acts as an anti-virus, or stimulates the body’s immune defenses against the virus.
Another factor is age. If Susie is exposed to the virus before her speech-center becomes the dominant force for communication in her brain, then her body may be able to defend itself against the R virus as easily as it does against the common cold.
In some cases, a young person may be exposed to the virus and experience an incomplete “conversion.” The vestigial remnants of non-verbal communication skills may allow the R virus to implant religious notions in the brain of the affected young person, but block the virus-propagating proselytizing. These people could become “carriers”, or non-proselytizing religious. They would not be motivated to spread the virus; but un-infected people could unwittingly expose themselves by asking about the beliefs of the “carrier.”
It is possible that the R virus may be able to stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain. When infected people “preach” (i.e. propagate the virus) they experience a rush of pleasure. This insures that the host will perform effectively. If the virus is able to stimulate adrenalin along with endorphins, it has the added advantage of being able to make converts by force as well as by persuasion. In effect their host humans will be eager to engage in “holy wars.”
This becomes especially dangerous when the R virus infects a person who is naturally more prone to anger. The cocktail produced by combining a low threshold for an anger response, and the adrenaline plus endorphins could produce intense anger, metamorphosizing into hate. This infectee would be extremely dangerous, and he/she could easily and with enjoyment participate in hate crimes such as were experienced during the religious inquisitions of the middle ages.

It is important to distinguish between religious and spiritual people. In many ways they may appear similar. But there are crucial differences. The spiritual person will tend to control their own destiny, while the religious person will feel that their destiny is in the hands of a Higher Power, and seek not only to placate that Higher Power, but will try to convince others to do so.
Spiritual people may align themselves to some degree with larger groups of organized religion, but will be likely to be viewed as “fringe” elements by their “parent” religions.
Examples are the Sufis, the Rosicrucian’s, the Kabbalists and other “mystical“ sects. The more “faith-based” religious types are the classic examples of R virus infectees.
In the Buddhist religion there are those practitioners who engage in meditation, self-discovery, and strive for individual spiritual evolution. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the members of the Nichiren Shoshu sect who chant feverishly in the hope of attracting monetary, material and other kinds of rewards from a benevolent deity.
It is interesting to note that more “primitive” tribal peoples of the world may practice a sort of spiritual discipline, often with the assistance of hallucinogens, fasting, feats of endurance and trance-states. These practices are usually aimed at achieving harmony with their larger environment, which may be misconstrued by the uninitiated as a form of worship, rather than a merging process. These people are often immune to the R virus as long as their society remains intact. This is because they do not rely so heavily on linguistic forms of communication, so that the other forms of perception are allowed to co-exist within their brains, protecting them from the R virus.
With these simple people, fear and anger remain in proportion, and do not frequently expand to levels which produce hate and suffering. They may be viewed as impoverished by the more “enlightened” religious groups, but in reality may live in much richer interior landscapes.

In these troubled times the more prudent members of the population would be well advised to protect themselves against the R virus. There are a number of ways to do this. Pet owners sometimes have a higher resistance. This is especially true if they have a relationship with their pet that does not consist of merely issuing one-word commands to their dogs or cats, expecting to be understood and obeyed. The pet owner who has a non-verbal two-way communication going with their pooch or puss, and isn’t phobic about a dog smelling like, well, a dog, has a much better chance of having a high resistance to the R virus. Show me a pet owner who is constantly spraying air-freshener to drown out any hint of the scent given off by a clean, healthy dog or cat and I’ll show you a potential convert putting out the welcome mat to the teeming hordes of Fundamentalist microorganisms.
But what if your condo association or landlord doesn’t allow pets? Be creative! Volunteer at an animal shelter. Dig in the yard, (without a talk radio blathering in your ear) or spend some time in a floatation tank. Try meditation in a natural setting. Smell things. Once a month try going through a day without speaking. If all else fails, you might consider firing up a fat one – or putting a dent in a bottle of Merlot. Just shut up and exercise your senses. Practice communicating without words. Hey, if a dog can do it, so can you. Get in touch with your inner child and get some immunity. What have you got to lose besides control of what goes on in your mind? Wouldn’t you like to be in charge of your own thoughts instead of a bunch of fanatic, dogmatic germs? Take my word for it, if you don’t watch out you could find yourself suddenly spewing all kinds of irrational claptrap and getting up a war on somebody or other because they’re spewing a different brand of claptrap. Look at the newspaper headlines if you don’t believe me. We’re in the middle of an epidemic. As if global warming weren’t enough, we’ve got the R virus charging around. And it’s making all sorts of people who are supposed to be making rational decisions for us act like fools.

Why Not Squeaky Voices?

Ok, now everyone will know for sure that I am a grade-A, certifiable curmudgeon. But it’s time to take the gloves off. No more Ms. Nice Gal.
It’s a lovely afternoon, and my Lurcher, Grace and I are walking to the local market. Everybody knows Grace. They know me too, but a much larger percentage of them like Grace than me. I have bad knees. My dog knows this. She is very good about keeping a loose lead and not crashing into me. She knows that these things are likely to make me fall down. And, by the way, lots of people know this too.
Everything is going well, until we’re almost at the store. Then one of “The Squealers” comes into view.
The Squealers are a pair of nice people who are very fond of Grace, and tolerate me because they sort of have to if they’re going to get to interact with my dog. They are in Greyhound Rescue and I got her from them. As soon as they catch sight of her they start to squeal. Their normal speaking-voice vanishes, and is replaced by a high-pitched, singsong of obnoxious phrases that would make a spoiled toddler blanch in disgust. To me it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.
To my dog it’s the signal to act like a complete fool. Bam! She runs out to the end of her lead and gyrates like a go-go dancer on amphetamines. She pulls and scrabbles at the pavement like she’s never heard of leashes. She only stops at the end of the lead because I, having noticed The Squealer before her, have tightened my grip on the leather until my knuckles are turning white. I plant my cane firmly in front of me, establishing a nice firm tripod balance, and try to speak to my dog in a normal tone of voice. But she doesn’t hear me – partly because she’s too distracted, and partly because I’m being drowned out by the squealer.
Sometimes I drop whatever I’m carrying when Grace slams into the end of her lead. Sometimes I come close to losing a finger to a suddenly-tightening leash. This tends to make me cranky. I try to think of it as a training opportunity – the words planned distraction pass through my mind, but here’s the problem. No matter what I do to correct the dog, (and it has to be something fairly dramatic to capture her attention,) it is viewed as either evil or funny to The Squealer.
Now understand, under any other circumstance my dog maintains a belly of slack in her lead. She doesn’t try to go around the other side of a no parking sign or tree when reading her pee-mail. She is a perfect lady.

Squealers as a group seem to have the notion that a dog can do nothing wrong. They seem to find delirium in an otherwise sane and well-behaved dog to be the most delightful thing imaginable. If I correct my dog, physically or even verbally, for behaving in such an annoying manner I am seen as some sort of dog-hating Nazi. This leads them to the next phase of their program. They glom onto the dog, petting her, stroking her and continuing to squeal, they say to her, “Ohhhhhhhhhh, it’s not her fawt, she’s dust happy to shee me!”
I’m not making this up. It happens with some regularity.
Now don’t get me wrong. My dog is allowed on the furniture. She gets a massage every day. We play ball. We roughhouse. I love her, and I want her to have fun. But I don’t want to have my personal safety at risk every time I take her for a walk.

When The Squealers do manage to speak in a normal tone of voice, they tell me how wonderfully well behaved my dog is. They praise her obedience. She comes when she’s called – every time – right away. This is pretty darn good for a sighthound, well half sighthound. She sits on command and remains seated until she gets a release command. She leaves the garbage alone. She doesn't jump up on people. She doesn’t beg at the table. I’m always hearing, “Oh, I wish my dog would be so good.”
They tell me that their dog “won’t let them cut her nails.” They have to put their dog in a straitjacket to go to the vet. Their neighbors are complaining about the barking. But I’m the bad guy for correcting my dog for acting a fool and nearly causing me a fall.
Someday I may figure this one out. Maybe I’ll get smart enough to devise a strategy that will extinguish this temporary insanity each time it occurs.
Perhaps I can set up a situation with a non-squealing friend in which we can work on this problem in a more controlled setting. (Except she only does this with The Squealers.) But the thing I keep coming back to is - why do they do it? I’ve told them all how it affects her. They can see it for themselves – but they don’t stop. Go figure. I hate them…

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Working Dog

Yesterday I walked down to the Santa Fe market. I went to pick up a half-gallon of milk. My Lurcher did not accompany me, as she considered the weather unsuitable for a dog with her sensitive nature.
As I approached the door of the shop I was startled by a sudden outburst of vicious barking and snarling coming from a very large German Shepherd Dog in a very large SUV. The dog was evidently taking a violent exception to my proximity. His exception was in fact so violent that the vehicle, from which he seemed to be so anxious to disembark, was pitching like a dinghy in a sudden squall.
I could imagine the damage his flailing toenails were doing to the upholstery of the seat he was occupying.
I stopped. Looking bemusedly at him I asked him, “Don’t you think you’re overdoing it a bit, you great hairy oaf?”
A voice tinged with petulance came from behind me. It said, “He’s just doing his job.”
I turned and beheld a youngish man, dressed in those casual clothes affected by the bulk of young Marin-dwelling entrepreneurs, which look very ordinary but cost as much as a suit. He was frowning slightly.
“Really” I said. His job is annoying people in front of shops? How marvelous! And he does seem to have a great deal of natural talent for it.”
Without giving the man time to respond, I continued. “You know I’m very interested in this. I’m in the market for a job myself, and I do have the ability to be quite annoying with very little effort! Is only for dogs, or can people do it too? Is it hard work to get? Does it require much training? Do the shop-owners hire you directly, or is it necessary to go through an agency? Is there a union?”
By this time the young man was making a dash for his SUV. The dog continued foaming, roaring, and clawing at the windows.
As the dog’s owner pulled the car door open, he growled, “Quiet, Sierra!” Which of course, had no effect on Sierra’s behavior. He sprang behind the wheel, slammed the door and started the engine. As he put the car into gear and glanced over his shoulder to check for traffic, I called out, “Does it pay cash or kibble?”
He glared at me, mouthed something which was undoubtedly rude and/or profane, and sped away.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Howdy y'all!

Ok. Everybody tells me I should have a blog, so now I do. I'll start with something for those of you who have a cat or six...

How to Get a Cat to Sleep in a Basket

If you are a cat owner you have undoubtedly chanced upon a basket that you thought your cat would look charming in. You picture the wee beastie curled up, purring softly and drifting into dreamland in the charming wicker bed you found at a pet emporium or import store.
But it doesn’t always work out the way you planned.
If you did purchase that beautifully made (and very pricey) basket and presented it to him, cooing in your most loving voice, it is quite likely that he gave it a perfunctory sniff and flashed a look of thinly veiled contempt at you before stalking off to the kitchen to check the kibble bowl.
You may have tried sprinkling the interior of the basket with catnip, or arranging one of your favorite older t-shirts in the bottom to make it more appealing. But these measures rarely have any effect on the cat’s total disregard for the thing.

You are going about this in the wrong way.

What you need to do is find a basket in a second hand store, or one that is on sale for a fraction of its original price. I don’t know how cats know when you have spent a fortune on something for them, but they do. And it is almost certain to render the thing contemptible in dear old Fluffy’s eyes. So. Rule one – get it cheap. It also helps if you feel it doesn’t go with the rest of your things.

Next, when you get the thing home, don’t show it to the cat. That is, pretend it’s something that you don’t want cat hair on, and put it somewhere that the cat isn’t supposed to go. Waggle your finger in an admonitory fashion if you see him casting curious looks in the direction of the basket. Move it to a place he’s really, really not supposed to go. Arrange some dried sunflower heads in it, or try putting in a bunch of back issues of Architectural Digest. Be sure to hum a happy tune and voice expressions of delight with the results of you’re your efforts. Something like “Ah! Doesn’t that look lovely,” will do nicely. Then take whatever you’ve put in the basket out and walk out of the room.

If you have done your work correctly, and avoided throwing surreptitious glances at the cat to ascertain if he’s watching, (he absolutely will be, rest assured) he will immediately go to take possession of the thing that has been hogging your attention – which of course, is rightfully his. But don’t be hasty. Wait a bit before returning to the room that contains the basket. Restraint will yield gratifying results. When you do go back in, there is one very important thing to remember. Under no circumstances should you appear pleased at his having got into the basket. On the contrary!
Cross your arms over your chest. Here he is, sitting in the very basket for which you had such high hopes for as a receptacle for your things. You should say something moderately to seriously grumpy. (Each cat is different – some require more resistance than others.) “Oh Fluffy, I did so want that basket for my Beanie-Baby collection,” for instance.

At this point, if you have followed my instructions, your cat will narrow his eyes in that self-satisfied manner that indicates he is experiencing the pleasure having got one over on you and will subside into a posture of slumber and complete the picture you had envisioned when you first laid eyes on his new bed. Victory is yours! Congratulations!