Saturday, August 6, 2011

The 5-Pound Tortie Terror of the Technical Community College

It all started yesterday. I'd returned from my morning walk with my dogs and went to put his royal Highness, Odin outside. (Odin goes out on a harness and retractable leash every day. Usually he finagles first thing in the morning by being generally beastly to all in his vicinity until we oblige and put him out. Then he patrols his gardens and hangs out under my car in the carport while we keep a watchful eye on him.)

Looks innocent, doesn't he?
I trundled him down the porch steps, one hand carefully looped in his harness, the other hand reaching for the snap of the retractable leash - which was wrapped around the railing. If only hindsight could be turned to foresight. Being the, um, let's just say efficient, shall we? person that I am, I trotted down the stairs, grabbed the leash, unintentionally flipping the snap and hitting Odin squarely on the forehead with a resounding "Thwack!" Whereupon he became a 17 lb mass of claws with hair. Two lacerations, one gouge, two deep punctures and a "Yeow!!!" later, we were both panting and crouched in our respective corners. Thankfully he did fight instead of flight and I was able to hook up his harness and go wash my wounds.

When I went for a walk this morning, I was able to hold Finn's leash in such a way that it draped my wounds without hurting.

Oh. Let me tell you about this morning. It's Saturday. We have NOTHING planned that can't wait until we've had a nice sleep-in until, say 6:30. Sounds delicious. Except for Echo threading her needle-nose followed by her fluffy head and ears, through the gap between my head and my arm. Repeatedly. At 4:30 AM! (Devil's spawn, I'm telling you!) So, at 5 AM I decided one of us (two actually - because Quill is a teenage boy when it comes to sleeping) should get to sleep in. I got up and went for my walk.

Finn on my left, Echo on my right, and we wended our way through the streets and the walkways of the nearby technical community college, sometimes power-walking, sometimes jogging, and even adding in a few 30-second sprints. It's a great way to wake up and it's a wonderful time of day -- sun not yet up, heat only beastly, not yet unbearable, and almost no cars.

Of course, part of being a good citizen is poop bags. We believe in recycling, protecting our environment, and decreasing our reliance on plastic, so we have these great poop bags that are biodegradable. Which means they're also not quite up to the task of some mornings' leavings. Consequently, I've been known to scoop up the poop, tie the bag, and sort of gingerly palm it until I can find a trash can (gotta love running on campus). Which is what I did this morning. Then we started off on our jog again, increasing our pace to a sprint. Which is when two squirrels dashed headlong across the road in front of us. We slowed to a jog as the dogs danced and wanted to give chase. That's when Finn's leash dragging across my hand reopened two of my marks of Odin. And the poop bag popped. And the 5 pound tortoise shell cat appeared.

The cat was marching across the road right at us, hackles up, howling a blue streak and doing that sideways stalk that cats do when they're really, really ticked off. So we kept walking, but she was coming at us fast. And my dogs wanted to go "visit". So I was playing twister with the dog leashes, trying to keep the poop bag upright (and the poop still in it), and encouraging my dogs to go North when they wanted to go South. All the while the recent stories of the increase in rabid animals in Cumberland County were going through my head and that darned cat was getting closer. Seriously. She was ready to take on my 85 lb borzoi (she could take him easily) and my 35 lb Belgian shepherd (not such a safe bet, really).

I actually turned, hissed and jumped toward her. She didn't care a whit. She kept coming at her steady pace, close enough that I had to grab collars to keep the dogs from reaching her. She actually was scaring me; I really thought she was going to launch herself at my dogs or create cat-scratch graffiti on my legs (Odin had left that part of me unscathed and I wanted to keep it that way). I stumbled and dragged the dogs away, Finn's body moving forward with me but his neck and head turned full around backwards toward that cat (amazing how borzois can do that). Thankfully, we were able to get away unscathed (unless you count my reopened wounds). But I'm afraid the Fayetteville Feline Fury probably didn't get her squirrels.

Tim tells me he's seen that cat multiple times and she's always that protective of "her" campus, so rabies probably isn't the cause of her behavior. Just shear cussed Southern bravery. Tomorrow we'll give wide berth to her haunts.
Returning from a walk with Echo and Finn

Monday, July 4, 2011

Echo's Beach Adventure

One weekend recently we took Echo to meet the ocean. They got along famously.

Racing the wave. Wave's winning.

Echo's turn to win.

"Mama I LOVE the ocean!"

One with the beach.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The All Time Best Anniversary Present

Tim and I were married 7 years ago today in Wilton, NH. It was a gorgeous day and a glorious party with lots of laughter and dancing. We were married in a tiny chapel on the grounds of my high school. (There's a great story in that alone.) It was a small ceremony attended by fewer than 80 people.

Photo by Robert Scott Button
After Tim and I had a few more photos taken, the photographer drove to the reception so he could set up to take photos of our arrival. Tim and I strolled across the grass, blissful as only newlyweds can be, to the front of the school. There was no one there.  Everyone had left and we had each been driven to the chapel by different people. We had no car. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Hitchhiking shouldn't be too hard, since we looked so honest in our wedding finery. Thankfully, there was another stroller that day. My oldest brother Michael was savoring the morning air as well and saved us from having to hitchhike.

Most anniversaries, we've shared a gift for the household (not very romantic, but it works for us). This year, we did it a little differently. He got a brand new shiny MacBook to replace his arthritic, gasping, fainting laptop. I got a trip to the mountains with two of our four-footed children to attend a dog training seminar.

We (Echo, Finn and I) stayed in a tiny cabin at Cobb Creek Cabins which is a working alpaca ranch. The cabin is a converted smokehouse and truly is tiny enough that it's a good thing Echo isn't also a borzoi. The saving grace, size-wise, was the deck where we spent most of our non-seminar time. It was surrounded by hemlock and spruce trees the branches of which we could peer through in one direction to see the alpaca girls and two of this year's babies and in the other direction to see the pond and, beyond it, the alpaca boys. There were chickens and turkeys on the ranch too. Alas, there were also roosters. Roosters that couldn't tell the time of day and crowed all night long. No worries, the fan of the ancient and tiny air conditioner was kept running much of the night and effectively drowned out the feathered boys.

Finn Paw Targetting
The ranch is on a lovely piece of hilly land with a creek running through it. Walking the dogs had to be done out of sight of the alpacas, lest they think my wolfhound a wolf, so I would leave the door of the cabin, hang a right and climb a seriously steep hill to a small grassy swath where the children could sniff to find the absolute perfect site, at the perfect time of day, to deposit their poop. Here's the thing about traveling with dogs... they become, well, irregular. So, what's a Mama to do? We climbed that hill, I'm not kidding, four or five times each morning and evening. The stair stepper at the local gym has nothing on Cobb Creek Cabins for building glorious glutes!

Echo Pivoting
It really was a wonderful time at the cabins, and we'll go back some day soon because Tim is seriously miffed that he missed the alpacas, especially the 3-day old cria. Nevertheless, the best part of the weekend was Hannah Branigan's workshop on Obedience FUNdamentals at Cold Nose College. What a great opportunity to learn and grow as a dog trainer. Echo and Finn alternated time on the floor practicing the various games and exercises (Echo, living up to her name pitched a fit in her crate if Finn's turn was too long).

Finn Chin Rest
I had several epiphanies that have dramatically improved my success rate in training (and made it much more fun for all of us). All three of us came back more in tune with one another and with some great new skills that Tim is getting pretty tired of hearing me talk about. Poor guy, he really is a saint.

All in all, the best anniversary present ever. Tim feels the same way about his present. But I think mine's going to last longer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

16 weeks old: My Angelic Whirling Dervish

A whirling dervish, biting everything in her circular path.
A perfect straight, focused sit.
A high-pitched, mind-numbing, ear-piercing, My-Mother-Is-SO-Mean barking fit.
Lying down to joyfully wrestle with a disabled 5-month-old rottweiler who has both of her front legs in toe-to-elbow splints.
Picking up EVERYTHING on our morning walk and getting distracted every 3 seconds instead of emptying her bladder.
Doing the loose-leash walk exercise in our puppy class like she's been doing it for months.
Launching to the end of her leash at a dead run yipping at her first sight of a hopping bunny.
Thundering across the house to me in a gorgeous recall.

Learning to jump and then bouncing on and off and on the coffee table repeatedly.
Attentively settling on her bed to watch me make dinner.
Leaping to grab a toy and simultaneously puncturing my hand with her little needle-teeth. Again.
Sleeping peacefully with her head on 4-year-old borzoi Finn.
Grabbing Finn's leash and dragging him along on our walk, then dancing around us, getting us all tangled in the process.
Enticing Finn to play with exuberance like he hasn't since he was a puppy.

16 weeks old - the puppy gods flipped the switch and I see my angelic puppy, my adult dog-to-be, and some kind of 5th dimension demon child spinning through one little body faster than I can keep up.

Never before has Tim taking over for 30 minutes felt so good.

Though I seem to have a vague memory of Finn a few years ago launching his massive puppy body to the end of his leash to visit a tiny Boston terrier and knocking me over in a pile of wet mulch and dog poop as the morning traffic rushed by on one of the busiest roads in Fayetteville...

I'd forgotten that episode until today. Maybe that's why we do this again... because some quirk of Nature ensures we forget most of the puppy poop and tears and remember the cute, cuddly, sweet, little fluff ball sleeping in our arms.

Echo and Finn snoozing between play sessions at PetSound Animal Hospital

Friday, March 11, 2011

How Puppies Remind Me of Florence

When I was 21, I lived in Italy for a year. In August, I flew to Rome and took a train to Florence where a friend met me. I stayed in the comfort of her home for several days before going to live with my "Signora" - a lovely woman in her 60s who lived alone and who spoke not a word of English. My fondest memory is of her graciously letting me watch Star Trek weekly. Dubbed in Italian. What an experience!

I didn't speak Italian well at all, though I understood it well enough. I had been studying it intensively for a year and a half but that wasn't enough to make me feel really comfortable with the language. I stuttered and tried, but I could often feel the flush of embarrassment at my ineptitude. It didn't help that my best friend in the program, Franca, could speak Italian like she was born in Florence. Once a man admonished me (in Italian), "Why can't you speak as well as your beautiful friend Franca?" Her name rolled off his tongue with admiration.

I'm still not sure what possessed me to spend my junior year abroad. Some kind of wanderlust, I guess.

When I entered college, my hope was to become an illustrator. I studied painting, sculpture, printmaking and illustration. I also studied Italian to honor Sandy, a dear high school teacher of mine who had loved Italy and told me the story, with tears in her eyes, of the first time she had beheld Michelangelo's David. I became a double major in Studio Art and Italian in part because of Sandy's passion and that story.

And, being me, I couldn't take the easier path and go on one of the English-speaking courses abroad. I chose the most difficult, most intensive course I could find -- Smith College's program in Florence. I was accepted and off I went to a program in which I would have to take all of my courses in Italian, live with an Italian-speaking family, and take at least one course at the University of Florence. Yeah, it was intense. What a trial.

I've never thought of myself as bold or outgoing by nature, though my sisters would tell you I am. I was really scared during my first few days and weeks in Florence. I cried at night, I was so homesick. But each day things got a little easier. What I overcame in those first weeks, and just walked through my fear to accomplish, became comfortable to me by September.  When I returned to the States, I really was a different, bolder person.

I think that trip to Italy when I was so young really set the stage for me to overcome my fears and try new things. I learned to love Italy and Europe. I miss it. I know I'd feel comfortable there even all of these years later. I'm sure my comfort in experiencing new things arises in large part because of that year in Italy.

Each time that Echo experiences a big new event -- coming to a new home, going to her first puppy class, going with me to work, her first visit to our condo in Florida, her first competition -- I must remember how I felt my first week in Florence. These experiences are her Florence and they will be her strength.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I consider Emily to be one of my most special clients and a friend. When she comes into the clinic it brightens my day and makes me smile. We have good conversations about different breeds of dogs and what's going on with her cats. She's one of those clients that all veterinarians love to have.

Oh. Emily's 10. 

Ten going on 25.

I first met Emily when she was about 7. For the last 3 years I've been sure she's 12. ( I don't have my own kids and I'm not as sure about their ages as most of my staff. But I think I can be forgiven, since Emily is certainly not your average kid.) The earliest moment that sticks in my mind is Emily coming running up to me one night at the Cape Fear Regional Theater at intermission, dancing and chanting, "Mom! It's Dr. Blackmer!" I felt like a sport's hero.

Echo on her first night home.
When we brought Echo home our breeder reminded us of how important it is to socialize her with lots (her words were "hundreds") of people. That goes double for kids, since we don't have any. My first thought was Emily. She's exuberant and energetic, but she's also really good with animals. I was fairly certain she'd be a good choice for Echo's socialization with young girls. (Hannah had ensured that the litter met many people, including kids, but, as she reminded us, it's different when the pups are away from their litter mates.)

Emily was beside herself for two weeks, as Echo settled into our home and became more comfortable. Then yesterday I had Echo with me at work (safely in our grooming area, away from any other dogs, since she's not yet fully vaccinated) and Emily and her family were coming in to pick up Murray, their noble and gorgeous Maine Coon cat that I'd just neutered. 

Emily and I went to visit Echo alone first. I put her on the floor and as suddenly as a spring storm, Emily turned from dancing, enthusiastic bundle of energy to calm, still, and gentle. She sat in one place and talked in a low voice and Echo approached her and ate treats from her. Within 30 seconds she was climbing all over Emily and licking her face. Her tail was wagging and Emily was smiling and giggling. We took her out for a walk and Echo would as soon go to Emily as to me. I wish I'd had a place to let her off leash, because I'm sure they would have happily romped around together, exhausting themselves.

I could not have been more thrilled at my puppy's first experience playing with a kid.

Echo is already asking when we get to visit with Emily again.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why We Get Puppies

Sure. It's because they're cuter than anything else on the planet.

It's also because we forget how much work it is!

Here's the way the morning went for me:

12:30 AM Puppy rattling in crate, light-sleeper Mama jumps up to rush puppy outside. Pee. Cookie. Right back to sleep.

2:30 AM Puppy dropping kong in crate and shifting around. Mama shuffles outside with puppy. Pee. Poop. Cookie. Puppy climbs back into crate and settles right back to sleep with nary a whimper or a whine. GOOD puppy. Think a thought of thank you to breeder Hannah for the early crate training!

2:45 AM Finn groans, and shifts position so his feet are in Mama's face, waking Mama up again... Shift Finn back. Tim gently snores. (Men. They get all the sleep-through-anything genes!)

5:30 AM Finn, Quill and Puppy out. Pee x 3. Puppy baby-gated in kitchen with Mama. Clean cat litters x 4. Pat cats as going. Puppy sits, attentively watching. Tim and Quill head out for a run. Finn is holding down living room furniture, snoring. (He had a tough night...)

5:40 AM Puppy play. Puppy body awareness exercises -- touching paws, mouth, legs, belly. Gentle restraint practice. More puppy play. Puppy outside. Pee. Walk. Sit and watch Mama. Walk. Sit again.

5:55 AM Puppy in crate/play pen while Mama goes to shower. Puppy screeching, "Not FAIR! This is MY Mama Time!!!" Finn gets off of chair and shuffles after me to sleep on the bathroom floor (which he never did in the PT (pre-terv) time).

6:10 AM Negotiate picking up poopy-pawed puppy (oops... should have walked longer) while staying clean (yeah, right!). Outside. Pee.  Carry her to the tub.  Hold wiggly puppy in one arm while getting out puppy shampoo and setting water to appropriate temperature. Bathe puppy and whisper words of thankfulness to breeder, Hannah for getting her used to water and baths. (She's an angel to bathe. Which I know. Because I did it 3 times in the first 36 hours we had her...)

6:20 AM dry off wriggling, wired tervie girlie who then leaps away and back to grab the towel and shake it dead, dead, dead.

6:25 AM Clean up puppy pen of puppy poop-art. Twice grabbing roll of paper towels away from said puppy's exuberant mouth. Tell Odin that No he may not reprimand the puppy for taking his paper towel roll. Puppy and Mama back to baby-gated kitchen to do morning chores.

6:35 AM Clean litter boxes again. Mia (Mama's little helper) into bathroom to await her meal. Turn to look for puppy - playing fetch-and-roll with the dog bed and a ball. Lay out cat bowls, dog bowls, bird bowls. Fill with dry foods. Check on puppy -- sitting watching me and the cats. Stack bird and dog bowls out of harm's (Odin's) way in oven while navigating around terv puppy who has become 3 of herself. Fill cat bowls with canned foods and various pills and potions. Feed the Odin-beast first. Then Aragorn, Mia, Misty, and Freya.

6:50 AM Wash cat bowls.

6:55 AM Finish preparing the dog foods. Out of sight sit-stays with zois x 1 minute while Tim (blessedly back from running) feeds the terv-child. Feed zois.

7:05 AM Tim takes puppy-child outside. Pee. Wash dog bowls.

7:10 AM Make my mocha (it's who I am). Ahhh. Walk around watching puppy and then take her outside again (pee) while I drink my mocha. Play some more - tug.

7:35 AM Make lunch. Make breakfast. Eat breakfast while finishing preparations for work. Puppy outside to walk and play.

Somehow I made it to work almost on time...

And, lest some of you wonder about Tim's role in all of this -- he's at home right now, while I write during my short busy-on-Monday lunch. He's on puppy duty for the middle of the day. Thank the gods for a wonderful and understanding husband who loves puppies.

Tomorrow I get up at 5...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Picking Up The Puppy Terv*

In Finn's opinion, she's all good. Fine if she sleeps with her head on his foot. Fine if she dances around him. He's easy.

In Quill's opinion, the jury's out. Maybe she'll be a good play mate. But the fact that she gets any kind of food toy isn't really fair, he's just sayin'.

In Odin's opinion, no puppy is a good puppy.

We picked up "the puppy" last night. We drove about 2 hours and visited with the canine family and their staff, I mean owners, for a while before setting out to drive back home. We played with the litter and their Mom and Dad and were completely smitten.

We brought two crates with us, not sure of the ideal size for her as she'd grown a lot in the week since we'd seen her. When we asked the breeder which crate she thought would be ideal, she replied ominously, "Which ever one is farthest back."

We place her in her crate with some new toys and started our journey. Puppy terv serenaded us with a volume just shy of a banshee. When, about 45 minutes later (and never a break in the song) I smelled Eau D' Puppy Poop, I was indeed grateful we had two crates. Of course, Murphy's law of Travel with Dogs meant we were on a four lane highway with no safe pull off when the deed occurred. So, being the nimble 20-year-old (not) that I am, I grunted and groaned over two seats and knelt beside her crate in the rocking van. Five minutes later, graced with poopy puppy foot prints, I wriggled back into my seat with poise and dignity. My stoic and patient husband said, "All settled?" I could barely hear him over the renewed screeches of a small puppy severely wronged by being "jailed" in yet another crate. Cruel fates. I'm quite sure she was saying, "This is against the puppy rule book you obviously have not read!!!"

In between screams I said to Tim, "Cookie?"

A Whole Foods espresso chocolate chip cookie was just the ticket to soothe our nerves a tad.

She finally slept and we were afraid to say a word lest we wake the little dear. The rest of the journey was blissfully quiet.

* Terv stands for Belgian tervuren, a lovely medium-sized herding breed

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cat Tails and Mochas

It's not everyone that has a cat with a tail strong enough to tip a mug of coffee.

Let me explain about me and coffee.

I eschewed coffee of any kind until I was in my 3rd year of vet school and discovered mochas. Coffee mixed with (lots) of chocolate I could stomach. More to the point, it got me through grueling Large Animal Internal Medicine. I learned to really love the stuff.

But I've never learned to love plain old coffee. When I arrived on Cape Cod, the first thing I bought was a latte machine. I still have it -- it's chipped and battered and 12 years old -- and I can't imagine life without it. So every morning while Tim's flipping a switch, I'm measuring, and tamping, and steaming. I keep telling Tim that the perfect birthday present would be him learning how to make me a perfect mocha latte. He disagrees.

So, when I make a "cup of coffee" it's really a solid mug of gorgeous steamed milk with 3 inches of foam, Ghiradelli chocolate, and shade-grown, fair trade coffee. What a great way to start the day.

Today, I decided to have a second cup (very rare) while I studied my veterinary flash cards. (Yeah, more on that in a future post...) I'd just settled down, mug beside me on the coffee table, Finn across my feet, my computer on my lap, flipping through my flash cards. Odin, loving morning as much as his Mama, was strolling along beside the coffee table, happy tail brushing its edge when the end of his tail wrapped around my mug and pulled it crashing to the ground.

As my dear mother would have said, blue invective surrounded my head like a cloud. Odin leaped away, Finn sat up to stare, and I about cried. Odin proceeded to have a bath looking imperiously over his shoulder. I'm quite sure he said, "You shouldn't have a second cup of coffee anyway."