Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Holiday Travels

We spent Christmas in Washington with my husband's family this year. The highlight for the dogs, I'm sure, was playing with our 3-year-old neice who is fearless and very dog-focused. Kirby, while still a little skittish when people suddenly emerge from behind closed doors, behaved quite well. He sweetly interacted with everyone and played cheerfully with the little one. Baxter was his usual calm self, padding around the house, sticking his head into people's laps for a pet, watching the birds in the feeders out back and, mostly, snoozing.

The home was festively decorated, the tree was up, Bing Crosby crooned on the CD player and the smell of Christmas cookies and my mother-in-law's pies baking was heavenly (the taste was even better). Before arriving there, I was having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. In the midst of unpacking and trying to find things, we never managed to get any decorating done this year and I was missing it.

The dogs were decorated a wee bit as well. Despite the astounding number of holiday dog fashions in the stores, we always keep the holiday dog decoration to a minimum. My husband pretty much rejects the idea of ever putting anything but a collar on a dog, but he relents during the holidays. I do see his point, but since I also sport a holiday pin or scarf occasionally, I don't really have a problem with making the day special through small, understated attire. I put a red bandanna around Baxter's neck and a red, stretched-out scrunchy around Kirby's. I think it's particularly interesting how the dogs seem to understand that this is something special. Baxter, who also ended up sporting a green curled ribbon off of one of my husband's gifts, seemed downright enthusiastic about his holiday wear. When I picked up the bandanna the first day he walked right up to me and presented his head so I could easily put it on. Kirby, who wasn't quite sure about the whole thing initially, had figured out by the second day that the scrunchy made him look cute to observers and willingly approached to put on his holiday wear.

While Kirby was still a wee bit nervous about all the ripping and tearing when it came time to open presents, Baxter jumped into action as usual. He LOVES helping people unwrap their presents by sticking his nose directly into the middle of the goings-on and grabbing bits of paper and ribbon in his front teeth to help pull them away from the box. Bags are even more fun -- Baxter unabashedly sticks his entire head into the bag, whether your hands are in there or not. Mind you, he never touches a package until it's time for opening. I've always been impressed with Baxter's level of understanding of the entire process. When it comes to his own, he tears into them with particular enthusiasm. He knows.

This year Baxter got a rope candy cane from my mom -- a gift he seemed quite enthusiastic about until Kirby swept in underneath him and stole it. Once it had Kirby slobber on it, Baxter refused to touch it.

Kirby pretty much waited for us to pull out his presents and give them to him. When we pulled out a black rubber bone, Baxter took the opportunity to steal. He grabbed it and headed for the other side of the room, where he immediately tore into it, working out all of the pent-up aggression from a few days without a trip to the dog park. Within 30 minutes he had succesfully chewed the end off the black rubber bone and we were forced to take it away from him, fearing he might ingest gut-clogging amounts of rubber. Poor Baxter, who had been pretty gleeful about the whole deal up to that point, was crestfallen. He watched my husband take the bone away to the garbage, put his head down and sighed. No other presents could thrill him after that point.

This year the big hit for Kirby was a stuffed pink and tan moose from my mom. He immediately found the squeaker and made the rounds of the room showing off the moose to each person while accompanying his journey with a chorus of squeaks. After several slow laps (we had to put the kabosh on running in the house -- both because of his condition and because the grandparents had issued a "no running in the house" rule) he finally settled down behind my mom's feet and proceeded to destroy the squeaker. He did a couple more laps making a whooshing sound, and, after finding this less rewarding, proceeded to eviscerate the moose. Moose went away at that point. So much for cuteness.

I have to say, overall, both dogs were very well-behaved. They suddenly found themselves in a house full of people, tempted by tasty smells and baby toys they weren't allowed to touch. They took naps, sat patiently under the table waiting for scraps that never came and looked longingly at the toddler who kept waving Christmas cookies over the edge of her high chair. There were no dog-related tears, messes or embarassing moments. Minor scuffles between Baxter and Kirby ended without significant issues and they were on to the next distractions.

We had a wonderful time seeing family and the dogs seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

On behalf of both Baxter and Kirby, we wish our readers a very happy holiday season and all the best in the new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Stairway Gates

Repeating this photo in full frame...Kirby's favorite dining spot.

As a part of Kirby's "nothing to get his heart rate up" treatment protocol, we have to prevent him from running up and down the stairs. That's not an easy task. Attempts to block the stairs with a temporary combination of cardboard boxes and an old CD rack were proving a bit too difficult for us to manage and a bit too easy for Kirby to push through. So we finally went to the store and bought a couple of dog gates, one for the bottom of the stairs and one for the top.

Of course, being the skittish little guy he is around new things, he was terrified of the gates at first. But now he stands in front of the gate and lifts up his front legs so we can pick him up more easily. I'm always amazed at how quickly dogs adapt.

While I'm sure that missing this critical daily exercise will result in Kirby getting a bit out of shape, carrying him up and down the stairs is certainly helping to strengthen our arm muscles.

But I do feel sorry for Kirby. Moving to a house with stairs gave him a whole new avenue for burning off excess energy. While Baxter has always been at somewhat of a loss for spinning and running space in our relatively small homes (one reason we frequent the dog park and go for long walks), Kirby has been perfectly able to work up a good pant just doing the Kirby Derby around the furniture.

When we moved into our new home, Kirby adapted to the stairs with glee. Running up and down repeatedly -- with or without squeaky toy -- became one of his favorite activities. He even started eating on the stairs. Kirby would run into the kitchen, scoop up a mouthful of kibble, run up to the first landing in the stairway, spit out the kibble and proceed to eat each piece individually before racing back down to the kitchen for another mouthful. (Baxter, who prefers to gobble down his food right in front of his dish seemed completely non-plussed by the whole affair.)

I think we'll all be glad when this treatment is over and Kirby can start strengthening his climbing muscles again. Of course, at that point I'll need to dig out the hand weights to keep those biceps toned...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kirby: To Trim or Not to Trim?

It's holiday time and most folks around here are talking about trimming their Christmas trees. In our home, the conversation has instead turned to trimming Kirby.

Since Kirby is of diverse breed lineage, the sky's the limit when it comes to options for proper hairstyle. To date, the extent of his trimming has been toenail clipping and cutting his eyebrows so he can see out from under them.

For me, it's been a matter of curiosity -- while his back and legs are wiry, his cheeks, neck and ears are covered with longer, softer hair. As a pup, he looked more wiry because his facial hair was shorter. But over the past year we've been watching this softer hair grow and grow and grow. Now he's looking a bit like a Yorkie mix.

There's a part of me that wants to just leave things as they are to see just how long the hair will grow. The extra hair on his ears makes them look a bit floppier and it fills out his face nicely. On the other hand, as my husband pointed out the other day, Kirby was pretty darned cute when his facial hair was a bit shorter.

So I'm putting it out there -- as we contemplate whether to trim up the little guy for the holidays, should we take a little off the ears, cheeks and neck or should we just let his long-haired genes express themselves unfettered?

Visual aids - of course, he'll never look like a puppy, but you get the idea:


Medium/older puppy:


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Carrying Kirby

It's amazing how quickly Kirby has adapted to having my husband carry him up and down the stairs. While he still can't seem to get the idea that we don't want him jumping up and down like a rubber ball when preparing to go outside, and while I know he'd much rather be running up and down the stairs, he no longer struggles or wears that guilty face when my husband carries him. He just sits there, cradled in the crook of the arm, like a little prince getting special treatment from the king.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ScruffyDog Puppy Picture "Cute-Off"

It's amazing how the objects that belong to you are lost and rediscovered through the process of moving. We still have unpacked boxes that are still packed from our last move five years ago. Finding and opening one of these little time capsules is almost like home archeology.

One of the little gems we uncovered in one of the aforementioned digs was a box containing a couple of Baxter's puppy pictures. These pictures were taken pre-digital camera and somehow didn't make it into an album or a frame, but they are so adorable I just can't resist posting them.

Now, I tend to think ALL puppies are cute, scruffy puppies particularly so. But I have to say, even among the cute, scruffy puppies, Baxter still stands out for me as one of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. (Kirby was pretty darned cute, but Baxter is some pretty tough competition...)

So here we go, the ScruffyDog Puppy Picture Cute-Off:

Day 1 - Kirby's Treatment

Today we gave Kirby his monthly dose of Interceptor -- this time as part of the heartworm treatment. The goal is to kill all the larvae and stop the adults from making any more. The instructions we're always given when putting our dogs on heartworm preventative is that if you are more than a month late with a dose, you should have your dog tested prior to starting up the treatment again. Apparently this is because there is some risk of complications from the die-off of the larvae if they have accumulated over time.

Our vet told us to watch Kirby closely for the first 24 - 48 hours, just to make sure he doesn't show any signs of trouble, and to keep him from exertion. Small walks are supposed to be OK, so I thought I'd at least take the boys for a little stroll in the sunshine this afternoon. But poor Kirby, having been cooped-up for days, started jumping and frolicking like a puppy. He walked the better part of a block mostly on his hind legs, pulling on his harness and hopping like a bunny.

"This can't be good," I said to myself. I tried to get him to calm down, but he was so full of enthusiasm it was quite obvious that this walk was going to be an aerobic affair for Kirby. So I took him back in and handed him to my husband. He was crestfallen.

I'm glad he's not showing any reaction to the medicine, but today was just a preview of what's ahead of us trying to keep him calm when his youthful exuberance needs an outlet. I remember that feeling of boundless energy I had as a youth. It passes too quickly. I hope that Kirby will adapt to the new reality fairly well and that, in a few months time, this will all be behind us and he'll be running with his friends at the dog park once again.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Kirby's Shocking News

For several days now I've been trying to muster up the courage to write in my blog. Usually I find writing about our dogs to be a joyful act, but at this moment I feel no joy in writing. I am still sort of in shock and dreading the words I know I have to write here. I feel like I have to write about this because I cannot honestly blog about cheerful little dog stories and observations without acknowledging our new, not-so-cheerful reality.

The early November anniversary of our first year with Kirby went by without any fanfare. We realized it a day or so later and felt warmed as we thought about how Kirby has become such an integral member of our family. Even Baxter has finally decided Kirby is a good companion (we caught them curled up together just the other evening).

When we took Kirby and Baxter to the veterinarian on Monday for their annual check-up, we had a pretty routine experience. Both dogs appeared to be healthy and normal and Baxter seemed relieved to be back with his original vet (we recently moved back into the same area where Baxter spent the first two years of his life).

The shock came the next morning when the vet called with the results of their heartworm tests. Kirby's came back positive.

At first I couldn't believe it. How could this be true? Baxter's was negative. Could it be a false positive?

Kirby shows now outward symptoms and the vet was as surprised as we were. While false positives are rare, he offered to retest. We brought him in that afternoon. Wednesday morning we got a firm, sad confirmation that Kirby is, indeed, heartworm positive.

What happens now? Can it be treated? Did this happen because I missed or was late with a dose of preventative? We don't have many mosquitoes in our area, how did a heartworm carrier find him? Based on several factors, the vet said it was most likely that Kirby had been exposed during his wild months on the farm before we adopted him. Dogs aren't usually tested until their first year exam.

Bloodwork and X-rays on Wednesday showed evidence of a mild enlargement of one heart ventricle and some cloudiness in the lung, both indicators of heartworm. He was diagnosed as "class 2." Not as mild as class 1, which we were hoping for, but still highly treatable.

The vet said Kirby's bloodwork indicated that he's otherwise perfectly healthy and with his young age, he is most likely going to go through the treatment well. The cure rate is 95-100%. But, he said, the treatment is not without some danger in and of itself.

I was relieved to find out that heartworm can be treated and eliminated (I had thought it was mostly fatal), however the treatment itself is a bit frightening. Our vet recommended a slow, phased approach recommended by the American Heartworm Society. Monday we will start by giving him his regular preventative (Interceptor) for three months to make sure all the larvae are dead (it only kills larvae, not adult worms). Then in late February the vet will administer a shot of Immiticide. This aresenic-based drug kills the adult worms. A month later he will get two more doses, 24-hours apart.

Through all of this, we need to keep Kirby from engaging in any major physical activity -- no jumping (he bounces like a rubber ball and the mere suggestion of going outside), no running up the stairs (his favorite new evolution of the "Kirby Derby" in our new, two-story home) and only slow walks. Nothing to get his heart rate up. Egad, what about the UPS guy?

I had to ask the vet about the stress of NOT being able to exercise. Kirby is young and full of energy. The vet explained that while not letting him run around and burn off his energy will create emotional and possibly physical stress on the dog, the danger of harm coming from letting him run around is much greater.

Apparently, as the larvae then the adult worms die (the latter is much more severe), they can break away from the walls of the arteries and enter the bloodstream where there is a risk of causing blockages, particularly in the lungs. Jarring movements can dislodge the dead and dying worms and, as I understand it, the force of a fast-beating heart can make the blockages more likely to happen. So it's the sedentary lifestyle for Kirby for several months to come.

I sent an email to Dr. Pema, Baxter's holistic vet from Sedona (now in Maryland working in the Garuda Aviary for rescured birds) to tell her about it. She offered the following advice to me: "Your awareness of concerns is important but not with attached fear or worry. Positive thought, brings positive outcomes."

I'm going to try to live by those words, for Kirby's sake (and for the sake of the rest of our household) as Kirby goes through the next several months of treatment. I'll try to keep my blog updated for those who know and love Kirby and want to follow his progress.

And as for Baxter, he's just going to have to teach Kirby a few things about the art of leisure.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Turkey Reverie

Baxter has been my kitchen shadow ever since Thanksgiving. Somehow the preparation of the bird and all the trimmings provided the kind of sensory overload that makes a dog think the best place to be is between me and whatever I'm trying to work it at the sink, the stove, whatever.

I'm not certain how much of this is brilliant strategy (if I trip her, she might drop the turkey) vs. just wanting to be as close to what smells good as possible. Either way, the outcome is the same. I turn around with a hot pan in my hands and there he is. I take a step back from the refrigerator and voila, there he is again.

This has continued all the way through leftovers and turkey noodle soup and on to plain old daily cooking. My shadow. I think we need to lay some kitchen ground rules...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Frost Catchers and Navigating Through Art

I am continually amazed at how our dogs have adapted to life with an artist in the house. My husband, a painter and sculptor, is always collecting little bits of this and that, found objects which sometimes end up sitting on the bench next to the door before they are deployed in a variety of sculptural compositions. The dogs may sniff, but they don't touch them, no matter how interesting they are. We have paintings, pottery, art books and delicate sculptures all within easy dog reach and none are ever disturbed. We don't even see signs of nose prints.

When Baxter was a puppy, my husband used to paint on large canvasses on our back patio. Baxter would place himself between the paint and the canvas, without touching either, and lay down for a nap. Needless to say, for much of his puppyhood he had little specks of paint in his hair. It gave him a rather avant-garde appeal.

In the house, where we have always had a lot of art around, we watched puppy Baxter like a hawk. Each time he approached an art piece, we let him sniff but never touch. He learned fast, and, apparently, he has taught this reverence for objects d'art to Kirby. Other than a couple of teething puppy bites on the blinds by the sliding door, Kirby hasn't chewed up any household items, artistic or otherwise.

This holds true for objects in the yard as well. Lately my husband has been taking his invention of the "frost catcher" to new levels... He's watching the weather, noting the temperature and humidity and, on the most promising nights, placing his works of environmental art in the yard, in the garden, on the windshield, any place that might catch the remarkably elusive crystals. His latest experiment involves creating frost heaves in a bottle and it has moved from the garden to our freezer. Finding bottles of dirt in the freezer really didn't surprise or alarm me as much as it probably should have...I guess I've been married to an artist for too long to be surprised by such things.

In any case, the dogs are doing a pretty good job of staying away from the frost catchers. Unfortunately, Baxter learned this the hard way. While the dogs have become used to navigating around sculptures on our back patio, last winter the frost catchers began showing up in the lawn (which was, as far as Baxter was concerned, dog territory). The first of these frost catchers was attached to a shovel handle and placed in the middle of the back yard. Not anticipating such an anomaly, Baxter discovered the standing shovel handle by collision while taking a night time spin through the yard. (Dogs may have good night vision, but that doesn't necessarily mean they watch where they're going...)

The other night, when the mysterious shovel-handle frost catcher made its first appearance in our new yard, Baxter eyed it with suspicion and gave it a wide berth.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Baxter's Retreat

Last week Baxter started doing something new. One evening, after returning from a trip to the back yard, I went over to the coat closet to hang up my jacket. When I opened the closet door, Baxter walked right in, as if it were something entirely normal to do. I parted the coats and peered into the semi-darkness. Bax was just sitting in there. I left the door open.

Now this is quite a large closet (it goes back and around under the stairway) and, unlike the rest of the living room, it is carpeted. At first I figured this was one of those "just checking things out" explorations, but when he did it again last evening and curled up for a snooze, I realized this is Baxter's getaway.

For some reason, Kirby doesn't go into that closet, so Bax has it all to himself...a quiet, carpeted retreat. Hey, Kirby has his crate, so I guess it's only fair that Baxter has a cave of his own.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Another Reason Dogs Make Us Feel Better

We've all seen the reports of studies that show how having a dog can help you live a longer, healthier life. Of course, this is probably due to many factors, from having to get out and walk once in a while to just having a companion to care for and be loved by.

I'd have to say that one of my favorite aspects of dog companionship -- one that inevitably brings a smile to my face no matter what mood I'm in -- is the wholeheartedly enthusiastic greeting.

I was reminded of the power of that greeting just this morning, after having slept in a bit. My husband got up earlier, took the dogs out and shut the bedroom door so I could continue to sleep uninterrupted. When I finally dragged myself out of bed about a half hour later, I opened the bedroom door and received one of those bouncy, tail-wagging, joyful greetings that tells you just how much you are appreciated. You'd think I'd been gone for hours. I guess, to a dog, sleep is going away to another place. They spend a lot of time there, so they know it well.

My first experiences of the day tend to forecast the kind of day I'm going to have. It's the "right/wrong side of the bed" phenomenon. Being reminded, first thing, that I have two canine beings who are absolutely thrilled to see me is not only a stroke to my groggy morning ego, but also a deep, heartfelt reminder that no matter what happens for the rest of the day, I have warm-hearted beings who care about me.

Of course, I know this about my husband too, even without the enthusiastic morning greeting (he's not enthusiastic about anything until he's had his morning coffee). But with the dogs it's much more immediate. Dogs wake up demonstrating how much they appreciate you, no matter what side of the bed you (or they) got up on.

This morning's enthusiastic greeting made my day. No matter what happens for the rest of the day, I will have that first memory of looking down at those shiny brown eyes and wagging tails saying "welcome to the waking world, we've been waiting for you!"

If that's not enough to help me live longer, it's certainly enough to make living every day worthwhile.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Chasing Leaves

The sun decided to peek out for a bit today so I seized the moment to go for a walk with the dogs. Much like the wind that was blowing all the beautiful fall leaves off the trees, Baxter and Kirby were a swirl of wild activity. Despite the use of the "Gentle Leader" on Bax and the "No Pull Harness" on Kirby, I found myself being pulled down the street by two completely gonzo dogs that would appear not to have any training whatsoever. "Whoa!" "Easy!" "Heel!" "Just a dang minute here!"

Nothing seemed to have any effect. Baxter had his nose in the wind and Kirby was bouncing and pouncing and chasing every leaf that whipped by on the wind. While my common sense (and my shoulder) were suggesting that I might want to get better control over the situation, my spirit understood. After a couple of days spent mostly inside due to rainy weather, a bit of sunshine and the swirl of fall leaves on the wind was almost whipping me into a frenzy.

Of course, I was missing most of the interesting smells that Baxter was eagerly tracking on the wind (I'm sure a couple of them would have led us directly to the doorsteps of neighborhood cats). But I sort of understood Kirby's fascination with the leaves. I've always loved autumn leaves. As a child I collected them and pressed them between the pages of our old dictionary, trying to save a bit of that glorious color to discover during the gray winter months. My friends and I would rake leaves into big piles and jump into them, scattering them all over the yard to be raked up again.

For Kirby, leaves on the wind are perfect for terrier pouncing practice, and one could only describe the gusto with which he jumped and scurried and pounced as pure glee.

So I let the boys pull me a bit today. Sometimes you just can't hold back your enthusiasm, and I have to admit I was pretty excited to feel that sunshine on face and watch the swirling orange, red and gold.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Refreshing Idea for Holiday Gifts

The Polishing Stone Magazine Brings Low-tech Balance to High-tech Holiday Gifts

Ok, this is a rather shameless plug, but this is a great magazine. If you are looking for that "something different" to give as a gift this year, I highly recommend it. Because it's not glossy, it's tempting to initially think it's a lightweight magazine -- that couldn't be farther from the truth. Without advertising (how nice!) it really is packed with wonderful content. Yes, I do write for them occasionally, and I consider it an honor. I was a fan before I was a writer for them.

So check out their website, view some articles and give it a try. I gave it as holiday gifts to friends and family last year and have received a lot of wonderful comments back. Some of them are now giving subscriptions as gifts to others. I love to see that kind of groundswell of growth, especially for a non-profit magazine that's run by people who really have a sincere desire to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good Habits, Bad Habits and Just Because He Can

I read once that you need to do something at least 21 times to make it a habit. I have no idea if this is true, but the converse sure seems to be true. If I go more than three weeks without writing in my blog, it seems to take me a long time to get back into the daily (or at least weekly) habit.

By contrast, our canine friends thrive on habit. If we got up every morning and did everything exactly the same way day after day (particularly if it involved a long walk or trip to the dog park), our dogs would be perfectly content.

For dogs, I think it only takes two or three times of doing something to make a good habit. And even less to create a bad one -- one false move (such as Auntie Charlotte slipping Fido a piece of turkey at Thanksgiving) can have Fido begging for food at the table for the rest of his life.

With dogs there is also a third category of habit: "just because I can." I think our dogs crave routine so much, they create little rituals for themselves, just to add another habit to the daily list. Kirby has done this just recently.

Outside of our home there is a small, brick, L-shaped bench. Sometimes, when it's nice outside, I'll go sit on it and soak up the sunshine. Baxter has no trouble jumping up on the bench to sit next to me, but little Kirby could never seem to get up there by himself, despite a lot of coaxing. Suddenly one day, Kirby made it. Of course, I lavished the kudos on him, which only added to the inspiration.

The next time we went out, he tried again. He failed a few times, but finally made it. He was hooked. Now, every single time we pass the bench Kirby has to jump up there, just because he can. He always looks up at me with this "isn't this GREAT?!" expression on his face. Of course, I reinforce it with praise.

This "just because I can" habit has not only inspired Kirby, I think it has helped build up his jumping muscles, because just the other day, much to my surprise, he jumped into the back of the Subaru without any assistance (previously, after several failed attempts, he would just stand there with his little paws up on the car and wait for us to lift him in).

Of course, none of this impresses Baxter one bit. He's now not the only dog who can do these things and I think he's concerned that these are just two more ways Kirby is moving-in on his domain. So I'm taking the opportunity to reward Baxter's other unique, good habits. Such as bringing me my slippers.

I wonder how long it will take for Kirby to figure that one out?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Admiring the Garden at Hosen-in Temple, Ohara, Japan

We're enjoying the beautiful garden with its 700-year-old pine tree, drinking traditional Japanese green matcha tea and eating Kyoto sweets. Ohara is just outside of Kyoto, up in the hills.

A Great Vacation in Japan

As you may have noticed, I took a bit of a breather from the blogosphere, but I'm back. After an insanely busy summer of moving and working and business travel, my husband and I went on a much-needed vacation to Japan. We went with friends, fellow blogger KM-Clear and her husband. We left the dogs in the care of my mom, who did her duty as dog-Grandma. We also hired a dog-walker to come three times a week and take the boys to the dog park or for a brisk walk, just to give Mom a break and ensure Bax and Kirby didn't get the cabin-fever crazies.

Upon our return, Mom informed us that she had thoroughly spoiled the dogs and we'll just have to deal with that. Thanks Mom! Of course, now Bax and Kirby absolutely insist on going out every hour or two. But they're gradually getting back onto a normal schedule and we truly appreciate the dog-sitting. I'm sure they had a much better time hanging out with Mom than in the kennel.
Our vacation was wonderful. We went to Takayama and Kyoto and spent a couple of days in Tokyo.

We had never been to the Japan Alps before, so visiting the little mountain towns of the Hida region around Takayama was a treat. We expected to see some lovely scenery and get a feel for rural Japanese life. What we didn't expect was the truly wonderful food we experienced there, which differs somewhat from the seafood-centric meals from more coastal regions. My favorite was Hoba Miso: Hida beef and vegetables with miso cooked on a hoba (magnolia) leaf over a small clay burner. I'm not a huge beef eater, but the thin slices of extremely tender local beef practically melted in the mouth. The local root vegetables and mushrooms, neither of which I could readily identify at least half the time, were absolutely delicious. And the miso from that region is amazing -- thick and chunky, salty and savory. Every restaurant has their own variation on the recipe and every one of them I tasted was delicious. Soba (buckwheat) noodles are also a specialty of the region, and I enjoyed them hot and cold (zaru soba) on many occasions.

Another surprise was seeing wild monkeys, known as "zaru" (yes, like the cold noodles, not sure what the link is there) -- large, pink-faced Japanese macaques, often called "snow monkeys," who wander freely in the mountains. We got our first glimpse in the park at Kamikochi, in the Japan Alps, as a large male put on a show for the tourists by following along the boardwalk, sitting down on a little hill and eating a large mushroom right in front of us before scampering off into the woods. We saw females and even a little toddler following along behind his mother. It was quite a sight for us. The locals weren't very impressed, but we were just so surprised to see them. I had always thought the snow monkeys lived on Hokkaido, where they hang out in the hot springs. We learned that these monkeys reside all over Japan, mostly in the mountains.

Our second experience with monkeys was in the hills just outside of Kyoto. As we were walking down a small street after visiting a couple of temples, we saw a very large male monkey cross the street, size up a street vendor to see if he might be able to grab something from one of the barrels of food, then scurry around a corner. We followed him up the alley and saw him climb into an upper story window of a house. A ruckus ensued with the house cat and dog and the soon the monkey climbed out of the window and disappeared behind the house. Soon thereafter the owner of the home, who was apparently working in one of the shops along the street, came running and asking if we saw where the "zaru" went. We did our best "he went that-away" in sign language. She was relieved that he wasn't still in the house, but I got the distinct impression she was concerned about what havoc the monkey might have wreaked in the house.

Our next encounters with wildlife in urban settings were the deer in Nara. They pretty much rule the place -- in the Shinto religion, deer are considered messengers from the gods. The Nara deer have been designated a national treasure. However these national treasures seem to spend most of their time wandering around the public plazas head-butting tourists in hopes they'll drop their ice cream cones. I've never seen deer in such large numbers and so assertive with people. I stopped for a second to admire the beauty of the local scenery and before I knew it there was a big, black nose poinking my elbow. I wasn't about to give up my ice cream cone. Too bad a lot of the tourists, most of whom were Japanese school children at the time, freely gave the deer their candy wrappers and other garbage. Those deer ate everything, and they didn't look particularly healthy for it.

We noticed that a few of the bucks had had their antlers removed. Considering it was the time of the rut, that could be dangerous for them. But we also noticed that the bucks who still had their antlers were the ones who stayed away from the tourists, back in the woods. We even saw a couple of those guys sparring. I expect that keeping the particularly tourist-friendly bucks antler-free not only protects the tourists, but has a certain natural selection element to it, if the more tourist-wary guys with the big racks get the mating rights.
Seeing the huge wooden temple, the spectacular and gigantic Buddha statue and the moonrise over the pagoda at Nara made all the deer-dodging more than worthwhile.
Most of our other animal experiences were a tad more domestic. We saw a lot of dogs in Japan, some breeds I recognized and others that were new to me. Many appeared to be related to the spitz-type breeds, such as the Akita or Shiba-Inu -- prick ears, curly tails, highly focused and cool to strangers. Japanese dog lovers also seem quite partial to the dachshund, and the Japanese version is a tad larger than miniature, with slightly longer legs than the dachsunds we usually see over here. Most of the ones I saw have long hair and slightly shorter noses. They were very cute and usually very friendly, and a couple of the black and tan ones looked a lot like Kirby with a close shave. Another cutie we saw a few times was a little dog that looked like a large version of the Papillon -- same coat, ears and shape, but about half again bigger than the Papillons we see here.
One of the best aspects of going on vacation is the escape from the realities of daily life. I didn't have cell phone service and I didn't have my computer with me. I confess that I did check email from the hotels every couple of days (I hired someone to mind my business while I was away, but I still felt the need to check-in). Occasionally we'd look at the newspaper, which was pretty depressing, and a few times we engaged in "can you believe what's going on in the world?" discussions with our friends. KM-Clear pretty much sums it up in her blog (linked above).
But for the most part I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed being blissfully semi-ignorant for a couple of weeks. I tried to live in the moment, enjoy the beauty of Kyoto's gardens, the temples and shrines, the good weather and the exploration of new foods. I managed to catch a cold about a week into the vacation, but other than that, I enjoyed just getting up in the morning and looking forward to the adventures that awaited us. That is the blessing of vacation.

I'll post some Japan pictures one of these days. Now that I'm back in the world of computers and cell phones and English media, I have lots of catch-up work to do...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Wild Trip to the Dog Park

It was pretty obvious that most of the dogs at the dog park today had been cooped up for a while. Everywhere I looked there were dogs spinning and chasing and running full-throttle. It was definitely a good day for getting your knees knocked out from under you. The humans, clad in rain gear, hoods up due to a sudden shower, were clearly taking their lives into their own hands. I made my way over to stand in front of a bench, figuring I'd at least protect my back side from a careening pack.

The dogs didn't mind the rain a bit. All the better to cool you off when you're running at full-throttle, I guess. And they probably think that "wet dog smell" gives them an air of sophistication.

After a short bit the clouds parted and the sun broke through in all its glory. I'm not exaggerating when I say within 2 minutes a new bunch of cars arrived at the parking lot. The humans looked a lot like me unloading the dogs from the car...desperately trying to control their overly-eager, cabin-feverish canines. We nodded at each other, knowingly. There is a sunbreak, and after days of constant drizzle, we'll take what we can get.

Epilogue to the star-spangled fire hydrant controversy: it's back. With a fence around it. The dogs don't seem to mind. And I found the fence to be another nice place to protect one's backside and knees while watching the careening dogs.
Photo: Associated Press - obviously taken before the fence was installed. But I think the same group of dogs were there today...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Spinning in the Rain

Having just moved back to the rainy Portland area from somewhat sunnier climes, I was counting on having at least a partly sunny fall. Unfortunately, the winter drizzle seems to have set in a tad early this year. A few days ago we went from 70 degrees and perfect to 60 degrees and drizzle overnight, and the pattern is predicted to continue for the forseeable future (at least as far as the weather reports are willing to predict...). I broke down and dug out the bio-light for a little dose of brightness over breakfast.

The drizzle is taking its toll on the dogs as well. The dog walks have been quite short and we haven't made any more trips to the dog park. They're showing it. Being a little guy, Kirby gets his exercise via "Kirby Derby," running up and down the stairs over and over and over. Unfortunately, Bax is a tad too big to successfully run at full throttle in the house, so he restrains himself. But the veneer of calm is starting to wear thin. Just yesterday Baxter started doing his "Spin" in the yard...while on the leash. The Spin is something he did a LOT when he was a puppy, usually when he reached some peak level of frustration about hearing the word "no" too many times or not being able to go and sniff at every place he found of interest.

The spin goes like this:

He crouches down and looks up at me out of the corner of his eye. The whites are showing in a sort of crazed expression. Then he takes off, first in one direction, then the other, spinning in place in circles, tangling and untangling his leash and making it very difficult to hang on. This dog tornado is accompanied by a little growly sound and usually ends after about 30 seconds in a final flourish with legs spread wide, eyes defiant and tongue hanging out. Then he composes himself and continues on the walk as if nothing happened.

Bax is such a calm dog most of the time, I think this is just his little way of blowing off some steam and letting me know he's not getting enough of what he needs: unfettered romping time.

Come to think of it, there are times I really feel like doing the Spin. When the stresses of daily life reach the point where they're bordering on intolerable, then that one little thing happens to just send me over the top, I feel like running around in circles screaming. Of course, being a product of my civilized Midwestern upbringing where highly dramatic self-expression is kept in check, my response is, instead, to just sit in my chair and fume on the inside. Sometimes I let a little out by cursing at my computer or the dashboard of my car -- but only when I'm fairly certain no one can hear me.

I'm sure this rather repressed reaction to stress has killed many people over the years...if not immediately, then over time as the stress builds and builds and never finds a good release.

So I'm not mad at Baxter for the leather burn on my hand from yesterday's Spin cycle. I understand more than he probably realizes. And a little bit of me longs to do the exact same thing. For the sake of Baxter, perhaps it's time to break out the Gore-Tex, load the car with towels and make a trip to the dog park.

And for me...I might just have to close the shades, put on some rock and roll and start spinning.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Wonderful New Dog Park and a Controversial Fire Hydrant

When we first moved to our new town this summer, I was disappointed that there wasn't a dog park nearby. Living in a townhome surrounded by public greenspaces instead of a fenced yard means we can't just open up the back door and let the dogs out anymore. After a few weeks without uninhibited dog play (circling and tangling up neighbors' leashes while on walks doesn't give quite the same level of satisfaction), I think Baxter and Kirby were starting to get a bit of cabin fever. So we were pleased to find out that the new Hondo Dog Park in Hillsboro, Oregon, slated for a grand opening event this coming weekend, is already open for business.

We made a play date this afternoon with one of our new neighbors and her two little schnauzers, loaded up the dogs and headed for the Hondo.

All I can say is "wow." That is one beautiful dog park. The large, grassy area is encircled by a pea-gravel walking path and a series of park benches. A hill in the middle gives the dogs a bit of extra exercise and the big doggy drinking fountain was a hub of social activity for both canines and humans on this sunny day. There's a separate, gravel-covered area for winter use (our former town's dog park basically turned into a mud-hole in the winter) and another smaller area for use by small or timid dogs. Of course, they supply plenty of poop-bags and trash cans to keep things tidy.

Standing near the aforementioned drinking fountain, I heard someone remark that a faux fire hydrant that had been in the dog park a few days ago was missing. He thought it had been stolen. Another person commented that it had been removed by the city because of concerns that dogs would pee on it (um, yeah). The issue was that this particular faux fire hydrant had the American flag painted on it and the act of a dog doing his business on the flag was something a few particularly patriotic folks just couldn't tolerate.

Just today, the Hondo Dog Park made national headlines with an AP story on that very subject.

Apparently, in the course of moving my mom from Arizona to Oregon I had missed a large write-up about the dog park in our local newspaper. The article featured a picture of a stars-and-stripes-painted fire hydrant that had been erected as a memorial to Hondo, a police dog killed in the line of duty for whom the park was named. Despite the fact that the city had gone to great lengths to make sure the fire hydrant was put on a pedestal and surrounded by prickly bushes to keep the canine leg-lifters away from the hydrant itself, enough overly-zealous (and misguided) patriots complained and the city parks department removed the star-spangled hydrant. When or where it will be placed is, to date, unknown.

So I just have a few questions. First, for the folks who put in the fire hydrant... Why a flag? You had to know that was going to cause a few problems. Any number of other motifs (even just plain old traditional fire hydrant yellow) would have honored Hondo just as well.

And second, for the misguided patriots who complained about the potential for an extremely tall dog to lift his leg on the flag: don't you know anything about dogs?

A favorite pee spot is probably one of the best memorials you could erect for a fallen canine. If Hondo were alive and able, I'm almost POSITIVE he would lift his leg on the fire hydrant, flag or not. And in the world of dogs, that would be a sort of compliment. "This spot, this wonderful, star-spangled fire hydrant, was chosen by me, Hondo, as a prime location to deposit my DNA for all other canines to enjoy and comment on."

I'm willing to bet Hondo would approve of the hydrant, with or without the flag.

So Hillsboro Parks Department -- just bring the thing back, would ya? And let the dogs do what they will. I can't think of a better way to honor Hondo over and over and over.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Land of Drafts

I've stacked up a few unfinished blog drafts lately. It seems like every time I get started on something, I'm interrupted or distracted or so absorbed in self-editing that I never reach a point where I hit the "publish post" button.

So here's a quick summary:

My husband was away for a few days. While he was gone, Baxter and Kirby decided to duke it out for the Alpha male position, but once the real Alpha male re-entered the cave, the incessant chasing and conga-line practice (under my desk, no less) finally came to a halt.

I spent a few days in a home without dogs. I sometimes forget just how calm and quiet a home without dogs can be. The doorbell rings and nothing happens. No one sits on your feet when you watch TV. No one stares at you in the morning to tell you it's time to get up. It's so dull I don't know how people survive in dogless homes.

We've had visitors to our home. First my brother-in-law and now my Mom, who is moving to our town from Arizona and awaiting the arrival of her moving van. The dogs love the extra company. Extra cuddling, more feet to lay on and totally gullible house guests who fall for the "I'm starving" and the "I must go outside now even though I was just out 10 minutes ago" looks.

In perfect form, I was just called away for something. I managed to put them off long enough to hit the "publish post" button this time...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Night Wanderer

Last night I decided to leave Kirby's crate door open just to see what would happen. Sure enough, within 5 minutes Kirby was laying down next to the bed. Within 10 minutes there was a light scuffle and Baxter ended up laying down next to the bed and Kirby was smack in the middle of Baxter's bed. As I started to doze off, I heard a bark coming from the stairwell...Kirby was wandering around the house in the dark and, I expect, either barking at the neighbors coming home or maybe the coyote across the way.

Back to the crate, door closed. All slept well from then on. Guess he's not ready for that much freedom yet. I think perhaps he feels safer in his latched crate and when he's not in there, he feels compelled to patrol the territory.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Alex the Parrot Has Died

I'm so sad to learn that Alex, the well-known African Grey parrot of researcher Dr. Irene Pepperberg, died suddenly on Sept. 6. I've mentioned Alex previously in this blog. Irene's work with Alex was ground-breaking. Through Irene's well-designed scientific studies, Alex revealed to the world that birds have a tremendous intelligence -- far more going on upstairs than anyone had realized.

I consider myself fortunate to have met Alex and Dr. Pepperberg while I was at Northwestern and to have visited them on occasion when they were at the University of Arizona. I considered Alex to be an avian friend; and my heart goes out to Irene, who has continued to be a human friend over the years.
This is a sad time for all who knew and loved Alex.
Here are a couple of links about Alex's passing:

Wake Up Call

This morning, before dawn, I put my husband on a train and went home to go back to bed. I decided to leave Kirby's crate open, just as a little test.

You see, even though he's more than a year old, we still lock Kirby in his crate when we go to bed every night because we don't want him getting into something. We also do this as a favor to Baxter, because Kirby used to have a habit of pouncing on Baxter in his bed, which then usually resulted in a scuffle. That's just too much for any adult dog or person to deal with at 2 in the morning.

Lately we've been trusting Kirby a bit more, leaving him with full run of the house when we go away for short trips (otherwise it's the crate). His recent mystery illness caused some concern about that, but we've never seen any evidence of him eating anything in the house, so we're assuming what he got into he probably picked-up outside.

But even though we're trusting him more when we're away, night time is a bit different. Sleep is pretty sacred to us. Particularly lately, as we've both had a few too many work and moving trips that involved pre-dawn departures. So giving Kirby run of the house at night hasn't been on the agenda.

This morning was a sort of test. Would he sleep calmly or make it impossible for either Baxter or me to get any winks? Turned out, Kirby didn't want to sleep in his crate. He preferred to sleep on the floor next to the bed, which was fine with me. And to his credit, he allowed me to sleep a full two hours or more (past his breakfast time, I might add) before he finally let out a decisive bark.

I was so sound asleep I must not have caught any subtler signals. But the bark came through loud and clear. Groggy, I barely opened my eyes and rolled over to focus in on a very earnest looking Kirby sitting next to the bed looking up at me.

"What do you want?" I grumbled. (I'm fighting off a cold and a grumble was about all I could muster.)

"Rowf!" he replied, definitively. Lately he's taken to a single, sharp bark followed by a stare-down to indicate it's time to go outside and do his business. Maybe I'm crazy, but sometimes it sounds like he's saying "Out!" Particularly when I'm sleep-deprived.

"Ok, then." I got up and put on my sweats. He danced in front of me all the way down the hall, down the stairs and to the door. By dancing, I mean standing and bouncing up and down on his hind legs with his front paws waving in the air. It's really pretty cute and one of those "little dog" things that leggy Baxter has never had the anatomy to do successfully (instead Bax has developed a dance that involves spinning around in circles a few times).

Perhaps one of these nights we'll just leave the crate open all night long and see what happens. Maybe on some night when we can sleep-in, just in case...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shameless Art Promotion

Ok, I don't expose a lot of personal information on this blog, but this is just too cool to resist. Take a look at the new artist's website of Jamie Newton (my husband). You'll see a couple of familiar faces up there, and, of course, some truly innovative art.

Yes, I'm more than a little biased, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dog Skills in Business

With dogs, what you see is what you get. Yes, dogs will try to get by with things (I'm thinking of the time we caught Baxter licking the cheese ball at Christmas when he thought nobody was looking...). But the refreshing thing about dogs is they never misrepresent themselves, their intentions or their expectations of you.

Dogs are earnest. Dogs tell it like it is. You always know when a dog wants something. They're remarkably good at telegraphing their desires to us. And any inability on our part to figure out what the dog wants is mostly a matter of our own language deficiencies. Remarkably, dogs seem to be pretty darned good at knowing what people want, and I think their ability to read us is far superior than our ability to read them. Perhaps we humans have just become so entrenched in language we've lost our ability to pick up the little signals that dogs have no trouble sensing.

My dogs know immediately when they see someone they don't trust. And it's not necessarily the same people I would steer clear of. It's really quite amazing. We can be walking down the street and pass a kinda crusty, scary looking guy and the dogs just wag their tails, maybe even look up cheerfully at him and walk up for a pat on the head. A block later we pass a clean cut guy with a nice suit and an expensive haircut and the dogs act like they've just met a serial killer. Maybe they're just better at sensing that predatory "je ne sais quoi" that makes a fellow one of those guys you see in a mug shot on the news with a neighbor saying "he seemed like such a nice, clean cut guy."

Of course, I haven't ruled out that maybe the dogs just didn't like the guy's designer cologne. But in any case, the dogs' perceptions and intentions are clear. We don't like this guy, let's get out of here fast.
I remember one time when I was a teenager, our little Cairn Terrier, Katie, saw a man coming up the driveway. She always stood at the screen door to check out who was coming and she usually barked to annouce the impending arrival. This time it was different. She started growling and snarling and making that frothy "I'm going to rip your throat out" sound you hear attack dogs make in films.

My dad came to the door. Turned out the guy was a convicted rapist who had just been let out of jail. But he wasn't out to get us. He was coming to see my dad, who was a sheriff at the time, on a non-threatening matter. That didn't stop Katie. She knew something was up with that guy at a deeper level.

Business is often described as a "dog eat dog world." But perhaps the business world would be better if we all were a bit more like dogs: clear about our intentions and completely without subtext. If a dog wants to rip your throat out, it's pretty obvious. He doesn't do it with a smile and a wagging tail.

Most of the business people I work with aren't quite that predatory. But I do occasionally see a glimpse of the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing (my apologies to wolves). And, like Baxter and Kirby, I think my best plan of action is to give them a wide berth.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Road Trip!

Kirby is back to his old self so we figured it was pretty safe to make the road trip down to Ashland, OR to hang my husband's gallery show. Baxter didn't particularly enjoy having to share his "back of the Subaru" space with Kirby, but the sculptures and paintings had to go somewhere.

They say dogs have a superb memory of place, by smell, sight and sound. I know this is true. Even months after passing a house where Baxter once saw a cat on the porch, he stops to look. So I'm thinking it must feel as strange to them as is does to me to be a visitor here after living in the area for so long. Instead of pulling into our old driveway, we pulled into a motel late last night. Instead of running around in the back yard, the dogs got an on-leash walk in the "doggy area" and went to bed in a strange room.

I think they'll feel right at home when we hit the dog park later this week. We have a play date set with Paco, Kirby's look-alike friend, and I'm sure the dogs will appreciate a chance to run with wild abandon and greet some of their Southern Oregon acquaintances. I know I will. Well, maybe not the running. But I am looking forward to spending time with friends and soaking up the golden Southern Oregon sunshine.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Kirby's On the Mend

Kirby seems much better today. He slept through the night and even went for a walk with us this morning. His trot was jaunty and he seemed interested in everything around him. He's still pretty low key today, but he's eating his food and keeping it down. No major symptoms at the other end either.

I have to say it's nice to have him back. We were so worried. Being the "new guy" in the household, we hadn't really realized just how accustomed we have become to having Kirby's energy and enthusiasm brightening up our home. He's a youthful counterpoint to Baxter's calm, steady, big dog demeanor.

Seeing him suffering so the other morning, hearing the vet say "it's touch and go," and worrying about him sleeping in the emergency hospital -- his first night away from us since we adopted him -- really made us realize once again just how attached we are to the little guy. To both of our dogs.

Dogs are family. And when one member of the family pack is suffering, we all suffer.

We're taking Kirby in again on the 10th for some repeat bloodwork to make sure his liver is OK. We may never know what caused the emergency. It could have been salmon poisoning. It could have been a mushroom from the yard. It could have been some chemical he got into somewhere (licking a puddle? chewing on paper? medication someone dropped on the floor?) Or it might have been a bout of the flu. In any case, we're just praying it won't ever happen again, and, as always, we're watching him closely.

Thanks to those of you who have left comments and sent me emails regarding Kirby's emergency. I truly appreciate your concern and I'm pleased that you read my blog. I owe everyone an apology for being away so long and I'll try to keep up from now on!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

RANT: Where's the Communication? * EPILOGUE *

The continuing saga of Kirby's emergency is punctuated by a series of communication gaps...between our vet and the emergency vet hospital, between the people who answer the phone at the emergency vet hospital and the doctors at the emergency vet hospital and between the front office people at our vet's office and the doctor herself. A short communication rundown follows. But what irks me is the fact that these aren't isolated events...increasingly it seems to be the way business is done. Everyone's so busy handling their discrete piece of work, no one is stepping back to look at the big picture, to think about the client experience and make sure the communication flow is happening effectively.

1) Our vet sends Kirby to the emergency vet for overnight observation, meds and IV fluids (which we couldn't administer at home). She tells us: "We open at 8am, so if he's doing better tomorrow morning and you want to get Kirby out of the emergency vet and bring him over, I'd like to give him an exam before releasing him."

2) Emergency vet says: "Go ahead and give us a call around 7am and we'll let you know if he's stable and then you can come and get him."

3) We set the alarm for half past crack-o-dawn to make sure we're ready to go. We call the emergency vet. The woman who answers the phone says Kirby is stable, but still on IV and they don't want to release him until their vet has a chance to talk with our vet, which won't happen until 9am or so, so we should just call back then.

4) We call our vet. Office closed. Doesn't open until 9am.

5) We call the emergency vet at 9am. Emergency vet (now the morning vet) tells us "We thought you were coming to get him at 8am to take him to your vet." HUH? Did anyone tell that to the person I talked to at 7-something this morning?

6) Emergency vet tells us she hasn't heard from our vet. I mention that the person I spoke with this morning said the emergency vet was going to call our vet. She says she'll call now and get back to me.

7) Emergency vet calls back and tells us that they spoke with our vet and agreed that they're going to keep Kirby for a few more hours so they can feed him and make sure he's not throwing up anymore. Call back at 2pm.

8) 10:50am-ish - our vet's office calls to say "We hear Kirby's been released from the emergency vet and we're just checking to see how he's doing." HUH? My husband explains that we've been given the runaround, that Kirby's still at the emergency vet, and what does our vet have to say about all this? Vet's office person tells him "I'll talk to the vet and we'll call you back in 10 minutes."

9) Half hour later, the vet still hasn't called. Kirby's still at the emergency vet. My husband is fuming and I'm blogging about it. So productive.

Where's the communication? I think we have a great veterinary hospital, don't get me wrong. But for the vet to tell us they have great coordination with the emergency vet hospital is a bit of a stretch. Apparently no one is thinking about the whole picture, i.e. Where is Kirby now? Has anyone communicated with Kirby's family? Have any of these vets communicated status to their front office people so that when Kirby's worried family calls they know what is going on?

This is just one thing. And, unfortunately, little Kirby is in the middle of it. But the part the really ticks me off is that we've experienced this TOO MANY TIMES TO COUNT in the past few months, as we've tried to buy a house, sell a house, move into a house, get repairs done on the new house, etc. Businesses who are supposed to be coordinating on things aren't communicating with each other effectively. Within businesses, individuals aren't communicating with each other effectively. And no one is communicating status to the clients because no one owns the "big picture," just their little pieces of the puzzle.

Is this a problem with our individualistic culture? Have we just reached a point where everone is so overwhelmed just trying to manage their own workloads they never pull their heads up to look around and ask if anyone is serving the customer?

Where's the communication? Where's the customer service?

* 10) finally got a call from the vet. She said she understood from the emergency vet that Kirby was OK and could go home. Wires crossed somewhere there. We went to the e-vet, checked Kirby out and took him to the regular vet, who said he looked much better and sent us home with 2 meds and some special diet for a couple of days.

What happened to Kirby is still a mystery. What happened to effective communication is also still a mystery. But at least the vet was nice and we have our little guy back home with us.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Kirby's Emergency *UPDATE*

I'm worried sick. I was going to catch up on my blog and talk about the great weekend we had up at my husband's parents' 50th wedding anniversary. I was going to talk about how Kirby had his first introduction to a toddler and a 3-year-old and how he got over his initial fear of the little girl's swirling purple tutu.

But instead I'm writing today about little Kirby who is at this very moment at the veterinary clinic taking IV fluids and, I hope, getting his pulse rate down. He was absolutely normal when we got up this morning. Romped down the stairs for his morning outing. Ate a bit of breakfast. Bounced at the door when my husband took Kirby and Bax for a little walk. Everything came out normally.

Suddenly, shortly after they got back from their walk, Kirby started to throw up. He lost his breakfast. Soon he was on his side, listless and looking like he was in a lot of pain as his stomach contracted. Things started coming out of the other end. He couldn't get up. We called the vet and carried him out to the car. He managed to hold everything until we got to the vet's parking lot. The minute his little feet touched the ground, all hell broke loose. Diarrhea, dry heaves.

The vet did some x-rays and blood tests. It doesn't appear to be a blockage. But the blood test showed his liver chems to be very high, which indicates that he ingested something that's making him sick. They just don't know. Now he's there resting (as much as Kirby can rest in a strange place) and they have him on IV fluids. We'll go back later this afternoon, at which point they'll decide whether he should go to the emergency clinic for all-night care. The rest of his labs will be back tomorrow.

The poor little guy is scared. His heart was racing when we brought him in. His glucose levels were up (also a sign of stress, the vet said).

We can't believe it. We didn't see it coming at all. One minute he was romping around the house and the next minute he was so very, very sick.

I'm on pins and needles. Not hearing the phone ring is a good thing, but I want to know how he's doing every minute. And I'm worried about Baxter. Baxter's the dog who is much more likely to eat whatever he finds. Kirby tends to be more finicky. So if If Kirby somehow got into something, I pray Baxter isn't going to have a delayed reaction due to his size, age and slower digestive tract.

I guess time will tell. But if you're reading this, please send a little get well soon wish to Kirby for us. He needs all the help he can get right now.

*UPDATE* - We went in to see Kirby late this afternoon. He had thrown up again in the afternoon and his urine indicated that he was still pretty dehydrated, so the vet recommended we transfer him to the all-night emergency clinic so that he could continue with his IV fluids and meds. He was so happy to see us, his little tail wagged and he seemed so much better than this morning. His eyes were brighter, and while he certainly wasn't his full-throttle self, he did manage to pull on the leash when we took him outside with Baxter for a little walk before going into the emergency clinic.
He seemed so good we just wanted to take him home. But the emergency vet reiterated what our vet told us, but that if he continued to remain as stable as he seemed when we brought him in, we could probably take him home in the morning. Our vet said she'd like to see him again tomorrow before discharging him officially, so we'll make the trek back to the regular clinic.
It was quite a relief to see his eyes looking brighter again. And while it's great having Baxter sleeping quietly at my feet this evening, I think we're all missing Kirby's playful energy. I hope the little guy is resting quietly and trusting that we'll be back for him soon.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

On the road again...

Working, moving, packing, unpacking, working, traveling, traveling, traveling. I haven't even found all my dishes yet, let alone taken the time to write in my blog. Such is life when business trips are sandwiched between 5-hour drives with U-hauls.

I'm on another business trip but got my dose of dogness today during a business meeting that took place at someone's home. Their skittish poodle eventually warmed up to me and before the end of the meeting was sitting in my lap. Dogs are like magnets to me. I can't go to someone's home without feeling the need to befriend their dog(s) if they have them.

I wish we could always have dogs in business meetings. They bring a down-to-earth presence to the room.

Tomorrow night I'm home, then leaving the next am to make the last trip down South to fill what will, hopefully, this time, be the LAST U-haul load. Then it's just unloading.

Some day we'll feel settled. But at this rate, not for a while. The dogs seem to be doing fine. They don't have to do the packing! Kirby just hides when the boxes start moving around. Baxter, on the other hand, places himself right across the path in which you have to walk to bring the box into the room. He is so consistent about this, it's as if he's trying to trip us. In reality, I think he's just trying to make sure we don't forget he's there and drive off without him.

No chance that would happen!

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Last of It...

I'm so behind on my blog...and most other things that don't have to do with either 1) client work or 2) moving.

This weekend is our last trip to pull the last of our possessions out of the house and clean. So far we've had a POD, a couple of fully loaded car trips and a voyage last weekend with a U-Haul. This weekend's final U-Hail trip will mean we at last have all of our things in one place, even if incredibly disorganized.

The new house is now the maze of boxes through which the dogs must navigate. And over the course of the past three weeks I've completely forgotten where I packed most of the small things one really needs to find...such as the key to the safe deposit box which was inadvertently packed and moved last weekend and is now needed today in a town 5 hours away. I guess our few precious items are safe, even if not easily accessible. Oh well, it gives us another excuse to visit our friends and old haunts on another long weekend some time soon.

The dogs are doing remarkably well, all things considered. They seem happy in either house as long as we're there. Unfortunately the new home is lacking a fenced back yard for them to run around in sans leash, so when we arrived moments ago at our old home I opened the back door and they both took off and started their usual chase/wrestle routine.

We'll all be a tad happier when our new town's new dog park is finally finished this fall.

Well, no rest for the weary self-movers, so off I go to figure out how to make an oval platter fit into a square box...

Friday, July 13, 2007


At long last, the POD arrived Friday with a significant portion of our worldly possessions. My husband arrived a couple of hours later. I was relieved to see the former and thrilled to see the latter, as were the dogs (who have been arguing over the alpha male position all week).

We've now unloaded the POD and there's now a new maze of boxes through which the dogs must navigate. They haven't quite figured out how to chase each other on hardwood floors, yet, so collisions are inevitable. The dogs' solution to the problem is to chase each other up and down the stairs. Sometimes it gets rather rough and rather loud (you'd swear there were at least a half-dozen canines running up and down for all the stomping and growling going on).

Tonight's battle was over the red Kong Wubba -- a new toy I purchased for them last week at the local pet store. Baxter decided he wanted it. Kirby tries to take every toy away from Baxter. Even if Kirby's busy playing with his own toy, whatever Baxter has looks better. I decided to throw a rawhide bone into the mix to see what happened. Wubba ended up at the bottom of the stairs, Kirby ended up with the Wubba and Baxter's sitting here in my office pawing at me, trying to convey something I don't quite understand. "Take the rawhide away from Kirby and give it to me?" "I want to go outside again even though I was just out there 10 minutes ago?" "Biscuit?"

I've no idea...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Aaaaaahhhhhhh, coolness.

At long last, the AC guy finally arrived yesterday with the compressor. By mid-afternoon the hot little box we call home was starting to cool down and by evening it was downright chilly in here.

But the biggest indicator that something had changed was the energy level of the dogs. For the past several days they had mostly been hairy rugs, sprawled out on the floor with their tongues hanging out. Yesterday afternoon, however, they were as recharged as the AC and proceeded to catch up on their playing and wrestling.

Every time I was out of the room (and sometimes when I was in the room) there was scuffling. Toys were flying, rawhides were being stolen and the decision about who would become the alpha male while my husband is out of town was being negotiated in a less-than-diplomatic manner at times.

Ah, things are back to normal once again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All Hot and Bothered

We sort of moved into our lovely new home (by moved I mean a few boxes, an Aero Bed, a folding chair and a TV tray) last weekend. The POD with most of our worldly possessions is sitting in a warehouse in Portland, but we're not going to get it until next weekend due to some over-booking on their part and higher-than-should-have-been expectations on my part. Anyway, it's good that I'm here because I have some on-site client work to do this week and that will certainly help pay for the costly move. My husband, who is still living five hours south of here, was kind enough to let me have the dogs for the week. Now we're wondering if that was such a good idea...

The trouble with the situation is...our lovely new home's air conditioning doesn't work, we have a Southern exposure with big windows (which we'll appreciate in the dreary winter) and the part that needs to be reinstalled (the compressor...big part) will take two days. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued a severe heat alert for the area for the next two days, with temps reaching 100 degrees or more. It's damn toasty in here.

So I've been running around the house opening and closing windows and shades strategically to try to keep the heat out and get enough air flow to air out the off-gassing new paint, cupboards and floors (either it's working or I'm getting used to it). Fortunately it's been cool at night, so I've been able to open up the upstairs windows and capture the cool air, then close up during the day. We bought a huge fan that sounds rather like a prop jet preparing for take-off (and that's only on setting one of three) and it, along with the ceiling fan in the stairwell, keeps the air moving, which helps.

Today I have to spend a good portion of the day at a client's site and I'm a little worried about the dogs. The callous people at the Legend Homes office (which I'll rant about another time) had very little sympathy for our plight. The response was "well, I don't have air conditioning and my dogs survive." Ok, thanks. Nevermind that we just spent upwards of $4500.00 extra for the damned air conditioning, which didn't come standard with our house, and IT'S NOT WORKING.

The AC guy (who finally came out yesterday afternoon after I had to call them myself because the "Customer Care" people are all in Corvallis shooting a TV show all week) said the unit was faulty and the ventilation wasn't set properly either. Nice.

Anyway, that's only the latest in a long string of issues we've had with this move. But hey, moving is never a picnic. We've just been lucky in our past few moves. So I'm on to temporary solutions. My husband came up with the best idea, I think: put the dogs in the coolest spot in the house and turn on the giant fan blowing over a bowl of ice from our brand new refrigerator/freezer. Heck, I'm tempted to just open the doors and let the coolness emerge, but I think his idea is a tad more practical.

For now the dogs seem less bothered by it all than I do. I think they think we're camping. It rather feels like it at the moment.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Box Maze

We're living in a maze of boxes at the moment, as we gather our things together and slowly take them out to the POD that's sitting in our driveway. Over the next couple of weeks we're moving our household back up to the northern part of the state, back to the cool green, back to the drizzly winters and gorgeous summers.

Baxter spent the first three years of his life there, walking with me every morning, rain or shine. But he's now spent most of his life in a hotter place and he's adapted just fine. On the hottest of hot days, Baxter will go out in the yard and lay down in the sun.

Kirby, on the other hand, is not so well adapted to this place he's always called home. He doesn't like the heat. His low-to-the-ground build and mostly black coat just aren't well suited to 100+ degree summer days. When Kirby goes into the back yard, he immediately heads for the shade.

I know Baxter will do just fine back in the land of his youth, and I think Kirby's going to like it a lot better in a more temperate climate. But the stuff that goes on between now and then is proving to be a bit disturbing. All this packing of our things. All this hauling off of the indoor landscape. It's a bit unnerving. Not to mention having to navigate around piles of stuff that doesn't quite fit into the boxes we're attempting to fill at any given time.

So what are the dogs doing? Oh, they are making sure they're never out of our sight. Wherever we are, the dogs are laying between one of us and the door through which we must carry boxes. This way, if they happen to fall asleep, they'll know we're leaving the building...if not from tripping and swearing, then from groaning and stepping to try to avoid them.

I get it, though. Dogs are creatures of habit. And, frankly, so are humans for the most part. And nothing disrupts your life quite like packing up everything you own into boxes and hauling it all off to another locale where the same thing happens in reverse. We just want it to be over.

But at the moment, we're far from it. So Baxter and Kirby are just going to have to deal with it least for another couple of weeks.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Paco Play Date

Last weekend we made a play date for Kirby and Paco at the dog park. Of course, Baxter and Paco's pack-mate Nemo were also there. This time we brought our cameras and got a few non-blurry photos as the little guys wrestled and played.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Dog Park Flight

In reporting on that lovely day at the dog park when we met Kirby's little black-and-tan likeness, I neglected to mention a most dramatic event for yours truly. I was standing out in the field, trying to keep an eye on the dogs as my husband went to get the shovel (it's a really nice, clean dog park). Out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple of big, adolescent dogs in the midst of a game of chase. Typically a game of chase between two large, retriever-type dogs of that 9-12 month age merits considerable attention from the humans at the dog park -- partially because dogs of that age have a full-throttle approach to play that is fun to watch and partially because said dogs are notorious for not watching where they are going.

I saw them coming toward me at high speed and I instinctively bent my knees (locked knees at the dog park can result in trips to the emergency room). I looked for a good escape route. There wasn't one. They were coming fast. Most dogs, when they realize they are headed straight for you, will either fade right or left, so most of the time your best strategy is to stay right where you are and not try to second-guess the dog. Just bend the knees and be ready to get clipped. Being full of youthful exhuberance, the lead dog was paying more attention to the dog chasing him than he was to where he was going and, instead of fading right or left, he smacked straight into me.

What happened next I'm not sure about. Suddenly I was airborne, my feet swept straight out from under me. I landed spread-eagle, flat on my stomach with my arms and legs outstretched. The force of the earth hitting my rib cage knocked just enough wind out of me for the expletive I uttered to be audible to anyone within 50 feet of me. For a moment I just stayed there, assessing if anything felt bruised or broken. I was quite surprised to find that I felt just fine, and other than a couple of grass stains on the elbows of my shirt and one tiny sliver, I emerged relatively unscathed. My knees were fine. Somehow I must have landed so squarely on my front side that the impact was distributed across my entire body.

Of course, the dogs ran on, entirely clueless, and several people came running up to see if I was OK. Apparently it looked a lot more dramatic than it felt. My husband, who was at the opposite end of the park, said he saw me standing there one second, looked away, and then I was flat on the ground. He missed the flying part altogether. And where were Baxter and Kirby, my fearless protectors? Off galavanting around.

I picked myself up, put my glasses back on, brushed off the grass and did my best to recapture my dignity. I waved to let everyone know I was OK. I was really surprised that neither my knees nor my elbows were sore. The next day I felt it, however. The bottom of my rib cage was a bit bruised (which I only felt when I tried to cross my arms) and I stretched a few muscles in ways they are not normally stretched. All in all, however, I was pretty fortunate to come out of the deal in such good shape.

I guess dog-guardian karma finally caught up with me. When Baxter was a youth of approximately the same age, he was leading a pack of dogs in a game of chase through the park and plowed into an unsuspecting woman. I think he messed up her knee pretty badly. Baxter, of course, acted as if nothing had happened and kept right on running. It's hard to apologize enough for such a thing. It's not like it was entirely my fault, after all, we were at a park where all the dogs were running off leash. But somehow I felt responsible because it was my dog at the front of the pack. I offered to pay for the woman's doctor bill if needed. She just waved me off and limped away with her dog. I felt awful.

I've spent a lot of time in dog parks and this was my first direct hit that actually knocked me down (I've been grazed a few times and a few of those actually felt worse). I guess I had it coming eventually. I'm just thankful it was a relatively smooth flight and a nice, even landing. And I'm glad it's a really clean dog park.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Seeing Double at the Dog Park

They say everyone has a double somewhere. Yesterday we met Kirby's at the dog park. Now, when you have a purebred dog, such things are not particularly noteworthy. But with dogs of unknown and diverse parentage, finding a double is a rare and wonderful thing.

Yesterday my husband took the day off of work in honor of his birthday, and we decided that nothing screams "party!" like a trip to the dog park. Of course, Baxter and Kirby were all for the idea and they both started whining about a mile from the park (Bax knows the proximity from any direction, Kirby usually follows Bax's lead).

We arrived, snapped on their leashes and escorted them (ran behind them is more like it) to the gate. We unleashed the dogs and they took off for the green fields. I closed the gate behind us and when I turned around to look for the dogs, I had a moment of utter confusion. I saw Kirby. No, wait, Kirby's not wearing a harness?! Huh? Then I saw him again, running circles around himself. Soon I saw Kirby wrestling and jumping and running with a little dog that, from a distance, looked almost exactly like him. Actually, from up close, the little dog looked almost exactly like him.

Meet Paco. He's a scruffy little black-and-tan terrier/dachsund mix who originally came from a Southern Oregon shelter and didn't quite make it through Dogs for the Deaf school. He went up for adoption and found a home with a nice, scruffy-dog-loving person.

On closer inspection, Paco is a little bit smaller than Kirby -- about 19 pounds to Kirby's 22 -- his hair is a bit wirier and his snout is a bit shorter (this is where you can actually see the German Shepherd genes from Kirby's mom). Still, when the two of them played together (which they did, a LOT) it was hard to keep track of who was who in the swirling mass of black and tan.

I've heard that dogs recognize their own breeds and are more attracted to them. This is usually said about purebreds, who will pick their own kind out at a dog park and immediately make friends (or at least hang around each other). Yesterday it was as if Kirby had found his "breed." The attraction was immediate, the play style was highly compatible and the two of them proceeded to wrestle and play and pick on each other for most of the time we were there.

Just about everyone at the dog park commented on the likeness, some asked if they were related and I suggested perhaps there was a little terrier/dachsund making his way down the West Coast. Paco's guardian said they took him to Baja on vacation and the locals said he looked like a Baja dog (apparently these little guys are practically a breed down there).

We all stood around telling stories about our dogs (usual dog park conversation...we didn't even learn the humans' names until we asked for an email address) and lamenting that none of us had a camera. At long last I realized that my cell phone was in the car. The camera's not much for beauty shots, but at least it was something. I ran for it.

Of course, once we decided to take pictures, both Kirby and Paco decided to become the squirmiest dogs on the face of the planet. The super-bright sun and my camera-phone's glacial shutter delay didn't help matters. I ended up with a lot of shots of wagging tails, dogs half out of frame, blurry masses of black and tan that were barely recognizable and the back end of Baxter and one other dog who decided he had to be in front of the camera no matter where it was (dog politician, no doubt).

Finally we managed to snap a few frozen squirms and my husband made the composite you see here.

Next time we're going to make a real "play date" for our little scruffy black-and-tan mutts, and we'll bring a better camera. We might have to wear the dogs out for an hour before we get them to stand still, but it will be worth it.

Paco: Here's a hearty welcome to the Scruffy Dogs blog!