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!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Baxter Dodges a Bullet

Actually, the bullet was a B-A-T-H. While Baxter slept calmly in his bed (but with some internal anxiety, I'm sure) , little Kirby was hauled-off to the shower for a good sudsing. Kirby needed a bit of coaxing to get in there, but once he the sudsing started, he really didn't seem to mind all the attention from my husband. After all, 10 minutes of warm water, massage and attention from the Alpha can't be all that bad.

Now he's shiny and fluffy and a tad more cuddle-worthy. I'm sure somewhere, in the back of Baxter's mind, there's a sense that he's going to be next...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

He's Just Big-boned

To me, Kirby is still a little dog. But when I went to pick him up this afternoon I was shocked at just how heavy the little guy is. He's not very tall and he's definitely not fat, but I swear that little dog's bones are made of some super-dense material that makes him weigh half again more than you think he should.

Looks can be deceiving. For example Baxter's scruffiness makes him look bigger than he actually is. When wet, he's a tall, but lanky dog and in spite of being at least 3" taller, he weighs less than your average labrador. Kirby's kind of the opposite. His scruffy coat kind of hides the fact that his leg bones are pretty darned thick for a little guy.

We're rethinking the assumed dachsund lineage. I've been watching the dachsunds at the dog park, and while they have long bodies and short legs, their shape is really quite different. I've had at least two people tell me that Kirby looks more like a "shorty jack," the shorter, non-AKC version of the Jack Russel terrier. His coloring is off, but that little face sure has that spunky expression at times. Then again, with his heavy-duty bone structure I wonder if there isn't some other stocky, short dog in there. Maybe a corgi back there somewhere?

Well, his lineage doesn't really matter. But when contemplating a cuddle or keeping Kirby from running out after the Fedex guy, I do have to remind myself from time to time that the little guy is a good five pounds heavier than I expect him to be...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tick Season

I've never felt entirely comfortable putting flea and tick protection on my dogs, but my husband and I choose to do it anyway. For one thing, one of my oldest and dearest friends, someone I trust, is a veterinarian in the Midwest, and she believes the benefits outweigh any dangers. Our own vet recommended it. But when we lived up north, it never seemed like a big deal. When we moved southward, to a warmer climate, however, Baxter really suffered. We started calling him "tick bait" because it seemed he was a magnet for any tick that happened to wander into our yard. A couple of times he got them in the tender skin next to his eyes, which was not only painful for him, it left permanent scars.

So we knuckled under and put the stuff on him. Frontline was the one we chose, because if it's tick-repelling properties.

Last weekend, when we visited our friends on the farm, we asked them about ticks. Their dog, Willa, has very short hair that makes it easy to spot ticks. They chose not to put the stuff on her because, they said, "the ticks were coming into the house on her and jumping off to go find us." That is a hazard of Frontline. The ticks land on the dog, looking for a meal. But the stuff, whatever it is, repels the ticks and they depart looking for tastier hosts.

This is a particularly bad year for ticks. It's not even summer and already they're out in force. The other night my husband was sitting, watching TV, with both Baxter and Kirby at his feet. He felt something on his leg. Sure enough, a tick was crawling up his pantleg. Shortly thereafter it happened again.

Now I can't lay down for a nap with the dogs without having the heebie-jeebies all afternoon, certain a tick is on me somewhere. Perhaps I'm a little more sensitive to the idea, having had my Lithuanian tick experience earlier this year.

I can say that I'm happy to say we'll soon be moving back up north. Oh they have ticks, just not legions of them. And whether or not we'll continue with the Frontline is something to ponder.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Glorious Day on the Farm

Some friends of ours have an absolutely beautiful little organic farm in the wilds of Southern Oregon, where they grow wine grapes, vegetables and flowers and keep a tidy little group of chickens, three horses a dog and at least one cat. We live less than two hours from their place, but somehow, unfortunately, we haven't managed to make it out there to visit in a long time.

Saturday was our day. We got up at the crack of dawn, slathered on sunscreen, packed our swim suits, loaded up the dogs and headed for the hills. We spent the better part of the day out there -- horseback riding, swimming in the pond, enjoying a delicious al fresco lunch, drinking good wine, engaging in stimulating conversation and soaking up the spectacular beauty of the Illinois Valley. It was a vacation in a day and all of us, dog and human, had a fantastic time.

Baxter had been to the farm before, so as we pulled into the driveway, he started whining in eager anticipation. Kirby started whining too, of course. He had no idea why, in particular, but if Baxter was excited, it had to be good. Bax knew what was coming...

A day at our friends' farm is a day in canine heaven-on-earth. With acres of territory to explore and the freedom to run unleashed, Baxter and Kirby spent the entire day playing, swimming and napping in the shade with their friend Willa, the very sweet resident dog. (Baxter and Kirby both know Willa from her visits to the city with her humans, but I think they would all agree that meeting on Willa's turf is a heckuva lot more fun.)

As far as Kirby goes, I think it's probably safe to say that Saturday just may have been the best day EVER for Kirby. Not only did he get his first taste of farm-dog freedom, he discovered horses (with whom he got along very well) and had his very first swim.

We humans had a lot of fun as well. My friend and I went for a morning horseback ride (a real treat for me because I don't have the opportunity to ride very often). When we returned, my husband and I rode around the farm for a while, which Kirby and Baxter both found very interesting.

Following Willa's lead, the dogs did a pretty good job of staying out of the way of the horses, with the exception of one attempt at a group photo that took a bit too long. Kirby got tired of sitting in the sun and decided go for the shade under the horse. He calmly curled up around the horse's right front hoof. Fortunately, the horse, Avatar, who is a beautiful, sweet, soulful Arabian, was used to having dogs around and didn't seem very concerned.

Next came swimming, which felt wonderful on a hot day. First Willa, then Baxter, then my friend went into the water. Kirby waded in up to his belly, and looked longingly as the other dogs chased sticks. My husband gently picked Kirby up and put him out just ahead of where his little feet could touch. He started paddling, but quickly circled back to safety. So I went in and started calling to him. With a little encouragement from us and a bit of whining, he steeled his resolve and waded back in. He started paddling those little legs and swam all the way out to where I was treading water in the middle of the pond.

We were proud of the little guy. My previous experience with a terrier and water was not pretty. Katie, our little cairn terrier, just never got the hang of it. Baxter, on the other hand, has always been a natural in the water. He took a bit of coaxing the first time in as a pup, but his swimming technique (aided by webbed toes) looked quite professional from the start.

I was worried that Kirby, being more of an "earth dog" like Katie, might have a similar tendency to sink like a stone. He did start out a bit awkwardly, listing to port, then starboard. But once he figured out the right rhythm, off he went. Soon he was swimming after the other dogs and eventually he started using his tail like a little rudder, wagging it back and forth as he swam. Honestly, he looked a bit like a baby otter.

We all enjoyed our cool dip, dried off and headed for the yard where our friends had set out a beautiful lunch with fresh greens from their garden, fruits, cheeses, wine. Not being much for conversation, the dogs sacked out in the shade under the table. Kirby and Willa curled up next to each other (those two really hit it off).

Just when I thought I couldn't eat any more, they brought out coffee and ice cream with strawberries. The whole meal was delicious, and enjoying it in that setting was a slice of heaven-on-earth for the humans as well. As we sat there, I could see the horses grazing in the pasture in the background. It felt so peaceful.

There's something about watching horses graze that has a calming effect on me. It's a deep-seated thing, almost an instinctive response. Perhaps it is that signal to some more primitive part of the brain that says "hey, if the horses are calm, there must not be any predators around." Whatever it is, it's beautiful.

And I'd have to say the same for that entire day. I'm sure Baxter and Kirby would agree.