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.