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You think you know somebody….

One of the reasons I cherish my dogs is that just when I think I know how they work, inside and out, and that I can predict their behavior consistently, they serve me up a surprise and it’s a 50/50 chance that it will be a pleasant one.

For instance, Tink. She’s been with me since she was 9 weeks old, I raised her and I train her and live with her and take her walkies and wrestle her for the pillows at night. Around 18 months or two years old, she started having hysterical barking meltdowns if she saw a dog who looked unfamiliar to her. This may have had something to do with her sucky vision, it may have been her hitting maturity, who knows. We worked the “Look at that dog!” game from Control Unleashed religiously, and that got us to the point where her hysterical barking meltdowns were manageable although still embarrassing, but at least I could distract her and get her out of the situation if I my vigilance failed so hard we got into a situation in the first place.

So for the past three, three and a half years, I have been watching for other dogs and fleeing if I saw one, and hopefully I saw it before Tink did. It was just one of those things, you know. Everyone you love has certain quirks that irritate the shit out of you but aren’t going to change, so you just learn to deal with them and view them as an integral part of the person you love, one that maybe you would rather do without but not if it meant doing without that person entirely.

Today, Tink and I went up to Chatham, where the 28th Massachusetts, Company B was having a Camp of Instruction, as was the Fredericksburg battlefield’s Washington Artillery unit. We wandered around some and then I saw two gentlemen with three collies between them, headed our way. I spotted them before Tink did and thought “Oh shit, better move out” so we walked away from the 28MA’s encampment toward the Washington Artillery, which was down a grassy road. Tactical error on my part, because after a few minutes, here came the collies, and this time they were between us and escape. Whoops.

I called to them when they were a ways away and said “She’s going to bark when she sees you, she’s mostly blind and nervous about strange dogs!” and backed us off the road so they could get by. Tink gruffed once when she noticed them, but… I said “Shhhh, it’s OK.” and she believed me and settled down. When they got up to us, one of the gentlemen asked if the dogs could sniff noses, and I said “Sure, if she’s all right with it” and said “Tink, you can say hi” and Tink proceeded forward confidently toward three strange dogs who were radically different from any dogs she has spent time with before, and she sniffed their noses and butts. She said a very polite hello without gruffing or having hysterics or anything, just some maneuvering to keep from being surrounded by the three of them, as dogs will do.

One of the collies, the oldest to judge by the grey on his face, was also mostly blind. She spent the longest time greeting him, the two of them carefully sniffing each other, inch by inch, from nose to tail, all totally relaxed and “hey I do this all the time” which may have been true in the collie’s case. For Tink, though, it was a first and I kept waiting for it to break out into barking, especially when one of the younger collies had a good excited bark at a jogger, but it never did. The dogs said hi to each other, and when they were done they ignored each other.

I almost wanted to cry. Maybe Tink’s life can be much less circumscribed now, if we can go places where there will be other dogs without having a loud and embarassing temper tantrum. I’ll have to try it again sometime to be sure, but things are looking good right now. Today was one of those good surprises, one of those moments when I realize all over again that dogs are not static pieces of furniture, but living, changing, marvelously doggy beings with inner lives of their own.

Good dog, Tink. That’ll do.

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Zille goes to war, sort of.

Culpeper Remembrance Days are going down this weekend, and yesterday there was a Civil War encampment featuring Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith at the Culpeper Museum. I had just enough time to get home from work, let the dogs out to potty, and then slap a leash and collar on Zille and load her in the car to go make nice with re-enactors, an important part of her training as the Sesquicentennial Emergency Backup Dog.

She did just fine, taking on hoop skirts, cooking fires, a hoard of small children wanting to pet her, and of course General Extra Billy Smith with a little initial nervousness that faded into, well…
A head shot of Zille, a sable German Shedder, yawning hugely to express her extreme boredom with Civil War encampments.

Once she had decided that this was actually not as interesting as she thought it was, I convinced her to pose with the General:
Zille, a sable German Shepherd, poses sitting next to General Extra Billy Smith, a grey-haired gentleman, clean shaven, who wears a grey-blue frock coat with a double row of buttons, grey trousers, and holds a brown beaver hat on his knee.  He is looking at Zille and smiling, tickled to death to be posing with her.  We will ignore the banner for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the background.

The only hairy moments came shortly thereafter, when a group of kids tried their hand at playing Graces. Graces is a 19th century game wherein two people each have two sticks apiece. The sticks are about 18″ long. There is also one be-ribboned hoop, and the goal of the game is to use your sticks to throw the hoop to your partner, who will theoretically catch it on her sticks and then throw it back to you. I’m sure you can see where this is going, given that Zille is Fetchy Dog Extraordinaire. She saw no reason why she should not also be allowed to join the game, since she would be WAY better at catching that hoop than any of the kids were. After I convinced her that I was not going to allow her to snatch toys from small children, she grumbled at me and went and sat on Extra Billy’s foot in the hopes that he would be sympathetic to her deep need to go join the game. Alas, the General ignored her plea.

Also present was the World’s Oldest Civil War Re-Enactor, I swear to God. The gentleman had to be at least 80, and he could talk the hind leg off a mule, which is how I know that:
1) His father used to breed and show German Shepherds.
2) Something about Zille’s ears and her color mean she’s a really good German Shepherd (He mumbled some, so I didn’t quite catch what about her ears and color make her so outstanding. But she does have Serious Ears on her.)
3) You must raise German Shepherds right from the beginning or they will be no-good curs.
4) You must “take German Shepherds to the water” to go swimming, or “they’ll go crazy.”

I’m now nervously wondering if the little wading pool I have for the dogs (in which Zille loves to splash around) is enough water to keep her from going crazy. It’s hard to say, so I think I might take her to the river some this summer, just to make sure.

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Zille has a great big brain, Tink has a great big ego, Beowulf has a great big heart.

Because Zille is quite possibly the smartest and most perfectest dog to ever come out of Blackthorn Kennel, I like to randomly pick new things to teach her. She soaks things up like a sponge and then she is all “my learnings, let me show you them!” For instance, it took her 5 tries to grasp the Window Test under the no-reward protocol[1].

Having a dog who is really bright and also really willing to work is a novel and fun experience for me. Tink, for instance, is pretty damn bright but she also has a great big ego, so she’s pretty sure that her ideas are better than my ideas. This particularly pertains to my ideas that require her to do something like sit still for more than 15 seconds when there’s a great wide world for her to sniff, or at least a cat for her to suck on. I have not been able to hit upon a single reward that she considers worth a 30 second stay, although she will go 20 seconds for the promise of tuggy with her stuffed snake.

Zille, on the other hand, is not only nearly ego-free, but she really wants the ball. What ball? Any ball. She doesn’t care. She just wants that spherical object, preferably thrown. She’s a perfect storm of intelligence, lack of ego, and an easily manipulated drive. Zille wants to be a Good Dog (lack of ego), she Wants The Ball (toy drive), and she has the brains to figure out what you’re telling her really, really quickly. So tonight we worked on two new skills during fetchy: go out! and STOP!

“Go out!” means “Move 10 feet away in the direction I’m pointing, and then face me for further direction.” “STOP!” is pretty self-explanatory, it means “Freeze in your tracks.” So far I’m just working “STOP!” when she’s approaching, because then I can use body language (lean forward, put a hand out like a traffic cop) in addition to my voice to cue her. I’d like to work it until I can use it to stop her motion in any direction, though. You can see how it can come in handy, especially combined with “go out!” and at some point I intend to add “right” and “left” in there. I don’t have a deep need per se to be able to direct my dog around like a radio controlled car, but Zille’s big ol brain needs SOMETHING to do and I can see situations where it would come in handy.

I wish I could find a way to make Tink as thrilled about learning things as Zillekins is, with Tink’s horrible vision and the likelihood that one day she’s going to quite suddenly go blind entirely when her right retina detaches, it would be fantastically useful to be able to give her verbal cues on where to go.

I don’t know if these differences are breed differences (Doberman vice German Shedder), breeding differences (a breeder who does not focus on mental soundness and ability vice one who does), or personal differences (Tink vice Zille); it’s likely that it’s a combination of all three. And it’s not that I don’t cherish my clever, hard-headed, dramatic Tink for who she is. She will always be my best buddy, but it’s nice to have a dog who doesn’t constantly ask me “why?” when I ask her to do something.

Beowulf doesn’t ask why, but he doesn’t have a great big brain, just a willing heart and the same lack of ego Zille has. He is, however, way more sensitive to disapproval from people than Zille is, and she’s pretty handler-sensitive. He will learn, but you have to break things down very small and be very patient with him, and if you sound anything but pleased then he wilts and gets confused. He’s a Good Dog and an easy one to get along with, but at the same time it’s great to have a dog who mostly grasped “STOP!” in one fifteen minute session and never once wondered if she were doing things wrong or looked as if she were getting confused.

I supposed I’ve rambled enough. I couldn’t really help it, it’s been a great week with the dogs, who have been exceptionally well-behaved and pleasant to live with. I’m probably jinxing myself saying that, and tonight and tomorrow they will decide to be absolutely awful because even the best relationships have their rocky periods when epic games of Bitey Face Ruler Of The Futon are played endlessly at all hours, but what the heck. I got some Good Dogs, y’all.


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Science never ceases to amaze me

Cat Brain: A Step Toward the Electronic Equivalent. Science discovered cats are 83 times faster at cognitive tasks than our current best supercomputer, and decides to build a computer that works like a cat’s brain.

This can only end in tears. I’m picturing success, after many years, only to find that the computer only does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it, and demands food, sunbeams, and petting before it will even consider ignoring your request.

Tip of the hat to Rinalia at For the Pit Bulls, who found the article.

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One of those days…

I have spent a good chunk of the day arguing with FedEx, who by the way is so totally useless it’s absolutely amazing they manage to stay in business but anyhow. What with one thing and another, I forgot to buy dog food on the way home. Which I discovered when I tried to feed the dogs at 1730. Whoops.

Time to improvise! Luckily I had two chunks of rabbit from Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow[1] in the freezer, so there were Beowulf and Zille taken care of. Rabbit, however, gives Tink the runs and I have been negligent in ordering other chunks of raw animal. But poking around in the fridge, I did find two little filet mignon my Dad had sent along with Mom last time she came up.

Well, I couldn’t let Tink go hungry, now could I? So yes. Tink had two little filet mignons for dinner, still frozen, and a raw marrow bone from Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow while the other two got their big chunks of rabbit. And hopefully tomorrow I will remember to stop and buy dog food. But since I was thinking about it, I’ve just ordered more rabbit, meaty beef bones, and turkey necks and turkey chunks for emergency dog food or those times I need to buy myself some Good Dog Time.

I’d say I fail as a dog owner, but they’re getting chickenrice for breakfast, which they love, and they thought rabbit and steak made a FANTASTIC meal tonight. So I guess it’s a win, really.


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Another happy ending

I didn’t make it to Appomattox today, sadly. I have however gotten some stuff done around the house, including playing with my shiny new toy letterpress setup, but that’s not the real news.

The real news is that SpareKitty has made it to her new home safely. The last update from her new person’s Twitter: “Home! She’s actually *thrilled* with her new, huge, room–ALL for her. She’s run around it and marked everything as HERS, Fuck Off!”

I was sad to let her go but definitely happy she’s gone to a good person and a good home, and she will be safe and warm and have her kittens somewhere I won’t have to worry about keeping newly mobile kittylings away from very large, very inquisitive dogs. It’s a good feeling all around, and I can’t wait to hear about her babies.

So far that makes the score Andrea 3, Forces Of Chaos Contributing To Keep Sweet Cats Who Find Andrea Homeless: 0.

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Kitty is traveling tonight on a plane. I can see the red tail lights…

Although she’s not headed for Spain. In about an hour, Spare Kitty MC03F and I will depart for Dulles to meet up with her new owner. He is a kind-hearted soul and also possibly just as much of a nutbar about critters as I am, given that he is flying in around 1800 and departs around 2200 with his new kitty, who will hopefully not give birth en route to her new home.

It’s bittersweet because on the one hand I know she’s going to a great home where she will get the best of care and I won’t have to rehome her kittens, but on the other I have of course become attached to her (it doesn’t take me long) and I will miss out on kittens.

She’s put on a little weight while she’s here and I swear gotten bigger, not just more massively pregnant. Her coat feels better, and even massively pregnant she’s willing to play a little bit. Her litter box habits have been impeccable, and she auto-purrs if you touch her. She’s really a fantastic kitty, and I will miss her a bunch. But I know in the end I can’t keep every friendly cat who comes asking for shelter. I’m just glad this one has found a good and safe place to go and have her kittens.

Keep your fingers crossed, meanwhile, that her trip to her new home goes well. I’m sending her off with a harness and leash, some toys, some treats, her food, a towel, and some puppy pads in case she has a desperate moment in her carrier.

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Six Word Stories

Six word stories are just that: stories, told in six words exactly. No more, no fewer. Here’s how this all started. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it involves Hemingway, and not being fond of his works I am inclined to agree that his six word story is the best ever.

At any rate, my contributions to the genre, or “My Evening: A Multi-Volume Work”

Vol. 1
No time for the ball: homework.

Vol 2
Whining does not get you fed.

Vol 3
No, really, it does not work.

Vol 4
Whiney cat for sale, dirt cheap.

Vol 5
Silence is purchased with cat food.

Vol 6
Time to throw the Chuckit Squirrel.

Vol 7
Stop barking at the neighbor children.

Vol 8
Fine, they are obnoxious. Bark more.

Vol 9
You had dinner. No more food.

Vol 10
Still no kittens, fingers are crossed.

Vol 11
That is my bed, lazy dogs.

Vol 12
Lazy dogs for sale, dirt cheap.

Vol 13
Buy now and get free cat.

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Come squee with me, baby trees edition

The weather has been pretty good for baby trees lately. While I’m worried about the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that I planted, and the red mulberry (Morus rubra) that I planted last year is almost certainly dead, the baby pawpaws? They are growing like gangbusters. Also thriving are the trash pines (I really need to thin them) and the sassafras is doing spectactularly this year, for reals.

The main reason I have pawpaws is, let’s face it, the fact that when I was a wee girlchild my grandmother used to sing me a song:
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

It’s got the same tune as “Ten Little Indians” and it’s the sort of repetitive song that little kids like to sing endlessly to drive their parents nuts but for me it is warm fuzzy memories of getting to spend the night with my grandmother.

And now, I have a pawpaw patch:
A shot of a clear space, with some tall oak trees in the near background.  There may, if you squint just right, be some saplings in there that are pawpaws.

All right, fine, they’re not huge yet, so here are some individual pictures. Please keep in mind that healthy leaves on a pawpaw look all floppy and wilted.
A baby pawpaw tree, slightly out of focus and maybe 18 inches tall, but even with the poor photography you can see it is bravely putting out leaves and growing its little heart out.

This baby pawpaw tree, about a foot tall, is a straight stick crowned with a little clump of longish, floppy green leaves.  It looks like the tree equivalent of a muppet.

This baby pawpaw tree is shot from above and arches up toward the camera.  It is pretending to be a dead stick, but if you look down near the ground you can see it has put out two branches with brave little leaves on them.
That’s the one I planted last year, and it looks as if it’s opting for the “shrub” version of pawpaw growth patterns. I’m OK with that, just as long as it doesn’t die.

Then there’s the baby sassafras trees, which I deeply adore as their little leaf clusters look like green rose buds. Also you never know what kind of leaves you’re going to get from a sassafras tree, they come in solid, “mitten”, and trefoil shapes, often in the same leaf cluster. If you happen to bruise their leaves (which I try not to do on the babies) then the sweet smell of root beer wafts into the air. Before the link between safrole (the aromatic oil the tree produces) and liver cancer was discovered (although it is disputed by some), the roots of the sassafras tree where what gave Root Beer its name.

Here’s leaf clusters that haven’t opened yet, plus flowers, on an adult sassafras tree (only adult trees think about grown-up tree things like flowers):
A collection of branches against the sky.  The branches are studded with what look like green rosebuds, about 2 inches high and tightly furled.  At the base of these clusters are rings of little non-descript flowers.

Here’s a baby with just a single leaf cluster that’s just starting to open:
A leaf cluster, shot from above.  The center is still tightly furled into the faux-rosebud, but four leaves have opened enough to see that they're all the solid kind, shaped like an almond, sort of.

Here’s a slightly older baby sassafras, unfurling its leaves. You can see all three types of leaf in this particular cluster:
A cluster of six sassafras leaves.  The three outermost are all solid.  Two of the innermost are trefoil, with a largeish central point and two smaller points, one on each side.  The other inner leaf is a mitten shape, but you can't really tell because the photographer got a crappy angle.

Oh there we go, the photographer got her act together.  This is the same cluster of leaves, this time shot from above so you can see the mitten-shaped leaf more clearly.

Finally, I could not resist this gang of juvenile sassafras trees, all hanging out together. They’re probably skipping school or something:
Four adolescent sassafras trees hang out together.  They look, if it is possible for trees to have an expression, as if they are up to something shifty.

There’s a saying in the south, used to refer to land exhausted by farming or other maltreatment: too poor to grow sassafras. Sassafras grows anywhere, and is often the first tree to move in when land is clear-cut. If your land is too poor to grow sassafras, you are in deep trouble. So it gives me a little thrill to see that the back acre, though damaged and blighted, is at least not too poor to grow sassafras. Get on with your bad selves, little trees.

Oh and because a) I can’t possibly walk around my massive 2.5 acre property without a bodyguard and b) she needs the practice standing still while I take pictures, Zille came along. I think she had fun.
Zille, a sable German Shedder, smiles into the camera with bright eyes, ears up, and lolling tongue.

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Decisions, Decisions

The 145th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox is coming up this weekend. I can’t make it on Saturday because I have class in the morning, then in the evening I will be taking the spare kitty to the airport (provided she still hasn’t given birth, so far so good). So I’ll be going down on Sunday and hanging out for about half the day.

The question is, which dog do I take with me? My choices are Tink or Zille.

Reasons to take Tink: Handles crowds of people well, including re-enactors. Is not terribly bothered by gunfire. Knows the ropes as far as keeping the leash slack while I pause to take pictures, and standing still being quiet and respectful during remembrance ceremonies. Is my best buddy. Will stand at the side door staring pathetically out after me and Zille if I don’t take her.

Reasons not to take Tink: Has hysterical barking meltdowns at the sight of other dogs who do not resemble dogs she already knows, which means if they don’t look like a German Shedder or a Doberman, she’s going to have a fit. Pulls on the leash while walking. Will attempt to mug re-enactors for food since one once gave her a piece of beef jerky out of his haversack TWO YEARS AGO. Refuses to poop on leash unless she feels she has a sufficiently large audience, bonus points if I have forgotten to carry poop bags. Joints are iffy and she may not be able to handle a 4-hour trip with lots of walking without being ouchie later.

Reasons to take Zille: Great leash manners. Does not have hysterical barking meltdowns at the sight of other dogs, although she might quietly gruff at one who looks really funny to her (like Corgis). In fact, the only thing she will have a hysterical meltdown about is me leaving the house with Tink and not taking her, too. Since she is not mostly blind, will not require as much vigilance on my part to keep people from sneaking up on her blind side and startling her. She will be the Emergency Backup Dog for Sesquicentennial Madness and thus needs the training.

Reasons not to take Zille: Crowds make her a little nervous, and she doesn’t have as much experience with gunfire, so I will have to concentrate on her at times I would rather be listening to historians or watching guns fire. Occasionally pulls on the leash while I’m trying to take pictures. Being a dog of obviously high quality, will attract more attention than Tink and require me to answer more dog questions when I would rather be chatting with historians and re-enactors. Gets car-sick.

Taking both is unfortunately not an option since I want to be able to take pictures. Hrm. I may just flip a coin Sunday morning.