Back

I sent change of address cards, and if you didn’t get one, it’s probably because I don’t have your address. It’s all email or text now, anyway. You know, back when my kids were little, I’d sacrifice the daylight of a whole day to stage a seemingly spontaneous holiday picture. I’d dress them in matching flannel shirts and try to gather them into a group, waiting for that perfect combination of kid-ness and cute-ness, in the presence of decent lighting. It wasn’t easy when the days were as short as they were in Seattle in early December. And I had film in my camera, so it was not possible to know right away whether I’d gotten a usable shot or not. Back then, I sent holiday cards to a long list, over 100, including my friends, relatives, neighbors, and friends of my parents. The list of change of address cards I sent out this November was less than 40 names.
A friend whose kids are in their 20s still gets them to sit for an Xmas photo every year. Every year for the past four years I’ve been like, no way will she get them to do it this year, and then, blammo, she does. And their smiles last year were slightly less ironic than the year before. My kids aren’t all on the same coast, so I have no hope of being able to make it happen this year; I’m not sure when was the last time I got a picture of them all together. I think instead of feeling sad about that, I will put Xmas bows on my pets and pose them in front of the tree for a photo. They will enjoy it. It might be old dog Cherry’s last Xmas anyway.
In response to our change of address cards, I got an actual, handwritten letter in the mail from one friend, and an email from the son of an old neighbor in Seattle. The old neighbor’s son was sad to report that our neighbor died in August. I have written about this neighbor before, because she was the one who so keenly reminded me what a bad neighbor I was sometimes. She was 88, and had a massive stroke.
Here in Bedhead Hills, the dogs are still learning the boundaries of our mostly wooded property. I’ve only let them out the door unleashed a few times; Captain got skunked in October, and a few nights ago he came back to the wrong door, so I was calling out into the dusk and he was barking to be let in, but we were doing it in different doorways. So, I leash them up and go out with them, and when time permits, I try, after walking them on leashes, to take them around so they can practice seeing where our boundaries are.
Yesterday, after a long walk, we took the little path into the woods on our property. We got tangled in the thorny bushes, and I unclipped their leashes. My timing was perfectly wrong. Though our yard is below a steep embankment on that side, the dogs saw a woman and her dog walking by, and charged up the hill, bursting out of the bushes and ambushing the pair on the road. The woman screamed with surprise and snatched up her little white dog; it was barking furiously. I shouted and shouted at my dogs; Captain came back cowering. Cherry, who doesn’t hear anymore, didn’t bother coming back down the embankment at all. She trotted around down the driveway and headed towards the house. So much for introducing myself to the neighbors. I don’t suppose she heard me screaming, “SORRY!” at the top of my lungs.
Captain has never been very good at anything but the most basic obedience, and with Cherry no longer offering him the model of nearly perfect sits, stays, and comes, I’m going to have to go back to daily drills with him. I don’t know how we’ll conquer his desire to chase deer or greet people who walk by with dogs, without having to risk him running into the road. He is fun to work with, though, because of his sweet and cheerful outlook, and he doesn’t get bored as long as treats are involved.

They have their own agendas

Early last January, when we still lived on a big farm, far from the busy road, I let the two dogs out to go potty on a snowy day and Captain did not come back. Because I envisioned the skunk he was tracking or the herd of deer he was chasing, a half an hour passed before I got worried. Was he lost? Had he chased the deer too far to find his way back? Ten more minutes passed. Had someone taken him? My imagination ran away with scenarios: he is a hunting dog, so maybe he’d been stolen. Or what if he’d been dog-napped? I concocted a tale of how it was the revenge of my Twitter troll, trying to threaten and intimidate us. Could she have figured out where I lived? The longer he was gone, the more outlandish my ideas became about what had happened to my dog.
I got in the car and drove slowly down our long, frozen driveway, calling out the window into the cold. I drove to a neighboring farm where our housesitter said the dog had gone once to play with one of the dogs who lives there. As my tires crunched in my steady ascent of the long, straight driveway with snow banked high on both sides, four separate texts arrived on my phone at once:
“He’s back.”
“He’s back.”
“He’s back.”
“Where are you?”
 
The narrowness of the drive meant I had to go all the way to the top to turn around, or back out the way I came. I backed out the whole way.

Oh, Deer

The house we are renting has large windows, and the windows want washing, inside and out.  First I wasted a whole bottle of Windex and a whole roll of paper towels, having poked around in the closets looking for a proper squeegee, and finding none.  The dogs watched me going at the windows the whole time. I thought I was being interesting. It was the deer in the yard, though, that was the interesting part, and as I came in, out went Captain for a long, deer-chasing romp.
Later, I made for the closest hardware store I know of, in the near-ish town of Cross River. The hardware store makes keys, sells paint, and has the parts of your running toilet that will make it stop running. Like so many of the small hardware stores you find in strip-malls, it’s packed to the rafters with merchandise. I always find that you walk in and ask the guy behind the counter. Don’t bother looking for yourself. I was shown a few options, and picked a squeegee for which one must provide a handle. The clerk found a couple of possibilities for the pole, none of them perfect, but he did secure the pole to the squeegee with a screw, charging me for neither the pole nor the screw. Along the way, I got a bit of history (the upstairs of the store used to be the screening room of the old movie theater), and some predictions for snow this winter.
In Westchester County, deer (and black bear) can be hunted only by bow, and the season is from October 15thto December 31st. I have already met one man who has permission to hunt on this land.  The deer here are certainly plentiful, and a danger to motorists. I see them every morning when I walk the dogs to get the paper, all day when I look out the windows, every afternoon when I walk the dogs on the road, and every day when I am out driving.  There was a large doe killed recently on Cat Ridge Road, where I walk.  One of its hind legs was broken in the accident, and stuck out from its body at a disturbing angle. It happened on Friday night, and the carcass had been removed by Monday midday. Scavengers had only just started to make progress on it.
The deer here in Westchester seem well adapted to seeing people and cars and trucks, and give everything a good, long, dumb stare before walking or running away.  There is a group that I have seen grazing dully at the margins of the Taconic Thruway near Lagrangeville. The speed limit is 50 mph, but many people seem to take that as a polite suggestion, like flossing daily or changing your smoke-detector batteries twice a year. The one thing that seems to make deer try to leap high and run fast is my knuckleheaded dogs; they charge at deer, barking furiously in frustration, running as fast as they can with no plan for maneuvering over the stone walls that the deer hop over without much visible effort.  Maybe if deer made more noise I would respect them more.
My landlord informs me that he likes seeing the crows and ravens and vultures and eagles that come if the bow hunters leave the entrails after gutting a deer.  As a dog owner, the possibility of my dogs getting into rotting deer entrails is pretty scary, but it is not nearly as scary as the prospect of preventing any and all Vizsla escapes from October 15thto December 31st, from dawn to dusk.  I am pretty sure that Vizslas look as much like white-tail deer as any dog can.  

Signs

There is fresh dog-doo in my front yard.  It is close enough to the sidewalk that it might have been deposited there by a dog on a leash.  Given what I have seen of the white dogs that live two houses down and across the street, I will assume this poo was not deposited by a supervised dog.  This brings me to the subject of the sign across the street.

The sign itself is smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. It is mounted on a stick so that it rises just a few inches above the grass. It is wordless. Wordless signs are excellent for very small children and international travellers, but are no more meaningful for dogs than signs with words. Only the most vivid imagination would lead a person to think a sign could discourage a dog from pooping on that particular grassy spot. Furthermore, the presence of something unusual on this patch of lawn might even increase the odds that a dog linger there and add a few new drops of pee before moving on.

Assuming this is a rational neighbor, we can only guess that he believes the person walking the dog would see the sign and intervene before the dog defecates in that spot. For some dogs, a simple tug might communicate the message “this is not where you should poop.” For other dogs, a simple tug, a furious yank, a loud scream and full body tackle would not interrupt the imminent arrival of dog doo. Sled dogs can actually relieve themselves at a dead run. 

Another set of signs on another street adorn the bushes of the parking strip. On one end is a water-damaged laminated card attached by a wire twist-tie encouraging dog owners to have their dogs pee elsewhere, with, “PLEASE: NO PEE IT KILLS US! THANKS!” At the other end of the bushes is a matching sign, and behind it hangs the weather-faded head of a Dora the Explorer piñata.  Dora’s face has another warning attached: “PLEASE NO PEE! IT KILLS PLANTS.”  

I have met the owner of this home. She claims that she has a dog, although I haven’t seen it. She clearly does not understand that a male dog will urinate on almost everything outdoors that is lower than the height of his pelvis, and that once any dog has dropped even a few drops of urine in that spot, every other dog will similarly leave his calling card there as well. Adding signs may actually only serve to slow down the human holding the leash, encouraging a larger than normal deposit.

In both cases, these homeowners live on desirable streets of beautiful classic older homes. In both cases the homeowners are frustrated by what dogs can do to their plants. In the case of the woman with the piñata head hanging in front of her house, I think she has more problems than an ailing boxwood hedge. In the case of the homeowner across the street from me, I think he can take down his sign and go have a word with the his next-door neighbor.  This neighbor owns a small white dog that is seen regularly out on the block, no leash or human in sight.