A Conversation I Overheard

Captain: “What are you wearing?”

Eggi: “Dunno what it’s called. I’ve got the girl flu.”

Captain: “The what?”

Eggi: “The curse.”

Captain: “That sounds bad.”

Eggi: “You know, Aunt Flo.”

Captain: “…um…”

Eggi: “Come on, Red tide.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “Shark week.”

Captain: “…um…”

Eggi: “Code red.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “On the rag.”

Captain: “…er…”

Eggi: “Ladies’ week.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “Red army.”

Captain: “Red army?!”

Eggi: “Time of the month.”

Captain: “…uh?”

Eggi: “La semaine ketchup.”

Captain: “Ketchup? I like ketchup.”

Eggi: “Surfing the crimson wave?”

Captain: “Are we going swimming? I love swimming!”

Eggi: “No, no…like a visit from my relative from Rotenburg.”

Captain: “Is it someone I know?”

Eggi: “Le petit clown qui saigne du nez?”

Captain: “Ooh, ooh! Clowns! I love clowns!”

Eggi: “Oh come on. Checking into the Red Roof Inn?”

Captain: “…”

Eggi: “Oh, look, a squirrel!”

 

 

Little E at the Big E

When Cherry died in late November, we were still in the middle of remodeling our house. Captain was pretty lonely, but my plan was to get a puppy the following summer, after we would be you know airquotes-finished. But kitchens and bathrooms take frickin forever, and in March when a third person told me I had to go see S about a vizsla puppy, I did. 

I didn’t say yes, definitely on that day; I waited for the Bacon Provider to have the same experience lifting a perfect ten week old out of the puppy pen and snugging the little squirmulator because why waste words telling him about it? The litter was born between Xmas and New Years, and they were all named for toasts, so we named ours Egészségedre (Hungarian for Cheers!), and we call her Eggi.

fullsizeoutput_208d

We’ve owned vizslas since 1992, but never shown one. Eggi looks exactly as I think a vizsla should, and is happy and eager and clever as clever and somehow because of these things it seemed reasonable and not ridiculous to show her. In addition to puppy class, Eggi and I did a few weeks of practicing dog show skills with a trainer (stopping and standing instead of sitting, trotting, being stacked, letting a person peel back her lips to show her teeth). Eggi thought it was fine, if a little boring compared to agility. I tripped over my own feet.

We went up to Massachusetts on a Thursday night on account of the early start at her first dog show on the next day. Eggi is a bit awkward about getting into the car, but once she’s in her kennel, she is a good traveller. Through the creepy intensity of dark Connecticut and late-night Massachusetts, we listened to Jack London’s White Fang. At the hotel, the hallway smelled of bleach. A solitary woman in the gym next to our room walked quietly on the treadmill until the midnight closing time. I gave Eggi a bath in the hotel tub.

Staying in a hotel with a young, reactive dog, you sneak in and out, peering into the hall and checking both ways before you leave your room.  It’s not because the dog isn’t allowed but because you don’t know what weirdness you’re going to run into. It could be another dog. It could be the housekeeping cart. It could be people with a lot of luggage. All of these things are frightening and/or exciting to an almost-8-month-old dog. The worst encounter we had was in the hall outside our room as we were coming in; someone’s tall, beefy nephew had the airquotes-hilarious idea of pretending to be very, very afraid of my dog. He shrieked and waved his hands in agitation above his head. Someone’s uncle needs to explain to this guy why he shouldn’t do this, to any dog, ever again. Not me, though. I gotta get up early.

West Springfield, Massachusetts has a giant fairgrounds surrounded by chainlink and barbed wire, called like the Great Enormous Northern American States Super Exposition Center or some-such-something, but anyway folks call it the Big E. You pay five dollars to go in, and then you drive all over the acres of pavement around many huge barns, past the midway, over on the other side of the apparently actual New England town this thing grew up around, and then circumnavigate seven huge buildings, each bigger than the last, looking for the Country Life Pavilion, or the Better Living Complex, or some such building. It was flanked by a several rows of RVs.

I looked for dogs, and Door Number 7.

I was instructed to arrive at 7:15, and I made it, despite my circuitous route inside the Big E. I parked and walked Eggi around for about 15 minutes, begging her to pee.  She would prefer not to.

Inside, it’s as big an indoor space as they make and had eight show rings surrounded by row upon row of dog crates and grooming tables.  It had the noisy quality of something big happening a block away, but you couldn’t hear anyone until they were right next to you.

Our handler T was easy enough to find (she saw me and waved wildly). I was told to go sit by the ring and wait. I got myself a large coffee and found a bench.

At 8 am, they played the national anthem. Folks turned and faced the American flag painted on the wall above the snack bar. I held my coffee in my hand. I watched one guy with his hand on his heart try to make eye-contact with another man so he’d see his take-off-your-hat-you-disrespectful-goon gesture. 

I wanted to yell play ball afterwards but I didn’t. I sat back down.

Tell folks you’re going to a dog show and they’ll say how much they loved that movie. You know the one. Yeah, yeah, the busy bee. The only people who don’t wanna tell you all about their favorite scene are the people who actually go to dog shows; I’ve never heard them talk about that movie.

Right away the handlers started bringing the vizslas that had gathered into the ring, and doing the trotting, and the stacking, and the bite-revealing thing I had tried to learn. In other rings there were other people with other kinds of dogs like beagles and French bulldogs, and spaniels and boxers and mastiffs. All the flavors of dogs. The people consisted of the judges and handlers all dressed in business attire, and a few straggling owners, some of whom looked like they just rolled out of their Winnebago in the sweats they slept in.

Each little group of competing dogs was in and out quickly, and the winners chosen rapidly. I kept my opinions about which vizslas I liked to myself. Some of the handlers were fun to watch because they moved well. The dogs lined up, the dogs trotting alone. The judge running her hands over a dog. The dogs trotting in a group. The judge pointing at one dog, and then another. You could look away and miss it. They go out, and the winning dogs come back in to compete with other winners.

Just like that movie.

Anyway, after some dogs there was Eggi’s group.

She is still a puppy and she was pretty wiggly but T made her look elegant and spirited instead of goofy and wild and of course I beamed at her and clapped when she won. Because of course she won!

Then T had to rush to another ring to go show some other kind of dog and she handed Eggi off to another handler who showed her in the next group and I guess she won again and then T came back and showed her a third time and I really don’t know what happened other than we came out with three ribbons and a lot of people being very excited.

“Do you know what she won?” T asked.

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Best of Winners for a major.” 

Dog shows are pretty stinking fun when you win. The handler even gets to take a picture with the dog and the judge. It’s validation that your dog, who is the best dog in the entire world, is known and admired for being the best.

EggisFirstShow

After that you go back to the hotel and have a nap.

5DZdeizZQH6serwnMfYZkw

Dog shows are weird and boring when you don’t win. Some other dog who is not nearly as adorable or good as your own dog gets the blue ribbon from the judge the next day, and you go home feeling like you drove two hours to the casino and lost everything on a bad bet in the first five minutes. Fortunately, on the days that Eggi didn’t win, her sister did extremely well, so we can keep hoping about next time. 

Red Dog, Red Dog, Red Dog

Writing every day doesn’t get easier, and to be honest I don’t get around to it when I’m busy, or upset, or tired, or frustrated, or traveling, or distracted, or busy. Some days I try to write and wind up making lists of the things I can hear that are distracting me, and these lists include mowers and trucks and robins and crows and titmice. I had a bad case of writer’s block for about thirty years, so my default is not writing.   
Giving myself a weekly deadline means I have a deadline, so I feel bad when Wednesday slips by and I haven’t posted to this blog. The past few weeks my solution has been to go digging in the archives, and I’ve found a couple of old things I wrote, revised them, and been pleased with the result.
This is a long way of saying I came up dry this week.
Errands in the city meant I had to stay an extra day, too, so instead of having Tuesday to moan and squint and thumb through old writing, I hung out in the city, counted my blisters, ordered take-out, creeped on people on LinkedIn, watched TV, and spent too much time on Twitter. When I got back to the farm, there was no food, so I had to run to the store before riding, and then there was riding, and after that the dogs needed to be walked, and it was looking, as we headed out, like I’d be putting off the moaning and squinting until nightfall, when there was supposed to be a good showing of Perseids.
As I let the dogs out the door to go circumnavigate the property, Schwartz made his usual dash for freedom. Our shorthand for this is to call, “Black dog!” Our red dogs come one, two, red dog, red dog, and then, sometimes, the black cat jogging along, right after. He’s not an outside cat, but he likes to have an adventure. I got the door closed just in time.
Out on the walk it was business as usual: Captain running ahead, and Cherry not taking any more steps than necessary. I take “Your DailyCaptain” pictures and stick them on Instagram fairly often; all I have to do is crouch down with my phone ready and Captain will usually come running for me. Yesterday, Cherry came right away, but Captain was looking at something in the bushes and I had to call him. He came, eventually, and as I snapped away, in the non-optimal light, it seemed something was coming with him.
Cherry (right) is a photo-bomber
It was a buck, with thin, velvety antlers. He really seemed to want to keep chasing Captain.
 

Third Red Dog

I missed young, wild turkeys flying over my head this spring, not because I didn’t have my phone in my hand, but because I stood agog and amazed, watching their fluffy, unfeathered bodies flapping just above my head.  I guess those pictures would have been blurry, too, as most of these turned out to be.  
Changes his mind about joining us

 

Captain: “Come Back!”


“Nope.”

A Turtle in the Road

 A few weeks ago, I tested the brakes of my car when I saw a small turtle in the road; my car has excellent brakes. My middle son, Art School, was with me, and I instructedhim to lift the turtle out of the road, keep it facing the same way, and put it down in the grass. He was surprised that the turtle scratched his hands with its desperately waving paddles, but he was more surprised than harmed. We drove to dinner with the excitement of having done a good deed, and though we were late picking up the Bacon Provider at the train station, and Art School had to wash the wild turtle germs off his hands, we were glad we did it.
Gregor, Soup Turtle
Back at the farmhouse we have rented in Dutchess County for the season, we are playing host to a pet turtle named Gregor for the second summer in a row. Gregor is a third year student at Bard College, having been enrolled after being purchased by other Bard students from a Chinatown street purveyor of “soup turtles.” Now he is an overfed beast, a red-eared slider, the kind of cheap pet that finds itself living in the green ponds at Central Parkonce it exceeds the normal dimensions of an apartment-sized aquarium. Somewhere in Gregor’s future there is no doubt a real pond and an old age spent basking in real sunshine instead of a propping him/herself on a small pile of rocks under a light bulb, and eating real insects and pond weeds instead of Rep-to-Sticks and wilted lettuce. But for now, he is our houseguest at the farmhouse.
Last summer Gregor’s aquarium sat on a shelf out of view or reach from our permanent pets, but this year he was placed by his exhausted owner on a little trunk in the mud-room, just inside the door. And there the aquarium has remained.
Just the other day I was feeding Gregor, and Cherry (who is a dog interested in all things small and squeaky, and has recently caught herself two baby rabbits) suddenly noticed the soup turtle for the first time, and now she actively wants to smell, watch and taste the aquarium of said small animal. I don’t want to find out if turtles squeak like baby rabbits.
Yesterday morning, because there was a train to catch, the dogs were roused when we got up. Even though the dogs should be exhausted from oh-so-much running around, wasp-catching, bunny-chasing and sun-bathing, they will leap to attention from a sound sleep if we make a gesture towards the door. So out they were sent, and they galloped about, did their morning business on the grass, and Cherry, being the senior and more obedient dog despite her predilection for hunting, presented herself promptly while Captain went off for an early morning adventure.
There was no time for an early morning adventure yesterday.
Once again I had made an incorrect calculation; I was wrong about what time we needed to leave the house to have the Bacon Provider to the train on time, and so we had lots of yelling anxiety in the car on the way there. The problem had started when I wasn’t ready to go at 7 am, got a bit worse when I was found at 7:08 stripping the sheets off the bed, and got worse still when Captain didn’t come back in. Captain finally took an out-of-the-way route via the open garage, and was shooed into the house. As I fired up the engine of my car at 7:12, the Bacon Provider leapt out again, because in my haste I had put Captain in the closed mud-room with Gregor, the turtle.
The yelling anxiety got more intense at the long stoplight in Rhinebeck, where all directions of traffic go red for a pedestrian, and then it always begins with green for the direction you don’t need. We should have left at 7 a.m. and it was my fault that we didn’t.  Good thing I’m a multi-tasker; I can simultaneously offer an apology, articulate a bland re-assurance that the clock in my car is fast, and drive like a bat out of hell slightly exceed the posted speed limit without crashing into anything. We made the train, just in time.
On the way back from the train station delivery, I met a large snapping turtle in the road, about 1½ miles from the farm. It was bigger than the last one we encountered.
Last year, we were still in North Dreadful, where we had a swimming pool and some scenery but were still surrounded by people who didn’t want to know us, I witnessed a woman in a large white SUV purposely driving over a large snapping turtle. It made a loud popping noise, turtle guts were strewn all over the narrow pavement, and I let out a shriek of horror. What kind of person goes out of her way to run over a snapping turtle? Oh, yeah. North Dreadful.
Angry snapping turtle, still ready to bite me
Yesterday’s snapping turtle was actually on the other side of the road, and almost all the way across already. I stopped my car and put on my hazards. I opened my window and tried to make a frightening noise. The turtle didn’t move. I opened the door and clapped my hands at it. The turtle didn’t move. I touched the back of the turtle’s shell with the toe of my shoe. The turtle spun around, snapped at me with its enormous mouth and scared me. I jumped left, hoping to get around it again. It hunkered in. I tapped it again, thinking that now I had its attention I could herd it off the road. The turtle spun and snapped again. Now it was pointed 180° from its original destination. I tapped the turtle once more, hoping to get a course correction. Now it was pointed towards the road’s shoulder, and looked ready to move.
I got back in my car and sat with my hazards on, waiting to watch the turtle make it to safety. A car came up from the other direction, and the turtle was directly in its path. I waved them down. I told them about the turtle. They thanked me. I told them about the turtle rescued by Art School. They told me they saw a man throw a jacket over “one of the big, aggressive ones” to be able to move it safely. I told them this was one of the big, aggressive ones.

The approach of their car inspired the turtle to rise to its greatest height, stretch out its neck and start booking it, turtle-style, up the road. I said it looked like it had an appointment in Rhinebeck. The other drivers laughed and said they could give it a lift since that was where they were headed. Another car arrived, and I pulled forward to tell the second driver about the delay. He was as good-natured about letting the turtle make its way safely across the road as the people ahead of him were.

Today I am back in New York City. I saw a green leaf on the sidewalk this morning and mistook it for a frog. 

The Last Pluto Story

One day, Pluto followed me out on the front porch, just as he usually did when I got the paper. I picked up a tennis ball and headed down to the sidewalk in front of our house to throw the ball for him for a few minutes, just as I had done every morning for many years. Pluto watched me earnestly, and sat down at the edge of the porch, just at the top of the stairs. I knew immediately something was wrong. 
Within the next twenty-four hours, he was suffering from a set of strange and painful symptoms, including a huge swelling. The veterinarians treated him with steroids, which rapidly made him more comfortable, but within a couple of weeks he came down with acute pancreatitis. At this point, he was hospitalized, and given IV antibiotics. After a number of days he was doing well enough to come home. Right before his discharge, an attending vet heard him coughing, and did not like the sound of his cough. An ultrasound revealed that his lungs were full of metastasized tumors. We brought him home having been told that the next medical crisis would be his last.
Over that week, he enjoyed a modified version of his normal routine, with short walks and lots of naps. When Pluto left for the hospital, our other dog Wheatie frantically searched the house for him, anxiously barking and whining. The excitement and relief when Pluto returned were strong enough to trigger a seizure in the young dog. We were all playing outside, and he fell into a small depression in the grass. At first he seemed stuck in a hole, like a turtle on his back.  He was such a goofy dog we did not recognize it as a seizure until we touched him and realized he was not really awake. We did call the vet, and kept him under close supervision the next few days, but Wheatie was fine and never had another seizure for the rest of his life.
The day before Pluto died I was headed out for a longer walk with Wheatie.   Pluto begged to come along. I followed his lead and let him join us. We made large, concentric circles around our neighborhood, since I wanted to be able to take him back to the house when he was done. We saw all his favorite places one more time.  The next day, Pluto could no longer get up, and had to be carried up the stairs. Wheatie was looking for him before he even went to the vet. 
Pluto struggled at the very end; we had to carry him from the car into the vet’s office. He was dehydrated, so a vein was hard to find.  I held him in my arms and calmed him down, they found a vein, and then he was gone.

Doing Stuff with Dogs

If you have a dog that you have taught to sit and stay for a long time (even after you disappear), you can teach him Hide-and-Seek.  Pluto loved to play Hide-and-Seek, and would seek treats, toys, and hiding children. Sometimes, we could get him amped by telling him, “Pluto! Go find it!” He would excitedly start looking, even though he didn’t know what he was looking for.
Pluto could also heel off-leash, and really was easier and more fun to walk this way than on a leash. Of course, Seattle leash laws are very strict, and I did once get a ticket for walking my dogs off leash in an empty park.  I made my dogs come and sit and stay while I snapped on their leashes. My son, a toddler, slept in the stroller while the Animal Control officer explained to me the infraction we had committed and the associated fines I had incurred.  I paid the fine, but do not remember changing how or when or even where I walked my dogs, and did not get caught again. 
Today I do not let my dogs off-leash in the city. In part it is the dogs themselves, one being unreliable with strangers and big dogs, and the other being an incredible goof-ball and unreliable in the common-sense department.  The other piece is that I have now encountered one too many grouchy persons in Seattle, and I am tired of apologizing.
Pluto liked the dog park, but with young children it was hard for me to get him there. Mostly, he just wanted to swim and fetch. Wheatie enjoyed the dog park, too, but he enjoyed almost everything.  When he was young he was often the target of humping by the humper-dogs, and he never minded at all.  Sometimes a dog like Wheatie will end up with a cluster of humper-dogs humping his head or his rump, or even humping the other humper-dogs, and he did not mind that either.  Cherry seems to have mixed feelings about the dog park, since she is actually afraid of really big dogs. Sometimes she will go ballistically bitchy on a dog she does not like the look of, and I cannot say for sure what it is that sets her off.  She looks and sounds a lot nastier than she actually is, having the rounded teeth of a retriever, but these days, even dog-owners themselves do not always seem to know the difference between a real dog fight and a bitchy dog scolding another.
Captain brings love of the dog park to a whole new level.  I am a stickler for good behavior in the car, the parking lot and at the unleashing area of the off-leash area. I insist that they sit and stay and hold still when we arrive and leave, but as soon as Captain is unclipped from the lead and given permission to do so, he explodes with excitement.  He spends the first ten or so minutes vigorously scratching and kicking the grass with his long hind legs and barking. Sometimes the enthusiastic barking goes on for quite a while.  He gallops around the park, greeting every available dog, and always has an eye peeled for any short-haired dog that particular shade of red-brown he knows to mean Vizsla.  They say the best toy for a Vizsla is another Vizsla. In Captain’s case, it is true.  He came from a home with a lot of dogs, and he loves to chase and be chased and wrestle.

As for Hide-and-Seek, Captain understands how to wait for the hiding part, and is happy to go look, but his attention span has not yielded good results in turns of actually finding anything.

A Wheatie Story

I wish I could coin a word in the English language to express the humiliation I feel when my pets or children do something especially embarrassing or infuriating.  Wheatie was a sweet and silly dog, friendly with other dogs and almost all people.  He had a problem with people who walked with an unusual gait, and a rather tart dislike for those who spoke English with an accent.  He barked wildly at anyone fitting either category, whether they were outside and across the street or in the front hall of the house.  I have never been convinced that our dogs’ prejudices are based in any true experience, and I also have had little luck employing training to change their unfounded opinions.  We always knew Wheatie was not going to do anything except bark, but it is still painful to remember how embarrassing it was.
Wheatie did love the kids. One late April day we drove out to central Washington for a hike, and our oldest son led the way with his friend. They were probably no more than 6 or 7 years old. Wheatie ran ahead to be with them, and then back to the adults, over and over.
Suddenly, he stopped in front of the kids, barking at something on the trail, putting himself between the pair and the something on the trail.
We probably tried half-heartedly to call him back, knowing that once he went off on a barking-at spree, there was nothing to do but drag him away.  He was not budging. The kids came running back.
“It’s a snake!” they screamed.
Indeed it was. In fact, it was a sleepy rattlesnake, and a big fat one, basking in one of the first warm sunny days of spring.