Monday, May 28, 2012


Like with any friendship, we have to earn the trust of the animals that we care for.  Annie paced the floor in our house during her first night with us.  She even tried to tear through the screen of our window with her claws.  She did NOT trust us to look out for her best interests, and wanted to get out and away.

Here is a picture of her taken last week.

She's been with us for four years now, and has relaxed enough that I can take pictures of her without even waking her.  (Maybe I shouldn't ruin the innocence of this picture by bringing this up, but she did spend the entire morning marching around like a tiny dictator, screeching at the dogs every time they did something that displeased her.  Like, looking at her.  Or flicking an ear.  Or heaven forbid, getting up and moving somewhere.  She's exhausted from all of the canine management here.)

I think that dogs, or at least dogs that were not abused, tend to trust a little easier.  But it still takes time with them, while they discover who you are, what your boundaries are, and whether you're going to be nice to them.  Maera let us know after she'd been with us a couple of months that she was relaxing, when she started "cock-roaching."  Not every dog does this, and that doesn't mean that they're not relaxed.... but with Maera, it's a good indication.  She roaches whenever she can now.

All of our animals show us that they trust us in different ways.  Charlotte likes to be near us, and will talk to us.  Bit likes to leap up and sleep on top of me at night.  Tom likes to jump up and down on my chest and use me as a trampoline.  (I'm just kidding about that last.  Well, mostly.  He does like to jump on me, but he also purrs, and head butts me, and even licks my cheeks.)

I have posted something similar to this before.

But the element that I left out before is that it so often turns into mutual trust.  I trust our animals.  This does not mean that I think that they're flawless, and doesn't mean that I will suddenly stop keeping Maera out of the kitchen, or walking the dogs without leashes.  But within certain parameters, I trust them.  I know that they're not going to bite or scratch the guests.  I know that they're not going to bite or scratch ME.  I know that they all love me, in their own ways, and show me their affection in the their own ways.

I trust them enough that I sleep beside them, put my hands in their mouths (when I'm brushing teeth, etc.  I trust them enough to relax around them and not be hyper-vigilant all of the time.  They are my family members.  Family members that occasionally do things that aggravate me, sure.  Annie eats my ferns.  Maera will eat anything that isn't hidden away from her, including cat poop.  Argos becomes clingy and desperate for an entire day after we get a thunderstorm, and I am stuck with a greyhound in my back pocket until he decides to settle down again.  But I trust them all.  They have my back.  And they are the caretakers of my heart.

It doesn't start out that way...  like any relationship, each animal has to grow into a being that I trust.  (And I have to do the same with them.)  But over time, the relationships sweeten, and I was just sitting on the couch with both dogs and two of the cats this weekend, thinking how much I have grown to trust these guys, and how completely safe and loved I feel when I am surrounded by these, my friends.

And I don't know what I would do without them in my life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pet Family Values

Did you ever have that moment...  when you suddenly realize that someone doesn't like your pet...  and you then you have the follow-up realization that you don't like that person very much either?  Or is that just me?

I'm not talking about a friend who isn't wild about dogs not wanting your enormous greyhounds to crawl into his or her lap.  I'm not talking about someone's kid who is frightened of animals and gets scared every time one of your pets comes into the room.  Or someone who is allergic to cats and is sitting on the edge of your couch praying to heaven that their Benadryl is going to be enough to get them through the evening and please oh god don't let a cat jump on me.

I'm talking about someone who very clearly takes a dislike to your pet's personality, or something about him/her specifically.   It's only happened to me a couple of times, and I find myself wondering if it was my pet that the person was objecting to, or if it was ME that they were objecting to, and criticizing my beloved animal because it was less confrontational then criticizing me.  Or if they were reacting negatively to my level of devotion to said pet because they found it offensive.

Regardless of their reasoning, I have taken several steps back from people that I feel didn't like my animals, whether they overtly said something or if I was able to glean that information from actions, tone, posture, eye-rolls.  If you can't even be polite to an animal that you are visiting, or can't even be polite to me when the topic comes up (as it frequently will; deal with it)  then what good are you to me?

If you are critical about, or impolite to, my dogs and cats, I am not going to react well.  These dogs and cats, all of them:  Argos, Maera, Charlotte, Annie, Bit, and even foster-cat Tom, they are Very Important to Me.  They are the ones that cuddle with me when I'm sad, even if I'm dampening their fur with my tears.

They are the ones that will sit beside me and listen to me without judgment.

They are the ones that are in the room when I'm talking to my husband about how much you've hurt my feelings.

They are the ones that are the first to know when something "big" happens in my life, whether that's the death of a family member or a raise at work.  Sometimes they are the only ones to know (besides my super-supportive husband.)

They are the ones that are unabashedly delighted to see me every time I come home.

They are the ones that know ALL of my hopes and dreams, and never, ever say anything designed to destroy those hopes and dreams.

They are the ones that have put their hope in me.

They are the ones that admire me without a trace of their own ego getting in the way.

Don't get me wrong, they're not perfect, and I know it better than anyone.  Sometimes they're naughty and steal food from the countertops, trashcans, and catbowls.  Sometimes they tell me off.  Sometimes they sulk.  Sometimes it's very clear that they're mad at me.  Sometimes they disobey me and force me to go into "discipline mode."

Just like any other family, we have our ups and downs.  But that's just it.  They are my family.  They are the closest that I will ever come to having children of my own.  Any maternal instinct that I possess is poured into raising them, spending time with them, taking care of them.  And whether you agree with it or not, I view them as my children.  And I will react to unfair criticism of them just like a mother with human children would.

And yup.  I know that one reason that they don't engage in "asshattery"  (what I call your misdeeds when you're not around) is that they are animals, with limited understanding of human ways.  Though I am inclined to believe that their knowledge is not as limited as their detractors would like to think.

Don't make me choose between my beloved pets and you.  You wouldn't like the results.  The pets will win.  Every time.  Don't like it?  Too bad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why I Love Animals - Reason #4,429

I've loved animals my entire life.  Even as a little girl, I remember being honestly baffled, when in answer to my query, that my baby-sitter told me that she preferred people to animals.  I had really, seriously, deep-down thought that any logical, sane human being would prefer animals over people.  Now, I'm not saying that's true, but that's how strongly I felt about it... and honestly, frequently as an adult I can say that I definitely prefer the company of my animals over that of most people.

People baffle me, to be honest.  They always have, and they likely always will.  I will never understand them.  I will never understand why they do what they do, say what they say, and think what they think.

Yes, I am a person.  I can glean a certain amount of empathy for others just from that.

But many times, I'm just not very good at it.  It's not the way that I'm built, I guess.

And that is why I think that I like animals so much, and always have...  they don't make me guess what they want.  It's very obvious.  When Maera wants food, it's VERY obvious that she wants food, and she just wants food.  She doesn't have some deep-seated psychological need for me to do anything else while I'm getting her the food.  I don't have to say the magical combination of words, guess what is going on in her inner thought life, predict how my words are going to affect her.  She just wants food, dammit, right now, in her belly.  Easy peasy.

Not that my animals don't have emotional needs as well.  This picture is of foster cat Tom.  When he is doing this, which I call flirting, it means that he wants attention.

He is fairly direct.  I wish to heaven sometimes that when humans wanted me to pay attention to them that they'd fall over and wave their appendages in the air.  (Well, okay, that would be completely ridiculous. But maybe the human equivalent?  Instead of making me guess, emotionally manipulating me to give whatever the hell response that they seem to want to get from me?)

And it's always been the same with my animals.  Sure, each animal is different.  Some cats, for example, don't want attention when they're showing their bellies.  They'll claw your hands off if you try to pet them.  That's fine.  It happens once, and you know from then on what to expect from that specific cat.

So yes.  As if I needed any specific reasons to like animals, I would say that I like them because they're not complicated.  Yes, they all have personalities of their own.  Some of them present behavioral and emotional puzzles, which we have to solve or deal with in some way.  But regardless of the challenges that come with some animals, every single one of them, from the most feral cat to the most submissive, cringing dog, is easier for me to read and understand than humans.

A character flaw on my part, or a statement about humanity?  Probably a little bit of both.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tuxies Respond to Flattery

Okay, I might be over-generalizing here.  But I've had three tuxedo cats (or near) in this house, and all of them have responded very well to flattery.  Moreso than any other cat that I've had living with me.

First, there's Charlotte.  Charlotte insists on going down to the basement with me when I traipse down to do the laundry.  I don't really want any cats down there.  It's dark, dreary, not clean, and has a gaping crawl space... it's up near the ceiling, but I've learned to never underestimate the determination of a cat.  So yeah.  I don't want them down there.  But the door has been cut to close over the stairs, and has no way to securely latch from the inside.  So I have to pull the door into the frame as much as I can, but I can't really secure it.  Charlotte sticks her paws under that door, brawny girl that she is, and yanks the door open at will.  The she, and possibly Annie, stream down the stairs, making a simple laundry run into a "catch the cat" escapade that they seem to enjoy, but I do not.

Why am I telling you all of this?  It's background information.

I've actually figured out how to get Charlotte to come out of the shadows pretty easily.  I don't have to trip over the garden hose to get to her, walk under the hanging clothes, anything.

Would you sell my secrets so cheaply, human?
I flatter her.  To the casual observer, I probably sound like I am trying to appease some Old God.  "Come here, beautiful lady.  My beautiful queen.  Look how the light reflects from your eyes.  How your fur looks like velvet.  Your nose is so pink, it's a work of art.  Your eyes so green.   Beauty such as yours should never be hidden in shadows."  (Do I sound unbalanced yet?  I think that I sound unbalanced.)  But dammit, it works.  I'll hear her start to purr from across the room, and then she'll saunter up to me, stopping if I stop the praise, but continuing until she's right beside me if I keep it up.  And then lets herself be picked up and cuddled and carried gently upstairs.  It works.  Every.  Time.

And then there was Patches, one of my two very first fosters, who was adopted by my mother-in-law.  He preens under praise as well, and while it doesn't necessarily make it easier to catch him, you can tell that he is responding well to flattery.  If we started talking about what a handsome boy he was, he'd purr and get very affectionate.

Patches sometimes comes back to stay with us for a few days while my mother-in-law travels.  You'll see above, he's sitting on a pair of dress pants and trying to look at my camera.

And then Junior, one of my most recent foster cats (who has since been adopted, yay!) also responded to flattery.  It's how I convinced her to come out from under the bed.  I think that she hid from me for almost an entire week when she first came into the house.  She was very frightened of her new surroundings, and very frightened of us.  I was starting to get concerned that she was never going to come out (how was I going to explain that to the shelter?) after I'd lured Tom, her fellow foster, out two days earlier with food, only to completely fail with her.  So on the fifth night, I lay on my side on the floor, peering under the bed without getting too close to her, and I just started talking to her.  I started telling her how lovely she was, and that no one was going to hurt such beauty.  That her eyes were gorgeous, and her fur so soft and sleek.  Etc. etc.  And suddenly I picked up on a very quiet purr, and watched her eyes soften and finally blink.  Moments later, she came slowly, cautiously to the edge of the bed and let me pet her.  Only for about 30 seconds, then she head-butted me in the face and ran back under the bed.  But at that point I knew I had her if I just was patient and gave her time.  And flattery.  Lots and lots of flattery.

Charlotte, looking stern after our return from Greyhounds in Gettysburg.
So, as bizarre as it sounds, I am going to continue to use flattery with these gorgeous cats if it will help me get them to do what I want them to do.

Whatever works, right?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Billy Bob the Evil

As many of you know, I grew up out in the country.  If we weren't on a working farm, we still had a lot of land, with a lot of animals that one would come to expect to be on a farm...  mostly horses.  But we had a stint with ducks before the coyotes ate them all, and a couple of runt pigs for a time, and we did have several months with a goat.  Billy Bob.  Billy Bob the Evil.

To be fair to Billy, I'm not sure that he came to us evil...  well, no, wait.  That's not right.  He was a naughty goat when he came to us.  We just made it worse.  

You see, he had curling horns, and it was fun to push on them to get him to "wrestle." We kids enjoyed doing that, and it really seemed like he was enjoying it too.  So it's not like we tortured him constantly.  But  the "wrestling" also made him mean, and I can see in hindsight that we really did him a disservice by encouraging that.  But.  We're back in the late 1980's, and we don't know any of that and don't have the benefit of hindsight.

We got him because our land was very brushy.  And the brush hid dangerous creatures, such as poisonous rattlesnakes and copperheads.  A farmer friend recommended that we get a goat, telling us that we could tether the goat to an old tire wherever we wanted to be eaten down, and that he'd do the job for us.  Just like a weed whacker, only better.

So, enter Billy Bob.  

Only, it didn't work that way.  The first day, we tethered him to an old tire, as recommended, and put him out on a brushy, rocky hillside with a bucket of water to drink out of.  When we got home that night, there was no goat.  There was also no tire.  And we got a phone call from the neighbor, who was bemused about why there was a goat eating her lawn grass while dragging a tire behind him.

This was just the first of a long string of mishaps surrounding Billy.  We kept a covered trashcan full of sweet molasses feed for the horses out in the yard near the fence.  He pushed it over one day and ate most of it.  That was a hell of a lot of sweet feed, and if my horses had been the ones that ate it all, it probably would have foundered them, possibly even killed them.  It didn't even phase the goat.  

Sweet feed isn't cheap, so when we refilled the trashcan, this time we kept it inside the screened in porch.  

And while we were eating dinner, heard a terrifying noise that I'll still hear in my sleep sometimes, "WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!"  The sound of a billy got running at the porch door and slamming his horns into it repeatedly.  Having a grand old temper-tantrum and desperate to get to the feed.

He wasn't easily intimidated by anything, not even the horses.  Even if they outweighed him so drastically.  One of them was sunbathing as only horses can do, sprawled out flat in the pasture, looking for all the world like he was dead.  Billy apparently needed to seek higher ground to spy out the next batch of trouble to get into, so he climbed on top of the horse, and stood there for all of the world like a look-out.  The horse gave him a very startled look, but did just lay there and not move.  

He also started turning on US, which was even more terrifying.  You would hear his "eh eh eh eh eh eh" bleating sound, surprisingly delicate, right before he charged you, his long, curling horns lowered.  And he WOULD attack you, and you wouldn't be able to easily fend him off.  Probably the worst of this was when he rushed on of my brother's friends, scooped him up by the crotch with his horns, and slammed the poor kid up against the house.

That might have been the day that the clock started ticking on Billy's stay with us, but the day that it really was over for him was when he saw my mother, bent over in the garden pulling weeds.  I think everyone knows where this is going...

We gave him to my aunt, who took him back to Colorado to her ranch.  I think within just a couple of weeks, he'd eaten the vinyl top off of her car, and butted her top stud horse in the head.  

Billy was given away, free of charge, to a goat farm at that point.  

Although we made him mean, we didn't push him that far in that direction; I think that he came pre-wired to be a terror.  And it has made me swear off goats from now on.  Now, I've met some nice goats since then, and petted some in petting zoos, and I do see that not every goat wants to see me dead, but I will never be able to hear a goat bleating again without interpreting it as a battle-cry.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Greyhounds in Gettysburg

We got back from Greyhounds in Gettysburg Sunday afternoon, and we were all exhausted!  It was a huge difference from the car ride East as we traveled to Gettysburg...  on the way there, the dogs were anxious and excited and practically exploded out of the car every time we'd take them out to walk and get water.  On the way home, we didn't even stop, because they were literally snoring.

It was a fun event.  We arrived Friday afternoon, and walked around looking at the vendors that they had set up for us.  It was fun to see so many other greyhounds and their people.  And the outfits.  There was a huge variety of doggie outfits going on, everything from jackets to pajamas to sweaters.  I see now that I have been remiss, and will be purchasing my dogs cableknit sweaters before the fall season.  And pjs to wear around the house when it's super cold.  And maybe several more stylish collars.

Dogs, hotel room, first day.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous about traveling without their crates.  They sleep in their crates every night at the house, but there just wasn't enough room for the crates, even broken down,  in the car.  So we were going to share a hotel room with two dogs that are accustomed to being confined at night.  I needn't have worried.  They were very well-behaved, and slept on the beds with us.  Maera jumped down to go exploring once or twice, but that was it.  The room was (in her opinion) disappointingly devoid of food, so she'd jump back up after a couple of minutes of snuffling around.

We had been warned that the eastern part of the state had ticks, so had packed the tick stuff that our vet sold us. We still hadn't dosed the dogs with the stuff, mind you, even once we were in Gettysburg.  But Friday night, I looked down and there was a live tick crawling across my hand.  (Ick!)  I was a Missouri farm girl, so I am quite aware of what a tick looks like before it attaches itself to you, so I promptly killed the little bastard, and then Jeff and I scrambled to get the dogs dosed up.  Unfortunately it meant that patches of their fur were greasy the next day but oh well.  The alternative didn't seem very appealing at all.  I'll take greasy fur any day over blood sucking ticks and possible Lyme's disease.

Early Friday evening, we went to a seminar.  The dogs were still pretty wired up; they'd been stuck in a car all day, and then had seen more greyhounds than they've probably ever seen in one place since their track days.  And had been given treats, and had absolutely no idea of what was going on.  So in hindsight, we maybe should have skipped the seminar, or had one of us attend while the other stayed out with the dogs.  Nothing MAJOR happened, mind you, but Argos lay there and panted nervously the whole time, and Maera kept rearing up on her hind legs to give Jeff hugs and to lick his face and to stare over his shoulder at the greyhounds behind us.  Granted, we did entertain the people around us, but it was starting to get embarrassing!

Saturday we did some touring of the battlefields, and parked the car and walked the dogs around Devil's Den.  Devil's Den seemed to come with its own compliment of cub scouts, but once we got away from the huge rocks, we were completely alone.  It was a good walk, and I do find battlefields interesting, albeit in a very depressing way.

Afterwards, we went to a BBQ and met some very nice people, who had a dog that looked so much like Maera it was startling!  If you put the two of them together, you could see the differences, but not at first.  Actually, we met so many nice people this weekend.  It was nice to be around so many others who have given their hearts to greyhounds.  Anyway, unfortunately Saturday afternoon was really COLD and we weren't especially dressed for it.  So we actually left the BBQ a little early and went back to the somewhat warmer hotel room for naps.

Saturday night, we went to the social that was at the 1863 Inn of Gettysburg, and ran into Bunny and her people, and her German Shephard brother Kuster! It was great fun talking to them, and seeing some of our fellow bloggers in the flesh!  I was disappointed in myself for not getting a group photo, but I think by then all of us, humans and dogs alike, were just not thinking about things like that.

Sunday was our last day there.  We went to the Gettysburg Recreational Park, and our greyhounds participated in a "speed run."  You greyhound owners probably know what I'm talking about, but for those that need a couple more details:  there's a strip fenced off, that allows the dog to get up to speed but forces them to run in a straight line.  One dog at a time is sent down, usually because their owner is at the other end,  along with someone with a squawker, and they are enticed to run as fast as they can.  A volunteer stands at one end with a speed gun to clock their speed.  Much fun is had!  The dogs love it, and of course the people love it as well.

We let Argos go first, figuring that he was the professional runner for three years; that he would know what to do once he heard the squawker.  He trotted away, stopped, turned around and looked at all of the people, went over and hiked his leg on the fence.  A couple of guys ran out to try to catch him, and THEN he decided to run, in a very slow, unconcerned way, towards the end of the run.  They weren't even able to get a good speed on him.  We all had a good laugh, and he good-naturedly went to Jeff, who was waiting for him.  (I was still at the far end with Maera.)

Meanwhile, Maera was having fits, trying to leap forward, squirm off of the leash, ANYTHING to follow Argos to the other end.  So... we let her go.  And she flat out ran.  You could tell that she was giving it her all.  She was clocked at 35 mph.  Not bad for a doggie that was "culled" from the track for not being fast enough to even run a single race.  Except that she wasn't done yet, when she got to the other end and there were people waiting to catch her... she wheeled around and ran all the way back!  I grabbed her and snapped the leash back on her and we walked back to the end point.  Let it not be said that my dogs are rule-followers, LOL.

We attended a Blessing of the Hounds service, which turned into a Rainbow Bridge rememberance service, which turned into a "group roo."

And then we went home.  We could have stuck around a little bit longer for a "fun run" with other dogs, but honestly, our hounds were completely tuckered out by that point.

We were home by that afternoon, and our cats sure were happy to see us.  We spent the rest of the afternoon, human, canine, and feline alike, napping and enjoying the warmth and sunshine that had finally caught up with us.